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Friday 13 April 2007

All We Are Saying......Is Give Us A Goal

Hi folks

It would be surprising if the following piece should prove to be a
literary masterpiece. In truth I was half tempted not to bother
posting it, but then if I started employing a quality control
procedure over my own work, you'd probably only end up receiving a
couple of pieces a season! I was up most of Sunday night, staring at
my computer and then after an early start on Monday morning, I spent
most of the journey to St James Park trying to stay awake long enough
to finish it, before the battery on my laptop conked out.

Being the Boy Scout that I am, I had thought to charge up the spare
battery, specifically for this purpose, only to end up leaving it on
the couch. As a result, once we'd parked up in Newcastle, I plugged my
computer into a powerpoint at the nearest hotel, not fully
appreciating that there was a twenty minute uphill walk between me and
St James Park.

By the time I'd filed the following piece to the Examiner, hurried up
the hill, through the centre of town and on to St. James Park and then
mounted an assault on the eternal staircase up to the gods of the away
section, there was an utterly exasperated look on the faces of my
travelling companions, as I eventually arrived at our seats, gasping
for oxygen at that altitude, some twenty minutes after kick-off.
Normally, considering Newcastle is an eight hour round trip, even with
my tardy habits, I'd consider it downright criminal to miss close to a
quarter of the entire game (although I was listening on the radio).

However I did have a reasonable excuse, as I can't stint on the
Examiner considering their contribution to my footballing expenses and
to be perfectly honest, I was seriously contemplating not making the
trip, so that I might finish writing my piece. It was only because I
thought that I'd be able to finish my column in the back of the car on
the way up there that I decided to go for it.

Mind you, if I'd known beforehand quite what a non-event it was going
to be, I'm not sure I'd have bothered (like many other more sensible
Gooners, judging by the numbers of empty seats in the away section!).
But then there's some sort of moth to flame type fatal attraction as
far as these arduous end of season outings are concerned.

Even with an apparently utterly impotent strike force, where one is
not sure where our next goal is going to come from (encapsulated by
the fact that Gilberto, our defensive midfielder, once again looked
like our most likely threat on Shay Given's goal), this is just more
grist to the mill that makes me feel even more obliged to prove my
loyalty, by schlepping all the way up to the North-East for such
anodyne Bank Holiday fare.

It's as if one is attempting to earn the loyalty points needed for a
Club Class trip to Wembley next season and if there was indeed a
Gooner loyalty card, then Monday's outing would've definitely been
worth triple points! An afternoon spent milling around B & Q with the
Bank Holiday crowds, comparing shower fittings would've probably been
more eventful, than a match where all 22 players performed as if they
had better things to do and were merely intent on doing what was
necessary to avoid defeat.

If I'd known quite what a mediocre match it was going to be, I
certainly wouldn't have risked an oxygen deprived heart-attack,
hurrying to the match, as in truth I could've turned up at half-time
and still not have missed any goalmouth action of any note!

During the drive North I'd phoned the Examiner sports desk, to find
out if my column was expected as normal. The Terrace Talk feature in
the Examiner's Arena sports supplement is made up with contributions
from myself and those from supporters of Man Utd, Chelsea and
Liverpool. With none of the other three teams involved in Bank Holiday
games because of midweek European fixtures, I alone was filing my copy
in advance of an afternoon match. So I enquired if it'd be possible to
forward a revised version after the final whistle, in order that I
might tag on any comments which might arise from our encounter with
the Toon Army.

About the only saving grace as we trudged back down the hill,
returning to the car in such a disconsolate mood that we couldn't even
be bothered to discuss the game, was that at least I didn't have to
rush to concoct some sort of rewrite, as there was absolutely sweet FA
to say about this mind-numbingly drab affair, other than to question
our own sanity for not having stopped at home and endured the event on

I remember commenting at half-time that the game was live on Sky's
Pay-Per-View and that you'd have to feel like some kind of mug to have
stumped up twelve quid to watch such a pony performance and as the
words came out of my mouth, I wondered what that made those of us
who'd forked out 35 quid for a match ticket and who'd got out of our
beds at 7am on a Bank Holiday, for a round trip trek of over 500
miles, for 90 minutes of soporific soccer. Stark raving bonkers I

Big Love

Match of the Day's Goal of the Month competition is often
a reasonable barometer of the Arsenal's form. The fact that our only
inclusion in the March goalfest was as the team on the receiving end
of one of Peter Crouch's strikes, sums up our miserable month. In
truth, considering we've endured our most inconsistent season for many
a moon, it's amazing our unbeaten record at the new stadium actually
lasted as long as it did.

Whilst many might point to our profligacy in front of
goal, to my mind Saturday's matchday programme must be partially
culpable for our first ever defeat in our new premises, as the stats
feature fatefully revealed that the third game of West Ham's only
winning streak of more than two games last season was their 2-3
triumph at Highbury. Additionally, in a section dedicated to pertinent
facts and figures, it was positively asking for a slap in the face,
when they went on to presume that the visitors had an "exceptionally
slim" chance of going on to win after taking a first-half lead,
according to the form guide.

