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Monday 21 February 2011

Back Down To Earth With A Bump

As ol’ Red Nose himself once put it so succinctly, “football eh, bloody hell!”

I was expecting the entire gamut of emotions over the coming weeks, but we Gooners have encountered the full spectrum in the space of only four days. After the ecstasy of the coming of age of our stadium, Koscielny and Wilshere in last Wednesday’s breathtaking display, I must’ve still been high on the euphoria when I decided to dig my motorbike out for Sunday’s brief, but decidedly brisk hop from London N5 to E10.

Although it’s symbolic that Leyton is located just on the other side of Hackney Marshes; since in footballing terms the ramshackle mish-mash of a dilapidated secondhand stand, functional modern flats, office space and seating that is Barry Hearn’s Brisbane Road fiefdom, is positively world’s away from the glamorous environs of the Emirates. Our obstructed view from the antique East Stand (relocated from Mitcham Dog Track in the late 50s) was doubtless the inspiration behind the afternoon’s most amusing ditty – “We’re all standing in a future block of flats”

With many of the sixteen hundred Gooners meeting up on Sunday to collect precious Wembley and Barcelona tickets from one another, which had previously turned up in the post, it was perhaps inevitable that we’d embrace East London’s carnival atmosphere. Although with matchday programmes costing an extortionate five quid, it felt as if these were priced to ensure that their Matchroom impresario spared every expense in bringing on the balloons and pre-pubescent dancing girls for the pre-match celebrations of the O’s most prestigious occasion in many a moon.

But then you can hardly blame Barry Hearn for milking the FA Cup for all it’s worth. It’s a drop in the ocean compared to the best part of 150 quid for a couple of tickets for the Carling Cup final and 76 Euros for a pitch up in the gods at Camp Nou, as the depth of the pockets of the put-upon travelling faithful are tested to the full in the near future. Then again, far better to be stumping up the cost of supporting a successful club, than a fistful of spondulicks to compliment a cotchel of Gooner regrets!

It wasn’t the most auspicious start to Sunday’s proceedings, as my arrival at the ground was greeted with news of the quarterfinal draw. It was hardly inspiring to hear we were playing for the right to face Man Utd away. But if the home side needed any added motivation, they had the huge carrot of a trip to Old Trafford and the shot in the arm of such a massive financial inducement.

Few of us expected an easy ride against The O’s, after witnessing Crawley Town’s heroics. Not to mention the Toffees putting one over on Ancelotti’s overpaid mercenaries and having my faith restored in karma, by Cashley Hole’s penalty miss. However where events at Old Trafford left you wondering which was the Premiership outfit, compared to the intensity of our contest with the Catalan giants, Sunday’s game was a complete and utter role reversal, with the Arsenal producing a record number of passes, as Leyton lulled us all into a false sense of security.

Much like Messi & co, we were guilty of taking our foot off the pedal after scoring first. Instead of demonstrating the sort of killer instinct, which might’ve put the tie to bed, we were content to sit back and pass the ball amongst ourselves, expecting the opposition to tire from chasing the game and to present us with a gift-wrapped second goal, when we should’ve really forced the issue.

I can fully appreciate Arsène’s decision to give a much-deserved breather to many of the team that beat Barcelona. Albeit that Alex Song’s inclusion on Sunday was baffling, considering he’d be first on my teamsheet for what promises to be an agricultural encounter with Stoke on Wednesday night. But where I was delighted with the inclusion of Ignasi Miquel, our hungry young Catalan centre-back, who played like he had a point to prove, I’m not sure why he bothered with Bendtner. You can make excuses for the Dane, with him being played out of position on the flank, but for my money he’s far too wrapped up in his own ego, to ever produce the sort of commitment and desire necessary in cup football.

Myself I was already pondering the fate of our reserves against Fergie’s fledglings (considering both sides might still have bigger fish to fry come the quarterfinal) when the O’s unknown Frenchman brought me back down to earth with a bump. In truth, having seen quite how much it means to the lowly East Londoners, I’d almost be happy for the Orient, if it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve forced us into yet another unnecessary replay.

Still after the week of wonderful football we’ve enjoyed, it would be positively churlish of me to moan about more of the same!

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