Friday, 31 August 2007

The Last Straw?

I was perusing the paper late this evening, as one does when sitting upon the throne in our lavatorial library, when a small clip in the sports section of the Grauniad caught my eye and inspired this post

However before going "off on one" in my angry state, I thought it only fair to point out that after all the stick I've given Fabregas recently, I must admit that when Cesc replaced Diaby last night, coming on as sub for the last 23 minutes, it seemed to me that there was a noticeable difference, compared to his lacklustre efforts to date.

Everyone seemed very impressed with Diaby and although I also enjoyed his influential first-half performance, I thought he faded as the game wore on, which I guess is not surprising. Perhaps the sight of Abou imposing himself on Sparta, acted as a spur, or perhaps it was just because Fab was so much fresher than most everyone else around him. Whatever the cause and while it might be difficult to put the change in Cesc into words, to my mind there was a certain "je ne sais quoi" about Fab's attitude and demeanour that's been sorely lacking up until now and it was a huge relief to once again recognise the Fab we've always known and loved. Compared to the way in which he has moped about the pitch somewhat in the first couple of games, Cesc appeared totally energised and up for it, as if his time on the bench had him chomping at the bit to get out there.

Mind you when I saw him stripping off only 15 mins into the second half, I wondered if there was a need to call for the club doctor, if not for Wenger, then for me! I was close to feinting at the rare sight of Arsène ringing the changes with more than 15 mins left on the clock. Knowing Wenger, I'm sure he probably has a perfectly logical explanation. Or perhaps Arsène's incessant tendance towards leaving the same team out there until 15, or at the very most, 20 mins before the final whistle, is merely due to the fact that Wenger is as superstitious as the rest of us?

It's "same as it ever was" as far as the gobby Stamford Bridge one is concerned. The smug, supercillious t*sser gets on my tits, just as much as ever. But credit where it is due, unlike Le Prof, whose pragmatism leaves him almost totally incapable of an act of spontaneity, Mourihno usually appears to recognise when it's not going right for his side and when a change of personel and tactics might do the trick. Admittedly the Blues are often blessed by having the choice of three players for every position on the park, when our squad might not be so deep and where Wenger only has the choice of replacing one inexperienced youngster, with another. Nevertheless, even if Arsène had the same limitless resources at his disposal, as those on offer from the East European oligarch, I somehow cannot envisage our manager assuaging my fears and frustrations with wholesale changes at half-time, as he's in the habit of only ever making substitutions at a time by which one can set one's clock.

Thus it was a pleasant surprise on Wednesday night, as there have been plenty of times in the past when I've looked at the subs sitting on the bench, or warming up on the touchline and I've wondered who amongst them would be capable of actually changing the game, when with only 15 minutes, it's a toss up which is going to come first, the final whistle, or the sub getting up to speed with the pace of the game. Whereas they had a little longer to make an impact against Sparta and already 3-0 down (on aggregate), in the boots of the Czech players, on the end of legs rapidly filling with lactic acid, I would've felt totally demoralised to see the likes of Fabregas, Denilson and Adebayor entering into the fray.

It was also great to see Eduardo get on the scoresheet at the death on Wednesday and my only regret is that it would've been the perfect cherry on top, if Walcott had joined him (as a goal might do Theo's confidence the world of good). However despite the fact that they might have struggled for enthusiasm with qualification already in the bag and that it was still some way from the Arsenal at their flowing footie best, just about the only good cause I have for complaining, is that I can't afford the trips to Seville, Bucharest and Prague. While I would certainly love to see where the oranges come from and I wouldn't mind going back to the scene of Henry's record breaking feats, having never been to Romania before, I am only really gutted that I won't be going to Bucharest. Hopefully this will at least mean that I might still have some far-fetched lines of credit available to me in order to follow the Gunners on their European tour, should we achieve qualification for the knockout stages.

As for today's Grauniad, there were a few lines in the "Digger" column in the sport section which read:

Gooner™ - it's intellectual
Arsenal have applied to trademark the word "Gooner" for use on club merchandising ranging from bath linen to coats, boxer shorts and ear-muffs. The phrase, the colloquial term for an Arsenal fan, is the subject of an application filed to the UK Intellectual Property Office earlier this month, and will doubtless soon be appearing in the club superstore.

How very dare they! It seems to me that this is the very last chink in the Arsenal's armour that would secure the greedy buggers their ultimate objective of an absolute monopoly over anything and everything related to the club we love. Time will come when we will need to request their permission to wear a red & white shirt!

If successful, the significance would be that the principal INDEPENDENT public voice, namely The Gooner magazine and the company that has seized on an apparent opportunity with their Goonergirl range of clothing and sexy lingerie, would I assume in future either require permission to use the word "Gooner" or would be forced to pay a royalty. Doh! Never mind them, what about me? I'd probably have to change the name of this blog if the club have their way!

As far as The Gooner is concerned, it would be tantamount to castration, if they needed the club's assent, as they might struggle in future to "say it as it is" for fear they might upset the powers that be and end up denied their permission. What's more, if anyone has a right to a copyright of any sort over the word "Gooner", I'd imagine it would be our trusty fanzine, as I'd be surprised if they weren't the first to use the term in print.

Meanwhile, at the end of the day, prohibitive share prices might prevent us plebs owning a small piece of our beloved Arsenal, in order to have our say in the running of such an significant facet of our lives, yet if the term Gooner belongs to anyone, this certainly belongs to all of us long-suffering supporters, rather than those suits at the club, like Edelman, who are obviously trying to turn a fast buck from its acquisition and who's blood hardly runs red & white.

I don't know about anyone else, but I feel a protest coming on! I'm far too cream-crackered right now and I'm desperate to catch up on some much needed ZZZZs, however at the first opportunity I will look up the
UK Intellectual Property Office and try to establish whether we are entitled to express our opinion on the subject and how we go about doing it. Watch this space......

Big Love
Bernard

e-mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Monday, 27 August 2007

The Blunder Of You

HI folks,

You'll have to forgive me if I've repeated a couple of points from a previous post in the following piece, but I wanted to pick the best points for my Examiner piece

I know there were plenty of Gooners who felt I was being a bit harsh on Fabregas after the Blackburn game and there were others whose comments suggested that there was absolutely no justification for my criticisms (although I can't help but wonder how many of these opinions came from people who were present in person to watch the game at Ewood Park?). In fact I'd even begun to wonder if I'd got it wrong myself and as a result I spent much of the 90 minutes against Man City scrutinizing Cesc closely, through my binoculars, instead of following the ball.

