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Wednesday 19 August 2009

Now We Know Why Hadrian Built That Wall

G’day fellow Gooners,

Now we know why Hadrian built that wall. It wasn't to keep marauding Celts out (or in), it was just as a reminder not to bother going there to watch any decidedly mediocre football teams.

It’s always a bit of a nightmare having to file my diary missive to the Irish Examiner on a Monday, for publication on a Wednesday, when there’s such a significant encounter as the one in Glasgow in between.

I can’t simply ignore the fact that (hopefully) folk will be reading my column on the morning after the night before but it’s invariably impossible to refer to the game in the future tense without either tempting fate and making myself singlehandedly responsible for a bad result, or ending up with egg on my face for getting it completely wrong.

However there was little fear of that, on this occasion, since despite all the “Battle of Britain” hype (hardly appropriate with only one Anglo on the pitch, playing for the Hoops) in the big build up, to my mind the the match itself turned out to be a bit of a wet blanket.

Then again this might have something to do with the fact that, much to my chagrin, I ended up watching the live TV coverage on Sky, instead of being there in person. And having ruined my perfect attendance record, only two games in, it’s easier to bear, if I perceive this “contest” as not quite being the Titanic clash that I’d envisaged it to be when the two teams were drawn out of the hat.

I must be getting old, as in the past, I would’ve dropped everything and wouldn’t have given a second thought for the consequences of taking the opportunity to see the Gunners play in Scotland for the first time ever. In fact I was so excited by the thought of my first trip to Celtic Park, that despite being as b’rassic as we’ve ever been, there was absolutely no question about whether I’d be applying for a match ticket.

Up until last Friday morning, I was planning on driving up to Glasgow with a mate, as without having to stay overnight, it seemed the cheapest option. But with each passing day, I found myself increasingly fretting about not being able to afford it and not being able to organise my work around it (as it certainly wouldn’t be a cheap outing, if it ended up costing me a couple of days’ wages).

I was umming and ahhing for so long, that when my pal finally told me that there were only four seats left on the travel club train, I told him he had better go for it and book a seat for himself. The closer we got to Tuesday, the more dependent he was on me driving and I was worried about leaving him high and dry, deciding I couldn’t make it at the last minute.

According to the laws of Sod & Murphy, no sooner had I lost my travelling companion and found myself having to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be going, than I received a call to say that a long awaited cheque had arrived in the post (providing funds to facilitate the trip, even if the gas, electric, bank etc might have something to say about it!).

Moreover, only an hour after that, I discovered that the ballet had no work for me on Tuesday and so it turned out that I wouldn’t have lost out on any wages if I’d gone! As a result, when we were driving home from Goodison on Saturday night and the time finally came for me to make a decision about whether to let go of my ticket for tonight’s game, in all the euphoria of eviscerating Everton, I once again found myself thinking I simply couldn’t miss out on the trip to Glasgow and sod the consequences.

But where a few years ago I would’ve decided I was going and worry about how I was going to get there when the time came, in my dotage the practicalities impinge on my decision, as I found myself calculating that it was going to cost me a couple of hundred quid, no matter which way I travelled and the thought of wanting to be there on the night was balanced out by the fear of not having enough petrol to get to work, or enough food to eat between my return from Glasgow and payday on Friday!

Sadly, in the end, common sense got the better of me and most reluctantly I advised my mate that he should let my seat go to some Glasgow Gooners. Even after that, I was still trying to think of ways of getting there on the cheap, only for it to dawn on me that I no longer had a match ticket.

It was doubly frustrating sitting in front of the box during the pre-match build up this evening, thinking of how I always pay my dues, schlepping to such glamorous destinations as Hull and Wigan to support the Gunners, only to miss out on the infamous atmosphere at Celtic, while almost every other Gooner I know was up in Glasgow this evening, including many fair-weather fans, who wouldn’t normally dream of driving outside of the M25 for your average run-of the mill match.

