With the looming prospect of dropping two costly points on Saturday, when Gael Clichy careered down the left flank in the 88th minute against the Hammers, I offered up a little prayer that our profligate French full-back might for once find a team-mate with a decent cross. We’ve grown so accustomed to promising forays forward petering out with Gael’s final pass, that we were all left somewhat agog, when he played a perfect ball (with his right foot!) into that “corridor of uncertainty” between defence and keeper, for Alex Song to steal in and pull the rug from under the Hammers feet, by heading home the winner. I didn’t dare celebrate for an instant, before casting a glance towards the lino and the ref, convinced that someone, or something was about to spoil this rare fantasy.
I think everyone, including the team, believed Avram Grant’s confidence bereft Irons would prove to be relatively easy prey. But the combative likes of Parker and Noble are more than capable of showing up an opponent that isn’t really “at the races” and with our principle orchestrator having seemingly turned up without his baton (would Wenger seriously risk an unfit Fabregas, or as Lineker implied on MOTD, was Cesc merely preparing the ground with his hamstrung excuses for being on the missing list for an unglamorous midweek schlep to the Ukraine?), the Gunners were guilty of sliding back into their shell, waiting for the game to come to them, when we were all hoping they’d turn the heat up on the Hammers' hapless defence.
Nevertheless, as much as I would enjoy watching the Arsenal turn over the opposition every week, with a glut of goals in every game, rather than tearing what’s left of my hair out, with the stress of having to sweat it out until a decisive intervention at the death, there’s probably something far more positive about the Gunners nicking a last gasp winner, in a goalless game.
With Robert Green yet again saving his best for the Gunners and with both Theo and Samir hitting the woodwork, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking it was going to be one of those disappointing afternoons, where all hopes of a title challenge began to flounder. But in demonstrating the fortitude to keep plugging away in a below par performance, there is perhaps at long last a glimmer of the sort of steel on which genuine champions are founded.
For a while there I thought Chelsea were going to slip up, but if anyone’s got the knack of banking all three points while not performing at their best, it’s the Blues and it’s this winning habit which is likely to take some serious consistency of our own if we're ever going to reel them back in.
Three clean sheets on the bounce is not a bad start. I’m not a stats man but I’d guess it’s been a while since the Gunners achieved a succession of dot balls. Although Fabianski is growing in confidence, I can’t help but feel that with each additional shut-out, we’re that much closer to his next ricket. Whereas to my eyes Wojciech Szczesny really looked the part (kudos to the first terrace songsmith who manages to work our young keeper's bonkers moniker into a catchy chant) with a performance at St James Park that suggests he might possibly posses the sort of “big I am” personality that the introverted likes of Almunia and Fabianski patently lack.
I can appreciate Arsène’s reluctance to push Szczesny into the pressure-cooker spotlight too soon, for fear his promising career could be shipwrecked on the sort of glaring errors which might be inevitable for a player with such meagre big stage experience. The Carling Cup is the perfect proving ground for the Polish youngster. After tricky away games against Spurs and Newcastle, the quarter-final draw was a bit of a result. It’s a bit premature to be planning a trip to Wembley but with only three games between us and our long awaited debut at the new incarnation of the Home of Legends it’s hard not to get ahead of oneself, especially when the first of these is a home banker against the Lactics. Although for fear that similar expectation might permeate the dressing room, it could be argued that we might've been best served by a stiffer test.
Meantime if we can ease our way past Shaktar, into the knockout stages of the Champions League on Wednesday, it would be a great help, taking the pressure of the last two group games, easing the strain of fixture congestion and perhaps giving the kids more game time. It’s laughable to hear Shaktar’s manager explaining away his team’s inadequacies by blaming the Scandinavian ref’s Anglo-Saxon roots, but bristling with indignation at their humiliating trip to Highbury, we’re bound to face a harder examination on the Ukranian side’s home soil.
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