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Monday 25 April 2011

Least They Shoot Horses!

Considering the scenes of an increasingly tormented Arsène Wenger, writhing in anguish on the touchline these past few weeks, I’m sure if he was a four-legged filly someone would’ve felt it an act of kindness to put him out of his misery! With each passing week and the recent catalogue of lapses in concentration that have proved so costly, our manager has looked more and more as if he’s buckling under the weight of his responsibility for the Arsenal buck.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only Gooner at the Reebok wishing someone would put me out of my misery, before another depressingly long schlep back to North London. As has been the case these past half-dozen seasons, on thinking about this post mortem of our dead parrot of a season on my way home, it occurred to me that it would probably go unnoticed if I forwarded a previous piece from the penultimate month of any of the past few seasons, as quite frankly it’s been said so many times before that the needle playing this particular broken record has been ground right down.

It’s not exactly rocket science. You only had to look at the Gunners reaction to going 0-1 down just before the break, to fully appreciate the crucial missing ingredient amongst Arsène's talented troops. The worse thing is that , there are at long last some signs of those staunch, game-winning character traits in the likes of Wilshere and Sczczny.

Yet watching the Gunners trudging back to the halfway line to restart the game on Sunday, with no-one turning to shake their fist at their team-mates, to demand that defeat to Bolton was unacceptable and in fact absolutely no communication amongst the players whatsoever, I worry that with no big personalities on the pitch to encourage these youngsters, the flowers of their fervor will be defoliated, before they’ve ever had an opportunity to truly blossom. How long can such kids be expected to want to sweat blood for the Arsenal’s cause, when the more phlegmatic demeanour of some of their much higher salaried colleagues suggests it doesn’t matter nearly enough?

Masochist that I am, I arrived home to watch a replay of the highlights on the box and for a brief moment it seemed extremely thoughtful of the BBC’s program announcer to issue a Gooner related warning “Scenes which some viewers may find disturbing and some strong language…tragedy unites a club and its community”. But then I realized I’d rewound the Sky gadget all the way back to the beginning of the drama about the Munich air disaster that was on just before. Nevertheless, such a “heads-up” was no less appropriate, as supporting the Arsenal has begun to feel like being stuck in an eternal loop of M. Night Shymalan horror movies, with the same plot, blood & gore and the same inevitable tragic ending.

Don’t get me wrong, unlike some of our more splenetic supporters, I’m not an advocate for wholesale change. I don’t know about all those whose seats at the Emirates cost several thousand more, but at a 1000 quid my season ticket seems blinding value for a guaranteed pitch to watch some of the best footballing entertainment on the planet. All, or nearly all the ingredients are there for great football, but we continue to lack the crucial catalyst of genuine leadership that inspires the camaraderie of a truly great “team”. I have to laugh these days at our pre-match hugging ritual and its transparent insincerity, amongst a side that still hasn’t discovered that rapacious, run till you drop ability to fight for one another.

Aside from our on pitch frailties - the absence of some sergeant-major who could drill our defence to the point where they’d be terrified to show their face in the dressing room, if they failed to mark touch-tight and our incredibly frustrating reluctance to take responsibility in front of goal, when instead of attempting to welly it into the net, we opt for yet another, infernal, far more awkward slide-rule pass - it’s off the pitch where our complacent satisfaction with our proximity to success, which seems to pervade the club.

When it comes to a miserable lap of dishonour at the last home game of the season, does a board which seems to focus more on the business of football than the football itself (with their willingness to spend more on Club Level refurbishment than in the transfer market) really believe we Gooners will be raising the rafters chanting “we all love our sustainable business model”?

