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Tuesday 16 January 2007

Don't Like It Up 'Em?....I Should Coco!

Saturday’s triumph at Ewood Park might well be a turning point for this Arsenal squad. Perhaps not such an obvious catalyst as the defeat to Blackburn in December ’97, that sparked the heart-to-heart in the Highbury dressing room, which saw us go on to win the Double and it certainly won’t result in nearly so many column inches as the exploits of our Carling Cup kids, after scoring six at Anfield for the first time since 1914. Yet I’ve an inkling it could prove to be particularly significant.

Personally I’ve never set much store in the argument that our current side can’t cope with the physical aspects of Premiership football. Yet perceptions are everything in football and ever since the departure of Patrick Vieira, we’ve been perceived as a somewhat lightweight, pretty passing outfit, who could be bullied off the ball all too easily. As a result this has not only affected the approach of those opponents who’ve known full well that they’ve not a hope of matching us in a straight contest of ability, but it’s also impacted on the mindset of our own players.

We Gooners have grown all too accustomed to our players throwing their toys out of the pram in petulant, post-match tizzies, due to their frustration at the opposition’s 'spoiler' tactics, as if they’d some god-given right to demonstrate their talents unhindered. In some respects Arsène has probably contributed to this school of thought, as his steadfast refusal to criticise his troops has only encouraged their ‘hard done by’ attitude. Even in the face of overwhelming televisual evidence, we’re used to our manager resorting to blaming his myopia, rather than currying favour with the neutral and admitting his players’ obvious failings.

Then again, there can be no denying the loyalty that's engendered in the Arsenal camp, by le Prof’s unswerving principles. Sadly we now appear to be living in a world where nearly everyone has their price and where respect can be calculated by the fiscal cost of a player’s fealty. Thus the esteem of the Arsenal squad for their manager can be measured in terms of the trouble taken to prize Patrick Vieira away, or, mercifully, the failure (to date!) to persuade perhaps the world’s greatest player, that the grass is any greener elsewhere. You can be darn sure that if it weren’t for the mutual respect involved in the relationship between Wenger, the Arsenal’s sorcerer and his apprentice, Thierry Henry would currently be counting his wonga in warmer climes on the Continent.

By contrast, the Not So Special One might possess the man-management tools to motivate a Championship winning team, but there’s a certain insincerity about Mourinho, an inclination to stab his own stars in the back if it serves his purpose, that means there can never be the same element of absolute trust in the Chelsea camp. In all honesty, I’m convinced the title is Man Utd’s to win or lose, as Mighty Mouth will truly have to prove himself to be special, if he’s to convince his players to die for him out on the field, when there’s so much doubt about his own future.

Meanwhile I’m sure I’m not the only Gooner who’s found myself groaning in frustration because I’ve felt the Gunners have needed a good old-fashioned kick up the backside, after our abysmal efforts against the likes of Bolton and Fulham. When, instead of which, le Gaffer has come out and offered a conciliatory arm around his charges shoulder, blaming the opposition’s physical approach, or the fatigue in his poor little soldiers legs.

Arsène sure wasn’t short of a few excuses on Saturday, with the likes of Kolo Touré running his socks off for the third time in a week, down to ten men after only ten minutes, in atrocious conditions that weren’t suited to a passing team who prefer to keep the ball on the deck and against an aggressive Blackburn Rovers. None of us would’ve been too surprised if we’d succumbed to a set-piece goal and ended up blowing all three points.

However where our opponents highly-charged, pressing game might have forced a flustered Arsenal into conceding possession, far too cheaply, only a couple of weeks back, suddenly we’ve become an entirely different proposition. With 13 goals in the three victories since New Year’s day, the return of a reinvigorated Henry and surfing on a wave of confidence since last Tuesday’s demonstration of the boundless depths of ability amongst the youngsters in Wenger’s squad, any fear of the opposition has fast been replaced, by the knowledge that there’s a highly motivated young replacement, perfectly capable of filling the boots of anyone who fails to pull their weight.

