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Monday 16 March 2009

"All I Know Is We Are On Our Way" (part deux)

Hi folks,

You'll have to forgive me, but in restricting myself for once to the required number of words in my column for the Irish Examiner, it feels as if I've left out more than I've included in this week's missive, hence this overly verbose addition!

In seasons past, my tardy habits have cost me dear but I have to admit that I've grown somewhat complacent in recent times, because the Gunners haven't been starting games sufficiently fired up to force the opposition onto the back foot right from the opening whistle and I've not missed an early goal all season

As a result, although I was hurrying across the North Bridge at 3pm on Saturday along with loads of other latecomers, there was little sense of urgency because few of us were exactly panicking about this prospect.

Obviously I was a little miffed when the roar went up, especially at the thought that I wasn't present for Shava's first strike in an Arsenal shirt, but on the radio they initially thought that it might've been Song who'd got the last touch. Nevertheless I hollered my delight and did a little jig of joy, because it's been so long since we made the sort of fast start to a game to gain an immediate advantage and thereby ensuring the sort of entertainment promised by the fact that the opposition would be forced to show a little more ambition in order to make up the deficit.

Some Gooners were a little concerned about Theo Walcott's inclusion in the starting line-up against a Blackburn side, who were bound to adopt the sort of bully-boy tactics much beloved by their overweight manager. Yet it was his return which was the principal factor in Saturday's 4-0 thumping, as a fresh-legged Theo lends the Gunners the sort of vitality that's been sorely lacking in our lacklustre performances of late.

It was our little Roadrunner's energy from the off which resulted in Shava and Song bundling the ball into the back of the net and in turn the early goal was responsible for all that followed, in a game which was more reminiscent of the rampant Gunners of old, with a sorely missed glut of goalscoring opportunities.

Similarly, after battering Burnley and all that euphoria in Rome on Wednesday (with it not mattering a jot that it was such a dodgy performance, after the shoot-out went our way), we've started to accrue some momentum which saw us going into Saturday's game with a buoyancy that we've not witnessed in a long time, with the first signs of the swagger returning to our game and instead of the wayward touches that have been prevalent of late, there was some pep to our far more crisp passing, thereby demonstrating quite how much difference a little confidence makes.

But then the omens were good as I rushed around to the ground, with the covers and an ugly layer of scaffolding finally being removed from the facade of the old East Stand, with it standing there as I turned into Avenell Road, resplendent in the bright sunshine, framed by a cloudless clear blue sky, in its brand spanking red & white coat of paint, in all its Art Deco glory.

With Rona not nearly so enthusiastic about going to new gaff in recent times because she's yet to have any feelings for the place, compared to the far more intimate family vibe of our seats in the West Upper at THOF (where she wouldn't have dreamed of missing a match!), we've been flogging her ticket for recent games to a young Gooner from the US, who's here on a six month footie pilgrimage.

Our septic pal has taken a warehouse job in order to fund his Arsenal addiction and truth be known, we've been so skint that Ro's relative indifference towards many of our home fixtures in recent weeks, has meant that she'd much rather have the readies. Although with the cost of any cup games being added to the price of next season's renewals (as the replay against Cardiff was the last of the seven included in the cost of our season tickets), the sensible move would be to put the cash in the bank, as I know we're going to regret not doing so, when we're struggling to come up with more than two grand come the deadline on 1st June!

I've also felt a little guilty taking all Zach's hard earned wages off him every week. Although I've learned to get the wonga from him up front, as I've felt even more heartless, relieving him of forty quid following some of our dreary 0-0 draws. In an effort to recoup some of his outgoings and for some added interest, Zach has been taking small punts on some long odds footie bets and I was delighted for him on Saturday, when he thought he'd had his first win, with a few quid on Shava as first goal scorer at 7/1.

However with the subsequent doubts over who'd had the last touch, we were both panicking about whether William Hill would pay out and he rushed around to the bookies in Blackstock Road immediately after the final whistle to try and collect his winnings, before they had an opportunity to amend the scorer. As a result, we were both relieved and I was somewhat surprised to hear that these gambling "ganefs" had duly coughed up.

Our last three domestic matches have produced ten great goals and Alex Song has been a constant and significant factor in all three of these games (which isn't bad when you consider that it wasn't so long ago that Arsène was to be heard telling fans at a shareholders Q & A session something to the effect of "I know that Alex is a centre-back and is not suited to playing in midfield"). Recent evidence would suggest that Song and Denilson are beginning to complement one another as a midfield pairing.

