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Friday 1 December 2006

Turning point v Tottenham, or will Spurs earn the Islington Samaritans some overtime?

In such depressing times as these for us Gooners, it's great to receive some solace from the light-relief offered by many of the Talksport phone-in 'schmocks', who, unbelievably, are already calling for Le Prof's head on a plate. Do they seriously believe we could do better than le Boss? If it wasn't for the fact that I "support" the same team, I often think it would serve them bloody well right if Arsène decided he no longer needed the intense day to day pressure of trying to maintain a squad, season in, season out, that's capable of competing with the the limitless resources available to the blowhard at the Bridge, with both hands tied behind his back, as far as the Arsenal's finances are concerned.

And if (heaven forfend!) Wenger did decide to walk, if these fickle Arsenal fans are whinging about the club's most successful modern day manager, can you possibly imagine their apoplectic, phone calls if they were left complaining about our demise under Ian Dowie (although to be fair, whenever I've sat and listened to Dowie, his comments have usually given me the impression that he's a most capable manager). Don't make me laugh, these hoopleheads haven't got the sense to appreciate that there isn't a club (or a country) on the planet that wouldn't bite the hand off that offered them a contractual signature from le Boss.

With this in mind, it is perhaps a little churlish of me to second guess our gaffer, but it was obvious that almost every Gooner in the ground on Wednesday night was wondering what on earth possessed Wenger to throw Alexandre Song to the merciless lickspittles who make up our misguided boo-boy lions. As they say, it's all relative and admittely, relative to his remarkably inglorious efforts in a Gunners' shirt to date, Song shone at Goodison (need to put my teeth back in for such a tongue twister). But then EVEN I would've looked good in this game (never mind my two knackered knees!) as would anyone who played alongside our Carling Cup kiddies while they were positively oozing confidence that night.

Looking back, I recall doing a double take when an early shot on Everton's goal whistled over the bar, as my brain struggled to compute the fact that the ball had originated from Song's feet. Yet this certainly doesn't disguise poor Alexandre's patent failure to prove exactly what Wenger sees in him, since his arrival at the club. Personally speaking, Song has always struck me as such an incredibly nondescript player that I began to wonder whether Wenger managed to get himself caught in some sort of Cameroonian honeytrap at some stage in the past, in a compromising position with Song's aunty, leaving uncle Rigobert with the photos to prove it. If the ex-Liverpool player is using these as leverage to get the youngster included in the Arsenal squad, this would at least give le Gaffer a decent excuse!

True words and jests come to mind with my far-fetched conjecture, as allegedly the catering manager of the Executive boxes at the new gaff was instantly dismissed during the match last week, after having been caught in a compromising imbroglio on a stairwell with one of his male colleagues. So does this mean he'd previously been caught having his wicked way a couple of times to have earned two written warnings? And if such gossip wasn't good enough, it is also alleged that a couple of East European bar staff in Club Level were similarly sacked on the spot last week. But their crimes were less salacious and more fiscal, as apparently they were found stuffing cash from the tills into plastic bags and lobbing these through the metal grilles to their mates outside! But enuf of the fish-wife impersonation!

Perhaps if Paddy was still playing for us, Arsène might've got away with playing Song alongside him, or if he'd found the Cameroonian youngster a less significant role out on the sidelines (or preferably right off the park, carrying his colleagues cases!!). But to throw Song in at the deep end, at the very heart of our team, at such a delicate stage in the season, alongside the decidedly unimposing midfield presence of Flamini & Rosicky, to my mind this was far more criminal than the Club Level larceny

We'd already seen how out of his depth Song appeared at this level, when we watched him flounder at Fratton Park last season, in his only other Premiership start, alongside Diaby, where the two points we dropped left us counting on Tottenham's inconsistency for qualification for the Champions League. Why Wenger expected a different result on Wednesday is beyond me?

As the players and management trudged towards the tunnel at half-time, with the lay out of Craven Cottage taking them towards the couple of thousand of us Gooners gathered in the Putney Stand, I was hoping for his sake that Song didn't fully appreciate the implications of the singing, as we serenaded them all with a hearty chorus of "we want Cesc Fabregas". To be honest, Arsène is usually such a stubborn git (I guess Wenger's point blank refusal to accept the possibility that he's picked a wrong 'un is the reason Song wasn't shipped out ages back), that I really didn't expect him to bow to fan pressure by bringing Fab on at the break, certainly not with Wenger's penchant for leaving any changes until the last fifteen minutes.

