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Tuesday 27 December 2011

Finger of blame should've been stuck in a pie!

It's just dawned on me that the Gunners lethargy after taking the lead today and our ultimate failure to take all three points, was in fact nothing to do with the lack of full-backs, or a lacklustre display overall.

It was all down to my dreadfully insensitive pals at Piebury Corner, for daring to take a break over the festive period that included a home game, thereby leaving all their many devotees stranded, without our habitual pre- and post-match vittles, resulting in the more superstitious amongst us not merely being left with an empty stomach, but convinced that it was due to me having been denied my customary Ian Wright (lamb stew pie) that cost us the three points :-)

Both for the Gunners sake and my own sustenance, I sincerely hope that normal service will be resumed for our New Year's Eve encounter with QPR?


Santa Comes But Once A Year, But He Doesn't Look Anything Like Mick McCarthy

Hi folks,

Although I'm hardly feeling the festive spirit, after we blatantly blew two points this afternoon, I guess I should take this opportunity to wish everyone the compliments of the seasons and a happy & healthy New Year.

Ref Stuart Atwell has definitely joined the ever increasing number of officials who are no longer on my Xmas Card list (if I actually sent any out!) and it will undoubtedly add insult to today's injury (RVP's shiner?) should Spurs take advantage of our failure to beat Wolves, when they play at Carrow Road this evening.

Then again, I'll probably be left feeling no less wound up, should the Lilywhites fluff their lines against Norwich because we will have ended up making such a hash of a rare opportunity to gain some ground on our own noisy neighbours (especially with increasing rumours of Harry making a marquee signing during the forthcoming transfer window - they were talking about Tevez on the radio this afternoon - which is likely to give their squad the exact sort of boost that we're crying out for!)

Everyone has been talking about our festive schedule of games against Wolves, QPR and Fulham as if it was a guaranteed nine points. When in truth I'd probably be feeling less concerned about the potential negative effects of complacency knocking the wind out of our sails, if we were facing stiffer opposition.

Today's game was a case in point, as with us having taken the lead so early on, we should really have kicked on and put the opposition to the sword. This would've made far more sense as far as energy conservation is concerned, as it would've saved us from the positively exhausting efforts to pile on the pressure and produce a winner at the death, which I assume will have left the lads feeling all the more fatigued, as a result of them having tried in vain!

Meanwhile it seems obvious to me that our performances of late have suffered as a result of the lack of full-backs because we patently lack the same attacking threat, when there's no-one overlapping down the flanks, to occupy the opposition defence's attention and afford the likes of Walcott, Gervinho and Rosicky sufficient room to threaten the penalty area.

Under such circumstances, it falls to RVP almost singlehandedly, to provide the moment of inspiration to unlock the massed ranks of the opposition and we simply have to accept the fact that Robin just cannot be relied upon to come up with the goods in every single game.

AW badly needs to resolve this problem, if we're not going to suffer several more similar stalemates in the weeks ahead. Since he's already tried (and largely failed) with the likes of Rosicky and Benayoun, in my most humble opinion, failing any immediate additions, it's about time le Boss gives the yoof a chance?

Big Love

I was thrilled and more than a little relieved to be returning from Villa Park with all three points last Wednesday night, after the Gunners hadn’t exactly covered themselves with glory, with a somewhat complacent, sloppy performance. Our lethargy hardly improved after having been presented with an early Xmas pressie, by way of Villa gifting us a penalty 15 minutes in.

I’ve some Egyptian Gooner pals who revealed afterwards that never have the exploits of an Israeli been lauded so loudly in Cairo. Benayoun’s late winner was in fact a rare instance of us actually beating the opposition to the ball, as we were second best all evening. But despite us taking the “season of goodwill” a little too literally, by doing our best to make patently inferior opposition look good, for all our hosts industry, it’s just fortunate that we were second best to a decidedly impotent Aston Villa.

Mercifully we came away with the right result on the night, but in the rare absence of the suspended Alex Song, I was most disappointed that Manny Frimpong failed to grasp the nettle. We’ve set such great hopes in Frimpong as our future midfield enforcer that I was anticipating the sort of display which might stake him a claim to a more permanent place in the side. But on a night when there were no stand-out performances and with Villa showing such limited ambition, I suppose it’s not so surprising that our teenage tank failed to shine.

There were rumours on the trip up to Birmingham that our Boxing Day fixture had been postponed due to a tube strike. It may be ‘de riguer’ nowadays for fans of Chelsea (and Fulham) to journey up from their country piles in the Surrey stockbrocker belt, aboard ostentatious 4 x 4 Chelsea tractors. Yet surely this West London derby would’ve been no less affected by a tube strike, probably more so and yet it went ahead, seemingly without hiccup.

At the time I’m sure I wasn’t the only Gooner thinking that it was positively cruel to starve us of our Boxing Day pleasures for a further 24-hours. Having spent so long, in such close confinement with one’s family over Xmas, the festive footie invariably comes as welcome respite and will even prevent outright war breaking out in many a household.

Nevertheless with Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool all bringing glad tidings of comfort and joy with their lacklustre displays (it was only Wigan, but was it mere coincidence that Fergie’s troops were the only top team that managed to maintain their focus on Boxing Day?), I was half hoping that we might profit from the postponement, by being suitably motivated by the opportunity to gain ground on those teams that had frittered points away the day before.

Personally I’m not convinced that the tendency for sluggish post-Xmas displays of recent times are merely down to too much Xmas pud. I just think that modern day pros are such creatures of habit and so accustomed to their rigid schedule of training and competition that they struggle to cope with the upheaval of the hectic festive fixture schedule. Consequently they’re all too often found wanting, when it comes to brewing up the required reserves of adrenaline at these abnormal times.

Sadly, despite the added inspiration of a sniff of 4th place, the Gunners proved no less prone to this malaise. After carving open Mick McCarthy’s side in the opening minutes, I foolishly began contemplating the possibility of scoring the five goals necessary for us to leapfrog our neighbours! But instead of putting Wolves to the sword, in the way Man Utd might do, once they’ve caught the scent of blood, we settled back into the sort of torpor that suggested we felt we’d done enough and it only remained for us to see the clock out.

At least Wolves equalizer guaranteed a far more entertaining (albeit ultimately extremely frustrating) second-half. However once a team has taken it’s foot off the pedal, it’s always that much harder to shift down through the gears and by the time we finally managed to exert some concerted pressure late on, we’d already offered the visitors the glimmer of hope necessary for them to be sufficiently inspired to cling on tooth and nail to their hard fought point.

Sending on Chamakh as a last resort was laughable, as apart from him being utterly useless, this was playing to the oppositions muscular strengths. And with Arshavin seemingly so disinterested in assuming any responsibility, once again, as at Villa Park, we Gooners were left mystified as to what exactly Oxlade-Chamberlain needs to do, to be deserving of a run out.

With Walcott suffering from a dodgy tummy, with Gervinho doing his best impression of a headless chicken (both literally and metaphorically) and with our makeshift defence again denying us sufficient width, young Alex’s blistering pace along the flanks would appear to be the perfect weapon to run at tired legs.

Perhaps le Prof has grown a little too circumspect to want to risk throwing our young prodigy to the lions. But with his energy and hunger alone, Oxlade-Chamberlain might light the rest of the team’s blue touch paper and when the alternatives are so blatantly ineffective, surely some hope coming off the bench is better than the no-hopers that Arsène insists on turning to?

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Wednesday 21 December 2011

Wolves game postponement rumour....?

I'm on route to Villa Park and there's a rumour on the coach that our Boxing Day match v Wolves has been postponed to the following day (because of the tube strike). I can't find any confirmation of this and bit loathe to post without being certain, but just in case it effects anyone's plans, I thought it worth mentioning the possibility


Tuesday 20 December 2011

It Always Rains In Manchester (parte deux)

Premature Alzheimers strikes again! I completely forgot until seeing something about it on Twitter and I'm gutted I neglected to include it in my diary piece, as it scans quite well with the title, but having sucked on a few fags outside the Middle Eastern on Sunday, to get my nicotine levels up before 90 minute chewing on my fingernails, when I finally entered the Etihad, the customary raucous scenes on the concourse were punctuated by even louder roars of disapproval, every time $amir Na$ri appeared on the TV screens.

