Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Andrey-Climax

Hi folks

Hot gossip .... Amanda Docherty, the Arsenal Press Officer let it slip this evening that the Uzbek gangster has been trying to ingratiate himself with the Gunners' board by gifting the Gunners squad two unkown East Europeans. As a result, Bora Primorac has been hastily despatched by Arsène to Rotor Volvograd to have a butchers at Katycha Haribakov and Plumplukovich, in the hope they might combine with Arshavin to form a midfield trio of Back, Sack & Crack!

Meanwhile for the benefit of those who are unaware, I've referred to the Roma game below in the past tense, due to the fact that my missive appears in Wednesday's edition of the Irish Examiner.

Myself I quite fancy a repeat of 2002, where there will be no need to freak out if tonight's game ends in a frustrating 1-1 draw, if we can go out there again and roll Roma over without really raising a sweat

Come on you Reds
Bernard
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If Roma sent their spies out to see us play Sunderland on Saturday, they’ll have discovered that frustrating the hell out of us at home isn’t difficult. If two disciplined, well-drilled banks of four can keep us quiet for the first 20 minutes, we soon run out of ideas and containing us for the remainder of the 90 is just a matter of maintaining one’s shape and one’s work rate. As has been the case for much of this season, despite dominating possession, our convoluted, but ultimately clueless approach play is guaranteed to make decidedly mediocre opposition look good, because in our current incarnation, the Gunners lack the spark necessary to generate that all-important change of pace, or the guile to give defences the sort of serious headache that they can expect from those teams above us in the table.

After Eduardo came back with such a bang in the Cup game, I was gutted to hear he’d picked up a hamstring injury. I’d hoped the confidence boost of Eddy’s return, combined with the introduction of Arshavin, would be the catalyst to breathe new life back into the Arsenal’s season. After carving up Cardiff, I expected us to be able to reinforce Villa’s wobble, by walloping the Wearsiders and as a result, be going into our game with Roma on a real high.

However sadly Eddie’s setback seems to have put the kibosh on my optimistic script and unfortunately Andrey’s debut ultimately proved to be a bit of a damp squib. While the Ruski might’ve flattered to deceive early in the first-half, with a couple of well-struck efforts, which at least demonstrated that the diminutive fella has a decent dig on him, to my mind he still appears a long way from the sort of peak fitness levels necessary to stay the relentless Premiership course.

Arshavin might’ve got away with his cameo party-pieces in a side that was going great guns. But after the high of Monday night, coming into an Arsenal side that was back to its lacklustre worst, Andrey’s lack of fitness was always likely to be exposed, as he struggled to live up to our saviour like levels of expectation.

The Villa Park appetizer made for awkward viewing, as it went completely against the grain to be up for the Blues. Having blown a prime opportunity to make a significant dent in the points gap between us and that highly-prized 4th place and following our 3rd successive goalless game, some might fancy the Gunners would be better off focusing on keeping our noses in front of the likes of Everton, than on an increasingly unlikely quest for Champions League qualification.

Yet with Hiddink expected to burnish up Abramovich’s not so brand new toy and with Essien due to return for the run-in, to a squad teeming with experience of what it takes to haul tired limbs over the finishing line, if one of the two teams above us are going to falter in the finishing straight, you’ve got to fancy that it’s more likely to be Villa?

It may be a truism, but the league table never lies and with Saturday’s early KO offering an opportunity to draw direct comparisons, based on our utterly flaccid form of late, even the most blinkered Gooner would struggle to make a case for the Gunners deserving to be above Villa or Chelsea. Nevertheless I’m not panicking just yet.

We couldn’t have been more disconsolate if we’d endured a defeat and the demoralised mood was palpable as we trudged towards the exits, with the Black Cats’ fans crowing in the corner as if they’d just won a cup. I suppose it’s a mark of the contrasting expectation levels and earning another point against the Gunners was good enough cause for the Wearsiders to gloat. Yet while they’d warmed Almunia’s gloves with a couple of long range efforts in the first-half, all such ambition dwindled as the clock ticked down.

I suppose ultimately it was the visitors discipline which helped to secure them the draw, but I’m sure I would’ve found it dreadfully frustrating if I was a Sunderland fan, to watch them working the ball from the corner flag all the way back to the keeper, because they were more intent on retaining possession, than daring to attempt to create an effort on goal.

The visiting fans had so little to shout about second-half, that at one point they celebrated the award of a throw-in, as if they’d scored a goal. But you’ve got to give them credit for schlepping all the way from the North-East and back, in return for so little reward. But then I guess it goes with the territory when one has endured a period of yo-yoing up and down that entertainment is just not a factor, compared to that all-imprtant task of consolidating their Premiership status.

I was no less depressed than my near-suicidal young Gooner pal from the States, who was enduring his first taste of the peaks and troughs of live footie. Yet my time served in the trenches provided me with a more philosophical attitude, knowing the momentary gloom to be only a temporary stumbling block.

You only had to cast a glance at the row of interested spectators at Saturday’s game that included Adebayor, Rosicky, Fabregas and Eduardo (doubtless Saint Theo relinquished his seat in deference to one of his returning teammates), who are all set to return to full fitness in the weeks ahead, to be certain that it’s not a matter of “if” the Gunners are going to come good, but whether we can muster a sprint finish in time to reel the Brummy buggers in.

Evidence of the Gunners fall from grace can be seen in the way we’ve slipped down amongst the “also-rans” in MOTD’s program line-up and disappeared into the obscurity of the odd column inch, as far as the back pages of the tabloids are concerned. Some pundits would have us believe that we’re the only English team at risk of bowing out of the Champions League but I’m only too happy to have the entire footballing world writing the Arsenal off.

