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Monday, 6 April 2009

Summer Time And The Livin' Is Easy

G'day fellow Gooners,

Normally I find I've more to moan about in my weekly missives when things are going awry for the Gunners. But for some reason there was so much to comment on this week that it was a major dilemma deciding upon what to include and what to omit, without pissing off the sports ed at the Irish Examiner completely, by exceeding my quota by several thousands words. In fact, since I'm already on a yellow card for constantly filing pieces which are far too long-winded, I'm so paranoid about being sent off, that I ended up sending the paper the following piece with the last three paragraphs tagged on separately, to ensure I didn't get another black mark.

But after hearing of the rumours concerning Van Persie in today's tabloids, I couldn't not comment about the fairly constant press speculation concerning our most highly prized superstars.

For the benefit of those of you who don't get to read the Irish Examiner (since it's almost impossible to find over here in the UK - I've only ever come across one place to buy it, the newspaper kiosk in Camden, where they only stock something like Wednesdays and Friday's edition), they produce a blinding footie supplement in the Monday paper which I receive in the post and which, along with the matchday programme, makes up my reading material for the week, when sitting on the throne. IMHO, it's a shame it's not available on this side of the Irish Sea, as it's a much better read than many similar supplements in the Monday papers (apart from the Game in the Times). Alan Green provides a weekly contribution and in his column last week he inferred that we only had to turn up, in order to progress to an Arsenal v Man Utd semi in the Champions League.

One of the other stories I would've liked to have commented on in the paper was a tale I only heard yesterday, of a lad who was arrested by a plainclothes copper outside the ground, whilst flogging his Dad's Club Level seat at face value. When you consider that the same touts we see at games all over London, operate with apparent impunity between the Arsenal tube station and the ground, fleecing footie fans at every game, without any interest from the old bill, it seems utterly ridiculous the this poor Gooner has suffered the full weight of the law, with a positively batty three year banning order.

In truth I wanted to follow this sorry tale up some more, as the account I've read to date is that incredible, that I'm half hoping there is another side to this tale that doesn't make our new stadium seem quite such a laughing stock. It would appear that the lad believe the stewards have had it in for him for some time, as apparently his behaviour is far too boisterous for the sedate environs of the posh seats and some of the punters seated around them, who would supposedly prefer to watch their football sat in relative silence. He tells how some Club Level punters were searched and subsequently thrown out when they were found to have illegal substances on them (some of which would make for a far less aggressive atmosphere than the legal rivers of alcohol!) and how he was also searched, but despite nothing of the like being found on him, he was also ejected because apparently he failed their "attitude test".

Hopefully those fans associated with various supporters associations might raise poor Jamie Jubon's case with the club, because even if there's more to this tale than has met my eye to date, I honestly don't understand how the courts can possibly justify denying him his passion for the next three years, by means of a law which was instigated in order to prevent violent numbskulls from attending football matches and which is also intended to deal with the problem of proper ticket touts.

I could walk from the Arsenal tube station on any given match day and identify a dozen genuine pond scum scalpers, so why is it that our officers of the law seem to prefer to waste their time picking on those who are merely passing on spare tickets. On the face of it, the fact that our taxes are actually paying for old bill to don their civvies and have an afternoon out watching the Gunners, whilst they justify their presence by pinching the odd footie fan instead of the real culprits, this might lead one to wonder why exactly it is that they choose not to make even the slightest attempt to be seen to be taking some action, even if this was merely to deter the obvious touting activities by making their presence known. A less timid man than myself might believe the only conclusion to be drawn is that there must be some sort of corruption involved?

Come on you Reds
Big Love

I certainly hope that the Gunners aren’t as dismissive of the threat posed by Villareal as Alan Green was in his “Luck of the draw?” comments in last Monday’s Examiner. According to the increasingly bitter Radio 5 boyo, the Champions League quarterfinals are a foregone conclusion as far as Man U and the Gunners are concerned. You’ll know by now how much of a say Porto and Villareal have had on this matter in Tuesday night’s first leg, but if football was anywhere near so predictable, it would be the bookies on poor street, not the punters.

Sure we’re both favourites to progress to an all-English semifinal and I’d be very surprised if an uninspiring Porto side possess the wherewithal to unduly trouble Utd at Old Trafford. But unfortunately our match takes place on the pitch at El Madrigal, not on paper and even without the influential likes of the injured Cazorla, there remains enough quality in the Spanish outfit to ensure that it will be no stroll in the park.

Complaints forced Villareal to reduce the cost of our tickets from €75 to only a slightly less extortionate €70, as they revealed that they fleeced Celtic and Man U fans of a similarly outrageous amount, for the privilege of a pitch in their new upper tier facility behind one of the goals. Still we should be entitled to a warm welcome, as it would appear that we are subsidizing their Club President’s generous offer of free season tickets for the unemployed. As the town’s largest employer in his tile factory, this would appear to be a “let them eat cake” type sop for the locals, so if Fernando Ruig is forced to make fans redundant, they might struggle to feed their kids but they can still go to the game on a Saturday!

