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Thursday 27 November 2008

Job & Knock (it all on the head!)

I sat here watching the entire 90 minutes of a 0-0 draw between Zenit St. Petersburg v Juventus, prior to our game the other night, feeling somewhat nostalgic watching the feats of Alex Manninger in goal for the Italian side (mind you I spent much of the match trying to work out what sort of weird and wonderful undergarment the little Italian darlings had been given to wear to try and keep themselves warm in the chill of the Russian winter - personally I couldn't imagine anything more annoying than trying to play football with that floppy snood type jobby around my neck!).

However if Manninger made me feel nostalgic, I was positively misty-eyed with sentiment tuning into Pompey's game this evening, with Tony Adams, Kanu, Traore, Flamini, Senderos all involved in a scintillating European encounter. Big up to the Pompey faithful for recreating a proper old-fashioned European night atmosphere, which is so rare to see / hear nowadays, especially in the "will it ever end" tedium of the current UEFA Cup format. How I long for just a little of this marvelously raucous racket at some of the Euro games at our gaff!

Most pundits don't appear to expect the introspective Tony Adams to prosper in his promoted role on the South coast. However, no matter how much TA's new incarnation might've changed from the player we all knew and loved at THOF, watching an extremely animated Adams going through such an emphatic heading motion on the touchline, as if he himself was banging in Younes Kaboul's goal, with all the passion of the Adams of old, if he takes any of this ardor into the dressing room with him, I simply can't imagine Pompey's new gaffer failing to inspire his players.

As it transpired, one could say that the example of this particular match was vindication of Wenger's work (with perhaps the one exception in Arsene failing to persuade Flamini to stay at the club, as watching the Flamster's tireless midfield efforts only served to remind me quite how much we've missed him so far this season).

Yet aside from this one, albeit seemingly costly mistake, I didn't actually realise until tonight that Barca had sold Ronaldihno, but in AC Milan, you have a club with an apparently endless choice of some of the world's greatest and most expensive midfield stars, in the likes of the Goofy One, Kaka, Seedorf, Gattuso, Pirlo (not to mention Pato, who's appearance for the last 15 mins, was I believe the first I've seen of what looks like another Copacabana Incredible off the Brazilian production line) and yet for all this wealth of talent, they can't find anyone better to play at centre-back than our own Phillipe Senderos and for all the millions spent by the wealthy Milanese outfit, they still needed a last gasp equaliser just to snatch a point a Pompey.

Le Boss might've blown millions during the summer and we could've still lost 3-0 at Eastlands last weekend (and how much more miserable would we have all felt then!!) and if memory serves, which it seems to do less and less these days, Arsène's poignant response to my pal (and Gooner editor) Kevin Whitcher's question at the recent Arsenal AGM about his failure to address the centre-back situation was (to parahprase) that Milan wouldn't have taken the hapless Swiss man Matterhorn, if world class centre-back's were available two a penny off the shelves of your nearest Sainsburys.

Nevertheless the one thing that was obvious from AC Milan's line-up tonight, was the game changing ability of their substitutes bench. Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that the backside of the incredibly gifted young Jack Wilshere is warming our first team bench. With Jack having looked so completely and utterly at home when he came on against Kiev, with Bob Wilson, the pundit on Radio 5 live (gawd love the staunch Gooner), positively creaming his pants over the fact that Wilshere was constantly demanding the ball, hopefully he will get plenty more opportunities this season to demonstrate why he's become the latest "great white hope" in the eyes of all of his coaches.

You never know, Jack might have something of the secret weapon factor about him, against those team who underestimate him at their own peril. However he's not (for a while at least!) going to have the same psychological impact on the opposition, of the sort seen at Fratton Park this evening, where having battled manfully against Milan for 75 minutes, you can envisage the Pompey player's mentally wilting at the sight of Milan's "special team" warming up on the touchline. Then again the strongest minds in the world would've been powerless in the face of the set-piece wizadry of Milan's buck-toothed impact sub.

Hopefully, if our Mancunian humiliation served one purpose, while Arsène continues to spout the party-line in public, ever faithful to his young prodigies, in private, where the all-important decisions are made, surely even he can't continue to deny such incontrovertible evidence of his squad's shortcomings, when it's become so blatant that even Treacle our pooch can woof chapter and verse about the imbalance in this Arsenal squad.

Meanwhile in view of our crumbling confidence, it was just a matter of getting the job done against Kiev on Tuesday night, to begin the rebuild and to ensure we can forget about the Champions League for the moment with the stress relieving knowledge that even if all else fails, we still have one important competition to compete in come the Spring (which is doubtless one more than Spurs and most other teams!). Besides which, in our current inconsistent mode, if we hadn't managed 3 points, by way of an old-fashioned "1-0 to the Arsenal" on Tuesday, who amongst us Gooners would've fancied going to Porto, needing a result in the last game?

Much like his derby goal, doubtless Bendtner's winner on Tuesday will have earned the Dane a reprieve amongst his many detractors (including myself). Nevertheless, despite his classy control and his cool, calm finish, Nick still has a long, long way to go before he convinces me that he's the real deal at Premiership level and that he's anything more than a decent Championship level striker. Moreover in a tradition that stretches back to the likes of Gilles Grimandi, John Jensen and all the way back through the mists of time to Geordie Armstrong, I've always said that I can forgive anyone a lack of g-d given gifts, be that natural ability, or in Bendtner's case basic pace, so long as they make up for it in the size of their heart and the level of their commitment to the Gunners' cause.

However, for my money, there was a moment in the second-half which suggested to me that Bendtner would have to be a 30 goal a season striker, before I'd be prepared to excuse the fact that he simply isn't made of "the right stuff".

I think it was Van Persie who fizzed the ball right across the face of an open goal and never mind Bertie's lack of pace, or his failure to be on his toes, anticipating the cross, rather than on his heels, expecting everything to be played to his feet. Bendtner lalloped towards the goal with his body language suggesting he'd already made his mind up that he wasn't able to make contact with the ball. Yet considering we were playing for such high stakes and with the game balanced on a knife edge, a player with any sort of selfless commitment to the club's cause, or even someone who just wanted to con us all into believing they were halfway committed, they would've flung themselves at the ball, or slid in feet first, knowing that any sort of glancing contact would've resulted in a goal.

But no, the Dane wasn't about to eat dirt to demonstrate his desire, as like far too many young stars nowadays, he struts around peacock like, as if he has absolutely nothing to prove and no-one to prove it to and surely his winning goal on Tuesday will only result in him being more assured about his "Big Bollix" reputation, in his own head, if not in ours. Give me a willing grafter like Carlos Vela any day, over lazy good-for-nothing like Bendtner.

Should Arsène choose to start with Bendtner, I will be singing his praises as loud as every other Gooner at Stamford Bridge on Sunday and you should know that the only reason I'm slagging him off so vehemently is in the hope of tempting fate, since no one will be happier if I end up eating a huge portion of humble pie on Sunday night, after Bendtner bangs in the winner.

I was also relieved we didn't end up giving Gallas the bird on his appearance on Tuesday, as I can't imagine Willie wanting to hang around long, if we'd made it obvious we didn't want him. I guess we are soon going to find out if our indiscreet centre-back is able to get to grips with his new found circumstances and whether as a team, they can set any difference aside when they step onto the pitch. Hopefully we are set to see them end Sunday's game celebrating and hugging one another, as there will be nothing like a win against Big Phil's side,, for them all to forget it ever happened.

Come on you Reds