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Monday 25 September 2006

A Very Happy New Year

After joining all the other reprobate smokers, for what’s fast becoming a regular half-time game of hide and seek with the stewards on the stairwells of our new stadium, hunger got the better of my nicotine habit on Saturday and I spent the rest of the break in one of the interminably slow queues for some grub. I understand the complimentary pints are laid out prior to the break for the privileged Club Level punters. But for the rest of us plebs, the queues for the food & drink counters are so dire that I’d previously not had the patience to spend the entire 15 minutes waiting to be served.

Gooner frustrations in the wide expanses of the stadium’s concourses were analogous to events on the football pitch, where in the first-half the Arsenal were once again making hard work of breaking down Neil Warnock’s side. Much like Villa and Boro before them, by getting numbers behind the ball, Sheffield ensured we had no goals to show for all our superiority in the first 45.

After our dominant performance at Old Trafford the previous weekend, I’d arrived on Saturday, optimistically hoping to see the Arsenal nip any new home hoodoo in the bud. Thus, with the golf monopolising the airwaves and my missus out to lunch with her family in Dublin, where they were all awaiting half-time despatches from the frontline, it was disappointing to have to send out a “same old, same old” text message.

Although Sheffield had the ball in the back of the net, Hulse’s ungainly efforts to extract a couple of Djourou’s gnashers with a flying foot ensured that unlike Boro, at least they didn’t end up taking a lead with their only significant attack of the half. In fact it says much that the most anxious moment of the entire afternoon occurred as I stood in the queue, watching the stock of burger boxes dwindle down, to the point where I was fretting over whether there’d be anything left by the time I reached the front.

Mercifully I managed to bag the very last burger (with some sympathy for the equally famished looking feller behind me, although not so bothered as to offer him a bite!) and was back at my seat inspecting the contents of my box just as the second half began. At over a fiver for a burger and a drink, I pity the empty pockets of the poor father with a couple of baying bairns.

Much like the drab grey / green concrete fascias of the various levels of the stadium, that many of us would prefer to see decorated, instead of being dressed up in the designer speak of “architectural styling”, no matter the fancy culinary lingo, the Arsenal’s burgers remain the obligatory overcooked slab of mince between two halves of a decidedly unhealthy bun.

It would’ve probably been my first and last burger, since there are various other unappetising delights on the Arsenal menu for me to sample in future. However having wolfed it down, the Gunners went and scored three goals and so I guess superstition decrees that I must go and queue up for a repeat performance at all subsequent games. In which case I am not sure what will give up the ghost first, my patience, my pocket, or my poor colon!

Prior to Gallas’ goal, it had begun to feel like one of those afternoons, where we might be thwarted by the feats of Utd’s reserve keeper, as Bennett produced a couple of stunning saves. Perhaps it’s merely testament to the fact that the Arsenal frequently offers opposition keepers so many opportunities to display their talents. Otherwise I might begin to imagine that it’s mandatory for members of the goalkeepers union to produce their joker when playing against the Gunners.

It’s obvious that Gallas doesn’t have the attacking instincts, or perhaps the lightning pace of a natural wing-back, but he’s an experienced enough professional to be able to pull it off. Moreover a player of his pedigree has no need of a map to find the target, once he’s in or around the area, as he almost stole his sweet volley from the feet of Fabregas,

Naturally we weren’t going to pass up such a perfect opportunity to gloat, as no sooner had our new arrival found the back of the net, than the Grove rocked to the refrain of “Are you watching Ashley Cole?”

The sense of relief at having finally taken the lead for the first time at our new home was almost tangible both on the terraces and the pitch. Up until now it has been crucial lapses in concentration which have cost us the four points dropped at home. However with talented youngsters like Djourou and Eboué learning their defensive trade whilst on the job, occasional mistakes are always likely. Consequently, as glad as I was at the thought of the galled faces of the Blues fans, on finding Gallas’ name on the scoresheet, of far more significance long-term, was the absence, since Willie’s started filling in at full-back, of those insecure feeling of foreboding every time the ball strayed down our left flank.

Against teams who arrive with limited ambitions, our task looks all the more insurmountable the moment we concede the lead. By contrast if we can maintain a clean sheet long enough for us to score first, our opponents are forced into being a little more adventurous, thereby allowing us room to do some real damage. Once the tension had evaporated with the first strike on Saturday, everyone began to relax on the ball and it couldn’t have been a more fitting celebration of Le Gaffer’s ten glorious seasons as his Gunners were back to their stylish best.

All but Henry, who despite his influential role in all three goals, is still some way short of his customary splendour. Gawd help everyone when Titi does find some form!

In light of our Arabic sponsors, there was a shemozzle some months back when the Arsenal announced a deal with the Israeli tourist board. In my eyes it will take a lot more than some flashing perimeter adverts to attract folks to the Holyland, unless they’re after some souvenir shrapnel. But prize of the week goes to the chucklehead who chose to introduce these ads on the one day of the year when most of the target audience were praying at a different temple, while celebrating the Jewish New Year.

I was half hoping this high holy day might deliver an opportunity to check out the Club Level facility. Yet it would appear that few can afford religious convictions at Club Level prices!

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Monday 18 September 2006

As Ye Sow.....

...So Ye Shall Reap

It was a real struggle getting out of the sack Sunday morning. Based on recent results at the Theatre of Dreams and with no Henry and Van Persie, a return to the land of nod was a much more inviting prospect, than an 8 to 10 hour round trip to the North for 90 minutes of football, where there was every possibility of ending the afternoon joining Watford and Sheffield Utd in the Premiership’s death zone.

If I’d thought that young Theo Walcott might get a run out, I would’ve felt somewhat more enthusiastic. But ever since Igor Stepanovs’ previously encouraging career, crashed into the rocks of the 6-1 drubbing in 2001, Arsène has been more likely to play himself, than risk another such shipwreck in the pressure cooker climate of the Old Trafford stage.

On meeting up with my mates, I discovered one of our number had come down with a convenient cold. Yet as I teased Ray that his partner was suffering from a bout of ‘part-timer-itis’ more like (as Marion had also blown us out on our trip to Manchester a couple of weeks prior), I couldn’t help wonder if she’d more sense than the rest of us.

The consensus of opinion in our car concluded that Wenger would plump for Adebayor and Ljungberg as HIS only possible strike partnership. Nevertheless, as we headed off into the bright blue yonder, hoping the A1 might prove kinder to us, than the car park that was the M6 for our outing to play City, even the thought of a misfiring Manny and a Freddie whose front-running days are rapidly disappearing in the direction of his fey fashion sense, couldn’t dampen a mood which was strangely optimistic, amongst the seven of us seated in this Gooner mobile. But then you’d have to be barmier still to undertake such an arduous journey expecting to be beat.

Winning ugly might not come as naturally to this Arsenal side, as it does to some of our competitors and the dropping of 7 of the first 9 points might appear decidedly depressing on paper. However the belief of those of us who’ve endured our frustrating start to this campaign in person, has been bolstered by our talented performances. They’ve confirmed our manger’s unstinting confidence in his team of title contenders, bubbling somewhere under the surface of his baby-faced squad, just waiting to break out.

Obviously the mood in the Arsenal camp must’ve been boosted by a midweek result in Hamburg, which wasn’t anything like the sort of stiff examination of our Champions League credentials that we’d been expecting. But many a subsequent below par Premiership performance has been blamed on the fatigue resulting from these foreign jaunts. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d think it was bloomin’ typical that each of Man Utd’s three trips abroad are followed by matches at Old Trafford, while our fixture schedule has thrown up awkward away games after our outings to Germany, Russia and Portugal.

Thankfully we sailed North in the autumn sunshine, with some of us earphoned up, enjoying a review of last season on DVD, our hopes buoyed by highlights of the performances of the Arsenal’s bright young things in the Champions League. Never will we have to worry about this bunch of players being over-awed, after their amazing baptism in the Bernabeu. Eventually the DVD screen was folded up, in the hope that we might hear the Scousers doing everyone else a favour, by stuffing the Blues in the radio comms from Stamford Bridge.

