Arsenal 3 – 1 West Bromwich Albion
1 – 0 Hleb (44)
1 – 1 Quarshie (72)
2 – 1 Pires (76)
3 – 1 Bergkamp (89)
Dennis Bergkamp day at Highbury, the crowd a sea of orange in his honour. Thankfully the non-Flying Dutchman entered the fray to become a major contributor to three important points, especially as the Tiny Tots produced a better than expected result by winning at Goodison Park.
The match itself was typical of the fare served up at THOF in recent seasons. Arsenal dominated possession against opposition intent on sitting back and soaking everything up before hitting the home side on the break. As is normal, Arsenal had too much for them despite squandering a host of chances, including one by Henry where he lost his bearings in front of goal, placing the ball well wide of the left hand post when rounding the keeper seemed the easier option. These things seem so simple from the stands.
Having toiled for most of the half, seemingly in vain, a neat one-two with Henry sent Hleb free in the area where he drove the ball home with some venom from a tight angle, beating the Albion keeper at his near post. The restart brought forth more of the same and with Villarreal beckoning on Wednesday, Henry was withdrawn after a little more than an hours play. Ten minutes later, Hleb and Van Persie departed allowing the Guest of Honour to earn his corn. It didn’t go quite to plan as Quarshie, who had incurred the wrath of this correspondent earlier – more on that later – capitalised on an error by Eboue to finish excellently from the edge of the area and it seemed that fourth place would be disappearing over the horizon. Bergkamp however had other ideas – I guess it was his day to prove just what the club will miss in the coming seasons and a reminder of the glorious days of the recent past.
The Albion joy at drawing level lasted less than five minutes. A flowing move down the Arsenal right left Pires free in the area but his shot was well blocked by the keeper, only for Bergkamp to seize on the loose ball, take it towards the bye line, draw the keeper and a defender towards him, slot the ball to Pires who having had his initial shot blocked, lifted the ball into the right hand corner of the goal. It was a tangible relief spread around the ground.
Albion then pressed on looking for another equaliser and had a half decent penalty shout turned down as Eboue appeared to clip Davies leg in the area. The saving grace, I believe, was (a) the attacking players run across Eboue and (b) the fact that Davies went down as if he’d been hit by a right hook from Muhammed Ali in his prime. That proved to be irrelevant a minute from time as Bergkamp found himself in space and curled the ball around the keeper, reminiscent of all of those classic goals from yesteryear. And so three points keeps the gap to the Tiny Tots at four points, leaving us praying for a United win at White Hart Lane on Monday, the prelude to the derby clash one week today.
Three points are three points, today’s job done. Some concern that the centre of the defence is proving to be suddenly vunerable to set pieces again, LuaLua scoring unmarked earlier in the week and Albion nearly repeating the trick today. But better that these glitches are ironed out now before the Semi Final.
And what of Mr Quarshie? What could that nice mild mannered man have done to incur the wrath of Yogi? He demanded a yellow card for Toure, duly delivered by the referee, for deliberate handball. I have not much issue with the card although from where I sat it looked like the Scotland international pushed KT in the challenge. But I cannot abide players who motion to the referee to book an opponent. It makes my blood boil. Why do it? What do they hope to achieve? Surely no referee has ever booked a player as a result of this? All it smacked of today was a forward of limited talent (and he is limited in talent) trying anything to gain the upperhand. Well, he got his comeuppance when his team lost. And this type of action infuriates me more than diving, prinicipally because very little is won through diving and more because the media make it out to be a bigger problem than it actually is in domestic football. The Daily Mail earlier this week ran a piece which interviewed three referees – Uriah Heep, Graham “as popular as” Poll Tax and Pearl & Dean – who agreed with me, being careful to distinguish those who went down easily and those who dived. Interestingly, they saw little wrong with a player going to ground after physical contact arguing that they had a right to do so. They were more reluctant to brand someone a “diver”, equating this to cheating and believing that a player has the same right to be called honest and not wanting to brand them as dishonest unless they were absolutely sure of the simulation taking place. As an accompaniament to the piece there was a table that showed the names of players booked for diving this season. Three things struck me: (1) Bolton have had more players cautioned for this offence this season than any other club, (b) Van Nistelrooy was on the list and (c) Arsenal have had no bookings for diving this season, clearly something at odds with the media perception that Reyes and Pires are guilty of this.
Todays Tunes are from Peter Hook’s first spin off from New Order, the group Revenge. The recently re-released One True Passion contained a second disc that almost doubled as a greatest hits album containing remastered tracks and demos. Hooky’s Monaco cohort, Dave Potts, joined the band as a bass player before pairing up with the mercurial Salfordian for greater things. Relatively speaking, that is.
These two are taken from a bootleg from 1991, No Pain, No Gain, which doesn’t give details of the gig that these were from.