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Monday 31 October 2005

This Tide's Not For Turning

Only Arsène Wenger really knows if Robert Pires was left out of Saturday's starting line-up, as punishment for the previous weekend's penalty farce. Amidst all the hysteria about the humdrum predictability of the Premiership, it seemed somewhat hypocritical of the "Red Tops" to rip into Robert's attempts to replicate the fantasy feats of Cruyff, one of the games' greatest exponents. Doubtless I'd be far less ambivalent if we'd ended up blowing three points. But if I have any qualms about this almighty cock-up, it's the way in which it might reflect on the mindset of some in our squad.

If we were in the middle of an invincible winning streak (those were the days!), it would be all well and good for the Gunners to be cogitating on ingenious and ever more beautiful means of adding to the Arsenal fans' bounty. But after rolling over for the relegation fodder of the same WBA side that was mullahed by the Toons on Sunday, one would've thought we might be better off focusing on getting back to the basics of putting the ball in the net at one end and keeping it out at t'other.

Unfortunately, unlike Chelsea we lack genuine competition in many positions on the park. In such circumstances, with some star Gunners feeling far too secure about a guaranteed place in the starting line-up, there's always the possibility of complacency raising its ugly head. The thought of them showboating, during valuable training time, might suggest to some that they no longer 'get off' on the boring prospect of putting points on the board, but are far too distracted by the idea of doing so in 'grande style'.

No one would've dared risk the wanton disposal of an opportunity to gain a 2 goal advantage in Tony Adams' day. They'd be in absolute dread of their captain kicking their head in, back in the dressing room! As the Beeb wheeled out TA to comment on the Derby day encounter, it only served to remind Arsenal fans quite how much our former captain's current incarnation has lost the plot.

On the opposite side of this coin, McIlvanney's poignant piece in the Times, quoted Georgie Best as saying "I'd be sitting in AA meetings longing for them to end, so I could get to a bar". With possibly football's greatest ever prodigy fighting for his very life in a London hospital, it's perhaps a little crass of me to criticise Adams for adopting a lifestyle intended to prolong his presence on this mortal coil. "Whatever gets you through" as they say. But as is often the case with converts who preach abstinence with something akin to a religious fervour, our beloved Tone seems to have ended up with his head stuck so far up his own backside, that he can't see the truth for the turds.

Our grandson made his debut on this planet in the wee hours of Saturday morning - 30 minutes earlier and Riley would've been delivered in the back of our Ford Fiesta! I was certain that this baby Gooner wasn't going to be welcomed into the world with our first Derby day defeat in 6 years. The dark grey recesses of my own decrepit data banks can't recall the last time we visited White Hart Lane, lagging behind Spurs in the league and it was bad enough listening to all the ridiculous radio talk of the turning North London tide. But I'm glad the lunchtime kick-off meant I had to leave home before Football Focus.

For anyone with premature Alzheimers, Sky Plus is a godsend (not that Murdoch deserves deification!). With its series link feature I was able to listen to a recording whilst reading the papers later that night. Yet as the program drew to a conclusion, I was so dumbfounded by a comment from Adams that I had to rewind, to make sure my ears hadn't deceived me. After his career long loyal service in the Gunners' cause, it was downright sacrilege to hear perhaps the last of this dinosaur creed, describe West Ham as "the Hammers, my Hammers"!

As an Essex lad, I suppose it's understandable that Adams might retain some affinity for his first love. Yet I would've thought common sense might prevail, merely in terms of his marketing profile. Perhaps this kick in the guts for all his adoring Gooners, as TA came out of the closet as an Iron, is merely confirmation of quite how many marbles he's lost on his tortuous travels. Tone's turncoat status was confirmed on MOTD2 on Sunday, with both Billy Bonds and Bobby Moore included in his list of 5 best ever captains.

Meanwhile the business at hand last weekend was to debunk the burgeoning Spurs bandwagon. Although according to a piece in the Telegraph, our managing director was far to busy flogging flats, to be bothered with such trifles as football. Apparently Arsène's unlikely impersonation of an unreal estate agent in the radio adverts had paid-off, as punters were queuing around the block to invest in the apartments that are to become of our Highbury Home of Football. Perhaps someone should remind the entrepreneur Edelman that contrary to the example set by Chelsea, it's points, not pound notes that wins prizes in this game!

For us Gooners, Saturday's game has to be viewed from the perspective of quite how important it was to Satan's spawn from the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road. It's been so long since Spurs fans had cause for such optimism about an encounter with the Arsenal, that I was receiving a text message countdown all last week from one of my Lilywhite mates.

After as impotent a first-half performance as I can recall at the Lane, the frowns on Gooner faces during the first 45 suggested that we were all beginning to empathise with Canute's bootless efforts to stem the turning tide. Ledley King completely bossed the game before the break; with a performance which only served to highlight Campbell's ineptitude, especially as our captain on the day. Sol's been suffering the same vitriolic barrage on every visit to his former club these past few years. But previously the traitor treatment has only served to inspire him, whereas last weekend he couldn't put a foot right.

Such was Spurs energy levels in containing us for the most part in our own half of the pitch, that I turned to a pal at half-time, to suggest that our best hope lay in them beginning to flag at some point. What's more, there was some solace in Spurs failure to force home their advantage, as we could've easily been 3 goals behind with the game all but over.

Whatever Wenger's reasons for excluding Pires, it certainly worked a treat. Following a decidedly lacklustre start to the season, Pires produced his most influential 45 minutes of football thus far. I could've sworn I even saw him beat a man with the ball, by contrast to a recent irresponsible tendency to handle it like a hot potato.

Le Prof's preference for stiffening up our midfield was a reflection of the psychological impact of our miserable record on the road and the hype over the Lilywhites long-awaited resurgence. However, in light of Van Persie's immediate impact on 65 mins, you have to wonder how we might've fared with a less prudent approach, playing the Dutch youngster up front from the off.

The most positive aspect was that this was the first time this season we've demonstrated some grit, by coming back from a goal down. Such was air of gloom and doom amongst the Gooner contingent at the break, that our contrasting 2nd half performance left us celebrating the fact that we'd rescued the triumph of a draw, from the jaws of a potentially calamitous disaster in psychological terms. Best of all was the bitter disappointment in the voices of my Spurs pals afterwards, knowing they'd blown their best chance in donkey's years of dragging their more accomplished neighbours back down to their level.

Jol's Spurs team are undoubtedly heading in the right direction but their efforts reminded me of the ancient joke about the young bull, turning to his elder companion and suggesting they run down the hill and have some fun with one of the cows. To which the old-timer replies "let's walk down and have our way with all of them". For the moment our Highbury heroes remain the pride of the North London herd and with all his high-pitched whining Mourinho must be the bullock of the bunch.


Hi folks

Someone suggested to me that when Thierry plays on Wednesday night, after his absence on Saturday, we might deduce that Wenger has already given up on the domestic title and is focusing fully on European glory

But with us only a point away from qualification for the knockout stage in Europe, I find this hard to believe. Especially when we've such a long way to go to secure qualification for next season's tournament - that is unless Wenger is suggesting he's as convinced that we're going to win the European Cup, as he's prone to constantly repeating that this squad is still capable of challenging for the title!

Oh and BTW we've just realised Rona's sister is over from Dubllin and will be staying with us on Wednesday. Since she'd love to go to the game, if anyone should hear of a West Upper seat going begging, I'd appreciate you getting in touch. West Upper would be preferable, in the hope we might all sit together, but at this late stage, beggars can't be choosers, so I will be grateful in anyone hears of any spares?

Even at our most imperious best, our Derby day trips to Tottenham have always proved to be nerve wracking affairs. Considering the contention that the two teams are on opposite slopes of football's eternal cycle, this season's annual outing down to the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Rd. was even more nail biting than normal.

Aside from events on the pitch, just getting in and out of enemy territory intact is enough of a concern. In fact it would seem that many Gooner have had their fill of the almost annual barrage of neanderthal animosity that is often experience outside White Hart Lane. I guess the Spurs scum have so little to enthuse about on the pitch in the recent (and not so recent!) past, that they are prone to directing their energy and their bitterness elsewhere. Sure we have our own fair share of Gooner scum and I've never experienced Highbury as an away fan. But I am nevertheless convinced that the fact they've had so little to enthuse about on the pitch over the years has ensured that our trips to White Hart Lane are far more intimidating for us, than the reverse fixture is for visiting Spurs fans.

