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Saturday 17 January 2009

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off To Hull Gooner Meshuganas Go!

Hi folks,

If I had a more sensitive ego, I might feel a little disturbed that I could’ve dropped off the face of the earth these past 10 days, with seemingly no-one (other than my dear old ma) noticing the absence of last Monday’s weekly missive.

I didn’t post the following piece when I wrote it because I didn’t have sufficient room to mention the fact that I’d taken an American Gooner to his first ever live Arsenal game last Saturday. Then on Tuesday night, Zach (my new “septic” pal) accompanied me to the FA Youth Cup game at Underhill and I’d intended making a few comments about his impressions (and the fact that the kids gave Wolves a bit of a footballing lesson on the infamous Underhill slope, with Jack Wilshere confirming his undoubted class and that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, as a serious looking injury to Rhys Murphy resulted in Gilles Sunu coming on in his stead and scoring a hat-trick! – allez Gilles!)

In fact I could’ve and should’ve written another piece entirely on the week’s events, but I’ve been so busy with work that I’ve been far too cream-crackered by the time I arrived home each night, that I’ve not had the energy to even open my laptop.

I’m supposed to be leaving for Hull in five minutes and so there’s not really much point in posting the following, but just in case there is anyone out there (other than my Mum) who missed me, I might as well send it now, or never.

After yet another week in which I’ve driven the best part of a 1000 miles, I can’t actually believe I’m so bonkers as to get back in the car to make the long schlep up to the North-East. If I’m entirely honest, with the game being broadcast live on Setanta, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve never been to the KC Stadium (and with Hull seemingly sinking like a stone, after their surprising early season success, and that I might never get another chance), I would be sorely tempted to stop at home and put my feet up for the day.

Still I guess it’s one of those games that goes down as “paying one’s Gooner dues”. Although I bloody well hope our efforts deserve some decent reward?

See some of you on the motorway

Peace & Love

With all that’s transpired in the past few days, from Rafa’s Keeganesque moment, with his hilarious rant about ol’ Red Nose, followed by the Scouser’s failure to score against Stoke, to Chelsea’s capitulation at Old Trafford, it felt as if this was a weekend of some significance, as far as the top of the table is concerned.

Meanwhile, with Martin O’Neill’s side keeping up the pressure in Saturday’s lunchtime KO, by taking all three points against the Baggies, come 3pm we knew that we couldn’t afford an upset against Megson’s decimated Bolton. I’ve regularly moaned in the past about Arsène’s reluctance to tinker with his team, until the last 15/20 minutes. But after we’d barely warmed Jasskelainen’s gloves during the first hour of Saturday’s bitterly cold affair, the fact that le Prof decided to replace Diaby and throw Carlos Vela into the fray for the last half an hour, demonstrated that he was patently aware that nothing less than a win would suffice, if we were to cling to the coat tails of the top four, rather than finding ourselves dragged down into the dogfight taking place below.

With Vela taking up a position out on the left flank and Nasri moving into the middle, it wasn’t so much what the diminutive Mexican did with the ball that changed the game, but that compared to the languid, loping, but ultimately lacklustre efforts of the lanky Diaby, Carlos’ energy and his unbridled enthusiasm lent this encounter the sort of dynamism, which had been sorely lacking up until then.

The again, as is often the case with teams that come to our place with such limited ambitions, they work so hard to smother the Arsenal’s attacking threat (you only have to look at the 73/27 per cent possession stats to appreciate that Bolton spent the majority of the 90 chasing the ball!), that they inevitably begin to flag towards the closing stages.

Still it took the vim and vigour of Vela and the direct use of his pace to expose the Wanderer’s weary legs and by releasing the kinetic energy of this coiled up spring, it had a positively infectious effect, both on and off the pitch. I doubt it was Vela’s electricity that powered up some of our failing floodlights, but it certainly fired up a previously subdued audience.

By coincidence, I’d only just been complaining during the break about our crowds (and Premiership fans in general) tendency to be reactive, rather than pro-active nowadays. As if to prove me wrong, we seemed to suddenly wake from our slumber and the nightmare of seeing our season disappear down the plug-hole of a 0-0 draw, to roar the Gunners on to grabbing that all important goal.

Perhaps our so-called capacity crowd only opened their gobs and began to get involved, in an effort to get the circulation going, before losing all feeling in their extremities. But at least they turned out, which is more than can be said for many of our posh punters. Considering all the Club Level seats are already paid for (at up to £175 a pop!), it seems a positively criminal waste, to see such a conspicuous number of empty seats up there. Still no matter what the inspiration, mercifully the ramped up fervour resulted in a far more atmospheric and exciting last 30 minutes.

In truth I couldn’t fathom why it took the Gunners so long to turn the screw and lay siege to the Wanderers’ goal, considering Megson was forced to field such a weakened side. Watching Diaby and Denilson during the first half, both of our central midfielders might’ve been allocated the holding role, such was their reluctance to join the attack. But there was no one for either to hold, especially after Elmander had limped off.

The visitors’ increasingly limited ambitions resulted in a bizarre moment after the break. Their substitute striker clipped the ball forward, only to decide not to bother chasing it, when it dawned on him that none of his team-mates had the slightest inclination to venture past the halfway line with him.

As if to affirm the Gunners fall from grace, highlights of the Villa game featured first on Match of the Day that night, while we were condemned to the ignominy of the final slot. This was after the Goal of the Month competition, which included Van Persie’s stunning strike against the Scousers, along with Diaby’s goal at Villa Park.

The latter being so memorable because it was one of the few times this season that our midfield has exploded into life, arriving in the box at pace, in advance of our strikers. Sadly for the most part we seem to have lacked the spark of such incisive runs from midfield, content to merely prod the ball across the face of the opposition’s area, waiting in vain for the massed ranks in front of them to part, to allow us to pick out that killer pass.

Kolo Touré continues to look a shadow of his influential former self. Although they often amounted to little, I fondly recall Kolo also inspiring the crowd and his colleagues, with his trademark, lung-busting runs from the back. Not that I’d kick a player of Arshavin’s quality out of bed, but I hardly imagine the Ruski having the strength of personality necessary to galvanize the Gunners on to greater (any!) glory.

Then again, as others have rightly pointed out, there are only a couple of players in our current first XI who could hold a candle to Arsène’s team of Invincibles and at the end of the day, no matter how you stitch it together, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. In light of the increasing tension on the strings to that purse, with the onset of "hard times", I'm hoping Tuesday's FA Youth Cup encounter will hold promise aplenty of a bright, red & white future.

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