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Wednesday 7 January 2009

Not Holding My Breath in Highbury

Hi folks,

I'm a little gutted, as Alex Fynn, who's recently co-authored a new book entitled "Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Super-club" with my good pal (and Gooner ed) Kevin Whitcher, is giving a talk at the Birkbeck College this evening at 6pm, which should prove interesting. But sadly I very much doubt I will make it back to town in time from the ballet's stores in Kent (the downside of having to commute to the country!).

Still so long as I'm back home in good time the following Tuesday, to make it to Underhill for the 7pm KO of our FA Youth Cup game against Wolves, as I'm looking forward to this match. That's the thing with being a genuine footie fan, there's invariably some little spark to keep the fire burning bright and for fans of the vast majority of football clubs, it's only competitions like this that they have to cling to, for some small hope of success.

Whereas sadly we Gooners have become so spoilt in recent years that it would appear as though many of us really don't appreciate quite how good we have it. What would fans of our perennially unsuccessful North London neighbours give to be in our shoes, fifth in the table with the exciting prospect of the knockout stages of the Champions League to come!

In fact we've become so incredibly blasé in recent times that seeing how sullen and dreadfully uninspired the majority of us were at Saturday's match, I have to admit to feeling just a tiny bit envious of the atmosphere generated by the Pilgrim faithful, sardined into the corner of the ground on my left, witnessing how highly-charged they were by the buzz of their big day out in the 3rd round of the FA Cup.

It's said that you never really appreciate something until it's gone. Well I certainly hope that this doesn't need to be the case for the majority of us Gooners.

Meanwhile I certainly hope Jack Wilshere gets to play next Tuesday, as I'm looking forward to watching him run rings around players of his own age group

A happy & healthy New Year to one and all
Peace & Love

PS. I was tempted not to post this week's missive, as I wasn't feeling particularly inspired when I wrote it on Sunday and was concerned that I might be beginning to sound like a broken record. What's more, with all that's going on in the world at the minute, everything else seems a little trivial. The problems in the Middle-East certainly put the difficulties of our midfield into proper persepctive, but since I've no solution to offer for the one, I might as well give my two pennies worth about the other

Although it’s true that plenty of Gooners are probably still sunning themselves in more clement climes, in the current parlous economic circumstances, I’m sure this only partially accounted for the conspicuous number of empty seats at Saturday’s FA Cup 3rd round tie. Hopefully this will have at least meant that the proliferation of predatory, pond scum touts outside our ground, will have taken a hiding, as indifference caused many of our more fickle fans to stay away in their droves. It seems the prospect of an encounter with lowly Plymouth Argyle just didn’t light the fire necessary to persuade folks to freeze their backsides off on the terraces, on a brass-monkey afternoon.

The same certainly couldn’t be said of the fervent Pilgrim faithful, who packed out the 9000 odd seats in their corner of our ground, determined to make the very most of their big day out. Thankfully they gave voice to the sort of raucous racket, that lent the afternoon just a little of that old-fashioned FA Cup tie atmosphere and without whom it would’ve likely been a far more insipid affair.

In fact, after it seemed as if we’d killed the game off, with two quick goals immediately after the break, I was almost pleased for the visiting fans, when Duguid pulled one back. It was no less than Plymouth’s hard graft deserved and it at least gave their fans something to shout about. However it meant that we were left on the edge of our seats, unable to relax properly, until Van Persie put the result to bed, scoring a third with his “chocolate leg” five minutes before the end.

In truth I would’ve much preferred the outcome to have been decided a lot sooner, not just for the positive effect it could’ve had on our confidence level, but because Wenger would’ve been able to send Jack Wilshere on, for more than just a token run-out at the death.

Wilshere turned 17 on New Year’s day, but subsequent to his extremely impressive, early-season forays in the Carling Cup, he’s spent so much time on the bench, that I imagine some might’ve mistaken our baby-faced prodigy for the club’s mascot. Moreover, considering they at least get a kickabout during the pre-match formalities, the mascots have probably had more pitch time!

