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Monday 24 September 2007

Is Your Climax Spoilt By Premature Evacuation?

The hordes of Gooners who’ve acquired the annoying habit of heading for the exits long before the final whistle, all missed the marvellous sight of the players having a post-match ‘knees up’ in the centre-circle on Saturday. The same has been true at all our other matches, where in addition to the group hug prior to the game, they’re now encouraging one another to gather together before departing the pitch, to take a moment to savour their victory and demonstrate the spirit of camaraderie, which is the key to our cohesive displays to date.

Some cynics amongst you might suggest that this is merely a show for the cameras, a gesture from modern day mercenaries that is no more sincere than the oft-repeated scenes of disingenuous badge kissing. But I’ve been watching football long enough to be confident in my belief that we’re currently catching the scent of something special.

Whereas Arsène’s constant claims in his programme notes about the spirit and the belief in the camp these past couple of seasons, have often rung pretty hollow, when they’ve been in complete contrast to the body language expressed by some of the players. Like a disaffected Thierry Henry staring daggers at his teammates for failing to put a pass on a plate for him, or an outbreak of furious finger-pointing, between our back-line and keeper, after our defence has been breached and they all appear to be claiming the footballing equivalent of plausible deniability. Back then it felt as if Arsène was intent on repeating these sentiments in the hope that he might just make it so, merely by means of auto-suggestion!

I have to agree with Andy Gray’s contention that the fightback against Fulham in the first game of the season played an absolutely crucial part in the confidence building process. An opening day defeat would’ve only fuelled all the disparaging stories about the Arsenal being on the skids after Henry’s departure and it’s fairly likely that our season would’ve taken an entirely different, far more disappointing course.

Whereas this victory and the manner of our revival, with its journey in those dying moments, from an abiding mood of abject resignation, through to euphoric relief, has proved to be the seed which has been carefully cultivated since, to the point where it’s about to blossom into an unyielding oak.

I know there are still plenty of transport problems, which are most people’s excuse for departing their seats with the game still in progress. And perhaps I can appreciate their point of view, when they’re likely to be travelling late into the night after a midweek match. However aside from the torment that they’ll have experienced, as they’ve trotted towards the station and heard the hullabaloo in the distance, resulting from the three last gasp goals that they must’ve missed to date, all these thousands of pesky, premature evacuators are sacrificing the most satisfying moment of the afternoon, merely for the sake of saving a few minutes on their return journey.

Personally I’ve been in the habit of heading to a vacated seat closer to the exit, only because I’m desperate to get out of the ground in order to light up a long awaited fag. Nevertheless, of late I’ve found myself lingering until the last player has left the pitch. After a couple of unrequited campaigns, it’s an absolute delight to be able to drink in the taste of an intoxicating brew, which is becoming distilled, match by match, to the point where both players and fans alike are beginning to get the whiff of a team spirit which might well be 100% proof.

Don’t get me wrong, as I’m not about to start making far too presumptuous predictions. In truth the slavish hype of the media bandwagon is somewhat bewildering, after a weekend when we’ve merely rolled over relegation certainties in waiting, whilst cruising in second gear. Most Gooners who’ve gone to every game will confirm that we’ve only witnessed brief glimpses of the sort of beautiful football that this squad of players might well be capable of, with several players still some way from producing anything like their best form.

However we’ve been incredibly privileged to enjoy this highly entertaining brand of Wenger-ball ever since Arsène arrived at the club. But with the snowball momentum inspired by that winning feeling these past few weeks (and perhaps the possibility that we’re starting to flourish as a team now that the focus is no longer on one individual?), everyone is starting to sense a distinct, albeit subtle difference, compared to the past couple of indifferent seasons.

The pundits might attempt to put their finger on it, with their suggestions that the long ball has become an option, which wasn’t in our armoury before. Or by pointing out that we’re more inclined to shoot from outside the box, as an alternative to our infuriating insistence on passing our way into the net. Yet despite the accuracy of such insights, to my mind they are merely symptoms of a more intangible remedy to our recent lack of success, whereby the harmony and the chemistry fostered within this squad by various factors, is enabling us to play with a freedom which only shows its face when there is no fear of failure.

To give the auld alchemist his due, Fergie was spot on in his analysis of Man Utd’s somewhat timid second half display at Old Trafford on Sunday, where he suggested that their performance was perhaps inhibited by the ominous portents of blowing three points. Although it’s marvellous to think we could have a five-point cushion if we win our game in hand, from what I’ve seen, our elevated status is more a reflection of the mediocrity of our rivals, than our own supremacy.

Indeed, on paper, the Scousers appear to have acquired the sort of strength in depth that left them looking like far more likely challengers for silverware than ourselves. Thankfully footie is played on a pitch not on paper and where Benitez’ constant tinkering has had a negative effect, Arsène’s reliance on a smaller group of established players has resulted in a much more rapid establishment of a resolute team spirit.

Moreover, with our first-choice players having created a winning momentum, they’ve laid down a marker that’s enabled our manager to rest players but from a position of strength. Thus hungry youngsters like Denilson and Eduardo, with everything still to prove, are able to slip seamlessly into the first XI with no noticeable impact, other than perhaps adding another dimension to our play.

There was a time when we Gooners might have been disappointed to turn up for a Carling Cup game, only to discover all our star players had been given the night off. However nowadays this competition has become such a wonderful shop window for Wenger’s up and coming kids. that even with all that additional capacity at our new stadium, there aren’t enough seats for all those who want to watch the potential talent waiting in the wings.