They both continue to frustrate me with their naive defending, where I find it very strange how often both of them struggle with the basic principle of staying goalside of their opponent and end up forced to attempt a potentially reckless challenge, in an effort to attempt a recovery. What's more, it must be a Brazilian thing, as Denilson seems to have acquired Gilberto's annoying habit of making a successful challenge, but somehow failing to come away with the ball. But Song seems to have the strength and determination to develop into a decent ball winner, with his no nonsense tackling style and with both he and Denilson having time on their side, they both deserve to be afforded plenty of patience.

By contrast, on the evidence of Wednesday's decidedly unimpressive performance and other recent games where they've played as a partenrship in the middle, although Denilson and Diaby might look like a decent midfield pairing, in reality they've yet to demonstrate that they're capable of developing into a force that's capable of controlling the middle of the park.

There've been rare instances when Abou has looked like a world-beater, but for the most part these have been brief cameo moments (Aston Villa away comes to mind) and it's hard to remember Diaby producing an impressive 90 minute display. Personally I was looking forward to seeing him get a run in a more central role because he definitely doesn't look comfortable when asked to play out wide. I seem to remember reading somewhere that his preferred position is playing behind the front man but wherever one play on the park, the princples of defending as a team are the same.

It was ironic to see the reversal of roles in the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday. Driven on by a home crowd, Roma's aging bunch of journeymen were bound to be more up for it than they were in the first leg. But watching them pressing us in our own half, denying us any time on the ball, one could be forgiven for thinking they were the Premiership side.

Unfortunately I was only able to watch the Roma game on the box and I was gutted not to have been able to go to the Eternal City. Although at least we've seen the Gunners play there before which meant that it wasn't quite so traumatic watching on the telly. But above all, the main reason I can't bear not being present is because I find watching the Gunners on box unbelievably stressful, especially when being forced to endure 120 cringeworthy minutes, followed by a "hide behind the sofa" shoot-out.

I'm a little loathe to comment on TV coverage of an Arsenal performance because of the possibility of not having seen the bigger picture, as the camera follows the ball. Yet while I wouldn't dream of slagging anyone in red & white out loud, when watching in person, I found myself screaming blue-murder in frustration during much of Sky's coverage of Wednesday's feeble display.

Even though we have a relatively inexperienced side, it's hard to imagine so many seasoned Internationals being over-awed by the occasion. Yet whether this was the cause, or whether it was due to a little complacency creeping in, after our dominant display in the first leg, right from the opening whistle I got the sense that we weren't nearly sufficiently pumped compared to the home team, as Roma were first to every ball and showed so much nore hunger and determination.

Some might suggest this game demonstrated quite to what extent Totti is a waning force, as I've no doubt that the Totti of old, who was frequently in the habit of winning matches almost single-handed, he would've found some way of taking advantage of all the time and space afforded to his side while in possession.

Some less critical Gooner seem to have watched a different game to me, but personally I was utterly incredulous at the way Roma kept walzing through our midfield, almost entirely unopposed. Eventually I found myself cussing everyone at such loud decibel levels, that I had to put a sock it in because I was scaring the crap out of the poor dog and I made myself sit here quietly, trying to coax poor, trembling Treacle back out from under the table!

However with our defence not knowing whether to stick, or twist (ie. whether to hold their line on the edge of our area, or to come out and close the space down), I was convinced that the likes of Totti, Vucinic or Riise would eventually punish us for inviting them to shoot, by spanking one in from just outside the area.

Mercifully we can forget all that having succeeded in the shoot-out. Although I am sure I wasn't alone in thinking that when it came down to penalties, our young team was far more likely to bottle it than Roma's experienced lot.

Consequently I'm happy to admit that I was wrong and all credit to the lads for the cahones they showed in stepping up to take their spot-kicks, even Eduardo, or especially Eduardo, because even though he failed to find the back of the net, hy taking the first, he was the bravest of the lot.

Plenty of Gooners have risen to defend Almunia's right to deal with the shoot-out in whatever way suited him. However I have to agree with Amy Lawrence on this one, as I really didn't like the way he stood on the edge of the pitch, bent double, with his back to the Gunners penalties. By doing this, he was hardly showing "unbelievable belief" in his teammates prospects of scoring. But then as detailed by the Observer's Gooner Gal in her recent blog piece, perhaps this was exactly the sort of timid display that one might expect of the macho man who'd recently been pictured in the tabs walking a toy dog in a fuschia coloured jacket.

