Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Bowler’s Holding The Batsman’s Willey

The home of the Champions, cudda, wudda, shudda.......!!

We shared a knowing look, sitting in the boozer before Saturday’s game in Leicester, as the Gooner tom-toms transmitted news of Burnley beating Liverpool, putting last Sunday’s opening day defeat into some proper perspective.

Personally, I was expecting the limitations of Klopp’s side to be exposed next weekend, with the Scousers getting schmeissed at White Hart Lane. Yet with them losing to the relegation favourites on Saturday, this surprising result only fuelled our frustration at having thrown these three points away.

And with Man U, City, Chelsea and Spurs all having banked a win, by the time we rocked up at the home of the current league champions (talk to us when you’ve won thirteen titles!), the pressure for the Gunners to get some points on the board had only intensified.

The happy memories of last season’s flattering 2-5 triumph ensured that Saturday’s game was a particularly hot ticket. With the Gunners “generously” gifting a further four quid discount off the flat-rate £30 price of all away match tickets this season, the demand for comparatively affordable £26 tickets has fast become far more intense, than for an astronomically priced pitch at our place.

            Mercifully the publicity-seeking “Time For A Change” banner wankers, were noticeable by their absence at Leicester. There was the odd individual displaying their own somewhat feeble, homemade A4 effort at the final whistle and the now customary cat-calls. Yet the fact remains (as evidenced by the attached video…if it is viewable?), away games are far more fun.

            Despite a minor fracas with the departing opposition fans and an embarrassing contretemps between our own opposing In/Out factions, for the most part, the fervent atmosphere in the Gooner corner of the King Power on Saturday was a gratifying contrast to the toxic undercurrent that is waiting to rain down the very instant anything goes awry at the Emirates.

Whilst setting our Arsenal world to rights, surrounded by genial Foxes’ fans in the rub-a-dub, it was a fairly constant theme to ponder on the motivation of the huge number of home fans who pay such extortionate prices, only to endure an afternoon in a state of such abject misery?

Whereas the mood of the travelling contingent improved on Saturday, with the realization that Koscielny, Santi and the Ox had been reintroduced to our starting XI. Yet this was tempered by the knowledge that our solitary recognized centre-forward had retained his watching brief, on our star-studded bench.

Ultimately, an engaging goalless game produced mixed emotions. There was a consensus that we’d enjoyed due reward for our effort, not with Mesut’s fifteen minute cameo, but with our World Cup winner’s single “tekkers” moment on the touchline in front of us late-on, which was worth at least double the cost of our reduced price admission.

It was interesting to hear Arsène once again refer to the fact that the Gunners continue to approach full-fitness. Although we immediately looked more threatening with the introduction of Özil and Wilshere, our subs' impact was compounded by the obvious evidence that it was the Foxes who were flagging. We might’ve taken more advantage, if only Wenger had sent Giroud on sooner, but then perhaps, like me, le Prof was overly fearful of the trademark Leicester sucker-punch, which might’ve left us heading back to London completely empty-handed and considerably more glum.

            With the familiar refrain of “spend some f#ckin’ money” ringing out at the final whistle, it was disconcerting to see Mesut and the irritatingly ineffective Alexis disappear straight down the tunnel, even before Clattenburg had finished blowing up. When we are all witnessing the positive impact of new arrivals amongst our competitors, I’m equally concerned about the psychological effect upon our two biggest stars of a perceived lack of ambition at the Arsenal, as I am about our prospects of competing with the current chasm in our existing roster.

Mercifully Rob Holding appeared to benefit from having the more experienced (man of the match?) Koscielny alongside him. Although on another, less charitable afternoon, Clattenburg might’ve given the home side the benefit of his doubt and awarded them the two contentious penalty claims and we might've been fortunate to finish the game with a full complement.

While the local radio commentator questioned whether Leicester were paying the price for the number of penalties they “earned” last season, in his post-match comments Arsène opined on whether the clamour for him to flash the cash would be quite so loud if he’d paid a humungous price-tag for our teenage centre-half..

Meanwhile, I suspect that as with our defeat to Liverpool, our hard-earned point at Leicester will only prove profitable should the Tinkerman prolong their home form with equally obdurate performances in the weeks to come. If the Foxes remarkable league triumph was only a flash in the pan and they begin to flounder against our competitors, this will feel like another two points lost?

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Monday, 15 August 2016

Here We Go Yet Again!

