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Tuesday 9 September 2008

Will Arsène Be Sporting Kevlar PJs, or The Emperor's New Clothes?

Hi folks,

Apologies to any subscribers to the Arsenal Mailing List, as some of you might have already read much of the following because I've ended up regurgitating much of what I wrote in a couple of posts to the list.

But then it's never easy to conjure up Arsenal content (or I should say, original Arsenal content) during an International break and I must admit that I was in a bit of a rush to get my piece for the Irish Examiner written, so that I could concentrate on Andy Murray's vain attempt to subdue Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows, as sadly, after the physical and more significantly the mental exertions of the past couple of days, he struggled to rekindle the sort of fire I'd witnessed in an amazing quarter and an even more astonishing semifinal.

In fact I'm not sure if it's a reflection of how engrossing the tennis was, or how disinterested I was in events from Barcelona, but Andorra v England was such an unappetising prospect that when I got in the car on Saturday night to drive to a family do, I was actually gutted to discover that I could only find live coverage of the footie on the radio, when all I wanted to hear was how Murray was faring in his tie-break with Nadal.

I guess the answer is either for Capello to get a more alluring performance out of his England squad pronto, or for me to get a new motor - one with a digital radio, where I could've listened to the coverage of the tennis on Five Live Extra!

Meanwhile those of you who sometimes find my missives a little too long-winded, will be relieved to discover that I'm so cream crackered from commuting to Kent and back, working for the ballet, that I'm desperate to hit the sack. So without further ado.....

Nuff Love

Any feint hopes I might’ve had of the Arsenal flashing up on the Sky Sports News ticker, during that frantic last day of summer transfer business, evaporated when I flicked over to watch the stiffs play live on Arsenal TV. Mind you that’s a misnomer nowadays, if ever I heard one, considering the tender average age of our current crop of reserves.

While other managers were busy studying YouTube videos of the few remaining mercenaries left on the market, our glorious leader was sitting in the stands at Underhill, maintaining a keen interest in the progress of his young prodigies, against a Chelsea reserve side that included Drogba.

Then again we’ve all heard since how Mark Hughes was supposedly working on his golf handicap, when his club smashed the British transfer record (where’d he find a floodlit course?). Yet in contrast to the current trend at most other top-flight clubs, ever since the fractious departure of David Dein, the Gunners have been without the matching shirt & tie set, sort of slippery businessman to conduct all the shady, behind closed doors negotiations.

Thus until Wenger is able wash his hands of the more squalid and in recent weeks, somewhat obscene side of the beautiful game and the Gunners eventually get around to employing someone with an endless supply of Type “O” to keep the leeches of the footballing world, the unscrupulous agents satiated, it’s obvious that unless Arsène is at his desk (or at least on the blower), the Arsenal aren’t doing any transfer business.

It’s true that I might continue to covet a truly world class keeper and I might’ve been happier if our midfield had been fortified with an experienced enforcer (or two), rather than having to count on the kids being able to cut the mustard, when injuries and suspensions inevitably begin to take their toll on our first XI. Nevertheless I wasn’t disappointed and even felt an inexplicable amount of hubris, as the club I love maintained a dignified distance from the sensationalist shenanigans that have rocked football to its very foundations these past couple of weeks.

Obviously I might feel a little different if I’d suffered the ignominy of being a long-suffering supporter of an outfit that's lived in the shadow of it’s immediate neighbour for nearly half a century (City or Spurs?), or who’ve spent almost an entire lifetime hankering after a slice of the glory. However I was listening to radio host Danny Kelly drawing some interesting conclusions the other day.

The bombastic bearded old goat, Ken Bates drove Chelsea so close to the precipice of financial ruin, in his vain pursuit of a lasting legacy, that he was forced to flog the club for the princely sum of a quid. Similarly, allegedly the Arsenal supporting billionaire from Abu Dhabi focused his attention on Man City, a club that was fraught with financial trouble after Thaksin’s somewhat dubious fortune had been impounded by the Thai government. Therefore according to Kelly, the moral of the story would appear to be that in order to make oneself more attractive (than a relatively sound organisation like the Arsenal) to a sugar-daddy with seemingly bottomless pockets, clubs would be best advised to recklessly spend their way to the point of oblivion!

As Uzbek oligarch Usmanov has discovered, the depth of ones pockets doesn’t make the buying of the Arsenal any easier a business, with so many of the club shares in private hands. What’s more, I for one am quite happy that the Arsenal are so reluctant to sell their soul to the devil, but whatever your feelings about a billionaire backer, we Gooners can forget it in the immediate future, as our club would appear to be guaranteed a relatively stable short-term destiny, by nature of the lockdown agreement between all of our major shareholders, preventing them selling their interest to outside investors until 2012.

David Dein’s oft quoted metaphor about the Russians parking their tanks on the lawn and firing fifty pound notes at us, seems ever more appropriate. I’m fairly certain that Arsène would’ve added to our squad if he’d been able to do the deals he wanted, at the price he was prepared to pay, to offer some cover to ensure he isn’t forced into throwing inexperienced youngsters to the lions in any crunch games. Yet if one thing is certain, it’s that our manager is nobody’s fool and if he’s flying in the face of the opinion of virtually every pundit on the planet, I’ve got to believe he has good reason. Steve Bould believes there are 7 or 8 kids amongst his current Academy crop, including the likes of Jack Wilshere, who are capable of making the grade.

It seems evident to me that Arsène has sufficient faith in an exciting vintage of homegrown produce that he’s convinced they offer the protection of a pair of Kevlar PJs which will be impregnable to the mercenaries ammo, enabling the Arsenal to put the welcome mat out for all comers (tanks and all!). Should le Prof be proved correct, our success will taste all the sweeter, knowing the rest of the footballing world is dining on humble pie. And even if we fail, aside from all the entertainment we are guaranteed along the way, compared to the short term aspirations of those all around us, we'll be safe in the knowledge that le gaffer’s determination to play the long game is destined to foster a team spirit that might reward us with a successful dynasty, instead of putting all the club’s eggs into a single, increasingly elusive silver pot.

So long as we don't all end up suffering a severe bout of influenza due to the revelation that the boss is actually coming to the door, wearing nothing but the Emperor's New Clothes!

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