Newcastle United 0 - 1 Arsenal

First off, I apologize again for my absence. My crappy Internet provider (a gigantic corporation whose name I won't mention, but it begins with Time and ends with Warner) went out AGAIN for four or five days. So, belatedly, I'd like to wish everyone the happiest of holidays, whatever it is you celebrate.

Now, the match report:

Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal

Patrick Vieira (45)

The Champions: Manuel Almunia -- Ashley Cole, Kolo Abib Toure, Sol Campbell, Lauren Bisane-Etane -- Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Mathieu Flamini, Fredrik Ljungberg -- Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie (Gael Clichy 76)

The Magpies: Shay Given -- Olivier Bernard (Charles N'Zogbia 87), Aaron Hughes, Titus Bramble, Steven Taylor -- Laurent Robert, Kieron Dyer, Jermaine Jenas, Lee Bowyer -- Shola Ameobi, Craig Bellamy

It wasn't exactly champagne football, but it is especially important for us to grind out results like this away from home. In an overall sense, the clean sheet is a very nice bonus...our defense was quite good positionally and handled the few set pieces that came along with aplomb. But, I suppose we're lucky in another sense that the Magpies are so ravaged with injury...I'm not sure we would have kept a clean sheet against a full-strength Newcastle team. While they have some interesting young talent for the future, they still don't have strength of depth here in the present tense. Therefore, the Gunners were only threatened on a few occasions, most of them coming in the first half.

Before I go further, I'd like to get the peripheral stuff out of the way. First, I have to say that I quite enjoy Alan Parry and David Pleat as a team. When I was first starting to become a rabid fan of this league, whether it be by chance or whatever, Parry ended up calling many of the games that I watched in those nascent stages. Besides the fact that he's a great commentator in general, to me, he's pretty much the voice of English football. As for Pleat, yeah yeah, I know he's strongly associated with the Lily White Scum. And, he certainly does subtly cheerlead against us at times. But, as far as color commentators go (and that is a pretty new concept in England, right? I always remember there being just one guy doing commentary per match...outside of the odious Andy Gray, that is), he's probably the best I've heard so far. Funny how a guy who was such a poor manager can so accurately pick apart the important factors and themes in any given match. They seem to have a pretty good chemistry in the booth as well...Parry knows when to let Pleat talk (although "ramble" might be closer to the proper description) and when to get things back on track. I expect many more quality performances out of those two in matches to come.

The other thing I wanted to get to is the referee, Steve Bennett. I've mentioned several times here and on the Arseblog forums that I believe him to be one of the best referees in England. And, he certainly did nothing to prove me wrong in this match...he was absolutely fantastic. As the announcers mentioned several times, St. James' Park is a hard place to be the man in the middle...50,000 people screaming and chanting can be unspeakably intimidating for the referee. If he isn't careful, the crowd could end up being the ones to referee the match. Anyone who has ever watched a match involving Manshit United at Old Trafford can attest to this. However, events in the match caused a lot of calls to go against Newcastle in succession. And, to Bennett's immense credit, he didn't buckle under the booing and the general whining crybaby shit (both from the fans and that annoying little prick Lee Bowyer). Also, he didn't artifically call any fouls on Arsenal to "even it up." I absolutely agree with that approach...if a side commits 4 straight fouls, then it's 4 straight fouls. Likewise, in the second half, Arsenal were consistently fouling Newcastle, and the final tally ended up being like 20-10 Arsenal...or in that range, at least. In short, he had a fantastic game and deserves the plaudits for it.

Right then, on to the match.

One of the most appallingly-overused cliches about football is "it's a game of two halves." Well, this game was a game of one half. The first 45 minutes were the best of what the English league can provide...up-and-down, frenetic, pulsating stuff. People flying into tackles, great defensive performances, wonderful bits of individual skill from Pires and Henry. Then, the second half came around, and that sure was 45 minutes of people wandering up and down the pitch. Newcastle couldn't break the Arsenal down, and very intelligently, Arsenal didn't waste too much effort holding them at bay (thus, they should be fine for the rest of the holiday fixture list).

