Not wanting to bore you with my excuses (although doubtless I'll get around to it :-), I neglected to post the piece I wrote last Sunday, after our victory at Upton Park. It's way out of date after Wednesday's trip to Elland Road, but I'll leave you to decide whether it's worth reading or not, assuming I eventually get it sent out in advance of KO against Wigan..
Besides, at least it gives me an excuse to relay some scurrilous gossip. Although for all I know, with me barely having had time to glimpse a newspaper all week, it's probably old news by now?
I had a text message from a mate last Saturday, suggesting that according to his sources at Sky, a Gunner of North African origin was soon to be "outed". Then the following day, a geezer I was working with who's lad works at Sky Sports, was telling me about a tabloid tale concerning a professional footballer who's supposedly the target of an attempted blackmail, after allegedly being photographed with his todger out, in the company of three Swedish lasses in Las Vegas (had to be Swedish & Las Vegas, as it wouldn't be nearly as tasty a salacious morsel, if the females involved were Belgian and they were at it in Blackpool!).
Well apparently there's a pixelated photo out there in the ether of the said same Gunner. Personally I'm of the opinion that both rumours are probably the two tips of the same fag end. But I couldn't help but ruminate on how this reflects on our society, as sadly if the former proves true, the poor love will end up being positively slaughtered every week on terraces, up and down the country (when you recall how viciously football fans laid into Graham Le Saux, when he was alleged to be a "nancy boy" for merely reading the Grauniad!). Whereas a footballer would be absolutely feted for larging it up with three sex mad Scandinavians in Las Vegas!
My colleague at work also informed me that allegedly he won't be alone in the eye of this potential tabloid storm, as according to his lad there's further litigation currently preventing publication of another titillating tale concerning another lanky North London striker (one who couldn't score in the proverbial brothel if it wasn't for his football related fame & fortune).
In truth it goes against the grain for me to be participating in adding any grist to this malicious mill. But then I'm probably no better for giving credence to the contents of the text message in the first place. My missus would call me a bigot for believing that the hours spent in front of a mirror, training one's hair to stand to attention (wasting money on exorbitant treatments and potions for that "messed up" look which comes perfectly natural to many of us!) is any indication of one's sexual proclivities :-)
Meanwhile, back on the football pitch we progressed to the 4th round of the FA Cup this week. If I'm honest, after slogging my guts out working on the get-out from the theatre on Sunday and then unloading six arctics full of scenery at the ballet's stores in Kent on Monday, I was so cream-crackered come Wednesday, that I might easily have been tempted to blow out the trip to Leeds, in favour of putting my feet up in front of the box.
What's more, after a fall on the stairs and then hobbling around for a couple of days, my 77-year old Ma puts all the nancy boy footballers to shame, as it turns out that she took the bins out on Monday, her wheelie bin bearing most of her weight because she'd broken her leg! And so I felt a bit guilty about dashing off to Leeds, leaving her to watch the match on ITV, lying in a hospital bed with her fractured limb in plaster.
Mind you, it probably turned out for the best, as if I'd been more considerate and stopped and watched the game with her, I'd have soon fallen out with her consultant, when he arrived in the room just after 8pm and I'd been forced to turn the telly off and missed the opening goal! My Ma was hardly over the moon about it :-)
Then again, even after travelling all the way up to Yorkshire I almost contrived to miss Samir's crucial opener. Being so exhausted, I was happy to put my feet up on the club's chartered train to Leeds and duly arrived at Leeds station a good couple of hours before KO. But I didn't take too kindly to the reception committee, as we were greeted by a gaggle of coppers (including sniffer dogs - that took an interest in at least a couple of unfortunate Gooners) and so instead of allowing myself to be herded like sheep onto an awaiting shuttle bus to the stadium, I went off to meet some pals for a bite to eat.
Belly's full, we were standing outside TGI in Leeds waiting for a sherbet at 7.15pm. But the cab that turned up wouldn't take all six of us and the two with the youngest legs stayed behind. They actually had a result, deciding to use shank's pony and ending up getting to the game before us, as we got caught in "far worse than usual" football traffic.
Having barely moved a few hundred yards, we abandoned ship at 7.45 deciding to do likewise, all breathing a sigh of relief as we headed in what we assumed to be the right direction and crested the brow of a hill to be greeted with the unmistakeable phosphorous glow of floodlights, in the thankfully not too far distance.
The four of us all squeezed into the excruciatingly narrow rows of seats behind the goal, our arrival staggered according to our relative fitness, but mercifully we all managed to make it, just in the nick of time to see Samir score.
I actually expected us to be a goal behind by the time we got there, after one of our number fatefully announced - if a little breathlessly, as we legged it to the ground - that the Gunners had yet to concede in the first 15 minutes of a game. And in hindsight, I'm very glad we didn't, as I've a notion this long-winded ramble would've ended up with us crying over a far more miserable conclusion!
Between another arduous week at work and hospital visits, I've only just caught up on the rest of the football news. When you look at the vast areas of empty terracing at Man City and Wolves in midweek, it's in stark contrast to an Eland Road that was packed to the rafters and watching a recording of our match this evening, I could just make myself out on the screen, working my way along my row, as Szczesny is taking our first goal-kick about 3 mins in.
