Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Oh I Do Love To Be Beside The Seaside

It was interesting that the club promptly relented last week, following the furore that resulted from their decidedly untimely decision to try and sting season ticket holders for an additional few quid. Seemingly due to the "Category A" nature of the last of our seven cup match credits, when Barcelona visit in a couple of weeks time, the club intended to add a small additional sum to next season's renewal cost, but big up to Lois Langton at AISA as her communication with the club seems to have played some part in persuading the PR dept. of the error of their ways as far as this surcharge was concerned.

Alexis doesn't mind stopping in the rain
Nevertheless, it was the fact that the suits at the club chose to alienate fans (even more!) at a time when we're in such dire need of the sort of unity required, to try and breathe some life back into our waning title challenge that only goes to demonstrate the complete and utter disconnect that exists between those running the Arsenal business.

Football in this country has always existed on the premise that the normal economic laws of supply and demand do not apply and that the loyalty of us fans is infinite. Nevertheless, as was ably demonstrated at the well supported walk-out 77 minutes into the match at Anfield this weekend, it would appear that some fans have finally chosen to make a stand, refusing to allow their beloved club to plumb the depths of their already empty pockets beyond all reason. 

I for one applaud their efforts. When Premiership clubs are all benefitting from the massive increase in TV and sponsorship revenues, on account of the huge global audience, it's high time that those supporters who are the very lifeblood necessary to create the live atmosphere which makes football quite so marketable, stand up and make it patently clear that we will accept "no mas"!

Mind you, even with extra-time and penalties, sadly a match wouldn't last long enough for Arsenal fans to stage a similarly timed walk-out to express our anger at the highest priced tickets at our place! Doubtless I'm being an idealistic dreamer but it would be amazing if there was the sort of solidarity amongst all supporters of Premiership football for further effective protests in the future.

The display by the Bayern fans at our place earlier in the season, in leaving their seats empty aside from a banner expressing their disgust at our ticket prices, with them all eventually marching into the stand in unison, this was brilliant. I would've imagined that it really wouldn't take long for the message to strike home with the powers that be, if they were faced with the serious threat of the embarrassing sight of huge swathes of empty terracing. Perhaps we need Bernie Saunders on the case because if he's seriously going to bring Wall Street to heel then Premiership ticket prices should prove very small potatoes!

Meanwhile, there's the small matter of bringing the hounds to heel for next weekend's fox hunt


Oh I Do Love To Be Beside The Seaside
Be it ever so humble
While the Gunners might've desperately needed to pocket all three points from our day out at the seaside, I'll be delighted if the Cherries go on to consolidate their highly-prized place in the Premiership because the humble, yet most hospitable environs of Dean Court stadium is a very welcome addition to the top flight.

With an allocation of only 1,100 away fans at the 11,000 seater stadium, Sunday's game was always this season's hottest ticket, with reports of our East Stand seats changing hands for utterly ridiculous sums (15 x their 33 quid face value!). It felt as if the weather was equally clement, with the bright sunshine that greeted our lunchtime arrival in Bournemouth.

Yet the sunny disposition of us Gooners soon gave way to exasperation, with the news that Coquelin and Campbell had been left on the bench. Considering the "make or break" nature of this encounter due to our recent slump, the consensus on the terraces was that Arsène had completely lost the plot, by leaving out the energetic Costa Rican in favour of the far less committed Ox and by failing to reinforce the somewhat ineffectual midfield pairing of Flamini and Ramsey.

With Elneny having disappeared due to his wife having given birth, we were left hoping that our new Egyptian midfielder hasn't got himself a harem at home and a plethora of impending progeny that might mean we might never see him back. But none of us could fathom leaving Franny in reserve.

Watching the whole-hearted way in which the Foxes went about vanquishing City on Saturday, the thought of the relentless likes of Kanté and Drinkwater running rings around Flamini and Ramsey at our place next weekend is utterly horrifying. Yet what would be the point of Wenger keeping Coquelin fresh for this encounter, if we'd ended up losing against Bournemouth and struggling to peg back an eight point gap between us and the league leaders?

Although the travelling faithful were in good voice, the underlying indignation only intensified for the first twenty minutes or so on Sunday, as the blasé body language of the likes of Ramsey and the Ox was in such complete contrast to the intensity seen from a Leicester side, who really look as if they're relishing their opportunity, for what might well prove to be a once in a lifetime tilt at the title.

