Monday, April 26, 2010

A Little Taste Of Their Own Lilywhite Medicine

Hi folks

One of my Spurs pals sent me a text after Saturday's 0-0 saying "You should be ashamed of yourselves" and perhaps I would've been left feeling ashamed if the Gunners performance was any more tepid than any of the other Premiership teams who played this past weekend. Moreover, if we were to feel ashamed, how on earth should the City fans have felt, having schlepped all the way down from the North-West to see their team and the talented likes of Tevez hardly manage a single shot on target (mind you, according to my unreliable recollection, we only managed about two, one in each half).

At least I only had to walk around the corner to see that pile of poop and I felt sorry thinking about my pal Aidan who'd travelled all the way over from Ireland and who on top of the cost of his flights and accommodation, he had to stump up a hundred quid for a Club Level seat. Paying for our season tickets up front, I imagine we don't feel nearly so aggrieved about Saturday's game as someone who's actually been forced to fork out readies on the day?

Then again, with season ticket renewals growing increasingly imminent, with only one more home game to go before the end of the season, I can't help but wonder whether a similarly woeful display against Fulham might impact on people's propensity to renew. With so many Club Level seats going empty for all but the most high profile games, it will be interesting to see if there's still a Club Level waiting list come the end of the summer?

Then again, I assume that the cost of a huge proportion of the Club Level seats are written off as a company expense, using money which would otherwise only go to the tax man. This seems to be the only logical explanation for the number of kids to be seen screaming down from the posh seats at half-time, trying to get Gunnersaurus to fire a t-shirt up in their direction, as I simply can't believe there can be that many Gooners who can afford to pay a couple of hundred quid a match out of their own pocket to take their young progeny.

Meanwhile, win, lose or draw, the only thing I demand in return for my annual investment in the Arsenal, is the feeling that our players have left everything out on the pitch. I rarely get that sense any more, as with each passing season we are confronted with more and more incontrovertible evidence of our heroes shallow commitment to the cause, which only runs skin deep, or more accurately only as deep as the pocket containing their over-stuffed wallets.

In some respects I was a little saddened by the vitriolic reception given to Adebayor. Not that it stopped me from booing as loud, if not louder than anyone else, but then there was little else that passed for entertainment in this match than participating, or getting carried away with the "blood lust". I think back to the anecdote about Adebayor's visit to a Crouch End tattoo parlour, where he was told of the tatooist's pal who has a whole house stuffed full with Gooner memorabilia and Adebayor's interest was piqued to such an extent that a visit was arranged and the Togolese striker spent an entire evening enjoying a personal tour of this unofficial cottage museum.

The account I heard left me feeling that the man was sufficiently interested in the club's history to have a genuine appreciation of our domestic club culture. Surely this couldn't have been the same player who caused such an uproar, by revelling in the disrespect shown to his former employers and their fans up at Eastlands only a few months later? I've not read any of details in the media but my guess is that if Adebayor could turn back the clock, he probably wouldn't have gone out of his way to antagonise us Gooners in such an OTT fashion if only because no one likes to feel quite so despised.

Nevertheless, in Adebayor's failure to do the right thing that afternoon, in the same way that so many before him who've scored against former clubs have shown sufficient respect in limiting their celebrations, he just demonstrated his lack of class, adding another notch on the bedpost of disillusionment that leaves us fans ever less convinced by their insincere badge kissing antics.

I enjoyed Andrey Arshavin's innocent "I am Gooner" exclamation as much as every other Arsenal fan when the diminutive Ruski joined the club on deadline day last winter. But I've becomes so inured to the mercenary "have boots will travel" nature of the modern footballer that I don't expect any more loyalty to the Arsenal cause from Shava, than any other player who views a couple of seasons with the Gunners in terms of their post-retirement pension plan.

Having grown so cynical over the years, sadly I couldn't hear tell of the Ruski's preparedness to play through the pain barrier, unable to kick the ball with one foot at one stage this season but supposedly still turning out because we were so desperately short on strikers, without questioning the veracity of this tale. I'd love to be able to believe that there are players in this Arsenal squad who are as desperate for success as we are and who are prepared to put their bodies on the line for the Gunners cause.

I often get the feeling that Arsène's "spirit and belief" mantra is something he might make come to pass merely by repeating it enough times. But it would be a whole lot easier to swallow if there were a couple of homegrown players in the current squad. I'm not sure it's that relevant to their success as they hardly abound with more "never say die" spirit than any other squad (but perhaps this down to the fact that they are Spanish?), but I haven't stopped mentioning my envy of the dozen homegrown players and half a dozen Catalans in the current Barca squad since recently discovering this fact. Nor do I think he's a particularly brilliant player, but I would give my eye teeth for a captain with Puyol's daddy like presence at the Gunners.

