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Tuesday 4 January 2011

We've Got Cesc Fabregas, You've Got Lee Bowyer

Hi folks,

I intended posting this out on Sunday, but between getting involved with fitting up Romeo & Juliet at the Coliseum with the ballet (reluctantly - aside from the miserable prospect of mixing up my priorities and missing matches while stuck in the theatre, the heftiest show in the ballet's rep is murder on my decrepit old joints), writing a second missive for the Examiner by way of a half-term report and fairly feeble attempts at all-night cricket vigils with Test Match Special, I'm not sure if I'm coming or going.

As a result I'm posting both pieces out at once. With the half-term report appearing on Friday, I'm praying Wednesday night's game against Man City doesn't result in a major rewrite!

Wishing everyone a very happy & healthy New Year

Come on Your Reds
Big Love


A seven-point return from games at home to Chelsea and on the road at Wigan and Birmingham is not to be sneezed at. Nine would’ve been a blinder and Arsène received bundles of stick (from me included) for rotating his team for our trip to the North-West last Wednesday night. But perhaps Wenger was vindicated by the emphatic way in which we vanquished a more obdurate opponent in the Midlands on Saturday?

The Gunners were bang up for it against Birmingham and while our hosts stuck to the habitually combative formula that’s served them so well in the past couple of fractious encounters at their place, by contrast to the sort of stiff test of resolve that we’ve faced (and failed, by gifting late goals!) at St. Andrew’s in recent times, McLeish’s mob were never really at the races.

We certainly finished this New Year’s Day ding-dong looking the fresher of the two teams, but then chasing shadows for much of the 90 must have been an exhausting business for Birmingham. The 4000 travelling Gooners teased the Bluenoses for long periods of this game “we’ve got Cesc Fabregas, you’ve got Lee Bowyer” and basically this summed up the huge gulf in class between the opposition and us.

In fact it was hard to believe that this was the same Birmingham side that had managed to hold Man Utd at bay. But then perhaps they put so much effort into their midweek draw that they couldn’t muster sufficient energy to suffocate the Gunners’ passing game?

Mind you, I’m sure I was far from alone in taking great delight from Villa’s last-gasp goal and Ancelotti’s gut-wrenching anguish on Sunday. Houllier’s resilient troops were unrecognisable from the Villa side that’s been falling like a stone in recent weeks. Moreover, watching the limited quality on offer in the subsequnet contest between Wigan and the Toon, I wondered how on earth we’d blown five points in our games against these two decidedly bland outfits (although admittedly in the absence of the talismanic likes of N’Zogbia and Carroll).

Which all serves to highlight the fact that we can take very little for granted in such an unusual campaign, where the fragile Premiership status-quo can be drastically affected in either direction, by a couple of unsuspecting results. Although both games were worth the same three points, considering the way in which recent results at St. Andrews have been viewed as a significant indication of the lack of mettle in the Wengerboys, perhaps le Prof felt that beating Birmingham was more important than winning up at Wigan.

As gleeful as I was to get our St. Andrews hoodoo out the way and the New Year off to such a great start, unless the XI that started on Saturday are to play for the remainder of the season, unhindered by suspension or injury, on the basis that a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, sadly I rather suspect that we can read more into the fact that the side he put out in midweek just wasn’t good enough.

Perhaps we should count our blessings because if Diaby hadn’t retired injured early on, to be replaced by Wilshere, thereby restoring the composure necessary to retain possession, it could’ve ended up as a far more embarrassing outing. Nevertheless, Denilson’s powder-puff midfield promptings and the lack of desire shown to remedy his mistakes, knocked all the Xmas stuffing out of the surprisingly large (5000 strong) horde of Gooners, who travelled to Wigan, still high on the ecstasy of our emphatic win against Chelsea.

Still at least there were free mince pies on offer at the DW Stadium, the sort of generous festive gesture that you wouldn’t get from the Scrooge-like suits in charge of the catering at the Arsenal. But then it would be a massive operation to cater for a full-house crowd at our place, compared to breaking open a couple of boxes from the local corner shop, to satiate the dismal turnout at the DW (lest we forget Wigan remains largely a rugby town).

What’s more, fog at Luton airport meant we had the consolation of being kicked out of First Class on the journey back to London, so that the team could accompany us as far as Watford Junction on the return train trip, providing us with an all too rare opportunity of some brief badinage with our idols. Such instances are so few and far between nowadays that instead of expressing our disappointment about dropping two points and pointing the finger at those responsible (Fabianski?), everyone was bigging them up for Saturday’s trip to Birmingham.

Considering Lucasz subsequently ensured our first clean sheet at the weekend, in what feels like an eternity, I like to believe that the Gunners duly obliged!

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