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Monday 20 February 2006

Gotta Have Faith!

Hi folks

You’ll be relieved to hear I have to make it snappy this week, as I’ve loads to do before we depart for Madrid in the wee hours of tomorrow morning -who knows, if the worst should come to the worst, perhaps I’ll be glad of the fact that I find myself nodding off in the Bernabeu tomorrow night and dreaming of an all together more enjoyable outcome :-)

There was good and bad about having to sit it out this weekend. Hopefully there will be no excuse for any tired legs in Madrid, although considering the lack of running around we’ve been doing in recent matches, the problem of lactate filled legs must be last on a long list of concerns!

It was also some compensation to see Man Utd fail at Anfield. Nevertheless this was a long way from the same Liverpool team we played on Tuesday, as the Scousers were substantially more fired up for their encounter with their old foes and while Utd struggled to create chances, much as we did, there was all the fervour that was missing from our encounter. I found myself feelling more than a little jealous that we never got to witness this sort of cup tie type commitment from a woefully tepid Arsenal.

After all, you could hardly imagine our Brazilian midfielder bruising a toe-nail, let alone breaking a leg in an Alan Smith type display of totally selfless bravery. Having sat on the bench for much of the season, Smith was so desperate to prove himself to his manager that he was literally prepared to risk life and limb. Whereas one can’t help but imagine that most of our senior players feel so secure about their place in the squad that they wouldn’t dare attempt anything so dangerous for fear of the implications it might have on their future earning potential!

However after our incredible run in the FA Cup in recent years, absolutely the worst feeling was to find myself joining in with all the speculation in the Internet about the other player involved in the salacious shenanigans touted in the News of the Screws (as – allegedly - it now seems to be taken as read that our own Ashley Cole was one of the two lewd larrikins), instead of contemplating our potential oppenents in the quarterfinals!

Watching coverage of the other FA Cup matches and the obvious evidence of vast expanses of empty terraces, despite the BBC production team’s best efforts to disguise the feeble turn out for the last sixteen of the oldest knockout tournament on the planet, I thought it a sad reflection on the modern game that this trashy tabloid can drag out this lurid tale and continue to sell a million more copies every Sunday, while success starved fans of clubs like Villa would rather stop at home for their most important match of the season.

We owe a vote of thanks to Wigan, as most Spurs fans are of the opinion they’ve now blown one chance to many of eastablishing a bit of a cushion and supposedly we are the team with the easier run-in. As far as qualifying for the Champs League is concerned we are fortunate that we’ve been so inconsistent in such a woefully inconsistent league. While the thought of having to cut his summer break short in order to play in the qualifying rounds in August certainly won’t be an added incentive to persuade Thierry Henry to stay, I can’t help but think that this is nothing more than he and the majority of his team mates deserve

If there was some solace to be found in events last week, it was the sight of the appreciative Scouse audience applauding off our keeper after Lehmann had stemmed to Liverpool tide so admirably. Somehow I couldn’t imagine an oppostion keeper getting quite such a gracious response from us Gooners at THOF?

If you’ve nothing better to do, you can actually view the entire short film I’ve mentioned below at:

or you will find a link to this and some of the other matches I’ve mentioned on my blog

Meanwhile here’s hoping the Gunners can surprise me and everyone else tomorrow. No-one would be happier to be eating humble pie next week

Big Love

Gotta Have Faith

It’s been a long while since I’ve been quite so disappointed by an Arsenal performance, as I was by our dreadfully lame display against Liverpool. There are some deluded Gooners who are suggesting it wasn’t so bad. After all, if it wasn’t for the Scousers late goal, we would’ve pinched a precious point.

However I have to tell you that back on a sunny August afternoon in 1994, when the rebuilding of the Kop resulted in a reduced capacity at Anfield, I was amongst about 500 odd travelling fans who endured Robbie Fowler’s astonishing 5 minute hat-trick. Yet I experienced nothing like the embarrassment during the 3-0 drubbing that day, as I did watching the Arsenal last week. In all honesty I would’ve rather seen us mullahed by a similar scoreline (and we would’ve been if it wasn’t for the feats of our loopy German keeper), than suffer this sort of heartless and morale sapping showing, where we looked a beaten side from the moment Poll blew his whistle

Up until last Tuesday, I’d had it in my head that with two encounters against Liverpool still to come, there was still plenty of hope of us pegging the Scousers back. Sure with our current inconsistent form, perhaps all three points at Anfield was a long shot. But I was looking forward to the fact that we at least had an opportunity to give it a go.

