all enquiries to:

Tuesday 20 December 2005

Those Aren’t Sleigh Bells You Can Hear, Santa’s Calling Time On The Arsenal’s Season!

I had to resist the urge to vent my frustrations immediately after Sunday’s depressing defeat. I didn’t want to sound like all those raving Gooner loonies on the radio phone-ins, blaming everyone and everything for our current woes, from the Bolsheviks to the Berlin Wall. The truth of the matter is that after Le Prof’s career long purple patch at Highbury, according to the law of averages, Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal were long overdue a spell in the doldrums.

Nevertheless it’d be far easier to bear such a downturn in our fortunes, if it wasn’t for an abiding feeling that the Arsenal dressing room and the state of Denmark both have something rotten in common. Most commentators point to the huge chasm at the heart of our midfield, which was previously made complete by the immense physical presence of our former captain. It may only be since Vieira vacated Highbury that opposition teams have begun to ‘find us out’, but compared to Paddy’s previous peerless dominance, most Arsenal fans are of the opinion Paddy was only going through the motions in his last couple of seasons.

Perhaps Arsène’s budgetary restrictions have been a factor, but having originally impressed me on his arrival at the club as he focused on the importance of the need to maintain a balance in order to retain that special ‘Arsenal spirit’, somewhere along the way our manager seems to have lost sight of this crucial cause. In fact I struggle to recall any real evidence of the traditional Gunners’ grit and determination, since Ray Parlour’s alimony problems forced him to seek pastures new.

It’s no longer a nationality ‘thang’, as in the modern era of the beautiful game as a mercenary business, the bulldog spirit is far from exclusive to these shores. In fact in a Premiership where sadly such steadfast resolve has become the rarity rather than the rule, it’s Phillipe Senderos (from a country that is proud of their fence sitting traditions) who’s about the only Arsenal squad member to have demonstrated that he might indeed be made of ‘the right stuff’.

Getting beat at our own gaff by Chelsea for the first time in 15 years was bad enough. But contrary to public opinion, I don’t believe the Blues played THAT much better than us. Wenger’s first XI compares quite favourably, but with a couple of injuries, it required an Arsenal side at their very max to master Mourinho’s rouble bolstered mob. Personally I felt that for a manager who’s previously expressed his rigid preference for 4-4-2, Arsène afforded the visitors a significant psychological advantage by experimenting with a formation, intended to match them in midfield.

To my mind this was the timid approach of a manager who was far too worried about avoiding defeat. Whereas I firmly believed it was beholden of us to at least attempt to demonstrate to the rest of the Premiership how to do it, by putting out a side with the sole purpose of staking our claim to all three points. The upshot was that Henry was far too detached and Van Persie was playing in an unfamiliar role, where he struggled to have an impact on the game.

Much like everyone else, apart from the authorities, I preferred the offside rule when it was black & white. Amidst all the current confusion, it’s farcical to expect a lino to be able to simultaneously look along the line and at the ball, whilst also calculating if an offender is interfering with play and which phase of the move they’re in. Since it’s pure potluck nowadays, there’s no point going demented over the Dutchman’s disallowed goal.

From where I sat, this titanic clash turned on the mere, gut-wrenching few inches, between Titi’s shot bouncing agonisingly back off the woodwork and Robben passing more precisely inside the post. With both sides equally determined to avoid defeat, from the box seat of being a goal to the good, the Blues were always likely to appear superior, as all too late, an ashen-faced Arsenal threw caution to the wind in our efforts to chase this crucial game.

However it was the heavy mood of defeatism which descended upon Highbury after the 2nd goal that I despair of more than anything. There was a time when you could guarantee that we’d at least go down like lions, led by those on the pitch and the terraces who’d rage against the result until the very last. Whereas our whimpering lambs rolled over on Sunday. Unfortunately it’s the trickiest enigma to crack in the transfer window. There’s hardly a glut of Adams, Keane & Terry type leaders and no matter their linguistic versatility, you can’t expect a player to arrive at a club, instinctively knowing which buttons to push to inspire his new colleagues

Perhaps it’s my pessimistic imagination, but from the balcony as you exit the West Upper, more and more each week the magnificent backdrop of our impressive new stadium begins to resemble an ostentatious mausoleum for all our mighty Arsenal aspirations.


