After fulfilling my obligation to file my weekly missive to the Irish Examiner on Monday, the fact that I haven't got around to posting it out until now is perhaps symptomatic of the feeling of disillusionment following last Sunday's abysmal display up at Stoke.
I've never forgotten the comment I received on an end of term report from one of my teachers, more than forty years back in primary school, who referred to me as "a speedboat idling around the harbour". While I might have lingered to explore every inch of that harbour in the interim, it seemed an appropriate analogy for the Gunners, following such an unsatisfying season, where perhaps more than any of the past half-dozen campaigns (considering the mediocrity of the competition), we are all left feeling that we "could've...should've done better"!
The reminder of that awful feeling of being left shivering on the pavement, outside the pub, staring enviously through the frosted windows, for a glimpse of the jollity on offer in the end of season "lock in" really struck home when the weekly edition of the Examiner's football supplement arrived in the post midweek, with it's headline "On their perch - United on the brink of historic 19th title: P3, 4, 5, 6, 7" and obviously watching events on the box this afternoon only served to rub my face some more in what might've been.
Nevertheless, you have to put these events into some perspective, as the vast majority of fans go through their entire lives supporting a club, knowing full well that they might never savour that precious moment of seeing their team win a major trophy and with only four pots on offer each season (I suppose five if you count the Europa Cup), in truth we should count ourselves very fortunate that we have realistic expectations of silverware each season.
And so while I might agree with so many of the sentiments expressed by the Black Scarf Movement, I have to wonder that if it wasn't for the cock-up between Sczcny & Koscielny which cost us our first trophy in six years, would they still be planning a march on the Emirates tomorrow? What's more, with the Gunners having sold our soul to the corporatisation (if there is such a word) of the beautiful game on our departure from THOF, we've made our bed and sadly we now have to lie in it. It seems to me that while events in the Middle East might have served to inspire the ordinary man to make the effort to have their voices heard, when it comes to a football club that continues to have the ability to sell one's season ticket to any number of punters prepared to take our place, until such time as the Club Level punters begin to boycott their 200 quid pre-match grub, the vociferous complaints of the rest of us plebs are tantamount to pissing in the wind!
Come on you Reds
With as many Man Utd fans milling around Euston on Sunday morning, as there were Arsenal & Chelsea, hundreds of us without reservations were all left behind when the 11.20 to Manchester (via Stoke) pulled out of the station. I must admit, I was sorely tempted to turn around, get an immediate refund on my 57 quid fare and return home to put my feet up and watch Sunday’s encounters unfold on the box, instead of standing around the station, sweating about getting on the next train, knowing it would be touch and go whether I’d make it to the Britannia Stadium in time for kick-off.
As it turned out, I made it to Stoke in plenty of time to puff away outside the ground and restore my nicotine level prior to the game, which was fortunate because in their current inconsistent guise, watching the Arsenal involves the tension of a guaranteed two pack a day smoking habit! Naturally I ended up walking out of the Britannia an hour and a half later, following what must rank as one of our most abysmal performances of the season, wishing I’d followed my first instincts to give up on my outing, rather than being such a sucker for punishment, so I might have saved my hard-earned wedge and all that wasted effort.
I’d been working on a gig for the ballet at Buckingham Palace (of all places) the previous day and while listening to the disjointed bursts of radio commentary from Old Trafford, courtesy of the wi-fi connection on the train back to London, I began calculating how many sections of back-breaking, steel-decking I’d carried into the Queen’s humble home, to cover the cost of my infuriating schlep to the Potteries.
My endeavours certainly involved a whole lot more toil and sweat than several Arsenal players seemed prepared to expend on the pitch on Sunday and at the end of the day, considering the huge sacrifices necessary to follow one’s club up and down the country nowadays, win, lose or draw, my only demand is the satisfaction of knowing that our overpaid heroes at least have the common decency to return this compliment.
Not the lackadaisical nonchalance of a Nicholas Bendtner who lopes on after the break at 0-2 down as if he owns the place, when all the Danish striker really owns is the delusion of his own ability. Or the all too lily-livered promptings of the likes of Arshavin and Walcott, playing pass the parcel with the ball, to ensure they weren’t in possession when the music stopped to receive their hosts traditional welcome (where a clattering has replaced the oatcakes on Tony Pullis' Potters menu).
I was increasingly desperate for the Gunners to pull back the deficit, if only so we might respond to the Stoke fans’ amusing taunts of “Arsene Wenger, he didn’t see that” or “2-0 to the rugby team”, with our own riposte of “he did see that” or “3-2 to the football team”. Yet while I might’ve been as guilty as everyone else at pointing the finger of blame at Djourou’s costly defensive lapses, we couldn’t exactly feel hard done by, as there was a timidity to all our possession, an apparent unwillingness to take responsibility and a resultant lack of incisiveness, which hardly had us peppering the home side’s goal.
In fact you could be forgiven for thinking that it was the Gunners who were guilty of conserving their energy, or preserving their fitness for Saturday’s FA Cup Final. Whereas by contrast Pullis appeared to have pulled off the trick of creating the air of insecurity that inspired all his troops to produce a performance which might nail down a highly-prized place in Stoke’s starting line-up for their prestigious day out at Wembley.
For all his talents, the last two chalk and cheese displays of Wenger’s team stand as testament to the fact that while the Gunners might be able to rise to the big occasion, Arsène doesn’t posses the sort of intimidating personality to ensure that his players are far too afraid of incurring his wrath, should they dare leave the field having given anything less than 100 per cent.
But then the Gunners are far from alone in this respect. I watched West Ham struggle to secure a point on Saturday and I had plenty of sympathy for the Hammers fans, as you’d never believe this was a team fighting for its Premiership life. So as much as it pains me, “nuff respek” to the old warhorse Fergie, as even in an era of self-serving mercenary stars, the man still possesses the aura to galvanize a particularly uninspiring Man Utd side for the games that really matter.
Meanwhile, as the end of the Arsenal's damp squib of a season draws nigh, our dreaded season ticket renewals dropped through the letterbox on Friday. For all the high-class entertainment, all I really want in return for my 1000 quid investment, is some evidence of the sort of commitment that will enable me to continue to kid myself that the club means as much to our players, as it does to me.--
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