I dawdled over posting out the following diary piece, as I planned on expanding on it somewhat, but since it was written on Sunday night / Monday morning, to appear in today's edition of the Irish Examiner (with references to tonight's game against Bolton), I thought I had better get it sent out, before events this evening leave me needing to rewrite the whole thing :-)
Truth be told, I'm sad to admit that I never made it to the Reebok on Sunday, as this was the last day of my five week stint of work, doing the Xmas season with the ballet at the Coliseum. As a result, I am really excited about tonight's game and to be perfectly honest, although I will be just as desperate as every other Gooner to see us win, once I get to the ground, sitting here right now, after five weeks of feeling so deprived of my Arsenal pleasures and experiencing being a footie fan in the way that so many others are forced to do, merely grateful to catch snippets of a radio commentary whilst at work, I am just delighted to be able to get back into my usual routine, leaving from home, with all my customary accoutrements (terrace tranny, binoculars etc. etc). Although doubtless I will be late as usual!
By contrast, on Sunday I had to be in the theatre at 1pm for an afternoon matinée, which was immediately followed by the get-out, as we changed over shows from the Snow Queen to Giselle (Giselle is a much smaller show than the Nutcracker and Snow Queen and therefore, much to my great relief, I wasn't required to work for the final week of the Xmas season). But there was no way I could've gone to the game because the gruelling physical nature of the changeovers, from one show to another is the reason why we are paid the big bucks ("double bubble" ie. double the basic salary while touring) and so, while I could get away with paying someone else to stand-in for me for the odd show, it just wouldn't have been acceptable for me to have missed the get-out.
As a result, after the set-back at 1pm, where we merely sweep, mop and revert the scenery back to the beginning of the show, we had an hour and a half before curtain up and with the nephew of the master carpenter (both Hammers season ticket holders) working on my side of the stage, we sat there watching the Villa v WHU game on my iPhone (which reminds me, I had better cancel my subscription to Sky Mobile, as I only signed up in order to take advantage of the three months free offer while working at the Coliseum and I've absolutely no intention of paying an additional £6 per month for this facility, when I am already stumping up an extortionate monthly sum of over 70 quid to the Murdoch monopoly!).
The curtain came up on the show, just as the second half was starting and because I had various cues in Act 1, I ended up leaving my mobile with him, so that he could continue watching the game. However I was getting a little stressed out that the earlier game was going to end up using up all the juice on my mobile and that there wouldn't be enough power left in the battery, for me to watch the Arsenal match immediately after.
But as it turned out, I needn't have worried. My brother-in-law had very kindly given me one of these battery pack type cases for my iPhone as a birthday present, which he bought on a trip to New York and which is like having a spare battery to hand all the time (and with all the millions of applications to play with, boy do you need one with the iPhone!). This was a blinding present and perfectly timed, as it would've been ideal for the long days/nights in the theatre over the past five weeks, if it wasn't for the fact that sadly the bloody thing broke within a few days of having been given it. I guess Apple have the patent on the iPhone socket and I reckon the USB type socket on this thing must've broken inside it, as it feels as if this can occur a little too easily with the cable attached.
As a result, I spent most of the five weeks having to keep charging my phone, or turning off all the functions, during the days when there were matches on, so that I would be guaranteed to have some juice left come the evening, in order to keep abreast of all the footie news. But I only digress on this topic because I feel obliged to give a massive shout out to Mophie, the company who make the 'Juice Pack' case/battery for the iPhone, as when I contacted them by email to say that I'd been given it as a present and that it had stopped working within a few days but that I obviously didn't have a receipt, they merely asked me to forward them a photo of the serial number on the case.
However the camera on the iPhone isn't quite up to taking pictures of such small writing. Yet having sent them a very blurred photo of the serial number with the details typed out below, they immediately agreed to post me out a new one, all the way from Paw Paw, Missouri without me even having to return the broken one first! Although it seemed to take a somewhat circuitous route around the States, as I following it's progress via the UPS tracking service and then arrived in Stansted, only to be sent to East Midlands ten minutes later, I was extremely impressed when the case turned up on Friday, just in time for my last weekend at the Coliseum. You just can't beat some of these companies in the States (such as Mophie) for astonishingly obliging customer service!
