Monday, 29 September 2008

To Err Is Human, To Forgive Is Divine

...and in contrast to our neighbours continued capitulation, I think we can afford a little forgiveness?
Nuff Love
Bernard
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From our seats in the lower, we had the perfect view, directly in line with Geovanni and Almunia’s goal, so that almost from the instant the Brazilian’s wonder strike left his boot and arced its way into the top, far corner of our net, I knew it was a Goal of the Month (if not Goal of the Season) contender.

Nevertheless, although there was nothing for it, but to graciously applaud the “worth the entrance fee alone” quality of Hull’s equaliser, the way in which the Gunners’ defence positively invited the Tiger’s midfielder to take his phenomenal potshot, by failing to exert the slightest pressure on the ball, was symptomatic of the sort of complacency, some might even say arrogance, that was responsible for Saturday evening’s upset. Doubtless this was the reason why Wenger was left spitting feathers, to the extent the he felt his team had afforded “too much room to West Brom”!

I can accept getting turned over by the better team on the day, but after satisfying victories on the road against Blackburn and Bolton, getting beat at home by Hull was a bitter pill to swallow, knowing we’ve the ability to give Premiership’s latest arrivistes a good hiding.
Sadly we once again witnessed the lack of that killer instinct that’s cost us dear in recent times and the absence of which could well prove to be the decisive difference between us and our principal rivals. It’s hard to imagine Chelsea or Man Utd letting Hull off the hook in a home game, after going a goal ahead and we were more than capable of killing this match off as a contest, after McShane helped the ball into his own net early in the second half, with Hull having finally been undone by one of Theo’s blistering bursts of pace.

Yet where against Sheffield Utd. the previous Tuesday night, Arsène’s young protégés had scored with gay abandon, almost every time they strode forward, on Saturday our more experienced players reverted to the same old allergy of wanting to walk the ball into the back of the net, seemingly lacking the youngsters carefree hunger and determination to grab the goal scoring responsibilities with both feet.

All credit to Hull, their fans and their manager. Even if Brown does look a prize plonker with his radio mic attached to his ear – I’m always half expecting him to break into a Boyzone song & dance routine and he very nearly did when the Tigers took a shock lead. Yet while their fans maintained a raucous racket throughout the 90, I sensed that their team couldn’t possibly sustain the same levels of commitment seen during the first-half, for the entire duration and was hoping our superior ability might begin to tell as fatigue set in.

However as it turned out, we failed to really test the Tigers fitness, as our own intensity dropped once we’d taken the lead and instead of going for their feline throat, we reverted to producing pretty passing patterns, as if we’d a divine right to achieve a two-goal cushion. It was bad enough that we were all gob-smacked when fate gifted our guests with such a humdinger of an equaliser, but when more slipshod marking saw us concede a second from yet another shamefully defended set-piece, there was a side of me that couldn’t help but feel that the vast majority of 60,000 present, who’d been sitting there in silence, expecting a perfunctory 3-point return to the top of the pile and the lackadaisical players who’d been found severely wanting for sufficient focus and concentration, had received exactly what they deserved, as these Premiership upstarts went and rubbed our faces in our elitist arrogance.

I mistakenly assumed that despite the tender average age of this Arsenal squad, there should be enough seasoned campaigners to appreciate (especially after our Craven Cottage wake-up call!) that there are no “gimmes” in the Premiership fixture list nowadays. Sure ourselves and a couple of our competitors might be blessed with sufficient talent to get away with giving less than 100% every now and again, but eventually you will get found out, in the fiery cauldron of a competition, where entire careers are on the line game by game. With the margin for error having become so slight in recent seasons, there is absolutely no room for complacency and ultimately the team that takes the ribbon in the Premiership marathon is invariably the outfit that’s best equipped to cope with this crucial fact.

Meanwhile if it’s true that “to err is human, to forgive is divine”, we Gooners will all be a little closer to G-d if we put things right against Porto, even if those of us of the Jewish persuasion should be praying in a different temple altogether on the occasion of our New Year. Although after spending Saturday morning fretting about making it to the match, whilst delayed in Dublin airport, I doubt my pal’s son Danny was feeling too forgiving, when he returned back to school in Kildare on Monday morning, to face a barrage of scorn from the Man U brigade!
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Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Whaddabout those kids eh!

