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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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