Now I don't know whether Cesc is following instructions, not to waste his talents doing too much donkey work, nor can I believe Fabregas has gone from being a self-effacing, humble 100 per cent grafter, to an egotistical, lazy, less committed Gunner, overnight. However the more I see of Cesc, the more convinced I am that there's some cause for concern about Fab's recent performances.

Saturday's game wasn't the best game to judge Fab by, as when Sagna was subbed for Denilson and Flamini went to right back, it was Denilson who was playing as the more advanced of our two midfielders, with Fab tending to hold back. What's more, with two fit centre-backs allowing Gilberto to rejoin the midfield, we might look a little more balanced and a little less lightweight in the centre of the park. With our Brazilian enforcer back in place to break up opposition attacks, perhaps this might free Fabregas from some of his defensive responsibilities, so that he's best placed to launch a counter attack. However there have been several instances in the past couple of game, where I would've expected Fab to stay with the run of one of the opposition, thereby preventing a problem for Flamini, whereby he was struggling to cover two players.

Moreover there will be many games where we are under the cosh for certain periods of the match, where we must defend as a team with everyone accepting some defensive responsiblity, to ensure the opposition won't always have an easy ball to an open player. We saw evidence of this in the second half on Saturday. From where we sit in the lower tier, closer to the south end of the ground and the fairly vocal City fans, it was patently obvious that the visitors had chosen to target our right flank, where Flamini was trying to fill in for Sagna. Virtually every one of City's attacks came down their left flank, where we appeared particularly vulnerable. The obvious point of view was that Flamini was at fault because he failed to pick up the wide man every time, but he was also torn between staying in touch with Kolo, to ensure there wasn't a gaping hole between the two of them and so we don't really know if someone like Hleb was to blame for not helping out and providing the necessary cover out wide.

Meanwhile with Gallas injured (yet again!) and Senderos joining him on the sidelines, we are looking decidedly short on centre-back cover and while I am all for the youngsters gaining more experience out on loan, you have to wonder at the sense of allowing one of our best prospects, Djourou play for Birmingham, while we are having to make do with Gilberto! But in truth, we have got awat with it up until now, as I'm sure most will agree, we continue to look a long way from being secure at the back and we've yet to face a truly potent strikeforce.

At least it was good to be able field two genuinne strikers at home, instead of Van Persie operating on his own up front. Adebayor might've had a bit of a stinker, but then surely we can cut him some slack with his first game back. You can train all you like, but as we all know, there is no substitute for competitive match practice and I'd like to think that if Manny was match fit, he wouldn't have been caught on his heels in the box and might have anticipated a couple of the balls played across the face of goal on Saturday, in time to connect and slide at least one of them home.

Hopefully the return of Sol, Lauren and Kanu next Sunday, with a Pompey side that usually comes to play against us will act as suitable inspiration for everyone and in the meantime there's the small matter of a Champions League game which is far from over, until we make it so with the first goal on Wednesday

Come on you Reds
Big Love
Bernard
__________________________________________________

When the Elvis tune “The Wonder Of You” blasted out of the PA, prior to the teams trotting out for our first home game, a couple of weeks back, I mistakenly assumed that this was merely a tribute, to mark the 30th anniversary of the passing of “the King of Rock n’ Roll”. I pooh-poohed the suggestion that this was to be the Arsenal’s new signature tune, as I simply couldn’t fathom the reasoning behind such a barmy choice of songs.

It seems to me that there are only two criteria for the choice of music to mark the entrance of the teams into the arena. Either it’s a song which has some specific association with the club concerned, or a stirring anthem that’s been chosen for it’s capacity to rouse the passions of the crowd, thereby getting the adrenaline pumping through the bodies of the home team and hopefully making the visitors quake in their boots at the prospect of the ensuing encounter. Heaven only knows which category Everton’s “Z Cars” theme tune falls into, but I don’t doubt that there are plenty of Toffees’ fans whose hairs still stand up on the back of their necks, when the first few bars of this somewhat bizarre choice of music, blare out at Goodison Park before a big game.

By contrast, when it dawned on me on Saturday that we are likely to be enduring the dulcet tones of this boring Elvis ballad, before every home match for the foreseeable future, I imagined the players in the tunnel dozing during this lullaby, with the resultant deceleration, rather than the desired quickening of their heart rate! I’m afraid I have to concur with Morrissey’s suggestion that we should “Hang the DJ”!

Then again if all I have to grumble about is a musical difference of opinion, then I guess we’re in relatively good shape, compared to some. Considering many of us have spent the past couple of months suffering the merciless “bon mots” of our Spurs mates, as they took such great pleasure in teasing us about the demolition of each successive cornerstone of Arsène’s North London empire, leading to the somewhat premature predictions of the imminent downfall of the Arsenal dynasty, there will be few Gooners who’ll have failed to relish the delicious irony of the footie media’s focus on the skullduggery of the suits at Spurs.

In truth the suspension of betting on Jol’s sacking last week should’ve been evidence enough that something was afoot. I’m somewhat surprised we haven’t heard more about an investigation into this attempted betting coup. But then a bit of insider dealing is probably par for the course for some of the White Hart Lane wiseguys. Not that we haven’t our fair share of Footsie finaglers, ever since a Club Level membership became the latest ‘must have’ accessory for every self-respecting City boy (City of London, as opposed to Sven’s mob).

It was almost worth enduring all that rampant pre-season optimism from the wrong end of Seven Sisters Road, if only because it’s so much more fun, watching them fall from such a height, as the Spurs board manages to shoot themselves in the foot, yet again. I suppose he could always make them an offer they can’t refuse, but I have to admit to feeling some sympathy for their Dutch Tony Soprano. His almost untenable position is a sad reflection on the panic-ridden state of the farce that is British football at present, where the lunatics at the helm of the Lilywhite asylum were giving their leader £40 million to spend, whilst seemingly simultaneously plotting his replacement in the absence of immediate results.

Fergie was perhaps the most relieved man at Old Trafford on Sunday. If good-fortune had instead favoured the visitors, it would’ve been ol’ Red Nose on the end of the Glazer’s hook, as the grisly bait for the piranha like feeding-frenzy of those tabloid pariahs. Yet nowadays, sadly the demands for immediate success are such, or more’s the point, the dread of being drawn into the relegation dogfight and the risk of losing one’s place at the Premiership trough, is so potent, that most every manager is only a couple of bad results away from becoming the bookies favourite for the “tin tack”.

