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Thursday 31 December 2009

We've Only Got One Song.....Sadly!

It was only as a result of a couple of extremely gratifying comments on last week's blog entry that I remembered I'd neglected to post out the missive I wrote Sunday night. Having written it for Wednesday's edition of the Examiner, I thought I might as well post it on Wednesday, before the Pompey match, as then I wouldn't need to amend it. But what with working such long hours these past couple of weeks, it was easy to forget.

So it might be a little outdated by now but I guess better late than never (a phrase that will undoubtedly end up inscribed on my tombstone!).

I was gutted not to be at Fratton Park, but I simply can't take the piss at work, having agreed to do this six week Xmas season at the Coliseum. I've got to be selective and pick my battles about which matches to try and slip away for. I should really flog my ticket for Upton Park on Sunday as we've got a matinée that afternoon, followed by an all-nighter, getting out Nutcracker and getting in Snow Queen and fitting it up (which I'm positively dreading as these are the two biggest shows in the companies rep), but I'm still clinging on to it in the feint hope I might be able to get there.

I ended up listening to the first-half of Wednesday's game on Radio 5 live Sports Extra, via an earpiece and my iPhone (with it being a digital station), whilst working on stage and fortunately I was able to keep a lid on my celebrations when Eduardo's deflected goal went it, as otherwise I might've ended up joining the corp de ballet on stage, prancing about with all the dainty dancers dressed as snowflakes!

Fortunately I was able to slip away immediately after the interval change, following the first act. It was suggested by one of my colleagues on the crew that I'd be home in time to watch the second-half. Yet while the motorbike is brilliant for bypassing all the traffic, in this freezing cold, wet weather, it takes me fifteen minutes to get all the gear on and off. So he jokingly suggested I do the interval change in my leather jacket, rainproof coat and trousers, fluorescent band, balaclava, two pairs of gloves and crash helmet. However, instead of being discrete about slipping away early, this might've put a few noses out of joint, by kind of advertising the fact. Mind you, it's not that uncommon that the local crew are so lagging after a long day nipping in and out of the boozer next door, that a crash helmet on stage isn't such a bad idea!

In the end, after a mad dash back, I did make it home in time for the start of the second half and all that effort was certainly worth it, if only to have seen Aaron Ramsey's peach of a goal. It's often the case that I can't work out what the opposition fans are singing (usually the warblings of many of those Northern monkeys), but it's often impossible to distinguish the chants while listening / watching on the box. You often can't tell which end the noise is coming from, let alone what they're singing and on Wednesday I thought I was missing out on the introduction of new material to the Gooner repertoire, until it dawned on me that it was actually the home fans seemingly making most of the noise, or should I say making the noise being picked up by the TV mics, as I've often attended games where subsequent TV broadcasts have failed to represent quite how vociferous we've been.

But I realised that much of what I was hearing was the Pompey fans taking the piss out of their own club's financial mismanagement and it was a real wind up not bein able to work out the words to many of their chants. Judging by this performance, Pompey don't deserve such staunch support. Although it's true that the much publicized problems paying the players' wages could well have been a big factor in the home team's dismal display, to my mind they played as if they'd already accepted defeat before even stepping onto the pitch on Wednesday night.

Mind you if the Pompey players couldn't score in the proverbial brothel, rumour has it that their manager can, as I was told that it was Avram Grant who was the subject of the scurrilous 'red top' story last week. Perhaps more worryingly for Pompey fans, it doesn't say much about the Israeli's management skills, that he didn't possess the motivational powers to gee his side up, to at least come out and try to win the second half. From the little I've seen of the South coast side this season, they've not looked as lacklustre as they did on Wednesday, but if they continue playing in this fashion, they'll be surefire certainties for the drop.

Perhaps with the Inland Revenue's winding up order and the wage problems, we caught them on a bad day (or a good one, from our point of view). Some might suggest that we should've been able to capitalise with a few more goals than the four we ended up scoring. We certainly should've avoided the lapse in concentration that cost us a clean sheet, but in truth, from here on in, all that really matters is the three points. Subsequent opponents aren't going to look at our last result and think it was flattering, they're (hopefully) going to feel intimidated by the fact that even without the influential likes of Fabregas & Van Persie, we still managed to score four goals and continue building some crucial momentum.

Now all we've got to do is to keep this up with Sunday's FA Cup encounter, thankfully against a West Ham side deprived of most of their midfield (including Scott Parker, who I've been particularly impressed with when I've watched the Irons recently). Carlton Cole is also a massive loss for them but Franco and Diamante have also looked quite useful. No matter what side Wenger puts out, we simply can't afford to be complacent because as Chelsea demonstrated with their dip in form, following their exit from the Carling Cup against Blackburn, resting star players and giving the youngsters a run out isn't anywhere near so important as maintaining that winning feeling.

Wishing all you Gooners everywhere a happy & healthy New Year (and hopefully a silverware laden 2010.. you never know?)

Come on you Reds

Peace & Love



With Aston Villa in such fine recent fettle, Sunday’s clash was always likely to be a stiff test. But when the Gunners lined up with our talismanic skipper on the bench, still nursing a tight hamstring, I have to admit that I feared for the worst.

Although I’m highly embarrassed to admit that ‘el capitaine’ wasn’t the only absentee at kick-off on Sunday. I imagine I’d a little more than most riding on this match, after stumping up a hundred quid to a mate to cover me at work in the theatre (someone I could trust not to mess up my cues in the matinee, for example so as not to bash one of the dainty ballerinas on the bonce, when operating the wings of an enormous prop owl).

Yet having set my alarm for Sunday morning, I guess that after grafting for two shows a day for the past couple of weeks, the fact that I’m no longer used to the gruelling nature of touring work, finally caught up with me and I somehow managed to sleep it out! To my horror, it was fifteen minutes before kick-off when I finally stirred.

After all the trouble I’d been to, in order to get to this game, I couldn’t possibly not make it. But instead of missing much of the first-half while scurrying around to the ground, I decided to watch it on the box and to bomb around there during the break. The way things subsequently transpired, this proved a most sensible compromise.

An in-form Eduardo might’ve instinctively stabbed home his early opportunity. Instead of which, Eddie’s tame effort was probably a matter of him trying too hard to make it count. Despite a lack of incisiveness, the first forty-five was anything but dull. Still I was delighted to be dashing out the door with the game still delicately balanced on a knife-edge at 0-0. Mind you, I’m not sure my arrival on the scene was quite so significant as Cesc’s second-half appearance!

Hurrying along Highbury’s deserted streets I heard it mentioned on the radio that, while it was business as usual for the Gunners, with Wenger having the lads in for training on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Martin O’Neill had given his Villa side a couple of days off.

We can only speculate on whether this had any impact on the outcome of Sunday’s encounter. Even in the theatre business we get Xmas Day off and with all the other major leagues closing down for the festive period, you’d wonder if our lads might resent having no break whatsoever. Especially when most of the players in this Arsenal squad are at the sort of tender age where they’d otherwise have been up half the night waiting for Santa and along with what seems like every other kid in the country, desperate to get their grubby mitts on their new Wii games.

A stout but invariably stalwart Richard Dunne certainly doesn’t appear to have skimped on the mince pies. But when you contrast the ‘goals against’ column for Dunne’s former and current employers, the £5-million O’Neill paid to Man City was a blinding bit of business. Personally I was just relieved that one of our three left-backs has returned to fitness, as I’d envisaged a torrid afternoon for Sylvestre, being tormented by Young and Downing, if Traore hadn’t been available.

From what I’ve seen of their recent performances, I expected Villa to pose more of a threat going forward. The sight of John Carew always reminds me of his gut-wrenching goal for Valencia that deprived us of a Champions League semi. It’s only when seen up close, towering over the likes of Sagna, that you appreciate quite what a colossus Carew is. But he, Heskey &Agbonlahor all proved pretty ineffectual on Sunday.

After the success of their ‘smash & grab’ tactics against us last season, perhaps O’Neill was guilty of being overly cautious in his efforts to produce a repeat performance. Still the visitors toiled so tirelessly to deny us time on the ball that it was inevitable that their efforts would eventually take their toll, with the masterful introduction of Fabregas and Walcott having the maximum psychological impact.

Fab proved to be a ‘special team’ all on his own. Only last week I bemoaned the fact that we’re bereft of a Gerrard type player, with a personality big enough to singlehandedly grab tight games by the scruff of the neck. Our young captain couldn’t have provided a more timely response, with the way he wrapped up this most welcome of three point Xmas pressies, with Abou Diaby adding a bow on top.

As if we needed reminding, Cesc once again proved himself to be the conductor, capable of encouraging a veritable symphony from Wenger’s orchestra. We can but hope that this 28-minute cameo hasn’t taken too heavy a physical toll on his hamstring. However the euphoric scenes of jubilation on the terraces confirmed how essential his contribution was, to such a significant triumph.

Optimistic Gooners will claim it keeps us in the frame for a title push. Perhaps more importantly, so long as we remain the pundits dark horse for a title challenge, we’re definitely not being dragged back down into the dog eat dog battle for fourth below.

The Tigers’ laudable display inspired some false hopes but the prospect of Hull helping us to hang onto second was always an unlikely illusion. Surely we can expect Man U to kick on in the New Year, but in their current insipid guise, without some sort of dividend on the £32 mill invested in Berbatov, we’ve little to fear from Fergie’s mob.

We’ve once again witnessed a weekend of football where less acclaimed clubs have demonstrated sufficient quality and determination to upset the odds. Yet while we can catch anyone in a sprint, for all the current inconsistency of Ancelotti’s Blues, it’s hard to have total faith in us matching Chelsea’s strength in depth over the course of the entire marathon.

