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Saturday 7 February 2009

We Hate Spurs More Than You?

G’day Gooners

I sat down to write the following on Sunday night and when I went to finish it before leaving for work on Monday morning, Arshavin was in a North London hotel, according to Sky Sports News - although in truth they would’ve had to have him stashed outside of London somewhere close to London Colney, as the Sky Sports News reporter revealed that the polar conditions weren’t going to prevent the deal going through because it was only a mile from the training ground (at least that’s where I assume he will have had his medical).

However by the time I went to leave for work, the same reporter was stating that he’d had a text message saying that the Gunners didn’t have the dough to do the deal and the Ruski was on his way back to City Airport.

With all the airports closed, I actually envisaged Harry Redknapp hearing this news and scuttling down the A12 to City Airport to hijack the deal! I should know better by now than to get caught up in all this gossip bullsh*t after all these years, but then even I, a staunch Wenger-holic couldn’t believe Le Prof was going to let this transfer window pass him by, without putting his hand in the Club’s pocket

For all we know, perhaps Harry (or H as he’s known to his mates) did pop down, or send one of his East London envelope crew to scope the possibilities of purloining our highly-prized import from St. Petersburg.

Then again H “he’s got a twitch” Houdini was probably too busy buying back the third of three players Spurs have recently sold (Chimbonda, Defoe and Keane). What’s that all about, eh? If there isn’t a cotchel of oilslick, pinstriped agents paying for their Porsches from this round of parleying players back and forth, I’m Popovich from Petrograd!

Besides they’d have had absolutely no luck persuading our Soviet star down the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road, because as we all saw when Andrey appeared outside THOF2, he revealed that he’s a “Guuinner” (I can’t begin to spell correctly the accent in which Arshavin described himself a Gooner, save to say that it was endearingly comical)

Meanwhile, when I spoke to my Spurs pal, he informed me this was merely an old Russian ploy to leverage a few more roubles out of the deal, but not wanting to end up with egg on my face, I thought it expedient to forward the Irish Examiner two versions of the following piece with a different last paragraph to cover either eventuality.

I assumed at the time that the rumours about the club only really wanting to look like they were in for a big signing, but never having any real intention (or ability even!) to stump up the readies, were true and that poor old Andrey was going to end up heading back to Zenik, after being snowed in for a couple of days, looking like a proper Charlie (he’d have probably have accepted an offer from Metalurg Donetsk at that stage, rather than trudging home with his tail between his legs!). However if interview outside THOF with one of the agents involved in the deal was to be believed, it sounded as if they’d rescued Andrey (with a “Y” according to Sky Sports News!) from behind the Iron Curtain, before his commie captors chained him to a (broken) radiator in the run up to deadline day. ☺

If I’m honest, I don’t really recall seeing enough of Arshavin to really pass judgement on him as a player. I’ve a vague recollection of him playing for Russia against England, where I believe he played in the Rebrov role (as in when the Rebrov/Schevchenko partnership were ripping it up for Kiev). Maybe it was a ridiculously inflated price that put any opposition clubs off, but the one thing which did concern me a little was that it didn’t exactly appear as if we were having to beat the opposition off with a broom, to prevent being outbid for the diminutive Cossack?

We can but hope that Andrey is a much bigger personality on the pitch than the meek….I was going to say “lad” but let’s face it, he’s no spring chicken, who came out to proclaim himself one of us.

Our new no. 23’s problem is that there’s going to be such a weight of expectation on his shoulders to be the instant panacea for all the Arsenal’s problems, that I can’t begin to imagine him being able to fulfill a fraction of our hopes, even if he played like Kaka, Ronaldihno and Eto’o all rolled into one (which he won’t!). It’s hard to imagine his fellow, fickle Guinners being patient enough to allow him a couple of games to get to know his team mates, let alone the six weeks it might take for him to become match fit (with the Russian having ended in November).

If there’s any truth to it, I love the fact that the guy really seems to have had his heart set on playing for the Arsenal. But being the cynic I am, I can’t help but wonder if this was more a case of him being desperate to do a runner from Russia, before Europe’s economy collapses completely (and before his star began to slide in inverse proportion to his age) and no matter how many wheelbarrows it would take to carry his transfer fee, it still wouldn’t paper half of his penthouse flat.