I'm not sure whether to be disappointed, or grateful to have missed what subsequently transpired (as I wouldn't have fancied enduring the entire return trip stinking of lager) but having warmed my hands on a cup of hot chocolate before finding my seat, moments before kick off, a travelling Gooner acquaintance taking his seat in front of me, revealed that when the teams were being announced, as Na$ri's phizog appeared on the screens on the concourse, four plastic pint pots full of lager were lobbed at one of them, which promptly proceeded to explode.

I actually would've loved to have seen it with my own eyes and I couldn't help but wonder if Keith was exaggerating, but true enough, when I stepped out for a sneaky halftime suck on a cigarette in the karseys, said TV screen had definitely expired (still City won't exactly have to pass the hat around to rustle up the money to replace it!).

Mind you, I'm not sure I'd have found it quite so hilarious, if I'd been amongst the throng of Gooners standing directly beneath it, as it was an ice cold afternoon to start with, never mind being showered by lager and having to sit through the game and the long trip home dripping with beer. Still least the poor loves would've been able to avoid spending all of halftime queuing to be served, as they could instead suck on their coats for some refreshment :-)

Nevertheless, with all due sensitivity to the unfortunate victims of the loutish behaviour of these Gooner larrikins, it must've been a bloody funny scene.

There was a load of other stuff that I omitted to mention in my diary piece, but this was merely due to the constraints of the Irish Examiner and so I guess this Na$ri anecdote affords me an excuse to waffle on some more.

A delicious snooze during the journey up to the North-West was rudely disturbed, when some City fans boarded the train at Crewe. Naturally I always make like Rip Van Winkle, when ever I'm spread out across a couple of seats, hoping that passengers boarding the train won't have the heart to disturb me and will choose to sit elsewhere. But this ruse is pointless when the train is completely packed and as I've already previously mentioned, one of the advantages of train travel is the opportunity for an exchange of opinions with similarly devoted fans of other teams.

Although I'm not so keen on the prospect of the Premiership crown becoming the exclusive domain of the club with the deepest pockets from here on in, one certainly can't blame City's incredibly loyal following for their good fortune, in becoming the Quataris favourite plaything for spunking up all their petro-dollars.

Thus I endeavoured to endear myself to my travelling companions over the last leg of this train trip, by suggesting that after a relative eternity without a sniff of success (I was actually at Wembley to see City beat the Baggies in the League Cup Final in 1970 - I only remember because I still have the programme to prove it!), I couldn't begrudge the Sky Blues fans their time in the limelight, as they've certainly paid their dues and that it someone has to win the title, other than the Arsenal, I'd definitely rather it was them (than Man Utd, Chelsea, or heaven forfend the unthinkable.....!).

Offering up an example of the impression City fans had made on me, with an astonishing demonstration of both their loyalty and their appreciation of the beautiful game, I referred to a match a few years back, which might have been our last trip to Maine Road (and which might well have been the season when City were relegated from the top flight - I'm sure anyone with anything vaguely resembling a memory will be able to correct me if I'm wrong).

We well and truly whalloped them that afternoon, with a performance of Wengerball played at its very best. But when you watch the Gunners play every week, it's like living with a child, where the incremental changes aren't obvious to the nearest and dearest. As a result, I'm almost feeling misty-eyed when I think back to the sort of football we produced that day, compared to Sunday's less effective display.

We were something like four-nil up already by the break and although we took the foot off the gas second-half and only scored the odd goal, the game could've easily ended with is in double figures. I actually attended the post-match conference, a memory which has only been caught in my sieve-like grey matter because it was the only press conference I can recall attending, where the manager sat there, drowning his sorrows with a tin of beer that was unashamedly sitting on the dais. The resigned expression on Joe Royle's face spoke a million words (in fact I think Royle was out the door soon after) and told of a manager who was utterly powerless to compete, in the face the Gunners' supremely peerless quality.

However it wasn't just the City fans' dignity in defeat that left a lasting impression, as back then it was an everyday occurrence for the Gunners to be applauded off by the opposition fans and unlike on Sunday, there wasn't one iota of irony in our chants of "You've only come to see the Arsenal" because it was true.

It was the ferocity of the Maine Road crowd's unwavering support that day, in the face of such a humbling defeat, that was seriously impressive and it left me feeling quite envious, when compared with how quick the fickle faithful at our place are to get on the players' backs nowadays, whenever things don't go our way. But as I chatted with these two City fans, they revealed that things aren't that different at Eastlands any more, as according to them City still have a core support of 30 odd thousand loyal fans who moved with the club from Maine Road, but apparently the 20 odd thousand extra punters in their new stadium are no less likely than we are, to throw their toys out of the pram the moment they feel they aren't getting good value for their money.

Obviously we discussed Na$ri and much to my chagrin, they believed the greedy Frenchman was just beginning to find his feet at their place and naturally I pleaded with them to keep their cash-rich paws off Van Persie. But the other topic of conversation I found interesting was that they told me that they were discussing the enigma of Fergie's longevity in the pub the other night and the conclusion they came to, was that his enduring success bears some relation to the fact that he has constantly refreshed his pool of assistants during the time of reign at Old Trafford, so that the players never get bored, or lose respect for the man ordering them about on the training field every day.

BTW, going off on a bit of a tangent, but talking of training fields, Sunday's trip to the Middle Eastern afforded me my first glimpse of City's extremely impressive looking new facility!

But when you think of the old footballing adage about needing to change either the team or the management over the period of every five year cycle, to avoid the sort of familiarity which inevitably breeds contempt, then Fergie's revolving door policy with new coaches bringing in fresh ideas every couple of seasons seems to make absolute sense and perhaps lends weight to all those who contend that Pat Rice is long past his sell-by date.

Don't get me wrong, I adore Pat Rice and wouldn't have a bad word said about the sort of "mensch", who is in every sense of the words, a one club man. But when you envisage dear old Pat putting the cones out at London Colney every day and watching him bawling out the same smattering of footballing clichés from the sidelines for so many seasons, it's fairly likely that for the vast majority of our squad, Pat's pearls of wisdom go in one ear and straight out the other.

Moreover, with Arsène being surrounded by somewhat sycophantic disciples at the Arsenal, you wonder quite how much le Gaffer might benefit by having someone at his side, with the balls to tell him what time it is, when required?

But then that's more than enough waffle for one post and if I don't send it out now, I'll end up going off on another tangent which will see me still typing away until the middle of the week, when, hopefully with plenty more to say, after we've bounced back with a convincing win against Villa, this missive will end up sitting on my laptop for all eternity, or at least until my hard drive dies.

Big Love

Monday 19 December 2011

It Always Rains In Manchester

Obviously feeling more than a little disconsolate as I queued up for a bus back to Picadilly Station after Sunday’s defeat, I took some comfort from ear-wigging the conversations of those City fans who suggested this was the most entertaining match they’d witnessed thus far at the Middle-Eastern.

Indeed, as least going 1-0 down to the goal from City’s silky, Rolls Royce of a midfielder forced the Gunners out of our shell and in taking the game to our hosts, the entire stadium spent most of the second half on the edge of our seats, witnessing a breathtaking, end-to-end contest.

Yet by doing so, Mancini has amassed such a surfeit of scintillating quality, that we were guaranteed to leave ourselves at risk of being exposed at the back, by the sort of incisive football, which (despite the fiscal doping!) simply has to be admired by any genuine footballing aficionado, even those of us on the wrong end of it!

Nevertheless, considering to what extent some of our own star turns (such as Walcott) failed miserably, or perhaps were denied the opportunity to have an impact on this match and how it was left to the obdurate resolve of the likes of Vermaelen, to try in vain to impose themselves at the death, if I’m entirely honest, no matter how irate I was at allowing our own increasingly noisy neighbours to extend their advantage by an additional 3 points, I couldn’t help but be left feeling somewhat impressed that our injury ravaged outfit had competed all the way to the final whistle, against the potential champions in waiting.

That we weren’t too downhearted was perfectly understandable, as much of the Gooner chatter on the journey back to London focused on the pride of having given it a real go and the stark contrast with the humiliation we’d all experienced, returning from our last outing to Manchester, in those cataclysmic opening weeks of the campaign.

Frankly, I was pessimistic that we’d succeed against City. Without any full-backs with the instinct to forage forward down the flanks, I always feared this would allow Richards and Zabaleta too much freedom to roam and might invite pressure, with too much of the game being played in our half of the pitch. Still, even if it was left to Sczczny to ensure we didn’t succumb, there’s solace aplenty that the Arsenal of soft-centered renown of recent times, has acquired some much-needed armour-plating, by way of the resolve of those prepared to stand and be counted.

