Monday, September 22, 2014

£200m And They Still Don't Win

As it turned out, Saturday’s outing to Villa Park couldn’t have possibly proved a more timely antidote to our abysmal midweek performance in Dortmund. This was just what the doctor ordered, both to erase the utterly indefensible memory of the referee tracking back faster than our emasculated midfield, as Immobile set the tone for a somewhat humiliating victory for the German side and to serve as a much needed confidence boost, inspiring a far more optimistic mood in advance of difficult derbies against Spurs and Chelsea.

My mates were intent on arriving in the Midlands in plenty of time to sink a pre-match pint or two. But at a poignant moment to be spouting bon mots from Scotland’s favourite son, best laid schemes “aft gang agley” and Saturday’s fairly typical stramash on the roads turned a relatively short trip, into a tortuous four-hour schlep. Motorway gridlock soon silenced my complaints about being forced to forsake the comforts of my pit prematurely and our early start proved fortuitous, as doubtless if left to my own devices I’d have struggled to reach Birmingham before the second-half.

The delays left us with more time in the motor than any of us wanted, to mull over our anti-climactic Champions League opener. You didn’t need to be Einstein to know that le Gaffer should’ve set out a more conservative stall in midweek. The four of us were all fuming over the apparent arrogance of Arsène’s blatant failure to pay heed to the opposition’s customary high-octane approach.

Based on the famous German physicist’s definition of lunacy as someone who repeats the same thing over and over again and expects a different outcome, Arsène should've substituted a straightjacket for his default duvet coat by now. But aside from fearing that a changing of the Gunners’ guard might result in the same sort of period of instability that’s been evident elsewhere, my habitual retort to the AMG (Arsène Must Go) mob has always been who would I want in Wenger’s stead

On Tuesday night, perhaps for the first time, I found myself casting covetous glances in the direction of Jurgen Klopp, upon witnessing the stark contrast in the two sides respective motivation. This was epitomized by the hearty hug given to the Dortmund manager by his half-time sub, as compared with Podolski’s apparent urgency to impact upon the game, when he wasted the best part of ten minutes, phaffing around on the bench searching for some shin-pads.

Oh for the building of some of the “unbelievable belief” articulated so eloquently in Paul Merson’s eulogies of yesteryear. If David Dein was still on the scene, I wonder whether the Arsenal’s former Machievallian fixer would’ve long since recognized the writing on this particular wall and already engineered the accession of the likes of an energized Klopp to the N5 throne?

Yet such is the fickle nature of the beautiful game that all such negative deliberations disappeared, during a scintillating three-minute spell of football against Villa. It was perhaps fortunate that Mezut found himself up against the hapless Senderos, as even I would appear quick compared to the oil-tanker like pace of the well travelled Swiss defender.

With Welbeck setting up Özil for the first and then Mezut returning the compliment for the second, it was marvelous to see a rare smile spread across the face of our midfield playmaker, as his boots concocted the perfect response to all those non-believers complaining about his failure to produce an away goal to date. While in contrast to disparaging Mancunian mocking, as the travelling Gooner faithful exhorted our new striker, Welbeck seemed to grow in stature right before our eyes.

One had to feel some sympathy for the home fans, as the confidence borne of early season success ensured that our hosts were on top for the opening twenty minutes and if Shez hadn’t stuck out a goal saving paw, moments before our brief onslaught, it might’ve been an entirely different story.

Yet it was Cissokho’s own goal for our third, which seemed to knock any remaining stuffing out of Lambert’s side, leaving the Villa fans dumbstruck, wondering what had just hit them. While we were in seventh-heaven, savouring a stress-free, thoroughly dominant second half, where those in Claret and Blue couldn’t even muster a response.

Despite our criminal defensive negligence, in repeatedly leaving the opposition unmarked at the far post, Villa proved sufficiently impotent for us to come away with our first clean sheet. Hopefully we can build on this, so that we don’t look quite so fragile at the back by the time we head to the Bridge,

Before our date with the Blues and next weekend’s North London derby, we've Tuesday's Carling Cup encounter against Koeman’s in-form outfit. I'm eagerly looking forward to an opportunity to gauge the progress of the likes of Akpom and the impressive talents of Dan Crowley, the latest prodigy from the Gunners’ teenage production line.