Admittedly, the massive ovation Wilshere received when being introduced on Saturday was also related to the relief felt by many, to see the back of Bendtner, who’d had a bit of a mare, even by his second-rate standards. Nevertheless the reaction towards Wilshere and the fact that we’re prepared to cut an extremely enthusiastic youngster like Kieran Gibbs (who came on for the injured Sylvestre) so much slack, compared to how quick we are to slaughter the likes of Eboué, is indicative of how desperate we Gooners are, for Arsène to accelerate the ripening of some of the fruits of our homegrown production line.

In the absence of the injured Denilson, this FA Cup interlude offered le gaffer a timely opportunity to experiment in midfield, giving Ramsey a rare run-out in the starting line-up, alongside Diaby, in his preferred central role. Ramsey has endeared himself to the fans with his willingness to shoot on sight and I’m sure the Welsh lad would relish an opportunity to be able to do so on his return to Ninian Park in the next round. However Diaby also looks far more comfortable with the ball at his feet, going forward and I’m not sure he’s suited to the holding role, especially since, for such a tall man, he doesn’t appear to be able to head the ball for toffee.

Meanwhile there was much mirth as the FA Cup threw up its customary anomalies. I must admit to being surprised to hear of Kolo Touré’s transfer request, as I simply couldn’t imagine the Ivorian wanting to play for another club. Yet if it was related to some interest from Man City, if Kolo hadn’t withdrawn his request before the weekend, doubtless he would’ve done so double-quick, after witnessing the mystifying, tragi-comic double act of messrs Richards and Dunne up at Eastlands.

Fuelled by endless, usually unsubstantiated media speculation, the January transfer window invokes so much anticipation, that it inevitably proves to be an anti-climax. I’d certainly love the vim and vigor that the likes of Stephen Ireland would lend to the Arsenal, but I honestly can’t imagine him figuring on Arsène’s radar. Besides we’re hardly short on attacking midfielders.

Based on his track-record, I won’t be the least bit surprised if le Prof resists the substantial pressure to pull the cheque book out. Although unlike in seasons past, when clubs have been forced to pay a substantial premium, to prize players from their existing contracts during the January window, there’s never been a better opportunity to take advantage of some of our competitors’ financial plight. However Arsène is hardly an impulse buyer and so as to avoid any disappointment, personally I will be ignoring all the transfer hoo-haa, until I actually see a new player standing beside Wenger in an Arsenal shirt.

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Anonymous said...

Micah Richards's defending is the stuff of a Brian Rix farce. I find it quite staggering that many Gooners writing on the blogs suggest we should go out and offer £10-15 million for him! That's just what we need - even more panic and chaos in our defence!!

Anonymous said...

The problems in the Middle-East do put things into perspective, but football itself does serve a very important purpose even during great crisis. I heard a story about some Palestinian youths that scrounged up enough change amid the bombing and massacre to buy petrol and run a generator long enough to watch the Barca game at the weekend. Thanks for the words.

Unknown said...

I don't know Micah Richards so I can only speculate, but the promising kid of a couple of seasons ago might have been worth that sort of investment.

Whereas now, on the face of it, going by appearances only, it would seem as if he's suffering from the malady that's afflicted the vast majority of our young stars nowadays, where the glow of the media spotlight, the moment they make any sort of impression is so great, that they can't help but be spoilt and with the money and attention that follows, they soon begin to believe their own press reports and lose their hunger and their focus, thinking they have already cracked it, when in truth they still have it all to prove.

I have to admit that I also thought Richards was the dogs proverbials when he first came on the scene, as he had everything, the pace of a striker, combined with the stature of a defender but sadly, just like the likes of Dyer, Jenas etc. etc before him, he's suddenly begun to look like spoilt goods

I'm surprised really, as I would've imagined that in private, Mark Hughes would've been the sort of strong personality who might've taken Richards to task and showed him the error of his ways, turning his head back to focusing on his footie and shaking off that Bentley boy image of someone who's a little too interested in page 3 birds, clubbing, bling, motors, threads and his homeys, to the detriment of fulfilling all that early promise.

However from the way in which Richards has appeared to have gone off the rails as far as his progress on the pitch is concerned, I can't help but wonder whether this reflects on Hughes' ability as a manager and whether I need reappraise my previous opinion about him looking like a half-decent manager

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