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Monday 15 August 2005

The Song Remains The Same

I don't doubt that I've delivered the same opening sentiment at the
start of several seasons. I sincerely hope you don't tire of it because it
deserves repeating and unlike many other of life's pleasures, this one
doesn't diminish with the passing of time. Having hauled my far too rapidly
aging frame up several flights of Highbury's West Upper staircase, to the
concourse where fans are supplied with refreshments and somewhere to relieve
oneself of the same (in fact if it wasn't for the revenue the club might
just as well dump one in t'other and do away with us middle men), I steel
myself for the assault on the last few stairs, before reaching the bulkhead.
As with the first home game of every other season before, on stepping out on
to the terrace, I never fail to be blown away by the breathtaking vista of
35,000 Gooners surrounding the snooker baize like perfection of the luscious
green playing surface.

Even after all these years, the hairs on the back of my neck still
stand to attention in eager anticipation of the ensuing excitement.
Sentimental old sop that I am, I lingered for a few moments on Sunday,
soaking up the magical assault on my senses, only too aware of the poignancy
of the occasion, as I drank in every last drop of that heavenly first day
thrill, for the very last time at our ancestral Highbury home.

With Thierry Henry needing to hit the back of the net only four more
times to nab Wrighty's all-time goal scoring record, hopefully there will be
more than a few 'firsts' this term. Nevertheless in truth we’re facing an
entire season of 'lasts', with the club giving each home game a theme, in an
effort to ensure that each of our 19 opponents final matches at The Home of
Football is as memorable as possible. Funnily enough it was Rona who twigged
first when the familiar refrain of "You'll never play here again" rang out
from the North Bank. I know there’s the customary trouble and strife in Toon
Town, but surely the Gooners singing behind the goal were watching a
different game, since the Geordies were coping far to well to be written off
so soon as relegation fodder. I felt a tad foolish when my missus pointed
out that we'd be repeating this particular tune all season long, as none of
our guests are likely to play at Highbury ever again.

Sunday’s theme was 'Player's Day', but starting the season as I left
off, it was always unlikely that we were going to arrive in time to catch
the pre-match parade of former Arsenal heroes. Still we might've had a
better chance of making it, if it wasn't for the ridiculous KO time of
1.30pm. I was only just getting used to the Sky dictated 2pm and 4.05 starts
on Sundays. Their absolute sovereignty over the TV schedules ensures we
Gooners don't see a good old-fashioned 3pm game on a Saturday until end
October! In fact this backslapping Gooner love-in proved to be a blessing.
It was only as the noise of the North Bank came wafting through our open
windows, as they paid their respects to the stars of yesteryear, that the
penny dropped and it dawned on me that I might've been wrong to assume a 2pm

Mind you I probably would've struggled to recognise many of them,
bereft of trademark barnets' which had long since seen their last comb-over
and carrying the sort of poundage that might be more suited to the rugby
scrum. However I was pleased to hear that the likes of Manu Petit made the
effort to pay homage to Highbury (although in these perfidious times one
can't help but wonder if all these ex-pros turned up gratis?)

Meanwhile in all the media (inc. our matchday programme) everyone continues
to obsess about the absence of Manu's midfield partner. Ró wasn't
particularly enamoured with Arsène's programme notes. Perhaps the inference
in French wouldn't be the same. Yet she hardly thought he set the right tone
with his opening remark "This is the first time I've started a season at
Arsenal without Patrick Vieira"

There isn't a player on this planet capable of replacing our former
captain at his formidable best. But with Paddy having performed well below
par for the past two seasons, we've grown used to coping without the
talismanic Frenchman's more influential displays. Consequently, Wenger would
appear to affirm that it is possibly the detrimental psychological effect of
Paddy's departure which might prove to be most problematic.

Wenger's woes don't end there. Some would contend that our manager
faces his stiffest test in the near future, as he is tasked with recreating
another team in his image, capable of challenging Mourinho's 'loadsamoney'
Chelsea. There's no suspicion that Wenger's ship is sinking, but I believe
we might see a mini-exodus of "show me the money" rats following Vieira, in
search of a more buoyant vessel, before we reach the promised land of our
magnificent new stadium - Pires, Campbell and Cole being my prime suspects.