I was fortunate someone came to my rescue, as I was shocked on Saturday when I realised Tuesday encounter with the Toons had sold out prior to me purchasing a ticket. On the evidence of last season, I would’ve been absolutely gutted to have missed out on a taste of the future which holds just as much, if not more promise than the present.

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Saturday 15 September 2007

One Team In London

You could sense some tension amongst us Gooners at White Hart Lane at half-time yesterday. As usual we'd pretty much dominated possession for the first forty-five, producing some wonderfully flowing midfield passing, without making it count in the final third. But with Manuel Almunia making such a ricket at the free-kick, with either the placing or the numbers in the wall and with Abou Diaby having blown a doozie of an opportunity to equalise, some of us were wondering if (for the first time this century!), the enemy were going to get one over on us.

I was standing there with my half-time cuppa feeling relieved I hadn't accepted a lift to the match from some Spurs mates. It was tempting, as they have a blinding parking pitch on someone's driveway, literally across the road from WHL. However it doesn't bear thinking about, having to endure the ride home with them gloating gleefully, if they'd got a result - as their company was hard enough to bear on the way back from their victory against Derby a few weeks back, where they'd offered me a spare ticket in the hope I'd prove to be their lucky mascot!

And if we were leading as the clock ticked down, I would've been forced to spend the last fifteen minutes watching them in their posh West Stand perch (relatively speaking, or at least in terms of price, as their seats remain extremely cramped and uncomfortable, compared to our much more luxuriously apportioned abode) through my binoculars, instead of the game, waiting for my cue to make a swift exit, long before the final whistle, if I didn't want to end up walking home.
Which is undoubtedly what would've transpired, as when I looked up to try and pick out their lugubrious faces after Fabregas' stunning strike sailed past Robinson, in the 80th minute, like all the other Spurs fans who lacked the belief in their side having sufficient backbone to retrieve the situation in the dying throes, they were already heading for the exit!

So thankfully I decided to drive myself and since I refuse to stump up an extortionate ten quid to park the car for ninety minutes, at the top of White Hart Lane, I ended up driving halfway back towards Wood Green, before finding a safe pitch for the car, with a long walk back to the ground. Naturally I was somewhat tardy for kick-off but I was far from the last, as Gooners kept on drifting into the stand for the first half hour of the game. It seems that many of them were the victims of over-zealous policing, having been forced to run the gauntlet of the queues at Seven Sisters Road station, where apparently the old bill were stoppping and searching everyone.

Obviously the football "intelligence" unit must have been reading my blog again and the details of our pre-arranged dustup with the scum fans, as aside from these searches, it was evident from the old bill's incredibly heavy handed approach after the match, that they must've been privy to some sort of apparently unfounded intelligence.

Once again the highlights shown on MOTD and on Football First later that night, seemed somewhat flattering, as from where I sat behind the goal, our strike force seemed fairly anonymous first-half. I know Manny carved out a couple of decent chances, working Paul Robinson and that he also won his fair share of balls in the air, but he and in particular Van Persie were otherwise both pretty anonymous. But perhaps I am being hyper-critical, especially considering Adebayor ended the day with a decent contender for goal of the month?

There was a euphoric sense of relief when Manny rose to head home Fab's free-kick for the equaliser and it only served to highlight the extremely thin margins between success and failure, as if Kolo Touré hadn't stood tall, with a tackle Tony Adams would've been proud of, a few minutes earlier, when Berbatov had gone past Almunia and was left with a gaping goal to aim for, it could've been a totally different story, without the ecstatic ending.

Instead of which, the jubilant Gooners behind the goal were left bellowing out a hearty chorus of "it's so quiet, it's so quiet at the Lane" as Martin Jol stood cross-armed, on the edge of his technical area, like a beleaguered Buddha who's already been convicted of his crime and who is merely awaiting the imposition of his sentence (when in truth he should be thanking his lucky stars if he ends up getting time off for good behaviour and escaping his Spurs slammer).

They don't come much more fickle than the Totts and they and their board deserve one another. On route to the Derby game a few weeks back, my Spurs mates were bemoaning their manager's dodgy team selections, while on the way back, after their 4-0 win, Jol was the best thing since sliced bread. Similarly, if they'd managed to win yesterday, Jol's star would've been soaring so high amongst the supporters, that there's no way they'd have been able to give him the boot. So for all we know, the suits at the club might not be too displeased with the outcome, as on the back of it, they now have the climate to be able to give Jol the totally undeserved elbow.

Surely only Spurs could contrive to shoot themselves in the foot, with the underhand shenanigans that have made Jol's position untenable, resulting in the premature exit of the best manager they've had in donkey's years!

Meanwhile, when Arsène rose out of the dugout sometime after the break, to remonstrate about a bad decsion, he was greeted by a derisory choruse of "Sit down you paedophile".

Supposedly everything is fair game when it comes to football, but I find the Spurs fans perpetuation of this particular slander decidedly offensive. I can't imagine how it must feel, knowing that his daughter might hear such outrageous allegations about her father. However in one sense I'm somewhat reassured whenever I hear the Spurs fans revert to type in this fashion, as to my mind this chant is so far beyond the pale (especially when a former incumbent of the Spurs job actually has three convictions for kerb crawling) that whenever I hear it being sung, I am convinced karma will prevail and the perpetrators will end up geting their just deserts.

And so it proved on Saturday, as we continued the second half, where we'd left off before the break, with the absolutely peerless passing that enabled us to dominate the middle of the park, creating a build up of pressure that eventually led to the equaliser and was only occasionally interspersed with the odd counter-attack, as we teased the Totts "you're supposed to be at home!"