During this opening period, only our two star turns, Mesut and Alexis, looked capable of the sort of inspiration necessary to raise the entertainment level beyond the mundane. While of the rest of our outfield players, the Flamster appeared so wound up that he came far too close to ref Friend rewarding the Frenchman with an early bath; as for the rest their lukewarm and lackadaisical contribution only lends weight to the accusations that they're treading water, in the hope of retaining the wherewithal to be able to shine at the Euros this summer.

No stopping Mesut
However in typically fickle fashion, we were soon lauding Arsène's genius, when first Ramsey teed up Mesut's opener and then the Ox chipped in with his first league goal in sixteen long months. Nevertheless, while the two goals in such quick succession might've virtually killed this game as a contest (albeit with the customary aid of Petr Cech's unimpeachable consistency), in truth judging by the amount of time that we gifted the home side in dangerous areas, more clinical opposition might well have punished the way in which the Gunners subsequently took their foot off the gas.

I was hoping that we might go on and bury Bournemouth, with the likes of Giroud and Alexis banging in the goals that would enable us to face the daunting task of subduing the Foxes next Sunday (not to mention Barca nine days after that) full of confidence. Yet as the weather took a turn for the worse and the heavens opened up with the arrival of storm Imogen as we headed back to London, it was somewhat symbolic that it should’ve rained on our three point parade. 

Spurs nine-goal advantage leaves us languishing in third and while we might not have achieved the sort of convincing score line that could've made some inroads into this deficit, we're most grateful to have begun taking some baby steps towards dissipating the gloom and doom and to at least begin to repair the damage done in recent weeks.

email to: londonN5@gmail.com

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Missing....The Arsenal's Title Challenge...Last seen disappearing down Drayton Park!

Here's hoping his bite is just as bad as his bark
          I received a teasing "mind the gap" text message from one of my Spurs' mates during half-time Tuesday night and I promptly replied to say that he was being just a little bit premature and that he really should know better than to tempt fate. Most infuriatingly it was not!

            Yet the terrifying truth of the matter is that the Totts are so accustomed to their encounters perennially going tits up that in the past he wouldn't have dared yanking my chain, until after both games were over. So receiving this text during the break was merely a reflection of quite how bullish they've become in recent weeks, down at the wrong end of the Seven Sister Road!

            As ever, on another night we might've been left with mouths agog during the first-half, as a result of yet another truly memorable world class moment from Mezut finding the back of the net, with another gob-smacking goal for the Özil scrapbook. Who knows, even Theo might've miraculously rediscovered some composure, to do the business with his prime second half opportunity to seal victory against the Saints.

            Nevertheless, even if the Gunners had managed to break our first three successive game goal-scoring duck in seven years, the resulting three points might've prevented us from being left in the ignominious position behind Spurs in the table and would've made a seriously depressing Weds morning far more palatable, but frankly a win would've only papered over the patently obvious cracks in the Gunners' increasingly tarnished-looking armour.

Yalla Mo...time for a Highbury Spring?
            It wouldn't have felt quite so bad if Soton were doing likewise, game in, game out, but the truth of the matter is the Romeu and Wanyama totally bossed the middle of the park for the visitors during the first forty-five mins. Wanyama we know blows hot and cold, but as I sat reflecting on the game during the break, I wondered how come I've never previously noticed Romeu, as his domineering display seemed quite impressive.

            Doubtless the Spaniard is set to disappear back into relative obscurity for the remainder of the season, since it's subsequently dawned upon me that it really doesn't take much to master last night's lamentable Flamini / Ramsey midfield axis. As in the case of Joel Campbell, so long as they're prepared to demonstrate one hundred per cent commitment when they don the red and white, I don't enjoy criticising a willing grafter. That's why at present I'd choose Campbell over Walcott any day, but I remain far from convinced that Joel will ever demonstrate sufficient quality to be a top draw star. Would he make it into Man City's team?

"And there was me thinking it was just for standing on"
          Similarly, on the basis that everyone loves a trier, you can't really knock the Flamster but we must be mindful of the fact that Matty only ended up back in the Arsenal midfield by default, after his career with "the Rossoneri" hit the skids and he returned from Milan to train with the Gunners. merely to maintain his fitness. It's hard to imagine that the 31 year old Frenchman would make it anywhere close to the squads of the vast majority of our competitors.

