Phil Dowd 4-4 Arsenal, and Everyone Hates Us

In case you're wondering why this wasn't up in a more timely fashion, the simple answer is that I endeavor to be able to talk about the games with some level of hope is that I have something interesting and objective to say about the match. Ever since Saturday, I've been both enraged and demoralized to the point where I honestly couldn't write about it without petty, vindictive anger...towards the team and to the esteemed referee in charge of this farce.

I'm not feeling that much better about it, but if I wait any longer we'll have already played Wolves by the time I felt ready. So, here goes...I'll try and be as restrained as I can.

If you had asked me at the 10' mark of this one, I would have said the points were inescapably in the bag. Despite this club's remarkable penchant for throwing winnable matches away, the thought never entered my mind that three points were not coming back to London with the Arsenal. I would have bet money, sexual favors or even a spare limb on it without blinking an eye. It was a welcome return to the Premier League of Newcastle Comedy Defense, with only the hapless Jean-Alain Boumsong missing from the hilarity.

Just 44 seconds elapsed between the open kickoff and Steve Harper picking the ball out of his net. The ridiculous ease with which the Magpies were carved open and the sumptuous finish from Theo Walcott had the Blind Pig rocking before a third of the audience had so much as darkened the pub's door. Two minutes later, a gorgeous free kick from Andrei Arshavin was imperiously headed home by Johan Djourou. When Robin van Persie made it 3-0 with just 10 minutes on the clock, I had one thought dominate my mind:

Daaaaamn...we are beating the SHIT out of these guys! It's nice to really thump someone for once!

When the Dutch master tallied again to make it a four-goal cushion, I openly wondered how many we were going to score on the day. I had visions of a similar scoreline to last season's opener against Everton, and indulged in double-digit dreams.

From what I remember about the game, there were a few instances where the backline looked a little shaky, but Wojciech Szczesny didn't face a single shot before the interval. Laurent Koscielny was solid, but I could swear that he was bailed out by Djourou on a few occasions. I refuse to watch any highlights of this one though, so I can't say for sure. Anyway, halftime came and went, and we all settled in to watch the beatdown continue.

Well, that is, until the double-whammy happened. Djourou got hurt, and Abou Diaby lost his mind.

More about Djourou in a second. As for Diaby, we all know what happened. We all know Joey Barton would be better served back in the pokey, or perhaps killed and eaten by an escaped circus lion if we're feeling greedy. But, and this will be a recurring theme, Phil Dowd contributed to this with his failure to take control of the game early on. It was beyond obvious that Newcastle came out to play physically, and I'm fine with that when it's within the Laws. The first half wasn't exactly a Stoke-inspired horror show, but many of the challenges were crude and a tad over the top. I wouldn't have asked for ten million bookings, but Dowd rarely whistled for fouls, let alone book anyone. It was ridiculous.

So, Barton went through Diaby with a challenge that was reckless but likely without the intent to injure (not to say the potential wasn't there though). Diaby lost the plot, and put his hands to Barton's face. Ten years ago, that's a booking and a stern telling-off from the referee. These days, it's an automatic red and he had to go. Again, I can somewhat understand Diaby's frustration, and there's a part of me that thinks it wouldn't have been a bad thing in most cases. In retrospect, I kind of liked Bacary Sagna's sending-off in the Manchester City game. Zabaleta was on the wind-up the whole time, and finally our man got sick of it and gave him a nice little Glasgow kiss.

(The one time in Phil Dowd's worthless life when he wasn't a total fucking cunt.)

Either we're soft and don't like it up us, or we're wild caveman thugs who have a shocking lack of discipline. You can't have it both ways (though Fleet Street sure will fucking try).

For whatever reason though, the team reacted as poorly to the sending-off on this occasion as they reacted well against City. In my mind, the Djourou injury was the real catalyst for our collapse - dodgy refereeing and violent outbursts aside. I've mentioned in this space before that I don't rate Sebastien Squillaci as a defender, and for me that was proved once again on Saturday. Koscielny has shown over the season that he is developing and is somewhat able to cope at this level, with flashes of excellent play (particularly with anticipating a pass and stepping up to intercept). But, he's also shown that he's devastatingly prone to positional mishaps, to the extent where he needs a great partner to bring out the best in him. Give him Tommy Vermaelen or Djourou, and the partnership clicks. Give him someone like Squillaci who is not physically imposing, just as prone to poor positioning and not much for mental strength either, and you have a backline in disarray.

Still, these are fucking professionals and they should have been able to hold a four-goal lead.

Once again, the manager has failed to give us any kind of reasonable cover in central defense during the transfer window. I understand that we'd be overpaying for someone not as good as the Verminator or Djourou (possibly even Koscielny), but this is our season on the line here. If we cannot depend on Squillaci to help hold down the fort with a four-goal lead against a mediocre midtable side like fucking Newcastle, then what fucking good does it do us to not get rogered on a transfer deal? Who is waiting in the wings that would be adversely affected by a transfer? Ignasi Miquel? Do me a motherfucking favor.

I said it a couple of weeks ago: It's going to take more than one win over the Rent Boy Chavs to convince me that Arsene is still the man for the job.

Also: Since Diaby walked for putting his hands to Barton's face, I would absolutely love an explanation from Dowd (or that dozy fucking douchenozzle of an assistant who was standing millimeters away) as to how that cretin Nolan didn't also walk for putting Szezscny in a headlock. Two sets of fucking rules, I'm thinking.