Even if you should be reading this after Roma have successfully stifled us and left me tearing out even more of my hair, as a result of yet another infuriating home game on Tuesday night, with 3 weeks to the second leg, I certainly won’t be giving up the ghost.

Our lightweight looking squad have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to rise to the occasion and I’m fairly optimistic of us giving a good account of ourselves in the Olympic Stadium. If the return of our walking wounded can add a little more guile, I’ve a feeling Roma might afford us the time and space to really start to pull the strings. A more Continental style game should suit the Gunners and hopefully it will be humble pie all round, served up on the pundits’ premature obituaries, as a result of a performance reminiscent of Henry’s hat-trick in 2002 and an encore of the veni, vidi, vici vibes of our last trip to the Eternal City.
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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Arsène Wenger's Red & White Army Makes A Long Overdue And Most Welcome Return

G'day fellow Gooners,

In some respects I kind of wish I'd posted the following diary entry out as soon as I'd finished it, as it would've sounded a good deal more prescient in advance of last night's match, than in the warm glow of the aftermath of a resounding 4-0 victory, where at long last, the Gunners began to look something more like themselves again.

It's bad enough having to write one of my weekly missives for the Irish Examiner in advance of a midweek match. But it was that much harder writing it, when I knew it might be outdated the following day and so I sat for hours staring at a blank screen, trying my best not to focus on the FA Cup game, in order to avoid being left with egg on my face, by the time my column appears in the newspaper's Wednesday sports supplement. As a result, as far as I'm concerned, who ever it was who decided to maximise TV revenues, by spreading the FA Cup matches over the entire weekend and running into Monday night, come the revolution they will join my long list of those who will be first to be lined up against the wall.

Moreover it meant for an incredibly stressful day for me, trying to get my missive finished in time to leave for work, driving to Kent and then getting everything done in time to get back home for the game. As it turned out (due to numerous circumstances beyond my control), I ended up parking up outside Highbury Quadrant just as the game kicked off and according to the sadistic laws of Sod and Murphy, by the time I'd scuttled around to the ground, as fast as my weary bones would carry me, I was just approaching Turnstile H, when the roar went up to greet Eduardo's goal.

Eddie couldn't have waited a couple more minutes to celebrate his return to action, enabling me to have time to make it to my seat? Although I was somewhat more fortunate than many of the other tardy Gooners, as at least I had my trusty terrace tranny to convey specific details, while many other late arrivals were left dashing around the ground, not even knowing who'd scored.

And in truth, from what I'd heard of the commentary on route, I got the impression that we'd started the game at such a gallup, that if it wasn't for our profligacy in front of Cardiff's goal and their young goalie's admirable efforts to deny us, we could've already been at least two goals to the good.

I was gutted I'd missed KO, as Red Action had decreed this to be flag day and I was looking forward to seeing whether they'd been successful in encouraging Gooners to ignore Keith Edelman's barmy flag ban, in order to try and bring a little more colour to the ground. However judging by the fact that I actually can't recall seeing a single flag around the place after I eventually arrived, either their pronouncements went unheard, or the club had got wind of the activity and had confiscated all the flags on entry into the ground (which would explain why I don't recall seeing any Welsh flags amongst the away fans either)?

Now we must not go getting carried away, as after all this was only Cardiff and in truth, in my humble opinion, by neglecting their customary "in yer face" tactics, City were guilty of standing off us and showing us far too much respect on the night, thereby allowing us the time and the space to get our passing game going and to recover some much needed confidence.

The one area in which Cardiff could've tried to gain some advantage was in their work rate and if I was Dave Jones, I would've been seriously disappointed by his side's failure to pressure the ball from the opening whistle, to try and unsettle us.

Mind you, compared to the utterly insipid way in which the Gunners have gone about their uninspiring business in many of our recent encounters with lesser teams, I was extremely happy to see us go at it, hammer and tong, taking the game to the visitors, with the sort of verve and energy that's been sorely lacking of late.

I don't think it's a coincidence that this dynamism coincided with the inclusion of Eduardo and Carlos Vela. Not only did it make for a refreshing change from the languid apathy of Adebayor that's been so frustrating so far this season and which has left the Togonator looking like a player who's already made his mark and who therefore has little appetite, other than to mark time until a big money move to the Continent, but it also benefited Nicky Bendtner no end.

With Eduardo and Vela constantly driving forward, the increased number of bodies arriving in the opposition box gave Cardiff's defence so much more to think about, diverting attention from Bendtner and thereby providing him with plenty of opportunities to take on who ever was left with the responsiblity of trying to contain him. Whereas we've grown accustomed to seeing Bertie Big Bollix struggle to retain possession when, two or three opponents can focus all their attentions on thwarting the big-headed young Dane.

It's amazing really, as one would struggle to recognise the Arsenal side stroking the ball around last night, tiring Cardiff out, as they spent the entire evening chasing shadows, as being the same team who struggled to string two passes together against Tottenham, in the first half at White Hart Lane the other week.

As a result, I imagine that all the empty seats in the ground once again last night, will probably be filled for a change, when Saturday comes, as all those fairweather fans will wake up today and read about the Arsenal's entertaining display in their morning papers and suddenly fancy "some of that" this weekend, as with Arshavin's potential debut and Eddie's continued reintroduction, the Arsenal will return to being the place to be and to be seen!

By contrast, as far as I'm concerned, last night's relative goalfest was all due reward for those of us who paid our dues over the last few weeks, on long and exhausting trips to Cardiff, Hull and Goodison. And so it wouldn't be at all surprising that as a result of all those who turn up on Saturday, expecting to sit back in their comfy seats and be treated to a similarly satisfying encore against Sunderland, if fate serves them up an anti-climactic scoreless bore draw, or a dull single goal game, since this would be no more than they deserve.

