02 January 2016

Newcastle's McLaren throws down the gauntlet. Will Anthony Taylor conspire?

Ahead of what should be a lay-up for Arsenal, a few familiar forces are aligning against us—a desperate squad already scrambling to avoid relegation, an embattled manager facing the sack, an incompetent referee hankering for a spankering—it's enough to create concerns of a conspiracy. Anthony Taylor, he who oversaw the travesty that was Arsenal's loss to Aston Villa in 2013 (and whom the FA dropped from Prem matches the following weekend), will oversee. Newcastle's Steve McLaren, he who might outpace Louis Van Gaal for quickest ouster, has issued a bit of a warning for our apparently effete footballers. Can we answer the call?

We all remember Anthony Taylor well, of course: his performance in our 1-3 loss to Aston Villa in 2013 has become the stuff of legend, so much so that it overshadows his just-as-awful performance in our 3-2 loss to Stoke in December 2014. Suffice it to say that Taylor is more than willing to look the other way when opponents rough up Arsenal; he's more than eager to brandish a red card when a Gunner dares to show glimpses of gumption. I'll spare you the gory details or now.

Perhaps with an eye towards Taylor's biases, Toon's Steve McLaren has played his hand:
[Beating Arsenal] is about collective organisation and discipline—and a certain amount of aggression will be required. We have come across many, many good players in every team. Özil is just another one of them which we will have to contend with. 
If you translated "contend with" to mean "hack at the ankles until he falls and has to be subbed off", you're on the right track. If you read "aggression" as "a willingness to go into a tackle studs up", again, you know what to expect. For those still doubting Taylor's anti-Arsenal bias, consider his performance in last weekend's Watford-Tottenham match, in which Watford saw Aké sent off on a straight-red that was more than a bit harsh, and Tottenham's Son Heung-Min scored the winner from an offside position. The only element missing from this conspiracy is a receding hairline, masked by a shorn pate, and excessively dramatic "play-on" gestures. Oh. Wait. Taylor is already doing his best impersonation of Mike Dean.

However, a squad with Arsenal's ambitions should not succumb to the arbitrary biases of the referee, not against a squad as shambolic as Newcastle's. Newcastle sit deep and hope to hit on counters, just as many overmatched squads should do—but they've also done so against Aston Villa and West Brom, who hardly intimidate with their possession or prowess going forward.

As such, we should—no, we must—pin Newcastle back and penalise them at every turn. We know full-well that they'll hack us down wherever Taylor will permit (which may very well be everywhere). Between McLaren's call for "aggression" and Taylor's penchant for looking the other way, we should prepare for a fair-few human rights abuses to be overlooked, at least as far as Newcastle's players are concerned. Should any of Arsenal's players show the temerity to so much as breathe too hard on a Magpie, well, don't be shocked if he's sent off straight away.

The only suitable answer to such circumstances is to let your play do the talking for you. Newcastle are more than generous when it comes to conceding goals away from home. I do sincerely hope that our lads put this one far out of Newcastle's—or Taylor's—reach. If we're serious about winning the Prem, it's high-time that we seize destiny rather than hoping that the Fates see fit to deliver something into our laps.

Long story short, if we're looking to the referee to help us past a squad scrabbling to stave off relegation, we're not contenders to win the Prem. If we are in fact serious about this title-tilt, we'll take care of business regardless of who we're facing or who's officiating.

That's all there is to it.