Considering James Beattie was being touted as the new Alan Shearer not so long ago, while the goal scorers tonight will doubtless steal all the glory, I think we must also give plenty of credit to the likes of Djourou and Song for not giving Sheffield a sniff (did Fabianski have a save to make?)

These two performed particularly well as a CB partnership and I am increasingly impressed by Djourou the more I see of him. Aside from having that Rio Ferdinand type confidence on the ball, which makes him equally happy to be steaming into the opposition's penalty area, the Swiss lad has some massive cahones, as he's incredibly cool under pressure

In the past I've wondered if perhaps Johann was a little bit too cool, in the sense that I thought he might be guaranteed to end up getting caught out attempting a dragback on the edge of our own area and losing out, with only the goalkeeper to beat. Nevertheless I admire the confidence that has him believing he's good enough to get away with it and I have to admit that I am a lot happier having someone with his apparent composure under fire, than the sort of frantic defending that we are all too often in the habit of practicing.

And big respek to everyone else. A couple of Carlos' goals were absolute peaches and young Jack Wilshere went a long way to enhancing his burgeoning reputation. Even though he's still such a schnip of a lad, apparently it's not a problem with his low centre of gravity, even against the Sheff Utd bruisers and old warhorses like Gary Speed (isn't Speed old enough to be Wilshere's dad - how embarrassing for him must that have been!)

Whilst I am at it, anyone know what the connection is between Wilshere and Sheff Utd's Chris Morgan, as the two of them had a long exchange after the final whistle and looked to be very close?

Finally the hole in the wall at Highbury House had been emptied of cash and so I didn't end up getting a program, but from what I read of Wenger's notes in a copy I borrowed at half-time, Arsene appeared to be making the point, so that there should be absolutely no confusion, that he will be keeping faith with the youngster's, no matter how far we progress in the competition. And I for one am glad he's come out straight away and quashed any suggestion that he should start introducing more experienced players in the latter stages, as at least this way there should be no prospect of him being put under pressure by fans and media, merely because of supposedly being desperate for a sniff of some silverware

Personally I have always believed it's correct to play the same team that has got us there and when you start throwing in the odd experienced player, they become a team of strangers anyway. For my money, you can't betray the kids who will hopefully get us there and start suggesting that you don't have sufficient confidence in their abilities, certainly not for the mere reward of this Mickey Mouse trophy. Besides on current form, I'd be perfectly confident of this lot giving the neighbours a good hiding

Big Love
Bernard

Monday, 22 September 2008

Can We Play In Lancashire Every Week?

It wasn’t so long ago that there was an inevitable sense of foreboding about our outings to the North-West. Even on Saturday, as I strolled towards the Reebok, admiring its pleasant rural setting (if you ignore the ubiquitous adjacent retail park) in the late afternoon sunshine of our Indian Summer, considering our long trek back from Kiev in midweek and the news that Van Persie and Theo had been left on the bench, I have to admit that I would’ve been happy to accept a draw.

I don’t think that under the stewardship of messrs Megson and Ince, the manner in which their respective sides attempt to shackle the Arsenal’s silky skills is any less robust. Thus it would appear that we are learning to cope with these more muscular encounters, without getting rattled. What’s more, with our impressive form of late, the physicality of our opponents is only really a factor at set-pieces. In open play, for the majority of the time the pace of our passing is so rapid that strength just doesn’t come into it, if they simply can’t catch up with the ball.

The more inappropriate the “don’t like it up ‘em” sobriquet becomes, the less our opponents focus on tying to kick the crap out of us and as we’ve witnessed in the last couple of games, in a straight contest of ability, there’s only likely to be one winner. In fact, compared to the uncompromising, route one footie we’ve grown accustomed to from the Trotters in recent times, I can rarely recall a Bolton display that was more pleasing on the eye.