I guess it's a sort of numbskull mentality whereby if they can't beat us on the pitch, they are going to do their utmost to batter us off it. The upshod is that each season more and more regular travelling Gooners seem to have given up on going to this game, preferring to opt for a risk free afternoon, watching the Arse torment poor Tottenham on a TV screen, with their Gooner pals in an aggro free 'rub-a-dub'.

I can fully appreciate this point of view, but as I schlep all over the country and WHL is just a couple of miles further away from my doorstep than THOF, I refuse point blank to be put off from making the shortest away trip of the season. In truth while Spurs retains its war zone atmosphere with the number of riot police on duty, there seemed to be little aggor outside this season, as the Spurs' scums desire to put the frighteners on innocent football fans appears to be decreasing in inverse proportion to their team's prospects of some relative success.

Meanwhile inside the Sh*thole, I sat biting my nails through the most miserable first-half performance at the Lane in my limited memory. Such was Spurs dominance in the first 45 that I suffered under the illusion that they had more players on the pitch than us. What's more it's hard to recall Sol Campbell ever looking quite so uncomfortable on a football pitch. It's hard to believe Sol's begun to buckle under the sort of barracking he's suffered for several years, with no ill effects previously. I can only assume that the cause of him slicing every other pass and struggling with the simplest of tasks, was related to the weight of responsibility as captain and the fact that he might have been fretting about his World Cup prospects, with Sven present, casting an over much younger prospects in the likes of Carrick, Dawson and Ledley King. King might be more appropriately named Prince, as a potential Pretender to Sol's centre-back throne based on that woeful performance.

Yet Sol was far from the only first half culprit, with I guess Arsène assuming some of the guilt in selecting a line-up which was primarly designed to contain rather than entertain and was a decision which hardly sent out the right signals to his side.

With Pascal Cygan on the bench, poor Mathieu Flamini seems to have assumed Ray Parlour's role as the principal target for Gooner tongue lashings. While it's obvious he's no Patrick Vieira, I find it hard to criticise Flamini for his lack of natural flair, so long as he's giving of his all. But there's no denying his culpability in Ledley King's goal, as the French youngster left King to soar like an eagle completely unchallenged, to head home Spurs' goal

Flamini's lapse in concentration couldn't have gone unnoticed on the bench, as he was left cooling his heels in the second half, with Pires coming on in his place. Mercifully we found some form, just as Spurs began to flag, resulting in the proverbial game of two halves and a second 45 which gave us plenty to sing about. With Pires demonstrating the sort of motivation that's been so lacking to date, it was the appearance of Van Persie which made the biggest difference.

I'm sure I can't be the only Gooner who's puzzled by Van Persie's lack of opportunity in the Arsenal's starting line-up. I don't understand Wenger's continued determination to convert Reyes into a striker, when by all acounts Jose has produced remarkable displays for Spain playing out wide on the wing, supplying all the ammuntion for the likes of Torres and Raul

Although in truth, as demonstrated on Saturday, there's little point in the Arsenal playing a winger capable of whipping in dangerous balls from the bye-line, when the penatly area is absolutely devoid of players in red & white, capable of getting on the end of them. In the first half against Spurs, on the rare occasions Clichy or Lauren advanced down the wings, they were lucky to look up and find the diminutive Reyes as the only Arsenal player in the area, surrounded by tall defenders.

It's the Arsenal's achilles heel, compared to the likes of Chelsea, the proverbial lack of a Plan B. Unlike us, Mourinho doesn't have to rely on the hordes of talented Blues being able to make their way through the most congested area of the pitch with crisp intricate passing. The Chelsea manager would appear to prefer playing a percentage game, knowing that few fans will complain about a dearth of entertainment, when they are winning so consistently.

He might not possess the sort of ball control that merited his multi-million pound price tag, but as Senderos will testify, the muscular Didier Drogba's pace and strength is a handful for most centre-backs. Chelsea can always fall back on the fail safe option of hitting enough long balls up to their sizeable striker, that eventually one will produce a goal scoring opportunity.

On the subject of the Swiss youngster, considering Sol was having such a 'mare, I would've likes to have seen Senderos given a look in at the Lane. As sure as oeufs are oeufs, with his increasingly fragile frame, Campbell is guaranteed to get crocked again before too long and we'd be much better off if Phillipe is able to get some confidence restoring run-outs under his belt, prior to us being totally reliant on his return to the first team without the sort of rust Gael Clichy struggled to shake off up until Saturday

With so many of our opponents finding a means of putting enough men between us and their goal, to make it nigh on impossible (especially without the invention of Henry) to pass our way through the middle, it's about time Arsène addressed the lack of a viable alternative. Considering the club need to maintain their high profile in the Premiership and thereby guarantee Champions League football, if they are to continue flogging high-priced pitches in our vast new arena, I fully expect Arsène to attempt to rectify this principal failing come the January transfer window, by splashing some serious wedge.

In the meantime we've managed to put those brash Lilywhite upstarts back into the box marked mediocrity for the moment and all is right with the world. Although don't say I didn't warn you if young Steven Sidwell comes back to haunt us with Reading in the Carling Cup

Peace & Love

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Tuesday 25 October 2005

Czech Please. Or Would The Record Smashing, Goal Grabbing Gorilla Please Mind Standing For All Subsequent Gooner Bills (l'd settle for five years :-)

With over 8 grands' worth of debt directly attributable to the extortionate annual expense of our season tickets, not to mention the maintenance of all the other spinning plastic plates, weighed down by the cost of tickets and travel to away matches, I had to accept the reality that we couldn't really afford to travel abroad for the Champions League group games.

Nevertheless, old habits die-hard. As has been the case for the past few years, at the end of August, on the day of the draw, I was sat in front of my computer, frantically pressing keys in search of cheap flights, as the Gunners' group began to take shape. I wasn't too worried about returning to Amsterdam and I couldn't envisage a sortie to Switzerland being particularly easy on the pocket (hopefully it will be all over bar the shouting by the time the Gunners go to the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern?).

However having missed out the last time we played in Prague and since it's rumoured to be one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, I couldn't resist at least looking into the possibility of travelling. Finding 50 quid flights soon made my mind up, but in the minute it took to confirm with the missus and a mate, these had doubled to over a £100. My pal's common sense prevailed and we weren't going to Prague, until a few moments later, when I remembered the reasonably priced flights with a Czech airline that I'd come across previously.

It's funny how the mind works. I guess with the excitement of the prospect of our outing, followed by the disappointment after deciding against it, we were feeling somewhat deflated. A difference of 20 quid was hardly going to keep the wolves from the door, but it was sufficient for us to make believe that £80 was enough of a bargain and our little jolly to Prague was back on.

I was announcing details of our trip at my Ma's dinner table the very next day, when it suddenly dawned on Róna that her granddaughter's brother was due to be born around the same date. As the designated driver for the hospital run and all associated grannies' duties, Ró decided she couldn't risk it. The little bugger has yet to make his presence known on this mortal coil and personally I believe if she'd gone, it would've been the best way of guaranteeing his arrival. According to Murphy's Law (since the missus is a member of the esteemed ó'Murchú clan), I reckon he'll wait to announce his arrival next weekend, bang in the middle of our derby day clash at White Hart Lane (where I can't quite put into words my disappointment over Edgar Davids' suspension!).

At least I was able to recover half the cost with a refund of Ró's airport taxes and I was seriously considering doing likewise for myself. It seemed as if fate was conspiring to prevent me from travelling to Prague. First off, it was only as I was thanking a shareholder pal (my empty pockets certainly don't stretch to shares at 4 grand a pop!) for inviting me to the last AGM at Highbury, that I realised we'd be returning from Prague that same day. My idea to avoid a dawn dash to the airport had backfired because we would've been back in time if I'd booked the early flight.

Although this wasn't such a disaster. Our AGM has become a tepid affair since the boards' feathers can no longer be ruffled by ad hoc awkward questions from the floor. I struggle to believe the suggestion that it was at the request of shareholders, but they introduced a system of censorship last year, whereby all questions now have to be written down, so they can decide in advance which ones they fancy dealing with!

His worst ever start to a Premiership season didn't stop Wenger from receiving his customary ovation when he stood up to speak. A couple of years back our vice-chairman, David Dein was famously quoted as saying "Roman Abramovich has parked his Russian tanks on our lawn and is firing £50 notes at us". It would appear Arsène has come to accept the fact that the Arsenal simply cannot afford to fight fire with fire. Much like my bank's TV ads, apparently Le Boss is bunging all our eggs in a basket containing his belief that there must be "another way".