Consequently, even in light of the recent turmoil and the loss of Dein, his right-hand man, I can’t envisage our own Arsène Wenger wanting to swap the security of absolutely ruling the roost at the Arsenal, for all the relative uncertainty of a clean slate at another club. However you only have to witness the anguish that many managers experience on the touchline, to appreciate that the intense pressure of Premiership management is hardly conducive to one’s good health. Thus if it wasn’t for the fact that Le Prof’s young squad is a work in progress, Wenger might find the prospect of walking away from the unrelenting strain of day to day management somewhat more appealing.

Listening to the post-match phone-ins at the weekend, I was surprised by the proposition that we were the most in-form side. Even the most avid Arsenal watchers will admit that, to date, Arsène’s current symphony has appeared decidedly unfinished. In fact, following the groans of frustration that greeted the umpteenth overhit pass, or our unconscionable penchant for providing meat and drink to messrs Dunne and Micah Richards, by constantly playing to their aerial strengths all afternoon, I turned to the missus to suggest that if you didn’t know better, you would’ve thought that we were the motley collection of mercenary strangers, rather than Man City.

Nevertheless, few Gooners will moan, least of all me, if Cesc continues to conjure up an 80th minute winner every week. Yet Fabregas’s goal cannot mask the fact that apart from a rare individual effort, he has struggled so far to produce the sort of midfield promptings necessary for a significant impact on the overall proceedings. In my humble opinion, the influence of an in-form Fabregas is vital, if this Arsenal side is to rise above the somewhat tepid efforts seen to date, to truly come to the boil.

Most will argue that so long as we are achieving results, where in the past we probably would’ve dropped points, who cares if we continue “winning ugly” whilst we struggle to find our customary, more artistic form. Aside from providing a valuable demonstration of some newfound mettle, just imagine what we have to look forward to when our fluid passing game really starts to flow!

e-mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Laughed? I Nearly......!!



No Arsenal fan, or at least not any of those amongst us Gooners who've been forced to spend the past couple of months enduring our Spurs pals' "bon-mots" about our club going to pot, could've failed to relish the hilarious irony of the subject of this week's media focus.

Personally speaking I couldn't get my phone out quick enough to text tease the Totts, when I first saw the back pages the other day "and you thought we had 'tzores'... at least another two seasons of torment whilst a new gaffer build his squad?"

But then I have to put this into (the tantamount to treasonous) context that I was in the car with four of them on route to the wrong end of Seven Sisters Rd on Saturday. Where they spent the journey to WHL whining about Martin Jol's absolutely maddening team selections -whereupon I have to admit that our man might walk on water, but they were surprised by my revelations about Wenger's point blank and decidedly frustrating refusal to ring any changes (with a half-time wake up call, à la Mighty Mouth) usually until 15, 20 minutes at most before the final whistle - and then the entire way back from drubbing dreadful Derby was taken up with an optimistic discussion about their Champions League prospects (qualification for, mind, they wouldn't know how to start contemplating about watching anything but Eastenders on a Wednesday and actually playing CL footie :-)

Talk about violent mood swings! North London shrinks won't be short of their share of manic depressives this season.

I was cracking up, as considering my closest Spurs mate's black mood these past few weeks (to the point where all footie has been totally off topic), we hadn't been back in the car more than five minutes when his missus was on the phone. He was due to be joining her, on holiday in the South of France the next day and from his side of the conversation, you could hear she was asking/informing him, about hiring a boat for the day when he gets there and then upping the ante even, perhaps suggesting a bigger boat, or a longer hire.

It was fairly obvious she'd been waiting on tenterhooks, to check the teletext at 4.45 (and her old man's resultant mood) and once he'd hung up and then again when she phoned later, after we'd arrived back, I was desperately trying to get him to wheedle out of her exactly what she'd planned on saying/asking if Spurs hadn't won 4-0!

However no matter how much fun I've had this week at the Totts expense...it was almost worth their pre-season optimism, as it's given the joy of knocking them back down again a whole new lease of life), it has to be said that the beautiful game in this country at the moment is downright barmy, largely as a result of the pirhana like feeding frenzy of those tabloid pariahs.

My lack of confidence in the much despised pre-season prediction request from the Irish Examiner, can be judged by the fact that I didn't bother to post them. And when I think how long I agonised over umpteen versions of them, I still don't even know if the paper ended up using them (they certainly weren't in the Premiership Preview that they were written for - hope I bloomin' well get paid !).

So really I doubt if anyone can pull me up if I wanted to tell porkies, but I initially went for Little Sam as the the first Premiership sacking, on the basis that ever since the Stewart Houston experience, I've never believed a no. 2 could go from carrying cones, to commanding sufficient respect from a mercenary squad of unruly millionaires. But after reading the predictions of the other Examiner columnists (naturally a Sund-Ireland supporter has been added as the latest member of our "Terrace Talk" crew), I changed my mind when it came to my final (final) draft and went with the bookies favourite, the Wigan manager (but then at the time le gaffer was third favourite, albeit as the first to part company, rather than the first to face the 'tin-tack'). However I haven't the foggiest whether Chris Hutchings is any kop, merely basing my decision on the most volatile chairmen.

Who would've thought Daniel Levy would be outdoing Dave Whelan with a severe case of "foot in mouth" with he and the Spurs board the orchestrators of such a monumental cock-up. It was the first I heard of an ominous suspension of betting on route to WHL on Saturday. But I was assured that it had been revealed that it was a clerical/mathematical/administrative mistake. According to 'no smoke without fire' logic, it seems something was certainly afoot and I'm surprised we've not heard more about an investigation into the matter. But then insider dealing is probably considered par for the course amongst some of White Hart Lane's City boy wiseguys (not that we haven't our fair share of these frequenting the new gaff, ever since a Club Level seat became the latest 'must have' accessory for every 'respectable' Footsie bull!).

Yet it's a sad reflection of these tabloid times that we now inhabit, that the majority of Premiership managers are all forced to exist only one bad result away from the assault on their follicles by the dreaded 'vote of confidence'.

The media might play the lead role in the current farce (despite any codswallop protestations of passive reportage) but we are all part of a massive cast that's somehow managed to ramp up the Premiership pressure another few notches this season. Perhaps it's all down to a nasty case of early season angst? I'm told this particular genie can't be put back in the bottle, but personally I'd prefer to see a return to those days when we didn't see a league table for the first six weeks (no such sheepishness on Sky, but Line-acher even apologised for putting it up on MOTD).

Hopefully, while the weight of various unscrupulous agents' offshore accounts sinks the odd island or two, the one potential advantage of the recent spondulicks injection might be the promise of the most interesting Premiership marathon we've seen in many a moon.

