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Monday 26 November 2007

Never Mind Southern Softies, What About Those Namby-Pamby Northeners?

I’ve curtailed my halftime habit at home games of playing hide and seek with the stewards on the stairwells, while surreptitiously sneaking a few pulls on a cigarette, ever since a steward mate of mine warned me that they’d started confiscating membership cards (which constitute our season tickets!) of anyone caught smoking. Apparently a grovelling letter of apology will get it returned after a first offence, but get caught again and one is in danger of losing it for good. And the umpteen thousand on the season ticket waiting list is enough to make me worry that this is no idle threat.

Yet while the Arsenal might be doing their bit to save me from the ravages of lung cancer, it seems I am likely to end up losing the remainder of my teeth instead, as I nervously chomp my way through the packets of sweets that have now replaced the cigarettes, as this particular footie fan’s equivalent of a comfort blanket. Mind you if the conditions get much colder than they were on Saturday, I am going to end up needing one of these as well!

Now if I was really organised I'd be taking a flask and some nosh, like some others I saw last weekend, as being deprived of a cigarette at the break wouldn’t be nearly so bad, if one was able to obtain some refreshments, without having to queue for the entire 15 minutes and risk missing the start of the second half. At our old gaff, you could always guarantee getting a warm up from a cup of tea or a Bovril, without missing a kick of the ball and it’s hard to believe that the club have failed so miserably in their ability to cater for the increased numbers, with the facilities at our grandiose new ground.

On a freezing afternoon like Saturday, surely the club must be missing out on a small fortune in revenue, for while the 8,000 Club Level occupants are fortunate to be inside, in the warm, supping on their free beverages, it seems as if, like myself, the vast majority of fans in the upper and lower tiers just can’t be bothered with the huge halftime queues.

Instead of which, everyone stands there feigning nonchalant disinterest in Gunnersaurus and his little helpers, circling the pitch perimeter, firing tightly wrapped t-shirts into the crowd by means of a positively lethal, air gun type contraption, which could take someone’s head off if it wasn’t pointed skywards. That is until one of these airborne missiles comes your way, at which point, regrettably, one can’t resist participating in the undignified scrabble. Myself and the missus will have to see if we can master the rugby line-out tactic, so that I can lift her up to gain some advantage, as for the second time on Saturday this prize eluded me, as it bounced off several folks’ fingertips to a chap in the row in front, only for him to smugly boast that this was the second time he’d been the unwitting beneficiary of the fact that none of us was going to make the cricket team.

Until Willie stole into Wigan’s box to head home in the 83rd minute, it had begun to feel like the three points were also about to slip through our fingers, along with a crucial opportunity to gain ground on Man Utd. Despite totally dominating possession, we gifted Wigan perhaps the two best first-half goal scoring opportunities, with two free headers that resulted from a couple of moments of defensive indecision. Following the break and the news that Utd were behind at Bolton, the more fickle Gooners began to express their frustration at our failure to trouble the Wigan keeper.

However despite my continued concerns about the solidity of Arsène’s first-choice partnership at centre-back, if there’s one attribute that William Gallas has added to the Arsenal party, it’s his winning mentality. For the second consecutive home game, we have to be grateful for Gallas’ tenacity, as without his late goals we’d have lost against Man Utd and failed to capitalise on their slip-up on Saturday.

I had to chuckle listening to Carlos Queiroz’s comments on Match of the Day about Bolton’s intimidating tactics. Arsène always gets slaughtered over the Arsenal’s “don’t like it up ‘em” attitude whenever he does likewise. Myself I quite relish these ‘Beauty & the Beast’ type confrontations, so long as the opposition doesn’t resort to the sort of malicious attempts to inflict GBH, such as Marcus Bent’s cynical assault from behind on Denilson. To my mind it’s the physical nature of our football and the levels of commitment, which make the Premiership a far more enthralling proposition than the less intense brand of the beautiful game played on the Continent.

