Trouble in Title Town?

By: timbersfan , 11:10 PM GMT on September 25, 2012

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I definitely asked for it.

Why didn't I simply roll out of bed at 8:29 for the 8:30am Super Sunday kickoff and watch the Liverpool-United smackdown in the lunatic isolation of my own home like any sane person? What possessed me to travel a half-hour out of my way to the dark heart of United-dom, the aptly named Football Factory, a soccer den of inequity lurking in the shadow of the Empire State Building?

And why did I allow myself to be surprised upon encountering a roiling sea of the most hideous jerseys I ever laid eyes on? Some were white with red trim and black lettering, others a subtle red plaid with white lettering, but the color combinations paled in comparison to the noisome lettering on the back of all of them, a sight that made me nauseous long before I knocked back three beers by halftime.

"V. Persie," they screamed smugly.

No, I haven't gotten over it, even though Arsenal is doing just fine, thank you, without the rat-faced Dutchman. The Gunners remain undefeated after a hard-earned 1-1 draw against Man City at Middle Eastlands on Sunday, while discovering that goals scored by players other than RvP still count the same. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I can barely stomach the odious images of van Persie scoring for United, followed by Sir Alex's risible AARP jig as if he had anything to do with the Dutch Benedict Arnold's development as a player.

And, of course, that's exactly what happened in the emotional cauldron of Anfield on Sunday: van Persie converted from the spot to give United the very definition of a fortuitous 2-1 win over a valiant Liverpool side that was controversially reduced to 10 men after Jonjo Shelvey's 39th-minute red card.


GettyImages / Paul Ellis/AFP/GettyImages
Though Pepe Reina guessed correctly on Robin van Persie's penalty, he couldn't keep it out and thus couldn't prevent more heartbreak for Liverpool.

It's rare that my Gooner heart aches for anyone else wearing red, but after all the sorrow and loss in the wake of the Hillsborough Report, it's hard not to feel for Liverpool, who outplayed, outmuscled and out-sang their bitter rivals.

Unfortunately, they didn't outscore them, but when you play with no pure strikers and you're not wearing the Spanish national team jerseys, these things happen. It also didn't help that United got a man-of-the-match performance from Mark Halsey. Put another way: If I'm Halsey, I wouldn't walk alone on Merseyside in the near future.

The referee gave United the benefit of the doubt on the three calls that decided the game: Shelvey's two-footed lunge on Jonny Evans (who himself was hurtling studs-up toward the Liverpool midfielder), the non-decision regarding Evans' step on Luis Suarez's foot in the United area, and awarding the Charmin-soft penalty against Glen Johnson for barely tickling the back of Antonio Valencia's heels in the box. Such has been the Scousers' luck this season that everyone's favorite mockumentary, "Being: Liverpool," should consider changing its title to "Being: Liverfoiled."

Ferguson would no doubt disagree and say that champions create their own luck, but he clearly wasn't happy with United's strangely listless display on a day that demanded intensity and commitment. The proof was evident in his postgame platitudes: "A win's a win, so we've got to be pleased with the result, but not the performance."

In fact, as Shelvey trudged toward the tunnel after his hotly contested dismissal, the crusty Scot took it upon himself to demonstrate the kind of combativeness his team was lacking. Whatever he said to Shelvey -- and it's safe to assume it wasn't "Tough luck, son, come by for a glass of cabernet afterward" -- sparked all sorts of angry gesticulations and finger-pointing.

"Where I come from," the Romford-born Shelvey later told the British press, "people don't grass people up to get someone sent off." (For those of you not familiar with the term "grassing up," think back to "The Sopranos" and, SPOILER ALERT, why Tony whacked Big Pussy.)

Even after Shelvey's dismissal, United continued to be overrun in midfield. Fergie thought he had the panacea for that lethargy in the guise of Paul Scholes, who replaced Nani at the start of the second half. And not surprisingly, the ginger ninja had an immediate impact, but not quite as Sir Alex had imagined.


GettyImages / Michael Regan/Getty Images
Luis Suarez has managed a reasonable 17 Prem goals in 49 games for Liverpool, but on 213 shots (79 on target). If the Reds are to rebound, he must improve.

Less than a minute after he brought up the age curve on the field by about ten years, Scholes allowed Liverpool's teen sub Suso to skin him on the left and send in a cross that United failed to clear. The ball caromed to Liverpool captain and big-game specialist Steven Gerrard, who cushioned it on his chest and lashed a swiveling volley into the bottom right hand corner.

Yet the Kop had barely finished celebrating when United drew even through an equally nifty piece of skill from Rafael, who curled the ball off the inside of the far post from a nigh-impossible angle. The goal touched off a delirious scene in both the away end at Anfield and at the Football Factory in New York City. It was hard to tell who roared louder, but I can attest that more beer was spilled at the latter.