The reason I try to go to every game is so as to ensure that there is never any chance of me missing out on such an enjoyable performance as last night's and you will have to forgive me, if I am a little loathe to share such pleasures, with the fickle not-so-faithful who feel they can pick and choose their Gooner moments!

For a natural pessimist like myself, it's been a rare pleasure to have felt this innate optimism that the Arsenal would be all right, as soon as we got all our players back. I swear that I was even tempted to predict below that we might end up giving an opponent a real "schmeissing", although last night was a little premature, as I imagined it might take place once we'd returned to full strength and we began to gather some momentum, gaining that "winning feeling", as our passing game clicked back into place.

But I'm certainly not complaining, for although we all know one game does not a season make, but with the confidence the Gunners have garnered from giving out the same sort of humbling football lesson to Cardiff, as was meted out by Spain to England in midweek and with the potential for a big Premiership weekend ahead and our crucial Champions League encounter to follow, we couldn't have possibly picked a better time to rediscover the genuine Gunners, as opposed to those lacklustre impostors of the past couple of months.

Before I go, a word about the Cardiff City fans. Doubtless the high-profile policing and the fact that so many of the old bill were kitted out in full riot clobber last night, stands as testament to large number of "bwad bwoy" scum, amongst the Bluebirds' faithful. However credit where credit is due, their support of their team, in the face of a fairly abject performance (which was only prevented from becoming a cricket score by their keeper's fearless efforts), was seriously loud and pretty constant.

If a stranger had walked into our gaff last night with the score at 4-0, according to the volume level coming from the Cardiff City end of the ground, compared to the relative lack of noise coming from the 50,000 strong home support, it would've been only natural for someone to assume that it was the visitors who were victorious.

But then standing around watching the highlights on the concourse of the lower tier at half-time, you only had to glance around at the vast majority of the Gunners' middle-aged, middle-class "audience", to appreciate why the crowd at our new home is unlikely ever to crank up the decibels, to the point where it becomes a truly intimidating place to play, rather than a glamorous stage that opposition teams look forward to performing on.

Although it would be wrong for me to end on a pessimistic note, after the seriously positive boost of last night's dominant display. So all together now "She wore, she wore......"

Come on you rejuvenated Reds
Nuff Love
Bernard
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I was amazed to see a full house at our place last Tuesday for the Brazil v Italy friendly, but then I suppose the Brazilian national team will always provide a big draw, as they’re guaranteed to bring a riot of atmosphere and colour wherever they play. Pre-match, the pubs in the Holloway Road resounded to the beat of the samba drums and during the game it was great to see our ground bedecked in Brazilian flags and the Tricolore of the Italian Azzuri.

Bizarrely any such flags would’ve been banned on a regular matchday, as killjoy Keith Edelman (the Arsenal’s former MD) instigated a ban on national flags, as a hammer to crack the nut of a particularly petty barney between Greek and Turkish Cypriot Gooners, who objected to the sight of one another’s national colours.

However Edelman was never a genuine footie fan at heart and now that he’s been given the heave-ho, I’d hope that none of the stewards will bother enforcing this bonkers ban, as the colourful sight of the stadium last week has inspired Red Action to call for all Gooners to get their flags out for the lads, for the Cup replay against Cardiff.

I certainly can’t envisage the stewards ejecting fans from the away end for flying the Welsh dragon and so not only would it be wrong to discriminate against the home fans, but the International friendly should serve as an example to the club that, to the contrary, they should be encouraging anything that is likely to make the atmosphere at our home games a little less sterile.

The sight of Gilberto sweeping up in his water carrier role in front of the Brazilian defence was also a poignant reminder of the sort of presence and composure that the Gunners have sorely missed in our immature and somewhat lightweight midfield of late, in the absence of players with the sort of stature and experience of Gilberto and Flamini.

Not that Flamini was anywhere near approaching his dotage, but when one considers Arsène’s apparently strict policy towards players over 30, our squad is destined to remain relatively inexperienced. It seems inevitable that we will struggle to retain the services of players who pass the three decade threshold, no matter how much they want to continue to play for the Arsenal, since one can’t possibly expect them to suffer the insecurity of a one year contract, when they and their families are likely to benefit from the promise of a far more comfortable retirement that would result from an irresistible three or four year deal, which other clubs can offer them, knowing they need only put a little security on the table, in order to lure the player away.

I’m all for having a hungry young side, as hopefully, aside from Bertie Big Bollix Bendtner, they should have everything to prove. However, even if it’s just to have them around as squad players, I believe every dressing room needs a couple of “been there, done that” elder statesmen, to calm their teenage teammates ruffled brows in moments of high drama.

As evidenced by the number of successful numbskulls, football management is not rocket science, but there’s a crucial amount of chemistry involved. Of late Arsène’s magic touch as an alchemist might’ve eluded him, but while many Gooners continue to contest our need for new basic ingredients, I remain confident in le gaffer’s ability to get it right. So long as the Gunners can remain in there with a shout for some silverware, when those base guile, pace and goal poaching elements become available, with the return of Eduardo, Walcott & Fabregas and the introduction of Arshavin.

After our replay against Cardiff was postponed and with Sunday’s 6th round FA Cup draw, I can rarely recall having our route to Wembley mapped out so far in advance. With advantageous home draws against Burnley and Sheffield Utd or Hull to come, if we’ve managed to overcome Cardiff, it’s hard not to tempt fate but I imagine fans of all those clubs still in the hat are already dreaming of being only 90 minutes away from a cup final day out.

