Saturday, December 27, 2008

Never Mind The Festive Spirit, Give Me More Of That Good Old Arsenal Spirit

The two giant screens in the opposite corners of Villa Park taunted the home fans on Friday, as they trumpeted out the utterly bizarre match stats, into a brass monkey Boxing (St. Stephen’s) Day night. With Denilson having silenced the Holte End 5-minutes before half-time, we duly took our cue to rub their faces in it, as a chant of “we’ve only had one shot” rung out from our end of the Doug Ellis stand. This was soon followed by a chorus of “we’ve only had two shots”, when Diaby knocked any remaining stuffing out of the Brummy turkeys, by banging in a second so soon after the break.

Yet in truth, I don’t want to contradict our manager, but it would’ve been something of a travesty if we’d trundled back down to the capital with all 3 points. Considering I would’ve gladly taken a draw, if offered it prior to the game and the fact that on a more fortuitous afternoon, Martin O’Neill’s side would’ve been home and hosed by half-time, I couldn’t really moan about us ending up with only a point.

Mind you, most displeasing is the emergence of an unwelcome pattern of matches in which we’ve been undone in injury time. Bad luck could account for the odd game, but when shooting ourselves in the foot, by giving away last gasp goals, begins to feel like Groundhog Day, you can’t help but question whether it’s complacency, or a lack of focus and commitment that’s to blame.

Who knows whether it’s pertinent that Villa had 9 English players out on the park, while our sole home grown prodigy was once again warming the bench in what’s fast becoming Jack Wilshere’s habitual pitch. But when I watched the replay later that night of Villa’s man mountain of a centre-back burying the equaliser with virtually the last kick of the game, thereby preventing us leapfrogging them into 4th, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that they simply wanted it that little bit more than we did?

Still, compared to Sunday’s pedestrian affair against Pompey, the Villa game was corking entertainment. There’s some suggestion that Kolo Touré is still suffering from the after effects of a bout of malaria. In some respects I hope this is the case, as the former world-class defender would at least have a good excuse for his drastic dip in form. However Kolo was far from the only clown to contribute to the comedic defending, which had us all laughing, so long as our goal continued to live a charmed life.

Rarely have I seen the momentum in a match swing so dramatically, for where we struggled to string two passes together as Villa laid siege to our goal during the first-half, after our smash and grab goal and Bakari Sagna’s incredibly agile contender for goal-line clearance of the season, no sooner had Eboué and Diaby combined to score a second 4-minutes into the second half, than we were suddenly transformed, back into the passing machine, capable of laying waste to all before us.

We had enough opportunities to put the game to bed, before Gallas’ rash challenge resulted in a penalty and le Prof’s touchline altercation with O’Neill. Who could’ve possibly imagined that the man who arrived from Japan as the master of Zen and the art of football management, would be reduced to inciting his counterpart with “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” gestures!

Nevertheless, it’s good to know that the fire still burns so bright in our customarily phlegmatic manager. I only wish all of our players were equally as passionate, for as Villa sensed our fragility, they emerged from their shell, while we withdrew back into ours. If there’s one facet of Arsène’s management which I’ve forever found baffling, it’s his substitution tactics, where he invariably sticks stubbornly to a gameplan, when other managers might react more instinctively.

OK so he threw on a third striker, when the chips were down with 25 to go against Pompey on Sunday, knowing we simply couldn’t afford to drop more home points. But it was hardly a big gamble sending Vela on, when the visitors where barely venturing past the halfway line by that stage.

However against Villa it was patently obvious that Van Persie had run out of puff late on. Robin definitely isn’t cut out for the lone striker’s role, yet he’d done his best at a passable impersonation. I simply couldn’t fathom why Wenger didn’t replace him with some fresh young legs, who could’ve helped to take the pressure off our defence, by keeping the ball in the opposition’s half of the pitch.