We might cope with Fab’s absence if Diaby can continue his fine recent form, but it remains to be seen how our defence holds up with Song away on ACN duty. As an almost ever-present this season, Alex has matured into his role as a muscular, protective screen in front of our back four. I hope he’ll forgive me if I pray for Cameroon’s premature exit from the competition, when his absence could prove as significant to us, as Drogba’s might be for Chelsea.

Meanwhile, I was chuffed to bits to be returning to work wearing a wide, smug smile. With everyone aware of my absence on Sunday, the level of mickey taking would’ve been absolutely unbearable if we’d lost. Then again, I must be grateful as this would’ve been small potatoes, compared to the sort of mirth to be had at my expense if I’d managed to sleep my way through the whole marvellous occasion!

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Friday 25 December 2009

All I Want For Xmas....(I'm still debating between a laptop or my two front teeth!)

Merry Crimbo fellow Gooners,

With my regular diary piece and a couple of half-term reports to write, whilst doing two exhausting shows a day with the ballet at the London Coliseum (humping scenery, not dancing, I don't have the legs for those tights!), I was worried about finding the energy, let alone the time to get anything written this week.

Mercifully the snow came to my rescue last Friday. I know it looks pretty, but I usually hate the snow, just because of the chaos that usually results and because I'm currently getting to work and back on my motorbike. I don't mind admitting that I'm terrified driving in the snow and ice on four wheels, let alone on two. Yet so far, a couple of hairy moments just getting out of Highbury Quadrant aside, I've managed to make it into town and back on the bike every day, still in one piece, if a little brittle as a result of the biting cold,

However the containers with the set of the next show, the Snow Queen, were due to loaded out from our stores in Marden, Kent on Friday but with the roads in Kent being so much worse than they were in London, no one could get to Marden to load the containers, let alone drive them back to London.

As a result, instead of spending Monday unloading three arctics and humping it all into the theatre, we were given the day off. As they say "it's an ill wind....." since I was able to write my diary missive without having to spend all Sunday night nodding out in front of my keyboard.

But having finished it and filed it to the Irish Examiner and then a couple of hundred words of a half-term report for Sunday's Observer, I must've gone straight back to bed, without getting around to posting it out to you guys. After the fit-up of the Nutcracker and two shows a day these past couple of weeks, my aching bones are beginning to remind me why I stopped doing shows with the ballet some years back.

My state of exhaustion is so relentless that I remind myself of a hamster I used to have as a kid, that spent it's entire brief life running around the wheel in it's cage. I get up at 11ish, to get into work for the reset at 1pm and then back home on the bike around 10pm, frozen stiff, with just about enough energy left to get umpteen layers of clothing off and crawl into bed. Thank heavens for my iPhone in order to keep up with my email during the day, as I've barely opened my laptop since this Xmas season started.

As a result, doubtless I'll be spending most of Xmas day in bed, expending the very minimum amount of energy possible and then I'm back into the theatre for two shows on Boxing Day. I have to keep reminding myself "just think of the money" in order to drag myself in every day and I'm absolutely over the proverbial moon to have found someone to cover for me doing the matinée on Sunday so that I can go to the Villa game.

It's cost me a hundred quid to persuade someone else to take my place for four or five hours, but it will be worth every penny if we win. Should we lose, it will be a double whammy, as not only will I have to cope with the agony of a significant Arsenal defeat, but I will inevitably suffer until stick from all the other lads on the crew when I go back on Monday morning, after having paid someone else a ton in order to watch the Gunners get beat!

Nevertheless, I simply cannot put into words what a pleasure it will be to be able to get up on Sunday and go to the game, in accordance with all my regular game day rituals. It's easy to take the pleasure of watching the Arsenal for granted, when one goes to every single game. But there's nothing like a bit of Gooner deprivation to remind me quite how much I revel in my live Arsenal pleasures, as working through this Xmas season with the ballet has returned me to the sort of relationship that the vast majority of football fans have with their club, which although no less devoted in many cases, it is far more remote, where one has to make do with secondhand snippets of news and goal updates and if really lucky, seeing a live game on the box.

While I can endure it for a six week Xmas season (knowing that hopefully I'll have compensation by way of a far more healthy bank balance), I simply couldn't cope with such deprivation on a permanent basis, since for a fully fledged Arsenal junkie like myself, it's akin to trying to satiate my need with a Methadone type substitute, which never quite hits the spot.

In order to watch Saturday's game against Hull, I had to miss the 6pm reset, when we reset the scenery back to the beginning of the show following the afternoon matinée. But I was actually considering if I might be better off plotting up in a nearby pub and watching the whole game on the box. I was debating whether this would be a better option because I would at least be able to see the entire game, as I knew that if I went to the match, I would have to leave at some stage during the second half, in order to be back at the theatre by curtain up.

As I pondered my dilemma aloud, certain that if I went to the game, the laws of Sod & Murphy would guarantee that the match would be balanced on a knife edge until the moment I left and that all the goals would be scored whilst I was driving back to the theatre on the bike (and I can't even get radio reception whilst driving my motorbike because between the engine noise and the resulting interference, I can't hear a word), it seems that my mates on the stage crew all know me better than I know myself, as they all assured me that there was absolutely no point in me debating the matter, since when it came to it, there wasn't a cat in hell's chance that I was not going to go to the game!

And obviously they were correct but it was very weird because I am so used to my regular ritual for home games that the strange circumstances completely threw me. Carefully cruising past all the traffic on my bike in the icy conditions and parking up almost right outside the ground, I might've arrived early for once, but I was without my binoculars, my tooth rotting sweeties (which have long since become my nicotine substitute), tissues and all the other crap that usually fills my pockets on a match-day.

I was just grateful that Denilson scored the first goal just before the break and although the game definitely needed the spark of the Nasri provoked kerfuffle just before the break, with my timing being so tight, I could've well done without any further delays and while everyone else around me was turning the air blue, screaming at Hunt, Barmby and the other Hull players, I was bellowing at ref Bennet, just to get on with it!

At least with so many empty seats there on Saturday, I was able to find a pitch close to the aisle, after the break, so that I could slip out without having to disturb everyone in my row. But being a natural worrier, I'd already started panicking about getting back to the theatre before the second half had kicked off.

Hard as I tried to keep my head down during the dress rehearsal of the Nutcracker (as some of the other lads like doing the cues because it makes them feel important), I got lumbered with this cue right at curtain up, where a lump of scenery weighing a couple of tons get rolled off stage, with only a couple of inches clearance on either side and where I'm strategically placed to prevent it wiping out a brace which is holding up a thirty foot black flat on the side of the stage.

With me being well out of the habit of doing shows, I'm dreadfully paranoid about forgetting my cues and I've nightmare visions of me strolling back from having a smoke, a few minutes into the show, only to find this flat has fallen down and taken out half the punters in the front few rows of the stalls!

By the time the second half kicked off on Saturday, I'd started worrying about a million "what ifs" eg. what if my bike wouldn't start, or I got caught up in some sort of gridlock on the way back and so since I couldn't concentrate on the game anyway, I headed back to the theatre some time before Eduardo found the back of the net for our second. At least I heard the commentary on the radio as I was walking back to the bike.

As it turned out, there was no traffic on the way back into town and I actually got to see Diaby score the third, having signed up to the three months free offer on the Sky Mobile application on my iPhone. I calculated that it was worth installing this application to watch Sky Sports on my mobile just for the purpose of watching the footie in the theatre during the Xmas season, so long as I remember to cancel the bloody thing, before Sky add another six quid a month to my already extortionate monthly payment to Murdoch's mafia - which with us having Sky Plus, an extra box in the bedroom and me adding my broadband service and now ESPN on top, now amounts to an agonizing 85 quid a month).

In fact this was the first opportunity I had to actually make use of the Sky Mobile application and I even got to see Theo fluff his lines, when he should've had the composure to chip the keeper to score a fourth, before being forced to leave the theatre's canteen (one of the few locations where I can log on to the wireless internet connection) with the "beginners" announcement over the theatre tannoy, indicating the start of the show.

With both Eduardo and Vela not exactly oozing with the sort of confidence needed to strike the fear of G-d into opposition defenders at present and while they're both quick over those first few yards, neither of them are blessed with Theo's terrifying pace, I've wondered why Wenger hasn't tried using Walcott as our point man during the current striker crisis, spearheading the Gunners' attack, in the position that the boy made his name at, while playing for Southampton?

Wasn't the plan always supposed to be for Theo to learn his trade out on the flank but for him to eventually take over Titi's mantle as the Arsenal's main goal threat? Although if I don't stop waffling on, I'll still be tapping away at my keyboard come kick-off on Sunday!

Meanwhile my apologies for the delay in posting Sunday's missive. If any of you actually missed reading it, you have my mother to thank, as I can rest assured that if I ever neglect to post my piece out, I have at least one loyal reader, my dear old ma ("not so much of the old" I hear her say) to remind me that it hasn't been received.

I know many will jump to Theo's defence because he's had so little game time, having been out injured and I know that we are all so desperate to see Theo succeed that we're inclined to be a lot more patient with him than any of the other players and to continue making excuses for the lad. However if I'm not mistaken, Theo will be getting the key to the door this coming March and approaching the ripe old age of 21, it's about time for him to start earning his corn.