In the aftermath of this less than smooth transaction (bearing in mind, we only caught the last few tense hours of it, I can only imagine the weeks of agonizing dentistry involved in tearing this particular midfield molar from its Motherland gum), you got the impression that the Gunners had accepted the fact that they had no choice but to get their man and you can bet your sweet bippy that the selling party were certain to have done their utmost to leverage every last kopek out of the transaction.

However if it wasn’t for the fact that Wenger appeared so utterly focused on adding this one solitary piece to his Arsenal jigsaw (much as he appeared to be with Reyes), I would’ve much preferred if he’d done a couple more deals before the deadline, if only to ensure that we don’t end up in scenario where he’s forced to send an unfit Arshavin on for the last 20 minutes because we’re 0-1 down (hopefully not on Sunday) and he pulls a hamstring. It would seem like the end of our season, whereas at least if we had a couple more new faces, it would feel as if we had something, or someone else to pin all our hopes on.

Personally I don’t really see where another pretty passer of the ball checks the boxes of our highest priorities at present. Especially in a fully fit squad, where I can’t envisage Andrey fitting the bill as a partner for Fabregas in the middle of the park, nor as a partner for Van Persie up front. Still I continue to have faith that Arsène knows, even if I’d preferred to see us sign a big ugly bruiser, with a personality to match who could lend a bit of substance to such to the positively lightweight first XI of the past few weeks.

In my piece below, I’ve moaned about Denilson and Diaby both sitting deep, when West Ham showed so little ambition that they could’ve both been given license to rampage forward. However during the game the WHU supporting nephew of my boss, the master carpenter at the ballet, had the insight that we’d be best inviting the Irons on to us, in order to allow us the space to get in behind them and perhaps this was Le Prof’s intention by having his central midfield sitting just in front of the defence, only the buggers didn’t take the bait and though it was as dull as dishwater, you have to give Zola’s team credit for a commendably disciplined defensive performance.

On my way around to the ground I was struggling with the dilemma of whether I could take any money off the lad for his ticket. His uncle is so kind to me in looking out for work which is least likely to damage my increasingly decrepit joints that I wouldn’t have dreamed of taking money from him, if he could’ve escaped looking after the kids last Saturday, but I wasn’t certain if it was proper etiquette to express my gratitude to his kin.

I am sure if West Ham had won, I wouldn’t have hesitated in making the lad cough up a few quid for the privilege of seeing me suffer. However in the end, I wished I’d taxed him before KO, as when I walked back with him to the Arsenal tube after, I honestly didn’t have the heart to take any money off him for freezing his cods off to endure 90 minutes of such an uneventful match.

The tubes were so banjaxed that it took him over an hour and a half just to get to the Arsenal from Canning Town and in truth I was just relieved that he was able to hook up with one of his Hammers mates who just happened to live around the corner and who had a seat for him a warm motor. As I said to him, the fact that he would be warm and toasty with his feet up in front of the fire, instead of still shivering in the queue at the Arsenal, was probably the best result of the day!

I was about to sign off, so that I could get this sent out, rather than have it sit as yet another unfinished opus, with all the other opii (just wanted to get than in to show I know the plural – Stephen Fry, who he?) that have been made obsolete by the euphoria, or the hysteria of a subsequent outing. But I really couldn’t sign off without saying a word about Sunday’s derby.

In my humble opinion, you can judge the credentials of a genuine Gooner by how much the North London derby means to them. Never mind all those who might have you believe that Arsenal v Chelsea is far more significant, especially in a season where both North London sides might have little more to crow about than their conquest of this corner of the capital. Mind you, the still have a Mickey Mouse Wembley outing ahead of them and could even have a relegation battle on their hands, to keep their choler up. And I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that I still harbour totally unrealistic hopes of us upsetting the odds in the Champions League (now there’s a stage which might suit our Andrey?)

