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Tuesday 23 August 2005

Trophies or Todgers? We’ll Be Running Around Chelsea With One Or T'other Hangin' Out

The great thing about football is that the Arsenal will be preparing to
play Fulham by the time these words appear in the Arena on Wednesday. With a
bit of luck, we’ll get last weekend's game right out of our system by
sticking it to the Cottagers.

When we walked out of Stamford Bridge on Sunday, Spurs were top of the
table (the sort of aberration which is an infallible reminder why we never
used to have league tables for the first few games of the season), we'd just
been beaten by the Blues and if that wasn't depressing enough, on route home
I turned on the radio in the car to hear Alan Green droning on during some
sort of Ryan Giggs review, just as he was describing the climax of Man Utd's
astonishing European Cup comeback. Oh the ignominy of it all! Needless to
say I couldn't hit the off switch quick enough.

On meeting my mate Nell after the match to give him a lift back to home
turf, my first words were "When does the transfer window close?" But I
wouldn't go holding your breath if you're hoping that in the meantime our
manager is off on yet another Mission Impossible to unearth a young unknown
prodigy for peanuts. After losing out on Baptista, not for the first time
Arsène is being accused of not having a Plan B, as it would seem that he was
totally focused on signing the Brazilian this summer, without a single
'maybe' as a possible back-up.

Even after an indelible dose of reality, when he was forced to throw
Flamini into the fray to counter Mourinho's 70 million quid's worth of fresh
legs, Wenger was still singing from the same song sheet. Don't get me wrong,
I remain convinced that on our day this rip-roaring Gunners side can be a
tour de force against any team. Although everywhere I turn, we are being
told that the loss of a talismanic behemoth like Paddy must take its toll.
And yet we coped quite admirably with our former captain playing well below
par for much of the past couple of seasons. So perhaps it’ll be the
psychological significance of our former captain forsaking the Arsenal for
Juve which might prove to be a problem, not his physical absence. What’s
more it might not be just the players who are mourning his loss.

Every time Arsène is interviewed he takes great pains to try to persuade
us that he has total confidence in his current squad's ability to compete
for the title. It's as if merely by intoning this mantra enough times,
Wenger feels it’ll work its magic. However the more frequently I hear it,
the more I wonder if he's actually trying to convince himself. Moreover to
date our manager doesn’t appear to have been successful in selling this
particular pup to his players.

In the past Paul Merson's inarticulate explanation of Arsène's secret,
was his ability to instil "unbelievable belief" in his players". Yet he
hardly sent out the right signals on Sunday, starting with Henry as a
solitary striker. I’m old enough and ugly enough to take an Arsenal defeat
on the chin. It was the timid manner of our demise that I found so
depressing. Especially when seen through my redcurrant specs, where, despite
Chelsea creating the best chances, I thought our 50 per cent of possession
was far more entertaining fare.

I guess Blues fans were just grateful for their first win in 20 league
games over the last decade. But after spending SO much money, one might've
thought them capable of a little more, than merely winning ugly. Then it
seems that there are some incumbents at the Bridge who definitely don't
deserve to be entertained. I can't possibly imagine returning for the first
home game subsequent to securing their only title in half a century, only to
dish out so much stick to Drogba, that their striker felt obliged to
dedicate his goal to this barmy Blue backbiter?

Most often you hear the "wooooh....hoof" chant when the opposition
keeper takes a goal-kick. I am not sure a fifty yard diagonal ball from Del
Horno right onto Robben's big toe actually counts as a hoof. But there was a
period during the first-half when we were singing "wooooh...." ad infinitum,
as Chelsea passed the ball across the back. Doubtless it was my imagination,
but it was as if we were daring them to hit it long and the Blues were
retaining possession just to spite us. Eventually I turned to the adjacent
stranger and suggested that if we weren't careful, we'd force them into
actually playing some footie!

All the pundits seem to suggest that the Arsenal lacked penetration and
that our opponents are finding it easier to snuff out our attacking threat.
Truth is that in recent matches we've played to Chelsea strengths, trying to
plough our way through the most impenetrable area of the pitch. Not that the
home side's unadventurous approach afforded us much opportunity to play to
our strengths, but Kolo's single charge forwards aside, I can't recall a
counter-attack which didn't include a sideways or backwards pass, or that
crucial moment's hesitation which allowed them sufficient time to get
everyone back behind the ball.

However to maintain the momentum of this sort of move, two or three
midfielders are required to bomb forward into the area. But on the rare
occasions we made any inroads, Henry or Van Persie was left waiting for an
RSVP to their invitation to join them. Come the final whistle the two teams
were only separated by the fact that we couldn't force their central defence
into any errors, while left to deal with Drogba alone, Senderos' lapse in
concentration saw the ball bobbling in off the striker's shin.

Meeting so early in the season, neither team wanted to risk losing this
game and most Gooners would have gladly settled for a point long before the
goal. Personally I felt that we blew it big time by arriving at the Bridge
with such limited ambitions. Instead of loosening the bolts to the wheels of
Mourinho's bandwagon (after Wigan, Carvalho and Robben handed over the
wheel-brace) and attempting to expose the cracks which might give everyone
else a glimmer of hope, we've tightened the nuts and restored their sense of
superiority. Although with Lampard looking a little less ravenous, Robben
and Duff both relatively ineffective and Joe Cole not even warming the bench
at the start to a World Cup season, I've yet to be convinced Chelsea is
quite the happy camp it was. In all of the marvellous 500 matches we've
enjoyed under the management of Arsène, he's never seen fit to publicly tear
strips off a player, as Mourinho did with Carvalho in his matchday programme

So I've checked to ensure I still have the number stored but while
there's still hope the Samaritans won't be hearing from me. The worst thing
on Sunday was the temptation to walk out with 10 still to go. Time was when
this gallant Gooner would wait until the last for the fat lady.