The idea of building an Arsenal squad, instead of buying one off the shelf is a beautiful concept to a romantic like myself. I would adore watching an Arsenal team with a homegrown backbone who've imbibed in the sort of values and spirit, which would have them prepared to die for the cause. Yet in these mercenary times, even those who've been at the club since they were in short pants can be enticed away by the prospect of greener pastures, or more's the point, a new contract worth a king's ransom!

So perhaps it's naive of us to believe that we'll ever again see an Arsenal side containing more than the odd exception, for whom success on the pitch for "the team", means as much as it does to some of us mug punters on the terraces.

Secondly, subsequent to the wind up of some of the Johnny-come-latelys amongst the bondholders snaffling the best seats at the new stadium, I was amongst the first batch of season-ticket holders to receive a highly prized appointment at the Reservation Centre to select my new pitch. Again, sadly this also coincided with the day of the AGM and the fact that I wouldn't be back from Prague in time. Mercifully this wasn't the major problem that it might've been if I wasn't planning on a swap with someone who has much cheaper, lower tier seats.

Finally it's many months since I last worked for the ballet, my former full-time employers. So guess what? I get a call Friday before last with an offer of work that I'd have to pass up. Suddenly my trip to Prague was proving to be bloody expensive! As such a martyr to the cause and in light of my sacrifice, I was convinced the match and my entire little East European adventure was condemned.

Somehow Prague seems to have escaped much of the ravages of the Second World War. Moreover, when you consider that the incredibly bland construction of Soviet style suburbs must've continued right up until the Velvet Revolution only 16 years ago, it's quite remarkable how the Czech capital has retained its picture postcard pulchritude. On a crisp autumnal morning, with the sun beaming out of a bright blue sky, highlighting all the amazing architecture, it was well worth investing a score for us to absorb the best of the city's Bohemian beauty, from the back of an open-topped, vintage Czech boneshaker.

As for the event itself, as we approached the stadium, the sight of the old bill in full riot gear, staring out of the eyeholes in their balaclavas was somewhat intimidating. Perhaps it was because the stadium was only half full (as punishment from UEFA for racist chanting at the Ajax match) but there wasn't the slightest hint of any aggro. In fact it felt as if the Gooners outnumbered the locals. We surely outsung them, but it wasn't as if they had much to shout about.

Gluttons for their Bratwurst, the sausage chomping Czechs' taste in food is a little too Germanic for my liking. By contrast my West Upper neighbour was complimenting the grub. But then I guess so long as you have a penchant for pig in every conceivable (and many inconceivable) guise, you are well catered for. Either that or the consumption of copious quantities of the locally brewed lager meant that the majority of Gooners could've been eating leather and cared less!

Considering what transpired when Henry replaced Reyes, Sparta must've regretted targeting the Spaniard and cracking his ribs. The temperature dropped a good few degrees at night and until our own "special one" appeared with gloved hands, we were joking that Gary Lewin must've received a ribbing for forgetting their mittens. The funniest sight of the evening was that of our substitutes bench, all tucked up in powder blue blankets, like a line of chilly little children.

Henry had one brief jog along the touchline before coming on. It was sufficiently cold that I was certain he was about to aggravate his injury with his first burst of speed. Instead of which Titi went straight for the top corner of the goal, reminding us quite how shot shy the Gunners have been in his absence.

I wouldn't have missed this magical moment and the one which followed, for the world! Considering the thousands of miles I cover during the season, supporting the Gunners, I would've felt incredibly cheated if I'd not been present for such a memorable occasion. Henry wasn't even supposed to have travelled originally, so I was amazed to be handed an "I was there" card as we left (trust Nike!) advertising a web site and wallpaper designed to honour Henry's achievement.

Returning with a carrier bag stuffed with cartons of Camel (at £1.20 a pack!), it was a great result all round. Moreover the work I missed out on has been re-offered to me this week. But now I'm not sure whether to feel sad about not being able to schlep all the way to Wearside (as I can't afford to forgo the graft), or glad of the excuse? I will be gutted if Anthony Stokes gets a run out as this game's not being shown on the box. Stokes was mentioned in dispatches, after Ireland U-19s 4-1 win against Italy last week (albeit on a waterlogged pitch).

He's already a hero of mine after choosing to come to N. London. Despite Man Utd supposedly having first pick of Shelbourne's young players and rumours that they were prepared to pay half a million for the Dubliner, I'd love to hear details of how Liam Brady charmed Stokes to Highbury? However he's slipped down the striking pecking order, behind two other teenagers, a little schnip Lupoli (who played against Stokes for Italy) and a tall Dane Bendtner. As a result Anthony has only been getting a look in for the reserves playing out wide. It's hard enough passing judgement on a player in an uncompetitive environment, let alone playing out of his natural position. But I'd love to see how Stokes fares if he plays on Tuesday night

After their derby defeat, I suspect Sunderland will be absolutely desperate to progress in the cup. Hopefully they'll still be feeling the effects of Sunday's exertions but I will be pleasantly surprised if we get a second chance to see the Arsenal youngsters in the next round. With adult tickets only a fiver and the innovative "kids for a quid" scheme, I am sure there'll be a great atmosphere at the Stadium of Light.

While the board confirmed at the AGM that the family enclosure at our new gaff has been increased to 4,500, I think it contemptible that less than 10% of seats will be available at concession prices for kids. On a more positive note, at least we can sleep at nights, knowing we're safe from any Man Utd type predatory takeovers, since the Arsenal Shareholders Trust have been granted A SINGLE share in the club's future!

It was a shallow victory against City on Saturday, considering their were periods when the pressing of Pearce's players prevented us from escaping out of our own half of the pitch. My perspective on our performances on the road has been magnified by Boro and WBA's results since. Neither defeat was due to a lack of quality but our inability to impose ourselves on the opposition.

I can't recall Robert Pires running at an opponent with the ball all season. Against WBA we saw Senderos storming forward, ending up as our most advanced player and again on Saturday, Kolo Touré was left taking City on, running with the ball right to the edge of the area. It speaks volumes for our lightweight midfield, when our centre-backs are left having to fulfill the role of inspiring their teammates by creating some forward thrust.

I suppose I can't end without commenting on THAT penalty. Doubtless I would be feeling far less ambivalent if City's equaliser hadn't been (wrongly?) disallowed. And if it hadn't turned into a French farce, everyone would be fawning over their fantasy football. We all saw our captain calling the shots prior to the spot-kick and personally I just think nerves got the better of Pires. At a time when it's trendy to lambast the lack of entertainment, it seems capricious to complain about Henry's efforts to light our footballing fire. In view of all the vacant speculation on the prodigy's future, I'm reminded of the ancient gag about this geezer's 800lb pet gorilla. "Where does he sit?" enquires his pal. "Wherever he bloomin' well wants!"


Hi Folks

After such an eventul week, squeezing everything into a mere thousand words was an impossible task. In all honesty I thought I'd done quite well only lumbering the poor wretch with the misfortune of editing my piece for the Examiner, with only double the required amount :-)

Naturally I sincerely hope I'm completely wrong but I rather suspect that we might struggle against a Sunderland side, desperate to bounce back after their derby day defeat and keen to keep their season alive with some cup interest. Unless they are still suffering the effects of Sunday's exertions against the Toon, I'm afraid we might end up being outmuscled in a men v boys type encounter?

Still this didn't stop me passing by the travel club today to check the time that the coach leaves for Wearside tomorrow, in the vain hope that I might finish up with work in time to make it back for the 12.15 departure. I sincerely hope the Arsenal youngsters will make it into the hat for the prospect of another Carling Cup outing, but lest they do, I will be doubly gutted to have missed their only competitive first team look-in

Then again, I guess I've gotta find some means of paying a downright barmy 43 quid to sit (stand!) behind the goal at White Hart Lane next weekend, since I am not amongst the many Gooners who've chosen to avoid paying through the nose to experience such an unpleasant atmosphere, preferring instead a far more friendly atmosphere surrounded by their pals in the pub.