Sadly it was not to be and as we turned west to cut across the Pennines, blue sky’s life ban from the lugubrious Lancastrian climate became evident as the good weather gave way to gloomy cloud cover. With the somewhat bleak looking mountaineous landscape flashing past the window, the only good news from down South was the sending off of Michael Ballack.

We’d reached the vast Trafford Park trading estate when the radio revealed the confirmed team news. Why on earth would Fergie fork out a whopping £18 mil. for Michael Carrick, only to leave him on the bench for one of their most important fixtures of the season. The only conclusion we could come to for choosing the more physically robust O’Shea, over the cultured passing ability of Carrick, was that with Giggs hamstrung, Fergie must’ve once again opted to try and beat us in a kicking contest, fearing his side might struggle to outplay us in a proper game of football. As it turned out, on this occasion, Utd patently failed to do either.

Having extricated my aching bones from the back seat of the car, there was just enough time to get the blood circulating to my legs again, during a brief stroll to the stadium, before condemning my dodgy knees to another 90 minutes of purgatory, cramped into the tight confines of an Old Trafford seat, of the sort that’s obviously designed for oriental fans, rather than obese, beer-bellied British supporters. It was a timely reminder that no matter what relatively minor gripes I might have about our new gaff, we are fortunate to have been afforded a positively luxurious amount of legroom by comparison. Mercifully on this occasion I wasn’t sardined in amongst a row of rotund Gooners, where you’ve got to request someone ten seats along to shift, in order to retrieve a lighter from ones pocket, thereby ruining any possibility of sneaking a conspicuous, nerve calming fag.

We’ve yet to experience the sort of controversial, high-drama occasion at our new home, which will enable me to draw some conclusions about the atmosphere. Having moved from our privileged upper tier perch at Highbury, to sit with amidst the ‘hardcore’, naturally to my ears there seems to be more atmosphere. But then some of those with the marvelous Club Level view have suggested that the crowd noise is drowned out by the cacophony from mobile phones!

Meanwhile with the Gunners’ lamentable ‘library’ reputation, we’re hardly in a position to gloat, but the atmosphere at Old Trafford appears to be in inverse proportion to the ever-increasing attendance. Struggling to my feet as the 70 odd thousand muppets acknowledged the arrival of the combatants into the arena, I once again wondered what on earth I was doing there, when I could be at home, with my feet up, in front of the TV. I had to wait 86 minutes for an answer, as those ecstatic last few moments of this match made it all worthwhile. I wouldn't have missed for the world, the mutual appreciation between the Gunners and ourselves at the end of this game, savouring the irony of Arsène's appearance on Fergie's turf!

To be honest, considering their flying start to the season, I was amazed by Man Utd’s disjointed, somewhat timid display and the fact that it wasn’t until those last few frenetic minutes that the home side finally managed to exert some pressure. In actual fact our injuries might’ve worked to our advantage. Considering our desperate need for a win and as a dyed in the wool 4-4-2 devotee, if everyone was fit, Wenger might not have chosen his 4-5-1 masterstroke, which left O’Shea and Scholes chasing shadows all afternoon.

At least Arsène is consistent, as when asked about the homophobic chanting, his answer suggested his hearing is no better than his eyesight. I’d hate to think I could be accused of bigotry, but I have to admit, I found our version of “one man, two man and his mobile phone, went to bed with Ashley” very amusing? I could care less whether Cole heard or not, but I sure hope he was watching, so that he might appreciate quite how wide of the mark his comments were, about the spirit in this squad. There were players of 10 different nationalities involved in an Arsenal shirt on Sunday and in the universal language of football, the pleasure witnessed on their faces in the euphoria of the final whistle, spoke volumes as to an abundance of ‘the right stuff’ in the Arsenal camp.

Without a desire to play for one another, the teenagers in this team wouldn’t be able to triumph on the imposing stage of Old Trafford. While Cole whinges about the likes of Fabregas and their failure to invite the lads round for a game of snooker, I honestly couldn’t imagine the celebrity left-back joining the self-effacing young Spaniard on the sidelines at Underhill on a miserable winter’s night, where after his meteoric progress to the first team squad, Cesc returned to support a youth team he’d only played with for a couple of months. I can well recall being similarly proud that Ashley managed to retain his modesty in spite of his success, but this isn’t the same hollow character we’ve since seen splashed across the pages of Hello magazine in his shiny silver suit.

Fabregas is an utter ‘mensch’ compared to the footballing whore that’s become of the player who was the only totally homegrown talent in the current Arsenal squad. Thus its not surprising his apparent treachery has made Cole the target for such splenetic terrace rancour. If karma has anything to do with it, then he’ll be left counting the medals he could’ve continued to win at the Arsenal. Moreover if there’s a shred of truth to Cole’s claims that he wasn’t enticed by the strong scent of ‘eau de filthy lucre’, then how funny is it that he’s joined a club whose Champions League encounter at the Bridge on Tuesday attracted an attendance that was 87 less than the hordes of Hammers fans who filled a far smaller Upton Park for their less glamorous UEFA cup game.

December 8th is marked down in my diary as the day when hopefully Ashley will discover there’s substance to the saying “as ye sow, so shall ye reap”

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Tuesday 12 September 2006

Bring On The Hamburgers

Hi folks

It was very depressing this past weekend. With all that transpired in the interim, since the stinging defeat at City and with some confidence boosting international performances for some of our squad, I managed to talk Saturday’s game up completely, believing we were going to witness a totally different assured Arsenal, as opposed to the pondering and fragile efforts we’d experienced prior. I’d convinced myself that with the boost to the squad of our new signings, we’d kick-start our campaign by blowing Boro away.

So from such a height, it was a long way to fall, sitting in our seats at half-time contemplating the same old, same old, flabbergasted to hear it said on my radio that there was a possibility of us ending the day bottom of the Premiership pile.

Apparently it’s our worse start to a league campaign in 15 years. Although in truth we should be capable of cutting Arsène some slack. Based on his fairly consistent ability to work the oracle almost every season, with both hands tied behind his back when you compare the financial resources made available to many of our competitors, then I guess he’s long overdue a bit of a dip?

I was glad to read on Sunday that he’s recognised as far as our wider pitch is concerned that “we still do no know how best to use it”. Far be it from little old me to second guess the great man, but I was actually becoming a little worried that he’d failed to address something which seemed so obvious. I mean how often do we have to bang our heads in frustration, watching them try to ballet dance past durable centre-backs, when everyone knows if you can’t go through a thing, the answer is to go around it!

The problem is that Walcott is about the only player I am aware of in this Arsenal squad who has the necessary pace and who is still young enough to learn the art of instinctive wing play. Whereas no matter how many time Freddie or Hleb lime-up in these positions, they are relatively old dogs who will tend to cut in because of their instincts to head goalwards, instead of taking the ball to the byeline and whipping in a cross. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that we possess a squad who, magnetically speaking, are polar opposites from the corner flags, until it comes to taking the ball there to wind the clock down.

If Walcott was thirty I could perhaps understand Arsène wanting to leave him out, but at Theo’s tender age, he could have played two midweek games for England U21s and still been full of running come Saturday. More’s the point, it would seem absolute madness to leave him out entirely, when as the need arose 0-1 down to Boro, he’s perhaps the only player capable of providing us with something different.

Meanwhile I am hopeful that William Gallas is going to do the business but if Arsène was going to throw him straight in, I’d rather see him play at centre-back and I tend to agree with everyone who has been touting Flamini to play as cover at left-back. To be honest, after the way Mathieu managed to do such a great job for us last season, playing in this unfamiliar role and rarely, if ever letting us down, I was surprised that Wenger didn’t start the season with him back there.

What’s more I believe we need to cut Djourrou some slack. He’s proved he’s capable of playing at the top level with his country. However the problem is that over the course of a season he’s bound to make the odd gaff. That’s what learning the game is all about. But crucially, where you can often get away with messing up elsewhere on the park, much like a goalie, at centre-back mistakes are likely to prove costly.