            Yet with Arsène (perhaps crucially) preferring not to select le Coq twice in three days, so soon after returning to fitness, apparently he perceives Matty as a dependable stop-gap solution. I'm certainly not complaining about him being in the squad, not only because of his versatility but because we haven't nearly enough players with Flamini's wholehearted attitude.

            However I point-blank refuse to accept that the Arsenal's army of highly paid scouts couldn't have scoured the lower leagues and the rest of the entire footballing world during the transfer window, to find some available talent that would've proved a fitter, faster upgrade on the ageing Flamster? 

            Especially if Wenger knew full well that he intended to avail himself of the journeyman midfielder in such crucial outings as the other night. The many millions of spondulicks that the club have sitting earning interest in the bank certainly aren't going to buy back the points we've dropped in the past four Premiership games!

            We might've managed to turn the screw somewhat and apply pressure during a period of the second half, forcing Forster to pull off more commendable saves but we badly needed to bounce back from the Chelsea defeat by steaming into Southampton right from the opening whistle; and upon reflection it was this failure that I find most depressing because I can't help but feel that a team with sufficient appetite and a genuine scent in their nostrils of the extremely rare opportunity available to us, would've torn into the opposition with that "nothing else but a win will do" type determination.

"Spot the tourist"....sadly more like "spot the Gooner"!
          Frankly, Aaron Ramsey's insouciant and ineffectual efforts suggested anything but a "shit or bust" desire to tie the red and white ribbons on the title trophy. It felt as if the Gunners only began to turn up the heat when it eventually became apparent that Koeman's well-disciplined outfit weren't about to present us with the points, as all due recognition of our somewhat smug belief in an entitlement to have the Premiership crown handed to us on a plate.

            Contrast our display to the manner in which Leicester went out and wrestled all three points from Klippity Klopp's schizophrenic Scousers. Vardy's sensational strike must be a shoe-in for goal of the month and despite being full of admiration for the consistent quality being produced by Ranieri's troops, it rankles me that it is the Foxes and not us, who are seemingly determined to take advantage of the lame-duck managerial circumstances at Man City and the likelihood that Pellegrini might struggle to motivate the title favourites.

            As for Spurs, one might contend that their squad is far better equipped than ours to go all the way this season, with more strength in depth. But I comfort myself with the thought that they remain deprived of an obvious replacement for Kane, in the event that this "one of their own"should do what Spurs do best, by beginning to falter over the remaining hurdles, as it doesn't bear thinking about and I might have to consider leaving my phone permanently turned off, rather than have to put up with my Spurs pals savouring decades worth of "always next season" payback, should they push us all the way.

            Still, worst case scenario, at least we can take some solace in this weekend's trip to the seaside, should we remain (heaven forfend) in need of more distraction from what's fast becoming a goal drought!

Keep the faith

email to: londonN5@gmail.com

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Famous Arsenal Could Be Destined For Wembley But Am I Being Greedy Demanding More?

A caption competition if ever I saw one?
Having lazily posted a link to the edited version of my missive in the Irish Examiner, it suddenly occurred to me that I had better get this posted before tonight's game, where hopefully I'll be left feeling sheepish when Theo scores a hat-trick (and I'll happily eat my hat!).

With Man City trumping such a damp squib of a transfer deadline day with the confirmation that Guardiola will be going there this summer, I'm sure that along with many other Gooners, this news only heightened my sense of quite how essential it is that we make the very most of the decidedly unusual circumstances, by winning the title this season. It seems to me that we might never again have a better opportunity, perhaps in my lifetime!

As we've witnessed in the past, the mid-season announcement of a managerial change at the end of a campaign isn't exactly likely to have a positive effect on Man City. More commonly, I would expect that a lame-duck manager like Pellegrini might struggle to motivate his players when push comes to shove, at the business end of the season? But one thing is for sure, once Pep gets hold of the strings of the Qatari's ample purse, I think we can take it as read that the challenge from the blue half of Manchester is unlikely to be diminished next term!

Moreover, surely the Mancunian reds can't possibly remain quite as mediocre as they are at present and it's hard to believe Chelsea will produce an encore of their disastrous start to this campaign. I'm still ignoring the astonishing prospect of Ranieri achieving quite such a miraculous coup at Leicester and imagine that I will only really be able to take this seriously, should the Foxes manage to maintain their challenge come Easter. Albeit that if the Gunners should end up falling short yet again, I'd love to see Leicester do it, if only because it would tickle me to think of Mourinho watching the Tinkerman pick up the title.

