Monday, January 31, 2011

Shava tweets....

"I don't watch Transfer deadline TV, I play for Arsenal there is no point.. ;)))"


There are often times when writing my missive on Sunday/Monday for publication in the Irish Examiner on a Wednesday is a complete pain in the arse. This is one of them!

Mind you, as a Gooner, I've hardly got cause for the proverbial "hold the back page" proclamation. I can't seriously imagine there were many of us who were watching Monday night's transfer madness on Sky Sports (unlike Arshavin), actually expecting anything of any Red & White relevance to occur.

We've grown accustomed to transfer deadlines coming and going during AW's tenure without le Gaffer shuffling his pack. In truth, with hindsight, even Arshavin's atypical last-minute arrival was probably a deal which was mostly pushed through by Ivan Gazides, as the Gunners new broom attempted to prove his worth, by demonstrating his immediate impact on the club with the Arsenal's biggest ever outlay to ensure the capture of the diminutive (and many might say, somewhat indolent!) Ruski.

Nevertheless as a decidedly weak winter transfer market was suddenly topped up to over £200 million (quite frankly an obscene amount in the current parlous economic climate, compared to a relatively thrifty £29mill last winter!) with the mega-money deadline hour deals done for Torres, Luiz, Carrol & Suarez, it was hard not to feel just a tad envious of those fans who will be turning up for future matches, eagerly awaiting their first sight of some superstar signings, especially when it would appear that compared to so many of the Arsenal's competitors, the club's finances are comparatively healthy and unlike so many other clubs, it's not like we can't afford to bolster our squad in those areas of such obviously diaphanous depth!

But then you know that Arsène's perfectly happy to stick, rather than twist and doesn't feel any pressing need to even pluck out some obscure cut-price red herring as the transfer clock ticks down, when the only false scent found by the tabloid trash involved the unlikely likes of an infirm Jonathan Woodgate and a decrepit Sol Campbell.

I only hope le Prof is proved correct and that with the Gunners still fighting on all four fronts, he doesn't end up regretting his parsimony, as injuries and suspensions begin to take their toll.

Arsène's confidence in his first XI doesn't appear misguided, as we all know that on our day, our best players are perfectly capable of giving anyone a game. But as was all too obvious against Huddersfield on Sunday, as far as I'm concerned, our pusillanimity becomes patently clear the moment le gaffer makes more than the odd change to the starting line-up and sends out half a dozen of those players who've been flattering to deceive for far too long now - you all know who they are!

But then with the Arsenal's customary habit of playing their cards as close to their chest as possible, we don't really know what's been going on behind the scenes. For all we know, they've been slaving their backsides off trying in vain to obtain certain specific targets? In fact only yesterday my neighbour at the Emirates was speculating as to whether Carlos Vela's proposed loan move to Bolton was called off out of spite, perhaps because Owen Coyle wouldn't budge on flogging us Gary Cahill and as a result Vela has ended up loaned out to the Baggies instead?

Although if there's anything to this theory, personally my feeling has always been that if Arsène truly believes we're short in the centre-back department, then surely it makes sense simply to stump up sufficient moola necessary to bag the best available candidate (myself I've not seen enough of Cahill to be convinced). As evidenced from the apparent scramble going on amongst those clubs either fretting about, or striving for a precious seat at the European top table, from a strictly economic point of view, surely it's got to be good business. What price Arsène's apparent inactivity, if heaven forfend, injuries to the likes of Vermaelen, Djourou or Koscielny end up with us being pipped for fourth place?

Meanwhile if we're frustrated by our failure to bring in some new blood through the front door, what about all the very best of our fringe youngsters exiting out the back on assorted loan deals?
Perhaps there's an argument for blooding Jay Emmanuel-Thomas with the Bluebirds, but why risk sending Aaron Ramsey to Wales with him, when (in my humble opinion) Aaron could be doing a far better job than a diffident Denilson.

But that's more than enough of my waffle. Besides which, it's hardly a day for whinging, when I've just bought a ticket for my first Wembley final (since the redevelopment). Mind you, while we're laughing at Tottenham (and Harry's failed late bid for Charlie Adams) and bragging about an apparent banker of an FA Cup Draw against the Orient, I've been led to believe that we've drawn the O's on three previous occasions, each of which ended up with us losing in the final!

Come on you Reds
Big Love
Bernard

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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Doing It The Easy Way. Do Me A Favour!

In spite of the TV companies best efforts to milk their limited exclusive coverage for all it’s worth, by squeezing as many televised FA Cup matches into a weekend as is possible and despite the sobering ramifications of so many empty seats at several 4th round matches, mercifully the oldest knockout tournament on the planet continues to retain magic aplenty.

Following Saturday’s “cup shocks”, the Terriers’ fans were straining at the leash as they crossed the South Bridge to our impressive gaff in buoyant mood, many having apparently travelled down the night before, for a criminally early KO on a Sunday.

After dominating Huddersfield for 20 minutes, when the Gunners finally broke the deadlock, for a few moments there I thought that we might for once be able to sit-back and enjoy some stress-free football. I assumed that the fact the Terriers could no longer afford to merely sit back and attempt to stifle our passing game, would guarantee us some rip roaring entertainment, as we began to exploit the resulting space and strolled into the next round, with just the sort of relaxing afternoon that was required 48-hours in advance of Moyes’ Toffees loosening a few fillings.

Sadly, with a win-double act of Denilson and Diaby doing their best Laurel & Hardy impression in the middle of the park, I couldn’t have been more wide of the mark. It was all downhill from there, as our afternoon took a depressing turn for the worse, when our player of the season pulled up short with a patently obvious hamstring strain.

Arsène admitted afterwards that he regretted his decision to play Nasri instead of Rosicky (because the Czech midfielder had only just recovered from an illness). But as Samir limped down the tunnel the Emirates was enveloped in a palpable mood of desolation, as every Gooner present wondered if any prospect of overcoming Messi & co. in a couple of weeks time, had disappeared with him?