So while I\d hope Johann has a bright future with us, for the sake of getting some clean sheets under our belt, personally I reckon Kolo and Gallas would be the ideal combination just right now, to give our defence a more solid feel. Moreover since we seem to struggle so much whenever we go a goal down, I guess the best remedy would be for us to prevent the opposition scoring, as whenever we take the lead in a game, we are capable of destroying anyone, because instead of getting everyone behind the ball, they are forced to come at us

Meanwhile we’ve some racist Neanderthal sitting a couple of rows behind us in the East Lower who came out with a “lazy black bastard” comment a couple of weeks back. I noticed a few outraged looks of disgust on the faces of a few people around who heard him and to be honest I was annoyed at myself for not saying something straight away. I think his remark was directed at Eboué, which is ironic, as he’s about the most energetic player in the team at present. Timid coward that I am, my only response was to express my increasingly vocal support for Manny, in the vain hope this tosser might get the message.

However my indignant missus has doubtless been bottling her rage ever since and she assumed it must have been the same bigoted idiot on Saturday who spat out “you Irish bastard” directed at ref Mike Riley. Róna lost it completely, stood up and turned around to scream “Less of the racist remarks! What’s your seat number?” Since this was prior to Riley awarding us a penalty, I was doing my best to hunker down and pretend she wasn’t with me J

To be honest I can’t believe she stood up for the official, rather than an Arsenal player but I guess she is a Dubliner. However it was more of a cumulative annoyance, where I am sure she must’ve felt if she didn’t say something then, she might never do so and in truth I was very proud of her.

I only hope he’s got the message and if he hasn’t, hopefully I’ll have the balls to tell him to put a sock in it, as I’m certainly not prepared to endure that kind of crap at every game.

This wasn’t the only person who I was desperate to put a sock in it on Saturday. The tannoy in the West Upper at THOF was absolutely useless, as it was totally unintelligible and it used to bug the hell out of me, not being able to make out a word of anything Wenger had to say. However we’ve got the opposite extreme at the new place, where the PA is completely deafening.

I am pretty sure that there couldn’t have been a single person amongst the 60,000 present who didn’t hear the stadium announcer the first time when he explained the problems with the tube and I know he’s obliged to get the information out, but with us chasing the game with the clock ticking down, it was driving me bonkers that he kept repeating this long-winded ear-bashing every few minutes and if I found it dreadfully distracting, I am sure it wasn’t helping the players.

Several other people have also raised the issue of the half-time refreshments at the new place, or more’s the point, the fact that you can’t get any! Perhaps it will improve as the staff get used to serving folk a little quicker. But if it doesn’t, then it would appear that the club have seriously underestimated the need for these facilities.

Perhaps they are too busy taking huge amounts of money in receipts from all the corporate facilities to give a monkey’s about the fact that they are missing out on a few quid from those of us mug punters who can’t be bothered to spend the entire break queuing and possibly missing the start of the game, in order to get served. At the friendly last Sunday, I directed the Brazilian lad who took Ro’s ticket, upstairs in order to get a half-time drink. Although I am not sure the queues are any shorter in the Upper Tier than they are downstairs.

I had a mate and his son over from France for the Villa game and I went upstairs to meet up at half-time. I found them in a queue, where we stood and chatted for the entire duration of the break and when the teams appeared for the second half, they eventually just gave up and went back to their seats, rather than risk missing some of the action.

Am I correct in thinking that they’ve removed the burgers from the half-time menu since the initial opening, as it occurred to me back then that I must check out the four quid’s worth of “100 per cent pure beef” but I haven’t seen them offered anywhere since. I just wonder if they’ve reduced the items on offer in an attempt to speed matters up, as since the number of serving points is now fixed for good, the only way they can improve things is with the speed of service.

Along with everyone else, I am also amazed that the club haven’t got around to doing anything with the gloomy looking grey/green concrete fronts of the balconies of each level. Strangely enough, after all the hoo-haa last season, I’ve yet to see any evidence of the Israeli Tourist Board sponsorship which caused such an amusing sh*t storm when it was announced – mind you they’d doubtless be wasting their money trying to promote tourism over there at the moment, when instead of the obligatory straw donkey that folk bring back from Spain, the only souvenir you’d be guaranteed of coming home from the Holy Land with at present is a pile of shrapnel!

Subsequent to barney over this, I was wondering if the club’s sponsors have exerted some sort of control over any other advertising space sold in “their” (!!??) stadium, as otherwise I would’ve expected the club to have sold off the prime space on these bland concrete fascias, as they let the whole of the rest of the stadium down. If this isn’t the plan, then surely they could at least paint them, or at best, I am certain it wouldn’t cost very much to have them covered with the same sort of banners we had on the front of the North Bank at THOF, celebrating some of the Gunners most glorious title triumphs.

No doubt when Spurs get to visit in December, the worst of the animals amongst the envious scum support will be looking to do as much damage as possible to our spanking new stadium, wrecking karseys and absolutely anything else they can vandalise (I will be highly surprised if the huge concrete “Arsenal” lettering doesn’t require a paint job afterwards). But on the basis that they are going to be intent on inflicting some sort of havoc, we might as well give them good cause. Thus I will be very disappointed if we haven’t got around to putting something up by then to rub their noses in a reminder of WHL 71 & 04

Hopefully by then our form will have long been back on track, as we have to continue to have faith in the fact that “Arséne Knows”. Seeing some of the comments below, it would appear that some of you don’t fully appreciate how lucky we are. I also get pissed off occasionally by the fact that Arsène isn’t a little more animate, as there are times when we could really do with a tea cup throwing display and for him to kick a few arses. However Wenger is not a Martin O’Neill type and never will be.

There have also been several occasions in the past when I’ve cursed the fact that he’s such a cold, calculating type, where he breaks down absolutely all his decisions into percentages and every player is simply the sum of his current statistics. To my mind there are time in this beautiful game of ours that you need to make a decision based on gut instinct, instead of mere mathematics. However Arsène is what he is and up to now it’s worked marvellously well for him.

My biggest fear is the five-year theory, where it’s suggested that every five years you need to change either the team, or the manager. But then his squad has evolved to the point where there are only a few remaining players who’ve been with us long enough for there to be a possibility of them having grown weary of listening to the same words each week. And while I’d give anything for a few more (or even one, at this point in time!!) British / Irish players in our first team, I am not about to start stabbing him in the back as quick as some appear to be doing.

Those who’ve been a bit quick to start knocking the boss should perhaps bear in mind that most every club and International side on this planet would break the bank to get Wenger as their manager. What’s more, if we are to believe that Le Prof has actually lost the plot, with Martin O’Neill having gone to Villa, pray tell me exactly who would you choose as a replacement, as personally I can’t think of many managers (certainly none available) who can hold a candle to Arséne?

I’d love to have a character like O’Neill in the Arsenal dugout because it’s so much easier for us to relate to someone who wears their heart on their sleeve in the same manner as us supporters and having someone screaming like a banshee up and down the technical area for the duration of the 90 is so much more inspirational than our phlegmatic gaffer. However as much as I adore Stuart Pearce’s barmy touchline antics, the former Notts Forest hardman has probably nutted one player too many and so hardly compares in the intelligence stakes.

Moreover while I am convinced about O’Neill’s abilities to encourage a relatively average side to play out of their skins, his time at Celtic certainly didn’t prove whether the Irishman has the capacity to fine tune the very cream of world class talent. Until such time as O’Neill is successful at a top club, I will continue to have some concerns about whether he has the necessary patience to cope with the incredibly whimsical nature of the sort of modern celebrity players who might be pulling in several times O’Neill’s salary.

Finally for those who aren’t aware, yesterday’s post was the weekly column that I write for the Irish Examiner and consequently my comments in the last couple of paragraphs are directed at the Chelsea supporter who contributes, along with a Man Utd and a Liverpool fan, to their Terrace Talk feature, Whether it’s the fact that she has the needle to Newcastle because she doesn’t think the Toon Army deserves their reputation as some of the best fans in the Premiership, or she’s airing her grudges about the likes of Curbishley, the Chelsea lass seems to have a chip on her shoulder which ensures that she is almost always having a pop at someone or another.

