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Tuesday 26 February 2008

Win For Eduardo, We're Gonna Win It For Eduardo!

Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea is the ideal expression to describe Paul Burrell’s situation last Sunday, as I heard the dulcet tones of the Arsenal’s stadium announcer (as opposed to Lady Di’s butler), echoing out from the Wembley tannoy at the Mickey Mouse Cup Final. Then I guess that much like me, most Gooners were struggling with the dilemma of having to choose between the insufferable smugness of their Spurs mates, should they manage to secure their first silverware in 9 years, or the unbearable thought of the Blue scum bagging yet another, albeit trivial tin pot.

Mercifully I was otherwise occupied, driving my nephew Shane to Heathrow to catch his flight back to Dublin. But judging by how tepid an affair the first-half sounded on the car radio, if I’d been sat at home on front of the TV, my problem probably would’ve been solved by me nodding off and snoozing through the somewhat livelier latter stages

Shane and I shared a celebratory bear-hug when Theo Walcott's second strike hit the back of the net at St Andrews, but we parted company at Heathrow with the sort of typically awkward embrace that always seems to occur between male relatives, who are never quite certain what passes for suitably affectionate protocol. I did my best to reassure him that he must come back again soon, but he headed off to the terminal wearing a sullen expression, as though he personally bore the entire weight of what’s been labelled “a miserable week for the Gunners” across his young shoulders, perhaps wondering if actually I was glad to see the back of him.

Doubtless it would’ve been best if we’d both kept schtum as we strolled home from 0-0 draw with AC Milan last week and Shane recalled his last disastrous Gooner pilgrimage. Of all the glorious games he could’ve seen during our Invicible 03/04 league campaign, the poor kid had the misfortune to come over for our FA Cup semifinal defeat to Man Utd, swiftly followed three days later by our ignominious Champions League exit at home to Chelsea!

I’d completely forgotten about this trip, as I was under the misconception that Shane had the unblemished track record of a lucky mascot and I jokingly suggested that he might not have been invited back, especially for this particular match, if I had remembered. What’s more, having encouraged him to extend his stay, so he might be initiated into the more fervent atmosphere of the awayday experience, I couldn’t resist yanking his chain, teasing him that he’d hardly be top of my list for future match tickets, if his copybook was blotted by a failure to beat Birmingham at St Andrews on Saturday.

In truth I was relieved he wasn’t returning to Dublin straight after the anti-climax of the 0-0 draw with Milan. Shane was only a wee bairn when he joined the majority of the Dublin contingent, in their conversion to the Gooner faith. Having been largely responsible, it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to see the look of awe on his face, as he caught his first glimpse of our magnificent new arena. He was even more aghast as we took our seats and his brilliant live view of our beloved Gunners and the visiting footballing royalty of Kaka and co. began to sink in. It took me back to the thrill of my own childhood, as I enjoying the vicarious buzz of hearing that the hair on the back of Shane’s neck was standing to attention as the two teams entered the arena.

However, although it will have undoubtedly been a night to remember, I couldn’t help but feel that Shane had been somewhat cheated, with him having been denied the euphoria of a goal celebration. I was therefore delighted that he would at least have a second opportunity at St Andrews on Saturday, to make his trip feel complete. If I was fretting, as the weekend approached, about Shane getting an opportunity to enjoy seeing the Arsenal score, after our exchange a few days prior, poor Shane must’ve been positively planking it, thinking his prospects of ever seeing the Gunners play live again, might rest on the outcome of this one game.

I’ve been expressing my concerns about our lack of sufficient a ruthless streak for much of the season. It seemed obvious to me that our inability to kill teams off might eventually cost us dear and sadly this account finally fell due on Saturday. Never mind Gael Clichy’s last gasp act of hari-kari (or Flamini’s failure to clear our lines), our 5-point cushion would’ve still been intact, in spite of this momentary lapse in concentration, if we’d managed to force home our advantage.

Mind you, at half-time I was mightily relieved, as in truth McFadden should’ve scored a second, when one-on-one with Almunia, in just about City’s only other attack of the game. My relief was multiplied tenfold when Theo managed to pop up with an equaliser so soon after the break, finally giving Shane something to celebrate. Naturally I’d have preferred for the euphoria to have been a little less fleeting, but when Theo found the back of the net for a second time, I am sure Shane enjoyed the sort of highly intoxicating rush that makes committed addicts of the rest of us live football fanatics.

It was all the sweeter for the fact that we were sitting in seats that were directly adjacent to the home fans and we’d endured a non-stop stream of vitriolic stick for the entire first 45. As a result, we didn’t hesitate to return the compliment, in spades! However our proximity to the home fans meant that it was all the more painful when they had the last laugh. And with the traumatic details of Eduardo’s horrific injury having trickled down across the terrace during half-time, we were all the more distraught, as only minutes earlier we’d been trumpeting that “we’re gonna win for Eduardo”!

I am glad that le Gaffer retracted his somewhat rash, post-match comments. Admittedly we were a long way from the incident, but if I’m honest, I actually groaned when Mike Dean produced a red card. I initially thought it a fairly innocuous tackle and for the second time in a week, I was gutted to see a ref spoil a match for the watching millions in the opening minutes. Aside from the fact that there is so little space behind the ten men’s concerted efforts to defend in numbers, often as not the ref will spend the remainder of the match attempting to redress the balance by booking everything that moves.

With hindsight perhaps Taylor did deserve to go, but I remain unconvinced that there was any malice involved and if it wasn’t for the recent crackdown on ‘over the top’ tackles’ or perhaps the awful sight of Eduardo’s distorted limb, Dean might not have been in such a rush to send him off.

Coincidentally I happened to have the TV on late on Saturday night, whilst waiting to watch the worst World Heavyweight Championship fight it has ever been my displeasure to witness (where an earlier fight involving Irishman John Duddy was the only redeeming factor). Immediately before the boxing, they were showing one of those "Classic games" involving Man City’s 4 goal fightback against Spurs in the 4th round of the 2004 FA Cup. Joey Barton appeared to try and take out Michael Brown, with a very similar looking tackle. The only difference being that luckily for him, Brown appeared to anticipate the challenge and so his standing leg went backwards as Barton collided, thereby ensuring that he avoided the full brunt of the collision. Barton not only avoided a red card, but wasn't even booked!

Unless we want to see the beautiful game turned into a non-contact sport, the fact of the matter is that sadly, such tragic incidents are inevitable from time to time, especially with the stakes being so high in the modern game. If anyone is culpable, it’s probably Alex Mcleish, as you can be sure that the most common pre-match instruction issued to teams competing against this gifted Arsenal squad is to “get your foot in early on, just to let them know you are there”, as many sides attempt to make up for any perceived deficiency in their ability, with their physical commitment.

