Sunday, 6 February 2011

Arsenal Blow A Four Goal Lead And Close The Gap At The Top.

If I was asked before yesterday's games what would have been a reasonable outcome for Arsenal I would have said to make up some ground on Premier League leaders "Manure". As it turned out that's exactly what happened, but the story of how it got there is almost unbelieveable from an Arsenal point of view. I don't think the current "Manure" team is a particularly good one, and Wolves thankfully put an end to their unbeaten start to the season in the evening kick off yesterday.

However the joy at their defeat was severely tempered by the events that passed in Arsenal's trip to Newcastle earlier in the afternoon. Arsenal played some magnificent football in the first 45 minutes of that game, and went in at half time with a 4-0 lead. Even the most pessimistic of Arsenal fans could not have seen them doing anything, but gaining all three points from the game, but somehow or other a mixture of ridiculous refereeing and terrible play by Arsenal let Newcastle back into the game, and they secured a 4-4 draw.
Arsene Wenger picked the team that I predicted with Abu Diaby, and Andrey Arshavin coming in for the injured Samir Nasri and benched Tomas Rosicky. I predicted a 2-0 win for Arsenal, but within 10 minutes I had already got it wrong, as Arsenal raced into a three goal lead. They played magnificently throughout the first half, and their four goal half time lead was no more than they deserved.

The first goal came inside the first minute when Arshavin played a ball right through the middle of the Newcastle defence, and Theo Walcott raced on to it. He outpaced the Newcastle defenders, and calmly placed the ball past the despairing dive of Steve Harper into the corner of the net. It was a great start to the game, and it got even better within three minutes. Cesc Fabregas was hauled down about 30 yards from goal on Arsenal's left, and Arshavin stepped up to take the free kick. He put a great ball into the box, and Johan Djourou was on hand to rise unchallenged, and head the ball into the roof of the net. It was 2-0 to Arsensl inside four minutes, and at that stage things were looking for bad for Newcastle, and absolutely fantastic for Arsenal.

Within seven minutes of that goal things got even better, as Walcott got to the end line, and pulled a ball back to Robin Van Persie to stroke home from eight yards out and make it 3-0 to Arsenal. Surely there could be no way back for a Newcastle team that lacked spirit and commitment, and looked ready to concede even more goals. The next goal came in the 26th minute when Bakary Sagna was given time to cross, and he picked out RVP to head home unmarked from a similar position to where he scored his previous goal.

At half time it was 4-0 and there was seemingly going to be only one winner. Not long after the start of the second half Djourou picked up an injury to his knee, and had to be substituted, with Sebastien Squillaci coming on for him. Regular readers will know my views on the Laurent Koscielny and Squillaci combination, as it just does not work in my opinion. That worried me a little, but surely Arsenal couldn't blow a four goal lead, and it was just a matter of seeing the game out.

Only a couple of minutes later things took a turn for the worse though, as Diaby got involved with the lowest form of human life, and got sent off. Diaby had possession, and played the ball a little too far ahead of himself, and Joey Barton saw the chance to get the boot in on him. He dived in and got the ball, but he had everything behind the challenge, and his follow through almost snapped Diaby's leg in half. Anyone who thinks it was a fair challenge doesn't have a clue about how the game is played, and unfortunately Disby took exception to it.

He grabbed Barton by the back of the neck and pushed him towards the ground, and of course Barton played the innocent. To make matters worse Diaby then pushed Kevin Nolan when he came running over to remonstrate with him, before Sagna could hold Diaby back. The referee had no option, but to give Diaby a red card, but he chose to take no action against Barton. It would seem the letter of the law means that it's worse to push a player, rather than purposely attempt to break their leg.

Diaby was stupid to react as he did, but it was understandable considering the injuries he's received from similar challenges in the past. Personally I think he should have waited until the next tackle, and extracted some revenge of his own, but you can be sure that would have earned him a red card too. He will now miss Arsenal's next three games, and if Alex Song and Denilson are both still injured it will leave a gaping hole in the team. With Tomas Rosicky as the only actual midfielder on the bench the boss chose to leave the team as it was.