Pre-season predictions are always a painful chore (it's not just procrastination, but if equivocation was also an International sport, I'd be double England captain!) but they were made that much more taxing this term, as when I tried to gen up on the transfers, looking down the lists of ins and outs, it dawned on me that many sides might be virtually unrecogniseable from the team that took to the field only a couple of months back.

And it was only on considering the vast sums of cash being splashed on various, relative unknown Humdilaleulahs from Hotzaplotz (with the same moniker as my Ma, "I'd love it" if Spurs multi-million pound centre-back proved to be a bit of a donkey, as I'm ready and waiting with the "my Eunice is a far more fearsome leg-biter than yours" type ammo) that I began to appreciate quite how much of a concerted effort has been made by many of the teams, trying to play catch-up. Although doubtless it is fear that has levered open the coffers of many a club, that sphincter trembling knowledge that they simply couldn't afford to lose their seat at the top table trough next season.

Just about the only sound conclusion that can be drawn from the punches thrown and taken these past couple of weeks, is that the Premiership is perhaps as unpredictable as it has been since I was a mere lad. Not that the usual Champions League suspects won't hit a sufficiently consistent streak to separate them from the herd (hopefully with normal service being resumed against City on Saturday and the customary dream quashing experience for the Totts at Old Trafford on Sunday - as you know the real Man U must stand up sometime soon?) but my instincts are that there could only be a couple of mini-leagues this season, consisting of contenders and also-rans, where below fourth, there won't be a team that's totally safe from the sinister relegation shadow and where most will spend the season only a couple of bad results away from becoming the subject of the sort of collywobble speculation seen at Spurs so far.

Thus its possible that Arsène is under no less pressure than any of his peers and judging by the time he has spent on the touchlline so far, perhaps his seat in the dug-out seems hotter than ever. A winning start this season could prove as important as it has ever been in Le Prof's entire Arsenal career, as it might never be more crucial for us to attach ourselves to the former, or at least to establish a position that's much closer to a trophy challenge, than the dog-a-eat-dogfight that's likely to ensue down below.

And talking of unknown quantities, Sven's coachload will be arriving around the corner in a few hours and if I prattle on much longer, I will be struggling to make it in time for kick-off. Then again, at least a late arrival will elicit the (sadly still all too) odd quip from the increasingly familiar faces around me that have begun to make us feel more at home.

I only hope that all the comments following my previous post prove correct and I couldn't be more wrong. In fact the more I think about my interpretation of Cesc's apparent disinterest in tracking back at Ewood Park, the more I wonder if it was merely a figment of my imagination. In fact I purposely saved the highlights of the Blackburn game because I planned on watching it again to see if I could've been mistaken in my perceptions. But to be honest I'd rather wait and let Fabregas prove my foolhardiness, with a dominant home display that serves notice of the young Spanish prodigy's intentions, as the same humble, hungry midfield maestro we've come to know and love.

I might not be one for predictions but I'm pretty sure we won't see this Arsenal side begin to really tick, without the energetic and inciteful promptings that put Fab up there, amongst the world's elite in the first place and whatever logical explanation there may be, most of those who've seen Cesc's appearancs to date will agree that his displays have been cause for some concern.

Moreover no one will be happier to forsake a little smugness about spotting Micah Richards as a player just a little bit before he became the next best British thing since sliced bread, if he ends up looking like a bamboozled, lumbering lump by the time Van Persie's put him through his defensive paces tomorrow afternoon. However for those of us sad sap punters who insist on talking of the Arsenal in terms of romantic metaphors, I certainly wouldn't kick Micah out, if he chose to get in bed with the Gunners

Come on you Reds
Big Love
Bernard

Monday, 20 August 2007

Venga Fabregas!

Hi folks

Many thanks for taking the trouble to comment on last week's post. It was very reassuring to get a few opinions and I hope I've taken some of these on board (I didn't even know what "Word verification" was beforehand!) with the changes I've made.

Meanwhile I've sussed that if I save my long-winded preamble for a separate post, I can double the hits from the Newsnow link. Although I'm not sure why I should care, apart from massaging my own ego, as I'm hardly about to retire from the supposed 23 dollars generated from the Google Ads after 90,000 hits (you need to earn over 50 bucks to actually see some greenbacks)

Mind you, I've managed to prattle on at such length this week that I am not sure there is much more to say. Although that's never stopped me in the past

Bring on Sparta and Sven (surely Richard Dunne is due a dodgy performance, after playing out of his skin in our recent encounters)

Come on you Reds
Bernard
_________________________________________________________________

It’s easy to pick on Lehmann, after two such significant, successive bloomers and believe me, I’ve never been our loony net minder’s no.1 fan. For some time now I’ve believed that our bantamweight backline might be best served by a keeper who’s more capable of dominating his box. Yet at least Jens mistakes were honest ones. He fell over against Fulham and took his eye off the ball at Blackburn.

It’s just that keeper errors tend to be more crucial and we need to bear in mind that our goal and Bendtner’s chance late-on, both stemmed from a strangely inconsistent showing from Brad Friedel at the other end.

Sadly his teammates weren’t able to save the big Kraut’s bacon, after Sunday’s 72nd minute blunder. Although after returning home to watch a replay, I’m more angry with Cesc Fabregas, as he was equally guilty for gifting Rovers their goal. One of Fab’s most endearing qualities is that, for such a precocious talent, he always comes across as an extremely humble, 100% grafter. However the equaliser on Sunday wasn’t the first time he was caught on his heels, failing to track Dunn’s run towards our box

I know it might be sacrilege to criticize our Spanish starlet and at first I thought it strange that our most influential midfielder was already looking just a little jaded, ever since I first saw him in pre-season. But after studying Sunday’s highlights, I’m half wondering whether success might have gone to Fab’s head. Or perhaps it’s merely the negative effect of having the substantial egos of those such as Billy Big Bollix Bendtner about him in the Arsenal camp.

Whatever the cause, it seems to me that Cesc urgently needs taking to task, to remind our wunderkid of his responsibilities. All that amazing ability ain’t worth a jot, without a work ethic to go with it. For all we know, Fab might be strictly adhering to Arsène’s instructions. Yet from his flat-footed body language, one could quite easily construe that Fab believes he’s beyond all that industrial donkey-work, all too often leaving our very own water-carrier, Flamini, outnumbered in front of the back four.

The most positive aspect to a highly competitive encounter at Ewood Park was that Wenger’s vertically challenged squad probably would’ve been outmuscled by Rovers in the past and perhaps intimidated out of our hard won point. However I fear for Van Persie when the red mist comes down. I’m far from convinced he’s suited to a lone striker role. Aside from his tendency to lose his patience, it appears to be a waste of Robin’s prodigious talent, to have him expending all his energy, often leaping in vain for Lehmann’s long punts..

