After experiencing the spontaneous fervour of the Greek fans at Olympiacos in midweek, not to mention a couple of days of welcome respite from the arctic weather, Saturday’s celebrations of the Arsenal’s 125th anniversary felt a little contrived and somewhat anaemic by comparison. A bit like the commemorative matchday programme, which much to my chagrin was completely sold out to all the souvenir-collecting tourists, it came neatly packaged in a cellophane wrapper.
Not that it wasn’t great to see such an august array of Arsenal legends turn out for the occasion and not that the Gunners don’t do such grandiose affairs with a certain amount of style. Mercifully, I’m not nearly so ancient as to be able to comment on the image of Herbert Chapman but the likenesses of Adams and Henry leave a little to be desired. However with these bronzes and all the other elements of the continued Arsenalisation of the new stadium, there can be no doubting the admirable efforts being made to develop, what was originally an anonymous concrete and glass arena, into our Gooner home.
Nevertheless, it’s memories that maketh a football ground and for all the decorative additions in the past five years since the move, we’ve still nothing to show by way of silverware. Sadly Arsène’s ‘promised land’ seems destined to remain a decidedly soulless gaff, until such time as our new arena begins to accrue some success-filled recollections of its own.
Without doubt the most touching moment, was the sight of Thierry Henry welling up at the unveiling of his statue on Friday; noticeable by his absence, perhaps Tony Adams preferred to stop in Azerbaijan, rather than risk being confronted by similar emotions? Meanwhile, although the milk & honey, or more likely the canapés and champagne were doubtless flowing in the Directors Box and the Executive and Club Levels on Saturday, from where I sat in the Lower Tier, it felt a bit like being one of a multitude of after-dinner guests at a wedding, invited merely to fill up the dance floor and lend the place some much needed atmosphere, but only able to muse on what we’d missed out on at the main shindig.
Aside from the unwanted distraction of all this hoopla prior to facing Everton, I was concerned there might be some ramifications from our defeat in Greece. At least for once Arsène couldn’t claim fatigue as a factor, since Vermaelen was the only player who featured in both games. Yet despite the luxury of being able to leave so many first-string players back at home, due to having already qualified as group winners, I feared for the possibility of a display in Athens that might put a dent in our burgeoning winning mentality.
Then again, although the Gunners hardly covered themselves with glory, with a below par performance and our frustrating first-half profligacy in front of goal against the Toffees, in truth it was fitting that the day was won with a traditional “1-0 to the Arsenal”. Although this auspicious occasion might’ve ended as a bit of a damp squib, if Van Persie hadn’t popped up in the 70th minute to steal the show with his exquisite volley.
It transpired that the unveiling of immobile figures wasn’t solely confined to the stadium’s perimeter, as with Santos, the last of our recognized full-backs, joining the ranks of our walking wounded, Arsène was forced to resort to a statuesque defence, comprised of four centre-halves. With the resulting lack of width going forward, this game was always unlikely to produce the most scintillating fare. In fact the match ended with seven centre-backs on the field, as Moyes signaled his intent to baton down the hatches on the hour, by replacing Saha, Everton’s lone front man, with Distin.
Personally I was hoping all of Saturday’s encounters might be preceded by a minute’s laughter, in appreciation of the demise of our Mancunian pals. I’m not sure I’d fancy facing Mancini’s wounded animal next weekend, handicapped by this clutch of defensive centre-halves. Still Saturday’s win offered cause for optimism, with an undertone of immutability that was reminiscent of the spirit on which the club’s traditions were forged.
Wenger badly needs to address the fact that we remain only one hamstring away from disaster, as far as our reliance on our prolific Dutch striker’s fitness is concerned. But elsewhere, hopefully the renaissance of a genuine “they shall not pass” attitude will continue to evolve into a Gunners whole that is far greater than the sum of its individual parts.
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