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Monday, 9 February 2009

"Arshavin...We Bought Him In The Snow, He's Better Than Defoe"

Hi folks,

Compared to his experience of what I imagine would be the less obfuscated equivalent over in the US, the Gunners new MD couldn't have wished for a more febrile baptism of fire, than what I assume must've been Ivan Gazides' intense initiation into the complexities of the murky world of International transfers and the club's efforts (and doubtless the endless financial inducements to Uncle Petrouchka and all) to get the Arshavin deal over the finishing line.

We can but hope that Gazides gets to grips with the intricacies and quirks of the beautiful game double quick to shoulder the weight of some of Wenger's responsibilities, so we don't witness a repeat of the sort of ricket that saw Flamini walk away last summer. We also have to hope that the long wait for the board to employ a new MD was worth it, as it appears decidedly negligent of them to have taken so long to make an appointment.

With Arsène having managed to work the oracle on a relative shoestring every season, personally I have to wonder if a certain air of complacency was responsible for the relative lack of urgency involved in finding a replacement for Edelman, who would also be capable of fulfilling David Dein's role at the club. Perhaps Le Prof's success left the board under the misapprehension that they could leave complete control of the club in Arsène's hands, without having to worry about there being any adverse effect from his added responsibility.

Love him, or loathe him, the Arsenal's relative fall from grace since Dein's departure is surely no coincidence. Listening to Dein on the radio last weekend, in light of his close relationship with le Boss, I've little doubt he would've long since persuaded his pal of the need to reinforce the Gunners' under-strength ranks, by parading a constant string of tempting potential targets. What's more, not only would Dein have the time to schmooze said individuals while Arsène was getting on with the business of managing his existing squad, with Le Prof's apparent reluctance to risk the club's money, I imagine it would've been easier for him to take a punt on a player or two, if our former Vice Chairman was able to shoulder the responsibility for the financial decisions.

Gazides came across quite well in his interview with Martin Keown broadcast on Saturday's Football Focus. When Keown told how he once phoned Arsène's home to talk to the manager, only for his neighbour, David Dein to answer, our new MD revealed that he's not yet "hanging out" at Arsène's gaff. But in so doing, I liked the fact that he intimated that he'd appreciate being able to cultivate such a close relationship with our manager. Then who wouldn't? Since in my humble opinion, when it comes to interesting company, our enigmatic leader would be up there with the likes of Stephen Fry. Only time will tell if their relationship is set to (as the Vulcans would say) "live long and prosper".

Arsène had me somewhat baffled again on Sunday. I've always been one of Kolo Touré's biggest fans but the somewhat corpulent Kolo has been a cumbersome shadow of the powerhouse centre-back of seasons past. As a result, I would've expected Djourou to have been given priority alongside Gallas against Spurs. It might've been patently obvious to all but le Prof for some months, but perhaps by picking Kolo, Arsène is finally showing some recognition, of the need to address the increasing clamour for evidence of any leadership qualities out on the park. In the past Kolo has come across as far too humble to be telling others what to do, but I did indeed witness him communicating with his team mates on various occasions against Spurs and it's only as a potential captain that I can imagine him keeping Johann out of the side based on current form.

Meanwhile Andrey Arshavin's lack of fitness might prove to be a blessing in disguise, as with the massive weight of expectation on the Ruski's shoulders, it might well benefit him for his debut to be delayed, so that it coincides with the long awaited reintroduction of some of our other stars, thereby spreading the load somewhat.

Talking of which, it's hard to believe that following a year out after shattering his leg, Eduardo's first competitive football might be for Croatia this week. Can you imagine ol' Red Nose risking having one of his players injured in similar circumstances? You'd be able to hear him telling the respective national federation where to go, from here in Highbury! Knowing our current luck Eddy will end up doing some damage to himself in training!

I witnessed the huge part luck has to play watching highlights of Pompey v Liverpool on Saturday night. While Arsène didn't get away with leaving Robin out last weekend against West Ham and the Dutchman's struggles to make an impact meant he might as well have played the entire 90, for all the benefit he'll have gained from being left on the bench, fate dealt Rafa Benitez a "get out of jail free" card, when his big guns came on as subs to bag the three points. We would have also heard the Scousers clamour for Rafa's hide from this end of the country, if this gamble had failed.

Harry Redknapp's certainly not one for such abstruse tinkering. When Modric and the rest of Spurs midfield started to fade physically in the latter stages on Sunday, he merely brought on Darren Bent and bypassed the middle of the park. Yet with Robbie Keane so eager to shove our taunts of "Even Rafa thinks you're sh*t!" back down Gooner throats, what surprised me most about Sunday's encounter was that despite their squad looking quite strong on paper, even such a tight Premiership table does not lie and judging by this performance, Spurs are exactly where they should be, with the rest of the bottom feeders.

Before I go, a word for poor Tony Adams, who considering the circumstances of taking over a skint club that had scaled the heights of an FA Cup win last season, was always on a hiding to nothing. There seems to have been a consensus of opinion amongst the media of those who seemed to think it more likely that TA would fail than succeed and I'm sad that Adams hasn't really been given a chance to prove them wrong. Whether he has what it takes to manage at the highest level remains in question but you can't criticize the man for accepting a job which basically fell into his lap. Knowing only too well how much passion Adams has for footie, I sincerely hope the whole experience hasn't proved sufficiently off-putting to deny us an opportunity to see him kicking the crap out of the technical area, passing on his ardor to another generation in the future.

