Monday, 5 October 2015

From "Wenger Out" to "Arsène Knows" In Four Schizo Days For Fickle Spoilt Gooners

Hi folks,

Late KO's on a Sunday are the bane of my life because instead of being able to savour Sunday's sensational triumph with every other Gooner, I had to dash home to bash out my missive for the Irish Examiner, whilst still trying to work out if we'd been that brilliant, or if the result was more down to such a dismal performance from Utd. 

Upon further reflection, I suspect that it was a little bit of both, since Man U seem to have been getting away with it, ever since the season started and their unimpressive form to date meant that they were overdue Sunday's reality check. Moreover, as wonderful as that whirlwind opening 20 minute spell of football was, in truth the resilience we displayed in closing the game out second half and securing a clean sheet, was no less satisfying. 

In the past we'd have likely conceded a goal before half-time and would've been left biting our nails throughout the remainder of the match and there was no such sense of insecurity on Sunday, as we never looked in danger of our guests making a game of it.

For me, there were a couple of standout incidents that differentiated this display from those we've grown accustomed to in recent times. I have to agree with all those Gooners gushing about how great it was to see Mezut Özil grab a game by the scruff of the neck and impose his undoubted grace with a football, Yet Mezut has the talent to be able to do this in every match and to my mind, it was a confluence of other circumstances that afforded him an opportunity to shine.

When was the last time we saw Theo surprising an opposition defender, by stealing the ball from his feet in such a committed fashion. Personally I can barely recall Walcott making a tackle of any sort, let alone diving in twice in one game, to stun the somnolent Utd defence! I've often complained that Theo's game appears to be lacking in any real intent, as if he's far too aware of his own fragility. Yet with him and his teammates all putting themselves about in quite such an urgent fashion yesterday, it was this that afforded the likes of Özil, Sanchez and Cazorla the opportunity to do some real damage.

We've just witnessed what wonders the Gunners are capable of when they're sufficiently fired up. Where in the past Alexis has stood out because of him being an exclusive member of the "run until you drop" club, for once everyone showed willing to imitate his relentless effort. However in doing so, they've gone and set a benchmark and cynic that I am, I can't help but wonder if we'll see them reproduce quite this same level of commitment at Vicarage Road on Saturday week?

From Blinker-Man to Tinker-Man?
With me being sat opposite the Arsenal dugout, the other moment that sticks in my mind from Sunday's match, was the sight of Arsène emerging from his seat during the second half, to influence proceedings from the touchline. How often have we moaned about the apparent inertia on the bench, as our leader has sat there, impotently allowing a game to slip from our grasp? In the face of constant criticism perhaps, just perhaps, we are finally seeing evidence that you can teach our old dog some new tricks?

We're accustomed to quotes from our players about Arsène's unstinting belief and the fact that this unshakeable faith in their ability is responsible for le Prof's "laissez-faire" approach, where invariably it appears as if they are responsible for their own actions, once they step over that white line. Doubtless others will point out if I'm wrong, but personally I can't ever recall seeing Wenger making obvious tactical adjustments in the middle of a game. 

However, as we inevitably began to come under a little pressure, with Man Utd chasing the game in the second half on Sunday, we saw the extremely unfamiliar sight of Arsène offering the sort of leadership from the touchline that, in the absence of a vocal captain out on the park, we've been crying out for, for far too long. We saw Wenger instructing Ramsey to move in from his starting point out on the right, to create a three man screen of Aaron, Santi and Franny across the width of the penalty area, in what proved to be a successful effort to shore up our defence.

I know there are plenty of Gooners who've become increasingly convinced that Wenger has become something of an out-dated dinosaur in recent times. Yet after a weekend which has thrown the spotlight on the disastrous and incredibly costly consequences at those clubs that exist amidst an air of constant insecurity, with Mourinho seemingly having lost the dressing room (and the plot!), Advocaat and Rodgers both losing their jobs and Van Gaal spending £300 mill and still having to resort to hoofing it up to the big lad, we've been fortunate to enjoy the benefits of the Arsenal's enduring stability and the loyalty that this inspires.

