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Monday 13 November 2006

One Swallow Doth Not A Summer Make (But It'll Sure Do For Starters!)

It was great for us Gooners to return to some more traditional footballing fare Sunday lunchtime. This started with a tasty morsel from the Madjeski, where the Tottenham team that we all know and despise, in a disgusting brown kit (which should at least serve them well for any subsequent bouts of food poisoning) raised their supporters hopes by taking a 1-0 lead, before surrendering to Reading, in a manner which is likely to leave their bemused manager even more follicly challenged.

This was promptly followed by a main course with all the trimmings, where the Arsenal finally ditched the new stadium monkey from around our necks. It started life as a mere bothersome Emirates marmoset, but it wouldn’t have been long before Gooner backs were beginning to buckle under the weight of a problematic primate that was rapidly growing into a gorilla.

We might not feel anywhere near the same level of enmity for Liverpool, compared to the rancour that is reserved for the likes of Spurs, Chelsea and Man Utd. However, even though their woeful away form has already seen them ruled out as worthy title challengers, our encounter with the Scousers remains a relatively ‘big’ game compared with the less illustrious Premiership opponents who’ve visited our new home to date.

There’ve been various rumours doing the rounds concerning the absence of the Sky cameras for a Premiership match and it does seem strange that it’s taken over a quarter of the season for them to get around to live coverage of a game at our glamorous new arena. But living around the corner, it was great to be able to enjoy all the build-up on the box, for the first time this season. We also discovered why we’d been disturbed from our Sunday slumbers by the sound of a hovering helicopter, as we were treated to views of the area from Sky’s eye-in-the-sky.

It has been somewhat depressing watching the day-to-day demolition of our old home, as first the Clock End and now the North Bank is being torn down. However the overall view from above, showing the muddy building site that now exists instead of our old snooker baize like playing surface, surrounded by the dismantled shells of the art deco East and West stands, along with what remains of the North stand, seemed to reinforce the finality of the end of a glorious era and almost brought a tear to my eye.

Nevertheless the TV pictures of the new place were pretty impressive and they were perhaps most appropriate on a day which might go down in the calendar as the dawning of the Gunners’ fabulous new future. While we’ve been whinging about the lack of Arsenal-ification inside the stadium, Sunday’s broadcast showed that it’s only in the “cheap” seats where the club have scrimped, as there appears to be no shortage of reminders of all the Arsenal’s former glories, with all the decorations and memorabilia that adorn the Diamond Club, for the benefit of the seriously rich Gooner high-rollers who can afford an obscene £25 grand a season.

However to give the club their due, they’ve taken note of our grievances and having achieved the admirable feat of getting the stadium built on time and in budget (unlike the wanton mismanagement of the Wembley fiasco), other additional measures are now being taken to try and create a more homely environment.

One particular upper tier wag won’t need to hang his banner with a painted clockface for much longer, as apparently planning permission has been granted to put the old clock up outside the stadium. Meanwhile, as promised, inside the ground they’ve begun to cover some of the unsightly grey concrete, starting with red Arsenal fascias on the upper tier. However far more important than such decorative details was the discovery of a decent atmosphere at Sunday’s game and doubtless this was the principle reason that it will be remembered as the first occasion many of us Gooners truly began to feel at home.

To date we’ve had three 1-1 draws and three 3-0 triumphs at the new place and perhaps the later was always more likely against a Liverpool side with the worst away record in the league. Nevertheless Benitez wasn’t about to admit to his team’s inferiority, with the sort of negative, eleven men behind the ball tactics that we’ve endured from other recent visitors. As a result, once we got the first goal, the end result was almost inevitable.

Wenger’s vow of silence since his touchline tantrum at Upton Park has left us all scratching our heads. In contrast to the shameless attention seeking of his counterpart at Stamford Bridge, ever since he’s been at the Arsenal, le Gaffer has always gone out of his way to ensure that the media’s obsession with such managerial trivialities didn’t detract from the wonderful football his players are capable of producing on the pitch.
If Arsène had come out immediately and offered an apology, or at least some explanation, with the tabloids peddlers of tittle-tattle having the attention span of an hyperactive flea, they would’ve long since found some other scurrilous story to focus on. Therefore I can’t help but wonder if Wenger’s media free week was contrived in an attempt to foster the sort of “them and us” siege mentality, which has served us and other clubs so well in the past.

If it was indeed a tactical ploy to try and create some sort of watershed, between the inconsistent Arsenal that lost at Upton Park and a team which is capable of producing the sort of consistent run which might see us mounting a credible title challenge, then Sunday’s result and more importantly the signs of reinvigoration amongst some of our more important players, might suggest this was something of a masterstroke.

However the truth of the matter is that in recent times this Arsenal team has always produced its best against those opponents whose ambitions weren’t limited to “parking the bus in front of their goal”. The real test of whether Wenger has inspired the sort of wolvish mentality which will enable us to not merely spend 90 minutes hammering at the door, but to be able to blow the entire house down, will be revealed in the next couple of games against Newcastle and Bolton, where neither opponent is going to be so considerate as to play to our strengths like the Scousers.

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