But then I suppose Arsène wasn't really left with a choice, if this was indicative of the sort of stick Song could expect if he came back out and in truth, Wenger should've shown some real bottle, by admitting the error of his ways in restoring Cesc to the side within twenty minutes of the start, as it certainly didn't take any of us longer than this to realise quite what a ricket he'd made with the Cameroonian's inclusion.

It just about says everything about our most problematic defficiency that we are left counting on a teenage schnip of a Spaniard to lead this Arsenal side into battle and to be able to rouse his team mates from an indifferent performance, to roll their sleeves up and grind out a result. I am not discounting the possibility that Fabregas might eventually make a marvelous captain but I feel it is a bit much to expect the incredibly talented youngster both to orchestrate the Arsenal symphony from midfield, whilst simultaneously wielding the baton with the necessary force to encourage his colleagues to find the vital extra gear which has been patently absent from their performances of late.

At least Fabregas would have the advantage of not playing with his back to the entire team, like Henry. However I have always believed that a centre half has a far better chance of doing a decent captain's job. Although at this precise point in time, such technical practicalities are irrelevant, as it's the leadership spirit that we've grown increasingly desperate for. I've never agreed with Wenger's decision to offer the captaincy as a carrot to encourage players to keep the Arsenal faith. To my mind Paddy was no more captain material than Titi, but at least Vieira had the ability (albeit that he kept it well hidden towards the end of his career at Highbury) to inspire the troops with his physical commitment.

Yet even back then I was moaning for want of some vocal leadership from someone in the Arsenal squad, especially with Vieira's tendency to disappear inside his shell for much of the last couple of seasons, as has been the case with Thierry when he's been struggling to find his own form.

Rumours abound right now of an alleged barney between Wenger and Henry and some are even suggesting that after Titi walked out, he has as a result been dropped. I am sure I am way off the mark, but I have to admit to having some suspicions when Thierry developed a vague neck injury to prevent him travelling to Bolton. Thankfully we are not used to such shenanigans at the Arsenal, but at other clubs like WHU and Spurs, fans are quite accustomed to some of thier more glamorous imports developing just such niggles on an annoyingly regular basis but only before decidedly unattractive, long schleps up north, invariably returning from the treatment room just in time to be available for selection for the more fashionable fixtures.

I'd hate to think Titi was capable of any such shirking but whatever the case, never in the illustrious history of our club was there an Arsenal player more deserving of being cut some slack by us "supporters". On the basis of Titi's incredibly consistent goal scoring tally these past few seasons, where he's singlehandedly carried the club with his crucial contributions for so long, according to the inevitability of the law of averages, the best player on the planet is long overdue a slump.

Even when Henry was nicking the odd goal in earlier games, the maestro was still struggling for his customary magical touch and as our overall confidence has waned with our inconsistent results, Henry's lack of form has become all the more apparent. Up until now, the difference has been that Thierry could afford an off day because he had colleagues to take up the slack. However that was when we had a guaranteed 15 goal a season contribution from the likes of Pires and Freddie. Having let Pires go (perhaps in light of the other significant departures, a season or so prematurely) and with Freddie so obviously losing that crucial yard of pace that means we can no longer depend on the Fredster for those timely burst into the box, we've suddenly lost the ability to be able to rely on outscoring any opponent, with goals coming from every Gunner.

Those additional 30 goals a season we were usually guaranteed from our two gifted midfielders, meant that it didn't really matter if Titi or his strike partner were struggling to hit a barn door. Rosicky looks like he might be a likely candidate to become a regular contributor to the goal tally, especially with his 30-yard screamers, but sadly to date Alexander Hleb all too often gets through loads of skilful footie with absolutely no end product.

As we made our miserable way back from the Cottage last Wednesday, winding our way across the capital back to the comfort of North London, we were discussing ways in which the boss might fulfil his desperate need to draw a line under the relative disasters of our season so far, before its too late and we are left with all the other also rans, with nothing to play for but pride, even before Santa's reindeers have got a run out.

