Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday March 14 2010
Firstly, apologies for the lack of a match report for the Porto match, work has been somewhat fraught and whilst I would prefer writing about the Arsenal to surmounting the rigours of the day job, I have to respect those that fund my season ticket! It`s a well worn football cliché, but every game Arsenal has remaining this season is its own little Cup final of sorts and a Hull side who had offered another well worn football cliché by promising to "Get into Arsenal`s faces", which judging by the way Hull actually approached the game was a thinly veiled way of saying, "Wrap your studs around some shin bones." Did you think it was possible to hate Phil Brown any more than you already do? It`s a tough ask isn`t it? But I`m going to do it for you, this was the opening line of Brown`s programme notes, "Welcome to today`s game in what is the beginning of a huge era of my life." Team that up with his assertion back in October that "This has been a bad day for me" after a 5-0 mauling at Anfield, together with his heart rendering dissertation after Jimmy Bullard`s last knee injury, "It`s been a difficult day for me, I`ve been sitting in the hospital waiting room like an expectant father." You start to build up the impression of a deplorable, self obsessed little twerp, I`d spit at him if I could get close enough, Maybe not, but I`m sure he`d accuse me of it. If he was an ice cream, he`d lick himself to death. Let`s hope him and his whiny, filthy little football club do not have cause to cross our paths for quite some time. Let`s hope we also have no cause to suffer the utterly inept refereeing of Andre Marriner too, I`ve seen jellyfish with greater backbone than that incompetent scared little twat.
With Brown, Marriner and the ever irritating Jimmy Bullard on show, blood pressure was set to go through the roof. Which media mogul decided upon this "Jimmy Bullard is should a good bloke he is" mantra? The Jimmy Bullard that demanded Fulham make him their highest earner in the squad- doubling the wages of the second highest paid player- at the age of 30 and as soon as they refused threw a paddy and took a massive step down to Hull solely for the money? Kieron Dyer has been vilified in recent weeks for costing West Ham millions of pounds for a handful of appearances yet Bullard is desperately unfortunate to have done exactly the same to Hull? Oh but he likes fishing, gurns a lot and shoots every single time he gets the ball so that makes him a diamond geezer? Like I said in the Gus Caesar article, never underestimate people`s ability to cling to myth. Hull established their game plan early on; it took George Boateng all of six minutes to shove Denilson to the floor about twenty yards away from the ball, before ploughing through the back of him ten seconds later. Marriner naturally grinned away like a lobotomised goldfish. Hull continually kicked legs, had arms around throats and pulled players down off the ball and Marriner did not punish a single offence. Every single Arsenal fan in the Smith and Nephew Stand raged because we knew what was coming, a referee refusing to take control of overzealous opponents until one of the thugs lost control of his himself and put in a genuine leg breaker. Hull fans urged their team of Neanderthals on with tawdry chants such as "There`s only one Ryan Shawcross" and "Get into 'em (fook 'em oop)." Ironically, they whinged like scorned little bitches when Sol Campbell put in a perfectly legal meat and potatoes challenge of his own. Hull players and supporters had all the poise and character of a school bully, prowling around and stealing lunch money with abandon, but going whingeing to teacher the second the nerdy kid spits water back in their faces. Doubtless the media coached masses will dismiss my anger as "a typical Arsenal fan moaning about Arsenal being tackled", to which I`d say the ball has to at least figure somewhere in the equation for it to be considered a "tackle" in any sense of the word, most of Hull`s hobnailed assaults occurred when the ball wasn`t so much an innocent bystander as a distant spec on the horizon. Yet the appallingly weak refereeing vindicated Hull`s approach and outrageously, after 36 minutes, both sides had two yellows apiece. If anyone believes that Arsenal complaints of being governed by different rules are paranoid wailings, watch this match back with your eyes open.
Despite having been charged £33 for a Premiership game in which the hosts could not provide a football pitch or even a football player, the away fans` spirits were raised as Arsenal managed to race into an early lead. A foray down the right from Sagna was the catalyst for some neat link up play between Eboue and Nasri, Bendtner then sprayed the ball across the box to Arshavin, he darted between Mouyokolo and Mendy, taking the ball with him, Mendy attempted to dive on the ball with his hands but to no avail as Arshavin calmly slotted the ball past Myhill. Hull looked shell shocked and Arsenal could have instantly moved into a two goal lead when Arshavin played Sagna in down the right and his teasing low cross was begging for an Arsenal leg as Mendy and Myhill panicked in the corridor of space between them and the ball. But Arsenal were guilty of dropping off as Hull began to re-assert themselves and concentrated on kicking the ball rather than some shins. Bullard resisted the urge to punt the ball at goal for once as he played a ball into Dean Marney, his hopeful flick found Jan Venegoor of Hesselink who was roughly a bus ride offside, not that applying the rules seemed to bother this crop of match officials and when Sol Campbell barged into the back of Hesselink a penalty was always likely. Those that believe it was a red card need to brush up on the rules of the game. The rule governing professional fouls does not say, "last man", I know that`s the phrase the footballing overlords at Sky use, but the one in the actual rules says, "denying a clear goal scoring opportunity." Since the ball was behind Hesselink, I`m going to venture that perhaps that wasn`t a clear goal scoring opportunity. Jimmy Bullard smashed the penalty home with Almunia diving the correct way but undone by the power and the height of the spot kick. When Clichy was clearly tripped in the area ten minutes later, there was nothing doing from Marriner.
