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Mar 14, 2011

Gunners travel sickness ruins quadruple

Few of us like Monday but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a week brimming with potential victims.

I'm Gunner cry

It's been the worst two-week football package holiday in recent times. Those Arsenal fans who traipsed to Wembley, then Barcelona, then Old Trafford are probably queuing up outside Gooner Travel as we speak demanding their money back in between gentle, heartfelt sobs, having been promised a crusade towards a glorious quadruple. Even Emmanuel Petit reckons the team are cracking up. I am too, Manu, but in a slightly different way.

At least the Gunners managed 18 shots on goal against Manchester United, a full 18 more than at the Nou Camp. Yet once again they clung onto a poor refereeing decision to explain away their Barca annihilation rather than take responsibility for the beating. According to Arsene Wenger, who grows more deluded and desperate by the day, ref Massimo Busacca "killed the game" just when things were turning Arsenal's way. This despite the fact that the only person in yellow who had showed some intent in the final third was Cesc Fabregas, and that was when he notched the first of his many assists for the Catalans with a fancy back-heel.

Chris Foy would offer Arsenal no such pathetic straws to clutch at on Saturday, as they were sunk by a bizarre United team that consisted of seven defenders. To add injury to insult, Johan Djourou then popped his shoulder out and will miss the rest of the season. So, the quadruple has become the single. Still, it is quite a prize to play for, so don't give up hope just yet Gooner fans. That would be a very Tottenham thing to do.

Fergie's magnificent seven

I could just as easily be leading the show with inconclusive proof that Fergie had lost the plot Wenger style, after he got away with picking the most defensive line up in Manchester United's long history. No fewer than seven defenders took to the field against Arsenal but luckily for Lord Ferg, his opponents displayed less cutting edge than a fried egg and he waltzed off looking like a genius after a comfortable 2-0 victory.

His gamble of flooding the midfield with full-backs proved a masterstroke, as the boys from Brazil shredded a brittle defensive line that had been loosened up perfectly in Spain. Happy to lose the battle for possession, United just stood and watched the Gunners pass from side to side in front of their penalty area until they finally hit a counter attacking cul-de-sac.

Of course, Fergie broke his media blackout in time to congratulate himself on his formation. Funny how last week's wall of silence was erected just in the nick of time as he managed to squirm out of an explanation for why he continues to employ the lumbering services of Michael Carrick in big games. I might well start a campaign, 'Bring back the blackout'.

You and Huth's army

You know when a manager mentions bushido in his post-match interview that the referee has probably had a shocker. Avram Grant's throwaway remark had grizzled hacks reaching for their dictionaries to find out that the heck he was on about. Turns out it relates to the code of conduct for samurai warriors.

The reason Avram went all bushido on us was to bemoan the fact his team hadn't been awarded a late penalty when Jonathan Walters and James Tomkins grappled sumo-style in the box. Of course, he ignored the fact the Hammers' goal had come from a sublime piece of arm control from Frederic Piquionne, who nearly gave the game away by adopting a guilty face and staring at the referee after he'd bundled the ball home.

Tony Pulis didn't invoke the law of hagakure in his attack on the referee, conveniently glossing over Matthew Etherington's dive and subsequent penalty choke. He was proud as punch with the goal that saw Robert Huth crowned as the club's top scorer though. The German's strike was clearly copied from page one of Johan Cryuff's book entitled Total (anti) Football, in which quarterback Rory Delap has his very own chapter.

A pain in the grass

Once again Manchester City performed as if they are a team currently undergoing a medical experiment to play a match every three days while being starved of sleep every night in between. Such was their lethargy against Reading I'm surprised they didn't trot onto the field in matching sky blue dressing gowns clutching hot water bottles.

Even Mario Balotelli graced us with his presence after an allergy to grass forced him off against Dynamo Kiev. Seems to me he may have chosen the wrong profession, like a cleaner who hates dirt or a banker who detests making money and bringing the world's financial systems to a grinding halt. Still, if a puffy face and erratic behaviour are the symptoms, how on earth are City's medical team supposed to spot his discomfort? He's like that every week.

Lucky for City's listless pack that Reading, led by Lex Luther's chunkier brother, possessed little in the way of threat. Not that Patrick Vieira was bothered either way, as he yawned through the entire game. A header for Micah Richards was enough to set up a Wembley date for the North West's finest and if anyone out there has been waiting for the right weekend to visit Manchester (unlikely I know), then the perfect opportunity awaits on April 16, given that the thousands of idiots who follow both clubs will be in London.

Ode to Kevin Davies

It was with cartilage-twitching dread that I parked myself in front of Saturday lunchtime's contest between two of the Premier League's bruisers, but Birmingham-Bolton turned into a humdinger. The game was afforded a touch more glamour than usual given it featured the Carling Cup winners (pain at every turn eh Gooner fans?) and a new and improved Trotters under Owen Coyle, who now at least attempt a few passes on the carpet before hoofing it long to Kevin Davies.

Bolton were so dreadful under Gary Megson that Wanderers fans were left pining for Sam Allardyce's brand of football, but under the Scot they have added an extra layer of silk to their approach, as if he's sheared away the blinkers and led them to the promised land of the square pass.

But Wanderers would be nothing without Mr Bolton, Kevin Davies, the chap for whom the phrase 'throwback centre-forward' was invented, a mixture of Andy Carroll and Didier Drogba but only a quarter as good. Not only did Kev win and score a penalty, he also leapt like an arthritic salmon to nod a cross into Chung Yong Lee's path for the clincher, and I've no doubt he'd carry all his team-mates to Wembley if asked.

Don't forget, you can help The Fifth Official's bid to attract more followers on Twitter than Sepp Blatter at www.twitter.com/fifthofficial

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