Then again, I wonder would it make that much difference nowadays. Jack Wilshere was set to become the first homegrown player to figure in an influential role in the first team, since Cashley Hole. Jack's pre-season efforts were sufficiently impressive that he looked ready to grab the big time by the balls and I'm convinced that if he'd progressed as expected, there would've been no way he'd have ended up being loaned out to play in Lancashire. I can only speculate, but my guess is that Wilshere's sojourn in Bolton is intended to bring him back down to earth, because all the hype and attention had resulted in the youngster becoming a little too "big time" for his own good.

I haven't seen too much of Jack's efforts for Owen Coyle's side but the most recent highlights I've seen suggest that Wilshere's been overshadowed by the talented Man City loanee Vladimir Weiss. But then the Slovakian youngster has a lot more to play for, with his dad about to pick the Slovakian World Cup squad. Whereas the problem with so many British youngsters is that they achieve such levels of fame and fortune at such an early age, that they believe they've nothing left to prove and that sadly the intense passion and determination of youth inevitably dissipates, before they've actually achieved anything.

Because he's British, we tend to forget that Theo Walcott made his bones (influence of the recent Sopranos reruns!) at Southampton. If he was a foreign import and hadn't scored a hat-trick for England, I'm sure we would've long since lost patience with Theo. But even a level-headed kid like Theo seems to struggle to keep his feet on the ground, in the current climate of celebrity idolatry. I'm blissfully unaware of most of the football gossip because I don't tend to read newspapers nowadays. I rely on the tidbits that Róna passes on from her perusal of the bible of ostentation that is Hello magazine and I seem to recall some tale concerning Walcott's WAG, where he bought her a £140k Ferrari for her 21st birthday (who needs the key to the door when you've got a Ferrari California?) which she felt was just too flash for her to be driving in to university.

I can tell you what cars some of the Man City players drive, as I was amazed to see their flash Audis parked up outside the stadium, waiting to be keyed by any malcontent amongst either set of supporters and I imagine there must be some petrolheads amongst you who can advise me what sort of supercar Walcott can currently be found at the wheel of, but I somehow doubt it's the VW Golf he bought when he simultaneously passed his driving test and picked up his first England cap (imagine parking the Golf next to the missus Ferrari!)

Listening to Soccer Saturday on Sky this weekend, after watching the Spuds abysmal failure at Old Trafford, it seemed as if every other player mentioned was a Young Gun out on loan, with Sanchez Watt working some magic for the assist in Leeds first against MK Dons, coming only seconds after Jay Emmanuel-Thomas had scored his fifth goal since going out on loan to Doncaster and then Wilshere putting in the cross for Klasnic to score Bolton's first.

Sczcz.....our young Polish keeper continues to impress Brentford fans in the Bees 11 game unbeaten run (lord knows we could do with lad making the first team grade pronto, if he's a less timid personality than any of our three other incumbents and it's only checking for the spelling of his name on the AFC web site that I've discovered he must be a determined lad, having come back from breaking both arms in a training ground accident in 2008) and with centre-back Kyle Bartley at Sheff Utd, Jay Simpson at QPR, Henri Lansbury at Watford, Gilles Sunu at Derby and Gavin Hoyte at Brighton, surely some of these nine players who kicked such serious butt in the FA Youth Cup last season, have got to come into contention at some stage?

Meanwhile it's more than a little ironic that it's an aging old pro like Sol Campbell who's the only player to come out of the last few matches with any credit, showing the sort of stamina and determination that a few more of our squad might learn from, as he almost single-handedly flies the Gooner flag of commitment. With prospective members of Capello's World Cup squad going down like ninepins, there's even some suggestion that Sol could be an outside bet for forcing himself into contention?

But then as someone who claims such complete disinterest in salacious gossip, I suppose it's more than a little hypocritical of me to suggest that the England camp might be more than a little distracted by their efforts to keep Fabio's latest captain off the front pages of the Red Top rags with the rumours of Steven Gerrard's latest off-field exploits?

Having lingered in contention for the Premiership marathon, until hitting the wall in recent weeks and having reached a Champions League quarterfinal despite the sort of significant injuries which left us without a recognised front man for so long, ultimately I guess the Gunners have over-achieved this season, compared to what was expected of us. And yet there's little satisfaction to be gained from this, when by and large we've been allowed to do so, courtesy of the inconsistencies of others, rather than us having earned the right as a result of playing entertaining football. Since by Arsène's high standards, we've hardly enjoyed a surfeit of beautiful football this season.

Nuff of my downhearted deliberations
Big Love
Bernard

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I honestly can’t recall the last time the Gunners were involved in an end of season encounter, where Spurs fans were hoping for us to do them a favour. We’ve grown accustomed to this particular shoe being on the other foot, with the Lilywhites season invariably long since over as we enter the league’s last few furlongs. Many has been the occasion when we’ve endured watching our remaining hopes of silverware ebb away, on the back of a positively heartless end of season Spurs performance, where they’ve failed to even ruffle the feathers of one of our Premiership rivals. Thus the knowledge that my Spurs pals were experiencing the sour taste of just such a disappointment was about the only consolation to Saturday’s tedious goalless draw with Man City.

