Monday, December 25, 2006

Born is the King of.....err...the new gaff?

I have to admit that Dodier Drigba has stepped up to the plate so far this season, with some seriously influential strikes for Chelsea and that at this precise point in time, there’s perhaps no more daunting a sight for a Premiership defender than that of Man Utd’s Ronaldo bearing down on your penalty box at full pelt. Nevertheless, despite Drogba manhandling his way onto our back pages, with the sort of muscular physical presence that makes him such a handful (just ask Phillipe Senderos!) and Ronaldo’s post World Cup redemption, by means of the admiration engendered by his bamboozling box of tricks, while these guys are getting all the glory, in my humble opinion, when viewed through my red & white tinted specs, it’s the astonishing vision and awareness of Cesc Fabregas that deserves the plaudits from the true connoisseurs of the beautiful game.

Almost ever since Chippy went chasing the Italian lira back in 1980, we’ve witnessed a succession of Arsenal youngsters who’ve all struggled under the weight of expectation of “the next Liam Brady” syndrome. Coincidentally, it was David Bentley who carried the hopes of many of us Gooners for some seasons, as we witnessed increasing evidence of Liam-esque type ability in Bentley’s cultured left foot. Sadly Bentley flunked the few opportunities he was given to grasp this sublime midfield mantle, seemingly swimming in the substantial boots he was expected to fill, on the rare occasion he was afforded a first team run out.

His talent was obvious to those of us who’d watched his progress as a teenager, but having struggled to impose himself on the adult game, it was a big disappointment to see any hope of this homegrown replacement for Dennis Bergkamp demolished, when Bentley’s loan move to Blackburn was eventually made permanent. Prior to this he helped Norwich to go down all guns blazing, with a 2-0 triumph over Man Utd and has since secured a permanent spot in Gooner hearts, by scoring the only Premiership hat-trick against the Red Devils, in their surprising 4-3 defeat at Ewood Park last season.

For a perspicacious geezer, Le Prof ain’t half prone to some patent gaffes. With his opportunity to prove that he should be gracing our glamorous new stadium as a Gunner, Bentley didn’t really require any more inspiration. But Wenger went and lit the blue touch paper, by suggesting in his programme notes that the Peterborough born youngster is a “big talent…when he’s switched on”. Having been gifted a premature Xmas pressie, doubtless Mark Hughes made the most of this motivational tool, since Bentley was certainly switched on enough to earn a penalty in the second minute! Luckily Jens Lehmann’s lights were also on (although it could be argued whether there’s anyone at home in our keeper’s haphazard head), to thwart a stunning Bentley strike, which would have otherwise given Rovers a 1-2 lead and might have put a completely different complexion on Saturday’s festive fare.

Meanwhile where Bentley made hard work of keeping his head above water, when he was thrown in at the deep end for the Arsenal, Fabregas floated straight to the surface and has virtually been walking on water ever since, as our very own Spanish saviour. I know it might be sacrilege to suggest such a notion on that side of the Irish channel, but it could be argued that Cesc actually has more in his locker than Chippy. Whereas one often finds oneself screaming at less perceptive players, for them to get their heads up, before they end up ignoring a better placed team mate, Fab has that amazing awareness of everything around him, without taking his eyes of the ball, thereby ensuring the disguise on his final pass rather than telegraphing it to the opposition. He also appears to possess that other Bergkamp like quality, where he’s able to picture the development of a passage of play, as if moving chess pieces about a board, always thinking a couple of moves ahead.

Basically at the tender age of only nineteen, Fab has the footballing brain of a grandmaster and it’s no wonder Wenger has tried to tie Cesc down with his eight year contract, as there’s no telling quite how brilliant Fab might become with a few more years experience under his belt.

There was a moment in the build up to our sixth goal on Saturday when Cesc took the ball towards the corner flag and I was convinced an exasperated Robbie Savage was about to clatter him from behind. I guess it was all the sweeter because it was Savage who was his stooge and I wouldn’t be surprised if the blonde braincell seeks some retribution at a later date, after he’s had to endure several repeats on Soccer AM’s showboat section. But even if it hadn’t culminated in Flamini scoring the sixth goal, Fab’s nutmeg was worth a standing ovation on its own.

It was a funny old game and a microcosm of the Gunners’ season so far in one 90 minute match. Apart from buying the penalty by hitting the deck after half an hour, under the “weight” of Neill’s shove in the back, Van Persie struggled to have an impact on the match and up until his goal five minutes before the final whistle, the Dutchman couldn’t to hit the proverbial barn door. After Adebayor calmly slotted home the spot kick to put us 3-1 up, we were in such control of the game that the “olés” were ringing out, as Rovers ran around chasing shadows. However after failing to capitalise on our dominance, we suffered the same defensive lapses in concentration that have cost us so dearly this season. It was only more inspired goalkeeping that prevented Blackburn from pegging us back to 3-3 and potentially dropping another couple of crucial home points.

However once the law of averages finally allowed Van Persie to find the target and with the flurry of three fabulous goals in the last five minutes, we exited the stadium thinking this Arsenal side were the best thing since sliced bread! My favourite was the fifth because it was such a team effort and it’s not been that often this season that we’ve enjoyed the Gunners breaking from box to box, with the sort of pace and incisive, precision passing that just makes for the most breathtaking football.

Meanwhile Arsenal season ticket holders received an early Xmas pressie in the form of our long overdue membership packs, where for my money the best bit was a Mastermind feature on the DVD. Now I’m always the first to bemoan the lack of a homegrown spine in this Arsenal side, longing for the sort of players who’d be certain to feel the weight of our illustrious history, every time they pull on the shirt. Yet watching this feature which includes Touré, Fabregas, Senderos and Lehmann taking their turn in the black leather chair, while our lunatic keeper might know sweet Fanny Adams (or Tony Adams), it’s incredibly reassuring to discover that the youngsters have been imbued with a sense of the Gunners’ past, with their knowledge of Herbert Chapman, Bertie Mee and the like. In an age where the media is full of tawdry tales of super rich, young British players who think the world revolves around them, I have great faith that the Arsenal’s future is safe in the hands (or at the feet) of a bunch of players who seem to have such great respect for all those who’ve gone before them.

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E-mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Monday, December 18, 2006

Poor Old Santa - He Comes Once A Year And That's Down A Chimney!

Officially the Arsenal’s training ground is in Shenley, although as far as I’m concerned it’s located in London Colney, as Shenley has always been synonymous with the dark shadow of the psychiatric institute, which once dominated this Hertforshire suburb. Then again, I could be forgiven for thinking the men in white coats had come for Arsène Wenger on Saturday, when he announced a starting line-up against Pompey that included Aliadière as Van Persie’s strike partner.

I’m all for being patient when it comes to bringing on our young prodigies, but it’s hard to believe that this product of the Clairfontaine Academy has been at the club for seven years and has now become the second longest serving player in the current squad, (behind Freddie Ljungberg), without ever having established himself in the first XI. Admittedly Aliadière was quite impressive when he scored a brace against West Brom, a couple of months back in the Carling Cup. Yet he’s patently failed to make any sort of impact in any of his previous loan spells at Celtic, West Ham or Wolves. So I’ve absolutely no idea what possessed Wenger to think he’d produce the goods against Pompey’s muscular defence.

As far as I’m concerned it should be “Come in no. 30, your time is up” and Aliadière should be given the opportunity of regular first team football elsewhere. His career has become so becalmed at the Arsenal that a complete change of scene might be his only salvation, if Jeremie is ever to recover the required belief in his own ability.

In his programme notes on Saturday, Wenger stated that he has “absolutely no choice” but to rotate the squad. I pictured Arsène sitting at his desk, pouring over the players stats on Friday afternoon and as a result of some physical data, like the white cell count, or the oxygen conversion rate, he came to the conclusion that he needed to rest Adebayor. I agree that some of our players are showing signs of suffering from the relentless physical demands of the game in this country. However as was highlighted at the JJB last Wednesday, we just don’t have the depth of quality in our squad to allow Wenger the luxury of leaving out our most important players.

Cesc Fabregas is one such “untouchable” who’s responsible for conducting the most intricate bars of the Arsenal symphony. As was demonstrated by his timely introduction for the last ten minutes, when Fab picked the lock of the Wigan rearguard with almost his first touch, producing the defence splitting pass, which enabled us to snaffle all three points. Yet while the Spanish youngster has looked a little leg weary in recent games, in his absence we appear all too predictable, lacking that vital creative spark.

Watching Chelsea come from behind twice at Goodison, to eventually grab the winner, only served to remind me of the crucial difference between the two teams. With the likes of Lampard, Drigba, Ballack, Essien etc. unfortunately the Gobby One has at least half a dozen players at his disposal with the ability to pull something special out of the bag when required. Whereas in the absence of an out of form Henry, I’d struggle to name more than a couple of Arsenal players capable of conjuring up the sort of match winning, wonder strikes witnessed on Sunday.

My position on Arsène’s rotation policy is that it’s absolutely pointless attempting to rest Adebayor, if he’s going to be forced to bring him on in the second half, to chase a two goal deficit. Manny played like a man possessed when he did eventually appear, but in running his socks off in his admirable efforts to rescue a point, I’ve no doubt he ended up no less ‘cream crackered’ than those who’d played the entire ninety (if not more so!).

At a time when we’re desperate to try and establish some breathing space between us and the other half a dozen clubs with Champions League aspirations, it’s essential that we start with our best XI. Then if we’re capable of securing an advantage of more than a single goal, Arsène can substitute those players who’d benefit most from an early bath. Moreover the other squad members are most likely to do themselves justice, coming on in a game where everyone is beginning to strut their stuff.

I’m also convinced that we need to establish some consistency before Arsène can consider rotating players. Naturally, a winning team tends to feel a whole lot less fatigued because they don’t need to expend nearly so much energy, chasing down the opposition and winning back possession. What’s more, as we’ve seen in the past, when we’ve been able to establish that winning momentum, then confidence levels in the camp soar, to the point where Wenger has been able to seamlessly drop players into the team and where the only impact has been positive.

With his pragmatic approach, Arsène is probably fretting that if his young charges are suffering already, without the benefit of a breather now, how are they going to cope come the end of the season? However if we keep dropping points at our current inconsistent rate, it won’t matter if they are all on crutches come May, as our season will have long since gone kaput. Whereas I’m certain that all such concerns will evaporate, if only we can re-establish that winning habit.

I was fortunate to attend an open day training session at our new stadium on Monday, where it was good to see that Wenger will have a few more options available to him, with the return to fitness of the likes of Lauren and Rosicky. With the squad split into two groups, it was easy to suss out who’d be lining up against Liverpool. Obviously we need to be patient as far as Baptista is concerned, but I’m afraid it might just be Beast by name rather than nature, as he’s yet to convince me that he has the necessary appetite for the frenetic brand of football played in the Premiership.

Hopefully Julio will have proved me wrong on Tuesday night. Similarly I’m eagerly looking forward to discover whether the likes of Denilson, Randall and Traore are truly capable of challenging for a shirt, thereby bolstering our squad with the sort of quality which could ensure that we Gooners don’t end up baying for Arsène to join the queues of under pressure gaffers on New Years Day, with their deckchairs and flasks, readying themselves for the rush to battle for the best bargains in the January sales.

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e-mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Certainly not football as I've always known it

Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous. Methinks someone at the Arsenal has completely lost the plot

After the shenanigans prior to the Chelsea match, where there was absolutely no need for the Arsenal to get involved in what was basically a totally harnless bit of well deserved piss taking and where their needless statements only ended fuelling the whole affair by giving it more publicity, it now seems as if some nincompoop wants a complete ban on any national flags in our new stadium!

See: http://www.arsenal.com/article.asp?thisNav=News&article=435726 (copied below)

Now to be perfectly honest, I am no big fan of most forms of overt nationalism, as it's often only a hop and a skip away from racism of some sort, but when it comes to Gooners coming from abroad to watch the Arsenal and wanting to wave the flag of their country, so the folks back home might point them out on the box, please I beg you, just what kind of killjoy wants to stop this?

And pray tell me, can anyone out there confirm exactly why any Gooners should have been sufficiently upset to complain about someone's flag and instigate this absolutely barmy ban?

I enjoy picking out the Irish flags with my binoculars, to see which branches of the Green Gooners are "in the house" for various games and considering it's been so long since we had an Irish player in the Arsenal first team, when it wasn't so long ago that the club shop were selling Arsenal bobble hats which were red and white on one side and which had the Irish tricolour on the other, it seems a crying shame that our ever waning association with the Emerald Isle will no longer be visible on matchdays!!