"Where's Our Money" the bank, instead of on the pitch!!
They were giving away free matchday programmes at the Arsenal this afternoon, to celebrate ten years at our new home, but I'm sure that like me, most Gooners would've much rather that they took all of our £3.50s and put them in the pot for a new centre-half and a new striker!

Losing to Liverpool on the opening day was bad enough, but losing Iwobi, probably our most effective player on the day and Ramsey, an expected shadow of the influential player for Wales, was really adding insult to injury.

I joked at half-time that perhaps a 4-1 defeat would be the only thing that might convince Wenger that he can't get away with it this season and force him into some long-awaited transfer action. Yet I was only joking and really didn't expect us to be looking down the barrel of such a demoralising scoreline within the blink of an eye.

Credit to the Gunners for making a game of it by dragging themselves back into contention with two goals, but at the end of the day, while this might offer some psychological consolation, it still amounts to three points dropped, when, thus far, none of our competitors have slipped up, despite similarly unimpressive performances.


Here We Go Yet Again!

AW counting out another £8m from these mugs
The fragile truce that’s existed between the Arsenal’s factions lasted all of an hour into the new campaign. After the sort of dominant first-half display that suggested “project Klopp” is still a work in progress, it was disappointing enough to be pegged back, following award of a soft free-kick that resulted in Coutinho’s stunning set-piece equalizer, with almost the last kick of the half.

However the sun was shining, the footie was back and we still had another forty-five minutes to prove that our uninspiring attack was sufficiently more potent than the Scousers, to pocket the all-important three points.

Sadly, the transformation which took place immediately after the break would appear to have highlighted, yet again, the crucial significance of some vocal personalities in the dressing room. After the high press and focus of the first-half, the Gunners ambled out after the break with a tepid lack of intensity. Whereas our guests returned to the fray seemingly fired up for the devastating fifteen-minute, three goal spell, which left the more fickle ranks of the Gooner not-so-faithful marching out the exits in absolute disgust, bellowing “spend some f#ckin’ money” as they went!

Personally I don’t know how anyone can walk out in protest, with nearly half an hour still to play. When first the Ox and then Chambers restored some respectability to the scoreline soon after, I couldn’t help but feel that it served these disloyal dolts right that they missed out on the Gunners admirable fightback to 3-4.

Nevertheless, the acute air of frustration was perfectly understandable. From the moment we became aware of the starting line-up on Sunday, every Arsenal fan was resigned to the likelihood that an opening day victory was going to be dependent on a performance that wasn’t quite as poor as that of our opponents.

The walls of Arsène’s ivory tower remain disturbingly impermeable, with le Prof seemingly the only man on the planet who has yet to accept Alexis’ absolute ineffectiveness in the central striker’s role. And it amounts to nothing short of blatant incompetence that a club of the Arsenal’s stature should be left kicking off a new campaign with a completely untried and inexperienced centre-back pairing.

I’ve not given up on Calum Chambers and Rob Holding looks particularly promising, but it was a very big ask to throw these two in at the deep end. In truth, we were fortunate that they didn’t end up on the wrong end of the sort of embarrassing thrashing that could’ve done permanent psychological damage to both their careers.

When we are seeing the likes of Everton replacing Stones, with the battle-hardened Ashley Williams, for a relatively meagre £11m, or Spurs taking a £17m punt on Janssen adding to their goal tally, frankly I just do not buy the argument that the Gunners are doing their best to plug the glaringly obvious gaps in our squad.

Moreover, with every other club having recalled their Euro stars in good time for the kick-off, I just don’t understand how Wenger justifies leaving Giroud, Koscielny and Özil cooling their heels, knowing that this could and as it turns out has cost us points! They might well return that bit fresher, but this will be of little benefit if we are already out of the Premiership picture!

Only the day before, I was criticizing Pochettino for his negative selection of two defensive midfielders at Everton. Presumably Wenger’s chose to play Coquelin and El Neny, in an effort to protect our callow centre-backs, but sadly this was at the expense of leaving all our creativity on the bench.

Arsène spoke of the last two weeks of the transfer window as “a poker game” in a press conference during the US tour, but this is not the case for those clubs willing to put the money on the table necessary to secure their targets. In our efforts to save a couple of million quid, in a game of bluff that is fooling absolutely nobody, it seems to be a calamitous false economy, as Wenger perennially leaves himself shopping for the last few remaining turkeys on the shelves!
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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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