I sat here with my mobile phone in hand texting team news to everybody, trying in vain to get some sort of vicarious feel for the vibes on the terraces via SMS! The noise from the Celtic fans seemed to live up to expectations from what I heard on the telly, but perhaps Sky just had their effects mics turned to full volume, as two people I spoke said that they were a little bit disappointed.

The Arsenal certainly didn’t seem at all intimidated and perhaps that’s the source of my sense of an anti-climax, as this turned out to be a fairly routine, somewhat uneventful Champions League away performance.

I guess we were all expecting a few more fireworks and at least the odd moment of high-drama. However it might well be viewed in a positive light that it turned out to be such a mundane match, as some kind of testament to the Gunners increasing maturity and the fact that the majority of Wenger’s squad have now become experienced European campaigners.

At the end of the day, it was always going to be a bit of a stretch to produce a seven goal thriller, so as to improve on Saturday’s 6-1 slaughter and considering quite how much we’d all be bricking ourselves over the prospect of a premature exit from the Champions League in the second leg, if we’d returned from Scotland with some sort of score draw, I guess we should be most grateful to have seen the Gunners go to Glasgow and execute a consummately professional performance.

I’ve doubtless revealed details previously, but one of the main reasons I really detest watching the Arsenal play on the box, is because I tend to be a much harsher critic than I am when watching live and tonight was no exception, as for much of the first-half, I sat here slaughtering them for casually conceding possession far too frequently.. I wouldn’t dream of coating off out own players when I’m there in person, watching from the terraces, since I’m a firm believer that no matter how badly someone performs on the night (day), our remit as supporters is to offer our support.

Even if I’m angry because I don’t feel they are giving 100 per cent, so long as they are wearing red & white (or yellow & blue / blue – BTW as I can’t see any sort of colour clash between our red & white and Celtic’s green & white hoops, I am assuming the only reason the Arsenal trotted out in our new blue kit was so as to encourage sales of the latest replica tops?), I’ve always felt that slaughtering them from the terraces is counter-productive, as to my mind, you are hardly going to encourage a player to try that much harder to please those fans who are giving him stick.

Yet it’s a completely different story on those rare occasions when I’m forced to watch the Gunners play on the box. My missus, Rona, gets really upset with me, as she’s convinced that the neighbours must think that my unrelenting stream of invective is directed at her, as I’m unable to desist from bellowing out “You Cnut” every time we give away the ball. And with all the doors and windows open with this warm weather, Róna frets even more about me being heard, all the way to the Emirates.

I’d happily have Fabregas’ babies if it kept him out of the clutches of Barca, but that didn’t stop Cesc from falling within my sights, the principal target for my ire, for habitually conceding possession. Mercifully Celtic weren’t able to capitalise but we will undoubtedly be meeting more accomplished teams in the group stage, who will be able to punish such profligate passing.

Although Celtic were working their socks off early on, doing their utmost to deny us time and space on the ball and I suppose if I was on Cesc’s shoes, with two or three Celtic players bearing down on me every time I received a pass, I imagine I might be inclined to treat the ball as if it were a hot potato, intent on handing it off toute suite, more concerned about avoiding being clattered, than making sure we retained possession.

On the box, the pundit panel of Strachan, Redknapp and Hoddle (now there’s a trio to tear your hair out to, while listening to them talk utter twaddle!) all seemed to think Alex Song performed admirably, breaking up any Celtic attacks before they could amount to anything. Personally I felt that like the rest of the team, Alex was a little more on song, 1-0 up, after the break, but after raving about the new, improved versions of both Song and Denilson on Saturday, their first-half displays were more akin to the sort of naïve football we were accustomed to last season.

Nevertheless it feels decidedly mean-spirited to be digging anyone out after demolishing Everton and being the first English team to bring a result back from Celtic Park, since Cloughie’s Notts Forest beat them in black & white (well maybe not that long ago, beside Cloughie’s era was anything but colourless!). If I do have one criticism about our display against the Hoops, it is perhaps the feeling that we could’ve been a tad more ruthless in the latter stages, when the Celtic lads were out on their feet. With it being a long season ahead, perhaps they were thinking that they’d already done enough.

