Sunday, 15 May 2016

"It's Happened Again...."

After events at Wigan, West Brom etc. in similarly hilarious end of season shenanigans in recent years, one would've thought we'd have grown accustomed to Spurs falling on their face, to the extent that it should no longer come as a surprise when they do. 

Nevertheless, it seems I mistakenly assumed that this young Spurs squad no longer carries the sort of psychological baggage that's resulted in them bottling it in the past, to the extent that I was convinced that surely they weren't going to blow it at St James Park this afternoon. Myself I felt that at the very most, the Toon might manage an honours even draw, to appease the St James Park faithful.

I was taken to task a couple of weeks back, for suggesting that such would be the unexpected pleasure of pegging Spurs back at this late stage, that it would almost be as satisfying as winning the league. I had to agree that obviously I would much prefer to be in Leicester's exalted shoes right now. Yet after the incredibly euphoric events this afternoon, I feel sure that there are plenty of Gooners who will concur that this was indeed some consolation prize?

We caught a glimpse against Villa of quite how much we've missed Santi's incisive promptings. Yet as I stood in the sunshine, soaking up the sort of celebratory post-match mood that's been sorely missed at home games for most of the season, I couldn't avoid one negative thought as I watched Arsène enjoying some rare plaudits.

In the absence of such an ecstatic ending, the pressure would've been ramped up for Arsène to flash the cash, but watching le Gaffer's satisfied face as he wandered around the pitch, it occurred to me that he might be contemplating the emerging likes of Chris Willock, Dan Crowley and Stephy Mavididi and thinking "I hardly need to break the bank after our highest finish in over a decade"!!

Have a good summer

"It's Happened Again...."

"We want him to stay....Pochettino, we want him to stay!"

Just how does one account for a season which was the source of so much anger and frustration amongst our fans and yet which has ended up with our highest league finish since we moved to our new stadium (over a decade back)? I think it was Napoleon who spoke about the benefits of a lucky general, over a competent one and Arsène certainly had “the force” on his side on Sunday!

Personally I felt that the game was up in midweek, as far as any possibility of quite such an ecstatic finish was concerned, when Everton condemned the Toon to relegation, by rolling over against Sunderland. After successive seasons of tangible FA Cup success, it seemed as if this campaign was destined to fall decidedly flat, with constantly maintaining our seat at Europe’s top table for two decades as scant consolation for the Gunners’ lamentable failure to take advantage of the bizarre domestic circumstances; especially when the rare opportunity of all our traditional competitors tripping up is unlikely to present itself again.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal and after having pooh, poohed my pals customary “you never know” comments as we made our way to our seats on Sunday, it wasn’t long before I found myself focused more on the radio commentary from St. James Park, than the match taking place in front of me. With the only terrace tranny in our vicinity, I fast became the font of all knowledge, with a sea of faces turning with their jaws on the floor, agog at my incredulous announcement that the Toon had taken a two-goal lead.

Who'll replace Tommy
Arteta and Flamini?
         Much like a Mexican wave, the tide of jubilation washed over our crowd, injecting some much needed atmosphere into proceedings, which had turned increasingly perfunctory since Olly’s early goal. However, as has been the case far too frequently this season, the Gunners struggled to kill Villa off. Then when Spurs pulled a goal back on the hour mark and this was swiftly followed with my news that Mitrovic had been sent off, the whole stadium was enveloped in a stifling air of anxiety, where briefly we looked more in danger of gifting Villa an equaliser.

Mercifully there followed the sort of magical five-minute spell that is the barely credible essence of the beautiful game’s enduring fascination. First the 10-man Toon extended their lead from the penalty spot and then Giroud truly kicked the party off, by completing his hat-trick. The cherry on this “couldn’t make it up” script came, when in a moment akin to Tony Adams league-winning goal, Arteta appeared off the bench, to sign off on his Arsenal career, by scoring our fourth (aided and abetted by Villa’s hapless keeper).