Diaby’s goal was noteworthy because it’s one of the few times this season we’ve witnessed a midfielder in red & white making a run in advance of our strikers, whereas on Sunday Pompey had few problems containing our decidedly flaccid forward play. But instead of looking for an alternative means of picking the visitors lock, Wenger merely chose to try and overcome by weight of numbers. I really don’t see the point of carrying Wilshere around with them as some sort of mascot, when we know to our cost that this side hasn’t had the guile so far this season to break down the brick wall of a 10-man defence.

In Sunday’s programme notes Arsène claimed that quality wise, last season was one of his best teams ever. However never mind the 60,000 quoted attendance figures, the large number of empty seats at our place on Sunday was a litmus test of the lack of enthusiasm felt by the more fickle members of our not so faithful, towards the current first XI. Even those who turned up were more inclined to jeer than to cheer, saving the loudest song of the afternoon (other than the goal celebrations) to exalt Tony Adams.

While it might be a complete myth that players still exist in the modern game whose loyalty can’t be bought by the highest bidder, where Liverpool have the likes of Carragher and Chelsea have John Terry (I was going to include Gerrard but under the circumstances, its hardly appropriate to use the apparent bar room brawler as a suitable example but then I suppose the same could be said about Terry!!), in the long-term absence of Theo Walcott, we Gooners don’t really have any first team players we can truly relate to as one of our own, whose names can be applied to our replica shirts, secure in the knowledge they will remain at the club, long enough for us to get some wear out of them.

That’s why Tony Adams return at the weekend proved so nostalgic and since you just can’t buy this sort of sentiment off the shelf, if Arsène has anywhere near the sort of faith he claims to have in some of our homegrown crop, he needs to start giving them their head, if he wants to restore the sort of pride that is guaranteed to put bums on seats and the sort of team-spirit that will not lie down until the last kick of the game.

A happy & healthy New Year to one and all
Peace & Love
Bernard

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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Monday, December 22, 2008

If Santa's a Gooner, Then Surely Not A Fabu-less Xmas?

Hi folks,

Just to explain, my Scouse pal, Steve Kelly, who writes the Liverpool fan's column for the Irish Examiner, lost his father this week, hence the tribute at the end of this week's piece.

Meanwhile I thought it was an impact injury when Fabregas limped off, but if it's true he's strained his medial ligaments and is out for up to 3 weeks, thereby missing the entire Xmas schedule, it could either prove to be the final nail in our Premiership campaign coffin, or will the others step up to the plate, as the likes of Denilson finally comes of age?

Although it doesn't matter how well our midfield performs, if our defense can be undone by a single ball over the top. This was all the more disappointing on Sunday, when you consider that Gallas and Djourou are probably both quicker than Robbie Keane and our entire defence is going to have to be fully focused, if they're going to cope with the frightening pace of Ashley Young & Agbonlahor.

Here's hoping that it's Villa who are the turkey that gets stuffed this Xmas
Wishing you all a Merry Xmas/Chanukah and a happy & healthy New Year
Come on you Reds
Bernard

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It’s amazing that it takes a sense of outrage and injustice to get Arsenal fans up and out of their seats nowadays, offering the sort of vocal support that at long last turned our new stadium into an intimidating cauldron of noise on Sunday. In fact considering the way in which the atmosphere went from its customary lukewarm, to white hot, as a result of the apoplectic riposte to Howard Webb’s red card and that this in turn prompted such a positive response on the pitch, I was left quipping “I wish he’d sent Adebayor off half an hour ago”.

Having seen Fabregas limp off at half-time, in truth I feared the worst when we saw Diaby warming up during the break. Although Cesc doesn’t quite have the same talismanic status as Steve Gerrard, it must’ve been a major body blow to lose our best player (and captain to boot), in the midst of a match that had been built up as a must win contest, if the Gunners were to cling on to any genuine title pretensions.