Moreover, watching the TV replay, it didn’t take a lip-reader to realise Mark Hughes’ side did a successful job on him. So long as the Dutchman was haring around, intent on reaping revenge on his tormentors with his studs, our hot-headed striker wasn’t sufficiently focused on letting his talent do the talking and doing damage where it really hurts.

You could sense the mood of frustration amongst the travelling Gooners, at having thrown away 3 points, on the long uphill trek back to the car, facing a 3/4 hour schlep home, amidst mid-August’s miserably wet, positively winter-like weather. Based on the stats, a draw looks like a fair result, but our single point felt like scant reward for our long trip North and a squad full of bruised limbs. Especially when Rob Stiles incompetent efforts at Anfield only served to reinforce the feeling that we’d wasted a rare opportunity to gain ground on all our main rivals.

In truth our result against Rovers will only truly be measured in terms of how the other top clubs fare, when they travel to Ewood Park. An astute Mark Hughes might’ve amassed a squad that’s capable of giving all-comers a run for their money, but why will I not be surprised if Rovers are not nearly so fired up, to rough up the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd?

Timing is a crucial factor nowadays. We were unfortunate to be facing a Blackburn side determined to “set its stall out” in their first home game. It remains to be seen whether Benitez’s summer buys are capable of giving Liverpool that 20-plus goal a season leg-up, to finally mount a consistent title challenge. On first impressions, Torres and Babbel certainly look likely candidates. But unless Chelsea arrive at Ewood Park during the African Nations, depleted of Drogba and co. its hard to imagine them dropping points.

I thought I was going to have to make Sunday’s trip on my tod. If that had been the case and if there’d been live TV coverage of our game, I might’ve been sorely tempted to stop at home, to enjoy all three encounters on the box. But mercifully my good mate Steve came up trumps with an offer of a lift that meant I only had to drive the first 50 miles to Oxford, to meet up with him and his lad Charlie.

Besides, I couldn’t possibly blow this outing out, as bizarrely we now remain in London for our next six league games, until our trip to Anfield, right at the end of October. And I had to pay penance for an act of treason the previous day, when I foolishly accepted an invitation to watch Tottenham v Derby at White Hart Lane. After their woeful start, I wondered if my Spurs pals had conspired to phone me, in the hope that I might prove their lucky mascot, as I witnessed Spurs put five past Charlton the last time I accompanied them down the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road.

Keep it under your hat, as I don’t want to end up being lynched by my disgruntled Gooner mates, who up until Saturday had been “giving it large” to all the Spurs fans, with their premature proclaimations that this was to be their season. But if it’s a crime to enjoy watching live footie, I’m undoubtedly guilty as charged. So why would I want to stop at home with the oohs and aahs of the more passionate pundits on Sky’s Soccer Saturday, when I could be watching in person, a Premiership game on my doorstep.

Again Spurs probably benefited by playing a promoted side so early on and being able to demolish all Derby’s illusions, with this “welcome to the Premiership” wake-up call. Heaven only knows how Pompey dropped points against these Black Country lightweights, as until the team that Billy Davies put out on Saturday receives a much needed quality boost, they must be the most obvious relegation fodder.

I’m told that the likes of Huddlestone and Jenas all too often fail to impose themselves against decent opposition but their entertaining promptings deserved my begrudging applause on Saturday, with Huddlestone producing some positively Hoddle like touches with his long-range passing. To my mind he and Micah Richards are amongst a rich seam of highly promising young British talent and I only wish we had a couple of them at Highbury…sorry, force of habit!

We might have Theo Walcott, but if Wenger is not careful, he risks our crowd rapidly losing patience with Theo, as a result of his continued efforts to convert him into a winger. Watching Wrighty’s stepson producing a constant supply of ammo for Chelsea’s strikers, with his sumptuous crossing, I was reminded of how long it’s taken for SWP to live up to all the expectation on his young shoulders. And he’s a natural winger, whereas Walcott’s striking instincts tend to take him towards goal.

Talking of which, without Ronaldo streaking down the wing, Man Utd did a passable impersonation of the Arsenal on Sunday, with their efforts to pass their way through the heart of City’s formidable centre-back partnership. At present, the only threat of any width from the Arsenal is provided by the increasingly impressive performances of our full-backs, Clichy and Sagna, who are both proving their ability at both ends of the pitch, along with the 90-minute engines necessary for their lung-busting efforts.

However I couldn’t watch Sunday’s matches without wondering how much better off we might be, if we still had Pennant and Bentley whipping in balls from out wide. It will be ironic if Arsène is forced to purchase a natural winger, after passing on the potential of our own homegrown talent (although Pennant originally arrived from Notts County).

By contrast I am sure we’d show a net profit, if Arsène chose to buy back Anelka. I certainly wouldn’t baulk at the addition of Le Sulk’s scintillating pace up front. Nor do I expect Aliadière’s efforts up at Boro to prove similarly embarrassing, as I believe Jeremie’s undoubted ability is far more suited to the Continent.

I wish I could say the same about Wenger’s post-match comments. Doubtless our manager has some well-founded motives for harping on about the rough treatment meted out at Ewood Park and from his intro to our fervent brand of footie, it will have dawned on Eduardo that there’s plenty of black & blue associated with playing up front in the red & white of the Arsenal. Meanwhile with his words being blown up out of all proportion in black & white, by the red top rags, Wenger won’t be winning many friends (like he gives a monkey’s!)

I downloaded a moody copy of the utterly breathless movie, the Bourne Ultimatum, to watch after MOTD. I found myself wincing at many of the full-blooded tackles from Blackburn on Sunday, just as I did with some of Matt Damon’s fantastic stunts in the flick. The difference being that the Hollywood star has a body-double to dive through plate-glass windows, whereas the Gunners have no such luxury when being slammed by the likes of Nielsen and Samba, or when it comes to avoiding a red card reaction to the shenanigans of a slieveen like Savage.

Yet like the rest of us, by now Wenger must know to expect nothing less from the vast majority our away matches. In actual fact it’s the ultimate compliment, as an admission that our opponents couldn’t possibly expect to compete in a straightforward contest of footballing skill.

e-mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Monday, 13 August 2007

Let's All Laugh At Tottenham

Hi folks,

As ever so much to say but so little room to say it in (I've only just discovered that the 1000 words I've been sending the Irish Examiner is actually supposed to be 700!)

