Apologies for the late match report today, but I have just had the mother of all moderation meetings. That, in harmony with the fact that I have once again gone without sleep in pursuit of another shoddy refereeing performance, means that, in the words of the great Davod Bowie, I have a brain like swiss cheese.
I have a confession to make, a day after the original Blackburn tie I uttered the immortal words, words which have not left my tongue in five and a half years. 'I'm not going.' I was adamant following the poor performance and the 0-0 draw, coupled with yet another day off work, that I could not attend this replay. A huge decision and one I did not take lightly, but given my poor health of late and my dissatisfaction with the original tie, I decided I would miss a game for the first time since January 20th, 2002. However, somewhat predictably, my petulance evaporated and on Friday I booked my ticket, made a last minute coach booking and ran the gauntlet of yet another sleepless night (not to mention another day crammed onto a coach in a stuffy suit).
I was in bouyant mood prior to the game, with the world and his wife throwing barbed taunts our way following a nothing melee on Sunday, I felt we would see a reaction in classic Arsenal style. I have a video somewhere at home of George Graham giving an inspired 'friends, Romans, countrymen' speech to his troops following their 2 point deduction in 1990. It always stuck in my mind, Arsenal are the rebels for the cause, ready to sneer into the judgemental sky cameras with Sid Viciousesque poise. Blackburn began the game quickly, denying Arsenal space and harrying down our midfielders. But gradually, Denilson and Hleb got a hold on the game and Arsenal began to dominate. Denilson put Ljungberg in on goal, but his touch let him down at the vital moment. Morten Gamst Pedersen was fortunate to stay on the pitch for a sickening and calculated rake down the achilles of Eboue that mimicked Joey Barton's heroic 'effort' on the hapless Pedro Mendes. Graham Poll decided that an act of cynical violence, designed solely to injure a fellow professional was no reason for recourse and Gamst was not even booked.
More lunacy from Poll (whom, lest we forget, cannot count to two) was to follow, as Jeremie Aliadiere rounded Friedel and was clearly brought down. A penalty and a red card would surely follow, but Friedel lamentably covered his backside by vehemently accusing Aliadiere of diving. Poll, being the intellectually challenged cretin he is, gave a goal kick. I hope for his sake he does not attempt to buy a second hand vehicle anytime soon). Now, I was at the other end of the ground and not only could I see it was a clear penalty, but it CANNOT have been a goal kick. By giving a goal kick, Poll acknowleged that Friedel made no contact with the ball. If he made no contact with the ball, then it is an illegitimate challenge in the area, in the universe that I inhabit, that makes it a penalty. If Poll was sure Friedel made contact with the ball, surely it should have been a corner? (But then again, when you book a player twice, you usually send him off, but poor Mr. Poll is incapable of this calculation, so maybe I'm being too harsh on Mr. Remedial).
Minutes later, Poll had the perfect chance to alleviate his stupidity as Brett Emerton clearly tripped Ljungberg in the box. Again, Mr. Poll waved away this stonewall penalty. Two clear red cards and two clear penalties missed in the opening half an hour. Now I do not buy all of this, 'oh, well referees have a high pressured job, so cut them some slack.' I am some years younger (not to mention a good few pounds lighter) than Mr. Poll and I am also in a high pressured job. My work is regular front page news and often the centre of media ridicule, yet I am not afforded the leniency that these whistlekeepers are indulged. As I said on Sunday, borderline offsides are difficult and I can accept the margins for error are small, but if you cannot spot that a stamp is a red card, that tripping somebody in the area is a penalty or that one plus one equals two, you are in deraliction of duty and should not be a professional match official. 'World Cup and you f****d it up' chanted the furious Gooners, ask yourselves, if you had made a mistake as basic and idiotic as Poll did last summer, would you still be in a job? Or would you be clutching a p-45? If you are a nurse and you administer the wrong anisthetic, if you are a policeman and make a wrongful arrest, if you are a fireman who attempts to extinguish a fire with petrol, you would be sacked. So why the ludicrous pprotection of officials? (Particularly ones who lie and fabricate incidents instead of admitting a mistake and clearing an innocent man).
