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Thursday 28 October 2010

Outta Toon

G'day fellow Gooners,

I've been getting very slack of late, filing my missive to the paper on a Monday morning and failing to post it out, until it ends up being out-dated by events in midweek. Truth be told, I've been forced to become just a little more self-disciplined, as the sports ed at the Examiner will no longer accept my typically (overly)loquacious pieces and unless I restrict myself to an acceptable number of words, he'll just send it back to me.

As I result, on those rare occasions when I do manage to limit myself to anything less than a mere 800 words, I'm invariably left feeling as if I've omitted so much of what I had to say that I'm loathe to post out my piece without adding a preamble including some of the more salient points.

With procrastination being the thief of time, suddenly it's Thursday and I still haven't got around to doing it. Everyone tells me that I'd be better off sending out shorter posts anyway, but since I don't earn anything from my blog, there is no real incentive for me to split my missives into separate posts, in order to generate more traffic and besides, after ten years of writing my weekly diary pieces, I'm pretty certain that if I was producing my War & Peace like efforts for anything other than my own self-gratification (and in the vague hope of offering a little flavour to a few geographically challenged Gooners), this would be bound to become a chore rather than a pleasure and would be likely to lose something in the process.

Meanwhile I'm now in a position where it would feel farcical if I sent a post without referring to events at St James Park last night and so I guess I'd better get on with it...

As a member of the Away Ticket Scheme, I feel somewhat obliged to go to every away game, with my tickets turning up automatically in the post. I'm sure that if I wasn't writing my weekly column for the paper, I'd probably pass on the occasional exhausting schlep around the country, but both for the benefit of myself and others, my column gives me the excuse that I simply have to go to every match because it's "work".

Whereas Carling Cup match tickets are optional and if I'd received a ticket for the match at St James Park last night, I might well have made more of an effort to get there, since in my experience over the past few seasons, some of our awaydays in this Mickey Mouse tournament have been amongst the most enjoyable trips of the season, for one reason or another.

As desperate as we all are to secure some long awaited silverware, the nature of this tournament means that I can enjoy watching and screaming my head off at these games, but without anything like the same excruciating tension that I invariably experience at the vast majority of the Arsenal's other matches. Similarly, there's often an absence of anxiety on the pitch that allows the players that Arsène selects to play with a certain freedom, which often isn't quite so evident in Premiership and Champions League clashes.

However, while this is all well and good when the Young Guns have run riot, embarrassing and often humbling far more experienced opposition, in some incredibly memorable performances in this competition, I have to admit that there have been times when we've had our backs up against the wall and have ended up exiting the tournament, where I've wondered if Arsène's attitude and his prioritization of the bigger prizes has permeated down into the dressing room, to the point where we've ended up waving goodbye to the season's first sniff of silverware because we simply haven't wanted it enough.

Usually I so enjoy the opportunity of watching our carefree kids cavorting around in a rare first-team context that I'm keener to go on Carling Cup outings than any of the other trips. But in this instance, after a long eight hour drive to Manchester on Sunday and with me being up to my eyeballs with work that wont wait, I was forced to stop at home. Perhaps if I'd had a ticket, I might've made more of an effort to try and juggle my responsibilities to the ballet (after all I've never let my "show must go on" obligations interfere with my footballing pleasures in the past and at forty-eight years of age, I've a feeling any such prudent maturity might well have long since passed me by!) but with the match being live on Sky and hopefully plenty of material to come from our weekend encounter with the Hammers to fill my Examiner column, it was easier and substantially more economical for me to "just say no" for once.

A couple of my pals were flying up to the Newcastle on Air Miles tickets. Compared to an exhausting drive up the A1 to Tyneside, I would've loved to have taken much of the strain out of such an arduous trek, by joining them. However not only have I been unable to accomplish the sort of travel that would amount to sufficient Air Miles for a free ticket, they travelled up on Tuesday and aside from the cost of the flights and hotel, it would've meant losing a couple of day's wages and as a result, I doubt I would've lasted until Monday with the meagre contents on next week's pay packet.

The problem with this is that with me having not travelled and with the Gunners having managed such a resounding triumph against the Toon, should we progress to an away draw in the quarterfinals, I'll have to struggle with my superstitious nature, dealing with the dilemma of knowing that if we end up losing, I will inevitably feel personally responsible for our cup exit, as a direct result of me being present at the match.