In my most humble opinion, this wasn’t le Boss’ only selection blunder. Other than puttting him in the shop window, in the hope off finding some schmuck foolish enough to take the Spanish keeper off our hands, I can’t imagine what possessed Arsène to pick Almunia. The timid goalie’s reluctance to stray from his line left our back four looking as fragile as ever, barely winning a single header.

Moreover the Spaniard is perhaps a somewhat tenuous patsy, but while I’m pointing the finger of blame, should Nasri’s absence result in us capitulating to the Catalans, as far as I’m concerned our klutz of a keeper will be singularly culpable, since it was Manuel's quick distribution that sent Samir on the mad dash down the middle of the park, which left him clutching the back of his thigh.

Personally I don’t understand why Wenger didn’t pick Wilshere and Walcott. If anyone can play two games in three days, it should be these two energetic youngsters. Unlike the lackadaisical football of the likes of Denilson & Diaby, which fostered the Terriers' dreams of further progress, at least Wilshere and Walcott’s feeling for the FA Cup might’ve motivated them to produce the sort of passion and commitment that could’ve put the result beyond doubt, enabling us to conserve our appetite for Tuesday’s sticky Toffee pudding, instead of fighting tooth and nail for our FA Cup lives.

I don’t profess to know better than le Gaffer (why risk loaning Ramsey to Cardiff?), but what I do know is that I was sitting there at 1-0 expecting the sort of comfortable scoreline, where we could afford to proffer our 5000 guests the gift of a consolation goal and within the space of a few minutes, I was transformed into a rabid terrace lunatic, venting my frustration at ref Clattenburg (the epitome of inconsistency), following the catalogue of ineptitude that began with Shava sloppily conceding possession, Denilson infuriatingly wafting out leg, in a typically feeble attempt at a tackle and finished with the cynical block that resulted in utter apoplexy at Squillaci’s red card.

After the lessons of our encounters with Ipswich and Leeds, I could’ve sworn Wenger assured us they’d learned that they couldn’t afford to take lower league teams lightly? Still at least we didn’t lose and (although Huddersfield are bound to feel hard done by) we were rescued from the threat of a return to Yorkshire for a replay, as Cesc came off the bench to almost singlehandedly save the day.

What’s more, if Nasri’s injury should prove to be a disaster, despite the seemingly miraculous workings of Colin Lewin’s magic sponge, there is at least some solace in the prospect of him having the company of Denilson in the treatment room. And following a favourable draw that offers the light relief of a short hop to Leyton, there was some comfort, nay great delight in the “let’s all laugh at Tottenham” farce at the Cottage. I guess Harry will now have to wait until 2021?


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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Monday, January 24, 2011

We'll Be Running Around Wembley.....

(seems my premature Alzheimers struck again, as I neglected to post last week's missive - feel free to ignore, but being such a pedant I felt obliged to maintain my weekly record, without allowing this one to go AWOL)

Make no mistake about it, if by parking their tractors on the goal-line, Ipswich manage to triumph on Tuesday night, there'll be more than a few amongst the Gooner faithful who'll be extremely miffed about missing out on a Carling Cup final.

Truth be told, if the mighty Gunners can’t beat the agricultural East Anglian outfit, then perhaps we really don’t deserve a trip to Wembley. But if we should still find ourselves fighting on all four fronts this morning, I can’t help but wonder if Arsène will end up regretting his customary reluctance to dig into the club’s supposed bulging coffers, in order to bolster our squad during the transfer window.

His mantra has always been that he won’t buy players unless they’re better than those he already has. But while on their day, the Arsenal’s best XI are capable of beating anyone, I fear that we might be in danger of being found out, should our squad find itself reduced to the bare bones. With games coming thick and fast and the furious and combative pace of so many of these high-stakes contests, it seems obvious to me our star performers are at risk of falling victim to the law of averages as far as injuries are concerned.

In fact, the closer the squad comes to reaching full strength, the more inclined I am to be holding my breath, every time one of our influential stars takes a tumble. Aside from the obvious perils of assorted tears and strains, when producing such bursts of speed in arctic conditions, endless encounters with opponents who are primarily focused on snuffing out the Gunners fast-flowing passing game, might lead one to conclude that our star players are more likely to end up lame because they’re on the receiving end of so much belligerent attention.

Yet while the likes of Harry has no qualms about raiding Spurs’ piggy bank, in an effort to add the sort of strength in depth that might offer our neighbours more hope of punching above their weight in the home straight, not only does Arsène refuse to twist but instead of sticking, he’s sending out the likes of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, one of the brightest stars in the Brady firmament, on loan for the remainder of the season.

Personally I pray le Prof gets it right, as you can sense the drip, drip, drip of Gooners running out of patience with our manager’s obdurate reliance on the resources at hand. For all his perceived blind spots, I remain a firm believer that there is ‘no better man’ for the job. But boy do we need a silver bauble or two to pacify those “huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”. It’s not enough that we get to savour such sumptuous entertainment, without fear of having the club’s future mortgaged to the hilt; success is everything.

Our midweek outing in Leeds was a real throwback evening, a rare reminder nowadays of the tangible 12th man advantage of such an intensely raucous atmosphere; complete with the obligatory Neanderthals spoiling for a brawl and burly, brusque Yorkshire old bill, solely focused on herding riotous Gooners onto our train back down South.

I was half-minded to stop and watch the match on the box, with my elderly Ma after she landed up in hospital with her leg in plaster. At 77, she puts the Nancy Boy footballers to shame, as the lunatic was limping around for a couple of days prior, even putting the bins out with her fractured limb! But I’d have been gutted to miss out on such a memorable outing and I’d have soon fallen out with her consultant for appearing at 8pm. My Ma wasn’t exactly over the moon when she turned the TV back on after his brief visit, only to discover she’d missed the first goal.

We nearly contrived to miss Nasri’s perfectly timed opener ourselves, ending up legging it from a ‘sherbet’ stuck in gridlock traffic approaching the ground, arriving (staggered according to our relative fitness or lack thereof!) with moments to spare, before seeing Samir suck all the wind from Leeds’ sails. After the unsung Sagna’s stunner had been overshadowed by Johnson’s howitzer, giving the home fans a glimmer of hope at half-time, psychologically I’m certain the appearance of Fabregas and Van Persie from the bench must’ve been the straw which broke the back of any lingering FA Cup fantasies.

