Since I need to leave for Gatwick at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning, I thought I'd better get my weekly missive mailed out before I leave. As we all know, 24 hours is a long time in football and by Wednesday morning, hopefully the demolition of Villareal will see the following completely outdated (although I rather suspect tomorrow night's match is unlikely to be the sort of open game which might result in a goalfest)
After Saturday's disappointing draw, I am even more desperate for us to proceed to Parisl. Apart from the incredibly tantalising prospect of our first ever Champions League final, after speaking to various Spurs pals today, no matter how confident they might now be of qualifying for next season's competition by finishing 4th, it was obvious just how much difficulty they are having in coping with the possibility that no matter what transpires in the Premiership, if we should be victorious tomorrow, they are going to have to spend the next three weeks contemplating the unthinkable consequence of our success in the final.
Although you never quite know in this funny old game of ours, personally I feel that our last chance of pegging Spurs back in the Premiership will come this weekend. Unless they should drop points against Bolton, it is hard to imagine the unlikely event of them doing so in their last league match, against a Hammers side focused on their first FA Cup Final for umpteen years. Nevertheless, even if the worst should eventually come to the worst, there is always some sort of silver lining. Just imagine how much fun we'd have watching them repeat Everton's experience this season, exiting Europe's premier competition in the qualifying round stages, against some anonymous side, from some unheard of corner of the continent?
Meanwhile all such concerns can be set aside for now, as the tension continues to mount before Tuesday night's match at El Madrigal. I don't think any of us could've imagined we'd be facing such a climax to our season back in August when our former captain made his unexpected exit. It would be absolutely marvelous if we should manage an early goal which would actually mean I could relax somewhat and savour the experience, instead of sitting there absolutely bricking myself with only a single goal advantage for an extremely exhausting and perhaps just about the longest 90 minutes I might ever have experienced in all my years of watching the Arsenal
Come on you Reds
We're All Going To Villareal, Tottenham Still Watching Eastenders!!
With the sun splitting the trees for our penultimate matchday stroll around to our Home of Football on Saturday, it seemed as if the stage was set for a marvellous Derby day swansong. Sadly Carrick, Davids, Keane and rest of their Spurs counterparts couldn’t have read the script!
I detest these early kick-offs, as we never seem to get going until the second half, if at all. Footballers are such creatures of habit that I imagine they are similarly unhappy about advancing all their pre-match rituals by several hours. What’s more with so little time to lubricate their vocal chords, our crowd can be even more library like than usual. Still, with it being the last but one game at our grand old stadium, we made a special effort to arrive in good time. But having hardly troubled Robinson’s goal during the first 45, come the break, many of my West Upper neighbours kidded that my change in routine was entirely to culpable.
Obviously the fact that we only had half a team out couldn’t have helped. Thus there was much consternation over Arsène’s decision to leave Henry, Fabregas and Eboué on the bench. In truth Wenger was in a no-win situation, doing his best to balance the physical demands of two incredibly intense games over the course of 4 days, on an already over-stretched squad.
What I couldn’t fathom was why Dennis Bergkamp was missing, assuming he’s the one player who won’t be making the trip to El Madrigal. Personally I would’ve preferred if Le Prof hadn’t monkeyed with a defence that’s performed so well in recent weeks. It’s the one area on the pitch where the key is consistency, rather than rotation. Additionally young Manny Eboué adds so much fizz going forward, whereas without him we appeared to lack any width whatsoever.
Meanwhile if the likes of Abou Diaby hadn’t been quite so anonymous on Saturday, there’d probably be no need for a post-mortem about Arsene’s selection and if the three energetic absentees should assist in our progress to a Champions League Final at El Madrigal on Tuesday, no-one will be left doubting our manager’s decision. Still it should be no surprise that our performance looked a little leg weary, by comparison to a side that’s set some sort of record for playing the least number of games in a season.
It was strange to see a usually urbane Arsène Wenger throwing such a wobbler. This was only headline news because it was SO out of character. No one would’ve batted an eyelid if it’d been Neil Warnock berating his opposite number. But by making himself the brunt of a cacophony of ‘pot calling the kettle black’ badinage, le gaffer hardly covered himself in glory. The fact that he usually takes all such slings and arrows of footie’s outrageous fortunes in his phlegmatic stride, would suggest that Arsène’s outrage was an indication of the mounting pressure, felt over the £50 million financial consequences of a 4th place qualification for a much coveted Champions League berth next term.
