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Monday, 10 November 2008

It’s Not The Size Of The Dog In The Fight, It’s The Size Of The Fight In The Dog

If I had cause last week to question the logic of le gaffer’s customary efforts to deflect all the criticism away from his own troops, rather than confronting (and heaven forfend, actually dealing with) a few home truths, because it seemed as if he was giving our players carte blanche to wallow in their own self-pity, I guess I got my answer in spades on Saturday.

Then again, it’s the beautiful game's eternal propensity to confound all logic that makes it such an engrossing enigma. Enthralling, almost to the point of being unhealthy for some of us! I came away from Saturday’s game feeling so emotionally spent and having taxed the old ticker to such an extent, that I badly needed a quiet lie down in a dark room to recover.

With our team spirit having been stretched to breaking point over the course of the previous ten days, there was little more likely to encourage a loosening of the bowels than the prospect of facing the likes of Man U, with only half our first choice XI fit.

Unfortunately bran flakes are the only thing that encourages Treacle, our pooch to go through her motions and as I stood impatiently waiting for her to do her business at 11.30 on Saturday morning, I was almost as relieved as she was (bearing in mind she’d had her legs crossed since 3pm on Friday due to the firework barrage), when it was announced on the radio that Almunia, Sagna, Sylvestre, Gallas and Walcott had all been passed fit.

Still, in the absence of our two principal strikers, there was nothing particularly logical about my optimistic mood, as I legged it around to the ground for what I thought was a noon kick-off. For some strange reason, the Gunners rarely ever get going before half-time in these early KOs. But no matter what the eventual outcome, I was confident in the knowledge that we’d acquit ourselves well, as we invariably raise our game against our immediate competitors.

In fact, on the basis that it’s bound to prove far easier to express ourselves against those teams that come to compete against us, than those clubs who are principally focused on thwarting us, then our league campaign is far more likely to be defined by how quickly we learn to grind out results against the more resolute lesser lights, than by Saturday's scintillating triumph.

Nevertheless under the barmiest of circumstances, where recent events have seen Harry Redknapp hailed as the messiah, despite the fact that Spurs were still propping up the Premiership and unbelievably le Prof’s entire footballing philosophy had been called into question while 4th in the table, going well in the Champions League and constantly producing some of the greatest footballing entertainment on the planet, Saturday’s game assumed an importance way beyond the mere 3 points at stake.

Our encounters with Man U are always one of the high points of the footballing calendar, but having arrived early for once (only as a result of my mistake), I could sense a spine-tingling electricity to the mood of nervous anticipation around the ground. We all appreciated the need for a performance that would put a sock in the mouths of Arsène’s critics and which would put our season back on track, by reaffirming our faith and our team’s belief in their own ability.

Even the gods seemed to be smiling down upon us, as having sent down just enough of a shower to slicken up the surface, the rain abated and the sun came out. Encountering his former team mates for the first time, I suppose Sylvestre was likely to be more nervous than most and it might have been an entirely different story if Man U hadn’t been so profligate in front of goal, in some anxiety riddled opening moments.

In truth, this was the story of the day as Man U continued to look such gift horses in the mouth and while Bendtner did little better with his gift-wrapped goal-scoring opportunities, mercifully Samir Nasri managed to grasp the nettle, by making the very most of his two chances to write the headlines.

Perhaps this and the manner in which we took control of the all-important midfield battle was merely a reflection of the fact that Man U had little to prove and would’ve been perfectly happy to take a point back to Manchester. Whereas instead of the sleepy first-halves that we’ve grown accustomed to in these early KOs, right from the off, it was evident that the Arsenal were sufficiently pumped up, to vindicate themselves and Wenger with a display that would serve to demonstrate, in the words of Mark Twain, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog”.

The dogged determination shown by the likes of Denilson, left me wondering who was the lightweight impostor I’ve been watching the rest of the season, as the Brazilian youngster finally came of age, with the sort of “lead by example” type display, which fuelled his team mates appetite and which has been so lacking in this Arsenal side of late.

