Feb 062011

It has been an astonishing weekend. A record number of goals in the Premiership, an unwanted record that will make Monday morning horrendous for many of us, and yet the end result hasn’t been the disaster it could have been. How you feel about the current situation says a lot about how optimistic or otherwise you are, and you really could go either way:

Glass half empty

We’ve just become the first team in Premiership history to blow a four goal lead, and we’ve done it against newly promoted opposition that have just lost their main source of goals. We’ve shown the same mental fragility that allowed prior collapses against Wigan and Spurs, amongst others, and the panic when Newcastle got back to 4-1 indicated a side unable to close out a match that should have been buried. Djourou’s injury exposes our lack of depth at centre back, and the Koscielny/Squillaci pairing that has been shaky at best may be required for a crucial period.

Glass half full

Our first half showing was stunning, blowing Newcastle away with an attacking flair that no side in the league can match. And despite the shocking second half, we gained a point on United, who were dreadful against the league’s basement club, and Chelsea, who are now six points behind us after Liverpool completed the double over them. Our improved defensive record in 2011 (five clean sheets in January) suggests that yesterday was a freakish blip, and we remain unbeaten in the league since Old Trafford in December. Van Persie is fit and firing.

Where do I stand? Regular readers of the blog can probably guess, but I’m firmly in the latter camp, albeit with two caveats – our lack of depth at the back really concerns me, and the extent of Djourou’s injury could be critical, and it is also vital that we do not allow this to destroy confidence. If the players get angry and take it out on Wolves next week, I’ll have no worries on that front, whereas if we see a cagey frightened team, it could derail the whole campaign.

But overall, I remain optimistic. I know there are plenty that think otherwise, but if you listen to the fanbase of our rivals, you’ll hear just as many “We can’t win the league because….” comments as you do from our fans. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it is one of the biggest falsehoods that you have to be perfect to win titles. United have been poor for large parts of this season and have finally picked up their long overdue loss, while Chelsea have seven defeats on their record. Every title contender has serious flaws, us included. That does not preclude us from lifting the title – someone has to.

As for the match itself, it is difficult to know where to begin. The first half was extraordinarily good, to the point where Newcastle fans were leaving after half an hour, after some truly abysmal defending allowed Van Persie to head us into a four goal lead. The home side were getting torn apart at will, and the only question appeared to be how close to double figures we’d get. But hope was given to Newcastle in the opening moments of the second half, with Djourou’s injury quickly followed by Diaby’s red card. I have a bone of contention with Phil Dowd on that particular decision, which I’ll come back to shortly.

Two soft penalties (the second of which was not just soft, but entirely invented), one close range finish and one wonder strike later, and the record books were being rewritten. At five o’clock, I was sitting in front of a television ahead of a good mate’s 30th birthday celebration in utter disbelief. The fact that a Spurs fan was chuckling his head off hardly helped. But two hours later the gap to United remained at four points after they lost at Wolves. before Chelsea failed to make ground on us today. It felt like an awful weekend, but strangely it wasn’t. Or if it was, it could have been a whole lot worse.

I do want to touch on the referee though. Not for the penalties, nor for fouls he missed or playacting he bought, because referees make mistakes. I don’t have a problem with that – managers and players make mistakes and it always feels churlish to pin the blame on the official every time. I do, however, have an issue when the referee clearly sees an incident but incorrectly applies the rules – that for me is a whole new level of incompetence.

If Phil Dowd considered Diaby’s push on Barton to be violent conduct, then I would disagree strongly, but as I said before, understand the mistake, because a mistake is all it would be. But Dowd clearly indicates a “1-2” reasoning for the red card, that the two pushes on Barton and Nolan were worthy of a yellow card each, therefore justifying the combining of the offences into a sending off. I’ve watched the footage a number of times and can think of no other conclusion – the “1-2” action is produced as an explanation when asked why the red was produced.

