WEBB OF DECEIT
Mickey Blue Eyes
If there was one game to sum up our season thus far, the home game V Arsenal was it. On top for long stretches, much the better side in the first half.......and lost to two wretchedly defended goals. It was hugely irritating, and made worse by the most appalling refereeing I have seen in ten years, since the unlamented days of Elleray, D'Urso and Riley in fact. Howard Webb's refereeing was simply off the wall; up to this game I admired his general approach and hoped he would help improve standards. Instead, he made matters worse. It isn't too much to say he was a complete disgrace and fully deserved to go off to a storm of booing at half time and full time. He was utterly lamentable.
We should have won by a couple of goals, but instead got lost in a midfield maze of tenth-rate kicking and fouling instigated by Arsene (I Didn't See It) Wenger's contemptible approach. Arsenal were quite the grubbiest side I have seen this season, worse even than Wolves, and that's saying something. They smeared this game beyond rescue. In recent years we have heard much whining from Wenger about dirty play. Well, it appears he and his players have absorbed all the lessons and come up with a few themselves. They were sly, ankle-tapping, pushing, elbowing, over-the-ball rent-boys of the worst type, all of which matches their fans and that peculiarly isolated and incomprehensible cockney accent. I haven't the slightest doubt that a full Everton side with Fellaini-Arteta-Rodwell at the heart of it would have dismissed them for the gang of niggling hackers they are. One hopes they win nothing this season. Altogether they left this fan with a very nasty taste.
Despite that, we had enough chances to win the game. In the first half the best came when Coleman broke clear down the right and crossed to a completely unmarked Tim Cahill, far post, goal area angle, only for him to put it over from a free header. Normally you would put your house on him. Their 'keeper made several outstanding saves to keep them in it, particularly late on. By the end of the game Arsenal were clinging on for dear life even against a depleted team and they were doing it with the same sickening approach they had from the beginning. Inevitably, Tim Cahill bundled one in with a few minutes to go but it was too late.
Our biggest weakness was centre midfield where Mikky was mostly on his own except when (apparently) soon-to-go Pienaar moved inside, but he too had a fitful game. In fact Mikky lost the ball to set up the second, much as we conceded goals after mistakes against Wolves and Bolton. John Heitinga tried to plug the gap at centre mid without succeeding in the least........he's far too slow for the position and was frequently left bewildered by the pace of the game; if he can't be moved to centre back then I think he is going to pastures new soon. Seamus Coleman, as usual, made some encouraging runs and is beginning to strike up a good understanding with Phil Neville. His defensive work is improving with each game. Ironically, it was the left side that gave us problems this time round and it was there we conceded the goals.
At centre back there was again encouragement in the growing combination of Jags and Sylvain Distin, and Phil Neville at right back handled his responsibilities better than anyone else. Unfortunately Bainsey had an iffy day and sometimes got caught out by quick counter attacks. Tim Howard had little to do and looked at fault for the first when he lost it at the near post. Defensively we were disjointed due to poor defensive work from the centre mids and were often caught out through our own errors.
Up front, not much to show except for Tim Cahill forays - but he can't do everything and he's not an out and out striker. And it finally looks as though age and injuries have finally caught up with Louis Saha, though he headed it on for the Tim goal.
For the last twenty minutes Moyesy played the only cards left open to him: Yak, Becks and Jack Rodwell - which prompted a short period of keep-ball by Wenger's team, a taste of what would have happened had they been on from the start and us even shorter in midfield. The move prompted a closing session of hoof-ball up to Yak and Becks, both of whom caused some problems without looking really convincing; though one spin and shot from Becks deserved a goal. Still, Jack the Lad had a play-in session that can only help toward the day when we have our full centre midfield available. It can only help Mikky Arteta's play because he has suffered more than anyone during their absences.
In the pub afterwards I saw Wenger's post match comments when he did an almost perfect impression of a Janus-faced hypocrite in full flow. At times like this the fellow is nothing less than disgusting. Mind you, he plays a good straight man to Howard Webb's lead. If his team continues to play like this they will lose in a few weeks what it took them years to build up......a just reputation for good football. Even George Graham's teams weren't as bad as Sunday's sick, kick-it-if-it-moves thuggery.
But what it again demonstrates is how far David Moyes has brought on his team. Arsenal were scared enough to set out to disrupt football flow and tempo by illegal means. Three or four years ago they wouldn't have bothered. Now they know they will get more than a run for their money, as do the other media-styled "top four" clubs. It was just a pity we had only one of our formidable centre mid trio available to start. Once we have Fellaini-Arteta-Rodwell bedded in again some team is going to get a right good hiding. It can't come soon enough for me.