Personally I think that 2 wins and a draw is a more than acceptable return from the so-called mini-league between the top teams. In seasons past these stats have proved significant because we were the only sides that could be expected to beat one another. However in such an unprecedented campaign, where all the big clubs are blowing points against the lesser lights, in such a profligate fashion and could conceivably continue to do so, when playing for such high stakes every week, with the entire chasing pack only 2 games away from either the relegation mire, or a potential seat aboard the UEFA Cup gravy train, this mini-league isn’t likely to matter nearly so much, as our comparative results against the remaining 16 sides.

In this context and with Gooner bums beginning to squeak over the perceived threat to our highly-prized Champs League berth - no matter how much Martin O’Neill tries to minimize the expectation levels and the pressure upon his Villa side, by playing down his club’s (hopefully temporary) intrusion into the top of the table game of musical chairs - our Boxing Day outing to Birmingham could prove far more important, both in a practical and psychological sense, than Sunday’s inconclusive affair.

Watching Diaby’s rigorous warm-up routine, my first thought was that perhaps the loss of Fabregas wouldn’t be felt so acutely, if Abou was to be given a rare opportunity to replace Cesc in the heart of our midfield. It wasn’t until the battle was rejoined, that I realised Wenger was always likely to opt for restoring Denilson to the middle of the park, alongside Song, with Nasri switching to the right flank and Diaby on the left.

Don’t get me wrong; all 4 players have great individual attributes. Yet each also has their failings and it was no real surprise the Scousers gained the upper hand early in the second half. I can’t envisage any Premiership side being exactly intimidated by the prospect of facing up to this midfield foursome and if that’s the last we’ve seen of our captain this Xmas, I imagine Villa will be looking at a Fabregas-less team sheet on Boxing Day and really fancying their chances!

Liverpool’s left-back was impressive, but this was partially due to the fact that Nasri lacked sufficient match fitness to offer Sagna much succour in the second half. Still, Samir’s perfectly weighted pass for Van Persie’s goal was evidence enough of the sublime quality that merits his inclusion. Song also deserves credit for working his socks off, but sadly Alex appears somewhat clueless whenever he gets into advanced positions.

Denilson is another grafter and at only 21, he continues to mature into an increasingly valuable asset. But the Brazilian lad still isn’t cut out to be our main man, as he’s not blessed with the physical presence to impose himself upon the more feisty battles and has yet to demonstrate the perceptive instincts to be the Gunners principle orchestrator.

As for Diaby, I get the distinct sense he doesn’t enjoy the wide role Wenger has chosen for him of late. When everyone else was putting their shoulder to the wheel after being reduced to ten, Abou should’ve had the freshest legs of them all. But he was the only player in red & white who didn’t really look up for it.

Speaking of colours, what was that Liverpool kit all about? The Scousers half-home, half-away ensemble only added to the potential for confusion. I therefore assume it was chosen at Webb’s behest, so that an official, who’s the antithesis of an inconspicuous ref, might stand out that bit more!

Then again if it wasn’t for Webb demonstrating the lack of insight of someone who can’t possibly have ever kicked a ball, we might not have witnessed the display of fighting spirit, that was in such contrast to some of the insouciance we’ve suffered this season.

I adored Van Persie’s quote about scoring with his “chocolate leg” and Robin will soon top every Gooners’ Xmas card list, if he continues to maintain the level of desire and commitment he displayed against Liverpool. Not that I want a striker conceding reckless free-kicks on the edge of our area, but give me this sort of tenacity any day, over the indifference of an overpaid prima donna, who doesn’t think work-rate comes within his remit.

Meanwhile, as certain as I am that the rumours linking Wenger to Real Madrid are utter codswallop, I can’t help but wonder if something major is in the offing. It’s the only conclusion I can draw as to the motivation for the positively Machievellian shenanigans that have resulted in the ousting of such a seemingly innocuous board member as Lady Nina.

If the Gunners aren’t destined to mount a serious title challenge this season, I hope the Scouser’s go on to triumph, in honour of Steve Kelly’s dear old dad. I guess the passing of time and Benitez’ kidney stone will tell.

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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Monday, December 15, 2008

All I Want For Xmas Is A Little Fighting Spirit (Oh Yes....And My Two Front Teeth!)