Hopefully, all it will take is a run of successful games, for Theo to get some wind in his sails. However, although he's undoubtedly blessed with all the tools in his locker, I can't help but wonder if Wenger's reluctance to put such faith in him is related to the evidence of my own eyes which is an elephant in the room that I'm finding increasingly hard to ignore and which perhaps suggests Theo is never going to quite cut the mustard because he's a sandwich short of that all-important, instinctive, spacial awareness picnic?

People, including me, talk about Walcott's bad decision making and the fact that he tries to take players on, when he should be passing the ball and passes the ball, when the opponent is there for the beating. However, as anyone who's played the game will know, the truth of the matter is that you don't really make decisions out on the park, as for the most part you just do.

Football is a spontaneous game, often played at such pace nowadays, that unlike chess for example, there is no time for conscious cause and effect, flow-chart type analysis. With the ball at one's feet, at the very most, you might have an opportunity for a brief glance up to see where your team mates are. It's for this reason that we often see players pass a ball into an empty space because it's where they expected their team mate t0 end up.

The very best footballing brains belong to those players who somehow mange to retain an unconscious picture in their heads, a map of where all the combatants are at any point in time and where they can find space, without having to look up from the ball, having already computed all the various permutations from their glance around the park before receiving possession.

The problem is that there is no exercise routine that can teach this sort of talent, as it's innate and I can't help but wonder if this is why Theo impressed playing in front of goal because for a striker, the only choice is to shoot or pass. But from what we've seen of him out on the flank, while he might learn the art of looking up before playing the ball, I yet to witness any evidence of Theo having that instinctive awareness of what's going on around him, so as to be able to cut the ball back to the edge of the area, to a point where he senses Fabregas' run will end up. I seriously hope I'm wrong and that Walcott has it all and it's just a matter of confidence, or game time which will prove the key to unlock his latent abilities.

To be honest, right now, I'm not that bothered if Theo makes it into the England team for the World Cup and in truth, it might serve us better if he doesn't end up played out and injured this summer (or as Tevye would say in Fiddler on the Roof, "on the other hand", we might benefit from the boost to Theo's confidence of tearing apart the best defences on the planet?). But when it eventually comes to it, I am sure it will be a whole lot more interesting for me if there's some Arsenal relevance to stir up my interest in England's exploits in the summer.

After his England hat-trick, I don't think Capello will need much excuse to take Walcott to South Africa, but based strictly on their current form, in my humble, unbiased opinion, he's a long way behind Lennon and Young because his competitors both offer the guarantee of some end product.

If both Theo and Ashley Young start on Sunday, it will be interesting to be able to make a direct comparison. If Young produces a performance similar to the one against Man Utd, he's likely to give Sylvestre a torrid afternoon and with this in mind, I hope we've one of our three, somewhat fleeter footed left-backs back in time for Sunday's game. Admittedly Young usually has someone to aim at once he gets down the flank, with Villa having the burly likes of Carew and Heskey up front and while many of his balls were wayward, every single time he got forward against Utd, he either put a ball into the box, or went for goal himself. Whereas sadly, you can usually count on the fingers of one hand, the number of times when Theo's possession of the ball actually amounts to anything.

Myself I will just be delighted to be there on Sunday. As I've said below, it's a biggie because we badly need to extinguish the possibility of Aston Villa posing any threat to us, before Martin O'Neill's bandwagon gathers any further momentum. Meanwhile if I don't stop waffling on I will still be tapping away at my keyboard come kick-off on Sunday, so apologies for the delay in posting out Sunday's missive. If any of you actually missed reading it, you have my mother to thank, since I can rest assured that if I neglect to post out my weekly diary, I have at least one loyal reader in my dear old ma ("less of the old" I hear her say) to remind me.

So without any further bearded quips about Villa, Chelsea and Man Utd getting stuffed with the turkey, here's wishing you all a merry Christmas and a happy & healthy New Year to you and all yours

Come on you Reds
Big Love

In light of our relatively poor recent form and the ridiculous rash of injuries, I reckon that much like myself, most Gooners will be pleasantly surprised to be sitting down to our turkey with only a two-point deficit on Man U and six behind the league leaders, with a game in hand on them both.

It is said that the table never lies, nevertheless, it still feels like something of a false representation of the facts because the Arsenal have looked anything but genuine contenders in recent weeks. Which is perhaps the biggest wind-up, since with both teams above us seemingly intent on frittering away points like they were going out of fashion, there’s rarely been a better opportunity for a concerted title challenge.

I’d love to optimistically predict that the Gunners are girding their loins for a big title push in the New Year. But in all honesty, as things stand at the present, I am just grateful that our decimated squad continue to cling to coat-tails of the top two.

In spite of the flattering 3-0 scoreline, we looked far from convincing for much of Saturday’s fractious encounter with Hull. Myself I was just glad to be there, having braved the icy, arctic conditions to make a mad dash to the stadium on my motorbike, in between humping scenery in the matinee and evening performances of The Nutcracker at the London Coliseum, the ballet’s traditional Xmas fare.

Which is more than can be said for many Gooners, as the disappointing sight of so many empty seats suggested that this was perhaps the lowest attendance to date for a Premiership game at our new gaff. But we can only speculate on this point, so long as the club continue to brazenly report false figures, by repeatedly announcing a 60,000 plus attendance, which might account for the number of ticket sales but which bore absolutely no relation to the number of bums on seats on Saturday.

The empty seats and a decidedly laboured first-half performance contributed to an even more subdued atmosphere than normal. Never mind the media making a mountain out of the Nasri molehill, in my eyes the Frenchman was our unwitting saviour, as the resulting handbags just before half-time were precisely what was required to eventually ignite the touch-paper and spark up this damp squib of a contest.

Credit to the Tigers, as they worked tirelessly during the first-half, getting bodies behind the ball to thwart all our efforts to pick an intricate path through the heart of their defence and for a while there, it felt as if it was going to be another frustrating afternoon. However thanks to Denilson’s timely intervention just before the break, the Gunners were able to relax somewhat and aided by the fact that Hull were forced into showing a little more ambition after going a goal behind, we began to find the space to ping the ball around with more incisiveness.

Abou Diaby’s second half display was cause for optimism, as the leggy midfielder’s driving runs into the box provided our attack with just the sort of momentum that’s been on the missing list of late. But there’ve been instances in the past when Abou’s conjured up the sort of consummate cameo display that’s lead us to wonder whether he might just be the catalyst that will produce the long-awaited explosion of the Wenger boys’ bounty.

I believe it was almost exactly a year ago when Abou last produced a similarly impressive contribution, as we took a two-goal lead up at Villa Park on Boxing Day. But he needs to reproduce this form once a week, rather than once a season, as otherwise these rare glimpses of Diaby’s ability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck, only become increasingly frustrating.

I reckon we'll be needing Abou to step up again in Sunday's significant encounter, if we're to restore the natural order of things by beating Villa. Any other result is likely to offer Martin O’Neill’s side further belief in their ability to mount a serious top four challenge.

With the sale of Richard Dunne, Mark Hughes seemingly swapped the heart and soul of his Man City side, for the disruptive egos of the likes of Adebayor. In the meantime, while City were making all the headlines, O’Neill has quietly gone about the business of building a proper, old-fashioned football “team”.

We were fortunate last time around, when Villa’s threat to our precious Champions League spot evaporated at the business end of the season. But I wouldn’t want to be relying on a repeat performance because Villa now look far more resilient and the Gunners need to be the masters of our own destiny.

Hopefully there might be a silver lining to the long queue of players outside the Arsenal treatment room, as they should be returning to fitness, fresh and eager to play, just as others are beginning to flag. If we can keep ourselves in the frame until then, anything’s possible.

It could be argued that the Champions League is likely to be the Gunner’s best bet, as this Arsenal side appear far more suited to performing on the European stage. Personally I would’ve much preferred to have drawn either of the two Milan sides. I would’ve been more confident of us running rings around some of the ageing legs of Inter and AC, as a mouth-watering main attraction, rather than going into a game against a talented Porto team as favourites and being somewhat overshadowed by the other matches.

Still I’m certainly not complaining, as unlike the Scousers, at least we won’t be sitting down to dinner on Xmas day, with nothing more to look forward to than the brandy on our Xmas pud!

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Friday 18 December 2009

Never Mind The Rain In Spain, What About the Snow In Highbury?

G'day Gooners,

I've not had an opportunity to post my diary missive up until now, as I've been so busy with work the past few days. It's been several years since I last did an Xmas season with the ballet. Aside from the fact that working on the six week run of two shows every single day, impinges far too much on my Arsenal pleasures, while the mind might still be willing, sadly my body is no longer up to the gruelling physical nature of the work.

The problem is that the extremely long hours and the resulting "double bubble" wages (double basic salary for touring work) makes the work sufficiently lucrative that it's extremely hard to refuse when offered. In fact a few years back, after the last time I did an exhausting all-nighter fitting up a show, I was left such a complete and utter physical wreck that I made a point of requesting that the master carpenter didn't bother asking me any more, so as to avoid the dilemma completely. All the money in the world is of little use to me, if earning it leaves me so incapacitated that I can't even get out of bed to get down to the cashpoint to spend it!

However it seems sufficient time has elapsed since I last made the mistake of accepting the offer of any touring work, for me to have forgotten quite how agonizing these all-night fit-ups can be. What's more, I kind of felt somewhat more obliged than usual, as we've lost a couple of stage crew and I know full well that if my mate (EEC definitions have seen his job description change to that of "chief mechanist" in recent years, but to my mind that's nowhere near as impressive as "master carpenter") must be scraping the barrel, if he's asking me because with my tardy time-keeping travails, why would anyone want me, when they can employ someone who arrives on the button every day.