To end on a more cheerful note, the back of this particular camel broke on my arrival home from blowing a two-goal lead in the midweek Derby match, with the straw (must’ve been the one le Gaffer wasn’t clutching at!) of discovering I’d dropped my iPhone outside White Hart Lane. No sooner had I hung up from calling to request the phone be blocked, than my Ma was on the phone. Someone had found my phone and called “Mum” in my contacts. Apparently, on seeing my Arsenal screensaver, the lad who picked it up had said “it belongs to a Gooner, we better give it back”. The odds of it being picked up by a fellow Arsenal fan (and an honest one at that!), amongst 30,000 of the enemy were incredibly long.

Such honesty deserves far greater reward than the validation of another fruitless season up at Bolton. As much as I’d hate to gift the title to the Blues, now it’s utterly meaningless as far as the Gunners are concerned, doubtless young Zak will get his just deserts when we stuff Man Utd on Sunday?
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Monday 18 April 2011

Testes Time

Hi folks,

Had to come home and lie down in a dark room after events last evening and I'm glad I let the dust settle before putting fingers to keyboard, as I'm certain my comments would've been far more rancorous.

However having benefited from being able to put yesterday's draw into some perspective, if you exclude those eventful last few minutes (and BTW unlike AW, I'm not going to be so hypocritical as to complain about the ref's timekeeping, as when it took umpteen first-aiders what felt like an eternity to decide what stretcher to use for Jamie Carragher, I was whinging that, as ever, there'd be no way we'd be getting an equal amount of injury time added on at the end!) what really galls me is god awful feeling of dissatisfaction, with a Gunners side who were so far from leaving me with the sense that they left everything out there on the pitch, in their effort to cling on, with every last breath in their body to our ever decreasing prospects of ending our barren run.

I so badly wanted to win yesterday, not because I've seen anything to suggest we're truly capable of pipping Man Utd to the title, but because I wanted to keep the spark of feint hope alive, to inspire me to schlep all the way up to the unglamorous likes of Bolton and Stoke knowing we still have something to play for. But I have to admit that amongst many around me at the Emirates and for those on the pitch on Sunday, I didn't really get the sense that it mattered to them quite so much?

Instead of which, I've been left feeling so utterly deflated that despite having so much more to comment on, I thought that if I don't get this posted now, I'll never find the enthusiasm to bother doing it. The most patently obvious missing ingredient in our current squad remains the lack of leadership because when I looked around the pitch with fifteen left on the clock, you realised that there wasn't a single player out there, either with the personality or the commitment to the Arsenal cause to cajole and inspire the others. In fact Sczczny apart, I don't recall anyone talking to their team mates and for far too long now the good ship Gooner has come up short in such crucial situations as these, due to the fact that sadly there's no one at the helm doing the steering.

For all Manny's culpability in conceding an unnecessary penalty, when I watched the highlights on MOTD2 last night, I realized that it need never have come to this, if only young Woijech had benefited from the sort of commanding presence on the pitch who was capable of bellowing at him moments earlier, to hang on to the ball for a few seconds and then calmly roll it out to a red shirt, instead of hoofing it upfield and handing the Scousers the possession which they converted into the subsequent costly free-kick.

I was also a little surprised listening to the radio as I walked back from the ground and then the post-match comments on the box after I returned home, hearing the media and pundits offering the Scousers so many plaudits. Personally if I'd been a Liverpool fan, I would have been disappointed to have travelled down from Merseyside, only to see my team play with such limited ambition (in fact considering they spent the entire game bypassing the midfield, I'm astonished that we didn't once respond to such unentertaining, percentage football with a single teasing refrain of "Liverpool hoof the ball" - and believe me I tried several times).

As I've said below, it is perhaps understandable, in light of the way in which their defence was decimated and with Daglish doing his best merely to stabilize such a leaky Scouse ship. But having been impressed by the little I've seen of Suarez, I was quite looking forward to seeing the Uruguayan striker in the flesh. However he did little of note on Sunday with the ball sailing over his head on the rare occasions that the visitors had possession. And if I was supporting a team that had just invested the £50 odd million they received for Torres on a strike-partnership, I have to admit I'd be just a little disappointed by their "hoof it up to the big lad" tactics. As an option up front Carroll is a useful target man, but it looks to be a bit of a Catch-22 if it's going to always encourage them to look for his ability to win the ball in the air.