I’m able to take most of her comments with a pinch of salt. However after she had a pop at Gallas last week for his supposed failure to show proper appreciation to the club responsible for making his career and for his comments about the Arsenal having the best fans (which really seemed to upset her), following the perfectly timed remarks on Match of the Day about how silent it was at times at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, I am afraid that in this instance I simply couldn’t resist rising to such bait. Personally I would have thought that following a week when her club seems to have been taking flak from absolutely all quarters, it would have been wiser to have kept her head below the parapets, since I could have returned fire with any number of different bullets and had a direct hit with each!

Bring on the Gerries
Peace & Love

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Monday 11 September 2006

Bottom Of The League! Surely Some Mistake?

Gary Lineker was ‘havin a larf’ describing our encounter as “end to end stuff” on Match of the Day. End to halfway-line, more like! I’m pretty sure Lehmann only touched the ball twice in the second-half and both of those were back passes! In fact I’m looking forward to our trip to Old Trafford next week, as win, lose or draw, at least it will be a proper contest, as opposed to the sort of ‘hit and run’ tactics we’ve fallen victim to in our first 3 outings.

Boro scored with just about their only attack of the game. Gallas switched off and allowed Morrison to ghost inside him. However it’s a bit harsh to blame the Frenchman’s lapse in concentration. He’s bound to lack some sharpness, considering how little game-time he’s had. It’s our reaction to going a goal down which bothers me. 17 attempts on Schwarzer’s goal proves we’ve no shortage of the ability required to create chances. But our recent bad form is the harbinger of the lack of belief and confidence that prevents us from capitalising on all our entertaining efforts.

Arsène’s excuses won’t really wash, as all the top teams’ players have been traipsing across the continent for penny-ante Internationals. Obviously highlights can be misleading, but even without Wayne, one gets a feeling that Man Utd might score with almost every attack. Whereas we show a reluctance to take responsibility in front of goal that’s symptomatic of players who’ve been struggling to find the back of the net.

Apparently Rosicky has impressed his teammates in training and Saturday’s 20-minute cameo was cause for optimism. At least he was more direct. Sending on the diminutive Czech and the chunky Baptista, in a triple substitution, certainly raised the temperature and resulted in some added impetus. But it didn’t really offer us a different dimension, just more of the same. With Henry having mislaid the packing case containing his sparkle, in the move to our new home, I find it hard to imagine any of our players displaying the strength of personality to grab a game like this by the scruff of the neck, determined to demonstrate to the rest how it’s done.

I’d easily be able to pay for our season tickets, if I’d a pound for every time Gooner talk has turned to our lack of a Plan B. We appear conditioned to cutting in from the flanks and ploughing a path through the heart of the opposition’s defence with our pretty passing patterns.

Woodgate and co’s doughty defensive performance deserved some plaudits. But for the most part our predictability left Boro looking comfortable, playing with their backs to their keeper, rarely being turned and required to intervene whilst running towards their own goal

It’s hard to recall many instances when we’ve stretched defences in matches thus far. In truth, while affording the opposition the opportunity to get so many men behind the ball, it’s testament to our prodigious ability that we still continue to create so many scoring chances.

It was always going to take time for us to feel at home at the new gaff, but freed from the tight confines of Highbury’s narrow turf, to my mind the principal advantage of the move, was the prospect of being able to make the most of an additional 13,000 sq.ft. of playing surface, by exposing the opposition with our pace.

At least Wenger is aware of our patently obvious failure to exploit this extra space. Thus it’s weird he didn’t address the lack of a natural winger in our entire squad during the transfer window. Strange also that the one player capable of burning full-backs down the flanks, with speed to spare, wasn’t even on the bench on Saturday. I know Wenger is being cautious about Walcott’s development, but as a teenager, I recall playing twice in the same day. So two games in a week should be a doddle for someone with Theo’s youthful energy.

With his versatility and experience Gallas knows what’s expected of a full-back, but it’s hardly second nature for a centre-half to be flying down the flanks. As a result Eboué is the only player offering natural width. Until Rosicky appeared, the young Ivorian was also the only Arsenal player to cause Boro some concern by running with the ball, eventually drawing the foul which resulted in the spot-kick and Henry’s equaliser.

Buoyed by the new arrivals, I was hoping for success against Boro, as a springboard for our Champions League campaign. It makes life so much easier if you can get off to a good start in the first phase. A couple of wins under the belt and you are almost home and hosed. However after our tri p to Hamburg, we face a home match against Porto, followed by a long schlep to Moscow. Unless we can mirror the miracle of last season, where our European form was in complete contrast to our inconsistent Premiership performances, it’s hard to see any of these games as a guaranteed three points.

You can be sure our European opponents will have been studying tapes of our recent matches, in order to try and repeat the same formula for frustrating the hell out of us. We can but pray Andy Gray’s prediction on Sky proves correct, sooner rather than later and that Hamburg are the first of many to get a good hiding from the Gunners. Albeit based on our depressing efforts to date, I’ll be glad to bring any sort of result back from Germany.

Mercifully things could be a lot worse. At half-time on Saturday the traumatic spectre loomed of travelling to Old Trafford as a total laughing stock, rock bottom of the league. But no matter how we fare on the pitch, I am pleased to support a club capable of retaining some dignity, in such a sordid, gossip driven age. Whereas all but the most blinkered Blues fans appear to have been embarrassed by the antics of Chelsea’s press office. With regard to Gallas’ threats to give a game away, if everything we said in the heat of the moment was misconstrued as fact, then I for one would have long since been locked up, to prevent me committing all the murder and mayhem I must’ve promised over the years.

I was also amused by my miffed Chelsea colleague’s karaoke offering from the Human League last week. It’s ironic that she’s annoyed by Gallas’ apparent ingratitude, when you consider that Ashley Cole has unleashed his scathing attack, on the club that nurtured him since he was nine! Moreover we’d be in almost constant mourning, if we were to take it to heart every time one of Wengers protégés followed the filthy lucre, when if it wasn’t for Le Prof their careers might well have passed them by. And as for her “Library” snipe, it certainly wasn’t our new kettle of a stadium that match commentators described as “totally silent” on Saturday, but the increasingly black pot that is Stamford Bridge!

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Monday 4 September 2006

Just Like Watching Brazil

Hi folks

You’ll have to forgive me as I’ve used some of the best bits from last Friday’s long-winded ramble, in my Examiner piece below, so please accept my apologies if you feel like you’ve already read some of the following.

I think all the season ticket holders who took up their option to buy their seats for Sunday’s game, were glad they did, as it was the sort of footballing festival you won’t get to see with your own eyes too often.

While I only nipped in just before the 6pm deadline, I bought both our seats, thinking that my closest Spurs mate might like this neutral opportunity to check out the new stadium. Although perhaps he didn’t fancy having his face rubbed in our spanking new facility, as he blew me out at the last minute. However I can hardly complain, since as of this minute, the tickets were paid for with his plastic.

With Ro already having assumed she wasn’t going and with Jamal, the lad who lives downstairs off playing footie on Hackney Marshes, which was a pity, as the sort of football played by Brazil and Argentina must be inspirational for any youngster. Even with my dodgy knee, when I got back home it wouldn’t have taken much to encourage me to join in with the kickabout on the enclosed pitch in the centre of our estate.

There’s no such thing as a friendly between these two old rivals, but with nothing riding on the result, it was obvious that the lack of pressure enabled both teams (but especially the Brazilians) to play with a freedom which allowed these fabulous individuals to express themselves. In fact for about the first 30 minutes of this match, we might’ve been watching a one-touch match played on Ipanema beach.

Meanwhile as I walked around to the new stadium, it was so close to kick-off that I didn’t want to end up at the turnstiles with my spare ticket still going begging, but in too much of a rush to hang about and find a home for it.