I was late again for the Wigan game, but in stark contrast to the intense excitement of Elland Road, the casual lack of urgency apparent in all the other latecomers on Saturday, was almost symptomatic of the rare predictability of a what proved to be as routine a win as you are likely to see in the Premiership these days. A fact reflected in a contingent of travelling Lactic fans that must’ve struggled to fill a mini-bus!

If Van Persie isn’t just flirting with a rich vein of form and Robin can remain fit long enough to quell my natural pessimism with a return to his prolific best, the Gunners might gain sufficient momentum for me to concur with those pundits proclaiming us as the team most likely to give Man Utd a run for their money. But until I’m convinced of the fortitude around the fringes of our squad, Cup success seems far more feasible.

We can hardly afford to be fussy after five barren seasons and I’d gladly run round the Emirates with my todger waving in the wind, to express my delight at seeing Fabregas lift a trophy of any description.



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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Martha ou Arthur?

We Were There When Van Persie Soared

Hi folks,

Not wanting to bore you with my excuses (although doubtless I'll get around to it :-), I neglected to post the piece I wrote last Sunday, after our victory at Upton Park. It's way out of date after Wednesday's trip to Elland Road, but I'll leave you to decide whether it's worth reading or not, assuming I eventually get it sent out in advance of KO against Wigan..

Besides, at least it gives me an excuse to relay some scurrilous gossip. Although for all I know, with me barely having had time to glimpse a newspaper all week, it's probably old news by now?

I had a text message from a mate last Saturday, suggesting that according to his sources at Sky, a Gunner of North African origin was soon to be "outed". Then the following day, a geezer I was working with who's lad works at Sky Sports, was telling me about a tabloid tale concerning a professional footballer who's supposedly the target of an attempted blackmail, after allegedly being photographed with his todger out, in the company of three Swedish lasses in Las Vegas (had to be Swedish & Las Vegas, as it wouldn't be nearly as tasty a salacious morsel, if the females involved were Belgian and they were at it in Blackpool!).

Well apparently there's a pixelated photo out there in the ether of the said same Gunner. Personally I'm of the opinion that both rumours are probably the two tips of the same fag end. But I couldn't help but ruminate on how this reflects on our society, as sadly if the former proves true, the poor love will end up being positively slaughtered every week on terraces, up and down the country (when you recall how viciously football fans laid into Graham Le Saux, when he was alleged to be a "nancy boy" for merely reading the Grauniad!). Whereas a footballer would be absolutely feted for larging it up with three sex mad Scandinavians in Las Vegas!

My colleague at work also informed me that allegedly he won't be alone in the eye of this potential tabloid storm, as according to his lad there's further litigation currently preventing publication of another titillating tale concerning another lanky North London striker (one who couldn't score in the proverbial brothel if it wasn't for his football related fame & fortune).

In truth it goes against the grain for me to be participating in adding any grist to this malicious mill. But then I'm probably no better for giving credence to the contents of the text message in the first place. My missus would call me a bigot for believing that the hours spent in front of a mirror, training one's hair to stand to attention (wasting money on exorbitant treatments and potions for that "messed up" look which comes perfectly natural to many of us!) is any indication of one's sexual proclivities :-)

Meanwhile, back on the football pitch we progressed to the 4th round of the FA Cup this week. If I'm honest, after slogging my guts out working on the get-out from the theatre on Sunday and then unloading six arctics full of scenery at the ballet's stores in Kent on Monday, I was so cream-crackered come Wednesday, that I might easily have been tempted to blow out the trip to Leeds, in favour of putting my feet up in front of the box.

What's more, after a fall on the stairs and then hobbling around for a couple of days, my 77-year old Ma puts all the nancy boy footballers to shame, as it turns out that she took the bins out on Monday, her wheelie bin bearing most of her weight because she'd broken her leg! And so I felt a bit guilty about dashing off to Leeds, leaving her to watch the match on ITV, lying in a hospital bed with her fractured limb in plaster.

Mind you, it probably turned out for the best, as if I'd been more considerate and stopped and watched the game with her, I'd have soon fallen out with her consultant, when he arrived in the room just after 8pm and I'd been forced to turn the telly off and missed the opening goal! My Ma was hardly over the moon about it :-)

Then again, even after travelling all the way up to Yorkshire I almost contrived to miss Samir's crucial opener. Being so exhausted, I was happy to put my feet up on the club's chartered train to Leeds and duly arrived at Leeds station a good couple of hours before KO. But I didn't take too kindly to the reception committee, as we were greeted by a gaggle of coppers (including sniffer dogs - that took an interest in at least a couple of unfortunate Gooners) and so instead of allowing myself to be herded like sheep onto an awaiting shuttle bus to the stadium, I went off to meet some pals for a bite to eat.

Belly's full, we were standing outside TGI in Leeds waiting for a sherbet at 7.15pm. But the cab that turned up wouldn't take all six of us and the two with the youngest legs stayed behind. They actually had a result, deciding to use shank's pony and ending up getting to the game before us, as we got caught in "far worse than usual" football traffic.

Having barely moved a few hundred yards, we abandoned ship at 7.45 deciding to do likewise, all breathing a sigh of relief as we headed in what we assumed to be the right direction and crested the brow of a hill to be greeted with the unmistakeable phosphorous glow of floodlights, in the thankfully not too far distance.

The four of us all squeezed into the excruciatingly narrow rows of seats behind the goal, our arrival staggered according to our relative fitness, but mercifully we all managed to make it, just in the nick of time to see Samir score.

I actually expected us to be a goal behind by the time we got there, after one of our number fatefully announced - if a little breathlessly, as we legged it to the ground - that the Gunners had yet to concede in the first 15 minutes of a game. And in hindsight, I'm very glad we didn't, as I've a notion this long-winded ramble would've ended up with us crying over a far more miserable conclusion!