Eventually Jol was forced into making a change and I was a little concerned when I saw young Aaron Lennon on the touchline, worried that his pace might prove a problem for the tiring legs of the likes of Gilberto. Brazil's captain deserved a medal just for being there, after turning out twice for his country in the past week, with the second game in the US only finishing in the wee hours of Thursday morning. With this in mind, Gilbo was bound to be a little leg weary, but along with everyone else, he continued to work his socks off.

I need not have worried about Lennon, as he his entry into the fray had little or no impact. Yet there were a couple of hair-raising scares before Cesc added what's fast becoming a customary contribution to the Gunners' goal tally. First Almunia redeemed himself, with a wonderful save when Robbie Keane was clean through on goal. It was a shut-out which required all the Spaniard's concentration, as the lino was standing there flagging for offside but was over-ruled by the ref because the ball to Keane had come off Flamini. And then when Clichy cleared Berbatov's initial effort off the line, I was amazed that the Bulgarian missed the target with his headed rebound.

When it eventually came, Cesc's long-range effort proved well worth the wait, as it was a 25/30 yard scorcher, which was destined for the back of the net from the moment it left Fab's foot, looping well beyond Robinson's despairing dive. The commentator on the Sky highlights I watched later put it most concisely "Dynamite...absolute dynamite!"

With a long ten minutes left on the clock, I wanted to put my hand up and ask "can I go home now?" Although the goal completely knocked the stuffing out of their fans, as they began heading for the exits, with their habitual resignation, to the traditional tune of "we can see you sneaking out", their manager hadn't quite given up the ghost. As Jol played his final card, sending on £16.5 million Darren Bent, we serenaded him with a rousing version of "you're getting sacked in the morning, sacked in the morning".

And naturally there was much merriment and the customary chorus of "what a waste of money" after Jenas sent Bent clean through on goal, only for the former Charlton strker to see his badly struck effort bobble past the post (to our great relief). Obviously there were some tired legs out there and there were a few more scares to come, as a result of conceding possession with sloppy passes and with an instinctive (but no less frustrating) tendency to sit back and hold the lead.

Denilson should really have put the result beyond doubt when put through on goal, but Robinson saved with his feet. However it was only moments later that we were able to truly relax and enjoy the euphoria of the afternoon, as Adebayor controlled the ball with one touch on the edge of the penalty area, swivelled and smashed a volley into the back of the net with some venom.

We've grown quite accustomed to watching the Arsenal completely outplay previous Spurs sides but with there being a fair bit of natural ability amongst the current Lilywhite incumbents, the most pleasing aspect to this particular match, was to see us completely outdo the home team for commitment and determination. As ever both our full-backs deserve special mention for their tireless running, with Clichy truly working his socks off, as if his very life depended on retaining possession. Moreover, while Flamini will never be blessed with the natural ability of a Dennis Bergkamp type ball player (who is!), in recent games the French midfielder has truly earned his Gooner spurs not just for his unflagging work-rate but also for his preparedness to take responsibility in linking up our forward play.

Poor young Abou might have had a bit of a stinker and both he and Almunia would've ended up as principal targets in a finger-pointing post-mortem, if the game had taken a different course with a second goal for Spurs instead of the equaliser. But then with his tall gangly frame, he hardly appears designed for playing out wide on the flank and in light of the outcome, I am happy to cut him some slack. More worrying perhaps is Van Persie's continued struggle to have some impact where it matters, as our principal front man. But then if I was at all bothered, any concerns evaporated on watching the Sky coverage later, when I witnessed the hand and back-slapping that went on between Robin and Le Gaffer, as the bench gloried in our decisive third goal.

Meanwhile those Gooners who were anxious to escape White Hart Lane for the sanctuary of less hostile turf might well have missed some of the celebrations at the final whistle, when the entire team were encouraged to gather in a huddle in the centre circle, before joining us in a few moments of mutual admiration at our end of the ground. I might have been glad of my upper tier seat, with a much higher and better perspective of the proceedings during the game, but I was gutted not to be down below after the final whistle, dead envious of all those who had an opportunity to bag one of the many shirts thrown into the crowd, as we ended the afternoon reminding the remaining Spurs stragglers that for the first time in three years "We are top of the league!"

I don't want to get ahead of myself with any far too premature predictions, but amidst celebrations that were reminiscent of those we enjoyed at White Hart Lane a couple of years ago, I don't think I am mistaken in detecting an ever burgeoning team spirit amongst this Arsenal squad, which could well hold the key to a season which promises some success, to accompany all that superlative entertainment.

Personally I didn't want to leave and I would've lingered even longer, if it wasn't for the fact that I was desperate for a fag. The anti-smoking regulations at White Hart Lane are even worse than at our place, as not only are you not allowed to smoke inside the stadium, but you aren't supposed to light up in the immediate environs, until one is off the property. This didn't stop me grabbing for my fags as we headed down the stairs, steeling my nerve for those worrying few moments outside the stadium, where one is identifiable by the exit from which one has left, before reaching the end of Park Lane and being able to lose oneself amongst the crowd on the High Rd.

However the scene outside in Park Lane and at the junction with the High Rd was more Baghdad than London N17, with a gaggle of Gooners gathered together by the old bill on one corner, I assume waiting to be herded in the direction of the station, while at the High Rd there was a line of about fifty old bill minibuses, all nose to tail along the road, in an effort to maintain segregation. The policing at WHL is always a little OTT, compared to at our place and often only serves to heighten the mood of tension. But this was extreme even by these standards, as if they were definitely expecting something to kick-off.

