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Thursday, 5 January 2006

The Beginning of the End or The End of the Beginning?

After mounting a viable challenge for the Premiership title for the past eight seasons, it’s decidedly painful to find myself reflecting on the first half of the season with reality sinking it’s teeth deep into Gooner backsides. Having just taken a single point from our home match against Man U, we are basically left relying on the fact that we still have the two remaining encounters with the Scousers as possibly our best bet of bagging third place.

For the moment most of us would settle for pegging back Spurs’ three-point lead. After lording it over our North London neighbours for so many years, to the point where the Lillywhite challenge was nothing more than Gooner laughing stock, you’ve no idea of the sort of stick I’ve suffered of late

My Spurs pals remained in their shells until recently, afraid of getting too cocky. They’ve been expectant of an almost inevitable annual capsize into murky mid-table mediocrity. Yet the constant stream of mickey taking text messages are testament to their burgeoning confidence. I’m just relieved that we can cling to our standard Champions League riposte, with the reminder “Tottenham watching Eastenders”, at least until the trees are back in bud

Le Prof is fortunate in this respect. I’m sure he’d be under a whole heap more pressure and our mood would be a lot blacker, if we didn’t have a delectable date at the Bernabeu to distract us from our lacklustre Premiership campaign. And let’s face it, although we progressed as group winners, those present will all confirm that we hardly covered ourselves in glory against lowly Thun, Prague and Ajax.

I am not yet quite so bitter as to suggest that watching the Blues win every week must be boring. But Mourinho’s side has evolved into a highly efficient unit that doesn’t bear comparison to the unstoppable force of nature of a counter-attacking Arsenal side at its best. He’s fortunate to have a first team roster he can rotate to his heart’s content, without ever having to send out a player suffering from fatigue. Still I firmly believe we can continue to take pride in the fact that as far as most neutrals are concerned, there’s a joie de vivre about the Arsenal’s game that on our day, makes us the most attractive footballing team in the land. Sadly those days are fewer and further between!

As I reflect on a first half of the season, where the highlights were a 77th minute equaliser against Spurs, a day out in Doncaster to see the kids progress on penalties into the Carling Cup semis and a trip to Prague, which perhaps included the one truly euphoric moment in the entire past five months, with Thierry Henry’s heroic return from injury, to remind the world he has wonders to perform as we tripped the light fantastic watching Titi’s record breaking goals, I’m not sure whether I should be writing the apotheosis for the Arsenal’s Invincibles, or hopefully the foreword for Arsène Wenger’s next fabulous adventure?

The problem for me, as with most genuine Gooners, is not so much losing the odd match, but the manner in which the Gunners have been prostrating themselves before patently lesser footballing mortals. For me to be enthusiastic about schlepping hundreds of thousands of miles, following the Arsenal every season, I need to believe in my heart of hearts that wearing the red & white means as much to the majority out on the pitch, as it does to those of us on the terraces. And I’m afraid that for most of this season I’ve been far from convinced.

Not that I’m often there in time, but when I have been, even the recent habit of the pre-match group hug has felt somewhat phoney and hollow of late. Such sentiments haven’t been borne out by the sort of ‘backs to the wall’, ‘fight to the death’ togetherness on which all our past success was founded. Obviously every footballer has far more fun playing in a triumphant team, yet there’s this unnerving sense that a number of Wenger’s first XI no longer appreciate their privileged position and are simply going through the motions in far too many matches

Most pundits point to the psychological effect of Vieira’s departure. There’s no denying there’s a huge chasm in our midfield, which was previously more than amply occupied by Paddy’s imposing physical presence. Nevertheless our former captain was a player of such consummate ability, that he was capable of papering over the cracks with his eyes shut for his last couple of seasons. Whereas in his absence it has soon become apparent that in Wenger’s quest for the most wonderful football, our manager has neglected to maintain a crucial balance.

As a result, the number of players in our squad with real ‘roll your sleeves up’, ‘we shall not be moved’ character has dwindled to the point where, as convinced as I am that any striker, including Henry, shouldn’t have the responsibility of the captain’s armband, on perusing this Arsenal squad, it’s hard to point to a single guaranteed first team player who’s ‘cahones’and hunger are large enough to lead us into the promised land.

I dread the thought the big opening day at our stunning new stadium dawning without our star attraction. I’m literally praying that Titi’s loyalty and gratitude to Wenger is such, that he might be persuaded to stay, just long enough for us all to be able to enjoy Henry’s last Arsenal hurrah, on a stage fit for this king and one which has basically been built on the back of the incredible consistency of those blue-blooded shoulders. However for the sake of the team and our sanity, I wish he’d make his bloomin’ mind up quick sharp. The air of uncertainty around the most breathtaking footballer I’ve ever had the privilege to witness, is a major contributing factor to our current malaise.

We’d have to play out of our skins and would require a large slice of good fortune to repeat the Scouser’s achievement by bringing home the Champions League bacon. However as the clock runs down and I lap up every last drop of history and tradition, during the last dozen or so incredibly sentimental trips to our ancestral Highbury home, I can’t think of a more fitting tribute than to honour the grand old gaff by capping our substantial silverware collection with the one big eared trophy still missing from the cabinet.


E-mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

3 comments:

Frankiecarbone said...

Good article

Unfortunately the one with the big lugs (not keown) will not be making its way to us this season or any season soon.

Totally agree, we lack a few roll your sleeve type players. Until the chelski meetin I would've said cole was our only player of that ilk but now I fear he'll hardly break sweat for us again never mind die for the jersey.

I seriously doubt we'll bring in the players needed in the window to prevent spurs getting the final champs league spot. We have no hope of catching the top 3 and if we don't get quality defensive midfielder/defender or two then we're shafted. The youngsters would've been ok this season if viera was there but the fact that the whole team barr noone has wallowed in self pity since he's left not only makes sick it has also hindered the players progress.

Giles Grimandi would be a valuable addition at the moment and that shows how far we've fallen, Lets hope he finds us what we need when out scouting.

Anonymous said...

agree with every thing said.the trouble we are in is due to lack of investment over the last two seasons.we could not win old big ears with vieira,we are not going to win it with the players we have now,who most of them do not know how to get stuck in.

highburied said...

The fact that one of the most average players we have had to suffer under AW is now his key European scout is especially worrying. I assume old Giles is checking on their elbowing ability, cause that was his only discernable talent.
"I have been all around Europe and there are some great midfielders in Ligue 1": said Grim - there's a surprise, so we can expect another cheapo headless chicken like Flamini can we?

For me it's time to go back to basics and recruit players who know what it means to play for the club - English, hungry and preferably Londoners.
Palace's Andy Johnson & Fitz Hall, and WHU's Nigel Reo-Coker and Anton Ferdinand would do for starters - or should we wait til Spurs have got em.
At this rate we will go into AG with no semblance of the character of GG's sides, no top players and no Ch Lg football.
But then Wenger knows....