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Tuesday 24 February 2009


Hi folks

Hot gossip .... Amanda Docherty, the Arsenal Press Officer let it slip this evening that the Uzbek gangster has been trying to ingratiate himself with the Gunners' board by gifting the Gunners squad two unkown East Europeans. As a result, Bora Primorac has been hastily despatched by Arsène to Rotor Volvograd to have a butchers at Katycha Haribakov and Plumplukovich, in the hope they might combine with Arshavin to form a midfield trio of Back, Sack & Crack!

Meanwhile for the benefit of those who are unaware, I've referred to the Roma game below in the past tense, due to the fact that my missive appears in Wednesday's edition of the Irish Examiner.

Myself I quite fancy a repeat of 2002, where there will be no need to freak out if tonight's game ends in a frustrating 1-1 draw, if we can go out there again and roll Roma over without really raising a sweat

Come on you Reds

If Roma sent their spies out to see us play Sunderland on Saturday, they’ll have discovered that frustrating the hell out of us at home isn’t difficult. If two disciplined, well-drilled banks of four can keep us quiet for the first 20 minutes, we soon run out of ideas and containing us for the remainder of the 90 is just a matter of maintaining one’s shape and one’s work rate. As has been the case for much of this season, despite dominating possession, our convoluted, but ultimately clueless approach play is guaranteed to make decidedly mediocre opposition look good, because in our current incarnation, the Gunners lack the spark necessary to generate that all-important change of pace, or the guile to give defences the sort of serious headache that they can expect from those teams above us in the table.

After Eduardo came back with such a bang in the Cup game, I was gutted to hear he’d picked up a hamstring injury. I’d hoped the confidence boost of Eddy’s return, combined with the introduction of Arshavin, would be the catalyst to breathe new life back into the Arsenal’s season. After carving up Cardiff, I expected us to be able to reinforce Villa’s wobble, by walloping the Wearsiders and as a result, be going into our game with Roma on a real high.

However sadly Eddie’s setback seems to have put the kibosh on my optimistic script and unfortunately Andrey’s debut ultimately proved to be a bit of a damp squib. While the Ruski might’ve flattered to deceive early in the first-half, with a couple of well-struck efforts, which at least demonstrated that the diminutive fella has a decent dig on him, to my mind he still appears a long way from the sort of peak fitness levels necessary to stay the relentless Premiership course.

Arshavin might’ve got away with his cameo party-pieces in a side that was going great guns. But after the high of Monday night, coming into an Arsenal side that was back to its lacklustre worst, Andrey’s lack of fitness was always likely to be exposed, as he struggled to live up to our saviour like levels of expectation.

The Villa Park appetizer made for awkward viewing, as it went completely against the grain to be up for the Blues. Having blown a prime opportunity to make a significant dent in the points gap between us and that highly-prized 4th place and following our 3rd successive goalless game, some might fancy the Gunners would be better off focusing on keeping our noses in front of the likes of Everton, than on an increasingly unlikely quest for Champions League qualification.

Yet with Hiddink expected to burnish up Abramovich’s not so brand new toy and with Essien due to return for the run-in, to a squad teeming with experience of what it takes to haul tired limbs over the finishing line, if one of the two teams above us are going to falter in the finishing straight, you’ve got to fancy that it’s more likely to be Villa?

It may be a truism, but the league table never lies and with Saturday’s early KO offering an opportunity to draw direct comparisons, based on our utterly flaccid form of late, even the most blinkered Gooner would struggle to make a case for the Gunners deserving to be above Villa or Chelsea. Nevertheless I’m not panicking just yet.

We couldn’t have been more disconsolate if we’d endured a defeat and the demoralised mood was palpable as we trudged towards the exits, with the Black Cats’ fans crowing in the corner as if they’d just won a cup. I suppose it’s a mark of the contrasting expectation levels and earning another point against the Gunners was good enough cause for the Wearsiders to gloat. Yet while they’d warmed Almunia’s gloves with a couple of long range efforts in the first-half, all such ambition dwindled as the clock ticked down.

I suppose ultimately it was the visitors discipline which helped to secure them the draw, but I’m sure I would’ve found it dreadfully frustrating if I was a Sunderland fan, to watch them working the ball from the corner flag all the way back to the keeper, because they were more intent on retaining possession, than daring to attempt to create an effort on goal.

The visiting fans had so little to shout about second-half, that at one point they celebrated the award of a throw-in, as if they’d scored a goal. But you’ve got to give them credit for schlepping all the way from the North-East and back, in return for so little reward. But then I guess it goes with the territory when one has endured a period of yo-yoing up and down that entertainment is just not a factor, compared to that all-imprtant task of consolidating their Premiership status.

I was no less depressed than my near-suicidal young Gooner pal from the States, who was enduring his first taste of the peaks and troughs of live footie. Yet my time served in the trenches provided me with a more philosophical attitude, knowing the momentary gloom to be only a temporary stumbling block.

You only had to cast a glance at the row of interested spectators at Saturday’s game that included Adebayor, Rosicky, Fabregas and Eduardo (doubtless Saint Theo relinquished his seat in deference to one of his returning teammates), who are all set to return to full fitness in the weeks ahead, to be certain that it’s not a matter of “if” the Gunners are going to come good, but whether we can muster a sprint finish in time to reel the Brummy buggers in.

Evidence of the Gunners fall from grace can be seen in the way we’ve slipped down amongst the “also-rans” in MOTD’s program line-up and disappeared into the obscurity of the odd column inch, as far as the back pages of the tabloids are concerned. Some pundits would have us believe that we’re the only English team at risk of bowing out of the Champions League but I’m only too happy to have the entire footballing world writing the Arsenal off.

Even if you should be reading this after Roma have successfully stifled us and left me tearing out even more of my hair, as a result of yet another infuriating home game on Tuesday night, with 3 weeks to the second leg, I certainly won’t be giving up the ghost.

Our lightweight looking squad have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to rise to the occasion and I’m fairly optimistic of us giving a good account of ourselves in the Olympic Stadium. If the return of our walking wounded can add a little more guile, I’ve a feeling Roma might afford us the time and space to really start to pull the strings. A more Continental style game should suit the Gunners and hopefully it will be humble pie all round, served up on the pundits’ premature obituaries, as a result of a performance reminiscent of Henry’s hat-trick in 2002 and an encore of the veni, vidi, vici vibes of our last trip to the Eternal City.
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