I don't know about anyone else but from my point of view he could be a Medallion Man, or an outlandishly fey Dorothy, but I want a bold, balls-out, barmpot of a keeper with the sort of intimidating presence that makes him appear another two feet taller, to anyone striding up to take a spot kick, not a meek silent feller who instead appears to shrink between the posts.

Althougn now is definitely not the time to be having a pop at anyone, as I love 'em all at the mom and with everyone returning to full-fitness, I'm hoping that at long last we might begin to see the benefits of some genuine competition for places as we reach the business end of the season.

Bring on the Tigers - in the event we turn over Phil Brown's team, I'm off to see if I've enough left of my overdraft to afford two tickets to Wemberlee!

Nuff Love

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"All I Know Is We Are On Our Way"

I yanked my radio headphones out of my ear and craned my neck forwards, convinced I was hearing things at the Arsenal on Saturday. I couldn’t believe the sound of the “Super Nicky Bendtner” chant emanating out from the North-West corner of the ground (from our somewhat ineffective “singing section”).

With this ditty coming on the back of the Dane’s umpteenth glaring miss, at first I wondered if it might be a mickey-taking version (eg. the “Super Pr**k” adaption of the bloke behind me), or perhaps they were extolling another Gunner, since an earlier hapless effort to hit Blackburn’s bovine backside, with Bendtner’s badly tuned banjo had resulted in a chorus of “Robin Van Persie”, to try and encourage Arsène to put our Danish striker out of his misery and bring the Dutchman off the bench.

My incredulity stemmed from the fact that the Arsenal faithful have acquired a reputation for fickle behaviour at home games in recent times. Obviously it helped that we were 2-0 up at this stage and still high on Shava’s glorious first goal, but it made for a pleasant change to hear our crowd doing their bit, trying to prop up Bendtner’s battered confidence, despite tearing our hair out, watching him blow chance, after chance.

I might well be one of Bertie “Big Bollix” Bendtner’s biggest critics, but along with the majority of those present, I recognised that he’d put in an earnest shift. Although he was infuriatingly profligate with so many goal-scoring opportunities, considering the dearth of entertainment on offer at our place of late, the more knowledgeable amongst us were appreciative of the fact that Nicky was getting himself into these positions so frequently. Moreover, I know it was only Rovers, but his woeful finishing aside, I’ve rarely seen our Danish striker looking so sharp.

I’ve a tendency to zone out on the bonehead Gooner begrudgers in our vicinity. Otherwise the “white noise” of all their whingeing would ruin games. But I opened my gob on Saturday, when the Bendtner knocker behind me suggested it was barmy that we were singing his praises, loudly commenting “slagging him off is hardly likely to encourage him to play any better”.

Earlier in the game, when Dowd booked one of the Rovers midfield, this same bigot barked out “you black…..naughty man, you” as if his brain had caught up with his mouth, mid-comment. Evidently the racists haven’t entirely evaporated from our terraces, they’ve merely succumbed to peer pressure.

Perhaps if a few more of us made it be known that it is also not big, nor clever to get on our own players’ backs, it might just have a similar effect and we wouldn’t have so many old-school Gooners questioning whether they’re going to bother spending their hard earned wedge, renewing their season tickets, only to be surrounded by so many people who don’t seem to have a clue what being a “supporter” entails.

Although the overall mood is definitely on the up, after our 4-0 romp against Rovers was reinforced by the result at Villa Park. Knowing how many of my Spurs mates seem to gain more pleasure from the Gunners’ demise, than they do from their own team’s exploits, they will have been squirming between the rock and the hard place of Sunday’s encounter with Villa. The 3 points that raised Spurs up out of the relegation mire must’ve left a bitter after-taste, by fortifying our 4th place.

There can be few finer margins between success and failure than our progress to the last 8 of the Champions League via a penalty shoot-out and it would’ve been a completely different story if we’d skied one of our spot-kicks instead of Roma. Surely the Totti of old would’ve taken advantage of all the time and space afforded to the home side in the Olympic Stadium. Yet our failure to suppress a second-rate Roma was soon forgotten about in the rampant euphoria of the all-important result.

