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Friday 28 December 2007

We're Not Homophobic, We Just Hate Ashley Cole

The sight of Nickie Bendtner's salmon like leap in the Lilywhite penalty area, late on in Saturday's North London derby, only seconds after sprinting onto the park, was a wonder to behold.

There might be nouveaux Gooners, for whom results against Chelsea, or Man Utd might mean the most, but for old-school Arsenal fans, Spurs are, and always will be enemy no. 1 and by coming on to nick a winner, the young Dane has instantly endeared himself to the terrace faithful, earning a special place in out hearts with this one wonderful header.

For a big lad, Bendtner has great ball skills and appears deceptively quick over the all important first five yards. Additionally, as we saw against Blackburn, he appears to be blessed with that amazing, positively Paddy like, leg-extension quality, which enables him to pick an opponents pocket at a distance where it just doesn't look possible.

But best of all, in my humble opinion, is that not since Hartson or Smudger have the Arsenal been able to call on the services of a player who has the semblance of a traditional no. 9.

"So" I hear everyone ask, "with Pompey not having hit the back of the net at home since way back in September and parking the proverbial bus in front of their goal, limiting their ambitions to merely trying to hit us on the counter, why the hell didn't le Gaffer give the young Dane more than the last 10 minutes of the scoreless, bore draw at Fratton Park to make an impression?" It's unfair to throw someone on so late in a game, as it can take ten minutes to pick up the pace of the match.

We were definitely more dynamic once the Danish striker joined the fray (not really sure what this means - it's probably something I read, but it makes for a nice alliteration :-) and judging by all the other Gooners grumbling about the game back at the coach afterwards, I am far from alone in becoming increasingly frustrated with Arsène's preference for playing a 4-5-1 formation with Adebayor so isolated, all on his own up front.

To my mind it's totally unacceptable when playing at home, as I firmly believe that we are handing the opposition defence a massive psychological boost, when they hear prior to the game that they've only got a lone striker to cope with. And while I can understand Arsène opting for a less gung-ho line-up against the better sides away from home and perhaps even choosing to start with only one up front against the likes of Pompey, when the limits of the opposition's ambitions become evident and when we've spent the entire first half struggling to create a single chance on goal of note, surely it's time to ring the changes after the break, in order to give his subs a fair crack of the whip?

After Nicky's winner against Spurs, the only reasonable explanation I can come up with for Wenger's apparent preference for attempting to avoid using the striker in midweek, is that perhaps this was Le Gaffer's effort to rein in the possibility of the lad's runaway ego, after his saviour like performance on the Saturday? Nevertheless, even in the event that Bendtner's "Bertie Big Bollix" reputation is something that requires Le Prof's consideration, with Man Utd having already banked their three points, courtesy of Roy Keane's shambolic outfit (were we really considering stumping up £9 mill for Craig Gordon?), surely Arsène's only priority, with the score 0-0 at the break and with the home side only too happy to take a point, was to enable us to be more potent up front.

And sadly Abou Diaby's second half appearance didn't exactly ramp up the pressure on Pompey's defence. I hardly recall Abou making it into the opposition's penalty area and in fact can only recall him constantly losing possession.

Obviously if we'd beaten Pompey I wouldn't be griping and doubtless this incident wouldn't have merited a mention. What's more I'm certain that it had absolutely no influence over the outcome and at the time it was all good fun, as Abou's half-time antics provided us with a bit of a giggle on the terraces.

But with hindsight, in truth I am somewhat incredulous that we witnessed such utterly unprofessional behaviour. Perhaps Jens Lehmann's become so bitter that he has turned into a saboteur (or perhaps this is merely a reflection of a warped mind which will always jump at the first available conspiracy theory?), but has anyone else noticed the fact that Jens no longer comes out to join the warm up prior to games? When have we ever seen another substitute keeper not come out to help his team mate warm up? Mind you it's a rarity for me to arrive at a match in time for kick-off, let alone see the teams warm up, so perhaps I am not best placed to offer an expert opinion. But as far as I was aware, it is standard practice for the two goalies on a team sheet to warm up together. My question is, what exactly does Jens do, while the rest of the team appear on the pitch prior to a match? Does Arsène merely allow him to remain in the dressing room with his feet up?

Jens does appear at half-time (as this doesn't involve him having to belittle himself by being Manuel Almunia's ball boy!!). But on Wednesday, where I assume he must have been the instigator, he didn't even want to go in goal. As the subs wandered over to our end of the pitch at the break, Jens appeared to hand Abou Diaby his goalkeeping gloves and Diaby duly obliged by going in goal, so Jens could fire a few lame shots at him, as Bendtner joined in with the skylarking about (who knows, perhaps they were playing three and in and just never got to the third goal?).

