Even now, well after the fact, it’s difficult to try and make sense of what we saw yesterday. Never before in Premier League history has any team let a 4-0 lead slip. I don’t think too many Arsenal fans are that surprised that it was us. I’m going to try and do this in sections to make it easier for me think about it as I write, so:
What can you say? We were brilliant. Theo Walcott opened the scoring with barely a minute on the clock. He raced onto Arshavin’s through ball and finished calmly into the bottom corner. There was a part of me, I have to admit, that hoped Coloccini would foul him and get a red card but maybe that’s just me.
A couple of minutes later Johan Djourou got his first ever Arsenal goal, a looping header into the top corner from Arshavin’s free kick. Theo then set up Robin for the third and it was Robin again when he thumped home a header from Sagna’s cross.
At that point I think everyone assumed it would be game over. We were thinking in stats. That brought van Persie’s goal tally to 10 in 11 games, two more assists for Arshavin, a goal and an assist for Theo etc. That said, there were some warning signs, as good as we were in that first half Laurent Koscielny was forced to make a couple of well timed interventions in our penalty area. He read them well and we dealt with the danger well enough.
Still, it was a clinical and ruthless performance. We made chances and we took them. And then:
It couldn’t have started in worse fashion. Just two minutes in Djourou limped off with a knee problem. He was replaced by Squillaci. Just a couple of minutes after that came the sending off.
Now, I have some sympathy with Diaby. When you see the tackle in slow motion it’s one of those ‘reducers’ which has the clock of legitimacy to protect it. Yes, Barton got the ball but in doing so he left the ground, was not in control and it was reckless. Look at the way Diaby’s leg bends. For me that’s a yellow card, at least.
Diaby’s career has been blighted by injury caused by bad tackles so I can fully understand why he reacted. However, he’s a professional footballer and he’s playing against Joey Barton. A good footballer but a snide, dirty, wind-up merchant who got exactly what he wanted. He wanted the reaction, you can see by the snivelling way he allowed himself to be ‘bullied’ by Diaby afterwards that he was just waiting for the shove so that he could throw himself to the ground knowing the ref would have to show a red card.
And he did. We can’t have any complaints whatsoever about the card. Diaby was foolish. Whatever justification he felt in having a go at Barton should have been overpowered by his duty to the team. I know it’s difficult when you lose your temper but unless you’re actually going to deck the bloke then there’s just no point. So while I do have some sympathy his dismissal was hugely costly yesterday – and he now sits out the next three games due to suspension.
At that point I don’t think we really re-organised ourselves properly. Injuries to Song and Denilson meant we didn’t really have another central midfielder to bring on at the expense of one of the attacking players and as the game went on Newcastle increased the pressure. I thought we were doing ok until the first penalty. For me it was generous but you see those given all the time. Barton scored 4-1.
A cross from the left saw Clichy and Best compete. Neither won the header but it fell kindly for Best who made it 4-2. Then the second penalty, 4-3 and Tiote’s wonderstrike made it 4-4. Inside 20 minutes Arsenal had gone from leading 4-0 to drawing 4-4. Lost in the pain of that was a van Persie goal disallowed for offside which would have made it 5-4. Again I thought it was a generous decision for the home team.
I can’t find any way of explaining the fact we conceded four goals. I’ll come to the referee now in a minute but on the face of it it’s pretty shocking. We obviously weren’t helped by losing Djourou. I’ve expressed concerns before at the Squiscielny axis and I don’t think that concerns are unfounded. Squillaci is really struggling at the moment. Of course it’s easy to sit here and say ‘Should have bought a centre-half’ but that won’t do anybody any good. And there’s nothing we can do about it now anyway.
The injury to Djourou is worrying, it’s his knee and we know he’s had problems in the past. The timing of it typical as well, just after the transfer window shuts. Let’s face it, Arsene is to gambling what Eddie the Eagle was to ski jumping. If I saw him in a casino I’d sneak up, see what he was doing and bet the opposite way to him. There’s nothing we can do now but hope Squillaci can find some form and that Vermaelen can make it back sooner rather than later.
