Sixer’s Soapbox: Arsenal, Altidore and Atkinson

NEWsoapbox(Without Score)There was a bevvy of Salut! Sunderland contributors in the Kings Arms on Saturday lunchtime – a bevvy being the collective noun for a group of like minded people meeting in a boozer – and we were all optimistically predicting a home win whilst secretly expecting to get nothing from the game. We elected not to drown our collective sorrows after the match but you will doubtless read our own thoughts in the comments sections of the post Arsenal articles and podcasts which appear on this site. M Salut, was not there, ensconced as he is in his French château but his thoughts can be found on his ESPN blog at As usual the esteemed Peter Sixsmith presents his own view of the game, as seen from his seat high in the East Stand.


Where to start?
• With the team selection, which handed the first half to Arsenal?
• With the huge improvement in the second half that gave us a glimmer of hope in what is already looking like a very difficult season?
• With the undoubted quality of the Arsenal midfield?
• With the controversy arising from the Altidore/Sagna/Atkinson situation?
• With Di Canio being sent off?

It’s a tricky one!

The team selection came first so let’s have a look at that. Arsenal lined up with 5 international midfielders – Walcott, Ozil, Flamini, Wilshere and Ramsey, with four of them playing in the centre and only Walcott wide. We lined up with Vaughan and Ki in our middle with Mavrias and Johnson out wide. It came as no surprise that the Arsenal 4 completely bossed the midfield for the first 45 minutes as our two ran around trying to get the ball. Neither of them are tacklers and they were easily swept aside by players who were far better than they were.

We played two up front, which looks like a luxury if the midfield cannot get hold of the ball. It’s good to attack, but I can’t think of many teams who play two orthodox centre forwards as we did. It could be argued (and it’s a good point) that Arsenal were weak in the middle of the back four, with Sagna and Koscielny not the strongest combination. They had difficulties when we got the ball up to Fletcher and Altidore, but we saw so little of the ball in the first half that they were looking for scraps. Di Canio clearly wants to play football and the pedestrianism of the last two years is much less in evidence. But we need some steel in there as well in order to win the ball and spread it wide to our wingers. Vaughan and Ki cannot do that job.

As a result, a very good Arsenal side were made to look even better. After we made a decent start, they woke up, yawned, scratched themselves and went down and scored, with Ozil playing a delightful pass to Giroud who swept it home. A goal of the highest quality which started with Altidore losing the ball in their penalty area and finished with Westwood picking the ball out of the net.

Westwood kept us in the game in the first half, making three outstanding saves, while Walcott dithered over whether to head the ball or side foot it in and ended up doing neither. He had a disappointing game despite Colback and Mavrias giving him plenty of space.

Despite all their possession, we almost equalised when Diakite (a much improved performance from him) hit the bar with a header and Altidore forced a good save out of Szczesny. However, there was a feeling at half time that this could get bloody unless we improved.

Jake says it's good to have you back
Jake says it’s good to have you back
And improve we did. Gardner came on to put a bit of bite into midfield and within three minutes he was slamming home a penalty after Koscielny had brought down Johnson. A clumsy and needless challenge from the Frenchman as Johnson was heading away from goal, but it got us into the game, stirred the crowd and for a while Arsenal lost focus. Gardner is a consummate penalty taker and also a consummate collector of yellow cards and he got one a couple of minutes later, but at least he was tackling and harrying and the Super 3 of Ozil, Wilshere (still not convinced by him) and Ramsey looked distinctly rattled.

We had a goal disallowed for offside and at the 65th minute stage, we looked the likeliest winners. Then, our energy levels dropped a wee bit and they got back into it. We failed to mark Jenkinson, who received a short corner from Ozil, he looked up and picked out an unmarked Ramsey who scored with a cracking volley.