This doesn't change my opinion that Arsène's privileged position leaves him far too isolated, with no one at the club capable of telling him "what time it is" and that every other bugger on the planet with an opinion can't possibly all be wrong. I've moaned for years about Wenger's incessant efforts to resolve our goalkeeping woes on the cheap, forever wondering why he refused to go out and do whatever it takes to install a keeper with some genuine presence between the posts.

Admittedly I would have preferred Manuel Neuer and Arsène has still ended up finally attempting to rectify this situation without having to break the bank. Still with Petr Cech in situ, I think there's little doubt that we saw on Sunday how a proper world-class keeper can impact upon an encounter, by appearing two-feet taller to opposition strikers and forcing them to fluff their lines, in the knowledge that he's unlikely to gift them cheap goals.

Yet best of all was the hope engendered by events on Sunday that suggest Arsène might've eventually become no less frustrated than the rest of us, with the insanity of repeating the same things over and over again and expecting a different outcome. The sight of Arsène tinkering tactically in the second half suggests that he might have finally come to appreciate that Albert Einstein had a point. As marvelous as it was to savour a long-awaited battering of Man U, it might be far more significant in the long-term, if this was evidence of a much-needed rethink of le Gaffer's match day philosophy?


From "Wenger Out" to "Arsène Knows" In Four Schizo Days For Fickle Spoilt Gooners

"Alexis Sanchez baby....."
An afternoon which started with a huge social-media hoax about the Gobby one getting the boot, ended with the Scousers stealing our thunder by sacking Brendan Rodgers. In between we’ve witnessed the sort of complete performance from the Gunners against Man Utd that we’ve been waiting for, ever since Fergie sought refuge in his pipe and slippers.

Admittedly we’ve turned them over in the Cup at Old Trafford but we’ve waited a long time to inflict quite such a comprehensive defeat, against the comparatively mediocre incarnation of the Mancunian side in recent times. What’s more, it’s that much more hilarious that it should happen after they’ve spunked the best part of £300m in their seemingly vain attempts to redress this situation.

Seeing the Arsenal literally leave an impressive looking midfield on paper, of Schweinsteger, Carrick and Mata, for dead in that sensational opening twenty minute spell, there was the distinct sense that we were so pumped up, as if our players truly felt that they owed their manager proper recompense, after our midweek fiasco against Olympiakos.

Doubtless they will have seen Arsène’s embarrassingly petulant pre-match press conference, where his aggressive reaction to the media rat-pack looked to be that of a man who was in fear of his faith in our existing outfield squad being proved to be misplaced. Yet unlike Mourinho, in public at least, Wenger’s loyalty to his charges has always remained unwaveringly constant. In return, time and again, when the chips are down and the pressure upon le Prof has been mounting, they’ve invariably conjured up the sort of breathtakingly magical football that has instantly silenced his critics.

Obviously, it would be too much to ask for, to expect the Gunners to be able to reproduce quite such peerless football in every single encounter. Yet with the chant of “can we play you every week” resonating around the stadium, the inevitable question arises, as to why we can’t achieve the levels of confidence that would enable us to consistently dominate matches and to reproduce this sort of swagger against all our immediate rivals.

On the face of it, the two-week Interlull between now and our short trip to Watford couldn’t have been more badly timed. And yet after the recent relentless run of matches and after having left everything out on the park yesterday, I’m sure the players will be grateful for a bit of a breather. Additionally, it will offer recuperation time for the significant likes of Koscielny and for Arteta and Flamini. With the latter being the only alternatives for Coquelin, the Gunners would’ve been right up cack creek if Franny had also succumbed to injury!

It’s also interesting that we have the annual Arsenal AGM next week and I’m certain that the board will be mightily relieved to be meeting the shareholders after a fabulous victory that leaves the team lying second in the table. I very much doubt that they and our manager would’ve faced nearly such a convivial reception if we’d failed against Man Utd.

