Dumbfounded, agonised, screaming, relieving, hoping, and then sheer bliss. Who gives a damn, it was the latter state of being that we all felt come the final whistle.
A late, late, late, late resurgance in the final seven minutes from Arsenal saw them start the season with three wholesome points over a Fulham side determined to put ten men in the box.
It all started so very, very wrongly. An absolute howler from Jens Lehmann is not the start he of all people would have wanted, and it left Fulham-debutant Healy with a reflex tap-in to put us behind at home, yet again, as early as the first minute of the match. De ja vu? Mostly, yes, although the points we’ve gone and gotten ourselves differs greatly to the one-point variety of yesteryear. Jens’ actual error has probably been imminent for the last six or so years. Obviously not on his individual part, but just the way Arsenal pass the ball around the defence means that something like this can happen. It also should mean it doesn’t happen again for a long time to come. Clichy’s backpass reached Lehmann, with Healy a little too close to comfort. A pass to the right back, or to a backtracking Flamini would have sufficed, but Lehmann tried to square it back to Clichy. It was an unorthodox decision, and sometimes, the resulting goal is what you get.
Nevertheless, the defence did reasonably well for the day. Continual probing, and increasing adventure from the centrebacks saw Toure get obstructed on his pacy foray into the box going into the last ten minutes of the game. A clear penalty, and a competent and confident strike from van Persie for the equaliser. What followed, though, was an absolute disgrace, and there’s nothing Lawrie Sanchez can say about the ‘diving’ of Arsenal (which is ludicrous and not based in reality at all) that can hide from what the Fulham players attempted to do once the penalty went in. Crowding around the ball, trying to waste time as early as the 82nd minute is plain embarrasing for the relegation candidates. I’ll get a grim satisfaction now at hoping they indeed do fit the bill. Yes, teams waste time come the 89th minute, but if you’re really going to stretch out play as early as then, you should be playing test match cricket.
And then, of course, in the most dramatic of fashion, Fabregas ignored a foul on Gallas to play in an exquisite chip that found Hleb free in the box. Hleb’s off the ball positioning was perfectly fine, his control true, and the finish – which seemed to take forever to pull off – was reminiscent of Fabregas’ first league goal of last season against Bolton. The Emirates literally erupted, the players went beserk, and somehow, they had got the exact start the season required. Game over, get lost Fulham. They really were that infuriating.
So, the aftermath: For once the Arsenal apocalypse has not happened, as no-one is giving any credence to Sanchez’s diving accusations, the muppet. Wenger famously berates his own players for ‘simulation’, as is the buzz word these days, and is reported to discuss it with individuals privately. So it’s a no-no in the club, which teams like Tottenham and Man Utd can learn a fair bit from. That’s right, Man U. All the hype in the world, and a 0-0 against 10-man Reading. Ha.
So, still with diving, Wenger has come out in defence of his players, and reckoned the use of retrospective red-cards is the way to go. Wenger says: “You cannot be a coach and encourage these things. I have spoken to players about it in the past and I am for the use of video in any way. But the only way to cut it out is to allow people to receive red cards after the game.”
On the match: “We had a horrible start and were playing against a good Fulham side, a good goalkeeper. Apart from that, we were resilient, didn’t give up for 90 minutes, were physically and mentally strong.”
For your enjoyment: This is what you call ‘counting chickens before they hatch‘.
And that’s that for the first weekend of real Football. Tottenham lose, Man Utd shoot a blank (and they say we have problems), Chelsea lose Essien and have a colander for a defence. Between us and Liverpool for the title? Heh. Now that would be counting chickens.
Ever the optimist, though.