As a result I can appreciate Arsène wanting to re-establish an air of
security, by appointing a loyal and supremely respected star as his new
lieutenant. If the post hadn't become available quite so prematurely, I'd
have favoured Senderos. I believe it's preferable to have a captain at the
back, who's far more capable of appreciating the performance levels of his
team when they’re all playing in front of him. The Swiss youngster
undoubtedly has the required character traits and I'd be surprised if he
doesn't inherit the captain's armband at some point in his Arsenal career.

Early birds on Sunday saw Titi receive another Golden Shoe as the
continent's joint top scorer (remarkably in the company of the same Diego
'Forlorn' who was surplus to requirements at Utd), proudly displaying both
golden boots as the first ever player to top the European scoring charts in
consecutive seasons. Some would contend that the Arsenal are so dependent on
Henry that we are basically a one-man band. Aside from the fact that Titi
plays with his back to his team mates for much of the match, isn't it enough
that he already has the responsibility of winning the vast majority of the
Gunner's games, often almost single-handed. I find myself drawing an analogy
with cricket, where assorted England batsmen have suffered a drastic loss of
form the instant they've been appointed captain. Personally I would prefer
for Titi to have no such distractions from getting on and doing what he does

If I'm uncertain about Arsène's choice for the armband, I was
downright disturbed on Sunday to see him persist with a decidedly insouciant
Pires in the centre of the park, subsequent to the substitutions. Sadly it
could be said that this tactic worked a treat, whereas in truth it was the
arrival of the energetic Hleb and Van Persie who actually made their
presence felt.

It will take a couple more performances for me to get my own
footballing routine down pat. I forgot my binoculars on Sunday and it spoke
volumes that these weren't necessary for me to instinctively suss that it
was our more sinner, than sinned against Swede who'd earned us the penalty.
Nevertheless the 2-0 scoreline wasn't half as harsh on Newcastle as
Chelsea's 93rd minute winner against Wigan. What's more if ref Steve Bennett
hadn't condemned us to a Toon display which was understandably lacking in
ambition, as a result of the rash sending-off, we might have witnessed far
more of the sort wonderful counter-attacking football seen in the build up
to the 2nd goal.

Along with the Toon Army japesters, I imagine there's also a Dutch
lass somewhere wondering "Hey Van Persie, I wanna knoooow, why you're not in
jail?" Mercifully our lad's legal wrangles don't appear to be damaging his
concentration unduly, which might either be interpreted as a clear
conscience, or alternatively he's just grateful to get involved in the game,
because it's the only means of escaping his guilt! Mind you it's rich to
hear the Toon army teasing, when their team is replete with its own share of
'roasters' and assorted miscreants.

After the sending off saw all the life squeezed out of this
encounter, up until the 80th minute goal it was possibly the bare
faced/arsed cheeks of a streaker who provided the most entertaining moments.
He had a great 'craic' parading up and down the pitch, performing the
extremely painful looking splits for our pleasure, whilst hundreds of
stewards and coppers merely stood watching on from the sidelines. After he'd
eventually had enough, he was led away, hiding his embarrassment with his
cap. I’m not sure this streakers’s badly-fitting outfit was worse than our
German keeper's bright orange costume. According to a pundit on the radio,
Lehmann looked like he'd been 'Tangoed'!

The subsequent Chelsea performance suggests I’m not alone in lacking
match practice. I will reserve judgement until they encounter another
unfancied team, before daring to suggest that they might be wanting for the
work-rate and commitment that was the basis for much their success. If this
isn't the case then their woeful performance against Wigan could well prove
the perfect kick up the backside that might unfortunately ensure we face a
close fought battle with the Blues at the Bridge this weekend. Moreover (if
at all possible), I might be bemoaning the fact that they didn't drop a
couple of points even more, if we should find ourselves approaching Xmas
with our main competition coming no closer to an equally dodgy outing.
Hopefully this match might act as the inspiration for every team who might
previously have considered a meeting with Chelsea as mission impossible.

As far as a reaction to the ennui of the Essien saga is concerned, I
find myself turning once again to my best “Am I bovvered?” Catherine Tate
impersonation. In my humble opinion Mourinho's team must soon reach the
stage where he can't possibly improve the quality and is only adding
quantity to an overstuffed squad. The Blues might’ve appeared a little
hungrier than us in the first-half at Cardiff, benefiting from the
competition for places. Yet I'm convinced their squad must soon reach a
pivotal point and as their bench-warming bums begin to suffer from
splinters, surely the law of diminishing returns must apply. In a World Cup
year where the cream of the crop will be desperate to secure a once in a
lifetime opportunity, some of bigger egos in their squad are bound to become
dissatisfied with the selection policy. Mourinho might well struggle to stop
the spanner of this disgruntlement from undoing all his work developing a
winning mentality in the Chelsea camp.


