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Monday 9 January 2006

Santa Is A Gooner

It was as if all our Xmases had come at once last weekend. Arsenal fans were positively airborne on route down Avenell Road for Saturday’s early kick-off, huge grins plastered across every Gooner gob, after Thierry Henry had pledged his allegiance in the morning papers. Some might accuse me of naivety for taking Titi’s revelations at face value. But it was wonderfully refreshing in these mercenary times, to read that one of the world’s greatest talents had for once prioritised his loyalty to the club’s cause, above that of his own selfish concerns.

It’s just a pity that Thierry didn’t put us out of our misery with his declaration of intent a few months back. He might’ve dispelled the demoralising cloud of uncertainty that descended upon the club, prior to our Premiership form taking a nosedive. Nevertheless, as they say, better late than never, since we are now over the proverbial moon at the prospect of being bedazzled for at least another season, by the most breathtaking player ever to don the red(currant!) & white.

There’s little doubt that we’ve enjoyed the most cultured pleasures from the prodigious footballing brains of Dennis Bergkamp and Liam Brady and there are other Premiership players with amazing attributes, who demand our respect. Yet despite the strength and low centre of gravity that gives him such balance on the ball, the likes of Rooney is a little rhino compared to the animalistic grace of Henry. In my humble opinion, for fans of ‘the beautiful game’ there isn’t a more awesome sight than Titi in full flight with a football at his feet.

Although he’s more like the “Where does he sit? Where ever he wants!”, 800lb gorilla, when it comes to murmurs from the Doubting Thomases in the media that the deal is far from done and dusted. Henry will get what ever he wants from the Arsenal. No matter how much it costs to keep him at the club, it’ll be a helluva lot cheaper than the far-reaching consequences, across the board, of losing our best player. Meanwhile most Gooners believe the superstar is such a “mensch” that his word is his bond.

The timing of Thierry’s announcement is interesting. Some are suggesting Le Prof might’ve persuaded him with details of his big spending plans. However while Arsène might be intending to splash out with the huge budget that is supposedly available to him, come the summer, up until now he’s always stuck rigidly to his principles of not buying players unless they are better than those he already has.

The cynic in me is wondering if Henry’s decision is a deliberate attempt to deflect the pressure for our manager to push the boat out in the January sales, so Wenger won’t need to waste money shopping for any of the nearly men that other clubs are trying to offload. Moreover how on earth could Arsène top the revelations that Titi intends to stay?

It will be interesting to discover to what extent Titi’s indecision has affected our form to date. Hopefully we’ll witness a marked improvement as the team returns to playing the sort of carefree football we’ve grown accustomed to in the past and our captain will start doing the business again with the same incredible consistency of the previous three seasons. Perhaps our other problems will also melt away. We might be lacking the leadership qualities necessary to grab a game by the scruff of the neck and turn a result around. But this isn’t nearly such a crucial factor when you are a couple of goals to the good.

There was some evidence of a reaction on Saturday. The Arsenal combated Cardiff’s attempts to kick us up in the air, by moving the ball around far too quickly for them to be able to get anywhere near it. I guess the two early goals knocked the stuffing out of the visitors, but I was so looking forward to the thrills and spills of a combative Cup encounter, that to be honest I was a little disappointed by the Bluebirds lack of bottle. Basically we cruised into the 4th round and another bloomin’ brawl with Bolton at the Reebok, without really breaking sweat.

With their abysmal reputation, the 7000 travelling Cardiff fans are hardly the most affable bunch. Yet I was almost happy that they at least had something to cheer about, when their side scrambled home a late consolation goal. Although I would have much preferred for us to build on the confidence of a 5th consecutive clean sheet.

They’d been chanting “on the pitch” but mercifully only one maniac actually carried out this threat and they soon changed their tune, with the feint possibility of pinching a late equaliser. But the Gunners took the sting out of the last few minutes, demonstrating the gulf in class with a game of keep ball that left Cardiff chasing shadows. Considering our complete domination, it would’ve been more than a little farcical if they’d forced a replay.

Yet if I felt denied a sufficiently satisfactory fix of FA Cup adrenalin, I didn’t have to wait long, as we were treated to the coverage of a fabulous live encounter between Luton and Liverpool later that evening. Then after Roy Keane’s Celtic debut was ruined and Man Utd were held to a draw by the non-leaguers the next day, our FA Cup weekend was brought to a perfect climax savouring Spurs capitulation at Filbert Street.

After hearing the Scousers taunts on TV the night before, I couldn’t resist texting all my Spurs pals. I swear it was as if the Foxes fans heard me as they started singing the second I hit the send button “2-0 and you f***ed it up”. The poor long-suffering Lilywhites, they were just beginning to grow a little cocky about Jol’s side avoiding the usual mid-season collapse. Suddenly it’s only January and all hope of any silverware has evaporated for another season, after conceding late cup goals against lowly Grimsby and Leicester.

Never mind the supposed shift in the balance of power, next thing you know we’ll be leapfrogging Spurs in the league and the North London divide will be restored to Grand Canyon proportions from a Gooner perspective!

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Anonymous said...

Hi Bernard, Chris from Cardiff here, read your brief report on the cup game, and could not disagree with what you said.
Although you failed to mention we did actually test Almunia a few times in the second half. Why are your fan's so quiet ? was this a one off or is it normally like that.

Bern said...