What's more, compared to the headache Carroll has managed to cause defences in a Toon shirt, I thought both Djourou and Koscielny had the long-haired git (I can say that now, having recently been sheared for the summer) in their pocket for the most part.

In saying that, after having seen the highlights on MOTD2 last night I became more aware of the sort of effort and commitment some of the Scouse youngsters put into this game. What I wouldn't give for the Gunners to have shown equal measures of passion and commitment of the likes of Spearing (the poor little bugger seems to have hit all the branches of the ugly tree on his way down) and the 2 young full-backs.

What's more, hard as I try, I can't help but admire Dalglish for having the balls to trust in the appetite and desire of some his teenage Scousers, rather than relying on some of Liverpool's more impassive, overpaid stars. And in contrast to the more vindictive David Moyes, I have to respect Kenny's refusal to talk about what transpired at the final whistle.

Perhaps time to limit my own loquacious tendencies

Keep the faith


OK hands up! Never mind the seemingly never-ending saga of Manny Eboué’s infuriating naivety, I take full responsibility for the injury-time fiasco at the Emirates on Sunday. You’d think I’d know better by now than to have tempted fate to kick us Gooners in the testes, as only on Saturday evening I was joking with my West Ham pal about his nephew’s angry reaction to Agbonlahor’s late winner for Villa and the fact that it left the Irons’ fan fighting amongst themselves outside Upton Park.

I fatally intoned the sentiments of Kipling, suggesting that at least age and experience has benefited us with the ability to meet with triumph and disaster and to treat those two impostors just the same. As we all know, these words came back to haunt me as I hollered myself hoarse the following afternoon, spending most of Sunday’s encounter with the Scousers, imploring for more passion and more urgency from our players.

If le Gaffer appeared ungracious at the final whistle, compared to me Arsène was calmness personified, as frustration got the better of me and I turned to vent my fury on the nearest inanimate object. At least I have an excuse for letting my emotions get the better of me, having never been schooled in the Oriental ways of “Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. But I imagine we were both left regretting our reactions. I know I was as I limped home, after kicking the crap out of my 1000 quid seat.

Possibly le Prof was left kicking himself for relenting and once again indulging the immature antics of Eboué. Thanks largely to Sagna’s consistency, Manny seems to have spent most of the season paying for past crimes, confined to the bench and contributing merely as the club’s official court jester (with only the bells missing from his whacky apparel). Manny might not find Arsène quite so forgiving after his latest faux-pas?

Forget the inevitable debate over the dramatic injury-time denouement. Above all, the most disappointing aspect was that during the relatively drab 90 minutes that preceded it, from the lack of fervor from the terraces and the uninspired football on the pitch, the lukewarm demeanour of both fans and players alike, left me feeling as if far too few of the red & white hordes arrived at the Emirates on Sunday, prepared to put heart & soul into one last roll of the Premiership title dice.

After Mancini’s Billionaires finally brought the curtain down on the Red Devils’ treble dreams in Saturday’s FA Cup semi, Sunday’s game presented us with the perfect opportunity to turn the screw and to apply a little more pressure upon the league leaders. As a result and with Daglish coming to the Emirates intent on trying to consolidate the Scousers burgeoning confidence, seemingly content to merely thwart the Gunners, I would’ve much preferred to have witnessed a “balls out” statement from Wenger, risking a three-pronged attack, or at the very least two strikers, on this “all or nothing” result.

Instead of which Arsène insists on incessantly gifting away home advantage with his quasi-religious conversion to 4-5-1. I don’t know any Arsenal fan who perceives Van Persie as an potent lone striker. Admittedly Robin was effective up front earlier on in the season, but back then opposition defences had to cope with the distraction of 4 midfielders bombing on into dangerous areas, whereas more recently we find ourselves complaining about the dearth of red & white in the penalty area, with a lack of drive and determination that results in all our football being played in front of the opposition’s defence.

