Apologies for pinching a few lines from my previous post, for my piece for the Irish Examiner below (I couldn't resist repeating the image of Arsène as our very own Pol Pot!)
I'm not sure if our ability to compete in yesterday's game was due to an improvement compared to our recent lamentable form, or the fact that the home side had an off day. Perhaps it was more a case of Spurs not being able to adapt from their former mindset, where traditionally they are accustomed to going into these Derby games as outright underdogs? Their fans were undoubtedly nervous, as few of them have ever experienced the feeling of encountering the Gunners as favourites for a win and perhaps this was reflected in their team's apparent timidity for much of the first-half.
Yet while we might have controlled much of the possession for the first 45, the principal difference between the two sides was that Spurs two efforts on goal were both on target, while we failed miserably to test Brad Friedel, with the Spurs goal gaping for Gervinho.
I was particularly disappointed with the dreadlocked Frenchman, as he all too frequently failed to remain on his feet, in his contest with Spurs' lightweight schnip of a left back. His was a strangely hesitant performance, considering he's capable of creating such havoc with his directness (even if he rarely looks to be in full control of the ball). I was equally discouraged by Walcott's display. Contrast Theo's reluctance to run with the ball and his overall lack of involvement, to that of Gareth Bale when he was allowed to build up a head of steam!
In fact based on his contribution (or lack thereof) in recent weeks, quite frankly I'm surprised Walcott's earned another England call up. To my mind Theo's body language suggests he's not overly enamoured to find himself playing in a struggling side and when we most need the likes of Theo to be racing off with the ball down to the other end of the pitch, you get the impression that he didn't sign up for a role in which he's obligated to spend much of the match tracking back.
And if Walcott is disillusioned with the Gunners lack of success, it's hard to imagine Van Persie wanting to put pen to paper, to commit himself to several more seasons surrounded by such mediocrity.
It wasn't all bad, as Francis Coquelin certainly did himself justice, putting in a decent shift. But the French youngster is positively naive, compared to the wilyness of the likes of Scott Parker and his ability to snuff out a flame before the outbreak of dangerous fire. Yet while the Gunners looked up for the battle early on, what bothered me most was that there where 17 minutes left on the clock when Spurs took the lead for the second time and where once we might've laid siege to the Spurs goal, in our efforts to ensure that we came away with our pride intact, on this occasion it felt far more likely that they were going to score a third.
At one point you had the bizarre scene of our lumbering "big f***in' German" standing on the halfway line, while our centre-forward dropped back to defend a corner and it seemed to me that our failure to conjure up a single effort on goal during that final 15 minutes, reeked of the Gunners lack of self-belief.
I'd love to be able to put a brave face on yesterday's game, but while the sacrifice of three points might not be such a big deal in the great scheme of things, I fear the long term loss of the unsung Sagna might be!
Keep the faith
The best thing about the short trip to Tottenham is that I can get there (and back) on my motorbike in no more than 10 minutes. Arriving at White Hart Lane on Sunday, I had to ask a small firm of Spurs fans to move, as they were standing, sinking a few tinnies on the last parking pitch on the pavement.
Having parked up and attached my crash helmet to the lock on the side of the bike, I stood there shooting the breeze, in the hope of ingratiating myself sufficiently to dissuade them from doing any damage. But it was a daft mistake to admit my Arsenal allegiance. After they’d jokingly put the thought in my head, I spent the remainder of the afternoon fretting about the prospect of returning to find they’d left a nasty present for me in my crash helmet!
Now that really would constitute “taking one for the team” if the Gunners had managed to turn Sunday’s encounter around to achieve a result, only for me to have to suffer a return journey with my head jammed inside a urine soaked helmet! Unlike the cliché shots of friends and family sat side by side in red & blue shirts, enjoying the Merseyside Derby, unfortunately, in modern times, we’ve invariably experienced a decidedly loathsome edge to the North London equivalent.
In the past I’ve often believed we’ve had karma on our side, whenever the Spurs Neanderthals have resorted to their paedophile taunts of Le Prof. But on Sunday I had to stop myself from joining in with the Gooners beyond the pale chant of “shot in Angola, it should’ve been you” aimed at Adebayor. I was fearful that we were only providing the Togolese Judas with added motivation to let his feet do the talking. But it was hypocrisy in the extreme to hear Harry Redknapp castigating us Gooners, when en masse, his own fans have been incessantly guilty of equally vitriolic and racist abuse.
Redknapp might’ve managed to rejuvenate the lanky front-man for the moment, but I will be amazed if this renaissance continues on into the bleak mid-winter. Harry will have to prove himself a better man-manager than any of Adebayor’s managerial predecessors, if he isn’t to end up tearing his hair out, when the lazy striker’s initial enthusiasm begins to wane and he’s left loafing around on the halfway line.
Mercifully Adebayor failed miserably to live up to all the pre-match hype. Yet I suppose it was only fitting that an individual performance didn’t steal the show, on an afternoon when Spurs proved the advantage of having a more well-rounded squad. Although, in truth, considering we rolled up there in absolute dread of the sort of rout experienced by the Scousers, I imagine most Arsenal fans were pleasantly surprised to see us dominate possession for large periods of this match. However in the end, this only made the eventual outcome so much more depressing, knowing we weren’t that far from a result that might’ve rescued me from my fate of several months worth of gleeful mickey-taking from my Spurs mates.
As the single most consistent and reliable defender in our squad for many seasons, probably the most significant outcome of the afternoon was the tragedy that befell Bakary Sagna. I adore Carl Jenkinson’s committed attitude, but he lacks both the experienced nous and the pace of Sagna and our reliance on such a callow youth over the coming months is only likely to add to Arsène’s woes.
It’s no great secret why the flakiness of a backline that’s beset by injuries is being exposed week after week. In the past the Arsenal have been able to compensate for such inadequacies, with our ability to retain control of possession for such large periods. So it stands to reason that so long as the current ensemble insists on gifting the ball back to the opposition, as they struggle to orchestrate the same tippy-tappy, mazy passing patterns that have so frustrated opponents in the past, our porous defence is bound to come under that much more scrutiny.
Le Prof finds himself cast as the Arsenal’s very own Pol Pot, presiding over the dawn of day one in an entirely new Gooner calendar. Perhaps this squad will begin to gel as the new boys find their feet and Arsène eventually settles on his best XI, but at present the Gunners appear to be an entirely different creature to the one we’ve grown accustomed to in recent times.
In the absence of Wilshere and unless Arteta is to discover the energy and the same third-eye perception of his predecessor, perhaps we need to drop our former soubriquet as “the entertainers”, so we can rapidly develop the required resilience, which will enable us to make up for what we now might lack in pure artistic flair, with honest graft, commitment and team-spirit?
Meanwhile how times have changed. I always used to despair at the annoying interruption of International breaks, whereas nowadays I’m grateful (I’m guessing as is le Gaffer) for the welcome relief of some respite.--
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