With the Gunners recent tendency to raise our game against top notch opposition, compared to our worryingly inept displays against the weaker teams, it might be argued that we could benefit from qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League as group runners up. In fact I could easily envisage us amazing the footballing world by blowing Barca’s dreams of European glory, only to make an embarrassing exit against the likes of Panathinaikos in the quarterfinals.

Nevertheless this is no argument for us losing to Porto last week, as it’s that all too elusive winning habit which is of paramount importance and there was certainly no sense of achievement amongst the disconsolate team who trudged off the pitch in Portugal.

Considering his insistence on towing the “100% committed” party line, I’m not so sure Le Prof will have approved of Almunia breaking ranks to tell it like it is. But I for one was pleased to hear our keeper’s “the king has no clothes” type comments concerning a lack of effort, in the heat of his frustration, in the immediate aftermath of yet another disappointing display.

Even the most blinkered, nay blind amongst the Gooner faithful will have sensed the air of disunity that exists in our dressing room. A mood made manifest on the pitch by players who, instead of rallying around one another, are all too rapidly looking to point the finger of blame.

Doubtless the façade of sweetness and light would soon be restored, if only we could string some back-to-back results. together But if it’s indeed true that you can best judge a person’s character in adversity, then Wenger’s current squad would appear to be woefully short on character and a little too long for my liking on players motivated by self-glorification and the prospect of lining their own pockets!

It wasn’t so long ago that the privilege of watching Arsène’s Arsenal play live was cheap at any price and worth all the hardship. However it’s not so surprising that I struggled to find anyone meshuga enough to want accompany me to Middlesbrough. Maybe it’s force of habit in my case, or the need to lend some credibility to these musings, but I have to admit that come 3pm on Saturday and facing a tortuous train journey back from Teeside, a point seemed a poor reward.

I was questioning the sanity of having blown the best part of 150 quid to travel to the North-East at the crack of dawn on a wet and depressingly gloomy winter’s day, only to be frozen stiff in a half-empty Riverside stadium, merely for the wind-up of yet another frustratingly fragile Arsenal performance. When I could’ve been at home screaming at the box, but with my feet up in front of the fire!

Then again, it’s far worse for my blood pressure watching such unsatisfying Arsenal displays on TV. Perhaps it’s that impotent feeling of not being able to influence proceedings, but for some strange reason I get far more angry watching live games on the telly, than when on the terraces. I always end up turning the air blue with my cussing and causing my missus to fret, as Róna’s convinced that the neighbours must think my torrents of abuse are directed at her.

Some players would have us believe that scoring a goal is better than sex. Well let me tell you that for us Gooners, the Arsenal experience at present is akin to the emasculated lack of fulfilment associated with very bad sex (or so I’m told!).

Perhaps the worst thing about Saturday’s failure to secure 3 points against such a patched up Boro side, was the tease of the 15-minute spell prior to Aliadière’s opportunistic equaliser, when we began to pass the ball around with all the one-touch élan of the Arsenal of old.
We couldn’t have wished for a more obvious example of our Jekyll & Hyde nature as we demonstrated how competent we are when everything’s hunky dory, but with our confidence currently so brittle, the moment things began to go awry, there’s no mistaking the complete dearth of anyone with the strength of personality, to act as rock around which the rest of the team can rally.

Worse still is that while the likes of Gael Clichy is first in line to be the fall-guy, by at least giving it a go, it would appear there are others who seem to think that it’s safer to shirk responsibility and avoid any blame. Amongst them, our keeper’s position on his high horse didn’t seem so secure, as although the peroxide one dashed off his line to sweep up on occasion, at other times Almunia appeared to prefer to stop at home, leaving his defence to do the job, when a commanding keeper would’ve come screaming out, brushing aside all in his way.