News of Newcastle’s 4th and 5th goals was greeted with utter disbelief, as the afternoon turned even more delicious than the dodgy lasagna denouement of 2006. The rapturous chorus of “it’s happened again” must’ve had them burying their heads at the other end of the Seven Sisters Road.

That we’ve not witnessed this sort of euphoria at a home game, since we walloped Man Utd back in October (not forgetting the brilliant victory over Bayern) speaks volumes as to why, ultimately, we’ve ended up empty-handed. Not that we knew it at the time, but it was only the weekend prior that we battered the Foxes 5-2, inflicting their only home defeat all season. Upon reflection, this is the most blatant evidence that we were the side that was most capable of winning the title. So as much as the Foxes deserve full credit for their momentous achievement, there’s no escaping the enormous disappointment at how badly we’ve blown it.

Meanwhile, no matter how infuriated I might feel at how different the outcome might’ve been, if only the Gunners had turned up at Southampton on Boxing Day and avoided a humiliating 0-4 disaster, fortunately all Gooner irritation paled into insignificance on Sunday.

Mikel signing off in style
Not many of our spoiled, far too entitled fans would’ve lingered for the post-match lap of appreciation, if Newcastle had failed to do us such a fabulous favour and doubtless the protestors banners’ will be back with next season’s first defeat. Yet even if it should’ve prove fleeting, it was great to be able to enjoy the emotion, as a blubbing Arteta, Rosicky and Flamini bid us a last farewell and for our inimical boss to disappear off to look for his cheque book this summer, with a hearty (full-house!) chorus of  “only one Arsène Wenger” ringing in his ears.
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Sunday, 8 May 2016

Con Te Partiro

It nearly always rains in Manchester
As beautiful as it was to hear Andrea Bocelli serenading the Foxes fans at the King Power on Saturday, their duly euphoric celebrations of this fairy tale Premiership triumph made for particularly painful viewing, knowing full well that yesterday’s encounter at Man City really should’ve been this season’s climactic title decider.

However while we might’ve witnessed a meeting of the two sides that, on paper at least, both contain the quality necessary to reign supreme, sadly there proved to be a lamentable absence of the sort of intensity and appetite for Sunday’s stroll in the sunshine, which ably demonstrated why both sides failed miserably to live up to our lofty expectations.

I’m certainly not moaning, since it was only a couple of weeks back when the Gunners already appeared doomed to suffer the ignominious fate of ending this season trailing in the wake of the Pochettino inspired renaissance at White Hart Lane. In truth, I’d already resigned myself to finishing below Spurs and was consoling myself with the thought that, compared to the excruciating prospect of the old enemy piping Leicester to the post, throwing my Spurs pals this rare bone, only the once every couple of decades would really be no big deal.

I would’ve bitten your hand off back then, if you’d offered me the opportunity to be going into the last game of the season with 2nd place still up for grabs, while savouring the sphincter twitching anxieties of my Lilywhite mates and their dread of another dodgy lasagna.

Nevertheless, after the Saints had truly earned their haloes with their hard-fought triumph in the sweltering heat at Tottenham, I at least expected the Gunners to match the honest attitude shown by Koeman’s team in Sunday’s lunchtime KO. It seems that it was somewhat naïve of me to expect the homegrown likes of Jack Wilshere to be chomping at the bit to kick open the door that Spurs had kindly left ajar.

So while I was happy enough that the Gunners were able to hang on for a point, after twice going behind, it was evident that we only really started playing when we were 2-1 down and my satisfaction with the draw was tinged with disappointment that this was the limit of the Arsenal’s ambition.

Unfortunately our prospects of wrestling 2nd place from Spurs hinge on Wednesday’s game at the Stadium of Light and Everton’s ability to prevent Sunderland from condemning Newcastle to relegation, as we badly need Spurs to be travelling to St James Park on Sunday with the Toon still battling for their Premiership lives.

