Monday’s Fiver: The Press Get Up On Arsenal

via the Daily Mail

1. Cascarino says it, do the opposite?

Two weeks ago Tony Cascarino was one of the first pundits to weigh in on Ryan Shawcross’ leg-breaking tackle on Aaron Ramsey calling it “mistimed” and not even a red card:

There’s a difference between an awful injury and an awful challenge. Ryan Shawcross’s tackle on Aaron Ramsey was mistimed but not malicious — the same as Martin Taylor’s on Eduardo da Silva two years ago. Let’s not hang the Stoke City defender out to dry because poor Ramsey was simply unlucky. I don’t even think the tackle deserved a red.

Today, he called the same tackle “horrendous” while going on to say that the Boateng tackle deserved a straight red. I don’t want to jump the gun here, but it’s almost as if he’s saying something, well, in line with Arsenal.

I’m confused, I always say and do the opposite of Cascarino and I thought that the Boateng tackle was a straight red. So, maybe the Boateng tackle wasn’t even a yellow card?

2. Stan Collymore adds to the confusion

Now this is really weird… Stan Collymore has long been a fan of Nicklas Bendtner, dating back to last year he said that Bendy would come good and be a star — if only we’d stop booing him. And then again in today’s column he’s once again come to the defense of Bendtner saying that he told us NB would be a great player and that the hat trick  against Porto proves it.  If you only read those two lines you might think Collymore is a huge Arsenal supporter, after all, I’ve been saying the same thing for a year now. But don’t let his love for Bendtner distract you, in those same two articles he also says the following:

With their crowd’s help, the Gunners may just be able to pip Aston Villa to fourth in the Premier League. (2009)

and…

Bendtner’s heroics go to show that, of the 60,000 fans at the Emirates, only the 30,000 or so who would have got into Highbury appear to know anything about football. (2010)

You’ll remember how Arsenal “pipped” Aston Villa to fourth place by ten points and two places (they finished below Everton) last year and as for the second quote, I was AT the game where he claims that 30,000 fans booed Bendtner off the pitch (or that the applause was ironic) and I didn’t see it that way. There were a few folks who were frustrated with NB’s misses against Burnley but as the second half wore on the fans were behind him and oohing and ahhing at his work rate and rightly applauded him leaving as he left the pitch. Listening to a certain podcast (and the guy behind me who rode him the whole game) there were certainly some angry jeers and ironic applause but hardly the 30,000 Collymore claims.

The point for me is crystal clear, we need to ignore folks like Collymore irregardless of whether he makes a positive or a negative statement and just simply get behind the team. All footballers occasionally have poor games and we can reasonably expect is that they put in a full shift. After Saturday’s last gasp goal against Hull, does anyone question Nicklas Bendtner’s commitment?

Good, then let’s move on and flush the Collymore’s down the bog where they and their click-whoring web site belong.

3. Graham Poll’s 50-50 challenge

Meanwhile, Graham Three Yellow Cards Poll has weighed in on the Hull game on the weekend and gets it 50% right, which isn’t bad for him. He explains (to Mr. Orange) why Sol didn’t see a red for the challenge which earned a penalty — basically Mr. Long Name lost control of the ball. Unfortunately he then insinuates that Sol’s challenge on Zyatte was a foul and thus deserving of a yellow (which it wasn’t) and that Arsene would have been angry had the same tackle been put in on Arsenal.

Funny thing there, Graham, Arsenal did suffer several x-rated challenges in that game and I don’t remember Wenger going on about it, so I guess you’re wrong about that.

The good news is that Poll is calling for more protection ahead of the World Cup and wonders what would happen if Rooney were to get injured — of course.

4. Happy Birthday Theo!

Theo Walcott celebrated his 21st birthday in some style this weekend. I think I know what’s wrong with Eduardo’s form lately, he’s suffering from OD, Over Denim. Also, what’s up with inviting Gareth Bale to the party? Maybe Theo was trying to poison him ahead of the North London derby?

5. Speaking of Theo

So, now that Beckham is out of the World Cup and Lennon is out of the World Cup who do you think will play on England’s right? Theo? One of the Villa guys? Who and why, that’s your charge, make an argument in the comments!

Don’t Stop Believing

Something happened this weekend and suddenly there’s a strange wind blowing; the Arsenal team are talking about belief, people in the press are talking favorably of Arsenal, some even calling out Boateng’s filthy challenge, and even Fergie’s gotten in on the act saying that he’s “wary” of Arsenal.

