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Tuesday 18 November 2008

Would The Real AFC Please Stand Up?

Hi folks,

After pouring a kettle of boiling water over the annoying nest of ants that make up all the ingrate Arsene knockers, by way of beating Man Utd, it seems they've all come crawling back out again after Saturday's upset against Villa.

It's barmy really, as it seems to me that these Gooners just don't know they are born, so spoiled are they by our recent era of relative success that nothing less than silverware to show for our season will satisfy them. To my mind they are the epitome of the sort of glory-hunting Gooners, who sadly constitute a far too great a proportion of the sixty thousand punters populating THOF2, who are all too quick to criticise, but who seriously don't know the meaning of support.

Included amongst the OED's definition of "support" is "give practical or emotional help". It's all too easy supporting a successful team but in such circumstances our efforts are invariably superfluous, having absolutely zero impact. Yet when we are most needed, all we do is get on the player's backs, giving them stick and ultimately booing them off the pitch.

While I can understand Gooners feeling the need to express their disgust when Riley brought Saturday's 0-2 defeat to a conclusion (with several Gooners in my vicinity literally begging the bandy-legged ref to put us out of our misery and blow his whistle), the truth of the matter is that this is hardly the sort of response which is going to encourage our players to feel that they must try harder, to please fans who deserve better.

It might not look like it to us, but in the players own minds, you can be sure that they're going to believe that they've tried their hardest to please us on Saturday, only to end up being booed off by the same fans who were singing their praises seven days earlier. And where we were kissing their feet last week, according to the attitude of many, it would appear that they're now not fit to kiss our arses!

I imagine half the 60,000 present on Saturday wouldn't bother turning up if we were losing regularly. And this would be one slight consolation to a bad run of form, if it had the effect of sifting this sort of chaff from the wheat. When you consider that there are only two decent pots to be won each season and the vast majority of teams haven't a cat in hell's chance of winning either of them and the very most the majority of fans have to look forward to is perhaps a few good games and a half decent cup run, we really should be counting our blessings.

The fact that the media are making such a big deal about the number of defeats the Arsenal can afford is representative of our privileged position as one of only three or four teams that are expected to win anything every season. And it's Wenger who's almost singlehandedly responsible for establishing the Arsenal as one of this country's elite teams, to the extent that there is such a hullabaloo when our top table membership appears threatened.

I rarely read the column alongside mine in the Irish Examiner, written by the Man Utd fan, because I get fed up of his supercilious attitude towards the rest of the domestic competition, as if it's not worth the effort turning up most weeks because the opposition are unable to offer them any sort of genuine challenge

However if ever there was more complete vindication of Arsene Wenger, it came in the Moaner's piece last week, where having written about the absurdity of the Arsenal having been written off, he went on to express his appreciation for the way in which Utd took the Arsenal up on our offer to play real flowing football, as opposed to the various permutations of either attritional tedium, or one sided steam-rollering that constitutes 90 per cent of the Premier League's content (from a Man Utd perspective!).

Despite our lack of any silverware to show for our efforts these past few seasons, virtually every other fan in the country is envious of the football we get to watch most weeks. As a result, for us spoilt Gooners, it is that much more disappointing when we fall short every now and again.

Sadly nowadays many are of the attitude that the extortionate cost of their ticket gives them a right to express this dissatisfaction, at the very time when the players are most in need of our encouragement and our support.

Myself I don't by any means agree with all of Arsène's decisions, but I will continue to remain eternally grateful for all the entertainment we are privileged to enjoy under his management and having been around long enough to have witnessed some of the Arsenal's worst ever teams, I believe this makes it that much easier for me to appreciate how fortunate we've been in recent times. As a result I will continue to have faith in our manager and castigate all those numbskulls who are far too quick to knock him (as I've yet to hear any of them explain exactly where we are going to come across an improved model!).

Believe me, the day will soon come when Arsène decides he can well do without the day to day stress of Premiership management and I'm afraid that he's likely to come to this conclusion all the quicker, if he begins to perceive that he's no longer appreciated. If it is indeed true that you only truly learn to appreciate what you have, after it's gone, then when we end up lumbered with a camel coated nincompoop, struggling to cling to humdrum mid-table mediocrity as the height of his ambition, there's going to be shed load enlightened Gooners rapidly comprehending quite how good we had it under Wenger

Nuff Love

Little did I realise quite what an understatement last week’s reference to football’s enigmatic quality would prove to be, as we were all left scratching our heads on Saturday. After the exhilaration of watching the kids run riot against Wigan and the euphoria of beating Man Utd, it was somewhat baffling to be brought back down to earth with such a bump, as the illusion that we might push on, to prove ourselves genuine contenders, was seriously deflated by such a flat display against Villa.