Between another arduous week at work and hospital visits, I've only just caught up on the rest of the football news. When you look at the vast areas of empty terracing at Man City and Wolves in midweek, it's in stark contrast to an Eland Road that was packed to the rafters and watching a recording of our match this evening, I could just make myself out on the screen, working my way along my row, as Szczesny is taking our first goal-kick about 3 mins in.

The raucous atmosphere was so overwhelming, an intensity of noise that you rarely experience in relatively tepid Premiership encounters nowadays, that I'd forgotten quite what tangible a sense of that twelfth-man advantage a truly fervent home crowd can create. Which is how come I've a sense that although I was standing there watching Nasri poke the ball home a couple of minutes later, I hadn't really had long enough to drink in my surroundings and as a result, I don't think I was entirely zeroed in on the game itself.

I know I was disappointed to discover that the likes of Wilshere and Walcott hadn't made the starting line-up; because on what might well have proved a night for stouter hearts than the likes of Shava and Denilson, it occurred to me that we could've done with W & W on the pitch, for whom the cauldron-like atmosphere of a traditional FA Cup evening must have just a little more meaning than it does for other members of this Arsenal squad.

I wasn't aware at the time of Denilson's supposed denigration of the leadership on the pitch in Arsène's side. In truth the Brazilian midfielder isn't admitting to anything that hasn't been patently obvious to the vast majority of avid Arsenal watchers for far too long now. But aside from the fact that he'd have been best keeping schtum, it's more than a little ironic to hear it coming from Denilson, who in my most humble opinion is just about the most diffident footballer in our entire squad!

In the circumstances, I'm sure there'll be few games where a goal in the opening five minutes will prove more pivotal. Apart from sucking all the wind out of the home crowd's sails, Nasri's opener enabled us to settle down and truly exert the authority of our superior ball skills.

Still the home crowd weren't going to let the small matter of our complete and utter supremacy spoil their biggest night out in years (who's counting Spurs?) and as we passed up chance after chance and Schmeichel pulled off a couple of super saves, standing behind Szczeny's goal, we began to wonder if we were going to regret our profligate failure to make our dominance count, by providing the comfort of a two goal cushion.

With the home fans raising the roof every time their side even threatened to get out of their own half, you sensed we needed to snuff out the Leeds threat completely, as we simply couldn't afford their staunch support the sort of glimmer of hope that would have them roaring them on to even greater feats. And for a minute or two, I thought we'd achieved this objective, when Sagna absolutely spanked home our second after half an hour. At least I thought Baks had spanked it, until Johnson hit his howitzer at t'other end (albeit after Shava was bullied off the ball in the build up) to pull one back for Leeds.

It's funny, as watching a replay of the match, you can hear us shouting our heads off quite clearly and when travelling to away games, it regularly feels as if we've outsung the home crowd. But it's been a while since I've felt quite so impotent as a visiting supporter, as with us spread out across the length of the lower tier (and the Arsenal having given back a 1000 tickets), it constantly felt as if we were being drowned out, with the home crowd adopting the same tune, with different words but with considerably more decibels.

With Leeds pulling one back just before the break, you just knew that the next goal was going to be crucial. Either we were going to win the game, or it was going to be a very long, nerve wracking night.

Myself I spent much of half-time worrying that I'd end up blaming our eventual cup exit on me having missed out on buying a programme in the mad dash to get to the game. It's rare to find them selling programmes behind the same counter as the booze and grub and I'd normally make do with my (nicotine substitute) pack of fruit pastilles at the break because at most grounds, unless you are out of your seat and down the stairs before the half-time whistle blows, the queues are so huge that you'll invariably end up missing the restart.

However I'm such a superstitious bugger that I risked missing a goal for the second time that evening and stood watching Schmeichel deny Alex Song on the screens down on the concourse as I waited to be served, returning to my seat with a couple of cups of hot chocolates as an afterthought, since I would've felt just a little bit daft disturbing everyone with my tardy return, bereft of refreshments.

The longer the game continued at 2-1, the more the tension mounted. But for once Arsène produced a timely intervention, as with Leeds having worked so hard to maintain their energy levels second half, attempting to suffocate our passing game by pressing all over the park and just as they were forced to break up their stalwart centre-back partnership with the loss of O'Brien (albeit that Grayson's attempts to prevent them from flagging nearly paid off with his second sub almost scoring with his first touch of the ball), psychologically I'm sure it must've felt daunting for the home side to see the fresh-legged Fabregas and Van Persie standing on the touchline, about to enter the fray with twenty to play.

So it proved with both players immediate impact, with Fabregas' run and resulting free-kick and Van Persie soaring like ostrich to head home Bendtner's cross and the goal that guaranteed us a fourth round tie with Huddersfield

I've a feeling I read somewhere that Szczeny recognised his calling as a keeper relatively late in life. By contrast, you can imagine Peter Schmeichel's progeny was pulling on the gloves before he was crawling. And if there's any marked evidence of this difference, it's seen in their kicking ability as this is one obvious weak aspect of Wojciech's game, compared to Kasper's ability to kick the ball into the sort of orbit where you expect it to come down with snow on.

The best banter of the evening was with the goalies. After Baks had bemoaned the fact the Szczeny was in such a rush during the first-half, when the ball went into the crowd the young Pole turned and told us to take our time with it. Then towards the end of the game, at first I strained to hear what we were chanting, but soon joined in with the riotous chant of "Your dad's a w***er" which I'm sure was the inspiration which encouraged Schmeichel to charge up the other end at the death (despite being two goals down), in his efforts to pay us back for our insults.

Who said the FA Cup's a dead parrot, e's just resting :-)

Come on you Reds
Big Love
Bernard

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

North London Is Ours

(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?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Give Me Strength!

Having been stuck in the Coliseum in St. Martin's Lane for both of our last two midweek matches, I don't feel best qualified to comment. But I'm not going to let that stop me :-) From what I've seen of the TV coverage, against Man City we started right from the KO, playing at a very high tempo, carving out several opportunities in a thrilling opening period.