If it did, thankfully I was long gone, heading back to the car whilst recounting the afternoon's events on the phone to Rona, in an effort to avoid catching anyone's eye and to maintain my anonymity as an intruder in their midst. Although I soon decided to cut our conversation short, as I was struggling to contain the smile, that was going to give the game away amongst the gloomy hordes of down-in-the-mouth home fans. Once back in the car, it's 15 minute drive past Wood Green, through Haringey and on to Highbury and having arrived home, I promptly donned my "we won the league at White Hart Lane" t-shirt, in honour of the occasion, before heading out for a walk with the dog, to catch the celebratory mood in and around the local hostelries.

Roll on Wednesday, bring on Seville and the Champions League! Bring it all on!

Big Love

It's a Marvelous Day for a Goon-Dance

S'cuse the feeble pun but we went to see Van Morrison at the Albert Hall last night and so it seemed appropriate.

Derby Days at the wrong end of the Seven Sister's Road are invariably nervous affairs. Obviously I am just a little bit biased, but I am convinced our encounters with the enemy at our place occur in an atmosphere which isn't anywhere near as intimidating as the reverse fixture at their shabby excuse for a football ground. What I mean is that I don't imagine a trip to our new gaff for the poor, miserable Spuds is anything like as menacing as it is for those of us who will be braving the Tottenham High Rd bullrun this morning.

Aside from the high profile policing which always seems to crank the hostile mood up a notch or two, it has to be said that while the Spuds might be destined to remain perennial also-rans on the pitch, when it comes to scummy supporters they are up there amongst the table-toppers (many neutrals will agree that their away support is amongst the most ugly in the Premiership). As a result, over the years, Derby Day over at the darkside has become a bit of a mission, to get in, get the three points and to return home intact, to be able to relax and savour watching the replay on MOTD.

Róna is not on the Away Scheme any more, so I only get the one ticket for away matches. Yet even if she was, I would have the same reservations I've always had about her accompanying me to the Sh*thole. It's not that we haven't enjoyed many happy occasions there together, in fact she was with me on that magical afternoon a couple of seasons ago, when we couldn't have got further up the scum's noses, what with the small matter of winning the title on their turf and in truth Ro has often proved the perfect cover for ensuring that we got there and home safely. On that particular day, after we'd managed to wind them up to the point of exploding, with our Championship celebrations, when most Gooners were being made a target, by the old bill, herding them in a group for a long walk back to the train station, whereupon I'm led to believe they were set upon along the way, the two of us were able to slip off in the opposite direction, walking back around the stadium, right into the enemies midst along Paxton Rd, before escaping along the High Rd and finally letting rip with more celebratory horn blowing, once we were back in the car and safely heading home to Highbury.

However we've witnessed plenty of nastiness along said High Rd over the years, of the sort that just doesn't seem to occur at our place (or at least I've rarely seen evidence of it, other than the sound of helicopters buzzing overhead and a couple of screaming bus loads of blue meanies, rushing to an incident which is doubtless long since done and dusted). Personally I've no problem if the Neanderthals want to get it on and bash each other's brains out. However I don't know about anyone else, but myself and plenty of others are going there to watch a game of football (hopefully a typically one-sided affair!) and what bothers me most about our outings to belittle the enemy is the scum's propensity for targeting civilians.

Most Gooners braving enemy territory are distinguishable by their somewhat conspicuous efforts to blend into the crowds, but from the moment one turns off the High Rd and into Park Lane, we become identifiable by the fact that we are on the left hand side of the road, being filtered towards the Away Supporters turnstiles and the barrage of vitriolic abuse begins. The bad-mouthing might be water off a duck's back to me, but I am not sure I'd want to subject my missus to it, especially with the masculine trait of feeling obliged to defend her honour.

Back in the day it was quite common practice, but as a kid my old man would often take me to the Arsenal one week and to Spurs the next (otherwise we wouldn't have been there on that momentous night in ’71, when we gave Ray Kennedy a lift to his parent’s hotel, whereupon he signed my programme “To Bernard whom I travelled home with after the game”!). However nowadays I am not at all sure I’d want to subject a young child to the sort antagonistic atmosphere experienced at White Hart Lane, by way of spending “quality time” with one’s kids. In fact one of the last times Ró accompanied me to a Derby game at their gaff, we were seated in fairly close proximity to the enemy and there was a bloke beside us with his young lad who soon asked if we would swap seats with them, in order to try and distance himself and his extremely distressed son from the venomous abuse. Róna thought it very sad to think that the poor lad had probably been so excited to be going to the game with his dad, but was subsequently left in tears by a traumatic experience.

Most amusing on passing through the turnstiles at White Hart Lane, is to see all the Gooners who’ve had the sense to remain schtum whilst walking along Park Lane, but who’ve suffered such an affront to their sense of machismo, that no sooner are they safely inside the stadium, than their bravura returns and they go through the “let me at them” charade.

I’m not suggesting that I am any more fearless than the next coward and in my head, one of the reasons for my reluctance to take the missus is the possibility that she might prevent me from being able to run away, if the necessity should arise. I myself am currently wondering which t-shirt I can get away with wearing, as I absolutely must have something about my person confirming my allegiance to the Arsenal, but it needs to be an item of apparel that can be easily disguised on exiting the Sh*thole.

The last time I was foolish enough to wear my colours “on my sleeve” so to speak, I ended up having my Arsenal “wee willy winkie” style hat knocked off my head on the High Rd. Obviously my excuse was that I was with the missus, but I had to swallow hard and count to ten, to ensure the t*ssers didn’t get the reaction they were hoping for.

