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Tuesday 18 March 2008

Let Us All Pray!

I guess I should be grateful that Arsène Wenger’s team is considerably more tenacious than the Arsenal’s not-so faithful, or else the entire 60,000 crowd might as well have joined the premature evacuators, taking their leave with ten minutes left on the clock on Saturday. Almost as disappointing as the prospect of dropping more, potentially crucial points, against yet another patently inferior outfit and the likelihood that Man Utd were about to leapfrog us, was the mood amongst our crowd when Middlesborough took an unexpected lead, with just about their one and only worthwhile counter-attack during the first 45.

It winds me up something rotten, when the same fans who sit on their overpriced seats, silently waiting for victory to fall into their laps, without being prepared to work for it (sadly, much like the majority of our team), suddenly find their voices, in order to vocalize their utter and all too ugly contempt, for the very same players who’s arses they were prepared to kiss only a couple of weeks back.

Usually the one good thing to come from the feelings of injustice about the perceived incompetence of the officials is that it is often guaranteed to stir our somewhat somnolent crowd into stoking the atmosphere up a good few notches and thereby giving the Gunners some momentum. But as we grew tired of taking our frustrations out on ref Mike Halsey, it disheartened me to hear some of the more fickle Gooners turning on our own.

I was no less angry at the way in which we’d been passively prodding the ball around the edge of the Boro penalty area during the early stages, expecting an opening to be offered on a plate, with Matty Flamini just about the only Arsenal player demonstrating the sort of drive and intensity necessary to force the issue - it was therefore no surprise that the Flamster earned the most money for Sport Relief this weekend, covering more ground than any Premiership player, as the league’s most industrious grafter! However I’ve never believed in balling out our own players. Part of our remit as “supporters” is to try and inspire those in the red & white to sweat blood for the Arsenal’s cause. Whereas I hardly think that some of the disgusting racist drivel hollered in their direction on Saturday was likely to provoke a positive response.

And when you consider that a team which was written off before the season began, as the team most likely to slip out of the top four, is still clinging to a title challenge (albeit by our fingertips) and in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, we Gooners can’t really grumble. Besides, as far as I’m concerned, individual culpability is not really appropriate for what appears to be a collective malaise.

I never imagined too much self-belief could be a problem, or perhaps we’re seeing a touch of complacency, or arrogance raising its ugly head. But despite our domination of possession in much of the past four games, we’ve appeared somewhat impotent until we’ve gone a goal behind. For some reason we seem unable to apply ourselves from the opening whistle, with the same sort of fervor we’ve witnessed in the closing stages, when we’ve grown increasingly desperate to avoid dropping points.

It will be no surprise if we end up sharing the spoils in a nervous contest next Sunday, with both teams too afraid of losing to risk too much – a flagrant fate tempting effort to ensure I’m proved entirely wrong, by a thoroughly successful goalfest! I’m confident we’re capable of raising our game and more than holding our own at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford.

Yet for us to continue to have a say when it comes to the Premiership prize-giving in May, Arsène needs to find a means to inspire the sort of vim and vigor from his troops, to be able to subjugate the lesser footballing mortals from the first minute to the last, by bringing their San Siro style ‘A’ game (where A stands for application), to more mundane encounters against the likes of Bolton, Everton and Sunderland. They need to display the same sort of desire that drove John Terry to be first to the ball, to head home the Blues goal within ten minutes of the start, rather than waiting for the clock to tick down before pulling their collective fingers out.

In addition to the inappropriate outbursts of the fickle few, what I found equally annoying was that as Saturday’s game wore on and it began to appear increasingly likely that the title race was slipping from our grasp, instead of joining me, as I jumped incessantly from my seat to urge our lot not to accept our apparent fate, it was as if the entire stadium was enveloped by an air of resignation.

I don’t know how anyone can leave before the last kick of such a delicately balanced contest, especially when we were going for it with ‘all guns blazing’. The trickle, which rapidly develops into a torrent of those trying the beat the queues at the death, isn't particularly encouraging. You can’t help wondering if they know something we don't. But then we've witnessed enough last gasp goals this season to know better.

Mind you, it was my missus’ first game back since a worrying bout of pneumonia. With Róna still being somewhat fragile, she thought it best to avoid the crush at the end and ironically she was halfway along Highbury Hill, when Kolo eventually conjured up an equaliser. Naturally I was straight on the phone to her after, to moan that if I'd known her exit was the precursor to an Arsenal goal, I would have kicked her out ten minutes earlier, so there was time enough for a winner!

I adore these demonstrations of our side’s “never say die” qualities and I only wish more of our fans were equally inspirational. If the swings and roundabouts theory holds water, then we must be storing up a positive avalanche of good fortune for some unfortunate victim/s in our remaining fixtures.

I was at the hospital bedside of a dying pal during the week. The doctor didn’t expect him to survive after he took a dramatic turn for the worse and a female priest who appeared on the ward asked if his wife wanted her to say a prayer. Laurie’s condition was so critical that it felt more like the Last Rites. But I will never again pooh, pooh the power of prayer, as I was flabbergasted by the miraculous way in which he’d rallied the following day.

However I was a little gutted, as if I’d known the nun had a direct line to the Almighty, I would’ve asked her to put in an increasingly necessary good word for the Gunners!


Arseish Wembley said...

A superb post. I totally agree with you about the fans leaving early and letting their heads drop once the team are not doing good. I can't relate to that at all. These sort of fair -weather fans are the ones we can do without. Still keeping my head held high. Come on you Gunners!

Anonymous said...

Here! Here! I read somewhere that Wenger was a quite a religiously inclined person, and that he often reverts to God for inspiration for his Arsenal-tapestry! I know that if we all can get behind the team and call for the spiritual help that is needed to shake the team out of their current stat of Lull, The Gooners will stand proudly victorious at the end of the season, and would be a shining beacon for the entire footballing world where they would have overcome immense odds - more so than our opponents!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to hear from the 'fans' who leave early. Everyone you speak to insists that they never leave early but no-one ever admits to being a half-arsed supporter. They obviosuly don't care about whether we score or not and if they don't want to get caught in a rush at the final whistle they should go to the bloody park instead!

Con said...

Dia dhuit Bernard,

Glad to hear Ronas up and about and going to the Emirates again. (She's forgiven for leaving early in the circumstances!)
Keep the faith

Anonymous said...

god if these so call fans knew wat i wood give to see the arse on a reguler basis, ive only ever seen them once - 800 euros 4 2 tickets and 2 nits in a hotel, flights NOT included.
it was against wigan not exactly ac milan.

Robbing 1800hotels bastards