Yet I’ve often felt that it was a lack of ruthlessness in the past that was the crucial difference between us and the title winners because so many of their wins were effortless walkovers, as a result of their killer instinct. So for example, instead of taking our foot off the pedal and playing the ball back into our own half, intent merely on retaining possession, we could’ve gone for Celtic’s throat, put a couple more past them and made the second leg a genuine formality, where our entire first XI could take a night off.

I texted one of my pals during the last 15 minutes,, to say that I would be seriously pissed off if we went to sleep and conceded a sloppy goal. But we didn’t and for me, the most positive aspect to tonight’s performance was a second successive command performance from our new centre-back.

I’ve got to resist the temptation to go over the top about Vermaelen, at least not until we come away from Old Trafford with a clean sheet. But after impressing me on Saturday, he produced another decidedly influential display tonight. However the one thing I hadn’t noticed from the Upper Bullens stand at Goodison (even with my binoculars) is that Tommie the Tank is a vocal communicator, of the sort that we’ve not seen at the back since Phillipe Senderos.

Here’s hoping that unlike Phillipe, Tommie doesn’t turn out to be another defensive false dawn, but to date Gallas (and the rest of the backline) seems to have responded by upping their game and it’s been the absence of any talkers at set-pieces and the like, that’s been one of my biggest bugbears for a long time now. Moreover, I am sure I’m not alone in my covetous feelings at the sight of Carvalho rampaging forward for the Blues and so long as Vermaelen can curb his desire to impress up front, to the extent that his defensive colleagues don’t end up exposed to the swift-counter, up until now Tommie appears to be the complete centre-back package.

If Vermaelen can go to Old Trafford and continue gaining in confidence, by demonstrating himself to be the Arsenal’s answer to Nemanja Vidic, then perhaps our one good egg will prove to be “une ouef”

However the gossip on the Gooner grapevine has it that so long as we qualify for the Champions League group stages (thereby securing the additional £40 million odd of income), then Arsène will strengthen the squad with a couple of new arrivals. It seems to me that one couldn’t wish for a franker admission of the actual state of the Arsenal’s finances (and the fact that we haven’t got any), compared to the sort of BS the board have been force feeding us Gooner mushrooms since the move.

Surely if we buy two players subsequent to qualifying for the group stages, mea culpa this amounts to an acknowledgement that the club couldn’t afford to make any transfer moves without the Euro moolah?

Whatever it is, this is a long way from the contention that Arsène has unlimited funds available, but hasn’t been inclined to dispose of them as a matter of choice!

Money…..who needs it? (I do!) but as Gazides might say, 2 games and we’re 2 and 0. Bring on Pompey

Big Love

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RockyLives said...

Good point about being a harsher critic when watching on the TV. I hadn't thought about it before but I am definitely less forgiving to our players on the box than when I'm at the game.
As for the famously intimidating Celtic Park atmosphere - I could clearly hear our lads singing all night long - generally seeming to make more noise (or at least more consistent noise) than the home support. Well done all you travelling Goons!

PS: Ballet??

arobba said...

I was at the game & found no evidence of the much vaunted Parkhead atmosphere: the graveyard next to the stadium had more life than the punters in the Celtic seats. Our lot were in fine voice though: be nice if the Emirates crowd followed their lead :)

Sky definitely 'enhanced' the celtic crowd noise as it seemed quite loud on the highlights but it was nothing like that during the game

Zachary Sanford said...

Though the coverage in this country was horrible - the CL has been bought by Murdoch's Fox Soccer Channel and is no longer on ESPN (and no longer in HD) - I could hear Gooners loud and clear with little in the way of noise from the Glaswegians on my stateside tube. I was pleased in the manner of the victory because contrary to the "Gunners get lucky in Glasgow" headlines, they seemed to take the initiative and make their own luck, something that never seemed to happen last season.

Mordechai Rorvig said...

Just wanted to say, just came across your blog recently and I think your analysis is really great and balanced. Obviously there is a lot of trash out there so it's nice to find something of this sort! Keep up the good work.