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Saturday, 13 January 2007

Half-term Harumph!

(since there was a problem with my blog which meant that only those using Internet Explorer or Safari could read it, I've reposted this piece from Monday. Someone on one of the help forums kindly pointed me towards a line of code in my template that was causing the problem and having deleted this line, it seems to have solved the problem, although being a bit of a techno nincompoop, I haven't really got the foggiest what it was doing there in the first place and similarly haven't got a clue what the consequences might be, but I guess if you are reading this, then it's worked out OK :-)

Having answered a few half-term questions for the Observer's The Verdict and having written a similar report for a Premiership supplement for the Irish Examiner, I though I might as well post it for all you sad Gooners, who like me, having nothing better to do with your time :-)

Although in truth, considering I wrote the Examiner piece after blowing three points against the Blades and prior to demolishing Charlton and gunning down the Cup holders on their home turf, I've no doubt it would've ended up sounding a whole heap more optimistic if I'd sat down to do it today. Hopefully the same will still be true after the kids have done us proud in the Carling Cup tomorrow night

I absolutely detest making predictions of any sort (especially in writing, when they can come back to haunt you and you can't deny making them!) and I'm none to fond of having to give marks out of ten to the Observer, in particular for individual players, as to my mind each individual's performance is so dependent on that of their team mates. For example someone gave me a hard time for marking Aliadière so low after the Bramall Lane fiasco.

However I usually have to rattle the marks off, five minutes after the match, as something of an afterthought and if I had my way, I'd give them all the same figure. What's more it is easy to suggest I should've been more generous, when reading these marks over a leisurely Sunday breakfast, but as I explained to this bloke, when one is stuck in traffic getting away from a game, embarking on a three hour drive home (traffic permitting), having schlepped all the way up there to watch such a frustratingly lacklustre effort, it's impossible to have a detached opinion. Similarly, I'm sure if I'd been received a call after Saturday's match, in the euphoria of the moment, I'd have doubtless forgotten the fact that Senderos came about a goal post's width away from giving away a disatrous own goal, or Manny Eboué's childish play acting and would've been inclined to have given everyone a ten!

As far as the relegation candidates are concerned, to be honest I only mentioned these three in the hope that I might be proved wrong, as to be honest, for us travelling fans, it would be a bit of a disaster to see Charlton, Watford and West Ham replaced by long treks to the likes of Derby, Brum and Preston. Personally I reckon that with the signing of Boa Morte and the return of a fit Dean Ashton, West Ham should have the firepower to effect a rescue. Sadly, while Watford have plenty of spirit, I doubt they've sufficient quality to avoid the drop and as far as Charlton are concerned, I'm afraid I've never seen more likely relegation fodder

Aplogies if I've ended up repeating any of the sentiments expressed below, elsewhere
Come on you Reds

Big Love

> What's the season so far been like? With a mark out of 10

Having recorded a triumphant victory at Old Trafford, a defiant draw at Stamford Bridge and 3-0 drubbings at home versus the Scousers and our local derby against the Dark Side, it's hard to believe the season so far could be so disappointing. Yet it's been the Gunners consistent failure to grind out three points in many of the less glamorous encounters which has proved our Achilles Heel. Ultimately the fact that Spurs fans feel they might be in with a realistic chance of finishing above us, just about says it all. Could do much better 6

> Where will you finish?

If we finish higher than 4th I'll be happy.

> Who will go down?

Sadly Charlton, Watford and on current form West Ham (as they're all short journeys for us travelling Gooners!)

> Who will be champions?

ABC. Anyone But Chelsea

> Your club's star man/men?

Adebayor for his goals and Gilberto for stepping up to the plate when needed. But above all Fabregas who's perhaps the most gifted footballer in the Premiership

> Your club's boo-boys, if any?

Julio Baptista is likely to become a target for the boo-boys if he doesn't prove to be more of a Beast than a pussycat. Certainly not Thierry Henry (as reported), since Titi could take a two season sabbatical and would still walk on water as far as we are concerned.

