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Wednesday 16 May 2007

Pomp & Circumstance

It seems to be a pre-requisite these past few seasons that it rains cats and dogs for our trip to a ramshackle Fratton Park. And it looked particularly grim as we set of for the South coast Sunday morning. To be honest, it occurred to me that I must be stark raving bonkers to be heading off to spend ninety minutes being soaked to the skin on the uncovered terrace behind the goal, instead of stopping at home to enjoy live coverage of the exciting denouement to the relegation dogfight. Although there’s guaranteed amusement at the last away game of the season with its fancy dress tradition of recent years.

If the Arsenal struggled to motivate themselves sufficiently for last week’s big battle for London bragging rights, it was hard to imagine our players being bang up for the meaningless matter of playing for a potential half a million quid for pipping the Scousers to 3rd place, not to mention one less Champions League qualification round!

As it turned out, it seemed as if many of our squad had already slipped away on their summer vacations. Perhaps Le Prof was counting on the enthusiasm of youth, as Wenger once again baffled us all, with his bizarre selection of six wet behind the ear defenders, two of whom found themselves playing in midfield. With a “strikeforce” of that bumbling oaf Baptista and a defensive midfielder in Diaby, it was never going to be the sort of goalfest enjoyed at some other games, where leg-weary players made for exciting open matches.

Most fun was had prior to the match, with the amusing procession of oddball outfits making their way into the ground. Naturally since the Sun have outed her as a Gooner, the Queen graced us with her presence. Yet up until now I hadn’t realised that Fred Flinstone, Scooby Doo and the 118 freaks were members of the faith. The loudest cheer was reserved for someone in drag, adorned with an “Ashley’s boyfriend” tag.

Graham Poll joined in the spirit of the occasion and came dressed as a ref. Making his last appearance in black, he took the adaptation of his own personal chant in good faith, stopping to applaud our chorus of “oh Graham Poll, you’ll be signing on the dole” during his pre-match warm up. But then I suppose it’s far less offensive to his ears than the original version. Naturally we returned his acknowledgment with two-fingered interest

After preparing in best boy scout fashion for the worst the elements had to throw at us, within fifteen minutes of KO, the sea breeze had dispersed the depressing rain clouds, for the yellow orb to peek out from behind them and bathe the ground in bright sunlight for the remainder of the afternoon, saving those in fancy dress from being drenched and perhaps losing their deposits. Thus perhaps the best thing that can be said about the ninety minutes of this mundane end of season contest was that, contrary to all expectations, at least we didn’t end up getting pissed on.

A chant of “Where’s the w***er with the bell” raised a giggle, but there was little other entertainment, apart from a flying save from our stand-in Estonian keeper to tip over a Kanu effort. Unbelievably this was Poom’s Premiership debut, after having arrived at the Arsenal way back in August 2005 and I can’t help wonder why a keeper of his calibre would want to waste what’s left of his career, collecting his wages, whilst waiting in line behind Lehmann and Almunia for such a rare outing. With our “big” summer signing of some unknown Polish goal minder, perhaps he’ll slip even further down the pecking order!

It was as excited as we got all afternoon, when Primus blatantly brought Eboué down in the box and Poll awarded the penalty. That was until it dawned on us that Baptista had bagged the ball and was about to take the resulting spot kick. The less than impressive Brazilian struck his pen sweetly enough but it was the perfect height for James to pull off an impressive save. While I respect him for having the balls to take it in the first place, Baptista’s failure certainly wasn’t the way to win friends and curry favour on the terraces. Although it’s a little late for that, as we’re all terrified that the complexities of the Reyes deal might see us stuck with this lame beast.

As the second half wore on, there were the first signs of a proper Pompey atmosphere, as it became obvious that the home fans had heard news that the Bolton and Reading results were going their way. They raised the temperature, believing that a European tour was within their grasp and must have thought they’d cracked UEFA Cup qualification, as they eventually inspired the home side on to finding the back of the net. But we took sadistic pleasure in pointing out otherwise, once Poll had consulted his linesman and ruled the goal offside.

While young Djourou displayed some cool touches in his unfamiliar midfield role, it was once again only the displays of Fabregas and Clichy that stood out, for their demonstration of the sort of drive and commitment that is demanded of a player wanting to win such a nondescript encounter. Even if their total experience only amounted to a Carling Cup appearance and three sub appearances between all five of the kids on the bench, I couldn’t understand Arsène’s reluctance to give the likes of Randall a run out, as it became evident that we were running out of steam and Fabregas, for one, seriously began to flag. Especially when third place was there for the taking right up until the Scousers scored a last minute equaliser.

While the Arsenal played out a decidedly unsatisfying goalless draw, I had to content myself with the vicarious thrill from the radio coverage of far more engrossing events elsewhere. Setting aside any allegiances to West Ham supporting boss, unlike the vast majority of neutrals, I for one was delighted to hear that the Hammers were hanging on to their lead at the Theatre of Dreams, if only that their survival means one less schlep up North next season.

Personally I think it’s a pity that the authorities lacked the “cahones” to dock West Ham a couple of points, because as it turned out, it would’ve been terrific to hear the away section of Old Trafford resounding to the familiar refrain of “you can stick your f***ing two points up your arse”. Moreover I can’t stand the sheep like way in which the footballing world is riding this shortsighted wave of moral indignation over the shady machinations surrounding Mascherano and Tevez.

Although the artistry of Tevez has almost single-handedly kept West Ham’s Premiership hopes afloat over the past few weeks, ironically, what everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten, is that it was the upheaval caused by the arrival of the two Argies which had such a negative initial impact on the spirit within the West Ham dressing room, thereby putting the complete mockers on their season in the first place!

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Anonymous said...

It is an encouraging sign that by playing so many youngsters in such an away fixture and also out of position we still managed to play very well and miss a penalty.

This proves that the squad has depth.

Anonymous said...

By the way, 3rd and 4th both enter in the third qualification round for CL.

Bern said...

Pleased to discover someone is paying attention :-)