Hull had some of their tenacity back and used it with venomous force when Andy Dawson delivered a powerful swipe on Denilson, for some unknown reason George Boateng then decided to poke Bendtner in the eye off the ball. Marriner, the dizzy twat, decided to book Bendtner for being poked in the eye. Bendtner could easily have fallen to the floor holding his face, but was punished by the referee for not doing so. Is it any wonder players resort to histrionics with dimwits like Marriner in charge? (I use the term "in charge" very loosely, Marriner couldn`t control his bladder, never mind a professional football match). As a result of the poor refereeing, the x rated challenge was always likely to follow, so many of us called it in the stand, so when George Boateng decided to challenge for a grounded ball by stamping on Sagna`s kneecap, it was really no surprise. The offence warranted a straight red but Marriner had insufficient testicular fortitude to award the deserved punishment and bottled it like the feckless dreg he is. Boateng will serve a one match suspension for that attempt to injure a fellow professional. But don`t tell me, Boateng loves his mum and "isn`t that sort of player"? At half time, with the man advantage I was always confident that Arsenal could win comfortably. However, the expected second half saunter did not materialise.
Arsenal never really got going in the second half, charged with a cabbage patch pitch and a resolute bunch of Hull players; the Gunners were not penetrative enough. Lacking Fabregas` driving runs from midfield, Hull contained Arsenal rather easily. The natives were rather perturbed when Sol Campbell won a 50-50 with Zayatte, given Campbell`s vast, vast weight, Zayatte had to go off. Campbell`s feet were on the ground, he went in hard but not fast and his bodyweight probably caused the injury more than anything. There was probably more force in the tackle than necessary, though Campbell didn`t leap in a la Shawcross. From there it was notable however that Hull stopped their mendacious tactics and actually displayed tenacity that was within the laws of the game (barring Fagan`s assault on Sagna, which was flagged by the assistant but unbelievably not punished further). Whether it was the red card or the Campbell tackle that eventuated in their greater respect I`m not sure, but I think the prospect of going in hard on the, ahem, hefty, Sol Campbell did not much appeal after that. (Though the guy behind me who yelled, "Football is dying here referee!" drew en masse agreement).
The Gunners needed greater penetration so called for Theo Walcott, who made an instant impact with his willingness to push the Hull back line towards their own goal. Within seconds he sprinted after a ricochet on the edge of Hull`s box, motored into the box and pulled back for Nasri who touched the ball to Arshavin, but the pitch once again interfered with his shooting, the ball taking a bobble which resulted in him skying the chance. It felt as though it was not to be our day. It was Walcott again who created a rare clear cut chance for Arsenal in the second half, he pulled the ball back for Bendtner, who took a touch and angled a shot towards goal, but was excellently blocked by Mouyokolo. The goal did not look as though as it would come, with Arsenal`s midfield three failing to inject sufficient tempo to trouble Hull, who, to give them some credit, defended with their lives in the second half. But in injury time, with your esteemed writer already mouthing, "I can`t ****ing believe we`ve blown this one" Denilson collected Sagna`s pass thirty yards from goal, through lack of ideas/ options he hit a searing drive towards goal, with the ball deviating wildly Myhill panicked and punched it straight back out in front of him and Nicklas Bendtner pounced first to return the rebound into the net and send the Smith and Nephew Stand into raptures. Complete strangers gripped and throttled one another in delight. The fifth consecutive match in which Arsenal have registered a stoppage time and another scrappy tap in for Bendtner. Having we been begging for a striker that does that for some years? There were many that were demanding we break the bank to sign one, but Wenger affirmed faith in Bendtner and the Dane promised to repay it. Another illustration of a young player thriving on the trust shown in him by the manager.
The victory elucidated that the difference between this year`s Arsenal side and last year`s is character. There have been very few adjustments in playing staff bar upgrading a starting centre half, but the spirit in this side is notable. Last minute wins away at Stoke and Hull, the personality we have shown to pull ourselves back into the title race despite several public funerals for our title hopes. Like a bad turd, Arsenal just won`t go away. Yesterday we were faced with an awful pitch, a filthy side and an utterly inept referee without our two top scorers, our captain and our defensive lynchpin, a dodgy penalty conceded and a stonewall one not given, yet still found a victory even though the second half performance was somewhat below par after our midweek exertions. All I really wanted this season was to see Arsenal make a real challenge and we are doing that, for which the team deserve the utmost credit to this point. But tomorrow, this match is forgotten about and the focus is on West Ham and taking another very obtainable three points, we`re at a stage now where one more slip will mean curtains, I`d take eight more injury time winners, wouldn`t you?LD.
1.ALMUNIA(c), 3.SAGNA, 31.CAMPBELL, 5.VERMAELEN, 22.CLICHY, 15.DENILSON, 2.DIABY, 8.NASRI (9.Eduardo `78), 27.EBOUE (14.Walcott `71), 23.ARSHAVIN, 52.BENDTNER. Unused: 18.Silvestre, 21.Fabianski, 32.Merida, 37.Eastmond.
Date:Sunday March 14 2010
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