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Wednesday 26 August 2009

In The Line Of Fire

Hi folks

Having neglected to post the following missive out when I wrote it on Monday, I thought I had better get on and do so, before events overtake it.

With many pundits questioning the Arsenal's ability to grind out results, in the manner of our competitors, tonight's second leg against Celtic is likely to prove an interesting exercise in the absence of Cesc. There've been occasions in the recent past when we've looked like an orchestra without a conductor when Fabregas has been out injured, still making mazy passing patterns, but without anyone with the perception to play that killer ball, capable of unlocking the most resolute defence.

Moreover Cesc has become so venerated by the footballing world that I can't help but wonder about the psychological impact when he's missing from the team sheet Therefore I guess there's no better test of our squad's maturity and whether they've made the step up and are prepared to accept the mantle of player's capable of imposing themselves in significant encounters, than by being forced to perform without our Spanish maestro.

We should still have plenty in the tank, even without Fab, to cope with Celtic tonight and hopefully it will prove the perfect opportunity for Aaron Ramsey to stake his claim, as a serious contender. However I can't avoid the feeling of trepidation that we will end up having to travel to Old Trafford on Saturday without el capitaine, as it's almost been de rigeur in recent seasons for us to face Man Utd, feeling as if our backs are up against the wall because we invariably find ourselves playing this fixture without the aid of one significant star, or another.

Although we have overcome in the past under such circumstances,I'd be worried that Fabregas's absence might inevitably result in us lowering our sights, merely grateful to come away with any sort of result. Whereas if I'm going to schlep all the way up to the North-West, I really want to see the Arsenal take Man Utd on. I definitely don't want to see our new centre-back put under the sort of pressure of a team trying to nick a point, as that could prove fatal and besides, even if we should end up getting beat, I would much prefer to see us go down giving it a real go, rather than struggling for an unlikely change in momentum after going a goal behind.

I also hope that there's no hangover from our demoralising Champions League exit last season, as on our day, we know full well that we having nothing to fear from Man U, but the fear that might put us on the back foot and prevent us from playing our natural game.

Talking of which, with Arsène's new penchant for playing 4-3-3, I thought we looked a lot more balanced with Eduardo and Arshavin playing alongside Van Persie, than in a 4-3½-2½ with Bendtner looking like a fish out of water, being asked to play the wide role. Don't get me wrong (for once), I am not knocking the Dane, as I'm sure it doesn't exactly come natural to Bertie Big Bollix to selflessly sacrifice his striking instincts in favour of the team's needs, but he's done so admirably to date, in a couple of half-decent displays. Still his instinctive tendency to want to cut inside, towards the goal, rather than to stretch the opposition by taking them on down the flank, is fairly apparent.

Personally I feel 4-3-3 will work at home against teams like Pompey, with limited ambitions, where players, absolved of defensive responsibilities, are able to flood forward into the penalty area, as Diaby did for his two goals on Saturday. But in other circumstances, without this support, Van Persie (or who ever fills the front man role) is likely to end up somewhat isolated and in such cases, I reckon we'd be making a lot better use of Bendtner's talents, by playing him in his preferred role, as part of a pair up front.

But then what do I know!! I guess my aversion to playing Nicky out on the right, is that physically he just doesn't possess the nimble athleticism that one has come to expect of the traditional nippy winger. Although in truth, Arsène's idea of a 4-3-3 is a very fluid animal, offering players plenty of license to roam and to interchange with one another. But to my mind, for some intangible reason, Saturday's front line somehow had the feel of what the front three in a 4-3-3 should look like.

People have had a pop at me in the past for knocking Nicky and although his oversized ego has often merited the majority of my mickey taking, perhaps I have been harsh on him. However I'm definitely not making a case for his exclusion in this instance, as to date, on the basis that you can only play the opposition that's put in front of you, Bendtner has looked pretty sharp.

About the only disappointment of the opening three fixtures has been the fact that Arsène has appeared to leave Jack Wilshere out of the squad, in favour of Fran Merida. Perhaps le Prof is making a concerted effort to dampen down the inflated Gooner expectation levels, after Jack's impressive pre-season efforts. Nevertheless, 3-0 up against Everton at Goodison and positively playing on cruise control in the latter stages against Pompey, hopefully we'll blow all our opponents out of the water without really breaking sweat, but I can't honestly imagine there are going to be that many more perfect opportunities to give young Jack a pressure free, Premiership run out.

Meanwhile I've no doubt that I could prattle on, ad infinitum, as usual, but if I don't hit the send button before leaving for work, I probably never will and since I'm late as ever....

Come on you Reds
Big Love

There’s rarely been a more convincing argument for returning to the days when they didn’t bother producing a table until six games in, than the positively laughable image of our friends from the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road crowing from the Premiership’s top perch. Apparently they are queuing around the block at the club shop, to have their souvenir photos taken alongside a print out of such an implausible league table.

For me, the ultimate litmus test has always been that so long as Spurs fans continue to be more worried about the Arsenal’s exploits than their own club, I know that the Gunners remain in rude health and unless Ledley King is about to be reborn as robo-man, I can’t seriously envisage a threat to our humble title of top North London dog.