-- 
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Twitter: @thedogsbollock

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It Was Christmas Day In The Workhouse

After an interminably tedious International break, where two years worth of tortuous European qualifiers appear designed merely to eliminate the mighty footballing powers such as Gibraltar, Andorra, Luxembourg and the like, it was marvelous to find myself strolling around to the Man City game on Saturday, positively bristling with anticipation, at the prospect of witnessing the potential of this season’s Arsenal squad.

With Danny Welbeck’s arrival on deadline day in such debatable circumstances, while le Prof was playing peacemaker for the pontiff in Rome, when the majority of Wenger’s peers were seemingly pulling what remains of their hair out, in their efforts to squeeze a signing or two through the door before the transfer window slams shut, this weekend’s game was akin to Christmas morning.

Thousands of eager kiddies rushing down to the glamorous environs of the Arsenal to unwrap our new pressie and discover whether we’ve been gifted the footballing equivalent of a lush new gaming console, praying that le Gaffer wasn’t instead left picking up the last battered striker toy box on the shelves of Woolies (if Woolworths was still in existence!).

While at the same time hoping not to have to endure the Xmas Day equivalent of being told “you’ll have to wait until after lunch to open your gifts”. Most excitingly, we found that an unusually generous Father Arsène had left all our Gooner goodies under the tree, in Saturday’s swank starting XI.

Welbeck’s brace against the Swiss gave us plenty of cause for optimism and he was only the width of the post away from producing the perfect start to his Arsenal career against City. His similar price-tag to Balotelli (albeit perhaps with widely different wage demands?) resulted in much deliberation. While I previously suspected that opposition defenders might find the Italian striker more psychologically and physically intimidating, their contrasting work-ethic was evident from this weekend’s displays and Balotelli’s apparently limited overall contribution brooks no comparison with Welbeck’s selfless graft.

It would’ve been great if we could’ve managed to put one over on Man City, in the absence of Yaya Toure. Lampard is a wily and seemingly fortuitous (!!)addition to Pellegrini’s squad. He and his colleagues were able to stifle us from gaining momentum, with all the niggling (and more blatant!) midfield fouls that broke up our flowing attacks and at the same time, saved his 36-year old legs. But Frank no longer has the energy for his trademark box-to-box efforts and City were deprived of Toure's driving runs.

However, Alexis couldn’t have returned any earlier than Thurs, from his no less arduous midweek exploits for Chile v Haiti in Miami at 1am on Weds. I sincerely hope we don’t end up paying a hefty price, with a lactic-acid levy in Dortmund tomorrow night, but instead of sitting out Saturday’s game, Sanchez impressed yet again with his tireless industry. It was ironic that it was Alexis’ mazy (one man too many!) assault on City’s goal that resulted in the counter-attack, which led to the Sky Blues taking the lead.

From where we sit on the opposite side, it felt as if the Gunners had made the unforgiveable mistake of assuming that the ball was going into touch. Between them, Navas and Aguero made us pay a hefty price for this seemingly indolent presumption. City’s goal knocked all the stuffing out of us, just as we’d begun to acquire the sort of swagger that’s been so sorely lacking in top four clashes of late.

video
Mercifully Wilshere soon repaired the dent in our confidence with his wonderful equalizer. The chutzpah he demonstrated in selling Clichy a dummy, along with the composure necessary to wait for Hart to commit, before clipping the ball over the keeper with his wrong foot, from such a tight-angle, suggests Jack remains entirely unaffected by all the recent criticism.

Yet where we’ve grown accustomed to the sight of Wilshere sitting on his backside, pleading for restitution, I cannot repeat too often quite how refreshing it is to witness the unflinching determination Sanchez shows, in riding the incessant efforts to thwart his unstinting passion to impose himself.

In one of Özil’s more inept performances to date, the ensuing castigation of our most expensive star wasn’t exactly surprising. Especially when the impressive work-rate of his team mates only highlights Mezut’s languid style and when we are subsequently left enviously watching Fabregas doing exactly the sort of slicing and dicing for Mourinho that’s expected from our man. I can only assume it’s some sort of personal vendetta that’s resulted in the apparent ricket of presenting the title favourites with their principal midfield string puller!