There was plenty of time for reflection, as having ruined Roman dreams of playing in a final on their own pitch, the local Carabinieri expressed their resentment by refusing to let the Gooners go until gone 1.30am. I don’t want to tempt fate before Friday’s draw for the penultimate two rounds of the tournament, but after taking our place along with the best teams in Europe, on the back of such an unimpressive performance, this might lead one to conclude that perhaps, just perhaps our name is on the big-eared prize?

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Monday 9 March 2009

You'll Never Walk Alone

There was a marvelous moment immediately after our second goal against Owen Coyle’s Clarets on Sunday, when Eduardo stood looking up at the replays on the big screen, admiring his own footwork. It was perfectly understandable, as his side-foot volley was indeed a thing of beauty. In fact all three goals were works of art, but then they were bound to leave us salivating, considering how starved us poor, spoiled Gooners have been of such high-class entertainment on home turf of late.

I know it was only West Brom, but for those of us who were fortunate to have made the trip to the Hawthorns in midweek, it felt as if the Gunners had started to rediscover the dynamism and the energy, that’s been on the missing list for much of our lacklustre season so far. Nevertheless we badly needed to demonstrate this in a home game, because otherwise one might’ve begun to believe that the Arsenal actually benefit from playing away, liberated by the knowledge that every mistake is not going to be met with the collective groans of 60,000 demanding Gooners.

Then again, I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that I find away games somewhat liberating. I certainly look forward to them more, in recent times, knowing that I will be surrounded by the sort of staunch awayday faithful who might continue to turn the air blue, agonising under their breath, but who appreciate that they have a part to play in getting behind the team and audibly expressing their support for the entire ninety, come what may. By contrast, despite the fact that Sunday’s encounter was the most enjoyable home game since Cardiff’s capitulation in the last round, we exited our place to the tune of the Burnley fans’ “3-0 and you still don’t sing” taunts.

It feels to me as if far too many amongst our home fans have become so accustomed to giving vent to their frustrations, that this has become their default status. Sure there are pockets of steadfast support, like the Red Action “singing section” in the North-West corner. But the immense proportions of our impressive looking stadium seem to prevent their chants emanating out and so the volume waxes and wanes, rarely ever reaching the sort of roof-raising magnitude that would lend our home games that inspirational, hair-raising atmosphere, craved by fans and players alike.

With hindsight the club might have done better to allocate the section of seats directly in front of the media to the Red Action mob, as these currently appear to be occupied by the most fickle of the Gooner faithful, resulting in the sort of regular reports which are fast earning Arsenal fans an unwanted reputation as being the Premiership’s quickest to turn on our team. It would be a shame to deny our friends from the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road their one and only table-topping opportunity.

Much kudos to BBC radio for their revival of revamped versions of “Galton & Simpson’s Half Hour” comedies, starting on Saturday with “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. It’s as funny and as poignant today, as it was 30 years ago. There’s a line where Frank Skinner (playing the Brian Glover role) tells the other passengers on his Wembley bound train “We’re not just spectators, we’re complimentary ingredients in the same pudding. Us and the team. We’re the yeast that makes them rise to the occasion. We’re the spur, the whip, the following wind, which billows out the sails of the mighty galleon”.

Quite frankly I find it depressing to think that I might be destined to a future where, instead of my season ticket offering me fortnightly opportunities to bellow the mighty Gunners on to further glory, I more frequently find myself sitting there wanting to scream at the whinging blowhards to put a sock in it!

Meanwhile it was great to be back on the sofa on Sunday night, eagerly awaiting the highlights, after several weeks in which the dearth of entertainment has seen an ignominious slide down the MOTD pecking order. It was more like watching “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” or some weird and wonderful dream, seeing Alex Song produce the precision pass, to put the ball on a plate for Eduardo’s volley and then follow this up with his artistic backheel, in the balletic build-up to Eboué’s goal. Surely this wasn’t the same prosaic Song who’s been passing the responsibility on all season, with his penchant for laying the ball off sideways and backwards?

Theo Walcott’s return was a major fillip because we’ve sorely missed the our little Road Runner’s scintillating pace and the resulting buzz of anticipation every time he receives the ball. Hopefully he’s back in the nick of time to leave Roma’s defence trailing in his wake in the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday. Mind you, if the disconcerting list of Roman “don’t dos” that arrived with the tickets were all to be heeded, most Gooners wouldn’t dare step out of their hotel room for fear of upsetting the Ultras!