So while I may well be no different to anyone else, I can’t help but find amusing, watching the traditional end of match rituals at Tottenham, as all those Gooners with more brains than brawn, begin to cover up. If it’s a warm afternoon today, all the Gooners walking along the High Rd after the match will be immediately identifiable by the fact that they are wearing an unnecessary layer of clothing. Hopefully we will also be recognisable from the fact that we are the ones desperately doing our utmost to contain our smug feelings of joy at having mullahed them, yet again, whilst trying to look as miserable as everyone else around us!

I guess there’s a logic to an early KO, in trying to prevent any alcohol fuelled incidents, but I despise them nonetheless (and if I don’t get a wriggle on, I will miss it!) as the atmosphere is never much to write home about and most importantly, we never seem to start playing until after half-time, as though their footballing body-clocks won’t kick in so early on a Saturday. Sadly there’s a fine line between a great atmosphere and hostilities breaking out and it’s a shame that you can’t have one in isolation, without the other. With the complete and utter evaporation of all the Spuds pre-season optimism, I am sure we can expect a warm welcome this afternoon and it could prove a perfect testing ground for some of those who have yet to “enjoy” such an occasion. Here’s hoping that come 3.15pm, we are marvelling at the display of their mettle

Come on you Reds

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Give Him A Medal, More Like!

Sir Alex hurt in alleged attack

Sir Alex Ferguson has suffered minor injuries after an alleged attack at a London train station. It is understood the Manchester United manager was on his wayto a function when he was allegedly attacked by a man at Euston station on Monday afternoon. A British Transport Police spokesman confirmed that 65-year-old Sir Alex suffered leg injuries. A 40-year-old man has been charged with actual bodily harm, assault and a public order offence. He is due to appear at at Westminster Magistrates' Court, central London, on Wednesday.
Sir Alex, who was born in Glasgow, is not believed to have been badly hurt and attended the planned function in the city.

In the offendant's shoes, I'd definitely want a jury trial before a jury of his peers. After all how could they possibly find him guilty of doing what we all would've wished we had the balls to do :-)

Saturday 8 September 2007

International Weekends? You Can Keep 'Em

We were debating whether we should be supporting England, or Israel, around the Friday night dinner table, after my Ma had mentioned that some of her mates were going to Wembley with Israeli flags. Being English, she thought they should be supporting England, but it so happens that I’d only just watched the movie “This Is England” a few days prior. Set in the 70s with a skinhead / National Front backdrop, the film was a stark reminder that if, heaven forfend, those right-wing lunatics ever prevailed, we Jews would probably be right behind the darker tribes, as targets for persecution.

However when it came to it, with no Arsenal players involved in England’s game, I struggled to muster much enthusiasm of any sort. In fact it might’ve been more fun to have witnessed the typically histrionic reaction to an England defeat, thereby perpetuating the Red Sea pedestrians’ optimistic dreams of qualification. Yet while I hate to admit to wishing harm on anyone, perhaps the happiest outcome, as far as I’m concerned, would’ve been one which saw the visitors knobbling a couple of vital cogs in our Premiership rivals squads.

Obviously, since I consider myself an Irishman by marriage (albeit without any bureaucratic bits of paper to prove it), I was bang up for the Boys in Green later that same evening, frightening the poor dog with my raucous reaction to Kevin Doyle’s corker. It was indeed, as stated on Sky TV’s coverage, “a goal good enough to win any game”. Although from such giddy heights of euphoria, it was that much further to fall when the Slovaks equalised in injury time. If I were a drinker I would’ve joined all the other Ireland fans, filling my pint glass with my lachrymose lamentations for the remainder of the night.

What’s more, while it might’ve been a plucky performance from the Slovaks, I can’t help but harbour some ill will towards them and the Neanderthal contingent amongst their support. To my mind the seal on the Slovak flag still retains some fascist connotations and although the infamous barbarism of the Hlinka Guard might’ve been consigned to history, (willingly collaborating with the Nazis’ Holocaust objectives), I’ve heard enough unsavoury, ani-semitic accounts to believe that the passing of time has left many modern day Slovaks little more enlightened than their forbears.

Perhaps Stan Staunton’s side were guilty of switching off in the dying throes of Saturday’s game, yet to my mind the Slovak’s equaliser might well have been a symptom of a more widespread disease amongst successful young players these days, that often appears to result in their under-achievement on the International stage. With rewards beyond their wildest dreams on offer at such a tender age, it’s perhaps not surprising that some of them begin to believe in their own publicity, certain they only have to turn up for their ability to win out, against some of the less gifted individuals amongst European football’s lesser lights. However the gap between the major and minor footballing nations continues to diminish and the “haves” are all the more easily embarrassed by the hell or high water hunger of the “have nots”.

Considering the scarcity of genuine star-quality in the current Irish squad, the TV pictures portrayed an encouraging performance overall, aside from the spell of Slovak pressure prior to their first goal and the utterly demoralising aberration at the end. Nevertheless there were instances both in Bratislava and elsewhere on Saturday, where supremely well rewarded professionals were perhaps guilty of a momentary lack of the sort of intensity that’s to be expected for the entire 90, from a player swollen with pride at having been picked to play for his country and with the hopes of a whole nation resting on his shoulders.