Unlike the confines of a boxing ring, perhaps you can run and hide on a football pitch. Yet if the TV cameras don’t pick it up, it’s patently obvious to those of us present, when uncommitted players are guilty of a jobsworth attitude, leaving others to mop up when the opposition has breached their particular domain on the park. To my mind total football doesn’t just apply when one is in possession and unless we defend as a team, we’re always going to come unstuck.

As ever, I can forgive anyone a bad day at the office, but considering the sacrifices we make to support the lads, you can’t help but feel cheated by a lack of graft and fighting spirit. Moreover it feels like a piss take if they’re capable of turning up the heat in the last 10 mins, when so many of them have been on the missing list for the previous 80?

The sight of Theo Walcott sporting a natty black sling (he might not have splashed out on an Audi R8, but no crap crepe bandage for our Theo) at the Sport’s Personality of the Year awards, only served to remind us how far he is from returning to the fray. I don’t see how Arsène can continue to claim our squad has sufficient depth, when he’s forced to play Diaby & Denilson on the flanks, where both do a pretty feeble impersonation of a winger. But then Wenger is far from alone, when it comes to ignoring the old “if you can’t go through ‘em, go around ‘em” adage, as neither Scolari nor Benitez appear to have a penchant for playing with natural wide men. Who am I to question the tactics of such luminaries, or at least not until Fergie makes fools of them all, when Man Utd win the title?

Meanwhile with Sunderland suddenly scoring goals with gay abandon, so soon after Roy Keane chose to quit the good ship Quinn (it’s utterly ridiculous that so many managers are under such intense pressure, when they all remain only a couple of good results away from mid-table security), Murphy’s Law was much in evidence this weekend.

I’ve grown positively ancient, waiting in vain for Spurs to do us a favour against Man Utd and it’s ironic that they finally get around to taking points off our nemesis, in the one season when it looks far more likely that we’ll end up worrying about the teams (hopefully!) below us, than what the title contenders are up to. What outrageous odds would one have got on a treble, with Hull and the Hammers taking points from Anfield and the Bridge! I’m not sure whether to be grateful that the gap hasn’t widened, while the top three all appear afflicted with a similarly inconsistent curse, or to start panicking about the momentum of Martin O’Neil’s enthusiastic troops.

Time and team spirit will tell?

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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Monday, December 08, 2008

Arsène Wenger’s Jeckyll & Hyde Army

I’m unsure whether it’s a change in attitudes of a Reality TV driven society in general, or the nature of football fans in particular that accounts for the abhorrent “pays your money, have your say” type behaviour, witnessed from so many Arsenal fans this weekend. It certainly doesn’t amount to my idea of “supporting” one’s team, to hear our own crowd laying into a player with such vociferous venom, that Wenger felt forced to sub the sub, saving him from further punishment by withdrawing him from the fray.

Having failed to secure that all-important second goal, as the Gunners contrived to shoot themselves in the foot during the nervy closing stages of Saturday’s encounter with Wigan, believe me, I was no less angry than anyone else, with Eboué’s succession of calamitous interventions. But from a purely objective point of view, it can’t possibly be of benefit to the club for our own crowd to slaughter one of our own assets, to the point where he ended up leaving the field as damaged goods, with Manny suffering the sort of psychological damage that’s far less straightforward to heal than any physical injury.

Since time immemorial, there’ve been boo-boys on the terraces who’ve had a tendency to pick on certain players, making them a scapegoat for all their team’s woes and it’s always bothered me how quick they’ve been to get on the backs of their pet target, instead of offering them some encouragement.

Yet where in the past teams could count on gaining a 12th man advantage from the inspiration afforded by the majority of their home crowd, sadly in more recent times, we’ve witnessed the demise of the sort of unconditional contract that once existed between a club and its fans, to express our support through thick and thin.

As evidenced by the way in which the league leaders were booed off at Anfield last week, after they failed to secure the 3 points their fans expected from a home game against West Ham, it seems that for the vast majority of fans nowadays, their support has become strictly conditional. Succeed and we will cheer you name to the rafters, fail and we'll make your life a living hell!