However we’ll be going to Spain on Tuesday feeling fairly optimistic about a potentially thrilling denouement to this season’s campaign, after the timely return to the Gooner fold of a fit and fresh Cesc Fabregas, to strut his stuff against the Sky Blues, in the balmy sunshine on Saturday. Despite a couple of worrying moments when City carved us open, for the most part the Gunners were so imperious, that it was hard to believe this was the same Arsenal side that capitulated to a 3-0 defeat at Eastlands in November.

Mind you City were a pale shadow of the side that was infused with the euphoria of their new found wealth back then, having apparently already settled for the relative comfort of mid-table security. This could be a fatal mistake, considering anyone in the bottom half of the table could feasibly be dragged back down into the relegation dogfight by a couple of bad results.

Nevertheless Saturday’s somewhat perfunctory three points served as a reminder that the Arsenal are an entirely different proposition with Fab orchestrating our midfield. Compared to the lightweight Gunners who couldn’t buy a Premiership goal back in February, suddenly we are back to being a match for anyone, at our best.

For once we appear to have profited from an International fortnight and while I continue to have concerns about the apparent fragility of Theo Walcott, he and Cesc were afforded an extra couple of weeks to regain their fitness. There was even a silver lining to the injuries to Van Persie and Diaby, as although I’ve never liked the idea of playing with a lone striker in home games, in Robin’s absence, a 5-man midfield appeared to be the best use of the resources available to Arsène on Saturday. What’s more this meant that Wenger wasn’t forced to sacrifice Alex Song and while an article in Saturday’s programme proclaimed that Denilson has had more touches of the ball than any other Premiership player, for all the Brazilian’s promise, he has yet to prove himself adept at providing sufficient defensive cover for Cesc’s creative instincts.

Although Song still has to demonstrate that he’s capable of developing into something more than a stop-gap solution in the “water carrier” role, he remains a reassuringly muscular presence in front of our back four. Should Arsène return to playing 4-4-2 when we’ve a full compliment of players, it will be interesting to see how Le Prof plans on juggling all the midfield options available to him.

It wasn’t until I was sitting there shielding my eyes from the sun on Saturday that it dawned on me that with the clocks going back, I had even more cause to regret having neglected to don a cap. On the radio Bobby Gould made a crack about Arshavin rushing to take the corners on the sunlit side of the pitch, suggesting that it must be a novelty for a lad from the cold climes of St. Petersburg.

Yet Shava was far from alone in having a spring in his step, as all the Gunners seem to benefit from having the sun on their backs. Compared to the somewhat lardy looking Kolo Touré who started this campaign (supposedly suffering the after-effects of malaria), our stout Ivorian centre-back isn’t exactly svelte, but he’s reacquired the trim body shape and language of a player who’s once again capable of imposing himself on matches, which is in complete contrast to the Kolo who’s cut such an incomprehensibly peripheral figure for much of the season so far.

In fact what with Adebayor rediscovering some goal scoring form, it’s as if the change to BST has been a watershed, as the Gunners have returned from the break with a renewed appetite for the business end of this campaign.

I was excited when I opened the post last Wednesday to discover our Wembley tickets. It’s been a while since I had the pleasure of what’s previously been an almost annual ritual. They’re bigger than any regular tickets, as if their size matches the significance of the occasion, but where last week I was glad of semifinal opportunity to see the Arsenal play at the other Home of Football because I didn’t particularly fancy our chances of beating Chelsea, suddenly I’m gutted to be going to Wembley, knowing a win won’t provide us with the requisite opportunity to see the Arsenal lift a trophy. Bring ‘em all on!

Obviously securing some serious silverware would be the best way of thwarting the incessant and typically underhanded efforts to sabotage this Arsenal squad. The same comments from Van Persie were interpreted by some in the media as a pledge to stay at the club and by others as a “match my ambitions, or I’m on my bike” threat!

Personally I find it hard to understand why players fail to learn from the experiences of the majority of those who have left the Arsenal in recent times. With the promise of wages beyond even wilder dreams and the failure to appreciate that they are a long time retired, they continue to be blinded by the greenbacks, into believing that the grass will be greener. The circumstances are somewhat different as far as Fabregas is concerned. After being plucked from relative obscurity at Barca and rapidly developing into such a pivotal Premiership force, I can fully appreciate that Cesc is always going to have a lingering desire to return to do the business in his own backyard.

I’ve no doubt that Fab will succumb to the nefarious solicitations of the Spanish giants at some stage in his career. You never know, the King of Spain could put his hand in his (country’s?) pocket tomorrow, to enable the likes of Real to make us a ridiculous offer that we’ll be unable to refuse. But failing this, I honestly can’t envisage Cesc taking his leave for at least another season or so. Call me a foolish idealist, but I’m inclined to believe that their exists a mutual respect between our captain and manager, which will ensure that Fabregas will remain at the Arsenal long enough to repay Arsène for the faith he has shown in the boy wonder and having done so, Arsène won’t resist Fab’s desire to fulfil this deep-seated ambition. When that fateful day does eventually dawns, Cesc will go with the gaffer’s and every right-thinking Gooners’ blessing.

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