With the transfer merry-go-round remaining quite so static (when everyone was expecting the extra TV cash to send it spinning into orbit!), I guess it was inevitable that Arsène remained as inactive as the vast majority of his peers. Yet in view of the peculiar circumstances and the fact that we might never again have a better opportunity to walk off with the Premiership crown, I can't help but feel that a more intuitive manager might've made more of an effort to bring in a couple more bodies (especially when we've got the readies sitting there in the bank!).

Sure, I can appreciate from that from le Prof's strictly scientific viewpoint, he's got players coming back from injury to bolster the squad (if the likes of Welbeck, Wilshere and Cazorla are to actually make it back to first team fitness in time to have some impact?) and there might well have been no patently obvious, available targets, who might be deemed a guaranteed upgrade on any existing squad members.

Nevertheless, I struggle to believe that throughout the entire footballing world there wasn't a single available player who might've added a little more depth to our squad, for the sort of price that might prove comparatively paltry, compared to the additional financial reward of winning the title. Sadly they might've been lacking in sufficient Premiership experience, or the sort of journeyman pros that meant AW wouldn't afford them a second glance.

Yet even if they were only to get no further than the bench for the remainder of the season, in the highly unlikely event that our first-choice XI stays fit for the duration, personally I can't help but focus on the psychological boost of our existing squad turning up at London Colney, to find a couple of new faces. Or those players who believe their squad place is guaranteed (Theo?), suddenly feeling a little less secure and finding an additional 10/15 per cent commitment and determination, due to a little more competition for places.

I get the distinct impression that Arsène's staunchest supporters are so accustomed to defending our glorious leader, in the face of the relentless criticism from the WOB that the man can do no wrong in their eyes. Doubtless they'll demand precisely "who?" but to be frank, I really couldn't have cared who, I simply wanted to see the one or two names splashed across the Sky Sports News ticker and grabbing today's headlines that wouldn't have cost the earth but which might've screamed a signal of the Arsenal's intent to go "all in" for the title this season and which would've undoubtedly added some slight skip to our squad's step against Southampton tonight.

Still no point crying about what might've been! With me feeling the decidedly disturbing breath from the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road on my neck and with Spuds travelling to Norwich, we badly need to bounce back from the Chelsea defeat, with a convincing win this evening. If we're going to produce a concerted challenge for the title, we urgently need to demonstrate that our existing squad has the wherewithal to go all the way.


The Famous Arsenal Might Be Destined For Wembley But Am I Being Greedy Demanding More?

When AW says jump, Alexis says "how high"
The Gunners started brightly against the Clarets, in the crisp winter sunshine on Saturday. With Le Coq retrieving possession so much higher up the park, instead of allowing opponents freedom to bear down upon and discombobulate our defence and with Alexis restoring some much needed zip to our play, the long-awaited return of some pleasing on the eye, fast, free-flowing footie ensured that it was patently apparent quite how much these two players have been missed, during their enforced absence.

Calum posts his billet-doux past Burnley
When Alexis eventually dissected the massed ranks of Burnley’s defence, following a period of the sort of patient probing that’s all too often resulted in a frustrating lack of end product in recent weeks, I had the good fortune to be blessed with the perfect view, as Calum Chambers exquisitely caressed the ball goalwards.

Chambers was wheeling away towards the corner flag to celebrate, before the ball had even found its target, as he and I both knew, with absolute certainty that he couldn’t have got the physics more precise, if he’d sat down and calculated the jaw-dropping trajectory with a slide-rule. To describe it as a shot would be vulgar, as this was a billet-doux from our young full-back, a thing of such rare beauty that it was inevitably curling it’s way into the top corner of the net.

Unfortunately, as the sun sunk behind the Clock End, the temperature on the terraces and the isotherms of this encounter both dipped dramatically. In the more tepid remainder of this match there was little evidence of the sort of cup “blood and thunder” that sadly only seems to exist nowadays in the imagination of the tabloid hacks.