Matches v the likes of Man Utd, Chelsea et al pale into insignificance for those of us who inhabit the North London environs and who are confronted on a daily basis by the enemy. I’m already bricking myself about how I’m going to manage a glass half-full show of stiff upper lip optimism to my Spurs pals if the worst came to the worst this weekend.

In fact, considering how much I hate the snow (aside from having sadistic fun throwing snowballs for Treacle to catch, I’m a complete coward when it comes to negotiating snow on anything but a pair of skiis – to the extent that even I sent the missus out in the motor on a mercy mission on Monday night, rather than get behind the wheel myself), it says something that actually think there would be a part of me that would be quite relieved if six inch blanket of the stuff caused a postponement on Sunday.

I happened to pass by to solve a Spurs’ mate’s computer woes on my way home from my Ma’s tonight and he told me that I was the second person today, to enquire if White Hart Lane had undersoil heating. I think he was quite put out at my suggestion that they were so backward at the Lane, compared to the plush facilities at the better end of the Seven Sisters Road (didn’t stop them calling off the Cardiff game somewhat presumptuously on Monday!).

These extreme weather conditions already have me fretting about how I’m going to manage the practicalities of a lunchtime raid in and out of enemy territory. Even I am not barmy enough to brave the motorbike, which was bought specifically because of the advantages it would lend to this sort of outing. And I seriously begrudge paying more to park the car at Spurs than some folks pay for their football ticket at many grounds.

If I get up early enough, I might head in the opposite direction to White Hart Lane, to cadge a lift in my Spurs pals motor. It will be worth the barrage of banter because they’ve got a great parking pitch and it would save me having to brave the elements on a long hike. However it would mean obtaining an assurance that they weren’t going to leave before the final whistle and even then, I’m not sure I could guarantee them not reneging on any arrangement, as if they were 0-2 down, at least leaving me stranded outside Spurs might offer them a little consolation.

I’m not a big Facebook aficionado, in fact I got so fed up with the number of emails that it generates, that I ended up setting up a filter, which mean that I only rarely remember to look in on the odd occasion I click on the Facebook folder. However the subject did cross up this evening when my mate’s missus enquired how come I had “so and so” listed as a friend. Apparently it’s a kid who goes to school with their son and for a worrying minute, I thought I was being accused of “grooming”. I imagine it’s just a Gooner connection but nevertheless when I checked my email when I arrived home, it occurred to me to check the Facebook folder and I found the latest message was from my first ever girlfriend from primary school. “How sweet” I thought that she’d looked me up until I opened the message to see “Come on you Spurs”

With the enmity Harry has engendered amongst the Hammers by his positively treasonable act (as the Hammers fans teased “We hate Spurs more than you”), I had a fanciful notion that last weekend’s encounter with West Ham might inspire a unified chorus of “He’s got a twitch, he’s got a twitch, Harry Redknapp, he’s got a twitch”.

Yet as I walked home with the Hammers unanswered (and sung with more than a little irony) “we are unbeatable” chants ringing in my ears, if I was most disappointed about one aspect to last weekend’s encounter with West Ham, it’s that amidst such bitter conditions and with evidence of so many empty seats dotted around the ground (which are always so much more prominent in Club Level), it dawned on me that our new temple to Premiership football might look like a marvelous stage for the best the beautiful game has to offer, but sadly it seems to lack the necessary soul to inspire the sort of fervour that was once capable of warming the most icy Saturday afternoon at our old home.

I know Bennett provided us with the obligatory half dozen bookings, but the absolute lack of any real venom, or extreme emotion of any kind left me coming away wondering whether I’d really just watched an Arsenal v West Ham game.

Both teams’ current predicament means that we won’t be wanting for any passions between the two sets of fans on Sunday to keep the cold out, but it will be interesting to see if this transmits itself to the pitch

All I know is that if we should lose, you can expect me to go into hibernation for the duration

Come on you Reds


After exhausting, successive away trips to games against Hull, Cardiff and Everton, about the best thing that can be said about yet another uninspiring Arsenal performance is that at least I only had to walk around the corner, in the bitter cold on Saturday.

