Monday, August 15, 2011

ASBO acts up in curtain-raiser

Newcastle 0 - 0 Arsenal

It may not have been quite as jaw-droppingly dramatic a draw as when we last took on the Gunners at St James' Park, but there was still a moment of pure drama for Saturday's spectators and television cameras to witness - and at the centre of it all, inevitably, was ASBO, a man who wasn't even expected to feature.

Nearly 75 minutes had elapsed when Arsenal debutant (and one-time Toon target) Gervinho, who had caused us problems with his running from wide areas, flung himself to the ground in our penalty area under supposed challenge from Mr T (who had already picked up his customary booking). As the ball was cleared, an incensed ASBO - once again desperate to be the main protagonist, or the pantomime villain as far as the Gunners were concerned - hoisted the Ivorian up by the scruff of his shirt. Steven Taylor and others did their best to separate the pair, but Gervinho still managed to plant a palm in ASBO's face - upon which the man with the extraordinary Hitler hairdo momentarily forgot what he'd been remonstrating with his assailant about and collapsed to the turf clutching his mug. The Arsenal striker was dismissed, but ASBO received only a yellow card - much to the fury of Arsene "Persecution Complex" Wenger.

In the manner of February's match report, let's unpick the incident and assess whether Arsenal really have grounds for complaint.

Gervinho's dive
Referee's decision: no penalty. Yes, let's call it a dive, bluntly, because it was - contact was minimal at best. Had subsequent events not unfolded, he would have merited a booking anyway. Verdict: correct.

Gervinho's slap
Referee's decision: red card. You can blather on about it being soft, or about ASBO's dramatics conspiring to make Peter Walton's mind up, but the fact remains that if you raise your hands to someone's face then you run the risk of being sent off. Verdict: correct.

ASBO's tussle with Gervinho
Referee's decision: yellow card. Mindlessly and needlessly aggressive from ASBO - why get involved and force the man in the middle to take action, especially when your reputation precedes you? But, unlike Gervinho, he didn't strike his opponent in the face. Verdict: correct.

ASBO's reaction to the slap
Pathetic, and worthy of a yellow card. Cameras caught ASBO telling his team-mates "He punched me" - c'mon Joey, your chequered past suggests that you know exactly what a punch is. In fairness, he has at least since come out and confessed his embarrassment - not so much pride before a fall as no pride after one. (Incidentally, clearly in combative mood, he also took to Twitter to reignite his feud with Wor Al, commenting of the Match of the Day pundit: "Bad shirt, shoes and views from shearer again. Sort it out slaphead"...)

Gunners fans whining that Gervinho's dismissal was cheap would do well to acknowledge that their side should already have been reduced to ten men by that point, Walton missing Alex Song slyly planting a studded boot on the back of ASBO's calf following a challenge. Hopefully a retrospectively imposed suspension lies in store for the Cameroon international.

Aside from all the amateur dramatics, there was some football played - some, but not a lot.

Arsenal, as expected, bossed possession and had the better chances, but, shorn of three of their best players in Jack Wilshere, Samir Nasri and Barca-bound Cesc Fabregas, never really troubled us too much. Steven Taylor made amends for a first-half error by deflecting Robin van Persie's shot wide and Danny Simpson had to hook off the line, while in the second period the Dutchman landed a free-kick on the roof of the net and substitute Theo Walcott's low shot was clutched by Tim Krul, interestingly preferred in goal to Steve Harper.

After the catastrophic defensive display in the first half of February's fixture, our objective simply appeared to be to achieve a shut-out, but this was to the inevitable detriment of our attacking play, which barely merited the name. Spidermag planted a volley well wide and debutant Yohan Cabaye fluffed a presentable opportunity but it was telling that we came closest to beating Wojciech Szczesny with a Simpson cross.

Cabaye's chance was created by fellow debutant Gabriel Obertan, who had come off the bench at half-time to replace Demba Ba - possibly for an injury, though he and Big Lad hardly looked much of a threat together. Meanwhile, Alan Pardew had selected Ryan Taylor to fill Jose Enrique's boots at left-back - his hopeless performance underlining (as if it was necessary) our urgent need for a specialist in the role.

A point on the board after a tough opening fixture, even against a depleted Gunners, isn't to be sniffed at, though we'll need to show far more offensive ambition if we're actually to win games this season. Another thing's pretty much for certain: if ASBO leaves us before August is out, his destination is unlikely to be the Emirates...

Arsenal fans' verdicts: A Cultured Left Foot, Arseblog, Arsenalinsider, Gunnerblog, The Gunning Hawk

Other match reports: BBC, Observer

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