A turnip in black.
“The referee’s incompetence has done the home side no favours here having simply provoked The Arsenal into administering a punitive thrashing”
Or so I wrote on Twitter at about the 1-3 point of yesterday’s trip to the North East. It was probably one of my more sensible remarks on a day and in a match which could have ended very differently. Certainly my first draft for this piece, efficiently started within minutes of the close of play, sorry, final whistle, threatened to be a very different piece to the one I’m writing this morning.
Carrying one of the original sets of rusting keys to George’s online sanctum doesn’t come without a degree of responsibility, oh no. It’s not as easy as some of his star writers make it look.
As Steww’s occasional forays into the world of meta-blogging demonstrate, as one cogitates on precisely what to write, the pressure to ‘not let the blog down’ from the lofty standards set by our main writers never gets any less. Yes, Steww’s genius finds expression in a weekly (often bi-weekly) masterpiece that could – and should – be read by anyone, including those of us with a passing interest in football. Andy Nic’s grasp on a sense of balance is actually bordering on frightening, despite the frequent provocations by circumstance to deliver otherwise. Shotta’s recent evidence-based forays into the world of footballing trends and statistics are, in the round, the online equivalent of one of the Seven Wonders of the Online World (at least 98.8% of the time).
And precisely what should we be writing about, reading, debating, this grey English morning?
Well, my fevered half-draft of a review, started around 2pm Saturday, had the provisional title of:
“Arsenal v Atkinson: A Referee Of Two Halves”. With a photo of a turnip or some other vegetable of disparaging symbolism.
Frightfully clever of course (said the voice in my head, at least) – but it also tells you exactly where, despite a handsome away win, my focus lay in the immediate aftermath of a game Arsenal were expected to win, and win at a canter.
But what of ‘the lessons’ of the game – what, if anything did we learn from it (despite the confirmation of our worst fears as to the inconsistent state of our referees). Do we, here on PA want to make Atkinson our main focus?
No of course we do not. But will we? Yes, of course we will – if only little bit.
As one of the Twitterati poignantly posted mid-game:
“My love for the game is diminishing weekly because of the refs. They are shocking to the point it’s no longer a talking point @FA. #corrupt” (@Bandoguk).
My Twitter friend was referring to Atkinson’s waving away of Sanchez’s appeal for a nailed on penalty having been hauled down mere seconds before Cech ‘felled’ a Sunderland player who had somehow strayed into our own box – and done so with the lightest of touches. In truth, both were surely penalties. But not only did Atkinson spot Cech’s micro-brush (or “coming together” as some refs might have otherwise judged), but he saw fit to book Petr for the least dangerous tackle of the day. Before then going on to fail to book a Sunderland player for high-kicking Coq almost out cold on the edge of the home penalty area.
So that’s one rule for one half of the pitch, another for the other. Or so it felt.
But was Atkinson really that bad? Well, thanks to the result, his worst efforts will be quickly forgotten and in truth he probably didn’t plummet to Moss-like levels of incompetent inconsistency which resulted in this weekend’s Jilted John’s demotion to the lower leagues.
But the main point – or ‘lesson’ from this is that at pretty much any moment over the last ten years, Atkinson’s best efforts could easily have resulted in a shock draw or even a shocking win for a club that has, not to be too unkind, always been several levels below Arsenal FC during this same period.
And yesterday, as Andy Nic tweeted at the time:
“Let’s hope we learn the lesson – I dislike relying on referees.”
So, as already agreed, this post-match meander will not be ‘all about the ref’. Honestly.
Well, okay then, what of the actual lesson that is still sitting, waiting patiently in the wings, to be taken from this frankly somewhat tame encounter?
For me it was the Official Baptism of Arsenal’s attacking Plan B. You, know, that other ‘option’ we should be able to turn to during a game when all else has failed for 70 minutes and we simply can not get a goal for love or anything else that may be on offer. That we are riding so high in the league is not entirely down to playing Sanchez ‘down the middle’.
Things like a miserly defence and a dominant midfield has a role or two to play. But the option of having Alexis move politely to the side as the Bearded Wonder was introduced to take just two touches to draw level with Vardy’s season’s Premier League goal tally is of immense significance. Yes, that’s right, two goals from two touches from yet another of Arsene’s acquisitions that have, according to some of the lesser denizens amongst us, and in common with Koscielny and Le Coq, supposedly not been fit to wear the shirt at one time or another.
Yes, it was ‘only Sunderland’. But that same Sunderland – away from home – which, with more than a hint of help from certain unnamed friends in black, have stolen the odd point or three on a seasonal basis over the last ten years. So, welcome to the team, Plan B.
As an Arsenal fan, in this modern Emirates era, there are two times of the year we all dread. One is October and the other, February. These are the two months of the year when injuries have ‘traditionally’ kicked in to derail our otherwise stately progress to the top. It’s not just injuries of course, but the time required for the rehabilitation of the mended but not-yet-up-to-speed stars who simply can not switch ‘it’ on or off like the machines we all wish they were.
We stand on the brink of November with apparently only Danny Welbeck, out of our biggest stars with a serious injury awaiting a (December?) comeback. This means we go into the next period with an almost complete squad (Santi will surely be back before Daniel’s Yuletide return), ready to rotate and with options galore for a manager more used to juggling than planning with a cold eye, and a full team list to select from.
Scoring four away from home is, for sure, some kind of statement. That we have for the most part ploughed through the opening 3 months like a knife through butter, and with some style, suggest the period November-February will be far less perilous than at any time over the last 10 years. That we ended up winning at a ‘canter-plus’, without truly breaking sweat or with any morale-sapping points dropped, is of huge significance.
And those, my friends, are the real lessons I’d take from yesterday’s victory.