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Monday 16 October 2006

Diamonds in the Soles of Theo's Shoes

Despite a reported crowd of 60,000 plus, there were empty seats in evidence on Saturday, most of which were in the astronomically priced Club Level. Mind you Club Level costs aren’t even close to the obscenely priced Diamond Class (as seen in a feature on MOTD2 on Sunday night), where 160 high-rollers pay nearly five hundred quid a match, or £25 grand a season for a pair of seats, which come with exclusive access to the Michelin starred grub in the Raymond Blanc Restaurant. Nevertheless, considering it costs the 7000 Club Level punters anything from around £100 to £175 a game, you’d imagine they’d be taking their sleeping bags, in order to make the very most of their ‘meshugana’ priced pitches at our new stadium.

I was fortunate to be able to check out the Club Level facility a couple of weeks back when we played Porto. It’s evident where much of the decorating budget disappeared, as the plush Club Level concourses make those of the Upper and Lower tiers look positively sparse by comparison. I know of plenty of staunch Gooners, with sufficiently deep pockets, who’ve plumped for the best view in the house, along with others who weren’t high enough on the waiting list to be guaranteed a seat elsewhere and they’re understandably defensive about all the ‘prawn circle’ piss-taking.

However, never mind the free half-time booze, or the sprauncy décor, my Club Level treat the other week confirmed that it is not the same as the perfect pitch we used to enjoy at Highbury, but it’s without doubt the best seat in our new house. For this reason alone, I’m perfectly happy to admit that if money was no object, we’d both be making like a couple of well-dressed shrimp.

Amongst the most common complaints heard to date, is that from where we sit, in the “cheap” seats, it looks dreadful and can hardly encourage the players, as they kick-off the second half with such a conspicuous area of the stadium seemingly half empty, with Club Level punters more interested in cuddling their complimentary pints. Moreover apparently it’s a metaphorical and literal pain in the arse for those who are intent on making the most of their fabulous view, as they’re forced to suffer the distraction during the first 10/15 minutes of the second half, with the slow trickle back to the Club Level seats following the break.

Another bugbear for the genuine Club Level Gooners is that the faces around them change from game to game. Whereas at Highbury there was a sense of being surrounded by the same folk, the members of one’s Arsenal family, for umpteen seasons. I suppose this high turnover at our new home is due to the fact that many of these prime pitches are company owned. Whatever the case, it was a pity to see so many of them unoccupied on Saturday and I couldn’t help but wonder if Watford weren’t a sufficiently glamorous enough draw for the Arsenal’s less committed, new corporate ‘clientele’?

Money, or the lack thereof, and ill health are about the only issues that would make me miss an Arsenal match. How dare the credit card companies put the kibosh on me travelling to Moscow this week! Then again they might be a little miffed about the several thousand pounds worth of outstanding debts, largely due to European trips over several seasons?

However I’d have to be on my deathbed to miss a home game and I certainly wouldn’t have missed Theo Walcott’s debut for the world. Having waited patiently for the past 9 months, it was great to see Theo’s feats for the England U21s rewarded with his first start in an Arsenal shirt. Wing play might not be instinctive for the young striker, but considering the tendency of nearly all of our forwards to want to cut in, it’s been Eboué who has provided the only natural width. With the Ivorian full-back now out injured for at least a month, Walcott might be the ideal solution for stretching opposition defences with his turbo-charged pace.

William Gallas is an incredibly versatile player. To my mind it’s amazing quite how competent he’s been in recent weeks, when overlapping down the left flank as a full-back, considering he’s a right-footed centre-back by trade. However last season it seemed as if the left-back slot was cursed, with both Cole and Clichy suffering the same ubiquitous metatarsal injury. After missing almost the entire season, with one injury setback after another, it was marvellous to witness Clichy’s long-awaited comeback for the last 10 minutes of Saturday’s match.

Gael might still have some way to go, to acquire the consummate defensive nous of his predecessor. However there’s little doubt in my mind that Clichy is far hungrier than a player, who might not live up to the expectations of Blues’ fans, by resting on the laurels of his “best left-back in the world” tag (if Cashley finds time in between counting his roubles!).

The only disappointment on Saturday was that I was hoping Hoyte might silence his critics with his rare outing in his natural position at right-back. Sadly his unconvincing efforts on the opposite flank, have seen his confidence taking a battering from the Gooner boo-boys. As a result Hoyte appears far too pre-occupied with his defensive responsibilities. I pray that during Manny’s month long absence, we can afford the patience required for Justin to recover sufficiently to start roaring down the right wing, in a manner that would mean we wouldn’t miss Eboué.

Meanwhile young Johan Djourou doesn’t deserve to be dropped after his impressive displays in recent weeks. Also, far be it from me to second-guess our great leader, but I’ve always had this inkling that Kolo Touré could be even more effective in midfield. I’m actually rushing this piece in the hope of making it to Underhill tonight, to check on the progress of all the other promising young talent playing in the reserves v Chelsea.

If I were a Hornets fan I’d have some serious concerns about their prospects of retaining their highly-prized Premiership status. There’s little doubt that Ade Boothroyd is one of the brightest young managers around, but there’s still no making a silk purse from a sow’s ear. While Watford grafted their socks off, I wonder if there’s sufficient guile to score the goals necessary to stave off the dreaded drop. Boothroyd is in an unenviable position, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, where he daren’t capsize his well-run ship, by bankrupting the club whilst chasing the Premiership dream.

Nevertheless compared to last season’s derby at a dilapidated Kenilworth Road, the Hornets’ fans are already in dreamland. The vocal succour they gave their side on Saturday, suggests they’re intent on enjoying every second of the ride while it lasts.

The visitors did come close to exposing the vulnerability at the back that’s been responsible for several soiled sheets so far this season. However, despite Eboué’s injury, Clichy’s return might soon afford Wenger the luxury of finally selecting a team, in which his back line are all playing in their best positions. If Willie’s air of serene authority at the heart of our defence enables us to shut out the opposition, we can truly relax while the firepower of Henry, Van Persie, Rosicky and Walcott run absolute riot up front.

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Anonymous said...

Kolo operated once in a wide midfield berth previously for us not that comfortably it has to be said,however it has taken him some time to become one of the best centre backs in England and I cannot see him claiming either a wide or central midfield position as we have better players equipped for that role.As for people booing Justin,I personnally think it disgusting to get on your own player's back and has completely the wrong effect as they are liable to start performing more nervously if they were to hear a couple of dickheads booing them.

Anonymous said...

With the pricing at Ashburton Grove I can see empty seats a regular feature in season to come bar the big games, we may have 60,000 at the moment but I felt a bit jealous of the Chelsea support in their champions league game against Barcelona, they made a huge amount of noise throughout the game and don't need to have a singing section, they also don't yet appear to have attracted the mass of middle class support that Arsenal have though I'm sure that will come when they move ground or redevelop which will impact on crowd noise as it has with us - Clock End Pete