I suppose one of the benefits of Arsène’s customary refusal to criticise his troops in public, is that it has the desired effect on the rare occasion he does take them to task. Almunia was transformed into a keeper who was intent on dominating his area, by coming for every ball and when less brave men would’ve gone in feet first, Manuel didn’t think twice about taking one in the head for the team, by diving at Carrick’s feet.

Even when at our most vulnerable, our keeper’s efforts lent an aura of composure to our entire defence, which was in complete contrast to their customary air of frantic insecurity. So although they were still prone to being exposed by Utd’s formidable front line, there wasn’t quite the same “heart in the mouth” inevitability that they were about to concede every time.

Instead, I have ref Howard Webb to thank for his assault on my blood pressure. It seemed as if the ref was the only man in the stadium who was oblivious to Vidic’s octopus impersonation, when he wrapped himself around Nasri in the area late on. Having denied us the opportunity to put the result to bed from the penalty spot, I proceeded to scream myself hoarse, cursing Webb’s ineptitude, desisting just long enough, to ridicule Wayne Rooney, during a momentary lull in the astonishingly relentless cut and thrust.

Shrek had screwed a shot so wide that it arced its way out for a throw-in, inspiring an amusing chorus of “you’re just a fat, granny shagger”. We obviously achieved our objective, as Rooney responded by directing our attention to the champion’s badge on his sleeve. I was a little worried he might end up making us eat our words but Fergie must’ve been concerned about a more reckless response, as he withdrew Rooney from the fray only seconds later. I can only imagine Wayne’s frustration at being denied the opportunity to exact his revenge.

With the amount of effort expended during the first 45 and the unremitting pace, we were always likely to flag at some point. It was therefore a huge relief to hear the habitually sedate home crowd rise to the occasion, by playing their 12th man part. Although when our 89th minute failure to clear our lines resulted in Rafael’s goal and with the clock-watching knight of the realm staring daggers from his dugout, guaranteeing his team every last second of a seemingly never-ending 6 minutes of injury time, there was a positively palpable mood of apprehension, as we struggled to suppress any notion of some sort of Groundhog Day nightmare.

Saturday’s 3 points won’t win us the title and with Chelsea not looking like they are about to blow many points, we’ve probably only gifted the Blues a leg up by beating Man U. But it was a morale boosting performance that was paramount, in order to restore our pride and the aura of respect that will ensure we don’t get dragged down into the totally unpredictable dogfight taking place below us.

Arsène’s undoubtedly a better man than me in resisting the temptation to tell his tabloid tormentors to stick that in their pipe and smoke it!
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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

2 comments:

Zachary Sanford said...

thanks again mr. azulay for an entry that does true justice to the day gooners shared this past saturday. --here in dayton, oh at the corporate "pub" in the pricy outdoor strip mall modeled on a utopian americana ridden vision of the ideal downtown, it was full steam ahead at 7:30 a.m. shamefully, i was already preparing to use Barack Obama's election night triumph to soften fears what the pundits and bookies were calling the oncoming and inevitable blow- simultaneously though, i held a glimmer of hope encouraged by tuesday's triumph that would soon be vindicated. unforunately this victory came when i was in the company of some of corporate america's most abhorrent creations: the manusa contingent. but hearing them make like the mccain campaign in defeat, launching attacks on gary neville similar to those levelled against sarah palin by insiders was a treat. out of their ugly hoard shown one bright star; accompanying them was pudgy long-haired 13 year old wearing a gunners shirt. he and i could simply smile and wink as we watched this match unfold. like the obama campaign, rather than adding fuel to the ugly fire burning around us, we simply waited, and watched the good fight won.

Bernard said...

Thanks Zach

Great to hear how the game was seen from the Dayton (Ohio?) perspective.

It's mad to think I struggle to make it around the corner to the ground for a midday KO, when you guys have to get up at the crack of dawn to watch a game.

Truth is that we were never as bad as everyone suggested when losing to Stoke, drawing with Spurs etc and we weren't as brilliant as many would have you believe in beating Man U

Nevertheless it sure felt good to be a Gooner this weekend
TTFN
Bernard