Sunday, 14 August 2011

Weekend Observations - Day One. 13th August 2011

New season, same old stories.

Not for the first time, Joey Barton is the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. If Barton exhales in an open space his CO2 would have enough concentrated rage to start a small fire. When Barton goes for a piss, his urine gets charged with GHB against the sewage systems throughout Britain. His inability to stay out of trouble has become so ridiculous that most people are just fed up with him.

After last season's extraordinary 4-4 draw, how predictable was it that was going to be a tediously dull 0-0 draw? As the snoozefest between Arsenal and Newcastle was drawing to a close, the Gunners' Ivorian summer signing Gervinho made a break into the penalty area and went down. At first look I said 'dive' but consequently replays have been inconclusive. I'm going to plonk my arse firmly on the fence and say that you could make an argument either way. Many people have decided that the apparent trip by Tiote was indeed enough to warrant a spot kick but our very own Shakespearean tragic hero didn't quite see it that way...

Filled with the kind of indignation and rage that would probably cause one to stick a cigar in someones eye or assault someone in McDonalds, Barton raced over to the floored Arsenal man and dragged him to his feet prompting 'handbags' the end result seeing Gervinho sent off after slapping the psychotic scouser. A 'slap' that Barton reacted to be claiming he had been punched and throwing himself to the ground so hard he briefly popped up in Australia. Yes, his reaction to a ‘dive’ was to dive himself and get someone sent off. Irony at it's absolute best/worst.

Earlier in the game, Barton was involved in another moment of controversy when Arsenal's Alex Song appeared to, quite deliberately, tread on the back of the Newcastle man's calf. I'd like to think Song said “tweet this, you mug” or “Song 3:16 says I just kicked your ass!” or something similar. Now, even sat in a Holloway road flat, kissing a signed Ian Selley photo, clutching a Gunnersaurus stuffed toy while watching through the most rose tinted of glasses, there isn't a gooner on the planet who can deny Song was lucky not to be sent off. There is no question about that. I expect retrospective action and a three game ban is not far off. As what was actually the worst offence of the day, this would have been the main talking point and made for a rare occasion where one would actually sympathise with Barton. Sadly, as is his wont, he insisted on being an idiot once more. It's impossible to have any sympathy when the sinned in turn becomes the sinner.

Don't get me wrong, Gervinho deserved to see red. As the laws of the game dictate: “A player is guilty of violent conduct if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball.”

Sadly, in football, what the Arsenal man did somehow constitutes “violent conduct”. I personally don’t think a feeble slap counts as “excessive force or brutality” but then again, I would also like not to think of myself as a total pussy. Rules is rules though and at the end of the day, who am I to argue? But this does not excuse Barton's behaviour. His initial show of aggression was at least as bad as Gervinho's and therefore the punishment should have been the same. The pictures clearly show him almost ripping the shirt off the Ivorian’s back. If the Arsenal man is guilty of “excessive force” then so is Barton. 100%. How he only got away with a yellow is simply scandalous.

What right does he have to think he can take the law into his own hands? He couldn't have inflamed the situation anymore if he doused the entire stadium in kerosene and lit one of his infamous cigars. His shameful play-acting afterwards was an affront to any contact sport you could care to mention let alone football. To then claim a punch was laughable. Especially given his own expertise on what actually constitutes punching.

His teammate Steven Taylor was seen to suggest to the referee that it was an elbow that floored Barton. Yes, THIS Steven Taylor. Not exactly the most credible of witnesses.

Almost as disappointing as the dishonesty and behaviour of the players was the immediate aftermath on ESPN. Rebbecca Lowe had a great opportunity to ask Taylor why he blatantly lied but allowed him to squirm his way out of explaining his act of cheating. How can she expect to be respected as a journalist if she is afraid to ask tough questions? Then there was the post-match analysis. Ray Stubbs was once considered one of the finest broadcasters out there but seems to have reduced himself to nothing more than an antagonistic foghorn by trying to justify Barton's actions because of Song's stamp. Didn't his mother ever tell him that Robbie Savage was predictably tiresome in his own criticisms of Barton when he claimed himself to be “one of the dirtiest players in the history of the Premier League” as if that is something to be proud of or it is some sort of competition.

All in all, not one person involved came out with any credit. I won’t even go into what both managers said. The controversies also deflect talk away from how awful the rest of the match was. After the summer-long wait for the start of the Premier League, this first televised match was about as redundant an 'advert for the game' as inviting David Starkey to the Notting Hill carnival in a couple of weeks. If I was watching this in mortuary, I would expect one of the corpses to punch my in the face for subjecting them to this abuse. Arsenal showed very little to convince those that think this will be the first time under Monsieur Wenger that they wont finish in the coverted Champions League spots that they are wrong.

