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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Ancelotti's Premiership Managerial Credentials Might Be Looking A Little Limp, But Not So His Amazing Dancing Eyebrow

G'day fellow Gooners,

Any team would suffer from the loss of such influential players as Michael Essien and Cashley Hole (or one influential player and one greedy bastard!), even the Blues bumper squad, with two or three players for every position on the park. And yet when I look at all the players still available to Ancelotti on paper, Chelsea continue to look like the outfit with the more worthy title-winning credentials. Fortunately, it would appear that not everything in Roman's garden is quite so rosy as the facts might suggest.

I've a feeling it might also have been at Ewood Park, or some equally desolate North-Western outpost of the not so beautiful game, but I well remember a scene from a hungrier age, when after grinding out a significant victory against equally uncultured opposition, I watched on enviously, as the TV pictures portrayed a poignant moment, as the entire Chelsea team communed with their "no history" travelling hordes, in a spirit of togetherness, handing over all their shirts to show their appreciation for their support and sending them all back on their long schlep home, feeling an integral part of the Abramovich tribe.

Contrast this to the disconsolate solitary sight of Drogba trudging over to the away end at Blackburn, after dropping two points on Sunday, to partake in the same ritual, as if he was on particularly melancholy, automatic pilot. I've pondered in the past whether a mature Chelsea squad might've reached the point where the trappings of fame and all that fortune would take the edge off their appetite.

More recently, despite the amazing dancing eyebrow that appears to be the only channel for Ancelotti's expression, I've wondered whether the Italian's utterly impassive persona has the capacity (or the linguistic capability even) to rouse a bunch of aging old pros from their complacent slumbers? But while such questions are open to endless speculation, perhaps we've witnessed irrefutable evidence of late that the gossamer-thin veneer of togetherness, which binds a dressing room full of over-inflated, overpaid egos has been shattered for good, ever since the salacious John Terry scandal was splashed across the titillating pages of the tabloids.

Somehow, with his charisma by-pass, I just can't envisage Ancelotti having the personality to put Humpty back together again and if Chelsea are to come on strong again, it will have to come from within and Terry, Lampard and co. will have to prove that they still have sufficient hunger.

Personally I feel that unless time has eventually withered Ol' Red Nose's appetite, it's got to be Fergie whose favourite for engendering a title winning unity of spirit in Utd's camp and so long as their spud faced Roman Candle remains fit, Wayne Rooney's likely to provide the fireworks on the pitch that will inspire his team mates and continue to push them all the way.

Perhaps it is the fact that Arsène's current squad have yet to actually win anything but when I look at this Arsenal side, I still struggle to see them as a team of genuine contenders. Even if circumstances hadn't contrived to make Sol Campbell such a significant signing and he'd remained on the periphery of the squad, Sol's hulking great stature lends our squad a somewhat more imposing presence. Nevertheless until we really begin to acquire that all-important winning aura, it's hard to imagine this Arsenal side lining up in the tunnel and intimidating opponents in the way our immediate rivals do.

Nevertheless, there's absolutely no mistaking a mushrooming mood of well-being amongst the Arsenal camp. As one of his greatest detractors in recent weeks, I'm delighted that even Denilson appears to have caught the bug, as demonstrated by his fifth minute pot-shot and the resulting exuberant celebration from a player who's always struck me as a somewhat shy, retiring sort. Yet while we all know our side to be capable of the sort of scintillating skills that can scythe their way through the tightest defence, we've yet to prove that we possess the unwavering focus and blinkered concentration necessary to attain the level of consistency that can prolong our challenge right through until 9th May.

Personally I would much prefer if all the pundits were still writing the Arsenal off, instead of jumping on the bandwagon of our gathering momentum, but so long as we can continue to go from game to game, keeping up the pressure on the other two, we should benefit from the added impetus of a burgeoning confidence and an increased appetite. And in my humble opinion the Premiership title is merely a matter of keeping our end up, while we wait for the other two contenders to capitulate. It all sounds so easy expressed in such terms but ask me again in three games time, as if we beat Birmingham and Wolves and come away from White Hart Lane with thee more points, even my pessimistic self will have no choice but to begin to believe.

Meanwhile on Sky Sports the other week, Tony Adams told how he felt that the 38 game title marathon had to be the no. 1 target. I'm sure that the vast majority of other football fans (with the obvious exclusion of the Totts) would be delighted to see Le Prof's purist vision and his point blank refusal to join the space race, prevail over the other two. Yet while all of us Gooners and the footballing public in general might recognise le Gaffer's genius, it's obvious that the big-eared prize, the one trophy missing from the Arsenal's illustrious list of honours, is the Holy Grail necessary to truly vindicate Wenger's greatness.

Amongst the current first XI, Fabregas alone would be the one Arsenal player to walk into the Barcelona side. But mercifully time and again the inherent beauty of this game of ours has been witnessed in a demonstration of a whole that's been far greater than the sum of the opposition's individual parts. It would perhaps be somewhat naive of me to suggest we might contain Messi & co., where so many others have failed.

I rather fancy that we'll end up going to the Nou Camp needing a result, following a rollercoaster ride of score draw which will be responsible for more than a few Gooner heart-attacks. Should such a prediction prove true (and they very rarely do), we'll travel to the Catalan capital with the pressure off and hopefully produce a performance where absolutely anything is possible.