Interestingly, Arsenal flew out of the gates, and Newcastle looked like the away side for the first 15 minutes. They weathered that storm and slowly started to make a few probing runs the other way, but it was still the Arsenal who had most of the possession. As Pleat said, Arsenal ruthlessly bossed the midfield, and did a far better job of getting the ball into dangerous positions on the wing. Then again, I don't know what good that would have done the Magpies anyway...on the right was The Hideously Overrated Lee Bowyer, and on the left is Laurent Robert, who is great when you're winning but is a glaring liability otherwise. Their best offensive option was the old Route One, with Shola Ameobi playing the unlikely part of the center forward. Here, I believe the commentators were incorrect...Ameobi won a few headers against Sol Campbell, and they made it seem like he was decisively winning that battle. Ummm...no...he would have had to create some real chances to do that. He only had the one to speak of, early on. Ameobi won a header off a long ball, made some room for himself, and sent a pretty nice shot towards the low corner. But, Almunia was in good position, he did a great job of seeing the shot through some traffic, and he dived very well and very quickly down to his right to fist it away. Great, great save from the Spaniard. If he continues on like this, Jens Lehmann will be back in Germany by the middle of January.

Believe it or not, the best player by far for Newcastle was their young right back, Steven Watson. He's just 18, but he was fearless when called upon to stave off Henry and Pires. While he got beaten several times, there isn't much shame in getting beaten by one of those two. And, he stopped them far more than some right backs have, that's for sure. He also got up the field in the second half and gave it a pretty good go on the one shot he had. Definitely a player to watch for the future, that one.

For our part, it was the Freddie and Flamini show in midfield...battling performances from both allowed Pires time and space to work his magic. Henry had a few tricks up his sleeve as well, but none of it resulted in goals. Some of it was the last touch failing us, but it was mainly Newcastle uncharacteristically giving a spirited performance on the backline. When the goal came, it was actually the result of a fortitous bounce. The preceding action was Arsenal getting the ball off a Newcastle throw-in or free kick (forget which) and beginning another attack that seemed easy enough for the home side to repel. Paddy Vieira's first strike of the ball caromed off a Newcastle guy and came right back to him. Undaunted, the skipper just volleyed it right towards the net from a pretty decent distance out. Now, while it was a great shot and a marvelous bit of skill, it would almost certainly have been saved in normal circumstances. Just given the pace and placement of it (while both were excellent), it would actually be a comfortable save if the keeper was ready for it and in the right place. Shay Given, luckily for us, was neither. I imagine that the slight deflection might have put him off some, but it happened so quickly...I can't imagine why he was all the way over on the his left-hand side of the net. Maybe he was anticipating the shot getting through or whatever, but the resulting volley left him flat-footed and completely out of position. He recovered quickly enough to make a decent dive for it, but he was never saving it at that point. It ended up in the top center part of the net, and given normal circumstances, would have been tipped over the bar 90% of the time. Still, 1-0 to the Arsenal it was.

I know I've rambled a bit, but that was because the second half had very few talking points. Laurent Robert could have forced them back into the game several times, but his corners and free kicks were absolute shit (unsurprisingly, as he sure does turn back into a pumpkin when times are tough). Graeme Souness (who I don't even come close to rating as a manager) did absolutely nothing to change things up and force Arsenal on the back foot. He didn't make a substitution until the 87th minute, and that came only because Bernard got hurt. Now, I know he had a ridiculously young bench and all. But, given that Newcastle was not threatening at all in the second half, and guys like N'Zogbia and Milner have no shortage of potential, why not throw them on there for 20 minutes and see if they have what it takes? Doing it the way he did it, they still lost. Meanwhile, Arsene decided to trust guys like Fabregas and van Persie and Kolo Toure in big situations, and it has worked out brilliantly.

By the way, Lee Bowyer is a diving, cheating asshole.