Having been guilty of the sort of immature behaviour that’s hardly endeared him to the majority of Gooners, Manny must be more than used to being given the bird by a section of the Arsenal crowd. Myself I was prepared to cut the Ivorian kid some slack. Considering he’d not seen any first team action since October, some ring rustiness wasn’t so surprising. But it wasn’t so much the booing that bothered me, because sadly it’s become par for the course when Eboué is out on the park. What I found utterly reprehensible was the way in which such a large proportion of our crowd rose as one, to revel in his departure, cheering almost as enthusiastically as they’d celebrated, when Adebayor scored what turned out to be the winning goal.

With what will have sounded to him like the jeers of the entire 60,000 crowd ringing in his ears, it’s no wonder Eboué trotted straight off down the tunnel, a broken man. Perhaps Wenger will still be able to make use of him away from home and it could prove expedient to get him straight back on the horse in Porto this week. However much as he did with Alex Song, after a nightmare performance at Craven Cottage a couple of seasons back, our manager might think it best for Manny to disappear long enough to rebuild his shattered confidence and to give the fans time to forget.

Although should this be the case, I hope our fickle fans are happy with their day’s work, doing such a consummate demolition job, when injuries and suspensions continue to take their toll and we end up regretting not having Eboué around as an option!

This lynch mob mentality is certainly not peculiar to the Arsenal (and is all too often media driven – as Paul Ince can doubtless testify) but much to my chagrin, it’s perhaps more apparent at our new place.

In a marvelous MOTD2 feature about the experience of blind fans at the Arsenal on TV on Sunday night (with Dixon & Keown on the couch, it was like an Arsenal love-in, aside from the presence of staunch Baggies fan, presenter Adrian Childs - although it's worth having an outsider because the involvement of a genuine footie fan makes MOTD2 eminently more watchable), I was amazed to hear it revealed that the club even installed a guide dog toilet area when building the new stadium. Yet having saved us from the perils of the doings of half a dozen highly trained labradors, the club don’t seem to have paid nearly so much heed to the problems of the huge piles of horseshit plopped liberally around the ground at every game.

Aside from such fabulous facilities for the blind, the principal consequence of our move has been the additional capacity. We now have 20,000 more fans coming to every home game, the majority of whom seem to show little or no understanding of the traditional obligations that used to come with the price of a football ticket. It’s a Premiership wide problem that our crowds no longer seem to show any appreciation of, or an inclination to play their role in the proceedings. But it is perhaps more prevalent at the Arsenal, because so many of the seats (one third!) are occupied by a passive theatre style audience that sits back and only responds on cue, either to the bringing on of the dancing girls, or the appearance of the pantomime villain.

Yet support is a two-way street, where in the face of a dip in form (or a descent into a positively cosmic chasm of cock-ups in Eboués case!), we can only be expected to remain staunch, so long as we’re confident there’s no lack of effort or commitment to the club’s cause. In an age where contracts are not worth the paper they are written on and agents can convince a player to change clubs with less deliberation than is involved in a change of underpants, our pipers motivation has become all the more debatable, as we question whether it’s merely pound notes which dictates their obscenely priced melody.

Obviously he’d be too old and too uncultured to feature on Arsène’s radar, but watching Fulham v Man City before our game on Saturday, it occurred to me that we could do far worse than signing an honest Cockney lad like Jimmy Bullard. Apart from the inspiration of his energetic efforts (and the fact that he strikes a wicked dead ball), he’d be the sort of player our fans could relate to.

My missus isn’t nearly so enthusiastic about accompanying me to matches recently, as in the absence of characters in the mould of Adams, Wright and Henry, Róna doesn’t get the sense that the current Arsenal squad shares that same level of burning passion for the club, that would see them run through brick walls for the Gunners cause. But then what can you expect, in an era of insincerity, when players can be kissing the badge on their shirt one day and using it to clean their Bentley’s (or should I say give it to the boy to do) the next.