I suppose I'm just a sucker for the prospect of losing my voice at the Lane on a Saturday afternoon and in a season when the scummers have got their first sight of a serious challenge for a European spot since the old king died, I seriously pray we have plenty to shout about. It will be worth a hundred abysmal outings to the likes of Boro and West Brom (and no Lady Luck, such glib remarks aren't meant to be taken seriously!) considering how far the poor loves will have to fall from the heady optimistic heights they've scaled so far this season, if they end up on the wrong end of a footballing lesson

Come on you Reds
Big Love

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Monday 17 October 2005

Teething Trouble For Toothless Gunners

I poured out my Shreddies this morning and I half expected a couple of tickets for our grandiose new ground to fall out into my cereal bowl. Apparently freebie pairs of season-tickets are being offered as a "sweetener" to the affluent folks who are able to invest in one of the swanky new apartments which are to be built within the wonderful art deco façade of our current Home of Football, or in one of the plush villas at the Pueblo Real Golf development on Spain's Costa Lotta, which is being misleadingly peddled under the Arsenal's prestigious moniker. Sadly TO DATE this "generous" marketing ploy is only being included in investments costing upwards of a quarter of a million quid. Yet if this season should continue in the current calamitous vein, you never know, before the doors open on a worryingly empty Emirates Stadium (the sponsors name continues to stick in my craw!), my imaginary scenario might not be so far from the truth?

It's evidence of how quickly circumstances can change in this fickle sport of ours. In the space of a few short weeks, I would imagine the Arsenal's board have gone from being fairly confident about filling all that extra capacity, to absolutely bricking it about guaranteeing bums on seats in the new gaff next term.

As I munched on my morning roughage, I had to lean over to turn up the radio on hearing the dulcet tones of our Highbury deity. I was hoping that Le Prof might surprise me, for a change, with some good news on the fitness front, or (in my dreams) perhaps they'd done a "B.A. Baracus" and drugged Dennis Bergkamp, before sticking him on a plane to Prague, so that we are not faced with quite such an unfamiliar line-up in midweek (I'm debating whether it might be worth me packing my boots!). However Wenger wasn't divulging details of the few remaining players available to fly out for Tuesday night's ding-dong. Nor was he discussing the nuances of Saturday's dismal defeat.

I would have never believed it unless I heard it with my own ears. Our guileless Gaul is hardly the epitome of an Arthur Daley type. Yet there he was blaring out over the airwaves, with an entirely incongruous blurb, to the effect of "I know a good buy when I see one" with an advert which even makes Mourinho's wooden acting appear good, compared to Wenger's efforts to flog the flats at Highbury.

It's bad enough that the board are distracted by anything other than the business of football, with the club lagging a catastrophic 14 points behind the league leaders. But to hear our manager being forced to impersonate an unreal estate agent is downright embarrassing. In fact I'm embarrassed for the man. The "bright" media crackpot who conjured up this ad campaign must've been a Spurs fan? Since surely no Gooner could've possibly subjected our inscrutable gaffer to such an awkward and doubtless somewhat ignominious experience in a recording studio. You only have to see Arsène announcing the winning programme number at half-time on the big screens at Highbury, to appreciate quite how frivolous it sounds for him to be standing in front of a microphone talking about anything other than football.

I suppose the weight of expectation is a consequence of Wenger's success, having achieved a very minimum of Champions League qualification in each of his 8 years at Highbury. It would seem that everyone, the board included, has begun to take our manager's miraculous feats for granted.

With both hands tied behind his back in terms of a fraction of the transfer funding afforded to his Premiership peers, Arsène has managed to walk on water by maintaining our regular reservation at the European top table. And the be all and end all as far as the board our concerned is their inclusion in party of 4 Premiership pigs, snuffling at the substantial trough of TV money.

Meanwhile is it really that surprising that the Holy One (blessed be he) has suddenly found it hard to stay afloat with such huge financial holes in his feet, as the league's runts spend relative fortunes by comparison, trying to bridge the gap. While other clubs have mortgaged themselves to the hilt in the vein hope of the European games which might garner some return on their giddy outlay, the Highbury suits have had a viable excuse for their parsimony in the past.

I'm sure there are true Gooners amongst them who would've loved to spunk up £30 mill. for a strike partner who could do justice to Thierry Henry's prodigious skills. But they've a responsibility for guarding the club's long-term future unlike the sort of La-La Land directors who brought Leeds to the brink of bankruptcy.

Although their penny-pinching might not prove particularly cost effective, should our greatest asset choose to walk next summer because he doesn't believe the club's ambitions match his. Moreover it's somewhat ironic and doubtless no coincidence that the potential demise of the Invincibles has been keeping pace with the bottomless financial pit of such a lavish building project.

All the club's niggardliness will count for nothing if we remain out of touch with the leaders come the transfer window and we've not got sufficient mullah to ease the strain on our manager. The stress was already evident up at Boro, only three weeks into the season, after Henry was ruled out for a couple of months subsequent to his 80 mins against Ireland. And with more frantic hand waving on the touchline against West Brom, it appears Wenger's mood must've been exacerbated after Hleb, Cole Campbell and Van Persie all broke down during this International break

Arsène enjoys absolute autonomy at the Arsenal, which wouldn't be the case at the sort of clubs where the prospect of blank cheques comes with interference from above. We're safe at the moment because as one of the principal architects of our immediate future, Wenger will feel obliged to see this project through to its conclusion. But as our season goes increasingly pear-shaped, he might begin to covet a position at the sort of club where he isn't permanently under pressure to find previously undiscovered gems at the bottom of the European barrel

The club would have us believe that they've nearly sold all the Executive Boxes and extortionately priced, Club Level seats which constitute the prime middle tier pitches in the new stadium. Obviously I wouldn't wish any such misfortune on my beloved Gunners. But there's an increasing air of bitterness amongst season-ticket holders like myself.

Having supported the club for umpteen years, both literally and in the sense of shouldering much of their financial burden, we've felt marginalised by the blinkered attraction to the scent of new money. It's believed that many of the best seats at our brand spanking new arena have already been snaffled by those who circumvented a substantial waiting list when buying £3k and £5k bonds only a couple of years back. What price the look on the faces of all the high-rollers, turning up to a half empty stadium, to see a team sans Vieira, (heaven forfend) Henry, Pires, Campbell, Cole and Wenger even, play Trabzonspor!

In truth I'm merely praying such depressing prognostications might be a precursor to imitating the Scousers with the panacea of Champions League success. While on the domestic front I'm fairly certain we can rely on the sort of inconsistency across the board (all bar one obviously since Chelsea have achieved a level of superiority which means they no longer count) that will put the Champions League within easy reach of any team capable of stringing together a reasonably successful run.

I struggled to finish my Shreddies subsequent to the extraction of 3 teeth last Friday. Thus our woes up at West Brom were put into perspective by the dental plate which has replaced them. Never mind that Kanu probably scored his only goal of the season against us and the depressing fact that we were once again found wanting for the strength of personality capable of turning a game back in our favour. Such temporary traumas paled in significance as I found myself lisping like Nigel Benn, sitting behind the goal struggling to support my beloved "Arthenal"!

If you are looking for culprits then perhaps it was my lack of encouragement. I was terrified that my fervour might see my new false teeth come flying out into the lap of the lady in front. Come the half-time break I was so bloomin' hungry that I could bear it no further. Feeling more than a little conspicuous and despite several strange looks, I removed my dentures, so I could suck a Cornish pastie to death. I then spent much of the second-half fretting about the possibility of a foot falling on the plastic pint pot containing my plate,

There's a piece in the matchday programme by MOTD2 presenter Adrian Chiles, about 87-year old Baggies fan Vic Stirrup, who's missed only 5 West Brom matches since the end of World War II. According to Chiles time has taught this elderly football addict "to deal with the twin impostors of triumph and disaster" or he would have gone completely potty as a poor WBA fan. Having gifted Vic such a grand birthday present as a Baggies win against the mighty Gunners, I wonder if I can tap him for advice on how to cope with my false teeth?


Hi folks

As I am flying to Prague in the morning (assuming I get out of my pit in time to catch the plane), I won't delay this week, suffice to say that I am glad we have already got six Champions League points on the board, as we head out to play a Sparta side who romped to a 5-2 victory on Saturday under a new coach

Personally I reckon Wenger will treat the match as something of an exercise, giving European experience to players who wouldn't normally be included in the squad and if we come home with anything it will be a result. Who knows, under such circumstances, we might even spring a surprise

Strangely enough I almost revel in the mood of gloom and doom. It's like a nostalgic date with a long forgotten mate. Mind you I must admit that I was forced to turn off Talk Sport on my way back from West Brom. I couldn't bear all the extremely premature "Has the North London tide turned" speculation and the supposed Arsenal idiots who were texting in to suggest Arsène gets the sack

There was little perspective on Spurs win at White Hart Lane. An Everton fan on the radio this morning said that their first task each season is to calculate their survival prospects by determining three worse teams and he was struggling to find any.