Before his sending off, Gervinho was the most lively player for the away team who dominated from start to finish. But for all their possession both player and team alike failed to produce anything vaguely resembling end product. Same old Arsenal and all that. The Ivorian now faces a three game ban and with both Nasri and Fabregas standing at the door of the Emirates with their bags packed and waiting for the cab to arrive, Wenger might have to take the advice of travelling gooners who spent much of the second half demanding that their manager “spend some fucking money”. With games against Man Utd and Liverpool to come as well as the crucial two legged Champions League qualifier against Udinese all in the next fortnight, Arsenal's season could be in grave danger of ending before it has even begun.

A final word on the gunners. At the end of the game, the players seemed happy enough to shake hands with Barton. Compare this to the reaction to Ruud van Nistelrooy back in 2003. Not that you can condone what Martin Keown et al did at Old Trafford that day but the contrasting attitudes are telling. That was a strong, determined team who were quite literally prepared to show some fight. It's no surprise that team went on to win the title without losing a game while this side of softies is more than likely going to finish the season empty handed for the seventh successive year.

Newcastle too were poor. Chasing shadows from first minute to last and very much second best on home turf. There were little to no encouraging signs for a team that looks destined to fade into midtable/lower half obscurity. Maybe it was just the sound on my TV but even the so-called best fans in the world seem numbed by the dross Pardew is serving them these days. I'd even go as far as to say another relegation is not unthinkable. You heard it here first!

Elsewhere on the opening day, a number of unremarkable results made us wonder why we've been looking forward to this day for so long. Liverpool, who will be hoping to usurp the likes of Arsenal in the top four didn’t really show a great deal to suggest they will following a 1-1 home draw with Sunderland in a game where both sides featured more new faces than a budget cosmetic surgery (unfortunately none of these new faces belonged to Dirk Kuyt).

The main talking point from the game was whether Kieran Richardson should have stayed on the pitch after fouling the fantastic Luis Suarez early on and conceding a penalty. Again, going back to the old FIFA laws, “denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity” is offence punishable by s sending off. However, referees must consider certain circumstances such as “direction of play” and this is where Richardson gets his reprieve. That said, even though Suarez was going “away” from the goal, the fact he was on his way around the keeper and opening up the goal for himself, it was probably still enough of a goal-scoring opportunity for the Sunderland man to see red without much complaint. The law is an ass!

This game also saw the goal of the weekend scored by Sunderland’s new man Seb Larsson. A superb right footed scissor kick volley from inside the area from a Ahmed Elmohamady cross on the right. For all the daft money spent on players these days, it’s remarkable that a free transfer like Larsson can slip under the radar. Very surprised more clubs didn’t look at him.

Alex McLiesh took his Aston Villa side to Fulham and successfully led them to the first of many 0-0 draws in his inevitably unspectacular tenure there. There was more action at White Hart Lane where Spurs v Everton had actually been postponed due to the riots in the area that you may have heard of presuming you don't live on Neptune. Speaking of which, there's been a lot of talk this week about how best to deal with the looters and rioters up and down the country. I reckon a mandatory season ticket at Villa Park this season would be a fitting punishment. I'd rather be waterboarded. Seriously.

To think that almost two years to day, Norwich City were starting their season in League One with a 7-1 home defeat to Colchester. Rather than try and get the U’s manager that day convicted of some form of brutal sexual assault, the Canaries did the next best thing and hired Paul Lambert instead. Two years and two successive promotions later, Norwich kicked off their Premier League campaign with a 1-1 draw at Wigan. Both teams are expected to be in the proverbial relegation dogfight this season so, as absurd as it sounds, this match was still essentially a big six pointer and a chance to lay down something of a marker at that bottom end of the table. A point was probably better for Norwich given they were the away side. Wigan now face other expected strugglers Swansea and QPR in the next couple of weeks. Failure to get results in those games will see them playing catch up very, very early on in the season.

Similarly, Wolves picked up a vital 2-1 win over poultry enthusiasts Blackburn Rovers. McCarthy’s problem last year was the fact that his side could beat the big boys then struggle against the teams around them. This time around I’m sure they would prefer to reverse this pattern and not have to got through another nervy end to the season where they survive by the skin of their teeth. As for Blackburn, if Steve Kean isn’t given a one way ticket out of Lancashire anytime soon, the Venky’s will find themselves in a right clucking state as they plummet straight down to the Championship. Sorry.

Rooted to the bottom after the first day’s play are newly promoted QPR who were thumped 4-0 at home by Bolton. A defence made up of Fitz Hall, Clint Hill, Danny Gabbidon and Bradley Orr might serve you well in the Championship but the top flight is a whole different ball game. Investment is needed at the club, particularly in defence or else Loftus Road’s experience of hosting Premier League football will be a fleeting one. In the least predictable occurrence of the day, Rangers’ new signing Kieron Dyer was stretchered off injured after just 8 minutes. Hard not to feel sorry for him. It must be difficult trying to play sport when your bones are made of polystyrene and your tendons of wet tissue.

More to follow. In the meantime, hit me up on Twitter

No comments: