The definition of a dilemma for a Gooner was epitomised in Sunday’s FA Cup quarterfinal between Chelsea and Spurs. It’s one of the few games I’ve watched where I’ve wanted the ref to win! Nevertheless even the most blinkered of us would have to admit that it was an amazing cup tie, of the sort that really left me envious we were not involved ourselves in playing for a privileged first appearance at the new Wembley. At least it looks like we’ll have a game to keep us busy over the semifinal weekend, which might mean we’ll avoid the ultimate humiliation of having one of the semis played at our place. Having Spurs progress further in the Cup and still involved in Europe (albeit the Mickey Mouse competition) is humiliation enough for this Gooner. Mind you I imagine even if there’s a financial incentive, no one at the club is going to be keen to have 30,000 Spurs fans, with their vast numbers of scum, ripping up seats and doing their utmost to deface our new stadium.
As is my habit, before I began writing the following piece, prior to leaving for work this morning, I checked out the Arsenal page on the Newsnow web site, to get a take on Gooner opinions elsewhere and as usual, after glancing at other football news, I ended up getting sidetracked by the story about an anti-semitic video clip of Hammers fans at Upton Park last week. I then wasted about an hour searching the web in vain for cockneymatt88’s clip, which has apparently been removed from YouTube and which allegedly shows Hammer’s fans singing “I’d rather be a Paki than a Yid” and apparently giving the “Seig Heil” Nazi salute. However while there was no sign of the offending video clip, there was plenty of internet bandwidth wasted by the outraged opinions of various Spurs supporting bloggers.
I had to laugh at them getting on their high-horse about this one incident, when so many of their number are prone to giving civilians a slap in Tottenham High Road, even women and old men included. What’s more these are the same Spurs fans who’ve spent all these years assassinating our manager’s good character, with their totally groundless “Packet of sweets” chant. Imagine Arsène having to explain to his young daughter why they are all singing about him being a paedophile! Mind you, I have to admit that I’m such a hippy that I am invariably happy to hear the almost inevitable sound of this outrageous song at North London derbies, since as far as I am concerned it usually guarantees their subsequent fate, as I’m convinced their bad karma is gonna get them.
Meanwhile it wasn’t until I arrived at work and raised the topic with my West Ham supporting boss, that I discovered that all the media reports had somehow failed to mention that the Hammers fans song was actually a response to their visitor’s equally racist taunts of “Upton Pak”! I wouldn’t dream of trying to justify bigotry of any shape or form and I only mention the matter because stones and glass houses come to mind as far as Spurs fans expression of moral outrage is concerned and they need look a little closer to home if they’re sincerely concerned about football cleaning up its act.
It was only after finishing this piece late this afternoon that its inaccuracies dawned on me. I’m sure the Arsenal ladies wouldn’t thank me for referring to another silverware starved season, when they’ve been collecting so many trophies that they must be getting them wholesale. Moreover the youngsters still have something to play for in the form of the highly prized FA Youth Cup. Considering it’s been the Arsenal’s kids who’ve earned all the plaudits this season, with remarkable performances at WBA, Everton, Liverpool and Spurs that would live long if it wasn’t for my sieve like memory, it would perhaps be quite fitting if we conquered the Youth Cup.
Yet shame on whoever is responsible for arranging Wednesday’s semifinal with Man Utd on the same night as the first XI’s match at Villa Park, as I’m gutted I am going to miss this game. But it would feel a complete betrayal if I failed to follow the first team to Birmingham and would make me feel nearly as fickle as all those who walked out early on Wednesday night.
Additionally shame on the club for their blatant profiteering, as while tickets in advance for the Youth Cup game are the usual price of £3/£1 adults/kids, those who turn up on the night will have to pay £10/£5, merely because it’s a semifinal v Man Utd. Personally I think the club are shooting themselves in the foot, as I feel that the number of people who will perhaps be put off from spontaneously deciding to take the kids because it’s no longer such a cheap outing, could mean that they will end up taking no more money than if they’d maintained the cheap prices. Not to mention the loss of income from sales of all the incidentals and the fact that they might end up missing out on kids who would’ve been brought along because it’s only a quid and who might have got the Gooner bug for life and might’ve been worth a small fortune in merchandising.
The Cardiff game in the last round was brilliant, as included among the 11,000 who filled more than one half of the lower tier there were thousands of dads and moms accompanied by loads of little monsters and while they would’ve guaranteed even more at the Man Utd game, by increasing the prices on the day, I very much doubt they will get the 20,000 the club are expecting. Nowadays these Youth Cup matches are one of the few occasions during the season with the potential of helping to regenerate our rapidly ageing support with some young blood. Additionally it is wonderful experience for the young Gunners to play at the stadium in front of a substantial crowd, instead of on the slope at a dilapidated Underhill, before just a few more than the proverbial three men and a dog. For the club to try to take advantage of the occasion to extort a few more quid from our already overtaxed pockets is very short-sighted.
For those of you going along to support the kids, be sure to give them a shout for me and I will do likewise for you, by hollering my head off as usual at Villa Park
Wednesday’s ignominious European exit was all the more difficult to take, knowing the nationalistic ballyhoo that would result in the media, with the other three Premiership sides all occupying highly prized berths in the last eight of world football’s most prestigious competition. What’s more, with Barca out and Milan struggling for form, it appears that the one trophy that continues to elude our illustrious club, is there for the taking this season. Hopefully Valencia’s David Villa might yet have some say in this argument. Yet I can’t help but feel that Bayern could be the only team left with the necessary Champions League credentials, to be capable of perhaps putting a spoke in the pretensions of the Premiership sides.
