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Apr 25, 2011

Sleepless nights and an act of God

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.

They think it's all over. It is now

This is the hardest part Arsenal fans, these first few days. But after a clutch of sleepless nights, or at least nights when you sit bolt upright in bed screaming 'finish it Samir effing Nasri' at the top of your voice, things will begin to calm down, the uninvited tears will eventually stop streaming down your weather beaten face and you may well feel an overwhelming sense of relief that this charade of a season is over.

Most relieved of all might be Arsene Wenger. Any more intense pressure of this kind and spontaneous touchline combustion was a genuine possibility. At the Reebok every gesticulation was cheered by Wanderers' fans, every bottle hurl, every ball slam, every exaltation of "No!" as yet another chance went begging. A measure of his desperate mental state was laid bare when he even offered Marouane Chamakh a cameo role. That he has become a figure of high tragi-comedy to opposing fans is entirely his own fault, but at least he was man enough to shoulder the blame for another wretched season post match. Perhaps now he will finally buy a decent central defender and goalkeeper in the summer.

Now that it is all over I've no scorn left for Arsenal, the team who play the tidiest brand of toothless football in the Premier League. After serving up countless beatings over recent weeks I can't bring myself to boot you in the hind quarters again now that you are bent double wailing against the injustice of it all. But what I will do is slam my foot in the oversized goolies of referee Michael Jones, who booked Tamir Cohen for his t-shirt tribute to his late father Avi after scoring the winner. Surely, just once, a dash of common sense could win out?

An act of God

I always had an inkling it was going to take divine intervention to end Fernando Torres' embarrassing goal drought. As his barren spell neared the 1,000 minute mark, and the odds of Elvis trotting out of the tunnel at Stamford Bridge appeared more likely than 'Nando finding the net, he sprang through on goal and took an awful touch that was taking the ball towards the corner flag, until a large puddle stopped it dead, allowing him to turn and fire into the net, like the days of yore.

The blue half of West London rejoiced, as did those who had the Almighty in their fantasy team (handy assist), and 'Nando disappeared under a gaggle of sweaty bodies. John Terry was on top, of course. It was fitting his drought was broken in a biblical storm, reducing the game to such poor standards it may as well have been played in a paddling pool. According to Carlo Ancelotti, the goal would lead to a "new life" for Torres; perhaps Roman is preparing to sell him to Al Alhi in Dubai.

Thank goodness Torres did score, for two reasons. One, because we can now stop talking about it, and two, because his goal diverted attention away from handshake-gate mark II as John Terry and Wayne Bridge delivered the kind of petty snub before the game usually reserved for Crufts or a bake sale at the Women's Institute. Pathetic, from all concerned.

The massive aubergine

Up the road in Manchester, Sir Alex Ferguson can boast a much cannier piece of business. While Torres has produced one single goal for the obscene total of £50 million, Javier Hernandez has provided 18 in his debut season for the bargain bucket price of £6m - a tally of £333,333 a strike. At this rate, 'the little pea' might have to upgrade his nickname to something more potent from the vegetable patch, like 'the massive aubergine'.

While his opposite number has been skulking around the pitch as if every step is littered with rusty razor blades, Chicarito skips gaily about the turf as if he's wearing Penelope Cruz's underwear. Not content with notching the goal that surely secured the title for his team, the 22-year-old then conducted an earnest round of interviews in perfect English - even translating for Anderson, who has been here four years but can't even trot out a "take each game as it comes," or a "no easy games in this league".

Let us just hope the last shred of Hernandez's Latin American innocence isn't corrupted by the toxic off-field interests of his strike partner, the Roonatic, though I'm sure if the Mexican joined Twitter we might get a bit more sense than Wayne: "haha it was a joke everyone thinks I go on sunbeds haha. I'm whitest man at our club haha. Relax people." Err, thanks Wayne, will do.

Niall Quinn's disco pants

A while back, Sunderland chose a new, completely arbitrary nickname for their club, the Black Cats. After their recent run of form, just one point in nine (where did they get that? Yep, the Emirates), and their wretched run of injuries, one came to wonder if Lee Cattermole had rounded up all the black cats in the town and hoyed them in the River Wear under a hod of bricks.

With half the squad clogging up the treatment room and Darren Bent flogged to Villa, Sunderland then lost Danny Welbeck, Phil Bardsley and Asamoah Gyan with game locked at 1-1. Liberated of all their recognised strikers, and with just two goals in five games, suddenly the handbrake came off and they lashed in four to consign hapless Wigan to a morale sapping defeat.

But what now? The only other strikers listed on their squad sheet are so obscure my computer practically crashed when I clicked Craig Lynch's player profile. The situation could only become more ridiculous if they tried to sign permanent sick note Michael Owen on an emergency loan. If they did I bet Sir Alex would try and chuck Owen Hargreaves into the bargain for good measure.

Mind you, they may have a ready-made replacement in the boardroom. Chairman Niall Quinn never used to run around much even in his lanky, lurking pomp, so don't be surprised to see him and his disco pants up front against Fulham next week.

Abuse of a water bottle

I hope that as you read this Fulham boss Mark Hughes is wining and dining a half empty bottle of water in an extremely expensive London restaurant to apologise for his disgraceful, abusive treatment of aforementioned H2O at Molineux on Saturday. He certainly has some making up to do.

His ire was sparked by a referee barely out of nappies - Michael Oliver - who penalised Brede Hangeland for a ball-winning lunge on Steven Fletcher. This unleashed a torrent of fury in Sparky, who thrashed furiously at a water bottle in front of him, with none of the finesse we became accustomed to during his playing days. Perhaps he should have tossed it in the air before booting it in the direction of Oliver, who was cowering behind Karl Henry, as he was always tidy on the volley.

At the third time of asking Hughes made contact, to the delight of the home fans, who were afforded a royal twirl of the hand as Sparky re-took his dugout berth. Not for long mind, as Oliver banished him to the stands, via a hastily scrawled message handed to the fourth official via a pigeon given how petrified the referee was.

Sparky had the last laugh from his seat in the stands though as Andy Johnson rescued a point for Wolves, not that Mick McCarthy was complaining. He shouted: "Every point really is a prisoner," like we knew exactly what he meant.

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

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