I felt sorry for Thierry. It was as if the responsibility for stemming
the tide of Abramovich's millions rested squarely on his shoulders and
they'd begun to buckle before the afternoon was out. Not only has he
virtually carried the club for the past couple of seasons, now we are
expecting him to lift his teammates as well. Watching him standing forlornly
on the halfway line, somewhat detached from the others was as convincing an
argument as I've seen of our need for a captain at the heart of this Arsenal
side, whose unshakeable belief can inspire the likes of Titi to keep me
glued to my seat with an eternal glimmer of hope for a last gasp goal.

It was a hollow victory but at least we gave a good account of ourselves
off the pitch. Mourinho appears to have made a bit of a ricket. Apparently
he didn't enjoy the away fans directly behind him, having a dig everytime he
stepped out of the dugout. As a result, instead of spreading us thinly along
the length of the East Lower, where songs fade a long time before those at
either end join in, away fans are now amassed in Chelsea's Shed End behind
the goal. It was the loudest we've been at Chelsea and we didn't hear a peep
from the home fans until they took the lead. You know you've got a big
problem with the atmosphere when we Gooners start singing "worst support
we've ever seen!"

Unlike the streaker who appeared for the second successive week, to
prance around the Bridge with his todger hanging out, our song for the day
was "We'll be running round Chelsea with out trophies hanging out, we've got
11 more than you". I might've had the best view at the Bridge since they
were really sh*t and we stood on their vast empty terraces lighting fires to
stay warm, but it's nearly as long since I last witnessed an Arsenal
performance where we looked less like winning.

We've given up Rona's away ticket scheme membership and it was weird
going to a game at the Bridge without the missus. After suffering one of the
worst views in the Premiership for so many years, Murphy's Law ensured that
she missed out on the first decent pitch in the corner of the upper tier.
Although she wasn't nearly so annoyed as the horrified bloke beside me whose
hand I grabbed for, every time our goal was threatened. Mind you if we’d
have won and his mitts weren’t quite so clammy, I might've accepted his
invitation for a second date!!


Hi folks

I meant to send the piece above out yesterday but ended up wasting most of the day in a fruitless search for the car key. I was in a total panic because apart from
not being able to use the car, with a game here tonight, it would have cost
us a fifty pound parking ticket if the car wasn't moved in time.

After turning the flat upside down, all to no avail, I eventually gave up,
deciding that I must have dropped the key when walking back from the car on
Sunday evening, with my hands full of carrier bags, after stopping at the
supermarket in my way back from Chelsea. How to cap a miserable weekend!!

I'd already spent time walking the dog up and down the street, peering in
the gutter for the missing key and was just about to head off to my Ma's in
Edgware to pick up a spare, wondering how we were going to find the spare
key for the krooklock and how we were going to cope with the alarm (as
there's no clicker gadget on the spare key), when I noticed something on the

It turned out to be a note from a good samaritan neighbour, who had seen
some kids hanging around the car and as a result, had noticed that the key
was hanging out of the lock to the boot. A quick phone call to the number
on the note and all our problems were solved (well actually they are still
blowing each other up in Iraq and it doesn't sound like much fun in Israel,
but at least I won't be getting a parking ticket tonight)

Mind you that wasn't then end of this particular story. Most of you will
already know that with both cars registered to my Ma's address (as we've had
two stolen from outside here and the insurance premium would be much
higher), we don't have matchday parking permits for either vehicle. Up until
last season I was able to move them just to the other side of Green Lanes,
the borough of Hackney. That was until they introduced a resident's parking
scheme over there. There remained one street over half a mile away on the
other side of Clissold Park which didn't have resident's parking bays and
this was our refuge last season.

However to my horror I discovered last night that this street has also been
marked off with parking bays and so now we are well and truly buggered!!
After driving around for about half an hour I eventually found a tiny side
street, but as I parked the car and walked away I became terrified that it
is private property and I might end up being clamped. And as I walked back
to fetch the other car, I discovered a notice at the end of the street I was
using last season which says that the parking scheme doesn't begin until
30th August.

So we have a short reprieve. Up until now I have been whinging that we have
a game this evening and then no Arsenal matches until 10th September, but
now I am over the moon as it gives me at least a couple of weeks to try and
find a solution for the rest of the season to our parking problems. Although
I still have to go back to retrieve the Peugeot from the side street and the
way my luck's going recently, I won't be surprised to either find it
clamped, or broken into!! No where did I put that number for the Samaritans

Peace & love

PS. Those of you on the Arsenal mailing list might have read my moans on
there about the fact that season ticket holders in the Clock End are going
to be moved to the other end of the new stadium, in order to save the club
ALL the adminsitrative aggravation of having to move them for the half dozen
(at most) cup games every season. As a result, not only will these poor
buggers be left with choosing from all the inferior seats that remain after
everyone else has had their pick, but it also means that the area behind the
goal in the new stadium will only be for general sale seats, which could be
handing a substantial advantage (for a number of reasons) to our visitors

Also I was advised that the famous Clock from the Clock End is going to end
up over the entrance to the Club Level seating at the new stadium, which
seems somewhat criminal that such a historical landmark is going to be
restricted to the privileged few. I've been assured by someone who works for
the club, marketing the new stadium, that this is not the case and that they
are hoping it might be some sort of meeting point but at the moment they
still have to surmount a health and safety issue. It remains to be seen if
this is the case, but I am saving all these whinges about our marvellous new
stadium for another piece.


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