The Snow Queen is a long, three act ballet and fortunately the game against Bolton kicked off during Act II, where we had absolutely nothing to do during this act and so with my radio earpiece in one ear, I was able to watch the beginning of the Bolton game via Sky Mobile on my iPhone, with the radio commentary about two minutes ahead of the TV pictures (which are amazingly good on the iPhone, much sharper and easier to watch football games on than many of the blurry images one gets with TV streams when watching on one's computer).
The main drawback with Sky Mobile on the iPhone is that you need to be connected to a wireless internet connection (as with the BBC iPlayer, since I guess the bandwidth isn't sufficient on the 3g network). Although there are several wireless networks available at the Coliseum (about six in total!), with one down in the canteen that doesn't need a password and two others for which I'd managed to inveigle the passwords out of people over the weeks (as everyone tends to be extremely protective of the passwords, knowing that the more people they hand the details out to, the less likely they are to get a good connection), these networks only show up as available in certain areas of the building. None of them work outside the building, where being such a hard core nicotine addict, I had to make frequent trips outside to have a fag and one of them worked sporadically on the side of the stage where I was working.
So for example on one day I would be able to watch the TV on my phone whilst waiting to do my cues and then the next day there would be no signal! But the dilemma for me was that when I was watching the football in the wings, beside the stage on my phone, knowing that an interval change was coming up and a certain period of time when I wouldn't be able to smoke a cigarette, one feels obliged to nip up the stairs and outside to get the nicotine levels up.
However on Sunday, my very last day in the theatre, soon after arriving I saw one of the locals struggling with two big bins, as he was going to empty them and having offered to help him, I discovered a door to the outside, where the main bins are located, that I wasn't aware of previously and realising that this was close to one of the locations inside that I'd been using previously, as a guaranteed spot close to the stage to be able to get a wireless signal, it occurred to me that I might at long last have found the perfect pitch, from where I could watch the footie on my phone outside the building, thus being able to smoke at the same time.
Hence I spent the first twenty minutes of Sunday's match in relative seventh heaven, watching the game on my phone, whilst puffing away to my heart's content. By propping the door slightly ajar, I could even hear the music from the orchestra sufficiently to be able to tell when the interval was coming up. With such a large stage crew and with very little to do in the interval change between Acts II and III, it was very hard to drag myself away from the game.
Having not worked on stage with the ballet for many years, I'd forgotten that one of the biggest problems is that if you are the least bit conscientious, you end up undertaking various little tasks, which mean that once you have done them for one show, that's it, you are lumbered with them for every single show and you are missed if you aren't there to do them. So I'd manage to aquire a job which meant I had to be on stage the second the curtain came down, or else there'd be a scream up! Having left it to the very last moment, I had to put my phone away and I spent the interval change trying to listen to the commentary via my radio earpiece. And with the radio in my pocket and the interference from all the electrical equipment in the building causing the commentary to fade in and out, I found myself virtually doing a little ballet of my own, as I manouevered around the stage, constantly having to turn my body in the direction where the signal was best.
Usually this interval change was over in five minutes because there was so little to do. But according to Sod's Law, in the one day I desperately needed it to be over for me to get back to watching the game, with it being the very last performance of this partcular show, it was decided that we would use the interval to start removing, breaking down and packing bits of scenery that were not required for Act III.
In his replica Arsenal shirt, I couldn't miss the other Gooner on stage from the local crew. But he brought my efforts to engage in a conversation about the game to an abrupt halt, when he advised me that he was taping the match and that he didn't want to hear any details. Unfortunately, although he'd specifically requested that I didn't tell him the score, I couldn't stop myself from letting out an instinctive whelp of joy when Fabregas scored the first goal. But I didn't need feel guilty about giving the game away for long, because as I stood there apologising to him, there came a much louder whoop from above, as the news of the Arsenal taking the lead had spread to the couple of Gooners up on the fly floor. So even if I had somehow managed to stay schtum, he would've know that the Gunners had gone a goal up by the exclamation from above.