One of my most favourite aspects of the beautiful game is the fact that the passions aroused by it are so incredibly intense, that it has the ceaseless potential to cut across the most gaping divides, whether they be political, racial, social etc. etc. and although it saddens me on the rare occasion racism continues to rear it's ugly head on the terraces from the gobby mouths of uneducated neanderthals, mercifully matters have improved (even if I have many issues with the PC Nazis!!) and I prefer to seek solace in footie's amazing ability to unite even the most disparate individuals

We travelled to Sunderland a few seasons back with my good mate Amr, an Egyptian Gooner who usually gets over to see the Gunners for the odd couple of games a season. Amr and I get on like a house on fire, which isn't so incredible, since we are both from semitic origins and as a result, we share many personality traits (which is one of the ultimate ironies of the Middle East conflict). However there's an unwritten understanding between us, which ensures international politics is strictly "off the menu" for any pre-match repartee, for while I like to think of myself as a liberal kind of geezer, who can empathise with all sides of the Middle East argument, whether we care to admit it, or not, we are all entrenched, to a greater or lesser extent, in the opinions we've been indoctrinated with, as a result of our individual upbringing. Besides, who wants to bother with boring political parley, when we can discuss the merits of the Arsenal midfield, instead of forming a plan for World Peace.

As ever, Amr brought his Egyptian flag to the Stadium of Light, in the hope that it might get caught on camera as he waved it around, thereby providing a kick for all his Gooner pals back home in Cairo. And after the game Amr was considering leaving his flag in my car, so that I might have it for him at the home game we were due to meet at in a few days time. In the end he decided against it, as this would've depended on me actually turning up for a match on time!! However I was truly tickled by the ironic thought that I came so close to driving around for the following week with an Egyptian flag on board my motor.

My old man actually fought the Egyptians in Israel / Palestine in 1947, whilst battling to ensure the survival of the newly formed state. Having been blown up by a land mine in his jeep and subsequently being totally paralysed down one side of his body for six months (as a result of a clot of blood on the brain, where it was considered potentially fatal to fly him back to England, until eventually they took the risk, after he'd spent the entire period lying on his back in a hospital bed and miraculously the altitude of the plane shifted the clot in a direction that, instead of being dangerous, actually resulted in him recovering the feeling in his arm and leg almost immediately), obviously my old man had more cause than most for his ingrained bigotry as far as the ancient enemy were concerned.

Consequently I couldn't help but laugh at the thought of him spinning in his grave, if his son had been driving around all week with an Egyptian flag on the back seat

However my red-herring of a story is by way of highlighting how sworn foes can forget their lifelong prejudices, in the face of their unswerving fealty for the Gunners. I hadn't met up with Amr for ages prior to our encounter in Turin last season and since he and an Italian college mate were being driven, from where they were studying in Switzerland, by a German pal in her BeeMer (sounds like the intro to a cliché of a joke...there was an Egyptian, an Eytie and a Kraut heading across the Alps in a BMW to meet up with this jew....:-), Amr was very keen to meet up before the game.

But it took them far longer to get to the centre of Turin than he'd imagined and after waiting for them for ages, I was just about to get on the bus to the stadium when they pulled into the train station. As he ran over to meet me, I was asking Amr whether he'd purchased his bus ticket, as I assumed we would be travelling to the match together. But they were starving hungry and were dashing off to grab some grub. So I was very touched when it eventually dawned on me that Amr was just running over to give me a pre-match good luck hug

Please can someone enlighten me, if I and most other right-minded Gooners I know take absolutely no offence at foreign Gooners waving whatever sodding flag they fancy, who exactly is it that finds this prospect sufficiently troubling, to merit having a moan??

Funnily enough (peculiar, not haa haa!), it was only the other day at Stamford Bridge, after all the wasted trees used to print leaflets warning us against homophobic and racist chanting, that I was minded to consider the cultural make-up of the couple of thousand Arsenal fans in the corner of the Shed. It occurred to me that despite the fact that we are blessed with one of the most multi-cultural crowds in the whole of the Premierhsip, sadly the number of non-white faces were still few and far between, in what unfortunately remains largely the exclusive domain of the white Anglo Saxon footie fan.

Of the limited amount retained in my less than capacious grey matter, what I do know is that the Gunners should be doing everything in their power to celebrate the fact that we welcome so many visitors from all four corners of the globe, to every game at our new stadium, rather than announcing bans which are sadly likely to make our gaff all the gloomier?

If like me you were listening to Five Live on Saturday afternoon, you would've thought that the Arsenal suits would have far more significant matters to worry about. Alan Green obviously got the worng end of the stick, as the moaning Five Live Minnie (Green seems to get ever more bitter with each passing season, as if he has an increasingly weighty chip on his shoulder that he's spent his entire career earning the equivalent of thrupence ha'penny, compared to the fleet of trucks required to carry the weekly wages paid to the game's modern day prima donnas) seemed to be under the impression that Club Level is occupied by the corporate punters. Naturally he couldn't help but comment how strange it seemed for the second half to be kicking off with the middle tier, the most conspicuous area of the stadium more than half empty. In fact on Saturday the two-thirds of Club Level that I can see from my lower tier vantage point were actually almost completely empty when the game restarted after the break.

I have to tell you, turning up late as I do for most matches, it's probably more than a little hypocritical coming from me, but I not only found it embarrassing to hear Green tell the listening world that the coprorate punters at our new stadium are more interested in their half-time hospitality, than the actual football match - when in fact we all know that these are supposed to be genuine Gooners (with apologies to my Club Level mates who have to endure these circumstances in person and who therefore find it even more infuriating than me) - but I am also 100 per cent convinced that it has to be more than a little demoralising for the lads, to be kicking off the second half, when they cannot help but notice how utterly empty such a prominent area of the stadium is!

I am unsure whether this is a new phenomenon and the club are actually making efforts to ensure Club Level Gooners are encouraged to return to their seat, or whether it has always been thus, but Green went on to detail how those who he thought were corporate punters were unable to watch the proceedings on the pitch, as the glass windows are covered. It's absolutely barmy when you think of it, as this means that a large proportion of our affluent punters are actually paying around £100 to £175 quid a game to watch a percentage of the match on the in-house TVs!!

It actually occurred to me to wonder whether the glass is in fact covered up as a ruse, designed merely to enable as much milking of Club Level cash as possible, as they can continue flogging the overpriced comestibles long after the break. Whereas with all those sprauncy glass chandeliers lighting up the opulent environs of the Club Level concourses (that make the rest of the stadium appear positively sparse by comparison), if the windows weren't covered they'd surely have to dim the lights once winter darkness falls and shut shop, in order that the bright lights don't act as a distraction to the Gooner gladiators?

Whatever the justification, it's plainly apparent from the continued farce of such an empty Club Level for so long after the match recommences, that the club needs to focus its attention on finding an effective way of encouraging a sufficient number of Club Level folk back to their seats, before our new gaff becomes a complete laughing stock. Otherwise, instead of the Highbury Library, our new home will end up being known as the Marie Celeste!

Oh but I forgot, they are all bound to be far too busy monitoring their new flag ban!!!!

