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Monday 22 November 2010

Treacle (our mutt) Heads To London Colney To Teach The Lads How To Hang Onto A Lead

Handing Harry Redknapp’s mob the odd crumb of comfort in 17 years isn’t really grounds for the renting of Gooner clothes and the donning of sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless there were enough angry fans calling for the baby to be thrown out with the bathwater, when the final whistle blew on Saturday’s fiasco. Such frustration was perfectly understandable, as Spurs didn’t win this game; the Gunners presented it to them on a plate, as a gift-wrapped premature Xmas present.

Considering the huge police presence at these Derby games, it seems downright daft that the coppers should be so conspicuous by their absence at the most obvious point of contact, on exiting the ground. So it wasn’t so surprising to see Gooners letting off steam, as I also felt the inclination to want to punch someone, or something, because only 45 mins prior we’d pictured ourselves heading home with 3 points in the bag and that smug satisfaction of knowing we’d be sitting pretty atop the Premiership pile, even if it had only turned out to be for a couple of hours.

As things transpired, our capitulation proved to be even more infuriating with Chelsea getting beat in Birmingham, knowing we could’ve been heading to Braga as the current “Big Kahuna”. I say heading to Braga, but then as things stand at present, that might be easier said than done with several flights being cancelled due to a local baggage handlers’ strike.

It wasn’t until walking the dog later that evening when I finally managed to put Saturdays dumbfounding events into some perspective - note to Arsène Wenger: whilst also managing to hold onto the lead for the duration! Truth be told, most Gooners who witnessed quite how fortunate we were to come away from Wolves and Everton with all three points, they’ll be able to appreciate that our elevated Premiership status is something of an illusion. As much as I rue this rare Derby defeat and the bragging rights we’ve gifted our local rivals for the next few months (least until we reap vengeance at the Lane in Feb), in some respects it was a timely reality check, reminding us that we only reside amongst the top three, by dint of the fact that the competition has been equally inconsistent and the chasing pack only somewhat more so.

However, as it stands at the moment, it’s tantalizing to think that all it would take is a for us to put a decent run of victories together to perhaps be able to put ourselves in the box seat. Sadly Saturday’s slap in the face demonstrated that the Arsenal are still some way short of that “B of the Bang” blinkered focus and concentration for consistently grinding their way to a title triumph.

For some time now I’ve been grumbling about the Gunners inability to start home games with the necessary intensity and pace to immediately put the opposition on the back foot and often as not we’re particularly slow to come out of the traps in these early KOs. So I was delighted to get off on the right foot on Saturday, taking the game to Tottenham and rattling them right from the opening whistle. Yet despite our first-half dominance, having failed to fully press home our advantage, by killing the game off with a third goal, come half-time, it seemed obvious to me that our opponents were bound to rally at some point.

What disappointed me most about our Derby Day defeat was our patent inability to cope with the inevitable Spurs surge, when it came early on in the second half. For all the first-half brilliance in Fabregas’ cultured promptings, in his current “want away” state of mind, our skipper certainly is not now, or never really was what one would call ‘a natural leader of men’. Cesc was handed the captaincy as a carrot, not because he has the required character attributes and on Saturday when we needed a leader capable of encouraging his team mates to stand firm, calm them down and remind them of their ability to retake control of possession, sadly our skipper was no less guilty of a headless chicken impersonation than any of his team mates.

The only consolation at the minute is that we’re no less mired in mediocrity than anyone else. But where I can envisage both Man Utd and Chelsea benefitting from that all-important experience of knowing what it takes and being imminently capable of putting their noses to the grindstone when it matters, I’m far from being convinced the Gunners are any closer to being the real deal. Yet despite our more obvious and much debated shortcomings, with Van Persie playing his way back into fitness and the likes of Walcott, Ramsey, Vermaelen all still to come, in a season where the title is dangling there, waiting for anyone to demonstrate they’ve large enough cajones to make a lunge for it, I’m still a long way from giving up hope.

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