A weekend without footie is like Sunday lunch without the spuds. Naturally I lapped up the meagre morsel of mashed swede from the Stadium of Light & Ewood Park on Saturday. Bolton pressed for an equalizer against Sunderland, with the sort of drive and determination that was sorely missed when we played Man Utd. While our skipper ponders our squad’s apparent insecurities against the better sides, myself I wonder if the finger of blame for the Gunners misfortunes can be pointed elsewhere?
After banning Spurs from any Xmas booze ups, judging by the tabloid tales of a bleary-eyed Ledley King, it seems Harry “He’s got a twitch” Redknapp relented and allowed the Lilywhites a night out on the town. By contrast, instead of Jack Wilshere’s customarily dull “tweets” concerning his big decision of the day, about whether to choose “Starbucks” or “Costa” for his morning cup of java, or loving pics of his two pugs (is there a theme here, with the Gunners and their slightly effeminate choice of dog breeds?), we were treated to some snaps of a somewhat tepid looking Xmas lunch at the Arsenal's training ground.
I’m not suggesting I’d be happy for the Gunners to be caught with their pants down, out on the razz (à la Bendtner). But considering how few players lingered long enough for these fairly drab group shots, one might deduce that there’s a decided lack of team spirit amongst this lot and we’re devoid of leaders with the force of personality to negotiate a night out for the lads with le Gaffer. Perhaps therein lies the problem?
Instead of reveling in the skills of Samir Nasri and joining in with the celebrations of our first against Fulham the other week, Arshavin showed a disdainful air of insouciance, as he turned and trotted back to the halfway line. The diminutive Ruski comes out with such crackpot claptrap that he might be deemed closer to certifiable than a typical example of our disunity. But this incident certainly alluded to the possibility that the Gunners are badly in need of some proper male bonding.
Apparently Barca are a shoe-in for the Champions League quarterfinals. There’s no disputing that on paper, man for man, they are better than us. The only way we’re going to beat them, is by demonstrating as a “team” that we want it more than them, matching their undoubted class, with some elegant skills of our own, but ultimately trumping the Spaniards with our passion and desire. Surely it’s not individual “belief” that’s the stumbling block, with so many stars having egos the size of houses nowadays, but their confidence in the Arsenal as a unit and the absence of that vital strength of character, capable of both encouraging and cajoling genuine conviction and a winning mentality out of the Gunners (never imagined I’d be drawing comparisons between us and the England cricket team!)
Having already confirmed my trip to the Catalan capital within a couple of hours of Friday’s draw, I suppose I’ve good reason for convincing myself that I’ve not wasted my hard-earned dosh on another embarrassing hiding. But personally I’m never happier than when the Gunners go into a big game with something to prove, as outright underdogs. Remember the Bernabeu and the San Siro?
Although I must admit that with the Spanish side’s scintillating form of late, beating Barca appears to be an increasingly daunting prospect. But two months is a long time in football and as disappointed as I was with the two sloppy defeats that left us with a more difficult draw, in some respects, as long as we do ourselves justice, I’d much rather we go out in a blaze of glory against the best team on the planet, than to see us lie down like lambs against the likes of Lyon.
Admittedly it would be galling in the extreme should the Gunners European aspirations evaporate, before those of our North London neighbours. After schlepping all over the continent in pursuit of the Champions League Holy Grail, I daren’t even countenance the prospect of Spurs actually having the “chutzpah” to succeed in their first ever tilt at the big-eared prize – in this format, (although I seriously doubt there can be many readers old enough to recall Blanchflower and co’s glorious semi-final failure in 62?).
Yet there might still be some solace, should we find ourselves forced to focus all our attentions on a concerted title challenge, while Spurs domestic ambitions take a backseat during Spring, to the distraction of their continued involvement in the tournament; only for the Totts to end up having to wait for all eternity, for another crack at a Champions League encore.
Meanwhile I’d have much preferred to have got the defeat to Man Utd out of our system against Stoke, rather than mulling it over, until Chelsea’s visit next Monday. Fortunately I only had to look out my window at the Highbury white-out at noon on Saturday before snuggling back under the duvet, knowing there was no chance of a game going ahead. But my heart went out to the thousands that travelled in vain, Mind you, in spite of their tortuous journeys, I imagine it might’ve been a novelty for some, for once returning from an away trip without the bitter taste of defeat.
I’ll be positively chomping at the bit by the time the Blues come a calling, stir crazy with cabin fever. After an impromptu winter break, I pray our football reflects the same enthusiasm from the Gunners?
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com