I was thinking that most people arriving without tickets would’ve long since sorted themselves out by now and I was seriously considering offering mine to the first kid I saw as I walked past the Gunners pub and along Elwood Street, rather than it going to waste. But then I’m really in a position to make such generous gestures to strangers and what’s more these days you can be mistaken for a perv for merely talking to unknown youngsters, let alone taking one to a match, so I was reluctant to offer it to someone, in case there was a buyer awaiting around the corner.

I needn’t have worried, as even with the two national anthems playing in my radio earpiece, there was still a huge throng of forlorn looking ticketless folk hanging about outside the Arsenal tube. No sooner had I enquired if anyone wanted a spare, than I was absolutely beset by takers. The first to ask was this Brazilian lad, but I wasn’t about to hang about and miss any more of the match, while he and his mate had a confab and as I hurried along, trying to convince him that I didn’t have a second spare ticket for his mate, I was being hassled by at least three other people who wanted to muscle in on the ticket.

While I was feeling a bit guilty that I was in such a hurry that I didn’t give poor Alessandro my new pal, time to arrange a meet with his mate, I was glad to have been instrumental in getting this extremely grateful Brazilian lad in to see the game. Although for all my rushing, there was a huge queue awaiting us at entrance J and as I stood there growing increasingly frustrated with the steward, checking e-mail print outs and taking his time showing everyone how to get through the electronic turnstile, obviously we missed the first goal

I am glad that it didn’t prove to be the only goal of the game and when we eventually made it inside, I took the 30 quid face value off my new mate. When I was telling someone today that I could’ve sold the spare ticket ten times over, he asked the logical question as to why I hadn’t asked sixty quid and paid for my own ticket. But it goes so much against the grain for me to flog a footie ticket above face value that this thought hadn’t even crossed my mind.

To be honest, compared to having to give it away to some stranger, I was glad to have recouped anything at such a late stage. Although I might have had a slightly different perspective, if I’d discovered the parking ticket on our motor before the game, instead of it coming as an nasty wind up late last night.

Ro had nipped out late Saturday night and not being back into the footie season groove and knowing only that the Arsenal weren’t playing this
weekend, it hadn’t occurred to her when she’d parked up a mere few feet away from one of the parking bays which are only operative on a match day.

This needless taxation is so incredibly frustrating that I am tempted to fight it, but I am not sure I have the energy to write the obligatory three letters (at least!) before anyone is even prepared to entertain ones argument. Still I guess even though yesterday’s entertainment ended up costing me a further fifty quid, it was still worth every penny

There’s definitely some special aura the Brazil and their fans bring to a football match. Aside from those fans originating from South America, there was a proliferation of yellow shirts present, which along with the occasional rumble of a “Brazil” chant confirmed which side the vast majority of the 59 odd thousand fans were up for.

However while the samba drums kept up a fairly constant beat all afternoon, just about the loudest chant was a chorus of “Stand up if you hate Tottenham” which I think was inspired after Baptista came on for the last 15 mins and after which I spent about five minutes trying to explain what it was all about to my Brazilian mate.

Meanwhile at least I got to learn the Brazilian equivalent of “Allez” so if you should hear a “Vamos-la Julio” when we get to see Baptista in an Arsenal shirt, you will know where it’s coming from. Luckily it looks much like the Spanish derivative, so at least I know my new mate wasn’t teasing me by getting me to holler out “Julio you tosser” for the rest of the season, as looking at the muscular physique of “the Beast” he’s one player I wouldn’t want to upset!

Kaka received a warm welcome when Dunga finally introduced the AC Milan midfielder into the mix. I haven’t watched that much Italian football these recently, but Kaka doesn’t appear to have had quite the same impact of his first amazing season in Serie A. However until the arrival of young Lionel Messi on the European scene, Kaka was without doubt my favourite non-Arsenal player.and late in the game on Sunday, there were both my favourite midfield players on the pitch at the same time.

Messi perhaps looked like a player who’s season in La Liga has yet to begin, with all that amazing balance on the ball due to his low centre of gravity, but without some of the sharpness. However Kaka’s season in Serie A hasn’t started either but Milan’s qualification match in the Champs League might have resulted in him being a little closer to full fitness.

Kaka certainly didn’t lack anything physically when he picked up the ball and proceeded to run two thirds the length of our exceedingly long new pitch. Often when you see a player run so far with the ball, having done all the hard work, they often fluff their chance, either because they haven’t sufficient strength left, or the composure to do anything but take a stab at goal. Whereas in ghosting past the Argie defender (although I can’t remember who this was, as if it was Walter Samuel, he’s a little way past his peak!) and having the presence of mind to place the ball across the keeper into the corner of the net, Kaka scored probably as good a goal as we’ll see at the new gaff all season.

The organisers of this occasion (a Russian company –surprise, surprise, hence the minute’s silence for the anniversary of the Chechnyan school disaster or Chesneyan disaster as Jonathan Pearce pronounced it, as if we were empathising with the poor souls who’ve had to listen to Chesney Hawkes’ singing), they couldn’t have arrange a better climax to this match if they’d scripted it, as I was left high-fiving it with my ecstatic new Brazilian friend.

Baptista didn’t really get long enough on the pitch to make much of an impression and I was a little disappointed that Denilson wasn’t involved (although he’s apparently been given the number 15 shirt for the season, refuting suggestions that he’ll be joining all those other Arsenal youngsters out on loan – where the progress of the likes of Gilbert at Cardiff, Lupoli at Derby, Bendtner, Larssen and Muamba at Birmingham, even Stokes now at Falkirk and anyone else I’ve forgotten, certainly maintains my interest in the lower leagues).

Meanwhile with this match being played at our place, I suppose it was always likely that both sides would use European based players and in fact the entire 22 in the two starting line-ups were made up with players from European club sides. So perhaps the next time we have a whinge about the lack of British players getting a look in at the Arsenal, spare a thought for our South American cousins, who year, upon year have to endure the mass emigration of the cream of their local talent from their shores.

Certainly two of these émigrés will have made the most of their outing on Sunday, in preparation for their Champions League return on 1st November with CSKA Moscow. Playing for the last 20 minutes, midfielder Dudu didn’t make much of an impression on me, but with Robinho and Fred playing up front for Brazil, the Russian side’s striker, Carvalho, spent most of his hour on the pitch out on the right flank, where his displayed the sort of pace and skill which certainly suggest he’s capable of causing us some problems.

As for Mascherano and Tevez, I watched all of Argentina’s games in the World Cup and I can’t for the life of me remember Mascherano, although I told he played the entire 90 minutes of every match. This leads me to conclude that he’s a bit of an inconspicuous water carrier and he did nothing on Saturday to contradict this belief. Whereas like Lionel Messi, the little bull like Tevez looks like he could be a real handful. However if hot-headed little tyke doesn’t learn to keep a lid on his emotions in the Premiership, he’s likely to spend as much time suspended as he does on the pitch and I’m pretty sure opponents will soon learn to target his fiery temper.

Still Tevez is an exciting player and I am surprised Fergie didn’t fancy the Argentinian to bolster Utd’s squad. In some respects, ol’ Red Nose is dead lucky Utd have made such a good start, as otherwise their disgruntled fans would be up in arms. However if I thought Mascherano and Tevez must have thought their new home looked a little grim, when they stepped out of their limo at Green Street, on their arrival at Upton Park, imagine the first impressions of the Brazilian pair mentioned above, as they found themselves in Red Square at 20 below zero for the first time.

I will indeed be watching with interest the two Argies introduction to British football with the Irons, but based on Tevez’s past record, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if with their substantial egos, they and all the financial brouhaha surrounding them, end up having a negative impact overall, on the great team spirit Pardew seemed to have begun to create in the West Ham camp.

As we exited the stadium on Sunday there was a crowd gathering around a group of colourful Brazilian fans, dancing and drumming and before I parted company with Alessandro we had a brief conversation about the differences between the convvial hot blooded South American footie fans and their stiff upper lipped London counterparts. I certainly wouldn't complain if the arrival of a couple more Brazilian players brings some of the same uptempo atmosphere to every game at our new gaff.