Nevertheless, although the team might’ve been solely focused on securing guaranteed Champions League football in 3rd place, the renewed hope of the redemption offered by leapfrogging Spurs at the death, seems to have satiated the travelling Gooner faithful, to the extent that the banner boys were shouted down at the Etihad. Yet sadly, no matter what transpires in the final week, nothing can dispel the abiding mood of despair, over quite how badly the Gunners have blown it this season.

I can’t honestly envisage Man Utd pooping the Hammers farewell party at the Boleyn on Tuesday, but it’s nonetheless amusing to think that Guardiola could be taking over a City side deprived of Champions League football, when they were playing for a place in the final only last week. Still with Pep’s much lauded arrival on the Premiership stage and with the changes afoot at all our other traditional competitors, it’s evident that the conflux of circumstances that resulted in their disastrous starts to this campaign are unlikely to be repeated.

Worse still, with Arsène seemingly going nowhere anytime soon, the stale microclimate that’s closeted London N5 with a stifling air of disunity, is only set to endure. Meanwhile, elsewhere it appears that the influx of obscene additional sums in TV sponsorship are destined to result in the continued all round improvement of the level of competition and the increased ambitions of those such as Leicester, Spurs and West Ham. All of which leaves us only too aware that we could live another lifetime, without being presented with a better opportunity to win the league!

If only our blinkered stars had appreciated the uniqueness of this situation and truly sensed that this was their time, this might’ve encouraged that crucial extra 5/10 per cent commitment that might have resulted in us Gooners enjoying the dulcet strains of Bocelli, singing (with absolutely no disrespect intended) what might well be our new anthem, Con Te Partiro, Time To Say Goodbye.

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Sunday, 1 May 2016

United We Stand, Divided We Stink The Place Out

Momentous week when Gooner
gripes seem somewhat petty
While myself and a substantial number of Gooners might well concur with the sentiments being expressed in Saturday’s vague and decidedly futile protest, following a week in which the focus has rightly been on far weightier football matters, the somewhat embarrassing and decidedly schizophrenic scenes during our encounter with Norwich felt like a sad indictment of our modern day, social-media obsessed “supporters”. Our incessant demands for gratification imply some sort of divine right to receive a return on our exorbitant investment in a seat at the Arsenal, by way of regular silverware.

Much in the same way some pooches are perceived to resemble their owners, perhaps it’s our spoiled, far too fickle fans (the self same ones who were painting Islington red at successive May trophy parades!) that are partially reflected in the sort of phlegmatic football that we are far too frequently forced to endure?

I hate to hold our neighbours up as any kind of example, since it wasn’t so long ago that their chairman was public enemy No. 1 and with their revolving managerial door, we’re accustomed to Spurs fans being the gold standard in tergiversation. Yet despite having kindly left the 2nd place door ajar with their failure to beat the Baggies, enabling us to retain faint hopes of a climax that might yet prove an extremely satisfying consolation prize, this certainly wasn’t for the want of the sort of atmosphere and appetite evident at White Hart Lane last Monday night, which was in such complete contrast to Saturday’s fetid farrago.

In the first-half against Norwich, Iwobi was the sole attacking player to show willing, while the lethargy elsewhere suggested that the majority couldn’t care less about the ignominious threat of Thursday night football in the Europa Cup. After witnessing Simeone’s heart-on-his-sleeve antics on the touchline for Atletico in midweek, it occurred to me that our players wouldn’t dare fob the fans off with such a lazy, limp-wristed display, if they were facing the wrath of a rabid Diego in the dressing room at the break.

Not that our staid club would risk adverse PR and its impact upon commercial revenue streams by employing such a hot-headed manager. Nor is Wenger likely to want to walk away from another season’s worth of his £8mill salary and even in the unlikely event the smattering of disgruntled punters registered with Stan Kroenke, he’s not exactly going to be on the phone to his broker this morning to divest himself of his majority interest.

After a deluded Arsène incensed Gooners on Friday by deeming our home crowd culpable for our poor form, at least our arrogant manager had the good sense to apologise for his team’s failure this season, after we’d scraped over the line on Saturday. But then this concession came after hearing the chorus of “only one Arsène Wenger” that rang out simultaneously to the few hundred flyers appearing 12 mins into the match (and in some cases, was sung by those holding them up!).

