When Cheick Tiote volleyed home Newcastle’s fourth goal and equaliser, I promised myself I would take 24 hours off from football. 24 hours to recover from the sickening churning in my stomach, provoked by yet another Arsenal collapse.
But, as the existence of this post demonstrates, I can’t. I’ve got too many gripes to air. So, here we go.
Arsene’s post-match comments were relatively tame. The reason for that is he doesn’t want to make today feel any more damaging than it already does. If he comes out fuming and spitting, the press will be able to say that he and his team have “lost it”.
If the “it” in question were the Premier League title, they might just be right. Champions do not lose a four goal lead, however circumstances conspire against them.
I understand and agree that the referee was appalling. On twitter, I jokingly suggested that we finally know what Newcastle spent the £35m they received for Andy Carroll on: Phil Dowd. On the subject of bribery, it’s also likely that Cesc’s altercation with the officials in midweek had a part to play – referee’s are known to round on those teams who question their integrity.
Dowd’s list of offences includes ignoring the Joey Barton ‘tackle’ that prompted Abou Diaby’s reaction and sending off, failure to punish Kevin Nolan for grabbing Wojciech Szczesny by the neck, two dubious penalty awards, and the disallowing of a seemingly good goal by Robin van Persie. His decisions were infuriating and often inexplicable. I sincerely hope his performance is reviewed by the powers that be. I sincerely doubt that it will be.
Dowd also denied Leon Best a perfectly good goal. He was also correct to dismiss Diaby. And he only contributed directly to two of Newcastle’s four goals. As much as it hurts, we simply have to look at ourselves. Again.
The fury at the referee is palpable. And understandable. But Dowd was not the referee when we threw away the lead against Wigan. This happens to us far too consistently to put it down to him alone. Arsenal simply did not do enough in the second half. We were unprofessional.
At half-time, Gooners were rightly crowing about a seemingly insurmountable four goal lead. We were clinical going forward, and Newcastle were dreadful at the back. It was easy.
The terrible, unforgivable truth of it is that Newcastle got back in to it as easily as we had seemingly put them out of sight.
There were warning signs in that first-half. Despite our dominance, Laurent Koscielny had to show concentration and awareness to keep Newcastle at bay. We completely failed to heed that warning, and our start to the second half was almost as awful as our opening to the game had been blistering.
Ill-fortune contributed. Losing Johan Djourou to injury was a real blow. There’s no word yet on how serious his injury is – but to be honest, at 4-0 up withdrawing him could well have been merely a precautionary move. Still, it meant the introduction of Sebastien Squillaci, who is looking increasingly like the natural successor to Mikael Silvestre. Worrying indeed.
The second incident that sparked our downfall was the sending off of Abou Diaby. Let’s go through it, shall we? It started with a horrible, dangerous lunge by Joey Barton. The tackle alone was probably worth at least a booking – albeit one that never came.
Diaby jumped up, grabbed Barton by the neck, and shoved him, before pushing the encroaching Kevin Nolan for good measure. He lost the plot. The referee, in my opinion, had no choice but to show him the red card.
It’s easy to see what contributed to the red mist descending over Diaby. After the injuries he has suffered in his career at the hands of ‘footballers’ like Dan Smith and Paul Robinson, he is understandably sensitive to poor challenges.
However, he is a also professional footballer. He is now 24 years old. He will encounter many more bad challenges in his career – some malicious, some mistimed. If he is psychologically unable to cope with being on the receiving end of those tackles, then that is a problem. A big problem.
His actions were thoughtless. Stupid, even. Because Joey Barton got exactly what he wanted. He got Diaby sent off, and brought his team back from the dead, scoring twice in the process. We might think him scum, but Joey Barton probably doesn’t care. The scoreboard certainly doesn’t care. The only way to exact punishment on these thugs is to beat them. At the point Barton leapt in at Diaby, we were 4-0 up. In their home ground. We were humiliating Barton and his team. If Diaby had kept his head he could have helped rub salt in to already gaping wounds.
Instead, he lashed out, and was rightly dismissed. With both Alex Song and Denilson unavailable, it left us incredibly vulnerable. What followed had was horribly predictable, especially with the referee so inclined towards the home team.
I’m furious with Diaby and Dowd. I don’t want to go through each goal we conceded – suffice to say, two were very soft penalties and another a screamer. But we didn’t do enough to win. A football match lasts ninety minutes, not forty-five.
As I write this, it’s too early to say how big an impact on our league position it will have. At half-time, Wolves are currently beating Manchester United by two goals to one.
I almost expect United to claw it back, and secure victory from the jaws of defeat.
That, after all, is what Champions do. Watch and learn, Arsenal.
My next post will be more positive. I promise.