Whether or not Welbeck can do for us what Costa is doing for Chelsea, remains to be seen but with Walcott fast on the mend, I would love to see Mezut prompting all this pace from the middle of the park. Although the gossamer thin depth of the squad, as far as the Gunners’ defensive cover is concerned, remains a massive concern, should the enthralling array of attacking facets in our armoury, begin to fall into place, this holds the promise of a scintillating assault on the Premiership promised land.



--
 e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Monday, September 08, 2014

Transfer Window Verdict

http://www.theguardian.com/football/2014/sep/06/transfer-window-fans-verdict-part-1-arsenal-manchester-city

The Observer should know better by now that to ask me for a mere 100 word verdict on the Gunners' transfer window dealings! I struggled to limit myself to 300 words and could've easily waffled on far longer:



               When Welbeck’s transfer was being rumoured to have gone pear-shaped as the deadline day media feeding frenzy peaked, my pal texted me “Oh the humiliation! Being disappointed that we’re not signing Danny Welbeck!” As a result, the decided absence of euphoria, when this deal was finally sealed in the wee hours, was combined with an abiding sense of relief.

               With le Prof playing peacemaker for the pontiff in Rome, when most of his peers were pulling what remains of their hair out, there would’ve been an utterly deafening uproar, if Arsène had come up completely empty-handed in our hour of (striker) need. It could’ve proved a terminal blow to our squad’s moral. 

               Welbeck may not be a marquee signing, like Falcao, or Sanchez (whose refreshingly earnest industry has instantly won every Gooners’ heart) but there’s plenty of glee in gazumping Spurs and he does possess the attributes that might well compliment Arsène's ideology. Mercifully, we now go into a crucial run of games with an excited buzz of anticipation, wondering if Welbeck will surprise so many naysayers, by proving himself capable of pulling up some impressive Premiership trees.

               Besides, our parsimonious gaffer would’ve blown a gasket over a £330k wage demand. Oh to be a fly on the wall, watching the players’ agents banging down LVG’s door, demanding pay parity for Man Utd's myriad of bench-warmers.

               There’s no denying that Gunners’ campaign could come a cropper over our negligent lack of defensive strength in depth, but Debuchy might prove an upgrade on Sagna and presumptuous perhaps, but I’ve even heard it mooted that Chambers has something of the Bobby Moore about him?

               Above all, I pray Wenger didn’t forsake his customary pragmatism for some personal vendetta and the summer doesn’t end up being remembered for his greatest gaffe, in the event that gifting Fabregas to the competition should prove even more significantly calamitous than the sale of RVP! 

 --
 e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Matt Lucas Still Available For Weddings, Barmitzvahs & The Arsenal

I received an email from one of my Irish Examiner Terrace Talk pals to say that according to a footnote in Sud Ouest there were four scouts watching Bordeaux v Bastia, three French and one from the Arsenal. So perhaps my terrifying nightmare won't come to pass.....unless our scout was watching Sanogo's brother!

Who'd have thunk it, Spurs lose 0-3 at home to the Scousers and we're still below them in the table!
COYG
Peace & Love
Bernard
__________________________________________




Silent Stan Kroenke is hardly a regular at home games, let alone our majority shareholder travelling with the Gunners on the road. So naturally his unlikely appearance at the King Power Stadium yesterday set tongues a wagging, with Gooners everywhere clutching at the straw that our anonymous owner might come riding in on his white charger at the last minute, with his Louis Vuitton suitcases stuffed full of cash.

Doubtless it’s just wishful thinking on my part, but where Arsène was previously reeling off his long list of the promising square pegs, who he wants to shove in our gaping round hole up front, at least he left me clinging to some hope of reinforcements before the transfer window slams shut tonight, when instead he spoke about still being “very active” after we dropped another two points this weekend.

Travelling to Leicester inevitably results in us reminiscing nostalgically about Bergkamp’s hat-trick at Filbert Street and it’s a testament to the sublime quality of Dennis’ display all those years back that a 3-3 draw against lowly Leicester remains a stand-out memory from such a magical era.

