Garcia Makes a Meal but Arsenal Get the Dessert

I have been through a number of blogs and reports on the Hull City match and the range of opinion has been fascinating. For me, I think this is a quality result and, despite dropping two points at Burnley in mid-week, I think we come out of the past eight days in good shape. If the table held today and we won our game-in-hand, we would be in second place ahead of United on goal differential.

It wasn’t the kind of pretty we are used to and, once again, Arsenal struggled a bit coming out of the gates. Fabregas’s 8th minute goal on Wednesday was the first time the club had scored inside the first quarter of an hour of a match all season. Yet, once again Arsenal failed to make much of anything happen in the match’s first 45 minutes. Arsenalinsider had some strong words to describe our first-half performance, but I think he goes a bit far when he says:

The first-half entertainment at the Emirates yesterday was appalling. It broke the game of football down to its simplest and barest, so low was the quality that no way could this be called a profession. For a moment it was possible to understand those wretched people who say of football, ‘it’s just a game’ because that is all it was. Aside from Denilson’s nicely bent in free-kick from 25-yards on the stroke of half-time, there was little pride or care in anything Arsenal did.

We did, after all, control the match and created one or two scoring chances, namely Samir Nasri’s shot from inside the box. But it was a rough match between two teams that obviously don’t like each other, and that, if nothing else, made it interesting to watch. The animosity finally spilled over just before the break in an incident involving Samir Nasri and Richard Garcia.

Now, I have watched the replay a dozen times. As it appears to me, Nasri clearly steps on Garcia’s foot. He does not kick out at Garcia, nor does he “deliberately and maliciously kick the back of Garcia’s ankle,” as claimed by EPL Talk. There was absolutely no “maliciousness” in it at all. That is not to say that he didn’t do it on purpose but he hardly tried to hurt Garcia any more than the dozen or so reckless tackles from Steven Hunt throughout the match.

Far more disgraceful than a little step on the foot was the way Garcia went down as if Nasri had stuck a knife in his back. My three year old has stepped on my foot harder than Nasri did to Garcia and I certainly didn’t fall down on the floor the way Garcia went down. It was just as, if not more, disgusting than Nasri’s toe-tap. But, apparently just like during open play, it seems as long as there’s even the slightest contact, it’s okay to play it up and try to deceive the referee into thinking it was worse than it really was. The saddest part is that the incident overshadowed one of Nasri’s best matches of the season so far.

Arsenal went in to the break up 1-nil on the back of Denilson’s free-kick. Like last weekend, the second half was a different story. And Abou Diaby needs to be singled out for his performance. Filling in for the injured Cesc, Diaby scored one goal and assisted on another, held possession well, and got into advanced positions regularly. Eduardo finally ended a 10-match scoring drought with a tap-in and could’ve had two had he been able to finish what was a sublime touch on the edge of the box from an Arshavin pass leaving him one-on-one with the keeper in the box. Forced to strike it with his right foot, he put it just wide.

Unlike Arsenalinsider, I do think there are good things to be taken from this match. On a freezing cold night in December, an injury-ravaged Arsenal were able to get a 3-nil win. It’s what we need to do. The Burnley trip was slightly disappointing but less so when you consider Burnley’s fabulous home record this season. Almunia made a crucial penalty save but the cloud of doubt hanging over his head cannot be chased away so easily.

On ESPN Soccernet, Kevin Palmer claimed Arsenal were a “two-man team” just like Liverpool. Even more ridiculous is the fact that his analysis came AFTER the match. Liverpool without Gerrard and Torres would’ve lost that match. Liverpool do not have players like Eduardo, Diaby, Arshavin, Walcott, or Ramsey to fill in when their two best players are missing. Arsenal secured the points despite missing their two most important players and playing their 4th-choice left-back.

Arsenal now have a week off before the Villa match which begins a run of 5 games in 14 days. In the next three weeks, we have a chance to put ourselves in a position to make the second half of the season more meaningful than it has been in recent years.