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Tuesday 6 February 2007

Karma's Gonna Get Ya

Hi folks

I have to be honest, as after an exhausting week, I managed to make it to Underhill on Friday night for the FA Youth Cup fifth round tie, thereby missing out on my weekly fix of jewish penicillin from my Ma's Friday night dinner. Having missed out on several previous opportunities to cast an eye over the promising likes of Fran Merida and Nacer Barazite, I was determined to catch this Youth Cup encounter.

Although I'm beginning to wonder if someone's trying to tell me something, as of my two most recent trips to Barnet, I arrived to find one match postponed and I couldn't get into the other, as they'd underestimated the expected crowd and there weren't enough stewards in attendance, to open an additional terrace. Turning up late as ever, I arrived to find a large throng of disappointed Gooners outside the ground and immediately gave up and went home, when I believe the vast majority of the more persistent present eventually got to see the game.

Then again I might as well have not bothered on Friday, as having crawled my way through the rush hour traffic (that always appears to triple on a Friday) and parked up at Underhill, only to discover I had a long hike all the way around virtually the entire circumference of the not so vast ground, with there being a change in the customary entrances in use, I'd already missed three goals by the time I stumped up my three quid entrance fee.

Although the first goal resulted from a massive deflection the second was supposedly a little bit special and it was bloody typical that it was the two players I'd specifically come to see, who'd already managed to get their names on the scoresheet. Thankfully I was the grateful recipient of a surprisingly detailed, ball by ball account from a particularly gregarious Gooner. Apparently Bristol City had replied by means of penalty and in truth I probably should have turned around and headed back home, as I proved to be a bit of a bok after that, with the remainder of the first half, the second half and extra-time offering little to write about other than the balls up before the break which resulted in Bristol's equaliser.

After extra-time and penalties (see below), followed by a decidedly uninviting schlep across the entire length of the capital, from Barnet to Dulwich and back to Highbury, merely in order to drop off a bit of wood which had somehow been forgotten about in the back of my motor, I eventually arrived home just in time for the dog to demand a trot, before promptly passing out on the sofa.

I believe it must've been the brightness of the sun, streaming in through the living room window which eventually caused me to stir with a shock the following morning, only to grab my mobile and discover to my horror that it was precisely eleven o'clock, the exact time that I was due to be meeting up at South Mimms. I was just grateful at that moment, for the small mercy that it wasn't any later and that Brian and John hadn't been left (in the words of Bob Marley) "Waiting in Vain" (as usual) for me to turn up.

They're both the sort staunch Gooners who would've undoubtedly considered waiting for me, but having informed them that it would take me at least an hour to get up to meet them, I am sure they were glad to be let off the hook by my assertion that they'd have to head off without me. Subsequent to which, I sat on the sofa considering my options , contemplating how I might make it up to Middlesborough in time for KO and if it wasn't for the fact that we were quite so strapped at the moment, I might well have dashed off to Kings Cross, hoping to catch up with them via a train to Teeside.

It's been a while since I last trusted British Rail to get me to a game and I wouldn't mind betting that these days, a one-way to the North East costs the best part of a one-er! With expensive outings to Cardiff and Holland on the immediate horizon, it wasn't long before I laid back down and decided that the Gunners would have to do without me for this one afternoon, opting for a further forty winks as an hors d'ouevres to the Scouse derby and a lazy day in front of the gogglebox.

Now while I've avoided telling an outright lie below, I've not been exactly forthcoming with the truth. However this has nothing to do with any fear that I might be accused of not being a genuine Gooner fanatic. It's simply down to the fact that I feel a complete and utter fraud, contributing to a Terrace Talk feature in the Irish Examiner, from the comfort of my armchair :-)

Peace & Love

PS. I suppose I'd better don crash helmet and flak jacket, in preparation for the barrage of stick I am likely to endure, from all those who've been on the wrong end of my "part-timer" teasing, whenever anyone else has whimped out of just such an outing!

Karma’s Gonna Get Ya

Philippe Senderos was struggling from the second he allowed Boro’s express train of a striker to get goal side of him on Saturday. Nevertheless from where I sat, it still felt like a fairly soft penalty. If one of our forwards had thrown himself down under the weight of Woodgate’s arm, at the other end of the pitch, Riley would’ve probably waived away the Arsenal’s appeals for a penalty. Whereas, despite the fact that the initial offence on Yakubu seemed to occur outside of the box, the ref appeared to make his mind up without a moment’s hesitation. Riley pointed to the spot and brandished the red card with such rapidity, it was as if he was intent on making a ‘how’s that for bias towards the big clubs’ type statement to all the home fans, who’d been taunting him with their (somewhat unjustified) “you’re not fit” and “12 men” chants, in the build up to this costly incident.

I am pretty sure Sol Campbell was in dire need of a fresh challenge and he probably wouldn’t be performing with anywhere near the same renewed enthusiasm, nor with such regularity, if he was still playing for the Gunners. Yet on witnessing Sol steaming in, with a couple of game saving, last-ditch challenges for Pompey, whilst watching Match of the Day, as he extended a long leg to produce the sort of trademark clinical tackle that made Sol the scourge of Premiership strikers, compared to the naivety of the lumbering Senderos’ somewhat clumsy looking assault, I couldn’t help but wonder what might have been.