It was extremely important to maintain the winning momentum on Saturday, as it’s just about the first time this season that we’ve escaped the inertia of inconsistency. Arsène recognised this, as in the past he would’ve reacted to Gilberto’s red card by sacrificing a striker and reinforcing our midfield.

However having finally hit our stride, there was no need to match Blackburn's muscle. Once our passes unerringly began to find their mark, Rovers could press all they like, as they only encouraged the pretty triangles that left them chasing shadows and looking like they were the man short.

Moreover there was evidence of a disdainful “no you can’t have the ball back” type resolve, which we’ve rarely seen on trips to the Northwest, as if the sending off only made us even more indignant. There was no sign of the shivering Southern softies, in face of the bare-chested Northern bullies and it looked as if the Gunners were going to grind out the eponymous “1-0 to the Arsenal” until the sensational interplay between Fabregas and Henry for the second goal, which as they say, was worth the price of admission alone!

There might've been plenty of empty seats amongst the home fans but I’m delighted to report that both Upper and Lower tiers containing the travelling faithful behind the goal, were swollen with nineteen coach loads of Green Gooners. At a bargain 79 Euros, I’m certain they’ll have all felt that the long schlep over from Ireland was worthwhile, if only for the perfect view of this ‘pièce de resistance’.

Both goals were evidence of the Gunners long overdue return to some real form, as Henry’s free-kick found the head of the single only Arsenal player in the penalty area for the first goal. While Henry and Fabregas were surrounded by the vast majority of the home side, as the two of them scythed their way through, travelling almost the length of the pitch, almost as if they were alone on the pitch, before Titi caressed home the second, without breaking stride.

If I’m left with one gripe, it’s the sense that ref Stiles couldn’t have possibly ever experienced the game as a player. Otherwise he’d have been able to appreciate that it'd take some kind of saint not to react to Robbie Savage’s aggressive assault. What’s more anyone who’s ever played the game would know that there was an absolute absence of malice in Gilberto’s instinctive flick of the leg, compared to Tugay’s criminal effort to knobble Fabregas. I’m sure most footie fans will agree that if Gilberto was going to get himself sent off, it was a great shame it wasn’t for giving Savage a seriously painful dig to remember him by!

Yet after seeing Chimbonda getting away with slapping Butt around the face on Sunday, the most galling consequence of this complete lack of consistency, is our “Invisible Wall’s” subsequent suspension for three crucial games. Talk about the punishment not fitting the crime! Man Utd, Spurs and Bolton are three games where we can least afford to loose Gilberto’s consummate ability to break up opposition attacks. Who knows, perhaps we’ll witness the sort of seamless replacement which might actually lead one to conclude that we’ve rediscovered something of the Invincibles (mind you, I wish it were otherwise, but I can’t help but have the horrors at the thought of Ronaldo terrorising Hoyte!). Hopefully Justin will come of age over the next few months and will allay all previous concerns about his defensive nous, as his confidence peaks along with the rest of his team mates.

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Anonymous said...

too long man, just post it up on a forum where mediocre, long winded and incoherent views will be read by those who have no dignity towards what they read.

Bern said...

No one's putting a gun to your head to read it and if it weren't for long-winded buggers like myself, there'd be no need for editors. For future reference please feel perfectly free to read the edited version in the Arena section at at

Anonymous said...

lovely article, i thouroughly enjoyed it. Don't know what that fool is on about above....

Ryan said...

Yeah ignore that 1st comment - I always enjoy reading your column, keep them coming!


Bern said...

Woah Ryan, watch out mate, or you'll be encouraging more long-winded, incoherent drivel if you're not careful

Thanks a million, the odd note of encouragement is extremely gratifying as otherwise I end up wondering if I'm only talking to myself and the occasional caustic critic :-)