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Monday 15 December 2008

All I Want For Xmas Is A Little Fighting Spirit (Oh Yes....And My Two Front Teeth!)

With the Gunners recent tendency to raise our game against top notch opposition, compared to our worryingly inept displays against the weaker teams, it might be argued that we could benefit from qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League as group runners up. In fact I could easily envisage us amazing the footballing world by blowing Barca’s dreams of European glory, only to make an embarrassing exit against the likes of Panathinaikos in the quarterfinals.

Nevertheless this is no argument for us losing to Porto last week, as it’s that all too elusive winning habit which is of paramount importance and there was certainly no sense of achievement amongst the disconsolate team who trudged off the pitch in Portugal.

Considering his insistence on towing the “100% committed” party line, I’m not so sure Le Prof will have approved of Almunia breaking ranks to tell it like it is. But I for one was pleased to hear our keeper’s “the king has no clothes” type comments concerning a lack of effort, in the heat of his frustration, in the immediate aftermath of yet another disappointing display.

Even the most blinkered, nay blind amongst the Gooner faithful will have sensed the air of disunity that exists in our dressing room. A mood made manifest on the pitch by players who, instead of rallying around one another, are all too rapidly looking to point the finger of blame.

Doubtless the façade of sweetness and light would soon be restored, if only we could string some back-to-back results. together But if it’s indeed true that you can best judge a person’s character in adversity, then Wenger’s current squad would appear to be woefully short on character and a little too long for my liking on players motivated by self-glorification and the prospect of lining their own pockets!

It wasn’t so long ago that the privilege of watching Arsène’s Arsenal play live was cheap at any price and worth all the hardship. However it’s not so surprising that I struggled to find anyone meshuga enough to want accompany me to Middlesbrough. Maybe it’s force of habit in my case, or the need to lend some credibility to these musings, but I have to admit that come 3pm on Saturday and facing a tortuous train journey back from Teeside, a point seemed a poor reward.

I was questioning the sanity of having blown the best part of 150 quid to travel to the North-East at the crack of dawn on a wet and depressingly gloomy winter’s day, only to be frozen stiff in a half-empty Riverside stadium, merely for the wind-up of yet another frustratingly fragile Arsenal performance. When I could’ve been at home screaming at the box, but with my feet up in front of the fire!

Then again, it’s far worse for my blood pressure watching such unsatisfying Arsenal displays on TV. Perhaps it’s that impotent feeling of not being able to influence proceedings, but for some strange reason I get far more angry watching live games on the telly, than when on the terraces. I always end up turning the air blue with my cussing and causing my missus to fret, as Róna’s convinced that the neighbours must think my torrents of abuse are directed at her.

Some players would have us believe that scoring a goal is better than sex. Well let me tell you that for us Gooners, the Arsenal experience at present is akin to the emasculated lack of fulfilment associated with very bad sex (or so I’m told!).

Perhaps the worst thing about Saturday’s failure to secure 3 points against such a patched up Boro side, was the tease of the 15-minute spell prior to Aliadière’s opportunistic equaliser, when we began to pass the ball around with all the one-touch élan of the Arsenal of old.
We couldn’t have wished for a more obvious example of our Jekyll & Hyde nature as we demonstrated how competent we are when everything’s hunky dory, but with our confidence currently so brittle, the moment things began to go awry, there’s no mistaking the complete dearth of anyone with the strength of personality, to act as rock around which the rest of the team can rally.

Worse still is that while the likes of Gael Clichy is first in line to be the fall-guy, by at least giving it a go, it would appear there are others who seem to think that it’s safer to shirk responsibility and avoid any blame. Amongst them, our keeper’s position on his high horse didn’t seem so secure, as although the peroxide one dashed off his line to sweep up on occasion, at other times Almunia appeared to prefer to stop at home, leaving his defence to do the job, when a commanding keeper would’ve come screaming out, brushing aside all in his way.

Unlike the confines of a boxing ring, perhaps you can run and hide on a football pitch. Yet if the TV cameras don’t pick it up, it’s patently obvious to those of us present, when uncommitted players are guilty of a jobsworth attitude, leaving others to mop up when the opposition has breached their particular domain on the park. To my mind total football doesn’t just apply when one is in possession and unless we defend as a team, we’re always going to come unstuck.

As ever, I can forgive anyone a bad day at the office, but considering the sacrifices we make to support the lads, you can’t help but feel cheated by a lack of graft and fighting spirit. Moreover it feels like a piss take if they’re capable of turning up the heat in the last 10 mins, when so many of them have been on the missing list for the previous 80?

The sight of Theo Walcott sporting a natty black sling (he might not have splashed out on an Audi R8, but no crap crepe bandage for our Theo) at the Sport’s Personality of the Year awards, only served to remind us how far he is from returning to the fray. I don’t see how Arsène can continue to claim our squad has sufficient depth, when he’s forced to play Diaby & Denilson on the flanks, where both do a pretty feeble impersonation of a winger. But then Wenger is far from alone, when it comes to ignoring the old “if you can’t go through ‘em, go around ‘em” adage, as neither Scolari nor Benitez appear to have a penchant for playing with natural wide men. Who am I to question the tactics of such luminaries, or at least not until Fergie makes fools of them all, when Man Utd win the title?

Meanwhile with Sunderland suddenly scoring goals with gay abandon, so soon after Roy Keane chose to quit the good ship Quinn (it’s utterly ridiculous that so many managers are under such intense pressure, when they all remain only a couple of good results away from mid-table security), Murphy’s Law was much in evidence this weekend.

I’ve grown positively ancient, waiting in vain for Spurs to do us a favour against Man Utd and it’s ironic that they finally get around to taking points off our nemesis, in the one season when it looks far more likely that we’ll end up worrying about the teams (hopefully!) below us, than what the title contenders are up to. What outrageous odds would one have got on a treble, with Hull and the Hammers taking points from Anfield and the Bridge! I’m not sure whether to be grateful that the gap hasn’t widened, while the top three all appear afflicted with a similarly inconsistent curse, or to start panicking about the momentum of Martin O’Neil’s enthusiastic troops.

Time and team spirit will tell?

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