In the recent past our displays on the road have tended to be more entertaining, because we’ve been able to exploit the space that’s afforded to us, by the fact that the home team is forced to show a little more ambition than would customarily be seen at our place. Thus it was disappointing to make the eight hour round trip drive to Goodison in midweek, for a 1-1 stalemate where Cahill’s 62nd minute header and Van Persie’s stunning 90th minute volley were just about the only efforts on target.

We joked sarcastically in the car on the way back that the point Robin rescued at the death might ultimately prove important in our challenge for UEFA Cup qualification, Yet it’s a sad reality that the current Arsenal first XI is a long way from the enthralling side that was capable of keeping an opposition goalie’s gloves warm the entire 90, with an relentless stream of goal scoring opportunities. And it was even more galling at the final whistle last Wednesday that our Dutch striker was the only one of our players to walk over and acknowledge the support of the travelling Gooners, while the rest of his team mates walked straight off, without showing the slightest appreciation that they’d be tucked up in their beds after a brief flight back to London, while we’d still be wending our way back down the motorway in the wee hours.

Despite getting home at nearly 3am, I sat down to watch a recording of the midweek Match of the Day, where highlights of West Ham v Hull showed the Hammers passing their way around and peppering the Tigers goal to such an extent, that Zola’s Irons looked far more like the Arsenal, than our current lacklustre lot. As a result I was looking forward to what I hoped might be an open and entertaining derby game against West Ham and seeing in person some of their impressive youngsters, like Collison, or perhaps finding out what £9million buys nowadays, by way of Savio.

In truth you’d think there’d never be a better time to take the Arsenal on, but I guess that psychologically, the Gunners remain a relatively big scalp and with West Ham’s unbeaten run keeping them well clear of the relegation mire, instead of playing to our strengths, they came to our place intent on merely shutting us out.

It certainly didn’t make for the sort of spectacle I was hoping for, but I can’t argue that the Hammer’s tactics proved effective. If Zola’s influence was evident in their game against Hull, according to my Hammer’s pal, it was Steve Clarke’s nous, which was responsible for the stalwart way in which the Irons set their defensive stall out on Saturday.

Writing his programme notes from back home in Spain, Fabregas states that he hopes to return from his knee ligament injury sooner than expected. I certainly hope this will prove to be the case, as the stats of our ten game unbeaten Premiership run hardly reveal quite how frustrating our form has been in Cesc’s absence. We weren't exactly on fire before Fab was crocked but the more we see of the current line-up, the more obvious it has become that Van Persie is the only genuine class act amongst them.

We’ve seen occasional glimpses of quality from Samir Nasri, like his goals against Man Utd and as with the majority of our players, I’ve no doubt Nasri would look great in a Gunners side that was on song. But with Van Persie left on the bench on Saturday (until the last 20), despite dominating possession, the team that Arsène put out once again lacked the dynamism and the inspiration to seriously threaten Robert Green's goal.

If resting the in-form Robin was baffling, it was also hard to understand why our two central midfielders, Diaby & Denilson sat so deep, as if both had been tasked with a holding role. West Ham’s limited ambitions meant that both of them could’ve been given license to bomb forward to support our strikers. Instead of which, we were forced to endure another impotent attacking display. In fact with a surprising number of empty seats in the stands (despite the laughable 60,109 attendance figures) both on the terraces and on the pitch this game rarely sparked into the sort of fervent affair that we’ve come to expect from this London derby. It almost made one nostalgic for the sort of entertainment provided by Vieira gobbing on Razor Ruddock!

Both Arsenal fans and squad alike appear desperate for the moral boost of some fresh blood and some increased competition for places. We can but hope that Arshavin's arrival will have the necessary positive impact. Allegedly the hiccup on deadline day was merely an old Ruski trick to leverage an additional few quid. Yet in truth we couldn't afford NOT to buy him, because if Andrey's contribution does anything to help us qualify for the Champions League, any additional sums we've been forced to pay will seem like relative peanuts compared to the cost of failing to finish in the top four and the sort of premiums we'd be forced to pay to attract players to a club that couldn’t offer the opportunity to play on the big Euro stage.

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