Hi folks

Naturally by now I was hoping that I would've forgotten all about bemoaning my way through my last lengthy blog entry, instead of which I'm searching for the phone number of the local Samaritans. Sunday's devastating defeat has ensured that some of the comments in my previous blog have been repeated above because sadly they were so appropriate in such miserable circumstances.

However the Xmas / New Year schedule for The Irish Examiner with various end of year specials for the Arena supplement has ensured that this week's column is appearing in the paper proper instead and as a result I was limited to a measely 600 words. This is an impossible feat for someone as verbose as myself on an ordinary week, let alone after this weekend just gone. Even with me being extremely selective I still went well over. But I couldn't believe that, after all these years of waiting to pull Real Madrid out of the Champs League hat, I completely forgot to mention Friday's draw! This was crazy when I consider the drama that went on here at Highbury Quadrant.

Every season for the past few years whenever we've been involved in European draws, I've assumed that at long last this would be my opportunity to see the Arsenal play in the Bernabeu. The mammoth stadium in Madrid is one of the few footballing temples that I've yet to see the Arsenal play in.

Before the draw on Friday, I told Róna that I fancied Madrid or Benfica, basically because I really didn't want to end up going to Germany (which was a 3/1 shot with two possible German sides) and because, even in February, these two cities were the most southerly of the six teams we could've drawn. Additionally it would've been interesting to pay a visit to the Stadium of Light in Lisbon. Benfica's ground was designed by the same firm of architects as our new gaff and it would've been great to get a better idea of what our new experience next season might be like.

However I actually had an inkling we might be matched with Madrid. Somehow I felt that the Laws of Sod and Murphy wouldn't be able to resist the irony of us pulling my particular plum draw out of the hat. Even with our woeful European record, for the past few seasons in the eyes of much of the media, the Arsenal have been considered amongst the strongest sides in the Champions League. Whereas this season we started out right off the European radar, as we went into the competition with the weakest squad on paper in Wenger's entire time at the club.

So it seemed almost fated that we'd end up going up against the Madrillenos, the team with the most illustrious European reputation. Mercifully reputations usually count for little in any knockout competition and hopefully Real's current inconsistent run might continue until our date in February. Also, somewhat bizarrely, after so much lousy luck in the Champions League for so many seasons and when our league form away from home has gone to pot, suddenly good fortune seems to be smiling down upon perhaps the least deserving Arsenal side, compared to those we've put out in the past who've had a much more worthy pedigree. Still it will make a change for us to be going into a game as such supposed underdogs according to many.

I am always sat in front of my laptop for these draws. I don't like travelling on the official club trips to European venues because the local police invariably target British fans as a result of our reputation from yesteryear (which is largely unwarranted these days, especially with the majority of placid and respectful travelling Gooners). This often ensures that on the official outings one is herded off the plane, onto a coach, into the stadium and after the customary post-match delay, Gooners endure the reverse procedure. This can often mean that one ends up getting to see so little of the locality that you might as well have travelled to Leicester for all the flavour one gets of the foreign gaff.

We therefore much prefer to travel independently but with so many awaydays abroad in recent times, absolutely the only way we can afford our little sojourns to foreign shores is by bagging cheap flights. However as anyone who has tried to bag bargain flights on the day of the draw will know, unless you are very quick at the keyboard and book within seconds of the draw being announced, the prices of flight seats tend to shoot up very dramatically.

