G'day fellow Gooners,
A sunny day out in Wigan! Now there's something you don't hear very often and it couldn't have been further from the truth the way we were all feeling at half-time. But the sun wasn't alone in wearing a smile by the final whistle, with the additional two goals at the death which were more than enough to mask our previous dissatisfaction with an hour of positively impotent football.
It was hard to believe we were the side with the extra man in midfield, considering how much difficulty we had in retaining possession and while it was Theo Walcott's goal which seemed to knock the stuffing out of Wigan, it was the removal of Denilson and the reversion to 4-4-2 (combined with the home side running out of puff and motivation) which actually had the most significant impact, as we went from a team who'd struggled to test Kirkland all afternoon, to suddenly returning to the expansive Arsenal side that's capable of cutting a swathe through all comers.
Considering I've knocked the pundits who suggested Cesc as their MOTM below, I feel obliged to make some alternative suggestion. I guess it would have to be between Shava and Song. Arshavin for having the nous and the determination to flick the ball to Theo, from a prone position, on the deck in the penalty area. Not to mention the hunger to pounce on Koumas' mistake for our third. Also it wasn't until I watched the highlights that it dawned on me quite what a marvelous team goal, it would've been, if Shava had found the net instead of the post a few minutes earlier (or if Vann Persie hadn't been offside when he stabbed home the rebound).
Perhaps Song was no less guilty than the rest of our midfield for the casual attitude that prevailed during the first hour of the game. But he came on strong with all of them once the substitutions had been made and I'd have given him the MOTM award, just to make sure that it was indeed Alex Song and not some impostor in a disguise who weaved his way forward for the final flourish.
Meanwhile I hope no one will take offence at my reference below to Hillsborough. On reflection it might sound a little callous of me to equate anything as meaningless as a ball game, to the tragedy endured by the families and friends of all those who lost their lives that day. Nevertheless, if the dead had a voice, I feel sure that more than anyone, they would espouse the belief that "the show must go on"
Peace & Love
As we headed North amidst the drizzle of a miserably grey Easter Saturday morning, my suggestion from the back of the motor that the weather was likely to improve, was greeted with understandable cynicism by my fellow Gooners up front. Wigan is a hop and a skip from Manchester and as we all know “it always rains in Manchester”.
However as I awoke from a welcome snooze, after an early start, to find that we were motoring along the A50, past the Britannia Stadium in Stoke, it was all blue skies and bright sunshine. With my radio tuned to the coverage of the emotional scenes at Anfield’s early KO, it was as though the sun itself had doffed it’s hat (the golden orb, not the gobshite tabloid!), in remembrance of that fateful day a couple of decades back.
Nearly every travelling fan has their own horror stories of the sort of sardine like circumstances, where we’ve felt in serious danger of having the very life crushed out of us, in the pursuit of our footballing pleasures. Hillsborough was indeed an “accident” waiting to happen and although there was some good to come out of such a tragic loss of life, with the resulting transition from the toilets of yesteryear, to the family friendly environments of our modern Premiership stadia, in some sense the mourning for the 96 who died will always be synonymous in my mind with the demise of the people’s game, as the price to be paid for the knee-jerk climate that spawned the Taylor Report, has been a metamorphosis into a more upmarket, more sanitized past-time for people who can afford it.
A major overhaul was inevitable but without the hyperbole that followed Hillsborough, we might have witnessed a more gradual, more benign transformation, something along the lines of the Bundesliga, where standing terraces aren’t seen as the exclusive domain of the devil’s spawn. It wasn’t the terraces that were responsible for all those deaths, but those who policed them and there are many who will argue that it’s no less dangerous to force fans who insist on standing, into some of the extremely cramped confines of many of our not so well proportioned all-seater stadia.
By contrast we Gooners are fortunate to have a wonderful, purpose-built new ground. Yet those of us who were weaned at our Highbury Home of Football continue to grieve our recent loss, as our intimate place of worship has been replaced by an antiseptic glass and concrete cathedral. Still it’s all trivial, relative to the genuine heartache of those who were left to cope with Hillsborough’s human cost. Yet many of the dead must be turning over in their graves, at the total transformation of the game since their harrowing departure from this mortal coil.
Arriving in Wigan, I’m sure I wasn’t the only Gooner to smirk at the not very old, nor particularly permanent sign, welcoming us to “the home of Premiership Football”. I assume Kieran Gibbs must’ve seen another sign, welcoming him to the home of Rugby League, judging by the way in which he wrestled Valencia to the ground just before halftime. Only the width of the woodwork and Wiley’s benevolence prevented us going in at the break with a 2 goal deficit and down to 10 men, following as lackadaisical first-half as we’ve endured all season.
Perhaps Wigan weren’t expecting such a healthy Gooner turnout (5000?), but with programmes sold out and with queues so long for the local delicacies, there was little to distract me from wondering what on earth I was doing there. You know it’s been a particularly pony performance when, after travelling all that way, the more gluttonous of the Gooner clan are prepared to miss 15 minutes of the second-half queuing for a pie!
But then it’s at such games that I’m reminded of the diversity of the Gooner Diaspora nowadays. As I came away from the JJB (or the DW as it will soon be known, which might be a testament to the largesse of the Lactics egotistical chairman, but which also comes as some solace, to think that our place might not be destined to retain is association with an Arabic airline for all eternity), I overheard the 4-1 scoreline being described as a decidedly flattering result for the Gunners, in broad Lancashire accents. But it was only as I turned to concur with the yokels by way of consolation, that I was forced to choke on my “you” and turn it into a “we” as I realised I was surrounded by red & white.
If you’ve seen the highlights, you might think this was a suitably positive performance, leading into a week, which could make or break our season. However for those present there was plenty of cause for concern, as to how easily we were unsettled by a Wigan side that was all over us, like a rash, until they ran out of steam in the last half hour.
I had to marvel at the pundits who made Fabregas their man of the match. Mon capitaine might have conjured up a couple of killer passes when we began to run riot, but he was out of sorts up until then, growing increasingly petulant over Wigan’s close attentions. Strangely enough this game probably offered more questions than it did answers, as it was only when le Prof withdrew the worst of a lamentable 5-man midfield, in Denilson and reverted to 4-4-2 that we began to make hay in the Wigan sunshine.
And when Song put the cherry on top, by walzing through the Wigan defence to score a fourth, we were all agog, wondering if we were suffering from sunstroke. Nevertheless, there were enough concerns about the “last man standing gets his kit on” nature of our patched up defence, to know that the 1-1 draw in Spain could prove fatal, if we approach the return game on the back foot, with any hint of some misguided belief in our capacity to grind out a 0-0.
Unless we take the game to the Spaniards, in their half of the pitch, it will be a long, nerve-wracking night, where we might end up rueing our inability to shift down the gears and suddenly regain some momentum. Should we fail against Villareal, I’m not sure it will be worth us bothering to turn up at Wembley three days later. But if we win, I fancy we’ll float there on a tide of euphoria, which will take us to the FA Cup Final. There’s no middle ground, either we’ll be proclaiming the Gunners have risen from the dead next Sunday, or it will be the lack of any prospect of pieces of silver that will result in Gooner Judases aplenty, coming out of the woodwork everywhere to denounce our master. Let us pray!
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Monday, April 13, 2009
G'day fellow Gooners,