Peace & Love

Just Like Watching Brazil

When the camera zooms in on a couple of pretty gals, enthusiastically bouncing up and down, during the break of any Brazil game, I usually assume that some letch behind the lens has spent the first-half seeking them out. Yet on Sunday I saw with my own eyes that Brazil is not only just about the beautiful game’s biggest draw, but that they also seem to attract huge numbers of female footie fans, including masses of fair maidens, as opposed to the more buxom ‘geezer birds’ who’re perhaps more common on British terraces (with apologies to all those svelte damsels who don’t fit this sexist stereotype!).

Naturally I normally only have eyes for my own missus. Róna can confirm that I’m more like one of the two doddery old boys in the ancient joke about them watching the young fillies parade past on the seafront, as he ponders to his pal “I know I’m supposed to look, but I can’t remember why?” There were few lulls in the fabulous balls skills on display in Sunday’s game, yet we certainly didn’t want for head turning distractions during the occasional break in the marvellous entertainment.

Despite the fact that it might actually benefit the Arsenal in this instance, I still despise this break for the International double-headers. Especially as the authorities seem to have shoehorned it into the schedule as a regular occurrence. With a whole fortnight’s interruption coming so soon after the season has kicked-off, our two opening matches feel like a false start. Hopefully our transfer deadline day business will serve as the boost to the mood of the squad, that’ll ensure we go about our game with somewhat more aplomb second time around, as our season begins again against Boro (albeit with an eight point handicap!).

In hindsight our uninspiring start was perhaps not so surprising. As our competitors tried to snuff out any complacency, by shuffling their packs and playing their new cards, our first XI virtually picked itself. Our solitary fresh face wasn’t fit for the first game and although we might have saved a few quid by signing Rosicky prior to his couple of World Cup goals, any buzz resulting from his arrival had long since evaporated.

Still it could be a lot worse as we’ve merely drawn one and lost one. Whereas at White Hart Lane, Martin Jol’s whacked up his total summer spending to £30 million, after losing two out of three. The way Jol’s been spending like it’s going out of fashion, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the next chunk of our footballing culture to fall into the hands of an iffy East European oligarch (after West Ham!).

Following on from his indomitable efforts last season, everyone expected Flamini to continue filling in at left-back. Or, after he’d impressed in pre-season, perhaps the teenager, Traore. So it was puzzling why Wenger played the right-footed Hoyte. Poor Justin hasn’t looked comfortable and is rapidly becoming the boo-boys latest victim. Initially I assumed Arsène might’ve felt obliged to include Hoyte after his return from Sunderland.

It’s a sign of the times that an all foreign XI is no longer newsworthy, but it’s only just dawned on me that with Wenger’s cautious introduction of Theo Walcott for only brief cameo appearances, Hoyte is the only English player in the starting line-up. In fact amongst the 33 players listed in the first team squad, there are only two other English kids, Connolly and Gilbert, with Gilbert loaned to Cardiff for the season. While our Irish starlet Anthony Stokes has joined Falkirk until January.

So until such time as Walcott wins a starting place, or unless 16 year old Mark Randall forces his way into the frame, it looks like the Arsenal will be playing for much of this season with a multi-national starting line-up, including players from every corner of the globe except this one!

Slightly gobsmacked, along with the rest of the footballing world, by the Hammers deadline day coup, I was half-hoping the Argies arrival at Upton Park might be a prelude to us pinching Reo-Coker. But this would’ve been totally out of character for Wenger. Basically the absence of British players in our squad is a reflection of Le Prof’s reluctance to spend his all too limited budget on the hugely inflated fees for inexperienced homegrown kids, when he can pick up proven foreigners for a fraction of the cost.

If I knew Reo-Coker was mere wishful thinking, I was always convinced Ashley Cole was history, if only to facilitate the publication of his bloomin’ book. However as I sat here last Thursday, watching the Sky Sports News’ ticker announce details of players diving through the transfer window as it slid shut, to every other club but ours, I grew increasingly anxious. Were we really going to be left with the renegade Reyes and a hubristic Cole, cooling their heels until January, contributing to an uneasy mood within the confines of the exact same shallow squad.

I was grateful for the Boro chairman’s reassuring comments, as he appeared on TV to explain the delay in their deal for Huth, with details that Kenyon was otherwise detained, adding “I think we all know why”. Thus it was just a matter of waiting to see which way the dreadfully stale Cole cookie crumbled.

Come Friday morning, all Gooner discussion centred on whether Dein had played Martha, to Kenyon’s Arthur. To be honest I didn’t give a monkey’s about the financial minutiae, besides which I wouldn’t mind betting that between Cole’s “loyalty” bonus and the disparity between what Gallas is earning and what the Arsenal are paying him, the deal is probably costing Chelsea a whole heap more than the reported £5 million. All that mattered to me was that our squad appeared substantially stronger than it had the day before and the thought that Blues fans might be feeling like they’d found a shilling and lost a pound, was the icing on the cake.

The Reyes/Baptista arrangement was a no lose swap in my opinion, as we’ve shifted the sulky Spaniard and in the Beast, we’ve got a player with all the physical attributes missing from our midfield. However Baptista wasn’t exactly bulling to join the Gunners last summer and I only hope we haven’t got shot of a homesick Jose, for an unhappy Julio. Who knows perhaps the teenage Denilson will turn out to be the bargain of the summer.

What I do know is that I’m far more eager to witness the effect of our three new arrivals on the Arsenal squad, than I am to watch England play against a couple of countries I can’t even find on a map. I fell asleep during the Andorra game and was gutted that there was no live coverage on the box of the valiant efforts of the Boys in Green. I was left listening to RTE’s radio broadcast via satellite. And as for Macedonia, I’m all for keeping politics out of sport, but I’m not sure anyone should be forcing players to perform before these Neanderthals, after the racist outrages that have occurred there recently.

At least there was some respite from Saturday’s soporific no-contests, with Sunday’s rare treat. As the song says, it really was a case of “just like watching Brazil!” And the myriad of beautiful women weren’t the only ones aroused by a veritable orgy of sexy South American football. Even the sun put in a reappearance for this samba soccer party, As a precursor for International occasions to come, I can’t possibly imagine a more fitting match to introduce our new stadium to the rest of the footballing world, than this “Super Classico”. Outright war might’ve broken out on the pitch if Bennett hadn’t blown up after 90 minutes, otherwise we’d have happily sat there all night. If a nation’s character traits are expressed in the way they play their football, then I guess it’s no wonder Brazilian football is so popular with the female of the species.

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Friday 1 September 2006

Beauty & The Beast

Hi folks

In some of the responses I've seen from other Gooners, there seems to be some feeling that Chelsea have ended up shafting us with their Samsungs, or that Dein has played Martha to Peter Kenyon's Arthur. However I have to beg to differ.

I've always been convinced that the Ashley Cole transfer would eventually take place (even if only because of his bloomin' book, as word has it that Cole’s so scathing in the publication babout the club he’s been at since he was in short pants that the book would’ve been shelved until his departure). But I have to admit that as the hours ticked away yesterday afternoon/evening, I was growing increasingly anxious. The ticker on the yellow band at the bottom of the screen on Sky Sports News was flashing by, offering optimism to fans of almost every other Premiership club but ours.

Many Gooners must have been green with envy as all the gossip of the past few days came to nowt, when West Ham announced the biggest transfer window coup, by securing the talented South American duo of Tevez and Maschareno. With Spurs summer signings hardly having the sort of positive impact that was expected in their opening games and with the £18 million from the sale of Carrick burning a hole in Martin Jol’s pocket, Spurs brought their spending this week up to £12 million, with the £6 mill signing of Chimbonda.

