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Friday 1 January 2010

Glass Definitely Half Full For Us Gooners

You lucky bleeders get two for the price of one this week and for once this one is hot off the press, as I only filed an edited version of this half-term report to the Examiner this morning.

With this being a time of peace & goodwill to all, we should be sparing a those poor wretches who are less fortunate than ourselves. But sod the Scousers, I've got better things to do and there only purpose is to remind us quite how grateful we Gooners should be, as we turn the corner and head into the home straight, still in their with a shout for domestic glory (if perhaps a tad optimsitic) and with Porto to beat for a place in the Champions League quarterfinals.

If the pundits predictions had come to pass, it would be us in the Scousers miserable shoes, suffering tabloid tales about the imminent exit of the likes of Fabregas and Van Persie, in place of the endless gossip about Torres and Gerrard. So we should be grateful for this small mercy and the fact that Arsène Wenger's Gunners remain the principle exponents of the beautiful game that all those freeloading "experts" claim they'd be prepared to pay to watch play (although in spite of the bogus attendance figures, the sight of an increasing amount of empty seats might suggest otherwise?)

So I guess from this point of view, it's all good and while I won't exactly be holding my breath, with the transfer window about to open, it might even get better

Happy New Year


Gooner expectations were inevitably inflated by an early season glut of goals. Instead of being a flash in the pan, the opening day goalfest at Goodison Park seemed to set the tone, as the free-scoring Gunners were finding the net from all over the park early doors.

It was suggested that our success was founded on the fact that Van Persie had created a new role as a “false 9” and that by dropping deep, our Dutch striker was dragging the opposition around, thereby affording his team mates the space in which they could make hay. Although I reckon this was over-analytical tosh and that Robin is just averse to the constant clattering received by a conventional leader of the line. Doubtless these deductions derived from those same pundits responsible for the mood of pessimism prior to the season, with their predictions that the Arsenal would be the team most likely to drop out of the top four.

Two defeats in Manchester, either side of yet another interminable interruption for World Cup qualifiers, failed to take the wind from our sails. Despite our defeat against Utd due to Diaby’s inadvertent own goal and the fact that Fergie’s side have gone on to prove themselves far from invincible, few teams will toy with Man U like we did at Old Trafford and there was enough promise in this display to maintain the buoyant mood.

Whereas against Man City, we seemed to fall victim to the pre-match hype and all the various side issues. We’re already hearing complaints on the radio phone-ins about Adebayor’s indolent displays for City and as a potential disruptive influence in the dressing-room, I understood why Arsène decided to cash in on the Togonator. Seeing Kolo Touré wearing the sky blue of City was far more difficult to comprehend. Kolo’s been such an integral cog in the Wenger machine, that it was hard to come to terms with the fact that we would never again see the Ivorian inspiring the Gunners, with a driving run from defence.

Still if Arsène’s track record with purchases isn’t exactly 100% perfect, he’s proved an absolute master with his timing, when it comes to flogging some of our favourite stars, with no room for sentiment, if he can maximize the return on a player he perceives as expendable.

Besides which, we now have a new hero at the back. With 5 goals in his first 11 games, not only was it wonderful that there was cause for excitement about corners for the first time in years, but Tommie ‘the tank’ Vermaelen also brought a mighty powerful dig to the Gunners’ dance, scoring a couple of stonkers from outside the area. Despite not being exactly the tallest centre back at 6ft, Thomas gets up well and seems to hang up there, on his 100% commitment. Not only are he and Gallas menacing at set pieces, but far more importantly, as permanent fixtures at the heart of the Gunners backline, they’ve forged a genuine partnership.

There’s no definitive formulae to the making of a centre-back marriage. Personally I always felt that the principle problem with Gallas and Touré was that they were deprived of a consistent, communicative keeper, with a dominant personality. Sadly Arsène appears content to make-do with our present triumvirate of goal-minders. Although Almunia, Fabianski and Mannone have all shown themselves to be decent enough shot-stoppers, for my money all three are too timid to ever truly develop the imposing presence that we’ve been crying out for between the sticks, ever since Spunky was spent.

In the meantime, although I will reserve judgement until the end of the season on whether Tommie is truly the real deal, it augurs well that Gallas appears to have upped his game and our defense is looking a whole lot less insecure than it’s been in recent seasons.

As a result, we cruised though the Champions League group stages, after a high-profile opening week qualifier with Celtic, which appeared far more disconcerting on paper than it proved to be in practice. The biggest disappointment about the demise of our perennially impressive Carling Cup kids in the quarterfinal against moneybags Man City was that we wouldn’t get to see more of the promise they showed, in their earlier wins against West Brom and Liverpool. Yet having won our European group with a game to spare, le Gaffer could afford to reward them with the valuable experience of a taste of the big time, against Olympiakos in Greece.

Few Gooners realised quite what a bitter blow the long-term injury to Van Persie would prove to be, compounded by the fact that it was dealt whilst on International duty. With Bendtner also on the missing list, our attack suddenly looked extremely one-dimensional, with absolutely no variation on the “tippy-tappy” footballing theme.

If the optimists amongst us had begun to harbour hopes of being genuine contenders, these were shot down in flames by the reality check of the 0-3 calamity against Chelsea. Personally I don’t subscribe to the “men against boys” post-mortem, as it’s no such much big players, but big personalities that we require.

Victory against Aston Villa was vital, so as to ensure we continue being spoken about in the same breath as Man U & Chelsea, rather than being dragged down, into what’s likely to prove a white-knuckle scrap for fourth. We might have paid a high price in terms of our skipper’s impaired hamstring, but at least Cesc has made me eat my words, by proving he has the “cahones” to come on and singlehandedly grab a crucial game by the scruff of the neck.

Having flattered to deceive since arriving at the club, could it be that Diaby has finally found some consistency, to combine with his undoubted ability? If Abou can continue to impose himself on matches, we might manage in Fab’s absence. But as our player of the season so far, losing Alex Song might be more problematic.

Song might still be slightly naïve compared to the likes of Mascherano, but he’s matured into the holding role in our midfield at a rate of knots and being deprived of a like-for-like replacement, I reckon it’s down to all of his more diminutive teammates to up their defensive responsibility, if we’re to compensate for Alex’s absence.

There were ominous portents in Man U’s impressive performance against Wigan and although we’ve largely performed in fits and spurts without really firing on all cylinders, the fact that we’re learning the art of taking all 3 points in matches where we might’ve previously slipped up, suggests a growing maturity.

Perhaps le Prof will add another string to our striking bow in the January sales. Otherwise we’ll be counting on Arshavin and the rest of our diddy front men to keep us in the frame until we return to full strength.

Personally, I would’ve preferred a high profile clash with one of the ageing Milanese sides, instead of a tricky start to the knockout stages against a talented Porto. But we all wait with baited breath for Shava to unleash his abilities on European football’s biggest stage. While on paper we don’t appear to have the depth in strength to match Chelsea in the domestic marathon, mercifully football remains “a funny old game”.

Many might contend that our miniscule pass masters are perfectly suited to a less physical, less frenetic assault on the elusive big-eared prize and that the Champions League is Arsène’s best bet of fulfilling his promise to end our barren four season run. In a “show us your medals” world of measuring a man’s worth in terms of tangible tin pots, I would dearly love to witness this crowning glory, where the career of one of the game’s true all-time“greats” receives its much deserved validation.

Whatever fate has in store, considering the gloomy pre-season forecasts, while Gooner ingrates focus on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, true Wenger-ball devotees remain content to see out the duration tormenting those deluded devil-worshipers down the road, with the agonizing adage “that’s entertainment!”

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