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Monday 28 January 2008

If You Can Keep Your Head?

“He’s gonna quit in a minute” was the somewhat predictable chant which echoed around our stadium on Saturday, as we begun to relax and enjoy our second half domination of a relatively toothless Toon Army. There were moments during the first forty-five when Newcastle threatened and if Gael Clichy hadn’t been perfectly placed to head clear Alan Smith’s goal bound effort, perhaps it would’ve been an entirely different story.

However much to every Gooners’ great relief, by and large this match ran true to form, as apparently Arsène Wenger appreciated the need to send out a team that was capable of demonstrating that the midweek debacle at White Hart Lane was nothing more than an aberration.

All week long I had to endure the taunts of my many Tottenham pals, as they tried their utmost to get a rise out of me. According to their somewhat deluded perspective, Tuesday’s defeat represented a significant turning-point, as far as the North London status-quo was concerned. I suppose such a cocky reaction to their progress in the Carling Cup was to be expected, as they’ve had so little to crow about these past nine years. But by the end of the week I was beginning to regret the fact that I’ve tended to go lightly on them in recent times, as they’d become so downtrodden that there was little satisfaction to be gained from rubbing their faces in the Arsenal’s complete and utter domination. Although following the veritable barrage I’ve suffered these past few days, I very much doubt my Spurs mates can expect such a sympathetic silence in the future!

Mind you, obviously I would’ve preferred that the circumstances were different, but I have to admit that I’ve actually enjoyed the resumption of the vitriolic repartee between us, after they’ve spent so many years bereft of any decent ammunition. What appears to irk them most, more than anything, is that a triumph of El Alamein type proportions from their point of view, is for us Gooners nothing more than a minor blip in a much bigger footballing landscape.

In all honesty, the most distressing consequence of our failure to progress to the Carling Cup Final, is that come the end of February, it’s bound to bug the hell out of me that Spurs fans will have an opportunity to see their team play at the new Wembley stadium before us. Our not so neighbourly enemies might harp on about the big guns who were on the pitch come the final whistle, but over the course of the two legs, to all intents and purposes, they were competing against our second XI.

Thus even though our reserves bowed out of this Mickey Mouse competition in such an embarrassing fashion, our misery remains a mere pin-prick, a fleeting pain, by comparison to the euphoric pleasure I’ve enjoyed on their patch over the years. The way they celebrated the other night one might’ve thought they’d won the league itself, whereas amongst all those ecstasy-filled encounters on their turf that are too numerous to list, I’ve actually had the privilege of seeing the Gunners win two league titles at White Hart Lane, on route to the doubles of ’71 and ’02. These were all the sweeter for the way in which our exploits expunged the myth of what was once thought to be the unrepeatable double feats of the last truly successful Lilywhite team. But even I’m not old enough to have a memory that stretches all the way back to ’61 and the era of Danny Blanchflower’s glory, glory boys!

As I said to one of my Spurs pals, his seven year old lad will probably end up banging on to his own grandkids in his dotage, about the time he saw Spurs put five past the Arsenal (and doubtless the kids will view the old codger’s extravagant ramblings as evidence of his advancing senility!). By contrast, if our season should continue on its current successful course, in any of the other three vastly more significant competitions, any memory of last week’s nightmare will have been erased long before May.

According to the law of averages, Spurs were long overdue a win and if they hadn’t been quite so profligate in front of goal, they could’ve walloped us in the first leg. Determined to avoid a reprise of the “2-0 and you f***ed it up” taunts that resulted from our kids’ magnificent turn-over in last season’s semi, Spurs came out suitably pumped. And while Juande Ramos had his players high on adrenaline, as if it was their cup final, Wenger’s troops must’ve been supping camomile tea as their pre-match tipple, to ensure that the likes of World Cup winner Gilberto wasn’t over-excited at the prospect of nannying the kids in such a glamorous Carling Cup encounter!