If they’d demonstrated the dogged determination of a player still with plenty to prove, perhaps we would’ve witnessed Douglas tracking back to thwart the Slovak striker, or O’Shea hurling his sizeable frame forward, to get any sort of block on the ball, instead of feebly turning his back. I’m not pointing the finger of blame, I’m merely questioning whether there’s a complacent mindset amongst many modern-day stars, which makes for far less passionate International performances and is perhaps a contributing factor in my own sang-froid.

Then again it wouldn’t be the Boys in Green if they went about their four-point objective the easy way. We can but pray that everybody’s blood is pumping for all the right reasons in Prague on Wednesday!

Meanwhile if it wasn’t for my interest in Ireland’s efforts to qualify for Euro 2008, knowing how much it would mean to the country and that the competition itself would benefit from the invasion of the genial Green Army, this International week would be little more than a stressful wait, to see which of our multi-national contingent returns fit for Saturday’s far more important Derby.

Hopefully the goals scored by Eduardo and Rosicky will do their confidence no harm (so long as Tommy saves any further significant strikes for the weekend, rather than Wednesday!). Yet if the interruption to the Arsenal’s season wasn’t inconvenient enough, I have to suffer waking on a Sunday with nothing but Wycombe v Brentford to watch on the box. Additionally, if there’s been a bit of a lull in the PC climate of the recent past, we’ve witnessed increasingly frequent occurrences of a disturbing trend of late, where the far-right numbskulls have been hijacking the International terraces, as an insidious promotional vehicle for their vapid, but highly offensive racist and xenophobic bunkum.

I for one will be greatly relieved to be done with the interminable and mind-numbingly boring media debate over Mclaren’s team selection. Although it’s amusing to hear pundits singing the praises of the young bloods, when the hapless England manager originally planned on digging up the dinosaurs from yesteryear, in Campbell, James and Heskey, to save his bacon.

It’s likely to be a long week waiting for our trip down the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Rd on Saturday. Sadly Gilberto will have a lot further to travel, after Brazil meet Mexico in a pointless friendly in Foxboro, USA in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Hopefully Arsène’s planning on contradicting his “one day rest for every hour of time difference” principle, to avail ourselves of the reassuring presence of the Brazilian captain.

As for the team Wenger puts out against Tottenham, perhaps the crucial question is who we’d prefer to see trotting out in the keeper’s jersey. Almunia might have never let us down, but neither he, nor Jens commands the sort of respect required to radiate an unruffled aura of calm, out from behind our defence. Not since Spunky have we been blessed with the sort of dominant presence between the sticks, who’s capable of preventing us from defending like panic-stricken rabbits, caught in the glare of the opposing strikers headlights. Craig Gordon will appear cheap at twice his inflated price, if his efforts keep Roy Keane’s Sund-Ireland in the Premiership. Instead of paying peanuts for relative goal-minding monkeys, I would’ve loved to have seen us break the bank for the best available keeper.

Then again, Spurs own jittery keeper has hardly been inspiring them with confidence of late and I’m certainly not complaining, after having secured THE single most significant signing this week, with the knowledge that Wenger intends to continue walking on water at the Arsenal for another 3 years. I don’t think it was a coincidence that le Gaffer’s signature was timed to offer his returning players the reassuring boost of retaining their much-revered boss (not that Arsène was planning on going anywhere else!). Maintaining an air of stability within the camp is perhaps all the more vital, with all the off-pitch intrigue surrounding the Gunner’s future at present.

It seems our new Uzbek investor’s legal muscle has managed to bully the web server of the former Uzbekistan Ambassador, into removing the allegations about his iniquitous criminal activities from the internet. But not before all interested parties had discovered the dubious credentials of David Dein’s latest bedfellow.

As my old man was fond of saying “you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas” and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Stan Kroenke has decided he’s backed the wrong horse in our ex-vice chairman. Dein’s desperation to recapture his Arsenal throne is perhaps reflected in his injudicious choice of new partners and if the board should come to the conclusion that they lack the financial clout to stave off an indefinite succession of billionaire predators, it could be that Stan will be seen as the lesser of the likely evils – after courting Kroenke and now partnering up with his Uzbek pal, if an impatient Dein doesn’t get his way, surely any subsequent conquest will involve doing a deal with the devil himself?

In the meantime we might see an about face from the board, with our snobby suits not being nearly so snotty towards self-made Stan and his millions, in the hope he’d be able to provide them with the muscle to at least maintain some semblance of control. Doubtless they’ll be more receptive to having their directors box invaded by ‘new money’, rather than ‘dirty money’ along with the prospect of doing boardroom business with someone who has the sort of depraved morals that make Abramovich seem a righteous rabbi by comparison.

You couldn’t possibly make it up and if by any chance we should get bored with the Wengerball taking place on the pitch, unlike Spurs, we have no need of Eastenders to amuse ourselves, with this soap opera of our very own. that’s set to run and run! By coincidence this weekend’s Derby marks the start of the jewish New Year. Here’s hoping that we’re left savouring the traditional apple & honey, with its promise of a sweet season, while they have to suffer the habitual taste of bitter herbs!

Tuesday 4 September 2007

You Can Stick Dein's Dodgy Wonga Where The Sun Don't Shine

Those present at Sunday's match might not have seen the table they produced on the Sky coverage which basically proves that Wenger walks on water, even better than the fella with the holes in his feet.

As if in answer to the quotes in the press from Dein about the Arsenal not being able to continue to compete, without seeking the aid of someone with some serious financial clout (where in fact one might conclude that Dein's judgement is clouded by his ulterior motives, as his only prospect of inveigling his way back into the club is as some mega-bucks geezer's "goffer"), the following figures say otherwise, so long as Arsène knows!

