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Saturday, 1 January 2011

Scummy manager's breed scummy players - even the ref couldn't help them

Samir Nasri - stood up to Birmingham's bullying

Big performance. Big win. Massive three points. With the other contenders that played today all winning before we kicked off the pressure was on Arsenal tonight. Wenger reverted to the same starters that dispatched Chelsea on Monday - the presence of Koscielny and Sagna in each game this week makes a mockery of the ridiculous wholesale changes on Wednesday night. What we got was a performance of similar energy as that on Monday night and a performance of utter dominance over a team that reverted to type by trying to end Arsenal player's careers.
Early on Roger Johnson (an underrated player in fairness) tried to "do" Cesc Fabregas. I thought he had done some serious damage to the skipper as he went over the top of the ball on him. It was not dissimilar to the foul on Eduardo three years ago and could have resulted in serious damage to one of the best players in the World. The referee's reaction? Yellow card. Mr Walton should be asked for what he booked Johnson. By virtue of dishing out the card he admitted he had seen the challenge, so why did he not produce the red one? And so it went on. Towards the end of the first-half Cameron Jerome deliberately stamped on Laurent Koscielny in the Arsenal penalty area. The replays show Jerome look down at the grounded Koscielny and plant his foot on the leg of the Frenchman - the linesman and referee were both close to it, and both chose to ignore it. Then we come to the odious Lee Bowyer. Lest we forget Bowyer should still be doing time in a Yorkshire prison for his behaviour in Leeds city-centre a few years ago. If he had perpetrated the assaults on Bacary Sagna tonight out on the street, rather than the football pitch, he would surely be heading for a cell as we speak. The stamp on Sagna's thigh was scandalous, and the FA must act. I can forgive the referee for missing that one as the ball had moved on, though the fourth official was about six-feet away. Later on he did the same to Sagna's ankle and the referee waved play-on!
ESPN have chosen to focus on the "potentially game-changing" (Ray Stubbs is such a twat) penalty decision that went Arsenal's way when Van Persie clearly handled the ball at 1-0. This fails to recognise of course that Birmingham should have already lost Johnson by then, and should have been reduced to eight players by the time we reached the hour. I know that we are biased because we are Arsenal fans, but we must surely be forgiven for developing a complex with regards to the anti-Arsenal nature of the media. Craig Burley has just tried to dismiss the Johnson tackle on the grounds that he has "seen worse" and that "Fabregas was okay." The fact is that a Manager, with form for this kind of thing remember, sent his players out with the sole intention of hurting those playing for Arsenal. Everything Danny Murphy said a few months has once again been proven correct and it is only by the grace of God that we are not counting a serious cost again tonight. Alex McLeish is a no-mark of a Manager, having been a no-mark of a player in the mickey-mouse league in Scotland. Arsene Wenger would have been justified tonight in coming out and stating some facts, safe in the knowledge that sour-grapes were not on the menu.
Before I move on to the rest of the game, and Arsenal's ability to frustrate and delight all at once, I have to talk about the reactions of our players. When Fabregas was on the floor in pain nobody really reacted in the rest of the team. When Koscielny was assaulted, nobody reacted. When Sagna was stamped on, twice, not even Sagna reacted. Could you imagine what state Lee Bowyer's leg might have been in had Martin Keown or Steve Bould or Patrick Vieira been on the pitch? The players have to show this kind of scum that they will not allow themselves to be treated that way, and if that means dishing out a few slaps of some kind then so be it. If Wenger wants the team to show some togetherness then they must hunt in packs against these talentless scumbags in the same way that Man Utd and Chelsea do - and that also means getting around the referee in numbers and letting him know what is going on. Intimidate the referee in the same way that Ferdinand, Vidic, Lampard, Terry, Gerrard and co all do. The only players who seem to want to stand up for themselves at Arsenal are Nasri and Wilshere.

On to the good stuff. Arsenal's performance tonight was magnificent and Birmingham were never really in the match. I thought, when we kept missing chances early in the second-half, that we would end up paying but the players got the goals they deserved. Well, they got some of the goals they deserved. With the way Birmingham went about the game I really wanted to see Arsenal humiliate them. Arsenal were so dominant that I found the closing stages frustrating as the players started to showboat and try to walk the ball home. Birmingham deserved to be ground in to the dust tonight, such was their attitude on the pitch. Maybe I am being churlish, but I have a lingering sense that we could have sent out a message tonight with a deserved six or seven goal victory. Those extra goals, that the approach play surely merited, may yet come back to haunt us come the end of the season in what is still a very tight division.
Robin Van Persie got us under way from a free-kick - deflected off Bowyer's hand (though I doubt a penalty would have ensued had the ball not hit the net). ESPN are claiming RVP dived to win the free-kick despite the visual evidence showing he was clearly tugged back by the defender (who wasn't booked, so another question for the referee). Apart from that Van Persie was awful. He missed chances to have scored at least three more goals and was incredibly frustrating. Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas performed superbly from midfield and their combination for the third goal, unfortunately an own-goal in the end, was amazing. With Wilshere and Song sitting in front of the defence - Song again stayed where he is supposed to throughout the game - and Walcott providing the out-ball time and again, Birmingham had no answer to Arsenal going forward. Walcott played well again and delivered some decent balls in to the penalty area, only to see the chances go begging - Jack Wilshere missing a particularly great chance after fine work from Theo and Nasri.

If I'd been offered 3-0 before the game I would have taken it like a shot. My frustration, therefore, is probably unfair on the players. I suspect my frustration is increased by the stupid draw on Wednesday - the eight changes cost us dear, as did the refereeing. On the subject of refereeing we are now at four in a row where the officiating has been a disgrace - and the pro-Man Utd performance by Chris Foy at the Hawthorns today was equally scandalous. The only thing to be said tonight is that Birmingham should have had a penalty, but had Peter Walton been doing his job properly the game would have been long finished by then. I've no doubt the press, directed by McLeish, will focus on that incident over the next couple of days, while forgetting entirely the disgusting tactics employed by his team, and allowed by the referee.

We have another big game against Man City on Wednesday and I hope the Manager doesn't cock around with the team again. He can make his changes next weekend for the FA Cup game with Leeds. I won't be able to blog tomorrow as a return to work is on the agenda following a lovely Christmas break - unless my numbers come up in the Rollover tonight. That being the case, there will be more on Monday.

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