This was particularly evident on Sunday, as the Gunners were once again guilty of sitting back for much of this match and waiting for the Scousers thoroughly committed defence to part like the waters of the Red Sea and offer them an opening. Perhaps my most oft repeated criticism of le Gaffer is his failure to tinker tactically, in order to target opponent’s potential weaknesses. Considering the Scousers were depending on two teenage full-backs for most of the 90, I was flabbergasted by our failure to exploit Walcott’s pace and that it took until Shava's introduction late-on for anyone to probe the flanks.

Truth was, with the likes of Fabregas, Wilshere and Nasri all failing to fire on four cylinders, we looked a tired outfit on Sunday. Sadly I doubt Fergie left our directors box feeling he had anything much to fear. To the contrary, so long as the Gunners continue to demonstrate that they don’t have the wherewithal to take advantage, the knowledge that Man Utd can comfortably afford to slip up is more likely to enable them to relax and play some football!

Considering we were viewed as the team most likely to slip out of the top four when the reverse fixture was taking place back in August, perhaps we’ve little cause to complain. But in truth I would’ve preferred for our dead parrot of a title challenge to have expired in a bland scoreless draw, than to have experienced the crushing blow of the acute plummet from the all too brief euphoria of having our feint hopes reignited in those last few seconds, only to be snuffed out again moments later. Better still perhaps if we’d blown all 3 points because we were hell bent on glory. At least this would’ve offered the comforting reassurance of a team who’s desire matches my own.

Forget the title, at this precise point in time I will gladly settle for success on any terms against Spurs on Wednesday night, so we might at least salvage some North London pride, while giving Gooners everywhere good cause to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our local rivals last league success.

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Sunday 17 April 2011

Sun, Sea & Scant Solace

G'day fellow Gooners,

I actually typed out the following missive Monday last, sitting in the back of our big, old Toyota bus, parked beside our B & B in Blackpool, with the sunroof open (although for some unknown reason, I believe it's called a "moon roof"?) and the sun beating down upon my bonce, not because I wanted a tan particularly, but because I would have never finished my column sitting inside our hotel room, deprived of the positively essential fag in hand.

However you'll have to forgive me for failing to post it out (either that or buy yourselves a copy of Wednesday's edition of the Irish Examiner, you tight-fisted buggers!), as I was so desperate to get it finished and make the very most of the sunshine, before the good weather broke and Blackpool's Golden Mile became a bleak, grey, rain and wind swept vista only to be viewed from behind the comfort of our sea-view window.

Fortunately, although the weekend heat wave was well and truly finished, we did at least enjoy several sunny interludes as we lingered by the seaside until Wednesday night. But so as to boost next week's paltry pay packet after taking a few days off, I ended up working all hours Thursday and Friday and as a result (somewhat inspired after savouring the end up Man Utd's treble hopes this afternoon), this is the first opportunity I've had to open up my laptop.

Having never before tasted the delights that Blackpool has to offer - which are marvelous so long as you are able to survive on a strict fish/chips, hot dogs & burgers diet - we decided to head down there in the wee hours of Friday night/Saturday morning, in the hope of missing the worst of the weekend traffic. Best laid plans and all that, as I pulled over for an urgent caffeine hit at Newport Pagnell services, only for the Toyota's battery to expire without warning.

Despite this unexpected additional hundred quid cost to our "cheap" break, I was delighted when an obliging AA man got us back on the road before too long, as when I first turned the key in the ignition, my heart sank when the old bus failed to fire up, as I had visions of the cause being something far more terminal and our weekend away being over, before it had even started.