I guess Dave puts up with my habitual tardiness because he knows that I'm always willing to make up the hours (and more if required). But my habitual tardiness can put some of the other crew members' noses out of joint (especially if they're long gone when I'm clocking up hours t make up at the other end of the day). Knowing he must've run out of people to ask, I thought I'd be doing him a bit of a favour and besides which, I must admit that I'm so tired of being in debt all the time, that the thought of getting my head above water, financially speaking, was a major factor in my decision.

But then as I've discovered in the past, the lump sum one is expecting to accumulate over the course of an Xmas season rarely ever really materializes because the job is so incredibly arduous that you tend to feel entitled to spend the money, after having worked so hard to earn it and it invariably ends up being frittered away on things.

Perhaps worst of all is trying to fit my Arsenal world around the work, especially when I'm writing my weekly column for the Irish Examiner. With the feature my piece appears in being entitled "Terrace Talk", I always feel a bit of a cheat, on those rare occasions in the past when I've been forced to write about matches that I've not been present at in person.

When the possibility of me working over Xmas was first mooted, I looked at the fixture schedule and was pleasantly surprised that it didn't appear quite so hectic as usual and on first glance, it didn't seem as if I was going to miss many major clashes. I'm hoping that I might be able to pay someone to cover me for the odd show, so I don't end up missing all the games over the next six weeks. However with the Nutcracker fit-up (the tradtional Xmas fare) starting at 11am last Sunday, there was absolutely no question of me going to Anfield and so I ended up listening to the commentary on the radio, whilst working on stage, grateful for the small mercy of being able to get reception, surrounded by so much concrete and a multitude of potential electrical interference that one finds in a theatre.

The lads up on the fly floor, 30 odd feet above the stage, from where they operate the flown scenery and the cloths, they must've had a radio on the go, as the Gooners up there were shouting down the odds with each of the three goals. But working on stage can be very dangerous and even with all the incredibly OTT, stringent health & safety regulations nowadays, accidents are still not that uncommon. As a result, wearing an earpiece in one's ear is a definite no-no and so I had to be very discrete and couldn't really concentrate on the commentary, as I had to be seen to be paying attention at all times to what was occurring around me on stage.

Still the stagehand in charge of my side of the stage is a Liverpool fan and I certainly made sure he knew all about it when Shava scored what turned out to be the winner. Fortunately I was tasked with fetching some props from the ballet school on Monday, in a van and so while the rest of the lads continued working through until after 3am, I would've jumped for joy if I had any energy left, when my pal turned around at midnight and sent me home.

In the past, you would take a sleeping bag in to the theatre for the fit-up, knowing that you probably wouldn't get a chance to go home for a couple of days, until the show was completely up and running. But EEC regulations have put an end to these sort of punishing practices, as mercifully we're now obliged to take something like an 11 hour break after a certain amount of time, so he had to send me home to ensure I could drive the van on Monday.

But this actually meant that I ended up getting back around 1am and struggling to stay awake long enough to watch a recording of the game on the Sky Plus gadget. I've never been a big fan of ballet, as I find the dancing far too stiff and unnatural, but I do enjoy some of the musical scores, until I hear them two times a day, every day, for several weeks. The worst thing about doing the Nutcracker at Xmas is that there is absolutely no escaping Tchaikovsky's music, where ever you go, be it on the telly, in shops, absolutely everywhere. I had to rewind the recording of the match a couple of times towards the end, as I was so exhausted that I kept nodding out and I actually thought I was having a nightmare, when I finally got to the end of the programme and the closing titles included a montage of our little Russian's performance, shown with a backing track of a well know bit of the bloomin' Nutcracker.

I set my alarm for 7.30am, in order to write my diary piece before leaving to fetch the van, but it would appear that I've reached an age where my dog-tired body will no longer accede to the demands I'm forced to place on it and after turning off all five alarms (one on the landline, four on my mobile!), I still managed to sleep it out and it was gone 9am when I eventually dragged my aching bones out of bed.

As a result, I very much doubt the following diary piece is up to my usual standard because I was forced to rush to get it finished in time to be able to get these props delivered to the theatre, for some much needed repairs before being used in the show. Although they've been threatening a new production of the Nutcracker for the past couple of years, I think the company has been performing this particular production, designed by Gerald Scarfe (of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" fame) for the past seven Xmases and so much like myself, the entire set is looking somewhat tired.

The show opened on Wednesday night and although I did my best to keep a low profile during the rehearsals on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, in order to avoid getting lumbered with too many cues (points in the show where the crew are required to operate the scenery), I was never going to get away completely scott free. After all, they're not going to pay me to stand around for two shows a day, just doing the interval change. The more cues I have to do, the more my presence on stage becomes essential and the harder it is for me to get someone in to cover me (without there being any potential disasters).

Fortunately, although I'm involved in various bits of scenery shuffling on and off stage, I've only been allocated the one specific cue, where I'm tasked with operating the flapping wings and the moving eyes of this enormous owl shaped clock, standing behind this piece of scenery, moving a steel arm up and down for about five minutes, as directed when to start and stop by a cue light (ie. hopefully someone could come in and do it for me if necessary).

Mind you, there are a lot of kids involved in the show and I am terrified of clonking one of them with the metal wings on the downward stroke and I imagine that if I end up getting someone else in to replace me so I can go to a game, I'm bound to be paranoid that this will be the one night when one of these young dancers gets too close!

I had no choice but to blow out the trip to Burnley, which was a big disappointment as I don't think I've been to Turf Moor for many years and I still have my Soccer Stars albums from the days when Burnley where an established top flight team back in the early seventies, including the likes of the archetypal comb-over merchant, Ralph Coates, before he transferred to the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road. Although on current form, it looks as if I might have another opportunity to visit Turf Moor next season.

As far as the actual performance was concerned, if I was going to miss a game, I guess this was a good one. Or at least that was what I deduced from watching the decidedly drab highlights on Match of the Day and then again on Sky's Football First. I was gutted when they apologised on Sky that the highlights were somewhat limited due to technical problems but in hindsight it would appear that they couldn't have missed much because there was so little action of any note.

It's true that Burnley have managed to thwart plenty of other decent teams on their home turf but with Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool all winning on the night, from what I saw of the game on the highlights, I ended up feeling more than a little gutted that we didn't give it more of a go and pose the home team more of a problem, as I don't really feel we made Burnley work particularly hard for their point.

It's funny, as thankfully our match was chosen for live commentary on Five Live and so I was listening to it during the show and I remember that Vermaelen conceded the penalty, just as I was about to operate the owl. But then I suppose I have to try and look on the bright side, as this piece of scenery is located right on stage, with me hidden behind it and if we'd scored at that point, instead of Burnley, I'd have been unable to resist a little celebration and this could've proved highly embarrassing, because I'd have probably been unable to resist a little jog of joy and either I might've been caught "in view", or my cigarettes, or my mobile phone might've fallen out of my pockets and as we shuffle the thing off a few second later, imagine how mortified I'd have been to have left a packet of Camel Filters sitting in the middle of the stage!

I'm loathe to comment on matches based on what I've heard or seen on the highlights, as I know full well that these can often paint a false picture because, for example, you aren't aware of the work that's gone on off the ball. Nevertheless, I think it's fairly safe to say that Theo Walcott was largely (or "smallely"!) anonymous.

Watching Villa v Man Utd on Saturday, the one thing I noticed about Ashley Young was that almost every time he broke down the flank, he ended up putting a cross into the box. Admittedly many of his crosses were wayward but the law of averages dictates that if you put enough balls into the box, eventually someone will get on the end of one of them. Mind you, sadly Theo doesn't have the hulking bit target men such as John Carew and Emile Heskey to aim for, but it does bother me that he rarely ever gets this far and all too often ends up conceding possession because of bad decision making.

The same was true watching Aaron Lennon in midweek against Man City, as he positively terrorized poor Silvinho with his pace and invariably put a ball into the box, or penetrated the
penalty area himself and created an attempt on goal. Obviously Theo needs to get some games under his belt but as the Gunners one and only England representative (not that I'm particularly bothered), for my money, he's got a lot to do to leapfrog these two into the squad on current form.

Meanwhile Chelsea adopt a different approach and I was impressed with the driving runs of their defenders against Pompey. I very much doubt Alex is blessed with anything like the pace of Walcott, Young or Lennon, but still he powered into the box with a combination of pace and strength and the sort of determination that meant that once he gathered a little momentum, he was impossible to stop, in the build-up to him putting the ball on a plate for Anelka to score Chelsea's first.

As far as I can see, this is the problem with our current line-up because the opposition only have to get enough bodies behind the ball for us to be left spending the entire ninety minutes, patiently passing the ball around the edge of their penalty area, rarely every creating an opening for an attempt on goal. As a natural centre back, it might not be exactly instinctive for Alex Song to charge forward, but from the evidence of what we've seen to date, Tommie the tank Vermaelen doesn't need an invitation to do so. And we all know William Gallas is not afraid of making his presence known in the opposition penalty area.

Yet for what our more attack-minded players lack in muscle, they more than make up for in ability and pace and yet none of them appear to possess the sort of confident personality needed to try and grab a game by the scruff of the neck, by manufacturing an attempt on goal by means of their will power alone. In fact it's ironic that sadly the only players on the park in an Arsenal shirt with such attributes to their personalities, all happen to be defenders by trade.