Meanwhile Martin O’Neill’s luck had to run dry at some stage and after their defeat at Goodison and with a midweek encounter with CSKA Moscow, it could prove to be a significant weekend in the Premiership, if Villa’s confidence takes a dent against Hiddinck’s Blues and we can capitalize with a win against the Black Cats.

Judging by the lack of focus on the Arsenal in the media, I quite like the fact that we’ve already been written off, in the eyes of many, as the lack of expectation can often have a liberating effect on the pitch. Yet one only has to cast a glance at the seamless introduction of some of Man Utd’s supporting cast against the Rams, to realise that it’s that winning momentum which is key at this stage in the season, as we approach the final turn.

If the Gunners are going to avoid yet another silverware starved summer and the ignominy of our first ever failure to qualify for the Champions League, we’ve simply got to escape the inertia of the past few weeks, by achieving the sort of results, which will begin to restore some confidence and which will hopefully result in a return of the sort of swagger that might give us the impetus to make an impact in the home stretch and make more than a few media folk eat their words!
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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com

Monday, 9 February 2009

"Arshavin...We Bought Him In The Snow, He's Better Than Defoe"

Hi folks,

Compared to his experience of what I imagine would be the less obfuscated equivalent over in the US, the Gunners new MD couldn't have wished for a more febrile baptism of fire, than what I assume must've been Ivan Gazides' intense initiation into the complexities of the murky world of International transfers and the club's efforts (and doubtless the endless financial inducements to Uncle Petrouchka and all) to get the Arshavin deal over the finishing line.

We can but hope that Gazides gets to grips with the intricacies and quirks of the beautiful game double quick to shoulder the weight of some of Wenger's responsibilities, so we don't witness a repeat of the sort of ricket that saw Flamini walk away last summer. We also have to hope that the long wait for the board to employ a new MD was worth it, as it appears decidedly negligent of them to have taken so long to make an appointment.

With Arsène having managed to work the oracle on a relative shoestring every season, personally I have to wonder if a certain air of complacency was responsible for the relative lack of urgency involved in finding a replacement for Edelman, who would also be capable of fulfilling David Dein's role at the club. Perhaps Le Prof's success left the board under the misapprehension that they could leave complete control of the club in Arsène's hands, without having to worry about there being any adverse effect from his added responsibility.

Love him, or loathe him, the Arsenal's relative fall from grace since Dein's departure is surely no coincidence. Listening to Dein on the radio last weekend, in light of his close relationship with le Boss, I've little doubt he would've long since persuaded his pal of the need to reinforce the Gunners' under-strength ranks, by parading a constant string of tempting potential targets. What's more, not only would Dein have the time to schmooze said individuals while Arsène was getting on with the business of managing his existing squad, with Le Prof's apparent reluctance to risk the club's money, I imagine it would've been easier for him to take a punt on a player or two, if our former Vice Chairman was able to shoulder the responsibility for the financial decisions.

Gazides came across quite well in his interview with Martin Keown broadcast on Saturday's Football Focus. When Keown told how he once phoned Arsène's home to talk to the manager, only for his neighbour, David Dein to answer, our new MD revealed that he's not yet "hanging out" at Arsène's gaff. But in so doing, I liked the fact that he intimated that he'd appreciate being able to cultivate such a close relationship with our manager. Then who wouldn't? Since in my humble opinion, when it comes to interesting company, our enigmatic leader would be up there with the likes of Stephen Fry. Only time will tell if their relationship is set to (as the Vulcans would say) "live long and prosper".

Arsène had me somewhat baffled again on Sunday. I've always been one of Kolo Touré's biggest fans but the somewhat corpulent Kolo has been a cumbersome shadow of the powerhouse centre-back of seasons past. As a result, I would've expected Djourou to have been given priority alongside Gallas against Spurs. It might've been patently obvious to all but le Prof for some months, but perhaps by picking Kolo, Arsène is finally showing some recognition, of the need to address the increasing clamour for evidence of any leadership qualities out on the park. In the past Kolo has come across as far too humble to be telling others what to do, but I did indeed witness him communicating with his team mates on various occasions against Spurs and it's only as a potential captain that I can imagine him keeping Johann out of the side based on current form.

Meanwhile Andrey Arshavin's lack of fitness might prove to be a blessing in disguise, as with the massive weight of expectation on the Ruski's shoulders, it might well benefit him for his debut to be delayed, so that it coincides with the long awaited reintroduction of some of our other stars, thereby spreading the load somewhat.

Talking of which, it's hard to believe that following a year out after shattering his leg, Eduardo's first competitive football might be for Croatia this week. Can you imagine ol' Red Nose risking having one of his players injured in similar circumstances? You'd be able to hear him telling the respective national federation where to go, from here in Highbury! Knowing our current luck Eddy will end up doing some damage to himself in training!

I witnessed the huge part luck has to play watching highlights of Pompey v Liverpool on Saturday night. While Arsène didn't get away with leaving Robin out last weekend against West Ham and the Dutchman's struggles to make an impact meant he might as well have played the entire 90, for all the benefit he'll have gained from being left on the bench, fate dealt Rafa Benitez a "get out of jail free" card, when his big guns came on as subs to bag the three points. We would have also heard the Scousers clamour for Rafa's hide from this end of the country, if this gamble had failed.

Harry Redknapp's certainly not one for such abstruse tinkering. When Modric and the rest of Spurs midfield started to fade physically in the latter stages on Sunday, he merely brought on Darren Bent and bypassed the middle of the park. Yet with Robbie Keane so eager to shove our taunts of "Even Rafa thinks you're sh*t!" back down Gooner throats, what surprised me most about Sunday's encounter was that despite their squad looking quite strong on paper, even such a tight Premiership table does not lie and judging by this performance, Spurs are exactly where they should be, with the rest of the bottom feeders.

Before I go, a word for poor Tony Adams, who considering the circumstances of taking over a skint club that had scaled the heights of an FA Cup win last season, was always on a hiding to nothing. There seems to have been a consensus of opinion amongst the media of those who seemed to think it more likely that TA would fail than succeed and I'm sad that Adams hasn't really been given a chance to prove them wrong. Whether he has what it takes to manage at the highest level remains in question but you can't criticize the man for accepting a job which basically fell into his lap. Knowing only too well how much passion Adams has for footie, I sincerely hope the whole experience hasn't proved sufficiently off-putting to deny us an opportunity to see him kicking the crap out of the technical area, passing on his ardor to another generation in the future.

With TA's sacking having been overshadowed by the subsequent shock of Scolari also getting the tin tack, I'd better sign off before an earthquake at Ashburton Grove leaves the rest of my missive looking a little dated

Keep the faith
Bernard
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Taking advantage of Sunday’s respite from this arctic winter, I jumped on my motorbike for the brief four mile trip from London N5 to N17. It meant that I was able to park up directly opposite White Hart Lane and following the final whistle, I was out of there and back home in time to have my feet up for the KO of the afternoon’s second sitting from Upton Park. Along with the bag of smoked salmon bagels, one of my more thoughtful Gooner pals had knocked up for a half-time nosh up (and when I revealed my difficulties masticating my way through a bagel with my false set of “Hampsteads”, he even went to the trouble of bringing a sarnie specially for me), sadly these proved to be the only results of the day.

Being on the Away Ticket Scheme, where away match tickets just turn up in the post and the payment is debited directly from my bank account, I don’t tend to notice the price of individual tickets. At least not until the cost takes me over my overdraft limit and I end up being charged an additional 35 quid in bank charges! But as I literally took my life in my hands, negotiating my way to my seat, right up in the gods, in the away fans’ corner of White Hart Lane, trying to contort my body into a suitable “C” shape to be able to shuffle along a dangerously narrow row, past positively the most corpulent member of the Gooner tribe (when it comes to eating all the pies, he must’ve consumed the pies, factory and the entire trading estate!) without tumbling forward, only to find myself in such a confined space that I was forced to watch the match over the shoulder of the bloke beside me, it occurred to me that our hosts have some “chutzpah” charging us an extortionate 47 quid for their shoddy, sardine-like facilities.

Meanwhile you just know this anti-climax of a North London derby never lived up to its over-hyped billing, if I’m left moaning about being fleeced by ticket prices. I guess it speaks volumes of the quality (or lack thereof) of entertainment that until the remorselessly infuriating Manny Eboué tested ref Mike Dean’s patience once too often within the first thirty and earned himself a red card, our perennially immature Ivorian had at least demonstrated the sort of dynamism, to make him the Gunner most likely to give the Spurs defence a headache.

The Spurs stretcher bearers deserve a reprimand for the positively cruel way in which they subjected Adebayor to a barrage of hostile abuse from three-quarters of the home fans, when they carted him off a few minutes prior and appeared to intentionally take the long route around the pitch.. It wasn’t so surprising that the Togonator tore a hamstring, as this was just about the first time he’d turned on the gas. Whereas if he’d been really grafting, instead of loping around on his heels, perhaps his muscles wouldn’t have cooled sufficiently to cause such an injury.

The voracious Adebayor of last season would’ve already gobbled up two goals before limping off, by being sufficiently on his toes to scent the possibility of getting some contact with his elongated limbs, on a couple of dangerous balls across the face of Cudicini’s goal. But whether Ade was a one-season wonder, or has lost his appetite and is now merely marking time until a big money move to the continent, he’s become a pale shadow of the “Johnny-on-the-spot”, opportunistic striker who poached 30 goals in our previous campaign.

Then again with Lennon running Clichy ragged (mercifully with the ever vigilant Gallas to mop up after our error-prone full-back), with the diminutive Modric ghosting past Denilson and Song as if we didn’t have a midfield and with the majority of them guilty of gifting Spurs possession with their slapdash passing, you could be forgiven for wanting to report the Gunners first-half sham to the DTI, for their feeble misrepresentation of the sort of slick, one-touch entertainment we’ve grown accustomed to (and been spoilt by) during Wegner’s tenure.

At least the smoked-salmon at the break was some consolation, compared to the customary mad-cow pasties and salmonella dogs (although I do happen to know the home fans have a somewhat more appetizing choice of half-time comestibles) and as I tried to munch my way out of my depression, I hoped that by reducing us to ten men, Dean would at least engender a sense of injustice that might inspire the sort of fiery “world’s against us” response which would guarantee a more engrossing second-half.

Sadly much like last week’s derby, there was little evidence on the pitch of the sort of passion felt on the terraces. Sure Song huffed and puffed, but with Alex’s nasty habit of allowing opponents to get goal side, he’s still a long way from maturing into the Mascherano class and with our numerical disadvantage, you got the sense that both teams feared defeat too much, to risk going for it gung-ho in the second half.

Considering Spurs might never have a better opportunity to end their abysmal Premiership run against us, I was surprised they didn’t try to turn the screw and in fact aside from Almunia’s great anticipation to block Modric’s last gasp effort, at the end there, I thought we looked the team most likely to nick it.

However as we took great pleasure in reminding the home fans of their current predicament with chants of “Spurs are on their way to Barnsley” and “We’ll never play here again”, I guess there’s no better testament than Tottenham to the fact that a successful side needs to be moulded, rather than purchased off the shelf, by nature of the measly return of their Mickey Mouse trophy for the £335 million spent by 8 different managers, compared to the success we’ve enjoyed under Wenger at a cost of over £100 million less.