You need only look at the midweek fixtures for undisputable evidence of the two clubs differing status. As the Arsenal trot out in front of 60,000 fans and a worldwide TV audience of millions to take on Celtic in the return leg of our Champions League clash this evening, Spurs will be appearing at the Keepmoat Stadium, in a slightly less glamorous Carling Cup encounter against Doncaster!

Although in a slightly masochistic sense, I’m not entirely displeased by Spurs current resurgence under Redknapp, as they’ve languished in the league doldrums for so long that I’ve been more inclined to sympathize with my Spurs pals, than to take the mick. Whereas there will be plenty more fun to be had when their balloon becomes so pumped up by expectation, that it’s fit to burst at the slightest prick.

Moreover, it’s got to make for a more interesting season, if there are more teams capable of taking points off anyone on their day. It would be the ultimate irony if, instead of threatening our chances of qualifying for the Champions League, the likes of Spurs and Man City end up paving the way for us to challenge for the title.

Meanwhile, tearing myself away from weekend’s sumptuous smorgasbord of sporting entertainment on the TV, just long enough to stroll around to our first home game on Saturday, to watch the Gunners make hay in the sunshine, against a Pompey side that never really forced us to break sweat, I was pleased to discover the first signs of the long awaited “Arsenalisation” of our new stadium.

I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s out of some misguided sense that I’m no longer quite such an anonymous face in the Block 18 crowd, but I was quite tickled to find that my seat is now right at the mouth of the image of a white cannon which has appeared amidst the lower tier seats over the summer.

Having focused almost exclusively on the high-rollers in the Diamond Club, The Exec Boxes and Club Level, ever since the stadium opened, finding money in the budget for wooden floors, crystal chandeliers and memorabilia on the walls for the benefit of our more affluent members (many of whom are the sort of corporate suits who are least likely to appreciate any of it!), it’s interesting that at a time when the club can least afford it, they’ve woken up to the need to appease their core support, by addressing the somewhat soulless feel of the grey concrete concourses elsewhere in the stadium, along with various other improvements, intended to make the place feel a little more homely.

Apparently our new MD has been a vocal proponent of this ongoing process, promising to have the clock reinstalled inside the ground and the eventual naming of the four terrace quadrants. Although Gazidis will have to go some way to overcome my cynicism about his sincerity. He may have grown up in the UK but he learned his trade amongst the Yankee charm school culture, where instead of being armed with a kitchen knife in their back pockets, kids go about inflicting serious mental harm with their simpering “have a nice day” clichés.

I’m not knocking the efforts of Ivan the Terrible, as anything that makes the place feel a little less impersonal is to be applauded. But it’s a little late in the day as far as I’m concerned. We’ve struggled for many years with the unrelenting increases in the cost of our season ticket renewals but have somehow always managed to stump up the readies, up until now.

Despite season-ticket prices having been frozen since the move, we’ve finally succumbed this summer and although the fact that we’re so b’rassic was a big consideration in leasing out Rona’s ticket, I’m sure I would’ve been digging out the stocking mask and the sawn-off once again, if it wasn’t for the fact that the missus no longer feels anything like the same emotional attachment to the new gaff (if only we’d known she’d be sitting at the mouth of the cannon once a fortnight!). Apparently we’re far from alone, as reports suggest that Gooners as far down as no. 10,000 on the waiting list have been offered season tickets this summer.

It was originally purported that the income from the three exclusive areas of the stadium would be sufficient to cover the entire overhead of the place and that the revenue from the regular punters would be pure profit. Yet as the economic downturn begins to bite, with corporate entertainment budgets evaporating and the businesses that paid for Club Level seats going bust, perhaps one positive outcome to the banking crises is that it has provided a timely reminder to the board that it is the regular Gooners who can be relied on to continue buttering their bread during good and bad times.

No matter the waning cachet of an Exec Box at a club which hasn’t won anything in four seasons, or whatever the economic climate, the Arsenal can always count on a guaranteed income from Joe “the Gooner” Schmoo, who’d sacrifice his car, job, even his wife, before giving up his season ticket.

Such loyalty was rewarded in the sweltering heat on Saturday, with a woolly (albeit 100% acrylic) red & white scarf on every seat. While on the pitch Arsène’s team selection answered all those pundits who dare to question our strength in depth. I have to curb the temptation to go a little overboard, until Tommie “the tank engine” Vermaelen has faced a stiffer test of his true credentials at Old Trafford on Saturday. But it’s been a long time since the Arsenal backline has benefited from the sort of commanding presence that’s capable of liberating his team-mates from the panic-stricken defending of recent times.

Still with haunting memories of the likes of Stepanovs, Cygan and Senderos still fresh in the mind, I daren’t tempt fate in advance of what could well prove to be a make, or break encounter.

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Zach said...

Perhaps exactly what the squad needs is to go to OT and put in a good performance without Cesc. If, without the captain, the momentum generated thus far can be maintained past next weekend, the lads will have the belief to push on and play to their potential. While it all sounds a bit corporate and soulless, the scarves and the general appearance of the crowd during the Pompey game was great. I can't wait to get back and see for myself. Thanks bernard, enjoy the evening.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog as always Bernard, keep it up!