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Thursday 7 October 2010

Many A Slip 'Twixt Cup And Lip

G'day Gooners,

This was one of those weeks when I had so much more to say about Sunday's game at the Bridge, that I didn't want to post this out, until I'd had an opportunity to add all those points that I wanted to make but which wouldn't fit into my diary missive for the Examiner.

However with the ballet going out on tour nest week, I've been so busy that I've barely had time to open my computer (or if I've had the time, the long schlep to Kent and back has left me far too cream crackered to even consider opening my laptop) and so I thought that if I don't send it out now, it will be too late to even bother doing so and with no proper footie this weekend, I guess I can save all my whinging for next week's diary missive.

Meanwhile, it's an ill wind whipping up off the Mersey at the moment and unlike everyone else, I'm slightly envious of my Scouse pal, who writes the corresponding Liverpool diary column for the Irish Examiner. Steve Kelly and I always forward each other our pieces for the paper and I've noted over the last few days, that all the aggro at Anfield has resulted in him being requested to write three extra columns to date.

The Merseyside club might be struggling to avoid going "mehullah" but my Scouse pal Steve is positively minting it as a result :-)

Keep the faith
Big Love

In the absence of the spine of Arsène Wenger’s side (Van Persie, Fabregas, Vermaelen. Walcott etc) the Gunners gave a creditable account of themselves on Sunday. However after only six wins in the past 33 games against our two greatest nemeses, the resulting downsizing of Gooner expectations, meant that it was hardly a bombshell to find ourselves trudging away from Stamford Bridge with nothing to show for our efforts.

I adore Arsène Wenger and the man walks on water as far as I’m concerned. When you consider the parlous financial predicament of so many other Premiership clubs, our manager has achieved a minor miracle in maintaining the club on an even keel, keeping us competitive whilst constantly serving up sumptuous entertainment, despite the upheaval and the millstone of massive debt necessary to finance the new stadium.

Nevertheless, while the Scousers might be making plenty of noise about the mismanagement of their club, in the need to point the finger of blame for their current plight, by and large, there’s a good reason why you don’t hear us taunting the opposition about our superior profit and loss account, because ultimately it’s football results not financial results which are all that matter.

With this in mind, surely there must come a time when it dawns on le Gaffer that there’s a critical missing ingredient in his grand design for the Gunners, that crucial catalyst capable of turning a team that’s every genuine football lover’s favourite Premiership attraction, into the sort of success machine, that a nation of underdog aficionados will inevitably come to love to hate.

Never mind the scholarly connotations, Arsène increasingly reminds me of the mad professor, who can’t find the glasses sitting on top of his head, as he ploughs on with his blinkered obsession, regardless of our squad’s blindingly obvious inadequacies. I’ve never held with the simplistic men v boys theory but there’s no denying the facts which apparently state that on average the Chelsea side were 3 inches taller and 2 stone heavier. In truth we stood up very well, the pint-sized Wilshere bossed so much of the game and Drogba is capable of bullying the beefiest defence.

However matches against Chelsea have become the litmus test of the Gunners credibility and sadly it keeps turning acidic. It might’ve been a different story if we’d forced the home side on to the front foot, by capitalising on our early chances, but the portents were ominous from the moment they took the lead.

Personally I believe it’s more instinctive than tactical, but the Blues have learned that they can afford to let us have the ball, because all our best football is played in front of their defence. They can soak up the pressure, safe in the knowledge that they’ll be presented with an opportunity to carve us open on the counter.

Perhaps the penny began to drop with Arsène’s decision to send on rookie, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, to try and bulldoze his way through in the last 10 minutes, as he’s built like the proverbial brick out-house. Sadly this was too little, too late.

I’ve complained in the past about the lack of communication between our players and I’d like to say that it’s good to see Squillaci talking to his team mates, if it wasn’t for the sense that this is indicative of him learning about them on the job. Chamakh is also receiving an education, discovering that he doesn’t have time to take an additional touch amidst the Premiership’s more frenetic climes. It’s hard to blame Song for shifting out of the way of Alex’s free-kick, as I’m not sure I’d want to put my face in front of such a guided missile, but it’s not like Chelsea weren’t telegraphing their intentions by sticking Malouda in the wall, exactly where Alex was aiming.

If it wasn’t bad enough getting beat, perhaps what bothered me most was the way in which our spirit seemed to evaporate, as we rolled over at the death. Instead of striving for some respectability, we gifted Chelsea so many chances to add insult to our injury. Yet this match was always likely to be a bridge too far, with a defence that barely knows one another coming up against Chelsea’s settled strike-force and a lone striker who’s finding his feet, trying to pick holes in the league’s meanest backline.

After losing to City, this was just as big a game for the Blues as it was for the Gunners. But having failed in our efforts to reinforce a Chelsea wobble, I’m not too downhearted. In light of the inconsistency across the board, it might already appear as if the Blues are destined to retain the title but it’s only the beginning of October and there’s still likely to be many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip!

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