Well, let’s just get this out of the way…the officiating in the Newcastle v. Arsenal match was more abysmal than Arsenal’s fragility and lack of killer instinct/closing ability. I’ve heard of “home cooking before,” but c’mon guy. Joey Barton’s tackle on Abou Diaby was an ugly, dangerous travesty that had bad intentions and broken bones written all over it. Whoever wrote ESPN’s report on this match wins the “Great Moments in Euphemisms” award for their description of Barton’s tackle as being “rugged” and “no-holds-barred.” Yet the official decided to send Diaby off for his completely justified anger over this assault. It was the most backwards and baffling decision I’ve seen yet by a football official. It’s not like Barton has a reputation that recommends receiving the benefit of many doubts. To make matters worse, not only did Barton not get a much deserved red card, we had to suffer the indignity of seeing him score on two separate penalties; the second of which was apparently given on a Laurent Koscielny foul that I’ve yet to detect or discern. It was a debacle. Newcastle’s own Warren Barton couldn’t wait to get on FSC after the match and tell everybody that Arsene Wenger couldn’t and shouldn’t blame the officials for this loss, even though he would and blah, blah, Newcastle’s character…blah, blah, blah. That was total rubbish. Arsenal did fold in many respects, displaying a sorry lack of resolve and mental toughness that, like them or not, Manchester United has in abundance. But the officiating did impact the match in drastically dubious ways and to imply otherwise is ridiculous. Oh ye Gunners…how I wish I could quit you.
The day started off with an excellent 3-2 shootout between Stoke City and Sunderland. It was a fast-paced, physical match with great effort by both sides. Stoke are often given a bad rap and stigmatized as dirty etc. but in this match I saw nothing but clean, physical intensity and attack. Jermaine Pennant provided beautiful, top-notch service on both of Stoke’s second half goals, including Robert Huth’s match winner.
I’m so tired of hearing about United’s streak that I almost missed a pretty exciting match. Usually there is a La Liga match on at the same time Saturday afternoon and I was all set to watch that. Also, after the Arsenal meltdown, I wanted to stop thinking about England for awhile anyway. But this time there was a replay of a Bundesliga match or something that left me no choice but to watch United surely increase their lead over Arsenal to a yawning 8 points. The second half of this match was riveting, as Wolves outworked United in a spirited, intense display of football that wasn’t going to take 1 point for answer. It was so exciting that it actually absorbed my wife, Alie, who started watching it with me. This match was great and helped take some of the sting out of the Arsenal inspired gloom and incredulity. Bravo Wolves! I’m really starting to get more attached to and excited about the teams at the bottom of table. The relegation battle is certainly going to provide some sorry exits and goodbyes indeed.
Speaking of attachments–Birmingham City won again yesterday on a beautiful header by the suddenly-not-so-slumbering giant Nikola Zigic. At this point, I would not be surprised if Birmingham defeated Arsenal for the Carling Cup. Birmingham took the 3 points from West Ham at Upton Park on Avram Grant’s 56th birthday. It’s sad seeing a proud club struggle the way the Hammers are, but I continue to be impressed by Birmingham City’s form.
Aston Villa and Fulham played to an extremely exciting 2-2 draw. I watched the replay of this match and it was probably the most best one I saw all day. If John Pantsil ever stops scoring into his own net, who knows what this Fulham side could do. He was the victim of yet another unfortunate bounce in this match (I’m still pissed about the one against Liverpool). Clint Dempsey equalized for FFC on a ferocious header for his 10th goal of the season in the 78th minute. This goal secured the draw and provided a decent result for Fulham at Villa Park. As an aside-I have to say that with Darren Bent in the fold this Aston Villa squad is exciting to watch.
The first half of the Chelsea v. Liverpool match was unbelievably boring. The second half was much, much better and I thought Liverpool fully deserved their 1-0 victory. Raul Meireles is on fire. It’s also apparent that Jamie Carragher’s mere presence alone makes such a big difference in this Liverpool side. Carragher is definitely the type of player/leader that Arsenal sorely lacks. I’ve been reading a lot about the strange tactical formation Kenny Dalglish used in this match. Fernando Torres even admitted publicly that the tactical switch caught Chelsea off guard. The Liverpool players adapted brilliantly to the switch and defended cohesively and methodically. I found it odd, though, that Dirk Kuyt stayed up top as the striker and that Luis Suarez was not introduced into the match at all. I’m a big fan of Kuyt’s, but he seems uncomfortable and out of place in the role he’s currently occupying. I really have no idea what to make of Chelsea at this point. I’m curious to see what role if any that they’ll play in the Champions League.