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Monday 28 August 2006

Roll On The Champions League

Somehow our brisk walk back to the car on Saturday seemed so much longer. But then I guess that having not enjoyed a home win against the Arsenal for over15 years, City fans were more than entitled to savour their moment. Although it was a shame that so many of them missed out on this rare occurrence, as there were huge swathes of empty seats in the upper tiers of the Eastlands Stadium.

Those who were present certainly didn’t waste their opportunity to inflict on us the sort of waggery that had me zipping up my coat, over my colours and hoping this painful walk would be over as soon as possible. While I was doing my cowardly best to be as inconspicuous as possible, my Gooner pal couldn’t resist returning some friendly fire. Knowing the propensity of some overly boisterous Mancunian ‘boyos’ to want to send the southerners packing, I kept pace with my mate, while really I wanted to cross the road and pretend I had nothing to do with him!

It had taken us 5 traffic-ridden hours to reach Manchester and hunkering down in the back of the people mover for the return trip, I just wanted this awful day over. Ending the first, furious week of this eight-month marathon, eight points behind the leaders is the sort of lachrymose body blow, which must’ve had the North London Samaritans on overtime. In fact the way this season is panning out, with some already writing off our Premiership prospects, I might be best putting this phone number for the distraught on speed dial.

In spite of my black mood and arriving back past midnight, I still couldn’t resist enduring a masochistic replay in the company of Lineker & co. Watching the highlights was a strange experience. I’m still somewhat perplexed as to why we were playing in yellow, as the red and white of Arsenal against the sky blue of City is such a footballing classic. It conjures upimages from my childhood of titanic encounters involving such 70s giants as Radford, Graham & Mclintock versus Lee, Sumerbee & Bell.

Mind you the likes of Franny Lee and Mike Sumerbee were hardly giants in stature, but they had real presence on a football pitch, which is exactly what the Arsenal are missing at the moment. The replays of us hitting the woodwork and missing several chances, might lead one to conclude that we were merely victims of bad luck and a Thierry Henry who’s struggling to find some form. However, not for the first time, the highlights hardly told the whole story.

Once again the Gunners were guilty of overplaying, continuing to frustrate the hell out of those of us in the stands, as the pretty passing patterns produced so little end product. Yet in my opinion this is a symptom of Le Prof’s problems, not the cause. Our efforts to walk the ball into the back of the net are nothing to do with a supposed laughable obsession with goal-scoring perfection. It’s evidence that we’re lacking the sort of leaders who’re prepared to grasp the nettle and take responsibility in front of goal.

There’s ability enough in our first XI and on our day, we’re still perfectly capable of putting any team to the sword. But it’s in adversity that an individual’s true characteristics come to light and when things aren’t going the way of this Gunners side, without the odd moment of inspiration from Henry, one just doesn’t get the sense that we possess a player with the strength of personality to turn a game around.

Aged only 19, Fabregas is already capable of directing traffic and controlling the tempo of the game. Perhaps given time, the young Spanish prodigy will grow into the role of a player capable of rallying his troops. But as yet Cesc doesn’t have the sort of presence necessary to dominate the centre of the park, by displaying a point blank refusal to accept defeat.

I made the mistake of answering a call from a Gooner pal who pummelled my ears with such a vexatious volley, that if I wasn’t miserable enough already, I was positively suicidal by the time she’d finished. Although we had a good laugh after I told her that I was beginning to regret answering her call and she advised me that I was only bearing the full brunt because she’d been unable to vent her anger as all her other Gooner mates had turned their phones off.

As one does, they’d been debating in the boozer whether any of the boys in Arsène’s current squad would merit a first team place in Le Prof’s marvellous Class of ’98 (obviously with the exception of Henry, although on current form, I’m not even sure he’d be a certainty). It’s a salient point, as that team was well stocked with leadership qualities and if you compare the colossuses from that squad lining up in the tunnel, with their counterparts from Saturday, I know which team I’d find more intimidating.

