Barton provokes Arsenal in draw; Liverpool fails to take its chances
Five things we learned from
The lackluster contest offered a chance to take the pulse of two teams that are still disentangling themselves from difficult summers.
On Saturday, Newcastle looked as punchless and pedestrian for 90 minutes as it had when it fell 4-0 down in the first half last season. Only this time Arsenal could not punish its woeful foe. Arsenal dominated possession and, as ever, passed well. But without Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere, it barely managed a shot on goal.
Once again Arsenal damaged its chances at St. James park with a dumb red card. On his Arsenal debut, Gervinho looked exactly what he has always been, a smart, quick, talented striker who does not score nearly enough. How well Arsenal goes this season depends on how quickly he develops an understanding with Robin van Persie, the fragile striker who carries so much of the scoring responsibility for Arsenal. But for that to happen Gervinho will need to spend time on the field. His game ended after 78 minutes when he allowed Joey Barton to provoke him into swinging a hand. His Arsenal education will now be further delayed by a suspension. It was not the striking start Arsenal needed.
How many English fans have ever heard of Mauro Formica a 23-year-old Argentine before he made his league debut on Saturday? Formica was bought for £3.5 million ($5.7M) in January -- shortly after the Venky takeover -- but only made his league debut on Saturday. He had played 76 games over six seasons for Newell's Old Boys scoring 17 goals. He has played once for Argentina. These are not particularly inspiring numbers. Formica seems an appropriate name for a player whose job is to cover over the cracks and was bought because he was more affordable than the alternatives. Well, he provided a nice finish to give his team the lead after 20 minutes. But Stephen Fletcher and Stephen Ward scored to give Wolves a 2-1 victory. A home defeat to one of its main relegation rivals on opening day is not a good sign for Rovers. Still, the new Formica looked nice.
In Britain, there was a long tradition of holiday street games played by mobs of local young men. And, given the chance, mobs of young men have a taste for misrule. Their games were accompanied by drunkenness, property damage, theft and, of course, bans. In the 1840s, as the authorities stepped up efforts to end the tradition, the militia and army were even brought in to stop games.
When soccer moved into the stadiums and the mobs of local young men moved onto the terraces, they frequently brought a taste for violence, destruction and, of course, alcohol with them.
Last week's flash riots in England provide a wide menu of possible causes. You can select, according to political taste, from social injustice, racism, gangsterism, criminality, psychotic violence, etc. But the difference between simple street crime and a riot is a crowd which gives the participants, including the looters and arsonists, a feeling of anonymity and protection. That safety in numbers is provided by the participation of the rowdy youth that has always been ready to throw bricks and punches in the street -- especially if they think they might be able to get away with it. The sight of clumps of teenagers running away from police through the London streets, offered an instant flashback to anyone who went to soccer games in the 1970s and 1980s.
This time, it wasn't soccer that provided the opportunity for the riot. Maybe that will offer some belated sense of vindication for all those soccer administrators who spent so many years bleating that their sort was being blamed for society's problem. On the other hand, maybe it's a sign of how successful those administrators, led by the Premier League, has been in distancing itself upmarket and away from its traditional fan base of young, poor, males. Now it really is society's problem.