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Monday 23 April 2007

Bloodied but Unbowed

As hard as my Spurs supporting pals tried, with their predictions of the imminent downfall of the current Arsenal dynasty, they couldn’t spoil my delicious Eggs Benedict on Saturday morning. I enjoyed my breakfast despite the side-order of sour grapes, as a veritable barrage of vicious banter is one of the expected pitfalls of accepting a lift to White Hart Lane in the company of this Lilywhite crew. Sadly our enemies have never had it so good, as far as heavy gauge ammunition is concerned.

After all the turmoil in the boardroom these past few days and the resultant endless reams of media speculation, in truth it was a great relief to get back to the business of actually watching football Saturday lunchtime.

In light of the disturbing circumstances and with the sort of dearth of healthy strikers, that’s left most of us wondering where the next goal would come from, I believe that prior to Saturday’s North London Derby most Gooners would’ve been only too happy to come away from White Hart Lane with honours even, having managed to maintain our marvellous record of not having lost to the auld enemy since the last millennium.

I certainly would’ve taken a draw at half-time, 1-0 down, after watching a first-half where a sharper Spurs played like a side competing for UEFA Cup qualification, while we laboured like a team that only needed two points from our last five games to guarantee Champions League football next term.

The consensus of opinion seems to be that we were fortunate Freddie Ljungberg limped off five minutes before the break because in coming on as a sub Cesc Fabregas changed the game. Although it’s true that this Arsenal side rarely seems to tick without the incisive midfield promptings of the young Spaniard, I’m not certain our second-half dominance was due to our improvement, or the fact that Spurs started to flag.

In truth, this match was symptomatic of all the other points dropped against weaker sides this season and sums up why we’re lagging so far behind the leaders. Apparently we still haven’t learned to defend set pieces, as at least three players in red & white were marking fresh air, leaving Robbie Keane free to head in the opener. It began to feel like another one of those frustrating afternoons, as we went on to hit the woodwork three times before Touré finally found the target and a wave of relief swept over our corner of White Hart Lane. Thoughts of our former vice-chairman, hostile takeovers and all the anxieties of the past couple of weeks evaporated, amidst the euphoric celebrations when Adebayor eventually headed home a second. However as has been the case far too many times this season, we failed to close out what should’ve been a comfortable win and left ourselves wide open to Jenas’s last gasp sucker punch.

The only consolation for me was that my Spurs mates had long since given up hope and along with several thousand home fans, they’d headed home with their Lilywhite tails between their legs. So despite Jenas raining on our parade and the prospect of having to escape the decidedly intimidating environs on my tod, I managed to raise a smile at the thought of them missing out on their big moment.

You’d have to wonder why Lehmann ever chose to keep goal, when he’s so averse to anyone invading his personal space. Jens is so tetchy about having his toes trod on and Arsène is sufficiently concerned about our crackpot Kraut, that he’s been allocated a minder at set-pieces, to separate him from all those who set out to push his buttons, knowing they might well benefit. Diaby and Berbatov didn’t deserve their bookings but Lehmann might’ve received a red card. And by the time ref Dean had taken the names of all three and ordered the corner retaken, our keeper’s antics had proved sufficient a distraction for Keane to take full advantage of our lapse in concentration.

Never mind Pompey’s Calamity James, we have to put up with Liability Lehmann and IF the Arsenal are to spend any substantial amounts this summer, personally I pray we aren’t lumbered with Jens for much longer and that Arsène can conjure up a top class keeper who's capable of maintaining an utterly blinkered focus for the entire 90 minutes.

Yet even if he does, who’s going to entice such high quality players to the club? Most seem to believe there’s an Arnie type “I’ll be back” aura to David Dein’s departure. It’s hard to believe we’ve seen the last of what appeared to be the ideal partnership between him and Wenger (where his replacement will merely be an Arsenal employee, without Dein’s deep-rooted devotion to the cause). But in the meantime we’re left with a managing director who might have the nous to flog Ramon Calderon a range of knitwear, but he’s hardly qualified to negotiate our way out of the Reyes/Baptistsa loan imbroglio with the Real Madrid chairman.

If it was down to Dein, we’d now be crawling around the North Circular, to watch home games at Wembley and in truth he’d been somewhat marginalised by the rest of the board, ever since he failed to get “on message” with the new stadium project. Nevertheless, I’ve known his heart was in the right place ever since I saw him standing alongside Wenger, watching the kids on a freezing cold winter’s morn at London Colney.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Arsenal was a byword for boring mediocrity, back when we endured the humdrum likes of Hillier, McGoldrick and Carter. Thus Dein deserves our undying gratitude for having had the balls to bring in the unknown Arsène Wenger and for having overseen the transfers of players of the calibre of Bergkamp, Henry and Vieira, who’ve contributed to the sort of incredible entertainment that we wouldn’t have dared to dream of back in those dark days. The relationship might've ended with the "irreconcilable differences" of a bad marriage, but I only hope that the embittered parents don't end up taking their frustrations out with a series of ugly custody battles over their talented kids.

While the Arsenal might be engulfed in uncertainty, Saturday’s derby offered the comforting solace, knowing that whatever the future might hold, at least Tottenham are still a long way from treading on our red & white tailcoats.
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Anonymous said...

just thought this was a good article mate.

Anonymous said...

We beg to disegree with your questioning Cesc's impact on the game. His contribution was pivotal in Arsenal's comeback.

Bern said...

I didn't intend to suggest that Cesc's introduction wasn't crucial, just that I wasn't sure whether this was exaggerrated by nature of the fact that Spurs comletely fell away in the second half