But if, as looks likely, le Gaffer is giving the Carling Cup a bit of a go this time around, I guess I'm definitely going to have to resolve this groundless hogwash, since if we should end up going all the way to Wembley, I'm certainly not missing out on the Gunners first return to the new incarnation of the "Home of Legends"!

Myself I don't agree with all those who might contend that this competition has been devalued by Arsène and all those other managers who've followed suit, by making use of the Mickey Mouse cup as a means of blooding the youngsters. To the contrary, I believe this policy has injected some much needed lifeblood into the Carling Cup, by turning it into the one and only piece of silverware that fans of every single club in land can aspire to.

The Cup of many drinks (Milk, Coca-Cola, Carling) has always been the least prestigious trophy but it's acquired a whole new interest in the modern era, as just as we've been doing for several seasons now, fans of all the other major clubs are seriously interested in the tournament as the principal opportunity to run the rule over some of their young prodigies. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, I now look forward to our Carling Cup games with far more enthusiasm than the vast majority of decidedly unenticing fixtures in the Champions League group stages (try telling that to those poor unsuspecting numpties at White Hart Lane!).

Sadly last night, not only did I not get to go to the game, I couldn't watch it live, or even listen to the commentary on the radio. In fact, I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm only just watching a recording of it now for the first time!

I had to fetch some of the painted backdrops cloths for the ballet's new production of the Nutcracker yesterday afternoon and when I turned up at the scenic artist, he asked if I minded having a cup of tea and a biscuit, as he only had to put "a couple of ribbons" on the cloth stretched out on the floor, for it to be finished, so I could get that out of his way (as it's an enormous cloth and I could appreciate how keen he was to get it out of his way). However it wasn't until I was sitting outside in the van waiting for him to finish (and for my cuppa) that it occurred to me that if he was still painting on it, I'd have to wait until the paint dried for us to be able to fold up the cloth. I ended up sitting outside his Hammersmith studio for about two hours!!

As a result, I found myself driving to our stores in deepest, darkest Kent in the very worst of rush hour traffic and it took an absolute eternity. I actually got to hear the first half hour of the radio commentary, but as I reversed the van into the stores, it suddenly dawned on me that there was no AM reception on the radio once the truck was inside the stores and by the time I'd finished unloading and loading up again and drove back out, the Gunners were 3 goals to the good. Having dropped the shutter around the back, I had some more stuff to fetch from the front door of the stores and having left the van doors open and the radio blaring, mercifully I just about heard the commentary as the fourth and final goal went in (or at least enough of it to know that the Gunners had scored) and for the benefit of no-one but myself and to the surprise and amazement of the local rabbits. foxes and assorted other wildlife, I stood there whooping and hollering.

The worst thing is that I'm trying to watch the game (as I simply can't go to work without even seeing the goals at the very least) whilst catching up on a load of correspondence and you miss enough watching football broadcast on the box (compared to being there in person) but for me, I find it impossible to absorb anything, unless I concentrate fully on the telly.

Nevertheless, while I don't feel particularly qualified to comment on the game, I've seen enough to know that I like what I see of Wojciech Szczesny in goal (kudos to the first terrace songsmith who manages to work our young keeper's bonkers moniker into a catchy chant?). Despite our incessant pleas and mounting media pressure to address our goalkeeping situation, I'm guessing that le Gaffer has been doing his best to rein in the young Pole because (hopefully much in the manner of Joe Hart), he appears to have the sort of unbridled confidence of youth which is bound to end up with him making the occasional glaring ricket.

But give me this sort of confidence any day, over the timidity we've grown accustomed to from our other triumvirate of kack-handed keepers, as I'd gladly suffer Szczesny dashing out in his efforts to dominate his area and being sold the occasional dummy by a wily striker, rather than us and our defence having to suffer the abiding air of uncertainty that we've grown accustomed to at the back, never knowing if the vacillating likes of Almunia, Fabianski and Mannone intend on stopping at home, or coming out and making their presence felt.

Who knows if Wojciech is going to be the answer to all our prayers as he proves himself to be the real deal in games to come? But what I am certain of, even on the little evidence I've seen to date, is that unlike our introverted trio of goalkeepers, the youngster definitely seems to have the personality which at the very least, leaves me feeling confident that he has the potential to become a sufficiently imposing presence between the sticks. And no matter how impressive a shot-stopping display we witness from the likes of Almunia and Fabianski, sadly they both appear to be the sort of shrinking violets who are never going to be able to lend that much needed aura of calming reassurance to our back line because it's not in the nature of their somewhat pusillanimous personalities.