With TA's sacking having been overshadowed by the subsequent shock of Scolari also getting the tin tack, I'd better sign off before an earthquake at Ashburton Grove leaves the rest of my missive looking a little dated

Keep the faith

Taking advantage of Sunday’s respite from this arctic winter, I jumped on my motorbike for the brief four mile trip from London N5 to N17. It meant that I was able to park up directly opposite White Hart Lane and following the final whistle, I was out of there and back home in time to have my feet up for the KO of the afternoon’s second sitting from Upton Park. Along with the bag of smoked salmon bagels, one of my more thoughtful Gooner pals had knocked up for a half-time nosh up (and when I revealed my difficulties masticating my way through a bagel with my false set of “Hampsteads”, he even went to the trouble of bringing a sarnie specially for me), sadly these proved to be the only results of the day.

Being on the Away Ticket Scheme, where away match tickets just turn up in the post and the payment is debited directly from my bank account, I don’t tend to notice the price of individual tickets. At least not until the cost takes me over my overdraft limit and I end up being charged an additional 35 quid in bank charges! But as I literally took my life in my hands, negotiating my way to my seat, right up in the gods, in the away fans’ corner of White Hart Lane, trying to contort my body into a suitable “C” shape to be able to shuffle along a dangerously narrow row, past positively the most corpulent member of the Gooner tribe (when it comes to eating all the pies, he must’ve consumed the pies, factory and the entire trading estate!) without tumbling forward, only to find myself in such a confined space that I was forced to watch the match over the shoulder of the bloke beside me, it occurred to me that our hosts have some “chutzpah” charging us an extortionate 47 quid for their shoddy, sardine-like facilities.

Meanwhile you just know this anti-climax of a North London derby never lived up to its over-hyped billing, if I’m left moaning about being fleeced by ticket prices. I guess it speaks volumes of the quality (or lack thereof) of entertainment that until the remorselessly infuriating Manny Eboué tested ref Mike Dean’s patience once too often within the first thirty and earned himself a red card, our perennially immature Ivorian had at least demonstrated the sort of dynamism, to make him the Gunner most likely to give the Spurs defence a headache.

The Spurs stretcher bearers deserve a reprimand for the positively cruel way in which they subjected Adebayor to a barrage of hostile abuse from three-quarters of the home fans, when they carted him off a few minutes prior and appeared to intentionally take the long route around the pitch.. It wasn’t so surprising that the Togonator tore a hamstring, as this was just about the first time he’d turned on the gas. Whereas if he’d been really grafting, instead of loping around on his heels, perhaps his muscles wouldn’t have cooled sufficiently to cause such an injury.

The voracious Adebayor of last season would’ve already gobbled up two goals before limping off, by being sufficiently on his toes to scent the possibility of getting some contact with his elongated limbs, on a couple of dangerous balls across the face of Cudicini’s goal. But whether Ade was a one-season wonder, or has lost his appetite and is now merely marking time until a big money move to the continent, he’s become a pale shadow of the “Johnny-on-the-spot”, opportunistic striker who poached 30 goals in our previous campaign.

Then again with Lennon running Clichy ragged (mercifully with the ever vigilant Gallas to mop up after our error-prone full-back), with the diminutive Modric ghosting past Denilson and Song as if we didn’t have a midfield and with the majority of them guilty of gifting Spurs possession with their slapdash passing, you could be forgiven for wanting to report the Gunners first-half sham to the DTI, for their feeble misrepresentation of the sort of slick, one-touch entertainment we’ve grown accustomed to (and been spoilt by) during Wegner’s tenure.

At least the smoked-salmon at the break was some consolation, compared to the customary mad-cow pasties and salmonella dogs (although I do happen to know the home fans have a somewhat more appetizing choice of half-time comestibles) and as I tried to munch my way out of my depression, I hoped that by reducing us to ten men, Dean would at least engender a sense of injustice that might inspire the sort of fiery “world’s against us” response which would guarantee a more engrossing second-half.

Sadly much like last week’s derby, there was little evidence on the pitch of the sort of passion felt on the terraces. Sure Song huffed and puffed, but with Alex’s nasty habit of allowing opponents to get goal side, he’s still a long way from maturing into the Mascherano class and with our numerical disadvantage, you got the sense that both teams feared defeat too much, to risk going for it gung-ho in the second half.

Considering Spurs might never have a better opportunity to end their abysmal Premiership run against us, I was surprised they didn’t try to turn the screw and in fact aside from Almunia’s great anticipation to block Modric’s last gasp effort, at the end there, I thought we looked the team most likely to nick it.

However as we took great pleasure in reminding the home fans of their current predicament with chants of “Spurs are on their way to Barnsley” and “We’ll never play here again”, I guess there’s no better testament than Tottenham to the fact that a successful side needs to be moulded, rather than purchased off the shelf, by nature of the measly return of their Mickey Mouse trophy for the £335 million spent by 8 different managers, compared to the success we’ve enjoyed under Wenger at a cost of over £100 million less.

Perhaps the highlight of our afternoon was the prospect of Eduardo’s long awaited return and the arrival of Arshavin, as we regaled the two Gunners warming up on the touchline below us. With Walcott and Fabregas, we eagerly anticipate the injection of nearly half a team’s worth of fresh legs and the sorely missed sight of some red & white support arriving in the opposition’s area.

Up until recently, I couldn’t help but harbour hopes we’d be back to full strength in time to have some influence in the title run-in. But with Martin O’Neill’s relentless charge establishing a 7-point gap between us and Villa and with me finding it hard to believe Chelsea won’t recover their form once Essien returns, I’m beginning to panic. Then again, instead of getting stressed out about mixing it with the also-rans, perhaps it will prove no bad thing if our best chance of guaranteeing Champions League qualification is to actually go an win the bloomin’ thing!
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