Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Goal-uttony: Weekend Observations 5th-6th February 2011: Part One

If we are to believe that gluttony is indeed one of the Seven Deadly Sins then this weekend saw Premier League fans purchase a one-way ticket straight to the deepest, darkest depths of hell after feasting on goal after net-busting goal. The 41 scored on Saturday alone set a new league record.

"Mmmm... delicious goals!"

The ONLY place to start is at St. James Park which saw what was undoubtedly the game of this or any season in recent memory between Newcastle United and Arsenal. Unless you've been living under rock, in a cave somewhere in Watford with your eyes stapled shut, your eardrums perforated and and your iPhone battery uncharged, you would know that Arsenal somehow contrived to throw away a 4-0 lead in the last 26 minutes of the match allowing a side managed by Alan Pardew and Leon Best up front to come back and draw 4-4.

Themselves no strangers to dramatic collapses and regular humiliations both on and off the pitch, it must have been a refreshing change for Geodies the world over to finally see their team come away from such as encounter with their heads held high. It's far too easy to regurgitate cliches about having a 'never say die' spirit but on this occasion, there is little else one can actually say.

This most improbable of outcomes was partly a result of yet more inexplicable refereeing as the performance of Phil Dowd almost took the shine off of Newcastle's remarkable comeback. Put Kafka, Wittgenstein and Carol Vorderman in a room and they still wouldn't come up with any reason as to how the portly official awarded Newcastle their second penalty. Arsenal will also rightly argue that if Abou Diaby deserved his red card (which he certainly did) at the point in which the momentum begun to swing toward the home side, why wasn't Kevin Nolan also dismissed for a near identical offence after Joey Barton's first converted spot kick to make it 4-1?

In any instance, the farcical refereeing should never have been a factor. Unless Dowd and his assistants were actually tackling Arsenal players and scoring the goals themselves, a side with the undoubted quality possessed by Arsene Wenger's team should, without debate, be able to hold on to a lead against a team as mediocre as Newcastle. If at the start of the game, someone offered any gooner a 4-0 lead but being down to 10 men with half an hour left to play, they would have bitten your hands off.

What it basically boils down to is the fact the once again, Arsenal showed about as much resistance and mental fortitude as James Cordon walking past a cake shop and trying to stop himself going in. For most teams in football, you would be able to write off Saturday's result as a freak occurrence. Not Arsenal. We've seen this kind of capitulation from them a number of times before. Hell, this isn't even the first time they've pissed away a commanding lead this season. You can bet your life that this won't even be last time we'll be discussing this.

Their manager refused to address the obvious problems with his team's comical defence in the transfer window and with Johan Djourou's injury leaving them with just two fit centre backs for a while, Arsene Wenger appears to have compromised his team's chances of success with his stubbornness yet again. The time must surely come when you have to wonder if a man who continues to make the same mistakes over and over again is still fit to lead this team.

Bizarrely enough, the gunners actually ended the weekend a point closer to table toppers Manchester United who finally lost 2-1 at Wolves following yet another poor performance away from Old Trafford. For Wolves, Elokobi and Doyle's goals on Saturday evening now mean they have taken 12 points from United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City so far this season – yet somehow they are still currently joint bottom of the league.

Credit to McCarthy's side but if you can't raise your game against the other teams in the league, all your big 'scalps' will ultimately count for nothing when you are back playing against Derby and Doncaster next year. As an aside, isn't it funny that Big Mick was sent to sit on the naughty step last season after fielding a weakened side and essentially throwing a match against United? Putting out his strongest XI might not have been such a bad idea in hindsight.

It's unlikely that this defeat will signal some kind of dramatic United free-fall but it cannot be denied that it has been on the cards for a while. Having got out of jail at Villa, West Brom and Blackpool to name but a few jammy recent examples, this defeat might signify that they have run out of free passes. You imagine it might have to serve as something of a wake up call for Fergie who will realise that If he wants to win yet another league title this season, performances on the road will have to be much better.

The loss for the Reds now means that they won't get to stick it to their rivals from North London by equaling the latter's achievement of going a whole league campaign unbeaten. For everyone concerned with United, this will ultimately prove irrelevant if they claim the more important accolade of a 19th title, bettering that of their enemies from Merseyside.

Speaking of whom, I may need to set aside this blog while I go and cut myself an uber slice of humble pie following the mini-revolution at Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish. I, like many others, thought 'The King' would be out of his depth having been out of the game for so long, coming back in a vastly different era to what he is used to and most importantly, having to manage with a fairly uninspiring squad of players.

Instead of being a resounding failure, Dalglish has seemingly transformed to fortunes of the club and after their 1-0 win over Chelsea – their fourth in a row – fans can start to dream once again. To play devil's advocate however, how much of this good run down to the influence of the man behind the man, former Chelsea assistant manager Steve Clark? Also, wasn't matchwinner and in-form Raul Meireles a Roy Hodgson signing?

Now just six points behind the blues with Wigan and West Ham to come in their next two games, some crazy fools might even start to speculate about a top four finish. Improbable? Maybe. Impossible? Not this season.

Of course, the sub plot to the match at Stamford Bridge was of course the debut of Anakin Skywalker after his £50m move to the dark side. Would he score? Would he celebrate??? Well, as it turned out that Fernando Torres had his best game for Liverpool in months after a performance that can politely be described as 'subdued' but was in fact probably closer to a big steaming pile of another word beginning with 'S'. Chelsea fans the world over will be hoping they don't have another Shevchenko (or worse, Sutton!) on their hands. Whatever he goes on to achieve during his spell with The Blues, Liverpool fans will certainly be feeling somewhat smug about what transpired on Sunday. The scousers have the last laugh ...for now.

Chelsea's recent renaissance came to a grinding halt in a game where they were lucky to come away with 'nil' such was the lack of any attacking invention in their play. It would be an act of gross stupidity to imagine that things won't fall into place sooner rather than later but on this occasion, for a side with a front line consisting of Drogba, Torres, Anelka and Frank Lampard supporting to not even muster a shot on target between them is nothing short of embarrassing. Equally embarrassing is the fact that after some obscene spending of some £70m, Chelsea actually managed to put in one of, if not THE worst performance of any of the 20 teams in the league this weekend. Isn't it funny that it was Liverpool's finest who once sang that "Money can't buy me love"?

Part Two to follow

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