(you can ignore this post if you read my War & Peace like opus the other day, as I've only ended up repeating bits of it)
With Saturday’s early KO at Ewood Park live on the box, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about a crack of dawn departure for a long schlep up to Lancashire, after an exhausting week at work. Often such unenticing outings are merely a matter of paying ones loyal dues, in return for the heightened gratification of the glamorous razzamatazz of more alluring awaydays. With my Egyptian Gooner mate on a pilgrimage from Cairo, I couldn’t possibly wimp out on a comparatively trifling train trip to Blackburn, certainly not in the aftermath of last weekend’s scintillating goalfest.
Following a far less impressive display on Saturday, we were delighted to come away with all 3 points. Fat Sam’s Rovers might roll over for his old mate Fergie, but the majority of their opponents will be forced to put in an honest shift against Allardyce’s muscular side, if they’re to avoid dropping points on their outing to the Ribble Valley.
Rovers seemed to run out of steam somewhat after Shava scored our second. Nevertheless, in the absence of a 3rd goal cushion, it was a long 40 minutes before the relief of the final whistle. As the clock ticked down, the titan Samba lumbered forward. Top-loading his team, in Fat Sam’s increasingly desperate search for an equalizer only intensified my dread of an inevitable, gut-wrenching ricket at the death.
Thrown in at the deep end, Koscielny impressed with his composure at Anfield. But then life was a lot easier with the limited ambitions of the Liverpool attack, in a contest played at a more tentative, Continental tempo. Whereas poor Laurent flapped like a fish out of water for the first 45 on Saturday, patently struggling to cope with the frantic physicality of a more traditional Premiership encounter.
With an easily bullied Almunia unable to dominate his area and an obvious height disadvantage, every hoof up into the box and each of Pedersen’s Delap stylee projectiles left Gooner hearts in mouths. The Norwegian’s deliberate ball-wiping ritual accounted for far more than a farcical 3 minutes of injury time, with the delay designed to torque up the tension and to maximize the threat of every throw-in.
Whoever sent Alex Song to Louis Saha’s hairdresser, they or the coiffeur deserve to be shot for seemingly turning our promising holding midfielder into the archetypal ‘dumb blonde’. Mercifully Bakari Sagna has left well alone with his ‘barnet’. The winning goal resulted from this unsung star of our season so far, retrieving a lost cause on the touchline.
By contrast there are increasing concerns about our diminutive Ruski’s attitude. Having done his bit, by dispatching his goal with some aplomb, Shava spent the remainder of the match making like a teapot, standing around with his hands on his hips.
Salgado must be closer to 40 than 30. If I’m not mistaken, the cultured but aging full-back is rarely required to last the entire 90. With Shava drifting out of the game, it seemed obvious to have him swap wings, so that Walcott might run the Spaniard ragged. But as with Arsène’s failure to target Liverpool’s lack of a natural left-back by testing Agger’s lack of pace, le Gaffer’s quasi-religious conviction in his gameplan doesn’t appear to allow for spontaneous tactical fluidity. We might be able to rely on our superior ability against the likes of Rovers, but I hope we don’t come to regret his reluctance to focus on our rival’s potential Achilles Heel in more evenly matched encounters.
Compared to the frustration of our former tendency to pass the opposition into a coma, Walcott’s willingness to take responsibility is most refreshing. His shoot-on-sight mentality is not only electrifying, it’s a statement of Theo’s intent, to recast himself from a peripheral, bit-part player, to a lead role in Le Prof’s Passion Play. Here’s hoping his stunning, net-busting strike is a metaphor for a positive flood of goals to come.
Now if only our skipper was similarly invigorated. Cesc had a stinker on Saturday. But then it was never going to be a gentle reintroduction to the pleasures of Premiership footie against Fat Sam’s aggressive outfit. Anyone’s entitled to a bad day at the office, but as our skipper, it was Cesc’s body language that was most perturbing.
I respect Fab’s refusal to indulge in the sort of specious, badge-kissing BS that we’ve grown accustomed to, in advance of mercenary stars selling their soul to the gods of Mammon. Having arrived at such an early age, Cesc has a perfectly understandable hankering to return to his roots. On Saturday’s evidence, it might not serve the Gunners to have delayed the inevitable? Fab might well be the sort of ‘mensch’ who wont want to let his mentor down, but on some level, basic human nature might guarantee his resentment is made manifest in some fashion.
In fact, on exiting Ewood Park, we both began cracking up as we contemplated our captain’s lot. Instead of being kicked black & blue by Fat Sam’s Rovers and being drenched by torrential squalls, whilst hampered by the incompetence of the gruesome Francophile twosome of Song & Diaby, he could be earning shedloads more dosh for sitting with his feet up in the Catalan sunshine, on Barca’s bench, coming on for a 10-minute cameo against a comparatively tame Racing Santander, to be universally acclaimed as one of the best players on the planet with the aid of the likes of Messi, Xavi & Iniesta. Never mind a professional attitude, in Cesc’s shoes I’d be bloomin’ livid!
It’s easy to forget the contrasting viewpoint from t’other end of the ground. I guess they were referring to Rovers’ penalty shouts, as two old codgers on the bus back to the station bemused us, with their “we was robbed” banter. Whereas I felt the Gunners were fairly dominant, at least while the ball remained on the deck. But for once I’m grateful for the fortnight break, in the hope we can rediscover our fluidity and that all-important aura of invincibility. It’s already evident in the sort of swagger that leaves lowly opposition content to merely be capable of managing to give the Blues a bit of a game!
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