If the good lord is indeed a Gooner then I sincerely hope heaven will save us from such utterly senseless poppycock?

Big Love
Bernard

PS. I have Espanyol v Real Madrid on the box right now. I haven't exactly been concentrating on the game, so I stand to be corrected, but despite the fact that they are playing with ten men, Real have a player in their side who is the spitting image of Jose Reyes in appearance, but it can't possible be Jose, as this bloke's threatening Espanyol's goal every few minutes :-)

______________________________________________________________________________

Some of our fans have been upset with the flying of certain flags denoting particular regions of the world

Arsenal as a club prides itself on being inclusive with respect to all nationalities, cultural and ethnic groups.

We have therefore decided that in order for all of our fans to enjoy their experience at Emirates Stadium, we are asking that only flags in support of Arsenal Football Club, without any national emblems, are
displayed within the stadium.

We will be implementing this policy with immediate effect. Thank you for your assistance in this matter.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Who's The Onanist In The Black

Hi folks

You'll have to forgive me, but I've been busy working for the ballet the past couple of Mondays(who have their traditional Xmas season of the Nutcracker at the London Coliseum). As a result, since it's the Irish Examiner who contribute towards some of the cost of my footballing expenses, I have ended up sitting up writing most of Sunday night, in order to file my column before going to work on Monday. As a consequence, I've returned home so completely 'cream crackered' that I've not had the energy to open my computer.

I also blame the missus, as I made the big mistake of introducing Ró to the Second Life phenomenon a couple of months back and ever since then, because her laptop is a little older and somewhat slower than my own (in the techno lingo she's started to pick up, apparently the pictures don't "res" fast enough on her machine), she's almost permanently attached to my laptop. In fact she's become so addicted to her new online world, that I have to enter into negotiations to get my laptop back about an hour or so before whenever I want to use it!! I am beginning to regret ever telling her about Second Life and I guess I am going to have to sort her a new computer, either that or divorce will be on the cards with all the barneys :-)

Meanwhile in last Monday's column for the paper, I reused much of the stuff I'd written in the piece I'd mailed out during the weekend and so I didn't want to send it out to everyone without a warning that they might already have read much of it and perhaps a bit of a preamble to make it worthwhile sending. Unfortunately I never got around to doing this, but I am going to mail it out anyway, just in case it's of interest to any of you.

As for this week's piece, as you will see, I happened to go and see Spurs v Charlton on Saturday, as I had nothing better to do and I am always up for watching a game of football on a bright sunny afternoon. However considering we were involved in one of our biggest games of the season the following day, I was somewhat embarrassed that I'd written so much about my trip down the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road and I was concerned that there might be some Gooners out there who weren't the least bit interested in what I had to say about it.

I therefore planned on writing a preamble which would focus entirely on the events of Sunday to give it a bit more of a Gooner balance, but since I have yet to get around to doing this, I am going to post it out anyway and leave it to you to read, or ignore as you so choose, as otherwise it will be long past current by the time I get around to doing it

Big Love
Bernard
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           From where we were sitting in the corner of the Shed, directly in line with Essien and Lehmann's goal, I had that sinking feeling from the moment that Excocet missile of an equalizer left the Ghanaian's boot. It was the sort of wonder goal where, as a fan of the beautiful game, you just hold your hands up and say "fair doos". Still, considering the significant absence of the influential likes of Henry, Touré, Gallas and Rosicky and the amount of fun we'd had all afternoon, at Cashley Hole's expense, not to mention the woodwork working overtime in our favour during the last few frenetic minutes, as I braved the abysmal traffic to battle my way back from the Bridge, catching my breath after such a highly charged contest, I was certainly far more content with our afternoon's endeavours, than I'd been during the last tortuous traverse of the capital, from South West to North, a couple of weeks back, after our depressing defeat at Craven Cottage.

           I awoke the day before to discover the sort of crisp, bright, sunny weather that's designed for wrapping up and enjoying an afternoon away from the television. Sadly my own playing days are long past, but it occurred to me that I might 'enjoy' an hors d'oeuvres before Sunday's main course, down the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road, watching the somewhat less glamorous London derby between Spurs and Charlton. These days, daring to 'sleep with the enemy' is tantamount to Gooner high treason, but there was a time, back when football was still an affordable hobby, when it was a fairly commonplace. As a kid I was often fortunate to accompany my old man, to watch both the Arsenal and Spurs on alternate weekends.

           Aside from my Spurs mates' crackpot hopes of converting me, it seems that I'm a something of a lucky mascot for the Lilywhites (especially in light of Saturday's result – after which they're offering to club together to buy me a season ticket!). As a result, it wasn't long before I received a return phone call, to advise me that one of their season ticket's was going begging. In the absence of the ranks of riot coppers in full combat gear and the odd snarling canine, there was none of the intimidating atmosphere associated with our trips to White Hart Lane to watch the Arsenal.

           Obviously there's still a part of me that continues to mourn the loss of Highbury. Many fond memories of my dear departed dad have disappeared with the demolition of everything but the two (listed) stately Art Deco façades of our majestic old gaff. By contrast, many beloved ghosts of games past continue to linger at the Lane. It's truly embarrassing to have to admit it, but standing outside the entrance to a smoke free West Stand on Saturday, sucking the life out of a last cancer stick, contemplating Tottenham's traditional 'football as I've always known it' surroundings, I couldn't help but feel  somewhat nostalgic. Then again, my old man wouldn't have lasted a minute, let alone the entire 90, under the tyranny of the modern day anti-smoking Nazis.

           If I was an Addicks fan I'd be seriously worried. That's the second time I've seen Charlton play this season and of all the teams involved in the relegation dogfight, they currently appear devoid of the belief necessary to stave off the dreaded drop. Until he was subbed in the second half, chubby little Andy Reid appeared to be their only hope of some salvation. I don't understand the logic of promoting Les Reed, as if their first team coach was capable of improving the Addicks performances, then what exactly was he doing under Ian Dowie?

           Considering 2 of the 5 goals went through the legs of Charlton's hapless loan keeper, Carson, the inflated scoreline flattered Spurs. Defoe doesn't look nearly hungry enough, for a striker with an opportunity to earn a run in the team, as a result of Robbie Keane's knackered knee and I imagine Jol will continue juggling to find his most effective front pair, for some time to come. Also for the life of me, I can't figure out why the Spurs manager left Huddlestone on the bench for last week's Derby day battering.