Half-term Harumph

Off the pitch it’s been a historic season for the Gunners, sadly on the pitch so far it’s been largely forgettable. With the move to the new stadium, much of the first few games were spent settling into our new surroundings. As modern edifices go, there’s no doubt it’s a hugely impressive structure and having swapped our seats for a move from the upper to the lower tier, I am not complaining, because we’ve a marvellous view of proceedings, for less than half the £1875 (each!) we were previously paying.

However from the nostalgia that I’ve felt when visiting traditional, old-fashioned football grounds such as Craven Cottage, I cannot escape this sense that our new place lacks soul. No doubt fans of every other club who’ve experienced this traumatic transition will have shared similar mixed feelings about their new home, but it’s hard to imagine that I’ll ever have the same emotional attachment to our huge new arena, that I felt towards Highbury.

Old habits die hard and although there’s a good chance of getting stuck behind the procession of lorries fetching and carrying materials and rubble, I continue to pay homage to the muddy building site that has become of our majestic old home, turning off the main route to drive down Avenell Road almost twice daily, as if to masochistically remind myself that nothing now exists of the old stadium, other than the listed shells of the Art Deco East and West Stands. This painful memento of our marble halled past and the modernistic vision of the Arsenal’s future are encapsulated in the space a few hundred yards, as our new arena looms into view the moment you turn left into Aubert Park, filling the landscape at the bottom of the hill, like some gargantuan Gooner spaceship.

At night the new stadium is lit up by an eerie yellow glow from the lamps used to promote the growth of the grass on our pristine playing surface, giving it the appearance of a scene straight out of Close Encounters and this sci-fi theme continues on the pitch, where our inconsistent performances to date have been akin to a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

In the recent past, a first half of a season where we’ve recorded a triumphant victory at Old Trafford, a defiant draw at Stamford Bridge and 3-0 drubbings at home versus the Scousers and our local derby against the Dark Side, would’ve been deemed a fairly successful campaign so far. In fact, in a straight head-to-head tournament with the other top three clubs in the country, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we ended up coming out on top. However there are 16 other clubs involved in the Premiership and while we’ve had no trouble raising our game to produce competitive performances in the glamorous fixtures, sadly basically the same first XI has consistently failed to turn up for arduous encounters with many of the league’s lesser lights.

Up until the somewhat flattering goalfest against Blackburn, in every other game at the new gaff, if we scored first we went on to win 3-0 (Sheff. Utd., Watford, Liverpool, Spurs) and when the opposition took the lead we ended up sharing the points (1-1 against Villa, Boro, Everton, Newcastle and 2-2 against Pompey). Add to this the points we dropped on the road against Man City and West Ham and we were soon lagging well behind the two horse race for the title. Any last vestige of hope that we had of inviting ourselves to this party, disappeared with our almost annual disappointing display at the Reebok, promptly followed by our first defeat to Fulham in 40 years, in a positively dire display at Craven Cottage.

This prompted the much publicised contretemps involving our captain, where rumour has it that Henry wasn’t at all happy to be told that Gilberto would be taking over the armband until the end of the season. Truth be told, Titi had been getting away with it up until then, as to my mind he hadn’t been “on his game” all season and most Gooner hopes rest on the return of a reinvigorated Thierry, in time to effect a rescue while we are still in with a shout of some silverware.

At our best we remain perhaps the most entertaining team in the land. Yet as we witnessed at Bramall Lane, losing to Sheffield Utd for the first time in 33 years, our Achilles Heel continues to be our inability to roll our sleeves up, when the going gets tough. Hopefully the steel that’s been so patently lacking of late, will be restored to the side in the New Year, when we welcome back the likes of Gallas, Diaby and Lauren, since Wenger doesn’t appear to have any intentions of adding to the club’s substantial debt during the transfer window.

The most optimistic note to date has been the performance of the kids in the Carling Cup, where Denilson, Traore, Walcott and co. have offered a glimpse of a bright Gooner future. On the basis that the law of averages would suggest that a repeat of last season’s feats in the Champions League would be most unlikely, then basically this season prospects of any silverware will all rest on the three days next week that involve our two condensed cup dates with the Scousers.
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