It seemed to be working until the 68th minute when Koscielny stupidly gave away a penalty. With Leon Best in possession in Arsenal's box, and going away from goal, with his back turned to goal, Koscielny chose to tackle him from behind, and when Best went down the referee gave the penalty. The scum sucking Barton stepped up and dispatched the ball past Wojciech Szczesny to give Newcastle a glimmer of light.
What came next epitomised the glaring inconsistenties in refereeing, as Nolan grabbed Szczesny in a headlock, and threw him to the ground in an attempt to get the ball off him to encourage Arsenal to take their kick off quickly. The linesman was standing right beside him when it happened, and it was worse than what Diaby was sent off for, but no action was taken. In fact I think Szczesny was booked for his protests, and in my opinion Arsenal should make an official complaint about the standard of refereeing.
In his infinite wisdom the boss took Arshavin off, and brought Tomas Rosicky on for him a couple of minutes later. Rosicky just didn't look up to the fight, and he was lucky not to give away a goal only minutes later. He misplaced a pass to Gael Clichy, and strolled out as the ball was played to Best who stabbed it home. The linesman gave it as offside, but replays showed that Rosicky had clearly played him onside. The warning signs were there, but Arsenal had nobody in their team big enough to stand up and take a hold of the game.

In the 75th minute a cross was competed for by Best and Clichy, and when the ball dropped it fell to Best who slid it into the net to make it 4-2, and the comeback looked ever more likely. Arsenal's players were visibly wilting, and they had lost the ability to keep possession of the ball. Their cause wasn't helped in the 77th minute when Emmanuel Eboue came on for Walcott. What his role was to be I'm not sure, and I don't think he knew either. 

Arsenal entered the final ten minutes under a lot of pressure, as Newcastle continued an aerial assault of their penalty area. With both Djourou and Diaby off the pitch Arsenal lacked height at the back, and Newcastle were trying to exploit that. A cross beyond the far post looked harmless as a Newcastle player rose with Rosicky and Koscielny, but as the ball passed over them all the linesman somehow decided it was a penalty. That linesman had a lot to answer for, as he should have told the referee to send Nolan off, and he also disallowed an onside Newcastle goal. I wonder what Andy Gray and Richard Keyes would have made of his efforts.

Again Barton stepped up, and put the ball right down the middle this time. Szczesny almost got a foot to it, but it was now 4-3 to Arsenal and all the momentum was with Newcastle. Three minutes later Rosicky stupidly fouled a Newcastle player, and they were awarded a free kick. When the ball was swung into the Arsenal box it was headed clear by a defender, and Cheik Tiote met it with a volley from 25 yards that swung viciously, and went right into the corner of the Arsenal goal. It was the best goal that he is ever likely to score, and it summed up what had become a dreadful afternoon.

There were five added minutes, and as they defended desperately Arsenal managed to carve out a chance of their own, which Rvp put into the net, but it was ruled out for offside. It was probably a correct decision, but it was very close, and it took what would have been a sweet end to the game from Arsenal. At the final whistle the Newcastle fans who hadn't left when they were 4-0 down were in ecstacy, but the Arsenal players looked devastated.

The manager chose not to delve into the transfer market in January, and he can't buy any players now, which leaves Arsenal with only Koscielny and Squillaci to play in central defence until either Djourou or Thomas Vermaelen return from their injuries. There's no word on the Djourou injury yet, but if it is a knee ligament injury I honestly think Arsenal's chances against Barcelona and in the Premier League are in tatters. I don't think Koscielny and Squillaci can play together in the Premier League in their first season in England, and they will even have problems in the Carling Cup final.

The best thing to come out of yesterday was the fact that "Manure" cannot now match the record of Arsenal's invincibles, and Arsenal have closed the gap at the top of the league to four points. There were far too many negatives to go into today, but Chelsea could be the real winners if they beat Liverpool later today. I'll leave it there, but I'll go into it all more tomorrow. Finally there was a tweet fro Jack Wilshere after the game yesterday in which he questioned why Nolan wasn't sent off, and I expect him to get in trouble for it. Let's see if it's dealt with as leniently as the one involving Ryan Babel.

That's it for today.

Here's the highlights from yesterday's game.

See you tomorrow.


  1. Too many excuses for my liking throughout the Arsenal blogging world today. MOTD didn't seem to think it was that bad a challenge, like me, do they know nothing about the game?

    I think the excuse making this morning is poor.

  2. MOTD are very fond of good old fashioned tackles regardless of whether they are against the rules or not. Despite the fact that there was some abysmal refereeing there is no excuse for the performance that Arsenal put in during the second half. Some of the players were simply not up to the task and the injuries that we now have could completely destroy our season. If that is the case the manager's gamble will have backfired and it will be his fault and no one else's.