Against Ipswich it took at least half an hour for the Gunners to conjure up their first effort on goal and for my money, this is the most telling factor in our (embarrassing!) defeat at Portman Road, as it speaks volumes as to the laidback, complacent attitude of virtually the entire Arsenal team, who seemed to think they only had to turn up to guarantee a highly-prized appearance in a Wembley final.

It once again leaves me wondering about the absence of big personalities, both on the bench and in the squad, of the sort who could've geed the team up in the dressing room, to come out and steam into the opposition, with the same verve and pace that they produced on the big stage, in a more glamorous game against Man City.

On the commentary on Sky Sports, they spoke in the opening minutes about the fact that the game was being played in the Ipswich half and whether this was indicative of what could expect for the remainder of the match. However as far as I'm concerned, within five minutes we saw Denilson shoulder charged off the ball and Arshavin carelessly conceding possession with a sloppy header from the resulting (erroneous?) free-kick and to my mind this was far more indicative of the contrasting motivation of the two teams.

Ipswich played like a side with something to prove, after their FA Cup humbling at the Bridge and sadly the Gunners performed as if they had some sort of divine right to reach the final. While Jack Wilshere was his customary busy self, getting around the park, apart from Theo Walcott, it's hard to recall a single other Arsenal player running at the Ipswich defence with the ball, instead of constantly laying the ball off, incessantly passing on responsibility in typically infuriating fashion, with intricate passing patterns which never ended up getting anywhere.

Cesc Fabregas tried his best to pull the strings and should really have found the back of the net. But surely we should've been able to create a myriad of goal scoring opportunities against the Tractor Boys and what I found most frustrating was the flat-footed way in which the Gunners plodded about the pitch, rarely ever gambling on putting in a burst of pace, to give the opposition defence something more to think about and to try and make our hosts life more difficult.

Standing like statues at set-pieces, I never once felt we were likely to threaten from any of the numerous opportunities we had to throw the ball into the mixer from a free-kick around the area or from any of our corners.

Watching on the box, I'm at the disadvantage of not being aware of the amount of running players did off the ball, but I tend to believe that the number of times the camera caught Shava standing on the spot, making like a teapot with his hands on his hips, wasn't merely a coincidence. Whether it's because Shava is low on confidence, or that the diminutive Ruski is just a lazy little bugger, but where we'd have expected him to be enthralling us against the lowly league side, he's recently become far too fond of the Arsenal's penchant for playing one-touch football, preferring to pass the ball on to his nearest team mate, rather than running with it.

It seems to me that Arsène got it all wrong with his team selection, as this wasn't a night for the indolent likes of Arshavin, Denilson and Bendtner, but the more industrious likes of Song, Chamakh and Nasri. I've done my best to remain patient with Denilson but I'm afraid I've had it with the Brazilian. It's not so much the fact that he seems to get bypassed so often in midfield, as he wafts a limp leg out in the direction of the oncoming attacker, but what I find absolutely unacceptable is his apparent total lack of commitment when he's beaten in middle of the park. It makes my blood boil every time I see Denilson trundling back towards our goal, showing not the least bit intent to try and catch up with the play, as if it's entirely down to the defence to deal with the problem, once they've breached our Maginot line in midfield.

I'm not putting Scott Parker up on any sort of pedestal, as a player capable of playing in the Arsenal midfield. But when you watch Parker absolutely busting a gut to get back and help out, as if his very life depended on keeping out the opposition, it positively puts Denilson's work rate to shame.

Talking of Arsène's ricket with the starting line-up, what on earth was le Gaffer thinking by bringing on Vela when our backs were up against the wall, after going a goal down with ten to play. A player who's currently being touted around half the clubs in Europe and who might well not be playing for the Arsenal, by the time the Carling Cup Final comes along? Like Carlos is really going to play his heart & soul out, putting his body on the line to get the Gunners that little bit closer to some silverware that he's unlikely to get to lift?

As with Saturday's wet blanket of a display against Leeds, just about the only bright spark was Kieran Gibb's getting another 90 minutes under his belt. Hopefully both he and Gael Clichy will benefit as a result. Gibbs looks capable of offering the sort of energy up the left flank that's been sorely missed from Clichy's game and will perhaps avoid the lapses in concentration at the back that have proved so costly of late. And with a bit of luck Clichy will also rediscover his mojo as he contemplates his loss of form from the sidelines.

As we've discovered in the past, when you play (in Wenger's words) "with the handbrake on", it's very hard to drop down a gear or two, when you suddenly find yourself staring defeat in the face and I invariably get the distinct feeling that le Prof is partially culpable when he rotates the squad. It seems to me that by making the decision that he doesn't need his best players to beat the opposition, he's sending out all the wrong signals to those he does select, by tacitly telling them that "we've more than enough in the tank" to beat this lot.

I've always believed in playing our best XI and sending them out there to tear into the opposition and putting them straight under the cosh. In this way we could've perhaps scored a couple of goals and then given players a breather. Instead of which we find ourselves facing a home leg, with a goal disadvantage, where Ipswich will come and "park the bus" and defend for their very lives to reach a Wembley final and Arsène will be forced to pick all those players who might well have been able to have spent the night with their feet up, watching from the stands. Which of these two options would've proved far less strenuous on the squad's reserves of energy?

Not to mention knocking all the wind out of the Gunners sails in advance of a trip to Upton Park on Saturday, where having been buoyed by their midweek semi-final win, Avram Grant will attempt to inspire the Hammers to play for his very future at the club. Please, please Arsène, let's focus first on getting some winning momentum going at the club as the single only priority, then you can begin to focus on conserving your resources. Otherwise we're going to end up with a fresh and fit squad come the spring, but with once again absolutely nothing to play for!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Time To Crack Some Nuts

Hi folks,

As a regular at almost every Arsenal match, I usually rely on the evidence of my own two eyes for my opinion about what takes place on the football pitch. In fact, apart from the obligatory Match of the Day highlights and assorted other pet media favourites, for the most part nowadays I tend to ignore the myriad of offerings available on TV, in the press and online, prior to writing my missives, for fear that I might only end up regurgitating the thoughts of others.