           I recall the young midfielder making an impression when I first saw him play for England U21s, but it wasn't until watching him in person this weekend when I fully appreciated that in addition to his prodigious ball skills, Huddlestone is built like the proverbial brick outhouse. Now if only Wenger could piss Spurs fans off completely by pinching him. As a young British player with such physical presence to go with his ability, he'd be the perfect addition to our lightweight midfield.

           It was a rare treat to be able to enjoy a match as a neutral. Well nearly a neutral and in truth my interest in the outcome of this game and those involving the gaggle of also-rans around us, is evidence of quite how far we've fallen off the Premiership pace of late. In fact it came as quite a shock at 5.45 to discover we'd dropped down to 7th place, perched above Spurs only on goal difference! Needless to say the mood in the car on the way back was very buoyant. My Spurs pals (or at least we'd started the day thus!) were convinced it was blind optimism on my part, when I opined that I fancied it'd be honours even at the Bridge the following day. So when Flamini (of all players) stuck the ball away in the 78th minute, I had this satisfyingly smug image of the three of them falling off their respective sofas, as our unlikely hero put the kibosh on their "perfick" weekends.

           From the pandemonium in the Arsenal end, you'd have thought we'd just won the Premiership itself. Amidst the euphoria, my mate Nick planted a smacker on my cheek. Flamini is hardly his favourite player and all game long, he'd been muttering under his breath, giving the French midfielder a hard time. My explanation for his inclusion by Wenger was that whatever he lacks in natural ability, Arsène can rely on him to compensate with his work rate and commitment. I suggested to Nick that if he continued slaughtering Flamini, fate was odds on to intervene and I was tempted to proffer my backside for the kiss he'd promised me if his personal hate figure scored.

           Sadly our prospects of a 'smash and grab' 3 points only lasted six minutes. But from the moment we took the lead, it was obvious it was going to be a long, nail-biting ten minutes to the final whistle. Nevertheless, no matter that Man Utd would be the only beneficiaries, I would've bitten off the hand that offered me a draw before the game and considering our good fortune at the death, we could hardly gripe about our hard fought point.

           Personally I felt we were good value for the draw and although our young defence looked more vulnerable for most of the match, it wasn't until the injection of some real pace with the introduction of Robben and Wright-Phillips down the flanks that Chelsea truly began to threaten.

           When it came to it, all the pre-match hoo-haa seemed pretty pointless. Our own club had made itself a laughing stock, with e-mails warning us we'd be ejected if we committed the heinous crime of bringing inflatable mobile phones and fake wonga to a football match and the home team had wasted half a dozen trees on printed warnings about racial and homophobic abuse.

           We were always going to give Cashley Hole the stick his disloyalty deserved and we duly obliged in typically raucous fashion. I'm not sure Ms Tweedy actually did anything to deserve our attention, but with each ribald ditty of the sort "Titus Bramble shagged your missus" and "your sh*t and your wife's a slag", it was amusing to see the line of old bill and dunderhead security constantly looking at one another for confirmation whether each chant was sufficiently politically incorrect to deserve their attentions.

           Don't get me wrong, having had to endure such tasteless terrace tunes as "one man went to gas, went to gas a yiddo", I'm no fan of the bigoted guttersnipes who continue to infest every football terrace. Yet I'd prefer common sense to prevail when it comes to the 'everyone's fair game' attitude that's always existed at a football match. Once the PC police begin ejecting fans, for trying to put opponents off by alluding to their sexual proclivities, just where will they draw the line? Will we have to worry about offending the onanists amongst us, by suggesting "the referee's a w*nker"?

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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Captain My Captain

As already mentioned, you might well have already read much of the following missive in the piece I posted last weekend. In the meantime, after I commented below about Gilberto not exactly having the sort of attributes I'd expect from a captain, it was interesting to note that in Sunday's game against Chelsea, it was the first time when GIlberto's been wearing the captain's armband that we really saw him assume the responsiblity.

Who knows whether something has been said, or whether up till now he's felt he has just been keeping the seat warm for Thierry and therefore hasn't really immersed himself in the role. However after I've given him some stick in my piece below, after having seen him standing there against Spurs, watching young Fabregas step in and put his arm around Manny Eboué's shoulder after a little spat with Robbie Keane, at Stamford Bridge on Sunday Gilberto was as demonstrative as I've ever seen him, jumping in immediately when the hot-headed youngster began to have a run-in with Doddier Drigba

It was quite amusing, as Manny came away from the confrontation holding his mouth, I wondered whether it was actually Gilberto who caught him on the chops as he dived in to manhandle Eboué away and prevent any escalation of the incident. Watching through my binoculars subsequently, it was plainly apparent that Gilberto was giving the youngster a right verbal roasting, I assume reminding him to concentrate on the job at hand, rather than getting involved in any petty spats

As someone else said to me about Gilberto's marvelous performance on Sunday, for just about the first time in an Arsenal shirt, you realised how this player had come to win the World Cup and I was well pleased to see him setting a captain's example both by covering every blade of grass and by encouraging his team mates. Mind you, so long as his castigation of Eboué doesn't discourage the youngster at all, as I would rather see our players losing their rag, demonstrating that the game means as much to them as it does to us (even if it does mean us incurring the odd yellow card), than to see no evidence at all of this sort of passion

But enough of my prattle for another week
TTFN
Bernard
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It was like Groundhog Day at Craven Cottage last Wednesday, going behind after only 5 minutes, to another headed goal from a corner. McBride is good in the air and it was a great back header, looping up from the front of the six-yard box, over Lehmann. Perhaps the deflection from our keeper’s feint touch, prevented Flamini from doing his job on the far post and clearing the ball on the line? However what bothered me most was the fact that he got the jump on Touré and was able to rise almost unchallenged, without feeling the physical pressure that should’ve made his task that much harder.

I really struggle to comprehend how it is that one of the country’s (Europe’s?) top sides can possibly have a defence that hasn’t already spent years running through the sort of regimental drills, whereby it becomes second nature to remain touch tight to ones opponent. I’d a bruise on my arm for two days following Frank McKlintock’s demonstration of how they did it in his day. Frank was convinced Don Howe could drum such basic defensive principles into our defence, in a matter of a few training sessions. But sadly Howe’s sergeant major attitude must’ve proved too much “yang” to Wenger’s “yin” . I believe it’s some years now since the tranquillity of the Arsenal training ground was disturbed by the dulcet tones of Howe, who, with his red & white striped heart, has probably forgotten more than most coaches know about bringing on young players.

The “craic” at Craven Cottage has been brilliant in recent seasons. Up until last Wednesday, the adventurous approach of Chris Coleman’s side was a refreshing alternative to the dour defensive tactics of most other teams and always made for a highly entertaining game. What’s more, even the most fair-weather Gooners can get across London to Fulham, to fill the Putney Stand behind the goal, thereby guaranteeing a great atmosphere. In light of the somewhat antiseptic modernity of our new surroundings, there was an even more poignant feeling, approaching the positively ancient façade of Fulham’s main stand, for a midweek fixture under the phosphorescent glow of the floodlights.