Perhaps the highlight of our afternoon was the prospect of Eduardo’s long awaited return and the arrival of Arshavin, as we regaled the two Gunners warming up on the touchline below us. With Walcott and Fabregas, we eagerly anticipate the injection of nearly half a team’s worth of fresh legs and the sorely missed sight of some red & white support arriving in the opposition’s area.

Up until recently, I couldn’t help but harbour hopes we’d be back to full strength in time to have some influence in the title run-in. But with Martin O’Neill’s relentless charge establishing a 7-point gap between us and Villa and with me finding it hard to believe Chelsea won’t recover their form once Essien returns, I’m beginning to panic. Then again, instead of getting stressed out about mixing it with the also-rans, perhaps it will prove no bad thing if our best chance of guaranteeing Champions League qualification is to actually go an win the bloomin’ thing!
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Saturday, 7 February 2009

We Hate Spurs More Than You?

G’day Gooners

I sat down to write the following on Sunday night and when I went to finish it before leaving for work on Monday morning, Arshavin was in a North London hotel, according to Sky Sports News - although in truth they would’ve had to have him stashed outside of London somewhere close to London Colney, as the Sky Sports News reporter revealed that the polar conditions weren’t going to prevent the deal going through because it was only a mile from the training ground (at least that’s where I assume he will have had his medical).

However by the time I went to leave for work, the same reporter was stating that he’d had a text message saying that the Gunners didn’t have the dough to do the deal and the Ruski was on his way back to City Airport.

With all the airports closed, I actually envisaged Harry Redknapp hearing this news and scuttling down the A12 to City Airport to hijack the deal! I should know better by now than to get caught up in all this gossip bullsh*t after all these years, but then even I, a staunch Wenger-holic couldn’t believe Le Prof was going to let this transfer window pass him by, without putting his hand in the Club’s pocket

For all we know, perhaps Harry (or H as he’s known to his mates) did pop down, or send one of his East London envelope crew to scope the possibilities of purloining our highly-prized import from St. Petersburg.

Then again H “he’s got a twitch” Houdini was probably too busy buying back the third of three players Spurs have recently sold (Chimbonda, Defoe and Keane). What’s that all about, eh? If there isn’t a cotchel of oilslick, pinstriped agents paying for their Porsches from this round of parleying players back and forth, I’m Popovich from Petrograd!

Besides they’d have had absolutely no luck persuading our Soviet star down the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road, because as we all saw when Andrey appeared outside THOF2, he revealed that he’s a “Guuinner” (I can’t begin to spell correctly the accent in which Arshavin described himself a Gooner, save to say that it was endearingly comical)

Meanwhile, when I spoke to my Spurs pal, he informed me this was merely an old Russian ploy to leverage a few more roubles out of the deal, but not wanting to end up with egg on my face, I thought it expedient to forward the Irish Examiner two versions of the following piece with a different last paragraph to cover either eventuality.

I assumed at the time that the rumours about the club only really wanting to look like they were in for a big signing, but never having any real intention (or ability even!) to stump up the readies, were true and that poor old Andrey was going to end up heading back to Zenik, after being snowed in for a couple of days, looking like a proper Charlie (he’d have probably have accepted an offer from Metalurg Donetsk at that stage, rather than trudging home with his tail between his legs!). However if interview outside THOF with one of the agents involved in the deal was to be believed, it sounded as if they’d rescued Andrey (with a “Y” according to Sky Sports News!) from behind the Iron Curtain, before his commie captors chained him to a (broken) radiator in the run up to deadline day. ☺

If I’m honest, I don’t really recall seeing enough of Arshavin to really pass judgement on him as a player. I’ve a vague recollection of him playing for Russia against England, where I believe he played in the Rebrov role (as in when the Rebrov/Schevchenko partnership were ripping it up for Kiev). Maybe it was a ridiculously inflated price that put any opposition clubs off, but the one thing which did concern me a little was that it didn’t exactly appear as if we were having to beat the opposition off with a broom, to prevent being outbid for the diminutive Cossack?

We can but hope that Andrey is a much bigger personality on the pitch than the meek….I was going to say “lad” but let’s face it, he’s no spring chicken, who came out to proclaim himself one of us.

Our new no. 23’s problem is that there’s going to be such a weight of expectation on his shoulders to be the instant panacea for all the Arsenal’s problems, that I can’t begin to imagine him being able to fulfill a fraction of our hopes, even if he played like Kaka, Ronaldihno and Eto’o all rolled into one (which he won’t!). It’s hard to imagine his fellow, fickle Guinners being patient enough to allow him a couple of games to get to know his team mates, let alone the six weeks it might take for him to become match fit (with the Russian having ended in November).

If there’s any truth to it, I love the fact that the guy really seems to have had his heart set on playing for the Arsenal. But being the cynic I am, I can’t help but wonder if this was more a case of him being desperate to do a runner from Russia, before Europe’s economy collapses completely (and before his star began to slide in inverse proportion to his age) and no matter how many wheelbarrows it would take to carry his transfer fee, it still wouldn’t paper half of his penthouse flat.

In the aftermath of this less than smooth transaction (bearing in mind, we only caught the last few tense hours of it, I can only imagine the weeks of agonizing dentistry involved in tearing this particular midfield molar from its Motherland gum), you got the impression that the Gunners had accepted the fact that they had no choice but to get their man and you can bet your sweet bippy that the selling party were certain to have done their utmost to leverage every last kopek out of the transaction.

However if it wasn’t for the fact that Wenger appeared so utterly focused on adding this one solitary piece to his Arsenal jigsaw (much as he appeared to be with Reyes), I would’ve much preferred if he’d done a couple more deals before the deadline, if only to ensure that we don’t end up in scenario where he’s forced to send an unfit Arshavin on for the last 20 minutes because we’re 0-1 down (hopefully not on Sunday) and he pulls a hamstring. It would seem like the end of our season, whereas at least if we had a couple more new faces, it would feel as if we had something, or someone else to pin all our hopes on.

Personally I don’t really see where another pretty passer of the ball checks the boxes of our highest priorities at present. Especially in a fully fit squad, where I can’t envisage Andrey fitting the bill as a partner for Fabregas in the middle of the park, nor as a partner for Van Persie up front. Still I continue to have faith that Arsène knows, even if I’d preferred to see us sign a big ugly bruiser, with a personality to match who could lend a bit of substance to such to the positively lightweight first XI of the past few weeks.

In my piece below, I’ve moaned about Denilson and Diaby both sitting deep, when West Ham showed so little ambition that they could’ve both been given license to rampage forward. However during the game the WHU supporting nephew of my boss, the master carpenter at the ballet, had the insight that we’d be best inviting the Irons on to us, in order to allow us the space to get in behind them and perhaps this was Le Prof’s intention by having his central midfield sitting just in front of the defence, only the buggers didn’t take the bait and though it was as dull as dishwater, you have to give Zola’s team credit for a commendably disciplined defensive performance.

On my way around to the ground I was struggling with the dilemma of whether I could take any money off the lad for his ticket. His uncle is so kind to me in looking out for work which is least likely to damage my increasingly decrepit joints that I wouldn’t have dreamed of taking money from him, if he could’ve escaped looking after the kids last Saturday, but I wasn’t certain if it was proper etiquette to express my gratitude to his kin.

I am sure if West Ham had won, I wouldn’t have hesitated in making the lad cough up a few quid for the privilege of seeing me suffer. However in the end, I wished I’d taxed him before KO, as when I walked back with him to the Arsenal tube after, I honestly didn’t have the heart to take any money off him for freezing his cods off to endure 90 minutes of such an uneventful match.

The tubes were so banjaxed that it took him over an hour and a half just to get to the Arsenal from Canning Town and in truth I was just relieved that he was able to hook up with one of his Hammers mates who just happened to live around the corner and who had a seat for him a warm motor. As I said to him, the fact that he would be warm and toasty with his feet up in front of the fire, instead of still shivering in the queue at the Arsenal, was probably the best result of the day!

I was about to sign off, so that I could get this sent out, rather than have it sit as yet another unfinished opus, with all the other opii (just wanted to get than in to show I know the plural – Stephen Fry, who he?) that have been made obsolete by the euphoria, or the hysteria of a subsequent outing. But I really couldn’t sign off without saying a word about Sunday’s derby.

In my humble opinion, you can judge the credentials of a genuine Gooner by how much the North London derby means to them. Never mind all those who might have you believe that Arsenal v Chelsea is far more significant, especially in a season where both North London sides might have little more to crow about than their conquest of this corner of the capital. Mind you, the still have a Mickey Mouse Wembley outing ahead of them and could even have a relegation battle on their hands, to keep their choler up. And I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that I still harbour totally unrealistic hopes of us upsetting the odds in the Champions League (now there’s a stage which might suit our Andrey?)

Matches v the likes of Man Utd, Chelsea et al pale into insignificance for those of us who inhabit the North London environs and who are confronted on a daily basis by the enemy. I’m already bricking myself about how I’m going to manage a glass half-full show of stiff upper lip optimism to my Spurs pals if the worst came to the worst this weekend.

In fact, considering how much I hate the snow (aside from having sadistic fun throwing snowballs for Treacle to catch, I’m a complete coward when it comes to negotiating snow on anything but a pair of skiis – to the extent that even I sent the missus out in the motor on a mercy mission on Monday night, rather than get behind the wheel myself), it says something that actually think there would be a part of me that would be quite relieved if six inch blanket of the stuff caused a postponement on Sunday.

I happened to pass by to solve a Spurs’ mate’s computer woes on my way home from my Ma’s tonight and he told me that I was the second person today, to enquire if White Hart Lane had undersoil heating. I think he was quite put out at my suggestion that they were so backward at the Lane, compared to the plush facilities at the better end of the Seven Sisters Road (didn’t stop them calling off the Cardiff game somewhat presumptuously on Monday!).

These extreme weather conditions already have me fretting about how I’m going to manage the practicalities of a lunchtime raid in and out of enemy territory. Even I am not barmy enough to brave the motorbike, which was bought specifically because of the advantages it would lend to this sort of outing. And I seriously begrudge paying more to park the car at Spurs than some folks pay for their football ticket at many grounds.

If I get up early enough, I might head in the opposite direction to White Hart Lane, to cadge a lift in my Spurs pals motor. It will be worth the barrage of banter because they’ve got a great parking pitch and it would save me having to brave the elements on a long hike. However it would mean obtaining an assurance that they weren’t going to leave before the final whistle and even then, I’m not sure I could guarantee them not reneging on any arrangement, as if they were 0-2 down, at least leaving me stranded outside Spurs might offer them a little consolation.

I’m not a big Facebook aficionado, in fact I got so fed up with the number of emails that it generates, that I ended up setting up a filter, which mean that I only rarely remember to look in on the odd occasion I click on the Facebook folder. However the subject did cross up this evening when my mate’s missus enquired how come I had “so and so” listed as a friend. Apparently it’s a kid who goes to school with their son and for a worrying minute, I thought I was being accused of “grooming”. I imagine it’s just a Gooner connection but nevertheless when I checked my email when I arrived home, it occurred to me to check the Facebook folder and I found the latest message was from my first ever girlfriend from primary school. “How sweet” I thought that she’d looked me up until I opened the message to see “Come on you Spurs”

With the enmity Harry has engendered amongst the Hammers by his positively treasonable act (as the Hammers fans teased “We hate Spurs more than you”), I had a fanciful notion that last weekend’s encounter with West Ham might inspire a unified chorus of “He’s got a twitch, he’s got a twitch, Harry Redknapp, he’s got a twitch”.