Meanwhile questions about the modern day’s stars’ commitment might not be uncommon but I know I wasn’t alone on Saturday in being more than a little shocked by the complete lack of commonality with those around me. Bring on the Boro and a long schlep to the North-East that’s guaranteed to sift out the sort of genuine Gooners capable of restoring my faith in my Arsenal tribe.

To end on a more positive note, in a TV interview on Football Focus that reflected so well on the charm of our new captain (where I can only assume that the genial, but utterly clueless Manish must've been handed his questions), Cesc Fabregas told how he doesn’t owe anybody “apart from my dad, my mum and Arsène Wenger”. Doubtless he’ll have signed for Real Madrid before the transfer window is out!

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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Monday, December 01, 2008

BOGOF Blues (or "Foccacia")

Hi folks

So much to gloat about and as ever, so few words with which to do it in, with me becoming increasingly paranoid about pissing off the Examiner sports ed that I sit here pairing down every last phrase to its minimum word requirements. As a result, I fully intend on expanding on my joy over yesterday's triumph, a success which was made all the sweeter because of the bitter pills we've had to swallow in recent weeks. But with the ballet going into the Coliseum this week for the Xmas season, I thought I'd better get this piece posted, in case I don't get an opportunity to pontificate further on the positives of a great day out at the Bridge.

For example on the face of it, the consequences of William Gallas' misguided comments don't appear to be all bad, since Robin Van Persie suddenly looks as if he has a lot more to prove. What's more there were at least a couple of occasions yesterday when I was concerned that Robin the boy wonder looked to be feeling so hard done by, that I was worried he might end up doing something silly, in a typically hotheaded attempt to seek retribution. Instead of which, I thought I perceived a new found air of responsibility towards the cause from the way in which he appeared to exercise some self-control.

Not to mention Johann Djourou, who could've easily let the own goal ruin his day but the manner in which he carried on as if it hadn't happened, Djourou increasingly impresses me as an incredibly cool customer. I seem to recall one instance where Johann committed the cardinal sin of passing across his own back line and for a second my heart was in my mouth, as it would've been total suicide if this pass had been intercepted on the edge of our own area. But it was merely another demonstration of quite how confident the Swiss lad is in his own ability. Meanwhile although William Gallas was always going to be bang up for not giving an inch to his old employers, the two of them provided as composed a centre-back partnership as we've witnessed for a while

But if I'm not careful I will have rambled on into the lengthy preamble that I was saving for later.

So here's to following Sunday's victory up with another scintillating show from the kids at Burnley

Come on you Reds
Peace & Love
Bernard
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Doubtless my Chelsea supporting colleague in the Irish Examiner might point to the fact that the most telling difference in Sunday’s derby duel was that we gobbled up our two goal-scoring opportunities, while all bar one of the Blues scant attempts to breach the Gunners bulwark were wayward. However there was something in the way our Dutch striker seized upon his two glimpses of goal, in such a ravenous fashion, which spoke volumes as to Van Persie’s appetite.

After the torment of eating more dirt this past month than we’ve had to endure in many a moon, from where I sat behind the goal at the Bridge, I sensed that both in the stands and out on the park, the Arsenal were that much hungrier than the home side. In fact it was almost worth getting mullahed by Man City, if it proved the inspiration for this demonstration that there remains only “one team in London!”

Yet after the disappointment of the two defeats that followed our win against Man Utd, there will be few Gooners who’ll be deluded by another potential false dawn, at least not until we’ve passed the more prosaic “park the bus” tests, posed by the likes of Wigan and Boro in the coming weeks.

As we invariably seem to give such a good account of ourselves against the top teams, I’ve often wondered whether it’s a lack of motivation that results in us appearing somewhat enervated against less formidable opposition. But I’ve since come to the conclusion that these glamour games are quite liberating, knowing that we’re likely to be afforded an opportunity to express ourselves in a genuine contest of football ability. By contrast, against the league’s lesser lights, we’re perhaps inhibited by a sense of apprehension, caused by our familiarity with the frustration of having to contend with the opposition’s spoiler tactics

Nevertheless, this isn’t an excuse which applies to last week’s capitulation at Eastlands. I only began to appreciate quite how woefully poor our performance against City was, watching Man Utd make such light work of carving City open, during the first course in Sunday’s derby smorgasbord.

