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Monday 14 March 2011

Patently Obvious (To All But Le Prof) That Some Of Our Weak-Willed Passengers Will Never Be Winners

Despite last week’s doom-laden prophecy, I was left reeling on the ropes, feeling no less punch-drunk following Saturday’s dismal FA Cup defeat. Taken in isolation, there’s absolutely no shame in being beaten by the world’s best footballing side. Nor is a defeat at the Theatre of Dreams anything to get too depressed about (or we’d have ended up slitting our wrists after any of our five previous trips to Old Trafford).

But to have the ignominy of our Carling Cup Final fiasco, compounded by the misery of our exit from two more competitions, in the space of only a few short days, well if this is more than most Gooners can bear, then heaven only knows what chance there is of the Arsenal re-discovering sufficient confidence to produce a concerted challenge for the Premiership title!

I tend to believe that Van Persie was aware the offside flag had gone up before he took his pot-shot at the Nou Camp (and if he wasn’t, he should be castigated for missing the target!) but our Dutch striker’s dismissal was none the less farcical. Right up in the gods, the sound of the ref’s whistle was utterly inaudible, amidst the cacophony of 95,000 fans. The only indication of the officials’ intervention was when the game was interrupted. So there was no way the Swiss ref could’ve been certain that Van Persie was guilty of a whole second’s worth of time wasting.

Besides which, the punishment certainly didn’t befit the crime. In a contest of such significance, what gives this jumped up official the right to rule on such a petty misdemeanor and potentially ruin the spectacle for all the watching millions around the world? Who knows whether or not he felt that the Arsenal had challenged his authority, by their tardy turn out for both halves, but I have to admit that from my (blinkered?) viewpoint, it certainly felt as if we were being victimized.

Nevertheless I can’t concur with all those (including our esteemed manager) who appear to be kidding themselves that this was the turning point. From my bird’s-eye point of view, Van Persie’s premature ejection was a complete red herring. Perhaps Robin would’ve been more clinical with the rare opportunity that arrived at his replacement’s feet late on and we’d have been left cavorting around the Nou Camp, thumbing our noses at the Catalans, after the ultimate smash & grab raid.

Instead of which, we were left penned in, for what felt like hours, rueing our defeat, until such time as tempers were bound to boil over and Gooners began venting their frustration by burning the nets situated in front of us, as some brave souls attempted to breakout. All the while, as if to rub salt in our wounds, the big screen intermittently flashed up the game’s statistics, confirming the hugely embarrassing no-contest of an encounter, in which we’d failed to conjure up a single shot on goal (on target or otherwise!).

I could cope with going out of Europe in a blaze of glory, but to me the inescapable agony of that big fat zero screamed a complete betrayal of Wenger’s principles. As far as I’m concerned and with Mourinho’s Inter being just about the only exception that proves the rule, if you allow Barca so much time on the ball, according to the law of averages, it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually end up sliced & diced by the purveyors of such fine quality football.

In the absence of Puyol and Piquet and as a result, deprived of their smothering blanket in the middle of the park with Busquets forced to play at centre-back, I was absolutely devastated that the Gunners allowed the psychological impact of their slender first-leg lead to completely dominate our tactics, by coming to the Nou Camp and like so many before them, failing to “park the bus”.

Never mind Wenger wanting an apology from UEFA, I feel we deserve some explanation from Arsène, as he’s always assured us that his Arsenal side are far better than this. Mercifully my mates dragged me to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia the following day (at 12Euros a pop to enter the cathedral, you’d have thought they’d have the funds to have finished it by now?), then to the Picasso Museum. With the slim solace of some culture and five cartons of fags, at least my outing wasn’t a total waste.

I had to be up at 5am for work on Saturday and wasn’t even sure I’d make it to Manchester. If it wasn’t for a couple of mates who travelled all the way over from Egypt, I might well have not bothered. I had to wait for them at Picadilly station, after they’d missed the train. And then when one of them dropped his ticket while we were queuing for a programme outside the ground, it seemed as if fate was trying to tell us something. Fortunately (?) for him, it was found by an extremely rare breed, an honest Mancunian and miraculously we managed to retrieve it from a steward.

Once inside Old Trafford, my defeatist attitude began to dissipate, when it was revealed Fergie was fielding 7 defenders. But it seems old Red Nose got it right and I didn’t, as he his somewhat bizarre team selection had more than enough to cope with the predictable lack of penetration, of an Arsenal side that took until the start of the second half to fully appreciate our humiliating predicament. Sadly as a contest, it was all over (bar the excuses!) with Utd’s second goal.

Until Arsène accepts the need to surround his star turns with personalities possessing the sort of appetite for success that makes them prepared to accept more responsibility than some of the weaker-willed passengers in our current squad, I’m afraid our Groundhog nightmares might continue ad infinitum.

To complete our indignity, we were forced to travel back, sardined into a train, without even enough space to plot up on the floor. Our pooped out, mollycoddled players wont know the pleasures of a claustrophobic and incredibly cramped three hour train ride on ones feet, back from the North-East. It’s certainly the stick I’d like to beat some of them with after such a demoralizing week!

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