From Last Minute Anger to Joy At the Lane, & Time to Take On The Baggies Again

Good morning from a misty and overcast Manhattan. It's been an interesting week for Arsenal fans everywhere to say the least, and the saying "It's a funny old game" comes to mind yet again.

The match last Saturday away to Sunderland was an odd one, yet somehow still a familiar type of match for Arsenal. Lead taken and held despite questionable officiating, yet finally squandered with a late goal allowed. We have every right to feel victimized, but must also take the long look in the mirror at the manner in which we, again, dropped points at the Stadium of Light. I won't go over the minutiae of the match's occurrences (especially since Sean did such yeoman's work with his match report)

The early going (and it must be said, much of the first half) was all Sunderland. They pressed well and closed down space to dispossess us, and went forward to attack our end dangerously but without that final product to break down our defence, which it must be said was very, very solid overall. The goal we did get was part desire on Cesc's part, part thoughtlessness on the part of Ferdinand in delaying his clearance, allowing Cesc to get a touch on the ball, part luck in Mignolet's being so far off his line, and part magic as the ball landed in the Sunderland net. All that taken together it was most enjoyable, definitely the type of goal that is an absolute sucker-punch when it happens to you. We did however pay a price, as Cesc injured his touchy hamstring on the play, ruling the captain out until Chelsea at the earliest. Rosicky came on for him; more on that later.

That said, we were affected by the performance of referee Phil Dowd. Midweek comments from Sam "obsessed Wenger-stalker" Allardyce, Owen "Sour Grapes" Coyle, and Tony "Ridiculous Toxic Muppet" Pulis complained that referees had the gall this season to discipline players for dangerous and illegal tackles, and blamed this development on the evil foreigner, Arsene Wenger. Dowd proved both his literacy and gullibility by calling the match just as any of those three idiots might have done: Arsenal player foul = booking, Sunderland player foul = Arsenal booking, Arsenal player looks like he might intend to tackle Sunderland player = free kick. Alex Song was given one of the softest yellow cards you'll ever see (until the next time Dowd refs an Arsenal match), and while his second yellow may have been a bookable offense, to have actually sent the Cameroonian off for it was the height of officiousness from the minaret with the whistle. Ironically, once we went down to 10men, we began to really control the game.

As an aside, I'm beginning to see the value of Denilson this season. In situations like last Saturday, he's particularly key in his ability to take the ball and pass it and move and continue, so that we can keep possession and kill off a match. He is not, and never will be a productive holding midfielder nor an attacking midfielder with a killer final ball; but for what he is, a sort of "possession midfielder," he does have some value so long as he's played in the right situations.

With a lead and a healthy bit of possession, we looked much better throughout the second half and probably would have scored a few if we'd had a better final ball on occasion. Our best chance to put the match to bed came midway through the second half, when Nasri was brought down in the box and Dowd inexplicably pointed to the spot. Perhaps he felt guilt at his previous cuntitude, call it Dowd Syndrome (yes, I wrote it, I'm not here to impress you people). With van Persie out (obviously) and Cesc hurt, the logical choice to take it was Nasri, but as we later learned, superstition prevented him from stepping up, so the job fell to Tom Rosicky. The Czech sent a screamer over the bar, and my foreboding kicked into overdrive.

Anyway, we all know what happened. Our defenders worked hard and were largely outstanding, with the exception of Clichy, who still seems susceptible to frequent, costly mental errors. 4 minutes of injury time were added and still Sunderland's attacks broke upon our defence with corner after corner cleared. Nearly half a minute after injury time should have ended, a scramble for a ball in our box fell to Bent, who equalized. Probably a fair result in the end, but still a tough pill to swallow for Arsenal, given that we should have been up by 2 and never should have lost a man. Still, it's an improvement over the loss there last season (if I'm not mistaken, a late goal from Bent won it for the black cats), although we could have, and should have, had more. Perhaps the real shame is that a blinder of a performance from Squillaci and Koscielny (who is looking like a tremendous buy) will be overlooked.

One quick note to my fellow NYC Arsenal Supporters. We don't sing that song in injury time when up by a single goal for a reason. This isn't mindless protocol. Keep the faith, but respect the tradition. Rant over.

It was with this bitter taste still in our mouths that we came to our first North London Derby of the season. Having drawn the tiny totts in the 3rd round of the Carling Cup, most of us had a very bad feeling about this one, seeing as Twitchy had goaded Arsene that "fans want to see trophies, not youth teams." I don't think anyone expected Le Boss to select so many senior squad members for a Carling Cup match, nor had we foreseen the type of side ol' wheeler-dealer was forced to select given his inability to manage. Manage such a small squad in Europe and in domestic competition, that is.