The Gunners continued to dominate, but were once again guilty of their own idiosyncratic lunacies. Baptista headed Denilson's free kick with the goal gaping. In the second half, the Beast hit two range finders out of nowhere which were excellently stopped by Friedel. Baptista has come in for some criticism on the forum, which I find unfortunate. He put himself in the firing line and was our biggest goal threat, creating opportunities out of nothing (as opposed to Ljungberg, who once again just did nothing, but still enjoys idolatory). We have not seen the best of Baptista yet, he really brings us something we do not have, I have seen a keen eye for goal and you must understand that being on loan at a foreign club has to be pretty unsettling. It amazes me that people continue to criticise foreign imports in their first seasons, given the respective fortunes of Henry, Bergkamp, Pires etc. Does anyone remember the general consensus regarding Adebayor back in August? Now his name gets sung with more gusto than Henry's.
With Gallas looking an absolute class act at one end, nursing Traore through the game as well as nullifying the in form Nonda, Arsenal continued to dominate with Hleb pulling the strings in midfield. He is another one who came in for criticism around me last night, but the thing with Hleb is that he is involved in so much of our play in the final third, that when anything does not quite come off it gets magnified. He continued to run at players and provide a constant threat, while Ljungberg looked on anonymously and enjoyed a rousing rendition of 'we love you Freddie' whenever he troubled his Calvins. I have to say, Wenger then made a move that utterly confused me, putting Senderos to right back with Gallas still on the pitch was baffling. None of Senderos's attributes lend themselves to full back, he has little pace and his distribution is faulty. It was to cost us big, as the class Benni McCarthy cut in from the left, skinning Senderos and unleashed a rocket into the top corner. Quite literally Blackburn's only shot on target in 180 minutes and it beat us. Our profligacy had cost us once again, lessons do not come much harsher than losing a domestic Cup Final and a Champions Legaue knockout tie as a direct result of your failure to finish chances. But this team seem cumbersome and unwilling to learn that lesson and become ruthless. That is a great shame, with twelve first team players out we did more than enough to beat a strong Rovers side, but did not take our chances. Though I must say that Samba and Nelsen were once again outstanding at the back for Rovers.
This is probably the most gutting defeat of the season, defeat to PSV will see our season fall apart in a space of ten days due to missed chances, which is hard to take as it is a lesson Arsenal have had dished out repeatedly (think Man City and CSKA). Another word about officiating here, Blackburn committed 29 fouls last night and were booked for two of them (their other two bookings were for unrelated offences). It seems that the English game seeks to reward teams who play violently, they are officiated more leniently as it is considered part of the way they play. Yet Gael Clichy was booked for his first foul last night. Statistics show that Arsenal are booked every 5.7 fouls, Blackburn are booked every ten, Watford every eleven. When even class players like Gamst are committing acts of violence, you have to acknowledge that there is something wrong with our game. I am sick of paying hard earned money to watch referees condone and encourage violence. The fact is the agenda of the spineless rabble called the Football Association and their representative officials is totally informed by the media. Wigan had a debatable penalty not given at the Grove and it was arms across England, poor Wigan. Arsenal had three clear cut penalties turned down, whilst David Dunn and Morten Gamst Pedersen were allowed to remain on the pitch for acts of violence. Have you heard so much as a mouse fart about it? Meanwhile, we have linesmen lying about our players actions in order to cover their own mistakes. Respect is something you earn and the Football Association and its little Hitlers in black are doing nothing to earn it at the moment, so I applaud our manager for calling the officials 'liars' following Sunday's charge sheet. He is correct, they are lying and as such can expect to be labelled appropriately. Ultimately, it is hard to know whwere to direct my frustration. Towards officials who cannot operate on the fundamental rules of the game? or a team that refuses to learn harsh lessons and be ruthless in front of goal? Still, we can rest in comfort knowing that us big clubs get all the decisions. LD.