After the boost of our late equalizer against Bolton and with the entire media world writing off our season, I was fully expecting to see a pumped up Arsenal side, desperate to restore some pride, by playing their way into some form. What’s more, only a week away from the most glamorous encounter of our entire season, one would’ve expected the Gunners to be grafting their socks off, to secure their place in the starting line-up.

However instead of the “death or glory” performance I was hoping for, we witnessed just about the most insipid 90 minutes of football of this entire lacklustre season. There was a clip shown on TV on Saturday that just about summed it up. Obviously poor Bobbie Pires had burned himself out with his half dozen tackles against Bolton. But unfortunately it took Arsène 80 minutes to appreciate that it was Pires’ shadow which turned up on Tuesday. Sending on Alexander Hleb with 10 minutes to turn our season around, with his sleeves pulled down over his hands (neither rolled up literally or metaphorically), the Belorussian’s body language was pessimism personified.

It is all well and good for Wenger to stick to his guns by always showing his unqualified support for his players in public but I often wonder if as a result, they exist in some sort of bubble, where they just don’t appreciate that the party line doesn’t wash with the watching public. No matter how many times our manager intones his mantra, it may ring true for a couple of the players who retain their youthful vigour but for the vast majority of Tuesday’s team, there’s hardly a soul on this planet who’d agree with Arsène’s suggestion that they “gave everything”.

I hate talking in clichéspeak but at the end of the day this is all that I expect from my team, the conviction that no matter what the outcome, they couldn’t have tried harder and have left everything out on the field of play. For me, absolutely the worst aspect to this game was the sight of our lot suddenly steaming in after Garcia’s goal, with only 3 minutes left on the clock, as there couldn’t have been more stark evidence of the sort of fervour that had been lacking up until then.

It’s hard for me to express quite how soul destroying it is to be heading off to Madrid in such a morbid mood. I’ve been looking forward to this opportunity to see the Arsenal play in the Bernabeu for so many seasons now, that I am struggling to get to grips with the fact that we’re finally going there, following an Arsenal side that appears shorn of all self belief.

There was a time when it didn’t matter if we were travelling abroad to support the mediocre likes of Morrow, Selley and McGoldrick competing against a star-studded Parma team. We had sufficient faith back then that, given enough grit and determination, we were capable of stifling any side and could always nick the odd goal over the course of 90 minutes.

However times have changed. Never mind the question of whether the current team have the “cahones” (or the lurid allegations concerning certain players’ preference for investigating this possibility in the flesh!), Wenger’s obsession with the beautiful game means his teams have never been built for containment.

Even with our first choice back four, it would be total suicide to send his side out onto the wide expanses of the Bernabeu, merely intent on stopping the opposition from scoring. Absolutely our only chance against Real rests on taking the game to the home team and playing in their half of the pitch. But considering the cloud of dejection that’s descended on the club in recent weeks, I would be pleasantly surprised if Arséne even entertained such an ambitious approach.

You will already know by now if we’ve embarrassed ourselves in the Bernabeu. But if our last chance of silverware is going to slip by, I’d much rather exit on a glorious 5-3 goalfest than lie down like lambs in a gutless game similar to last week’s nondescript 1-0.

Much has been made of the fact that there wasn’t a single player from these shores in the entire squad at Anfield. Personally I don’t think the inclusion of Ashley Cole or Sol Campbell would have mattered a jot, as Brits are no more likely to bring backbone to the party than any other player these days (and if the Red Top rags are to be believed, perhaps Poodle is more appropriate for some than Bulldog spirit). The absence of a genuine leader with the sort of strength of character to inspire and cajole the best out of those around him has been obvious all season. The longer this situation prevails, the more demoralised we become and the harder it will be to get the Gunners teenage talents into the winning groove, as instead of showing any respect, all our opponents increasingly approach the once mighty Arsenal as a soft touch.

It’s a self-perpetuating circle of decline, at a time when the club can least afford it. Perhaps all we require is a captain with some sturdy sea-legs, but with Arsène facing his stiffest task yet to try and turn this ship around, sadly he’s looking more like the obsequious Swede than the armour plated Portuguese.

However above all we must maintain our faith. Listening to all the griping Gooners on the phone-ins last week reminded me of a much darker time a decade or so ago. I participated as an extra in a crowd scene for a short movie entitled “Faith” which was being filmed outside Highbury. Such was the dearth of entertainment back then, that it was a feasible storyline to have a Gooner mounting a rooftop protest outside the club until they purchased a midfield playmaker. Thanks to Wenger we’ve been incredibly privileged to witness a wealth of world class players pass through the Marble Halls since the days of such banal mediocrity and we absolutely have to believe there’s still plenty more to come.

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