Consequently I've tended to gloss over some points in my post below (see: Not Quite So Far From Home Sweet Home), like our continued defensive woes, where if given a free hand, I'd doubtless rattle off a thousand or more words on this one topic alone (is that a huge sigh of relief I hear? :-)

Then again it gives me an excuse for this lengthy preamble (not that I've ever needed an excuse to waffle on inna War & Peace stylee!). BTW if anyone is actually reading this then please offer up your own thoughts below, as it baffles me why I get 1500 hits but not one comment, when most other Arsenal blogs seem to have hundreds of opinions tagged on at the bottom. Never mind the insecurities of the Arsenal back four, please have some sympathy for my own, ever diminishing self-esteem :-)

As someone once famously said "talk good about me, talk bad about me, so long as you talk about me". Whereas I'm getting so wound up that my efforts aren't worth an opinion or two, that I will eventually end resorting to asking Myles Palmer for some advice!

My problem is that I've always tended to avoid boring punditry, both because there's little point repeating the same sort of ravings that you can read in a million other missives (from folks who are far more qualified to sound off about footie than me) and because my piece appears in the paper on a Wednesday, long after weekend matches have already been dissected to death.

And so I've always tried to focus on the more anecdotal stuff but at present there are so many talking points that seem so incredibly obvious to all of us that it's hard to understand what's preventing Arsène from addressing them.

I assumed we were playing on Sunday because we were live on Sky but I subsequently discovered it was because the Victoria line was out of action on Saturday. Yet this doesn't explain the early KO. To my mind a noon kick off on a Sunday is positively cruel (not just for those whose lie-ins are ruined but particularly if you have a keeper who doesn't wake up until five past!!). However the one benefit was that I was back home in time to watch the second half from Stamford Bridge, followed by the anti-climax of a start at Old Trafford - without a single goal to entertain those 75,000 poor misguided muppets, bless :-)

I also enjoy watching Andy Gray's "The Last Word" programme on Sky after the Sunday games. Although with three big games to dissect, their 30 minute slot is hardly long enough for him to get all his technological gadgets out. Gray has always been a self-confessed admirer of all things Arsène, but to be honest I was surprised to hear quite how much he was singing our praises on Sunday. Not that there weren't plenty of positive to crow about. Gray mentioned that he'd met Wenger during the summer, when le Prof revealed why he felt so positive, as apparently according to wealth of stats Wenger set so much store in, last season's side had improved percentages for everything like pass completion rates, speed of passing etc. than the team that went 49 games undefeated.

But then those of us who followed our amazing unbeaten run shouldn't be too surprised, as we can all confirm that our football in many of those matches wasn't anywhere near as pleasing to the eye as plenty of the entertainment we've enjoyed since.

Perhaps the time constraints were responsible but what amazed me was that Gray's appraisal was fairly rose-tinted, as he focused entirely on the Arsenal's positives, I believe without mentioning any of our many faults?

At the end of the day, all that mattered was the end result and that we recorded that all-important win, rather than setting off already on the back foot, as we did last season. Yet the downside to our performance was perhaps encapsulated in the fact that Flamini was our Man of the Match, in the opinions of a couple of well-respected journalist Gooners. I've always liked Flamini, as he can usually be guaranteed to give nothing less than 100 per cent and I thought there were occasions when we missed his spirited contribution last season. However while his ability on the ball has improved, let's face it, he's never going to possess the natural ability to be a world beater and so whenever the ball falls to his feet in front of goal, I can't help wishing there was a better finisher there in his stead.

However so long as he's giving of his all, Flamini doesn't deserve the stick he gets from some quarters, as I've some Gooner pals who can't stand the sight of him, believing he's not the sort of calibre of player who's nearly good enough to be playing for the Arsenal. Experience shows us that most of the best teams have room for a "water carrier" type player who's capable of grafting his socks off on behalf of his more talented compadres.

Moreover on current form, I would take Flamini any day over the likes of Rosicky, who really hasn't looked at the races in pre-season and apart from a single shot, as I recall, he was utterly anonymous yesterday. In fact I was amazed when Arsène brought Eboué off for Theo Walcott, as I thought Thomas was the absolutely obvious choice for substitution, while Eboué still looked full of running and to my mind, was far more likely to offer a threat up front and a contribute in defence than his Czech team mate.

Similarly Fabregas seemed to exert extremely little influence on proceedings by his incredibly high standards. In David Pleat's "Chalkboard" column in the Guardian he suggests our midfield was too congested while we played 4-4-1-1 and it was only after we reverted to 4-4-2 with the substitutions, that Fabregas found room to spray the ball around a bit. Never mind his kerb crawling reputation, for my money Pleat often has some revealing insider insights into the professional game. And yet I remain unconvinced in this particular instance, as it seemed to me that Cesc had plenty of opportunities to try and find the sort of perfectly timed, killer pass that he eventually produced in the build up to Hleb's goal. So although I agree in principle that we looked a lot more threatening when playing 4-4-2 for the last twenty minutes, I believe this was largely due to Bendtner adding a different dimension and that there were two strikers on the pitch to play the ball to and to trouble the Fulham defence.

It seems to me that if a player of Fab's quality plays 50 through balls in a game, the law of averages will eventually ensure he hits a defence splitting pass and it seems far more plausible to me that Cesc was just having a crap day at the office on Sunday. Moreover if we can win with such potentially influential players as Fabregas and Rosicky below par, then just imagine the sort of entertainment we are in for when they both hit their stride?

I thought Hleb did reasonably well. It's not his fault that he's not an out and out striker and I think he's revelling in the free role he has in front of the midfield and whether its his new position, or the fact that he's responded to Wenger's encouragement, but he definitely seems to be trying harder to demonstrate his ability, by exerting more influence on matches. However if this formation is acceptable away from home, against strong opposition, it is just not on at home as far as I'm concerned, when the onus is on us to take the game to the opposition. Based on what he brought to the party in the last 20 minutes, I would have much rather we started with a less experienced Bendtner partnering Van Persie, than a lone striker. Nevertheless, hopefully Hleb's experience will serve to boost his confidence, to the point where he's capable of producing the goods, no matter where he plays.

There were certainly no complaints about either of our full-backs, as Bakari looks bang up for it and doesn't appear at all phased by the frenetic pace of the Premiership and as usual young Gael grafted his socks off. I've written about our centre-back quandary below and watching them closely through my binoculars at Fulham's rare set pieces, I'm fairly sure they were marking individuals rather than zones. Even so, compared to how unexcited I was gettng every time we earned a corner, I was positively crapping my pants at each of the few we had to face. Yet it seems to me that this abiding air of insecurity that exists at the back, to the extent that they always seem to panic, rather than appearing calm and collected, could possibly be eradicated, if there was absolutely no uncertainty about what our keeper was going to do in any given situation.