You know you’ve endured an insipid 90-minutes of football, when the highlight of the afternoon has been the haranguing of Adebayor. But City were no less guilty participants in this pantomime of a competitive encounter. If it wasn’t for Nasri’s solitary effort on target just before the break, there would’ve been absolutely no material for the halftime montage on the big screens!

In some respects it was a relief that our feint hopes of maintaining a challenge had evaporated in those execrable last ten minutes of football at Wigan the previous weekend. This at least meant that Saturday’s non-event wasn’t quite so frustrating. But if the Gunners had the excuse of having nothing but pride to play for, I’m not sure how Mancini’s mob could defend a display of such apparent indifference, to the couple of thousand Mancunians who’d travelled South in the hope of fulfilling their Champions League dreams, by capitalising on what’s fast becoming our customarily woeful finishing straight form.

Whereas for us Gooners it was an afternoon of polar opposite emotions, as we welcomed back both cast-iron heroes and those who’ve cast themselves as comedic villains. With his buckwheat ‘barnet’ and harlequin style boots adorning his bandy, stockinged legs, the tall Togolese striker was entirely in-character as the puckish circus clown. Distracting the crowd from the prosaic contest on the pitch, Adebayor spent the first-half sporadically stirring up a chorus of ‘he’s behind you’ type boos, every time he came off the bench to stretch his long legs on the touchline.

A first-half which was only noteworthy for the number of times and the apparent venom in the way Kolo Touré kept clattering into the back of Van Persie. I know there’s no love lost between Kolo and Gallas and I’d forgotten how fond our Dutch striker is of hitting the deck, but for a centre-back who has always come across as a fairly laid-back character, there was more than a hint of malicious revenge in the Ivorian’s incessant harmful attentions. These were all the more perturbing with Van Persie starting his first match, following such a prolonged spell on the treatment table.

Our striker’s absence is a convenient excuse for the Arsenal coming up short, in another ‘so near but so far’ campaign. Any team would miss the world class promptings of a player of Robin’s calibre. Where Nasri (Fabregas et al) will float over the sort of set-pieces that are meat & drink to a keeper of Given’s quality, sadly there doesn’t appear to be anyone else in the current squad capable of consistently striking a dead-ball with such lethal intent. Although at the same time, Van Persie reminded us on Saturday of the age-old problem that our best striker can’t be in two places at once, whipping in corners at pace and getting on the end of them! But to my mind Robin’s more Berbatov than Rooney, stamping his class on games when given the opportunity, rather than grabbing matches by the scruff of the neck and forcing the issue week in, week out.

Having worked up the crowd with his Dick Dastardly warm up, I wonder if even Adebayor was taken aback with the frenzy of disapproval that greeted his eventual introduction soon after the break. It was positively bizarre as fifty thousand rose to give Vieira a fitting farewell ovation, applauding Paddy one moment and baying for his replacement’s treacherous blood the next. It occurred to me that Sol Campbell might have felt some sympathy, as he alone has experienced such fervent acrimony in the past.

In truth, I’m not sure one mindless goal celebration makes Ade a deserving recipient of quite such malevolent hostility, but this didn’t stop me and the majority of other fans from joining in, in the hope that in the midst of this surreal circus, a football match might break out. Sadly the sum total of the second half was Diaby’s speculative effort, leaving Shay Given writhing in agony with a dislocated shoulder, which would’ve been devastating, if only Ireland had made it to the World Cup.

Aside from a typically astute Van Persie set-piece, for me, the evidence that the scales in this Arsenal squad are weighted too far in favour of pretty passing football, to the detriment of instinctive goal-getting greed, were patently demonstrated by our failure to even try and test Given’s replacement. Without some intervention from the touchline and lacking intuitive striking nous, we neglected to adopt the shoot on sight policy, which might’ve been appropriate against a keeper with only two caps for the bloomin’ Faroe Islands (how bad does a goalie have to be, not to get picked for the Faroes?)

Perhaps it’s the cynical indifference of my advancing years or the fact that we’ve ended up in the 3rd place doldrums, as the only team in the top half of the table with nothing to play for. But I somehow struggle to get enthused by all the hype, for what appears to be such an exciting climax on paper, when the participants’ claims concerning their lofty ambitions are thoroughly contradicted by events on the pitch. Even the most blinkered fan can’t fail to notice that their overpaid heroes have grown so fat and lazy that it’s become a struggle for them to even feign their commitment.

There was a time when all issues at the business end of the season were defined by which team wanted it the most. Whereas it would appear that nowadays it’s merely a matter of willing one’s team to lose out, in a competition of mutual indifference!

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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Arsenal goalkeeping solution lie in the PL, heres why
http://bleacherreport.com/articles/384952-arsenal-need-a-keeper-wenger-will-find-one-in-pl?just_published=1

Anonymous said...

I, for one, don't really mind our 3rd place finish (though it's still bitter after our brief spell on top of the league). Remember, barca needed 5 seasons as well to win a trophy while their youth program took off after their league win in 1999, and look at the team now!

Anonymous said...

The only things you sould be ashamed of is having Spurs pals and, even worse, admitting it ;)