At the time, understandably, Alexander Hleb was crucified for sacrificing our last remaining chance of any silverware this season. However I was left feeling sorry for the Bielorussian, as although he was the obvious scapegoat as a result of his naïve and utterly needless foul, which led to PSV’s all-important away goal, in truth this was merely the penultimate act in the miserable pot-boiler of the Arsenal’s succession of failures over the past couple of weeks. What’s more, while the Netherlanders might have nicked a crucial couple of feet, to whip the ball in from a far more threatening angle, the massed ranks of our defence were tasked with taking care of one player. Since it was patently obvious from the stands, I couldn’t believe they weren’t more alive to the fact that their paramount objective was to prevent Alex, undoubtedly PSV’s greatest asset, getting anywhere near the ball, be it by fair means or foul.
Nevertheless this was merely another example of the sort of defensive failings that have plagued us for far too long. While most successful sides are founded on a regimental back-line that reacts like clockwork, our seemingly shambolic approach to defending set-pieces means that we’ve grown accustomed to having to rely on being able to outscore the opposition.
Alex’s goal had the effect of extinguishing the fire of hope that had only been lit a half hour earlier, when he’d inadvertently put the ball in the back of PSV’s net. However having failed to make the most of the opportunities which should’ve afforded us our own away goal in Holland, we were always prone to being hammered by such a devastating sucker punch. So despite this all too brief period of belief that the quarterfinals beckoned, in the back of my mind there was always an abiding fear that we’d basically blown our European ambitions for yet another season out in Eindhoven.
Some Gooners contend that the circumstances might’ve been different if we were involved in an encounter with one of Europe’s footballing superpowers. Yet I have to admit to being jealous of the way the Scousers fulfilled their 12th man obligations, by raising the roof at Anfield the night before. With us being out of every other competition and with this being the biggest occasion under floodlights, at out new stadium to date, after the baptism of the Spurs and Man Utd matches, I was hoping to hear the sort of noise which might truly cause the hair to stand up on the back of my neck for the first time at our new home.
OK so PSV might not be the most glamorous opposition, but considering our entire season rested on the outcome of this game, I would’ve at least expected the two teams to walk out into our grandiose arena, to be greeted by the same sort of wall of noise that we’d witnessed in Liverpool the night before. Of the sort that if it didn’t intimidate the opposition, perhaps it might’ve inspired the Gunners to go for the throat right from the off. Instead of which we had to wait until the second half for a concerted assault on PSV’s goal. When in truth, with our two goal target, we really should have been turning the heat up from the opening whistle, producing an intensity which might’ve put PSV under pressure and resulted in a much needed early goal, rather than allowing the visitors all the time they required to settle into a defensive rhythm. And to my mind the lack of fervour from our support was no less culpable for the fact that we approached the game without sufficient fire in our bellies.
Prior to this match some suggested that we needed to guard against going at PSV too gung-ho. Yet this was always unlikely in light of the lukewarm climate on the night. Sadly, as is all too often the case in over-priced, all-seater Premiership stadia these days, instead of producing the atmosphere that might inspire events on the pitch, an hour passed before our crowd really raised the decibel level, but only in response to the goal. Yet while the atmosphere at every ground has suffered from football’s gentrification, it seems that elsewhere that are still some fans who recognise when a ‘big game noise’ is needed and they continue to pull something out of the bag as far as crowd participation is concerned.
I appreciate that the culture of corporate hospitality is essential to ensure the finances at our new stadium stack up, but I have to wonder if it’s going to end up costing us on the pitch, possibly because we’re dependent on a much higher proportion of these high-rolling hordes than other clubs. Perhaps it’s just me, but where European nights at Highbury were invariably high-octane affairs, I get the sense of a strangely subdued mood at the new gaffe. It’s as if the place has been invaded by an army of less partisan suits, wandering around at half-time in search of the grub and the grog that’s on offer gratis to guests of UEFA’s ubiquitous corporate partners.
Yet considering the club’s proud “never say die” traditions and football’s infallible “funny old game” facet, as witnessed in the “not over until it’s over” events at Upton Park only a few days earlier, what really bothered me last Wednesday was the reaction to PSV’s goal. You’d have never seen the likes of Keown and Adams lie down and accept their fate. Even with only 5 minutes left on the clock, they’d have gone out of the competition still kicking and screaming, right until the last second. And although such staunch characteristics might well exist amongst certain members of Wenger’s current squad, they were hardly likely to demonstrate such indefatigable qualities amidst a mass walk-out, with thousands heading for the exits with their backs to the action. As far as our fickle “audience” was concerned, all hope had left the building, the second Alex headed home!
Meanwhile, despite falling at the last hurdle, Arsène avoided an adverse response to last season’s lack of silverware, by dint of our campaign at least coming to the climax of the Champions League final in Paris. Whereas I suppose the ridiculous “end of the world is nigh” reaction of some harebrained Gooners, to a second successive fallow season, is merely evidence of how high Arsène has raised the bar of our expectations, during his remarkable tenure. By contrast, those of us who are long enough in the tooth to have endured a relative eternity in a silverware starved wilderness by comparison, we certainly won’t be turning on possibly the club’s greatest ever manager and we won’t be losing faith, but will remain eternally grateful that our squad is blessed by one of the best players on the planet. Instead of which, with bevy of youngsters burgeoning with unbelievable talent, we’re just desperate for tomorrow.
e-mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com
Monday, March 12, 2007