One of the best things about awaydays such as Sunday's outing is that they occasionally tend to be the proving ground for new chants. So for all those who weren't present at Ninian Park, the latest addition to the Gooner repertoire might not be particularly original (tunewise), but it made me smile. To the same tune of "We're on our way" it goes something like:-
"He's got a twitch, he's got a twitch. Harry Redknapp, he's got a twitch. Where'd he get it, I don't know. How'd he get it, I don't care, all I know is Harry's got a twitch"
In truth, a draw was probably a fair result on Sunday, considering Enckelman wasn't exactly overworked in the Cardiff goal. The fact that we managed to create so few genuine goal scoring opportunities, despite our second half dominance and as Cardiff dropped ever deeper as the clock ticked down, would lend credence to those who argue that we could benefit from the arrival of Arshavin.
In all honesty, I can't recall seeing enough of the player to pass judgement. Yet while I'm certain he's blessed with the sort of guile and craft that befits his inflated price tag, it would be extremely surprising if he was capable of slotting straight into the team and as a result, for us to suddenly start producing the sort of incisive football which has been sorely lacking up until now. In truth, it might take the Ruski until April to adapt to the frantic pace of Premiership footie and to fully come to terms with the players around him (timing of their runs, where best to play them in etc). Thus it would be a bit unrealistic to expect him to be an instant stand-in for our injured Spanish maestro and it will indeed be interesting to see how Arsène intends to play the two of them in the same side.
Nevertheless, while virtually all the teams around us in the Premiership have their moral boosted by the arrival of new signings, giving their challenge some renewed impetus as a result of the influx of some fresh blood and increased competition for places in their dressing rooms, I think it's almost imperative that Arsène makes some sort of significant move during the transfer window, even if it does go against his customary reticence to be pressurised into getting involved in the January madness, not just for positive boost it might give to the moral of our squad and our fans but because of the negative pyschological impact, if we end up as one of the only teams not to strengthen our squad.
From past experience of holding my breath to the point of suffocation during the January transfer window, to avoid any disappointment, I've been saying all along that we shouldn't be surprised if Wenger chooses not to get his cheque book out. However the recent flurry of business conducted elsewhere leaves me feeling fairly certain that Arsène must recognise the fact that he has to be seen to be making some moves to compete with everyone else and for our team to push on and make some sort of challenge for silverware, lest he wants his team to be perceived as merely treading water.
The most optimistic aspect to Sunday's performance was the confident display of Kieran Gibbs. Yet in the light of how impotent the Arsenal appear in the absence of the influential likes of Fabregas, the dynamism of Walcott and hopefully the goal scoring contribution of Eduardo (to name but three), surely even our emu of a manager must appreciate that for him to trot out his traditional line about "having every faith in his squad's ability to challenge for honours" just won't wash this time around.
And unlike the bonkers bandwagon of Wenger knockers, I don't say that with any criticism intended, as it's Le Prof's pertinacious qualities which have been largely responsible for providing us with footballing pleasures beyond my wildest dreams, back when we were paying to watch the likes of McGoldrick, Carter, Kiwomya, Helder et al not so long ago.
Almost four and a half thousand Gooners trekked to Cardiff on Sunday morning, all eager to time travel, a couple of decades, from the sanitised, extortionately priced Premiership product, back to the days of old-school football.
Our modern new stadia might stand as imposing architectural landmarks across this island’s landscape, bringing live football to a wider, largely more affluent “audience”, but Sunday’s outing served as a timely reminder that all that’s been lost in the migration from the tight-confines of the ramshackle terracing of yesteryear, will never be recaptured in the antiseptic environs of these family-friendly, all-seater temples to the gods of Mammon.
In fact I couldn’t escape the symbolism as we approached Ninian Park, confronted by the old and the new, on either side of the road. In their delightful, lilting Welsh accent, the locals were rightly proud of the brand spanking, blue and white edifice, which appears to have risen from the car park opposite their dilapidated old ground, providing the Bluebirds with a home that fulfils all the stringent health & safety criteria, to ensure that their club is equipped should they ever manage to achieve promotion to the promised land of the Premiership.
Yet it was ironic to think that the vast majority of travelling Gooners had been attracted by the prospect of an increasingly rare opportunity (and the last at the old Ninian Park) to savour an old-fashioned football awayday. I wasn’t even aware that I could’ve paid an additional four quid for a ticket in the small seated area in our stand behind the goal. In fact, it’s bizarre to think that there were probably plenty amongst us who’d have been prepared to pay a premium on our reasonably priced £22 tickets, to be reminded how much more fun there was to be had from supporting the Gunners from a standing terrace.