Who knows, Sanogo might eventually make a name for himself, but sadly, at present, the French youngster is at the opposite end of the footballing spectrum and he brooks absolutely no comparison with our old Dutch master.

If Yaya had pulled a hat-trick out of the bag yesterday, le Prof would’ve probably put his feet up and taken the day off today. But after witnessing our centre-forward allowing the ball to pass between his legs, when standing almost on the penalty spot, this didn’t exactly scream of a player with the greatest goal-poaching instincts. Perhaps like the rest of us, Arsène suddenly starting sharing the nightmare of the goal scoring responsibilities, in crucial forthcoming clashes against City and Chelsea, all resting on Bambi’s flailing limbs.

The Sunday newspaper tales suggesting that the Gunners were attempting to gazump Chelsea were positively risible. I found myself struggling to picture Arsène rocking up to some clandestine rendezvous with Loic Remy, or Harry, with the lorry load of readies necessary to hijack this deal!

With the limited list of potential targets dwindling with each successive transfer news notification that pings on my mobile phone, I’m doing my best to come to terms with the possibility that Le Prof intends to mend and make do, so as to avoid the massive disappointment come midnight tonight. And if Wenger does plan to act, he had better pull his finger out, before the Gunners end up lumbered, signing “the only gay left in the village”. 

Although as Arsène duly pointed out, for all Man City’s marvelous array of firepower, they still managed to lose at home to Stoke on Saturday and our failure to beat the Foxes wasn’t just down to Sa-no-goal. Mezut Ozil didn’t over exert himself in midweek and Ramsey wasn’t even playing, but where in our previous two matches we’ve managed to compensate for our failure to find top gear, with the resolve necessary to nick goals at the death, the lactic acid in our heavy legs left Leicester looking the team most likely to snatch the win yesterday.

I heard Alan Green whinging on the radio about the fact that Wenger had rested Wilshere after our midweek exertions and personally I would’ve preferred to see Jack afforded the opportunity to continue to play himself into some form. Sanchez would’ve been most entitled to an afternoon on the bench, after leaving absolutely everything out on the pitch against Beksitas. But with each successive performance my admiration for Alexis increases, as once again the Chilean worked his socks off.

However we struggled to match the full-blooded intensity and desire of the newly promoted side and roared on by their vociferous crowd, I can’t see too many teams rolling them over, if they can maintain such hunger over the course of the entire campaign.

Many moaned about this boiling over into actual bodily harm on occasion, but I love a good old-fashioned physical battle me. I’m not sure Mezut found his afternoon in the Leicester sunshine quite so enjoyable, but I have some sympathy with him and all our wealth of midfield talent. It must prove somewhat soul-destroying to have the patience to craft an opening in such a tight encounter, only to look up and realize there’s no one capable of producing an end product.

Surely after striving for so long to garner the collection of talent necessary to produce entertainment in Arsène’s idealistic image, our manager cannot deny us the piece or two which might complete his jigsaw puzzle. But then I seem to have been singing this same song for far too long.

--
 e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Separated at birth?


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Next Year In Jerusalem....Next Week Would Be Better!


At 2-0 down with only 7 minutes left on the clock at Goodison on Saturday, the travelling Gooner faithful were facing an utterly miserable schlep back home from Merseyside. Perhaps a mere point in this instance, but mercifully, for the second successive week we were extremely fortunate to salvage anything from the ashes of another lamentably lethargic display.

Mainly thanks to the home side knocking off early, Giroud’s glorious 90th minute equalizer resulted in an explosion of redemptive euphoria, over another smash & grab comeback. In typically fickle fashion, we were left unabashedly lauding Monreal’s pinpoint assist and the Spaniard’s doggedly determined retrieval of Ramsey’s infuriatingly wayward cross, where only moments prior we’d been castigating our full-back as a defensive liability and clutching at conciliatory straws, in the feint hope that such a blatant failure in our first big test of this campaign, might at least stir our manager, convincing Arsène of the urgent need for some last-minute transfer action.

Despite the meritorious resilience evident in pulling a potentially crucial iron from the fire of another shoddy performance, this doesn’t disguise the fact that our woeful form leaves all that pre-season optimism looking somewhat misguided at present. Here’s hoping it’s not 13th time unlucky, but perhaps the Gunners are a little too accustomed to cruising through our annual Champions League qualifiers?