Time was when the likes of Burnley would’ve been far too embarrassed to dare show their faces back at Turf Moor, after exiting the competition by way of a display in which a solitary booking was hardly testament to the Clarets getting “stuck in”. With it being so long since we last lost in this competition, I suppose it’s inevitable that we’ve become irritatingly blasé, but I must admit to feeling a little envious, upon seeing evidence of far more FA Cup fervor in the atmosphere seen at success-starved grounds like Fratton Park, when watching highlights on the box later that same night.

My disappointment at discovering Reine-Adelaide’s absence from the teamsheet was tempered by the prospect of getting a first glimpse of our new Egyptian midfielder in the starting XI. As one would expect of a Wenger signing, Elneny appears very comfortable in possession. Mercifully, with him not being another midfield midget, he might well prove a useful addition, depending on how quickly he adapts to the unrelenting intensity of Premiership footie.

With Giroud, Alexis, Iwobi and the Ox all included in a positive looking line-up, I was hoping the Gunners would go on to bang in the few goals that might boost our confidence. Yet after Vokes caught us napping, heading the Championship side back on even terms on the half hour mark, we seemed to sit back and wait, in expectation that Burnley would eventually roll over.

Thankfully we managed to conjure up the beautiful box to box move that resulted in Alexis scoring what eventually proved to be the winner, but there remained the unnerving risk of us conceding again and being left faced with a long trek North, at a time when we can least afford the dreaded prospect of a replay impinging on an already crowded fixture schedule.

One man down, one man up!
Watching us making such a meal of keeping an in-form, but comparatively agricultural Burnley at bay during the second half, I found myself contemplating the positively terrifying prospect of us having to contain the likes of Messi, Suarez and Neymar in only a couple of weeks time!

Walcott really should’ve sealed our progress with a third when he appeared late-on, but in fluffing his lines, Theo only managed to reinforce our lack of faith in him as a viable alternative to Giroud.  Nevertheless, unless Arsene’s got an unlikely surprise up his sleeve, it’s looking increasingly likely that we might be left another man down come transfer deadline day, with the exit of Debuchy.

With Rosicky’s long awaited 20 minute cameo only resulting in the depressing news of him picking up yet another injury, it’s not as if the shelves at London Colney are looking particularly well-stocked with fresh produce for an assault on all three fronts? Still with yet another home draw against lower league opposition in the 5th round, the fates at least appear to be smiling kindly on our efforts to repeat Blackburn’s ancient "three in a row” feat.

email to: londonN5@gmail.com

Monday, 25 January 2016

He's Done It Again!

Waking up on Sunday morning to find Spurs breathing down our necks in the table only added to the tension in advance of our afternoon encounter. I was convinced that the Chelsea side that turned up wouldn’t be the same one that’s struggled all season long and concerned that the psychological impact of us not having beaten the Blues for so many seasons, might be reflected in an inhibited Arsenal display.

After all the Gunners have hardly sparkled of late and all the talk of us being title favourites has seemed quite fanciful to those of us who’ve watched us eke out results in recent weeks. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 (whatever that may mean!), but considering how long it’s been since we last stamped our authority on a game, I would’ve liked to have seen Alexis out there from the start on Sunday, even if he wasn’t fully match fit and might’ve only lasted an hour or so.

There’s an intensity about Alexis that invariably makes things happen on a football pitch. With the Gunners pressing high up in the opening minutes, you could sense the nervousness in the opposition, the lack of confidence that results in previously composed players making uncharacteristic errors and even lacking in match practice, we really could’ve done with the additional attacking intent from Alexis that might’ve caused sufficient panic to enable us to press home an early advantage.

Instead of which, the Gunners complete failure to threaten Chelsea early on, afforded our guests time to settle and perhaps playing on memory alone, knowing quite how often they’ve managed to nullify us in the past, the Blues soon grew into the game, to the point where they were the source of such consternation that Costa was once again able to sucker one of our centre-backs into getting themselves sent off.

Truth be told, the Bambi-like BFG has been looking increasingly vulnerable, ever since being deprived of the protection offered by Coquelin. Gawd love him Flamini is a trier and it’s hard to criticize such a willing grafter, but there’s no denying how much more fragile we’ve been at the back in Franny’s absence.

Then Arsène only compounds the loss of Mertesacker by substituting our single most likely goalscorer. With the Chelsea fans’ taunts of “Diego Costa, he’s done it again” ringing in our ears, this really was a head in the hands moment, at the prospect of another Groundhog Day demise, but which was all the more galling because on this occasion it was at the hands of a far less formidable Chelsea side, who we really should’ve had the wherewithal to be able to beat.