In seasons past, where we've sadly grown all tto accustomed to a dodgy spell, there's usually been some specific incident, a dressing room confrontation, or some similar catalyst that's accepted as the turning point, that season's anno domini, the day when our assault proper on the Premiership silverware began. I wondered whether this was what Wenger intended with his first media free week for a decade, subsequent to his hoolie behavious at West Ham. Although if this was indeed Arsène's intention, it definitely didn't have the desired effect.

I always hark back to the truism that states every five years you either have to change your manager, or your team. Lest we forget, it's only when you list last summer's departures, Cashley, Sol, Bergkamp, Pires and whatever you thought of him Reyes, that you truly appreciate that any team, even one with apparent limitless resources, let alone ours, with our fiscal bare ass hanging out the back of our threadbare pants, would suffer such a significant loss of nearly half a team of fully fledged world stars.

In isolation you could perhaps accept that Le Prof had a valid argument for letting each individual go (all but Le Bob in my humble opinion). We could definitely do with Cashley's experience in defence right now, but I'd have got shot of him solely because if his display of such outrageous disloyalty. What's more I really don't believe the Blues fans are going to see the (so called) best left back in the world every week, as he may well derive pleasure from demonstrating his worth in matches like last weekend's table topping clash of the titans, but I'm convinced Cole has little to prove against lesser lights like Boro and I don't believe he has sufficient hunger to consistently produce similarly impressive performances to the one seen last Sunday agains Man Utd. The consensus of opinion from the pundits. suggests that we're far better off with a Willie than a C*** and the arrival of the versatile Gallas has stood us in such good stead to date, that when Cashley stood patting the side of his shorts last Sunday, demonstrating to Utd fans responsible for giving him so much stick, which particular pocket he'd been keeping the Portuguese striker in, this was absolutely the first time that I felt some mixed feelings about seeing Cole play in a Blue shirt.

Sol Campbell seems to have benefitted from playing for Pompey, without suffering nearly so much from the weight of exspectation which fell on his broad shoulders when appearing in an Arsenal shirt. But if he'd stayed with us, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the stress and the cumulative effect of the physical strain on his huge physique would've been reflected in the sort of niggling injuries which would've left Sol on the sidelines for the majority of the season.

Obviously Dennis Bergkamp was a one off, but rather than watching him deteriorate, there had to come a time when Dennis left us with our wonderful memories and we learned to face a future without him. Whereas personally I would've been much happier if we'd managed to hang on to Pires, so that we could at leat make use of him coming on from the bench as an impact player who was capable of changing a game for us. Love or loathe Reyes, with his failure to qualify for MENSA membership, Jose efforts for Real Madrid have demonstrated that when making the most of his talents, he's more than capable of scoring influential goals.

So having lost half a team, perhaps Arsène might benefit from having a fresh face to assist with half his management responsibilities, so that instead of being surrounded by yes men like Pat Rice, there be another voice in the dressing room capable of expressing an alternative school of thought when necessary. If at the same time we were blessed by a Don Howe type character who was capable of sorting out our defensive lapses by implenting the sort of regimental set piece drills that need to be second nature, then all the better.

However it's hardly likely that le Prof would take on a partner to relieve him of some of his responsibilities and perhaps inspire the players with alternative motivational methods and a voice that some of the players haven't grown tired of listening to. In the absence of such a wholesale revolution, who knows, hopefully the minor alteration of leaving out our captain could have the desired effect. We managed without Thierry at Old Trafford and if we are lucky his absence might see some of our other players feeling like they have licence to take more responsibility without treading on Titi's toes. They might even be inclined to threaten the enemy's goal, knowing that there's no-one else who's going to conjure up the winner for them and that they won't end up being bawled out by their captain for failing to give him the ball

Meanwhile, based purely on the law of averages, Spurs must be due a win at our place, not having enjoyed one since '93. As a result I am fully expecting the worst case scenario, so at least the disappointment won't leave me with the Samaritans on speed dial!!! And if our encounter with Tottenham should prove the turning point we've all been waiting for, then my absolute lack of expectation will ensure that I enjoy it with even greater Gooner gusto than usual

Come on you Reds!


Anonymous said...

I'm hardly one to talk, but that post was a little long. Which was a shame because it was a good read...

Anonymous said...

Am just wondering what has happened to the blog? I was looking forward to hearing, what would no doubt be highly enjoyable, articles about the games against Spurs and Chelsea. Not that I'm complaining or anything considering all the enjoyment I have got for nothing, I am just wondering is all...