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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!


Anonymous said...

When are you going to learn to leave home 20 minutes earlier? For God's sake, you can just walk to the stadium.
At least you saw the second goal.
Yes, we do start to "privately" believe. What a feeling...