...So Ye Shall Reap
It was a real struggle getting out of the sack Sunday morning. Based on recent results at the Theatre of Dreams and with no Henry and Van Persie, a return to the land of nod was a much more inviting prospect, than an 8 to 10 hour round trip to the North for 90 minutes of football, where there was every possibility of ending the afternoon joining Watford and Sheffield Utd in the Premiership’s death zone.
If I’d thought that young Theo Walcott might get a run out, I would’ve felt somewhat more enthusiastic. But ever since Igor Stepanovs’ previously encouraging career, crashed into the rocks of the 6-1 drubbing in 2001, Arsène has been more likely to play himself, than risk another such shipwreck in the pressure cooker climate of the Old Trafford stage.
On meeting up with my mates, I discovered one of our number had come down with a convenient cold. Yet as I teased Ray that his partner was suffering from a bout of ‘part-timer-itis’ more like (as Marion had also blown us out on our trip to Manchester a couple of weeks prior), I couldn’t help wonder if she’d more sense than the rest of us.
The consensus of opinion in our car concluded that Wenger would plump for Adebayor and Ljungberg as HIS only possible strike partnership. Nevertheless, as we headed off into the bright blue yonder, hoping the A1 might prove kinder to us, than the car park that was the M6 for our outing to play City, even the thought of a misfiring Manny and a Freddie whose front-running days are rapidly disappearing in the direction of his fey fashion sense, couldn’t dampen a mood which was strangely optimistic, amongst the seven of us seated in this Gooner mobile. But then you’d have to be barmier still to undertake such an arduous journey expecting to be beat.
Winning ugly might not come as naturally to this Arsenal side, as it does to some of our competitors and the dropping of 7 of the first 9 points might appear decidedly depressing on paper. However the belief of those of us who’ve endured our frustrating start to this campaign in person, has been bolstered by our talented performances. They’ve confirmed our manger’s unstinting confidence in his team of title contenders, bubbling somewhere under the surface of his baby-faced squad, just waiting to break out.
Obviously the mood in the Arsenal camp must’ve been boosted by a midweek result in Hamburg, which wasn’t anything like the sort of stiff examination of our Champions League credentials that we’d been expecting. But many a subsequent below par Premiership performance has been blamed on the fatigue resulting from these foreign jaunts. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d think it was bloomin’ typical that each of Man Utd’s three trips abroad are followed by matches at Old Trafford, while our fixture schedule has thrown up awkward away games after our outings to Germany, Russia and Portugal.
Thankfully we sailed North in the autumn sunshine, with some of us earphoned up, enjoying a review of last season on DVD, our hopes buoyed by highlights of the performances of the Arsenal’s bright young things in the Champions League. Never will we have to worry about this bunch of players being over-awed, after their amazing baptism in the Bernabeu. Eventually the DVD screen was folded up, in the hope that we might hear the Scousers doing everyone else a favour, by stuffing the Blues in the radio comms from Stamford Bridge.
Sadly it was not to be and as we turned west to cut across the Pennines, blue sky’s life ban from the lugubrious Lancastrian climate became evident as the good weather gave way to gloomy cloud cover. With the somewhat bleak looking mountaineous landscape flashing past the window, the only good news from down South was the sending off of Michael Ballack.
We’d reached the vast Trafford Park trading estate when the radio revealed the confirmed team news. Why on earth would Fergie fork out a whopping £18 mil. for Michael Carrick, only to leave him on the bench for one of their most important fixtures of the season. The only conclusion we could come to for choosing the more physically robust O’Shea, over the cultured passing ability of Carrick, was that with Giggs hamstrung, Fergie must’ve once again opted to try and beat us in a kicking contest, fearing his side might struggle to outplay us in a proper game of football. As it turned out, on this occasion, Utd patently failed to do either.