Meanwhile if Arsène ever reaches a point where he no longer deserves our support, who exactly are they going to employ as an improvement? Talking about the cries for David Moyes head, the Scouser suggested an analogy with calling for him to get the "tin tack" as being akin to the feelings of dumping your favourite granny in an old folks home :-)

Besides I have to tell you that it is a bit of a novelty knowing that Spurs might at long last have the sort of squad which could give us a run for our money. So long as we end up beating them in a couple of weeks time, just imagine howmuch more painful it will be for all those Spurs fans who, for the first time in years, are thinking they've got some cause for genuine hope. There's little fun when they're half expecting a drubbing and consider a draw a result

But if we should end up stuffing them this season, they've got a lot further to fall

Meanwhile let's hope Arsène is correct about the stop start season so far and that all we need is to develop some rhythm. We have to believe Arsène still knows and personally I've a sneaky feeling that he'll not only turn our form around but that it could yet be a season to remember. To be honest I've far more concerns about next summer and the state of our squad when we kick off at the new stadium

Peace & Love

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Monday 10 October 2005

Football, Football Everywhere But Not A Drop To Drink

Time was when I used to be tearing my hair out on an International
Saturday, trying to decide which live game to watch. I'd invariably be
torn between watching matches involving Ireland, England or the far
more entertaining prospect of a French side aided by an assortment of
Gallic Gunners. I've long since learnt not to channel hop. You don't
get a proper feel for any game and invariably you end up frustratingly
flicking around just in time to miss the crucial moments in each of
the matches.

Whereas on Saturday the schedulers had been very sympathetic.
Although I somehow doubt there was much altruism involved in Setanta
advising us of the availability of the subsequent Switzerland v France
encounter, on advertising hoardings all around the stadium in Nicosia.
Unable to find this game on any other channel (the exploits of the
French can occasionally be found on TV5, an obscure station up in the
800s on my satellite gadget), I might've been tempted to cough up what
I seem to recall is Setanta's extortionate pay-per-view price, if it
merely involved the fairly painless matter of pressing the 'select'
button on my remote.

My closest Spurs supporting pal has one of those massive plasma
jobbies, almost filling one wall of his living room. Thus he's blessed
with more mates than his lounge can accommodate whenever there's a
sporting event on the box, since watching at his gaffe is indeed the
next best thing to being there. I often plan on going round to watch
the big boxing gigs. I wish I could say it was for the good company
and the great view. But in truth it's probably because I am loathe to
stump up yet another 15 quid for an over hyped brawl which will be
lucky to last more than a couple of rounds. However come the wee hours
when these fights often take place, I'm usually far more tempted by
the thought of pressing a button on my remote and climbing into my
pit, than the idea of schlepping around to my mate's in the middle of
the night. The knockout punch comes at the end of the month when my
Sky bill is pushing a ton!

Somehow a deferred payment doesn't feel nearly so painful as actually
putting ones hand in ones pocket. Unable to find any alternative
viewing which was exactly riveting, doubtless I would've done likewise
on Saturday night. I don't know if the other group game was only
available to watch in Ireland, but despite five different Setanta
channels, I couldn't find one which even offered me a phone number to
call to pay for viewing access.

To be honest I didn't try too hard to suss it out and if such
difficulties were down to a shambolic Setanta, then I guess I should
be grateful they saved me a few quid. With our 'big' summer signing,
Alexander Hleb, involved for Belarus, I had a passing interest in
events at Hampden Park. However I never dreamt that the relatively
humdrum football in the first hour of this game was going to be the
highlight of my day.

I am forever cursing the avalanche of inserts and the vast forests
that must be felled to provide the proliferation of annoying bunkum
which falls from our bulging newspapers these days. But ironically I
ended up seething on Saturday night. Some 'tea-leaf' must've had it on
their toes with my free Cabaret DVD, as my paper came without its
tree's worth of nuisance literature that normally includes the one
thing I ever have any use for, in my weekly TV guide.

As a result I wasn't aware of the live coverage of N.Ireland v Wales.
I'd already missed all the action by the time I found this five-goal
thriller on BBC2. Yet it wasn't until after I'd endured all 180
minutes of the agonisingly awful other matches that I found myself
mourning the fact that a light-fingered Liza Minnelli fan had
inadvertently deprived me of the only entertaining encounter out of
all four live broadcasts. Now if this 'fagele' thief had ended up
diddling me out of the dubious pleasure of the emasculated efforts of
England and Ireland, I'd want to repay them with an entire Barbara
Streisand box-set as a reward!

I wasn't aware that the Irish media were already out for their
manager's blood. Some might suggest he hasn't got much to work with.
But the Irish squad is positively star-studded compared with the
Jock's motley collection of jumped-up journeymen. It's hard to believe
Brian Kerr still has the bones of the same outfit which drew with the
runners up in the last World Cup and were only a whisker away from the
quarterfinals. It's even harder to accept that this was evidence
(according to Cunningham) of how driven the players are by their
selfish desire to play in Germany. If this was 'driven' heaven help us
if they ever play as passengers!

This is what I found so unacceptable (and I'm only an adopted
Irishman). Perhaps the English had more of an excuse because they were
that much closer to qualification. Yet while a lousy performance is
always forgivable as a cruel twist of fate, you never got the feeling
on Saturday that these were footballers demonstrating their
desperation to slake their thirst, with their penultimate pint in the
last chance saloon, in perhaps their one and only opportunity to
perform on the stage which is the absolute pinnacle of every players
dreams. Nor were the efforts of either team the sort of 'run till you
drop' type displays which suggested their awareness of the burden of
the hopes and aspirations of all those millions of fans back home.

Perhaps it's me and the fact that as far as I'm concerned
International football is an increasingly fetid old flame. Thus I
struggle to get excited about being unfaithful to my first love.
However despite the contradiction of Damien Duff deciding to appear
with stitches in his foot, I get the distinct impression that
commercialisation is largely to blame for a level of cynicism, which
no longer permits the possibility of living out innocent childhood
dreams of 'doing a Bobby Moore'.

I was amused to hear Brian Kerr clutching at such straws about the
home side being inspired by the atmosphere created in a stadium
brimming with the battalions of Boys in Green (while their own fans
were at home watching Greece!). But I didn't hear Kerr offer an
explanation why the side they were supporting weren't similarly

Although the lack of fervour appears to be a malaise of epidemic
proportions amongst the established nations, I am sure that like me,
when summer comes around everyone will be suffering from World Cup
fever. Meanwhile it's truly marvellous that we can look forward to the
debutantes from Angola, Togo and Côte D'Ivoire, as they are bound to
bring pure unadulterated passion, to what might otherwise be a far too
Germanic party.

On the face of it, some might accuse Kerr of being unable to inspire
his troops. If there are pampered prima-donnas who won't play for
their own pride, or for the honour of the Republic (considering some
might be more familiar with God Save The Queen than Amhrán na
bhFiann), at least with Roy Keane in the camp, the bollocking they'd
get back in the dressing room would be incentive aplenty! But with no
offence to Kenny Cunningham's leadership, on Saturday they reminded me
of my own team of late, crying out for the driving force of a guv'nor
out on the pitch, emboldening them all in attack and radiating the
necessary air of composure at the back.

It was admirable and quite brave of the Irish to promote from within.
But then you'd assume no one would've known the players better than
the man who'd been with them since they were bairns. If I'd doubts
about Kerr's ability to boss the big boys, my prejudice was probably
due to the fact that he was a relative novice as the 'buck stop' bloke
at this elevated level.

Sorting out his charges at St Pats must've been a slightly different
prospect to putting the wind up an International, who never again has
to get out of bed if he so chooses. Although Kerr's struggles to raise
Ireland's game puts him in good company with Eriksson, Domenech the
French coach and all the other International managers who've been
baffled by underperforming star players.

Sadly I didn't catch a sparkling cameo from Jose Reyes. Coming on as a
2nd half sub, he helped to maintain Spanish hopes, with 2 goals in 3
minutes resulting from Jose's crosses. I sincerely hope Arsène
witnessed his effectiveness out on the wing, as I remain unconvinced
that he's an out and out striker. While we're not exactly blessed with
ball winners in the air up front, it feels as if we can go all the way
back to Georgie Armstrong (RIP) for the sort of orthodox winger who'd
terrorize defenders, taking the ball to the bye-line before whipping
in a terrific cross.