It doesn’t benefit our team for our manager to be adopting a victim mentality and Arsène’s hard done by attitude obviously doesn’t endear us to the rest of the footballing world. Beside which, it comes across as somewhat hypocritical considering the malicious way in which our own players went after Nani only last week at Old Trafford (although to be perfectly honest, I’m sure I would’ve tried to kick Nani up in the air, with a similarly hot-headed reaction). The physicality of many of our opponents is the price we (or tragically in this case, Eduardo) pay for having such a marvelous team and it is in fact a compliment to the Arsenal that this is the only means many sides have of trying to stop us.

As a result, was relieved to hear that Wenger had retracted his "heat of the moment" response. Aside from the fact that I am sure the footballing media were lining up to offer their scornful reaction to Arsène's ridiculous insistence on a "life ban", I can't help but wonder if, on reflection, le Gaffer realised that by climbing on such a high horse, he was only making a rod for our own back, the next time one of our own makes a rash challenge. Of all people, Arsène should be able to appreciate that you simply cannot legislate for this sort of tragedy, in a modern game that's played at such a frenetic pace, in a pressure cooker climate.

I’m truly gutted for Eduardo, especially since he was only just in the process of establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with in the Premiership. I was also somewhat shell-shocked as we exited St Andrews, wondering how on earth the Gunners had failed to offer up the three points as a tribute to their team-mate. Not to mention being a little bemused as to why on earth Adebayor had to go and upset the gods of superstition by having his barnet cut and where on earth Alex Hleb has left his shooting boots!

Initially I felt we’d been complacent after taking the lead, over-confident that a third goal would eventually materialise by right. Strangely enough, there were several instances where, instead of moving the ball on, in what has now become traditional one and two touch Arsenal fashion, we seemed to dally on the ball, showing too much of it to the opposition, as if teasing them into making the challenge, in the belief that they'd be left looking foolish when sleight of foot had ensured the ball had disappeared long before the opposition attempted their challenge. And so while I am not in any way attempting to condone any resulting clatterings, in some respects, it seemed to me as if we shouldn't be surprised if, as a result, the opposition were antagonised into trying to take us out.

However having seen some of our players ashen-faced reaction to Eduardo’s injury later that same night, I guess if ever we should be able to cut them some slack, it was after this sickening event (even to the extent of giving our captain a break, after his downright barmy reaction).

Meanwhile I pray that the loss of Eddy's goal scoring contribution doesn’t prove too costly to our title challenge and that our Brazilian striker proves to be as determined a little bugger off the pitch, as he is on it, thereby enabling him to make a record breaking recovery without any complications I also hope that there is no permanent psychological damage, as players are often affected by such a devastating injury, to the point where it subconsciously affects their game. While they might get straight back on the horse, unfortunately it often proves to be the case that they can no longer play at full pace without touching the brakes.

As I see it, there are only two possible scenarios. Either we are about to crack under the pressure and our campaign is suddenly going to be derailed, as our season heads south over the course of the next couple of matches, just as winter turns into spring. Or alternatively, Le Prof is truly going to have to earn his corn, by inspiring the troops to prove they are made of stronger stuff and instead of using Eddy's awful injury as an excuse, it will turn out to be the catalyst that encourages us to kick on from here, thereby ensuring that Eduardo's career threatening injury wasn't in vain and instead of grapes and flowers, come May they can cheer the Brazilian striker up by brightening up his bedside with a dazzling array of silverware!

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Thursday 21 February 2008

Here's Hoping Cesc Is Saving His Sweetest Music For The San Siro

I could've killed my missus when we got home tonight and I'd discovered she'd changed channels on the TV in the living room. The last thing I said to her was that she shouldn't turn over because I planned on rewinding the Sky Plus gadget when we got home to watch the highlights.

Thinking she was doing me a favour, when Róna walked in the living room and found the TV switched off, she turned it on and changed channels over to the Sky Sports channel covering the Arsenal game, not realising that it had purposely been left on Sky Sports 1 because that's the channel that reviews all the games.

Still at least I was able to inflict the painful act of masochism upon myself, reviewing those last few minutes of injury time. In the stadium, I along with every other Gooner, hollered in agony when Ade's header bounced off the cross bar. I think we all thought he had missed a sitter but I have a little more sympathy for him after having watched the replay, as it wasn't anything like as easy an opportunity as I'd first thought. The cross was hit with such pace that it made it a much more tricky task to redirect the ball than it appeared to be when watching live.

If anything, I am more upset with Manny Eboué for curling his second-half shot wide of the far post, when he should really have at least hit the target. What's more, I am sure I'm not the only one who would have much preferred for him to have stayed on his feet and tried to create an opportunity, instead of diving to the ground in a blatant effort to con the referee. Unlike some, I do think the Ivorian youngster has sufficient natural ability to be worth persevering with, but Wenger rapidly needs to knock some sense into him and force Eboué to grow up, as he has such an infuriatingly immature attitude that if Arsène doesn't 'fait attention' Manny could soon become the Gooner boo-boys favourite target.

I was gutted when I arrived at the ground tonight and saw us line-up in a 4-5-1 formation, with Eduardo out wide and Hleb allegedly supporting Adebayor. Personally I've always felt that playing at home and especially in a game of such significance, with a lone striker, is far too timid an approach and is throwing away home advantage, as it kind of suggests to the opposition that we are more concerned with thwarting them in midfield, than scoring ourselves.

Arsène used this same formation and I have to admit, to good effect, earlier on in the season. Although back then, with Van Persie injured and Eduardo and Bendtner having yet to establish themselves, it was kind of excusable because AW didn't really have many other options.

However as we once again saw in the first-half this evening, Hleb just doesn't have the pace, or the attacking instincts to be able to support a lone front-man and although Adebayor worked like a Trojan as usual, he struggled for much of the evening with his first touch and looked far too isolated for pretty much all of the first 45.

You only had to see the post-match interview after the Blackburn game to appreciate how unsuited Alex is to a role supporting the striker. Whilst presenting Hleb with his man of the match champers, the commentator asked Adebayor about his goal and Ade said something to the effect of "well when I saw Alex with the ball in front of goal, I knew he was NEVER going to shoot....!"

I was delighted to see us start the second half, having raised the intensity of our play several notches. It lifted the crowd and created the sort wave of relentless pressure, of the sort that all too often we only see in the last ten minutes of a match, where we desperately need a goal (when it is often all too little, too late). So I thought that in this instance, at least we were giving ourselves plenty of time to "give it a real go".

However in truth, we really needed to score during that first fifteen minutes of the second half and to make our dominance count. Without the all important goal during that period, the intensity of the crowd eventually began to wane and with it, our lifeforce on the pitch slowly began to fizzle out.