Now we come to the controversial bit. This one will take up acres of newsprint and will be done to death on radio and TV. So, let’s be short and sweet about it and say that Martin Atkinson was wrong, wrong, wrong on both counts. First of all, he should have waited a few seconds before giving the foul by Sagna on Altidore. He didn’t but having given it, he then had to send the Arsenal man off as he had clearly prevented a goal scoring opportunity. He didn’t. The assessor may well be having words with him after two very poor interpretations of the spirit of the game and the rules. As a result, he may well be appearing at Scunthorpe or Accrington next week.

There was enough time for Ozil to set up another good goal for the very impressive Ramsey and for our manager to get himself sent off after Atkinson inexplicably allowed Giroud to leave the pitch at the half way line rather than go off behind the goal. Make it Frickley Athletic or Bradford PA next week.

There was a sense of frustration and disappointment as we left, after warm and genuine applause for the players who had done very well in the second half. But the first half was a worry and the team selection was, once again, difficult to fathom. We really cannot start as badly as we have done for the last two games and rely on substitutions to get us back into the game. Chasing the game is difficult for the best sides, never mind one in transition as we are.

Next week at West Brom is as important a game as Di Canio has had at Sunderland. We need a win as points have to be picked up at the clubs who will be around us and we have already dropped seven to Palace, Fulham and Southampton. Albion scored their first goal late on at Fulham and will be looking to start their season. We must get ours under way, or I can see another disastrous campaign stretching out before us.

At least Durham won the cricket!!!

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14 thoughts on “Sixer’s Soapbox: Arsenal, Altidore and Atkinson”

  1. Finally ‘watched’ the game recorded from saturday night’s SNF. I had already watched the vid clip of Atkinson’s appalling refereeing when he went against the laws and spirit of the game. He blew after the pushing by Sagna, not during, which makes it even worse.
    I don’t agree with Jeremy’s conspiracy theory (as much as I admire him) – sometimes, shit happens and it seems we get more than our fair share. Atkinson made a very poor judgement call. It happens. There is nothing else can be read into it.
    My increasing concerns re PDC and his man management methods impacting on player confidence have been somewhat assuaged after some really promising signs.
    Unlike Pete, I liked what I saw of Ki playing that deep midfield role and felt he was had an understated (unCatts-like) impact – won some ball and kept possession without getting booked. Massive test for him, 1st game against an impressive Arsenal midfield. However, he lost Ramsey for that 3rd goal, struggling to get back and pick him up on the edge of our box. I think he has potential to act as a solid deep midfield player.
    The game reinforced that Sess is no loss at all. His fantastic individual skills never went anywhere. Contrast with the Fletch and Altidore pairing. Fletcher is a truly class act as his individual skills are matched by his team skills, bringing others into play.
    Craig earned massive respect for dealing with the penalty so surely after just coming on.
    At least there is something from the performance that we can take to WBA.
    I have never used the phrase ‘somewhat assauged’ ever before and am not sure it is correct – but sounds good.

  2. WBA is another graveyard for us…are there many places that are not?

    Just looked at our record there.We have lost the last 4 PL at games at WBA ground.The last time we beat them away was in the championship in 2007.
    In the last 7 meetings with WBA we have lost 6 and drawn once.

    These are not good signs for our first win of the season.

  3. West Brom is now unofficialy a six pointer.We won two must win games at the tail end of last season in the shape of the mags and Everton and we somehow need to find that never say die spirit again.It reappeared in the second half on Saturday and that mindset needs to be there from the first minute come the weekend .This is the bleakest of starts but we will improve, won’t we…….?

  4. As an Arsenal fan I must say we seemed to have receivd a get out of jail free card, unfortunately for you, from your Community Chest pack.

    The disallowed goal for a free kick was really very bizarre; from the wrestling match to the ‘did it/not’ cross the line and watching the screen (here in Montreal) flick 2-1 to Sunderland and then go back to 1-1 with the goal-line technology saying Goal in green.