That is truly abysmal refereeing. I’ve mentioned before on the blog that one of the rules of football is that you cannot be yellow carded twice in one incident, irrespective of whether you have committed two, six or twenty offences worthy of a card before the referee brandishes it. The reasoning is simple – a yellow card is a warning as to a player’s future conduct, and the second yellow is produced if the player fails to heed that warning. You cannot fail to heed a warning you have not yet received, hence the rule. But Dowd clearly combines the two offences into a sending off (which, incidentally, carries a three game ban, not the single game you’d get for two yellows), which is a flagrant disregard for the basic rules of the game. Later, Nolan did the same thing to Szczesny and picked up a booking of his own, further evidence that the referee considered pushes as yellow card offences, not red.

I would love to hear his explanation, particularly given the visual indications of his reasoning. But of course it will not happen.

The worrying thing is that this is not an isolated incident. On Tuesday night, the officials knew that Saha was in an offside position, but applied the rules incorrectly and allowed the goal. And as I was reminded by LucaHelvetica on Twitter, Mark Halsey stopped the game against Ipswich when the ball hit him, restarting with a drop ball. He did so because playing on would have put us in a good position, but he should know that officials are active parts of the field, and therefore the game should not have been stopped. Again, it was not a case of the referee reading a situation wrongly (which can happen to anyone), but reading it correctly and ignoring the actual rules of the game.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the referee for yesterday’s collapse. He certainly gave Newcastle a considerable helping hand, but it should not have been enough – we still collapsed in spectacular fashion. My point is merely one of concern at the standard of officiating this season.

We have our own concerns though. Tomorrow we should hear more about the extent of Djourou’s knee problem. It is a measure of how impressive he has been that the results could be crucial. Fingers crossed.

Oh, and I recommend earplugs at work tomorrow.

  23 Responses to “The perfect day to judge whether your glass is half full or half empty”

  1. I don’t know what emotions to respond with when Arsenal are mentioned these days

  2. the articles is too long 1200+ words approx | 6 minutes | approx 4 pages long. Recall that this is a blog

  3. Diaby was stupid and deserved to go, he lost the plot when we were 4-0 up, yes the ref was bad but so was our mental strength, now teams will believe that despite any lead they can claw it back, truly shocking for not spending in the transfer window, we now have two fit CHs that is brainless and stupid, what will it take before we address the six year old problem of our lack of leadership and defending a 10-0 defeat by Barcelona, will Wenger then open his eyes. It is very hard to remain upbeat, but a midfield of Hillier,Helder.Parlour would have fared better than our midfield, we are truly naive when it comes to pressure and we collapse so easily, who can defend such an inept performance.
    It’s not sour grapes it’s frustration that every one can see where our problems lie except Wenger, why is Ramsey and Lansbury out on loan when we have the likes of Diaby and Denilson in the side, it’s madness

    • So you reckon a midfield consisting hillder, purlor and co would have done better. But could they have ever scored 4 cracking goals in 30 mins?

    • Sometimes it is easy to imagine that players who are not in the team would do better than those that are. Ramsey is the prime example – he is on a long road to recovery, as shown by his (so far) timid performances on loan.

  4. Here’s the bottom line: Arsenal brought a full glass into the second half, and spilled half (or Newcastle spilled it.) Phil Dowd spilled the other half.

    Ask yourself what you would have thought if it had ended 4-2.

  5. Excellent blog – one of the best assessments of a very interesting weekend

  6. Half Full

  7. For retaliating on our goalkeeper, i dont remember Nolan getting a yellow card, just remind me!!

    • Yeah, he did. Both Nolan and Szczesny were booked in the incident. I don’t have a problem with that – Nolan’s was a yellow card, Szczesny was timewasting. My issue is that Diaby did no worse.

  8. Are you sure about that the referee can only give one yellow card to a player who has committed several bookable offences at the same time? I recently had a discussion with a friend regarding this, and basically argued the same point as you. However, when I tried finding evidence for it, I could only find this, which doesn’t really back up our point:

    “I should add that sending the diver off is a contentious call, because the way the Laws treat a player who is committing two yellow card offences at the same time isn’t clear. The original directive was that in this situation the two offences should be treated as one incident, and punished with one yellow card. But the Q&A section of the 2006-07 Laws (Law 12, questions 8 and 9) revised this, so that the player should be shown two yellows, and be sent off without a warning. I’m seeking clarification from Fifa, not least because the scenario was entirely omitted from the 2007-08 Laws. In my view, you shouldn’t send a player off for a second yellow card offence unless you have first cautioned him as to his future conduct: that’s the point of the yellow card system. However, until this issue is resolved, then the 2006-07 Fifa directive stands, and you would send the player off.”