For my money, Eduardo should have joined Ade up front from the start of the second-half, to really turn the screw and test the Italian side. As it was, with the Togonator on his own, we rarely got into the situation where AC Milan's defence was stretched, as by the time our midfield had caught up with the play, they were invariably able to get enough men behind the ball to make it impossible for us to find an opening.

Meanwhile there were plenty of positives to take from the game and although I imagine the bookies will have the Rossoneri down as favourites to go through from the second leg, I still quite fancy our chances. Aside from the quintessential elegance of Kaka, I saw very little to fear from this AC Milan side. Until Messi arrived on the scene, Kaka was my favourite non-Arsenal player. There's a grace about the way in which he plays the game which reminds me of Dennis Bergkamp at his best. Like all great players Kaka always seems to create time and space on the ball where none should exist at the heart of such a frantic fray.

At his best Clarence Seedorf  was a formidable box-to-box player, but his best is some way behind him and although he remains a threat when he's on the ball, he no longer has the legs to effect the influence he once had at both ends of the pitch. And so a flagging Seedorf was replaced on 86 minutes by another old man, Emerson, who has what my old man would call a "wavy" hairstyle, as in waving goodbye!

With such an aged side, I was disappointed to see Arsène bring Theo on with only a minute left on the clock. I can't imagine what a wind up it must be for a player to hardly be given enough time to get over to his position. I guess it's the footballing equivalent of a p**** tease! What was the point. Although I guess the answer to this question was seen in the way Theo very nearly created a goal!

But if he really wanted to test Theo's pace, against legs that were rapidly filling with lactic acid, Arsène should've at least have given him 10/15 minutes, to actually give Theo a chance to make some impact. Then I suppose Theo did more in his all too brief time on the pitch than Milan's new young striking prodigy, who hardly got a look in all game. Personally I have never been that enamoured with Milan's striking alternatives, as I've always seen Inzaghi in the Robbie Keane mould, in as much as he wastes far more chances then he scores. And Gilardihno doesn't exactly strike the fear of g-d into me and so I really don't think we have anything to fear when we travel to the San Siro.

Then again, the Italian's are the past masters in soaking up the pressure for much of the ninety minutes and then hitting teams with a single sucker punch. Yet at least playing at home they should be obliged to show a little more adventure, which will hopefully mean there will be some space for us to exploit, which wasn't the case this evening.

As far as I'm concerned, it is all down to Fabregas. We badly need Cesc to have a big game in the return leg as it seems to me that the Arsenal only ever really begin to tick when Cesc is on song, which wasn't really the case this evening. I believe Gattuso is only just back from injury, but "Growl" was quite inconspicuous tonight. However I would guess that this could be one of the key battles in the San Siro, along with the Flamster keeping Kaka quite.

The other positive for me was the performance of Senderos. I imagine Phillipe must have been bricking it when Kolo limped out so early. A couple of months back, few would've fancied our chances against Milan if we had to rely on Senderos instead of Touré, but Big Phil has produced a few, very near faultless performance in Kolo's absence and he seems to be gaining (or regaining) more composure with every passing game. 

Sadly Senderos still doesn't appear to have that Tony Adams like quality (which is purely down to experience) of being able to cope with much pacier forwards, by allowing himself a yard of space to accomodate the striker's superior acceleration.  That would be my main worry with Senderos playing alongside Gallas in the second leg, as AC Milan seemed to spend much of this evening attempting to test our two centre-backs, by putting balls behind them for the nippy Pato to run for.

Pato may not have troubled us tonight, but there were a couple of instances where he looked to have the legs on Willie in a straight race for the ball. Hopefully Kolo's knock won't prove too serious. It looked innocuous enough, as he appeared to hurt his knee when the ball hit it?

But if we do end up relying on Senderos, I for one won't be in nearly such a flap as I would've been a few weeks back. Although I do get frustrated with Philippe, as when I have seen him play for the Swiss national team alongside Djourou, Senderos seems to wreak havoc in the opposition's area at set-pieces, whereas I've rarely ever seen him get his head on the ball for us.

Meanwhile Flamini, Clichy and Sagna were all magnificent tonight and reminded us exactly what we were missing at Old Trafford last Saturday. Whereas those who were selected but who patently failed to turn up on Saturday, in my mind they still owe us big time for such an embarrassing debacle. Here's hoping they settle this debt in the San Siro, as I'm certain if Cesc is on song, we'll all end up singing a victory tune

Monday 18 February 2008

Even If Half-full, Our Gooner Glass Won't Be Of Any Use Cracked

Such a bizarre suggestion might sound bonkers barmy, but I can’t help wondering if the outcome at Old Trafford might have been different, if my butterfly of a missus had been bothered to beat her wings down to the doctors for a flu jab before the onset of winter. If Róna had been immunised against some of the awful lurgies currently doing the rounds, she might not have ended up laid so low on Saturday that I was forced to stop at home and don my apron and cap, in order to take care of her with my best Nurse Ratched impersonation.

Considering the only other away trip I’ve missed was the defeat up at Boro (where, having travelled up to the North-East to see us drop two points against the Toon in midweek, I couldn’t make it all the way back up to Teeside four days later), I guess I should hold my hands up and accept full responsibility for our embarrassing cup exit. Or perhaps my missus should, but then it was hard not to feel a little grateful, since the one good thing to come out of her being so poorly was that at least my misery on Saturday evening wasn’t compounded by the prospect of a four hour trek back down the dreaded M6, with my humiliation being made complete, listening to all the callers on the radio phone-ins.

As hard as it might be to focus on the bright side, considering how badly the Gunners let us all down on Saturday, I would guess that with a track record of two games missed and two defeats, my newly acquired lucky mascot status should mean that I won’t be short of an offer of a lift to the remaining away matches. I would’ve been even more gutted if Monday’s draw had gifted Man U a proper FA Cup quarterfinal outing to the likes of Bristol, Barnsley or Cardiff.

I’ve very fond memories of travelling to Oakwell towards the end of the ’98 Double Season. The Tykes fans were long since resigned to their all too brief sojourn in the top-flight and were determined to savour every moment. It proved to be a mutual love-in, as we revelled in a triumph that took us one step closer to the title and they relished witnessing incredible entertainment, of the sort that they are unlikely to have enjoyed before, or since (not unless they're as long in the tooth as lugubrious Barnsley 'boy', umpire Dickie Bird). The home fans heartfelt display of appreciation at the final whistle will live long in my memory.

Some suggest that the oldest knockout competition on the planet has lost much of its lustre, ever since managers with more important fish to fry, began to rest some of their stars and use the tournament to bring on some of their youngsters. And yet I honestly don’t see how it can be such a bad thing, if the upshot is to enable the likes of the Tykes fans the rare opportunity to live the sort of dream of their deliriously happy day out at Anfield.