Yet with 10 minutes left on the clock on Saturday, it wasn’t so much the significant implications for the club’s coffers that were foremost in Gooner minds. It was the absolutely unbearable thought that our most hated local foes were about to leave us with such a horrific second to last Highbury memory.
Whether or not Spurs were guilty of unsporting behaviour by not putting the ball into touch, is a moot point. In the cold light of day, I can’t be 100 per cent certain we wouldn’t have done likewise. But without a Tottenham win on our turf since the old king died, it was our inability to contemplate the prospect of our rivals raining on our “Final Salute” parade that inspired such an incandescent response. There was even a disturbance amongst the sedentary suits in the Director’s Box, where stewards had to be deployed to save some over-excited, upper class infiltrators from being lynched.
To be perfectly honest, I grow ever more disgruntled about the increasing prevalence of time wasting, play-acting in the modern game. In fact I’ve often cursed this unwritten sporting convention, when our opponents have attempted to take all the heat out of a game, just as we’ve been building up a head of steam, by rolling around on the floor and forcing us to put the ball into touch. Consequently, I wonder whether the game would benefit if it became part of the referees remit. If there’s no obligation on the opposition and therefore no guarantee of the game being stopped, perhaps players would be discouraged from playing possum.
In this instance, I was more annoyed at our lot for committing such a cardinal sin. It must be at least 30 years since I was left standing on a pitch like a statuesque schmock, waiting for the ref to blow up. Even now I can still hear the coach hollering from the touchline at his lazy left-back to “play to the whistle”.
The Spurs’ argument that they weren’t aware of any need to put the ball out might be a little more convincing if Carrick hadn’t hesitated out on the wing. But as the opposition continued to advance, much like the car crash that seems to occur in slow-motion, it was as if everyone in an Arsenal shirt stopped to wait for an intervention, divine or otherwise.
I don’t know if it was the shock of this unscripted catastrophe, but in the past I would’ve expected Arsenal fans to raise the roof in our efforts to inspire the required response. Whereas on Saturday, aside from the jubilant section of Spurs fans, a depressing silence descended on the rest of the stadium, until our saviour stepped out of the dugout. Never mind the 3 points required for 4th place, at that stage all any of us cared about was that our last Highbury derby day shouldn’t end on such a depressing note.
Minute, by minute the tension mounted, to a point where my desperation was so acute that when Thierry finally found the back of the net, there followed such a euphoric rush of blood to my head that I thought I might faint. Heaven only knows how the Pompey fans managed to survive the stress of that last minute penalty without passing out?
And there’s no abeyance to the assault on Gooner fingernails, as no sooner had we breathed a huge sigh of relief at having avoided this disaster, than came the news of Senderos’ knee injury, to stoke the stress levels over just about the most important match in the Arsenal’s illustrious history.
No matter how we approach Tuesday’s return leg in Spain, there’ll be no avoiding the natural tendency to sit back and protect our slight advantage. This bodes for a bloomin’ long and nervous night. As a result I’m more fearful about this match than I will be if we should have the good fortune to progress to a final against either of the other two established giants.
Ever since our lucky win against lowly Thun, I’ve had an inkling about the Champions League, as I did when I suggested some time back to my West Ham pal that their name might be on FA Cup - if only I’d put some money where my big gob was! For his sake, I would’ve been up for the Hammers against Boro, if it weren’t for the fact that their progress to the final might result in Roeder playing a weakened side against Spurs. Hopefully Bolton will do us a favour beforehand, as I’d hate to end up hoping the Hammers are playing for FA Cup places, when it’s far more likely they’ll be saving themselves for the final.
However you won’t catch me complaining if our entire season comes down to a ‘winner takes all’ climax in Paris, with the additional prize of denying Spurs their first ever taste of Champions League footie. We’d probably be doing the poor loves a favour, by saving them from embarrassing themselves!
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Tuesday, April 25, 2006