Personally I find no end of amusement in the fact that we still have the auld enemy in our sights, after Spurs best start to a season since ’61 and our worst in 58 years. If the more stalwart components of our squad can continue to keep us in the frame, until such time as we begin to return to full-strength and if Le Prof can pull a player out of his hat in the transfer window that leaves us just a little less dependent on Van Persie, this season’s story might still have a happy ending.

Besides which, as bleak as the weather might be, with a trip to the San Siro in February, the future certainly isn’t. Dreading the cost of travelling to either of the two Russian clubs, I was delighted with the draw, as all my online research came to fruition, confirming cheap flights the instant the dates were announced, which had tripled in price before the day was out! More importantly, playing AC Milan should provide a sufficiently glamorous stage to inspire the troops, but with Italian footie in the doldrums, unless they’re planning on digging up the ghost of Franco Baresi, we’ve little to fear other than the Milanese giants reputation.

Meanwhile, Messrs Dunn & Collins might’ve been shipping goals in a manner which hardly befits their manager’s obdurate image of the game, but I’ll leave the chicken-counting to Venky, since for some strange reason this centre-back duo invariably seem to save their very best for the Gunners - but then hopefully such kidology will guarantee Villa yet another off night?

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Sunday 18 December 2011

On the train to Manchester, listening to The Tuesday Club podcast (sitting in the "Quiet" car, doubtless winding folk up with my incessant giggling).

Amusing fact of the Day (courtesy of an unnamed podcast devotee): We're only deux points behind the auld enemy, after the Lillywhites best start to a season since 1961 and our worst start in 58 years!

Perhaps a little later this season than usual, but never fear, St. Totteringham's Day celebrations soon come!

Wish I was feeling a bit more optimistic about this afternoon but I worry that with four centre-backs on the field, we won't have enough width to ensure that we are sufficiently offensive, thereby preventing us from getting hemmed in by the sort of attacking surges which might make it inevitable that we concede. If Arsène's left with no choice but to continue with Djourou and Vermaelen playing at full backs, I fear their natural instincts to stop at home would give Richards and Zabaleta too much license to roam forward, leaving us playing too much of the game in our own half.

Then again, so long as we don't take a hit to our confidence by conceding too early, on the wide expanses at the Etihad we're invariably able to create goal scoring chances, it just depends if we can minimise these at t'other end?

Meanwhile I've copied below my brief "half-term report" for the Observer. I was a bit disappointed that they don't appear to have included my answers to a request for my Premiership team of the season thus far and so after having had to agonise about this for so long, mainly because of not being able to include any of our own players (and the inclusion of THREE from our neighbours!), I guess I might as well put it out there:

Vorn / Krul, Jones, Kompany, King, Enrique, Silva, Parker, Modric, Mata, Suarez, Aguerro.


Bernard Azulay, It feels as if the mettle we've displayed in our recent run of form was forged in the debacle of the opening weeks of our campaign, when we struggled to cope with the departures of Fábregas and Nasri, together with the absence of Vermaelen and Wilshere. We may remain only one hamstring away from disaster in respect of Van Persie but, no matter where we end up, most Gooners see plenty of reason for optimism in the burgeoning spirit within this squad – something that had been missing for far too long.

Star man Obviously Van Persie, but with plenty of kudos to the unstinting commitment of others such as Koscielny.

The flops Chamakh, a mysteriously pale shadow of the striker who first arrived at the club, and Arshavin, who appears as if he can't wait to escape.

The gaffer: Arsène Wenger, 7/10 While Wenger's desire to cling on to our star players was perfectly understandable, the fact that he was forced into the equivalent of Supermarket Sweep in the final few hours of the transfer window felt like a failure on his part. Nevertheless, all credit must go to Le Gaffer for silencing the critics who were far too quick to sound our death knell.

Who should he sign? Although our recent injury crisis at full-back has exposed a disconcerting lack of depth in the squad, we are desperate for some replacement firepower up front. Albeit somewhat erratic, Podolski is not cup-tied in Europe and may be best suited to adapt to the Premier League.

Monday 12 December 2011

Gradually Evolving Gunners Whole Greater Than The Sum Of Its Individual Parts?

After experiencing the spontaneous fervour of the Greek fans at Olympiacos in midweek, not to mention a couple of days of welcome respite from the arctic weather, Saturday’s celebrations of the Arsenal’s 125th anniversary felt a little contrived and somewhat anaemic by comparison. A bit like the commemorative matchday programme, which much to my chagrin was completely sold out to all the souvenir-collecting tourists, it came neatly packaged in a cellophane wrapper.

Not that it wasn’t great to see such an august array of Arsenal legends turn out for the occasion and not that the Gunners don’t do such grandiose affairs with a certain amount of style. Mercifully, I’m not nearly so ancient as to be able to comment on the image of Herbert Chapman but the likenesses of Adams and Henry leave a little to be desired. However with these bronzes and all the other elements of the continued Arsenalisation of the new stadium, there can be no doubting the admirable efforts being made to develop, what was originally an anonymous concrete and glass arena, into our Gooner home.

Nevertheless, it’s memories that maketh a football ground and for all the decorative additions in the past five years since the move, we’ve still nothing to show by way of silverware. Sadly Arsène’s ‘promised land’ seems destined to remain a decidedly soulless gaff, until such time as our new arena begins to accrue some success-filled recollections of its own.

Without doubt the most touching moment, was the sight of Thierry Henry welling up at the unveiling of his statue on Friday; noticeable by his absence, perhaps Tony Adams preferred to stop in Azerbaijan, rather than risk being confronted by similar emotions? Meanwhile, although the milk & honey, or more likely the canapés and champagne were doubtless flowing in the Directors Box and the Executive and Club Levels on Saturday, from where I sat in the Lower Tier, it felt a bit like being one of a multitude of after-dinner guests at a wedding, invited merely to fill up the dance floor and lend the place some much needed atmosphere, but only able to muse on what we’d missed out on at the main shindig.

Aside from the unwanted distraction of all this hoopla prior to facing Everton, I was concerned there might be some ramifications from our defeat in Greece. At least for once Arsène couldn’t claim fatigue as a factor, since Vermaelen was the only player who featured in both games. Yet despite the luxury of being able to leave so many first-string players back at home, due to having already qualified as group winners, I feared for the possibility of a display in Athens that might put a dent in our burgeoning winning mentality.

Then again, although the Gunners hardly covered themselves with glory, with a below par performance and our frustrating first-half profligacy in front of goal against the Toffees, in truth it was fitting that the day was won with a traditional “1-0 to the Arsenal”. Although this auspicious occasion might’ve ended as a bit of a damp squib, if Van Persie hadn’t popped up in the 70th minute to steal the show with his exquisite volley.

It transpired that the unveiling of immobile figures wasn’t solely confined to the stadium’s perimeter, as with Santos, the last of our recognized full-backs, joining the ranks of our walking wounded, Arsène was forced to resort to a statuesque defence, comprised of four centre-halves. With the resulting lack of width going forward, this game was always unlikely to produce the most scintillating fare. In fact the match ended with seven centre-backs on the field, as Moyes signaled his intent to baton down the hatches on the hour, by replacing Saha, Everton’s lone front man, with Distin.

Personally I was hoping all of Saturday’s encounters might be preceded by a minute’s laughter, in appreciation of the demise of our Mancunian pals. I’m not sure I’d fancy facing Mancini’s wounded animal next weekend, handicapped by this clutch of defensive centre-halves. Still Saturday’s win offered cause for optimism, with an undertone of immutability that was reminiscent of the spirit on which the club’s traditions were forged.

Wenger badly needs to address the fact that we remain only one hamstring away from disaster, as far as our reliance on our prolific Dutch striker’s fitness is concerned. But elsewhere, hopefully the renaissance of a genuine “they shall not pass” attitude will continue to evolve into a Gunners whole that is far greater than the sum of its individual parts.

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Monday 5 December 2011

Footballer sent off over penis piercing

...must be feeling a bit of a prick :-)

Wojciech Is Our Leader

Like most car drivers, I much prefer being master of my own destiny, rather than getting drenched in both directions, trudging from Wigan station to the JJB and hanging around, waiting for trains. But it was definitely worth schlepping to the North-West for a soaking on Saturday. What’s more the journey back to London reminded me that there are some advantages to letting the train take the strain, enabling me to compare notes as I commiserated with a Lactics supporting resident of Stoke, until we changed trains at Crewe. Then adopting an all-together more cocky demeanour, as I shared my journey back to ‘the smoke’ with a bunch of understandably smug City fans (thereby disproving the theory that it’s only the red half of Manchester who travel South for the winter!).