Given the confidence boost of a few goals and perhaps the likes of Eduardo or Vela could become more ambitious and similarly the same might be true of Arshavin (although I've reiterated my thoughts on Shava below). I never imagined I'd be so desperate to see an Arsenal side that was able to avail itself of the swaggering belief of Bertie Big Bollix Bendtner, but at this present point of time, in the absence of the Dane and the Dutchman, it seems to me that it is a problem of personalities that is the principle cause of our apparent impotence up front, far more than the size factor.

It was no surprise that the Gunners threat on the Burnley goal became almost non-existent after Fabregas' exit from the field of play, as although Cesc isn't the most extrovert character, he's the one player in the Arsenal squad who's become so certain in his ability that he has the confidence to try and bamboozle lumbering centre-backs with his guile.

This might all change with a couple of high-scoring games, but in the meantime, our apparent inability to create goal scoring opportunities is only such a major concern, due to the fact that we can't rely on keeping things tight at the other end of the pitch. The consequences of Manuel Almunia's failure to dominate his area and his lack of communicative skills were once again apparent in Wednesday's game. But I'd best not get started on our poor goalie, not if I want to catch up on some much needed ZZZZZs before getting back on the Nutcracker treadmill tomorrow.

Here's hoping the weather doesn't prevent me getting to work tomorrow, as I'm growing increasingly concerned about the prospect of being snowed in, the closer we get to Saturday. With the game against Hull being a late KO, I've calculated that I should be able to get away from the afternoon matinee in good time to make it to the match, provided I can avoid traffic delays by travelling on my motorbike. If the snow settles, I will be so terrified riding the bike that I'd better take a change of trousers with me!

Doubtless I'll reveal all in next week's missive

Come on you Reds
Big Love


The consensus of Gooner opinion seemed to be that it was fortunate Glen Johnson did us the favour of putting the ball in the back of the Scousers net on Sunday. Up until that point we’d been so impotent up front that it looked as if we could’ve been playing until midnight without troubling Pepe Reina’s goal!

After a week in which the dressing room code of silence was violated, to reveal the mad antics of Tony Pullis and Jim Magilton, you would’ve thought that our captain might’ve been more discrete, than to reveal specific details of his manager’s half-time rocket. In hindsight, I find it a bit worrying, since the results of Wenger’s haranguing were hardly dramatic and we didn’t exactly play like a team possessed after the break.

Personally I felt that we benefited from the fact that having taken the lead, Liverpool’s level of commitment and focus dropped considerably and perhaps our own lack of goal threat was responsible for the home side growing a little complacent? It was patently obvious that they were more “up for it” than us first-half and doubtless this was the principal cause of le Prof’s ire.

After Saturday’s surprising results had left the door slightly ajar, it would’ve been positively criminal, if the Gunners had been guilty of not doing their utmost to try and force it open, putting ourselves back in the frame as potentials title challengers. But then, as always, the margins between success and failure are wafer thin.

I can’t help but feel that if Gallas had brought Gerrard down at the Kop end of the ground, Howard Webb might’ve been influenced by thousands of Scousers appealing for a penalty. Instead of us ending the weekend absolutely over the proverbial moon, to be going into the hectic festive schedule with renewed hope, only two weeks after our title prospects were supposedly dead and buried by the Blues 0-3 thumping, it might’ve been Arsène suffering the sort of “Emperor’s New Clothes” scorn of the media, rather than Benitez.

Nevertheless, considering this was Rafa’s preferred first XI (since the “fat Spanish waiter” would appear to be saving the coronation of his “little prince” Aquilani, for a time when the Scousers’ season is completely over!), as a Liverpool fan I would have some serious concerns about their second half demise.

Shava’s strike was worthy of all three points, but there was a time when taking a slender, single goal lead at Anfield would require the visiting team to batten down the hatches, to prepare themselves for the onslaught of a veritable barrage. Moreover, in light of the fact that the gung-ho nature of this Arsenal side has meant that we’ve proved somewhat suspect in our ability to squeeze the life out of a game and see out a result, I have to admit that I was, quite frankly, amazed to make it to the finishing line so comfortably.

The media might’ve built up Sunday’s encounter, as the clash of ‘the bridesmaids’, but in truth, compared to a bona fide feast of footballing entertainment the day before, it was a bit of a damp squib. But I’m certainly not complaining, since the fact that Arsène’s entertainers produced a demonstration of the art of winning such a significant clash, with performance that was well below par, might at long last be seen as a sign of our increased maturity. Or perhaps we were merely competing against a Liverpool who’ve acquired the losing habit?

As delighted as I am that this result has edged us back into contention and perhaps more crucially, prevented us from slipping down, into what’s bound to be an incredibly nerve-wracking dogfight for that all-important fourth place, on a realistic note, sadly the frailties of our injury ravaged squad are no less apparent. Almunia certainly didn’t win friends and influence Gooners with his feeble flap in the build up to Kuyt’s goal but I’m hoping that the more I tempt fate with my assertions that Arshavin can’t continue to carry the team as a lone striker (Southampton fans must be wondering why on earth Wenger doesn’t give Walcott a go up front?), the more he’ll continue to make me eat my words!

Yet as Chelsea have demonstrated with their failure to win, ever since their ‘inconsequential’ Carling Cup exit, you simply cannot overstate the importance of that winning momentum. While I’m yet to be convinced we possess the depth of squad to match Chelsea and Man Utd in the long run, if we can build on Sunday’s victory and string together the sort of consistent number of wins needed to instil some genuine belief in our ability to mount a challenge and make the most of what looks like being the most volatile Premiership in many a moon, anything’s possible!

Meanwhile, if I’m honest, I imagine that like the vast majority of Gooners who’d written off the title only a fortnight ago, I can’t believe our good fortune. As I sat here on Saturday night rejoicing in Martin O’Neill’s Villa putting one over on Man Utd, I wondered if I might end up regretting it. The Gunners are going to need to be at their best to quash the threat of an in-form Villa at our place Sunday week, but for the moment I’m most grateful to be looking up, instead of over our shoulders!

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Monday 7 December 2009

Please Will Someone Let The Dogs Out

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against bad losers, as it’s the distaste for defeat that makes determined winners. Still I wanted Wenger to shake Mark Hughes hand last Wednesday night and prove himself to be the bigger man, instead of demonstrating the same lack of stature that some would have us believe is a crucial weakness in this Arsenal squad.

Supposedly Hughes had insulted Arsène, calling him an onanist. I’m reminded of the ancient tale of the kid who’s father caught him playing with himself in the bathroom, warning his son “Don’t do that, you’ll go blind”, whereupon his quick-thinking progeny piped up “Can I at least do it until I have to wear glasses?”

Despite Hughes’ allusion to the cause of our leader’s dodgy eyesight, considering the fact that he regularly has to endure the positively slanderous taunts of several thousand fans singing the “packet of sweets” paedophile chant, I can’t honestly believe Arsène took this personal abuse to heart. No I fancy his rancour runs deeper than that. Perhaps the insults were just an excuse for le Gaffer’s display of disrespect, when in truth it’s his disdain for ‘financial doping’, which is what he’s really railing against.

If this is the case, then I can appreciate how galling it must be, to have to try and work the oracle every season, fettered by budgetary restraints (despite the suits best efforts to kid us otherwise!), in the face of ever increasing competition from the likes of Man City, with a ‘money no object’ sugar-daddy prepared to continue pumping limitless millions into the pursuit of the Holy Grail of footballing glory.

Mark Hughes has always possessed that 100%, heart-on-the-sleeve commitment of an infuriating, ‘love to hate’ figure, ever since he lead the line for Man Utd. He could just as easily end up a victim of the obscene vagaries of modern football, as a beneficiary, since the pressure for him to produce a return is so much greater, with fathomless resources at his disposal.

Obviously, he’s hardly top of Arsène’s Xmas card list, but in his fit of pique, it seems to me as if le Prof is sending out all the wrong signals, giving his young squad carte blanche to throw their own toys out of the pram, every time they feel hard done by. For all the wonderful entertainment, that makes the Arsenal by far in a way everyone’s favourite team to watch, we’ll continue to struggle to win friends, so long as this unsportsmanlike undercurrent prevails.

But unlike the X Factor, football isn’t a popularity contest and Arsène is such an incredibly obstinate bugger that when that clarion of public opinion, the media, casts him as the villain, it only serves to make our manager that much more determined not to yield. While I have the utmost respect for his unflinching self-belief and I appreciate that it’s an integral part of what makes him the Gunner’s most successful ever gaffer, there are times when I can’t help but wonder if his ability to fly in the face of overwhelming evidence is also his greatest weakness.

Although Shava ran out of steam somewhat in the second-half against Stoke, it was perhaps to be expected, considering the wee fella had run his socks off during the first 45. However for the most part, our Ruski pocket rocket did a grand job filling in as the front man on Saturday. Nevertheless, this was only Stoke (no disrespect intended) and I can’t agree with those who suggest Shava is the solution to the problem posed by Van Persie’s long-term injury (at least not until, hopefully, he leaves me with my foot in my mouth, after another 4-goal fiesta at Anfield!).

I see the diddy man as a Ljungberg/Pires type player, hopefully contributing a commendable double figures goal tally, occasionally leaving us all agog with the odd astounding match winner. He’s definitely a doughty little cookie, but I can’t envisage him carrying the Arsenal on his diminutive shoulders, with the unstinting strike rate of a 20 plus goals a season striker.

In his programme notes, Arsène responded to the endless reams of media speculation, with his stock statement about only shopping during the January sales to buy someone who he believes can “add something to the team”. For 25 minutes on Saturday, it felt as if it was going to be another ‘if it wasn’t for bad luck, there’d be no luck’ afternoon. But with Shava doing his best to corroborate le Gaffer’s notion that our injury-ravaged squad can cope, in truth, we should’ve been 3 goals to the good by the break.