However having sadly been forced to miss Wednesday's match against City and the second half on Saturday (see below), I suddenly find myself a voracious consumer of everything the media has to offer, in the hope of achieving the same level of insight. So where usually nowadays I might be the last to hear the latest juicy gossip, over the past few days I've become the font of all knowledge, everything from the alleged rantings of Adebayor's spurned gay lover, to Glen Johnson's rancorous Twitterings in response to criticism from the Merse.


This perhaps also has something to do with the fact that I've so much time on my hands, while hanging about on stage at the Coliseum between the sporadic cues and scene changes that break up an arduous ten hour, two show working day (with Romeo one of the most tediously long shows in the ballet's rep, from a stage crew point of view - don't want to be frightening off all the ballet aficionado's reading this post :-). But it's a strange phenomenon, realising quite how easily my Arsenal appetite is satiated by my attendance at live games, but when denied this pleasure I feel permanently under-nourished.


I'm also reminded of the potential for such a stark contrast in opinions of those watching matches live, compared to TV viewers (to the extent that they might've viewed an entirely different game). A pal of mine questioned how I managed to give Theo Walcott top billing in the player ratings sent into last Sunday's Observer (reluctantly, I might add, as I never enjoy marking individual performances out of ten in what is a "team" game). But in contrast to what he'd gleaned from watching on the box, from where we sat behind the goal at St. Andrew's, there seemed to be a consensus of opinion that suggested Theo's efforts on the day deserved due recognition.


Similarly, having seen the incident that resulted in Bakari Sagna's sending off on Wednesday replayed several times, it was hard to disagree with those pundits who felt Baks was more deserving of a red card than the Man City defender. However it occurred to me that this contretemps took place directly in front of our seats at the Emirates and I discovered a different point of view on Saturday, as my mate who sits beside me pondered whether it was fair to punish the player who reacts to provocation as severely as the instigator?


Sagna's been one of our most consistent performers so far this season and in his enforced absence, I only hope an infuriating Manny Eboué can manage the concentration necessary to be aware of his defensive obligations. Kieran Gibbs' long-awaited return on the opposite flank was perhaps the highlight of Saturday's unsatisfying encounter. With Gael Clichy suffering one of his most lacklustre and inconsistent seasons to date, I'm hoping our young French full-back might benefit from a period of respite on the bench, long enough for him to rediscover his motivation.


Meanwhile with Kieran coming through the ranks, having been with the Gunners since he was in short pants, hopefully he can add another soupcon of homegrown pride to the squad, the sort of unstinting determination that might inspire those who view the Arsenal as just another stop on the ladder of their footballing career (anyone know the Russian for "pull your finger out"?).


It was interesting to hear Cesc's post-match comments on the box on Saturday and what seemed to me to be an unambiguous dig at Denilson with his remark "they scored from a penalty that...at this stage, when you are a professional footballer you can not do this type of penalty so easy". This might lead one to conclude that all is not exactly sweetness and light in the Gunners dressing room, but let's face it, Cesc is only voicing an opinion that seems so patently obvious to every Arsenal fan.


It was also quite revealing that to hear from Fab that they were looking forward to "a week off" after West Ham, thereby implying their disappointment at having to travel up to Elland Road for a midweek replay (despite his assurances that "we like it...it's a nice competition"). I'm loathe to single out Denilson, as their were others equally culpable for our failure to put Leeds to the sword. Arshavin hardly showed his desire to avoid a replay when he came sprinting off, in the belief he was about to be relieved of his duties just past the hour mark, when in fact Walcott was replacing Chamakh and as my neighbour pointed out to me, if only Nicky Bendtner could mimic Marouanne's industry, the lumbering Dane might possibly pose as big a threat as his over-sized ego.


In any other field, you'd want to send the same bunch of players out at Elland Road as punishment, to prove they can do better. Personally I don't mind the outing, as it's been a while since we played at Leeds and judging by the decibel level at their end on Saturday, it promises to be either a wonderfully atmospheric evening at Elland Road, or an unmitigated disaster. Considering I've just shelled out for my ticket for the replay (along with an extortionate 70 quid for my seat at the Nou Camp), here's hoping it's the former and that Arsène treats this trip and the one to Portman Road on Wednesday with sufficient gravity to merit putting out the Gunners best XI!


There's nothing that brings a team down more and leaves a squad feeling more fatigued than getting beat and as far as I'm concerned, tiredness is simply not a factor, compared to the crucial importance of establishing some momentum with that winning feeling


Come on you Reds

Bernard

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With impending cuts impinging on the Arts Council’s funding of the ballet and the sudden realization that the resulting cancellation of the Spring Tour means very little guaranteed employment over the next few months, I somehow got my priorities wrong and agreed to a fortnight’s work commencing 4th Jan, despite the danger of missing four massive games for the Gunners.

I’d managed to convince myself that my increasingly decrepit joints couldn’t cope with the gruelling physical nature of grafting in the theatre for the entire six weeks of the Xmas season. So having been fortunate to enjoy December's feast of football, instead of the traditional, tedious diet of twice daily offerings from the Sugar Plum Fairy (although Denilson does a decent impression in his mercifully rare midfield outings and the Brazilian's not alone in needing his nuts cracked!), with the offer of working on the changeover from the Nutrcracker and a two week run of Romeo, I decided to risk the sacrifice of the games against City, Leeds, Ipswich and West Ham, on the altar of hopefully being able to afford all the other remaining Arsenal jollies.

It was about an hour before KO against City the next day when my error of judgment began to sink in, as I was finally forced to relinquish my seat by flogging it on the Arsenal mailing list. Sad sap that I am, since the recipient had to drop my membership card back to my place, I asked him to get me a programme, so that I could make like I was at the match and read it, during half-time, whilst watching a recording later that night.

Least I was able to listen to the radio commentary while in the wings at the Coliseum, albeit contrary to best working practice for me to be grafting on stage in the West End, while concentrating on events in N5, courtesy of an all too conspicuous earpiece from my trusty terrace tranny. As far as job security is concerned, it was probably fortunate that we failed to score, since I’m sure the first few rows of the audience might have been a bit bemused by a ballet interpretation of Shakespeare that included a vociferous offstage outburst of “Get in there!”