It’s a far more genuine melting pot of football opinion, compared to the ear-bashing one gets when isolated in a smaller tin can on the motorway, listening to the opinionated lunatics who bombard the radio phone-ins on route home from games. Many of whose only comprehension of the quid pro quo relationship of those on the terraces (where the reward enjoyed is in direct-proportion to the amount of effort expended), involves the sacrifice made when forced to tarry on the sofa in front of the TV, instead of fetching another tin from the fridge!

For the 5000 travelling Gooner faithful, our pay-off for the purgatory of an outing to the industrial wastelands of Wigan (obviously aside from 90 unspoiled minutes of our demonstration of how the beautiful game should be played) came immediately after the final-whistle, in a few brief moments of joyous communion with our Polish keeper. After the more traditional token of his teammates’ appreciation as they tossed their shirts into the crowd, Wojciech Sczczny secured his entry into Gooner folklore, as he lingered to lead us all in a chorus of “we’re by far the greatest team”.

Who knows, after spending the entire afternoon virtually unemployed, standing around in the rain, perhaps "the Shez" was merely seizing upon an expedient opportunity to get his blood pumping. But no matter how sincere, it felt like much more to us. So even in the event that we’re forced to endure yet another fruitless season, it’s likely to prove a whole lot more satisfying than any of late because of this sense of some sorely missed, emotional commitment from the lads.

Not that our Carling Cup exit has caused me to write off all hope of a trophy, before we’ve even put the Xmas tree up. Traditionally that’s my Spurs pals’ prerogative prior to lighting the Chanukah candles. I don’t think many of us expected to endure against City. Yet on the night, there was very little to choose between the massed ranks of Mancini’s petro-dollar dandies and Arsène’s coterie of Carling Cup kids (of the calibre of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Frimpong & Coquelin), aside from the crucial difference between a thoroughbred strikeforce and our couple of goal shy geldings.

Unless Wenger can add some potency up front during the transfer window, all our eggs will remain finely balanced in our flying Dutchman’s all too fragile basket. Still there’s an auspicious tinge to drawing dirty Leeds in the FA Cup and so long as our confidence continues to blossom, we might yet give the big boys a run for their money in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

But we shouldn’t get carried away, on the back of a 4-0 win against lowly Wigan. While the “oles” echoed out from our terrace behind the goal on Saturday, for the first time this season, I rather suspect that the return of our mickey-taking ability to maintain control of the ball and the sight of Miguel Arteta finally influencing play in the last third of the pitch, was no coincidence and was largely due to the opposition’s dreadfully stand-offish display. Based on this showing, Wigan require a drastic improvement, if the extremely likeable Martinez and his friendly football club aren’t to be inexorably doomed.

We've Got Gervinho

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Wednesday 30 November 2011

Champions League, We're Having A Larf!

There can be no denying that there was a certain delicious irony to being the first (and so far only) Premiership side to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Admittedly Dortmund’s playmaker (and supposed Arsenal target), Gotze limped off after only half an hour, but overall I was decidedly underwhelmed by the best the Bundesliga has to offer.

By contrast, Borussia’s support was seriously impressive. I envisaged the Emirates’ architects holding their breath, as they watched the 7000 Krauts standing in both the upper and lower ties of the visitors’ corner of the stadium, all jumping up and down in unison. Yet after the roof had been raised by BvB’s raucous brigade in midweek, a low-key local derby with lowly Fulham was always likely to have something of an ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ feel to it.

(are you watching Ivan "flags on seats" Gazides?)

After the lessons of last season’s fiasco in the group stages, sure the lads put a lot of effort into ensuring that we finished in top spot, thereby avoiding the likes of Barca, Real, Inter & Bayern in the round of 16. But I’m not sure Arsène helps our cause, as his interminable references to tired legs after midweek European fixtures, often seems to invite a lethargic, lacklustre display the following weekend.

So when Vermaelen unwittingly put the ball in the back of our own net on Saturday, this did at least light the touch paper, to put some much-needed spark into this insipid encounter with the Cottagers; thereby guaranteeing a far more intense final 25 minutes of football, as the Gunners girded their loins to try and salvage a result.

After spending so much time cooling his heels on the bench, fatigue certainly couldn’t have been a factor for Arshavin, I fully expected our midget striker to be hungry to demonstrate that he deserved to be restored to the starting XI. Perhaps Shava’s phlegmatic approach to football is a Russian trait but I swear the fastest he moved all afternoon, was when he saw his number being held up on the touchline with 15 mins to play.

Most Gooners are convinced the little feller is just a lazy, selfish SOB but after reading “A Life Too Short” the story of Robert Enke, the German keeper who topped himself and with Gary Speed tragically taking his own life on Sunday, I’m moved to be just a little more tolerant of modern footballers’ foibles. Many might covet their opulent lifestyles, but the mental anguish that must exist in this pressure-cooker environment is entirely beyond our ken.

Nevertheless, with Theo Walcott finally beginning to fire on all four cylinders on the opposite flank and with the long-awaited first shoots of some genuine team spirit only just beginning to sprout (doubtless aided by the manure of our early-season misfortune), I’m not really sure I want the seemingly passionless likes of Arshavin pissing weed-killer all over the camp, with their apparent lack of commitment.

On a lighter note, until an indignant TV5 rectified his own error with a late equalizer, it looked as if our unbeaten run might be coming to an end. But with the Arsenal’s upturn in fortune having coincided with my discovery of the delectable pies on offer on route to the ground, a defeat will mean that I can no longer blame my recent gluttonous pre-match habits on any superstitious obligation.

By the time you read this I might well have Man City to thank, if our exit from the Carling Cup means that I no longer have the Gunners continued success as my excuse to keep gorging myself before every home game. Then again, on the basis that Arsène is likely to have hedged his bets against Mancini’s massed ranks, by including enough experience to avoid a confidence-sapping massacre and a sufficient smattering of youth to be able to carry the can for a defeat to City’s limitless resources, perhaps I’m best to do likewise, by doing my bit to try and eat my way to Wembley and arriving early enough to go through Piebury Corner’s entire menu card.

Hopefully the Gunners will have achieved an unlikely victory, securing a semi-final birth that puts us within sniffing distance of ending our barren run and if not, I will at least have something to show for my efforts, even if it’s only a cholesterol level that’s off the scale!
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Tuesday 29 November 2011

Nasri Gets The Bird
But Sadly It's City Who Have The Last Laugh

According to Radio 5, Chelsea were booed off at the Bridge after getting beat by the Scousers in their Carling Cup quarterfinal last night. Remarkably, in light of the fickle reputation of the Gooner faithful in recent times (or at least our home crowd), there was no such overt expression of disapprobation after our 0-1 defeat to City.

Aside from the faint consolation that our early season misadventures and the resulting reduction in expectations, seem to have had a positive impact at home games, with the vast majority of our fans seemingly far less inclined to get on our own players backs the very instant they fail to perform and with most of us being prepared to be far more patient and supportive, as far as last night's game was concerned, I don't think there many present who presumed that our stalwart coterie of Carling Cup kids were likely to triumph in the face of the overwhelming odds offered by Mancini's multitude of petro-dollar dandies.

As a result, I'm sure that much like myself, the vast majority were well pleased by the performances of the likes of Coquelin, Frimpong, Oxlade-Chamberlain and a defence (even one which comprised Squillaci & Flappyhandski) that truly did itself justice by barely giving City's formidable front line a sniff of goal all evening.

Sadly our energy levels did appear to diminish in the latter stages, resulting in us dropping off and allowing the opposition far too much space on the ball, providing them with time to look up and pick the sort of pass which eventually resulted in the crucial goal. Yet City were no less prone to flagging somewhat as the game wore on and at the end of the day, much to my displeasure, the only telling difference between the two teams was that Mancini was blessed with being able to play the influential likes of Aguerro and Dzeko up front, while sadly our striking options were limited to Chamakh and Park, neither of whom, on the night, looked capable of scoring in the proverbial brothel.

Marouanne did at least try and put himself about a bit, winning the odd header and holding up the odd ball in the traditional manner. Albeit that the Moroccan's knock-ons invariably ended up at the feet of someone in Sky Blue and in holding up the ball, he only ever looked to lay it back, when a striker with any real goal-getting intent would occasionally turn and attempt to take on the opposition!

