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Monday 30 August 2010

Rovers Return (the 7" version)

(you can ignore this post if you read my War & Peace like opus the other day, as I've only ended up repeating bits of it)

With Saturday’s early KO at Ewood Park live on the box, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about a crack of dawn departure for a long schlep up to Lancashire, after an exhausting week at work. Often such unenticing outings are merely a matter of paying ones loyal dues, in return for the heightened gratification of the glamorous razzamatazz of more alluring awaydays. With my Egyptian Gooner mate on a pilgrimage from Cairo, I couldn’t possibly wimp out on a comparatively trifling train trip to Blackburn, certainly not in the aftermath of last weekend’s scintillating goalfest.

Following a far less impressive display on Saturday, we were delighted to come away with all 3 points. Fat Sam’s Rovers might roll over for his old mate Fergie, but the majority of their opponents will be forced to put in an honest shift against Allardyce’s muscular side, if they’re to avoid dropping points on their outing to the Ribble Valley.

Rovers seemed to run out of steam somewhat after Shava scored our second. Nevertheless, in the absence of a 3rd goal cushion, it was a long 40 minutes before the relief of the final whistle. As the clock ticked down, the titan Samba lumbered forward. Top-loading his team, in Fat Sam’s increasingly desperate search for an equalizer only intensified my dread of an inevitable, gut-wrenching ricket at the death.

Thrown in at the deep end, Koscielny impressed with his composure at Anfield. But then life was a lot easier with the limited ambitions of the Liverpool attack, in a contest played at a more tentative, Continental tempo. Whereas poor Laurent flapped like a fish out of water for the first 45 on Saturday, patently struggling to cope with the frantic physicality of a more traditional Premiership encounter.

With an easily bullied Almunia unable to dominate his area and an obvious height disadvantage, every hoof up into the box and each of Pedersen’s Delap stylee projectiles left Gooner hearts in mouths. The Norwegian’s deliberate ball-wiping ritual accounted for far more than a farcical 3 minutes of injury time, with the delay designed to torque up the tension and to maximize the threat of every throw-in.

Whoever sent Alex Song to Louis Saha’s hairdresser, they or the coiffeur deserve to be shot for seemingly turning our promising holding midfielder into the archetypal ‘dumb blonde’. Mercifully Bakari Sagna has left well alone with his ‘barnet’. The winning goal resulted from this unsung star of our season so far, retrieving a lost cause on the touchline.

By contrast there are increasing concerns about our diminutive Ruski’s attitude. Having done his bit, by dispatching his goal with some aplomb, Shava spent the remainder of the match making like a teapot, standing around with his hands on his hips.

Salgado must be closer to 40 than 30. If I’m not mistaken, the cultured but aging full-back is rarely required to last the entire 90. With Shava drifting out of the game, it seemed obvious to have him swap wings, so that Walcott might run the Spaniard ragged. But as with Arsène’s failure to target Liverpool’s lack of a natural left-back by testing Agger’s lack of pace, le Gaffer’s quasi-religious conviction in his gameplan doesn’t appear to allow for spontaneous tactical fluidity. We might be able to rely on our superior ability against the likes of Rovers, but I hope we don’t come to regret his reluctance to focus on our rival’s potential Achilles Heel in more evenly matched encounters.

Compared to the frustration of our former tendency to pass the opposition into a coma, Walcott’s willingness to take responsibility is most refreshing. His shoot-on-sight mentality is not only electrifying, it’s a statement of Theo’s intent, to recast himself from a peripheral, bit-part player, to a lead role in Le Prof’s Passion Play. Here’s hoping his stunning, net-busting strike is a metaphor for a positive flood of goals to come.

Now if only our skipper was similarly invigorated. Cesc had a stinker on Saturday. But then it was never going to be a gentle reintroduction to the pleasures of Premiership footie against Fat Sam’s aggressive outfit. Anyone’s entitled to a bad day at the office, but as our skipper, it was Cesc’s body language that was most perturbing.

I respect Fab’s refusal to indulge in the sort of specious, badge-kissing BS that we’ve grown accustomed to, in advance of mercenary stars selling their soul to the gods of Mammon. Having arrived at such an early age, Cesc has a perfectly understandable hankering to return to his roots. On Saturday’s evidence, it might not serve the Gunners to have delayed the inevitable? Fab might well be the sort of ‘mensch’ who wont want to let his mentor down, but on some level, basic human nature might guarantee his resentment is made manifest in some fashion.

In fact, on exiting Ewood Park, we both began cracking up as we contemplated our captain’s lot. Instead of being kicked black & blue by Fat Sam’s Rovers and being drenched by torrential squalls, whilst hampered by the incompetence of the gruesome Francophile twosome of Song & Diaby, he could be earning shedloads more dosh for sitting with his feet up in the Catalan sunshine, on Barca’s bench, coming on for a 10-minute cameo against a comparatively tame Racing Santander, to be universally acclaimed as one of the best players on the planet with the aid of the likes of Messi, Xavi & Iniesta. Never mind a professional attitude, in Cesc’s shoes I’d be bloomin’ livid!

It’s easy to forget the contrasting viewpoint from t’other end of the ground. I guess they were referring to Rovers’ penalty shouts, as two old codgers on the bus back to the station bemused us, with their “we was robbed” banter. Whereas I felt the Gunners were fairly dominant, at least while the ball remained on the deck. But for once I’m grateful for the fortnight break, in the hope we can rediscover our fluidity and that all-important aura of invincibility. It’s already evident in the sort of swagger that leaves lowly opposition content to merely be capable of managing to give the Blues a bit of a game!

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Sunday 29 August 2010

Liverpool's first three points of the season

Saturday 28 August 2010

Rovers Return

Following a positively exhausting week, where chucking paracetamol down my throat every four hours has been my only means of staving off flu-like symptoms (sadly I can't pull a "sickie" as if I don't turn up for work, I don't get paid!) a 6.30am alarm in order to catch an 8.30am train, for an early KO at Ewood Park that's being screened live on Sky, well quite frankly, it's enough to test the devotion of even the most ardent Gooner.

I was enthusiastic enough last night, but come this morning, I half expected to hit the alarm, choosing instead to roll over and go back to sleep, to enjoy a leisurely lie-in, until tuning in to Sky Sports about five minutes before KO! But with my Egyptian Gooner mate, Amr, having made it all the way over from Cairo, to make it to Ewood Park, I would've felt guilty if I'd wimped out merely because of an early start and a tortuous (70 quid!) Virgin cattle truck trip to the North-West.