The Liverpool fans at the bar, outnumbered five to one, were holding their own in the sing-a-thon that rocked the place, until the 76th minute when Halsey pointed to the spot for Johnson's "foul" on Valencia. Suddenly instead of rollicking chants, the air was rent with expletives that called into question Halsey's judgment and four generations of ancestry.

Because Arsenal were up next on the big screen, I probably should not have risked cashing a karmic chit with the soccer gods, but I couldn't help myself. I silently prayed for RvP to reprise his comically lame penalty dink against Southampton from two weeks ago. Instead, he put his foot through the ball, and though Pepe Reina guessed correctly, the shot had too much power for the Spaniard to keep it out. What followed was the nadir of the morning. I barely heard the rejoicing of the hundreds of the United fans around me as RvP wheeled away in celebration and pointed to the badge on his shirt, a gesture that I fear will haunt me at least another 20 times this season.

I ordered another pint and looked around for someone with whom to commiserate. And then I saw it, a large red banner hanging on the right side of the room. "Home of the New York Gooners," it proclaimed, and I knew I was not alone in my pain. To stand in their midst and hear them bellow for 90 minutes made me feel as if I were inside the Emirates. But it was louder and the chants were wittier.

He plays on the left, he plays on the right, Caaaazooooorlaaa!
He's Arsenal's dream when money is tight, Caaaazooooolrlaaa!
Santi! Santi! Santi!

So technically gifted is Santi Cazorla that his talent is infectious. When you see Carl Jenkinson execute a Cruyff turn on the byline as he did against City, you can appreciate how influential the Spaniard has been to Arsenal's confident start to the season.


GettyImages / Stuart MacFarlane/Getty Images
Santi Cazorla (on right) has helped transform the Gunners' attack, giving it more depth and variety. He's also making his teammates, like Mikel Arteta, much more effective.

In short, he's made everyone around him not named Theo Walcott better, transforming Arsenal from a team desperate to get the ball to the feet of certain Dutch ingrate to one that has a veritable smorgasbord of attacking options. I'm still not convinced, however, that the Gervinho who scored three goals in the past two games is a Didier Drogba doppelganger. More likely, the real Gervinho is the Ivorian who took the field for Arsenal on Sunday, the one whose idea of a first touch is to keep the ball inside the park. Against City he wasted chance after chance, none more farcical than in the 16th minute when Aaron Ramsey's clever through ball sent him clear on goal only for him to push his dribble halfway to London and into the grateful arms of Joe Hart.

But so rampant was Arsenal in the first half-hour that you would never have known it was the visiting team. That changed 10 minutes later when City scored and the Etihad blew a gusher.

Arsenal has worked hard this season to exorcise their slapstick defending at set pieces. Indeed, the Arsenal rear guard, anchored by its captain Thomas Vermaelen and the deceptively quick-witted Per Mertesacker, had proved the toughest defense to breach in the Prem. Yet old habits die hard, and when Joleon Lescott rose above a flailing Vito Mannone to meet David Silva's corner (seemingly the only time all game Silva connected with a blue shirt) with a thumping header, all of Arsenal's slick interplay looked to be for naught.

But this is not the same City team that would crush an opponent's windpipe at home as it did last season in winning the title. For one thing, neither Mario Balotelli nor Carlos Tevez have been anywhere as dangerous as they were during the championship campaign. As if to underline their role in City's stuttering start to the season, or perhaps just to give everyone a good laugh, the cameras panned to the duo huddled side-by-side on the bench with a coat draped over them to keep the rain off their expensively coiffed heads.

Though Mancini claims he hasn't fallen out of love with either of his prodigal strikers, Tevez didn't get on the field until the 68th minute, while Balotelli waited till the 85th to make a cameo. By then, Arsenal was level, thanks, appropriately enough, to poor set-piece defending by City that resulted in Arsenal's Forgotten Defender Laurent Koscielny smashing home the equalizer in the 82nd minute. The Frenchman, such a revelation in the heart of Arsenal's defense last season, was injured in preseason and lost his starting spot to Mertesacker. But with Vermaelen a late scratch due to injury, Koscielny made the most of his chance against City, though he nearly consigned himself to squad purgatory when he inexplicably passed the ball directly to Sergio Aguero in front of the Arsenal goal.

How Maradona's son-in-law spurned that gift from God I will never know but he did, and it did not go unnoticed at the Football Factory.

"This one's on me," said bartender/owner/walking EPL encyclopedia Jack Keane, as he bought the New York Gooners a round on the house. I'd like to think Jack's generosity betokens a secret passion for Arsenal but he was quick to disabuse me.

"I'm a lifelong United supporter," he said. "I'm just happy to see City suffer."

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