Mercifully I was able to get back to watching the first 15 mins or so of the second half on my phone, before the final curtain came down. But then within seconds of the ballet dancers leaving the stage, after hugging and kissing in much the same fashion as if they'd just won a footie match, the whole place is a whirlwhind of activity as the rush begins the get the set out of the building. I did my best to listen to the remainder of the match and was fortunate to be able to hear the commentary on Merida's goal, as I ended up outside the building, on the back of the trailer, loading the set. However I didn't hear much leading up to this, as I started the get out with my earpiece in one ear, but promptly felt it would be prudent to remove it.
The theatre stage can be a particularly dangerous area during the get-out, with everyone in such a rush to get the work done and it's best to have one's wits about you at all times, to avoid any problems. I'm certain that it made no difference that I had the earpiece in one ear, but at one point, I was helping to push this massive house truck off the stage (which is built more solidly than most houses) and as I pushed from behind, I was watching the upstage edge and shouting at the chap pulling in front to be careful to avoid hitting these black metal frames that hang from the grid which are used for hanging the black cloth masking on (so folks in the audience cannot see into the wings).
We were used to pulling this huge truck on and off the stage about five times every performance and so although there's only a few inches clearance on either side, you get used to the fact that if it's close enough on one side, it will clear on the other. But as I was hollering at him to watch out that we didn't hit these frames on the upstage side, what he didn't realise was that the electricians had already moved one of the tall metal booms (on which they hang the lights in the wings) that we had to pass on the other side and although they'd only moved it a few inches, it was enough to cause a small collision, which ended with about five of us all rushing to stand on the bottom of this boom, to try and stand it back upright, as it leant into a thirty foot black flat.
These big black masking flats are weighed down with lead weights on the foot of wooden braces at the back and it was just very fortunate we were in the habit of taking the weights we needed to hold up other scenery and storing them on top of the weights holding up this flat and so there were several more weights on the bottom of this particular flat than the four that would normally be there, as otherwise when the metal boom had started to topple, instead of resting on the flat, it would've continued to fall (past the point where there'd be any chance of stopping it) and taken the flat with it and anyone in the vicinity on the other side might well have been flattened (although there are safety lines that should've prevented the boom going all the way over, there would've been nothing to keep the flat from going over!).
Hence I did my best to inconspicuously yank the radio earpiece from my ear, the moment this incident happened, as although it had absolutely no bearing on the matter, I am sure that someone would've passed some sarcastic comment, suggesting that it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been concentrating on the footie!
I was therefore most relieved to end up outside on the back of the trucks, as aside from the fact that this saved me from the agony of having to schlep heavy scenery up the ramp all night (where actually it seems to be the walking back down which causes my knees most aggro), it meant that I could at least listen to the remainder of the match, without having to worry about others thinking I was a liability.
There's quite an art to packing a trailer with scenery, especially on the get-out, where you are trying to cram as much in as possible and at the same time prevent the delicate bits being damaged in transit, while the pieces are coming out of the theatre thick and fast and the rest of the lads are only concerned with getting it out the building as quick as possible, so they can go home. So in truth I didn't really take in what I was hearing in my ear, as it's more akin to circuit training, as one frantically loads these seriously heavy bits of scenery, whilst trying to avoid being scraped, poked or even impaled on the sharper bits of the stuff that's already been loaded.
Usually at the Coliseum we would continue loading and unloading (the next show) on and off the trucks until 10pm and then close the shutter and continue working on stage all-night. But mercifully because Giselle is a much smaller show and they had three days to put it up, the master carpenter decided to call it a night at 10pm.
I can't posssibly put into words how relieved I was, as I was already knackered by the time we finished the matinée and I was absolutely dreading the thought of having to be on my feet until the wee hours, then coming home and watching a recording of the game, before writing my missive for the Examiner.
Nevertheless, I was sufficiently exhausted that I still struggled to keep my eyes open long enough to watch a recording of the whole match. As had happened with the changeover of shows a few weeks back, I ended up staying up until all hours, as I kept nodding off watching the game and waking up and having to rewind it back to the last incident I remembered seeing.
I suppose it could've been a lot worse if we hadn't won, but it's hardly a fun way to watch football and is the sort of torture that eventually has you feeling just desperate to keep your eyes open long enough to reach the final whistle.