My mood of increasing frustration eased somewhat, when the Boro chairman appeared on TV to speak about the arrival of Robert Huth. When asked when the deal would be concluded, he said that Chelsea’s Peter Kenyon was otherwise detained, adding “I think we all know why that is!” Mercifully my mobile phone eventually chirruped with a text message which confirmed “Cole gone for Gallas plus cash and Reyes / Baptista swap as good as rubber-stamped” and having passed on the gossip to all the Gooners on the Mailing list, I was grateful to at long last be able to switch off the rolling sports news and return to watching Eastenders, a relieved Arsenal fan.

The other two deadline day deals of interest to us all was the announcement that Pascal Cygan had departed to join Robert Pires at Villa Real for £2 million. I don’t think there’ll be a single Gooner who won’t be grateful for the thought that we’ll never again have to fear for the sight of the hapless Pascal’s name on an Arsenal team sheet. However I happen to believe that Cygan might fare quite well on the continent. For a lumbering defender Cygan is not without ability and playing in La Liga, where teams have a tendency to drop off when not in possession and defend zonally, Pascal might not be prone to the sort of regular pratfalls he’s experienced in the frenetically paced Premiership, where the preponderance of the pressing game ensures that speed of thought and the ability to turn slightly quicker than an oil tanker, are essential qualities.

The other note of interest flashing across the Sky Sports News ticker was the info that Juan Pablo Sorin had left Villa Real for Hamburg. We might witness the long curly black locks of the Argentina captain in the friendly being played between Brazil and Argentina at our new ground on Sunday. If so, I am sure those present will appreciate why the defenders arrival in Germany could make scoring goals against Hamburg in the Champions League a more arduous proposition. Or in actual fact, from my memories of Argentina’s World Cup performances, it was Sorin’s raids down the left flank, when joining their attack, which left an imprint on my memory (or perhaps it was just his hair?).

Meanwhile as far as the Ashley Cole deal was concerned, my reading of the situation was that it was Chelsea’s reluctance to allow William Gallas to join one of their immediate competitors, which was the principle sticking point. Chelsea are the only team who don’t need to sell any of their players. To the contrary, they are the one club in the country whose absolutely limitless budget means they can prey on absolutely any other Premiership outfit, picking off the cream of any talent they happen to fancy, by making the sort of obscene offers that most players simply can’t refuse.

It was a couple of months back at the start of the summer that I heard the rumour about Gallas’ falling out with Mourinho. Apparently the French defender was annoyed, as he’d been frozen out at centre-back since the arrival of Carvalho and so one of the best centre-backs on the planet was only being used as a bit part utility player, usually being asked to play out of position. So when AC Milan came a calling, Gallas was annoyed that Mourinho set a totally unrealistic asking price, basically to prevent him leaving and when the player confronted the arrogant one, he was told the he could rot in the reserves for all Mourinho cared.

Such is the level of enmity between Chelsea and Arsenal at board level that I am pretty certain Mourinho would be mortified to eventually get Ashley Cole but for their to be a consensus of opinion that we’ve come out of the deal smelling of roses. So when we suggested that we wanted William Gallas, Chelsea were only offering him in a straight swap, knowing full well that this would be unacceptable to us. I have yet to read any of the papers, but I wouldn’t mind betting that the more knowledgeable pundits will perceive that with Gallas plus £5 million in cash, we’ve certainly got the better end of this deal.

In response to any Gooners who don’t agree and who think we’ve been short-changed, I would suggest you speak to any Chelsea fan this morning. In my humble opinion, if there’s a weak link at Chelsea, it’s Carvalho. While the Portuguese centre-back is a cultured player, I’ve occasionaly been surprised by his defensive naivety and often feel that it’s only been the doughty efforts of John Terry that’s saved Carvalho’s bacon. I reckon if you poll Chelsea fans, the vast majority will tell you that they feel their team has looked a lot more secure whenever Gallas has been on the pitch. However the Frenchman has been under utilized almost ever since Mourinho brought his fellow Portuguese defender to the club, leaving Gallas out in the cold, rarely getting a look-in at centre-back and rapidly becoming a defensive utility player, who only ever got a game playing out of position at full-back..

If we get a William Gallas arriving at our club, rejuvenated by the prospect of regular football, rather than a player who was merely looking for a way out of his misery under Mourinho’s thumb, then I hope we’ll soon discover the reason why so many knowledgeable football folk were absolutely baffled why Gallas couldn’t get a game at the Bridge. Never mind Ashley Cole’s controvertible label of “best left-back in the world” (after all this is a player who has hardly played a full 90 minutes since October last year!!), prior to Gallas being frozen out at the Bridge, many felt he defender was one of the best around.

The fact that this deal will have pissed off Mourinho and will have left most Chelsea fans with very mixed feelings about the overall effect on their squad (having lost Huth as well and with a fairly decent full-back Wayne Bridge, left wondering about his future), should be sufficient cause for us to sparkling with snap, crackle and pop this morning. Sure it could be argued that Chelsea were at least £5 million light with their cash payment in this incredibly protracted transaction. However methinks that you are looking at yesterday’s event from the wrong end of your Gooner telescope. When you consider that at 5pm yesterday evening we were worried we might be stuck with the destabilizing effects on our squad of a miserable Ashley Cole and a moping Jose Reyes, until January at the very least, or perhaps the possibility of both players joining Campbell, Pires and Bergkamp in the mass exodus of experience, with no prospect of any new additions, then in truth we really should be whooping with joy over how things have turned out.

Obviously Chelsea have got themselves a half decent full-back, but I happen to think that while Ashley might still turn it on in the high profile Champions League games and the most glamorous Premiership encounters, with his glitzy celebrity lifestyle and with nothing left to prove, he’s hardly going to want to be working his rocks off twice weekly. And with a ready made replacement waiting in the wings, I honestly wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the shrewd Mourinho ends up utilizing a somewhat hungrier Wayne Bridge, when it comes to matches like those played on a miserable winter’s night up at Wigan?

But it doesn’t really matter how Cole performs at the Bridge, as you have to consider the situation from the point of view that Ashley had become totally useless to us and it could have had an extremely negative effect on the mood of the entire Arsenal camp, if Cole had been left cooling his hubristic heels until January

As far as the Reyes / Baptista swap was concerned, perhaps it was merely an example of Arsène’s poker faced negotiating tactics. However when you consider that we were led to believe that Wenger was almost exclusively focused on signing Baptista last summer, it seemed strange that Arsène hardly appeared particularly enthusiastic about relieving Real of their recent signing.

Real Madrid, now there’s another club whose nefarious shenanigans with players belonging to other clubs, have hardly placed their board at the top of the Arsenal’s Xmas card list. As I understood it from the rumours I heard a while back, Real were desperate to relieve themselves of the liability of the Beast’s substantial wage bill and this was always the deal making condition involved in Reyes’ departure.

While it was said that the estimates concerning Reyes’ original purchase price were hugely inflated, where the substantial total was dependent on all sorts of additional performance related clauses in his complicated contract, I wouldn’t mind betting that with our achievement of reaching the Champions League final and with Jose’s performances for Spain in the World Cup, the total price for Reyes probably rocketed up to somewhere near the reported figure. Unlike Chelsea, the Arsenal couldn’t afford, nor were we willing to accept a big financial hit on the sale of Reyes. I imagine this was probably a big part of the reason why we were reluctant to accept a straight swap for Baptista.

Hopefully the Beast’s muscular presence in our midfield might suit the Premiership and I pray that the Brazilian will lend some much needed physical gravitas at the heart of the Gunners’ performance. Admittedly Baptista was playing out of position, in the few times I saw him play for Real at the start of last season, when I was specifically watching Madrid’s matches because I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about and to see why Wenger had supposedly been so desperate to bring the Brazilian to London.

However I have to admit that to my unknowledgeable eyes, the Beast hardly appeared to be anything special and certainly didn’t produce the sort of performances which would’ve explained why Wenger had been so determined to land the Beast, that he’d ignored the possibilities of any other transfer business. Perhaps it was these lacklustre displays that left Arsène feeling somewhat more equivocal about losing Baptista to Real and also resulted in Wenger being not nearly quite so keen to barter Reyes.

