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Saturday 13 January 2007

Que Sera, Sera??

(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 :-)

Setting off from South Mimms on Saturday, in murky, wet conditions, for a 400-mile round trip and in a none too optimistic mood with our Spanish midfield maestro suspended and with the game live on the box, none of us knew why we were making the long schlep to the North-West. In such miserable circumstances, us masochistic suckers for punishment know just what it’s like to be the moth, instinctively drawn towards the flame, even though there’s every prospect of having our wings singed once again, by another inconsistent performance from our fair-weather team.

Yet after suffering such frustrating outings as those to Bolton and Sheffield, you dare not stop at home, for fear of missing out on one of those special occasions, which obliterates the memory of former scars and serves as a reminder of the rewards on offer. to those of us who endure the hardship and expense of the travelling fan. Meanwhile the relentless rainfall on Saturday ensured that the further North we drove, the more I fretted that it might be a wasted journey, as the radio revealed that matches at Barnet and then Reading had fallen victim to the atrocious weather.

Sadly, even their famous Kop is not immune to the disease that afflicts all modern Premiership stadia, as recent encounters with the Scousers have proved disappointingly quiet. Despite this fact Anfield remains one of my favourite awaydays of the season.

Unlike the still somewhat soulless environment of our new stadium – especially with the recent, preposterously PC flag ban – there remains some sense that LFC has not totally relinquished its relationship with the club’s working class roots. Moreover there exists a mutual respect between the fans of these two great footballing institutions, as witnessed by the way in which the majority of us Gooners were moved, by Saturday’s emotionally charged and impressive “Justice for the 96” protest.

To be honest, you wouldn’t catch me complaining if us fans made our feelings known with this sort of demo more frequently, as in this instance it was the ideal kickstart to the atmosphere and made for a good old-fashioned, fervent FA Cup occasion.

In fact it was like stepping back in time, in more ways than one, as on the pitch we Gooners savoured a first-half smash-and-grab, followed by the sort of backs-to-the-wall, remarkably resilient display after the break that was far more George Graham than Arsène Wenger!

It was evident right from the off that it was going to take a big-hearted performance, if we were going to make it into the hat for the 4th round, as inspired by the home fans’ sonorous display of solidarity, the Scousers were bang up for it, hardly giving the Gunners breathing space, let alone time on the ball. In such a pressure cooker climate, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that those of us behind the goal were left holding our breath, when Gilberto was enticed into making a rash tackle on Alonso, in the box, right in front of us.

If this incident had taken place down the other end of the pitch, there’s little doubt that the Kop’s raucous reaction would’ve been likely to result in the ref awarding a penalty and the relief amongst us Gooners was positively palpable, when Bennett booked Alonso instead. Yet while I’ll concede that there definitely was contact and that it was far from being a blatant dive, there was some element of a wily Alonso attempting to earn a penalty.

I’ve an inkling that Bennett might’ve started the match with the thought in his mind that he was intent on clamping down on any attempts to mug him off with simulation and thus he jumped all over, what he perceived to be his first opportunity to prove this point. If he’d pointed to the spot and the Scousers had scored first, I suspect the afternoon might’ve taken an all-together less satisfactory course.

Tommie Rosicky proved his World Cup feats weren’t a fluke, when he tonked one in from outside the area in Hamburg, back in September and we’ve been waiting all season for a repeat performance. It proved well worth the wait and when he bagged a second for good measure, moments before the break, facing the prospect of a long second half siege, I enquired “Can we go home now?”

If the first forty-five flew by, the second half seemed to last an eternity, as inevitably the Arsenal sat back and failed to stem the endless supply of crosses. Mathieu Flamini has a big heart, but he’s no Steve Gerrard when it comes to natural ability, while Phillipe Senderos has all too often looked a nervous wreck at the back in recent weeks. Considering pre-match concerns that these two might prove to be our weakest links, it was a delightful irony that they both turned out to be our unlikely heroes, throwing their bodies in front of the ball and relentlessly thwarting Scouse attacks at every opportunity, with the sort of tireless display that typified the Arsenal’s stalwart second-half effort.

However it was almost inevitable that we were going to succumb at some stage and when Kuyt did eventually find the back of the net, we were fortunate to have the majestic Henry at hand, to prevent the home side’s resurrection gathering momentum and to kill the game off in such fine style.

Typically a brief burn of the Henry turbo would leave the likes of Carragher for dead, allowing Titi time for a cup of tea and a read of the papers, before the arrival of his opponent. The analysis on MOTD lauded Henry’s lightning pace but from our prospective, at full pelt Henry appeared a little short of his usual speed, struggling to catch up with Carragher. As it turned out, it was the loss of this race which enabled Titi to steal the ball, leave the defender for dead on the deck and go on to win the war. More sweet justice for those of us can’t forget the Liverpuddlian thievery in the ‘02 final.

Considering how often we saw Senderos, leaping like a salmon, to head clear, perhaps Benitez would’ve been better served by bringing on the diminutive Bellamy. However we left all such discussions to the post-mortems on the local radio phone-ins, as we departed Merseyside in a euphoric mood. Mind you it was ironic to hear one caller complain about our bullyboy tactics, talk about the bitten biting!

In general there’s no mistaking the Scousers pedigree, when it comes to their appreciation of high-class entertainment, as evidenced by the display of mutual admiration, as Henry took his leave before the final whistle. Unlike the yuppie Gooners who I overhear grumbling about their mortgage rates at half-time at our new gaff, I rather suspect Scouse aficionados might’ve been enviously marvelling over Rosicky’s stunning strike.

However I imagine Thierry was concerned to ensure we didn’t think he was too cosy with the Kop’s Henry appreciation society, as he reappeared with the rest of the team at the final whistle, to indulge in a bit of reassuring badge kissing.

Personally I won’t believe it until footie fans are actually walking down Wembley Way and for the third successive season, we now face a confrontation with our FA Cup nemesis, if we’re going to get any closer. Nevertheless it was great fun to finally sing “She wore a yellow ribbon in the merry month of May” without the lame ending of the last few seasons, since to my mind “Caaaardiff” doesn’t scan. Moreover I’d completely forgotten the magical sound of a rousing chorus of “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. We’re going to Wem-ber-lee!”

In light of the almost annual diminution of the atmosphere at the Theatre of Dreams, seemingly in inverse proportion to the record size of their theatre-going audience and the fact that it almost felt like the good old days at Anfield on Saturday, I’d have to say that it was an even better awayday than our triumph at Old Trafford.

While Liverpool will be absolutely desperate to ensure we don’t extinguish all hope of any domestic silverware, with the pressure off our Carling Cup kids on Tuesday, it would be bloomin’ marvellous if we could maintain the winning momentum, especially if I can find some Gooner mad enough to accompany me all the way back up there again!

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