Homer: (sarcastically) No, I do not know what Schadenfreude is. Please tell me, because I'm dying to know!
Lisa: It's a German term for 'shameful joy', taking pleasure in the suffering of others.
Homer: Oh, come on Lisa. I'm just glad to see him fall flat on his butt! -- The Simpsons, "When Flanders Failed."
... In which we take a break from Premier League action to roast Arsenal for an epic failure in the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City.
It's easy, I suppose, in the year 2011 to simply stamp every misstep, every mistake, every goof, every gaffe, every foible, every dropped pass, every air ball, every missed sitter, etc. with four letters: F-A-I-L. That's the way Internet culture has made most people with a mouse and a keyboard. It's how Daniel Tosh makes a living. It's how Tumblrs spring up overnight for our collective Lulz. Type in "Fail" to Google and you're entertained, however low brow, for hours.
Behind the anonymity of a screen name or avatar the general tendency is to mock and scorn anyone, especially athletes and celebrities who make more money than us. It's easy, it's fun and gosh darn if it makes our hearts all the blacker on the inside, who cares?
Saying that, is why it's hard not to take an absolute gallows humor delight from Arsenal's failings in the Carling Cup today. Not to sound too much like Eric Cartman, but damn it, I was smiling ear-to-ear at Jack Wilshere's "tears of unfathomable sadness!"
Is it inherently wrong, after a miserable Saturday, to allow Arsenal's failures to cheer me up?
This loss was perfect in its simplicity. Everything the critics had lambasted Arsene Wenger for over the past five or six years came home to roost in the two-plus hours on the Wembley Stadium pitch.
* Key players sitting on the bench in street clothes for injury? Si, Senor Cesc.
* Allow a goal off a set piece? Check.
* Dance around the penalty area instead of taking shots? Check.
* Yelling at the refs? Check. (Looking in your direction Mr. Wilshere.)
* Robin van Persie hurting himself, on a goal no less? Yep.
* Totally anonymous performances from Maroune Chamakh and Nic Bendtner? Done-and-done.
* A total comedy of defensive errors between Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny on Obafemi Martins game-winner? Indeed.
All that was missing from the goal was "Yakety Sax." Expect some very fun memes from this total, collective defensive mistake. Here's my favorite, already, of Jean Beausejour slapping Koscielny on the back of the head.
This was, for all intents-and-purposes, an Arsenal fan's worst nightmare.
Every little chink in Wenger's armor was exposed. Almost six trophy-less seasons, six years of buying Wenger's plan, six years of patience in the young players, six years of waiting for the swallows to return to Capistrano ... and the Gunners couldn't even beat Birmingham City, which started Martin Jiranek in central defense as well as every English soccer snob's favorite whipping mule, Nikola Zigic up top.
More amazing, Arsenal can turn around a 1-0 deficit at halftime to Barcelona -- the crown princes/holy monks -- of world soccer, and follow it up with an FA Cup draw with Leyton Orient and a Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham City -- a team that is so unglamorous it's collectively barred from even looking at Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi on television.
Is it a massive overreaction to consider this Wenger's Waterloo? The end of an era? The final proof his long-term building through youth isn't going to amount to any trophies?
The knives will be out in force, for certain ... even if it's only the Carling Cup. Arsenal, lest we forget, are only four points behind Manchester United in the Premier League and very much alive vs. Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16.
Wenger, of course, is a lot like the band TV on the Radio -- critically bulletproof. Whatever you want to say about it, bounces off him or falls on deaf ears. Barring an off-field, untoward incident there doesn't seem to be a way where the Arsenal brass would ever let him go. Wenger is Arsenal at this point. Remember, there are obviously worse things in the world a soccer team can do than consistently finish in the top four of the Premier League, play aesthetically pleasing ball and excite their cosmopolitan fans worldwide.
Why, however, Wenger hasn't been able to win anything at the club since the 2005 FA Cup is a mystery that remains open on the board in red ink like a (fictitious) unsolved West Baltimore homicide.
If you want to take the devil's advocate approach, maybe Sunday's loss is the best thing that could happen to Arsenal since it finally might convince Wenger he needs to spend money on a proven, quality central defender. As bad as he was Sunday -- and lucky to avoid an early penalty for wiping out Bowyer -- there does seem potential in Szczesny. Problem is, at Arsenal you can't play a player in goal on potential alone. I'm not one of those people that flips out on every goal Arsenal allows, but Sunday it was so comically bad that it proves without a shadow of a doubt change is necessary in some form at the Emirates.
In short, same old Arsenal.
Changing, into less cynical gears, one of the things all writers do -- myself included -- is fall into the trap of bashing the loser, especially if it's a team favored like Arsenal. Birmingham City deserve a heaping load of credit for grinding out a result and giving the actual city of Birmingham it's best day on the world stage since Tommy Iommi wrote the opening riff to "N.I.B."
El Brum didn't let Arsenal run riot after van Persie's equalizer, whereas many teams at that point capitulate with over a half left to play. Alex McLeish knew his team's limitations and strengths. Tactics blogs aren't going to wax poetic of goals nodded in by the 6-foot-8 frame of Zigic, but they all count the same on the scoreboard, don't they? McLeish also didn't bow down to the mighty Arsenal and expect to kiss the proverbial ring, either. Late in the match he subbed off holding/defensive midfielder Keith Fahey -- who'd ratted the frame of the goal earlier in the match -- for another forward in Martins, who'd go on to score the winner.
Credit to Birmingham for another fine display in net by Ben Foster, who made a late reaction save to keep the score 1-1. Same goes for no-name defender Roger Johnson, who hobbled through the second half with a leg injury, making Theo Walcott's absence hurt all the more.
Are Birmingham, a team with journeyman pros like Stephen Carr and Lee Bowyer, a squad that sets the hearts-and-minds alight like Arsenal's would-be "magical" brand of soccer? Absolutely not.
On this day, however, they were the better side and have a trophy to show for it, even if it's only the Carling Cup.
And it's one more trophy in the cabinet that Arsenal has to show for itself since 2005, too.