Thus it was a bit of a disaster when I discovered that I had an appointment on Friday morning which I simply couldn't avoid or postpone. Ro has heard me ranting and raving on these occasions, as I frantically try and book our trip. I've also detailed to her on many occasions the regular panic-stricken sagas, with long-winded descriptions of my various computer related tribulations. But she's never experienced it for herself.

So I was up early on Friday, in order to scribble down several pages of notes on how and where to find the flights, listing each of the destinations with the various airline options and prices. I was attending this meeting on behalf of a pal who's abroad at the moment. It was really important for him (otherwise I would've definitely taken a rain check), so I didn't want to let him down and as a result I completely forgot all about the draw the moment I walked out the front door.

It was probably nearly 12 when we'd finished our appointment and I received a call from my mate in Thailand, primarily to find out how we'd got on. However when I think back, it was absolutely barmy to have my Spurs mate phoning me from a beach in Asia, to tell me that I'd finally got the draw I'd wanted. So I immediately apologised to him and told him to call me back in a few minutes and was straight on the phone to the missus, holding my breath until I'd heard whether we had something sorted. I am not sure whether I'd have done any better, being slightly more proficient on the Apple Mac keyboard, but I was over the moon to hear we had flights booked for less than 140 quid. Ro had found cheaper flights but as is often the case, when she hit the confirm button they'd already disappeared. But by the time I called her the same seats were already 290 quid!

So I was just dead chuffed that we would be off to Madrid for a couple of days/nights in February, for about the same price, as many Gooners will pay for a day trip. Meanwhile Ró read out the other important fixtures, telling me who the other Premiership sides had drawn. But she couldn't confirm who Man Utd were playing and I spent a further few minutes on the phone waiting for more details to come up on Sky Sports News, until I burst out laughing, explaining to the missus that it had genuinely slipped my mind that they'd already been knocked out of the competition

I guess it was one of the few occasions when my accursed memory proved the source of such great pleasure!

Before I go, I guess I should reveal that I heard some shocking news today which might suggest that, while many of us point to a lack of Arsenal spirit as the source of our recent problems on the pitch, it could well have something to do with our club's awful karma coming back to bite them on the bum.

My sister's best mate is married to a chap who's second in command of the merchandising at THOF. He's been working for Arsenal for over fifteen years now and after slogging his guts out for a long time, trying to cope with the buying, the warehouse and the shops, a few months back the club employed a couple of young whippersnappers, one of whom was placed in control of the shops and the other the warehouse.

The other week, the one in charge of the warehouse walked out of his job, unable to cope (I guess under pressure with all the Xmas trade) and last week our pal was invited to a meeting, where he assumed he was going to be asked to take over this responsibility again. Having discussed the matter with his missus, they concluded that considering the way the club had shown absolutely no appreciation for all his graft (when they were eventually forced to pay a couple more salaries for the work he'd been doing), there was no way he'd be going back to slogging his guts out, slaving all hours for no apparent reward.

However to his astonishment this was far from the subject of his summons to a meeting. Without a by or leave, after giving over fifteen years of his life to working there and a week before Xmas, he was given the "tin-tack", made redundant at the latter end of his working life with only the absolute minimum required by law as a pay off (is it a week for every year worked?). I've heard of many shoddy goings on at THOF but this is about the most shameful! It was bad enough booting him out after all these years a few days before the club's Xmas party, but the way they went about it showed no class, manners or respect.

Doubtless the bean counting Edelman is behind this fiasco and I wouldn't mind betting that it's related to the move to the new stadium. Perhaps they looking for a younger, more dynamic marketing team but if it is indeed true that you reap what you sow then these shameless sh*ts have condemned us all to several seasons worth of bad fortune!! I just pray that whoever is ultimately responsible for this outrage, they also find themselves being similarly discarded like a used bit of loo paper, having the end of their working careers flushed down the same karsey as soon as they’ve served their purpose. So much for the Gunners' family, shame on you Arsenal!

Here's wishing one and all love, light and peace over the festive season

mail to: