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Monday 19 October 2009

You've Only Come To See The Arsenal

I know I said that the more illustrious the opposition, the more I fancied Ireland’s chances but my worst fears were realised when Blatter’s dodgy draw threw up France, as I would’ve much preferred for both countries to have progressed through the play-offs.

I’m confident that Trapattoni’s Boys in Green are capable of giving the French a run for their money. Although there’s something of a conflict of interest, ultimately, I can but hope that Arsenal fans will end up indebted to the Irish, for ensuring that the likes of Gallas, Clichy, Sagna, Diaby and Nasri are all guaranteed a restful summer, with their feet up!

They’re bound to be two incredibly tense and close fought encounters in November. But then the stakes are so high nowadays, in almost every match, that it’s no wonder there was such a kerfuffle about Saturday’s beach-ball assist at the Stadium of Light. Considering that no one, including the officials, seemed aware of the rules, we can only begin to imagine the sort of brouhaha that would result if a similar incident occurred at the business end of the season.

Meanwhile there was an awful déjà vu moment, when Liam Ridgewell took Theo Walcott out, in the opening blows of a typically bruising encounter with Birmingham. Lee Probert might’ve sent Wenger to the stands at Old Trafford, for harmlessly venting his wrath, but I spent much of Saturday’s match castigating the ref for failing to offer our players anywhere near the same level of protection that was afforded to the Old Trafford water bottles.

Football fans aren’t exactly renowned for their sensitivity but the Brummies hardly endeared themselves by chanting “There’s only one Martin Taylor” while Walcott was receiving treatment, lauding the (mercifully absent) player responsible for shattering Eduardo’s leg.

Nevertheless on seeing a replay of the tackle that’s left Theo sidelined (yet again!) with knee ligament damage, it’s obvious Ridgewell played the ball first, ploughing into Walcott with the follow through. It was a fairly typical “let them know you are there” type challenge and if it’d come from one of our own defenders, I would’ve been applauding his full-blooded commitment.

In an age where defenders are already denied the opportunity of picking a striker’s pocket with a perfectly timed tackle from behind (where they skilfully hook their leg around their opponent, instead of going through them and taking the ball by obliterating his Achilles!), we have to guard against the game becoming overly protective, to the point where it eventually becomes a non-contact sport.

Compared to the combative standards of old, you rarely see a “dirty” game nowadays and it infuriates me that the “by the book” type officiating so often results in refs spoiling the match as a contest, for the millions of viewers, by needlessly sending players off. As delighted as I was to see Man City drop points at Wigan on Sunday, a red card should be an option of last resort, not merely the inevitable result of a couple of mis-timed tackles.

I hate to hear Arsenal fans whinging about the overly physical attentions of the opposition, as we have to accept that teams such as Birmingham are bound to come to our place, intent on making life as uncomfortable as possible, by making up for in effort, what they might lack in natural ability. Only Joe Hart’s fingertips denied Theo the perfect response to being clattered by Ridgewell, as he dusted himself off and attempted to hit the Brummies where it really hurts with a great effort on goal.

Besides, as Arshavin ably demonstrated when he eventually wrapped up the 3 points with our third goal, with our diminutive Russian ominously waiting in the wings, you’d have to be downright bonkers to precipitate his involvement in the game by intentionally injuring Theo!

In Mannone’s boots, I’d have probably also claimed I’d been impeded, in an effort to deflect attention away from his somewhat feeble fumbling, to deny the thuggish Bowyer an opportunity to turn the game back into a bit of a contest with Birmingham’s goal a few minutes before the break.

With the advantage of the use of their arms, I always find it hard to comprehend how a keeper struggles to get above the opposition striker, but if Vito’s to become the godfather of the Arsenal goal, he needs to learn to be more dominant in these circumstances and at the very least get a good fist on the ball.

Clever editing perhaps, but the MOTD team couldn’t resist a cut-away to a bored (smug?) looking Almunia on the bench. Personally I feel Mannone has earned the right to keep the shirt for now, but whatever decision Wenger makes, he must stick with it. Competition for places is healthy, but above all, a defensive unit requires the consistency to develop an intuitive knowledge of one another. Moreover, with goal-keeping mistakes so costly, knowing the slightest slip-up could result in being consigned to the bench for the duration, such tension is almost inevitably going to manifest itself in an attack of the jitters.

It seemed as if Abou Diaby had taken his captain’s program notes to heart. Referring to the goals we’ve conceded, Fabregas commented “as a unit we need to switch on more, react quicker when we lose the ball” and it was a pleasant surprise to see Diaby getting involved at both ends of the park. Abou’s probably not used to putting in quite such an earnest shift, as he faded towards the death, but for all his all-round contribution, he was my man of the match.

Truth be told, our hard to please home fans were spoilt by the way in which we sliced and diced the Midlands side and took a 2-goal lead so early in the game. Such was the increasing mood of frustration around me as the second half progressed that I had to remind myself that we were in fact winning!

