Newcastle 1 (Martins 58) Arsenal 3 (Bendtner 57, Diaby 64, Nasri 67)
Well, what a weekend that was. First United lose 2-0 at Fulham, ending the match with nine men, Ronaldo sulking his way around the pitch, then Chelsea lose to Spurs, we put in a decent shift against Newcastle and then our rivals for fourth, Villa, get spanked 5-0 at Anfield to completely shatter what remained of their confidence.
And yet, something was eating away at me on Saturday. I’m used to being absolutely delighted when Chelsea and United unexpectedly lose, but normally it is double delight – glee at the big boys tripping up, but more importantly, a chance for Arsenal to take advantage.
Except this season, while still amused at their slip ups, I found myself quite apathetic to their defeats, simply because it doesn’t really affect us. And that rankles, somehow.
But on to brighter things, and the match itself. The first half was a slow affair, but certainly had some talking points, almost all involving Steven Taylor. The good side of him was a couple of stunning blocks to deny Van Persie (who had a decent game), the bad an attempted shirt pull on Arshavin, which was ludicrously easily shrugged off before the Russian clipped the bar from thirty yards.
The ugly was a forearm smash on the same player while chasing for a ball down the touchline. Taylor certainly knew Arshavin was there, having glanced back, so the only question was whether he tried to use his body but crashed into Arshavin’s face because of the height difference, or if he dangerously and deliberately swung an arm.
Either way, Mark Halsey got it wrong, because the first interpretation is deliberate and cynical obstruction and a yellow card, while the second is violent conduct and a red. Having seen the incident, he gave the free kick but no card. Bizarre.
He also handed Newcastle a soft penalty, although Almunia will not be happy about his handling that led to him apparently bringing down Ryan Taylor. The Spaniard made up for his error, however, by guessing the right way and saving Martins’ spot kick, which was only marginally better than Vucinic’s lame effort for Roma.
Into the second half, and there was more leniency from Halsey, Ryan Taylor escaping a booking for a double foul on Clichy, first taking him out in full flight, then grabbing him and pulling him down once he’d got up to carry on. But then Clichy should have received yellow for his reaction, waving the imaginary card around. I hate that, and hope that is the last time we see it, no matter how deserved Taylor’s booking would have been.
And then, in the space of ten minutes, four goals. From the free kick given for that double foul, Arshavin whipped in a devilish ball, and Bendtner, leaning backwards, guided an excellent header past Harper. But a minute later, Gallas failed to clear, and Martins reacted quickest, lashing into the corner.
Then, with Steven Taylor (greater of two evils?) off the field receiving treatment, Diaby sprung to life, playing a one-two with Van Persie before embarking on a surging run, finishing emphatically. Nasri then killed the game with a near post finish minutes later, and although more could’ve been added, Diaby coming close when he struck the post, the three points were already won.
And just as the momentum builds, along comes an utterly pointless international break. The season heads towards an exciting finish, and the boredom factor that comes with England friendlies returns. Wake me up when it finishes.
Seriously, the break is bad timing for Arsenal and Liverpool, who are both playing better than at any point this season (in Liverpool’s case, probably as well as they’ve played in years). It is, however, great news for United, who looked rattled on Saturday and need to clear their heads. I still think they’ll take the league, but it might not be the procession it once looked.
Hopefully, the opposite is true of our fight for fourth. We still have tough games to come, but our opponents may be resting players for the Champions League by then. With Villa falling apart at the seams, we may be able to do the same when the time comes.
Enjoy your Monday.