These knee jerk protests at our place and at Goodison, largely inspired by publicity-seeking egotists, are a reaction to the semblance that the customary excuses no longer wash, so long as bargain buys such as Kanté and Alli are tearing it up for the likes of Leicester and Tottenham.

Nevertheless, although there’s as much good fortune as savoir-faire, in unearthing the crucial catalyst responsible for the chemistry involved in the sort of camaraderie that every club craves, it’s the Gunners perennial failure to address our long-standing, legitimate grievances that leaves us looking like we’re throwing our toys out of our pram. At least it does to those who view the bane of encountering the glamorous likes of Bayern and Barca every season as the very limit of their ambitions!

Aaron might be having a pop at Olly on the pitch
(pot calling kettle black?) but least Santi's back & still smiling
We need to bring our boots, instead of flip-flops, if we’re to beat City next weekend and prolong the fantasy of leapfrogging Spurs Yet where once I’d hoped Alexis would inspire his team-mates with his appetite, sadly even our Chilean dynamo appears to be coming down with a dose of Arsenal apathy.

It’s invariably the apparent lack of motivation at this crucial stage in the season that is the starkest possible evidence of the costly lack of insecurity that exists throughout our club. With Wenger reigning supreme, the board reaping their dividends and with neither a carrot and stick wielding guv’nor on the bench, nor on the pitch, unlike every other outfit, everyone at our club trundles along, safe in the knowledge there’s absolutely no threat of sanction.

Yet while I can appreciate that some feel obliged to find some means to vent their frustrations, such overt displays of disunity are undoubtedly to the detriment of the Gunner’s cause, when steadfast support in pursuit of the three points should really be sacrosanct.

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Sunday, 24 April 2016

You Schlep All The Way To Wearside And All You Have To Show For It Is A Lousy Point

At least it didn't rain!
Of all the remaining matches in the run in, our trip to Wearside looked to be the most likely banana skin. With Benitez having somehow brought Newcastle back from the dead and with BFS always reveling in any opportunity to get one over on Arsène, the Black Cats were bound to be well motivated to try and get something out of Sunday’s game.

On paper our trip to Man City is the most problematic. Yet whatever fate has in store for what is looking increasingly like a 3rd/4th place play-off (unless Man Utd are still to interject), one would fancy that the Gunners can at least be guaranteed to turn up for one last big, end of season hurrah at the Etihad.

However, after West Brom presented us with such a one-sided walkover at our place on Thursday night, I was worried whether the same starting XI could be relied upon to rediscover the sort of intensity required to turn over more resolute opposition, with Sunderland desperate to avoid the relegation trap door into relative obscurity.

Although Alexis was bristling with intent against the Baggies, as if by way of an apology for our side’s sedentary failure to see off the Eagles the previous weekend, sadly Sunderland had his number. I’m unsure if Chile has a tradition of bullfighting, but all that was missing was the red cape and the sword, to apply the coup de grace to his midweek matador impersonation. Yet while his twists and turns drew deserved “oles”, sadly they don’t impact upon our depressing goal difference and against the Black Cats on Sunday the Gunners uninspiring attacking sword was disappointingly blunt.

         Most matches at this time of the year tend to be at opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum. Either they’re testimonial-like strolls, where players of one, or both sides are already dreaming of their sun loungers (or International acclaim) and where one wished that the Pools Panel might’ve decided the result and saved us all the bother of turning up. Or they’re the sort of thrillingly dramatic, death or glory contests that has the world marveling at the competitive nature of our game.

Following another week of wall-to-wall, live TV matches, with the rush to shoehorn in the remaining games, the resentment levels amongst us Gooners continues to rise, as we are left with our noses pressed up against the window, covetously drooling over the haute cuisine being served up on the inside.