However, with the Gunners having been galvanised by going a goal down, we should really have been home and hosed by half-time, as we were all hypnotised by a positively breathtaking half hour spell, during which we virtually laid siege to Jaaskelainen’s goal, weaving scintillating waves of the very best of Wenger-ball. But there was no disgrace upon the home side in this demonstration of the huge gulf in class. Bolton, Blackburn and most other Premiership sides are likely to find that resistance is futile, when we’ve all guns blazing in such a fabulous fashion.

Meanwhile, considering Clichy was left to hobble home on crutches, I think it’s safe to assume that the likes of Davies and Nolan are hardly practicing for their Boy Scout badges in hospitality! Don’t get me wrong, in the words of Mark Lawrenson, I don’t want to see football turned into a game for “Jessies”, as to my mind (as a former full-back in my all too dim and distant youth), it wouldn’t be nearly so beautiful without a balance between the physical contest and the fleet footed artistry.

Doubtless I’m in the minority, but with Davies seemingly totally focused on the ball, I felt it was merely a typically committed, “let them know you are there” type full-blooded tackle, with no apparent malice involved. However while our manager’s acerbic comments might not be entirely without motive (since Arsène is obliged to seek any advantage by focusing officials’ minds on offering us more protection), it’s perhaps not so surprising that we remain a tad irascible, with the images of Eduardo’s dreadfully distorted limb still fresh in our minds.

Perhaps it’s their fading memories of former glory but something seems to inspire Davies and Nolan to raise their game against the Gunners. In our centre-backs’ shoes, these bellicose Bolton stalwarts would probably be two of my least favourite opponents as they invariably prove to be such a handful. Then again, watching the replay of Bolton’s goal on the big screen at half-time, Clichy appeared to be somewhat culpable. We might have kept a clean sheet if he hadn’t strayed from his post.

Although it could just as easily have been all-square at the break, if it wasn’t for Kolo’s goal saving tackle, where I had to marvel at how he managed to avoid conceding a penalty. But it’s both a compliment and a criticism, as where our main competitors might have the defensive composure to avoid getting themselves into such a pickle, Touré and Gallas are all too often forced to use their pace and their ability as a frantic “get out of jail” card, for a situation which shouldn’t have been allowed to develop in the first place.

We rarely appear as secure at the back as Man U or Chelsea, but unlike all those who feel our centre-backs lack sufficient height, I tend to believe the solution lies in a keeper capable of dominating his area. Almunia performed well again on Saturday and as a shot-stopper, I’ve absolutely no complaints. But against a team with Bolton’s aerial strength, the key to defensive composure lies in the centre-backs having complete confidence in a keeper who’s going to come barrelling out to use the 3 foot advantage of their arms, rather than timidly being blocked off on their line.

I found myself chuckling as we serenaded Ewood Park last weekend, with a sarcastic chorus of “You’ve only come to see Eboué”. Whereas a reprise of the same ditty on Saturday was both amusing and accurate, as even the biased Northern pundit on BBC Radio Manchester admitted at the break that our Ivorian hothead had run the show up until then.

However trust the Arsenal to fail to capitalise on their dominance, leaving us without the comfort of a two-goal cushion to luxuriate on second half. Instead of which, as the intensity of Eboué and his teammates diminished after the break, the tension on our terrace behind the goal increased, knowing we were only a hoof up field, or a set-piece away from being knocked off our top of the table perch.

Neither Sagna nor Djourou looked particularly comfortable playing out of position after Clichy’s departure. Moving Gallas to left-back seemed the more logical solution, but what do I know? All credit to Bolton, buoyed by their drummer boy, their crowd maintained a relentless racket, inspiring the home side to continue to chip away at any frailty on our flanks.

Thankfully Le Prof produced our “pocket rocket” with 15 minutes left on the clock. Theo’s injection of energy and dynamism eventually resulted in Denilson slotting home the “get this party started” third goal, enabling us to give vent to all that second half tension, by way of a lusty last five minutes “top of the league” chorus.

Obviously you win nothing in September and it remains to be seen how the depth of our squad stands up to the test of the winter months ahead. But there was little in Sunday’s big clash at the Bridge to suggest we have anything to be scared off (apart perhaps from the lack of solidity required to grind out 1-0 wins). In the meantime, hopefully all the pundits will continue writing off our prospects, as we continue to savour just about the most enthralling entertainment in the country. And for all their millions, we have the advantage over Man City of a Premiership table with North London bookends that has rarely looked more satisfying!