The Potters are no Chelsea, but Tony Pullis had done his homework. I guess, in the Premiership at least, we’re going to have to get used to patiently waiting for the Gunners to pick an intricate path through the compact hordes at the heart of opposition defences, so long as we have no means of posing an alternative problem. Our superior ability might enable us to break down the vast majority of teams, but this lack of variation is making life far too easy for the opposition, while they need only focus on the one task of getting bodies between us and their goal.

Sitting down to enjoy coverage of events at Eastlands on my return, only served to underline our inability to tax Chelsea’s defence, as Man City proved them far from invincible. But with the approach of the silly season and the intensification of white noise on the transfer bush telegraph, I worry that Wenger’s stubborn streak will cause him to continue to try and force the Premiership to bend to his will, instead of addressing this problem.

“I will not buy just to satisfy the press” he reiterated in the programme and the louder the clamour grows, on the evidence of seasons past, the less inclined he might be to pander to the demands to splash the cash!

As Man Utd demonstrated on Saturday, by beating the Hammers so comfortably with half their defence missing, it’s a sides ability to rise to the challenge in adversity, which marks out the men from the boys. Despite such a surfeit of talent, Van Persie’s absence has highlighted that for the moment at least, our squad is bereft of ‘big time’ personalities, who, irrespective of their physical stature, have the capacity to impose themselves at pivotal moments, thereby emboldening all around them to bring the full weight of their abilities to bear.

We’ve witnessed all too brief glimpses of what these Wenger boys are capable of and perhaps the likes of Arshavin will come to the fore and reignite the fire that’s been dampened in recent weeks. But without this catalyst, the obvious missing ingredient in Arsène’s experiment, I fear we’ll continue to splutter through the season, with our best hope being for us to blow hot enough for a concerted cup run.

Saturday’s results added the feintest whiff of fuel to a tantalizing title dream, but you know you’ve undergone a more realistic expectation readjustment, when you find yourself leaping out of the armchair on a Sunday, revelling in the Schadenfreude of Spurs misfortunes!

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Monday 30 November 2009

You Can't Buy Class, But If We're Talking Xmas Wish Lists, How About A Pukka Centre-Forward & A World Class Keeper

There were plenty of eyebrows raised on Sunday, when we realised that Alex Song wasn’t coming out for the second-half. After conceding two gut-wrenching goals in the last 5 minutes before the break, it must’ve dawned on Arsène that there was no point in us dominating possession, with an extra man in midfield, without imposing any threat up front. But sadly Theo Walcott didn’t have much of an impact, nor did Vela when he replaced Eduardo, nor Rosicky when came on for Nasri.

In fact for the entire 90 it felt as if our far too feeble canons were firing soft bread rolls, which were unlikely ever to make a dent in the reinforced steel of Chelsea's defence. Although le Gaffer might’ve been going for broke, by withdrawing our most defensively minded midfielder, it could be argued that we’d have been better off if Song had stayed out on the park, because out of the 9 players (6 & 3 subs) who played in front our defence on Sunday, Song was the only one with the sort of muscular presence to present Chelsea with a different problem.

I can’t agree with all those pundits who maintain that it was men against boys, as for the most part, I felt our diminutive midfield didn’t do so badly at containing Lampard, Essien and co. and the Chelsea midfield will make hay against several more physical sides this season. Size is a factor, when we’re banging the ball into the box for the schnips likes Eduardo and Vela to compete in vain, in the air against much bigger centre-backs. But it’s not always relevant, as I went home to watch Lionel Messi romp past Real Madrid, in “El Classico” at the Nou Camp, with almost the entire opposition taking a turn at trying to shove the tenacious little maestro off the ball.

No if Sunday’s game served as proof of anything, it was a stark reminder that in the absence of Van Persie and Bendtner, Arsène efforts to try and rescue something from this match floundered on the fact that he was left replacing like for like, with a potpourri of identikit players that currently leave the Gunners looking like an albeit attractive and extremely talented, one trick pony!

Watching Drogba and Lampard discussing the free-kick, as the Blues lined up to hammer home the third and final nail in the lid of our coffin, it occurred to me that they must be facing one of the Premiership’s smallest ever walls. Let’s face it, you don’t need to impart much “English” on the ball to get it up and over Arshavin! Yet in spite of the flattering scoreline, when you consider how this Arsenal side was being written off before the season started, we shouldn’t be feeling too downhearted.

We’ve witnessed a definite improvement in Wenger’s work in progress, but in my humble opinion, it’s at either end of the park where we continue to fall short of the qualities and the consistency needed to challenge at the very highest level.

Quite frankly a clean sheet was never on the cards for this Arsenal side, against an “on fire” Drogba & Anelka. Yet despite the painfully amusing sight of Traore literally bouncing off Drogba, like a ball hitting the side of an arctic barrelling along at 100mph, Chelsea’s potent strike force didn’t embarrass us, in the way that Drogba did for Phillipe Senderos, leaving the Swiss centre-back a permanent psychological wreck.

However that “corridor of uncertainty” which Cashley found with his 2 crosses could be a whole lot less vulnerable, if it was occupied by a demonstrative goalie, who dominated his area. If we had a screaming lunatic of a world class keeper, coming to claim everything in his 6-yard box, instead of a timid Almunia stopping on his goalline and remaining schtum, Tommie Vermaelen might not have stuck a tentative leg out?

Meanwhile conceding the odd goal only becomes a critical problem, when the formerly free-scoring Gunners suddenly look so impotent, as if they’ve undergone a mass vasectomy! With absolutely no variation on our intricate efforts to pick a path through the heart of the opposition defence with our mazy passing patterns, the Blues rarely looked ruffled. They merely had to get enough bodies behind the ball to block our route to their goal.

Eduardo’s a proven goal poacher and perhaps he and Vela need only a little confidence to learn to lead the line. Though sadly to date they both appear to lack either the pace, power, or reaction speed required to profit from the scant few opportunities that open up in games against the top teams. Unless we witness a dramatic improvement, with Van Persie out for 5 months, there’s going to be massive pressure on Bendtner to pick up the lone striker slack, on the Dane’s return to fitness.

Sunday’s game demonstrated that if Arsène continues to stick rigidly to 4-5-1, rather than using our available horses for 4-4-2 courses, then surely he’s got to spend in January if he’s serious about fulfilling his promise to end our barren spell.

I suppose he could look to the kids, but with the Brady Bunch seemingly all developed from one single mould, I’m not sure there’s a recognised centre-forward anywhere on the conveyor belt of the Arsenal’s production line of talented tiny-totts. There’s certainly no-one who’d offer the impetus of the addition of an experienced “big man” with proven line-leading ability.

Still there’s nothing like the prospect of watching our youngsters, hopefully making a monkey out of Man City’s all-star millionaires, to blow away the cobwebs of Sunday’s calamity. It’d be extremely careless of us to lose sight of a second trophy in the same week, but with City fans already beginning to moan about Adebayor’s indolence, the pressure on our youngsters will be positively minimal, compared to the demands for a return on Mark Hughes’ spillage of Abu Dhabi oil reserves.

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Friday 27 November 2009

Money Can't Buy Class

My mate Nick has made a banner for Sunday's game and since one can't post attachments to the Arsenal mailing list, I thought I'd be best posting the picture of it up on my blog, as I'm sure others will also get a kick out of it.

One of his Spurs pals replied to the email to enquire why the Russian underneath says "Come on you Spurs" and I couldn't resist playing along, by suggesting that it actually translates to "Big yacht, small dick"

Come on you rip, roaring Reds

Hopefully to be seen hanging from Club Level, East Side this Sunday, directly opposite the Directors Box :-)

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Long Road Home

Hi folks,

I was late for work (as always!) on Monday morning, as I had to finish my diary piece and file it to the Irish Examiner. In some respects, it might have been wise for me to steer well clear of the handball controversy because such are the (entirely understandable) levels of anger and resentment on the other side of the Irish Sea, that I would only end up alienating Irish readers, no matter what I might have to say on the subject.

Nevertheless, as gutted as I am about Ireland's World Cup exit and the ignominious incident which did for the Boys in Green, this still doesn't detract from the fact that I don't think I've ever been more enthralled watching football, than when watching Thierry Henry turn it on. It's hard for me to hear friends and family lambasting the player who, while perhaps not the most supremely talented (with such stiff competition), Thierry's right at the very top of my list of players I'd be prepared to pay money to watch because of his amazing, animal like grace.

Consequently I couldn't resist having my tu'penny worth on the subject. By some coincidence Arsène also had his say, in his programme notes in this last night's programme, where he's also made reference to the point which most troubled me, in all the post-Paris brouhaha, where Irish ire over the injustice of it all, seems to have left everyone under the misapprehension that Ireland would be going to the World Cup, if it wasn't for Henry's handling of the ball, when actually if the goal had been disallowed, the game would've probably ended in a penalty shoot-out.

After the dreadful disappointment of Saturday's defeat was compounded by Jermaine Defoe's jamboree against Wigan at White Hart Lane, I was perhaps glad of the excuse to digress. But as a result, I decided to delay posting out my diary piece, until I'd found time to write a preamble which might hopefully make my weekly missive a little more relevant for those Gooners not interested in the events surrounding Ireland's World Cup demise.