Nevertheless, despite parting the stadium with suitably puffed chests on Sunday, following the euphoric surge of happiness that accompanied the thrashing of the Red Devils, this welcome glimpse of some consistency to our league campaign only adds to the conundrum of our Champions League malaise.

I’ve no doubt there’ll be questions at the AGM as to what good a £200m cash surplus does for us, when we are losing to the lowly likes of Zagreb and Olympiakos. Then again, we’ve grown so accustomed to taking our European bow before the business end of this tournament that as far as I’m concerned, success in the Champions League is only ever prolonging the agony.

Albeit that our demise to date results in the looming spectre of the unfamiliar prospect of falling through the trap door into the Europa cup, due to a 3rd place group stage finish and all that entails, as far as the potential negative impact upon our Premiership prospects of a Thurs/Sun schedule. Personally I’d much rather write off our European challenge completely than to find ourselves having to schlep to meaningless fixtures in far flung outposts of the continent.

However it would be wrong to dwell on any such disappointment after such a perfect weekend, where the goalfest at Man City was the only slight dampener. I’d much rather reflect upon our manager’s glee at the sight of his nemesis’ seven-minute post-match grovel, followed by an Arsenal performance that will only have rubbed salt in the trigger-happy Abramovich’s wound. Then again, while we Gooners are entitled to head into work with a skip in our stride this week, I’m long enough in the tooth to know not to gloat so much that I can’t stomach a deserved portion of humble pie should Sunday’s heroes fall on their faces next time out.

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Sunday, 20 September 2015

He's Behind You....!!

If only we could've put the Blues in the shade!
As my mum is in the habit of saying, at least it didn’t rain at Stamford Bridge on Saturday! Aside from the pleasant weather and the fact that we didn’t lose more ground on Man City due to the Hammers marvelous win, there wasn’t much else to smile about.

Seemingly along with Paddy Power, who were offering new punters outrageous odds of 10 to 1 on an Arsenal win, I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic about our chances of success. But then sadly we’ve grown so accustomed to such miserable outings to the Kings Road in recent seasons that a lack of expectation is hardly surprising.

Still, hope continues to spring eternal and much like lemmings, we masochistically traversed the capital to endure the perennial punishment of this particular pantomime, in the belief that surely Mourinho’s hoodoo over Wenger has to be broken one of these days?

Costa literally making his mark on the match...yet again!
Gooners will point to Mike Dean as the person most responsible for pulling the plug on any prospects we might’ve had of hammering another nail into the coffin of Chelsea’s unconvincing start to their campaign, by finally vanquishing Arsène’s nemesis. It’s always incredibly galling when the man in the middle needlessly ruins the spectacle for the watching millions. Yet it was even more infuriating to see Gabby get his matching orders, when it was patently obvious to the entire planet that the principle protagonist was far more deserving of censure.

The "Who Me Guv'" striker comes with retractable fingernails as standard
However for all our bleating about Costa’s culpability, I’d love to have just such an animal playing in red & white. Although our Brazilian centre-half might well possess a streak of much-needed nastiness, we were no less irate at his naivety, in falling hook, line and sinker for Costa’s customary antics. And if Gabriel was going to get himself sent off, he should’ve at least left Diego with a proper dig to remember him by. Should the resulting media brouhaha result in a crack down, sadly it will only be our other competitors who’re likely to profit against the Blues.

As was the case in Zagreb in midweek and on countless more occasions over the past decade, Saturday’s farce only served to highlight the most significant missing link in our squad, which is, as ever, the absence of genuine leadership. Our downfall against Dynamo was down to a comatose Arsenal, arrogantly sauntering around, as if they need have only turned up to secure all three points. A vocal captain might’ve inspired a more concerted and focused effort and his team-mates wouldn’t have dared display such a disrespectful attitude for fear of incurring his wrath. If we’d had a proper leader out on the park on Saturday, he might’ve intervened sooner to prevent Gabriel from becoming Costa’s patsy.