But that's more than enough of my prattle for one post. Anyone for the Hammers in the quarterfinals? It will certainly make for an awkward atmosphere (as will be the case on Saturday), with my boss, as the master carpenter at the ballet is an Irons season ticket holder (according to EEC terminology, he's actually now deemed as the ballet's "Chief Mechanist" but sod that, as master carpenter sounds a whole heap more impressive :-). Mind you, it will probably be me who ends up chopping up an endless pile of wood, if the Gunners give them a hammering (but it will be well worth the resulting punishment :-)

Come on you Reds
Big Love


In light of the Arsenal’s abysmal recent record against our immediate rivals, we were tickled pink to come away from Sunday’s game with all 3 points, as it was looking like the sort of significant encounter that was either going to leave us clinging to Chelsea’s coat tails as a credible challenger, or battling it out with the also-rans for Champions League qualification.

Nevertheless I was so keen to see us lay down some sort of marker against Man City, that I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of disappoinment that our comprehensive 3-0 triumph was somewhat cheapened, by the way in which the ref Clattenburg demonstrated his cajones, by reducing the home side to 10 men in the opening minutes, thereby leaving Mancini able to contend (albeit almost unintelligibly) that his team would’ve won the day if it’d been an even contest.

It’s hard to argue, as City looked good value in those opening moments. With Richards running riot down their right flank with his athleticism and Silva pulling the strings with his silky skills, City looked more than capable of posing a threat against any defence. You only had to see the £100 million’s worth of bench-warmers to suspect that City’s strength in depth is likely to serve them well, when other sides might start to hit the wall in the Premiership marathon.

A red card for the opposition isn’t often cause for celebration, as aside from ruining the spectacle for the watching millions, it invariably ends up with them battening down the hatches, to the point where we struggle to break them down. Normally the penalty area would be far too congested with bodies, for us to carve a route through with the sort of one-two that resulted in Nasri’s opening goal. Still playing at home and with their own point to prove, City couldn’t spend the entire 85 minutes sitting on their heels and for once, the extra-man served to our advantage.

Despite Fabregas being on the receiving end of several clatterings early on, Clattenburg seemed to spend the remainder of the first-half intent on evening up the odds. By half-time we were left wondering who in an Arsenal shirt hadn’t been booked and it’s to the Gunners credit (and much to my amazement) that we avoided giving the ref his get-out of jail card and lasted the remainder of the ninety with all eleven still on the pitch.

Never mind the victory, keeping our first clean sheet away from home since Villa Park in January was cause to get the flags out and Fabianski was in fine form. Nevertheless it’s not our keepers' shot-stopping capacity, but their failure to dominate their area where they tend to fall down. On a day when I should be singing his praises, there was one too many instance when hesitation at the back should’ve been resolved by Lucasz bellowing in the ear of his defenders to leave the ball. Standing behind Joe Hart’s goal and watching his impressive work, I couldn’t help but wonder where the Gunners might be with an equally imposing personality between the posts.

It wasn’t until Alex Song emphatically stabbed home our second that I began to espy the difference between an organically grown squad and a hotch-potch of star talent that’s been thrown together thanks to City’s loadsamoney owners, as any remaining resistance seemed to evaporate and we were left to savour watching the Gunners “taking the Michael” with a keep-ball session for the remaining 25 mins. Perhaps Mancini will foster a greater fighting spirit over time, but it’s not a facet of a team sport that you can turn on like a tap.

Myself I was just delighted to be there. After having my car pinched a couple of weeks back, I replaced it with another old banger and fatalist that I am, I spent the entire couple of hundred mile journey, fully expecting the engine to blow up in my face. Hence having stopped at the services for something to eat just outside of Manchester and being accosted by a City fan in just such a predicament (his mate’s motor having died on them), I simply couldn’t refuse to come to his rescue. Besides which I benefitted from my Samaritan act, as apparently my new Mancunian mate saved me from the scallies in hi-viz yellow coats, who pounce on unsuspecting travelling fans, by waving them into illegal parking pitches, where they are easy prey to unscrupulous private tow-away firms.

Chamakh appears to rise to these big occasions. I’m sure his teammates appreciate the lone striker’s selfless efforts to provide the likes of Samir Nasri with space to weave his magic spell. But by ramping up the positive reading on the Gooner karma meter, I like to believe I too contributed to our success, in my own small way.

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