It would by hypocritical to criticize Mancini’s “boring, boring” City, having spent much of my youth watching an Arsenal side in the early 70s who were the maestros at grinding results out on the road. Although putting myself in the increasingly “noisy neighbour’s” shoes’, having spunked up all that moola, I might’ve expected just a tad more ambition?

With a 12.45 KO against Leeds at the weekend, I wasn’t going to miss my opportunity of an, albeit brief, live taste of FA Cup magic on footballs’ favourite Saturday (which Sepp Blatter seems intent on putting the kibosh on, with his plans for a Winter tournament in 2022!), even if it meant leaving at the break for a 2.30 matinée.

Having ridden my motorbike around to the ground for a quick getaway, I found myself crossing the South Bridge to the stadium, amongst an intimidating throng of the 8,500 travelling fans, wishing I was anywhere near brave enough to respond to their vociferous rallying cries, with a chorus of “where were you when you were good”. Instead of which I offered empathetic enquiries as to their criminally early departure hour from Yorkshire and whether they fancied it this afternoon. The consensus seemed to be “7am” and “no….we’re just here for the crack!”

I was hoping that the Gunners would have it all wrapped up by half-time, but as I dashed back to the bike to discover a costly parking ticket stuck to a wing mirror, I wondered why I’d bothered making the effort to turn up for the first 45, when my team were so patently devoid of similar commitment to the cause. Pace and precision were essential for the Arsenal’s pretty football to flourish against Leeds impressively disciplined and doughty defensive display. Sadly Arsène’s starting line-up was found badly wanting for both ingredients.

Still my afternoon would’ve proved a whole lot more depressing, if it wasn’t for the fact that while Juliet was making her customary meal of fluttering off this mortal coil at the Coliseum, Walcott was doing likewise at the Emirates. Although the slight tug of a sleeve was obvious for the second penalty shout, if it hadn’t been for the clamour for a spot-kick immediately prior I doubt ref Dowd would’ve gifted us the opportunity of a last gasp equalizer - resulting in various baffled stares from the corps de ballet as I danced my own daft jig of delight in the wings. So largely thanks to Theo’s theatrics, the Gunners were still in the hat for the 4th round draw.

Much to the chagrin of all the Hammers fans at work, I’ll be at Upton Park next weekend but I dared not take the liberty of missing another 2 shows to travel to Portman Road on Wednesday night. What on earth possessed Ipswich to give Roy Keane the elbow, immediately prior to their highest profile encounters of the season? Doubtless I’ll be glued to the radio coverage to discover how the Tractor Boys react to their FA Cup tonking and in my much bemoaned absence, I bloody well hope the Gunners turn up!


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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Can We Expect The Unexpected?

If you’d offered any Gooner the opportunity to be going into the New Year, a mere couple of points off the top of the table, with lowly Ipswich as the only thing between us and a long-awaited trip to our first Wembley final (since the rebuild), most would’ve bitten your hand off. The most frustrating thing for us and fans of every table-topping team, is that it has rarely ever felt as if the Premiership has been there for the taking quite as temptingly as it appears to be this term, with no one outfit as yet, seemingly capable of achieving that relentless consistency required of genuine contenders.

Nevertheless along with most Gooners, I look at our current squad and no matter that we positively exude entertaining, silky skills, I can’t help but wonder if at the end of the day, we are once again going to be found wanting for the backbone and the stamina necessary to endure in the marathon that is the title race.

We’ve witnessed occasional encouraging glimpses of the sort of grit and determination that might hold the promise of a new dawn, on the Groundhog Day of our perennial sojourn in the silverware-starved doldrums. While we’ve good cause to be more than a little cynical about the sincerity of our modern day superstars (when their loyalty is limited by a club’s ability to match the obscene amount of moola on offer elsewhere), both on and off the pitch youngsters like Wilshere and Walcott are making all the right noises and producing the sort of committed displays that could just begin to restore my faith in the prospect of developing that crucial core group of players, who are capable of inspiring less motivated colleagues, with performances that demonstrate a selfless desire to restore some red & white pride.

We badly needed the optimistic shot in the arm of an unequivocal victory against Chelsea. Albeit that pinching points from the bedraggled Blues at present hardly puts us in an exclusive club But after a typically slipshod display at Stamford Bridge and an infuriatingly timid performance at Old Trafford, along with our embarrassing first home defeat to the auld enemy in 17 seasons and inexplicable losses at our place against the Baggies and the Toon, most Gooners were merely grateful that the Gunners continued to feature in the title-chasing frame.

Few, if any seriously believed we were capable of maintaining our elevated status, the moment the competition shook themselves out of their complacent torpor and seriously began to kick on. But the longer the current peculiar status-quo prevails, without any of the challengers finding the customary sort of unfaltering form that would mark them as outright favourites and as the Arsenal finally begin to string a run of decent results together, the harder it becomes to ignore the possibility that, despite the obvious missing vertebrae in the spine of our side, perhaps, just perhaps there's the faintest scent of something more than mere Champions League qualification.

Five-times a day is probably a conservative estimate of the frequency with which we’ve been prostrating ourselves, invoking Sczczesny as the Gunners long-awaited goalkeeping Messiah. But so long as le Prof appears intent on protecting the imperturbable Polish youngster, it feels as if the more dominant of Flappy Handski’s displays are merely an interlude before his next calamitous catastrophe. We can but hope that Clichy will rediscover his Mojo and that the eventual return of Vermaelen will mask our defensive deficiencies. Djourou has the advantage of having not appeared sufficiently often to ruin his burgeoning reputation as a firm terrace favourite. Both he and Koscielny could benefit from playing alongside a more experienced partner. But sadly whenever I watch Squillaci, I can’t help but think that if the aging Frenchman was anything more than a journeyman stand-in, he’d have been picked up by a more illustrious outfit long before qualifying for free bus rides.

