Some say it was arguably the most heroic comeback in the history of English football. Some say it was possibly the most humiliating collapse in the history of the Premier League. And finally, there are those who believe it was among the worst pieces of officiating we have seen in a while in any sport, let alone football.
In fact, it would hardly surprise me to know that some of us actually went through all those emotions as this Saturday’s dramatic 4-4 draw between Newcastle and Arsenal unfolded right before our eyes.
With the Gunners leading 4-0, it was all but over at Tyneside before one incident changed it all. Yes, it took one reckless tackle and an equally reckless reaction to this infamous tackle that caused the tables to turn terribly on the visitors.
As Joey Barton went for a strong challenge on Arsenal’s Abou Diaby – who had just returned to the starting line-up after recovering from a serious injury – he probably had no idea that he was about to write the script for quite a fairytale.
Well, in all fairness, he may not have scripted this tale after all (as I will discuss later).
Nevertheless, the power of a strong tackle out of desperation has never been felt this much before because to reiterate, the reaction it drew foreshadowed the drama that was about to follow.
Diaby, who perceived Barton’s aggressiveness as something that could have possibly sent him out for another long spell at the sidelines, shoved the former Manchester City midfielder before dishing out the same treatment to Magpies skipper Kevin Nolan as he arrived on the scene.
As chaos ensued, enter referee Phil Dowd, who completely lost control of the proceedings. No doubt, Diaby’s decision to retaliate was highly unprofessional and deserved punishment but given his reasonable perspective, a yellow card along with a firm warning should have restored order.
Instead, out came the red card that dismissed the France international from the match and created a disorienting moment for the Gunners. Making a conscious decision to sit back on their four-goal cushion, they tried to stabilize matters but Dowd acted before any of that could happen.
At the first opportunity that he saw fit, the official abused the power at his disposal by awarding Newcastle a penalty so soft that it made Premier League look a lot less physical than La Liga and Serie A.
Barton capitalized on what he had previously started by converting the spot-kick and to rub Arsenal’s noses into the dirt, Nolan also chipped in with a sneaky push on goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Midfielder Jack Wilshere and defender Bacary Sagna, among others, took exception to the inconsistent officiating of Dowd as he overlooked Nolan’s actions. To frustrate the North Londoners further, the referee – according to Sagna – yelled out words so offensive that the full-back could not repeat them in the press.
Again, another Newcastle player – this time, forward Leon Best – capitalized on the disarray among the Gunners by finishing from close range to bring the Tynesiders within two goals of Arsene Wenger’s men.
It was now clear that the much maligned Arsenal defense was committed to avoiding any further slip-ups but Dowd had other plans. Laurent Koscielny was nowhere close to committing a pointless foul inside the box but the referee made it look like the defender did exactly that.
He handed Newcastle virtually a non-existent penalty for no apparent reason. Barton obliged once again to shock the visitors’ bench by converting the third goal for Alan Pardew’s side.
The Geordies began believing big time at this point and for good reason because their job was made so much easier by the performance of a man who was not even wearing their colors. At least the man who finished the job by drilling the equalizer – Ismael Tiote – was wearing the Toon colors.
Yes, it was an entertaining comeback and the last thing one should do is take credit away from Newcastle United as well as their amazing supporters. They kept believing till the very end at Tyneside and their belief was rewarded with a famous win.
However, now that we have gone beyond hindsight to revisit every incident in its entirety, it is inevitable not to feel for the Gunners. Excitement is only natural when we witness such a huge turn of events but what happened to fair play?
What about those two penalties that should never have been called? Or what about the sending-off that was handled quite terribly? This is not even mentioning the accusations against some of the language official Phil Dowd was using in response to the resistance from Arsenal players.
I guess some of us will move on from memories of this match faster than others. The Gunners, for one, have publicly stated their desire to only think about the future and joining them are those who believe that it is nearly impossible to get rid of officiating errors in the modern game.
For Newcastle fans who will continue to celebrate for a long, long time, as well as those who remain committed to continuing the huge debate about the need for increased use of technology, there is no real hurry to move on.