Naturally Diaby isn't used to going for balls with his hands and so we saw him stretching his long legs, to reach several shots with his feet. Coming out on a cold and windy night, after sitting on the bench for 45 minutes, I wonder what Wenger's reaction would've been if Abou had strained a hamstring, over stretching himself.

Perhaps I am being a little over sensitive as a result of ending the evening behind Utd, but when I think about it, it is hard to imagine the Man Utd subs, or those of any other team with a more disciplinarian gaffer, messing about like this during the break, for fear it would be bound to get back to the boss and they'd be guaranteed a bollocking!

Meanwhile, like I say, Abou's warm up in goal wasn't the reason we failed to beat Pompey and although I was disappointed, as I assume like Wenger, I expected him to have a much more influential impact going forward when he came on, he was far from being the only culprit, in what was ultimately a very lacklustre performance.

For most avid Arsenal watchers, as much as we tried to ignore it, basically we knew this was a result waiting to happen and worse might be to come, if we don't pull our collective fingers out at Goodison tomorrow. In truth the writing has been on the wall for several weeks now, as we've basically been just about getting away with it since we scrabbled a win at Villa Park. When I look back at our displays in the five Premiership games since our trip to Brum, aside from increasingly rare instances of individual feats of brilliance, it's hard to picture a single performance where we've produced the sort of football that befits a team of genuine title contenders.

The list of excuses is many and varied....we never play well in early KOs, we've missed Van Persie, but where only a couple of weeks back I was witnessing purple patches of passing excellence, capable of humbling the most formidable of opposition, which left even a pessimist like myself "daring to believe", on Wednesday we looked more Mike Yarwood than Muhammed Ali. Suddenly we seem to be offering such a poor impersonation of championship contenders, as we neither float like a butterfly, nor sting like a bee.

In my most humble opinion there are several factors involved. But it does seem to me that although we have proved in the past that we are capable of winning games when Cesc Fabregas is not on the pitch, when Cesc is out on the park, if our Spanish prodigy is off colour, the entire Arsenal machine seems to be out of kilter.

Cesc wasn't at his best against Spurs, but it didn't matter because the result was the be all and end all. And when we look back at the end of the (hopefully successful) season, last Saturday's derby will only be remembered for Bendtner's header and the outright impertinence of Fabregas' cheeky backheel. Whereas there were no such redeeming moments of significance, to mask Wednesday's stinker of a game. Then again it wasn't such a bad display, after all Cesc didn't do anything dreadful. It's just that the boy-wonder has set the bar so incredibly high, that a below par effort stands out like Cashley's boyfriend's sore bum.

This Arsenal side seem to be like a finely tuned Swiss timepiece, where Cesc is the mainspring and whether wound too tight, or too loose, the slightest fault turns the entire watch into a useless piece of showy jewelry. If Cesc is carelessly giving the ball away, with all too casual passes that don't find their mark, strangely the rest of the Arsenal side seem to show symptoms of the same disease. But most obvious of all, as far as I'm concerned, it's only when Cesc really starts to tick that his team mates respond accordingly and suddenly the ball becomes a blur of movement as the one and two touch passing moves all find their mark and while we draw intricate patterns on the pitch, the opposition are left chasing shadows.

I adore the fact that little Tommi Rosicky is prepared to put himself about, defending from the front with the sort of bravery that certainly didn't come naturally to his predecessor, Robert Pires, who was more likely to be seen jumping three foot in the air in anticipation of an impending tackle, rather than putting a challenge in himself. However Tommi wasn't bought for his defensive capabilities and what we really need are the guaranteed 10 to 15 goals a season that was Robert's contribution to the Arsenal party.

We've been waiting patiently for Rosicky to score the sort of goals that first put him on Wenger's radar, when playing for the Czech national team and for a moment it looked like he'd popped up with one on Wednesday, until we heard the whoosh of the side netting. When it comes to attacking midfielders, we can't afford any passengers, especially when playing 4-5-1 and it really is about time Tommi started to pull his weight. For inspiration, he need look no further than our opponents tomorrow, where from midfield, Cahill is perhaps the Toffees' most potent attacking threat.

Although if I don't hurry up and get some kip, I'm not going to find out which of these two comes out on top at Goodison, as I'll never make the coach in the morning.

With so many people away on holiday and with an ever decreasing circle of awayday playmates, as so many eventually fall by the wayside, joining all the other glory-hunting part-timers (you know who you are :-), I couldn't find anyone to travel with to Portsmouth or Everton. After a couple of pleas on the Arsenal Mailing List, my faith was eventually restored, when two kind souls came to my rescue, at lunchtime on Boxing Day.