My greatest concern is related to the fact that in the first place the Beast wasn’t particularly keen to play for the Arsenal and so having chosen the warmer climes on the Continent and the prospect of playing in La Liga, where the style of football wouldn’t be so alien to him and where he might not have nearly so many problems settling down and communicating in the local lingo, I wouldn’t be too surprised if he struggles on his arrival in London. What’s more you have to wonder how much of a say he had in his departure, because if Baptista was presented with a fait accompli, where he was going, whether he wanted to or not, we might have good cause to be worried about where his own heart is at.

While Baptista is bound to suffer some problems at first, as is the case with most players on their arrival from abroad, I believe his introduction to the Premiership could prove crucial. Hopefully the presence of Gilberto as a potential baby-sitter should prove beneficial. But after having been given time to find his feet, if Baptista isn’t able to produce the goods pretty quickly, I’ll be seriously worried that we might have ended up only swapping a homesick Jose for an unhappy Julio. Nevertheless the arrival of Baptista and Gallas should prove a great boost for the Gunners squad and I am convinced the swap with Real was a clever compromise, because Reyes’ value was hardly going to increase while he remained with us as a bench warmer. And the presence of the miserable Spaniard was hardly going to promote a positive mood in the Arsenal camp.

Meanwhile after Gallas has spent the past couple of seasons playing out of position, it will be ironic if he ends up arriving here and immediately being asked to do us a favour and fill in at left-back. With Sol Campbell seemingly prospering with Pompey on the South Coast, some might be questioning the wisdom of letting a player with such a wealth of experience walk away. However it’s likely that the new challenge is the principle cause of any apparent rejuvenation and I remain convinced that at his age and in his physical condition, Pompey will be very lucky if they don’t lose Sol to injury for at least a third of the forthcoming season.

Whereas if Wenger ultimately envisages a fit William Gallas forming a consistent partnership with Kolo Touré, I will be a little worried about the effect on the likes of Senderos and Djourou. Having only recently found their first team feet, it will be hard on these two youngsters, if they’re forced to take a step back. I only hope we don’t end up losing either of these two great prospects because they believe they need to be playing regular first team football.

However if a thoroughly ruthless Mourinho can manage to keep his huge squad happy, whilst rotating all his world class stars, then there’s no reason Wenger shouldn’t be able to cope, with what is after all, a far more pleasant problem, than the recent prospect of trying to get a team full of kids to cope with their manful Premiership task.

Still, despite my best efforts to convince fellow Gooners that we should be over the moon this morning, our mood can hardly compare to that of the totally gobsmacked Hammers. Although the picture I really want to see is the one of the faces of Maschareno and Tevez, after flying in from Sao Paulo, on their arrival at a less than sunny Upton Park. Surely as they walk down a grimy Green Street, it’s hardly going to be the scene the two players imagined of the glamorous environment of the Premiership.

When everyone was assuming that the Arsenal were going to be the front runners to sign the two Argies, because it was said that they were more likely to fancy the delights of our cosmopolitan capital, over the polluted climes of an industrial North-West, I don’t think there could’ve been an aficionado of the beautiful game who wasn’t totally dumbfounded yesterday when it was revealed that they’d been lured to the environs of a dismal East London instead.

Don’t get me wrong, I am as jealous as hell. I have yet to see Maschareno play but Tevez was extremely impressive in the World Cup and any player who can keep Lionel Messi out of the Argentinian team has to be bloody brilliant as far as I am concerned (as Messi is just about my favourite non-Arsenal player on the planet at this point in time). According to the pundits, this other midfielder is an equally gifted footballer and if the two of them can adapt to fulfill their potential in the Premiership, then West Ham could well develop into a force to be reckoned with (I only wish we were playing them now, before both players have time to settle in).

To be honest, so long as it doesn’t result in the Irons taking any points off us, I will be quite happy for the Hammers. Wouldn’t it be absolutely wonderful if West Ham end up leapfrogging Spurs as London’s third best team (or even second – although it’s stretching the imagination even further than it is for us, to hope they’ll give Chelsea a run for their money!).

I am sure there isn’t a Hammers fan that gives a monkey’s about any of the raft of suspicions that have been raised as a result of this surprising move. Absolutely the only thing they care about is that they are going to have two of the planet’s greatest players turning out in claret & blue.

It’s never been ours to reason why, whilst we’re all doing and dying. As much as we might decry the way in which Abramovich’s money has totally distorted the beautiful game in this country, you could probably build a house with all the hypocrisy that would be emanating from Highbury, if we had our own Gooner oligarch spunking his millions on our squad.

You’ll have to forgive me if I’ve got it slightly wrong with any of my facts (for a change!). But the suggestions I’ve seen so far are that the Iranian/British geezer who has befriended the two Argies and whose sports marketing company still owns the two players contracts, has loaned them to West Ham as a means of getting his foot in the door to eventually buy the club. Or he’s merely parked the two of them up at Upton Park as shrewd investment, so they can both adapt to the Premiership and then be sold for £20 million each to his Russian pal across town, when they’ve proved their worth.

The other possibility that was suggested to me last night was that perhaps this movement of players around the planet bears little real relation to the beautiful game and anyone’s ambitions to succeed in their quest for silverware, but is merely the latest and most convenient means of laundering and eventually legitimizing the ill-gotten gains of East European Mafioso. Surely I am not alone in finding it just a little bit disconcerting that huge chunks of our national sport are rapidly being sold off to the sort of “businessmen” for whom a football club seems to be the fashion accessory of recent seasons.

Obviously I stand to be corrected if all these billionaires have a genuine interest in football and are merely motivated by the prospect of developing the game in this country, at an apparent cost to them of so many millions, merely for the benefit of all us fans.

However conscientious cynic that I am, I simply cannot help but have my suspicions over the insidious way in which certain incredibly wealthy individuals have been acquiring controlling interests in so many of our footballing institutions. I am long enough in the tooth to appreciate that “money talks”, but I’m absolutely astonished that with their untold wealth of somewhat questionable origins, certain folk can walk into our football clubs with their suitcases full of cash, purchase shares in such an incredibly important part of British culture and not only are their massive fortunes accepted as being completely kosher, without any apparent worthwhile investigation, but they’re all enjoying the added bonus of being immediately accepted into the upper echelons of British society. When if it wasn’t for the odd twist of fate and perhaps a cache of Kalashnikovs, instead of a “respectable businessman”, they might be some giant Georgian’s bitch in a Siberian gulag, serving 20 to life!

We all know full well that traditionally the ownership of a football club has invariably proved to be an extremely expensive calling, rather than a shrewd career move, of the sort that has seen the family inheritances of several a multi-millionaire disappear double quick, down the drainpipe of many deluded dreams. Consequently does this not lead any of us to question the motives of men who’ve only ever shown ambition to acquire wealth, rather than to find a cause where they can dispose of it so rapidly?

As I’ve said, doubtless I wouldn’t feel the need to be anywhere near so circumspect if we had our own sugar daddy. What’s more despite the somewhat shady looking nature of the Argies arrival, I was half hoping this might be a prelude to Le Prof making a totally out of character move, with a successful bid for Reo-Coker, for the sort of incredibly inflated amount for the British youngster which would have normally bought us three experienced foreigners!

Sadly, just as everyone else in the footballing world seems to be developing some sort of relationship with their own mega-rich Ruski, the Arsenal decided to go with the relatively tapped out Arabs. I am reminded of the joke about Moses sitting up in heaven and looking down at a Holy Land almost completely surrounded by oil rigs and turning to the Lord to taunt “Schmock, you told me to go for the milk and honey”

Nevertheless, even if we were to come up ‘trumpski’ in the footballing “land grab” which seems to be taking place, with no questions asked, at the present, while I wouldn’t baulk over the bounty of an oligarch all of our own, their motives would be no less obvious to me than if it was Tony Soprano buying the Yankees!

In the meantime at least we can now look forward to our next game with renewed optimism, that’s assuming Baptista doesn’t break a metatarsal if he plays in Sunday’s friendly!

Big Love