Having extricated my aching bones from the back seat of the car, there was just enough time to get the blood circulating to my legs again, during a brief stroll to the stadium, before condemning my dodgy knees to another 90 minutes of purgatory, cramped into the tight confines of an Old Trafford seat, of the sort that’s obviously designed for oriental fans, rather than obese, beer-bellied British supporters. It was a timely reminder that no matter what relatively minor gripes I might have about our new gaff, we are fortunate to have been afforded a positively luxurious amount of legroom by comparison. Mercifully on this occasion I wasn’t sardined in amongst a row of rotund Gooners, where you’ve got to request someone ten seats along to shift, in order to retrieve a lighter from ones pocket, thereby ruining any possibility of sneaking a conspicuous, nerve calming fag.
We’ve yet to experience the sort of controversial, high-drama occasion at our new home, which will enable me to draw some conclusions about the atmosphere. Having moved from our privileged upper tier perch at Highbury, to sit with amidst the ‘hardcore’, naturally to my ears there seems to be more atmosphere. But then some of those with the marvelous Club Level view have suggested that the crowd noise is drowned out by the cacophony from mobile phones!
Meanwhile with the Gunners’ lamentable ‘library’ reputation, we’re hardly in a position to gloat, but the atmosphere at Old Trafford appears to be in inverse proportion to the ever-increasing attendance. Struggling to my feet as the 70 odd thousand muppets acknowledged the arrival of the combatants into the arena, I once again wondered what on earth I was doing there, when I could be at home, with my feet up, in front of the TV. I had to wait 86 minutes for an answer, as those ecstatic last few moments of this match made it all worthwhile. I wouldn't have missed for the world, the mutual appreciation between the Gunners and ourselves at the end of this game, savouring the irony of Arsène's appearance on Fergie's turf!
To be honest, considering their flying start to the season, I was amazed by Man Utd’s disjointed, somewhat timid display and the fact that it wasn’t until those last few frenetic minutes that the home side finally managed to exert some pressure. In actual fact our injuries might’ve worked to our advantage. Considering our desperate need for a win and as a dyed in the wool 4-4-2 devotee, if everyone was fit, Wenger might not have chosen his 4-5-1 masterstroke, which left O’Shea and Scholes chasing shadows all afternoon.
At least Arsène is consistent, as when asked about the homophobic chanting, his answer suggested his hearing is no better than his eyesight. I’d hate to think I could be accused of bigotry, but I have to admit, I found our version of “one man, two man and his mobile phone, went to bed with Ashley” very amusing? I could care less whether Cole heard or not, but I sure hope he was watching, so that he might appreciate quite how wide of the mark his comments were, about the spirit in this squad. There were players of 10 different nationalities involved in an Arsenal shirt on Sunday and in the universal language of football, the pleasure witnessed on their faces in the euphoria of the final whistle, spoke volumes as to an abundance of ‘the right stuff’ in the Arsenal camp.
Without a desire to play for one another, the teenagers in this team wouldn’t be able to triumph on the imposing stage of Old Trafford. While Cole whinges about the likes of Fabregas and their failure to invite the lads round for a game of snooker, I honestly couldn’t imagine the celebrity left-back joining the self-effacing young Spaniard on the sidelines at Underhill on a miserable winter’s night, where after his meteoric progress to the first team squad, Cesc returned to support a youth team he’d only played with for a couple of months. I can well recall being similarly proud that Ashley managed to retain his modesty in spite of his success, but this isn’t the same hollow character we’ve since seen splashed across the pages of Hello magazine in his shiny silver suit.
Fabregas is an utter ‘mensch’ compared to the footballing whore that’s become of the player who was the only totally homegrown talent in the current Arsenal squad. Thus its not surprising his apparent treachery has made Cole the target for such splenetic terrace rancour. If karma has anything to do with it, then he’ll be left counting the medals he could’ve continued to win at the Arsenal. Moreover if there’s a shred of truth to Cole’s claims that he wasn’t enticed by the strong scent of ‘eau de filthy lucre’, then how funny is it that he’s joined a club whose Champions League encounter at the Bridge on Tuesday attracted an attendance that was 87 less than the hordes of Hammers fans who filled a far smaller Upton Park for their less glamorous UEFA cup game.
December 8th is marked down in my diary as the day when hopefully Ashley will discover there’s substance to the saying “as ye sow, so shall ye reap”
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