Personally speaking, it was a defeat that only reaffirmed my instincts that we’re a long way from having the consistency necessary to mount a credible title challenge. Nevertheless, this made it no easier to explain why the same 11 superstars who’d played leading roles in the breathless box-office hit that took the footballing world by storm the previous weekend, could all be transformed back into bit part players, better suited for hamming it in a humdrum soap opera than a Hollywood smash?

In fact it was such an anti-climax, that I felt the need to apologise to Finian and his pal, after they’d travelled all the way over from Cork, to watch an Arsenal side that was such a shadow of the team capable of the scintillating football seen only seven days prior.

In truth we were fortunate that Man Utd were so profligate in front of goal and it looked as if our luck was going to continue to hold on Saturday, when Almunia palmed away Young’s tame effort from the penalty spot. Sadly the penalty save didn’t have the customary galvanising effect and it seemed to me that where we’d raised our game a crucial 5/10 per cent to boss the midfield and beat Man Utd, against Villa we witnessed a 5/10 per cent drop in our desire and commitment, which accounted for such a substantial difference between the two performances.

With fortune’s swings and roundabouts tendencies, there was an element of bad luck to both goals, with Gallas being drawn out of the centre because Sagna was on the deck for the first and with their being a blatant free-kick on Vela, before Villa broke to score their second. But despite my raging and ranting over Riley’s inconsistent refereeing, the result was nothing less than the visitors deserved.

Coming to our place on the back of two defeats, Martin O’Neill’s side were definitely the hungrier of the two teams. I lost track of the number of times Sidwell and his midfield cohorts picked our pocket, anticipating casual passes which lacked the crisp fizz of the previous week and how often we came out second best simply because Villa showed so much more desire.

Nowhere was this more obvious than in a comparison of our respective target men. It might have worked last week but I’m no fan of playing a lone striker on home turf, especially when it leads to us hoofing the ball up far too often. In truth I barely recall Bendtner winning a single aerial battle with Davies or Laursen, but even if he had, there was never anyone in the vicinity to latch on to the knock-down.

However I can forgive anyone a bad day at the office, so long as they work their socks off. Yet where Agbonlahor not only troubled our defence with his pace on the ball, off it we saw him tearing around, denying us the time to settle and prepared to hare back to prevent Walcott from hitting them on the counter. By contrast, from the way Bendtner strolled around when not in possession, I get the distinct impression that defending doesn’t come under his job description!

Most worrying of all on Saturday was our inability to trouble Brad Friedel, We’ve grown accustomed to making up for our inability to keep a clean sheet, by the number of goal-scoring opportunities we create at the other end of the pitch. Yet aside from Theo Walcott’s vivacious forays down the flank in the opening period, we rarely looked like threatening Friedel’s goal. Even when camped in their half of the pitch, trying to salvage a result, our probing was sufficiently flaccid, that at no time did one get the sense that an equaliser was imminent Never mind Creatine, perhaps a shot of Viagra is what’s needed to get the Gunners going!

Even in the Man Utd game Fabregas was guilty of giving the ball away far too often and although Cesc is always capable of conjuring up the odd defence splitting pass, in truth it’s hard to recall the last time the little wizard was really on his game. And where Denilson was so influential last time out, he returned to being woefully ineffectual against the likes of Sidwell and Barry.

Could complacency be responsible for their apparent inability to bring the same intensity to bear in every game, with them being a little too secure in their places on the first team squad? As I see it, the kids who’ve performed so impressively in the Carling Cup are perceived as a separate entity all together, when we really need them to be challenging for first team places as individuals, so as to ensure they pose sufficient a threat to keep everyone on their toes.

Otherwise we might be destined to a season long run of this frustrating Jeckyl & Hyde drama that could end up costing us dear, considering the widespread ramifications of failing to secure Champions League qualification.

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Anonymous said...

Well said man. Good article. A true gooner should support the team no matter what, support needed especially during the time when the team is having difficulties. Cheer up to our beloved Arsenal FC.

phatosas said...

I have been a long time reader of your blog and I appreciate you opinion. I have to ask, do we really have to be an under 21 team? I just cant see Arsenal being consistent when we have too many young players in the starting line up.

Anonymous said...

Great work, Bernard. Well done.

Anonymous said...

I am a Manchester United supporter and my favourite Premier League Matches throughout the season is when we face you (Arsenal)because win, draw or loose it is one hell of a match.I would say the best football in Europe is played when we meet and I have the utmost of respect for Arsene Wenger.

Man United Vs Arsenal is watched throughout the world with great anticipation.