It was this loss of stature after Vieira’s departure, which saw us taken for a soft touch last season. However there was a halo effect with our Champions League run that saw us regain some of our former respect towards the end of the last campaign. Instead of everyone wanting to take us on, our opponents approach to matches became much less ambitious.

Perceptions are very important and after only two games we’ve given away this advantage. Unless Wenger can find some way of rectifying this immediately, all future opposition will be encouraged by the way in which we’ll be represented in the media as no longer being such a force to be reckoned with.

With the publication of Ashley Cole’s book dependent on his departure, due to the fact that it’s so full of scathing comments about the club that’s fostered his career since Cole was in short pants, I’m convinced this antipathetic deal will eventually get done. But the two clubs hold each other in such contempt that I can’t help but wonder whether Chelsea’s refusal to blink first is a pre-meditated ruse, knowing full well that our precarious financial position prevents Wenger spending money he doesn’t yet have at his disposal.

As far as Reyes is concerned, aside from the destabilising effect of having a want away misery, moping around the place, I reckon we should cut our losses, as the winger’s value is hardly going to increase while he’s kicking his hubristic heels in the stands. Even if this leaves us without a natural left-footer and poor Justin Hoyte, playing out of position and rapidly becoming the boo-boys latest target.

Sunday brought mixed blessings. Our failure to beat Villa won’t be nearly so bad if O’Neill can continue to inspire his troops to take points from the competition. But I was gutted that Chelsea’s Carvalho was once again able to conceal his inadequacies from the officials. No matter how malevolent my feelings towards their manager’s arrogant attitude, it was hard not to respect Mourinho’s brutally honest appraisal of his team’s delinquent attitude in their defeat to Boro. However the arrogant one is in a unique and enviable position, where he can afford to piss off every single one of his players if he so pleased, with Petr Cech just about the only member of his swollen squad who’s not instantly replaceable.

It’s strange how times have changed, as I can’t ever remember a time when we Gooners were so delighted to see the still much despised Red Devils topping the table, making a mockery of the massive investment in Chelsea’s challenge. In the unlikely event of Man Utd pipping us to the title by 3 points, in retrospect, City fans might not be rejoicing about Saturday’s win.

Similarly the Sky Blues might not be such eager supporters of the ABC club (Anyone But Chelsea) but after pumping up the volume on Sunday, to hear the paltry few fans who bothered to travel to Blackburn, teasing “you’re going down with the Arsenal”, every Gooner on the planet will be joining most every other Premiership fan in praying for Chelsea’s downfall.

Meanwhile, roll on the Champions League!

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Anonymous said...

good post and i felt the same after the game. Luckily enough no one rang me so its alrite! I am depressed and feeling like the football world of is coming down. Arsenal are not firing on all cylinders and some of there play though and times intricate is frustrating. Hoyte may not be a natural left back but lay off him. Stop using him as a scapegoat he made about 3 mistakes in one match while cygan makes about 10. i'd prefer him than cygan! Reyes is annoying me and i couldn;'t care less if he leaves good riddance you chicken shit. Cant take the heat of the premiership then feck off you spanish gypsy. Also cole you've dishonoured the badge and i would like you to leave for chelsea. Nuff said. Good post and i agree we need someone to take the ball and show the others what to do with it a.k.a vieira. We miss that. Anyways cheer up still 36 premiership games to go!

Bern said...

I hate to even say it, as I've no tangible evidence, but I simpy cannot escape the sense that this season was written off before it started by some. It's as though the feeling is "well we've done such a marvelous job building the stadium on time and in budget, thereby guaranteeing the club's future, so surely we're entitled to be cut some slack if the squad is forcd to tread water for a couple of seasons"

Moreover no matter what sleight of hand they've used with clever accounting pratices, to prove that the new stadium won't impact on Arsène's spending power, the real proof of the pudding is in the eating and as far as I am concerned, compared to the financial outlay of the competition, our sole purchase of Rosicky suggests to me that we are skint?