There was a frustrating absence of intensity in Istanbul in midweek, aside from the overly zealous endeavours of Alexis and the injection of energy from his replacement, with the Ox producing the single only effort that came anywhere close to fruition. This encounter was more akin to a friendly, than potentially the most significant outing of the season.

Yet as a result, I was quite excited when Saturday’s starting XI was revealed and I realized that Arsène had somehow found a way of including Özil, Alexis and the Ox. That was until it dawned on me that this was to the exclusion of any other strikers. I adore Alexis’ wholehearted attitude and his willingness to graft like a Trojan, but neither he nor Özil are the sort of natural wide-men capable of occupying the likes of Coleman and Baines sufficiently, out on the flanks, to prevent the Everton full-backs from rampaging forward all game long (or to track them whenever they do!).

I was delighted at the prospect of seeing the Chilean get an opportunity to impose himself across the width of the penalty area at Goodison. But sadly, operating on his own, Sanchez was starved of the ball and struggled to make an impact. The consensus seems to believe he’s most effective alongside another striker in the no. 10 role, but sadly, in recent years, the inclusion of a pair of strikers appears to have been completely eradicated from le Prof’s purview.

Following the gut-wrenching disappointment of conceding a second only moments before the break, my unconfined joy at seeing le Gaffer react (instead of waiting until the last fifteen) was soon dampened, upon discovering he was substituting Giroud for Sanchez. Arsène needed to be bolder and with Wilshere watching his third successive game drift by, we’d have been better off if he’d taken Jack off and gone for it, giving the Toffees defence more to think about by playing 4-4-2.

Wenger might feel vindicated by the fact that we managed to rescue a result, but truth be told, with Giroud needing three efforts before finally working Howard in goal, for the vast majority of the second half if felt as if the home side was far more likely to put the match to bed with a third than we were of turning this game on it’s head.

With Koscielny already struggling with an Achilles problem, I fear that our reliance on Chambers will inevitably prove costly at some stage. It’s been suggested to me that Callum’s reading of the game and his timely interventions are reminiscent of Bobby Moore. There’s no doubt about his promise but it’s a massive ask to expect him to produce the necessary level of consistency, over the course of a marathon season and I’d be devastated to see his confidence wrecked by costly errors.


Whether it was due to fitness, or his unfamiliarity on the left, Mertesacker appeared uncomfortable on Saturday. Despite the inclusion of his lanky presence, with Giroud left on the bench, this only highlighted the Gunners physical shortcomings.

Watching Chelsea’s powerful performances thus far, it’s hard to imagine us lining up in the tunnel and no longer being intimidated by our London rivals. Although Fabregas wouldn’t have offered us more muscle, he has the sort of world-class aura, which left me fearing that even if it was just to prevent him pulling the strings in Mourinho’s midfield, passing on our option to bring him back might prove the costliest mistake of the summer. I can’t help but wonder if Wenger let his personal feelings take precedence over his customary pragmatism in this instance.


Although the Gunners are still struggling to get bodies in the box, at least our late goals have staved off the mood of despondency that would’ve undoubtedly enshrouded us by now, without them. But never fear, if we can overcome Beksitas tomorrow and add a significant signing (or two) before the week is out, we Gooners will be back on top of the world.

--
 e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Wilshere Enigma


With succinctness hardly being my strong suit, when my nephew, Shane, posed the question about whether I think Jack Wilshere will ever truly fulfil all that potential, it was easier to respond with another post (never fear, such early season enthusiasm is bound to soon evaporate and it'll be a struggle posting once a week :-)

Doubtless the fact that Aaron Ramsey's career has come on, in such significant leaps and bounds since his eventual recovery from Shawcross' GBH, has only highlighted the contrasting way in which Jack Wilshere has seemingly been treading water over the same period. We can only speculate as to whether Jack's failure to influence proceedings and singlehandedly grab games by the scruff of the neck, in the way in which we all know him to be capable of, is related to his own long running injury saga, or some other underlying cause.