Sod the regime...Support the bloomin' team!
Spoiled Gooners mustn’t forget that this is the norm for fans of the vast majority of clubs. Yet the tide of anger over the Arsenal merely existing in our secure, cash-rich, comfort zone, continues to rise and the infighting grows ever more raucous. The increasingly galling bunch of banner-boy Gooners incite more outrage amongst the hardcore travelling faithful, as they ride this wave, with their futile pennants seemingly multiplying with each passing awayday, to the point where it’s bound to end in tears.

There’s little more infuriating than to contrast the dynamic way in which Spurs went about dynamiting the admittedly, less than fortress like walls of the Britannia last Monday night, with our uninspired assault on the Stadium of Light. To contrast Delle Alli’s zestful appetite to influence proceedings with the apparent indifference of the likes of Özil and Ramsey.

The long schlep back South was momentarily brightened by the crumb of comfort of the sound of “Are you watching Tottenham” echoing out from the radio coverage of the roof being raised, by the rampant goalfest at the King Power.  We’re fast having to learn to walk in the humiliating shoes, well worn by our North London neighbours for the majority of their downtrodden lives, where the only satisfaction to be had from our football addiction is the limited solace offered by such Shadenfreude.

Wilshere’s brief cameo was a bonus but there’s no hiding my disgust that he can offer too little, too late for the Arsenal, but perhaps just enough to ensure he’s on the plane to France in the summer. Another stand out effort from Elneny must annoy the WOB no end, with le Gaffer having unearthed another bargain diamond in the rough.

With, or without the confrontation caused by the bothersome banners, change will eventually come, but only at a time of Arsène’s choosing. The stubborn old bugger certainly won’t bow in the face of pressure from our feeble boo boys. A single Gooner running out on 75mins last Thursday night, busting for a jimmy riddle, hardly qualified as the rumoured “walk out” and the inertia that exists amongst our home audience isn’t the incendiary material necessary to kindle a revolution amongst our particularly well-heeled peasants.

It would be ironic if Wenger decided to walk, after we’ve already missed the boat on the most alluring replacement. But bearing in mind that Arsène is bound to have by far the greatest influence upon all decisions relating to his succession, I pray that he has the sense to recognize the writing on the wall, as it would be a crying shame to see the huge respect and all the goodwill eroded, by him wearing out his welcome.

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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Murder By Numbers

Hi Folks,

Feel free to jump to the Irish Examiner's less long-winded version of this week's missive:

Or if you've nowt better to do, or are in need of a cure for insomnia, my rambling waffle below is bound to do the trick :-)

Considering it's been all over social media, by now, I doubt there are too many people who've yet to see the Tweet that includes a photo of someone sprawled across some of the many empty seats at Sunday's game, but it seems that for me and so many other Gooners, this was one of those "worth a thousand words" images that encapsulates both the apathy and the apparent arrogance, which leaves so many of us wondering exactly where our Arsenal went?

Bearing in mind that many of the ancient anecdotes are genuine and that there was honestly a time when the old North Bank at THOF, or the Clock End was regularly so ridiculously rammed that if one was caught short during a game, making it to the karsey, or having any chance of returning to one's much cherished terrace pitch was so impossible that the only option was to take out one's Johnson and do one's best to avoid peeing down the back of the legs of the bloke standing in front.

Sure we've all grown accustomed to more civilised surroundings nowadays, but quite how far removed are the fervent, sardine-like setting of yesteryear, where there always existed a two-way relationship, with the atmosphere from the stands inspiring events on the pitch and vice-versa, from the sedate, far too spoiled, modern day theatre audience, where everyone sits back and demands to be entertained, in return for the extortionate cost of their seat.

Sadly the Arsenal's audience nowadays refuses to generate any sort of atmosphere, unless events on the pitch elevate the mood. For me and many other travelling Gooners, this is the principal reason I attend away matches so religiously, for my regular fix of atmosphere. I'll often shout myself hoarse at home games, but invariably my humble efforts are in vain and far too frequently the atmosphere at our place is so lamentably lame that it leaves me longing for the wave of noise the would genuinely leave the hair on the back of one's neck standing to attention. Worse still, our glamorous new stadium is now so renowned for it's unsupportive supporters that away fans up and down the country have taken to taunting their unenthusiastic hosts with the standard "just like The Library" refrain.

