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Wednesday 16 May 2007

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Hi folks

You get two for the price of one this week. The Examiner requested a 700 word review of the season and I am sure I could have easily bashed out a several thousand word whinge, but at the end of the day, we all need to count our blessings, as in truth our level of disappointment over a second successive season without any silverware, is merely a reflection of just quite how high Arsène has raised the bar of our expectations during his time at the club.

Meanwhile I'll be signing off, for what I imagine might well prove to be an interesting summer. Although I suspect that not much of the Arsenal related news is going to involve player purchases, as I really don't believe that the club is likely to have the necessary funds in the coffers to compete at the very highest level, for some time to come. Or at least not until they start to receive the expected revenues from the sale of all those apartments currently being built, so that their debts can be reduced and the increased matchday revenues might begin to improve our purchasing power. Personally I believe that on this particular subject, we are going to have to be patient for at least another season.

On the subject of funds, hopefully the Gooners Diary will resume come August, assuming I can find some way to conjure up the couple of grand required for our season tickets. As the deadline date for our renewals draws ever closer and with my Premiership Barclaycard (with its interest free offer on season tickets) completely maxed out, I'm rapidly reaching that perennial state of blind panic that inevitably consumes me at this time of year. Despite the fact that our seat swap for lower tier seats has reduced the amount required by over half of what we were paying previously and despite the fact that I've been renewing our tickets for umpteen years, I remain utterly disorganised about easing this shock to the system by spreading the financial load over the course of the season and end up enduring the same anxiety at the end of every season. At least it means that I always appreciate to the max the last home game of each season as though it might be our last. Although each season this threat feels ever more real.

Mercifully the club froze the season ticket prices this season, but I can't help but wonder if this will be reflected in the increase next season and I have this ever impending fear that there will eventually come a time when I'll be forced to join all those other genuine fans of the beautiful game who've been priced out of their favourite pastime.

Now where did I put those cut-down stockings and the sawn-off?

Peace & Love

PS. Mind you if ever there was anything which could take my mind off worrying about my season ticket renewals, I have to thank the Gobby One for giving me a great laugh by getting himself arrested

Compared to the revolving door managerial policies practiced by impatient suits, at some of our success-starved Premiership rivals, as a club, the Arsenal has been a byword for stability in recent times. Yet despite retaining the services of our beloved manager (at least I pray Le Prof has no plans to pass the torch on for the time being!), in every other sense this season, we Gooners have endured a full-house of all life’s most stressful experiences, including moving home, divorce (departure of David Dein and takeover tittle-tattle) and having kids.

I’ve no doubt that our impressive new arena has afforded many new season-ticket holders an opportunity to revel in their regular seat at every home game, having finally escaped the traumas of the Ticketbastard crap-shoot and the military planning involved in attempting to purchase seats at Highbury three months in advance of every match. Additionally, I imagine there are plenty of affluent Gooners enjoying the fabulous corporate and Club Level facilities, who feel that their flash new environs with free booze, posh nosh, chandeliers and wooden floors are unparalleled, certainly at any other club in this country.

Yet this highfalutin matchday experience is certainly not football as I’ve always known it and from my perspective, in our comparatively cheap lower tier seats, while I might enjoy a marvellous view of proceedings on the pitch, I’ve spent much of the season struggling to come to terms with the somewhat soulless vibe of our new surroundings. Obviously soul is not something that a concrete, glass and steel structure acquires overnight and I’m sure that in time the Gunners’ new gaff will eventually grow on me. In the meantime my sense of loss is almost like a death in the family, made all the harder to deal with, by nature of the fact that I have the graveyard of our grandiose old ground rubbed in my face almost twice daily.

The sooner Highbury is transformed into a luxury apartment complex, the better. If I wasn’t so superstitious I’d walk the long way round to and from home games, just to avoid Avenell Road, where the sorry looking scene of all my most magical Arsenal memories has taken on the aura of a World War II bomb site, with the once stately, listed Art Deco facades of the East & West stands propped up on steel girders, likes two decrepit old pensioners who won’t accept that their battle against progress has long since been lost.

I endure heart-rending pangs of nostalgia each time I pass the last vestiges of the old place, experiencing the Arsenal’s past, present and future all in the space of a mere 500 yards. I’m not sure whether it’s the relative intimacy that I enjoyed at Highbury, where everyone and everything was so familiar, compared to the faceless anonymity that one experiences amidst the 60,000 audience in our new arena. Or perhaps it’s some deep-rooted fear that I myself am becoming a bit of an antiquated dinosaur, faced with this constant reminder of my own advancing years and the threat of extinction, as I struggle to come to terms with the dawning of a new Gooner era.

Whatever the cause, on those all too rare roof-raising occasions that we’ve enjoyed this season, when events on the pitch have resulted in euphoric climax on the terraces, I can’t escape some sense of disloyalty, as if I’m cheating on the wife. Unfortunately, in a season of depressing under-achievement, my philandering has been far too infrequent for my liking.

Just as Fergie has attributed Man Utd’s title triumph to the fact that their challenge gained immediate momentum by getting off to a flyer, the seeds of our unsatisfying season were sown with our worst ever start to a Premiership campaign. With only two points from the first three games, we were already playing catch-up and psychologically, the writing was already upon the wall. Mercifully we were able to glory in the amazing Carling Cup exploits of Wenger’s young guns. These peaked with our 6-3 pummelling of the Scousers in their own back yard, followed by the clinical semi-final knockout blow administered to our North London neighbours. It’s just a pity that Chelsea’s creditable resilience prevented the kids from completing this particular job at Cardiff.

Our highpoints in the league included doing the double over the eventual Champions. After winning at Old Trafford early doors and warming up our new home with 3-0 wins over Liverpool and Spurs, we finally rocked the house in the New Year, when we came from behind to beat the Moaners with a 93rd minute winner.

In patches, we’ve once again proved this season that on our day, this Arsenal side is a match for absolutely any team that tries to take us on, whilst producing the sort of artistic entertainment that has made us the favoured viewing choice of most aficionados of the beautiful game. It’s in rolling up our sleeves, for wars of attrition against more humble opposition, where we’ve all too often dropped the ball, due to our profligacy in front of goal, carelessness, or a lack of concentration. Such mishaps have shown that we lack the necessary experience to compliment the exuberance of youth and we’ve continued to demonstrate our desperate need for the sort of leadership on the pitch, who can act as the focal point around whom the rest of the troops can rally.

From our current squad, only Fabregas appears to have the potential mettle and the personality to perhaps grow into this role in time. In addition to Cesc only the likes of Clichy, Touré, Adebayor and Gilberto have demonstrated at times that they’re made of the right stuff, while the commitment of some their team mates has not been nearly so clear cut. Thus we were undone in the Champions League and the FA Cup by the desire and hunger of the far less talented likes of PSV and Blackburn.

However with Hleb and Rosicky having failed to date, to conjure up the number of goals from midfield that we were previously able to rely on from the likes of Pires and Freddie and with our first choice strike partnership having only troubled the treatment room for the majority of the season, it’s perhaps not surprising that it has been such a frustrating campaign. I guess we should be grateful for the quadruple feats of the Arsenal Ladies, for if it weren’t for the several baubles they’ve collected, the trophy cabinets at the new gaff would be completely bare!
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