    My heart sank especially after Walcott had been so profligate (this immediately told me tat Sunderland would be back in the game because we didn’t kill it).

    When the referee called for a free kick I was surprised. The third goal removes some of the element of to whether Arsenal deserved the three points but your spirited second half display arguably deserved a better result.

    After our opening game against Villa where the ref played advantage and when that didn’t reward Villa with a goal then called a penalty, I think you can say that maybe the ref could have waited to see and if Altidore had missed, then called the free kick.

    Anyway, keep heart and hopefully with a reduced injury list you can start to pull the results together that your performances deserve.

    • And your comment Felix about the Villa penalty highlights what frustrates fans of all clubs – the lack of consistency in the application of the laws of the game.

  5. Refs are told to play the advantage whenever they can. They have the power to bring the game back if there is no advantage.
    Atkinson made a dreadful error and then compounded it by giving Sagna a yellow card. Do you think he would have done the same to a Sunderland player at Ashburton Grove? Of course not.
    Why the fans of the bigger teams constantly moan about referees is beyond me. They get far more help from referees than the likes of Sunderland, West Brom and Norwich and yet think that the whole world is against them.
    Arsenal are a good side and Ozil could get them near to a trophy, but there is still one one rule for them and one rule for the others. Look at Flamini; elbowed Fletcher in the face in front of Atkinson, no action taken; Gardener blocks a run down the wing and gets booked. And by a referee from Leeds – obviously still sore about losing in 1973.

    • “As a result, he may well be appearing at Scunthorpe or Accrington next week. . . . . . . . Make it Frickley Athletic or Bradford PA next week.”

      Even worse, Pete, they’re sending him to Newcastle!

      It always seems insulting, or patronising at best, when referees are ‘demoted’ to refereeing in the lower divisions. Too poor to referee in the Premier but, well, incompetence doesn’t matter in Division 2.

  6. A pretty decent write up but after watching a ref actually cheat us out of a game against Villa i find it hard when you talk about the sprit of the game. law if law, the ref saw a foul and blew. Tell me, if Altidore had carried on and blasted it over the bar, would you have wanted a free kick?

    • Peter doesn’t accuse Martin Atkinson of cheating. His reference to the spirit of the game clearly refers to the fact that having awarded the free kick Sagna should have been sent off. It is hard to argue that there wasn’t a goalscoring opportunity when the ball ended up crossing the goal line between the posts.

      Elsewhere on this site I quoted Arsene Wenger who makes the point that had the ball not gone into the goal the ref would have been criticised for not blowing for a free kick and he is of course correct. Sagna’s foul would still have warranted a red card though.

      Much as I dislike Glenn Hoddle’s punditry I have to agree with him that the Laws of the Game should adopt the rule which applies in Rugby Union where the referee can call advantage, allow play to continue for several seconds then penalise the initial foul if there is no subsequent advantage.

      But what concerns me more about the incident is that in the reality of modern football there is no place for morality. I was brought up to play hard but fair. I was brought up on players like the Bobbies Charlton and Moore. These days, I can’t think of any players who approach the game in the same way.

  7. “At least we won the cricket!” and we won it because Collingwood backed his proper bowlers and was rewarded when they dismissed Derbyshire for 63 to set up the win.

    Yorkshire on the other hand tried to engineer a run chase and bowled rabbits – Ballance going for 88 in 12 overs and Jaques for 75 in 6 overs. Even I never had those sorts of figures.

    Natural justice in the cricket if not at the Stadium of Light.

    • I’ve been barking on about the cricket all season. However, outside (and probably even inside) the confines of the North East, what has been a wonderful season for Durham will largely go unnoticed. This is a side with a smattering of young players mixed in with seasoned professionals who never know when they are beaten (and rarely are). If they were footballers they would be elevated to demi-god status but the vast majority can walk down the street totally unnoticed. Perhaps Colly can go down the SOL and explain how it’s done. PROUD TO BE A DURHAM LAD.

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