Yet as I walked home with the Hammers unanswered (and sung with more than a little irony) “we are unbeatable” chants ringing in my ears, if I was most disappointed about one aspect to last weekend’s encounter with West Ham, it’s that amidst such bitter conditions and with evidence of so many empty seats dotted around the ground (which are always so much more prominent in Club Level), it dawned on me that our new temple to Premiership football might look like a marvelous stage for the best the beautiful game has to offer, but sadly it seems to lack the necessary soul to inspire the sort of fervour that was once capable of warming the most icy Saturday afternoon at our old home.

I know Bennett provided us with the obligatory half dozen bookings, but the absolute lack of any real venom, or extreme emotion of any kind left me coming away wondering whether I’d really just watched an Arsenal v West Ham game.

Both teams’ current predicament means that we won’t be wanting for any passions between the two sets of fans on Sunday to keep the cold out, but it will be interesting to see if this transmits itself to the pitch

All I know is that if we should lose, you can expect me to go into hibernation for the duration

Come on you Reds
Bernard

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After exhausting, successive away trips to games against Hull, Cardiff and Everton, about the best thing that can be said about yet another uninspiring Arsenal performance is that at least I only had to walk around the corner, in the bitter cold on Saturday.

In the recent past our displays on the road have tended to be more entertaining, because we’ve been able to exploit the space that’s afforded to us, by the fact that the home team is forced to show a little more ambition than would customarily be seen at our place. Thus it was disappointing to make the eight hour round trip drive to Goodison in midweek, for a 1-1 stalemate where Cahill’s 62nd minute header and Van Persie’s stunning 90th minute volley were just about the only efforts on target.

We joked sarcastically in the car on the way back that the point Robin rescued at the death might ultimately prove important in our challenge for UEFA Cup qualification, Yet it’s a sad reality that the current Arsenal first XI is a long way from the enthralling side that was capable of keeping an opposition goalie’s gloves warm the entire 90, with an relentless stream of goal scoring opportunities. And it was even more galling at the final whistle last Wednesday that our Dutch striker was the only one of our players to walk over and acknowledge the support of the travelling Gooners, while the rest of his team mates walked straight off, without showing the slightest appreciation that they’d be tucked up in their beds after a brief flight back to London, while we’d still be wending our way back down the motorway in the wee hours.

Despite getting home at nearly 3am, I sat down to watch a recording of the midweek Match of the Day, where highlights of West Ham v Hull showed the Hammers passing their way around and peppering the Tigers goal to such an extent, that Zola’s Irons looked far more like the Arsenal, than our current lacklustre lot. As a result I was looking forward to what I hoped might be an open and entertaining derby game against West Ham and seeing in person some of their impressive youngsters, like Collison, or perhaps finding out what £9million buys nowadays, by way of Savio.

In truth you’d think there’d never be a better time to take the Arsenal on, but I guess that psychologically, the Gunners remain a relatively big scalp and with West Ham’s unbeaten run keeping them well clear of the relegation mire, instead of playing to our strengths, they came to our place intent on merely shutting us out.

It certainly didn’t make for the sort of spectacle I was hoping for, but I can’t argue that the Hammer’s tactics proved effective. If Zola’s influence was evident in their game against Hull, according to my Hammer’s pal, it was Steve Clarke’s nous, which was responsible for the stalwart way in which the Irons set their defensive stall out on Saturday.

Writing his programme notes from back home in Spain, Fabregas states that he hopes to return from his knee ligament injury sooner than expected. I certainly hope this will prove to be the case, as the stats of our ten game unbeaten Premiership run hardly reveal quite how frustrating our form has been in Cesc’s absence. We weren't exactly on fire before Fab was crocked but the more we see of the current line-up, the more obvious it has become that Van Persie is the only genuine class act amongst them.

We’ve seen occasional glimpses of quality from Samir Nasri, like his goals against Man Utd and as with the majority of our players, I’ve no doubt Nasri would look great in a Gunners side that was on song. But with Van Persie left on the bench on Saturday (until the last 20), despite dominating possession, the team that Arsène put out once again lacked the dynamism and the inspiration to seriously threaten Robert Green's goal.

If resting the in-form Robin was baffling, it was also hard to understand why our two central midfielders, Diaby & Denilson sat so deep, as if both had been tasked with a holding role. West Ham’s limited ambitions meant that both of them could’ve been given license to bomb forward to support our strikers. Instead of which, we were forced to endure another impotent attacking display. In fact with a surprising number of empty seats in the stands (despite the laughable 60,109 attendance figures) both on the terraces and on the pitch this game rarely sparked into the sort of fervent affair that we’ve come to expect from this London derby. It almost made one nostalgic for the sort of entertainment provided by Vieira gobbing on Razor Ruddock!

Both Arsenal fans and squad alike appear desperate for the moral boost of some fresh blood and some increased competition for places. We can but hope that Arshavin's arrival will have the necessary positive impact. Allegedly the hiccup on deadline day was merely an old Ruski trick to leverage an additional few quid. Yet in truth we couldn't afford NOT to buy him, because if Andrey's contribution does anything to help us qualify for the Champions League, any additional sums we've been forced to pay will seem like relative peanuts compared to the cost of failing to finish in the top four and the sort of premiums we'd be forced to pay to attract players to a club that couldn’t offer the opportunity to play on the big Euro stage.

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e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com