But then this decidedly long-winded account of Sunday's saga is only by way of highlighting quite how frustrating and unsatisfying it is, to someone who is used to watching almost every single Arsenal match live and in person, to have my Arsenal pleasures impinged on in this fashion. Don't get me wrong, I am more than grateful to the wonders of modern technology that have enabled me to watch live footie on my phone these past few weeks. And thanks to me being "wired for sound" I don't think there's been a moment during any of our games over the last five weeks when I've been out of touch for long enough, that I've had to hear some Arsenal news secondhand from someone else.
However after being forced to follow the Arsenal via brief bursts of viewing on a small screen on my phone and short snatches of radio commentary and then to have to write about it (albeit with the benefit of having recorded the game), whilst trying to create the impression that I was present in person but without actually telling any lies, I'm hoping my seriously long-winded account might give you some idea quite how delighted and content I am to get back to my old routine, strolling around to my seat at this evening's game.
As it turned out, I failed miserably to get this posted out before leaving for tonight's kick-off (I hadn't factored in my promise to the missus to walk Treacle before leaving!) and so I guess I can't post this piece without passing some comment on what proved to be such an enthralling emotional rollercoaster ride, especially since I feel that the events of the first half an hour or so vindicated some of what I had to say below.
Again I felt that as is too often the case with home games these days, we started the match lacking the necessary intensity. You didn't need to be a brain surgeon to know that Owen Coyle will have sent Bolton out with the sort of team talk ringing in their ears that said their only chance would be if they could make up for whatever they might lack in ability, with work rate, hunger and commitment. But there was little evidence in those opening minutes from anyone in red & white that they realised what was going to be required in this game, as the visitors easily won every 50/50 ball and were first to every second ball.
Where at the Reebok, the way in which they pressured us and denied us time and space on the ball, this forced us to up our tempo and zip the ball around that much more effectively, for half an hour of this evening's home game, our lack of tempo and intensity meant that we ended up getting caught in possession and carelessly giving the ball away, as a result of being hurried into the pass.
I don't know the answer, but it appears to me as if we've grown so accustomed to playing a waiting game, patiently loitering around until the last quarter of the match, when we expect the opposition to begin to run out of steam and the space to appear as a result, for us to exploit that we have somehow forgotten the art of getting up a head of steam against weaker opposition and going for the jugular right from the off.
It didn't help this evening that both Abou Diaby and Denilson seemed to have been instructed to play deeper in midfield. Where at the Reebok it was a pleasure to see four or five players in red & white bombing on past the ball and into the box, this evening, all too often Eduardo was left too isolated, without anything like as many options for him to pass the ball forward and forced to run into a dead end of defenders.
But then with both midfielders hanging back, how was it possible for us to find ourselves faced with a four v four situation in our own penalty area. The match might have turned out far more than alright, but I am sorry, for the first 30 minutes or so, I was very disappointed with the way in which we were bested by Bolton as far as drive and commitment was concerned. We certainly didn't look like a team that had gone out there this evening determined to take top spot and prove themselves worthy title contenders.
And even when we started to tick and exert pressure towards the end of the first half and for brief periods during the second half, although the crowd found their voices and according to many it was the best atmosphere at our place since the Spurs game, the only players inspired to produce the sort of grit and determination that demonstrated they possess the necessary hunger to put the wind up the likes of Chelsea were Fabregas and Vermaelen (and perhaps Gallas). As for the rest, for much of tonight's game I found myself hollering out loud "show us that you REALLY want it!"
I suppose that in truth I am being a bit of a sentimental idealist and that nowadays, all that really matters is that you want it, just a little bit more than the competition. But while Bolton might be a poor enough side that we can recover from a 0-2 deficit to win 4-2, that's certainly not going to be the case every week.
Denilson has long since demonstrated his inadequacies when it comes to playing a holding role in midfield, as evidenced by his somewhat naive tackle to concede the penalty this evening, but Abou makes the Brazilian kid look competent in this position by comparison. I suppose Arsene asked Diaby to do this job because Bolton are such a tall, physical team. However not only does Diaby struggle to make his size count, with players all too easily brushing past him, but he's also poor in the air. However for my money, Abou's biggest weakness when it comes to playing him in the holding role is that whether it is his naivety in defence, or his inability to make his size count, players all too easily get goal side of him and as a result he far too often ends up conceding free-kicks because he's forced to try and recover his position, by making a tackle from the wrong side.