But I'm invariably reluctant to single Arsenal players out for criticism, as I've been guilty of giving them a hard time in the past, only to be left feeling somewhat shamefaced, after it's been pointed out to me that any such dip in form has been down to some unfortunate personal crisis. Besides which, by and large, professional footballers are fragile human beings, just like the rest of us and I always feel that it's somewhat crass of us to believe that we're capable of deep insights into their state of being, from watching them kick a ball around for 90 minutes, once or twice a week.

Nevertheless, it was interesting on Saturday to compare Jack's performance, with that of our latest new star signing, Alexis Sanchez. I'm not sure how obvious it will have been to those watching the game against Palace on the box, with the camera's tendency to follow the ball, but as was the case when Mezut Özil first arrived on the scene last season, with my pedantic nature I often find myself focusing on individuals. Their fleeting moments of possession are so few and far between that it's invariably far more revealing to study them through my binoculars, when they're not in the heat of the action and it was particularly noticeable on Saturday how often Alexis was left standing out on the flank, waving his arm in vain, hungry to be given the ball.

Aside from the obligatory YouTube videos (where I've seen Sanchez strike the ball with such pace and power that I'm wondering why Cazorla continues to waft corners harmlessly into the opposition keeper's welcoming arms!) and the stats that I've seen, I've very little knowledge of how Alexis fared while playing for Barca. But from the little that I've seen of the Chilean thus far, I've been extremely impressed. Unlike so many of the mercenary international stars who arrive on the back of a mega-money transfer, believing that they've nothing left to prove, Alexis appears to be revelling in all the attention (presumably after having to endure a bit of a back seat ride at Barca, with Messi at the wheel) and brim full of determination to prove himself worthy of all the attention and his £30m price tag.

Alexis might've failed to produce a suitably brilliant performance on Saturday because so much of what he attempted just didn't come off, but I adore the fact that instead of merely laying the ball off and passing on responsibility, as is so often the case when watching the Gunners endless tikki-takka, whether he was trying to pick the lock with a pinpoint pass, or taking the opposition on, the Chilean attempted to impose himself on the game, pretty much every single time he came into possession. His hunger to have an impact upon the proceedings was also evident in the relatively unusual trait nowadays, wherein he demonstrated a reluctance to hit the deck at the slightest hint of any contact, preferring instead to stumble forward, in his desire to bring the move to fruition.

I rarely trust my increasingly decrepit memory, but I had the distinct impression that Saturday's game was just passing Jack Wilshere by and that we had to wait for him to be shocked from his slumber, by going a goal behind. I don't recall Jack running with the ball, attempting to take the opposition on, until immediately after Hangeland headed the Eagles first corner home and stunned us all into silence in the 35th minute.

With the paranoia that has resulted from Wilshere's woeful injury record, we are constantly moaning about our opponents overly-physical attentions, but with them invariably having been instructed to prevent our fluent passing from gathering any pace and with Jack being placed at the midfield fulcrum of the majority of our moves, it's somewhat inevitable that he attracts so many fouls.

Hypocrite that I am, I'll be the first out of my seat, cheering Jack on, when he goes down on the edge of the area, resulting in the award of a genuine opportunity to score from a set-piece (and better still, much like everyone else, I'm guilty of coming in my pants, if he goes down in the box and secures a spot-kick!). Yet this fast becomes habit-forming and we've grown far too accustomed to the sight of Jack sitting on the deck, legs and arms akimbo, innocently pleading in the direction of the ref, with his "bullied schoolboy" expression.

With Wilshere's low centre of gravity, he should prove a more awkward proposition in the challenge and truth be told, many is the time when I would much prefer for him to produce on the pitch, the same red and white heart that he professes to possess so publicly, by refusing to yield to the attentions of his opponent and instead demonstrates the determination and the hunger to stay on his feet and make his mark.

Moreover, while there might be everything to be gained from the award of free-kicks in the final third, there's nothing to be achieved by going down in the centre-circle, other than securing some advantage by an opponent's name ending up in the ref's notebook. As it turned out, we ended up winning the game immediately after Jason Puncheon was sent off on Saturday, but when ref Moss brandished the red card, after Puncheon slid, studs up, into Monreal, I instinctively moaned, thinking it might well be one of our immediate competitors who could end up being the only ones to profit from facing Palace in the player's absence due to suspension.