Apparently with something to prove, after having been excluded from the debacle of France’s World Cup campaign, Samir Nasri’s been the stand-out talent, in a midfield that includes a surfeit of the beautiful game’s more accomplished advocates. But while the powder-puff likes of Diaby and Denilson are either unable, or unwilling to pull their weight, we remain overly dependent on Alex Song for some steel – especially since Song has begun to believe he’s Dennis Bergkamp!

Although Chamakh has still to convince that he’s blessed with the requisite “je ne sais quoi” to parley his earnest graft into 20 plus Premiership goals, the Moroccan lad’s presence has proved beneficial by adding some much needed variety up front, saving us from the exasperation of our incessant efforts to intricately pass our way through overly congested penalty areas. By providing us with the option to go around, or over the top, mercifully we appear to have nullified our opponents’ formulaic efforts to stifle our one-dimensional “tippy-tappy” football.

As for Cesc Fabregas, if we can negotiate our way past Roy Keane’s East Anglian outfit and provide Cesc with the long-awaited opportunity to lift some silverware, perhaps he’ll rediscover his joie de vivre for the Gunners. It won’t stop him from wanting away, but it might inspire him to try and leave us with a more laudable going away present. If success does indeed breed success, then the Carling Cup might prove the key to the Wengerboys acquiring that unmistakable braggadocio of born winners, just in time to bring down the mighty Barcelona in their own backyard.

Fanciful perhaps, but then to date, the only predictable facet of this campaign is that we can expect the unexpected.


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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

We've Got Cesc Fabregas, You've Got Lee Bowyer

Hi folks,

I intended posting this out on Sunday, but between getting involved with fitting up Romeo & Juliet at the Coliseum with the ballet (reluctantly - aside from the miserable prospect of mixing up my priorities and missing matches while stuck in the theatre, the heftiest show in the ballet's rep is murder on my decrepit old joints), writing a second missive for the Examiner by way of a half-term report and fairly feeble attempts at all-night cricket vigils with Test Match Special, I'm not sure if I'm coming or going.


As a result I'm posting both pieces out at once. With the half-term report appearing on Friday, I'm praying Wednesday night's game against Man City doesn't result in a major rewrite!


Wishing everyone a very happy & healthy New Year

Come on Your Reds
Big Love
Bernard

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A seven-point return from games at home to Chelsea and on the road at Wigan and Birmingham is not to be sneezed at. Nine would’ve been a blinder and Arsène received bundles of stick (from me included) for rotating his team for our trip to the North-West last Wednesday night. But perhaps Wenger was vindicated by the emphatic way in which we vanquished a more obdurate opponent in the Midlands on Saturday?

The Gunners were bang up for it against Birmingham and while our hosts stuck to the habitually combative formula that’s served them so well in the past couple of fractious encounters at their place, by contrast to the sort of stiff test of resolve that we’ve faced (and failed, by gifting late goals!) at St. Andrew’s in recent times, McLeish’s mob were never really at the races.

We certainly finished this New Year’s Day ding-dong looking the fresher of the two teams, but then chasing shadows for much of the 90 must have been an exhausting business for Birmingham. The 4000 travelling Gooners teased the Bluenoses for long periods of this game “we’ve got Cesc Fabregas, you’ve got Lee Bowyer” and basically this summed up the huge gulf in class between the opposition and us.

In fact it was hard to believe that this was the same Birmingham side that had managed to hold Man Utd at bay. But then perhaps they put so much effort into their midweek draw that they couldn’t muster sufficient energy to suffocate the Gunners’ passing game?

Mind you, I’m sure I was far from alone in taking great delight from Villa’s last-gasp goal and Ancelotti’s gut-wrenching anguish on Sunday. Houllier’s resilient troops were unrecognisable from the Villa side that’s been falling like a stone in recent weeks. Moreover, watching the limited quality on offer in the subsequnet contest between Wigan and the Toon, I wondered how on earth we’d blown five points in our games against these two decidedly bland outfits (although admittedly in the absence of the talismanic likes of N’Zogbia and Carroll).

Which all serves to highlight the fact that we can take very little for granted in such an unusual campaign, where the fragile Premiership status-quo can be drastically affected in either direction, by a couple of unsuspecting results. Although both games were worth the same three points, considering the way in which recent results at St. Andrews have been viewed as a significant indication of the lack of mettle in the Wengerboys, perhaps le Prof felt that beating Birmingham was more important than winning up at Wigan.

As gleeful as I was to get our St. Andrews hoodoo out the way and the New Year off to such a great start, unless the XI that started on Saturday are to play for the remainder of the season, unhindered by suspension or injury, on the basis that a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, sadly I rather suspect that we can read more into the fact that the side he put out in midweek just wasn’t good enough.

Perhaps we should count our blessings because if Diaby hadn’t retired injured early on, to be replaced by Wilshere, thereby restoring the composure necessary to retain possession, it could’ve ended up as a far more embarrassing outing. Nevertheless, Denilson’s powder-puff midfield promptings and the lack of desire shown to remedy his mistakes, knocked all the Xmas stuffing out of the surprisingly large (5000 strong) horde of Gooners, who travelled to Wigan, still high on the ecstasy of our emphatic win against Chelsea.

Still at least there were free mince pies on offer at the DW Stadium, the sort of generous festive gesture that you wouldn’t get from the Scrooge-like suits in charge of the catering at the Arsenal. But then it would be a massive operation to cater for a full-house crowd at our place, compared to breaking open a couple of boxes from the local corner shop, to satiate the dismal turnout at the DW (lest we forget Wigan remains largely a rugby town).

What’s more, fog at Luton airport meant we had the consolation of being kicked out of First Class on the journey back to London, so that the team could accompany us as far as Watford Junction on the return train trip, providing us with an all too rare opportunity of some brief badinage with our idols. Such instances are so few and far between nowadays that instead of expressing our disappointment about dropping two points and pointing the finger at those responsible (Fabianski?), everyone was bigging them up for Saturday’s trip to Birmingham.

Considering Lucasz subsequently ensured our first clean sheet at the weekend, in what feels like an eternity, I like to believe that the Gunners duly obliged!


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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com