However, for me, the evidence (for whatever reason?) that Chamakh is devoid of the necessary drive and determination required of a centre-forward who's capable of making a match winning impact, was succinctly encapsulated in an instant only moments before the break, when I saw him turn towards our keeper, as Fabianski was about to release the ball. Marouanne waved his hands, in the manner which signaled our goalie to slow the game down; thereby suggesting he wanted Fabianski to hang onto the ball, indicating that Marouanne was more than content to make it to half-time with the game still all square.

When in truth I want a striker out there with the sort of mindset that leaves him hollering at his goalie to get on with the game, in the knowledge that there's every possibility the opposition are already thinking about sucking on their half-time oranges (or whatever it is that passes for the modern equivalent in the professional game, to refresh the parts that vitamin C doesn't reach during the break) and that the minutes immediately before the halftime whistle are the perfect moment to strike.

As for Park, to my mind the Korean striker looks a bit clueless. Obviously I appreciate that he probably needs to be given time to adapt, but our need for credible stand-in for Van Persie is right now! We had a taste of what Park might be capable of, with the goal he scored in the previous leg and personally I was disappointed that he failed to despatch home his solitary goal scoring opportunity during the first-half.

But as for the remainder of the game, Park's demeanour left me feeling that he's uncertain what he's supposed to be doing out there and where if someone like Van Persie isn't seeing enough of the ball, he goes looking for it, Park seems to lack the necessary self-confidence and as a result he lacks the movement and isn't nearly busy enough to get himself involved.

However considering how well the kids did, to hold their own for so long and to restrict City to only a rare glimpse of a goal threat (doing a great kindness to my blood pressure, by ensuring my heart remained in its correct cavity, rather than in my mouth for fear of what Fabianski might do), this only made City's 83rd minute smash-and-grab raid that much more painful. In fact as disappointed as I was to be deprived of being only 90 minutes away from the dubious pleasure of a return to Wembley this morning, I was even more devasted for the lads, after they'd done themselves justice with a performance that deserved better.

Especially in the case of Laurent Koscielny, who's 100 per cent committed attitude ever since his unfortunate Cup Final cock-up has been so impressive, that he more than most merits just such an opportunity to redeem his reputation.

Still as far as the Carling Cup is concerned, as they say, there's always next season and in the meantime, roll on the FA Cup third round on 7th Jan.

You'll have to forgive me, as with the weekend's diary missive being written for publication in Wednesday's Irish Examiner, it was a lot easier to post it out this morning, instead of amending it to send sooner and as you will read (if you've nothing better to do), in light of last night's disappointing result, I guess in answer to the question "who eat all the pies", sadly it wasn't me!

Big Love
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Monday 21 November 2011

l'Equipe Interview with AW translated & Philippe Auclair's comments

If interested, you can read a full translation of the interview with l'Equipe (with massive thanks to @mattspiro) here.......

And if you can be bothered to get past the guff on Chelsea v Liverpool, Philippe Auclair's opinion of the interview, as expressed on Talksport is available here......

Big Love

Never Mind Being Put Out To Grass Me'thinks Arsène Much Prefers Chowing Down In His Technical Area

Hi folks,

I just wanted to thank all those who were kind enough to send me birthday greetings last week. I was hoping to let the anniversary of my half-century slide by with as little ado as possible. Fat chance of that in the Facebook and Twitter era! :-)

The Irish Examiner were also good enough to give me the weekend off (with no domestic competition and the big story being the Boys In Green's qualification for Euro 2012), which is. the reason I've been so taciturn these past two weeks. But much like the mighty Gunners, I'm back with a vengeance, looking forward to my midweek trip to Piebury Corner....I mean the Emirates.

I'm still not sure if I was having my leg pulled on route to Carrow Road on Saturday, with the tale that the local council have renamed a street in the vicinity "Letsbe Avenue" and while I might have indicated below that "Harry's going down" was the ditty of the day in our corner of the Jarrold Stand, if I'd repeated details of Gooners relentless references to the locals tendency towards incestuous behaviour, such remarks would've only ended up on the sport's editor's floor at the Examiner (obviously due to their impropriety, rather than any suggestion that it might be thought of as being close to the bone in the West of the Emerald Isle :-) . In truth our constant chants only left me contemplating the ugliness of East Anglian sheep and I assumed our taunts were all made in jest, until we were given a lift back to the motor by a kindly local, who alleged that it's not that uncommon in a classroom of 15 kids for 10 of them to be related!

Nevertheless such suggestions of a limited Norfolk gene pool don't go very far in explaining why the XI who turned out in yellow on Saturday all appeared to have left feet

Big Love


I imagine the more morbid amongst us might already be donning their sackcloth and ashes, if any of them are gullible enough to accept as gospel, the incessant reams of “redtop” media claptrap. Having prematurely sounded the Arsenal’s death knell earlier in the season, these low-brow seers would now have us believe that our manager will soon throw the towel in, accepting top billing with our last remaining world class talent, in the Arsenal’s remake of the Exodus.

Benjamin Franklin got it wrong, death and taxes are no less inescapable than the fact that nothing in football exists in perpetuity. Yet despite the looming inevitability (with each passing season) of the dawning of the day when Arsène Wenger eventually decides to hand over the reins, or the dreaded moment when Robin Van Persie finally hangs up his red & white shirt for the last time, why bother brooding on such perturbing permutations in the future, when there’s so much to savour in the here and now?

With its participants never more than the width of a post, or one bad tackle away from greeting fortune or disaster, with each passing appearance, never mind about next summer, the beautiful game is such a capricious creature that it’s impossible to predict what will come to pass next week. In the decade since Fergie made the mistake of announcing his impending retirement, he’s added a Champions League trophy and 5 titles to his insatiable haul of baubles. While many a lesser man might have long since succumbed to the unrelenting pressure of Premiership management, much like Fergie, I can’t quite envisage Arsene being ready to tend to his roses just yet.

Qualification for Champions League football might be a minimum requirement in le Gaffer’s mind, but following our early season wake up call, the only essential obligation for most Gooners is that we finish above our own increasingly noisy neighbours. As demonstrated by Saturday’s amusing ditty of the day at Carrow Road. “Harry’s going down”, why worry about the Gunners future, when we can revel in the Schadenfreude of Spurs fate, with them caught between a rock and a hard place. If Redknapp wriggles his way out of his upcoming prosecution by the Inland Revenue, he removes the stain on his reputation barring his route to becoming the next England manager (at least until another bone slips out from amongst all the skeletons in Harry’s closet!).

We need look no further than our first outing to Norwich in 7 years for a rationale as to why it would be pie in the sky for us to be aiming too much higher. The last time I needed my sunglasses to curb the glare of Canary yellow, Henry, Bergkamp and Pires were on the scoresheet. Theo Walcott might’ve begun to offer the odd glimmer of hope that he’s discovering the sort of consistency, which might finally enable him to live up to all the teenage hype. Yet the fact remains that at this precise point in time, the class of 2011 is a pale shadow of the star-studded Invincibles of yesteryear.

Losing Jenkinson and Gibbs to long-term injuries that leave us with the Brazilian laughing boy, as our solitary recognized full-back was a bit of a body blow (especially in light of Santos’ bizarre interpretation of his defensive role!). Nevertheless I felt a lot less anxious at the weekend with Koscielny standing in at right-back, rather than Djourou. Despite our lumbering German’s costly dalliance on the ball, it was hard to believe we could end up blowing this match, so long as Walcott, Gervinho and RVP continued to tear the Canaries apart at will. Although I must admit that after Norwich had profited from their first and only first-half effort on goal, there was a point when our umpteenth effort failed to find the back of the net that I begun to wonder if the curse of ref Dowd was destined to continue.

While the numbers turning up for treatment, instead of training at London Colney continue to increase at such a disconcerting rate and with no viable substitute for Van Persie, one can’t help but wonder if Messrs. Henry & Pires might end up being invited to do a little more than merely maintain their fitness with the lads? And it doesn’t help to hear that Mancini was able to leave the likes of Silva & Dzeko with their feet up on the bench, as they set about truncheoning the Toon into submission!

Perhaps we’ll have to wait for the African Cup of Nations to take its toll on City’s squad, but I’m confident they’ll hit a blip at some stage. I only hope this happens before all the media bluenosing results in them becoming completely wrapped in a cloak of invincibility. It would be too much to bear if the Quataris end up buying their way to beating our own prestigious record.