However you could almost sense the air of all our enthusiasm escaping, as McBride prematurely popped the Gooner balloon. It wasn’t long before we recovered our voices and while on the pitch, Fulham looked like scoring almost every time they went forward, on the terraces it was definitely “1-0 to the Arsenal”. Alexandre Song struggled to keep his head above water the last time Wenger threw the Cameroonian kid in at the Premiership deep end and his continued need of water wings was evident to everyone, long before Boa Morte left Song thrashing in his wake, in the build up to the second goal.

The players tunnel at Craven Cottage is at the away end of the ground and as management and players trudged off at the break, we serenaded them with a hearty chorus of “We want Cesc Fabregas!” Wenger can be very stubborn when it comes to admitting the error of his ways (hence his persistence with Song) and I didn’t for one minute expect him to bow to fan pressure, until I was queuing for my half-time cuppa and I heard a cheer go up, which could have only indicated Cesc’s introduction for the second half.

It’s one thing to be bullied out of the game up at Bolton but the featherweight nature of this squad was evident in the way we were overrun by Fulham. Considering that we could’ve turned on the team after our third successive away defeat, there was some solace in the steadfast display of Gooner fealty at the final whistle, as the players exited stage right, with a loyal reprise of “We love you Arsenal” ringing in their ears.

Winding our way through the streets of the capital, back to the comfort of North London, discussion in the car centred on Wenger’s urgent need to draw a line under our inconsistent efforts to date. Otherwise we’d be in serious danger of our season being over, before Santa’s reindeer have had a run-out. With his first media free week in a decade, following his hoolie behaviour at West Ham, patently his first attempt to inspire a turning point had failed.

Gossip from the new gaff alleges that the Executive Box catering manager was given his cards during the Hamburg game, after being caught on a stairwell in a compromising imbroglio with one of his male colleagues and apparently a couple of East European Club Level bar staff were similarly dealt with, when they were discovered stuffing cash from the tills into plastic bags, before lobbing these through the metal grilles to mates waiting outside.

Yet as far as we’re concerned Wenger’s team selection on Wednesday was far more criminal than this Club Level larceny. Unaccustomed as Arsène is to accepting any blame (“I do not regret the team I named”), it would appear as if he’s taken the big risk of deflecting it all in the direction of the best player on the planet. Aside from being upset about being dropped for the first derby game at our new stadium, rumour has it that the real reason for Thierry’s distress was due to a request for him to hand over the captaincy to Gilberto “until the end of the season”.

Arsène seems to abide by the Continental practice of presenting the captaincy to the club’s most senior squad member, apart from when he’s committed the cardinal sin of using it as a carrot, to try and keep his star players from more avaricious temptations elsewhere. In my humble opinion neither Paddy nor Thierry are my idea of proper captain material and I’d be happy to see Henry relieved of the responsibility, so long as it results in the desired reaction, leaving him able to focus on his own game, without any distractions, rather than sending him off to Barcelona in a huff. However how on earth Wenger can believe Gilberto capable of a better job, is totally beyond me.

I remain an old-fashioned believer in having a centre-half as captain, who’s able to see which of his teammates needs a word of encouragement in their shell like and which of them requires a timely kick up the backside. A midfielder might be better than a striker who has his back to most of his colleagues for the majority of the match, but for heaven’s sake, the softly spoken Brazilian struggles to speak English. Consequently I’m convinced Wenger’s decision is based merely on seniority and it’s not the giving of the captaincy to Gilberto that’s intended to have a dramatic effect, but “resting” of our best player and his retirement as captain, which he’s hoping will prove to be the catalyst for the Arsenal’s “anno domini” after this season’s annus horribilis.

I don’t know who’s responsible for arranging 12.45 kick-offs, but come the revolution, they’ll be amongst the first to be lined up against the wall. It’s hard to say whether Wenger’s actions and the resulting hoo-ha in the tabloids will prove to be a new dawn, or whether our derby day delight is just the same sort of false dawn we experienced after the shenanigans at Upton Park, when we stuffed the Scousers 3-0 (I do know this unbelievable series of 1-1 and 3-0 results must be wreaking havoc with the bookies). We were definitely “up for it” on Saturday and in winning every 50/50 ball there was no doubt which of the two teams was hungrier. However I’m unsure whether it was our desire, or the surprising lack thereof in Spurs, that won the day.

Poll’s customary incompetence ensured a somewhat flattering scoreline. I found myself bawling out one of ours during the second half for falling over in the box. “Get up” I bellowed, “there’s no way Poll’s going to present us with another premature Xmas present”. Needless to say everyone around me who’d been in agreement at the time, about our prospects of being gifted two penalties in the one game, began taking the mick the moment Poll pointed to the spot. It was as if the tragicomedy from Tring had gone completely off his trolley and was trying right all the wrongs in one 90-minute match.

This Arsenal team has been crying out for some vocal leadership on the pitch since long before Paddy took his leave. If any proof was required of Gilberto’s unsuitability as captain, it came late in the second half when Eboué was involved in a confrontation with Keane. Gilberto remained a disdainful spectator, leaving Fabregas to play dad, putting his arm around his teammate and encouraging him to walk away. Cesc may develop into a leader once he’s sufficiently confident that he has the respect of his elders. However until such time it’s hard to imagine who in the Arsenal squad will have the “cahones” to bawl out a player of Thierry’s calibre, when he deserves a kick up the jacksey.

Although I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for some time. Perhaps le Prof has already done a discrete deal for a draw with Porto, since Arsène appears to be banking on qualifying for the last 16, with a fit and fully rested Henry. My reaction when I heard Thierry wouldn’t be playing against Spurs was that we’d managed without him at Old Trafford and in all honesty, I think we are better off without an Henry who’s body language in recent matches absolutely hollered out how unhappy he was. In his absence, not only are his teammates safe in the knowledge that they’re not going to get slaughtered by him for failing to pass him the ball, but they also have to take responsibility, knowing there’s no Thierry to effect a rescue.

Meanwhile according to the media, Henry can’t do right for doing wrong. He came out on TV Saturday morning, to counter the tabloid claptrap and to question their psychic ability to know what transpired and if you were to believe what’s been said since, you’d have cause to wonder how he manages to support the weight of such a big head. Whereas in truth he spent the 90 minutes of Saturday’s match unobtrusively sitting alongside Flamini and Senderos. In his funereal outfit, he was so inconspicuous that I needed my binoculars to find him.

