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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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