Still with Man Utd making such heavy weather of their trip to Wales and with both Chelsea and the Scousers vying for least likely contender, so long as the spirited likes of Vermaelen and Sczczny can continue inspiring the lads to grind out the wins, whilst we attempt to rediscover our rhythm, or the return of the likes of Wilshere aids this renaissance, I remain optimistic of the return to top billing on Match of the Day, which would signify that the Gunners might yet play a significant role in the title shake-up, even if it’s only to poop Mancini’s party.

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Thursday 10 November 2011

Is The Sun About To Shine Out Of Our Annus Horribilis?

Hi folks,

It's likely to be a regular theme from now on, as I delay sending out my weekly missive after writing it on a Monday, due to the unavoidable feeling that I left far more out of my meagre 650 word offering to the Irish Examiner than I've been able to include (when one takes into account my overly loquacious tendencies!). However, as ever, procrastination remains the thief of time and since it's already Thursday and I've not got around to tapping out a long-winded preamble, I'm betting that the fact that I attain the grand old age of 50 on Friday, just about guarantees that if I don't post this out now, it's never going to see the light of day.

Hard as I tried, Róna refused to allow my half-century to slide by unceremoniously and it's only just dawned on me that I'm going to have to be showing all due enthusiasm for a family outing on Friday evening, instead of watching Estonia v Ireland. At least the game is live on Sky, so I can record it and mercifully, it's unlikely that they'll be hordes of green-shirted fans, whooping and hollering, to give away the result in the streets of St John's Wood, where we're going for our grub. So there's a good chance that I'll be able to make it back home without knowing the result.

What's more, it could be a whole lot worse and I guess I should be counting my blessings that my birthday didn't clash with a Gunners' match. But then after all these years, my missus would know far better than to book a seat anywhere else but at the Arsenal, when Van Persie & co. are appearing. At least not without expecting me to absent myself from my own party! After all, one has got to get one's priorities right.

And if you're wondering what to get me as the perfect present, I'll take three points at Carrow Road next weekend, thank you




Is The Sun About To Shine Out Of Our Annus Horribilis?

I suppose it’s some reflection that normal service has been resumed in London N5, now that I’m back to feeling seriously pissed off about another needless interruption this weekend. When only a few weeks back, perhaps for the first time ever, the previous break for Internationals, following our Derby Day defeat at the beginning of October, came as some welcome relief from our woeful start to the season.

However the Arsenal have barely put a foot wrong since this much needed respite and as a result, we really could’ve done without the threat of a flurry of International friendlies, putting a spoke in the wheel of our recent fine run of form. We may already be a quarter of the way through this campaign, but in some respects, with the trees shedding all their leaves and the first hint of winter drawing nigh (albeit no excuse for all those nancy-boy footballers who’ve already taken to protecting their pinkies in wooly gloves), it feels as if the Gunners are only just getting warmed up.

Well we’ve at least achieved the minor feat of a positive goal-difference for the first time, after our perfunctory disposal of West Brom on Saturday. If I’d been amongst the couple of thousand fans who travelled down from Birmingham, I’d have been particularly perturbed, as Roy Hodgson’s side were thoroughly unrecognizable as the same Baggies outfit who put us under the cosh on their previous outing at the Emirates and who produced a shock result by outplaying us on our own pitch.

The only surprise on Saturday was the complete absence of the all too familiar air of anxiety, in an Arsenal win which was never in doubt from the get go. The up side to a season of such unpredictability and a schizophrenic Gunners squad, where Dr Jekyll is doing his utmost to contain Mr Hyde’s lunatic tendencies, is that we now go to games never truly knowing what to expect. Least of all the prospect of being able to sit back and savour a comfortable triumph, totally devoid of the customary, edge of the seat spills & thrills that we’ve come to associate with the Arsenal’s kamikaze football.

But then on the basis that it took Hodgson’s hamstrung Baggies until the 87th minute to force a save from Sczczny, I suppose it would be a mistake to use such lame opposition as any sort of litmus test of the remedial work to shore up the Gunners leaky ship. Nevertheless, considering our defence has been the target for so much derision in recent months, it’s ironic that the biggest bone of contention now concerns the pleasing selection quandary at centre-back. You simply can’t leave a player with Vermaelen’s presence on the sidelines, but on current form, neither Koscielny or Mertesacher deserve to be dropped.

Evidence of the Gunners’ progress is reflected in a more relaxed mood on the terraces (or at least those which remain populated!). We’d have been threatening blue murder for our Brazilian full-back’s tendency to desert his defensive duties earlier in the season. But recent signs of some long-awaited durability and a renewed resolve have resulted in us being able to laugh off Koko the clown’s antics on our left flank, so long as Santos continues to compensate for his unorthodox impression of a full-back, with his attacking prowess.

Perhaps Kieran Gibbs’ glass-like frame will have been strengthened sufficiently in a fortnight’s time and needless to say, (based on past experience) all such defensive dilemmas will have been resolved in the meantime, due to those who will doubtless end up crocked whilst playing for their respective countries. But while we Gooners spend the days ahead on our knees, praying for Van Persie to be kept out of harm’s way, whilst channel hopping as we endeavour to keep tabs on the fate of the remainder of our multi-cultural hotchpotch, in truth there’s only one encounter of any real import. Come on you Boys in Green!

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Monday 31 October 2011

A Load Of Refreshingly New Bull

Hi folks,

Saturday scintillating encounter was the sort of match that was a complete and utter privilege to attend, for all the reasons I've explained below (and more!). Whether it's likely to prove some sort of watershed, remains to be seen in the weeks ahead.

Personally I tend to believe it's just one more step, in the process of rebuilding of this Arsenal side as a force to be reckoned with (albeit a slightly bigger one than the more mundane home wins against Sunderland and Stoke). As inclined as I am to want to shout about our credentials as the capital's top dogs, after such an emphatic triumph on enemy soil, I'm loathe to get too carried away on all the euphoria, because as we've witnessed all too frequently in the first quarter of this season, all competitors involved are only one bad day at the office away from serious humiliation.

If I'm honest, I was full of dread from the moment I arrived at the Bridge, on discovering that we were still relying on Djourou for defensive cover, as to my mind Johan looks such a fish out of water when playing at full-back that he's an accident waiting to happen.

However I was left questioning Andre Villa Boas' credentials as a tactician, as I would've thought it would be patently obvious to anyone who's seen us play in recent weeks that it was worth targeting our right flank and Johan's lack of positional nous in this position. But instead of which AVB appeared to have opted for the other side, judging by the number of times Chelsea played the long diagonal ball, perhaps believing Santos could be done for pace by Sturridge.

Admittedly Andre struggled first-half and it was the source of most of the Chelsea threat, as both Mata and Sturridge gave our Brazilian full-back a hard time, but where a younger head might've gone to pieces, Santos showed the benefit of his experience, eventually seeing off the challenge of the over-hyped Chelsea youngster.

Having got ourselves back onto equal terms by taking the game to the opposition, I was devastated when we conceded a second, only seconds before the break. Although I have to admit to being a bit preoccupied at the time, with our fate tempting taunting of John Terry, who sadly responded in the most painful fashion to our vociferous chorus of "Simon Cowell shagged your missus" (thankfully we were to have the last laugh at JT's expense!). In contests against Chelsea in the past (where we've been physically dwarfed), this might well have proved decisive.

Plenty might point the finger of blame at Per Mertesacher, but personally I believe this goal was purely down to the sort of defensive disorganisation that is almost inevitable when you've got players who aren't familiar with their duties. Under normal circumstances Bakari Sagna would've automatically occupied a position guarding the near post, which would've prevented this goal going in and instead of which we had Arteta aimlessly wandering about, right in the middle of the posts, making more of a nuisance of himself to Sczczny than the opposition, with Miguel seemingly unsure which post to position himself on.

To my mind these are the exact sort of defensive nightmares that could be ironed out by the type of regimented drilling which would have everyone instinctively aware of their responsibilities at set-pieces, without a second thought. But then for the want of a vocal outfield defensive general, we can at least take comfort in the fact that Sczczny appears to be growing into a leadership role, judging by the way in which he was man-handling his team-mates into position in a set piece later in the game.

Who knows if Mertesacher is hindered from taking charge by his limited command of the language, but on current form there's absolutely no justification for Arsène dropping Koscielny in favour of Vermaelen, as Laurent is just about the most dependable and consistent component of our all too porous back four. Perhaps Vermaelen would be more comfortable than Djourou at left-back (let's face it, that's no great ask!).