Despite having managed to drag my aching bones out of the sack in good time, I couldn't avoid the customary dawdle that ensured I ended up in a fairly typical lather, rushing up underground escalators in my efforts to make it to Euston to catch my train. Following a change in Preston, my abnormally early arrival in Blackburn allowed plenty of time for a leisurely stroll to the ground. But on meeting up with a mate who'd stayed overnight with his in-laws in Wolverhampton, it transpired that his lad had twisted his knee, whilst having a kick-about waiting for me and so we hopped on a bus instead.

Having panicked my Egyptian pal into thinking he'd better pull his finger out, to get there from his hotel in Manchester, if he didn't want to have travelled all that way only to end up missing KO, it was only on arriving that I realised it was a 12.45, not a 12.30 start. But still it was only 15 mins less cruel on those of us schlepping up from the capital and from my point of view, come the revolution, the match schedulers responsible will be first up against the wall, for their complete lack of consideration to the awayday faithful.

AFAIC an unalluring and extortionately priced, early morning outing to the wilds of Lancashire is exactly the sort of loyalty testing trip that teleportation needs to be invented for. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to whinge on, ad nauseam, as I'm sure it must sound like the trite tantrums of a privileged ingrate, to those of you stuck on the other side of the planet, having to get up at the crack of dawn, merely to watch the Gunners play on TV.

Yet it frustrates the hell out of me that the presence of the legions of the travelling faithful is increasingly taken for granted. When in truth it should be the likes of Sky Sports laying on trains and coaches and even paying us all a retainer, to guarantee our presence. Since without the hearty vocal contribution of the contingent of visiting fans and the response invariably provoked from the locals, their highly prized Premiership product would prove to be a decidedly insipid, unatmospheric affair (try watching a match with the sound muted!).

According to superstition, I felt like I should turn around and head back to Preston, when it struck me quite how early I was, as we strolled up to Ewood Park just in time for my mate's son to dive amongst the throng and try and catch a glimpse of the last of the Gunners and le Gaffer, exiting the Ellisons' coach that had brought them to the ground (I assume from the nearest luxury hostelry). I just had time enough to hold my iPhone above the heads of those in front, in the hope of snapping our leader, even if I couldn't see him.

One of the things I miss most during the close-season is the matchday programme, as it's perfect reading matter to be left lying around the flat, to be picked up and digested sporadically on my daily visits to the library, the smallest room in the house. Although the glossy paper might not make for ideal alternative material, when it comes to the more detested of our rivals, I can at least choose to express my disapprobation with their particular matchday publications, in the absence of any bog roll!

I assume that like most every other regular attendee at home games, the first thing I turn to in the programme are the notes from our esteemed manager and our captain's cogitations. I've always consumed their musings with a certain amount of skepticism, cynically wondering how much of what's written has come from their mouths, rather than being concocted by the person who produces the finished article at their behest?

On the occasion of our first home game of the season, I was understandably more eager than usual to digest the thoughts of our alleged want-away skipper. Much like Cesc's somewhat equivocal statement about his status at the Arsenal, I'd be a liar if I didn't admit to being somewhat disappointed with Fab's programme notes and the fact that he hadn't made more of an effort to allay Gooner concerns.

Read what you will into his comment "I don't want to discuss anything else from the summer. I made a statement saying I'm concentrating on the season ahead for Arsenal and I just want to look forward now." I'm sure I wasn't the only one who wanted more than this from Fabregas, but the blessing of consuming our captain's thoughts while sat atop the throne, is that it allows time for more considered reflection. In truth, it probably would've been fairly easy for Fab to have appeased the faithful, by feeding us a bunch of clichéd platitudes, about how much he loves the Gunners and how his heart couldn't bear to be parted from its home in London N5.

Yet the fact of the matter is that we all know that having arrived at the Arsenal at such an early age, Cesc has a perfectly understandable hankering to return whilst still in his prime, to do the business on home soil, for the team he supported as a boy and no matter which way you look at it, it's hard to argue against his yearning. With this in mind, I actually quite respect the fact that Fab refuses to treat us Gooners like a bunch of gormless idiots, by trotting out the sort of hypocritical, badge-kissing bullshit that we've grown accustomed to from less honorable money-grabbing stars, in these mercenary times.

Nevertheless, in spite of Arsène's best effort to reassure us of his conviction that our captain has accepted the circumstances as they stand and that Cesc is the sort of professional who doesn't know any other way to play, than to go out there and give his all, whenever he dons the red & white and in spite of my own instincts that the lad is the sort of "mensch" who'd be loathe to let his mentor down, ever since Barca and their unprincipled partisans began digging their claws into our captain, turning his head at every opportunity, I can't help but feel that as has been the case in the recent past, when our heroes or their representatives have fallen prey and sold their soul to the gods of Mammon, but have subsequently been left with no choice but to postpone their departure, on some level, whether this be conscious or sub-conscious, it is basic human nature for some elements of resentment to manifest itself in their performances.

I'm just about to watch highlights of today's game on Sky's Football First and so I don't know quite how obvious it was to those watching on the box, but it pains me to report, that based on Cesc's efforts (or lack thereof!) this afternoon at Ewood Park, if this is indeed representative of what we can expect from Fab the duration of this campaign, it really doesn't bode well for our prospects of some long-awaited success, as aside from the fact that he's the Arsenal skipper, for heaven's sake, the player who should be setting the tone for the rest of the team to follow, we've also grown accustomed to Cesc's timely promptings, as the orchestrator and focal point of all our most incisive football.

I can forgive anyone a bad day at the office and therefore it wasn't so much the fairly constant stream of badly timed and misplaced passes that bothered me. It was Fab's discouraging body language that was most perturbing, as Cesc produced a far too passable impersonation of Thierry Henry, in his most petulant mien, ambling back on losing possession, as if the responsiblity for chasing back and winning the ball was a task to be left to his more industrial, less cultured team mates and only exercising his finger pointing muscle at set-pieces.

I can fully appreciate Fab's reasons for pointing at an unmarked Samba, as surely it should be down to Diaby, or any of those team mates more greatly endowed with muscular and more physical capabilities (even if the French midfielder doesn't always appear particularly keen to make the most of his physical attributes) needed to mark the Rovers' monster centre-back at corners. But there's a right way and a wrong way to request that your team mates assume responsibility for this task and it felt as if Fab was only pointing out the unmarked Rovers' players by way of abdicating from his own obligations.

Then again, I was only thinking last week, when Cesc appeared for his first substitute appearance in the latter stages of our 6-0 romp against Blackpool, that in making his first start away from home, against Sam Allardyce's aggressive Blackburn side, this might actually sound like punishment, as you could hardly wish for a more stark contrast from the sort of football Fab might've been experiencing on the Continent (assuming this didn't involve spending an entire season picking up splinters, sitting on Barca's bench!), than a "welcome back to the Premiership", courtesy of 90 minutes worth of intimidation from Fat Sam's bullies.