As a result, I suppose being somewhat paranoid of a repeat episode, I didn't stop again until we pulled up outside our "dog friendly", seafront hotel. Whereupon pointing her snout towards the sea-breeze and tasting the salt air, Treacle was positively straining at the leash for a gallup down on Blackpool's vast beach. Either that or the poor mutt was desperate for a "pony" after five hours cooped up in the back of the bus!

It was worth the long schlep just to see Treacle shedding her advancing years as she cavorted amongst the waves (although the ice cold waters of the Irish Sea must be guaranteed to kickstart the most faltering heart) and while Treacle drip dried during a brief walk along the seafront, we soon discovered we'd missed out on a home from home. Then again, you would imagine that this was one weekend during the football season when Blackpool's Highbury Hotel would be fully booked.

There was also a welcome at the seaside waiting for us at a local confectioners. I thought it was an expression of fondness for the Gunners football until I realised that the sign stating "Arsenal Rock" was advertising souvenir sticks of rock for visiting Gooners. I meant to return to buy a stick or two to bring back (as obviously a stick of Arsenal Rock is the one thing missing from my collection of Arsenal everything else!). But when I next passed by it dawned on me that this particular seaside entrepreneur must've produced nineteen similar signs, as by Wednesday the same shop-keeper was flogging "Wigan Rock"!

Róna jokingly pondered whether perhaps the Highbury Hotel had similarly interchangeable signage to cater for the visiting fans from all the other Premiership clubs?

Meanwhile we were still in Blackpool when the news came in of Danny Fiszman's tragic demise and I see that the club have renamed the two bridges at the ground, one in honour of Fiszman and the other in honour of Ken Friar (I'll have to check it out this afternoon to see which one is which). Ken Friar has been an incredible servant to the club his entire working life, as the public face of the Arsenal for as long as I can remember. He was due to retire just before the move to the Emirates and was persuaded to stay to see the project through. But you get the feeling now that the only way Ken will leave his post at the Gunners will be in a wooden box (and even then, he's been such a part of the fixtures and fittings that he'll doubtless come back to haunt the place).

There's no doubting the fact that Fiszman is due plenty of credit for all the effort he put into turning the Emirates project into a reality and I don't like to badmouth anyone when they can no longer answer back, but I speak as I find and while I can recall occasionally seeing Fiszman on our travels around England and Europe (on the rare occasion I found myself wandering into First Class), compared to David Dein who we always seemed to bump into wherever we went with the Gunners, I never got the sense that Danny was quite as dedicated a Gooner as Dein?

Although I suppose it depends on how you measure this because while Fiszman might not have found the time to travel to quite as many away games (although I don't really know this for a fact, as for all I know he could have travelled by private jet/helicopter), judging by the deal done with Stan Kroenke for his Arsenal shares, it would appear as if Fiszman was taking care of Arsenal business on his bloomin' deathbed? The again perhaps he was just looking out for the future of his own family by cashing in on his investment.

Back on the pitch, with the imminent return of Sczczny (thank heavens!!) and the news that Thomas Vermaelen is back in full training and might well return before the end of the season, I'm suddenly feeling somewhat more optimistic. But with the Scousers this afternoon and Spurs on Wednesday, we won't have long to wait, to find out just how hungry the Gunners are for the run-in. With Liverpool coming to us buoyed by their 3-0 win against City, with Carroll and Suarez both beginning to find their feet, I reckon it might be an "interesting" afternoon!

But I've still got half of Blackpool's beach to get out of my trainers in time for me to trot around their for KO

Come on you Reds
Big Love

In light of the way in which the Gunners campaign has petered out in such a pitiful fashion these past few weeks, I don’t think there are too many Arsenal fans who truly believe that the 3 points secured against Blackpool on Sunday has put us back in the title picture. Still, without a win since our walkover against humble Leyton Orient six games back, it was at least good to finally return to winning ways. Although, much like most other footie lovers, I sincerely hope Sunday’s defeat for the Seasiders doesn’t prove crucial in their increasingly desperate bid for Premiership survival.