Bendtner’s first up along with the Boss in saying that this Arsenal team never gives up and holds their belief all the way to the end.

I always believe right until the last minute that we can do it because I’ve seen it so many times. People think it’s over and then we score a goal out of nothing. We know it’s important to keep going right to the end.

That was Bendtner and as I said in my match preview, Hull are the worst in the League at conceding late goals and Arsenal have been on a late goal tear, uhh, lately so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we scored, erm, late. Wenger describes it as this:

When I see them on the pitch, I know they will not give up. These kind of wins strengthen our belief, but I think it is more a consequence of our spot-on attitude. For such a young team to have that is something special. It comes from the desire to win something. This team hasn’t won anything yet. We started to build this team three or four years ago, the age is around 22 and now people are saying, ‘yes, but what did you win’? That desire to win something is certainly evident. We haven’t won anything yet and as long as you have not won anything it will play on your mind. But we have built a good squad with exceptional spirit.

And my friends over here are even starting to sense that something is going on with this team. There are just 8 games left in the season and they are all Saturday or Sunday matches from here on out, with the Champions League sprinkled in there on Tuesday or Wendesday, depending on who we draw this Friday. My friends here in the U.S. are starting to sense that we might, just might, be a contender. Which, I’d like to point out, I correctly predicted at the start of the season.

And to a certain extent this is causing some tension. I had one comment to yesterday’s post that accused me of Sunday morning vision about the team. That person clearly has not read the blog. With only one or two exceptions I have been very positive about this team and their chances to win something this year.

But so what if they don’t? Sol doesn’t think our run-in is that easy and frankly, neither do I. I think this team is going to have to work extremely hard and as Fergie snidely pointed out “avoid further injury” against teams like Hull which I have documented are going to try to kick the piss out of Arsenal as this season winds down: West Ham are not safe from relegation, Birmingham are a “feisty” team of leg breakers, Wolves are fighting for their lives and unlikely to gift us a game the way they did their friends at United, Tottenham and Manciti are in a pitched battle for fourth, Steve Bruce at Wigan will do everything in his power to ensure that United get their 19th title, and Blackburn are the most despicable pack of cunts in the League.

I’m wary of Arsenal if they don’t suffer too many more injuries to key players.

A paranoid person might see that Fergie quote as a call from on high to do some damage to the Arsenal side. We keep being reminded that United are looking for their record 19th title and 4th in a row, it can’t possibly have escaped the notice of Fergie’s former players who are now managers can it?

With the referees so clearly against Arsenal, Fergie “hoping” that Arsenal don’t get any more injuries and the teams we’re facing in the relegation zone I have to agree with Sol that this is going to be a tough run in.

That said, no matter what happens this season has been a huge improvement over last and that’s all we can really ask. That and all the boys stay healthy, avoid filthy tackles, and don’t give up until the final whistle blows against Fulham on May 9th at 4:45pm GMT.

Oh wait, I mean, when the final whistle blows against Barcelona in Madrid on May 22nd at 10:30pm GMT and we are crowned champions of Europe and England.

Hull 1-2 Arsenal: You’re not blind, you’ve just got blood in your eyes

We are 30 games in and Arsenal have scored a League leading 71 goals while Hull in 29 games have managed to concede a League leading 61.  The gulf in class between these two teams is as evident in the table as it was on the pitch and in the interview room yesterday.

This morning’s live Premier League table has United gaining both in goal differential and in points as they hold a 1-0 advantage over Fulham — which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. But as my regular reader knows, my favorite way to sort the table is by goal difference. By and large, goal difference gives an accurate reflection of where the teams should fall at the end of the season. Before kickoff I noticed that the goal difference between Arsenal and Hull was 70 goals (+37 for Arsenal, -33 for Hull) and so I knew that no matter what happened Arsenal were going to win this game. As the game went on and Hull got a penalty gifted to them a lot of folks in the twitterverse started getting really nervous, but I didn’t worry. Now if we play the way we played against Hull against West Ham, who only have a -12 goal differential, and let them get back into the game, we could very easily find ourselves with just one point and the final whistle.

On the pitch, the Hull pitch still had the lines from their rugby match last weekend, or maybe they had the lines painted for the rugby match they anticipated yesterday. I’m not sure, but I don’t think you can take a team too seriously who play with rugby lines on their home patch.