Arsene being banned for one match for touching a referee on the shoulder after the Sunderland match, it fell to Pat Rice to manage via blackberry. It was hardly a full-strength Arsenal side of course, but certainly much stronger than the one that took on Liverpool in the same competition last August of course. And most of the senior squad players like Nasri, Denilson, Wilshere and Gibbs are all still very young. Potential loanee Henri Lansbury got a start in his first derby game, and he made it count. A pinpoint pass across the box from the dangerous Wilshere found the onrushing Lansbury, who Lansburied it in the net for a 1-0 lead, sending Gooners everywhere into ecstacy. It was Henri's first goal for Arsenal, and one that will surely endear him to the faithful. I've thought for some time the lad's got a future with us; perhaps the future isn't that far off...

Later in the first half our lead should have been doubled when Wilshere's incisive pass found Gibbs alone with the keeper; the young fullback was unfairly flagged for offside. We had reason to feel hard done by shortly after halftime, when the same linesman failed to raise the flag on a clearly offside Keane, and the mallet-headed pikey took a low shot that any keeper with bones in his wrists would have stopped. However, our own Lukasz Fabianski prefers his wrists to be filled with broken dreams and heartache, which allowed the scum an undeserved equalizer.

Midway through the second half, Arsene showed how much he wanted to win the match, bringing on Chamakh and Arshavin for Rosicky and Vela. Despite some near chances, we could not close out the match through 90 minutes, so we went to extra time. The Totts' legs were obviously tired headed into the added 30 min., and within moments of the restart, Bassong clipped and pulled down Nasri in the box after a beautifully chipped pass from Arshavin, and the penalty was awarded (for all of Twitchy's bleating, it was a penalty). Having had a talking to during the week from Arsene about his silly superstition, Samir duly strode to the spot and coolly stroked the ball in the net. 2-1 to the Arsenal and the fans were elated. Moments later, Arshavin's slide-rule pass found Chamakh, who was immediately hauled down by Caulker in the box, and the referee had to again point to the spot. Nasri, just as coolly as the first, buried the second penalty and along with it, spuds' hopes of advancing in the Cup. Niko Krancjar was brought on for debutant Sandro (who seems to have played rugby in Brazil), but too little, too late.

And we weren't even done! In the 105th minute, Arshavin put the cherry on his cameo, latching on to a perfect free kick from Wilshere to go behind the defence and slot a fourth goal past the keeper. The best part about this goal was this:

The video's been taken down already, but we all got an eyeful of what will surely be the first of many instances of crushing disappointment in this young man's life. Then again, I'd be crying too if I had a cock on my shirt.

So that was that. As the fans at the ground sang "Shall we make a DVD?" to the few remaining spud fans in attendance, it ended 4-1 to the Arsenal, our biggest win at Shite Hart Lane in 30 years I believe. It was a huge day for our fans of course, but while the champagne went to Samir Nasri for his two goals in extra time, my personal pick for Man of the Match is young Jack Wilshere. He was calm and strong in possession, his passing was inch-perfect, and he controlled the run of play for 120 minutes. Best of all, as tottnumb's only answer was to kick, kick and kick Jack some more, he had the maturity and the strength of mind and body not to retaliate, and instead just get back up and get on with it. Well done.

In other news, we saw Wojciech Szczesny ("He Whose Name Cannot Be Pronounced") have a pop in the press to say he deserves more playing time, to which Arsene replied that he must be patient, that Fabianski deserves chances too, and zzzzzzzzzz... I love Le Boss, and I don't like when players mouth off in the press, but I am beyond dumbfounded as to how Arsene can continue to defend Lukasz (Sean's more in-depth piece can be found after this one). Wojciech probably isn't Casillas, but we'll never know if he can't get a game. Compounding all this is the fact that Szczesny is out of contract after this season. Loyalty to Fabianski may cost us the services of someone who could be a damn good keeper, and sight-unseen is certainly better than Flappyanski. Arsene needs to tread lightly: he can't kowtow to Szczesny's public demands, as this will encourage others to do what he did. But he can't just bench the good Pole for the crap one as he has done. I suppose these are the reasons why Wenger is the manager and we're not.

This Saturday Arsenal host West Bromwich Albion. While many of the Arsenal faithful might go in expecting an easy win, I would advise caution. We've had a number of first team players compete for 120 minutes in midweek, so some squad rotation will be necessary, and the Baggies, while newly promoted, are no strangers to the Premier League, so they'll be geared up to take down a top side. Meanwhile we've got the Chavs a week later, so the element of distraction will be in the air, and we're still top of the injury table at the moment.

A lot of factors point against us this weekend. I say fuck factors. We are the Arsenal, we're at home and coming off a massive win (even if it is only the Carling Cup) over our rivals, after a sour draw last weekend. We're second in the table and we have something to prove against (with all deference to West Brom's fans) a mediocre side. People love to think the title is decided against the other top teams, and they are. But that's only because the title is decided every week. Our boys in red and white will need to go out there and hang goals on the opposition until they can't hold their head up. No more clemency, no more quarter. Just go out there, do the job, gun them down. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

Normally I tell everyone to stay classy, but I think we can avoid that for just a little while to enjoy this picture:

Stay relatively classy, Gooners and Goonerettes...