After having spent an absolutely gorgeous weekend soaking up the sun, strolling up and down the glorious sandy beach of Blackpool’s Golden Mile, I will be absolutely gutted if such a pleasurable excursion doesn’t become a regular part of the awayday calendar. That is, so long as the fixture scheduling gods can guarantee us a return every season in the late spring or early autumn sunshine - I assume Blackpool is not nearly such an attractive proposition set amidst the backdrop of a bleak mid-winter. Albeit that the novelty of a sea breeze blowing across the terraces sure beats various alternative outings in the more traditional heartland of the industrial North-West.

With the sun on the backs of our fairweather stars, I quite fancied us to turn on the style on Sunday. But then Blackpool should’ve been dead & buried by the break and our profligacy in front of the Seasiders’ goal, which proffered Ian Holloway the opportunity to fire his troops up for an admirable attempt at a second-half fight-back, just about epitomized the soft-centred box of chocolates, the crucial absence of the Gunners’ killer instinct, that once again seems destined for Arsène to end up empty-handed.

Not that I don’t fancy Fergie’s particularly uninspiring vintage to slip up again during the run-in. But should Man Utd leave the Premiership door ajar, in their pursuit of European glory, neither myself, nor many other Gooners have much faith in the Arsenal’s ability to gain the sort of momentum that would enable us to kick it down.

There was little sympathy for Almunia on Sunday. Contrast our Spanish keeper’s withdrawal from the game with a 40-year old match report in the local gazette the previous day, which told of Blackpool’s brave keeper playing on with a broken arm! The lunatic that is Jens Lehmann might be no less prone to glaring gaffes, but at least he has the redeeming quality of being a big, imposing unit and there’s nothing timid about any of his antics. Ref Mason might’ve made the contest more interesting if he’d sent Lehmann off. At least for comedy value alone, we might’ve witnessed Nick Bentdner’s big-head filling the goalmouth.

Meanwhile, with the voracious corporate vultures having been circling the club for so long now, I suppose it was only a matter of time before “Silent Stan” was forced to pounce on his prey (with Kroenke’s hand seemingly forced by the Uzbek gangster’s recent share activity). For now, we can only speculate upon the eventual impact of the Arsenal’s almost inevitable transition towards private ownership.

Personally I am quite optimistic, as one gets the sense that some sort of change is vital, in order to spark a shake up of a somewhat stagnant boardroom, where upward financial, or commercial mobility has become the principal focus of a cozy and increasingly elderly collection of suits, who are all too comfortable with the Arsenal’s lot, preferring to stick with Le Prof’s safe bet, rather than risking going “all in” on the roulette wheel of football’s quest for the glittering prize.

Back in the day, before we departed Highbury, I would’ve been devastated by the prospect of the Gunners going down the same road as so many other Premiership clubs, by selling our soul to some foreign devil. But that was when owning a share of the Arsenal was about far more than money. It was about the feeling of pride engendered by a framed share certificate that proved you were part of our beloved club. There’s no room for such sentiment in the ruthless corporations that have become of our ancient institutions nowadays, where fans are nothing more than anonymous figures on a balance sheet.

Shareholders’ trusts might be a thoroughly admirable attempt to keep football in the family, but in truth they are little more than an irritating fly in the corporate ointment. Despite the amazing impact of “people power” across the political landscape of the Middle East, I think it’s naïve of us to believe we can have anything more than a token influence in the way our clubs are run nowadays. Or at least so long as there are thousands more bums than there are seats at glamorous clubs such as ours.

As Arsenal fans we can do little more than sit back and watch the corporate hand play out, while hoping that ultimately it has a positive impact on the pitch. In some respects we are not that different to Blackpool and I’m sure that much like Ian Holloway we’d gladly sacrifice our tag of being an entertaining side that everyone loves to watch, on the altar of becoming the club that everyone loves to hate!

