Inevitably, the question was asked. An update on the futures of Nasri and Fabregas searched for, but only in a feeble attempt to generate more transfer column inches. After all, only so many papers can be sold with ‘Bolton top of the league’ as the headline.
As always with the English press, the football was ignored. “The crime-sheet carried far more of note than the stalemate between Newcastle United and Arsenal,” wrote Henry Winter this morning, a statement which more or less sums up the reaction. However, far more important things were learned yesterday evening than, that for all his philosophizing, Joey Barton is a thug to the core. How about the lackadaisical, almost invisible nature of Gervinho’s performance, on the occasion of his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt. Or the lack of imagination in attack from England’s most aesthetically pleasing side, without their two want away stars. Had the football been played out differently, then there never would have been a dive. There never would have been an angry reaction, a red card and the furor which followed.
Gervinho, though there was contact, is guilty of simulation. Not every touch warrants a fall, but the Ivorian felt he needed to go down. Arsenal were struggling to make things happen in attack, struggling to deal with the absence of their two most potent weapons. Had Wenger’s side been leading comfortably, Gervinho wouldn’t have acted in the way he did; for all the castigation that cheaters receive, diving is only ever a last resort. Milos Krasic’s infamous dive in last year’s Serie A was performed at 0-0, Ronaldo’s against Bolton at the same score line. Players don’t enjoy diving, their simulation is an unfortunate result of the culture of winning that those who criticize them create everyday. Joey Barton’s intention in faking injury was to gain an advantage for his team, not to undermine the moral brownie points accumulated by Ferdinand, Rooney and company in midweek. After seventy-five minutes, Newcastle should have been dead and buried; had they been, Barton wouldn’t have bothered. He wouldn’t have had anything to bother about.
Incidents like yesterday’s only manifest themselves in tight games. That match shouldn’t have been tight. Time and time again, Arsenal maneuvered the ball into dangerous positions, only to let themselves down with the final pass. They made what should have been an easy win a tense, hard fought draw. The real crime committed was not that of Joey Barton (or his hairdo), but of the Arsenal team as a whole, a side that now looks set to struggle in a department which initially appeared a strength.
As has happened in the past, a moment of controversy veiled a more pressing problem. Master managers like Ferguson know how to create such issues, but Wenger didn’t need to query the referee’s fitness – Joey Barton had already done all the work for him. As a manager whose every move is usually analyzed to the most minute detail, Wenger should thank Barton for his actions, not criticize them. The enduring image of this game will be a scuffle in the area, and not Johan Djourou’s misplaced pass. If Fabregas and Nasri leave though, eventually a time will come where no get-out-of-jail-free card presents itself.