Yet Cesc was far from alone in producing a poor performance this afternoon. I was left wondering if Alex Song has been introduced to Louis Saha's hairdresser and if so his stylist deserves to be shot for Alex's disastrous coiffure, having seemingly turned our rumbustuous holding midfielder into the archetypal 'dumb blonde'. And as composed a figure Laurent Koscielny cut in the first-half at Anfield, after being thrown in at the deep-end, against the albeit limited ambitions of the Liverpool attack, poor Laurent looked well out of his depth, being mugged off so easily by Diouf's unsophisticated skills, having an absolute 'mare for the first 45-minutes at Ewood Park.

What's more, having scored what eventually proved to be the winner, five minutes after the break, Shava spent much of the remainder of the match, seemingly as a passenger, believing he'd done his bit and doing his best teapot impression, standing around the pitch with his hands on his hips. In fact Theo's net-busting contribution and his shoot-on-sight willingness which is further confirmation of what appears to be a concerted effort on Walcott's part to step up to the plate, by repositioning himself from a peripheral, to a far more significant, central figure in the Wenger passion play, was perhaps the brightest spark in an inclement afternoon up at Ewood Park (I can't type Ewood Park without thinking of that silly joke about why the actor Edward Woodward has four "D"s in his name, as otherwise he'd be E-war Woo-war!).

In truth Rovers seemed to run out of steam somewhat after we scored the second. But with Allardyce top-loading his team, sending Samba up front as the clock ticked down, I grew increasingly convinced that according to the law of averages, a Robinson hoof would eventually result in us being breached by a clumsy knock-on of an equalizer at the death. Thus returning down South with all three points was all the more impressive, in light of such a well below average performance and the resulting relief experienced with the final whistle ensured that we all departed Blackburn in an extremely buoyant mood.

As we began walking back to the station, bemoaning the worrying impression we'd gleaned from our captain's underwhelming display, both Amr and I began cracking up, as we broke this down. When you consider that Cesc could have been sitting, with his feet up, soaking up the Spanish sunshine on the Barca, instead of being drenched by the sort of "never rains but it pours" type squalls that spilled down upon his head this afternoon, being paid considerably more substantial sums of money to perhaps come on for a 15-minute cameo, against the relatively tame likes of Racing Santander, rather than enduring the bumps and bruises of being kicked up in the air by Blackburn for 90 minutes and being able to impress the crowd, as he enjoys making pretty passing triangles with the likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, instead of suffering the relatively consistent incompetence of, by comparison, the relatively second-rate skills of Song and Diaby, the Francophile gruesome twosome, alongside him at the heart of the Arsenal's midfield, when you express it in these terms, is it really so surprising if Cesc struggles to disguise his rancour? In his shoes, I'd be bloody fuming about my situation!

As it began to piss down again and we were caught in yet another downpour, we sought shelter, waiting to catch a bus back to the station. I'm not sure what they were waiting for (perhaps they were merely taking refuge from the rain?), but a kindly elderly couple allowed myself, Amr, his Italian girlfriend and a couple of other Gooners, to board the bus in front of them, as the last five squeezed on to a full bus load. I'd forgotten what you miss, when you drive to an away game, returning to the car and driving straight back to London after the final whistle, without experiencing any local colour.

Despite the Gunners relatively unimpressive display, we were dominant enough that it would've only taken another goal to make it feel like a far more comfortable victory. But I was reminded of the different viewpoint from the other end of the ground, as one of the local old codgers promptly opined that Rovers "waz robbed"! I'm assuming he was referring to a couple of dodgy calls in our area, at the other end of the pitch, which I've yet to see a replay of, but which I'm assuming might on another day have resulted in a penalty. But from a dubious penalty shout, to "we waz robbed" seemed a bit of a stretch and was the sort of blinkered bias which makes football the subject of such heated debate.

I'm pretty sure Amr's Florentine girlfriend didn't understand a single word of what the other elderly Rover's diehard was rambling on about. Having informed them that my mate and his partner had come all the way from Egypt and Italy, we were treated to this geezer's potted family history. Mercifully this meant that she didn't take offence to the stereotypical slur, as he told us that his sister was married to an Italian, who during the second world war had promptly put his hands up, surrendering along with all his compatriots, the moment they were confronted by the Brits and ending up being brought back to a prisoner of war camp in Blackburn, where for some unfathomable reason, he liked it so much that he never bothered going back after the war.

Doubtless Sam Allardyce's troops will roll over in similarly deferential fashion, on meeting his old mate Fergie. But I wouldn't be surprised if Fat Sam gets his team suitably hyped up to make life hard for some of other visitors to Ewood Park and in which case, our three points could prove quite valuable. Kalinic looks quite tasty and I won't be surprised if the Croatian conjures up a few goals this season.

I don't know what age Michel Salgado is, but surely the Rovers right-back must be closer to 40 than 30. Yet as was the case in our first away game up at Anfield, I found Arsène's point blank refusal to adapt our tactics to take advantage of the opposition's weaknesses very frustrating. Wenger seems to display a conviction towards sticking to his own game plan, which to my mind, in some circumstances it seems as if he's being stubborn to the point of foolhardiness.

Against a Liverpool side without a natural left-back and where Hodgson was forced to use the cumbersome centre-back, Daniel Agger, I couldn't believe that we completely ignored the possiblity of being able to terrorize the Scousers by taking Agger on down this flank. Instead of which, we stuck rigidly to our preferred method of cutting in towards the middle and trying to unlock their defence, by intricately passing our way through its heart, enabling the Scousers to block our path with as many bodies as possible.

Similarly my first thought on seeing Blackburn line-up with Salgado at right-back, was that we should be able to make life very uncomfortable for the cultured but aging Spaniard. If I'm not mistaken, in trying to conserve the defenders increasingly decrepit legs, Allardyce often substitutes him in the latter stages. But in leaving him on for the entire 90 this afternoon, considering Shava isn't exactly the hardest grafter on the pitch and that he drifted out of the game after contributing with the second goal, I couldn't fathom why he didn't swap wings with Walcott, instructing Theo to run Salgado ragged with his blistering pace, as in the right-back's shoes, absolutely the last thing I'd want is to have to cope with the speedmeister when on my last legs. Yet it would appear as if Wenger has complete disregard for the make-up of the opposition and the possiblity of probing their inadequacies, choosing solely to focus on his own game plan.

This might continue to work against teams where our superior ability will eventually tell, but there are times during the season, against more evenly matched opposition, where an ability to make such tactical adaptations, in order to probe potential weaknesses could prove to be the difference between winning and losing, but unfortunately Arsène tends to stick to his formula so rigidly, that I won't exactly be holding my breath waiting for him to alter his gameplan!