However there's a downside to Arsène’s approach. On the basis that momentum is everything, I would’ve thought that Wenger might have learned his lesson from events last season, which showed that we simply can’t afford to treat these cup competitions in isolation. No matter that we might be meeting AC Milan this week, I’ve always been a firm believer in playing our strongest side against our principal rivals because I don’t think it’s a good move to have gifted the likes of Utd the sort of psychological advantage, which might well prove crucial as we approach "squeaky bum" time in the run-in.

Moreover with Man U’s season having stalled against Spurs and with Man City doing the double over them, for the first time in many Mancs lives, they were always going to be desperate to bounce back. It’s easy to envisage the sort of Churchillian tones of Fergie’s teamtalk. By contrast, Arsène could hardly come across as a hypocrite, by trying to inspire the troops to play as if their very lives depended on this result, when in truth everyone in the team knew he was more concerned with keeping many of our walking wounded fit for Wednesday’s clash.

In reality, all that was required was for us to run our socks off for the first half an hour, silence the Theatre of Snores and prove themselves worthy of the opposition’s respect. Instead of which, in the absence of Ronaldo, Tevez, Giggs and Scholes, we passed up a perfect opportunity to finally put a sock in the mouths of all those pundits who’ve been expecting the Gooner bubble to burst and who’d begrudgingly begun to admit that perhaps they’d been wrong about Utd eventually proving their superiority.

Admittedly Arsène’s was decidedly hamstrung in his selection decisions by our long list of injuries and the fact that a number of the alternative choices have been allowed out on loan. Nevertheless, in my humble opinion our line-up was neither one thing, nor the other. There weren’t enough second string players for this mauling to be meaningless, but even if the first-teamers hadn’t embarrassed us so badly by their failure to turn up, without the influential contributions of Clichy, Sagna and Flamini, we never really had a hope.

If Arsène truly didn’t give a stuff because he feels it unrealistic for us to be able to maintain our challenge on three fronts, then to my mind he should’ve been bold and gone the whole hog, rather than hedging his bets by putting his big guns on the bench. It defeated the object to send them on for the last 20, as they will have ended up back in the dressing room having expended just as much energy and no less demoralised than those who played the entire 90.

I believe many of us were quite prepared to be disappointed on Saturday, as in truth it should come as no surprise that Wenger’s prioritisation of the Cup competitions should be reflected in the attrocious attitude of some of our players. After all if Arsène doesn’t deem the FA Cup important enough to warrant playing his best team, the likes of Fabregas and co. are hardly likely to feel inclined to run their bollix off!

But despite our depleted squad, I’m sure that along with most other Gooners, I would’ve rather watched our U13s wear their shirts with pride, going down with all guns blazing as they gave of their all, rather than end up feeling so ashamed of the utterly flaccid display of players who quite patently weren’t at the races.

Our heroes are so detached from their fan base nowadays, that they obviously don’t appreciate the sacrifice of the 9,000 Gooners who stumped up at least a hundred quid to be there. Otherwise I’m sure someone like Cesc (who’s proved himself to be a “mensch” in most other circumstances) wouldn’t dream of showing such flagrant disregard for our feelings. Moreover, with no-one but themselves to blame, I wonder if they've the slightest inkling quite how maddening it is for us (not to mention potentially ruinous for our future prospects) and how much stick we have to take, when they refuse to take their medicine, with anything like the good grace that is a given amongst all the greatest sporting icons.

Sure I want them to hate losing with the sort of passion that has my heart soaring when Adebayor chases back the length of the pitch to try and regain possession. But we could well do without that sinking feeling, on seeing our captain lash out in the sort of petulant frenzy, which could result in Gallas serving a three-match ban. Myself I felt it would’ve been far better to applaud Nani’s ball-juggling, rather than belittle themselves, by seeking retribution for his transgression of the unwritten code of conduct by trying to break his legs. The Gunners are far better than that and the best answer would’ve been to take the mickey back.

Meanwhile it remains to be seen whether the ramifications of this depressing result will cause the derailment of our campaign, or whether we can bounce straight back with the sort of performance necessary to restore some much needed pride. As far as AC Milan are concerned, I can’t quite see this aged Italian side having sufficient energy to cramp our style for 90 minutes. As far as I’m concerned, if the Gunners are sufficiently shamefaced about Saturday’s debacle, then they’ll demonstrate their remorse by bringing their ‘A’ game along on Wednesday.

From a glass half-full perspective, IF our confidence hasn’t been eroded, then hopefully while Man Utd continue on the road to Wembley, we'll be running away with the league. Although we're going to need to make the most of any matches played while Utd are otherwise distracted, as the ‘no fear’ approach I would’ve expected on our return to Old Trafford in April, is now likely to be replaced by more than a little trepidation!

Saturday 16 February 2008

Talk about a party pooping spoiler

Just as in seasons past it has seemed as if weary Arsenal performances have been a direct product of Le Prof prattling on about fatigue in his programme notes, I guess it can come as no surprise if Wenger's "prioritisation" of the FA Cup has resulted in a less than committed performance from some of the principals, who's attitude, quite frankly, stunk! In some respects this was the worst case scenario. If Arsène had selected all the Carling Cup kids, no matter what the outcome, we would've at least witnessed a hungry, passionate performance. Whereas with Fabregas, Hleb and co. on the pitch for such a comprehensive cave in, the psychological impact on the rest of our season could well prove to be significant.

Up to now Adebayor might have stolen all the headlines, however this defeat highlighted quite how dependent we are on the less lauded likes of Clichy, Sagna and Flamini. Hopefully Traore will learn from such an agonising lesson, but I can't make such allowances for the likes of Hoyte and Gilberto, who simply can't be included amongst this squad's other interchangeable components, not without us suffering such alarming consequences.

It's said that you learn a lot more about a team's spirit in defeat than in victory and we're certainly going to have to prove our mettle, if our entire season isn't going to start heading south against Milan on Wednesday

I was well prepared to expect the worst today, but it was the manner of our capitulation that was so unacceptable, with there being such a complete and utter absence of pride in this piss poor performance. AW is sure going to have to earn his corn building this back up before Kaka and his compadres come a calling

Big Love

Tuesday 12 February 2008


Watching Fergie masticating like an angry Mad Cow, as he marched off down the touchline after Sunday’s Manchester derby, I immediately envisioned him brooding on the defeat in his armchair later that evening and being unable to resist picking up the phone and giving a pep talk to one of his former prodigies, to ensure Mark Hughes sent his Blackburn side out, suitably fired up to play the Arsenal the following night.