Hi folks

Ro and I spent much of half-time on Sunday debating how groundsman Steve
Braddock had managed to produce the "Highbury 1913-2006" pattern on our
pristine playing surface in front of each of the four terraces

Watching on TV prior to heading around to Highbury, I mistakenly assumed it
was merely a screen effect, produced by Sky's techno wallahs. So it was a
pleasant surprise to discover it was in fact the real thing when I arrived
at the ground

Since it was the same colour as one of the four shades of green which makes
up the plaid pattern of the squares on the pristine pitch (which I've always
assumed was merely a result of the direction in which the grass is mown),
Rona reckoned it was done with some sort of stencil. However I would have
thought this would merely be demolished by the mower.

At least it gave me something to contemplate other than the uninspiring
football played on a sumptuous surface that deserved better, not to mention
my own self-conscious appearance. I've spent the past few days doing a
passable impersonation of The Pogues Shane McGowan, after one of my two top
front teeth fell out last week. Since both have been crowned, I wasn't too
concerned until I discovered, to my horror, that most of the peg had come
away inside it.

If there'd been any more than the tiny protruding piece of rapidly decaying
tooth remaining, I might have tried to get away with super gluing it back,
in an effort to avoid the dreaded dentist (as there can be few more cowardly
folk than me when it comes to the dreaded dentist's chair). I actually dug
out one of those emergency dental kits which had been collecting dust here
for decades and attempted to reattach it. But it was never going to hold

So I was forced to bite the bullet (or more accurately "suck"). Pending
going back to the dentis for some impressions, he tried to stick the crown
back temporarily, but advised me it might not last and inevitably on Sunday
morning I ended up spitting it out with a mouthful of sarnie. To be honest
it was probably the best thing because otherwise I might have kidded myself
I could get away without going back again. What's more, it's amazing the
importance of this one tooth, as without it I struggle with any word with an
"F' in it and have to try to avoid dribbling every drink down my front.

So considering the pressure put on the tooth when I'm able to say my "Fs"
with it in and the amount of times I had cause to curse Robert Pires'
ineffective efforts on Sunday (albeit whilst still attempting in vain to
encourage him out loud with a steady stream of "Allez Roberts"), doubtless
I'd have ended up losing the tooth for good, spitting it out whilst venting
my frustrations with some choice invective :-)

Meanwhile I've been a little concerned since my ticket for next weekend's
big game at the Bridge turned up (unlike our box of Arsenal membership
goodies which have apparently already arrived elsewhere!). For years now
away fans have had one of the worst and most expensive views in the
Premiership with our allocation in the East Lower - which is particularly
bad when everyone stands up, as I believe the shallow angle of incline
results from them having merely plonked seats on what was once a standing
terrace. And while everyone else I've spoken to appears to be sitting in the
usual area, it's beginning to feel as if I'm the only Gooner with a seat
behind the goal in the Shed End

It's hardly likely but it wouldn't be much fun turning up to find I'm sat on
my tod surrounded by Blues' fans!! Obviously the media will be hyping up
this clash of the titans to the hilt. But coming so early in the season, I
suspect this match might well prove to be a massive anti-climax. My main
fear is that both teams will be desperate to avoid defeat and an early
points disadvantage and in so doing they might both be a little too keen to
settle for the honours even outcome of a draw.

However I am of the opinion that we might well need to gain an advantage
over the Blues, because while our defence might be prone to the sort of
lapses in concentration which could cost us occasional points, unless
Chelsea's woeful performance against Wigan is a true reflection of their
form, rather than merely a first match of the season reminder of the focus
required to win every week, we might be waiting for match after
disappointing match, in hope of another equally dire display from them?

In the meantime whilst I'm waiting for this weekend's ensuing battle, if
there are any green fingered Gooners out there (of the gardening variety
rather than any wise arse bogey men :-) with any plausible explanations for
creating this effect on the pitch, please feel free to put us out of our
ignorant misery

Come on you Gunners

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