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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 EbouĂ© 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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Anonymous said...

Great article im stil desperate to get down to the new ground,a bit concerned at all these stories of blank concrete walls and no colour,will come with time i hope. anyway keep up the good work!

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