I was expecting salvation on Sunday but both Bolivia v Brazil and The
Match on Sky were a bit of an anti-climax. Mind you even Brazil's 2nd
XI managed more entertainment than I'd seen in all of Saturday's
matches put together. That was until they succumbed to the exhaustion
from the Bolivian's major home advantage.

In a dumb "I don't speak Bolivian" observation, Bravo's commentary
team demonstrated their obvious ignorance. But it was a dreadful wind
up listening to them diss the Brazilians work rate, without the
slightest appreciation of the problems of playing at the altitude of
La Paz.

I toured S. America with a mate many years back. He wasn't nearly as
fit as me but was unaffected by the altitude. Whereas without liquid
assistance, I appeared stocious from the moment I stepped off the
plane, staggering to the terminal and subsequently sick for three days
(at least that was my excuse for drinking pots of coca tea), grateful
for frequent gulps of oxygen available from cylinders on every floor
of our hotel. I was still struggling to walk after acclimatizing for
24 hours and can't for the life of me imagine how anyone could manage
90 mins of football.

Meanwhile both England and Ireland's lacklustre efforts suggested they
might've learned a thing or two from the spunk shown by the portly
legends and the passionate celebs in The Match, albeit misdirected on
occasion. Poor Nigel Winterburn appears as if he's still carrying some
baggage from his contretemps with Di Canio. I bet he's taken some
stick over the years after 'bottling it' in front of millions on TV.
Perhaps counselling might be an idea, before Nutty eventually causes
some serious bodily harm by trying to prove to the world that he's no
more of a coward than the next man!


Hi folks

You'll have to forgive the fact that there's very little Arsenal
relevance in the piece above and while I am sure I could find any number
of topics to ramble on about, I'm afraid I'm all typed out. What's
more having received my appointment at the Arsenal reservations centre
to come and select my seat at the new stadium. doubtless it will
probably develop into yet another rant concerning my various
reservations about the new gaff (and I don't want to begin to sound
like a broken record)

So since I'm struggling to keep my eyes open, I'm afraid that if
you're totally uninterested in the travails of the Irish team, you
might want to give this one a miss as it's been written primarily with
the readers of the Irish Examiner in mind.

I ran out of room at the end, so in case you didn't catch The Match on
Sky on Sunday night, I was referring to Nutty Nigel Winterburn losing
his rag with Olivier from the celebs' side. Finally there was one
other incident in this programme which tickled me. Zoe Ball had
Winterburn in the studio the other night with a couple of the Legends
team and at one point she referred to Nigel as something like "Secret
Squirrel" . I could be wrong about her exact ricket, but she seemed a
little embarrased when they returned from a break and she explained
that one of the cameramen had stitched her up, informing Ball that
this was Nige's nickname when she'd since discovered he was known as

Normal service resumed next week
Peace & Love

mail to:

Wednesday 5 October 2005

Tuffers & Tommy from Corrie or Trezeguet & Robinho? No Contest!

The misguided suits at the helm of the good ship Premiership might be completely oblivious to the potential grounding of their treasure laden vessel, should they continue to sail straight towards the sandbanks of extortionate ticket prices, with a passenger list full of the football fans whose addiction to this particular cruise could be cured by the aversion therapy of an unexpurgated and unremitting TV diet of round-the-clock live transmissions of almost every bloomin' match on the continent.

I would hope that the assorted helmsmen might pay some heed to the many calls to man the lifeboats. However the hull of the Premiership's floating palace will remain intact so long as 42,000 hardy souls continue to forsake their Sunday morning lie-ins, or their weekly devotions to the omnipotent one, to worship their false footballing gods instead. Considering the 11.15 KO at the City of Manchester Stadium was live (on pay-per-view) and the bottom feeding Toffees are about the least entertaining team in the league, I was gobsmacked that this huge ground was only a few thousand short of capacity. So much for a crisis! Mind you it's a shame more Man City fans didn't take the lead of one of their number and all turn up in their PJs as a protest.

Many of the weekend's unpredictable matches proved to be a timely reminder to all those in the media who've been so quick to regale us with their overblown obituaries for the beautiful game. From the thrilling 5 goal fiesta in the first 45 at Fulham, to Spurs revival at the Valley, with Martin Jol earning begrudging admiration even amongst us Gooners, by refusing to settle for a draw, after recouping a 2 goal deficit and gambling on all 3 points by bringing on a 3rd striker. Moreover I doubt the bookies will have taken a big hit on the first player to find the onion bag on Sunday, as Danny Mills broke the deadlock for the Sky Blues, scoring his first in nearly 3 years.

I'm glad that Paddy Power apart, no one else in their right mind sets too much store by the league tables prior to Xmas. Chelsea's considerable points advantage should be cause for concern. But fortunately whilst Charlton and Spurs remain in 2nd & 3rd, I can't keep a straight face, let alone take the table seriously. Thank heavens we aren't at the business end of the season yet, as I'd have been tearing my hair out trying to stay abreast of Sunday's events. Five different KO times for each of the 5 games must be a first, even for Murdoch's meddlesome maniacs.

I just had time to see Vassell clinch the points for City before I set off for Highbury. My terrace tranny told the amazing tale of Wigan's continued success, in a game that started half an hour before us, while we were on route home when I heard the Villa fans vocalising their utter disgust over their worst ever start to a season, well before the final whistle blew on their miserable defeat 30 minutes after ours

Sadly, subsequent to the splendid unpredictability of all this entertainment, the Scousers failed to round off my footballing weekend when they and Chelsea contrived to produce the most obvious outcome of them all. I suppose it could've been worse, as the Blues relentless pursuit of yet another 3 points would've been far more traumatic if we'd failed to put one past Birmingham's Maik Taylor.

It didn't stop me doing a joyful little jig and high-five-ing it with everyone, as our ancient stadium rocked with an explosion of relief as the net bulged with only 9 minutes left on the clock. Yet having held us at bay almost single-handed up until this climactic point, such was the admiration for Taylor's astonishing display of agility and reflexes, most Gooners had more than a modicum of sympathy when he finally succumbed in such a klutz like fashion.

In truth it was always going to take a fluke to beat the Brum keeper, as he'd kept a clean sheet in the face of a barrage of the very best we had to offer. And I'm not including Pires' rather lame penalty amongst these. When Robbie side-footed home a rather flaccid penalty against Ajax last week, I wondered whether he'd cunningly read the direction of the keeper's dive But with Sunday's equally reserved repeat performance, it was obvious his spot-kicks were more gormless than guileful.

When it eventually came, Van Persie's strike might've just been missing the target, until the deflection caused it to bobble past Brum's stranded keeper. But unlike some of his more shot shy teammates, as they say, at least Robin 'bought a ticket'. However it would've been very harsh if we'd failed to win. Having created so many opportunities, who knows how dented our confidence could've been if we'd gone into the International break feeling bitter about a game which would've been a complete trouncing if it wasn't for Taylor's impressive athleticism.

I was beginning to think it was going to be one of those days, where we'd spend the entire game battering at Brum's door in vain, only for Heskey to make a single break down the other end and the ball to bobble in off his knee, as the visitors stole the points with their only chance of the match. And it would've been all my fault!

I was already feeling dreadfully guilty about the empty seat beside me. Due to her not feeling 100%, Rona decided to stop at home at the last minute. Our Arsenal expenses have left me so skint that instead of knocking for the lad who lives downstairs, I decided to take a gamble on flogging her ticket on my way around to the West Upper. I should've known better because I'm so loathe to be mistaken for a tout, that the market is limited to extremely late, psychic Gooners capable of instinctively knowing I had a ticket going begging.

My dear old dad indoctrinated me with his 'never buy from touts' principle. I guess that since I'm fortunate to have a ticket for most games, over the years I've become oblivious to the ubiquitous presence of this pond scum. Their "anyone need a ticket?" sales patter blends into the general cacophony of the pre-match ballyhoo. But from the disparaging glances one gets when forced, in all innocence, to utter aloud a similar query, it feels as if you're trying to tempt folks with an offer of incurable leprosy. And it's downright bizarre to dread being taken for an odious touting brigand to such an extent, that unbelievably I end up unable to literally give away one of the best seats in the house with a face value of an extortionate 70 quid!

The longer the game went on without a goal on Sunday, the worse I felt for not bringing young Jamal and the more I became convinced that my avarice was about to cost the Arsenal a couple of points. Apparently I must've earned sufficient credits on the karma meter to cover this indiscretion. There was a couple sitting some rows back on a first ever pilgrimage to Highbury all the way from Singapore. I'd managed to hook them up with a pal with spare tickets. Ultimately I was extremely relieved that they were able to celebrate a goal and an enjoyable (albeit nerve wracking) victory, if only to ensure that superstition didn't result in the Chongs struggling to find tickets on any future trips.