Big Four Spending
since Abramovich became Chelsea owner in July 2003

Spent Received Nett
Chelsea £346m £87m -£259m
Man Utd £161m £82m -£79m
Liverpool £150m £58m -£92m
Arsenal £69m £64m -£5m

Who Needs Eastenders, When We Have The Arsenal Soap Opera

In reference to the comment left below, supposedly Fiszman has always been an Arsenal fan. However prior to Dein bringing his former pal into the club, I can't recall seeing Fiszman paying his Arsenal dues (albeit in First Class!), schlepping all over the country, amongst the besuited party one would often see in the front carriage of the train including messrs Dein, Friar etc. on awayday outings.

I could well be wrong, but my instincts are that Fiszman wasn't anything like quite such a committed Arsenal fan, until after he bought into the club. However in saying that we have to bear in mind that if it was down to Dein, we'd be crawling around the North Circular every other week, to Wembley right about now, with a home that was even less likely to ever feel like our own! What's more, credit where credit is due, as no matter how casual, or commited an Arsenal fan Fiszman was prior, I get the distinct sense that it was only his subsequent commitment to the new stadium and his force of personality that saw the whole project through to becoming a reality.

And I'm saying this as the sort of selfish, sentimental bugger who would've been far happier to have continued watching the Arsenal from my much more homely West Upper perch for the rest of my days, rather than being forced to come to terms with the inevitable winds of change. Nevertheless, bearing in mind this inexorable need for the Arsenal to move with the times, I guess we should count our blessings and be duly grateful, for without Fiszman, I very much doubt the new stadium would've come to fruition in quite such a timely fashion.

As for Dein, it would appear that his willingness to climb into bed with the Ruski is merely a reflection of his desperation to leverage his way back into the club at any costs, perhaps most motivated by a desire for revenge on his former pal, for having the "chutzpah" to give him the elbow, after David invited Danny to this exclusive party in the first place.

Moreover, watching the Sky coverage of Sunday's game again on Sky Plus, there was something I heard said which makes me wonder whether perhaps Kroenke has come to fully appreciate the levels of enmity felt between both parties and perhaps he's come to the conclusion that he's backing a losing horse in Dein's case, who ultimately might hinder his prospects of eventually becoming a major Arsenal player.

With such hostile battle lines now having been drawn between the current board and Dein's Red & White Holdings mob, perhaps the Yank might perceive this as an opportunity to switch sides? If Kroenke is deemed the lesser of two evils, the board's attitude towards him might soften somewhat and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if we now see a concerted effort from the suits to bring Kroenke into the fold, so that they might make use of his financial clout to ward off any sort of hostile takeover from the Dein desperados?

All very intriguing and you couldn't possibly make it up! I only wish that the club we all love and adore wasn't the rapidly fraying rope in this extremly truculent tug of war!

Then again, so long as Arsène signs his new contract, as it could be a lot worse and we could all be pitiful Spurs fans, with a board that's shot themselves in the foot yet again, only four games into a new season, with the sort of ham-fisted shenanigans which are responsible for such an aura of insecurity around WHL that their Tony Soprano lookalike's position has become positively untenable :-)


Monday 3 September 2007

And We Thought Bin Laden Gave Us Gooners A Bad Name

Hi folks

I finished writing the following missive early this morning and rushed out to work (late as ever!), without having time to post it. I never fail to be amazed by the Internet's mind-blowing potential, as I returned home this evening to find the link to Craig Murray's blog about Usmanov's unscrupulous credentials, which had been sent to me late last night, must have gone around the globe, to Gooners in all four corners of the planet, in a matter of hours, thereby leaving my piece looking a little dated already, as everyone else has already passed judgement on the dodgy Oligarch issue.

Perhaps David Dein was blinded by the sight of all those pound signs, but the most astonishing aspect of this sordid matter is that either Dein didn't know, or didn't take the trouble to investigate the origins of his latest bedfellow's seemingly ill-gotten gains!

I was also looking forward to venting my frustrations about the public relations faux-pas of the club's attempt to secure "intellectual ownership" of the term Gooner. It seems to me that ther can be few less deserving cases for the title of "genuine Gooner" than our current MD Keith Edelman, let alone this schmuttter business bean counter claiming ownership of OUR moniker!

Bearing in mind (that's if I recall correctly?) this was the man who was unable to recognise a couple of youngsters from our own squad, when they were attempting to gain admittance on a matchday, I found myself thinking that Edelman sounded like an awful hypocrite in an interview I heard the other week on a podcast of Radio 5's "Sportsweek" programme.

Edelman was being interviewed (over the phone?) by Gary Richardson and was questioning the motives of some of these mega-money foreign investors, currently rushing to climb on the Premiership ownership bandwagon, whilst as the same time boasting about the genuine Gooner credentials of the Arsenal board, who unlike many club directors, come to support their team at every game. To my mind it all sounded a bit rich coming from a geezer who patently is not and has never been a football person and who'd therefore probably have to ask his missus for an explanation of the offside rule!

However you lucky people are off the hook for once, as I am far too cream-crackered to do anything more than his the send/publish button

Big Love

Watching Derby getting whacked 4-0 at White Hart Lane the other week, I found myself wondering who could’ve possibly dropped points previously, to Billy Davies' pitiful relegation certainties in-waiting. My question was answered during the first 45 minutes on Sunday, by an utterly impotent Pompey performance, where I hardly recall the visitors venturing across the halfway line before the break.

