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Monday 7 March 2011

With A Soupcon Of Quality Added To Sufficient Huff & Puff...Sure We Can Blow Barca's Wall Down

Hi folks,

It's hard to recall having to write a more awkward diary entry this entire past decade, in respect of having to file the following piece to the Irish Examiner today, knowing that it will appear on the morning after an encounter which might ultimately prove to be either the zenith, or the nadir of this season's campaign.

Still it had to be done and with me working in Kent for the ballet all day, I ended up agonizing at my keyboard for most of Sunday night and well into the wee hours of Monday morning, so I could forward it before leaving for work.

Sure enough, it was only a couple of hours after I arrived in Kent that I saw a text message, which confirmed that my missive was already out of date. Thus as delighted as I was with the news that both Van Persie & Fabregas are likely to make the starting line-up against Barca, I had slightly mixed feelings, because I'd been bemoaning the potential significance of our most potent striker's absence.

To be honest, I'm no less apprehensive, as I fear that it might be Alex Song who we end up missing most in our encounter at Camp Nou. Nevertheless having been given the opportunity of a bit of a rewrite after returning home from work, I must admit that I was tempted to start over from scratch, giving my piece a far more optimistic slant.

Completely aside from the risk of me oversleeping and missing my flight in the morning, after tapping away all night to produce a complete rewrite, above all I daren't make wholesale changes due to my superstitious fear of tempting fate. As my thoughts below read at the moment, they barely sound more positive than all those media pundits who have already written the Gunners off and so hopefully, come Wednesday morning I'll be left sucking on a few toes, while they struggle to remove both feet from their oversized gobs.

In truth, by traveling more in hope than expectation, I'm hoping that even in the event of the worst case scenario I won't be left feeling too suicidal and should we end up pulling off a momentous victory, my experience will be far more euphoric than any of the travelling faithful who turn up with loftier ambitions.

My single only demand of the Gunners is that we do ourselves justice, by performing at the level which we know we are capable of. Beyond that, it's in the lap of the gods. But I have to tell you that in contrast to all those who seem to have swallowed, hook, line & sinker the myth postulated by all those Barca sycophants about the Spanish side being infallible, I'm convinced our Catalan opposition are eminently beatable and as we've already proved, at our best, no other team is better equipped with the capacity to demolish the media built wall that's been erected around the Barca myth.

Meanwhile in the certain knowledge that there's no way I'd bother posting this rambling piece on my return, I thought I had better get it out now

Come on you Rip Roaring Reds

Big Love

Hopefully by the time you read this missive, I’ll be breakfasting on Las Ramblas, basking in the warm glow, after the Gunners have made a complete mockery of all those who believed we didn’t have a hope in hell of surviving beyond our outing to Camp Nou. Alternatively, I’ll be drowning my sorrows, dreading the threat of our season ending up in tatters, after Saturday’s trip to Old Trafford. Personally I’m never happier than when everyone else is writing off the Arsenal, as from past experience, this has often proved the inspiration for some of our finest hours.

Having endured Messi’s four-goal mauling last season, it appears that some of the traveling faithful have chosen to stop at home this time around, unwilling to face the risk of further ignominy in the Catalan capital. Such trepidation is understandable, with Song joining Walcott on the missing list. Hopefully the return of Fabregas & Van Persie will provide a massive moral boost. Yet with them both having a ready made excuse for a less than scintillating performance, it won't be such a surprise to see our skipper and our most potent striker struggling for the tip-top form necessary to tear the Spanish champs asunder. It’s not so much the fear of losing against Barca that bothers me, since there’s no shame in being beaten by the best side on the planet.

We may have relished the brief respite of The Orient’s reality-check against our reserves in midweek. But if the abject frustration of our Carling Cup catastrophe and Saturday’s failure to capitalize on a golden opportunity to turn up the heat in the title race, end up being combined with the disenchantment of a Champions League exit, it’s hard to envisage Arsène’s young squad having the bottle to instantly bounce back against Fergie’s more mature mob, by snuffing out their cup ambitions and serving notice that we’re not about to make them a present of the Premiership trophy.

However this is football at the highest level; where winners have an insatiable desire for success and limitless reserves of adrenaline, which enable them to thrive on the relentless barrage of big games as the season builds to a climax and the leaden-footed losers are left bellyaching about lactic acid build-up, fatigued by the demands of playing for 90 minutes every three or four days.

Sadly last Saturday’s scoreless draw was a long way from demonstrating the Gunners coming of age. We all turned up for the game in eager anticipation of a performance that might confirm the Arsenal’s imminent capacity to cast off the shroud of our perennial “nearly men” mantle. I won’t condone our fickle crowd venting their ire at our midfield duo so vocally because I firmly believe supporters are duty-bound to stay faithful, but I was no less vexed than anyone else present. By contrast to the anguish felt on the terraces, in Diaby’s languid demeanour and Denilson’s hapless football, these two players seem to epitomize the Gunners’ lack of appreciation (with a couple of exceptions) of the urgent need to kick down the door that had been left ajar by Man Utd’s defeat at the Bridge.

Sure if justice had prevailed (and if the officials had got the big decisions correct!), the pressure we brought to bear for the last half hour would’ve resulted in a game winning goal. But for once I have to agree with Alan Hansen’s suggestion that the key to success in a championship run is “to start quickly”. Yet instead of Sunderland harassing us to play at a high tempo, we seemed content to patiently push the ball sideways and backwards, waiting for the game to come to us, until eventually we began to run out of time and Wenger was forced to ring the changes. We seem to have completely forgotten the art of starting home games with the sort of intensity that's enabled us to steamroller lesser opposition in the past. Instead of focusing on our misfortunes, Arsène might do better to encourage some of his shot-shy troops to go out and make their own luck!

Still one of the good things about living on the Arsenal’s doorstep, is that you are never short of a Gooner or two to commiserate with, in moments of such great disappointment. When I headed to the local shops late on Saturday evening, you could positively sense the anti-climactic atmosphere, amidst the exchange of pleasantries that passed for the licking of red & white wounds, as we queued to pay for our groceries and contemplated the Gunners immediate future.

Despite subsequent Gooner glee over Utd’s capitulation at Anfield, in some respects it was that much more maddening, knowing that a win against the Black Cats would’ve left us breathing right down the leader’s necks. Nevertheless we’ve gained a point on Utd and with their Mayday trip to North London, our destiny remains in our own hands. Perhaps the return of Ramsey or Vermaelen will provide the necessary momentum. But unless our competitors are to continue falling over their own feet and we’re about to end our barren run by default, we badly need to discover some consistent form, before risking the increased heartache that's at stake, when one truly dares to believe.

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