I'm beginning to perceive a perverse mood of optimism amongst us Gooners, which is indirectly proportionate to they way in which so many of the pundits have already written us off in both the Premiership and the Champions League. Personally I hope all the bookies pay up prematurely and the media continues to belittle our prospects, as there are those in the Arsenal squad who could do with a little more fire in their bellies. It's been a while since we last savoured the exploits of an Arsenal side with their backs against the wall, coming out with all guns blazing to turn the odds upside down. Heaven only knows it's going to take something special if we're to expect the continued loyalty of Thierry Henry, the Arsenal's absolute prize asset.

Meanwhile with the spectacle of the world's greatest footballing talents on offer on TV Sunday night, I struggled to choose between watching Juve v Inter and Madrid v Mallorca. But no sooner had Juve and Madrid gained an advantage of more than the odd goal, than I found myself completely engrossed in the exploits of 'Do I Not Like That' Taylor and his squad of celebrity wannabes in The Match on Sky One. Go figure!
Arsenal FC 1-0 Parma AC
UEFA Cup Winners' Cup Final, Wednesday 04 May 1994
Parken Stadium, Copenhagen

Team Line-Ups
Arsenal FC
1 SEAMAN David (G)
4 DAVIS Paul
5 BOULD Steve
6 ADAMS Anthony (C)
8 MORROW Stephen
9 SMITH Alan
10 MERSON Paul
11 SELLEY Paul
13 MILLER Alan (G)
12 LINIGHAN Andrew
15 PARLOUR Raymond
16 DICKOV Paul
Head Coach

Parma AC
1 BUCCI Luca (G)
3 DI CHIARA Alberto
4 MINOTTI Lorenzo (C)
6 SENSINI Roberto Néstor
7 BROLIN Tomas
8 PIN Gabriele
9 CRIPPA Massimo
10 ZOLA Gianfranco
11 ASPRILLA Faustino
12 BALLOTTA Marco (G)
14 BALLERI David
15 ZORATTO Daniele
16 MELLI Alessandro
Head Coach


Hi folks

I nearly fell over the other day, when someone pointed out that the Arsenal are laying on a complimentary coach trip to Sunderland for the Carling Cup game. If that wasn't a sufficient shock, they've now announced ticket prices as £5 adults, £1 kids. Whatever next? A reduction in season ticket prices? (although ones imagination can only stretch so far!)

It's an admirable experiment, although I'm unsure if the motives are quite so well intentioned. Carling Cup ticket prices have tended to be reduced (for home games at least), ever since Arsene began a habit of giving the youngsters a run out in this competition but I somehow doubt they will be as cheap as a fiver for adults and a quid for kids for any home games in this tournaments (that is if we beat the Black Cats!). The offer of free coaches could just be because the club are afraid of an embarrassing turn out and it will be interesting indeed to see how many are attracted by the offer (although I guess we'll never know how many more are going to go than if the coaches weren't free)

As far as I am aware Sunderland have been one of the clubs with the most enlightened pricing policy for some years now. Who knows, it might just be ever since they moved to the Stadium of Light and needed to try and fill a substantial number of seats but I do recall being suitably impressed back in the early nineties, when I discovered that kids season tickets were available for an amazingly affordable price (it might even have been under a hundred quid a season back then).

Considering how the Arsenal are currently concentrating almost exclusively on marketing the new stadium to their most affluent fans (I am sure as centre block season ticket holders in the upper tier, we were supposed to have received our invitations to choose our seats already - so if you are seated anywhere else in the ground, it appears they are already behind schedule!), I guess it was naïve of me to have some hopes that the wealthy Gooners who are able to stump up up to an incredible £25k a season for Diamond Class, might end up subsidising a more ethical pricing policy that would encourage more people to bring their kids to the new stadium

As it stands at the moment, kids prices are only available in the Family Enclosure, which is I believe almost impossible to get a seat in. Moreover I am under the impression that you have to attend with an adult, so if you have a season ticket elsewhere, it is impossible to take your kids unless you pay full whack for them (or buy an additional ticket for yourself in the family enclosure, which kind of defeats the object).

I can only hope someone is addressing this situation as far as the new stadium is concerned (although from the general levels of apathy about all matters relating to our new ground, sadly I kind of have my doubts! And if everyone's awaiting someone like myself, the king of all procrastinators, to speak up for them, then we are all in big trouble!). I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's not a charitable decision to offer kids reduced prices. You only have to scan the crowd at Highbury these days to appreciate that ours is a rapidly ageing audience. This is all the more noticeable at games like Thun in the Champions League and the Carling Cup, where suddenly the increased availability of tickets results in a substantial number of kids coming to the games

Surely if you attract a youngster to live football before the age of sixteen, the club is guaranteeing itself a lifetimes worth of income from this new fan which will far outweigh the measely reduction they might have received?

But I am feeling like a broken record when it comes to griping about my various grievances about the new stadium and I'd better stop before you lift the needle. I just grow ever more disillusioned by the feeling that so few people actually give a stuff. Not that I am so naïve to think we are able to have any real control over the future of what is and always will be OUR club, but if there ever was a chance of us exerting any influence, when reality does eventually bite (since nautical metaphors seem to be a theme this week - see below) that particular boat will have long since sailed.

As far as football matters are concerned, I don't know whether it's just me, but I think I've perceived a far less fateful mood around THOF recently. I am sure I mentioned it even before we started our Champions League campaign (as I wouldn't want you to think I was jumping on anyone else's bandwagon) but I've had this inkling that having had so much pressure on us at the start of previous campaigns, with expectations raised so high, there's a feeling that we've nothing to lose this season. Where recently we've been amongst many pundits' favourites at the start of our campaign, this season we were written off before we started "Arsenal, they always under perform in Europe" and that was before we lost the best midfielder on the planet!

I wouldn't dare tempt fate by saying we are going to win it but I get the feeling that other Gooners are coming around to the idea that perhaps, just perhaps, we might exceed the extremely limited expectations and surprise a few people

In the past my pessimistic philosophy was to expect nothing, and then I was never disappointed and everything up from that was a result. However this was gleaned after so many seasons of watching Arsenal sides that brooked little comparison with some of our star-studded continental opponents. You'll have to forgive me but I always hark back to our Cup Winner Cup triumph in Copenhagen, as my personal experiences that season have ensured that this entire campaign has been indelibly imprinted on my memory.

I am sure I've bored you with the tale before, but we were fortunate to be a bit flush that season and it was in the days when us mere mortals could still just about afford to travel on the exec trips, whose greatest selling point was being able to fly on the same plane as the players (I think I saw them advertise a similar trip the other day on the jumbo screens but these days if we're lucky enough to pick up cheap flights, it is costing us the same as we used to pay to travel on the exec and the astronomic cost of the exec trips are I believe about the price of what we were then paying for our entire season ticket!)

Mercifully we managed to be together enough to take a camera with us and I've just been fingering through a treasured photo album which catalogues the entire campaign match by match. Jaysus when I think how chuffed I was then to be rubbing shoulders with the mere mortals in this squad. This was in the days prior to the Wenger revolution, when there was definitely still a distinct drinking culture around the Arsenal team and I was always amazed to see the rate at which the players consumed those small, airplane sized, cans of lager on their way home from midweek games - Arsene would have had a heart attack!

I could probably prattle on ad infinitum with all my many anecdotes, but my biggest disappointment was that I didn't have the balls to walk into the karsey with the camera when we landed at Luton (or wherever). The lads would stream into the arrivals hall and head straight for the bogs and I was always dying to follow them in with the camera, as it would have made a great shot to have whistled and catch the entire team turning around as they were lined up at the urinals.

Meanwhile the reason for dragging up my ancient memories is that we were fortunate on the plane home from Copenhagen, as Tony Adams climbed aboard with the trophy and immediately passed it back to us, the fifty odd fans on the flight. Luckily we were near the front, so we got our hands on it, before someone from the club got a little 'didgy' a came back to retrieve it (I don't know where he thought we would be going with it at fifty thousand feet!). Now when I look at the photos from that night, taken on the plane, I have pictures of Kevin Campbell in a shocking red wig, Paul Dickov, Ray Parlour, Ian Selley.