Now if only Theo could acquire some of the composure shown by Carlos Vela, in lifting the ball over Burnley’s lump of a keeper, he’d be the complete package. However with “Shava” finding his feet and beginning to pull the strings and with Fabregas, Adebayor and Rosicky still to be added to the mix, the Gunners are suddenly back to looking like a match for anyone, while Villa’s recent falter has put a completely different complexion on the race to finish in the top four.

Sadly with Hull still between us and a semi-final berth, we were denied that Wembley buzz on Sunday. Myself I’m all for keeping Wembley special, but I guess they’ve got to pay for the place somehow and not yet having had the privilege, I’m not about to moan about being that bit closer to our first opportunity to see the Arsenal tread the remodelled version of the hallowed turf.

Personally I would’ve preferred Man Utd as potential semi-final opponents, purely for the pleasure of being the team to put the kibosh on their prospects of monopolizing all this season’s silverware. Moreover with Essien coming back for the Blues, Chelsea are likely to prove a much stiffer test than the team we beat at the Bridge.

However, with serious European business either side of any potential domestic Cup derby, I’ve faith we’ll still have bigger fish to fry. Some pundits (and Mourihno) would have you believe that Inter’s 0-0 in Milan was a more worrisome result than our single goal win against Roma. The more they write the Gunners off, the more I begin to wonder if, instead of this campaign offering a test of our loyalty, ultimately the greater challenge will be the assault upon the depth of Gooner pockets. It’s ironic to think that we’re all sitting here praying for the sort of success that will end with us joining Utd fans in the queues for a second mortgage!
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Tuesday 3 March 2009

Win When We're Singing

Hi folks

I'm sure I wasn't alone in finding Sunday's Carling Cup final difficult to endure, not knowing who I'd rather win (or lose). With it being my Spurs mate's 9-year old son's birthday on Saturday and with them going to Wembley, I guess it would've been great for them to celebrate a win. However the lad enjoyed his first final last season and in truth, if he's going to grow up with the burden of being a Spurs time, I suppose it's about time he started learning the hard facts of life and begins to get accustomed to that annual feeling of disappointment.

Moreover, on the basis that my other Spurs mates would've been absolutely insufferable if they'd actually retained a trophy, even such a Mickey Mouse one (especially if, heaven forfend, we end up enduring another barren season), in the end, there was a good deal of Shadenfreude to be savoured in the penalty shoot-out, particularly when "Big Time" David Bentley put his spot kick wide.

However being up for Man Utd doesn't exactly come easy and this was only on the proviso that ultimately it will be ourselves who'll have the opportunity put an end to all this preposterous talk of a "quintuplet", by winning either the FA Cup, the Champions League, or even both, hopefully putting Utd to the sword in one, or both competitions along the way.

After Saturday's disappointment, Stoke's two late goals against Villa on Sunday were a major filip. Although I couldn't help but feel even more annoyed that we'd failed to take advantage of Villa's slip up. Then again, there's a part of me that wonders if it might actually be an advantage for us to have no option but the win the Champs League to qualify next season. Yet this would be a massive "all or nothing" gamble and if we are going to give ourselves an alternative option, we've got to begin to apply some pressure. Villa have got some seriously awkward encounters coming up but their results are irrelevant, unless we can do our bit by breaking our recent goal drought and beginning a winning run.

Arsène admits that Arshavin is only 80-90 per cent fit (although to my eyes, less than 80 appears more accurate than more than 90!). Nevertheless from the impact Andrey has already had with his cameo moments, it's plainly obvious he's a class act. Mercifully we're at least not being fed the traditional excuses about Andrey needing time to adapt to Premiership footie and with the stars we have to come back from injury in the weeks ahead, I remain relatively optimistic that we're going to be reaping the rewards of the Ruski's arrival, before the season is out, as he and his teammates start to produce the sort of football that leaves all of our far too fickle (not so) faithful feeling more than a little stupid and the rest of us bemused Gooners wondering what might've been, if only we'd struck a vein of form a little sooner.

If only according to the law of averages, I've got to fancy we can't go five games without scoring a goal. But in addition to a much needed confidence boost of a win up at West Brom, I'm hoping this week might also provide an opportunity to witness Jack Wilshere running rings around the old enemy's kids, in the FA Youth Cup Quarterfinal at White Hart Lane.

Come on you Reds
Big Love


I was sufficiently infuriated by our failure to find the back of the net (again!) on Saturday, to feel like making my frustrations known at the final whistle. Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to join in with the loud chorus of boos, that saw the Gunners departing the field with the sound of our own “supporters” disapprobation ringing in their ears.

