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Monday 12 September 2005

Apoplectic Meets Epileptic

Hi Folks

Doubtless this week's rant could easily have continued on for at least
another few thousand words worth of frustrations. But in order that I might
seek some solace in the last knockings of some sensational cricket, I've
decided to spare you lucky bleeders for once

I guess I should also apologise to any of you who've already had the
misfortune to be burdened by various versions of the following moan.

Big Love

PS. Bloomin' typical, sod's law has ensured that the second I stop to
concentrate fully on the cricket, Pietersen's marvelous innings bites the

Apoplectic Meets Epileptic

How considerate of those SOBs at Sky to arrange a 5.15 KO for one of
our longest schleps of the season (over 500 mile round trip!). As a
consequence it would've been cutting it very fine if I was to catch the last
train home. In fact if I hadn't been fortunate enough to blag a lift back
from a kindly Gooner pal, I probably would have left long before our last
minute consolation goal, along with a smattering of other Arsenal fans who
didn't fancy the prospect of spending all night on a station platform.

I was actually tempted to stop at home and watch the cricket. If I
was more of a patriot, I might well have done so. Murphy's Law would've
guaranteed that my decision invoked the rain which would’ve prevented play
for the entire day and I'd have been responsible for improving England's
chances of retaining the Ashes. Nevertheless as keen as I've been to see
Vaughan and co. stick it to those arrogant Antipodeans, there was no way I
was going to miss out on this particular match. After all Boro's Riverside
home has proved to be one of the Arsenal's happiest hunting grounds in
recent times.

Moreover it might be a doddle getting up and driving to any of our
five London derbies, but no matter what the outcome, it's as if I'm obliged
to endure such dreadfully exhausting outings, by way of paying my dues for
the pleasure I expect to receive during the rest of the season. And boy do I
feel as if we paid in full on Saturday!

I should have recognised that the omens weren't in our favour, from
the moment I realised Henry was out injured (either that or the absence of a
decent bowel movement on Saturday morning!). After arriving on the train I
decided to time my walk to the ground, in case my ride home didn't work out.
But when the plethora of replica shirts on the High Street began to
evaporate, I soon realised I wasn't on the right track. Thankfully a
friendly Teesider showed me the route and as we marched along the mile or
so, I did my best to make conversation.

I recounted that their latest summer signing, Rochemback, had stuck
in my mind ever since I'd seen him score a 40-yard screamer for Barca, in
the Amsterdam tournament 3 summers back. But when I suggested Boro might
have a good chance of beating us, this chap explained that he was more
concerned with avoiding a repeat of the fit he'd suffered at the last match.
"Surely you didn't play that badly?" Apparently the poor bloke suffered a
bout of epilepsy!

In addition to the Boro fans who must’ve stopped at home in their
droves to watch the live broadcast (as evidenced by large swathes of empty
seats), I was disappointed by the absence of the white police horse, which
has been on duty on several recent, far more pleasurable Riverside romps.
Boro fans are in the habit of bringing tidbits for the huge stallion and in
return the horse expresses its gratitude by stamping his front hoof.

Events on the pitch aside (especially Saturday's calamitous example),
as a sentimental old bugger, my season is made up of such trifling awayday
idiosyncrasies. During a time of such drastic change, I suppose I’m all the
more sensitive to their passing. There's no denying the magnificence of the
new stadium, which has risen from the Drayton Park dust to dominate our
North London skyline. Yet as the new countdown clock in one corner of
Highbury ticks away, inexorably, towards the day of our eventual departure,
almost daily, I grow increasingly fearful that I will end up watching
football, but definitely not the beautiful game as I've always known it.

The club can line the walls of the new gaff with the best Italian
marble money can buy. Yet whatever the result, in truth there’s no hiding
from the fact that that it will be nigh on impossible to recreate Highbury’s
certain ‘je ne sais quoi”, that special aura of reverence and tradition
which oozes from the very veins of our old stadium’s ancient stone walls.

What’s more, as the marketing men focus on hiving off all the posh
pitches to the Gooner high-rollers, whilst paying little more than lip
service to the desires and sensitivities of those punters with less than a
couple of grand’s worth of disposable income, I live in absolute dread of a
day when we might end up watching 22 mercenary prima donnas, kicking a ball
around in an albeit spectacular arena, but with less soul than the
Birmingham NEC.

At least there’s some consolation with the imminent upheaval (whoever
said that pregnancy and moving home were the 2 most traumatic events
obviously wasn’t an Arsenal fan), as I’m unlikely to get too hot under the
collar over Saturday’s hopeless effort, while fretting about the club’s
entire future. Apparently the same cannot be said about Arsène Wenger, as
our manager is already showing signs that he’s feeling the pressure.

We’ve grown accustomed to the sight of our inscrutable gaffer giving
nothing away on the bench, often claiming in the interests of diplomacy not
to have seen the most controversial events. Whereas we witnessed him totally
losing his rag on the touchline this weekend, gesticulating with wild
indignation over at least a couple of Riley’s dubious decisions. Perhaps
he’s taken a leaf out of Fergie’s book by trying to influence the ref. Or
was Wenger merely venting his own anger at the failings of his selection
policy. No matter how often Arsène assures us of our ability to mount a
credible challenge, we remain a long way (9 points to date!) from having
Chelsea’s rotational luxuries. Quite frankly these days even Spurs squad
seems to have more depth in strength! A fact which leaves few of us actually
believing in the fiction of the £30 million war-chest supposedly at Wenger’s

As a result Arsène simply cannot afford to disrespect the likes of
Boro by “resting” Ljungberg, Senderos and Fabregas, especially without Titi.
I believe we’re obliged to play our best XI at all times. If some tinkering
is unavoidable, then at least not at centre-back, where Touré and Senderos
require the necessary constancy to develop an intuitive relationship,
whereby each instinctively knows what the other will do in any given

Unlike all those Gooner who might want to strangle Cygan, I’ve some
sympathy for Pascal. He might’ve been guilty of the almighty blunder which
gifted Boro their 2nd goal, but at least you can’t accuse our lumbering
Lurch of any lack of commitment. With Pires and Cole both looking like they
are merely going through the motions, all the others are having to graft
that much harder.

It’s also becoming increasingly obvious that even at less than 100%
for the past couple of years, Paddy’s immense stature and presence lent the
relative schnips alongside him in midfield a focal point. Since Vieira’s
departure, as far as the opposition is concerned, the Arsenal present a far
less daunting prospect. I’m beginning to feel like a broken record, but
unless Hleb has an impact beyond our wildest dreams, or Giberto, our
“invisible wall”, suddenly becomes incredibly visible, the Arsenal will
continue to lack the sort of leadership necessary to turn a game around.

Admittedly the confidence that Boro so obviously lacked at kick-off,
was boosted by taking the lead with their first shot on target. However most
depressing was that in the past the Arsenal would’ve been sufficiently
piqued, to apply a tidal wave of pressure. Whereas on Saturday, I sensed the
game was already up. Without a player with the strength of personality to
lead the fightback, this costly loss felt almost inevitable from the moment
we conceded.

‘Am I bovvered?’ With Henry out for up to a month and Paddy putting
the boot in by scoring for Juve, you can bet you’re sweet bippy! A faith
restoring party with the Swiss part-timers on Wednesday won’t be a panacea,
but it would serve as a bloomin’ good palliative!

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