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Monday 1 December 2008

BOGOF Blues (or "Foccacia")

Hi folks

So much to gloat about and as ever, so few words with which to do it in, with me becoming increasingly paranoid about pissing off the Examiner sports ed that I sit here pairing down every last phrase to its minimum word requirements. As a result, I fully intend on expanding on my joy over yesterday's triumph, a success which was made all the sweeter because of the bitter pills we've had to swallow in recent weeks. But with the ballet going into the Coliseum this week for the Xmas season, I thought I'd better get this piece posted, in case I don't get an opportunity to pontificate further on the positives of a great day out at the Bridge.

For example on the face of it, the consequences of William Gallas' misguided comments don't appear to be all bad, since Robin Van Persie suddenly looks as if he has a lot more to prove. What's more there were at least a couple of occasions yesterday when I was concerned that Robin the boy wonder looked to be feeling so hard done by, that I was worried he might end up doing something silly, in a typically hotheaded attempt to seek retribution. Instead of which, I thought I perceived a new found air of responsibility towards the cause from the way in which he appeared to exercise some self-control.

Not to mention Johann Djourou, who could've easily let the own goal ruin his day but the manner in which he carried on as if it hadn't happened, Djourou increasingly impresses me as an incredibly cool customer. I seem to recall one instance where Johann committed the cardinal sin of passing across his own back line and for a second my heart was in my mouth, as it would've been total suicide if this pass had been intercepted on the edge of our own area. But it was merely another demonstration of quite how confident the Swiss lad is in his own ability. Meanwhile although William Gallas was always going to be bang up for not giving an inch to his old employers, the two of them provided as composed a centre-back partnership as we've witnessed for a while

But if I'm not careful I will have rambled on into the lengthy preamble that I was saving for later.

So here's to following Sunday's victory up with another scintillating show from the kids at Burnley

Come on you Reds
Peace & Love

Doubtless my Chelsea supporting colleague in the Irish Examiner might point to the fact that the most telling difference in Sunday’s derby duel was that we gobbled up our two goal-scoring opportunities, while all bar one of the Blues scant attempts to breach the Gunners bulwark were wayward. However there was something in the way our Dutch striker seized upon his two glimpses of goal, in such a ravenous fashion, which spoke volumes as to Van Persie’s appetite.

After the torment of eating more dirt this past month than we’ve had to endure in many a moon, from where I sat behind the goal at the Bridge, I sensed that both in the stands and out on the park, the Arsenal were that much hungrier than the home side. In fact it was almost worth getting mullahed by Man City, if it proved the inspiration for this demonstration that there remains only “one team in London!”

Yet after the disappointment of the two defeats that followed our win against Man Utd, there will be few Gooners who’ll be deluded by another potential false dawn, at least not until we’ve passed the more prosaic “park the bus” tests, posed by the likes of Wigan and Boro in the coming weeks.

As we invariably seem to give such a good account of ourselves against the top teams, I’ve often wondered whether it’s a lack of motivation that results in us appearing somewhat enervated against less formidable opposition. But I’ve since come to the conclusion that these glamour games are quite liberating, knowing that we’re likely to be afforded an opportunity to express ourselves in a genuine contest of football ability. By contrast, against the league’s lesser lights, we’re perhaps inhibited by a sense of apprehension, caused by our familiarity with the frustration of having to contend with the opposition’s spoiler tactics

Nevertheless, this isn’t an excuse which applies to last week’s capitulation at Eastlands. I only began to appreciate quite how woefully poor our performance against City was, watching Man Utd make such light work of carving City open, during the first course in Sunday’s derby smorgasbord.

Perhaps the only benefit to being cast somewhat adrift from the top of the table, is that one can savour our success against the Blues, without losing any sleep about the prospect of giving Liverpool a leg-up and without giving a hoot about how Man Utd fared. In fact, after my Spurs pal had pointed out that they could end up only 5 points behind us come Monday morning, I was far more delighted to hear that the Toffees had turned Tottenham over, than I would’ve been if City had managed to get another one over on their local rivals.

It certainly resulted in a lot more pleasure, reminding some of my mates that Harry’s Houdini act was already old hat, with them only goal difference away from a relegation zone reunion, while we’d rejoined the elite, only 4 points away from amassing double their meagre total. Still I don’t think there’s a player in the Premiership who’s responsible for more Shadenfreude than Ronaldo (who reminds me of a Lipizzaner horse, when he gets stuck in step-over mode) and having got himself sent off and with only a goal in their game, it was hard to tear myself away from the TV in time to make KO at the Bridge.

I ended up typically tardy, nearly losing my rag along with all the other Gooners caught up in long turnstile queues resulting from the stewards’ gratuitous delays (“no I’m not pleased to see you, that’s a mobile in my pocket”). I felt we held our own for much of the first-half, until the period of pressure which resulted in Djourou’s mishap. Athough Almunia was equally culpable for the OG, gifting them possession with his reckless throw-out. But then, with our confidence having taken such a hiding in recent weeks, we seemed to visibly wilt.

It’s interesting to note that Malouda was the only natural wide-man on the park for either team and he spent his afternoon in Sagna’s pocket. Chelsea’s only outlet on the flanks and their best player before the break was Bosingwa. It was only later that it occurred to me that their full-back might’ve been forced to curb his attacking instincts in the second-half, as Nasri came into the game more.

Far from being downhearted at half-time, I was happy to still be involved in a close fought contest, as a performance like last week’s fiasco might’ve seen us played off the park. A reprise of last season’s “buy one, get one free” goading, in response to the Blues ticket sales announcements was the source of some much needed merriment, having just been mugged of £3.50 for a bit of bread with half on olive on top. I thought the bloke behind the counter was having a pop at me, with his “Foccacia” response to my enquiry as to the things beside the pasties.

Van Persie’s timely two-goal intervention on the hour was just the spark that was needed to expunge any “men against boys” insecurities, as suddenly everyone in red & white appeared to increase in stature by 6 inches. Without the driving force of the likes of Essien, Chelsea seem to lack some of the “never say die” spirit, which would’ve normally had me holding my breath until the last kick of the ball and while my heart was in my mouth on the odd occasion, on the pitch we were far more composed in defence, than I can remember us being for a long while.

Above all, it was poetic justice that Clichy completely outshone Cashley, but then nearly all the Gunners deserve credit for their committed performances. Even Denilson and Song, despite frustrating the hell out of me with their habit of conceding naïve free-kicks, as a result of the lapses that all too often allow an opponent to get goalside.

My one real broadside is reserved for Adebayor, as despite setting up our second goal, for much of the game I was quite frankly flabbergasted by his apparent lack of enthusiasm. That I was so eager for the Togonator to be replaced by Bendtner (who’s hardly Mr Selfless in my eyes), tells you all you need to know and “foccacia” would’ve sounded like a compliment, compared to the way in which the bloke behind was coating off the lazy lummox.

Not wanting to end on a negative, I immediately phoned my sister on exiting the Bridge, to advise her (albeit in guarded tones since I was surrounded by Blues fans) that she was OK to go into work on Monday and to encourage her to “give it large” to her Chelsea supporting partner. She replied “you must be joking, after the stick I’ve suffered from him these past few weeks, I could be on my deathbed and I’d have them carry me in tomorrow!”

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