Unfortunately (or fortunately!), I've been so busy that I'm only getting around to it subsequent to our 2-0 victory over Standard Liège. Hands up those Gooners who can truthfully say they were the least bit excited in the lead up to Tuesday night's encounter? If I'm entirely honest, such was my apathy towards another uninspiring Champions League meeting with the Belgian champions, that I'd completely forgotten about the game, until I received a text message from the chap who's leased Rona's ticket, to say that he couldn't make it and that his partner would be coming in his stead.

Doubtless I would've heard something on the radio during the day, to remind me that there was a game on. But then again, I'm an avid Radio 4 aficionado and I'd have been more likely to have been listening to The Archers, than the team news for this Tuesday's fixtures. I could've quite easily dawdled home from work, only to discover I needed to make a mad dash around to the stadium, when the increased traffic and the sight of people scurrying along with their red & white scarves flapping around their necks in the gale force winds, would've suddenly caused the penny to drop.

OK, so judging by the raucous hullabaloo coming from one corner of the stadium, there were a couple of thousand Belgian fans bang up for the match. But for the most part, this was an example of the charabanc of the Champions League commercial bandwagon, grinding its way relentlessly through the relatively banal group stages, for the benefit of the media, the advertisers, the all-important colossus that is UEFA's commercial partners and everybody in fact, except the players and us poor put-upon fans.

Season ticket holders might not feel the cost, when simply shoving their membership card into the electronic turnstile gadget, without actually having to stump up any hard cash for Tuesday night's fare (it was "tonight's match" when I started!! :-), but believe me, if we progress in the domestic cups, as well as the Champions League knockout stages and the club start tagging on the cost of each home cup tie, past the seven included in our renewal fees, to next year's total, we'll bear the brunt of having to pay for Tuesday night's relatively pointless exercise, as we are forced to sit down and scratch our heads and wonder where the money is going to come from, to meet the seriously inflated figure shown on next season's renewal forms.

As I was rushing around to the ground, late as ever, I was far from alone, as there were literally thousands still pouring out of the Arsenal tube, as the teams came out and that familiar Champions League refrain echoed out from the stadium. But where usually, many of these latecomers would be frantically charging around the corner and sprinting up the stairs beside Highbury House and across the North Bridge, as fast as their legs could carry them, for fear of missing an early goal, you could positively sense how insignificant Tuesday night's result was, or perhaps more accurately, you could sense that everyone was taking a run of the mill, one-sided drubbing of the European small fry for granted, in the plodding, unhurried pace of all those tardy Gooners.

With my terrace tranny tuned into Five Live, commentating from Budapest, Alan Green made some remark about the Champions League music making the hairs on the back of ones neck stand up. Yet while there might've been a lot more interest in Liverpool's car crash European campaign, I am afraid that personally speaking the sound of this music has been the precursor to so many meaningless Champions League group games that it really does nothing for me (at this stafe). Doubtless I will get in the spirit of things as we eventually get into the more exciting knockout rounds in the spring. But when I think back to how excited I used to get about a big midweek European clash, under the floodlights, when the hair really did stand up on the back of my neck, it's a great pity that the frequency of these mundane European matches has long since worn the gloss off what should be a special occasion.

I am sure I heard someone on the radio state prior to kick off that we could've lost last night's game 1-2 and still won the group! Considering what subsequently transpired, I reckon that the vast majority of Gooners would've gladly forfeited the match and given the Belgians the three points. Aside from the fact that this would've at least meant that for all those with trips to Greece booked for a couple of weeks time, they could've been travelling out to the Olympiakos game feeling that there was something to play for. But far more importantly, we wouldn't have ended up with so many players left battered and bruised and with poor Kieran Gibbs condemned to the treatment room for several months with a broken metatarsal, in advance of Sunday's crucial clash with Chelsea.

To be honest, I started fretting the moment I saw the name "Witsel" on the back of one of the Standard Liège players shirts and I suddenly remembered that this was the same Axel Witsel responsible for the horrific, leg-breaking tackle that I'd seen on YouTube, which was deemed so malicious that he subsequently received a three month ban. From then on, I spent the vast majority of the game worrying about picking up injuries and more players being ruled out for Sunday. I was studying the scene through my binoculars, every time an Arsenal player hit the deck, checking to establish whether it was just the immature Manny Eboué, doing his dying swan routine, or whether there was cause for real concern.

I held my breath several times when Alex Song hobbled to his feet, hoping against hope that Alex hadn't picked up an injury, because any last hopes of a win on Sunday would've gone straight out the window if we were left without even "one Song". I'm not sure that the Belgians were guilty of being overly physical, as I think that with us 2-0 up at half-time, our thoughts had already turned to Sunday's game. With Liège just trying to make up for what they lacked in ability, with their full-blooded commitment and with our lads not wanting to get knobbled before the Chelsea game, sadly this was inevitably a recipe for more problems.

I can just about still remember back to my own playing days, where as a left-back, I soon learned that you are much less likely to get hurt going for a ball with 100 per cent commitment, than you are if the least bit trepidatious, as instead of your body being relaxed, this will result in the sort of tension that can often prove a contributing factor in inviting harm.

Then again poor Kieran Gibbs had little say in his unfortunate metatarsal injury and watching the slow-motion replay, I have to admit that the Liège player did appear guilty of a certain malicious intent. But then again such incidents always appear much worse when viewed in slow-motion. Gibbs must be absolutely gutted, as with Gael Clichy out with a long-term problem, this was a rare opportunity for him to get a long run in the team and possibly challenge Clichy for his first team shirt. Not to mention the prospect of catching Capello's eye and perhaps even challenging Cashley for a World Cup berth, since I've heard more than one pundit suggest that Kieran could be an outside bet for Capello's squad.

However with Gibbs now looking likely to be out until March, he's bound to be feeling as if he's missed this boat, as he could struggle to get a game for the Gunners, once a fit and fresh Clichy comes back into the side and I guess Kieran's got to at least be playing regular first team football to merit consideration by Capello. But all this is of little relevance as far more immediate matters are concerned.

Personally I just pray that Traore is fit and first choice for Sunday, as for all Silvestre's experience, he doesn't exactly inspire me with much confidence and unlike the majority of our team, I get this worrying sense that Silvestre is not really comfortable in possession of the ball, but prefers to treat it like a hot potato. I imagine nerves are inevitable, when you come into a competitive game, after sitting on the bench for so long. Yet it seems to me as if Silvestre is perhaps just a little too aware of his own limitations and if I get this feeling, then doubtless so will any opposition striker worth his salt.

I really don't understand why Arsène left Gallas on the pitch, for such a long time after he and Shava clashed heads. On the radio they suggested Willie could hardly see out of his swollen eye socket (perhaps giving him an excuse for the awful tackle that looked a certain penalty from where I sat!) and I would've thought that once we were two goals to the good, we could've afforded to let Gallas go off and get some ice on his injury, as in my extensive experience, ice is many times more effective if you get it on the injury before all the swelling occurs!

Gallas' inclusion in the starting line-up on Sunday is no less crucial than Alex Song. Not just because Willie "is our mate, he hates Chelsea" but because unfortunately the alternative just doesn't bear thinking about!

With Vermaelen and Gallas at the heart of our defence, the likes of Drogba and Anelka will be expecting a stiff examination of their title winning credentials on Sunday. But with Big Phil Senderos and Silvestre having the turning circle of an oil tanker, I imagine the Chelsea strikers would be absolutely licking their lips, in anticipation of breezing past our lumbering stand-ins. What news of Djourou and I wonder when the likes of Kyle Bartley might be considered worth giving the chance to step up?

However if our squad is looking a bit shallow, when it comes to centre-backs who don't come with a "brown trousers a necessity" warning attached, it's not actually our back four which gives me most cause for concern in advance of Sunday's game, as I don't imagine the bookies will be taking too many bets, on us being able to keep a clean sheet, no matter what side we put out!

The likelihood of the Kings Road "arrivistes" breaching Almunia's goal is only going to be a big problem if we can't double their tally at t'other end and if Eduardo did little against Sunderland to suggest he's suited to Arsène's 4-5-1 formation, then to my mind, sadly Carlos Vela was no more convincing on Tuesday night!

To expand on my comment in my diary piece below, about Robin Van Persie, it's most odd, because while virtually everyone in our squad aside from our keeper, has been adding their name to the impressively long list of Arsenal goal scorers, myself I wouldn't have looked at this free-scoring incarnation of the Gunners and said that Van Persie was such a vital component. Others have suggested different and some pundits have been postulating about the development of a new tactical position, or a "false nine" as some have labelled Robin's role. As I understand it, this theory contends that Van Persie hasn't being playing the traditional part of a lone centre-forward, but that by dropping deeper, as a "false nine", Van Persie has provided the space for his team mates to exploit.

However we're not talking American Football here and unlike the Philistine sport player across the pond, proper footballers don't play the beautiful game according to a specified "play book" which dictates exactly what each players does and where they run. Football is a far more fluid game than the "septics" sissy version of rugby and I don't really buy the idea that Van Persie has been playing according to Arsène's precisely defined tactical instructions. There's no disputing the fact that our Dutch striker has been seen dropping deep, but for my money, he's merely been acting on instinct and looking to get more involved, by making himself more available to receive a pass, than if he was marauding on his own up front, on the shoulder of the opposition defence, where it's both harder to find him with the ball and for him to take possession.

Personally I find myself getting increasingly frustrated with Van Persie, when he takes up a more advanced position and it feels as if I am forever muttering under my breath, imploring Robin to stay on his feet, as it seems to me as if, nine times out of ten when the ball is passed to him with his back to the defender marking him and he knows he's not going to be allowed the time to turn and take the player on, Van Persie will hit the deck, looking for a foul to be awarded in his favour, for a challenge from behind.