Against the Eagles on Sunday, as the Gunners grew increasingly frustrated with our opponents throwing their bodies in front of the ball and thwarting our leaden-footed, tippy-tappy efforts to pick an intricate path through the most congested part of the pitch, the desperate need for some inspiration from the terraces, to encourage them to raise the tempo of our game, has rarely been more evident. And yet much like our unintuitive manager, either we failed to sense this need, or perhaps more accurately, we simply couldn't be bothered and struggled to even raise a rousing chorus of the customary "Come on Arsenal".

Even when the Gunners have produced a positively sparkling home performance, I often look around at the dispassionate faces of those silently trudging away from the stadium, thinking to myself that a stranger would struggle to work out which team had just won.

With our record of qualifying for the Champions League for the past 17 successive seasons, we've grown so accustomed to being involved in football's most illustrious tournament, whilst being increasingly deprived of any genuine belief in our ability to achieve the elusive success that would finally silence the smug Blues fans taunts of "you'll never sing that song" that we Gooners have become far too blasé about finishing in the top four. 

Where the fans of the vast majority of other Premiership clubs would give their eye teeth for a single opportunity of Champions League football, we now take it for granted to such an extent that to my mind, our silence on Sunday patently demonstrated that both supporters and players alike, no longer want it badly enough!

Following the misery of blowing another couple of points on Sunday, frankly against piss-poor opposition who, with virtually nothing to play for in the league, will be tuned over by any of our hungrier competitors, we had to endure the agony of seeing a positively rampant Spurs burn down the walls of the not so fortress-like Britannia. The energised end of season efforts of the likes of Lilywhites and the Hammers demonstrates quite how motivated such teams are, by their managers dangling the carrot of the possibility of achieving a seat at Europe's top table.

Whereas by complete contrast, judging by our unenthusiastic crowd and the team's laborious performance against Palace on Sunday, one gets the distinct impression that we expect to retain, by right, our richly rewarded pitch, for a red & white snout in the Champions League trough, without ever having to really pull our finger out to earn it.

The problem is that the increased TV revenues have resulted in the improved overall standard of our competitors, to the extent that there are now various other clubs eyeing Champions League football as a genuine objective, when in the past this has been a mere pipe dream.

What's more, one could make an argument that if our fans can't be bothered and the team aren't sufficiently motivated by the prospect of merely participating in a competition, while lacking any real conviction that we are in it to win it, perhaps it's high time for a less nonchalant club to take a turn at giving it a real go?

Let's face it, as far as all the WOBs are concerned, surely failure to maintain his incredibly consistent qualification record for the Champions League is likely to prove the most effective means of easing Arsène out the door? Moreover for all those who are dissatisfied with the way in which the club is being run, the short, sharp shock of being deprived of Champions League income is likely to be the only eventuality that might stir the suits from their dividend receiving, comfort zone?

Then again, why will I not be surprised if we end up stumbling over the finishing line, scraping Champions League qualification by the skin of our teeth, as has been the case for the past umpteen seasons, only to be back in the same trophyless boat next April, whinging like a broken record.

Meanwhile, from a "careful what you wish for" point of view, we Gooners need to take a cold, hard look at quite how spoiled we've become, in the covetous eyes of the fans of all those football institutions such as Everton, Newcastle, Villa etc. etc who'd all be dancing in their seats and doing the conga around their stadiums to be suffering the Arsenal's woes!

And please don't get me started on the reported attendance of 59,961 on Sunday. Can anyone explain the point of continuing to maintain the obvious falsehood of reporting ticket sales as attendance figures, other than a feeble attempt to try and perpetuate the feelgood propaganda?

