Thursday, October 28, 2010

Comedy and controversy contribute to Carling Cup catastrophe

Newcastle Utd 0 - 4 Arsenal

A comprehensive defeat in the end to dump us out of this season's League Cup, but the result hinged on two key moments either side of half-time.

First came the comedy (black comedy for those of us of a black and white persuasion). Two minutes of first-half stoppage time had already elapsed when Tim Krul's punch from Theo Walcott's corner was returned into the six-yard area. Niklas Bendtner headed goalwards, Ryan Taylor nodded off the line - and watched in horror as his clearance bounced back off the prostrate Krul's bonce and in. If we'd ridden our luck at times to preserve our clean sheet up until that point, then it had clearly just reared up and bolted.

And then the controversy. When Laurent Koscielny headed forwards, both Bendtner and Walcott (just) were offside. But the linesman's flag remained by his side - as it did when Bendtner cynically and blatantly blocked Mike Williamson's attempt to get back and challenge Walcott, the England winger profiting from the disgraceful officiating to finish neatly over Krul. If we thought we were on the receiving end of bad decisions at Eastlands recently, then this was something else - a goal that should have been disallowed for any one of three reasons.

Our much-changed side - only Williamson and Krul remained from the team that started at Upton Park on Saturday - had come under pressure from the very start, Carlos Vela guilty of squandering a good chance in the first sixty seconds and strike partner Bendtner trying his luck three times before three minutes were out. Our Dutch custodian was busy throughout the first half and acquitted himself well, until that fateful stoppage-time farce.

While the Gunners monopolised possession, as anticipated, and wasted other opportunities (including Emmanuel Eboue firing into the side netting having left Taylor for dead), we nevertheless looked equally dangerous. In amongst our visitors' flurry of early chances, Haris Vuckic concluded a quick break by rippling the outside of Wojciech Szszesny's net before subsequently slipping into obscurity.

We came closer a few minutes later, after Danny Guthrie's lofted pass over the top had released Nile Ranger and the striker - all flailing arms and legs - had taken the ball past Szszesny but been foiled by Koscielny. The ball found its way back into a central area about 30 yards out and was promptly smashed goalwards by Alan Smith, his rising drive tipped acrobatically onto the bar and behind for, bizarrely, a goal kick.

Wayne Routledge, meanwhile, carried an occasional and moderate threat when he managed to get into crossing positions, up against the right-footed Eboue after Kieran Gibbs' enforced departure through injury. We should have had a free-kick in a promising position too for Johan Djourou's handball - though, to be fair, that should have been cancelled out by James Perch's air-kick and basketball dribble in the penalty area shortly afterwards. Perch could have done better with a header on goal too.

Hughton decided, prudently I think, that at 2-0 down with more than half an hour to go it was time to turn to a bench stuffed with first teamers. On came Rocky and Spidermag for Routledge and the anonymous Peter Lovenkrands and suddenly we grabbed the game by the throat and started to squeeze. The Argentinian winger probed from the left flank, Taylor forced Szszesny into a superb save from a free-kick and Rocky put himself about to excellent effect, rattling Koscielny and Djourou with his directness and blunderbuss approach.

We weren't the only ones to interpret Arsene Wenger's introduction of Cesc Fabregas as a smug taunt of superiority. Himself a substitute on for Smith (the latter evidently shattered from his exertions trying to allow the Gunners' creative players as much space as they wanted), ASBO clattered into the Spaniard, and dished out similar treatment to Craig Eastmond - though the youngster could hardly complain having gone over the top of Perch's shin/ankle in the first half.

Having looked the most likely next scorers, we then gifted the decisive goal to our opponents. A dozy Guthrie allowed himself to be pickpocketed from a throw-in, his mugger Fabregas feeding Bendtner to crash a shot into the top corner. Even then Rocky had chances to give us a modicum of hope - a free header that flew over the crossbar, a shot well smothered by Szszesny - before Walcott seized upon a loose ball and took advantage of Tamas Kadar's inattention to race forwards and tuck a shot under Krul.

It might seem strange, given that we lost the tie 4-0, but I'd single out Williamson and makeshift central defensive partner Perch as two of our best players, both regularly making crucial interceptions. Rocky was superb when called upon, and should hopefully prove to be too much for the Mackems' defence to handle on Sunday. The Gunners' midfield superiority was what won it for them, though - that and those two differently daft goals.

Arsenal fans' verdicts: Another Arsenal Blog, Arsenalinsider, Gooner Talk, The Gunning Hawk

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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