Admittedly we were fortunate to have our famous defence in place, but with Ian Wright hobbling along on crutches (I am not sure many of today's stars would have flown out to Copenhagen, coming along just for the 'craic'?) no one gave us much of a chance against a Parma side who were defending the trophy. In fact I've just looked up the two line-ups, just to remind myself. (I've copied them at the end of this mail in case you are interested) and I recall that few of us fancied the chances of the likes of Morrow, Selley and Campbell against the likes of Zola, Sensini and Asprilla (even the baby faced Tomas Brolin was considered a star player in those days -before he eat all the pies).

Poor old Arsene Wenger made the mistake of spoiling me. Looking at that line-up back in '94, I could have never imagined that in the short space of four years I'd be seeing a Daily Mirror with the front page "Arsenal Win The World Cup" and that we'd be so incredibly privileged to be witnessing the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira trot out in red & white every week. Players of such incredible natural ability are a million miles from the relative dross we'd become accustomed to with Mcgoldrick. Morrow and Selley (although unlike some of our current star names, while they might have been well short on ability by the comparison, I can never recall criticising the latter two for a lack of commitment!!)

Such was the change in my mindset that a couple of seasons back, when it came to the Champions League, I was convinced this had to be our season! And so in some respects I am looking forward to the current campaign. Everyone loves an underdog and I am hoping that we will continue to be written off to such an extent that we might see the development of the sort of backs to the wall team spirit which brought the trophy back from Copenhagen.

Although I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if in the meantime, fate has set in store for us an encounter with Juve at some stage. I received a text message on Sunday night from someone who was also finding it uncomfortable watching Patrick Vieira performing in the black and white stripes of the Old Lady of Turin. Patrick seems to have found the ideal playing partner in Emerson alongside him in midfield, as the latter's defensive nature appears to have freed Paddy up to produce some of the sort of fabulous football which was originally responsible for him developing one of the most fearsome reputations in the game.

Paddy's departure has hit every Gooner hard because if you think about it, it's been a long time since we last lost a player who was quite such an integral part of our squad, who wasn't distinctly on the downward cycle of his career. Other than those we've lost as kids (like Andy Cole) who was the last player to leave Arsenal and go on to have a more successful stage of their career elsewhere? You have to dig way back into the history books!

I was told in a subsequent conversation that his performance for Juve was a reminder quite what our midfield has been missing this season. However this is an unfair comparison because the Paddy we are watching play for Juve today is certainly not the same Paddy who was marking time, merely going through the motions at Highbury for much of his last two seasons.

I guess I use it so often that I should really make an effort to find out which particular footballing sage originally said it, but once again I repeat the mantra which states that every five years you need to change either your team, or your manager. And I guess Vieira was evidence of this, as he had no doubt become somewhat stale at Highbury. I suppose it's an inevitable fact of life that no matter what you do, no matter if you are one of the fortunate people who happens to enjoy what they do for a living, eventually everything becomes a chore if repeated often enough.

To be honest I am pleased for Paddy. Let's face it, it could be a lot worse, as he could be rubbing it in our faces every week, if he'd have gone to Chelsea and found himself reinvigorated. But I happen to think it would've been something of a criminal waste for him to have done a Marcel Desailly, turning out each week for Arsenal and just doing enough to justify his presence, when we all know he's capable of so much more. And in this respect, considering how much pleasure he gave me over the years, I am pleased for him that he appears to have rediscovered his hunger and passion for the game. It's just a crying shame that he's not doing it in red & white!

As far as Titi is concerned, rumour has it that he will be off next summer. Can you imagine if the Arsenal end up playing their first game at their spanking state of the art football stadium, without a single star name to serve up for all those punters who stumped up thousands of pounds for their posh seats!! If this should prove to be the case, I certainly hope their private restaurant are serving up particularly haute cuisine :-)

In truth I can understand Henry expressing his dissatisfaction. He's seen his French teammate depart for pastures new, with the club showing no signs of coughing up the necessary to replace him - and if Baptista was the supposed replacement, to date Real Madrid's experiments at playing the Beast in a midfield role don't really suggest that this would've been the answer. What's more rumours were rife during the summer that Pires wanted out and my feeling is (although I've no actual facts to base this on!) that the club probably went out of their way to persuade Robbie to stay because they knew they couldn't afford to lose both Vieira and Pires at the same time.

I guess we might find out next summer, but I am of the opinion that some sort of deal might have been done to convince Robbie to stay for one more season with a mutual agreement that he can leave with no bad feeling before next season (and I've seen nothing from his somewhat lacklustre performances this season to convince me that I am wrong!!). However I can't imagine the reaction if both he and Henry were to walk in the summer.

Here's hoping that Titi is just using his power as the club's prize asset in order to exert some leverage upon those in charge of the purse strings. Let's face it, a player of his calibre, who is right at the top of the tree when it comes to a list of "most wanted" and who can only expect to remain there for a limited number of years, he has every right to demand some sort of statement of intent by which the club can demonstrate that their ON FIELD ambitions match his. Moreover the idea of Thierry having itchy feet is magnified by this image I have of him sitting alone in his favourite Hampstead coffee shop, raising a latte to the absent friends who would've previously occupied the other chairs at his table

Considering Thierry has been an almost ever present in the Arsenal line-up these past couple of seasons, I guess he was due (according to the law of averages), if not over due a spell in the treatment room and no doubt this has left him with far too much time on his hands, without the usual physical exertions which would leave him falling into his bed, without spending hours channel hoping through the entire gammut of continental and intercontinental football we find on our screens these days, wondering whether the grass might indeed be greener elsewhere.

If Arsene didn't already have enough problems! One thing's for certain, this season certainly won't be dull, as Wenger faces the biggest challenge yet of his Arsenal career. When Roy Keane announced he'd be leaving Utd the other day, it occurred to me that the departure of Utd and their manager's rock, might indeed precipitate Fergie's retirement (for real!). I also can't help but wonder if the only reason Wenger hasn't decided to walk away is due to the fact that he is such a gentleman.

When I recall the sight of him losing his rag on the touchline at Boro, when in the past our phlegmatic Prof would have remained on the bench, I get the distinct impression that he isn't having quite as much fun as before. Although it's obvious that it's never going to be the same barrel of laughs when looking down the wrong end of our cannon. The thing is that Wenger was such a principal instigator of the new stadium project, that it might never have happened if it wasn't for the impetus he and the success of his Arsenal team, gave the whole scheme. And as such, I imagine Arsene feels a responsibility to see the project through. He's certainly not the sort to walk out halfway through.

I've criticised Arsene in the past. I am as mystified as the next Gooner by some of his decisions and I happen to believe that he makes some assumptions about players when they reach the stage of being good enough for selection for the Arsenal first XI, in that they've already learnt their trade. And if he has some weaknesses, it might be that he doesn't hold much stock in the sort of regimented training routines which could benefit our defence.

However any of us Gooners who are long in the tooth to have endured some of the comparative dross of the past, we should be prostrating ourselves in gratitude before this man who has managed to work relative miracles with (financially speaking) both hands tied behind his back. If we are lucky, the club might find some way of hanging on to him for a good few more years but I reckon he might well have already made his mind up to see the new stadium project through to completion before taking his leave

If so, I would guess this wont be until we are settled in our new home. Can you imagine the clamour for Club Level refunds, or the faces of corporate managers responsible for stumping up the fortunes for Exec Boxes, having been looking forward to puffing out their chests with pride, as they invite all their jealous customers to their swanky new facility only to find a team full of kids, with no Vieira, Pires, Henry and Wenger :-) -if it wasn't for not wanting to tempt fate I would have said it would almost be worth it just to see their faces and no I am not having a pop at genuine Gooners who are fortunate to have bagged a Club Level pitch, as I am as jealous as hell!

Finally (phew!), a mate of mine was laughing when I told him that I turned over the TV on Sunday night and instead of the world's best talents performing live in Italy and Spain, I found myself watching a load of clod-hopping wannabe footballers on Sky's The Match as mentioned below (but I guess I felt the need to justify myself :-). He was telling me that this reminded him of a discussion he had about an idea to set up a camera on Hackney Marshes to film various Sunday league games.

I guess this all goes to prove that since most of the media have never paid for a football ticket in their lives and as a result most of them have their heads stuck so far up their backsides that they could never truly appreciate that the beautiful game is destined to outlive humanity itself, while genuine fans are happy as larry when they can opine about anyone and everyone kicking a ball about (me more than most!!)

Here's wishing all our muslim brothers well over their Ramadan fasting and a happy and healthy New Year to my fellow 'four by twos'
Peace & Love

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