Yet I fear that without a massive stroke of luck, until such time as someone invents a means of measuring character on an Excel spreadsheet, Arsène will never chance upon a player with real personality. Without this vital element, the Gunners might be doomed to remain in our Groundhog Day loop of underachievement. In a week when it was confirmed that we have £200mill in the bank, it feels as if Arsène’s niggardly chickens might be coming home to roost.

Our Stamford Bridge medicine was much easier to swallow, when it was being dispensed by monster opposition, but thus far, this season’s incarnation of Mourinho’s outfit has proved far more mediocre. Consequently we appeared fairly comfortable at the back prior to Gabriel’s early bath, seemingly determined to thwart Chelsea with the sort of composed display, which might provide Petr Cech with the clean sheet that he must’ve been desperate for, on his first return to Stamford Bridge.

Sadly we were far from at our scintillating best going forward. Compared to the way in which we peppered the Potters’ goal last week, we were positively shot-shy on Saturday, with only Walcott’s half-hearted attempt to show for our first-half efforts. Nevertheless, it was an evenly matched contest until Mike Dean took centre stage.

Having firmly established himself as the most essential cog in the Arsenal engine, Coquelin was the very last player any of us expected Arsène to sacrifice at the break and our prospects of grinding out a draw evaporated when Franny was withdrawn.

Seeing Zouma rise unchallenged to head home the opening goal, I had to wonder why Wenger had bothered bringing on Chambers. As porous as Chelsea’s defence has been, at least their centre-backs demonstrated on Saturday that they are sufficiently well-drilled to know better than to leave the opposition’s aerial threat unmarked!

Seemingly unlike Santi, we were definitely not amused!
Santi’s expulsion quashed any remaining vestige of hope and we had to settle for spending the last 10 minutes venting our staunch defiance vocally, in an effort to aid a 9-man Arsenal over the finishing line with our unstinting support, teasing the hushed home crowd with a chorus of “is this the Emirates?”

Normally I wouldn’t be too desperate for success from a second XI in the Mickey Mouse Cup. Yet it would be unconscionable to follow our defeat in the Champions League and against Chelsea with a cup exit at White Hart Lane and I really wouldn’t fancy travelling to Filbert Street with our tails between our legs, to meet a buoyant Leicester. Still a particularly long-shot but I wonder what price one could’ve obtained from the bookies before the season started, for Ranieri to finish the campaign looking down on the Gobby One?

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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Caught With Our Pants Down In Croatia & Our Collective Backsides Deservedly Smacked

I was only watching an AFC training ground video this afternoon - 
and thinking that the team spirit looks encouragingly healthy.

However it was evident from our failure to turn up for the first-half and the patently flat-footed and shamefully indolent body-language that our squad continues to lack leadership, as has been the case now for more years than I care to remember.

We remain devoid of the sort of intimidating & forceful personality who is capable of motivating his team mates, to ensure that they dare not kick-off ANY match in such a sluggish and uninspired fashion and who's capable of handing out the sort of bollocking that would leave them all sufficiently motivated to save them from incurring such wrath.

Our lot walk off after such a piss poor first-half with absolutely nothing to fear, knowing full well that our glorious leader doesn't permit any raised voices in the dressing room because it's contrary to his feng shui principles!

I'm always a believer in playing one's strongest team and was convinced that it would've proved far more effective if AW had done so this evening, in the hope of being able to take off the likes of Coquelin, Alexis & Ozil, once we'd done the business & secured a couple of goals.

To my mind this would've left our players having expended a whole lot less energy & nervous exhaustion than was the case with the likes of Coquelin coming on for the last half hour, desperately running their socks off, in an effort to chase a result.

It's not the defeat that bothers me so much, as the manner of our demise, where we've started the game at such a slow tempo and so thoroughly devoid of any intensity that we were simply inviting the home side to take advantage.

To my mind AW's team selection was partially responsible in sending out the sort of message that encouraged them to believe victory would be ours by right and that we need only turn up in Zagreb to pocket all 3 points.

And such defeats only serve a purpose if one learns from the experience, but we know full well that this sort of lacklustre display is bound to be repeated ad infinitum, so long as the ingredients remain the same. 