Although in truth, despite the fact that he's likely to come a cropper occasionally because of his lack of experience, I'd be far more happier with Jenkinson playing there than Djourou because it is at least his natural position and besides Carl's crossing ability (with both feet!) offers us so much more going forward than Johan. Then again, if Theo's going to bring his crossing boots to the party every week, in the same way as he did on Saturday, then we might no longer be starved of decent ammunition into the box.

Going into the break 2-1 down, it was patently obvious that the next goal was going to be crucial. I don't think there'd have been any way back from 3-1. But we started the second half with some real intent, with Santos deciding that the best form of defence was attack. In the best traditions of Winterburn and Silvinho, from the moment Andre spanked home (beating Cech at his near post for the first of three times on Saturday!!), you just had the feeling that something special was on.

In the past I've always felt that Walcott had a little too much respect for Ashley Cole (about the only person on the planet who does!), or perhaps for Cole's reputation as the country's no. 1 full-back. But it was as if Theo finally discovered some real belief on Saturday, suddenly realising he's was capable of leaving the greedy little emperor looking as bare-naked as the day Cashley had the misfortune to be born. Now if only Theo could reproduce the same sort of hungry display on a more regular basis, he'd soon win me and his many detractors over.

Despite Alex Song's desperate lunging efforts to effect a block on Mata's shot, I'm sure I wasn't alone in fearing the worst as the Spaniard made it 3-3. When the myopic ref Marriner ignored the intervention of the brick shithouse that is Lukaku, as he eased Santos out of the way in the build up, it felt as if the Gunner's valiant efforts were to go unrewarded yet again, by dint of another bad decision. But the very best was yet to come.

Arsène was still apoplectic with rage, giving the 4th official an ear-bashing, when Malouda attempted his heavy-footed backpass. At first glance, I thought Terry had thrown himself to the floor, realising Robin was already past him. But on watching the replays (which I haven't stopped doing since!), it would appear that fate intervened to pull the rug from under JT's feet.

Such misfortune couldn't have befell a more deserving specimen of human "drech" as far as I'm concerned. Nevertheless, I'm sure many might disagree, but I can't help but be amused by the entire overblown Terry/Ferdinand racist saga. While all those in the media shout down from their high horses about the England and Chelsea captain setting such a deplorable example, where exactly are all these high-priests of political correctness when far worse racial epithets are being bandied about like confetti on football pitches up and down the country every Sunday.

I find it so laughable that we look down our noses at the Neanderthals responsible for racism elsewhere in the footballing world, while patting ourselves on the back for merely brushing such intolerance under the carpet in this country. The fact that there aren't too many numbskulls like Terry getting caught on camera trading insults in their efforts to wind up the opposition, are we really so naive as to believe this means that such behaviour does not occur?

Perhaps not the most delicate metaphor under the circumstances, but personally I prefer those who call a spade, a spade, in order that we are at least able to recognise bigotry where it exists. In some respects it is at least far more honest than existing in an overtly PC world, with the pretense that all is sweetness & light, when the exact opposite is patently obvious to anyone who's dared dipped their croutons into our multicultural bouillabaisse.

All those who sit / stand on the terraces every week can confirm that the fact football fans have desisted from the disgusting habit of throwing bananas at black players, this doesn't mean to say that the multitude of racists who once populated the most obvious breeding grounds for the right-wing Nazi parties such as the NF and BNP, they haven't simply evaporated into thin air.

It might be understood that such overt racism is no longer acceptable, but all the engrained prejudice remains to a greater or lesser extent, amongst everyone, even those whose best friends swear otherwise! In my most humble opinion we are far better off recognising this fact and making continued efforts to combat such intolerance, than we are slaughtering a single public figure for their (in Terry's case, inevitable) failure to live up to the fantasy standards of our perfectly PC society.

Perhaps I'm better off sticking to the footie, anyone for Laurent's Frog's legs soup on Tuesday :-)


Obviously I would’ve much preferred to have avoided all that early season agony. Yet our suffering was almost made worth it at the weekend. The majority of us would’ve bitten your hand off for a draw at Stamford Bridge, as we traversed London on Saturday, merely hoping to avoid further embarrassment.

Therefore the distance travelled from pessimism to the positive euphoria of our 3-5 triumph, ensured that the satisfaction quotient was off the scale, compared to all those recent encounters, where we’ve been expected to give the Blues a run for their money. Not since Kanu’s hat-trick in ‘99 can I recall a more ecstatic outing to the Kings Road.

Admittedly, arriving late as ever, we could’ve been 0-2 down before I even found my seat on Saturday, as the Blues came out of the traps at a canter. However for all Abramovich’s covetous efforts to introduce a manager capable of injecting more verve into his functional Chelsea side, in recent seasons the Blues have grown far too accustomed to achieving results against us, without really have to work at it. They’ve been able to sit back and soak up our tippy-tappy football, patiently waiting to be presented with an opportunity to tear us apart on the counter at their leisure.

It should really have been 2-2, by the time the initial burst of adrenaline of Saturday’s lunchtime KO had begun to subside, with the Gunners proving equally profligate in front of goal. I seriously believed we were going to rue our own wastefulness with such gift-wrapped opportunities, as you don’t expect to be offered many more, by a defence that has in the past proved to be so parsimonious.

However perhaps this is a Chelsea side that’s wobbling between two stools, with a young manager intent on laying down a marker in the Premiership, with a team that can win games with style, but whose ageing combatants remind me of the ancient joke about the old bull, who contrary to the instincts of a young calf that wants to run down the hill and service a heffer, he prefers to stroll down and service the entire herd.

Thus after the match had settled down, following the madness of those opening minutes, Chelsea reverted to type, inviting the Gunners on to them, in the belief that we’d be the architects of our own downfall. But aside from the absence of our customary nemesis, in the form of the suspended Didier Drogba, perhaps the most crucial factor is that mercifully the “men against boys” physical differences that were patently obvious in so many recent no-contest encounters, are no more!

Just as reports of the Arsenal’s demise might’ve been somewhat premature, in a season that’s throwing up such anomalies each week, so are any suggestions that a single, albeit sensational, triumph over Chelsea, is confirmation that the Gunners are back to our best. Who knows, we might be brought back down to earth with a bump on Tuesday night, by a Marseille side intent on revenging their last-minute misfortune in France.

There were too many incidents to mention in Saturday’s match, which highlighted the gossamer thin margins between success and failure – few more poignant than the poetic justice of JT’s oopsy-daisy. Nevertheless, it was something far less tangible which gives us Gooners most cause for optimism, in the sense that even if we’re set to endure a season-long scrap to claw our way back into contention, with a squad of players who might struggle to reproduce the same precision artistry that we’ve been spoilt by in seasons past, the Gunners fall from grace might just be the making of us.

Our bullish determination to respond to all those detractors who’ve written Wenger’s team off has manifested itself in the sort of burgeoning spirit which has been markedly absent up until now, epitomized by Walcott scrambling back to his feet to burst through and score; or in the willingness of Koscielny, Song & co. to put their bodies on the line, in safeguarding our goal at all costs.

Sure we're still some way off strutting our stuff as composed, genuine contenders, Yet in setting out to prove we’re far from being a waning force that’s there for the taking, we’re witnessing the sort of passion and commitment that inspires renewed faith on the terraces that perhaps it’s not just the size of their wallets that matters, but the size of the Gunners' hearts that's fuelling this revival.

Having been so enthralled by such an emotive display, I'm sure few would’ve moaned if (as expected) ultimately we’d failed at the Bridge. But Saturday’s success tasted so much sweeter with it having been earned on the back of the sort of ardour that I for one will continue to revel in, win, lose or draw.

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Monday 24 October 2011

Winds Of Change

Hi folks,

Sincere apologies as I didn't get around to posting out last week's missive. Limiting myself to 650 words for the Irish Examiner is an impossible target, since they've reduced the size of our columns this season; especially when you consider that I've been struggling for a decade or more to confine myself to less than a 1000 words. As a result, I invariably end up feeling that I've left out more than I've included and so I delay from posting my piece online, thinking that I will expand on my thoughts, in a typically long-winded preamble. However, as happened last week, I don't get around to doing this and then another game comes along and leaves my missive looking decidedly out-dated, as you will see below, with Ju Young Park making me eat my words, with his composed finish against Bolton on Tuesday night.

Still I've written it, so I might as well send it out, so I can get on and add all the comments that I've been forced to leave out of this week's missive. After all, it's not exactly every day you beat Chelsea 3-5 at the Bridge and to find myself restricted from spouting forth on such an auspicious occasion is positively criminal :-)

Feel free to read or ignore last week's ravings as you so choose and hopefully, in somewhat atypical fashion, my impressions of yesterday's events won't be quite so tardy.