The other thing that mystifies me about Newcastle's tactics is the way they went about the "away team at home" routine. Whenever lower-end teams have had success against us, they have done it by packing the midfield with 5 guys and cutting off the source of all of our offensive might -- the passing game that starts in the midfield. If you choke off the passing channels for Pires and Freddie and Vieira, you won't have to worry too much about Henry, as he won't even get the ball most of the time. Also, if you can keep Pires and Freddie where they are, that means that Cole and Lauren can't make runs forward, thus forcing the whole team back. Inertia is a motherfucker sometimes, especially in this sport. Arsenal are at their best when they're flowing forward. Block the flow a bit, and you immediately downgrade our entire offense. If I were Souness, I would have had the same four guys in the back, and went with 5 in the midfield. You could even do that two different ways. You could have Bellamy on the right wing and move Bowyer back to the middle (isn't that his preferred position, anyway?). Or, you could play four across the middle and have Bellamy withdrawn a bit, in the hole behind the striker. In that case, you don't have to launch long balls to get Ameobi involved...you can counter-attack and push up the field, and then use Bellamy to roam around the pitch and try and get a cross into the box for Ameobi to get on the end of.

Either way, it's a good win for us, and an important one at that. I will try to make it to Nevada's in time for the New Year's Day fixture against Fulham...that is, if I want to begin 2005 by handing over 10 bucks to those Setanta bastards. We'll see.

Have a fun and aafe New Year's. See you after the ball drops.


Sorry for the lack of updates

Yes, I know it's been a bit slow around here lately. But, until Setanta gets it through their skulls that many of us are not going to pay 10 bucks to see us play mid-table shite on the road, then things won't change...I can't report on what I don't see.

Or, if I ever make an actual livable wage, that'll naturally change.

The Cliff Notes version is that I'm happy with how things are going. It was nice to see a strong defensive performance against Pompey, especially because all three points were gained in the end. Chelsea are due to come back to earth at some point, so 5 points at this stage is really not a big deal. Worse sides than us have come back from a far greater deficit in the past. If they were 13 or 14 points clear and we were still struggling, that would be one thing. But, we're coming up on a stretch of winnable games, We Love You Freddie is coming back soon, and the defense seems to be on the right track. Almunia's been far better than I've expected, too (See? ARSENE FUCKING KNOWS).

Happy holidays to one and all. See you in the new year.


Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea, and some other stuff

No big, long match report this time. Because of the nature of this past weekend (mainly the head injury I sustained on Friday), this one's going to be kind of short. Also, I can't really give any kind of deep analysis when I only saw about 60-65 minutes of the match, plus the extended highlights on the EPL Review Show.

That said, the best thing we can take away from this match is that we pierced Chelsea's air of invincibility somewhat. Unless you're Birmingham or Norwich, this defense of theirs, while an excellent one, can be breached. It takes some doing, but it can be done given some modicum of skill in passing and running off the ball. Second, we can take away that when he's not winning 4-0, that moaning prick Jose Mourinho is as much of a whinging fuckstick as Alex Ferguson has ever been...he needed an industrial-sized box of tissues in his press conference after the game. While he tapdanced around the referee complaining well enough to avoid any FA sanctions, I think the London police should get involved...the crime? Illegal Possession of Two Testicles.

Also, it was nice to see one of our goalkeepers have an undeniably solid game. While I think Almunia could have done more to at least try and keep the second one out, the goal was certainly not his fault, and it would have taken a Buffon or Casillas-like effort to actually keep it out. I had posted on the Arseblog forums that: "I would rather have a 'Keep Out' sign in our net than Almunia against Chelsea," and I'd like to take this opportunity to say that I was very, very wrong. Well done to him. On the other end, Cech played well, and had no chance on either of our goals. But, he also showed he isn't invincible either...if van Persie's late effort was on goal, then it was in...Cech was well and truly beaten, and on a shot that Freidel or Niemi would save more often than not.