    It’s from 2008, so it might have been changed since that, for all i know. So, just out of curiosity, do you have any sources to back up your interpretation of the rule?

    • It is a referee directive rather than a written rule, FIFA are notoriously slack when it comes to specifying examples.

      Keith Hackett went on a BBC programme last year and explained some of the odder rulings in football, and this was one of them. It was a fascinating hour, and he explained that the real meaning of a yellow card means you can’t get two in the same incident.

      In any case, were that not a rule, Diaby would have received two yellows (one match ban) instead of a straight red (three matches).

      On an aside, the You are the Ref feature in the Guardian is brilliant. Long time reader of that.

  9. after the red card and the pen all NCFC players had 2 do was puting the ball in our area knowing that if they dont score they`ll have another pen,and guess what?thats exactly what happen bcos it is a 2 ways idealogie that our players didnt know how to defend knowing that the ref was waiting to blow his whistle.something is wrong as it is tooooo many decisions r going against us.im watching a lot of football and as colimore keep saying that our discipline record is horrible i say ofcourse as the same refs dont punnish the same fouls if not worst the same way and please have a look at our 6 red card this season and u will know what i mean

  10. I still can’t believe what happened on Saturday, it was a great game for neutrals…

  11. I’ve read many blogs about this game and no one points that the substitutions that Wenger made most likely lost us the game. Why on Earth would he not replace Arshavin or Walcott with someone to fill the position Diaby was playing? Sorry, I forgot that Wenger’s philosophy states that you should go for more instead of parking the bus and defend a lead.

    • Well, we’re poor at parking the bus, and that tactic has failed in the past. However, I agree that his substitutions were lacking logic. Diaby added much needed height, and we ended up with unused tall players on the bench that could have done a job.

    • seriously you re the best..you just happen to have said what i had in mind…Walcot,Arshavin sub was for me a bigger joke….Rosicky on that pitch was the comical ending….He did everything wrong in that match..have a second look and see how many touches and the unbelievable 2nd penalty which was a wrong call was credited to him…..amazing subs really..

  12. Just Dowd went “1-2” doesn’t mean he sent him off for two bookable offences in one. It could have meant “I could have sent him off for violent conduct once, and then he made it even worse by doing something else”.

    Diaby will get a three match ban, which means the sending off was for violent conduct – I bet you my house that’s what’s on his report. And it was quite right – Diaby did as bad or worse as what United / Gunners players did after Van Nistlerooy missed his penalty – although none were sent off the following suspensions showed that there should have been red cards.

    And Rosicky pushed someone in the penalty area for the second penalty. Soft? Yes. Foul? Yes.

    • If Dowd really sent Diaby off for violent conduct, then I have less of an issue with it – irrespective of what I think of the incident, it would at least be the correct application of the law based on what he believed.

      But, I’ve watched it over and over and it appears he is asked why the red card was produced, and replies by counting out two. Maybe he was saying both were serious enough, but it just doesn’t seem that way.

      And if both or either of Diaby’s offences were worthy of a sending off, how did Nolan stay on the field? He did the same thing (when it was our kick off and Szczesny had held on to the ball for all of a second).

      As for the Van Nistelrooy incident, I think Keown went a little further than Diaby, vein pumping nutcase moment that it was…

      • If you’re going to argue that perhaps Nolan should have been sent off that’s fine. The Diaby incident was a red card, and I have no reason to believe he wasn’t sent off for violent conduct (once). Perhaps Nolan should have been sent off, but the fact that a mistake could have been made there (amongst the other numerous mistakes in the match) doesn’t mean that the Diaby decision was wrong.

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