With three home games in such quick succession, I have to admit to suffering some withdrawals yesterday, deprived of a trip to Piebury Corner. You are probably thinking I've got shares in the place by now, but I'd be a liar if I didn't admit to looking forward to tomorrow night's match, if only for my stomach's sake.

One thing is for certain, if I continue gorging on pre and post match pies with such regularity, no matter where the Gunners end up this season, I'll definitely have something to show for my efforts. But then when it comes to trophies, I'm not sure a pot-belly counts!

Big Love


Arsène’s desire to protect Van Persie is perfectly understandable. But ironically, in attempting to overcome Pullis’ uncompromising Potters with our Robin reliant parked on the bench, le Prof only managed to prove quite how impotent we are without him.

In fact the Gunners’ attack appears so lamentably goal-shy with Chamakh standing in for our captain, that after RVP had come on halfway through the second half for his crucial two-goal cameo performance, in Wenger’s shoes I’d have been tempted to take him straight off again; to be able to wrap Robin up in cotton wool, rather than to risk him for a second longer than absolutely necessary, in the sort of roughhouse environment that is de rigueur in the presence of Shawcross and co. (just how crap can our Korean striker be, if our Morrocan misfit continues to keep him out of the team?).

After enduring more than our fill of all that “8-2 be an Arsenal fan” mirth, we also enjoyed the mouthwatering ‘what goes around, comes around’ irony of Man Utd’s simultaneous humiliation against City on Sunday. Although, I said at the time that perhaps the biggest embarrassment of our worst defeat in living memory, was that it transpired against such a mediocre Man U outfit (with the exception of an on fire Wayne Rooney). And so while I certainly don't mean to dissuade Gooners from the sweet revenge of giving their Man U mates all the stick they deserve in the days ahead, in truth it hardly reflects well upon us that we were so severely ravaged, by the same Utd outfit that rolled over against City.

Meanwhile hopefully our midweek ‘smash & grab’ in Marseille and 3 points from one of the bi-seasonal banana skins of Stoke’s kick (or chuck) & rush, spoiler football, are further small steps in the total rebuild required, following the utter decimation of both our team and our confidence during the most disastrous start to a campaign in the Wenger era.

Doubtless Arsène remains confident that we can recapture the fluidity that has seen the Gunners find global favour. Perhaps it will come in time, but I’m not convinced that the current incumbents are capable of reproducing the same stylish patterns of play for which we were formerly renowned; at least not without crucial missing ingredients.

Sure we can conjure it up in fits and starts for the odd breathtaking goal. Yet while we appeared in control for the majority of Sunday’s encounter, what was obvious from the Potters’ relentless efforts to discomfort us, was that in Wilshere’s absence, we’re devoid of the sort of rare talent who refuses to be panicked into gifting the ball back to the opposition, or who has the speed of thought to preempt such problems, by moving it on at pace.

After we’d established a 2-goal cushion and with the visitors having all but given up the ghost with only 8 minutes left on the clock, there was a brief spell when the “olés” echoed around the Emirates, as the Gunners risked a clattering with our contemptuous control of possession. Although this actually felt more like a fond remembrance of times past because the majority present were only too aware that in the heel of the hunt, sadly we are no longer capable of maintaining such composure.

Thus the Potters’ fans “we’ll play how we want” chant could also be perceived as ironic, when you consider that in France, only four days prior, the Gunners were grinding out a win, with a performance which, in effect, was no less negative than Pullis’ brand of anti-football.

Am I bovvered? The artistry of the beautiful game that we’ve enjoyed this past decade has been an absolute privilege. But right at this precise point in time, I’d willingly sacrifice the casual style, for more committed substance. If only Arsène could locate the button to release the handbrake that’s been holding us back for so long, resulting in a transformation to the sort of “win at all costs” mentality that motivates his team to work their socks off for one another, you won’t catch me moaning.

There were some anxious glances amongst the Gooners on our plane, as we waited for take-off from Marseille airport on Thursday morning, with Le Mistral gusting away outside. Apparently it’s known as a wind of change and it needs to blow away some of le Boss’ preconceptions on success, if he’s going to stem the ever decreasing number of bums on seats.
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Monday 17 October 2011

Pie In The Sky?

You might think that I'd have quite a lot more to say, after having a week off for the International break and the truth is that I could probably prattle on ad infinitum, if allowed. However with the Irish Examiner having confined our (myself, Man U, Chelsea, and Liverpool fans - guess they are soon going to have to find a City fan!) contribution to a smaller section of the paper, I've had to struggle to restrain my overly loquacious tendencies even more than usual. Sighs of relief....surely not :-)

Keep the Faith
Big Love


Pie In The Sky?

Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear that I contrived to miss Van Persie’s 29-second opener on Sunday. At least I had a good excuse for my tardiness, as I’d been tucking into a delicious pie. In fact it’s an appropriate reflection on our miserable campaign thus far, that the absolute highlight to date has been the discovery of Piebury Corner close to the old stadium.

Time was when I’d be dashing around to the Arsenal to savour the footballing delights; whereas these days I’ve found some grub on offer outside the ground that’s far more enticing than the sort of uninspiring fare that we're fast growing accustomed to inside the stadium, which of late has been as bland (and as overpriced!) as the burgers.

Mercifully on Sunday our Robin reliant set out almost singlehandedly, to serve up an aide-memoire of the sort of sumptuous feast of artistry, from the days when the Gunners would’ve been guaranteed to mullah Steve Bruce’s badly bruised Mackems. Although combined with a second-half cameo display from Arshavin, after the diminutive Ruski was sent on to try and rescue a result in the last 20 mins, such brief interludes of brilliance seem only to serve as a reminder of quite how far the mighty Gunners have fallen, when contrasted with the mediocrity of the majority of our present day play.

However, having been forced to come to terms with the fact that we’ve been completely written off as a force to be reckoned with in the Premiership, it might be sacrilege to admit it, but I’m not nearly as outraged as so many of my neurotic Gooner mates. If I’m entirely honest, after six angst filled seasons of tearing my hair out in frustration with such a talented Arsenal side’s perennial failure to fulfill expectations, there’s something quite refreshing about going to games, fully prepared for the worst from such a weakened squad, only to be pleasantly surprised when they actually produce the goods.

I guess that the evidence of so many empty seats and the fact that tickets are on general sale are signs that we’ve begun shaking off some of the glory-hunting chaff and there’s nothing like a spell of adversity to forge the “us against the world” sort of unifying spirit, which has been on the missing list since the Gunners became everyone’s favourite purveyors of ‘the beautiful game’.

There may come a time down the road when this squad finds its feet and a return to fitness of some of our most vital components results in Arsène finally being able to field his best XI. But until then, I suspect that we’re going to have to fight tooth and nail for every point, while on the terraces we’ll be praying that our talismanic red, red Robin, keeps bob, bob, bobbing along.

No longer can we afford to sit back and wait for fatigued opposition defences to part like the waters of the Red Sea, mesmerized by our mazy passing patterns. Aside from handing out written invitations to the requiem for Wengerball, with our recent inability to retain control of possession, the perception of the Arsenal as an accident waiting to happen is only going to encourage all those sides, who in the past would’ve limited their ambition to defending in numbers, merely hoping to escape our place with their dignity intact.

Carl Jenkinson is a case in point. The young full-back is a long way from the finished article and there’s little doubt that the lad is going to need rescuing every now and again, so long as his trade learning efforts include such regular roastings. However, unlike Theo Walcott, who can be found aimlessly wandering around the Emirates pitch with a bewildered puss on, which suggests he doesn’t believe that grabbing games by the scruff of the neck for a struggling Arsenal side formed part of his original job description, I adore Jenkinson’s committed attitude and his willingness to run his socks off up and down the flank. Never mind Walcott giving the boy a bollicking for dereliction of defensive duties, Theo should be begging Carl for some crossing lessons!

Meanwhile we’re off to Marseille, for what’s fast beginning to feel like the Arsenal’s farewell European tour. Schlepping around the Continent for so many successive seasons takes such a toll on the finances that I’ve been forced to be more circumspect about following the Gunners through the procession of the group stages. But I’m glad I had the foresight to throw caution to the wind this season, so as to be able to make the very most of our Champions Lg campaign.

On the basis that our efforts to ensure an encore haven’t exactly been auspicious thus far, here’s hoping Arteta and co. can do likewise, with a tour de force in the Velodrome on Wednesday night?

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