After making new friends with the locals, this old boy had taken so kindly to us, that for a moment there, I thought he was going to follow us into the station and onto the train back to London. Perhaps he thought he'd head off to make his fortune, as he had been questioning us about London weighting allowances, suffering from the common Northern misconception that Southerners are rich as thieves and that the capital's streets must be paved with gold.

Naturally news of the shock result at White Hart Lane spread like wildfire amongst all the Gooners travelling back on our train, as an unexpected bonus ball on our Blackburn lottery win. Now if only it wasn't for what sounded like untaxing and dreadfully routine wins at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge and we would've had the perfect weekend.

After three rounds of this campaign, although Berbatov might be producing occasional classy contributions (I must admit his mid-air volley looked quite impressive on MOTD) and Scholes and Giggs continue to confirm the old adage about form being temporary, but class is permanent, I get the distinct sense that we should have little to fear from the Red Devils, as they struggle to cling to the Blues coat tails, with Fergie having nothing like the strength in depth available to Ancelotti. Moreover, their somewhat forced goal celebrations suggest that at this stage at least there isn't an abundance of team-spirit spurring on Utd.

By contrast, sadly down at the Bridge they seem to be enjoying their football far too much to date, with opponents like Tony Pullis' Stoke seemingly merely grateful to be able to give the Blues a game! Having been without Essien for most of last season, it's galling to witness how much the Ghanaian gives the Blues, driving them forward from midfield. I don't know what their fixture list looks like, but I sure hope they're due to come up against a side soon, that's capable of giving Chelsea more than just a game and who can put a concerted spoke in their burgeoning confidence before it gathers too much momentum.

Meanwhile the Spuds away in the Carling Cup is a mouthwatering proposition for our kids. Perhaps Harry's recently discovered appreciation for the strain of their Champions League commitments will convince him that he also needs to give his first team squad a break from this competition. But then I'm forgetting that this Mickey Mouse competition is likely to be Spurs best chance and perhaps only chance of getting back into Europe next season!

Finally (phew!) my pal Amr reckons that there's a theory amongst Gooners in the Middle-East which I'm dying to look into, as according to him it is no coincidence that Samir Nasri is out for a month with an alleged injury and that instead le Boss has arranged for him to be struck down with a convenient ailment at this time of year in seasons past due to the fact that it is Ramadan? Here's hoping that Rovers haven't just cost us the services of RVP for an equally lengthy period, as sadly our all too fragile Dutch forward never seems to suffer from minor infirmities.

Onwards & upwards
Big Love

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Thursday 26 August 2010

Tangerine Dream

Hi folks,

Apologies for the delay in posting this missive. I filed my diary entry to the Irish Examiner first thing Monday morning, before dashing out the door to work (late as ever!) and in the typical feast or famine nature of my work with the ballet, I've been so busy ever since, that I've been too cream-crackered to even open my laptop until now.

It would appear as if the reserves maintained the goal bonanza mood by blasting 5 up at Bolton last night and it would be brilliant if the first XI can begin to build some momentum, with another emphatic win at Ewood Park this weekend. An early KO up at Blackburn, live on Sky, now there's an outing to test the true devotion of any Gooner!! After an exhausting week, I wonder how enthusiastic I will be for a crack of dawn departure to the North-West?

Sure it was only against 10-man Blackpool, but based on Saturday's scintillating form, you start to get this feeling that no matter what hardships are involved in getting there, you dare not risk missing a single Arsenal match, for fear that you might lose out, in not being there in person to savour another "shiver me timbers" tonking.

Amongst the many points that I failed to cram into my Examiner piece, was significance of seeing Theo step up to take charge of some of our set-pieces. I've long since bemoaned the fact that we've appeared to have so few candidates, eager for the responsibility of taking free-kicks. WIth the exception of the pace and precision imparted by Van Persie and Tommie Vermaelen's toe-poke style cannonballs, we've had no other obvious strikers of a dead ball in recent times.

You'd think that both Shava and Cesc should be able to pose a threat from a set-piece on the edge of the area, but neither has appeared to be particularly ardent free-kick takers, when in truth, you want players bursting with so much self-confidence that they're prepared to wrestle the ball out of the hands of a teammate.

Not only was I delighted to see our set-piece options increased by Theo's actions, but this alone would perhaps appear as the one most patently obvious indicator of Walcott's development, from the little boy lost of previous campaigns, into a player who's become sufficiently sure of his own ability that he truly believes his time has come, to stamp his authority on matches.

I imagine that up until now, Theo has felt too intimidated by the ability of those around him, to be taking free-kicks instead of others and whether he's volunteered, or he's been assigned the responsibility, it suddenly elevates him, from influencing games from the fringes in, to the pivotal figure of a leading man. It remains to be seen whether he's truly capable of living up to his new-found "big time" profile, as a crack-shot Gunner who's capable of stepping up and changing the course of history with a single kick of the ball. but like most every other Gooner, I for one cannot wait to see Theo find the top corner and to go wild with rapturous delight at the sound of that unmistakeable swoosh, as a Walcott curler nestles in the back of the old onion bag. The stage is set mate and we're all backing you to strut your funky stuff!

True it would've been utterly hilarious to have seen Spurs make a premature European exit last night, especially after they appear to have already begun spending the money, judging by the demolition work going on adjacent to White Hart Lane. But although I must admit to having mixed feelings, thinking about my Spurs pals gatecrashing our perennial Monaco party this morning, as there's something decidedly wrong with the picture of them, anxiously sitting around like all us Gooners, waiting to discover what Champs League delights await us over the coming months, at the end of the day, you have to imagine that in their case, a piss-take postponed, is a far more farcical one promised, as they end up being made debutante mugs over a subsequent six encounters, that also takes its toll on their domestic dreams, leaving their season in customary tatters, lagging behind with the rest of the also-rans.

Meanwhile Gooner eyes-down for another heart-in-mouth morning, waiting for the draw which will decide this season's carriage companions on the Champions League choo-choo?

Come on you Reds

Big Love



The Tangerines’ fans weren’t going to let the trifling matter of annihilation spoil their big day out. I imagine we’ll witness few more staunchly supported sides at our place. Bless ‘em, the visitors spent much of the afternoon regaling us with a song about this being “the best trip we’ve ever been on”. But if a 6-0 drubbing is the most they can hope for on the road, it’s going to be one hell of a long season for the poor loves.

As much as it must feel like the fulfillment of every Tangerine dream to be a part of all the Premiership glitz & glamour, ironically, for Gooners like myself, who’ve had more than our fill of the infidelities of the footballing money-go-round, I’m actually looking forward to the real football reality check of a trip to the more humble environs of Bloomfield Road.