Until Bowyer spoiled the party by pulling one back, I imagine everyone was expecting another “fill yer boots” goalfest. Instead of which, we ended up on the edge of our seats, in permanent fear of breakaway equalizer, until Shava settled our nerves and enabled us to relax, by regaining a two-goal cushion five minutes before the final whistle.

Earlier in the afternoon, obviously I was up out of my chair, whooping with delight when Villa took the lead against Chelsea. But on reflection I was wondering if it might suit us best for Villa to be beat, or for both teams to drop points in a draw. Most surprising was the absence of Chelsea’s former “do or die” spirit, as they appeared resigned to their fate in the closing stages.

What with the Scousers dropping more points, Man Utd hardly producing the most convincing of performances and Adebayor reverting to more anonymous type for Man City, I’m suddenly daring to wonder whether the Gunners are capable of the sort of consistency, that might enable us to set our sights a little higher, leaving other to focus on the precious 4th place squabble.

With a glut of stunning goals, we’ve hardly been starved of entertainment at our place to date and so don’t exactly want for the distraction of the “Arsenalisation” process of our new stadium. Obviously anything is better than the vast expanses of anonymous grey concrete, but as someone who will always retain a certain resentment towards the new arena, as a result of it being responsible for me having been denied my much beloved, former Home of Football, I have to admit that I was originally quite cynical about the work that’s been going on there recently.

I assumed that it would be little more than an exercise in window dressing. But I’m only too delighted to admit that I was wrong and since I’m led to believe that our new MD has been the principle motivating force, I am grateful to Ivan Gazides , because his efforts have ensured that I am gradually warming to the new place. After a couple of seasons of relative indifference, I’ve suddenly discovered a sense of pride about the new gaff.

Obviously it’s going to take some genuine history and a proper atmosphere, before it really begins to feel like home, but the works in progress are certainly helping. I’m eagerly anticipating going to each home game now, just to discover the latest developments. With the board having seemingly shown complete and utter disregard for the average punter up until now, by blowing all the budget on the parqué floors, glass chandeliers and ice sculptures, necessary to encourage all the affluent high-rollers to part with anything from £2k to £100k for their Arsenal pleasures, it’s refreshing that they’ve adjusted their focus.

However if I’ve enjoyed wandering around the lower tier concourses at half-time - let’s face it, with my tardy track record, I’m never going to arrive early enough to check the place out prior to the game (funnily enough someone said to me in advance of Saturday’s match that I had better get there early, or else we’d be 3-0 up before I took my seat and although I missed kick-off, I was relieved I arrived when I did, as another five minutes and I would’ve missed both goals!) – finding evidence of the Gunners illustrious history writ large upon the walls, with displays portraying the records of our hat-trick heroes, or the Invincibles and with other formerly nondescript concrete walls, now covered with funky Gooner murals (replicas I believe of those previously drawn in the Arsenal tube station), it’s nothing compared to the emotions that our stirred in me by the eight massive murals going up outside the ground.

The third of these went up in advance of Saturday’s game, so in addition to the original one showing Bastin, Adams, Brady & Henry on the North side, we now have two new ones on the South side portraying Bergkamp, Wilson, Hapgood & George and Seaman, Drake, Rocastle & James. With 12 Arsenal greats up there already and 20 more to come, there’s going to be endless debates about who should and shouldn’t be included, but I’m glad to see that the choice has not been overly weighted in favour of more familiar, modern day stars.

As a mate suggested to me the other day, there is something very Arsenal about these murals, as by the time all eight are finished and with a ring of 32 Arsenal heroes linking arms around the entire ground, guarding the place against all and any intruders, I believe our new gaff is going to end up taking on a thoroughly unique and distinct identity.

Perhaps I’m an architectural Philistine, but to my mind most modern stadiums are all rather dispassionate variations on the glass, steel and concrete theme. Whereas, much like our gorgeous old gaff, hopefully by the time this process is finished, we’ll have a home we can all be proud of, that is immediately distinguishable from any other of its kind on the planet.

With the weight of all that history staring down upon our current squad, here’s hoping they can continue to produce the sort of football to do the feats of their forbears proper justice.

Big Love


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Anonymous said...

Thoroughly love reading your blog.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I have a feeling this season will turn out to be a special one. Hopefully by the end of it our stadium would have taken on a new face and meaning. One that no amount of murials or art can achieve, only solid silverware.

MordiMan said...

As a little ol' Gunner away in Wisconsin, grown up in Texas,, it's fascinating to hear what it's like for someone who's actually in London and actually goes to the games. Another great blog entry today and I've noticed you're submitting them fairly quickly after the games, which is great! If you submitted a match day report it would really save me a lot of time from reading all the other garbage!

Glad to hear Diaby is doing better and also glad to hear that there wasn't a controversy with Ridgewell as that's all made out to be. Seriously, injuring Walcott to bring on Arshavin... that would be crazier logic than, for example, throwing a huge balloon out in front of your keeper to deflect a goal inwards!

Bern said...

Always extremely gratifying to hear from geographically challenged Gooners such as "Mordiman" and to discover that my humble efforts have achieved their aim, in bringing just a little flavour of the privilege of being able to enjoy the live experience

Thanks a million for taking the trouble to let me know

Big Love