Much like the night that Arsenal lost to Barcelona in Paris after a boneheaded mistake from Mad Jens saw Arsenal reduced to 10 men only to get the go ahead goal from Sol Campbell and go on to lose 2-1, last night was a day that will live in Arsenal infamy. You will always remember where you were when you saw the 11th minute blunder that allowed Porto the first goal and you will forever remember the name “Fabianski” as the keeper who threw away an easily winnable game against a very average Porto side on their home patch.
I was at Doyle’s and due to some things I was taking care of at home ended up rushed to get there on time and set up for the experimental podcast. I got there, had the Guinness poured and before I could really get set up the match was underway. Moreover, there was hardly anyone else in the room and frankly I felt very self conscious about talking into a microphone to myself in front of such a small crowd. I had it built up in my mind that there would at least be one other Arsenal fan there, or maybe Russ (Doyle’s publican) and I could shoot the breeze with them as we watched Arsenal beat up on Porto.
My nerves though got the better of me and I quietly slipped the microphone away and settled into watching the game. Had the microphone been on it would have went something like this:
Great tackle there by Sol Campbell to save from the onrushing Porto attack. Despite the fact that Sol was wrong-sided, he managed to time the tackle perfectly and swept the ball away. That’s what experience brings right there. Well, experience and greatness, there’s no denying that Sol is pure class.
… (some play happens, and then Clichy is skinned alive) …
Fuck, Clichy what are you doing? Fortunately, that’s a rather tame cross and there’s no Porto playe…
[thud, as my forehead hits the table. thud. thud. thud.]
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING FABIANSKI???? That wasn’t just poor from the keeper, that was clown shoes.
And then I would have turned the microphone off anyway in utter disgust.
Immediately after that, Sol stepped up (the whole team did) and we clawed our way back into the game and got the crucial, crucial, crucial away goal courtesy of a header from Sol Campbell who was left unmarked directly in front of goal as Arsenal (for once) won a series of headers to get the ball back in to him.
This was followed by a period of real belief in the Arsenal side. Sure, Denilson had a poor game and Diaby’s passing was suspect at times, but we simply kept fighting and kept trying to win this game. Determined to fight through the kicks at our heels, the Arsenal side looked to have a real desire to silence everyone with a second goal.
Unfortunately Martin Hansson stuck to the league memo and denied Arsenal one of the clearest penalty shout outs you will see all season when Thomas Rosicky was taken down in the box. Rarely do I think that an actual conspiracy exists but I’m convinced that UEFA and the FA, stung by the rebuke over the Eduardo “dive” incident, have decided that Arsenal are not to get a penalty unless the offense is so egregious that actual physical bodily harm happens to an Arsenal player, in the 6 yard box. I’ve seen far too many clear penalties denied this season for this to be just a coincidence.
But irregardless the poor penalty call, what happened next was just unbelievable. Cesc is reported to have called it “schoolboy” but I’m not sure even a schoolboy would have done what Arsenal and Martin Hansson did in that match at the 51st minute because what unfolded wasn’t schoolboy as much as a comity of errors.
First, Sol is chasing the ball back, shielding it from the attacker. When he looks up and sees Lukas Fabianski acting indecisive. At that point, I would expect a player of Sol’s experience to just kick the ball out of play and then have a quiet word in the ear of the keeper. But instead what he does is sort of half-heartedly nudge the ball toward Fabianski. At that point I would expect any player with half a brain in his head to kick the ball out of play (see, we’re developing a theme!) But instead, Fabianski picks the ball up. Martin Hansson, who is, to be fair, one of the worst referees in the world, seizes upon the moment to make himself the most important man in the match and calls an intentional back pass.
Then, the Arsenal defense simply give up and start bellyaching about the call. Campbell grabs his head in disbelief, Vermaelen starts flapping his arms about, and worst of all, Fabianski flips the ball to the ref and turns his back on the play to have a moan at the sideline official. At which point, Martin Hansson, perhaps to atone for the fact that Thierry Henry once played for Arsenal and that he failed to see Henry’s handball or perhaps under some directive to try to knock Arsenal out of the Champions League for the Eduardo incident then does something I have never seen: he gives Porto a quick free kick in the box, all the while acting as a screen for Sol Campbell who was the only defender who could possibly have known that the kick was going to be given.
So many things went wrong there my mind boggles: Fabianski should have held on to the ball, Sol should have stood on the ball, the referee shouldn’t have given a quick free kick in the box, and Vermaelen should have marked Falcao.
I am aware that the referee has the right to award a quick free kick but referees are also supposed to have a sense of judgment. Did that infraction warrant the award of what was essentially better than a penalty kick? I don’t think so.
There are a lot of writers out there right now who are reveling in that fact that Arsenal have been done in this manner. The Spoiler and the Daily Bung(hole) are two who love to generate clicks with their anti-Arsene Wenger/anti-Arsenal headlines and they have stepped up to the plate and quickly pointed out the supposed hypocrisy of Arsenal being the beneficiary of two quickly taken free kicks (against Villa and Chelsea) and yet “Arsene Whinger” points out that he’s never seen a quick free kick taken in the box.
But here’s what I hope happens: despite his insane refereeing record, Martin Hansson is going to the World Cup and I hope he referee’s whatever national side those writer’s support. And I hope he gives their opponents the free kick which sees their national side kicked out of the World Cup. I bet cash money that their tune would change mighty quickly, the cunts.
It was a shocking bit of refereeing and a shocking bit of goalkeeping to go with a shocking defensive meltdown. I am gutted. We deserve more for all the hard work we’ve put in this season than to throw it away with clown shoes keeping like that. The away fans who traveled to Portugal and risked the abuse of the Porto fans deserve more. Cesc deserves more for all the kicks he took. Wenger deserves more for all the faith he’s placed in these kids.
That said, there are some bright spots to this. First, we all know why Almunia is our #1 keeper now. That should end the debate until Summer when we can all beg Arsene to buy a serious goal keeper. Moreover, there’s no option now but to get behind Almunia and try to pump him up mentally, unless you like watching Arsenal lose.
Second, we got an away goal. I really wanted and thought we were going to get the 2-2 draw but it didn’t happen but we got an away goal. Porto travel like shit and the last time we played them at Emirates we handed their asses to them. Sure, it’ll be a bit chippy I suspect but I also suspect that Arsenal will dominate them and want a huge measure of revenge. That said, a simple 1-0 win will put us through to the next stage.
And third, it’s three weeks away so hopefully Arsenal can get some of the first team players back in and show what a fully healthy Arsenal side can do to a team like Porto.
Like I said, we’re down, but not out.