Considering the media’s massive David and Goliath build-up to Saturday’s first home encounter, it seemed downright ridiculous that a rules for rules sake red card, threatened to ruin the spectacle after only 30 mins. It was a tall enough task for the Tangerines with 11 on the pitch, but they made a decent enough fist of it, up until then. Unable to use his discretion, Mike Jones only added insult to injury, sending Evatt off, after awarding a dubious penalty for a foul on the edge of the box.

With the visitors own ambition being our best source of success, I feared it was doing us no favours for them to be forced to adopt a more conservative approach. Mercifully, despite Holloway’s subsequent best efforts at damage limitation, Blackpool’s immovable object proved no match for the Arsenal’s irresistible force. As one of those who’ve long been questioning whether Walcott is capable of developing the sort of intuitive football brain, no matter how many hours he spends on the training pitch, I reveled in Theo’s emphatic response to all his many critics.

As a particularly intelligent lad, I’ve always hoped that all it would take is the obligatory boost to his confidence, before Theo’s inhibited decision-making truly begins to blossom. I know it was only against 10-man Blackpool, but with Theo having inherited Henry’s no. 14 shirt, even the great man would’ve been proud of the composed way in which Walcott passed home his hat-trick goal, with his weaker foot. There’s little doubt that on his day, Theo has the capacity to terrorize any defence. I pray that this will prove to be the springboard needed, for Walcott to go on and have the sort of influential season we’ve all been waiting for.

There’ve been times in the past when we’ve been guilty of letting lesser opponents off the hook lightly, lacking the killer instinct necessary to make our dominance count. If I wanted to be hypercritical, Saturday’s game should really have resulted in a cricket score. But where previously our pretty passing game has floundered on the number of opposing bodies behind the ball, the most positive aspect was the cutting edge evident against Blackpool and a tempo that they simply couldn’t live with, thereby enabling us to convert possession into countless goal-scoring opportunities.

After a torrid hour, trailing in Walcott’s wake, left-back Crainey must’ve breathed a sigh of relief to see the last of Theo. But I almost felt sorry for the Seasiders, as it must’ve been positively soul-destroying at 5-0 down, to see the likes of our fresh-legged World Cup finalists, Fabregas and Van Persie, coming off the bench.

Despite a lack of service, I hadn’t been overly impressed with Chamakh’s apparent lack of appetite up at Anfield. However the Moroccan cut a much hungrier figure in his home debut. In heading home our 6th Chamakh served notice of what he might add to this Arsenal squad. But we’ll get a better idea at Blackburn next weekend, when our new striker will need to demonstrate that he’s equally capable of mixing it amidst the pre-requisite roughhouse tactics of Fat Sam’s side.

In ambling back onside, or failing to participate in forays forward, perhaps Shava is struggling for fitness, rather than it being a question of attitude. The diminutive Ruski has the sort of game-changing talent that makes it hard to exclude him from the starting XI but I hope his apparent lack of graft isn’t an indication of him taking his place for granted. The Seasiders were sardonically singing “Can we play you every week” and as much as I’d love to romp home 6-0 in every game, there won’t be many matches where the Gunners can afford to carry passengers.

After impressing in pre-season, no sooner do terrace songsmiths conjure up a new ditty dedicated to Samir Nasri, than the French midfielder is ruled out for at least a month. Similarly, a more long-term injury for Manny Frimpong must be a devastating blow for a youngster on the verge of hitting the big time. As for the motivation of the Machievellian William Gallas, in signing for the team at the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road, I wouldn’t be surprised if he acted out of spite, after Arsène failed to make him feel sufficiently wanted for a return to London N5.

Doubtless my Spurs mates will be crowing about gaining revenge for our capture of Sol Campbell. But they might do well to remember Willie’s disruptive tendencies wherever he’s been. Hopefully Arsène is intent on addressing our obvious need for a more dominant personality between the posts, but the loss of old war-horses Campbell and Gallas has been tempered by the addition of Koscielny and now Squillaci, to beef up the Gunners defensive ranks. Besides which, Willie’s arrival at White Hart Lane might prove akin to pissing in Spurs engine and waiting for it all to blow up in Harry’s face?

Meanwhile the mood at our place is buoyant. It might never be Highbury, but Saturday’s visitors were suitably impressed. With the installation of a replica clock, the renaming of the stands (instead of different coloured quadrants), there’s an earnest effort to make the place feel more homely. But in truth, all that’s really required to transform our cavernous concrete arena, into a more comfy pair of slippers is the missing modicum of success.

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Monday 16 August 2010

Neither Fugu Fish Nor Guinea Fowl

If I’m entirely honest (much like Martin O’Neill), I was struggling to rediscover my footballing mojo during pre-season. With the Gunners investing half as many millions in fine dining facilities for our most affluent punters, as they have in improving the squad (to date?), I was feeling somewhat disillusioned. How many Gooners will get to experience the plush surroundings and the memorabilia on offer to the increasingly privileged few?

Apparently the “prawn sandwich brigade” is old hat, as with the our two new Club Level eateries costing £190 and £152 per head, the Arsenal’s astronomically haute cuisine must be on another planet! Still I’d happily don a penguin suit and serve the posh punters myself, if I felt certain that this was merely another highly lucrative means to a trophy-laden end. But while we witness what appears to be a year on year improvement in the depth of talent and experience in the squads of all those sides that are covetously seeking to snaffle our seat at Europe’s top table, we’re expected to continue to trust in a “wing and a prayer” approach to ending our barren run, despite the contradictory, empty-handed evidence of the past five campaigns.

My expectations are assuaged, with me being long enough in the tooth to have endured far less entertaining spells in a trophyless wilderness. But I can’t abide this increasing sense that the Arsenal have lost sight of the fact that we are football club, first and foremost and a business second. It feels as if the balance sheet has become the be all and end all, instead of the league table.

Either we’re content to maintain the current status quo, clinging to our Champions League status, while this comes under ever-increasing threat, or we are a club with grander ambitions? There are ten players out on the park at any one time capable of scoring goals, but only one is responsible for keeping them out. As the foundation stone for any side, if we’ve truly joined the elite, instead of being an annual asset-striping target, then if Wenger wants a new keeper, why not identify the best candidate and make his existing club “an offer they can’t refuse”.

Instead of which we find ourselves involved in a farcical game of Texas Hold ‘Em with the Harrods’ owner, who can happily continue calling our bluff until deadline day. Mark Schwarzer might be an improvement on our busted goalkeeping flush. But if he was such an ace net-minder, why did no one else spot this during nigh on 400 appearances for Boro. Myself I believe the aging Aussie goalie would be more of a stop-gap solution, than the answer.