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Monday, 15 September 2008

Let's All Laugh At Tottenham

Hi Folks

I thought I'd better get this sent out before Spurs sneak a result against Villa and start to soar to the heady heights just out of the relegation zone! I refuse to buy the News of the Screws, because I abhor their infamous "agent provocateur" efforts to create their own scandals. However it doesn't stop me glancing at the back pages when Ro occasionally comes home with a copy. There was a piece about Theo Walcott in Sunday's edition by Andy Dunn which made me chuckle, where in reference to Theo's new contract Dunn writes:

One England team-mate - well, squad-mate - would apparently urge him to think twice before signing it, if his comments of six months ago still stand.

"If he is not getting the minutes at Arsenal, Theo is going to have to look elsewhere. You want to play football and you want to make money as well," said David Bentley, now of bottom-of-the-table Tottenham.

Of course. Heaven forbid you might want to study under the most intelligent, most creative manager in the Premier League.

After all, what is the point of becoming a supremely accomplished player - and learning a style of play that thrills and inspires - when you could be making a pot of dough at a comedy club?



Peace & Love
Bernard
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I’m not sure if it was my imagination, but as I studied the players through my binoculars when they trotted out at Ewood Park on Saturday, I sensed a distinct difference in Theo Walcott’s demeanour. As he received the grateful applause of the Rovers fans, the somewhat diffident teenager who’d departed the pitch at our place two weeks back seemed to have been transformed into a cocksure star, with the sort of confident swagger of a player who’s suddenly realised he has the potential to put the fear of god into any opposition.

As far as I’m concerned the International breaks are an annoying interruption to Arsenal business, but I was nonetheless chuffed to bits, to see our boy wonder bag his England hat-trick and receive all the plaudits, from those same pundits (eg. Hansen) who’d only recently expressed their doubts as to whether Walcott was the real deal.

Frankly they were not alone, as Theo’s ability and his blistering pace have been evident from day one, but aside from the odd cameo role, coming on as an impact sub, his inability up until now, to live up to our massive expectations, meant that the vast majority of Gooners had begun to wonder whether there was a vital missing ingredient. Walcott’s all too frequently suspect decision-making had even caused me to question whether he possessed the necessary footballing brain.

However, where our patience might have worn thin with another player, there was never the slightest chance of us giving up on him. He might only have been at the club a couple of seasons but Theo feels like one of us. I recall seeing a kid wearing a Walcott shirt at a motorway service station a while back and my pal pointing out that the youngster was accompanied by Theo’s dad. I can’t picture the parents of too many Premiership players schlepping all over the country, supporting their progeny, along with the rest of the travelling hordes?

As ever, confidence is the key and instead of the customary groan of frustration as Theo galloped down another blind alley, there was a buzz of anticipation at Blackburn, every time he touched the ball. Two weeks back he’d have taken on one player too many, but with his jinking run only 8 minutes in, ending in a perfectly timed and weighted pass to set up Van Persie for our first, this was further evidence that events during his time in Capello’s camp had resulted in a metamorphosis, from a timid chrysalis into a bold and beautiful butterfly. Never mind caffeine saturated soft-drinks, in Walcott’s case it would appear that a hat-trick against Croatia has given him wings.

Meanwhile it was Manny Adebayor’s turn to fill his boots against Blackburn, with another 3-goal haul that went a long way towards repairing his fractured relationship with all those Gooners, who’d previously bemoaned “Greedy-bayor’s” efforts to hold the club to ransom.
Like everyone else, football players need to feel loved and prior to playing Rovers I’m sure that our ambivalent attitude towards Ade must’ve had some impact on his performances. Whereas Saturday’s chest-thumping, badge-kissing goal celebrations demonstrated quite how delighted he was to hear the entire terrace behind the goal resounding to the tune of our Togolese striker’s song.

Adebayor’s control and his first-touch continue to leave a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, for some inexplicable reason, far from hindering him, Manny’s ungainly efforts somehow seem to assist in his prolific goalscoring feats. Saturday’s hat-trick also put paid to any one season wonder apprehension and waylaid concerns that we might’ve been better off cashing in on him.

