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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