Fair play to Chelsea though...they showed that they can compete against the very best that England has to offer...even if that very best had no Vieira and no Ljungberg. Also, as far as rivals go, I infinitely prefer them to the Red Scum. We'll beat them sometimes, they'll beat us sometimes. But, if this match is anything to go by, then most of our encounters will be played at an amazingly-high level, and they'll be mostly clean. Meanwhile, the red bastards' big ideas when playing us mostly involve doing pratfalls all over the park and kicking anything vaguely Spanish. I hope they get fucking relegated next season. But, while I certainly don't like Chelsea, their owner or their manager, I at least accept them as rivals worthy of the Arsenal. In all seriousness, every great hero needs a fearsome villan...without that, where would the motivation come from to perform heroic feats (just ask Thierry)? Speaking of TH14, yes, the miss was bad. But, THAT goal counteracts it somewhat, yes?

-- A while back, I did a post outlining my thoughts on red cards and penalties. I insisted that both should be used only when absolutely necessary, mainly because they both can completely change the outcome of the game. This weekend saw two instances where the referee absolutely butchered the call...one by making the call, and one by not making the call. In the Norwich-Bolton match, a Norwich defender (Docherty, I believe it was) was whistled for a penalty because a deflected ball hit him on the shoulder. There was nothing he could have done to get out of the way (in my opinion), and I saw nothing that made me think it was intentional in any sense of the word. Only a well-timed bout of leprosy could have prevented the ball from hitting his shouder. But, Barry Knight immediately pointed right to the spot, and Jay Jay Okocha easily converted. The play was a bunch of nothing before the deflection (Bolton didn't seem likely to score, that's for sure), and because yet another referee doesn't know the rule (there's no such thing as "handball"...the rule is "intentional handling"), the match could have been completely changed. However, Norwich did end up winning, ironically in large part because of a much better penalty decision later in the match (Bentley was held up in the area...clear-cut penalty...despite what that walrus-faced jackass Allardyce said after the match).

The second instance was in the Crystal Palace - Blackburn match. Now, Blackburn manager Mark Hughes was an absolutely vile piece of shit when he was a player, so it isn't surprising to me that he's transformed Rovers into a bunch of psychotic, hyperactive hatchet men. First, you had Jay Bothroyd taking that ridiculous (but deserved) red card for a retaliation kick, and now David Thompson did much the same to a Crystal Palace defender that had well and truly beaten him to the ball. Thompson (who really isn't a bad player...that's the aggravating thing) hooked an arm around him, then delivered a New Japan Pro Wrestling-style kick to the back of the legs. A violent, classless and cowardly act like that should always have one result -- a straight red card and at least a one-match suspension (preferably three). I don't know what on earth this referee was thinking (didn't catch who it was), but he only gave him a yellow card. Now, if I were to tell you that (after a foul like that where the player wasn't sent off) the match ended up denigrating into a mini-brawl at the end...I mean, you must be as fucking shocked as I was. Guess who ended up right at the center of it? Guess who got sent off way too late? I'm too lazy to look up the time difference between the should-have-been red and the actual red. However, if it were any length of time at all, then Palace has a legitimate bitch. Maybe, in the 10 minutes that they had the man advantage, they could have broken the 0-0 deadlock and scored a winner in there somewhere. Imagine how big that could be in a relegation six-pointer in a league that is always razor-thin at the bottom of the standings? Three points can mean the difference between safety and relegation. Shit, the +1 in the goal differential can mean all the difference in the world.

Again, these are humongous decisions during the course of the season...and, while the referees get it right the majority of the time, it MUST be pointed out when they get it badly, badly wrong.


[Even more Meta]


For the last week or so, my cable modem decided not to work. I tried everything I could think of, nada. I spent 20 minutes on the phone with Time Warner, nada.

Know what ended up working?

Unplugging and plugging back in the actual cable.

You're fucking KIDDING me, right?



[ Meta ]

1. I've added a link to The Mighty Boro over there on the right. Hope you guys are treating Ray Parlour well over there!

2. To the guy who found this by searching for "eat your soul blogspot", umm, did you really need an internet search to get from Point A to Point B? That's kind of like taking an inner tube from here to London instead of the Concorde.

3. My site meter tells me that in the past three days or so, like 6 or 7 people have made it to my blog by Googling my full name. If you're one of those people and are reading this now, WILL YOU FUCKING STOP IT? You're creeping me the fuck out.

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