As is so often the case, once one commences an encounter on the back-foot, it's invariably a difficult task to grind through the gears and garner some real momentum, as we witnessed with our struggle to impose ourselves after the break (not helped by Giroud's idiotic red card, as he should've known he was already walking a tightrope, after foolishly getting booked for giving the ref a peace of his tiny mind!).

If we've learned anything from tonight, it was just further evidence that Arteta is well past his "sell by" date. I know our Spanish captain is an adorable bloke and all that, but sadly he's no longer a viable alternative to Le Coq and if I wasn't certain before this evening's fiasco, I am now convinced that the number of defeats we endure during this season's campaign will be in perfect correlation with the amount of times Coquelin is absent.

If a comparatively piss-poor quality outfit like Dynamo Zagreb are able to overrun us in quite such a comprehensive fashion in Coquelin's absence (to the point where it was only the home side's lack of basic quality with the final ball that prevented them from scoring with almost every attack), then I absolutely dread to think how we will fare if Franny is unavailable against more competent opposition!

Ultimately we should still be able to finish the group above Zagreb & Olympiakos. Assuming there's a reasonable chance of it coming down to a head-to-head comparison, we will have to do better against Dynamo at home than their 2-1 win tonight. But in all honesty, if we can't finish above these two teams, then we really don't deserve to qualify for the knockout stages.

However, on the basis of how far we still look from having the necessary character & personality to overcome the likes of Bayern, in order for us to have some feint hope of CL glory, I will gladly sacrifice the 3 points we blew in Zagreb, in return for finally seeing AW overcome his Mourinho hoodoo at the Bridge on Saturday.

Then again, judging by the continued lack of leadership witnessed tonight, you'll have to forgive me for not feeling particularly optimistic.

Unless Petr Cech's presence is going to guarantee us a clean sheet, we've seen nothing from the exact same bunch of outfield players to suggest they're any more capable of turning out at the Bridge instilled with the sort of confidence & belief to overcome our recent nemesis, than they have been in any of our woeful South West London displays of late?

Still I suppose things could always be a whole lot worse and we could be travelling to Azerbaijan to play the mighty Qarabag


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Less Rugby-like Stoke Should Really Have Suffered A More Rugby-like Scoreline

Hi folks,

It will be interesting to see what starting XI AW selects in Zagreb and whether it reflects the fact that we have such a significant encounter only three days later at Stamford Bridge. It could be argued that Chelsea have exactly the same recovery time, but they are playing at home on Wednesday night and don't have to suffer a long schlep back from the Croatian capital.

Nevertheless, it's absolutely crucial that we get off to a winning start in the Champions League and so in an ideal world, I'd want us to field a strong side, score a couple of early goals to put the result to bed and enable Arsène to rest three of our most influential players at half-time.

With the sort of ground covered by the likes of Alexis and Coquelin, I wouldn't expect them to regularly be able to repeat quite the same level of performance, relentlessly playing three times in seven days. So if they are to be at their most energetic come 12.45 on Saturday, I'd hope they don't need to play the entire 90 minutes in midweek?

I imagine Le Coq will be most Arsenal fans' choice of player of the season thus far. It is great to see him growing in confidence with each passing game, but I hope his success doesn't go to his head. I imagine that playing alongside such cultured ball-players as Santi, Mezut et al, one is bound to start believing one can do likewise. Yet personally I would much prefer to see Franny concentrate on his more artisan defensive duties and to leave the artistic glory passes to his team-mates.

Hopefully, based on Chelsea's woeful form, Coquelin won't be overly busy on Saturday. However the Gobby One is going to be absolutely determined to stem the tide of the Blues recent demise and I sincerely hope Arsène is able to ensure that we are suitably prepared and motivated to best take advantage of the situation, by achieving his first triumph against his nemesis. Frankly I will be devastated by a result that reflects the fact that Chelsea are more desperate to avoid defeat than the Gunners are, to secure a long-awaited victory at the Bridge.

