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Crucial Loss of a Cruciate

By Santosh Benjamin :  23/02/2009 :  Comments (0) :
I wondered whether to write this soon after the game when my sorrow of losing Arteta was still fresh or to wait until I heard the extent of his injury. As evident, I opted for the second so that I could compose myself. I heard today that it is his cruciate ligament that's torn and he will miss the rest of the season and in all likelihood the early part of the next season too.

As my wife and I sat down to watch the game at Newcastle, I felt a strange confidence that we could win despite having a further depleted squad. With Cahill and Hibbert missing, Jo and Yobo returned to the starting line-up. That meant that Jags moved to right back. That somehow didn't bode well for me as I felt that Jacobsen/Neville/Gosling coulda done a better job there. Newcastle had Martins, Smith and Viduka on the bench and their recent arrival, Lovenkrands, started upfront with the useless Amoeba (actually an insult to the amoeba as that organism can at least do something usefull!).

The game had just started when Gosling got the ball, dribbled past a few defenders and unleashed a decent shot that went just wide of the right post. The signs looked good for us, I was thinking. I couldn't have been further from the truth as Arteta went down in our own half after having made a challenge. The obvious serious damage was evident from the tremendous pain that was on his face.

As we all waited with bated breath, he was stretchered off, still writhing in pain. Castillo came on for him and the game went on. The shock seemed to slow us down as we were very tentative on the ball. Thankfully, Newcastle weren't looking too threatening themselves. We then got a corner that Baines took, Yobo nipping in at the near post with a glancing header that Steve Harper got fingertips to. The second ball fell to Bassong who cleared off the line.

Baines was then involved on the left when his cross found Jags free at the back post but Jags failed to control his volley and struck it wide. Then Newcastle had a great chance of their own when Lovenkrands was played in one on one with Howard and, as I expected the ball to be in the back of the net, he placed it just wide of the post.

Both Steven and Ryan Taylor seemed intent on fouling us to kingdom come as they spent their time on the right hand side doing just that. Ryan Taylor had a couple of free kicks after that — one went over the bar and the other was unfairly tapped into the goal by Amoeba who had fouled Howard in the process.

As half-time approached, Anichebe lost possession of the ball but tracked back and regained possession. As he drove forwards, Nolan made a tackle on him and Vic went down in a crumpled heap. Crikey, I was thinking, were knee injuries contagious? The ref called Nolan towards him and as his hand came out of his pocket, I saw that it was a red. Nolan looked shocked as he trudged off. (So did I to be honest... initially.)

I then saw the replay and the food in my stomach threatened to come right back up. The more I saw the tackle, the more I was convinced we had a broken leg on our hands. (Is that too many body parts for one sentence?) As Vic hobbled off and then slowly came back on, I was temporarily reassured. I then saw Fellaini coming on and knew that we had possibly lost another player in Vic.

Half-time seemed too long for me as I waited for the lads to come back and give the Toon a real run around. I heard from the commentators that Nolan had waited in the tunnel and apologised to Vic and they had hugged. I appreciated the effort but those kinds of tackles can end careers — thankfully Vic got away.

We started the second half brightly enough and Newcastle made a change with Jonas Gutierrez coming on for Duff. After a good initial spell, we looked lethargic for the rest of the half. Saha came on for Gosling but made hardly any difference, bar a shot on goal. Jo went missing for large parts of the game but I can't blame him coz the service to him was non-existent. Newcastle threw on Martins and then Smith but they too looked unlikely to score.

I was hoping against hope that we could sneak a goal in from somewhere but that goal just never materialized. Fellaini looked slow but managed somehow to get himself in the ref's book (for a rather innocuous challenge if you ask me!).

As the match drew to a stalemate, my thoughts returned to Arteta as he had apparently been sent back to Liverpool for a scan. We could have closed the gap on Arsenal and Villa but lost that chance as Mikel went off.

Player performances:

  • Howard: Wasn't call on to do much today.
  • Jagielka: Looked out of place on the right. Poor crosses and hardly any overlapping play. Needs to get back into the centre of defence where he belongs.
  • Lescott: Was pretty good bar a mistake in the second half.
  • Yobo: Commanding headers but felt like he had stolen Jags' place.
  • Baines: Did well with what he was dealt. Growing in confidence.
  • Neville: Did pretty well given the circumstances.
  • Rodwell: Looked composed when passing the ball but needs to remember he isnt Paul Scholes when he lets loose from 30 yards out!
  • Gosling: Looked a bit tired in the second half but would have left him on to be honest.
  • Anichebe: Wasn't as good as last week but tried his best... till he got his leg mistaken for a tree by Kevin Nolan's axe. May not play for a while.
  • Jo: Was apparent that he needs service and possibly Cahill alongside him to excel.
  • Arteta: With a torn cruciate ligament, he will be out for a fair amount of time. The wishes of all of us are with him and those close to him as they help him through this tough time.
  • Castillo: Poor distribution. Solid player but no creative spark at all.
  • Saha: Looked slow.
  • Fellaini: Looked a bit short of pace and energy.
I'm not sure how a manager with a threadbare squad copes with the loss of his best player. Who will fill that role. A lot of questions remain — Fellaini? Castillo? Rodwell? Osman? Pienaar? I'm not sure what the answer is but I hope we can train and work something out by next weekend and perfect it against West Brom so that we are ready for the FA Cup QF against Boro/West Ham the week after.

We have always played best when our backs are against the wall, but it's never been against a wall so terrible crumbly! I hope that the crowd sings/chants for Mikel at the West Brom game to show him how much we miss him. Let's keep winning for Magic, Magnificent Artful Mikel Arteta... COYB

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