The only thing I can be certain of is that we'll be savouring one hell of a sensational spectacle, while our poor Spurs pals are keeping their customary tabs on the comings and goings in Albert Square

Come on you Reds

Big Love



With the noisiest North corner of our impressive new stadium being directly opposite the section of away fans in the South end, this huge arena’s two most vocal areas are separated by such a vast distance that sadly, there’s rarely any decent banter between the two sets of supporters these days. I guess the Hammers fans are in the habit of having to try and create their own amusement. But this encounter has become a pale shadow of the North v East London derbies of old, where no matter what transpired on the pitch, the spontaneous battles of Cockney choral tennis kindled on the terraces would invariably guarantee an amusing afternoon.

This didn’t stop the Hammers fans from trying to provoke some sort of response from the rest of the Arsenal’s silent hordes on Saturday, as they teased “we hate Tottenham more than you!” Having shown our heartfelt appreciation for this vocal expression of their aversion to our North London neighbours, there was in fact a half-hearted attempt at a riposte, with a fairly flaccid chorus of “we hate Chelsea more than you”.

Compared to the murderous animosity of the dark ages, nowadays West Ham and Arsenal fans share something of a common bond, in our contempt for the other two London rivals. Consequently I was left contemplating quite how delighted the Hammers fans will be, when we make the short trip to White Hart Lane with a weakened side, deprived of Tommie Vermaelen due to the automatic three game suspension resulting from Saturday’s dismissal. Nor do I imagine there’ll be too much rejoicing down the Barking Road, if Tommie’s three game ban should end up handing the Blues the title on a plate.

Alex Song dropped back for the remainder of Saturday’s match, to manfully plug the gap resulting from Vermaelen’s red card. In Gallas’ continued absence, hopefully Alex will do likewise whilst Tommie is suspended, as I’m sure I won’t be alone in wondering how many changes of underwear might be necessary should Arsène resort to a pensionable centre-back partnership of Campbell and Silvestre.

Being that much more mobile and as a centre-back by trade, Song would seem to be the most obvious stand-in. But with Alex having rapidly grown into his influential holding midfield role (and many Gooners choice as player of the season so far), where he provides formidable protection for our defence, I can’t help fear that we might be exposed without him playing in this screening role. We coped during Song’s recent suspension, but the weaknesses in Wenger’s squad are patently evident. We’ve been blessed by the phenomenal way in which Alex adapted to his new position, but there doesn’t appear to be a single other player who’s particularly suited to this strenuous task.

My qualms about Almunia relate to his timid personality and the lack of presence that prevents him from dominating his area and which allows an air of insecurity to prevail amongst those around him. However Manuel once again demonstrated his shot-stopping prowess on Saturday, in denying Diamante from the penalty spot. Having failed to capitalise on the spot-kick and their man advantage for the rest of the match, perhaps more pertinent for the Irons would be the ultimate irony of Vermaelen’s resulting suspension affording a point or three to their relegation rivals, when we play Wolves.

To my mind, this is why the rigidity of the current disciplinary regulations are so ridiculous. When anyone gets goalside of a defender, it’s entirely instinctive of them to adopt a ‘by any means necessary’ approach to denying the opposition an attempt on goal. In such circumstances, I always wonder whether the ref might’ve been influenced, if our crowd was a little more intimidating. But it’s downright daft that such an innocuous foul should result in us, the paying punter, being deprived of seeing our star players perform and that it is so often the opposition’s adversaries who end up being the only ones to profit.

While all the pundits produce their ‘end game’ predictions (surely the Glenn Hoddle seal of approval has got to be the kiss of death?), I’m trying to remain philosophical, savouring a thoroughly unexpected ride without getting entirely sucked in. I'm terrified that no sooner will I succumb to harbouring serious expectations, than the huge Monty Python foot of reality will come squelching down upon this illusion. In a climate of red & yellow card inconsistency, it will be a crying shame if ref Atkinson’s spur of the moment severity proves to be just such a harbinger of the Gunner’s doom.

Although there’s a growing sense that our success is fated. In which case Vermaelen’s enforced absence will merely be another example of the infinite elasticity of the Gunners’ “bouncebackability”. At least Tommie the Tank should be fresh for a positively mouth-watering quarterfinal encounter with Barca. My only disappointment with the draw was that my ultimate fantasy climaxed with sweet revenge against the Catalans in the Bernabeu. The only difference being the possibility of fate and fortune playing a much bigger role in a single 90-minute final, than is likely to be the case over two legs.

Nevertheless how can anyone not relish the prospect of a meeting of the two most entertaining footballing teams on the planet? In comparing both sides on paper the Spaniards will be expected to prevail, putting us in a ‘no lose’ situation as considerable underdogs. But I’m confident we’ll be sufficiently pumped up to do ourselves proper justice and if we’re going to be the best, we’ve got to beat the best. Worst case scenario, we take a gracious Champions League bow. But in the event we master Messi & co. there’ll be no holding the Gunners, as we swagger all the way to a May final, where revenge against the old foe would prove equally scrumptious.

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Anonymous said...

Interesting point about the singing at home matches. A Hammer mate of mine was at the game and said he thought the Arse support was really quiet. In fact I think it's partly to do with the stadium's accoustics. I usually sit towards the north end of the west stand (close to the Red Action area). But for a Carling Cup game against the Spuds last year I sat in the South Stand (adjacent to the Totts support). I barely heard an Arsenal song all night, while, unsurprisingly, the Totts were giving it large. Afterwards in the pub I mentioned this to me West Stand mates, who said they thought the Spuds support had been quiet and our boys were in really good voice. As I say, strange accoustics at the Grove...

Anonymous said...

Tommy V gets a one match suspension, bro ... since his red was not for a dangerous tackle but for obstructing a 'clear goalscoring opportunity'. He'll only miss the Brum clash (we're appealing the red card decision as well anyway!)