I might be a tad biased but I’d much prefer Shay Given. We probably wouldn’t be prepared to match Given’s wages, for fear of a queue of players forming at Wenger’s door the following day, all seeking parity. Moreover most seem to think Mancini would loan Shay out, rather than let him go to a rival. But Ireland’s no. 1 has the reflexes of a man four years Schwarzer’s junior and in spite of the Aussie’s 4-inch height advantage, he lacks the presence resulting from Given’s world-class reputation.

However if Arsène has already opted for the Aussie, surely we’d have been better off bedding him into the team before now. Ultimately we’ll have to stump up Fulham’s asking price and even if we could save the odd million quid, it might prove a seriously false economy come the end of the season, so long as Almunia continues to err at his near post.

Meanwhile, any residue of ennui soon evaporated “when Saturday comes”. Never mind the summer break, with the impact of European footie, I’d forgotten quite how stimulating a full-schedule of Saturday footie can be, as I sat down to savour every scintillating skill and to bellow at the box over every bad decision. Like Xmas, the start of the season comes but once a year and it was something of a tease to have to wait until Sunday to unwrap our meagre Gooner gifts under the Anfield tree.

Starting as I mean to go on, my reinvigorated enthusiasm didn’t stop me from missing my train and stressing about the next one arriving on schedule, in order to make it to Anfield in time for KO. It pains me to admit that I was envious of the hammer & tongs tempo of the encounter at White Hart Lane, as by contrast ours was a far more circumspect affair.

Sadly there was nothing new in the Gunners failure to make our first-half dominance count, as we tried in vain to pick an intricate path through the congested heart of the Scousers’ defence. Le Prof might as well have spent the match searching for the specs on top of his head. But then you wouldn’t want him doing Pat Rice out of a job. Surely even his unobtrusive assistant should’ve pointed out the glaringly obvious absence of a recognised left-back in the Liverpool squad. I spent much of the 90 making this point, venting my frustration over our failure to target the lumbering Agger’s lack of pace.

I’m all for keeping it simple, but whether he plays with the handbrake on, or lets the full range of his virtuosity rip, Jack Wilshere will still be prone to errors whilst learning his trade. But watching Jack seemingly under instructions to always play the easy ball, left me feeling no less cheated of his natural gifts than if I’d paid to watch an Ussain Bolt told not to run under 10 seconds.

Although Chamakh’s inability to impose himself was a disappointment, our afternoon in the Anfield sunshine wasn’t entirely without positives. Koscielny looked the part (other than when our entire defence was at 6s & 7s, struggling with a spate of crosses) and a catchy new chant is such a rarity nowadays, that Samir Nasri’s ditty (to the tune of KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Give It Up”) put us all in good cheer.

Considering how close we came to dropping an opening day clanger against a less than impressive Liverpool, best of all and most poignantly was the fact that our last-gasp equalizer came courtesy of Pepe Reina’s faux-pas. Poetic justice indeed, considering he was the principal culprit in forcing Fabregas to don a Barca top during post-World Cup frivolities.


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Saturday 14 August 2010

Never Mind Mark Schwazer.....

....judging by Joe Hart's performance this afternoon for Man City, it would appear as if the youngster has nailed down the no. 1 shirt as far as Mancini is concerned. So why not jump in with a concerted effort to sign for Shay Given. I might be just a tad biased but I'd much prefer Shay over Mark Schwarzer.

As Ireland's no. 1, Given's not going to want to spend the season warming the bench at Eastlands, unable to obtain game time and maintain his sharpness. Wasn't Given close to signing for the Gunners in the past? I seem to recall that we were given the sense that it was a done deal, until Arsène changed his mind, as if there was some element amongst the raft of statistical results from the bank of tests that didn't meet le Gaffer's strict criteria.

But whether Shay's muscle elasticity, his lung capacity, or any other statistical minutae fails to meet Arsène's ideals on paper, on the pitch he's proven experienced quality, with just the sort of composure needed to establish that all-important aura of reassurance, amongst the unknown quantity of our new centre-back partnership.

While Koscielny hasn't made a fool of himself to date (apart from one instance of obvious naivety, where he dived in, when he might've prevented a goal if he'd stayed on his feet), it's a massive ask, perhaps a make or break moment, throwing the French Pollack to the lary Scouse lions as an opening gambit. Here's hoping Laurent proves himself to be worthy of the faith Wenger obviously has in the lad.

Meanwhile watching both Spurs and Man City drop two points this afternoon (lending credence to Arsène's argument that no amount of money spent is any guarantee of goals), although it would prove highly amusing, should the Lilywhites make an embarrassing premature exit from the Champions League against Berne's Young Boys (especially when one assumes their entire new stadium project is dependent on their qualification into the cash cow of the competition proper), on the other hand, as others have pointed out, Spurs lack of experience of the pressure of playing regular Champions League football might have a significant impact on their ability to obtain points after schlepping across the Continent and it might test the depth of their squad, to the point where it could impact on their aspirations in the Premiership.

Nevertheless, this certainly won't stop me from being up for the Young Boys come Tuesday night

Batty Priced Pre-Match Grub v The Beautiful Game

Batty Priced Pre-Match Grub v The Beautiful Game

G'day fellow Gooners,

I had to make a stop on the way home from Friday night dinner at my Ma's, after my sister sprang a surprise on me, by revealing that she'd arranged an extremely premature birthday pressie (considering it's not until November), with "a personalised granite stone" at Armoury Square, "where the fans and the legends will be together, forever Arsenal".

Ironically, the hypocrisy inherent in a sales pitch which sounds increasingly ingenuous, coming from a club that on the face of it, appears far more dedicated to dreaming up ever more inventive schemes for filching every last disposable pound out of their punters pockets, than it is concerned with putting players out on the pitch capable of rewarding our unswerving loyalty by way of tangible tin-pots, was highlighted by the fact that they've yet to get around to replacing the photo of the recently departed Eduardo, sat atop a stone bearing the inscription "Eduardo Da Silva Arsenal's No 9"

Obviously I couldn't drive past the Arsenal without stopping to check out my stone and although my 18-month phone contract has deprived me of joining the multitudinous flock of sheep-like followers onto the 4th level of the Apple cult, despite the absence of a flash for the camera of my woefully outmoded iPhone 3G, I was able to take the obligatory photo to forward to my far too generous sister, so as to express all due appreciation for my eternal gift.

