Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Slap Heard 'Round The World

Photo by EmmiP
Arsenal and Newcastle met yesterday in front of 46,000 screaming Geordies at St. James Park, and what better way to kick off the new EPL season than with a rematch of one of last season's most thrilling matches: the 4-4 draw that saw the men in black and white spot the visitors four goals before deciding to pull back one of the most shocking points of the year.

In truth, the game failed to live up to its potential, with neither 'keeper having much of anything to do in a nil-nil draw that was largely devoid of serious action.  Plainly stated, the EPL season opened on Saturday with a whimper rather than a bang.  Or even more properly, the season opened with a slap.

o The biggest talking point of the game came down to not a goal -- hell, not even a chance at goal-- but instead a dustup and mild slap featuring none other than the always enigmatic Joey Barton and EPL newboy Gervinho.

o Just seeing Barton on the pitch was actually a bit of a shock; I honestly didn't expect him to feature for the Magpies. I give Alan Pardew credit for being able to forgive and forget, because Newcastle is a better team with Barton in the side than they are without him. By the way, Joey: I enjoyed seeing you rock the Travis Bickle mohawk yesterday.

o And Barton acted a bit like Bickle, up to his usual tricks against Arsenal.  He scuffled with both Alex Song and Gervinho, with the latter confrontation leading to a red card and early exit for the Ivorian and a yellow card for Barton.  I was also glad to see the contretemps flare over into Twitter after the game, with both sore loser (in two senses of the word) Piers Morgan and Jack Wilshere (when will he learn to bite hs tongue?) getting involved.

o And on the other side of the bout, Gervinho's a weird looking dude. Plus, he's got some learning to do: like first off, who Joey Barton is, and how to deal with him.Welcome to the EPL, kid.

Herewith some other thoughts on the largely uneventful game and both teams, in no particular order:

o Although I was surprised to see Barton out there giving his all, it was obviously less surprising that Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri sat out, but enough about them -- those sagas bore me. Full stop.

o Without their want-away stars, the Gunners lacked any kind of a biting presence in midfield. If both Nasri and Fabregas are to leave as expected, it could be quite a long season at the Emirates. There's no doubt the missing Jack Wilshere and the present Aaron Ramsey both have quality, but they're young, and not ready just yet to have the demands of carrying the team thrust upon their shoulders. Then again, neither was Cesc.

o Wenger's put his trust in Wojciech Szczesny again, even though the 21 year old Pole played only 16 games in the League last season. I don't know about you, but this seems like a much bigger bet than Fergie putting the younger De Gea in between the sticks over at Old Trafford. Count me as not among the true believers, but I'll say it again at the outset of the season -- Arsenal will not win a trophy until they get a top flight 'keeper.

o I'm reading an interesting book called Soccernomics -- I highly recommend it, by the way -- which talks about the many reasons a club like Newcastle will never rise again. Suffice it to day that the top five finish under Sir Bobby Robson will increasingly be viewed as the good ol' days, as Newcastle lack the resources -- despite their stadium, which can accomodate some 50,000 when full -- to compete with the top teams in the League. I even know some people on Twitter (hello, @philgatt!) who've laid down their hard earned money this season on the Magpies to get relegated.

o I enjoyed seeing Gabriel Obertan come on for Newcastle yesterday, even if his seconf half involvement didn't amount to much in the end. I'd like to see Gabby succeed in his time with the Toon Army, not only for his sake, but also because I believe it will further demonstrate the quality of the true team from Manchester -- which could easily afford to field two sides in the Premier League without even breaking a sweat.

o I know Obertan had to be thinking about the quality -- or better yet, lack of -- of his teammates yesterday, as he got into several decent positions, in which his teammates were simply unable to get him the ball.

o Do you think Jonas Guttierez knows he's supposed to have his last name on his shirt? Just askin'.

Thsi is farlieonfootie for August 14.

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