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Tuesday 25 November 2008

Hold that call to the Samaritans.....

Hi folks,

With events of the past few days, I could've easily prattled on ad infinitum this week. The restraints of my word quota for the Irish Examiner have rarely proved more restrictive (especially with my overly verbose tendencies) and so having filed my copy below first thing this morning, I was planning on making all the observations I've been forced to leave out, in what would've undoubtedly been another War & Peace like preamble.

But I was far too "cream crackered" after a long day out in the cold of the ballet's stores in Kent, to start writing again when I arrived back home and having heard the news on the radio on the drive back, that events today have somewhat overtaken what I've written below, with Fabregas being announced as captain and Arsene revealing that Gallas will be in the team for tomorrow night's game against Dynamo Kiev, I thought I had better get this missive posted before it gets so outdated that it's not worth reading (heaven only knows how it will read in Wednesday's Examiner - but that's a constant thorn of having to file a piece on Monday for publication midweek).

If there's one quality Arsène has never been found wanting for, it his pragmatic nature. I'm fairly certain he'd have much preferred to have avoided all the recent brouhaha over the captaincy and if at all possible, he's not going to let it deny him of the use of what most pundits would suggest is our most capable centre-back.

So whatever transpires tomorrow night, it's guaranteed to be an interesting evening. Aside from wondering how effectively our team can set any differences aside, to the extent that it doesn't have any negative impact on our performance, obviously Gallas' participation is bound to provoke a mixed reaction from the home crowd.

As hard as I tried to remain faithful to Radio 4 (although you know it's been a long day when you find yourself looking forward to some distraction from the stress of the rush hour traffic in a second helping of the Archers!), I couldn't resist tuning the car radio into the nutters espousing their tabloid opinions on Talksport, as the hosts of the footie phone-in attempted to provoke Gooners into calling in to reveal how they planned on reacting to Willie's return tomorrow.

While one needs to appreciate the phone calls have been filtered by the radio programme's editors, with the intention of broadcasting the more provocative ones, judging by those I heard, Gallas is guaranteed to get some stick and g-d forbid he should put a foot wrong, you can imagine how quick 50,000 Gooners will be to turn on him!

So having had his public pop at some of his teammates lack of fibre, I guess we are about to find out quite what sort of mettle Willie is made of and whether he's the sort of hypocrite who's going to want to cut and run at the first sign of the fans' dipleasure, or if he's made of sterner stuff, with the will to win us around?

Meanwhile, no matter how frustrating it was to see us throw three points away on a day when all our competitors dropped points, on the basis of how far we currently are from having to concern ourselves with the significance of Saturday's result as far as the title race is concerned come the end of the season, I feel sure that I'm not alone in thinking that I'd gladly sacrifice Saturday's game, if it's to result in the sort of dramatic dressing room debate which might have the effect of refocusing our campaign, just in time to give the Blues a hiding at the Bridge on Sunday (not to mention forcing our manager to confront a few incontrovertible home truths concerning those of his charges, who lack both the quality and the commitment that's expected of a Arsène's Arsenal!)

As they say "fair exchange, no robbery" and here's hoping we begin to see some return tomorrow night.

Myself I don't hold with booing any player wearing the red & white, as no matter what I might think of them in private, giving them the bird isn't exactly going to encourage them to try any harder to please their detractors. I'd much rather see us put the Arsenal's cause first, with a demonstration of the sort of blind loyalty shown at Eastlands on Saturday. Perhaps I'm a sentimental old fool, but if I was an Arsenal player, I would've felt absolutely awful walking off the pitch, with the mantra-like chorus of "we love you Arsenal" sung for the entire last ten minutes of the match, ringing in my ears.

Some might argue that our role as fans is seriously diminished, in an age when the modern day's prima-donnas only obligation is to their obscene pay packets. However if we still have a part to play, it is only this sort of support that's likely to inspire players to want to play their hearts out, to make themselves feel worthy of such unwavering fealty.

So might I humbly suggest that instead of slagging all and sundry off, we "sing up for the lads", as you can criticise all you like, but when all is said and done, come kick-off time, in truth this is the one and only means we have at our disposal of making things better

Cone on you Reds

After clocking up close on a 1000 miles schlepping all over the country for work the previous week, I don’t mind admitting that I was struggling to find the enthusiasm for an arduous trek to the North-West on my day off. Especially when I was dumbfounded to discover that for some reason there were no direct rail services the entire weekend. So if I wanted to let the train take the strain, I’d have to take a soul-destroying circuitous route, along the East Coast line to Doncaster, to connect with the Trans Pennine Express (now there’s a misnomer, if ever I heard one!), to cross from East to West and back.

Still at the time, it seemed preferable to another long day, spent battling motorway traffic and after all the commotion of the previous couple of days, there was no way I was not going to be there to support the lads in person, for what I’d hoped would be their glorious efforts to dispel the notion, espoused by our not so glorious (former) captain, that they are not sufficiently “up for it”.

In truth, in the absence of so many significant team members, I half expected us to struggle against Man City and this defeat wouldn’t have been nearly such a body blow, if we’d gone down with all guns blazing, following a display that demonstrated our appetite for the battle. But to go out with a whimper, as a result of a yet another flaccid performance, which only gave fuel to our French defender’s disparaging comments, was seriously depressing.