The 27 passes which concluded with Denilson’s pinpoint cross onto Manny’s head for him to head home our second, just before the half-time whistle, was vintage Wenger-ball and virtually killed Rovers off. Yet few present will disagree that the final 4-0 scoreline was just a tad flattering.

It was the Beatles who sang about the 4000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire. Much to my consternation, more than a few of these were to be found at the heart of the Gunners’ defence. Observing our lack of composure in dealing with set pieces, if I have one principal grievance about Gallas as our captain, it’s that neither he (nor anyone else!) appears to take command of such situations.

In his ability to unsettle centrebacks, Santa Cruz reminded us why there was so much interest in him during the summer. But ultimately Rovers failure to take advantage of our defensive insecurity provided Le Prof with the luxury of handing Ramsey and Wilshere (the Arsenal’s youngest ever) brief league debuts, as Wenger tries to break-in more young starlets, before the relentless 2 game a week schedule begins to take its toll on our squad.

It’s a great time for these young Guns, as they’re likely to be afforded plenty more opportunities over the next 4 months, for them to prove our manager’s parsimony in the transfer market correct, so that Wenger might avoid the aberration of a cash-splashing readjustment come the January window.

One only had to consider the host of unfamiliar names lining for all the other sides on MOTD later that night, to appreciate quite what a lonely course Arsène has plotted, compared to most of his peers. Doubtless the “told you so” crew will be queuing up to crow, the moment our campaign begins to go off the rails. Yet with 3 clean sheets and 11 goals to show for our last 3 outings and with our big-spending neighbours languishing on the bottom, for the moment at least, le gaffer continues to look more genius than crackpot.
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Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Will Arsène Be Sporting Kevlar PJs, or The Emperor's New Clothes?

Hi folks,

Apologies to any subscribers to the Arsenal Mailing List, as some of you might have already read much of the following because I've ended up regurgitating much of what I wrote in a couple of posts to the list.

But then it's never easy to conjure up Arsenal content (or I should say, original Arsenal content) during an International break and I must admit that I was in a bit of a rush to get my piece for the Irish Examiner written, so that I could concentrate on Andy Murray's vain attempt to subdue Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows, as sadly, after the physical and more significantly the mental exertions of the past couple of days, he struggled to rekindle the sort of fire I'd witnessed in an amazing quarter and an even more astonishing semifinal.

In fact I'm not sure if it's a reflection of how engrossing the tennis was, or how disinterested I was in events from Barcelona, but Andorra v England was such an unappetising prospect that when I got in the car on Saturday night to drive to a family do, I was actually gutted to discover that I could only find live coverage of the footie on the radio, when all I wanted to hear was how Murray was faring in his tie-break with Nadal.

I guess the answer is either for Capello to get a more alluring performance out of his England squad pronto, or for me to get a new motor - one with a digital radio, where I could've listened to the coverage of the tennis on Five Live Extra!

Meanwhile those of you who sometimes find my missives a little too long-winded, will be relieved to discover that I'm so cream crackered from commuting to Kent and back, working for the ballet, that I'm desperate to hit the sack. So without further ado.....

Nuff Love
Bernard
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Any feint hopes I might’ve had of the Arsenal flashing up on the Sky Sports News ticker, during that frantic last day of summer transfer business, evaporated when I flicked over to watch the stiffs play live on Arsenal TV. Mind you that’s a misnomer nowadays, if ever I heard one, considering the tender average age of our current crop of reserves.

While other managers were busy studying YouTube videos of the few remaining mercenaries left on the market, our glorious leader was sitting in the stands at Underhill, maintaining a keen interest in the progress of his young prodigies, against a Chelsea reserve side that included Drogba.

Then again we’ve all heard since how Mark Hughes was supposedly working on his golf handicap, when his club smashed the British transfer record (where’d he find a floodlit course?). Yet in contrast to the current trend at most other top-flight clubs, ever since the fractious departure of David Dein, the Gunners have been without the matching shirt & tie set, sort of slippery businessman to conduct all the shady, behind closed doors negotiations.

