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Tuesday 6 March 2007

Never Mind The High Ground, The British Media Would Be More At Home In A Moral Quagmire

Hi Folks

If I'd felt a little more inspired I'd have likely avoided the subject altogether. However after accusing Arséne of losing it somewhat last week, it seemed only fair to focus on Saturday's far less rabid post-match reaction, where le gaffer's good humour would suggest that he's benefited from the passing of time, by being able to view events in their proper perspective.

Meanwhile I'm not sure whether it's nerves which have resulted in something of a literary drought, but I was recently reminded that the Arsenal were in worse shape leading up to last season's sortie to Madrid. What we all wouldn't give on Wednesday for a reprise of the magical ecstasy we experienced in the Bernabeu.

Only fate knows whether we are destined for the timely boost of tonking PSV. Yet even if such a feat should prove a step too far, at the very least I expect the lads to do us and themselves proud, with all our young guns blazing in a glory or bust type performance, rather than limping out of world football's most prestigious tournament with nary a whimper. Perhaps successive Champions League finals is expecting a little too much, but so long as our talented young squad do themselves justice on such a glamorous stage, with a display that demonstrates the true brilliance of the Gunners future.

Watching West Ham's demise in the umpteenth minute of injury time on Sunday was a stark reminder that the beautiful game is always only the odd shot on goal away from being such a cruel beast. Even as a not so neutral, the upshot of this encounter at Upton Park was absolutely unbelievable and I can't possibly begin to imagine the Hammers' fans unbearable pain.

However it certainly put a different perspective on our date with PSV, leaving me duly grateful for the privilege of enjoying the Gunners perform on such a grand stage and truly blessed to be a Gooner

Come on you rip roaring Reds

On reflection, we were fortunate that Reading were the visitors on Saturday. I’ve always been an admirer of Steve Coppell’s footballing philosophy. As far as most pundits were concerned, Coppell’s failure to break the bank, to strengthen his humble Championship winning squad last summer, made Reading favourites for instant relegation. Consequently the wonderful way in which the Royals have prospered in the Premiership to date, has been one in the eye, for all those who would have us believe that money has become the be all and end all, as far as the beautiful game is concerned.

There can’t be many more worthy candidates for manager of the season than the unassuming and unbelievably unflappable gaffer of a side that’s achieved such consistent success, against teams containing star players who have cost more than the entire Reading squad put together. Yet more importantly, most newly promoted teams arrive in the Premiership merely intent on survival. Their desperate efforts to consolidate their highly prized position, as one of the twenty cash cows burying their heads in the top-flight trough, has all too often translated itself into limited ambitions on the pitch, with the sort of percentage football that has in the past proved to be the most feasible route to amassing the required number of points to beat ones immediate rivals to the holy grail of ending the season higher than 17th and avoiding the dreaded drop.

By contrast, Reading have been a remarkable breath of fresh air. Coppell has imbued a squad largely devoid of prima-donnas, with a sense of belief in the synergy that has enabled Reading’s whole to equal and occasionally surpass the sum of many of their opponents' individual parts. In so doing, Reading have offered hope to all the other Championship sides, by proving that Premiership survival isn’t solely dependent on the size of a club’s bank balance and by demonstrating that there is “another way”, one which offers far more entertainment value to the long-suffering fans.

Where in the past, fans of promoted teams have been expected to shell out inflated Premiership ticket prices, week in, week out, whilst wallowing in an inferiority complex that leaves them with little expectation of success, merely grateful for the privilege of an all too brief Premiership ride, Royals’ fans have been turning up at the Madjeski all season, marvelling at a team that’s been prepared to take on supposedly far more talented opposition. Win, lose or draw their fans (and football lovers everywhere) have enjoyed Reading’s efforts to express themselves, as opposed to the sort of prosaic exercise in containment, that we regularly witness from sides who are less certain of their right to compete at this level.

Similarly the Arsenal’s reputation as the purveyor of a passing game, which, at our peak, enables us to embarrass the very best on the planet, has ensured that we’ve grown accustomed to opponents “parking their bus” in front of their goal when visiting our new stadium. Thus, following on from the gut-wrenching disappointment of our two cup defeats and in advance of a Champions League encounter, which will either offer our season much needed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or which will result in the team from the Netherlands nailing shut the coffin lid on an anti-climactic campaign, Arsène Wenger couldn’t have wished for the fixture schedule to throw up more suitable opposition.

If we’d endured 90 frustrating minutes, battling in vain against more obdurate visitors, Saturday’s match certainly wouldn’t have offered the sort of boost to our confidence which was wanted in advance of Wednesday’s far more crucial encounter against PSV. Admittedly we were in serious danger of blowing it near the end and I can’t help but wonder as to Wenger’s post-match reaction, if Reading had managed to equalise. However a win is a win and the fact that both teams’ efforts reflected their manager’s analogous approach to the way the game should be played, was perhaps an added tonic.

“What a difference a day makes”, as our jocular manager managed a total transformation from the man, who only 24 hours earlier had appeared to be in such an utter tizzy in his Friday press conference. Such was Wenger’s conviction that the whole world was persecuting him and his team, that I was half-expecting an appearance from the men in white coat to turn up. Le Prof might struggle to maintain his customary serenity on the touchline these days, but I can’t ever recall Arsène appearing quite so apoplectic for a meeting with the media rat-pack.

Who knows whether it was solely the relief of a win that was responsible for Saturday’s light-hearted post-match reaction, or the eventual realisation that the wrath of the FA is likely to have such a hefty impact on his bank balance. But for a man who, in the opinion of some pundits, is utterly allergic to any form of apology, I suppose his smirking assertion that his decision making off the pitch during the previous few days, was as suspect as some of his players choices on the park, was about as close as Arsène gets to a public act of contrition.

Although it’s a little hard to swallow our erudite manager’s suggestion that he’s merely a victim of the subtleties of the English language, as to my mind he could’ve been speaking in tongues and there’d still be no mistaking his allegations about the official’s mendacity. With the benefit of hindsight, while he might continue to stand his ground, I’ve little doubt that Wenger will regret not having taken a less accusatory stance.

However, above all, I have to laugh at the totally OTT way in which Arsène has found himself being lambasted by the media. When I think back to Wenger’s stoicism in the face of the farcical allegations of paedophilia, within days of having arrived in this country and in light of the chants of the lowlife scum that constantly remind us of this appalling character assassination, I wonder how on earth the press has the front to occupy the moral high ground over a mistake that's a mere faux-pas by comparison.

Meanwhile Arsène can continue to libel every linesman in the land as far as I’m concerned, so long as he’s able to foster the sort of ‘fortress Arsenal’ spirit that enables us to turn around the single goal deficit on Wednesday. Sadly PSV will be determined to ensure that it isn’t anything like as open an encounter as we enjoyed at the weekend. But if only we can achieve the result that would take us into the last eight, with a whole month to prepare for the Champions League quarterfinals, it might yet be a season to remember?
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