(better late then never?)
Israel is often described as a country where “the one who shouts loudest gets served first” and it amazes me that of all the brazen Red Sea pedestrians on the planet, the Hammers ended up with such an incredibly mild-mannered and dignified descendant of Moses at the helm.
As much sympathy as I might have for Avram Grant, with the disgustingly public and long-drawn out manner in which he’s been (or is about to be?) deposed, in truth I’ll be glad to see him go. The poor geezer has looked utterly clueless of late and not only do I have no desire to see him suffer more humiliating punishment, I don’t want the Hammers to go down.
Upton Park might not be quite as near as White Hart Lane but it’s one of the easiest awaydays of the season; without anything like the intimidating atmosphere nowadays, of the sort that makes our local derby an outing where the primary focus is to survive unscathed. What’s more, compared to our magnificent but somewhat sanitized, mammoth new arena, it’s a pleasure to return to what remains a proper old-fashioned, intimate, four-sided football stadium, albeit sadly deprived of much of its former intensity under the floodlights.
Although it’s an outing that’s been made a mite more awkward, since the gargantuan sprawl of an Olympic Park development has seen the closure of all my customary Stratford backdoubles, I can still get to The Boleyn in 30 minutes on my motorbike and I spent much of Saturday afternoon hoping the rain would hold off, long enough for me to avoid a soaking on route. But while mercifully I remained dry, with endless gossip earlier in the day about Martin O’Neill’s imminent arrival, the media certainly did their best to put a dampener on the East Londoners' evening.
It was ironic that I drove past the cut-price 2012 centerpiece, silhouetted on the Stratford skyline, considering we spent much of the match teasing the Hammers about the repugnant prospect of a “groundshare with Tottenham” as their Olympic legacy. Still I was grateful to be standing, watching football for 90 minutes, instead of spending 10 hours on my feet, enduring another two performances of Romeo & Juliet. It wasn’t so much the thought of the couple of hundred quid cost of this privilege, by way of having to pay for my replacement that made me anxious for a successful outcome, but my utter dread of the derision I’d be facing from all the Irons’ fans at the theatre, should I dare show up for Sunday’s get-out following an Arsenal defeat.
Yet I need not have fretted as following the ignominy in Ipswich, mercifully Arsène selected our best available players and while West Ham made a decent fist of it at first, under such farcical circumstances and in the absence of Scott Parker’s wholeheartedness, any remaining fight in the home side, or their fans had evaporated, by the time they came out for the second half 0-2 down.
I sensed a mounting tide of frustration with our bloody-minded manager outside the Boleyn prior to Saturday’s match. If I’ve one fairly constant criticism, it’s Arsène’s overly scientific approach and the reams of statistical analysis of fitness that doubtless resulted in his team selections for our two previous substandard displays. Yet whenever Wenger rotates the squad it’s as if he's sending out all the wrong signals, by tacitly telling them that we’ve more than enough in the tank to beat this lowly lot and that they need only turn up for us to triumph. Without the sort of big personalities on the bench, or in the dressing-room who are capable of drumming up the passion and desire necessary for success in such fervent cup encounters, we were always riding for a fall.
Contrary to le Gaffer’s pragmatic logic, for the more instinctive amongst us it made far more sense to try and maintain some winning momentum by beating both Leeds and Ipswich at the first go. Besides which we’d have ended up with much fresher legs by avoiding a reply at Elland Road and with the sort of trouncing against the Tractor Boys that might’ve afforded us the luxury of resting players for the return leg.
Spurs v Man Utd made for difficult viewing on Sunday, a game where the only truly satisfactory outcome would’ve been for both teams to get beat. Failing that, I suppose a scoreless draw was the best we could’ve hoped for. But if the increasingly manic managerial merry-go-round wasn’t already enough evidence of the inexact science that is the beautiful game, there was a further reminder at White Hart Lane.
The way Redknapp tells it, he was offered Van Der Vaart by his chairman, as an afterthought to Harry’s close season wheeler-dealing. He couldn’t have possibly known that the Dutchman would prove the catalyst for Spurs recent success. Much like a chef, a manager throws together random players, in the hope of providing a whole football feast that’s far greater than the sum of the individual ingredients.
I hit the sack Sunday with the footballing equivalent of a stomach ulcer, after making the mistake of gorging on more of the sumptuously haute Catalan cuisine on offer at the Nou Camp. Here’s hoping the Gunners have the gumption for us to avoid a midweek enema up at Elland Road?