In the knowledge that the majority of sides would be swiftly put to the sword in a straight contest of ability, we’ve grown accustomed to the opposition paying us the compliment of trying to kick us off the park. Theo Walcott is far from the finished article, but he's come a long way from the lightweight scnhip of last season, who was so easily muscled off the ball.

On an afternoon when Wigan’s Michael Brown spent the 20 minutes leading up to his inevitable booking, charging around like a headless chicken, clattering into anything that moved, it was very pleasing to see young Gunners like Denilson, Diarra and Clichy, standing their ground in the face of such aggression. Whereas in the past we’ve acquired this faint-hearted reputation as a result of players who might’ve had more of a tendency to ‘bottle it’ when it comes to earth-shuddering 50/50 confrontations, more concerned with self-preservation than maintaining possession.

Having held out for so long, Gallas’s goal knocked all the stuffing out of the visitors, while at the same time forcing them to be more ambitious. It wasn’t long before we took advantage of the Lactic's efforts to venture forward, cutting them to pieces with a swift counter that ended with Rosicky securing all three points, as he scuffed home our second off the inside of the post.

It was then a matter of sweating out the remaining minutes of the radio commentary from the Reebok, fully expecting the inevitable last gasp equaliser after news of the four minutes of injury time. What has bothered me most in the past when Sam Allardyce’s Bolton have bullied us out of the points with a lion-hearted display, has been the knowledge that the very same team would be likely to timidly lie down like lambs against their Lancashire neighbours. However under Megson it would appear that Bolton were able to overcome their inferiority complex for the first time in nearly 30 years.

I’m sure it was no coincidence that this defeat occurred with Vidic absent at the heart of Utd’s defence and on the face of it, Bolton away is a more taxing proposition than playing Wigan at home. However where previously one might have questioned the Arsenal’s strength in depth, could it be significant that we stood the test of coping with the enforced absence of the likes of Fabregas, Hleb and Flamini, while Fergie mistakenly assumed he could afford the luxury of leaving out similarly influential figures, from an already depleted side?

The finely tuned Arsenal engine might clunk and grind a little without our first-choice stars but crucially we made it home safe. Meanwhile Alex might want to renew his AA subscription for the jump-start Man Utd require without Ronaldo & co.


Anonymous said...

Shit! You are fucking class! Didn't I meet you at Pevin's wedding? Or was that someone else...?

Anyways, I feel the same. I can't be fucked to queue for half-time drinks / food. What's the point? You can't get there in time, and then you miss the start of the second half by at least 5 minutes.

Also - that gun contraption is fucking scary. I mean if they pointed it at your face you'd be dead.

Nice blog.

Bern said...

Sadly not me. I'd love to say I don't go anywhere I'm invited, but truth is no one ever invites me :-)

I remember when the t-shirt gun made its debut at Highbury and it was obvious it was designed for the huge arenas in the States. The poor loves in the lower tier didn't get a look in and those of us in the front of the upper tier where in danger of losing our heads!

Considering that we've become as equally a litigous society as those in the US, I'm actually a litte surprised the club aren't in fear of a law suit.

As far as the facilities at the new gaff are concerned, it's a bloody joke. How was it at THOF that with half as many fans and half as many facilities, everyone got served?

The other thing is that I am not sure it's the fact that there aren't enough facilities, but that it takes so long for them to serve folks. I mean what is the bloomin' point of having nachos, pizzas, doughnuts, when you can't even get a cup of tea (or a pint for the boozers amongst us) without nipping out before the end of the first-half, or missing five minutes after the break.

Let's face it football ain't NFL. No one goes to a game for the grub! All we want is to be able to wet our whistle and perhaps stuff some nondescript pie down our gob, rather than this faux fast-food haute cuisine.

Oh for the good old days at THOF, when I could nip out two minutes before the teams reappeared and be back in my seat with a cuppa and a cardboard bagel, before a ball has been kicked.

Mind you, if I was reading this, I'd probably be telling the writer to piss off down the Lane, as you can still get served a bagel at the break down there. Shame the football's so sh*t!