Thus until Wenger is able wash his hands of the more squalid and in recent weeks, somewhat obscene side of the beautiful game and the Gunners eventually get around to employing someone with an endless supply of Type “O” to keep the leeches of the footballing world, the unscrupulous agents satiated, it’s obvious that unless Arsène is at his desk (or at least on the blower), the Arsenal aren’t doing any transfer business.

It’s true that I might continue to covet a truly world class keeper and I might’ve been happier if our midfield had been fortified with an experienced enforcer (or two), rather than having to count on the kids being able to cut the mustard, when injuries and suspensions inevitably begin to take their toll on our first XI. Nevertheless I wasn’t disappointed and even felt an inexplicable amount of hubris, as the club I love maintained a dignified distance from the sensationalist shenanigans that have rocked football to its very foundations these past couple of weeks.

Obviously I might feel a little different if I’d suffered the ignominy of being a long-suffering supporter of an outfit that's lived in the shadow of it’s immediate neighbour for nearly half a century (City or Spurs?), or who’ve spent almost an entire lifetime hankering after a slice of the glory. However I was listening to radio host Danny Kelly drawing some interesting conclusions the other day.

The bombastic bearded old goat, Ken Bates drove Chelsea so close to the precipice of financial ruin, in his vain pursuit of a lasting legacy, that he was forced to flog the club for the princely sum of a quid. Similarly, allegedly the Arsenal supporting billionaire from Abu Dhabi focused his attention on Man City, a club that was fraught with financial trouble after Thaksin’s somewhat dubious fortune had been impounded by the Thai government. Therefore according to Kelly, the moral of the story would appear to be that in order to make oneself more attractive (than a relatively sound organisation like the Arsenal) to a sugar-daddy with seemingly bottomless pockets, clubs would be best advised to recklessly spend their way to the point of oblivion!

As Uzbek oligarch Usmanov has discovered, the depth of ones pockets doesn’t make the buying of the Arsenal any easier a business, with so many of the club shares in private hands. What’s more, I for one am quite happy that the Arsenal are so reluctant to sell their soul to the devil, but whatever your feelings about a billionaire backer, we Gooners can forget it in the immediate future, as our club would appear to be guaranteed a relatively stable short-term destiny, by nature of the lockdown agreement between all of our major shareholders, preventing them selling their interest to outside investors until 2012.

David Dein’s oft quoted metaphor about the Russians parking their tanks on the lawn and firing fifty pound notes at us, seems ever more appropriate. I’m fairly certain that Arsène would’ve added to our squad if he’d been able to do the deals he wanted, at the price he was prepared to pay, to offer some cover to ensure he isn’t forced into throwing inexperienced youngsters to the lions in any crunch games. Yet if one thing is certain, it’s that our manager is nobody’s fool and if he’s flying in the face of the opinion of virtually every pundit on the planet, I’ve got to believe he has good reason. Steve Bould believes there are 7 or 8 kids amongst his current Academy crop, including the likes of Jack Wilshere, who are capable of making the grade.

It seems evident to me that Arsène has sufficient faith in an exciting vintage of homegrown produce that he’s convinced they offer the protection of a pair of Kevlar PJs which will be impregnable to the mercenaries ammo, enabling the Arsenal to put the welcome mat out for all comers (tanks and all!). Should le Prof be proved correct, our success will taste all the sweeter, knowing the rest of the footballing world is dining on humble pie. And even if we fail, aside from all the entertainment we are guaranteed along the way, compared to the short term aspirations of those all around us, we'll be safe in the knowledge that le gaffer’s determination to play the long game is destined to foster a team spirit that might reward us with a successful dynasty, instead of putting all the club’s eggs into a single, increasingly elusive silver pot.

So long as we don't all end up suffering a severe bout of influenza due to the revelation that the boss is actually coming to the door, wearing nothing but the Emperor's New Clothes!

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Monday, 1 September 2008

He Who Laughs Last.....

The benefit of Saturday’s 5.30 kick-off was that it enabled the Kerry couple and their two kids to do the rounds of the museums, before meeting up with me. Three of the four were Man Utd fans and while Mum and the eldest boy were heading back to the hotel, the definition of devotion was demonstrated by Dad, who was taking his Arsenal supporting youngest to his first ever live game.