As a result, if Van Persie is actually performing in this "false nine" role, I get the distinct impression that this is a natural, instinctive tendency, rather than some sort of specified tactical ploy, merely because Robin doesn't really enjoy the lone striker's role, knowing that he's got four defenders waiting to clatter straight into him, often before he even has an opportunity to control the ball.

So when Van Persie drop's deeper, I reckon he's merely trying to escape the close attentions of the opposition defence and receive the ball where he's more likely to find the time to turn and to have some impact on the game, without taking another whack on the shins (or the achilles, when he's got his back to his marker).

If this should have the effect of dragging opposition players with him and leaving a void up front for the likes of Arshavin, Fabregas etc. to exploit, then all well and good. But if this premise is the principle factor involved in the positive glut of goals we've enjoyed to date, then Eduardo, Vela, or anyone else for that matter should be able to slip into the same "false nine" role with similar results.

Van Persie's only been missing for two games and I have to trust that Wenger knows Eduardo and Vela both have more than enough natural ability to be able to do the job. But it pains me to say that from what I've seen so far, there's a big psychological difference, both in terms of these two alternatives not having earned their Premiership stripes to the same extent as our Dutch striker, so that neither they, nor their team mates demonstrate the necessary levels of confidence and in the way they are perceived by the opposition, in as much as they aren't deemed a sufficient threat for them to cause the sort of distraction amongst the opposition defence that provides others with the opportunity to take advantage.

No one will be happier, if (hopefully!) either Eddie or Carlos goes and leaves me with my foot in my mouth after Sunday's game, having utterly terrorized Chelsea's goalmouth or by dragging defenders around to such an extent that they afford Shava or Theo the opportunity to do likewise.

Still if it wasn't for the fact that le gaffer has chosen to stick quite so religiously to his recently acquired preference for this 4-5-1 formation (but then I'm hoist by my own "if it ain't broke" petard!), since we're at home to Chelsea on Sunday, I can't help but wonder if, in the absence of both Van Persie and Bendtner (with the Dane in truth the only player in our squad with the traditional natural attributes of a lone striker), we wouldn't perhaps be better off reverting to a 4-4-2 line-up. In light of the circumstances, I'm sure I'm not alone in not feeling particularly confident about Sunday's game, but whatever the outcome, I would be a lot happier to see us go out there and take Chelsea on, thereby giving the Blues something to worry about, rather than merely attempting to nullify the visitors threat, by matching them man for man, in the middle of the park.

Absolutely the last thing I want to see on Sunday is the Gunners going out to avoid getting beat, as we know only too well that this sort of negative attitude doesn't suit this Arsenal side because we're simply not cut out for grinding out a result. Besides, while the visitors might see a share of the spoils as an entirely adequate result, for us, a draw will only be a slightly better outcome than a defeat. But if we want to put a marker down as genuine contenders, in truth we need to display something of a gung-ho, sh*t or bust attitude, where we settle for nothing less than all three points.

But then what do I know? I only hope that we can trust in the Gunners traditional response to having our backs somewhat up against the wall and that it brings out the very best in us. And if there was any absence of anticipation in advance of Tuesday night's uninspiring bash, I guess I'm saving it all up for Sunday afternoon; despite my lack of optimism, I can already feel the excitement welling up as the weekend approaches.

Meanwhile (in case anyone is still with me!) I cannot sign off without expressing my heartfelt gratitude to those of my mates who's sterling stints at the steering wheel to Wearside and back last weekend, meant that I was able to while away most of the journey, snoozing in the back of the motor. As someone who covers so many miles on the road during the week for work, it was a rare treat to be able to sit back and allow someone else to do all the graft and it made an extremely disappointing and arduously long schlep just that little bit less painful as far as I was concerned

Come on you rip roaring Reds
Nuff Love

Amongst the beautiful game’s most enigmatic qualities is its capacity for turning heroes, to zeroes, as a result of a single kick of the ball (or a tap of the hand!). Gooners arriving at our ground last night will have discovered that the last of the eight massive murals has been erected. Our new stadium is now encircled by the images of 32 Arsenal legends, where ironically, the first of these that appeared included representations of Thierry Henry, with his arm draped across the shoulder of none other than Liam Brady.

It would be easy for me to court public opinion by joining in with the vitriolic vilification of Henry, which immediately followed events in Paris last Wednesday. Yet even though I could be no less distraught about Ireland being cheated of a place in next summer’s tournament, if I was actually Irish borne (as opposed to considering myself an adopted Irishman), I simply can’t allow this one calamitous event to taint all my memories, by turning the player responsible for some of the most wonderful football it has ever been my privilege to witness, into Satan’s spawn.

Henry is not a bad man and personally, I believe he only reacted in the exact same, instinctive manner as the vast majority would’ve done, given the same circumstances. Rumour has it that Domenech is little more than the equivalent of the ventriloquist’s dummy and that it’s Henry who’s the de facto head honcho of the French squad. As such, I imagine Titi feels the responsibility of guiding France to the World Cup finals even more acutely and must’ve been no less desperate than all those aging players out on the park, in the twilight of their careers, who just don’t have the security blanket of another four more years.

I’m not trying to justify, or condone Henry’s handling of the ball. With the thought of living out his days, forever trying to cope with agonisingly inflated repayment terms on the price of failure, Henry merely did what needed to be done, in order to try and win the day. Judging by the way in which Thierry sat down on the pitch, to join a disconsolate Richard Dunne, rather than wallowing in their success, I sensed that he was patently aware of the consequences and the fact that he’d just cast himself as the Emerald Isle’s pantomime villain for all eternity.

You have to wonder if Titi had the power to stop time and weigh up possible World Cup qualification, against the thought of forever being labelled a cheat, would he have reacted differently. Similarly, if the shoe was on the other foot, would we all still be climbing on our moral high horse and clamouring for a replay quite so vociferously, to satisfy our sense of fair play?

Meanwhile, in all the brouhaha that followed, many seemed to be under the misapprehension that Ireland would be going to South Africa next summer, if it wasn’t for Gallas scoring as a result of Henry having illegally kept the ball in play. In truth the Boys in Green blew a couple of great opportunities to put the result to bed during the 90 minutes and up until the controversial incident, I thought the ref had done particularly well, as a weaker man might’ve easily succumbed to awarding the French a penalty when Anelka went down in the box.

Yet without Gallas’ goal, it seems to have been conveniently forgotten that we would’ve likely been left facing the ultimate crap shoot of penalties at the end of the 120 minutes. I suppose in some respects we might be better off having someone else to blame than the prospect of one of our own enduring the collective wrath of the entire nation, after having put the ball over the bar.

At the end of the day, I’m sure there are plenty of Georgians who believe that Ireland are no more deserving of a replay than they were back in February, following a bizarre handball decision that went in Ireland’s favour and if there was an injustice, it was the positively criminal way in which seeding was introduced to the play-offs at the last minute, to lend the bigger nations an advantage. The irony is that on the evidence of what we’ve seen, this French side haven’t a hope of achieving the sort of dramatic improvement necessary for them to have an impact in South Africa next summer.

Moreover, the entire tournament is likely to be a whole lot less joyful for the absence of the Green Army. Yet to counter the increasing demands for technology to be introduced, to try and rid football of such dodgy decisions, I will always contend that it is the flawed, rub of the green factor that makes the sport so intriguing and without the element of controversy we’d be left with nothing to argue about in the pub all night.

I could perhaps abide the introduction of goal-line technology, but this is a slippery slope and ultimately I reside staunchly in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp. Although Fergie might have the pre-requisite red nose, I find the prospect of football turning into an all-day circus like the abortion of the sport played across the pond, complete with touchline Bozo’s with a pocketful of handkerchiefs with which they can interrupt proceedings at a whim, utterly abhorrent.

On the same theme of the vagaries of fate and fortune, after enduring the longest outing of the season, where our weary return from Wearside seemed almost twice the distance after such a thoroughly dissatisfying display and with a miserable weekend being rounded off by Spurs’ unseemly goalfest (our neighbours are an all together more potent threat with Krancjar pulling the strings), I am at least grateful to Henry for giving me cause to digress.

Wenger’s uncharacteristic criticism of our own troops was perhaps a reflection on the significance of this result. Instead of putting down the sort of marker that might confirm our pretensions as serious challengers and maintaining our momentum, we’ve instead reminded everyone of the Gunners’ soft under-belly. I never envisaged Van Persie as quite such a crucial cog in the Arsenal machine, but with Arsène having nailed his flag to our 4-5-1 formation, in the absence of the Dutchman (along with the Dane, Bendtner), our diminutive strikeforce suddenly looks decidedly lightweight.

At the Stadium of Light it was left to Alex Song and our centre-backs to instigate all too rare driving runs at the opposition, while Sunderland’s earnest endeavours restricted Fabregas to a couple of “Hail Mary” long range efforts. It’s not size that’s the principal problem, but the fact that circumstances have conspired to deprive us of forwards with the confidence and the swagger to grab games by the scruff of the neck.

It’s a positively baffling anomaly, considering we’ve been banging in goals with such gay abandon, but it’s hard to imagine messrs Cashley & Terry exactly quaking in their boots at the prospect of containing the likes of Eduardo and Vela.

After feeling as if we’ve been living out of boxes these past three years, perhaps now that we’ve finally unpacked, this “Arsenalisation” of our new stadium will inspire the fortress spirit necessary for us to prevail against the Blues. Although, in an ideal world, I’d be feeling a whole lot more confident, if Arsène could call upon a selection of our legends to climb down off the murals and give Essien and co. a good hiding!


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