(but then again, hopefully too few to mention!)
Not that we needed any reminding (following our traumatic implosion on Tyneside) but football’s a fickle old mistress. It feels as if it was only yesterday that we were reveling in the return of an almost fully fit squad - which perhaps bore some relevance to le Prof’s reluctance to put his hand in the Arsenal’s deep pockets during the transfer window and his rush to send the likes of Ramsey, Eastmond, Emmanuel-Thomas & Bartley back out on loan.
But then in the blink of an eye our we're back down to the bare bones, deprived of Nasri, Song, Denilson, Vermaelen, Djourou & Fabianski by injury and Diaby by suspension. With our midfield decimated and Koscielny & Squillaci our last two centre-backs still standing, suddenly it’s looking decidedly remiss of Arsène to have resisted the inclination to strengthen our squad, thereby girding the Gunners’ loins for just such an eventuality.
While many footie fans were glued to the hyperbole gushing from Sky Sports News during the dramatic last hour leading up to the transfer deadline last Monday, Arshavin tweeted “I don’t watch transfer TV. I play for Arsenal, there’s no point”! Arsène must have been feeling quite smug at half-time at St. James' Park after we’d steam-rollered an utterly spineless Newcastle side, who’d spent most of the first 45 arguing amongst themselves.
I’m glad that for once I’d managed to arrive early, or else I’d have missed most of the fun. But my sympathy is reserved for those poor Geordies who lost complete faith during the Toon’s first-half capitulation and who appeared to be heading for the exits long before the break. In light of the fact that the Gunners are all too often guilty of failing to make the most of their advantage by putting the opposition to the sword, going into half-time four goals to the good, I couldn't help but make the fatal mistake of counting unhatched chickens, believing it'd be a rare treat for us to be able to relax, sit back and enjoy a glut of goals, a comfortable 3 points and even perhaps the confidence boost of a clean sheet.
Yet after the red mist descended and ref Dowd had sent Diaby loping off the pitch, within minutes the Toon had pulled two back and a couple of thousand Gooners up in the gods behind the goal, were all turning to one another with aghast expressions on our faces, as the unlikely possibility dawned on us, of this encounter descending into another “squeaky bum” débâcle.
From our far-sighted perspective, both penalties felt like a sympathy vote from Dowd (or perhaps a “serve you right” response to Cesc casting heat-of-the-moment aspersions on his profession’s probity?) and I’m not convinced he’d have given either decision if the contest had still been goalless. But even then, there remained an air of incredulity at the prospect of us throwing it away completely.
If ever fans and players alike have needed the reassurance of a big galoot coming off the bench, to offer some “stand firm” resolve, it was at St James’. Instead of which we failed to make do with a far too lightweight Tomas Rosicky, who’s in danger of being felled by a stiff breeze and the madcap Manny Eboué (with Marouanne Chamakh’s seemingly becalmed on the bench by fears that litigation can’t keep a salacious scandal out of the media forever and a narcissistic Nicky Bendtner, who might perhaps be more effective, if only he showed a modicum of love for the Gunners’ cause that he apparently has for himself!).
By the time Tioté iced the Toon cake with his stunning strike, there was a certain inevitability about the way in which we waved the white flag, in the face of the momentum of the home side’s astonishing comeback, which left us trudging down from the heavens at St James’ Park with our tails firmly between our legs.
Still with the impressive Ivorian returning from suspension and with the possibility that the Toon might be intent on proving that there’s life on Tyneside in the absence of Andy Carrol, if I’d been offered a point earlier in the day, along with the prospect of Man Utd’s aura of invincibility ending up in tatters in a defeat to Mick McCarthy’s mob, I’d have bitten your hand off.
I boarded a flight back from the North-East, praying the 5% left on my iPhone battery was sufficient for providing 5 more minutes of radio commentary of the injury time being played at Molyneux. Instead of an agonizing flight home, the mood was lifted dramatically as we heard the final result just before take-off.
Messi’s hat-trick wasn’t exactly music to my ears later that night. But injuries & suspensions aside, so long as there’s no long-term psychological impact from Saturday’s collapse, along with the pleasing confirmation of Cup Final tickets on Monday morning, even a pessimist like myself would struggle to deny that the Premiership table looks more promising.
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Monday, February 07, 2011
(but then again, hopefully too few to mention!)