There was the suggestion that Giroud had been a doubt prior to KO and I can understand the logic of leaving the pace of Walcott and Campbell out on the pitch to try and take advantage of the ageing legs of the likes of Ivanovic and Terry. Yet this presupposed that Theo was capable of actually having an impact upon such a significant game. Sadly he’s been such an anonymous passenger of late that even wearing the captain’s armband to honour his decade at the club, I don’t think there was a person in that stadium who truly believed Walcott capable of filling Giroud’s goalscoring boots.

You & Me Both!
Our brief sojourn at the top was fun while it lasted, but the table as it stands after yet another topsy-turvy weekend is perhaps a truer reflection upon current form. Moreover with the Gunners having long since become unfamiliar with the art of leading from the front, in trying to put some sort of positive slant on a gut-wrenching defeat, perhaps there might be some advantage to letting others make the pace, so we can return to making our more traditional late run on the rails.

Doubtless Arsène will trust in the expected leg-up offered by the long-awaited return to fitness of some of our long-term absentees, but unless Elneny is genuine first XI material, I would dearly love to see at least one more new signing before the transfer window slams shuts, if only to provide the rest of the squad with the psychological boost, by way of the club’s signal of our intent to go “all in”,
email to: londonN5@gmail.com

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Barcelona (via Bournemouth) Or Bust

(feel free to jump to the Irish Examiner's edited version, should it prove preferable to my overly loquacious load of old waffle below:


with me having procrastinated so long over posting this week's missive, to the point where it's already somewhat outdated, I assure you I won't take offence :-)

It amused me that on the same day that I spent the princely sum of 64 quid for a seat in the oxygen-starved environs, right up in the gods at Camp Nou for our Champions League encounter with Barca in March, my precious, highly-prized Bournemouth ticket also turned up in the post.

I doubt there can be much more of a contrast in top flight footie, between our trips to Camp Nou and the Cherries humble home at Dean Court, but with us never having had the pleasure of playing there before (at least not as far as I can recall...which admittedly isn't particularly far!!), ironically, tickets for the Arsenal end, for our rare seaside outing to the South Coast, are likely to prove far harder to come by than a seat at yet another glamorous clash with the Catalan Galacticos.

Obviously it would've been preferable if our date down in Bournemouth had fallen amidst warmer climes, closer to the end of the campaign. I can't envisage any Gooners, other than the odd, alcohol-fuelled lunatic, paddling in the sea come 7th February, at least not without a heatwave between now and then, whereas a Spring outing to the seaside might've proven far more alluring.

Nevertheless, with away fans receiving some 1500 from the mere 12,000 seats available at Dean Court,  Bournemouth was always going to be this season's hottest ticket. Presumably the vast majority of tickets went to those of us on the away scheme, but someone was telling me that there was a ridiculous threshold of SIXTY away match credits required for anyone not on the scheme who wanted to apply. Between the away scheme and I believe the box holders' (unfair?) entitlement to eight tickets for every away game, I wonder if any Bournemouth tickets actually made it into the hands of anyone else? As the same Gooner pointed out, away match credits are counted over a two season period and without checking previous fixture lists, sixty away games sounds like an impossible target!

Meanwhile, with home games against Chelsea and Southampton to come before then (along with our FA Cup date with Burnley), the match itself might prove no less crucial, when you consider the succession of far more daunting looking awaydays to follow.

But then with the table being so tight and most teams only two wins away from the top and two defeats away from being drawn into the dogfight at the bottom, every game has acquired a "must win" aura.

With Stoke having taken points from some of our competitors at the Britannia, folk have been trying to put a positive spin on Sunday's draw. From my perspective this point would've been far more acceptable, if we'd managed to hang on to all three at Anfield, as a four point haul, from two of the season's more awkward awaydays would be a perfectly respectable tally.

In any other season, a mere two points from these two outings would certainly not be perceived as title challenging form, but then mercifully this is definitely not "any other season" and should everyone continue on their current inconsistent path, our failure to convert awayday points into three might not prove too calamitous come the reckoning in May. 

Moreover it might be considered a marvel that we managed to come away from the Potteries unbeaten because any side would suffer under the weight of such significant absentees as Özil, Alexis, Cazorla and Coquelin, not to mention our catalogue of long-term casualties in the likes of Wilshere, Welbeck and Rosicky.