Bearing in mind that this unbelievably majestic maestro has almost single-handedly kept the Arsenal ship afloat, with his 30 plus goal a season consistency, these past few years, I think we can cut him some slack for a couple of months. Henry’s no different to the rest of us, with his need to be loved. My biggest worry is that if Titi no longer feels the adoration of the Gooner faithful, he’ll be off to join his mate Sammy Eto’o at Barca, before you can say “big bucks”!

I’ve no worries about us doing ourselves justice at the Bridge on Sunday, but it’ll be our forthcoming trip to Wigan and the visits of Pompey and Blackburn which will really tell if Arsène has truly chanced upon the corner turning answer.

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E-mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Friday, December 01, 2006

Turning point v Tottenham, or will Spurs earn the Islington Samaritans some overtime?

In such depressing times as these for us Gooners, it's great to receive some solace from the light-relief offered by many of the Talksport phone-in 'schmocks', who, unbelievably, are already calling for Le Prof's head on a plate. Do they seriously believe we could do better than le Boss? If it wasn't for the fact that I "support" the same team, I often think it would serve them bloody well right if Arsène decided he no longer needed the intense day to day pressure of trying to maintain a squad, season in, season out, that's capable of competing with the the limitless resources available to the blowhard at the Bridge, with both hands tied behind his back, as far as the Arsenal's finances are concerned.

And if (heaven forfend!) Wenger did decide to walk, if these fickle Arsenal fans are whinging about the club's most successful modern day manager, can you possibly imagine their apoplectic, phone calls if they were left complaining about our demise under Ian Dowie (although to be fair, whenever I've sat and listened to Dowie, his comments have usually given me the impression that he's a most capable manager). Don't make me laugh, these hoopleheads haven't got the sense to appreciate that there isn't a club (or a country) on the planet that wouldn't bite the hand off that offered them a contractual signature from le Boss.

With this in mind, it is perhaps a little churlish of me to second guess our gaffer, but it was obvious that almost every Gooner in the ground on Wednesday night was wondering what on earth possessed Wenger to throw Alexandre Song to the merciless lickspittles who make up our misguided boo-boy lions. As they say, it's all relative and admittely, relative to his remarkably inglorious efforts in a Gunners' shirt to date, Song shone at Goodison (need to put my teeth back in for such a tongue twister). But then EVEN I would've looked good in this game (never mind my two knackered knees!) as would anyone who played alongside our Carling Cup kiddies while they were positively oozing confidence that night.

Looking back, I recall doing a double take when an early shot on Everton's goal whistled over the bar, as my brain struggled to compute the fact that the ball had originated from Song's feet. Yet this certainly doesn't disguise poor Alexandre's patent failure to prove exactly what Wenger sees in him, since his arrival at the club. Personally speaking, Song has always struck me as such an incredibly nondescript player that I began to wonder whether Wenger managed to get himself caught in some sort of Cameroonian honeytrap at some stage in the past, in a compromising position with Song's aunty, leaving uncle Rigobert with the photos to prove it. If the ex-Liverpool player is using these as leverage to get the youngster included in the Arsenal squad, this would at least give le Gaffer a decent excuse!

True words and jests come to mind with my far-fetched conjecture, as allegedly the catering manager of the Executive boxes at the new gaff was instantly dismissed during the match last week, after having been caught in a compromising imbroglio on a stairwell with one of his male colleagues. So does this mean he'd previously been caught having his wicked way a couple of times to have earned two written warnings? And if such gossip wasn't good enough, it is also alleged that a couple of East European bar staff in Club Level were similarly sacked on the spot last week. But their crimes were less salacious and more fiscal, as apparently they were found stuffing cash from the tills into plastic bags and lobbing these through the metal grilles to their mates outside! But enuf of the fish-wife impersonation!

Perhaps if Paddy was still playing for us, Arsène might've got away with playing Song alongside him, or if he'd found the Cameroonian youngster a less significant role out on the sidelines (or preferably right off the park, carrying his colleagues cases!!). But to throw Song in at the deep end, at the very heart of our team, at such a delicate stage in the season, alongside the decidedly unimposing midfield presence of Flamini & Rosicky, to my mind this was far more criminal than the Club Level larceny

We'd already seen how out of his depth Song appeared at this level, when we watched him flounder at Fratton Park last season, in his only other Premiership start, alongside Diaby, where the two points we dropped left us counting on Tottenham's inconsistency for qualification for the Champions League. Why Wenger expected a different result on Wednesday is beyond me?

As the players and management trudged towards the tunnel at half-time, with the lay out of Craven Cottage taking them towards the couple of thousand of us Gooners gathered in the Putney Stand, I was hoping for his sake that Song didn't fully appreciate the implications of the singing, as we serenaded them all with a hearty chorus of "we want Cesc Fabregas". To be honest, Arsène is usually such a stubborn git (I guess Wenger's point blank refusal to accept the possibility that he's picked a wrong 'un is the reason Song wasn't shipped out ages back), that I really didn't expect him to bow to fan pressure by bringing Fab on at the break, certainly not with Wenger's penchant for leaving any changes until the last fifteen minutes.

But then I suppose Arsène wasn't really left with a choice, if this was indicative of the sort of stick Song could expect if he came back out and in truth, Wenger should've shown some real bottle, by admitting the error of his ways in restoring Cesc to the side within twenty minutes of the start, as it certainly didn't take any of us longer than this to realise quite what a ricket he'd made with the Cameroonian's inclusion.

It just about says everything about our most problematic defficiency that we are left counting on a teenage schnip of a Spaniard to lead this Arsenal side into battle and to be able to rouse his team mates from an indifferent performance, to roll their sleeves up and grind out a result. I am not discounting the possibility that Fabregas might eventually make a marvelous captain but I feel it is a bit much to expect the incredibly talented youngster both to orchestrate the Arsenal symphony from midfield, whilst simultaneously wielding the baton with the necessary force to encourage his colleagues to find the vital extra gear which has been patently absent from their performances of late.

At least Fabregas would have the advantage of not playing with his back to the entire team, like Henry. However I have always believed that a centre half has a far better chance of doing a decent captain's job. Although at this precise point in time, such technical practicalities are irrelevant, as it's the leadership spirit that we've grown increasingly desperate for. I've never agreed with Wenger's decision to offer the captaincy as a carrot to encourage players to keep the Arsenal faith. To my mind Paddy was no more captain material than Titi, but at least Vieira had the ability (albeit that he kept it well hidden towards the end of his career at Highbury) to inspire the troops with his physical commitment.