In my most humble opinion there is no real logic about loopy Lehmann's decision making. Jens comes for some crosses, like a crazy man, occasionally flapping, when he hasn't a hope of reaching the ball and then sticks to his line on other occasions, when the ball is floated right into the six yard box, usually because he has an opponent in his face harassing him. When in truth a man of his huge stature should be able to bowl past (through!) anyone. Instead of which, if Gallas and Kolo both knew, without a glance backwards, that within a certain range, their keeper was going to come for every ball, our defending would look a whole lot more convincing and our opponents wouldn't attack every set piece with nearly such enthusiasm, as their managers will desist from targeting corners and crosses as our potential Achilles heel.

Additionally for a keeper who seem so keen to mouth off at every possible opportunity, I am fed up with this constant lack of communication between Lehmann and his back four, which invariably results in at least one heart attack moment in every game, when our centre backs are facing their own goal. Moreover it’s making me an increasingly likely candidate for male pattern baldness!

I've not seen enough of Sunderland's new Scottish keeper to pass judgement, but I bet Roy Keane picked up this nugget from Fergie, that it is worth breaking the bank for the best available player between the sticks, whilst we continue to try and get by, picking up keepers on the cheap (paying peanuts and getting monkeys!). It stands to reason that keeping the ball out of the back of the net is half the battle won and no matter how much Craig Gordon cost, it will be a paltry amount compared to the reward, if he plays a crucial role in keeping the Black Cats in the Premiership.

On his day Lehmann is capable of competing with the best when it comes to shot stopping, but I can't escape this sense that behind all that bluff and bluster Jens does his best to obscure a bit of a yellow streak, which is responsible for an unacceptable level of inconsistency, where even he doesn't know quite what he's going to do in any given situation. He certainly doesn't appear blessed with the sort of tunnel vision, totally focused concentration of the type of mammoth personalities who've minded goal for most title winners?

Meanwhile it feels a bit churlish of me to be having such a long-winded moan after savouring such a marvellously euphoric Sunday afternoon, where fortune favoured a brave Arsenal side overall. I just pray we can carry that winning feeling with us to Prague on Wednesday, so that we can continue to gather momentum for an awkward trip to Ewood Park next week. I also pray that I can find somewhere to suitable to watch (curse that opportunistic Setanta mob!).

Come on you Reds
Big Love
Bernard

PS. I've purposely avoided the topic of Lawrie Sanchez's whinging, as the tabloid press has already blown this up out of all proportion (as usual). Along with many others, my feeling has always been that most ref's are at fault, as surely if they don't award a penalty, then they should be booking the player concerned for diving. Thankfully the TV pictures proved that there was some contact, but this won't prevent the red top rags part in perpetuating the "same old Arsenal...." songs. Hopefully we will be able to drown out the "always cheating" bit, with our own refrain of "taking the piss". In truth the only thing Hleb was guilty of was perhaps gilding the lily, in the exaggerated way he went down and I often feel that this habit is far more likely to convince the ref that there was no contact, than to encourage him to award a spot-kick, especially if we've already acquired a bit of a reputation (albeit no more deserved than any other side)

mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Not Quite So Far From Home Sweet Home

Our season couldn’t have got off to a better start, as we savoured watching another Lilywhite false dawn being flushed down the Stadium of Light plughole, in the 90th minute on Saturday. Naturally, in our house we were pleased to see Sund-Ireland bank all 3 points. But with Martin Jol’s extravagant summer spending and with all the press speculation about the imminent disintegration of the Wenger dynasty, my Spurs pals had grown so incredibly cocksure of their imminent return to the big-time that the bursting of this illusory bubble, on day one, was an absolute delight.

I should know better than to have tempted fate, with a barrage of mickey taking text messages before our own turn at bat, but I couldn’t resist. Time was when league tables weren’t produced until at least three games in, but I wasn’t complaining about it’s premature appearance on MOTD later that night, as this afforded me the opportunity to remind my misguided mates that rather than the rarefied air they’d been expecting to breathe at the top, for at least a couple of hours earlier in the day, they were slumming it amongst the relegation fodder.

As a result, I was about to turn my own mobile phone off, with only a few minutes left on the clock against Fulham the following day, rather than face the imminent threat of reprisals. That was until Kolo Touré saved our bacon, by demonstrating such drive and determination, in the dying throes of a frustrating encounter, with an absolutely barnstorming run that was rewarded with a penalty.

There’d been many a raised Gooner eyebrow when it was announced that Gallas had been awarded the captain’s armband. I’m no great fan of Arsène’s tendency to set so much store in seniority and his efforts to use the captaincy as a carrot in recent times (eg. Vieira, Henry) certainly haven’t proved particularly successful. Personally I feel it should be a position of respect that has to be earned as a reward and on Sunday, in refusing to lie down and almost single-handedly grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck, it was Kolo who came to the fore, with this display of “the right stuff”.

Although, in truth, perhaps the most positive aspects to Sunday’s performance (as has been the case in pre-season) was the evidence from our squad as a whole of a renewed determination, in a post Henry era, to prove that the Arsenal are anything but a one-man team and the suggestion of their resolve to cast off this “soft touch” reputation that they’ve acquired in recent times.
Even our phlegmatic manager was a little more anxious than usual, to avoid allowing crucial points to slip through our fingers. In the past we’ve been able to set our clocks by Arsène’s substitutions, coming as they invariably do 15, or at the most 20 minutes before the final whistle. Whereas on Sunday Wenger’s patience ran out just after the hour mark, when he began to ring the changes with Theo Walcott. In fact it was Bendtner’s introduction with 18 minutes to play, which ended up having the biggest impact on the eventual outcome, by adding a long-awaited different dimension to our front line.

Up until then Fulham’s big centre-backs had looked far too comfortable and to be honest I was very disappointed when I first arrived at the ground to discover we were playing our first home game, against inferior opposition, with only one recognised striker on the park. Moreover I don’t really think Van Persie is an out and out front man, as to my mind his talents are far more suited to Bergkamp’s mantle than the Shearer type role. Hleb did his best to link the play, but all too often either Van Persie was left isolated, or they both dropped off to fetch the ball and our wide men were the most advanced players on the pitch, preventing us from pulling Fulham apart with pace, as they were forced to wait for support.

My other main concern is that Van Persie appears to be our only player capable of threatening from a set-piece. Until the introduction of the 6’3” Danish kid, the Dutchman was our tallest player on the pitch and it was a constant wind-up watching him whip, or Fabregas float the majority of our 14 corners straight down the throat of the Fulham keeper. By contrast, we appeared fragile at each of Fulham’s 4 corners. Some suggest our centre-backs are too short, but I remain convinced that many of our defensive ills could be cured by a more consistent keeper, who dominates his area.