However, with each passing week, there's an increasing sense that someone is about to grab the Premiership box-seat and begin to run with it and I can't help but feel that the first team to do so, will be the eventual champions and I really don't want us to be left amongst the clutch of clubs trying to play catch up. That's the main reason I was disappointed on Sunday because if the likes of Silva and Aguero are beginning to find their mojo, Man City might not gift us many more opportunities to establish a cushion.

Frankly our form of late has been so uninspiring that it's astounding we've not been knocked off our top spot perch. I'm not much of a gamer but I'm counting on the possibility that the return of Alexis and Özil will add the sort of sparkle that will enable us to push the turbo-boost button before Man City. Preferably starting on Sunday!



Neanderthals' indignation at Aaron having the temerity
to have his leg shattered by Shawcross!

It might well be that for the want of any other credible challengers, everyone has the Gunners pipped as potential champions. Yet considering we almost had all three points in the bag at Anfield in midweek, two measely points seems scant reward from two exhausting awayday outings?

I’m certainly not moaning, as we’ve managed to negotiate a daunting week, with us ending up still looking down on the rest of the Premiership. Nevertheless, the mark of the Gunners title winning sides of yesteryear was that we could be deprived of the likes of Bergkamp, Henry, or any of our most influential stars and still retain sufficient guile and gumption to go to grounds like the Britannia and somehow manage to snaffle a crucial win.

However when I looked at Sunday’s starting line-up, deprived of the likes of Özil, Alexis and Cazorla, it was hard to envisage who was going to be able to unlock the door, against such an in-form Jack Butland.

It’s ironic that Aaron Ramsey continues to receive such stick at Stoke, for having the temerity to have his leg shattered by Ryan Shawcross. Yet instead of Ramsey rising to this ridiculous barrage, grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and returning the compliment with added interest, he seems to disappear into his shell.

Similarly Theo Walcott didn’t appear to relish the prospect of getting clattered on a particularly parky afternoon at the Potteries. As evidenced by Arsène choosing to replace Theo with Iwobi for the last 20 mins, when recently it’s usually been the more energetic Joel Campbell that gets hooked. Although the Ox made a decent fist of it, it was a big ask of him to fill the boots that had been vacated by the sore tootsies of our German playmaker.

Yet on an afternoon where I feared we might be fatigued by the high-drama of our midweek efforts at Anfield, if we were bereft of the ingenuity to give Butland more of a work out, there were plenty of positives at the opposite end of the pitch. It’s almost becoming routine to the point of not being noteworthy, when the serene magnificence of Petr Cech once again comes to our rescue. If Cech’s composure is reminiscent of Seaman in his pomp, there was something equally nostalgic in the sight of the linesman at the Britannia responding with such frequent regularity, to our back four stepping up in unison with arms raised.

There’s no substitute for the sort of intuitiveness that derives from a defence that remains unchanged, game in, game out and thereby acts as a single unit. Doubtless I’m tempting fate for our backline to leave Costa all alone to score against us next Sunday, but with us seemingly having begun to develop the discipline and the confidence to know that there are no stragglers, there’s something decidedly satisfying, an almost balletic quality, in seeing all their arms raised as one, with an authority that almost guarantees that the linesman will acquiesce.

It could be said that with so many awkward awaydays to come, the Gunners have wasted an opportunity to firmly establish ourselves as the front runners. But my feeling has always been that if we could ride out our injury woes, while keeping ourselves in the title frame, we will be well placed to use the return of some of our star players, hopefully fresh, fit and raring to go, as a springboard to mount a real charge for glory. 

I only hope this begins with the return of Alexis and Özil for the Blues visit next weekend. With every other bugger taking advantage of Chelsea’s demise, it’s high time for a return of the natural order of things in the capital, with the Gunners demonstrating the shallow façade of mere monetary achievement, by finally demolishing the upstarts.

email to: londonN5@gmail.com

Monday, 11 January 2016

The Red & White Cup Runneth Over

Who's bright idea was the green kit?
Judging by the irritatingly incessant whining of the WOB, despite the fact that we’re currently looking down on every other club in the country, there are far too many Gooners, who simply can’t comprehend that the vast majority of footie fans spend their entire lifetimes waiting, mostly in vain, for their teams to win something.