Right, so it's the 50th minute, Djourou is out and we're down to 10 men. At this point, I started to get a slight feeling of foreboding, but also still felt reasonably comfortable at finishing 4-1 or 4-2. As the minutes progressed though, it became more and more obvious that something was seriously wrong. For a club that is so well-equipped at maintaining possession and passing teams to death - even with ten men at times - our boys barely had the ball. All of a sudden, it was a festival of bad positioning, bad decisions, terrible passing and absolutely no plan for how to see out the rest of the game. Again, I put this squarely on the manager's shoulders. This is his team, he is the one who ostensibly should be preparing the squad for scenarios such as this. If this were a one-off occurrence, I could come much closer to forgiving it. However, how many fucking epic collapses can one team come up with in a 2-3 year span and not have serious questions asked about their strength of character, preparation and leadership from above?

Quick thought exercise: Fabio Capello has (wrongly, in my opinion) taken pelters from the English press and supporters about his handling of the national team. But, would a Capello-managed team ever...fucking EVER...let a four-goal lead slip in any circumstances? Even a three-goal lead?

I sincerely doubt it.

Anyway, the defense and midfield were all over the shop after this point, and the first penalty was not a surprise when it came. People say that it was soft, and in a sense it kind of was. But, when the defender is standing behind the attacker and tries to toe-poke it through the attacker's legs, it's always going to look like a foul and the ref is going to call it most of the time. Dowd provided a veritable smorgasbord of horrific decisions on the day, but this wasn't one of them. That odious fucking cunt Barton made no mistake with the penalty, but it still should have been safe at 4-1 with 20 minutes to go. Well, for a normal team, that is.

For me? That was the exact moment I began to fear the worst.

Unfortunately, I was not proven wrong. Yet another defensive catastrophe from Gael Clichy allowed Leon Best a free shot in the penalty area, and he put it away with aplomb. Poor Szezcsny...he conceded four goals on a day where he did nothing wrong.

The second penalty though is where it became very obvious that Dowd was either sending us a message on behalf of the league's officials about Cesc Fabregas' comments in the wake of the Everton game, or was simply getting caught up in the idea of a comeback and found himself easily swayed by the Geordie faithful (for the record, I think it's about 5% of the former and 95% of the latter). From what I remember, a couple of guys jumped for the ball, it went out for a corner or something, and all of a sudden that hideous twat Dowd was pointing to the spot. Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot..over. By now, I was furious to the point where I couldn't formulate words. While Barton was putting away his second penalty (one quibble: Szezcsny dived about a half-second too early, which was the difference between the ball hitting his leg and going in, and potentially keeping it out), I was howling incoherently at the screen in between long stretches of staring in dumbfounded disbelief.

If we thought the Gunners were in panic mode before, at 4-3 with seven minutes plus injury time to go, they capitulated in even more risible fashion. If they had been able to hold the ball with any sort of regularity, we'd all have been laughing about that plucky little Newcastle giving us a scare before going away. Instead, they pretty much soiled themselves as the Geordies attacked in waves. Of COURSE they were going to score. Shit, I knew they were getting a draw at minimum by the time it was 4-2 (what a damning indictment of the team that is, isn't it?). It's fitting in a way that it came from a decent clearance, leading to Tiote equalizing with a miracle hit from well outside the area. Seriously, has any team in living memory conceded more of those than we do? Neil Mellor, Danny Rose, Franck Quedrue (though we did win that one), Chieck Tiote. Unlike a bunch of those, our keeping wasn't at fault this time. It was just one of those things - if someone wants to shoot from that distance, you'll let them do it all day. Still, for whatever reason, they always seem to find the corner of the net on us.

You never know which Arsenal will show up. You never know what event will castrate this team mentally. You never know what nadir Squillaci will find until you see it for yourself. This lot are seriously fucking killing me slowly.

In retrospect, I'm grateful that Newcastle weren't able to get a fifth. If we're being honest though, they took their foot off of the pedal and were just as happy to play out time as we were. If they had a tad more ambition or anything left in the tank, we'd have lost that game. They did actually have another goal incorrectly called for offside (Shocking Liability Tommy Rosicky playing the man onside), but isn't it fucking interesting how the press conveniently forgot to mention in all the match reports that van Persie also had a perfectly legitimate goal called off as well?

That leads me to the other point I wanted to get to. I talked a bit last week about how we're slowly becoming the team neutrals love to hate again. There's always the section of fans that will no matter what, but I'm amazed at not only how quickly it's occurring, but the ferocity of it. On a day with what even a lot of Guardian commenters who support other clubs commented on how shocking the officiating was, look at the headline of the match report: "One-eyed Arsene Wenger fails to give Newcastle credit they deserve".

Words fail me.

In the "Our Favorite Things This Week" section, they link to this obvious wind-up piece on something called Who Ate All the Pies? entitled "How Much More Unlikable can Arsenal Get?" It's barely worth mentioning on its own dubious practically has a neon sign asking for cheap hits. As part of an ever-increasing whole though, it's an interesting phenomenon. Again, I'm taken aback at the visceral rage of it.

It doesn't change what I said last week, of course. I hope and pray that we can get to a situation of us against the world again. But, even at the apex of neutral hate during the Invincibles days, I never remember it being like this. Any ideas why this is the case? It's not just the Johnny Foreigner thing, we had those during the Invincibles era too. Maybe it's just our turn, I don't know.

Anyway, I don't know what the hell to think about the Wolves game. I rule nothing out. We could win by 10, lose by 10, come back from 4-0 down to win, go up 4-0 and lose, get 6 red cards and forfeit the game, break out into an elaborate interpretive dance routine during open's all on the table. I've given up trying to read the tea leaves of whether the world-beaters or the cossetted little princesses will show up on a given day.

All I can say is come on, you Gunners! At least win the Carling fucking Cup, huh?