Before I finish, I feel obliged to give a shout out to Nacho Monreal. Considering that I was seriously underwhelmed when Nacho first arrived at the club, in the belief that he appeared to be little more than an above average full-back, I have to admit that the Spaniard appears to have grown into his role in the team. Where in the past I would've been hoping for the return to full fitness of Kieran Gibbs, to my mind Monreal has now nailed down his position as our first choice left-back and must rank as the most impressive of the Gunners more unsung players in this campaign to date.

Wishing everyone who is celebrating the occasion a very happy and healthy New Year

Less Rugby-like Stoke Should Really Have Suffered A More Rugby-like Scoreline

Sitting in the autumnal sunshine at the Arsenal on Saturday, soaking up some rays, whilst watching a supremely dominant display against Stoke, with the Gunners spraying the ball around in such a pleasing-on-the-eye fashion, it’s hard to imagine a more pleasurable way of passing a Saturday afternoon.

By contrast, I couldn’t help but picture the disappointed faces of the couple of youngsters who’d travelled up from the Potteries with their pop and who’d been positively bristling with eager anticipation prior to the match, as we engaged in some friendly banter on the walk up to the ground.

Along with the majority of the Premiership’s lesser lights, Mark Hughes attempted to make use of their increased resources, by introducing a raft of new talent over the course of the summer. Having never seen Stoke win at our place in their lifetimes, these kids were keen to see whether their new look line-up could perhaps prove themselves capable of something slightly more ambitious than their customary “park the bus” attempt to stifle the Arsenal.

However, based on Saturday’s showing, the Potters have yet to profit from the sacrifice of their traditional, more combative, muscular approach, in favour of more skillful footballers. The Gunners were so comfortable in our monopoly of possession that the likes of Shaquiri, Joselu and Van Ginkel barely had a sniff of the ball all afternoon. In fact, it was only the impressive goalkeeping heroics of Jack Butland that were responsible for maintaining a respectable scoreline; suggesting that the sale of Begovic was perhaps the most significant bit of business Stoke achieved this summer.

As has been the case with ineffectual displays from other Premiership debutantes, Stoke’s anaemic performance only served as more grist to the mill for our manager’s assertions about his fruitless efforts to find players capable of improving our squad. Arsène contended that Walcott wouldn’t have started (and scored!) if he’d signed another striker. Yet few Gooners would’ve moaned, at least not for the first thirty minutes, with Theo being the source of mounting frustration amongst those seated around me, as he spurned chance after chance.

Considering we could and really should’ve been “home and hosed” by half-time, with more clinical finishing, it was a massive relief when Walcott finally broke his duck. His confidence would’ve been seriously dented, if he’d failed to notch a single goal from all the opportunities he was gifted with on Saturday. Sterling would’ve scored a hat-trick against Stoke and although Theo continues to struggle to convince anyone that he’s capable of being a prolific goal-poacher, we must be patient. We really can’t afford to be reliant on a solitary centre-forward to carry the twice weekly burden for the entire duration!

With Man City being deprived of Aguero, Sterling and Silva and rarely looking more likely to drop points on their travels, if news of their last gasp winner at Selhurst Park wasn’t galling enough, this wound was well and truly salted by their unknown Nigerian striker and the appearance of City having such infinite options up front.

After having peppered the Potters with thirty odd efforts on their goal, it was no less irritating to return home and watch Man Utd produce a 100 per cent return on a meagre three efforts on target and to finish the day above us in the table on goal difference.

Nevertheless, despite our failure to inflict a rugby type scoreline on a less rugby like Stoke, there was plenty of cause for encouragement on Saturday. After a disconcerting start to his Arsenal career, Cech is beginning to look more like the keeper we were expecting.

Admittedly Petr could’ve put his feet up for most of this match but there was a moment, which stuck in my mind, when he steamed through the opposition to punch the ball clear. It’s been a while since an Arsenal keeper has dominated his area with such physical conviction and hopefully Cech’s reassuring presence will result in an increasingly composed aura throughout our defence.