The match started well, with Andre Marriner blowing the whistle for all the early tactical fouling which everyone predicted Hull would employ. As a result, Arsenal were dominating possession and moving the ball well, threatening to open Hull up early several times. In the 14th minute Arsenal took an uncharacteristic early lead off some very good individual play from Andrei Arshavin who took the pass from Bendtner and jinked between Hull defenders to score a wonderful right-footed shot.

After that, Hull stepped up and tried to foul their way back into the game, pushing, shoving, and Boateng even pulling the old fashioned Three Stooges eye gouge all of which suddenly escaped Mr. Marriner’s eagle eye. In fact, after Craig Fagan disrespected the referee by complaining about how he was blowing the whistle too much, and got a “ticking off” for his effort, Marriner responded and started to allow Hull to kick Arsenal with little consequence. I suspect that little bit of gamesmanship by Fagan led directly to Campbell’s yellow card and Hull’s gifted penalty.

As for the penalty, the linesman was similarly suffering temporary blindness as he missed Dude With A Name So Long That It Forms A Circle Of Letters On His Back being offside by nearly the entire length of one of the Rugby lines which disgraced Hull’s pitch. Then Dude With A Name So Long That It Forms A Circle Of Letters On His Back seized his chance and knowing that he had no way of getting the ball back, pulled a triple-gainer and dove all over the pitch. Which caused the Hull fans to start singing “same old Arsenal, always cheating.” And they say irony is dead.

After Bullard scored the penalty, Hull had a bit of belief and showed a little more energy, which they plowed into tactically fouling Arsenal. George Boateng alone could have been sent off three or four times over before finally receiving his marching orders for an x-rated, studs to the knee, red-card, challenge on Bacary Sagna. Of course Marriner only saw it as a second yellow, perhaps because Boateng was captain?

After Hull were reduced to 10 men I knew exactly how the next 60 minutes were going to play out: Hull would defend with 8 men and Arsenal would patiently play the ball around and wait for the chance to open them up. Unfortunately, Arsenal’s final ball for the next 60 minutes or so was just not good enough. We had many, many corners which were not taken well enough and Mendy was able to clean up any breaks in the run of play.

Wenger pulled out all the stops and threw on the pacy Theo Walcott who came on and immediately made Hull look tired. Unfortunately, his final ball became quite predictable and it was easy for Hull to cut it out. Eduardo was also brought on but in his current form he looks a shell of his former self and I didn’t even notice he was on the pitch until he helped Bendtner celebrate the game winner.

And that game winner came from an unusual bit of play from Arsenal as Denilson had a long distance shot, which the keeper parried into the path of Bendtner who scored with aplomb.  The phrase “long distance shot” does not come up that often on the blog because Arsenal do not do long distance shots. Another phrase that I don’t think you’ll find in the blog is “Bendtner’s in a rich vein of form” but with 6 goals in Arsenal’s last 5 games (all wins) it’s fair to say that he really is. In fact, I thought it was Arshavin who, despite the goal, looked rather poor and missed several sitters which would have put the game beyond doubt. Though I seriously doubt any fans will start jumping on the little Russian the way that they have the big Dane.

Hardly a post-match interview with Phil Brown goes by without at least a belly laugh and at most an absolutely confused guffaw. Phil didn’t let us down, saying that both Sol should have been sent off for the penalty and that the play leading up to the penalty wasn’t offside because while his player was offside,  the flag didn’t go up:

The pivotal moment was undoubtedly in favor of Arsenal. He (Sol) should have been red carded, it’s as simple as that. It was offside, but it wasn’t offside because the flag didn’t go up. He’s denied a goalscoring opportunity and under the letter of the law, he should have been red carded.

Don’t me wrong, I understand that a manager will defend his troops, but to claim that Arsenal got the benefit of the calls in this match because Sol Campbell wasn’t sent off during a penalty that shouldn’t have been given flies in the face of reality. Moreover, I can’t remember the last time a manager complained about the referee when he was clearly the one who benefited from a call which in itself  strained credulity.

It’s just bizarre but then, we have come to expect nothing less from Mr. Orange who after the spitting incident, the handshake incident, the saving someone from suicide incident, the sit down and admonish your players incident, and so much more, clearly lives in his own reality. We will miss you next year Mr. Orange, though I will keep fingers crossed that we get you in the FA or League Cups.

There’s so much more I could talk about (we were man-marking on set plays for once!) but I’ll let you all get a word in now. Unfortunately, Man U beat a very jaded Fulham 3-0 today and sit at the top of the table with a two point lead and a +6 goal differential. Wenger says we are going to give everything to win the League this year and as it stands, we’ll need to. No one is going to hand us the title.