I actually suggested that if she was intent on giving the Gunners so much of her hard-earned dosh, I would've much preferred a present which included the ghost of Herbert Chapman, by way of an apartment in the glorious Art Deco East Stand at THOF. Failing that, in light of the considerable cost of this inanimate lump of granite, I pondered if there might be a possibility of getting a better return on her investment, by having it dug up when my time comes to shuffle off this mortal coil and transposed to mark my eternal patch of turf at Bushey cemetery.

All joking aside, as grateful as I am for my sister's gift and as reluctant as I am to have her feel as if I'm throwing her boundless generosity back in her face, I have to express my mixed feelings about her adding to the amount of money invested in the Arsenal by the Azulay clan. The Armoury Square web site states that all profits will go towards the Arsenalisation of the stadium.

It's all well and good encouraging us mug punters to put up the cash for dressing up the vast expanses of concrete around the ground, in an effort to make us feel more "at home". But who, other than us gormless Gooners, have funded the £4 million refurbishment of Club Level, involving the introduction of two new restaurants, the WM Club and The Foundry, where with pre-match haute cuisine priced at a positively obscene £180 and £140 (the latter an incredulous amount for a bleedin' buffet for heaven's sake), at least 95 per cent of us Gooners are never going to be able to afford to find out whether this was money well spent (when at the time of writing we've yet to invest in installing someone between the posts with that crucial Championship winning aura about them!).

Obviously one has to assume that the Club's accountants have done their sums and unbelievably, when you consider that affluent Club Level punters need to stump up something like an additional £3.6k to £4.7k on top of the £2-4.5k cost of their Club Level seats, the two restaurants are reported to be 90% and 60% sold out for the entire season already. I struggle to get my head around the fact that in these cash-strapped climes, there continues to be such a rich vein of corporate type punters with seemingly bottomless pockets, capable of spunking up anything between five and nine grand a season for a seat and some poncy pre-match grub.

Yet for all the infuriating wind-up of having our new stadium infested with suited & booted big-shots, for whom the quality of the football on the pitch is of trivial importance compared to the choice between the Chateau Lafitte 69 & 71, or between the Beluga and the Foie Gras. I would happily don a penguin suit and serve them myself, if I truly believed that we are going to see some return on the huge sums spent by all these high-rollers, in terms of the sort of purchasing power that would put us in the same category as the predatory likes of Chelsea, Man City and Barca, capable of outbidding any club and offering comparable terms for any player we might desire, or in terms of the equally important reassurance of knowing we won't have to suffer any summer months in the future, fretting over the likes of Fabregas being targeted as their prey and never again having to make the problem of keeping our existing squad intact as our main priority.

Sadly four seasons on from the club earning a reported additional £3million plus from every home game, the only evidence of our increased affluence is the plush furnishings for our posh punters and the installation of memorabilia that the majority of us might never get to see. In fact the complete lack of any sign of increased investment on the pitch might lead one to conclude that there are those at the club who are quite happy to maintain the current status quo and so long as the Gunners continue playing to full-houses and wealthy punters keep stuffing their faces, who needs to risk untold millions for the feintest chance of securing a trophy to appease the masses.

I can think of a number of pals who originally went into business for themselves, motivated by the thought of providing themselves and their families with a comfortable lifestyle, but who along the way seem to lose sight of this "raison d'être", to the point where the money became more important than the things it could buy. Similarly, one could be forgiven for thinking that a healthy bank balance has become the be all and end all at the Arsenal?

Nevertheless the Highbury house of cards is built on the foundation of the cash cow and the kudos of continued qualification for the Champions League and with the ever increasing threat to our highly-prized seat at Europe's top table, if we've been treading water these past few seasons, this is certainly no longer an option, on account of the covetous advances of those opponents who've gradually improved their squads season on season, to the point where we can no longer afford to ignore "the clear and present danger" from the competition.

Hopefully we'll get off to a flyer against the Scousers on Sunday and everything will be hunky dory, but should the wheels begin to fall off before the Gooner charabanc makes it out of the drive and a severe reality check puts le Prof on the spot, to the point where he's forced to panic buy, the suits will end up kicking themselves for continuing to kid themselves that Arsène could work the oracle again, without ever dusting off some discoloured pages of an under employed chequebook.

The other galling aspect to the Arsenal's current penchant for putting more thought into maximising their income, as opposed to displaying their eagerness to spend it on improving the squad (where the vast majority of us might be able to enjoy the fruits of their efforts, rather than the venal pleasures of the privileged few), is that each new scheme feels as if it's an insidious attempt to encourage already hard-pressed Gooners to demonstrate their devotion to the Arsenal in terms of the size of the wedge we're prepared to pull out of our wallet. If it's not another new replica top, necessary to ensure the kids don't get teased at school for wearing last season's kit (not forgetting that the two new kits this season are to be followed by 125th anniversary outfit next year!), it's another 40 quid for a 28-character plaque on a seat that you've already paid for.

They know full well that folks like myself will turn up for the first home game of the season and on seeing a plaque on our neighbours pitch, we're all going to feel obliged to do likewise. Surely football is the only field of entertainment where one's devotion to the cause can constantly be taken advantage of in this fashion. Where else could they charge extortionate amounts of money for a guaranteed seat, only to be expected to fork out a few more quid to put your name on it.

But that's more than enough whinging, by way of a far too long-winded preamble to my opening missive of the season. In my eyes Schwarzer would be little more than a stop-gap, rather than a solution, but who knows, in the time it's taken me to tap out this War & Peace like load of waffle, we could've already signed the Fulham keeper, along with half a dozen other players, to leave me with my foot well and truly stuck in my overly loquacious gob?

We live in hope
Come on you Reds
Big Love


If you can’t be optimistic before a ball has been kicked in anger, then as a footie fan you’re in big trouble, because for supporters of the vast majority of clubs it’s all downhill from here on in. With Arsenal fans having been so spoilt by the success at the start of Arsène’s tenure, many Gooners struggle to come to terms with the reality, which dictates that with only three major trophies up for grabs, the vast majority of clubs are destined to end every season empty-handed.

However the club must also share some of the blame for our inflated expectations. As one of the privileged few with seats in the old stadium, personally I’d have been delighted to remain there forever. The Arsenalisation process has undoubtedly lent some personality and individuality to our impressive glass and concrete arena, but in spite of this, for many of us, our cavernous new home will always feel somewhat antiseptic and anonymous, compared to the intimate feel of our former “home of football”.

Assuming folk can afford a hobby, the tickets for which have become more expensive than West End theatre seats (and sadly all too often with an equally sedentary atmosphere!), aside from providing more Gooners with the opportunity to watch the Gunners, the new stadium project was sold to the more reluctant amongst us, on the basis that the additional income was essential for the Arsenal to be able to compete with the other footballing superpowers.