It appears as if we’re beginning to find some rhythm to our passing and Coquelin’s influence is growing with each passing game. To the point where Franny’s tendency to want to spray a thirty-yard pass, instead of keeping it simple might have one concerned about him developing Franz Beckenbauer delusions. Gabriel is beginning to look like a potential first-choice and it could be that the Brazilian possesses the sort of mean streak that might just lend us the sort of backbone that we’ve lacked for so long.

With Chelsea likely to be stung into a concerted response, next Saturday’s outing to Stamford Bridge might well prove the acid test and an opportunity to demonstrate if we’re capable of casting off the shackles of our former frailties and proving that this squad has finally developed some real character. That is assuming we retain sufficient zest after an arduous midweek outing to Zagreb?
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Sunday, 30 August 2015

No New Tunes From Arsène's Same Old Fiddle

Hi folks,

I went to watch the Arsenal U21s v West Ham at the Grove on Friday night and for only four quid, it proved to be the best value football entertainment that I've enjoyed so far this season. Admittedly the result might've been largely due to the fact that the majority of the Hammers regular U21 side were not involved, seemingly with most of them on the bench in the first team squad for their historic first triumph at Anfield in half a century.

Nevertheless the incisive Young Guns were 2-0 up inside of the first fifteen minutes and it was extremely refreshing to see them produce at least two inventive corner routines in the opening forty-five. This was evidence of their productive use of their time spent on the training ground and it left me wondering why on earth our first XI can't do likewise?

In the end, it finished up as a 5-0 tonking for the Irons, with Jeff Reine-Adelaide catching the eye with his silky skills, but with the goals shared out amongst four different scorers, it was a good team performance all round. Obviously I wasn't expecting quite such an easy ride at St James Park the following day but I couldn't have possibly guessed that we'd be going into the Interlull with the Gunners leading goalscorer being the less than prolific OG! Having notched more than the combined efforts of Giroud and Walcott, surely AW should pull his finger out and offer this geezer a contract?

I shouldn't really be moaning with the Gunners faring far better than the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool. Yet watching us dominate 74% of the possession against the ten man Toon, I couldn't help but think that genuine title contenders such as Man City wouldn't have been content to sit on a slender, single goal lead and leave themselves at risk of blowing the three points in the event of the home side nicking a draw with a surprise breakaway at the death. Aguerro, Silva and co. would've been far more clinical and made their superiority tell, with a far more emphatic margin of victory.

Nevertheless things could be a whole lot worse and we could've spent the best part of £250mill and still be even more desperate for a striker, as is the case with LVG at Man U. However I can't help but fret that even if AW has got hopes of landing anyone before the transfer window shuts, presumably he's waiting until either the selling club is forced to accept a lesser sum at the last moment, or we're at the end of a transfer chain that's waiting for the hectic last gasp merry-go-round to begin to move. Either way, we're likely to be at risk of being gazumped by far more desperate managers who are willing to flex their financial muscle and flash the cash necessary to stick a spoke in Wenger's wheel?


No New Tunes From Arsène's Same Old Fiddle

There was much delight amongst the travelling Gooner faithful at being geographically blessed by the dream ticket promotion of Watford, Bournemouth and Norwich. Nevertheless, having previously only dipped our toes in the water, in journeying across the Thames to Selhurst Park, it’s not until after having endured a seriously arduous awayday outing that one feels truly immersed into this season’s campaign.

As ever, the long schlep back to London from Toon Town seemed suitably truncated, not only due to having all three points safely ensconced in our back pockets, but with the time passing so much more pleasantly, as we savoured the titillating Schadenfreude of the radio commentary from Stamford Bridge, with the Gobby One’s anniversary celebrations going so awry.

Despite St. James Park being such a happy hunting ground, with the Gunners having not tasted defeat on the Toon’s home turf during the past decade, there was a prevailing mood of trepidation as we made our assault on the oxygen-starved altitude of Level 7 of the Leazes Stand at lunchtime on Saturday.