But having arranged to meet one of them at a South London tube station, my route to the Arsenal tube station took me right past the Supporters Club coach, waiting to depart on Gillespie Road. I couldn't believe that I walked past, without stopping to ask if they had room on the coach. By the time I made it down to the platform, I was wondering if I'd made a ricket, as a five minute walk home after midnight on Boxing Day sounded a lot easier than having to find my way back from wherever I was dropped off in South London.

Twice I started heading back up the long tunnel from the platform to the street, looking for a signal on my mobile phone and twice I changed my mind, not wanting to miss a train. After being kind enough to offer me a lift, I didn't want to leave my mate to drive to the game on his own and I didn't want to miss an all too scarce train, only to discover the coach was full.

Eventually with no sign of an approaching train in the near future, I headed all the way back out of the station and phoned my mate and having heard that he had his nephew in the car, I walked back to the coach, relieved to find they were able to accommodate me.

The area around Fratton Park isn't particularly welcoming on a normal match day, let alone Boxing Day night and the biggest drawback about travelling on the coach was that I don't think I have ever arrived at a match so early. This wouldn't have been so bad, if I could have sat on the coach, read the papers and had a kip, but it disappeared after dropping us off and so I was left wandering the streets around the stadium for THREE hours!

After killing half an hour (and doubtless all the good bacteria in my gut) chatting to a programme seller, while chomping my way through a turkey & stuffing burger (where compared to the delicious Murphy stuffing I was missing, that was on offer in the spread Rona had laid on for the family back at home, the grey mush from the bowl in the burger van looked more like a prop stolen straight off the set of Oliver Twist!), I was even contemplating drowning some alcohol sufficiently to be able to bear the taste, in order to waste the remaining couple of hours, anaesthetising myself in a local hostelry - and those who know quite how much I dislike (as opposed to being a "bah humbug" teetotaller) alcohol, will appreciate quite how bored I was.

But not having travelled on a coach to a game for many years, I'd forgotten that it does also have its advantages. At least I was able to get back on the coach after the match and fall akip and forget the misery of being knocked off the top spot, almost before my bum had hit the seat, with none of the guilt that goes with falling asleep in a passenger seat in a car and leaving the driver to do all the work without offering any real company.

So the 9.30 departure to Liverpool on Saturday seemed much more reasonable, until it eventually dawned on me that our game kicks-off at 5.15, not 3pm. Heaven only knows how I am going to kill three hours at Goodison before the game (without getting robbed :-).

Hopefully this time I will have reason to stay awake on the way back, to discuss our glorious triumph, or at least so I don't fall asleep before providing the Observer with a few words for their "the Verdict" column. I'm also hoping that we hear a repeat of Wednesday's entertainment highlight, in the form of the chant of the evening

In light of Sol Campbell's recent outburst on the radio, about an alleged breach of his human rights and considering the recent appearance of a notice in our matchday programme announcing a new anti-social behaviour, text message service, where one is supposed to tap in the relevant "key word" be it "FOUL, RACE, SMOKE, STAND, TOUT, HPH (for homophobic", it was most amusing to hear (and join in) with a hearty chorus of "We're not homophobic, we just hate Ashley Cole"

A Happy & Healthy New Year to one and all

Peace & Love


Anonymous said...

great article and blog - always enjoy reading it.

Have fun on the trip to Liverpool tomorrow fingers crossed for a Bendtner start and a memorable win!


Anonymous said...

I really dislike how so many people say they aren't homophobic but use Cole SUPPOSEDLY being gay as an insult. It's very ignorant and childish and quite unmeritted since the twat managed to give us plenty of other things to say about him which are actually well justified without needing to be cuntish towards a huge group of innocent and already quite victimised enough group of people.

Bern said...

Extremely gratifying to hear that my efforts are appreciated.

As for the other comment, I only mentioned the chant because it tickled me when I heard it and personally I find the whole idea of policing the comments made on the terraces quite preposterous

Mercifully these days the terraces tend to be self-policing. Sadly there are still plenty of unsavoury incidents but to attempt top clamp down on them will prove to be a slippery road that will eventually turn football into something similar to the Phillistine sport played in the US, where the "audience" merely clap and cheer in all the appropriate places, but where it will become totally unrecognisable from the atmospheric, passionate sport we've always known and loved.

If you begin to ban various chants because they offend various minorities, just where do you stop? I can recall feeling a little embarrassed when Duff was playing for Chelsea and I was standing there with my Irish missus as we sung "where's your caravan?"

But although I was reluctant to join in, I wouldn't dream of suggesting such comments should be banned as the next thing you know, they will be throwing fans out because they've been offending onanists by chanting "who's the w***er in the black"!!