Admittedly derby days are a completely different kettle of fish and up front for City, Sven had added Benjani to the bouillabaisse. Even so, I don’t think any of us could have dreamed that a positively impotent City side, who rolled over and played dead at Eastlands eight days prior, were capable of opening the door to the possibility of a potentially crucial five point cushion, by pooping Man Utd’s Munich anniversary tribute

Such is Darius Vassell’s reputation for being the epitome of unfulfilled potential, that there were Gooners behind the goal at Eastlands last week who were actually cheering when Sven brought the burly little striker on. One bloke behind me was so certain of his ineffectiveness that he was constantly urging the Sky Blues to give Vassell the ball!

And yet aside from the fact that City demonstrated an admirable resolve not to show their derby rivals anything like the respect afforded to the Arsenal last weekend (as displayed by their willingness to defend from the front), to my mind the Sky Blues success was more indicative of Man Utd’s failure to live up to a script, which demanded the sort of flamboyant display, which might do justice to the ghosts of Old Trafford past.

It was quite nostalgic seeing the players appear at the Theatre of Snores in the old-fashioned football kits. I’d forgotten quite how stylish the players looked, in the days before they became walking advertising hoardings. It might have been a different story if Man Utd had been playing Liverpool but in these particular circumstances, all the pre-match hullabaloo seemed farcical, as it felt highly unlikely that anyone was going to embarrass themselves, in a coming together that did the football family proud.

The handing out of 76,000 old-fashioned scarves provided for a marvellous spectacle. Albeit that I couldn’t escape this inkling that the whole event smacked of an air of hypocrisy. It seems to have been conveniently forgotten that many of the survivors and the families of the victims spent 40 years following the Munich tragedy, feeling incredibly bitter. At least until the benefit match in ’98, the likes of hero Harry Gregg was driven “by a burning sense of anger at the treatment of people after the crash, which fell so far short of the United myth”

Perhaps it was the weight of the occasion which fell heavy upon the shoulders of Fergie’s babes. But there was no such excuse for a similarly vapid display at The Lane last week (at least according to the highlights).

All season long I’ve been making covetous comments about our rivals more direct, more incisive, four-pronged front line (mainly in the hope I might be left licking all that egg off my face!). Yet despite ol’ Red Nose having pandered to the punters desire for fancy-Dan football by bringing in a whole bevy of ball jugglers (although I have to begrudgingly admit to being impressed by the dreadlocked Anderson), against staunch defensive displays these past couple of games, their attack seems to have floundered, for want of a focal point, in the absence of the sort of centre-forward play previously provided by Horseface. For all Utd’s depth of talent, unless Saha is about to step up to the plate, Fergie might rue the fact that none of his roster appears capable of filling the role of an out and out front man.

Meanwhile Man City fans and us Gooners alike will be clamouring for a repeat of this ceremony every season if it’s a guarantee of such a lacklustre Utd display and along with the snore draw at Stamford Bridge, it made for the perfect Sunday. In fact there were a couple of extremely insipid contests over the course of the past weekend, which made a mockery of the preposterous 39th match proposals.

Sadly something of this ilk is likely to be inevitable eventually, as the money men attempt to milk the Premiership cash cow for all its worth. However I pity the poor foreign football fans who end up saving up their shekels, only to be lumbered with such an anticlimactic encounter as the sort of bore draws the punters endured at the Boleyn and the Bridge.

As I explained to all my workmates who were prematurely congratulating me on Monday morning, Sundays’s results were only going to be significant provided the Gunners didn’t end up looking such a gift-horse in the mouth (an abstruse expression, if ever I heard one?) by blowing it against Blackburn.

With us rapidly approaching “squeaky bum” time in the Premiership run-in, superstitious fans like myself start seeing omens in everything. For example there’s a mural by the graffiti artist Banksy on a building directly opposite our new ground. There was a delightful irony earlier in the season, when some rapscallion tagged it and the council subsequently removed the graffiti from the graffiti. But I was devastated to discover that the entire mural had been defaced on Monday and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was ominous.

My Ma was straight on the phone after the match. As usual, she monitored our progress via Teletext and being more aware than most of my time management woes, she was worried whether I’d made it to my seat in time to see the opening goal. Although the Gunners were straight out of the traps like a greyhound, demonstrating their eagerness to take advantage of the situation, we should really have put the three points to bed during this first15-minute Blitzkrieg.

Not for the first time we were guilty of a lack of ruthlessness. It was almost as if, once we’d established our superiority, we took our foot off the gas, waiting for an invitation to walk in the all-important second goal. Mark Hughes side was hardly likely to be quite so accommodating. Although we looked extremely comfortable and Lehmann had little to do all evening, the longer the game went on, the more stressed out I became about the threat of Santa Cruz getting on the end of one of Bentley’s crosses,

I’m sure along with all the other pessimists present, by the 85th minute, I was convinced that it was going to be one of those nights, where Rovers would conjure up the one single counter-attack, which might leave us ruing our failure to make the most of all those early opportunities. Thus on and off the pitch, the entire stadium erupted with a euphoric wave of relief when Adebayor eventually brought it on home. However it has to be pointed out that if we continue failing to kill off games whilst we are in the ascendancy, according to the law of averages, it could eventually cost us dear.

Earlier in the week I happened to catch an interview at a pre-season friendly, where the players were being questioned about whether they were capable of maintaining a challenge for Champions League qualification. By contrast, I was delighted I rushed home in time to see Adebayor being asked to present Hleb with his Man of the Match champers and the mood of bon homie and Hleb’s inability to mask his “fantashtik” feelings, spoke volumes as to the spirit in the Arsenal camp that is the foundation stone of our title challenge. Up until now, we’ve tended to play down such lofty aspirations, but after the last couple of matches, it’s increasingly hard to hide the growing sense that we Gooners are truly beginning to believe!

Sunday 10 February 2008

RIP Shandy, The Gooner In The Gallery

I was shocked to receive a text message from my good mate Nell on Friday, to inform me that his close pal Andy Harris had passed away suddenly during the night. Tragically Andy will be laid to rest on Tuesday, when he should have been celebrating his 44th birthday the day before.

Footie fans in the UK and Ireland who've watched Sky's Soccer AM on Saturday mornings over the years will have undoubtedly heard Tim Lovejoy & Helen Chamberlain refer to "Shandy the Gooner in the Gallery". Although there were occasions when Shandy appeared in front of the cameras, in pastiches of the likes of Postman Pat Butcher and Mike Reid, it was for his work as a producer for the first few seasons of this relatively groundbreaking footie show that we all owe Andy a debt of gratitude.

