In case anyone failed to notice the arrival of the festive season (or a blue moon), Stuart Downing marked it’s arrival on Saturday by stunning Scousers with an actual goal. Soul, or no soul, the beautiful game will maintain it’s allure, so long as it retains it’s eternal ability to confound.
Listening to the radio in the car on route back from our ridiculously early kick off in the North-West, I simply couldn’t fathom how a star-studded Man City could make such a meal, out of overcoming the same statuesque Royals side that rolled over against us on Monday night.
After setting off at 5.45am, I made it up to Wigan by way of Stoke, where my pal Stuart donned his santa outfit, to join all the other Xmas crackers in fancy dress bashing out 5k park run in the pouring rain in Hanley Park, cheered on by a decidedly damp and only slightly less bonkers Donner and Blitzen (myself and his lad).
Following a brief pit-stop to freshen up with a shower at Sandbach services, Stuart was probably closest to the land of the living, by the time we joined the other 4500 Gooners at the JJB; where many of us turned up in hope and expectation of witnessing the same sort of energized Arsenal performance that we’d enjoyed at the Madjeski earlier in the week.
Arriving home from Reading on Monday night, I promptly sat down to watch a repeat of the game on the box because with Walcott finally fulfilling his wish to play up front, I hadn’t been able to work out whether the Gunners had miraculously begun to discover some real form, or if this was a bit of a delusion and that our 5-2 thrashing of the Royals was more down to the inept display of a side that had performed like obvious relegation fodder.
Considering their precarious position, Reading were surprisingly meek. Yet, nevertheless, you could sense a response to our humiliating cup exit in Bradford, by the way we tore into the Royals. Right from the opening whistle, Chamberlain charged at their defence with such drive and determination that he ended up filching the ball back from Cazorla’s feet before taking a pot shot. Perhaps for the first time this season, we set about the opposition from the start, with the sort of vim and vigour, which has been sorely lacking from all the low-tempo performances that have been devoid of this sort of intent.
If we’d finally managed to release the handbrake on Monday, most disappointingly it was firmly back in place come Saturday, as sadly we reverted to type, trudging about in the unabating downpour, back to relentlessly moving the ball sideways and backwards, with no one in red & white willing to take the game to the opposition and with none of them looking as if they really wanted to be there.
Although Wigan played their part in nullifying the likes of Cazorla. After McCarthy trod on the Spaniard in the opening moments and continued to bite at his ankles every time he received the ball, Santi soon began to acquire the demeanour of someone who’d have much preferred to have been left back in London with Giroud and Rosicky. McCarthy then turned his attentions upon our other main creative source, welcoming Jack Wilshere to Wigan. But unlike Cazorla, with his terrier like qualities, Wilshere wasn’t about to seek refuge on the ropes, but remained in the centre of the ring, to give as good as he got.
The fact that we clung on to grind out a victory, when in the past we’d have probably failed to keep a clean sheet, might be viewed as an indication of an increasing resilience. Yet in truth Wigan were hard done by, as our success was only due to the fact that we were slightly less slipshod than our hosts.
If they’d been more clinical in front of goal and Walcott hadn’t bought us a penalty from the utterly incompetent ref (as a match official, Jon Moss makes for a good bisexual drummer in an 80s New Romantic pop outfit), merely by getting goalside of his opponent, it might’ve been a miserable, empty-handed return trip from the North-West.
Instead of which we came home with the 3 points and a small, token reward for our support, by way of an Xmas card, handed out as we entered the ground, which included a £10 voucher for food & drink at any home game. Never mind a free voucher, at the very top of many Gooner festive wish-lists would be for the club to put an end to their farcical refusal to entertain the advances of Alisher Usmanov. Can you imagine any other club, but the Arsenal, taking such an intransigent stance, with a fan who happens to be one of the wealthiest men on the planet, willing to throw whatever it takes, from his seemingly bottomless pit of resources, in order to make our club successful?
Mercifully six points in a week has elevated the Gunners from the mid-table morass, back to the battle for 3rd and 4th place and enables us to go into the festive schedule with some momentum. But it highlights the fickle way in which the media machine has clubs constantly lurching from crisis, to the comfort zone, from game to game.
Only last week, after the debacle at Bradford, Arsène Wenger looked like the proverbial little boy, trying to plug the Gunners leaky dyke, not with his fingers but with rolled up copies of his Excel spreadsheets, whereas suddenly he’s back to being courted, as the media sycophants admire the cut of our Emperor’s new clothes. Meanwhile those of us of a more considered nature and who’ve endured so many disappointing performances so far this season, beyond all the hype, sadly we know that le Gaffer remains stark bollock naked!
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com