Saturday 13 August 2011 5.30pm (ESPN)
Newcastle United 0
“For me that was perfect. I love the English atmosphere, the English fans. Newcastle fans are brilliant. I am happy to start in the team, in the Premier League, and with the atmosphere. That was fantastic.” Yohan Cabaye
Arsenal had loads of players with unpronounceable names and frankly ridiculous haircuts and spent the day kicking lumps out of us and diving around the pitch looking for free-kicks. But you knew that already, didn’t you? I’ve always believed that most of Arsenal’s recent players were athletes who couldn’t trap a medicine ball (do they still make them?) but who had enough pace to cover up for their lack of touch and technique but then I thought Mike Ashley might have been good for Newcastle United when he arrived so what do I know? As for ourselves, with a new look midfield and all-too-obvious gaps in the Enrique/Carroll departments, I wasn’t expecting an expansive, free-flowing display or a repeat of the thrilling 4-4 match last season. I wasn’t disappointed.
Let’s start with the football today then. Dead easy, there wasn’t any. Three shots on target were recorded afterwards but I must have missed them. This was a stinker of a fixture between two sides on the back foot in terms of their overall strategy and prospects, both just desperate not to lose. Arsenal were distracted by the prospect of even more of their big stars jumping ship – we were anxious not to lose to one of the big four, forgetting for a moment that the Gooners would struggle to lay claim to a place in the big 6 or 7 at the moment.
The ‘highlights’ of the game centred on the visitor’s well documented propensity for cheating (same old Arsenal) and the inability of our volatile star player to resist following suit. After a strong but clearly fair tackle on Song near halfway, Barton found himself the victim of yet another cowardly and spiteful attack from one of slimy Arsene’s little sneak thieves (I’m not a fan, can you tell). After picking himself up from the challenge (This is Not a Love….) Song stamped on Joey’s calves in full view of both benches, thousands of supporters and, crucially, the 4th official standing a matter of yards away. Anyone wearing black and white could see what had happened. Arsene, of course, did not, but the man with the numbers board also claimed to have seen nothing untoward, despite Barton’s attempts to discuss the matter with him.
What followed was equally as disgusting and this time JB wasn’t entirely the innocent party. Having practiced a couple of tumbles earlier in the game, Gervinho, wearing what looked like a Tupperware dish secured to his head with an elastic band, threw himself over an imaginary leg in the area, the replay from behind the goal showing self-evidently that he’d flicked his leg back in a blatant act of chea…sorry, simulation. Clearly smarting from the earlier injustice, Barton dragged him up to his feet to remonstrate and in the kafuffle that followed, Gervinho slapped Joey on the head with all the force of David Cameron making a very stern point indeed, like when he’s very, very cross.
Surprisingly, and stupidly one must say, Joey then threw himself to the floor in another act of simul…ok, ok cheating which resulted in the United player being booked and Gervinho dismissed on debut. Just desserts for the latter, just barmy from the former and, despite the introduction of both Best and Lovenkrands, the game ended goalless and will ultimately be remembered for all the wrong reasons, although Run Geordie Run star Mark Allison was guest of honour at half time, fresh from our impromptu photo session at the Columbus match. Obertan came on for the clueless Ba at half time, the clueless Shola lasting another half hour for reasons which escape me, and showed some promising signs, which underlines just how far away from his former employers we still are.
Newcastle United: Tim Krul, Danny Simpson, Steven Taylor, Fabricio Coloccini (c), Ryan Taylor, Joey Barton, Yohan Cabaye (Peter Lovenkrands 80), Cheik Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez, Shola Ameobi (Leon Best 73), Demba Ba (Gabriel Obertan 46).
Subs not used: Fraser Forster, Mike Williamson, Dan Gosling, Sammy Ameobi
Arsenal: Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Song, Aaron Ramsey (Johan Djourou 90), Gervinho, Tomas Rosicky (Emmanuel Frimpong 85), Andrei Arshavin (Theo Walcott 61), Robin van Persie (c).
Subs not used: Lukasz Fabianski, Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Marouane Chamakh
Referee: Peter Walton
Attendance: 46,894 (3,352 away fans)