As scoreless draws go, last Monday night’s encounter with the Scousers might’ve made for highly entertaining fare, but there was no hiding from the fact that we continue to lack the crucial cutting edge necessary to break our home goal-scoring duck. While the implication to be drawn from the Toon’s creditable 0-0 draw at Old Trafford is that the Wally has been bashing heads with his Brolly. McClaren somehow appears to have introduced more steel into the Geordies’ previously porous defence.

The early KO in the North-East served as merely the first of this season’s succession of customary reaffirmations of the obvious contempt of those responsible for dictating the live TV schedules, in taking it for granted that the travelling faithful can be relied upon to religiously turn up and play our part, in providing the necessary televisual spectacle, no matter how impractical this might be.

Like most other Gooners, I let out an exasperated groan at being lumbered in Bayern’s group (yet again!) in Thursday’s Champions League draw, knowing that the likely limit of our ambitions will be another knockout stage exit, after qualifying in 2nd place behind Munich’s master-race. Frankly, if we can’t overcome Olympiakos and Zagreb, we don’t deserve to be there but I’m sure I wasn’t alone in having to seek enlightenment from Google to find a more familiar moniker for GNK Dinamo.

I had the needle to Chelsea, as unlike Blues fans, I quite fancied a trip to Tel Aviv. Still, at least our perennial invite onto the world’s most glamorous sporting stage invariably proves educational. I was clueless as to the location of the Croatian capital before the draw. In the days since, I’ve been struggling to find a means of accompanying the Gunners to Zagreb in a couple of week’s time, without totally breaking the bank.

Sadly, I might be “past it” but for plenty of Gooners, Saturday’s untimely kick-off proffered an excuse to travel up the day prior. As evidenced by those arriving at the ground with obvious hangovers, after having taken out an insurance policy on a bad result by ensuring they’d been suitably hammered the night before. At the very least, they’d be returning home with happy memories of Newcastle’s “banging” nightlife.

Doubtless the Geordies will contend that it was Andre Marriner who definitely got out of his bed on Wearside and that it was the card happy ref who was most in need of some Alka Seltzer. Yet with his aid, these Gooners were grateful to have enjoyed both their piss-up and the three points. Considering the way in which renowned Gooner Mo Farah was simultaneously making history in Beijing, completing his stupendous “triple double”, the Gunners could well do with some lessons in clinical finishing from Mo.

In their efforts to knobble Alexis and le Coq, the Toon shot themselves in the foot with their “over enthusiasm”. Yet as is so often the case, not only did the ref put the kibosh on a potentially entertaining encounter, it really didn’t do us any favours. Mitrovic’s early bath left the Gunners looking as if they’d already won the game and without Coloccini’s inadvertent contribution, we might’ve found ourselves ruing our failure to press home our advantage.

The early start also meant that we made it home in time for Match of the Day. Where one couldn’t avoid the contrast between Walcott’s profligacy in front of goal and Sterling’s instinctively clinical strike for City. Not to mention Arsène’s blinkered obliviousness to the opposition, preventing us from ever profiting from the sort of tactical half-time tinkering seen from Pellegrini.

With most of the competition splashing the cash, like it’s going out of fashion, I refuse to believe that we lack sufficient financial muscle to secure any of those players who are incessantly being touted in the media. Seemingly it’s le Prof’s parsimony that always leaves us waiting for the vagaries of the transfer merry-go-round to fortuitously deposit a star-name at our door, instead of simply stumping up whatever it takes to land our targets. Surely this is a false economy, if it leaves our squad with patent deficiencies and denies them the psychological boost needed to mount a serious challenge for glory.

The old adage says that you can’t buy character. Even in the unlikely event that Arsène silences all his critics and leaves everyone agog, by pulling off a transfer coup (or two!) before deadline day, there’s no guarantee this will have the desired effect. Yet without more firepower, or a viable alternative for Coquelin, our squad will be no better equipped to believe themselves capable of beating the likes of Bayern and it’s hard to envisage anything other than the same “nearly men” script that’s sadly become the Arsenal’s infuriating trademark.

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