Admittedly I was more than a little miffed because I didn’t get the sense that our players left absolutely everything out there on the field, during the closing stages of this match. While Frank Lampard was bagging a seemingly undeserved winner in injury time at the Bridge, I was most disappointed that we couldn’t seem to drum up the same “do or die” urgency, which in the past would’ve resulted in us laying siege to Fulham’s goal for the last 15 minutes. Driven by the knowledge that nothing less than a win would suffice, I fondly recall the way in which opposing teams have visibly seemed to wilt in the dying throes, in the face of the force of nature, which was fuelled by the unrelenting drive and determination of Arsenal sides of yore.

Whereas nowadays, in a squad seemingly devoid of inspirational leadership figures, with the presence and personality to rally the troops when necessary, by cajoling and encouraging in equal measure and with our confidence so brittle that several players seem to lack the bottle to grasp the goal-scoring responsibilities (judging by their infernal insistence on overplaying, when all one wants is for someone to “give it some welly”!), it’s the Gunners who’ve got a tendency to wilt.

Much as I love him, the mild-mannered Kolo Touré isn’t really my idea of captain material. It might be seen as a little “de trop” in these touchy-feely times but instead of a superstitious soul, who’s inherited the armband by default and who’s last out of the loo because a teammate has the trots, I’d much prefer the sort of highly-charged lunatic who’d be headbutting the lockers, before leading his men into battle!

If we’d scored an early goal against Fulham, it would’ve been an entirely different story. But, for example, when our 5 minute flurry at the start of the second half failed to breach Schwarzer’s goal, the energy levels dropped and as the fuse burned out without a bang, one soon got the sense that our players felt as if they were fated for yet another fruitless afternoon.

However on sitting down to endure the low-lights on the box later that night, I was reminded of the wafer thin margins between success and failure. The Carpenters might be a more appropriate moniker than the Gunners, considering how intimate we’ve been with the woodwork this season. With the width of a post denying us a goal for the 12th time, it occurred to me that unlike the bore draws against West Ham and Sunderland, the Cottagers’ more ambitious approach had made for an open encounter, in which we did everything but hit the back of the old onion bag.

As a result, as irate as I was about our 4th successive scoreless domestic draw and the prospect of coming to terms with a weekend which might put the complete kibosh on Champions League qualification, this definitely wasn’t the sort of scandalously poor display that was deserving of such a din of disapproval at the death.

Moreover I would invite all those Gooners who targeted the team (and our manager) as a means of venting their anger, to look a little closer to home in the hunt for an equally culpable scapegoat. If I was annoyed by the apparent lack of passion and commitment in the closing stages, I was no less dismayed by the dearth of any atmosphere. Despite it’s library label, many was the afternoon at Highbury when, in appreciation of the significance of the outcome, the North Bank or the Clock End would rise to the occasion, to create that wall of noise which was capable of sucking the ball into the back of the net, as a match reached its cacophonous climax.

By contrast, Saturday’s crowd was so taciturn that commentating on the radio, Stan Collymore described the occasion as having a testimonial feel to it. Sadly, perhaps it’s the open expanses of our new stadium which don’t lend themselves to creating the concerted clamour that's capable of inspiring the sort of surge of adrenaline that can displace the lactic acid in the fatigued legs of those playing their second game in five days, so that instead of feeling like they’re running through treacle, they’re inspired to fly around the pitch in one last desperate effort to reward the raucous faithful. Or maybe it’s just the fact that our home crowd is made up of far too many “well to do” punters, who no longer appreciate the traditions of the unspoken contract that is their match ticket, whereby in return for pumping up the volume, ones team will play their hearts out.

In truth, it was sweet relief to come home on Saturday and turn on the TV to watch the cricket. In a world filled with footie fans who demand instant gratification as a reward for their extortionate ticket prices, test match cricket remains a last bastion of civility, as a sport where folk continue to applaud the skill and dexterity of the participants, despite a 5-day encounter ending in an inconclusive draw.

Ultimately, no matter what one’s opinion in private, we Gooners are hardly going to encourage the team to go on and win the FA Cup or the Champions League, in an effort to please those fickle fans who gave them the bird and in light of Villa’s subsequent capitulation against Stoke, some of us might want to take a leaf out of Rudyard Kipling’s book, when it comes to meeting with those impostors of triumph and disaster!

Roll on Tuesday and a faith restoring trip to the Hawthorns, in the company of those Gooners whose support remains unconditional!

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