Arriving at King’s Cross to find my train had been cancelled (perhaps I should’ve heeded the fates efforts to do me a favour!), for once in my life I wasn’t late and I made it onto an earlier departure, literally with only seconds to spare. After an hour’s wait at Doncaster, sadly I was far too stressed about getting to the game on time, to be able to relax and enjoy the picturesque route across the Pennines and as we crawled into Stockport at 2.30 I feared the worst.

Mercifully I was sharing a cab from Picadilly station, with an amiable City fan and his two daughters, only ten minutes later. My thoughts turned to the thousands of deprived young Gooners, when he revealed that his kids' season tickets had cost him a perfectly reasonable 90 quid.

Having often pondered the absence of non-white faces amongst the crowds at many clubs, while watching the pictures broadcast on Match of the Day, I guess the answer lies in this chap’s response as to why he supported City. He revealed that Leeds was his local team but that as an Asian, he wouldn’t dream of subjecting his kids to the sort of racism that’s prevalent at Elland Road. When I enquired about the newly promoted Hull, he said “you must be joking, they’re even worse!”

Prior to striking up conversation with this geezer, I’d been messing around on the train, pulling faces with his two giggling, impish little girls and I suppose it’s indicative of my own somewhat racist conditioning that it never for one moment occurred to me that the three of them might be heading to the game. However it was only on being confronted by the issue that I found myself reflecting on quite what an abhorrent outrage it is, that in 2008 our terraces continue to be the scene of such intolerance, that this poor dad is forced to choose which team to support, based on where his daughter’s delicate little ears are least likely to be assaulted by racist bile.

While the authorities have recently been patting themselves on the back, applauding the success of their “Kick It Out” efforts, perhaps they need reminding that without the re-education of the Neanderthal numbskulls responsible, their multi-cultural ideals remain pie in the sky.

As for the Arsenal’s comparatively trivial troubles, if I’m honest in the long run the William Gallas saga might prove a blessing in disguise. It wasn’t as if Wenger wasn’t warned about Willie’s somewhat abrasive, shoot from the hip tendencies. I’ve always suspected that without any obvious leaders in our squad, he decided to take a gamble on Gallas, on the basis that he might rise to the challenge of responsibility, rather than to risk having him on the outside, criticising a younger choice.

Meanwhile although it’s true, certainly on the evidence of Saturday’s utterly vapid display, that there are youngsters in the Arsenal squad who might benefit from a good kick up the backside, to remind them that at the very least, we require some fire in their bellies, in return for their Bentley boy status, the “omerta” of the dressing room remains sacrosanct. Without this code of silence, I’m sure we’d all astonished by the number of serious spats that occur when such huge egos spend so much time in such close proximity.

However it’s the ability to set personal differences aside when they step onto the pitch that is most important. If Gallas was any kind of proper “guv’nor”, he would’ve made his admonishments in private, rather than detailing them in the French media, whilst drumming up publicity for his book.

Considering Arsene’s non-confrontational customs (other than when rutting with Alan Pardew!), I couldn’t see him relieving Gallas of the captaincy, if it wasn’t (according to rumour) for the influential likes of Fabregas knocking on his door to complain. Many Gooners are proposing Cesc as the most suitable candidate. I don’t dispute his ability to wear the armband well, with the respect of his teammates and sufficient “never say die” qualities to inspire them, but Fab’s own form hasn’t been great of late. Perhaps in contrast to the example of cricket, the challenge of the additional responsibility would prove just what’s needed to reinvigorate our little Franco.

For my money, a goalie needs a massive personality to sufficiently influence the outfield players and this rules out our inoffensive keeper. What’s more, judging by the way in which Wenger spent the entire first-half on Saturday, prowling the very limits of his technical area, as if trying to captain his side from the touchline, his body language hardly affirmed his confidence in Almunia’s ability to galvanize the Gunners.

We can but hope that Arsene gets it right, as Saturday’s defeat was a perfect example of quite how much our young squad is crying out for someone capable of rallying our dejected troops.
Perhaps more worrying was the evidence of how quickly this Gunners side grinds to a halt, in the absence of a couple of crucial cogs. In the past we’ve always been able to compensate for our deficiencies but we were woefully short on quality against City. Richard Dunne usually saves his best performances for playing the Arsenal, but he and the rest of his defence didn’t need to be anywhere near their best against our positively impotent attack. Like the majority of us present, the local radio pundit wondered what on earth Wenger sees in Bendtner and with Kompany keeping Van Persie in his pocket, it was only the late introduction of Ramsey that resulted in us producing the slightest glimpse of some real attacking intent.

Moreover it’s hard to believe I was singing Denilson’s praises the other day. Could this really be the same player who was dangling his leg out as a feeble excuse for a tackle on Saturday and who, along with Song, was guilty of failing to track City’s midfield. As far as their clueless forays forward, they could do far worse than learning a lesson or two from the commitment and hunger for the ball shown by the likes of Ireland.

It would’ve been in keeping with the rest of my miserable outing, if I’d ended up stuck up North. Mercifully I eventually made it home, just in time to suffer a repeat showing on MOTD! Personally I’m glad to be facing Chelsea on Sunday, as it is the sort of glamorous occasion that will at least guarantee we give a good account of ourselves. In the meantime, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, our manager, our team and many of us Gooners could do with treating those two impostors, triumph and disaster, just the same.

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