Hi Chris from Cardiff (not sure if you'll get to see this reply and I wish there was a means of getting back to you direct)

Can't disagree with you either and I would've loved to put a little more match detail but this particular piece written Sunday/Monday is for a column which appears in the Irish Examiner's Arena supplement on a Wednesday, where not onle am I limited to just under a 1000 words (very hard for someone with such a bad case of verbal diahorrea :-), but also by that time the matches themselves have already been dissected to death elsewhere. As a result, I tend to try and make this particular piece as anecdotal as possible, with the sort of details and flavour that hopefully you won't find elsewhere.

The worst thing is that since I've started putting my pieces up on this blog, if I'm inspired to write a blog entry during the week, these days I usually end up taking some of the best bits to use in my diary piece for the paper and so I oftenend up feeling like a bit of a cheat because this means that those reading my blog will have already seen these sentiments the first time. So I find myself apologising all the time for repeating myself.

Howdy Highburied. I don't have any insider knowledge about the Henry situation (although it felt like a bit of a coup hearing about Saturday's article in the Sun before everyone else on Friday) but my instincts are that as a result of a lot of pressure from outside influences (agents, Vieira perhaps and who knows which other buggers), Titi was definitely considering his future.

My feeling was that it was his early season injury which started it all, as he's been so lucky for a long time as far as injuries were concerned. This was about the first occasion he had a bit of time on his hands and wasn't coming home from training knackered every day.

So I reckon that with all that spare time to watch TV and consider his future, with his agent no doubt bending his ear every day, the idea of moving to somewhere like Barca probably grew on him. Even up until a couple of weeks back I was hearing rumours from someone who spoke to Edgar Davids (who I am led to believe was at Juve the same time as Henry, although I really can't imagine them becoming best o fpals, when Davids was already an established star and Titi was a fringe squad member).

He reckoned that we were in big trouble as Henry had already made his mind up about leaving and it was just a matter of where he was going to go. But then I guess we should expect nothing less from a Spurs player :-)

My Spurs pals are still trying to wind me up about the fact that it is far from a done deal. But when you consider the cost of trying to buy a replacement, the difficulty of attracting other stars without the prospect of them playing with one of the best in the world and the consequences as far as marketing is concerned, both merchandising aroound the globe and ticket sales for the new stadium. With all this in mind, whatever astronomic wage Henry might demand, it will still be relatively cheap by comparison to the overall cost of losing him.

I therefore am convinced that the club will do whatever they have to do to keep Titi happy and at the club.

During all these months of wearisome speculation, I have always clinged to the feint hope that Henry was such a "mensch" (for those not so familiar with yiddish, basically it means a gentleman) that he would feel sufficiently endebted to Wenger that he couldn't leave the man responsible for making his career, up kack kreek, without the proverbial paddle. Let's face it, if it wasn't for Arsene's vision (and the Arsenal's desperate need!), Titi would probably still be playing as a winger.

I was also hoping that his English wife and the overt racism in footie on the Continent might influence his decision. However I am not convinced that this means he is going to stay with us for the remainder of his entire career.

I firmly believe that an important factor in his decision was the fact that we are moving to the new stadium and it would've been such a huge body blow to the club if, having lost Vieira, we also ended up arriving there without Henry.

When you think about it, when you got to the sort of sums Henry is earning, although I am sure his global marketing potential might be increased by moving to somewhere like Barca, when you get to the level Henry is at, the difference between his current income and the one he might receive if playing over there is not particularly meaningful.

I therefore feel that with a little persuasion, Thierry came to feel obliged to see the club past the move to the new stadium. However whilst he might believe in himself at this present point in time that he intends to stay with us for good, to be perfectly honest, it would seem a little foolish if he didn't cash in at some point beforehis star starts to wane. Especially when you consider that he's never received the benefits froma mega bucks transfer so far in his career.

Still at his age, Thierry has a good few years yet before his value will begin to make a rapid decline. As a result I wouldn't be at all surprised if he ends up leaving a couple of summers down the road and in truth none of us Gooner could begrudge him doing so.

However right at this moment, all I care is that I am 100 per cent convinced we will get to be entertained by the great man for at least another full season. As I said, the important thing is that it will bemuch easier for Arsene to attract prospective buys to a team including Henry than one without him and while I have my doubts that we will see much transfer action during the window, I am sure Wenger will get busy this summer.

In fact after Tuesday night's lame performance up at the JJB I am even more certain, as this was all the proof Arsene required that he cannot simply count on the current crop of kids to plug the huge gaps which will soon be appearing in our squad. Hopefully some of the youngsters will make the grade eventually but the dire performance on Tuesday demonstrated quite how weak we are in the midfield area, where we are crying out for a couple of players who don't have to be experienced older professionals, but who require the confidence and the physical presence to impose themselves in such games.

The likes of Flamini might be a grafter but not only does he lack natural ability, he also doesn't have anywhere near the necessary intimidating presence which can put the fear of G-d into our opponents.

Hopefully the kids will redeem themselves (if Arsene has the patience to permit them to) in the return leg. And one thing that is almost guaranteed, is that we are set for an interesting summer as far as departures and arrivals are concerned.

I am sure he will be casting his knowledgeable eye over events in Egypt in the next few weeks, as I only hope Arsene has done most of his business before the World Cup in Germany, when anyone who shines will see their value shoot up beyond the reach of the Arsenal's relatively limited budget

Thanks for your support about the Observer. Sadly a little kudos is the only thing I stand to earn from my humble contribution/s