My binoculars weren’t needed to spot Harry Redknapp, sitting opposite us on the Pompey bench. His beetroot coloured face stood out like a belisha beacon and that was even before his team failed to turn up for the first-half. Who knows, perhaps Harry fell asleep in his garden, but in light of the tragic cotchel of cardiac arrests, suffered by super-fit professionals in the past few days, when you consider the less healthy liquid lifestyles of many football managers, one might think they'd be far more likely to succumb to the immense stress and strain of their chosen career.

Redknapp's appearance will become increasingly puce, if there's a correlation between his blood-pressure and Pompey's two-faced performances. Not to mention Harry’s assistant, as Tony Adams will end up running straight back to rehab, rather than having to endure such erratic displays.

The South coast side offered slightly stiffer opposition in the second-half, but by the time the edited highlights appeared on the box later that night, the Gunners came across as veritable world-beaters. We’ve looked just as good in TV clips shown of our other games to date and while it might be true that we have seen rare glimpses of greatness, most present will confirm that this Arsenal side is still some way from finding a genuine groove.

I only hope that the electrifying forward play that I’ve seen on TV from the Scousers is a similarly deceptive reflection of their real form, as the likes of Torres and Babel appear to have hit the Premiership ground running. As for the Arsenal, the fact that the Trojan efforts of our full-backs, Clichy and (an out of position) Flamini, made them my only stand out Men of the Match, in a 3-1 victory, just about says it all.

Nevertheless, we’ve little cause for complaint (by contrast to so many others), as the fact that we remain undefeated whilst struggling for form, speaks volumes as to the strides made by Wenger’s squad towards the development of the sort of team spirit that Arsène constantly attests to. What’s more, optimism abounds amongst us, as if we continue to put opponents to the sword with so many players still out of sorts, we can but salivate at the thought of the sort of treats we are in for, when we truly find top-gear.

As the transfer window came and went, with managers clearing the shelves of players, like it was the last shopping day before Xmas, many desperate to blow every last bean of their additional TV income, we witnessed the unannounced arrival of Diarra from Chelsea. Despite Wenger’s frugal tendencies, there’s a part of me that wonders if we’d have shown a similar interest in the French midfielder, if it wasn’t for the satisfaction of taking him from Stamford Bridge?

Seeing the Liverpool squad that turned out against Toulouse last week, with two more new South American players that I’ve never heard of (Leto and Lucas?), if I’ve some ongoing concerns about the Gunners, it is that our squad might yet prove to be somewhat shallow for the ensuing marathon, compared to those of some of our rivals, who have at least two players competing for every position on the park.

The annual high drama of the Champions League draw only served as a reminder of the need for strength in depth, for those teams hoping to challenge on several fronts, as outings to Seville, Bucharest and Prague were added to our already hectic fixture schedule. If/when injuries and suspensions begin to take their inevitable toll in the months ahead, I can’t help but envisage a time when we might end up having to ‘make do’, with players playing out of position in a patched up squad.

Then again, according to Arsène’s strict principles he’s only ever going to bring players in, who he believes will add something to his squad, as opposed to merely bolstering it with more bodies and perhaps we should be grateful for Le Prof’s parsimonious attitude - as has been said, you’d think he was spending his own money!

On the opening day of the season I watched a succession of interview’s with Man City fans, who virtually all declared that they couldn’t give a monkey’s where the money came from, so long as there were so many additional millions made available for the purposes of producing a team capable of sticking it to their deadly Mancunian enemies.

I guess I’d have to be a Spurs fan to know what it feels like to endure several decades of uninterrupted humiliation. However I had to wonder at my own moral stance, if faced with the same dilemma and it seems as if the chickens of just such a quandary are all too close to coming home to roost, with the events of last week. Our ex-vice chairman cashed in his Arsenal chips to the tune of £75 million, while justifying his highly lucrative actions with the argument that there was no choice for clubs with any real ambition, but to accept investment from mega-wealthy foreign mercenaries. Yet it seems that Dein must’ve bit the Ruski oligarch’s hand off, without stopping to ponder the accusations concerning the decidedly dirty origins of the fortune belonging to the geezer he was getting into bed with!

If Craig Murray, writer, broadcaster and former ambassador to Uzbekistan is to be believed, this bloke Usmanov has the sort of moral turpitude which makes Roman Abramovich look like a righteous rabbi by comparison. According to Murray’s astonishing accusations, the lion’s share of Red & White holdings (Dein’s latest attempt to resurrect the coup he was plotting prior to his sacking) is owned by a “vicious thug, criminal, racketeer, heroin trafficker and accused rapist”.

Mind you, considering the propensity that unimaginable wealth has these days to open the doors of the upper echelons of British society with no questions asked, these allegations merely read like the guest list at one of the Queen’s garden parties! Perhaps Dein has some defence for feeling disgruntled over the unceremonious manner in which he was ousted, but surely there must be a line somewhere, beyond which the ends do not justify the means. If there’s a fire behind all the smoke surrounding this alleged monster Usmanov, the only question that remains is “Oi David….are you sure?”

e-mail to: LondonN5

Never Mind The Greeks Bearing Gifts, Seems Dein Should've Been Beware Of Oligarchs Bearing Billions

According to writer, broadcaster and former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, it would appear that the geezer David Dein has just got into bed with has the sort of moral turpitude which makes Roman look like a bleedin' rabbi, by comparison.


Then again if Craig had been ambassador to Siberia, perhaps he'd have similar tales to tell about Abramovich, as to my (naturally totally unfounded) mind, all these Ruski billionaires are tarred with the same brush, as I simply don't believe they could've positioned themselves in the mafia-run madness of post communist Russia, without getting their hands seriously dirty

Peace & Love