It wasn’t the wonders of the Science, or Natural History museums but the bizarre displays at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, which were the biggest hit with the kids. And for a while there on Saturday, they could’ve been forgiven for wondering if they were still amongst some of the planets strangest phenomenons, as they experienced the unprecedented sound of the more fickle members of the Arsenal faithful, begrudgingly singing the praises of Manny Eboué , after the Ivorian hothead had set up our second goal with his perceptive backheel.

Moreover, as we savoured a reassuring taste of the sort of entertaining entrées that we Gooners can hopefully look forward to gorging on as the season progresses, while basking in the warmth of the balmy early evening sunshine, there was a sense that the golden orb was taking one welcome last bow before its premature winter retirement, specifically to light the stage for the minor miracle that is Arsène’s Arsenal.

I doubt Wenger will thank his director, Danny Fiszman for alluding to the size of our war chest in the media in midweek and as I write, it remains to be seen whether he actually ends up spending any of the ALLEGED £30 million available to him. Le Boss is a stubborn bugger who certainly won’t be buying players merely to pander to media and fan pressure to bolster his squad. Nor will his pride allow him to be held over a barrel by any selling club and I suspect he’d rather walk away, than be forced to pay over the odds.

Yet if last week’s woeful effort at Fulham was a wallet loosening exercise, I wonder if Saturday’s victory might have the opposite effect and unless the player(s!) he’s interested in is available at the price he values them at, Arsène will have absolutely no qualms about sticking to his guns and continuing to swim against the tide of Premiership opposition, who’ve managed to convince the guardians of their respective purse-strings that they can spend their way into contention.

Ask me again, after awkward consecutive away games at Blackburn, Kiev and Bolton, if I concur with le gaffer’s philosophy, as I’m not going to get carried away, merely because we made hay with our mazy passing patterns, against Keegan’s Toon. Some might consider it naïve, but unlike many opponents they never come to our place intent on merely shutting shop and this usually results in the sort of open contest, which often encourages the best out of us.

Cesc Fabregas’ midweek return against FC Twente was the perfect cure for our Craven Cottage hangover as our little Franco restored the fluency, which had been so sorely missed until then and with the resulting four goals, we welcomed back the all important feelgood factor.

Then on Saturday we were aided and abetted by Rob Styles’ award of an 18th minute penalty. It helped to extinguish any remaining ambitions of the Toon team that had done us the favour of denying Man Utd 3 points at Old Trafford and any remaining Arsenal butterflies were banished as Robin Van Persie emphatically banged his spot-kick into the back of the net. With the sun on their backs and a goal to the good, the Gunners began to relax sufficiently for the natural quality of our sumptuous passing game to shine.

Even Van Persie, who’d been waiting far too patiently for the perfect goal scoring opportunity to come a knocking in the opening couple of games, was transformed into an influential contributor, intent on making things happen. The whole stadium held its collective breath as the Dutchman hobbled off, hoping against hope that this timely reminder of his class wasn’t about to be interrupted by yet another injury.

Nevertheless, nothing was going to put a dampener on what ultimately proved to be a good day to be a Gooner, as Carlos Vela came off the bench to offer a cameo display of his Eduardo like abilities. Minutes earlier Wenger was making like the proud dad, applauding on the touchline as Denilson iced the cake with the Arsenal’s third, capping a lavish flowing move with his debut league goal.

I’m yet to be convinced of the Brazilian’s ability to impose himself as Cesc’s midfield partner. It worries me how often he allows opponents to get goalside and ends up conceding free-kicks, when forced to tackle from behind.

It feels as if it’s become almost obligatory for an International fortnight to be timed to coincide with the Gunners hitting good form. However, signings or no, hopefully the three games on the road when we reconvene will prove to be the boarding ramp for us all to begin sharing Arsène’s unshakeable belief in his squad.

Much like the lad from Kerry, you have to admire the strength of such conviction, as the less well-trodden path is often the loneliest. Yet just as I imagined the youngster gleefully returning to their hotel to “give it large” to his big brother, I pray that it’s le gaffer having the last laugh come May.

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