He can often get away with poking one of his long legs out and trying to prize back the ball anywhere else on the pitch, but with so many free-kick specialists around nowadays, we simply cannot afford to have him attempting to do so on the edge of our penalty area.
It seems to me that by playing Diaby in the holding role, Arsene is conceding that he is selecting his team to accommodate the attributes of the opposition and I don't think we need make this sort of concession against the likes of Bolton? As far as I am concerned Abou is completely wasted in this position and it's only worth playing him if he's given the license to roam forward so that hopefully we might benefit from his driving runs into the box and his dainty feet. But to my mind, he patently lacks the focus, consistency and the defensive ability to play the holding role and he seems to me more of a liability than an asset in this position.
I supposes he's young enough to learn the art, as after all, if memory serves (which sadly it often doesn not nowadays) Alex Song was equally naive in this position initially and was also far too often guilty of giving away free-kicks as a result of sticking a leg out to try and rescue a ball he'd lost, but I would rather see one of the "keen as mustard" kids given the opportunity to prove themselves because I don't really ever expect to get the sort of 'blood, sweat & tears" graft from Abou in this position that is often necessary.
There was a point in the proceedings this evening, after we built up a head of steam and created several opportunities (some of which I felt an Eduardo at the top of his game would've gobbled up!), when Kevin Davies headed the ball towards his own goal and instead of scoring an own goal, it bobbled harmlessly away off the crossbar and I announced that this wasn't going to be our night. I would've bitten off the hand that offered us a draw at this particular point in time, as it looked as if it was going to be one of those evenings when nothing would go our way.
But credit where it is due, as our perserverance finally prevailed and Thomas Rosicky eventually pulled one back just before the break, with a peach of a strike which should never have really beat Jaaskaleinen at his near post (I also felt that Manuel might've stopped that penalty, with him having guessed to go the right way and while Taylor gave it some welly, it wasn't exactly hit into the bottom corner). Perhaps we benefited after that from this being Owen Coyle's Bolton. After all the pressure that had built up towards the end of that first-half, if this had been Big Fat Sam's Bolton, I would've fancied the wily old sod to have sent his troops out to take the sting out of the game second half, using every trick in the book to slow the game down and to make it disjointed. Whereas perhaps Owen Coyle isn't quite such a cynical old goat (at least not yet!) and his Bolton side let us knock the ball around and build up some momentum.
I actually thought that they had a right to feel aggrieved about Willie's tackle in the build up to Cesc's equaliser, as from where I sat, it looked as if Gallas had gone over the top, but I don't believe there was any of the same cynicism we'd witnessed from some of the Bolton tackles and I might be seeing it through red & white tinted specs, but I like to think that it was just a case of Willie being late, rather than an attempt to inflict some retribution on Mark Davies. I also like to believe that this was evidence of Willie's 100 per cent commitment ie. his commitment was such that he had no chance of pulling out of the tackle despite the fact that the ball had gone and to my mind, it was the exact same sort of desire and determination that subsequently saw Fabregas force his way through to goal, where in trying to exert his will, Cesc was rewarded with a little good fortune in the way the ball bobbled in his favour.
After Coyle had spoken so much about the importance of keeping Cesc quiet, following Sunday's game, I was a little surprised that Bolton didn't pay our Spanish orchestrator a little closer attention this evening - what ever happened to "man marking" as this facet of the game seems to have gone completely out of fashion and if I was playing the Gunners I would be sorely tempted to man mark Fabregas, in the way "Boom Boom" Keown did back in the day, when oppostion forwards would come off the pitch afterwards to admit that he'd had stuck so close to them that they'd gone to the karsey at the break and half expected to find Keown standing behind them :-)
As for our third goal, following Tommy the Tank's attempt at curling in a free-kick from the edge of the penalty area on Sunday, we can't fail to be impressed by our new centre-back's ability with the ball at his feet. Again this evening I was impressed with Tommie's ability to get up early and hang in the air, in order to win headers against much taller players than himself, his sefless, tireless running, charging forward at times, when I don't ever recall him receiving a return pass, but he continued to make the effort, knowing he was drawing defenders with him to create space for others. This sort of work rate doesn't come in the job description for most centre-backs, but based on the skill he's shown with the ball, Vermaelen's amongst an extremely exclusive group of centre-halfs (considering our current striking plight, perhaps Arsene should give him a go at centre forward?).