With the Baggies having even less to play for then Palace (as the Eagles were at least vying for a run out in their Wembley semifinal outing), we damn well better display more desire and determination on Thursday night, by way of an apology for Sunday's apparent sang-froid. 

I'll gladly (well not so gladly!) endure dropping points, so long as I'm satisfied we've thrown the kitchen sink at trying to secure all three, but there's nothing more infuriating than the sense that our players exist in such a secure comfort zone that they're merely going through the motions and not even sufficiently perturbed to at least feign the act of playing their hearts out.


Murder By Numbers

The infectious apathy evident in the large numbers of empty seats at the Arsenal on a lazy Sunday afternoon was perfectly summed up by the “also ran” half-time interviewee on the pitch. As Bertie Mee’s first signing, Colin Addison’s name rang a bell, but with all of 28 performances in his single campaign for the Gunners in the sixties, it felt symptomatic of our season that, amidst the infinite ranks of ex-stars and world renowned celebrity Gooners, the club couldn’t find a a less obscure candidate to drag out of his complimentary seat for this regular slot.

Sadly Sunday’s encounter proved a disappointingly somnolent finale to such a fabulously dramatic week of football. When I’d mistakenly assumed that the upshot of Dortmund’s surprise defeat at Anfield and the increasingly looming spectre of the Euro permutations that might end up depriving us of our customary consolation prize of a 4th place Champions League slot, would at the very least provide the motivation to prevent the Gunners spluttering over the finishing line, with our France bound Internationals all merely going through the motions.

I must admit that there was some relief in being a neutral, watching Thursday’s heart-stopping, “football…bloody hell” Jurgen Klopp love-in. Yet having witnessed successive nights of televised football, in which Man City, Man Utd and Liverpool all managed to breathe some life back into an exciting end of season denouement, there was more than a little regret involved in being nothing more than an interested bystander.

So in some respects, from a straw clutching, glass half-full perspective, perhaps we should be grateful for Bolasie finding the back of the net for the first time since November, to result in the Eagles’ 81st minute smash & grab, Our meagre return of a single point from such a dominant display against Palace does at least inject some added spice into our remaining five outings.

Instead of chugging along on Spurs” coattails, praying for the miracle that might result in them tripping up, suddenly we find ourselves playing to avoid the ignominious threat of the poisoned chalice that is Thursday night, Europa Cup football. Yet after the Gunners have squandered 12 of the past 21 points that we’ve competed for, in this, the most unpredictable Premiership season to date, we really shouldn’t be surprised by any such eventuality.

In responding to the question in his Friday press conference as to why he’d selected Ospina against West Ham last weekend, Wenger explained that “if you look at his numbers, they are absolutely exceptional”. Yet the psychological impact of omitting our more imposing No. 1 was not the sort of instinctive understanding to be gleaned from the data.

Similarly against Palace on Sunday, it felt as if this was a team playing in our manager’s analytical image, as if this match was going to be won not on the pitch, but on an Excel spreadsheet, with the Arsenal’s far superior “numbers”. I’m sure we beat Palace hands down, in every respect statistically speaking, except the all-important one that counts!

We’ve seen it all before, against those sides that come to our place with such limited ambitions, with the Gunners waiting far too patiently for the weight of their superior ability to tell, as we try to pick the lock through the heart of the massed ranks of the opposition, without anyone assuming responsibility, or having the inspiration to attempt an alternative ploy.

Mind you, I can’t recall seeing a keeper lobbed by a header before and as the shortest player on the park, it was a pity that nearly all Alexis’ opportunities arrived on his bonce. Yet the Chilean’s customary determination aside, Elneny appeared to be just about the only other player sufficiently motivated to try and make something happen. While their team mates were all waiting to notch up another win, according to the weight of their superior statistics

If our old dog has anything to learn from the Foxes remarkable campaign, it is that "the numbers" are far from the be all and end all. But then even Arsène’s staunchest advocates are beginning to wonder if a genuine appreciation of the less tangible, more intuitive aspects to the beautiful game are beyond our scientific prof’s purview?

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