Such a rare privilege (and doubtless the Cardiff fans unruly rep) seemed to have attracted all the old faces out of the woodwork. We travelled West in my pal’s people-mover, with the WAGlette daughter of one of our number accompanied by a South London lad who’s living the Gooner dream as a first-year scholar in the Arsenal Academy, having been part of the youth team set-up since he was in short pants, when a school trip to THOF aged 9 resulted in him signing schoolboy forms.
I could’ve spent the entire 3-hour journey pestering the poor lad with questions but I didn’t want to drive him potty. Instead I sat back to savour a reminder of how far away our current squad is from filling the boots of their more illustrious forbears, watching The Untouchables DVD (review of 2003/04). Although it’s great that a youth team member should make the effort to travel to watch the first XI, in truth I’m not sure whether he was more interested in the footy, or the totty!
With Reading having been relegated and no Premiership sides West of the capital, the drive along the M4 motorway has inevitable cup connotations, considering how many times we’ve made our way along it, to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. There’s also always seemed a certain symbolism to the fact that the French company operating the Severn Bridge toll, charge a seriously inflated £5.60 to cross the bridge into Wales, but that it is free to enter England in the opposite direction.
Having been complicit in the events that pushed Leeds to the brink of bankruptcy, perhaps Peter Ridsdale has learned to be more economically astute as Cardiff chairman. I could’ve probably purchased an entire row of seats at the 1927 Cup Final, for the four quid I was fleeced by his club for a mere matchday programme!
Meanwhile the Toyota Previa felt more like the Tardis, as I stood watching a scene straight out of the 1980s, as the Gooner hordes were frogmarched towards the ground, segregated from the locals by a line of yellow-jacketed riot police on either side, backed up by a clutch of meat-wagons with flashing blue lights and a few ferocious looking, barking Alsatians. Both the old bill and our fans displayed the sort of testosterone (and alcohol!) fuelled body language which made them all look like refugees from the cast of the movie “Scum”.
I don’t know how bad the local bad boys are, but to my mind it was all a little “de trop” and only served to ramp up the sort of tension which probably wouldn’t have existed without such an overbearing police presence. There’s something distinctly invasive about the way in which the police point their video cameras and their telephoto lenses at football crowds. I often feel that it’s an open invitation for certain idiots to act up.
Mercifully there was no sign of any aggro and we all crammed together on to the terracing behind the goal to holler our heads off for 90 fervent minutes, in the sort of concerted fashion which just isn’t feasible in the less confined environment of all-seater stadia. I’d persuaded a Gooner pal from the US to make a tortuous trip up from Devon on a pilgrimage to his first ever away game, telling him that he’d probably never get a better chance to taste the atmosphere of old. Zach was duly blown away by the experience. He couldn’t believe how many of the fans in our corner of the ground spent the entire game almost exclusively focused on baiting one another, rather than watching events on the pitch.
Although they really didn’t miss much. After the home side failed to capitalise on their flurry of opportunities in the first 20 minutes, the Gunners began to take control, but for all our domination of possession and despite plenty of endeavour, sadly the match petered out into a bit of a stalemate.
My “septic” pal joked at the break about the extreme differences between a sporting event in the States and I must admit it was a rare pleasure to be able to openly suck on a cigarette, without having to skulk in the karseys, or to have to surreptitiously hide the fag smoke up my coat sleeve, for fear of being thrown out. Judging by the exotic odours in the air, nicotine wasn’t the only pleasure being taken. In my most humble opinion, the Welsh police might consider making marijuana smoking not merely legal, but obligatory, so that Cardiff’s more troublesome larrikins might enjoy an all together more chilled out atmosphere.
Perhaps young Aaron was trying just a little too hard to make a big impression, on his return to Ninian Park, as the lad couldn’t seem to put a foot right. It was eventually a relief to see Ramsey replaced by Diaby on the hour, as Abou’s presence in the middle of the park enabled us to put Cardiff under the cosh. Yet for all our toil, the Arsenal patently lacked the sort of inventive spark necessary to unpick the home side’s lock and so long as Enckelman stood tall in his goalmouth, it was going to take a genuine moment of wizadry to decide this match.
Especially when the home side’s ambition waned towards the end of the game. I assume the replay will earn the Cardiff players a bonus, as I can’t recall the last time I saw the home team taking the ball to the corner flag, at 0-0, with 5 minutes left on the clock, much to their fans chagrin. But then I guess we will both have to take comfort from the fact that our sides remained in the hat for an advantageous home draw in the 5th round.
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Monday, January 26, 2009