Slide tackles were my stock in trade, playing as a left-back as a child many moons back and although I do appreciate the efforts being made to try and minimize the risk of serious injury, I have serious reservations about the rule changes that have completely removed this element from a defender's armoury. Without years of ballet training, it's nigh on impossible to effect a slide tackle with toes sufficiently pointed to conceal ones studs and so with the officials now deprived of room for interpretation of this exciting facet of the beautiful game, playing football wouldn't be nearly so pleasurable for me. And I wouldn't dream of comparing my humble talents with the peerlessly accomplished defensive capabilities of the likes of Winterburn and Dixon, but with the recent rule changes prejudicing football's hard men and swinging too far in the favour of the swallow-diving, theatrical artists, I find myself feeling more than a little melancholy about whether we will see their like again in the modern game.

But as ever, I digress! With Marouanne Chamakh putting himself about, grafting harder in 90 mins for Palace than he did in his entire Arsenal career, perhaps Jack had good cause to go down, each time he was fouled on Saturday. Yet I found myself growing increasingly frustrated with Wilshere accumulating an increasingly frequent tally of free-kicks in the centre-circle, when on each occasion this prevented us from gaining any momentum and afforded Palace the time to track back and regroup, parking the bus with all eleven behind the ball, forming up in the organised and effective fashion, doubtless as dictated by their former mentor.

I was somewhat encouraged, in the brief ten-minute period, between being stirred from his apparent stupor by going a goal behind and the halftime break. Jack took possession on a couple of occasions and drove at the Palace defence, in the terrorising manner that has proved so fruitful in the past, by wreaking panic and mayhem amongst the opposition. However, after being relieved of the ball on the edge of the area, it was as if, having tried and failed, Jack all too rapidly came to the conclusion that he couldn't beat the opposition and went back into his shell.

We've all been waiting for the sufficiently long run in the team that will rebuild his belief and confidence, to the point where Jack is back to being able to ghost past the most competent of defenders and he returns to being capable of making a monkey out of all comers. Moreover, instead of both Ramsey and Wilshere struggling to have the same significant impact on those encounters when the two of them are playing together, I was hoping that all the richly deserved plaudits afforded to Aaron Ramsey in recent times, might inspire his pal to soar to similar heights.

Instead of which, I can't help but wonder if, like so many of our modern day young stars who've achieved such boundless wealth and attention at such an early age, Jack has become a bit too spoiled, deprived of the motivation to dig sufficiently deep, both in training and in competition, to produce the sort of energetic performances that rocketed him to global recognition in the first place.

While Wilshere is spending his afternoons haunting the tattoo parlour, along with so many of his peers who are seemingly intent on outdoing "the painted lady", I wonder if he continues to daydream of finally fulfilling every Gooners ambition to see him lift the big-eared trophy, or if he's more worried about whether the red ink has run?

When all our wealth of midfield talent is fit and available, it's debatable whether Jack deserves to command automatic selection. And if he should find himself forced to sit out matches on the bench, will his much vaunted Arsenal love motivate him to fight for a place in the starting XI, or will he throw his toys out of the pram and begin angling for a lucrative move to join Cashley supping cappuccinos in a fashionable bar on the Continent?

I was disappointed to see the Corporal exiled to East London after Debuchy's arrival because Carl Jenkinson more than made up for any of his defensive naivety, with his adoration for the Arsenal. It's so unlikely in this day and age, for a common or garden supporter to give us all hope, by stepping straight off the terraces, into the playing staff. But at least Carl has only gone out on loan and has not been sold.

With Wilshere and Jenkinson both being Gooners, amongst that all too rare breed of players who actually grew up to play for the club they supported in childhood, it would be devastating to see them both fall by the wayside in the future. Here's hoping that the Gunners can build on last season's success and as the new campaign begins to gather momentum, at the same time Jack will start to rediscover his mojo and will reacquaint himself with the love and enthusiasm for the beautiful game that first yanked his chain as a kid, to the complete exclusion of all the disadvantageous distractions that are the inevitable associated trappings of fame and fortune nowadays.

--
 e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com