That’s not to put all the blame on Squillaci by any means. As a team we were unbalanced and just didn’t defend well enough. Throwing on Eboue to try and shore up a lead in those circumstances was a poor move. When you need fight he’s hardly the man, and having lost Djourou and Diaby, whose height was important, I think he should probably have put on Bendtner or Chamakh and asked them to sit and do a job. Not the job they’re used to but hardly one that should trouble a professional player for 10 minutes.
It was a pretty shameful capitulation, right up there with the worst under Arsene. Sp*rs at home this season, the Sp*rs 4-4, Wigan away last season, whatever it is about this team we have an unrivaled ability to self-destruct and he’s got to do something about it.
He had a shocker, in my opinion. I think Arsenal were being told, via his decisions, that referees will stand up for each other. Impugn one, you impugn us all, and I suspect that was a factor in some of his decision making. For example, look at this Barton tackle on Arshavin in the first half. That’s at least a yellow card yet he played on. I can’t understand that at all. Straight through the back of the player and we didn’t even get a free kick.
The first penalty was generous but they’re the kind you get at home when you’re 4-0 down. The second penalty, however, is still baffling. I’ve watched it over and over again and I can’t see a penalty. If that’s worthy of a penalty kick then you would have 28 penalties a game. It’s a scandalous decision and I think Dowd got that badly wrong, caught up in the fervour of the Newcastle comeback.
If there was free kick to be given in the second half, he gave it. The one that led to Newcastle’s fourth was typical. Barton played for it, Dowd reacted to the screams from the crowd and we know what happened when Arsenal headed clear. But if that’s a free kick how on earth can he not give the one on Arshavin? Or the time when van Persie was flattened just outside their area and he waved play on.
Also, if he’s going to send off Diaby, rightly so, for grabbing Barton around the neck, why doesn’t the same thing apply to Kevin Nolan who did almost the same thing to Wojscez. After the the first penalty our keeper kept hold of the ball, it was our kick-off after all, Nolan grabbed him a headlock and threw him to the ground. The only difference between that and Diaby is that Diaby retaliated. That Wojscez was booked made it all the more farcical.
However, Dowd wasn’t a problem in the first half when we played Newcastle off the park and went 4-0 up. He certainly played a part – and that second penalty would make you question him in a very serious way – but ultimately we were the masters of our own downfall.
It’s still hard to make sense of it, even after 1400 words. The manager spoke afterwards saying he feared psychological damage and I can understand that. In recent seasons we haven’t reacted well to setbacks like this one. We get too introspective and our confidence evaporates.
So how we react to this is absolutely crucial. What I would say to them, if I were the manager, is that that yesterday was a freak (I know, despite the similar incidents in recent seasons). It’s never happened before and is unlikely to ever happen again. We’ve made ourselves a horrible page in the record books but we just cannot dwell on it. If we let yesterday get in on us then I think we’ll be in serious trouble.
If they feel injustice from yesterday, regardless of how much of it was our own fault, then that needs to be exploited and channeled into something positive. Yes, it was awful and embarrassing and frankly ridiculous, but we cannot allow it to define us right now. We remain unbeaten since Dec 13th in the league, we’ve won 7 of our last 8 games, and by some miracle of football we actually find ourselves a point closer to United after they lost to Wolves.
I can understand people who are frustrated that we didn’t win yesterday in the light of the United result but ‘if onlys’ don’t mean a thing. We can only deal with what happened and I’m mightily relieved and grateful of the point which moves us closer to them. Yes, it should have been closer but it’s not. It could have been a lot worse, we could be seven behind them now, but we’re not and for me that’s something to happy about.
I’m not trying to make any excuses for what happened yesterday, by the way. I was as emotional as the rest of you as it was happening and after the final whistle but when it comes right down to it, and as bizarre as it seems, we’re somehow better off for everything that happened. Plus United’s defeat means the 49 game record remains intact.
I’ll go back to what I said though: how we react is key. We have to make something positive come from this. Shame and anger are great motivators – and I’m sure the players are feeling both right now. The players go away now for the midweek Interlull. Perhaps the time away won’t be the worst thing in the world (provided we don’t pick up any more injuries). They can come back and get set for Wolves next weekend and do the only thing they can to put things right: win that game and take three points.
Right then, I think that’s more than enough. No doubt you’ve got plenty to say, see you on the arses so.
Oh, and Alan Pardew is a cunt.