But for the want of some experience at the back, to add the calming influence of a touch more composure, to the mix of exuberant vitality in Wenger’s youthful squad. Or if only William Gallas hadn’t spent most of the season so far on the sidelines, we might not have found ourselves having to climb the mountain quite so frequently, coming from a goal behind for the umpteenth (14th?) time, to rescue a result and might well have mounted a more credible title challenge.

Boro’s a bloomin’ long schlep for a single point. Especially in light of the fact that yet another late kick-off “oop North” afforded us an opportunity to gain some ground on the Scousers, after their derby day draw. Not to mention that Bolton’s win left us in need of establishing some breathing space, between us and those also-rans who retain delusions of Champions League grandeur. In this respect I was a little disappointed to discover that Arsène had apparently adjusted our team selection, with a view to containing the attacking threat of Downing, when to my mind it should be the other way around and we should be letting the opposition worry about us.

Admittedly, amidst all the excitement of Theo Walcott’s outings in recent weeks, his appearances have been marred by the absolute absence of any end product, as apparently the shoulders of our young prodigy aren’t quite up to bearing the massive weight of expectation that’s resulted ever since his ridiculous inclusion in the World Cup squad. Walcott’s locker is without doubt fit to burst with all the required tools, but until such time as he learns to make the best use of them, in the eyes of many, Theo’s still some way from looking like the finished product.

What’s more, as a natural striker, Walcott lacks the instinctive awareness of his defensive duties when played out wide and he’s left Justin Hoyte a little exposed on our left flank. However, to my mind, by playing a somewhat uncomfortable looking Flamini in this position, in an effort to offer Hoyte some protection, not only does this suggest that Wenger doesn’t have sufficient faith in Justin’s ability to prevent Downing from supplying Viduka and Yakubu with ammunition, but no matter how versatile and wholehearted Flamini is, he’s a long way from possessing the necessary pace and trickery to outfox defenders out on the wing.

Thus we were left with, albeit an increasingly impressive Gael Clichy, as our single only source of width. Whereas I would’ve preferred a more positive selection from le Prof, with the prospect of exposing a weakness in Boro’s left-back; thereby ensuring we wouldn’t have to fret about Downing flying forward because he’d have been too busy helping out at the back.

Although perhaps a pragmatic Wenger was a little worried about the likelihood of lactic acid in the oxygen deprived muscles of those leg-weary players, who performed for most of the 120 minutes of our midweek semi-final. I’m unsure whether this was Fabregas’ excuse for a somewhat lacklustre effort, where he failed to orchestrate the entire show in customary fashion. Or whether I should be praising Boro’s tactical awareness, in demonstrating the determination to deny Cesc the space to do any real damage.

Whatever the case, doubtless the return trip back to London would’ve seemed a helluva lot longer, had the Gunners failed to dig deep and display the necessary fortitude to avoid defeat. While there was much to be admired in the resolve shown by the likes of Kolo and Clichy, it was perhaps our captain’s point blank refusal to accept defeat that deserves most credit. As if in response to some of the tabloid guff, Thierry grafted his socks off all over the park, desperate to get us back into the game.

Personally I prefer a captain who doesn’t play with his back to his teammates and I’ve often criticised the lack of a vocal leader. Yet in this instance I’ve absolutely no complaints about Henry’s efforts to lead by example. It’s hard to imagine anything more inspiring for some of our youngsters, than the sight of a player of Titi’s calibre, working back to regain possession on the edge of our own area and maintaining the energy levels, to ensure that ultimately he was in the perfect place to prevent us going home empty-handed.

The up side to having battled our way back into so many games this season, is that at least we should’ve gone some way to putting a sock in the mouths of all those who perceive us as a soft touch. Above all, it would be more than a little churlish of me to be complaining, after a week when our reserves have embarrassed our local rivals, on route to a place in the last Cardiff final. We also did Man Utd a favour, as all it took was the first goal on Sunday, for an already demoralised outfit to crumble completely. Similarly if I were a Spurs fan, I’d seriously hope that their failure to turn up for the second leg resulted from the psychological stuffing they received in blowing a two-goal lead at White Hart Lane. Never mind North London bragging rights, I was amazed by the lack of intensity of a Spurs team playing for their place in a final for the first time in five years.

What’s more, while I wouldn’t wish harm on anyone, there was almost a poetic poignancy, watching an ebullient Gael Clichy rampaging down the wing last Wednesday, as I relayed the news coming from my radio earpiece of Ashley Cole being stretchered off with a knackered knee, on the very night when Chelsea could no longer do anything about obtaining a replacement. Talk about karma coming back to bite you on the bum!

In scraping past Bristol City on penalties at Underhill on Friday night, sadly our U18s exploits in the FA Youth Cup weren’t anywhere near as impressive as our Carling Cup kids. However if the rumour proves true and they’ve earned themselves the reward of a quarterfinal, to be played immediately after the first XI’s encounter against Wigan, I can’t wait to see whether the likes of Merida and Barazite (two more of our Academy’s continental discoveries) are able to rise to such a memorable occasion, playing on the hallowed turf in front of such a huge crowd?

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