Perhaps Arsène might’ve been more gracious in defeat, but this doesn’t make for good copy in the red tops and so we only got to read the quotes that portrayed le Prof as a bitter, bad loser. However he was correct in some respects, as it wasn’t a particularly poor performance, but on the night Spurs peaked. While with an utterly feckless display from such a senior authority figure as our (some would say “has been”) Brazilian midfielder, Diaby’s dodgy decision making and Walcott’s inability to influence the game (to the point of being totally anonymous), the Gunners were simply carrying too many passengers for them not to be undone.

Personally I felt it was a mistake by Wenger to send Adebayor and Eduardo into the fray at 4-0 down. Send them on at half-time perhaps, when there was a chance of them turning the game around at only 2-0 down. But a four goal deficit was too big an ask and not only did it defeat the object of resting them, but as events proved, such is Adebayor’s pride, that he was in serious danger of a red card and a resultant costly suspension, as he ran around like a headless chicken, so determined was he to try and rectify matters.

Far more than this insignificant result, it’s been the subsequent hoo-haa about an alleged headbutt that’s really got my goat. It’s indicative of the media’s laughable sheep mentality that they’ve made such mileage out of the incident between our two strikers. I can testify that all those outraged journos, who’ve since mounted their high-horse, to moan about the fact that a suitable punishment hasn’t been meted out to a player who has set such a dreadful example for delicate and impressionable youngsters, not a single one of them has actually witnessed this incident with their own eyes. Otherwise they’d know that all talk of a headbutt is pure fiction. Then again, they’ve never let the truth get in the way of a good story, so why on earth should they start now!

They are hardly the trappings of a terrace hard-man (not that I’ve ever claimed to be one) and on the rare occasion when it has ‘gone off’ outside a football ground, it’s served me well to be able skirt around any aggro, posing as a train-spotting civilian, with my terrace tranny, binoculars and all the other match day essentials I’ve acquired over the years (a pack of tissues is a godsend for a runny nose, but you wouldn’t leave home without them if you’ve ever been caught short in a paperless karsey that would make the black-hole of Calcutta seem like a sweet-scented Jacuzzi!).

Without my tiny tranny on Saturday, hundreds around me would’ve been none the wiser about Havant’s first-half hi-jinks at Anfield and without my binoculars at White Hart Lane, I wouldn’t have had a close up of Adebayor walking up to Bendtner and stunning the Danish lad with a somewhat over-enthusiastic and foolhardy slap across the schnoz. My reading of the situation was that there was no malice intended and it was just our over-hyped Togolese striker’s attempt to galvanize the young gun and to ensure his head had not dropped.

However considering the rumours about Bendtner’s ‘Bertie Big Bollix” ego, Adebayor would’ve undoubtedly been wiser to keep his hands (NOT his head!) to himself. Studying the Dane’s doleful demeanour as he remained on the bench on Saturday, there was no suggestion that he’s forgiven, or forgot! With this incident in mind, our midweek defeat might have proved more significant if it had dampened the mood in the Arsenal camp. Many, me included, went to Saturday’s game fearing a potential repeat of the consequences of last season’s Carling Cup calamity, where we exited the FA Cup and the Champions League in the space of the three subsequent games and our entire campaign imploded.

Thus a defeat to Newcastle would’ve felt like a disastrous déjà vu and would’ve actually given Spurs fans a good reason to gloat. Mind you, it’s all gone quiet again, after it was business as usual with our respective FA Cup results. They might try heeding Kipling’s call to treat the two impostors of triumph and disaster just the same. For our part, I don’t think there can be many Gooners who could’ve imagined that Flamini and Clichy might be the main difference between the two. Mercifully these unsung heroes ensured we made it into the hat for the fifth round and with Monday’s draw pitting us against Man U, it couldn’t possibly be more poetic. We have to pray that Le Prof assigns sufficient psychological importance to our trip to Old Trafford, that he won’t risk losing an all together more significant hand of poker by playing the kids’ card again?


Anonymous said...

Hear hear... Great article.

Anonymous said...

erm... we won the league (on way to the double) at old trafford in 2002!
It was the unbeaten season we won it at white hart lane