Perhaps the only benefit to being cast somewhat adrift from the top of the table, is that one can savour our success against the Blues, without losing any sleep about the prospect of giving Liverpool a leg-up and without giving a hoot about how Man Utd fared. In fact, after my Spurs pal had pointed out that they could end up only 5 points behind us come Monday morning, I was far more delighted to hear that the Toffees had turned Tottenham over, than I would’ve been if City had managed to get another one over on their local rivals.

It certainly resulted in a lot more pleasure, reminding some of my mates that Harry’s Houdini act was already old hat, with them only goal difference away from a relegation zone reunion, while we’d rejoined the elite, only 4 points away from amassing double their meagre total. Still I don’t think there’s a player in the Premiership who’s responsible for more Shadenfreude than Ronaldo (who reminds me of a Lipizzaner horse, when he gets stuck in step-over mode) and having got himself sent off and with only a goal in their game, it was hard to tear myself away from the TV in time to make KO at the Bridge.

I ended up typically tardy, nearly losing my rag along with all the other Gooners caught up in long turnstile queues resulting from the stewards’ gratuitous delays (“no I’m not pleased to see you, that’s a mobile in my pocket”). I felt we held our own for much of the first-half, until the period of pressure which resulted in Djourou’s mishap. Athough Almunia was equally culpable for the OG, gifting them possession with his reckless throw-out. But then, with our confidence having taken such a hiding in recent weeks, we seemed to visibly wilt.

It’s interesting to note that Malouda was the only natural wide-man on the park for either team and he spent his afternoon in Sagna’s pocket. Chelsea’s only outlet on the flanks and their best player before the break was Bosingwa. It was only later that it occurred to me that their full-back might’ve been forced to curb his attacking instincts in the second-half, as Nasri came into the game more.

Far from being downhearted at half-time, I was happy to still be involved in a close fought contest, as a performance like last week’s fiasco might’ve seen us played off the park. A reprise of last season’s “buy one, get one free” goading, in response to the Blues ticket sales announcements was the source of some much needed merriment, having just been mugged of £3.50 for a bit of bread with half on olive on top. I thought the bloke behind the counter was having a pop at me, with his “Foccacia” response to my enquiry as to the things beside the pasties.

Van Persie’s timely two-goal intervention on the hour was just the spark that was needed to expunge any “men against boys” insecurities, as suddenly everyone in red & white appeared to increase in stature by 6 inches. Without the driving force of the likes of Essien, Chelsea seem to lack some of the “never say die” spirit, which would’ve normally had me holding my breath until the last kick of the ball and while my heart was in my mouth on the odd occasion, on the pitch we were far more composed in defence, than I can remember us being for a long while.

Above all, it was poetic justice that Clichy completely outshone Cashley, but then nearly all the Gunners deserve credit for their committed performances. Even Denilson and Song, despite frustrating the hell out of me with their habit of conceding naïve free-kicks, as a result of the lapses that all too often allow an opponent to get goalside.

My one real broadside is reserved for Adebayor, as despite setting up our second goal, for much of the game I was quite frankly flabbergasted by his apparent lack of enthusiasm. That I was so eager for the Togonator to be replaced by Bendtner (who’s hardly Mr Selfless in my eyes), tells you all you need to know and “foccacia” would’ve sounded like a compliment, compared to the way in which the bloke behind was coating off the lazy lummox.

Not wanting to end on a negative, I immediately phoned my sister on exiting the Bridge, to advise her (albeit in guarded tones since I was surrounded by Blues fans) that she was OK to go into work on Monday and to encourage her to “give it large” to her Chelsea supporting partner. She replied “you must be joking, after the stick I’ve suffered from him these past few weeks, I could be on my deathbed and I’d have them carry me in tomorrow!”

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