If I'm honest, there've been occasions in recent times when I've whinged at the way Soccer AM has stuck so rigidly to its original formulae. Yet I'd invariably be annoyed if I missed my favourite bits of the program Soccer Locker, Showboat or the Third-Eyes, either because I failed to wake up in time, or because of leaving the house too soon, to travel to an away game. Moreover the incredible role call of celebrity guests and professional players who were happy to give up their Saturday mornings, to spend several hours squeezed onto the orange sofa in Sky's Osterley studios, in the shadow of the M4 flyover in West London (hardly the most glamorous of locations) stands as testament to the amazing mass market appeal of this TV show and the way in which the combination of fan based silliness, casual conversation and the occasional insight into some of the private and dressing room habits of many of our footballing heroes, managed to plug a yawning gap in the landscape of football related TV scheduling.

You only have to look at the way many of the program's catchphrases and Tim Lovejoy's slapstick routines have entered the lingua franca of popular culture, to appreciate the massive influence of Soccer AM's Saturday morning shenanigans. Only at Eastlands last weekend, when we went two up after 25 minutes, I found myself waving my hands above my head shouting "Easy, easy!"

Meanwhile aside from his TV work, Andy was husband to his wife Lucy and father to his two kids, Thomas and Joseph. Although I had the privilege of meeting him on several occasions, usually at the Arsenal's annual pre-season friendly at Underhill, I would've felt a bit of a fraud offering some sort of "Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well" type tribute. As a result it seems far more appropriate to include the thoughts of those who were closest to him, by way of the messages from Andy's oldest mate, the text message terror that is Jonathan "Nell" Moser and his colleague and pal since their days working on the Big Breakfast, Tim Lovejoy :-

Nell Moser - "My friendship with Andy goes back many, many years. The one common thread running through all those years of friendship was our devotion to Arsenal. We shared so many fond memories of our time as Gooners that whenever we got together, we would spend literally hours reminiscing.

Only a couple of weeks ago, we met for lunch and proceeded to spend the entire afternoon discussing obscure Arsenal players, from Geoff Barnet to John Matthews to Trevor Ross to Brian Hornsby to Ritchie Powling to David Price to John Hawley. We discussed how, in those days, every London football fan would follow the progress of their team by listening to Sportswatch on LBC 261, presented by Dominic Allen.

His favourite or most vivid memories as an Arsenal fan?... Well, here's a few that we talked about recently.. Terry Neill's first game in charge of Arsenal (1976- we lost 1-0 at home to Bristol City and Supermac also made his debut that day), our amazing hat-trick of FA Cup Final appearances (1978/79/80- when the FA Cup actually mattered), all those semi-finals v Liverpool, Alan (Alan) Sunderland running off like a madman having scored THAT last minute winner, Paul Vaessen v Juventus, Willie Young v Hadjuk Split, Charlie Nicholas' League Cup Final winner v Liverpool (1987, having beaten Spurs in the semi), the Gus Caesar Cup Final (1988 v Luton), Anfield 89 (obviously), and George Graham finally losing the plot in the early-mid 90's. Andy would often recall George's latter years at Highbury by reciting his favourite poem: "Morrow, Selley, Hillier, has there ever been a midfield sillier?"

Just as his father had passed on his passion for Arsenal to Andy, Andy did the same for his kids, Thomas and Joseph, to whom he was so devoted. I'm not sure if Lucy ever did or ever will fully understand what it was all about.

Somehow, going to Arsenal will never seem quite the same again. I'm still waiting for his next text message, rejoicing in Chelsea's demise.
'Shandy' Harris, a true Gooner legend, gone but NEVER forgotten.
It was a privilege to have been his friend."

Tim Lovejoy - "Andy Harris or Shandy The Gooner In The Gallery, as Soccer AM fans will remember him, will be sorely missed by everyone. In all my time in TV I've never known a death cause such a stir. It seems everyone knew him and no one will ever forget him. I first met Andy working on the Big Breakfast, the first thing he wanted to know was which team I supported. I told him Chelsea, he laughed and then spent the next 13 years taking every opportunity to tell me we're not as good as his beloved Arsenal.

When I got offered the job of producer and presenter of Soccer AM I needed someone to help me and Andy was my first choice as he was a great producer and loved his football like me. He was tenacious and persuasive and pushed the show further then I ever would have. If it wasn't for Andy the show would never have been as big as it became. The show back then was run on pure passion of football, we had many arguments and they were normally about Arsenal vs. Chelsea.

My memory of working next to him was him sitting holding a new Arsenal shirt that we got in to feature on the show. He was smelling it and saying things like "smell that it's perfect", "you'll never know what it's like to be a fan of the Arsenal" and "it's so sad, you'll never have this experience". He honestly believed he was blessed being an Arsenal fan. He took me to see Arsenal V Coventry once insisting I came to see what a real club was like, a "big club" as he called it.

I had been to Highbury many times as an away fan, but he wanted me to see his experience. I remember him being so proud of showing me the Arsenal fans in his local pub, his stadium and his seat, he couldn't understand why I didn't think that he was the luckiest man alive because he was a Gooner. A couple of drunk Arsenal fans decided to have a go at me for being a Chelsea fan and it got a little out of hand. Andy was horrified, he lost his temper with them and got the situation under control. He was deeply upset that a couple of Herberts would pick on me when clearly I was just there to watch the game, he explained that they were not proper Arsenal fans.

He was a proper fan, not an idiot "real" fan, but a proper fan, who took as much pleasure in hating Chelsea, Spurs and Man U as he did in loving The Arsenal. His banter was always spot on and he knew when to send a text to give maximum misery to me. After we had won the league he was always telling me the Chelsea's bubble was going to burst, after a string of poor results last season, I got a simple text message which just said "POP!". I'll truly miss the ritual of losing a match and 2 minutes later receiving "I love football" or "it's a good day for football" text. Andy was a great friend and a true Gooner."


PS. Please don't hesitate to add any messages of condolence, or any personal memories in the comments section and I can add them to this post for everyone to read

gunner glory said...

i'm gutted. Shandy was indeed a legend. i used to have a pint with him at the arsenal tavern when we played at hughbury.lovely guy. a great loss.

blazer said...

gooner in the gallery. goonr legend. shandy, where ever you are, we gonna win the league for you. RIP

danny solomon said...

Being an old mate of Andy I want to add my sincerest condolences to his wife and children. Andy's sudden death is truly shocking especially as he was such a vivacious guy who became vivacious in the extreme when my team, Chelsea, lost.

Before Andy settled down, and even after he allegedly did, he used to come round to my house to watch whatever footy was on the telly. Always funny, often ridiculously so, we would delight at watching Man U and especially the hated Tottenham lose. However, not being a supporter of Andy's beloved Gooners we could never share the intimate football memories that only fans of the same team can.

