Now, at this point, I don’t know if “Saruman” is a reference to Newcastle, the PGMOL, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, or Stuart Attwell, or to some unholy conglomeration of all them and then some. We went into St. James’ Park know that this would be one of our most-difficult fixtures, and our hosts needed a goal so dodgy that there were three VAR checks, not to mention a player who should have been sent off for any number of bookable if not straight-red offenses, to escape. On balance, I’ll take it.
First, the goal. It seems clear to anyone who isn’t Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles that the ball had rolled out of bounds before Joe Willock could keep it in play. That’s one. For his cross, it seems clear that Joelinton shoved Gabriel with both hands through his back. That’s two. Anthony Gordon clearly scored from an offside position. That’s three. Any one of those should have been enough to disallow the goal. The fact that VAR considered all three and ruled in Newcastle’s favour suggests that there is something rotten in the state of, well, I was going to say Denmark, but that wouldn’t really make sense.
Second, Bruno Guimarães. He really should have been booked it not sent off for shoving Rice with a hand to the throat, blasting the ball at Havertz from a dead-ball, or putting his elbow to Jorginho’s head with no attempt at playing the ball. How he managed to stay on the pitch for the full 90 is anyone’s guess.
In the end, we went into one of the toughest fixtures we’ll face all season, and we gave as good as we got. Considering Attwell’s performance, we gave more than we got, quite a bit more. Going into this one, I had hoped for a draw, given the injuries to Partey, Jesus, Smith Rowe, and Ødegaard. I know that Newcastle had their own injury-woes, but they were the hosts. The fact that we came up short, and did so in such controversial manner, has to stand as a positive.
We weren’t just up against a strong XI supported by legions of fans. We were up against a strong XI supported by legions of fans and a referee who seemed to think he was overseeing an Aussie rules match. That we came away with nothing to show for our efforts misses the point. We came away with a grim realization, one that we should have been carrying with us all along: it’s all up to us. We’ll get no help from referees or from VAR of from any other source. That, however, is nothing new.
What is new is that our opponents—for as much as they may celebrate this result—will have to reckon with the fact that it took one hell of a dodgy goal to defeat us. I’d wager that those at Old Trafford, Anfield, Topspur Stadium, and even the Etihad will have noticed the marker that we laid down on this day. You can hold us at arm’s length, at least for a while, You might even beat us back…for a bit—but in you, there has to feel an increasing sense, a gnawing fear, that the Arsenal, despite being far from their best, is gathering strength.
Underestimate us at your own risk.