Yet even back then I was moaning for want of some vocal leadership from someone in the Arsenal squad, especially with Vieira's tendency to disappear inside his shell for much of the last couple of seasons, as has been the case with Thierry when he's been struggling to find his own form.

Rumours abound right now of an alleged barney between Wenger and Henry and some are even suggesting that after Titi walked out, he has as a result been dropped. I am sure I am way off the mark, but I have to admit to having some suspicions when Thierry developed a vague neck injury to prevent him travelling to Bolton. Thankfully we are not used to such shenanigans at the Arsenal, but at other clubs like WHU and Spurs, fans are quite accustomed to some of thier more glamorous imports developing just such niggles on an annoyingly regular basis but only before decidedly unattractive, long schleps up north, invariably returning from the treatment room just in time to be available for selection for the more fashionable fixtures.

I'd hate to think Titi was capable of any such shirking but whatever the case, never in the illustrious history of our club was there an Arsenal player more deserving of being cut some slack by us "supporters". On the basis of Titi's incredibly consistent goal scoring tally these past few seasons, where he's singlehandedly carried the club with his crucial contributions for so long, according to the inevitability of the law of averages, the best player on the planet is long overdue a slump.

Even when Henry was nicking the odd goal in earlier games, the maestro was still struggling for his customary magical touch and as our overall confidence has waned with our inconsistent results, Henry's lack of form has become all the more apparent. Up until now, the difference has been that Thierry could afford an off day because he had colleagues to take up the slack. However that was when we had a guaranteed 15 goal a season contribution from the likes of Pires and Freddie. Having let Pires go (perhaps in light of the other significant departures, a season or so prematurely) and with Freddie so obviously losing that crucial yard of pace that means we can no longer depend on the Fredster for those timely burst into the box, we've suddenly lost the ability to be able to rely on outscoring any opponent, with goals coming from every Gunner.

Those additional 30 goals a season we were usually guaranteed from our two gifted midfielders, meant that it didn't really matter if Titi or his strike partner were struggling to hit a barn door. Rosicky looks like he might be a likely candidate to become a regular contributor to the goal tally, especially with his 30-yard screamers, but sadly to date Alexander Hleb all too often gets through loads of skilful footie with absolutely no end product.

As we made our miserable way back from the Cottage last Wednesday, winding our way across the capital back to the comfort of North London, we were discussing ways in which the boss might fulfil his desperate need to draw a line under the relative disasters of our season so far, before its too late and we are left with all the other also rans, with nothing to play for but pride, even before Santa's reindeers have got a run out.

In seasons past, where we've sadly grown all tto accustomed to a dodgy spell, there's usually been some specific incident, a dressing room confrontation, or some similar catalyst that's accepted as the turning point, that season's anno domini, the day when our assault proper on the Premiership silverware began. I wondered whether this was what Wenger intended with his first media free week for a decade, subsequent to his hoolie behavious at West Ham. Although if this was indeed Arsène's intention, it definitely didn't have the desired effect.

I always hark back to the truism that states every five years you either have to change your manager, or your team. Lest we forget, it's only when you list last summer's departures, Cashley, Sol, Bergkamp, Pires and whatever you thought of him Reyes, that you truly appreciate that any team, even one with apparent limitless resources, let alone ours, with our fiscal bare ass hanging out the back of our threadbare pants, would suffer such a significant loss of nearly half a team of fully fledged world stars.

In isolation you could perhaps accept that Le Prof had a valid argument for letting each individual go (all but Le Bob in my humble opinion). We could definitely do with Cashley's experience in defence right now, but I'd have got shot of him solely because if his display of such outrageous disloyalty. What's more I really don't believe the Blues fans are going to see the (so called) best left back in the world every week, as he may well derive pleasure from demonstrating his worth in matches like last weekend's table topping clash of the titans, but I'm convinced Cole has little to prove against lesser lights like Boro and I don't believe he has sufficient hunger to consistently produce similarly impressive performances to the one seen last Sunday agains Man Utd. The consensus of opinion from the pundits. suggests that we're far better off with a Willie than a C*** and the arrival of the versatile Gallas has stood us in such good stead to date, that when Cashley stood patting the side of his shorts last Sunday, demonstrating to Utd fans responsible for giving him so much stick, which particular pocket he'd been keeping the Portuguese striker in, this was absolutely the first time that I felt some mixed feelings about seeing Cole play in a Blue shirt.

Sol Campbell seems to have benefitted from playing for Pompey, without suffering nearly so much from the weight of exspectation which fell on his broad shoulders when appearing in an Arsenal shirt. But if he'd stayed with us, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the stress and the cumulative effect of the physical strain on his huge physique would've been reflected in the sort of niggling injuries which would've left Sol on the sidelines for the majority of the season.

Obviously Dennis Bergkamp was a one off, but rather than watching him deteriorate, there had to come a time when Dennis left us with our wonderful memories and we learned to face a future without him. Whereas personally I would've been much happier if we'd managed to hang on to Pires, so that we could at leat make use of him coming on from the bench as an impact player who was capable of changing a game for us. Love or loathe Reyes, with his failure to qualify for MENSA membership, Jose efforts for Real Madrid have demonstrated that when making the most of his talents, he's more than capable of scoring influential goals.

So having lost half a team, perhaps Arsène might benefit from having a fresh face to assist with half his management responsibilities, so that instead of being surrounded by yes men like Pat Rice, there be another voice in the dressing room capable of expressing an alternative school of thought when necessary. If at the same time we were blessed by a Don Howe type character who was capable of sorting out our defensive lapses by implenting the sort of regimental set piece drills that need to be second nature, then all the better.

However it's hardly likely that le Prof would take on a partner to relieve him of some of his responsibilities and perhaps inspire the players with alternative motivational methods and a voice that some of the players haven't grown tired of listening to. In the absence of such a wholesale revolution, who knows, hopefully the minor alteration of leaving out our captain could have the desired effect. We managed without Thierry at Old Trafford and if we are lucky his absence might see some of our other players feeling like they have licence to take more responsibility without treading on Titi's toes. They might even be inclined to threaten the enemy's goal, knowing that there's no-one else who's going to conjure up the winner for them and that they won't end up being bawled out by their captain for failing to give him the ball

Meanwhile, based purely on the law of averages, Spurs must be due a win at our place, not having enjoyed one since '93. As a result I am fully expecting the worst case scenario, so at least the disappointment won't leave me with the Samaritans on speed dial!!! And if our encounter with Tottenham should prove the turning point we've all been waiting for, then my absolute lack of expectation will ensure that I enjoy it with even greater Gooner gusto than usual

Come on you Reds!