However, there are not enough true fans like Andy and I know he shall be sorely missed both at The Emirates and in the wider world. Although I was often on the end of Andy's sharp humour when my team lost I shall still miss his text messages when we inevitably come a cropper. It is a very sad time for all who knew him.

Anonymous said...

I would like to say how shocked and saddened I am to hear of Andy's passing and to wish long life to his wife, children and parents.

I met Andy again very recently in a work context, having been at school with him many years ago. His first words were to remind me that I had been reponsible for ending his illustrious (?) cricketing career, having bowled him out with a yorker. He had that way of immediately putting you at ease. We spent a good time reminiscing about days gone by, what we had both been up to etc. Without my realising it, he had effortlessly created an easy, relaxed and friendly environment - so typical I guess of what I can see from others, that Andy was all about.

I spent such a short time with him yet I was marked by what a genuinely nice chap he was; touched by his generosity in our discussions and amused by his sharp sense of humour.

I can understand those who knew him so much better than I, feeling such a void at his passing. I only wanted to add that from someone who only met him for a brief moment, Andy created such a strong impression.

Taken so prematurely, may he rest in peace.

Daniel Bobroff

bbc production team said...

I am so saddened by this news. What a breath of fresh air he was to all those who encountered him, either at work or socially. One could not fail to be infected by his enthusiasm and joie de vivre. I am so sad for his family. May he rest in peace.

phil said...

I'm so saddened to hear this news. I used to sit next to Andrew and his family for many years. They were all such delightful people.

Banta-Shrink said...

I've had the privilidge of working with Andy and knowing him as a friend. I worked with him at the BBC on the Bosnich Vs. Spoony boxing, and then at Fanbanta where he gave me the name "banta-shrink" - working with Andy was a pleasure - everything was "lervley" and his enthusiasm and charm somehow always made me priritise the work for Andy over the day job.

But it is as a friend i shall miss him the most - the way he would burst into a party, larger than life and incredulous of the world - his warmth, his energy, his love for his family and for the Arsenal. The world is a lesser place without him but he will live on in our hearts

Avalon prod team said...

words cannot possibly describe the void that Andrew's death has left. He was always so full of life and energy.Every project we worked on was made so much fun by his wit and humour.I will never forget him, and neither will my colleagues. May he rest in peace.

Wrighty7 said...

I've never had the privilege of meeting Shandy. From what I've heard he is indeed an Arsenal legend, a proper GOONER. It's a shame that he has been taken away at such an early age and I reckon he'll still be cheering the Gunners on from his place in heaven. RIP Shandy, I hope we win the league for u pal.

Nick Richmond said...

It's very tough to put into words how much Shandy will be missed by all that knew him . Since I heard the news of his death my head has been filled with memories of many times we spent at Danno's , watching football , playing pool , eating takeaways etc . Shandy and I went to the Champion's League final together and eventhough Arsenal lost , the whole time in Paris is a fantastic memory , due to the fact that the two of us had such a laugh . Being counted as one of his friends was a true honour and I'll miss him always . Rest in Peace .

Juliet Solomon said...

I had the greatest pleasure of meeting Andy last year. I did not know him personally but he agreed immediately to help me with a book I was compiling for a neurological charity. With enormous generosity of spirit he helped me hugely and the book would certainly not have been what it is without him. He left a great impression on me - such a kind, warm and funny guy. I was so sad to hear of his tragic death and I send my sincerest condolences to his family. May he rest in peace.

rsj said...

what an incredibly sad day this has been. andy's larger than life presence will be so sadly missed. RIP

Titi 14 said...

one of arsenal's finest is gone. he felt like part of the family.

Simon said...

As Andrew's brother on law, Simon, I have been overwhelmed with all the love and affection that so many people felt for Andrew. He was a true 'one off'. The joy in his face when I asked him to play in a journalists team against an Arsenal X1 at Highbury - I was then doing the PR for JVC; the many times we laughed, drank, argued as only Andrew could argue. The times when Lucy my sister was travelling abroad and he came round to see me and my young boys every Saturday before going to Arsenal to play and talk about how much he was looking forward to Lucy coming back and his plans for their future. Thanks to everyone on behalf of Lucy, Thomas and Joseph and all his family. He will be so missed.

Anonymous said...

Andy was a terrific bloke with a great sense of humour and a lovely bitchiness which made him so entertaining. I first worked with him on Fantasy Football and he was always enthusiastic, quick witted and resourceful. We stayed friends over the years and I enjoyed several trips to Sky to watch soccer AM with the Gooner in the gallery. He so loved Arsenal but he also loved football which made him such a rounded bloke. He will be sorely missed by those he touched while on this earth. And you can't say much better than that. - Andy Jacobs - talkSPORT

Sunday 3 February 2008

Style Over Substance? Who Said You Can't Have Both

With the alarm having rudely dragged me back from the land of nod on Saturday, long before I'd enjoyed anything like sufficient rest and recuperation, forcing me to fumble in the half-light of a brass monkey Saturday morning, for the source of the shrill noise at the end of the bed, I was sorely tempted to crawl back under the warmth of the covers and snuggle up for several more hours of much needed kip.

Sitting there contemplating the leisurely pleasure of watching Football Focus and the live coverage from Manchester on the box, without having to move a muscle, I have to admit that I couldn’t help but question my quasi-religious commitment to the Gooner cause. Not for the first time, I cursed the cruelty of those responsible for lumbering us Londoners with yet another crack of dawn start, to make long schlep up North for a midday start.

Shivering as I donned my long-johns and umpteen layers of clothing, if not utter madness, it felt like the ultimate, masochistic act of devotion to rush out of the door and around to the Arsenal tube station, in an effort to make it to Euston, for a Virgin Express train that would get me to Manchester Picadilly in good time to get to the ground before KO. My workmates at the ballet have been in Shanghai this past week, where they might’ve experienced the Maglev train, which regularly travels at speeds approaching 270mph. Whereas, with the almost constant weekend engineering works, I paid the princely sum of 62 quid (which probably amounts to the equivalent of an average monthly wage in much of Asia!), to travel on a train that must appear to be going backwards by comparison to the Chinese equivalent.

Thus even with my blinkered reasoning, it was a massive struggle to justify a round-trip journey taking the best part of nine hours, merely for the dubious pleasure of freezing my cods off, on the Eastlands’ terraces for ninety minutes.

Then again, the easiest option is rarely the most gratifying. I might’ve been so ‘cream-crackered’ by the time I returned back home in the early evening that I flaked out on the bed, with barely enough energy to keep my eyes open long enough to savour a replay of the afternoon’s events on Match of the Day, but I was glad I’d made the considerable effort.