Once we'd taken the lead, it seemed to me as if we were so relieved to have come back from 0-2 down, that it felt as if we were somewhat content to settle for the three points. In the twenty minutes it took before Shava scored the fourth, the fact that we didn't seem overly keen to drive on and commit men forward left me wondering if the players were particularly concerned about achieving the two-goal margin that would put us in pole position.
Mind you, when it finally came, the goal was worth the wait. A move which started with Gael Clichy's backheel and that included another backheel from Eduardo, was finished off to perfection, with Shava eventually enjoying a little good fortune, as he'd failed to push the ball past his opponent on every previous attempt and not only was it the best thing he'd done all evening, it was just about the only thing! In fact I thought Shava showed something of a greedy streak, which you might expect in and out and out front man, but which I wouldn't have thought such selfishness was in his nature and it was somwhat contrary to the Gunners team ethic, when a couple of minutes later he really should've put the ball on a plate for Theo Walcott to score, as a goal could've been a massive boost to Theo's confidence.
Moreover, considering we still had to sweat out a few more hairy moments, when any one of the balls Bolton hoofed in the direction of our goal could've bobbled awkwardly and resulted in us ending the night with a glimpse of the promised land, without actually reaching it, we would've all been cursing the diminutive Ruski's greediness if the game had ended 4-3!
Considering how things turned out, it proved a good game to bring Clichy back at left-back. Although I wasn't so sure about this early on, as Bolton seemed like a big physical test and Gael looked understandably short on confidence and I was concerned that his tentativeness might cost us. However there's no doubt that he's a more experienced defender than Traore and once his confidence is restored, Gael could give us so much more going foward (which we saw a hint of this evening).
And I guess I'll feel a whole lot less nervous going into the crucial fixtures we have over the next four weeks, with Clichy at left-back, than the thought of the possible cost of Traore's inexperience, as there's no doubt that our opponents will be more likely to target this flank if Traore's playing. As a result, no matter how this evening's game turned out, I suppose if Clichy is going to get back up to speed in time to play the likes of Man Utd and Chelsea, he needs games under his belt and therefore, I should've known better than to question le Gaffer because as always, "Arsène knows".
Mind you, at 0-2 down, I was thinking to myself that perhaps the one slight solace might be that a lack of goals could convince Wenger that he can no longer afford to prevaricate about strengthening the squad. Whereas by coming back from 0-2 to win 4-2 and leapfrog Chelsea into top spot, this might only encourage his continued procrastination, where he feels he's in a strong enough bargaining position that he only need buy at the right price, instead of feeling an urgent need to bring someone in at any price?
Still, all's well that ends well and we are top of the league, but for the life of me, don't ask me to explain how! I'm sure few Gooners could'v imagined we'd be here, when we left the ground after the 0-3 drubbing against Chelsea six weeks ago. But the great thing is that with the FA Cup this weekend, we will still be breathing the rarefied air at the summit come next Monday and all we have to do is to match Chelsea's result against Birmingham, when we go to Villa Park next Wednesday?
We couldn't possibly have a more testing month of matches ahead, but the longer we can cling to the mountain top, the more impact it's likely to have psychologically, both for us and the competition and if we can beat Man Utd when they visit in only in ten days time, it's going to make for one helluva an exciting occasion when we go to Stamford Bridge the following week. Hold on to your hats (especially that magic one, monsieur Wenger)!
Come on you Reds
It’s hard not to harbour some hope of straddling the Premiership summit, subsequent to this evening’s encore with Owen Coyle’s side. However, after beating Bolton at the Reebok, I won’t be at all surprised if we end up blowing this opportunity, in what’s supposedly the easier of the two games in this anomalous double-header.
In our current injury-depleted guise, the Gunners seem more likely to produce the goods away from home. On Sunday, against a Wanderer’s side who were up for impressing their new gaffer and with the Bolton fans buoyed by having finally seen off Megson, for a far more acceptable manager, this resulted in there being an “in yer face” intensity to this encounter that forced the pace, right from the first whistle.