Sadly Bobby Zamora didn't appear the least bit bothered by
the long list of stats that suggested this game would be a stroll for
the Gunners, as he lobbed Lehmann on the stroke of half-time. Whoever
it was, they were spot on when they spoke about "lies, damn lies and

Saturday's game was dedicated to Bob Wilson's admirable
Willow Foundation (set up in honour of his daughter, to provide
special days for seriously ill young people). Sitting beside Bob in
the Director's Box, perhaps Catherine Tate was their guest, but if
she's a Gooner, then I'm sure she's bound to be more than a little bit
"bovvered" by the three defeats on the spin, which have suddenly seen
us slip back towards the chasing pack of also-rans, perilously close
to blowing our crucial qualification for the Champions League.

Nevertheless I've absolutely no truck with the so-called
supporters who booed the Gunners off at the break and who doubtless
would've done likewise at the final whistle, if it wasn't for the fact
that the majority of them were already halfway along Holloway Road in
their rush to get home (on a Saturday afternoon?).

Even after a dreadfully lacklustre display at Anfield, the
hard-core, loyal Gooners who schlepped all the way up to Liverpool,
did their best to laugh off this embarrassing defeat. Whereas perhaps
our new gaff attracts a larger element of Gooners who demand results
in return for some of the meshugana prices and who therefore feel more
entitled to express their displeasure.

In respect of goalmouth thrills and spills, personally I
thought Saturday's game was great value. Moreover I've always believed
there was nothing to be gained from booing one's own team, even when
it's deserved, as it's hardly going to encourage them to try harder.
In my book, anyone is entitled to a bad day at the office, so long as
I'm satisfied that they've played their hearts out. In truth our only
failing against the Hammers was our blatant inability to find the back
of the bloomin' net.

With RĂ³na in Dublin, I took my West Ham supporting boss
with me in her stead. Dave hasn't been back to watch a game with me,
since his beloved Hammers endured a humiliating drubbing at Highbury
some years back. Where, if I recall correctly, we absolutely tore
through them, scoring three in the first twenty minutes. According to
him (up until Saturday at least!) most Hammers fans were resigned to
their relegation fate. Yet with their predilection for aesthetic
football, they're intent on enjoying the artistry of the likes of
Carlos Tevez, while they still can. What's more he couldn't pass up
this opportunity (possibly his last for some time) to watch the Irons
first appearance at our new stadium.

He was suitably impressed as we passed the huge concrete
Arsenal letters and approached what has perhaps become my favourite
aspect of our new arena, crossing the south bridge, with the
unmistakeable Clock End timepiece recently installed in an
eye-catching position, high up on the shiny glass and concrete

The entire east side of the stadium is rapidly becoming
obscured from sight by the row of apartment blocks, which seem to be
reaching for the sky with every passing day. There's an apparent halo
effect with a rash of other massive developments in the vicinity, as
the entire area appears condemned to yuppiefication. I might curse the
constant convoys of tipper trucks, which often make me even later for
work in the morning, but at least the construction traffic has caused
me to cease my superstitious habit of using Avenell Rd. as a shortcut.

Mercifully I no longer have to shed a tear each time I
pass the two wretched looking, listed Art Deco facades of the old East
and West stands, precariously propped up by RSJs, standing there like
defiant but somewhat decrepit old soldiers, who haven't yet discovered
the war against time has long since been lost. As all that remains of
our grandiose old ground, it's truly a depressing sight.

Supposedly the privileged £500 a match Diamond Club
punters can feast their eyes on a whole host of memorabilia but for
everyone else, the old clock is just about the only nod to our old
home and Highbury's illustrious past. Although it was symptomatic of
the entire club at the moment, as Dave happened to notice it wasn't
working! In the past our games against West Ham were an almost
guaranteed six points and I could sense his mood of trepidation as we
approached the turnstiles. Yet I assured him that on current form it
was most unlikely we'd be witnessing a repeat of the sort of rapier
like striking that had previously put West Ham to the sword.

Although on the evidence of the amount of opportunities
created in the first few minutes, I was anticipating having to eat my
words. However it soon turned into one of those games where we could
still be playing and not have breached Robert Green's goal. It might
help our cause if our players were able to learn to head the ball with
their eyes open. Yetwith such a dearth of striking options,
goal-scoring was always likely to be a problem.

As ever my main criticisms are reserved for the pitiful
performance of our crowd. London derbies were once some of the loudest
games of the season and yet our struggle to raise the decibel level
all afternoon, resulted in well deserved "library" taunts from the
visitors. Worst of all is the mass exodus long before the final
whistle which ensures all our home games end with a whimper, rather
than a bang. All the intensity evaporates from the game as the players
inevitably sense the mass movement in the stands.

Where in the past we've grown accustomed to seeing the
Gunners mount a last ditch assault on the oppostion's goal, of the
sort that makes you wonder what they were doing the rest of the match
and where we've garnered plenty of points as a result of last minute
goals (and given away more than a few!), in my opinion the new stadium
is not the least bit conducive to this happening in the future.

Then again there were similar circumstances at St.James
Park on Monday. But then this was such a non-event, with both sides
merely intent on avoiding defeat that it might have been better if
they'd shaken hands on a draw and saved us all the bother of an eight
hour trek for such half-hearted fare.

If the loss of our unbeaten home record has the effect of
helping the Hammers avoid relegation, then it will be some
consolation. But the only way we're going to continue to cling to
Champions League qualification is if Wenger can find a means of
juggling his pack to conjure up some goals from somewhere!
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