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Monday, 5 October 2009

Many, Many Happy Returns

I’m no fan of early KOs and I only have a short stroll around to the ground. It seems that very few Blackburn fans bothered to make a crack of dawn schlep down from the North-West, but for all those Gooners travelling from far and wide, who might’ve been forced to forsake their Sunday lie-ins, their efforts were well rewarded, with a veritable smorgasbord of a footballing Sunday brunch.

The Gunners produced the sort of sumptuous display that leaves you feeling sorry for the relative paucity of entertainment on offer elsewhere. Thierry Henry certainly picked a good afternoon to introduce his little girl to the Arsenal, but I was more than a little surprised watching MOTD on Sunday night, to see that his ex-teammate, Patrick Vieira had made the mistake of going to Stamford Bridge instead.

Personally, I always blame that dirge of an Elvis song, “The Wonder of You” for the Gunners failure to come out of the traps at home games, with sufficient focus and intensity. Of all the millions of uplifting, energetic tunes that might’ve got the players adrenaline pumping as they’re standing in the tunnel just prior to a game, we had to settle for a downbeat, romantic lullaby, that’s more likely to put them in a coma. Come the revolution, the Arsenal employee who’s accountable for this obvious faux-pas will be first up against the wall, along with those responsible for scheduling matches with such utter disregard to the travelling punters.

Meanwhile 55,000 seething Gooners had hardly taken their seats, when Mannone and Vermaelen were caught cold by Robinson’s hoof into the box. Yet time was when a team like Blackburn taking an early lead at our place would be a precursor to an agonizing afternoon, spent tearing our hair out in frustration, as the massed ranks of the Rovers defence rebuffed all attempts to pick an intricate path past them and virtually walk the ball into the back of the net, only to reclaim a single point.

Whereas nowadays, scoring an early goal against the Gunners would appear to be akin to yanking the tail of a sleeping tiger! You could sense Tommie the Tank’s determination to atone, for allowing Nzonzi to out-jump him and head home Rover’s opener. As Vermaelen charged forward to intercept the ball, 17 minutes in, there was a moment when he turned to appeal for an infringement. But I adore what it says about the Belgian’s character that instead of standing there stamping his feet and shaking his fists, like many a petulant Premiership player, he sensed the ongoing momentum of the move he’d started and strode on to receive a return pass, before spanking the ball past Robinson from outside the edge of the D.

When a defender blasts in a goal from distance, these tend to be memorable moments, by nature of the fact that they only happen once in a blue moon. But if we were wondering whether his screamer against Wigan was something of a fluke, our £10 million centre-back went and reinforced his cult-hero status by proving otherwise. While Thierry and his pretty little progeny applauded from the stands, both showing all due appreciation of the sort of consummate finishing that was once Titi’s trademark in an Arsenal shirt.

Vermaelen has brought much to the Arsenal party, not least a positively infectious appetite for the game. OK so our defence continues to be exposed from time to time and Alex Song could do with a little more support, in his bustling efforts to act as the bulwark for our backline. Unlike Marie Antoinette, Arsène admitted post-match that we can’t have our cake and eat it, since it seems inevitable that some elements of defensive security will be sacrificed on the altar of le Prof’s footballistic philosophy. Still I’m all for giving the opposition a goal start every week, if we’re guaranteed quite such an emphatic response!

In this sort of form, the Gunners are an utterly irresistible force going forward, capable of breezing past the most obdurate of defensive objects. Despite some great results, Cesc Fabregas has been a little off the boil prior to Sunday’s game, guilty of casually giving the ball away far too often. But as if to mark his mentor’s 13th anniversary, Cesc conjured up a simply devastating display, scoring one and putting three on plate, with passes of perfect precision and pace that all strikers must dream of, enabling Van Persie, Arshavin and Walcott to bury the ball past the beleaguered Robinson, without even breaking stride.

It was just what the doctor ordered, for Theo to come on at 4-2 up and score with almost his first touch of the season. By which time Rover’s uncouth mad cow of a manager was either suffering from lockjaw, or he must’ve frantically masticated his way through his entire stock of chewing gum. Each additional Arsenal goal also resulted in another crease in the furrowed brow of Ronald Koeman, the AZ Alkmar manager, as he scouted his next Champions League opponents. It’s no wonder, as the Gunners might want for a 30 goal a season striker, but we’re becoming an increasingly formidable proposition. Even if it’s possible to nullify all of our five attacking goal threats, our new centre-back will slay you with a stonking sucker punch.

Abou Diaby blows so hot and cold, that like the British weather, he’s capable of displaying all four seasons in one afternoon. Still the fickleness of some of our home fans never fails to astound. Some behind me still found time to berate the French midfielder, while the majority of us gloried in a goalfest, that was good enough to take us into yet another annoying International interruption above the Scousers in 4th place and breathing hard down the necks of our North London neighbours.

Doubtless I’ll be as gutted as the next Gooner, if we’ve nothing tangible by way of trophies, to show for all our efforts come next May. Yet the vast majority of teams would be grateful for the merest sniff of any of the four available silver pots. Silverware or no, so long as we continue to savour the privilege of such high-calibre footballing pleasure, I’ll gladly raise a glass to le Gaffer’s next 13 years!

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Anonymous said...

Just want to say how much I enjoy your blog. Really great reading. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

best arsenal blog on the internet. thank you x

Anonymous said...

great game, great goals, great blog, thanks again for efforts