I’m as desperate as every other Gooner to see the Gunners win the Premiership and I don’t think there can be any doubt that, on our day, this Arsenal side are worthy title contenders. However a recurring concern on Saturday was the lack of sufficient a ruthless streak against such patently inferior opposition. Although such a failing could eventually cost us dear, thankfully we rarely looked in danger in the face of City’s feeble firepower.

In all honesty, the Arsenal were so dominant during the first-half that it was hard to comprehend how this same City side had managed to remain undefeated on home turf to date. In fact I can rarely recall another away game where the opposition have afforded our midfield so much time and space to be able to pull the strings.

When our Brazilian born, Croatian fox-in-the-box, Eduardo, swivelled, to clinically hook the ball over his shoulder for our second, I don’t think any of us could quite believe what an easy job we were making, of a fixture that had appeared to be a much stiffer test on paper.

I guess it was almost inevitable that we’d take the foot off the gas after the break and with Gael Clichy having gifted the homes side a glimmer of hope, as they conjured a goal from the young full-back’s extremely uncharacteristic mistake, we spent much of the remaining hour of the match fretting about the possibility of the single breakaway attack that might result in an utterly undeserved equaliser.

Mercifully the ever-reliable Togonator eventually alleviated any such stress by finally finishing the Sky Blues off, with a marvellously manufactured third goal. Yet I couldn’t help but think that with a somewhat more incisive front line, the likes of Man Utd’s (or even Chelsea!) might’ve put this result to bed a lot sooner.

It was an encounter which exposed the obvious failings of our disciplinary system. Bizarrely I spent much of the match hoping the likes of Dunne and Richards might avoid the booking that would see them suspended for their trip across town to Old Trafford. Without the defensive solidity provided by City’s staunch centre-back double act, doubtless they’d have have ended up on the wrong end of a cricket score against Man U next week. They might still, unless the arrival of Benjani acts like a dose of Viagra for Sven’s decidedly impotent attack Although having afforded us far too much respect, hopefully the high-octane Derby Day environment will enable Sven to eradicate this sort of inferiority complex, so that City might deny Utd the time and space to do too much damage?

On reflection, for much of this match, the Gunners reminded me of our long since departed tabby cat. Liffey was in the habit of turning up in the kitchen, proffering us her latest prey, in the form of a mouse or a small bird, which to our horror was rarely dead but often mortally wounded. Unless I was able to steel myself to intervene in nature’s cycle of life and death (why is it that women’s lib has never quite extended to any such squeamish tasks, involving small creatures and creepy crawlies?), the cat would proceed to treat the poor thing like one of her toys, pawing it around the kitchen floor, until she’d battered the last breath out of the lifeless animal.

Similarly the likes of Fabregas, Hleb and Flamini seemed to spend much of Saturday’s match toying with City for the punters pleasure (well for ours at least!), almost reluctant to put them to the sword, while they were having so much fun teasing them to death. With City only one shot away from some salvation, it was as though the Gunners were enjoying the fact that their condemned prey was forced to continue chasing shadows.

Any doubts as to the sanity of dragging my aching bones out of bed that morning disappeared during the first-half. Traditionally a seat in the vicinity of the halfway line is accepted as the optimum viewing point, but our pitch high up behind the goal at Eastlands was the perfect position from which to best appreciate the most dazzling moments of this display. At times I was literally entranced, as they wove a magic spell, fizzing the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, drawing pretty patterns on the turf directly in front of us.

Don’t get me wrong, it was far from the Gunners greatest performance. It was just about Gael Clichy’s first ever “bad day at the office”. Yet the fact that we witnessed such a costly act of complacency from a youngster who, up until now, has portrayed ‘a study in concentration’, only tends to confirm quite what a comfort zone the Gunners were playing in. Moreover, “far too clever” was perhaps my most common complaint, as another Abou Diaby backheel found an opponent, instead of a teammate, or Alex Hleb again attempted to mug one defender too many - I was only a small bairn when I saw George Best play and I know I might be accused of sacrilege, but I feel sure that some of the old TV footage might confirm my belief, that from below the waist, Alex bears an uncanny resemblance to Bestie, as Hleb was once again throwing the sort of unreadable body shapes that so remind me of the tousle haired Belfast boy.

It occurs to me that there can’t possibly be a more wonderful whinge for genuine aficionados of the beautiful game, than one which speaks of an intuitiveness amongst a squad, which enables them to have the ‘chutzpah to attempt such audacious football. To date this preference for such flamboyant style has not proved to be to the detriment of any substance, as demonstrated by the fact that we are sitting pretty with a two-point lead at the top of the Premiership.

Man Utd’s late equaliser put a slight dampener on the train ride back to London but at least we weren’t denied the delicious pleasure of knowing what a wind-up it must’ve been for our local rivals, watching Spurs provide us with possibly a crucial leg-up. What’s more earlier in the day we’d have bitten the hand off that offered us three points and the prospect of our two immediate competitors coming a cropper, dropping two points on their travels.

Thus despite the exhaustion of such an arduous awayday, there was a decided spring in my step, as I headed back up the platform on our return, marching along to the unconfined expressions of joy of the weary Gooner hordes shouting the “we are top of the league” odds behind me, for all of Euston to hear.

Some might argue that the manner of the victory is unimportant and that winning is everything. Ultimately it’s true, there’d be much renting of red & white replica shirts, amidst all the North London weeping and a wailing, if the marathon quest of our Wenger-ball disciples should end up floundering on our inability to go for the throat and we should fall short by the merest margins of goal difference.

Yet whether this campaign is destined to conclude in ecstasy, or despair, no matter which way the Premiership cookie crumbles, we’re incredibly privileged to be reminded almost weekly that getting there is perhaps more than half the fun. What’s more I’ve little doubt that compared to the fleeting euphoria of being able to bask in the reflected glory, should the Gunners bag another silver pot, for both fans and players alike, the magic of our rapturous journey is likely to endure in the memory for a lifetime.

My old man could never resist an opportunity to remind me that he witnessed the Busby Babes last game on British soil, an incredible 4-5 defeat of the Gunners five days before the Munich disaster, which many claim to have been the greatest match ever seen at Highbury. From the late 60’s onwards I went through a succession of footballing heroes, yet no matter whether it was Kennedy, Brady or Wrighty, according to him none of them could hold a candle to the late great Duncan Edwards. Having endured all the “boring, boring” Arsenal era, I only wish he was around now to wallow in the fruits of Wenger’s labour, as I feel sure that even he might have to admit that some of the entertainment produced by Fabregas and co. bears comparison with the talents of his favourite all-time footballing hero.

The thought that we might be watching such high-calibre displays for many years to come is quite mind blowing. But if there’s one lesson to be learned from the Munich tragedy, it’s certainly not the need to leave five minutes before the final whistle to beat the rush, but to treat every match like it might be the last, by savouring every last morsel of such magnificent fare.


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