Whereas at our place, where our dirge of an Elvis lullaby hardly gets the adrenaline pumping, we seem to struggle to start matches playing at such a high-tempo, as we patiently prod the ball around, waiting for the opposition to run out of puff. At the Reebok, there were times when 4 or 5 in red & white were streaking ahead of the ball, but inhibited by the lack of tempo at our gaff, I often find myself bemoaning the lack of bodies arriving in the box
Evidently Cesc’s return on Sunday made a massive difference. Fab’s the maestro of Wenger’s orchestra, who gives the Gunners’ music its more incisive direction, making us effective, instead of merely pleasing to the eye. Yet it wasn’t as if Bolton were without chances and I’m certain Coyle will fire his troops up for their trip to the capital, doing everything in his power to try and prevent the return of the prodigal son beginning with a two-game losing streak.
With no-one expecting Bolton to better their home defeat, they have noting to lose and with Wenger continuing to ‘make do and mend’ with our underwhelming strikeforce; comprising of Eduardo, who’s still struggling to recover his sharpness, Arshavin, soldiering on with a sore right foot and an unproven Vela, I’m not exactly expecting the sort of “gimme” of a goalfest that Chelsea enjoyed against Sunderland.
The Blues sent out a message to all those of us who were hoping they might falter in the absence of the influential likes of Essien and Drogba. So in the event of us leapfrogging the league leaders, by beating Bolton again by a 2-goal margin, I’m not going to get too excited. Only the most wildly optimistic Gooner would bet against the patently obvious advantage of the depth of Chelsea’s resources. Nor will I be too disappointed if the visitors should poop our midweek party.
Never mind an assault on the peak, as far as I’m concerned, I’m more than grateful merely to be breathing the rarefied air, atop the Premiership mountain. In this respect the weekend’s results were significant, as with the Champions League pretenders all dropping points the previous day, when the league table flashed up on my TV screen on Sunday night, for the first time, I was too busy focusing on our circumstances relative to the top two and the table had been and gone, before I had a chance to glance down. I had to hit rewind button on the remote, to confirm that we’ve established a 7-point cushion between us the wannabees below.
Now if we’re still in contention in a month’s time, following successive fixtures against Villa, Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool and hopefully turning into the home straight with a squad approaching full strength, energised by those returning to the fray, fit and fresh for the run-in (with perhaps the odd new addition?), even my pessimistic self might begin to dream the impossible dream.
Nevertheless, no matter what the fates may hold in store for the Gunners, when you consider the Scousers anguish over events (both in the boardroom and on the pitch) at Anfield, the fiscal traumas at Old Trafford, the “financial doping” elsewhere and the fact that they can’t pay the wages at Fratton Park, such tumultuous times throw into stark contrast the miraculous tour de force of Arsène’s tenure.
Having overseen a revolution at the Arsenal, with reverberations that changed the face of British football, le Gaffer has gone on to steer the club through the stormy, debt-ridden waters of our ambitious new stadium project, maintaining a competitive course, despite severe financial restraints, while consistently providing the punters with the sort of breathtaking entertainment that has us drooling in our seats on a regular basis.
In the past, an Arsenal side that included debutantes like young Eastmond in a pivotal midfield role, might’ve been bullied into submission by Sam Allardyce’s Bolton. But there were promising signs on Sunday that our squad is beginning to develop some much-needed character and the sort of unity of purpose that enables us to win both pretty and ugly, no matter the individual components. Although the sooner Gael Clichy gets back into the groove, the better, as Bolton won’t be the only team to target Traore’s flank and we badly miss Gael’s lung-busting energy.
Needless to say, inconsistency (complacency?) elsewhere has kept us in contention. But nonetheless, in the absence of the likes of Van Persie and Bendtner, when I consider, on paper, the more potent looking front lines of some of our opponents, I’m more than a little incredulous that we’re managing to maintain our momentum. Then again, nothing should surprise me in a ‘stranger than fiction’ season. Or did I hallucinate that it was Tommie Vermaelen (an Arsenal centre-back!) who was only a whisker away from curling a free-kick into the top corner on Sunday?--
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