I hate having to file my missive for the Examiner on a Monday, for publication on Wednesday, after tonight's game. Although in this particular instance, it doesn't really take the faculties of a seer to be able to predict the outcome.
Arriving home at 1am after an exhausting night’s work last Friday, it seemed seriously bonkers and hardly a recipe for a relaxing weekend, to be setting my alarm for 4.30am, in order to be up in time to walk the dog, before a crack of dawn departure on the Travel Club coach to Anfield. Come the revolution, the tyrannical TV tail responsible for wagging the fixture schedule dog, without the slightest consideration for the travails of the travelling fan, will be first up against my wall!
I’ve no idea how the home side weren’t home & hosed by half-time and I spent the break wondering why on earth I’d bothered going to all that effort, when only three on our side seemed prepared to demonstrate similar commitment (and one of these being an inanimate object) with the fortitude shown by Van Persie, Sczczny and the woodwork!
Perhaps the dissipation of the buoyant mood, after our positively delicious Derby day elation, was partially due to the majority of our squad promptly disappearing off to all four corners of the planet. But it was incredibly frustrating to witness quite how often we were undone early on, by a Liverpool side that seemed so much more “up for it” than us.
I’d dragged my aching bones out of my pit at such an ungodly hour in expectation of the reward of witnessing an Arsenal side fired up by the faint glimmer of renewed hope, following the crest-fallen misery of our recent disappointments. Instead of which we were second best all over the park; that is apart from the all-important business of scoring and preventing goals. Despite the fact that Luis Suarez danced his way through our defence at will, like a dose of Epsom Salts, the Scousers only managed to take the lead courtesy of the hapless intervention of Laurent Koscielny.
Nevertheless, for all my exasperation with the apparent return of a team of timorous impostors, after last week’s brief interlude against Spurs, I ended up departing Anfield feeling more than a little abashed at being unable to contain the broadest of grins, as a result of Robin’s late, late “smash & grab”. Ninety minutes worth of frustration evaporated in this one instant of exquisite footballing artistry.
This and the resulting eight minutes of injury-time euphoria, along with the brief exchange of mutual admiration at the final whistle, suddenly made my personal sacrifice seem worthwhile, knowing there were plenty of sane Gooners who’d had the sense to avoid such a ludicrous expedition, but who would’ve now given anything to have been beside me, celebrating in the Anfield Road End.
Yet while our last gasp winner might have stolen all the glory, it didn’t mask the obvious deficiencies of a team, which was far too short on motivation for my liking. Hopefully this was due to the forthcoming distraction of our “Hail Mary” encounter with AC Milan, rather than heavy legs after their week of globe trotting (an excuse trotted out far too frequently for my liking!) because if fatigue was an issue on Saturday, they’re unlikely to feel refreshed forty-eight hours hence.
By now you’ll know whether the Gunners have managed to achieve a glorious exit from the European stage, restoring some much needed pride with a respectable second-leg result. I’d love to believe a miracle was possible; with an early-goal and a bit of good fortune, as we all know, the unexpected is the hallmark of the beautiful game. Yet it would require the sort of inspired performance, of the sort that up until now, sadly we’ve only managed to produce after going behind in games. Thus I can’t help but fear that our failure to find the net in Italy is likely to be punished by our inability to keep a clean sheet at home.
Yet with Spurs losing to Man Utd and Chelsea losing yet another manager, it feels somewhat churlish of me to be moaning after pretty much the perfect weekend. Few could’ve imagined the ten-point gulf between us and Tottenham would be eroded so quickly, to the point where we now have our neighbours squarely sighted in the crosshairs. So even if a Champions League quarterfinal should prove a fantasy too far, considering our token North London crown was previously such an unlikely prospect, I’ll gladly settle for a supremely satisfying St. Totteringham’s day.
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