I'm sure I wasn't alone in finding Sunday's Carling Cup final difficult to endure, not knowing who I'd rather win (or lose). With it being my Spurs mate's 9-year old son's birthday on Saturday and with them going to Wembley, I guess it would've been great for them to celebrate a win. However the lad enjoyed his first final last season and in truth, if he's going to grow up with the burden of being a Spurs time, I suppose it's about time he started learning the hard facts of life and begins to get accustomed to that annual feeling of disappointment.
Moreover, on the basis that my other Spurs mates would've been absolutely insufferable if they'd actually retained a trophy, even such a Mickey Mouse one (especially if, heaven forfend, we end up enduring another barren season), in the end, there was a good deal of Shadenfreude to be savoured in the penalty shoot-out, particularly when "Big Time" David Bentley put his spot kick wide.
However being up for Man Utd doesn't exactly come easy and this was only on the proviso that ultimately it will be ourselves who'll have the opportunity put an end to all this preposterous talk of a "quintuplet", by winning either the FA Cup, the Champions League, or even both, hopefully putting Utd to the sword in one, or both competitions along the way.
After Saturday's disappointment, Stoke's two late goals against Villa on Sunday were a major filip. Although I couldn't help but feel even more annoyed that we'd failed to take advantage of Villa's slip up. Then again, there's a part of me that wonders if it might actually be an advantage for us to have no option but the win the Champs League to qualify next season. Yet this would be a massive "all or nothing" gamble and if we are going to give ourselves an alternative option, we've got to begin to apply some pressure. Villa have got some seriously awkward encounters coming up but their results are irrelevant, unless we can do our bit by breaking our recent goal drought and beginning a winning run.
Arsène admits that Arshavin is only 80-90 per cent fit (although to my eyes, less than 80 appears more accurate than more than 90!). Nevertheless from the impact Andrey has already had with his cameo moments, it's plainly obvious he's a class act. Mercifully we're at least not being fed the traditional excuses about Andrey needing time to adapt to Premiership footie and with the stars we have to come back from injury in the weeks ahead, I remain relatively optimistic that we're going to be reaping the rewards of the Ruski's arrival, before the season is out, as he and his teammates start to produce the sort of football that leaves all of our far too fickle (not so) faithful feeling more than a little stupid and the rest of us bemused Gooners wondering what might've been, if only we'd struck a vein of form a little sooner.
If only according to the law of averages, I've got to fancy we can't go five games without scoring a goal. But in addition to a much needed confidence boost of a win up at West Brom, I'm hoping this week might also provide an opportunity to witness Jack Wilshere running rings around the old enemy's kids, in the FA Youth Cup Quarterfinal at White Hart Lane.
Come on you Reds
I was sufficiently infuriated by our failure to find the back of the net (again!) on Saturday, to feel like making my frustrations known at the final whistle. Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to join in with the loud chorus of boos, that saw the Gunners departing the field with the sound of our own “supporters” disapprobation ringing in their ears.
Admittedly I was more than a little miffed because I didn’t get the sense that our players left absolutely everything out there on the field, during the closing stages of this match. While Frank Lampard was bagging a seemingly undeserved winner in injury time at the Bridge, I was most disappointed that we couldn’t seem to drum up the same “do or die” urgency, which in the past would’ve resulted in us laying siege to Fulham’s goal for the last 15 minutes. Driven by the knowledge that nothing less than a win would suffice, I fondly recall the way in which opposing teams have visibly seemed to wilt in the dying throes, in the face of the force of nature, which was fuelled by the unrelenting drive and determination of Arsenal sides of yore.
Whereas nowadays, in a squad seemingly devoid of inspirational leadership figures, with the presence and personality to rally the troops when necessary, by cajoling and encouraging in equal measure and with our confidence so brittle that several players seem to lack the bottle to grasp the goal-scoring responsibilities (judging by their infernal insistence on overplaying, when all one wants is for someone to “give it some welly”!), it’s the Gunners who’ve got a tendency to wilt.
Much as I love him, the mild-mannered Kolo Touré isn’t really my idea of captain material. It might be seen as a little “de trop” in these touchy-feely times but instead of a superstitious soul, who’s inherited the armband by default and who’s last out of the loo because a teammate has the trots, I’d much prefer the sort of highly-charged lunatic who’d be headbutting the lockers, before leading his men into battle!
If we’d scored an early goal against Fulham, it would’ve been an entirely different story. But, for example, when our 5 minute flurry at the start of the second half failed to breach Schwarzer’s goal, the energy levels dropped and as the fuse burned out without a bang, one soon got the sense that our players felt as if they were fated for yet another fruitless afternoon.
However on sitting down to endure the low-lights on the box later that night, I was reminded of the wafer thin margins between success and failure. The Carpenters might be a more appropriate moniker than the Gunners, considering how intimate we’ve been with the woodwork this season. With the width of a post denying us a goal for the 12th time, it occurred to me that unlike the bore draws against West Ham and Sunderland, the Cottagers’ more ambitious approach had made for an open encounter, in which we did everything but hit the back of the old onion bag.
As a result, as irate as I was about our 4th successive scoreless domestic draw and the prospect of coming to terms with a weekend which might put the complete kibosh on Champions League qualification, this definitely wasn’t the sort of scandalously poor display that was deserving of such a din of disapproval at the death.
Moreover I would invite all those Gooners who targeted the team (and our manager) as a means of venting their anger, to look a little closer to home in the hunt for an equally culpable scapegoat. If I was annoyed by the apparent lack of passion and commitment in the closing stages, I was no less dismayed by the dearth of any atmosphere. Despite it’s library label, many was the afternoon at Highbury when, in appreciation of the significance of the outcome, the North Bank or the Clock End would rise to the occasion, to create that wall of noise which was capable of sucking the ball into the back of the net, as a match reached its cacophonous climax.
By contrast, Saturday’s crowd was so taciturn that commentating on the radio, Stan Collymore described the occasion as having a testimonial feel to it. Sadly, perhaps it’s the open expanses of our new stadium which don’t lend themselves to creating the concerted clamour that's capable of inspiring the sort of surge of adrenaline that can displace the lactic acid in the fatigued legs of those playing their second game in five days, so that instead of feeling like they’re running through treacle, they’re inspired to fly around the pitch in one last desperate effort to reward the raucous faithful. Or maybe it’s just the fact that our home crowd is made up of far too many “well to do” punters, who no longer appreciate the traditions of the unspoken contract that is their match ticket, whereby in return for pumping up the volume, ones team will play their hearts out.
In truth, it was sweet relief to come home on Saturday and turn on the TV to watch the cricket. In a world filled with footie fans who demand instant gratification as a reward for their extortionate ticket prices, test match cricket remains a last bastion of civility, as a sport where folk continue to applaud the skill and dexterity of the participants, despite a 5-day encounter ending in an inconclusive draw.
Ultimately, no matter what one’s opinion in private, we Gooners are hardly going to encourage the team to go on and win the FA Cup or the Champions League, in an effort to please those fickle fans who gave them the bird and in light of Villa’s subsequent capitulation against Stoke, some of us might want to take a leaf out of Rudyard Kipling’s book, when it comes to meeting with those impostors of triumph and disaster!
Roll on Tuesday and a faith restoring trip to the Hawthorns, in the company of those Gooners whose support remains unconditional!
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Tuesday, March 03, 2009