You only have to wander down the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road to appreciate the self-evident truth in this philosophy. Spurs new stadium plans seemed utterly farcical when launched at the height of a recession. But I was shocked when driving past White Hart Lane the other day, as judging by the amount of land that’s been purchased and the demolition work currently taking place, adjacent to their existing stadium, Spurs are presumptuously already spending the millions they expect to receive from the Champions League cash cow, in their efforts to make their new stadium a reality. Never mind “if we build it, they will come”, supposedly with sufficient finances still a long way from being found, it sounds like more a case of “if we build it, Harry will hustle up the brown envelopes”!

I might not be too enamoured with the focus on wooden floors and glass chandeliers, designed to attract the corporate pound and the more affluent high-rollers. In fact while the majority of us plebs went to watch the team train at Members Day last week, Club Level residents were lured to the stadium by the promise of a free lunch at one of the two newly opened haute cuisine restaurants, catering to the punters in the posh seats.

Nevertheless, I can appreciate the economic argument, as football clubs nowadays are divided into two distinctive groups. Unless ones club has the purchasing power to join the exclusive band of predators, then all your best players will continue to be their prey. As a result, along with many others, I’m fast running out of patience. To date, four seasons on from the move, we’ve yet to witness any trickle down effect from the reported additional £3 mill matchday revenue, into the transfer kitty and we’ve endured far more than our fill, incessantly sweating out the summer months, knowing we need be more concerned about keeping our current squad intact, than fantasizing about securing the signatures of the sort of megastars that we can’t (or won’t?) compete for.

Sure, the Gunners have made some pretense at playing with the big boys attempting to appease the fans, by throwing us the occasional bone in the shape of the talented likes of Arshavin and Chamakh. But for the most part Arsène continues his crusade to unearth diamonds on the shelves at Tescos, unable (or unwilling?) to compete for big-ticket items at Harrods.

Hopefully our new French Polack will prove as big a hit as Vermaelen, but in spite of Arsène’s customary reticence for a summer spending spree, the arrivals of the relative unknown Koscielny and the Moroccan striker from Bordeaux was hardly the sort of statement of intent that the vast majority of us were hoping for. Especially when Chamakh was already a done deal back in May.

We’ve long since learned the futility of spending the close season glued to the Sky Sports News headlines banner, waiting in vain for the red & white realization of reams of vacuous transfer tittle-tattle. Yet at the very least, I assumed that Arsène’s efforts to flog his vision to Fabregas and dampen our World Cup winning skipper’s desire to return to his Catalan roots, would’ve resulted in le Prof putting the Gunner’s money where his mouth is, with a definitive demonstration of his ambition, of the sort that might reassure Cesc that this campaign was not going to be another Groundhog Day.

Who wouldn’t be delighted with the prospect of watching one of the greatest midfielders on the planet for at least one more (last?) season. But sadly Fabregas’ somewhat equivocal statement was hardly the sort of “cri de coeur” that was needed to allay justified fears that London N5 might no longer be the home of our want-away skipper’s heart?

Despite pre-season reminders of Almunia & Fabianski’s shot-stopping prowess, opposition strikers will hardly be quaking in their boots at the prospect of taking on one of our triumvirate of timid keepers. Perhaps young Szczesny will prove himself to be the man, but it’s the apparent negligence in addressing our patent need for an imposing personality between the posts, that’s the cause of most concern amongst the majority of Gooner malcontents.

Moreover, the likelihood that we’ll continue to leak goals only increases the weight of expectation on the shoulders of our solitary newsworthy new arrival. Despite my concerns over Marouane’s delicately arranged coiffure, it will be refreshing to have a striker playing in red & white who’s not afraid of a “tête à tête”. If our preening new peacock spends half the time strutting his stuff on the training pitch, as he appears to devote to styling his sticky up barnet, then hopefully Chamakh will turn out to be a winner. But it’s barely realisitic of us to believe that Marouane’s ability to redress the situation at the other end of the pitch will prove to be the cure-all panacea for the Gunners’ entire panopoly of perceived frailties.

Aside from the two new arrivals, most of the pre-season euphoria concerns the promotion of the homegrown likes of Frimpong, JET (Jay Emmanuel-Thomas) and the great white Gooner hope, Jack Wilshere. We’re long overdue some return on Liam Brady’s production line of promising youngsters. Manny Frimpong is rumoured to be a seriously dedicated lad, in contrast to the disparaging modern-day tendency for the erosion of the appetite of so many rising stars in the footballing firmament, by the trappings of fame and fortune. Sadly, on signing their first contract, no sooner are they ensconced behind the wheel of the sort of flash motor that befits their elevated status, than they are left believing they’ve nothing more to prove.

There’s some suggestion that the hiccup in Jack Wilshere’s progress was related to the club’s efforts to keep him focused, with his feet on the ground. Whereas it would appear that in playing in virtually every position on the park, JET’s versatility is both a blessing and a curse. While it’s evident Jay has all the necessary tools in his locker, the dilemma to date has been in deciding where he can best make use of them.

Never mind the commercially packaged, glitz and glamour of the Emirates Cup, personally I much prefer the traditional curtain-raiser amidst the ramshackle environs of Underhill. In an age where the beautiful game has become such a remote business, with our heroes permanently closeted away from the fans who pay their wages, it is indeed a rare treat nowadays to be able to get up close and personal with them.

It was heart-warming to watch the entire squad (minus World Cup stars) paying their dues, allowing themselves to be pawed, as they patiently posed for photos and signed autographs for their adoring faithful on their way out of the ground. Of them all, only Arshavin ignored all the kids pleading for his moniker and marched straight out on to the coach without deigning to stop and make their day.

With full-houses for both days of the Emirates Cup (belying perennial suggestions of a bursting Premiership bubble), I was fortunate to bag a couple of last-minute spares, so as to be able to make my nephew’s trip over from Dublin, with a surprise outing to see his beloved Arsenal in the flesh. Watching the boys (v the Bhoys), it hadn’t occurred to me that my comments might influence the all-important dilemma of whose name to put on the back of his new replica shirt.

Needless to say Shava didn’t rate a mention, but Samir Nasri has looked very sharp. Both he and Walcott might feel they have something to prove, following their absence in South Africa. Jake chose Nasri in the end and should Samir end up breaking a leg, doubtless I’ll be blaming myself for putting the bok on him.

With the Gunners trotting out in more traditional attire, here’s hoping it’s not just their outfits which bears resemblance to the feats of forty years back and that we can recapture some of the spirit of ‘71. In light of the sort of humbling we’ve suffered, when we’ve rolled over like pussycats in crunch encounters from our more recent past, personally I will gladly settle for proof that our young squad has matured into a pack of alpha males, capable of mixing it with the best of the Premiership pride.

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