With our own comparatively trifling, nine-year sojourn in the silverware-starved wilderness interrupted by the euphoria of successive, memorable May day outings to Wembley, this adds a certain spice to the recommencement of a journey that many seem to feel is now destined to always culminate in another end of season trophy party. But then it’s been so long since we last lost an FA Cup encounter that I guess it’s inevitable that we’ve become somewhat blasé. Folk seem to forget that every cup run requires a large slice of good fortune.

In spite of the incremental efforts to sabotage the highlight of the sporting calendar that is the 3rd round of the FA Cup, myself I’ve always adored this unique convergence of clubs from contrasting tiers of the football cake. The increased allocation of tickets for away fans will often result in a stonking atmosphere. Yet there’s simply no accounting for the incompetence involved in Sunderland returning around half of their tickets, too late, apparently for them to go back on sale to us Gooners.

The FA badly need to address the fact that there were far too many empty seats all over the shop this weekend. A good start would be for clubs to acquiesce to the “Twenty’s Plenty” campaign. Instead of Black Cats’ bums on seats prior to Saturday’s KO, there was a large banner draped across the empty section promoting this effort to limit costs for the travelling hard core to 20 quid.

Moreover, the rotation that results from prioritising Premiership ambitions sends the sort of signal that inevitably has a detrimental impact upon the intensity and focus of those involved. As evidenced by Laurent's uncharacteristic lapse in concentration, in gifting our guests the opening goal!

In the absence of the customary 3rd round fervour on the pitch, combined with the muted atmosphere off it, sadly Saturday’s encounter was a perfect example of the creeping diminution of the traditional cup “blood and thunder”. Still with BFS railing about their midweek relegation “nine-pointer” v Swansea, if Sunderland were gentle as a result, I guess we should be grateful that Cattermole & co. didn’t leave their customary black & blue marks on the Gunners. Seemingly everyone in the stadium, bar ref Atkinson, was convinced Giroud had been brought down in the box during the second half, but it speaks volumes that this match transpired without a single nasty tackle of note!

Watmore Jeff?
Iwobi hasn’t exactly pulled up any trees on the odd occasion that I’ve seen him play as a central striker for our U21s, but playing behind Giroud in Saturday’s rare run-out, he was about the only Arsenal player who looked really up for it in the first-half, as he was at least trying to make something happen.

Unlike Man Utd, we might not have taken a tedious 70mins to produce a shot on goal, but with five players on the park with alleged attacking instincts, it was particularly disappointing that we failed to put the prosaic Black Cats under the cosh.

After Sunderland took the lead some suggested that they’d rather see us lose than risk blowing vital Premiership points against Chelsea, as a result of a midweek replay. Mercifully we didn’t have to wait long for Joel Campbell’s retort and while this performance might’ve been far from the Gunners at our scintillating best, there was cause for optimism that this goal and the two subsequent peaches were all straight out of the “football made easy” book, as extremely pleasing on the eye, slick, passing moves.

Our cup might’ve runneth over and out if Sunderland hadn’t fluffed two great chances following the break, but after Ramsey came on and snaffled our second, there seemed little fight left in the relegation threatened, Wearside mongrels. I was hoping that the Ox would grab his recent opportunity of some proper game-time, but he and Gibbs both failed to impress and with pace being his greatest threat, it’s really hard to fathom why Walcott appears so reluctant to run in behind the opposition’s back-line.

Joel or Hector MOTM?
I was also disappointed that Reine-Adelaide only enjoyed a cameo late run-out, when the game was already won. This elegant teenage midfielder covers the ground with the sort of effortless grace that’s reminiscent of the panther-like Henry on the prowl and we’re all impatiently waiting to see if he can truly cut the top flight mustard. The consensus is that Bellerin was MotM, but I think Campbell shaded it. It must be unsettling knowing he’ll be sidelined as soon as Alexis returns, but after so many seasons in the shadows, it would be foolish to let Joel fly the coop just right now.

With Klopp struggling to muster a team from his decimated squad, Wednesday’s trip to Anfield is looking less daunting. If the unknown Elneny is the only guaranteed acquisition, with crucial matches coming thick and fast surely Jeff will be let off the leash before long? Obviously a home draw in the 4th round would be most expedient, but if not, please could we at least be presented with an unusual awayday outing?

email to: londonN5@gmail.com