The raucous atmosphere was so overwhelming, an intensity of noise that you rarely experience in relatively tepid Premiership encounters nowadays, that I'd forgotten quite what tangible a sense of that twelfth-man advantage a truly fervent home crowd can create. Which is how come I've a sense that although I was standing there watching Nasri poke the ball home a couple of minutes later, I hadn't really had long enough to drink in my surroundings and as a result, I don't think I was entirely zeroed in on the game itself.
I know I was disappointed to discover that the likes of Wilshere and Walcott hadn't made the starting line-up; because on what might well have proved a night for stouter hearts than the likes of Shava and Denilson, it occurred to me that we could've done with W & W on the pitch, for whom the cauldron-like atmosphere of a traditional FA Cup evening must have just a little more meaning than it does for other members of this Arsenal squad.
I wasn't aware at the time of Denilson's supposed denigration of the leadership on the pitch in Arsène's side. In truth the Brazilian midfielder isn't admitting to anything that hasn't been patently obvious to the vast majority of avid Arsenal watchers for far too long now. But aside from the fact that he'd have been best keeping schtum, it's more than a little ironic to hear it coming from Denilson, who in my most humble opinion is just about the most diffident footballer in our entire squad!
In the circumstances, I'm sure there'll be few games where a goal in the opening five minutes will prove more pivotal. Apart from sucking all the wind out of the home crowd's sails, Nasri's opener enabled us to settle down and truly exert the authority of our superior ball skills.
Still the home crowd weren't going to let the small matter of our complete and utter supremacy spoil their biggest night out in years (who's counting Spurs?) and as we passed up chance after chance and Schmeichel pulled off a couple of super saves, standing behind Szczeny's goal, we began to wonder if we were going to regret our profligate failure to make our dominance count, by providing the comfort of a two goal cushion.
With the home fans raising the roof every time their side even threatened to get out of their own half, you sensed we needed to snuff out the Leeds threat completely, as we simply couldn't afford their staunch support the sort of glimmer of hope that would have them roaring them on to even greater feats. And for a minute or two, I thought we'd achieved this objective, when Sagna absolutely spanked home our second after half an hour. At least I thought Baks had spanked it, until Johnson hit his howitzer at t'other end (albeit after Shava was bullied off the ball in the build up) to pull one back for Leeds.
It's funny, as watching a replay of the match, you can hear us shouting our heads off quite clearly and when travelling to away games, it regularly feels as if we've outsung the home crowd. But it's been a while since I've felt quite so impotent as a visiting supporter, as with us spread out across the length of the lower tier (and the Arsenal having given back a 1000 tickets), it constantly felt as if we were being drowned out, with the home crowd adopting the same tune, with different words but with considerably more decibels.
With Leeds pulling one back just before the break, you just knew that the next goal was going to be crucial. Either we were going to win the game, or it was going to be a very long, nerve wracking night.
Myself I spent much of half-time worrying that I'd end up blaming our eventual cup exit on me having missed out on buying a programme in the mad dash to get to the game. It's rare to find them selling programmes behind the same counter as the booze and grub and I'd normally make do with my (nicotine substitute) pack of fruit pastilles at the break because at most grounds, unless you are out of your seat and down the stairs before the half-time whistle blows, the queues are so huge that you'll invariably end up missing the restart.
However I'm such a superstitious bugger that I risked missing a goal for the second time that evening and stood watching Schmeichel deny Alex Song on the screens down on the concourse as I waited to be served, returning to my seat with a couple of cups of hot chocolates as an afterthought, since I would've felt just a little bit daft disturbing everyone with my tardy return, bereft of refreshments.
The longer the game continued at 2-1, the more the tension mounted. But for once Arsène produced a timely intervention, as with Leeds having worked so hard to maintain their energy levels second half, attempting to suffocate our passing game by pressing all over the park and just as they were forced to break up their stalwart centre-back partnership with the loss of O'Brien (albeit that Grayson's attempts to prevent them from flagging nearly paid off with his second sub almost scoring with his first touch of the ball), psychologically I'm sure it must've felt daunting for the home side to see the fresh-legged Fabregas and Van Persie standing on the touchline, about to enter the fray with twenty to play.
So it proved with both players immediate impact, with Fabregas' run and resulting free-kick and Van Persie soaring like ostrich to head home Bendtner's cross and the goal that guaranteed us a fourth round tie with Huddersfield
I've a feeling I read somewhere that Szczeny recognised his calling as a keeper relatively late in life. By contrast, you can imagine Peter Schmeichel's progeny was pulling on the gloves before he was crawling. And if there's any marked evidence of this difference, it's seen in their kicking ability as this is one obvious weak aspect of Wojciech's game, compared to Kasper's ability to kick the ball into the sort of orbit where you expect it to come down with snow on.
The best banter of the evening was with the goalies. After Baks had bemoaned the fact the Szczeny was in such a rush during the first-half, when the ball went into the crowd the young Pole turned and told us to take our time with it. Then towards the end of the game, at first I strained to hear what we were chanting, but soon joined in with the riotous chant of "Your dad's a w***er" which I'm sure was the inspiration which encouraged Schmeichel to charge up the other end at the death (despite being two goals down), in his efforts to pay us back for our insults.
Who said the FA Cup's a dead parrot, e's just resting :-)
Come on you Reds