However I’m focusing on the positives. Last season we were out of the race after only three games and I doubt we’d have converted this calamitous defeat into a win. Thus Loony Lehmann probably did us a favour, as a prosaic win against Fulham certainly wouldn’t have consolidated the sense of squad solidarity seen in the impromptu group hug after the final whistle. In this respect Wenger is correct in suggesting that it could be a significant result, as a winning momentum is all-important, whereas a fall at the first might have had a more significant impact on us than any other team in the Premiership.

Whether or not we can maintain it, is another question, as the genuine title contenders will need to set themselves above the mêlée, which is about to ensue below. It appears to me that a levelling out between the league’s lesser lights is likely to make for one of the most interesting competitions in many a moon, as if the promoted clubs can maintain their intensity, they’ll be inviting several other sides to join them in the relegation dogfight.

With a smorgasbord of largely unappetising encounters, I imagine the new boys on the pay-per-view block are banking on this being the case. I would’ve liked to watch Torres’ debut on Saturday, to see whether he’s capable of transferring his prolific La Liga goalscoring feats to the Premiership. However I haven’t heard of anyone who has actually stumped up an additional ten quid a month to Setanta. It seems many might cherry pick the odd game. Yet the majority of us are already forced to make such financial sacrifices for our footballing pleasures, that hopefully we’ll make a bit of a stand, before sliding down the slippery slope towards multi-subscription fees to watch every live match. Although that’s easy for me to say, when I’m privileged to watch most every Arsenal game in person.

Meanwhile you give the Gunners a grand in season ticket renewals these days and you don’t even get a new ticket. As we turned up for Sunday’s ridiculously timed kick-off, there was a moment of panic on shoving my somewhat time worn plastic wallet into the turnstile gadget, as I wondered what the hell I would do if some incompetent bozo hadn’t pushed the button to re-credit my membership card.

The return to Highbury at the start of a new season always felt like a family reunion and so I was relieved to reach my seat on Sunday to find a few familiar faces. For me and many like me, the new gaff is never going to equal our beloved Highbury high, but I’m happy to report that it’s beginning to feel a lot more like home.

mail to: LondonN5@gmail.com

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

That's Entertainment!

I was standing before the wardrobe, staring at the overcrowded shelf containing my Arsenal t-shirt collection, trying to choose suitably serendipitous attire for our first home friendly, when it suddenly struck me. By contrast to the state of flux of our first XI, there’s been little turnover of t-shirts in recent seasons, due to Róna having enforced a strict “one in, one out” policy. As the movie title puns (Untouchables, Invincibles, Gladiators) came tumbling out, printed upon tops adorned with the images of Vieira, Pires, Bergkamp, Henry and Ljungberg, I began to realise that the vast bulk of these will soon be relegated to dusters.

It’s only when one considers the calibre of the players exiting London N5 these past few seasons (their careers having peaked with the Gunners) that one begins to appreciate Arsène’s onerous responsibility. Compared to the humdrum mediocrity that we were accustomed to prior to his arrival, Le Prof has presided over a metamorphosis, which has raised the bar to such a lofty zenith that there’s no overstating his achievement.

Such fantasy football feats are all the more amazing, based as they are on a shoestring budget, compared to the wanton spending of many of Wenger’s rivals. As Arsène strives to prove that there is “another way”, the club suits continue to tout the party line that this is his choice, rather than the necessity of having to divert the additional TV income towards the interest payments on the new stadium. So while many of his peers have spent the summer with these extra millions burning a hole in their pockets, Le Prof ploughs his somewhat lonelier, high-pressure furrow, where he’s expected to continue pulling rabbits out of his magic hat, polishing up more sparkling gems, from relatively cheap, rough-cut stones.

Apart from the departure of Henry and Ljungberg, the arrival of Eduardo, Sagna and Fabianski and the inclusion of a couple of those talented kids who so impressed in last season’s Carling Cup run, the Arsenal squad won’t be too dissimilar from the one which started last season (pending the possibility of any last-minute purchases?). Whereas following a few weeks of feverish madness in the transfer market, several teams will be taking to the field in August, virtually unrecognisable from the one that kicked-off only a couple of months back.

Admittedly there was some frustration, feeling like the wistful wallflower at the Premiership party, whilst watching every other manager get their wedge out, in their efforts to strengthen their squad. But then perhaps it was the novelty of this new found spending power, which acted as an intoxicant to encourage the likes of Martin Jol to embarrass himself, by spunking up over £16 million on Darren Bent, a striker with only one 20 goal haul (in the Championship!) from his six seasons.

Doubtless the extravagance of Spurs own Tony Soprano was based on his belief that Bent might prove the ideal foil for his main man, Berbatov. But how do you rationalise a footballing world that values a big, bourgeois no. 9, above an elegant artist like Titi? This hugely inflated transaction only served to highlight the fact that Arsène would’ve been on a hiding to nothing, in any attempt to spend his way out of a post-Henry depression. No one player was ever going to fill Thierry’s transcendent boots.

Six million used to be an astronomic sum of money, but it’s positively peanuts relative to the obscene amounts being paid for above average strikers nowadays. Thus with 34 goals under his belt in Croatia last season, Eduardo could well prove to be a bargain, if he ends up plugging the crucial goal-scoring gap that’s been left in Henry’s wake. The addition of the Brazilian born youngster will be viewed as yet another masterstroke, in keeping with Arsène’s other, equally astute acquisitions (and obviously the odd mega-bucks boo-boo with such misfits as Jeffers and Reyes). Whereas compared with some of the more obvious, overpriced alternatives, if this Croatian feller fails to adapt to our frenetic brand of football, it will be no big deal.

On first impressions Eduardo certainly appears up for it. As does Traoré, Eboué, Denilson and the other young bloods, who’ve enjoyed spirited pre-season appearances. Perhaps we’ve begun to witness the galvanising effect of our former Galactico’s egress, as the Gunners set out to prove that there is life in North London, after Henry.

In truth the evidence suggests that we remain a player or two away from mounting a consistent challenge in the Premiership marathon. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the many naysayer pundits, there’s no mistaking a recent groundswell of optimism amongst the Gooner massive. We remain confident that at our best, this Arsenal side is capable of running rings around any side on the planet and no matter how the card’s are dealt, so long as we finish above Spurs and closer to the eventual winners than the also-rans, we’re happy to be embarking on what’s likely to prove one helluva ride!