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Monday 4 April 2011

A Sad Sunset On Yet Another Unrequited Season

I fully appreciate that there can be no condoning Wayne Rooney’s outburst to camera at Upton Park on Saturday because kids everywhere will doubtless end up imitating the angry little gurrier. Nevertheless, I have to admit, what I wouldn’t give for just a soupcon of the same raging intensity from some of the Gunners.

More than likely it should be his manager apologizing, as I can picture Man Utd’s master manipulator, pulling his striker’s strings at half-time, sending Rooney out after the break, hell bent on sticking it to his detractors, thereby almost singlehandedly salvaging Utd’s monopolization of the table’s summit.

Considering it’s always felt such a fanciful proposition that a paper-thin Arsenal squad and perhaps the most mercurial and erratic image of the Wenger vision was on the verge of ending our barren run, by bringing home the Premiership bacon, it perhaps wasn’t so surprising to see the good ship Gooner finally holed below the waterline, in a home game against Blackburn.

I had my feet up on the couch on Saturday morning, enjoying the coverage of the cricket World Cup Final. In light of what transpired, I kind of wish I hadn’t bothered turning over to have my chain yanked, with hope springing eternal when the Hammers took a two-goal lead against Man Utd at Upton Park. But being all too familiar with their own team’s frailties, even the Irons fans would’ve bitten your hand off for a draw at this stage and what followed was the inevitable wind up of West Ham’s second-half capitulation.

It was tiresome enough watching on TV as Man U displayed the sort of game-saving determination, which Fergie’s sides seem to be able to reproduce perennially, when it comes to dragging themselves over the Premiership finishing line. But it might’ve proved a far more leisurely and less irritating afternoon all round, if I’d ignored the football entirely and lingered to savour the vicarious thrill of the climax to events in Mumbai, instead of trotting around to the Emirates, only to endure yet another disappointing reaffirmation of the Arsenal’s inability to do likewise.

It didn’t exactly augur well when it all went tits up at the Boleyn and pessimist that I am, after such a disappointing turn of events, I half expected the game against Blackburn to be a point-dropping banana skin. Despondency is beginning to feel like that unwelcome Gooner relative, who insists on making an appearance at every family function. Sadly we’ve grown all too familiar with this party-pooping guest in recent times and thus we’re well accustomed to coping with our annual failures.

However it would’ve been far easier to accept if fate had dealt us another bum steer. But what really left me baffled was that we were once again the masters of our own misfortune and I must’ve been powered home by the steam venting through my lugholes, positively boiling over with Rooney-like indignation at the Gunners abject failure to throw the kitchen sink at Rovers.

Ignoring the fact that we’ve stumbled our way through the season (along with all those other clubs who’s managers might’ve benefited from the aid of a guide dog!), we rocked up on Saturday in the knowledge that we’d somehow arrived on the kerbstone of greatness, only nine wins away from this squad carving their names in Gooner hearts by inscribing their very own page in the history books.

With the competition still fighting on various fronts, my only demand was that we witness the blinkered, “eye on the prize” focus that demonstrated an appreciation of sort of desire and fervour necessary, to take that one big step towards a trophy. It seems Arsène was no less flummoxed and for once our Emperor had the good grace to appear in front of the cameras and finally admit to his stark-bollock nakedness. But for all his erudition, football is not rocket-science.

Saturday was the 10th anniversary of Rocky Rocastle’s tragic departure from this mortal coil. Staring up at the banner hanging from Club Level to honor our heroic no. 7, you couldn’t have wanted for a more stark reminder of the sort match winning personality that’s sorely missing in the current squad. Rocky and various other stars of that same vintage would’ve spent the entire game cajoling and encouraging their colleagues, constantly reminding each other of the prize they were playing for.

Contrast this to a complete lack of communication amongst our current squad and an absence of leadership that leaves our youngest prodigy shouldering the greatest burden of responsibility. The not so golden silence is such that I’d even be grateful to have uber-lieutenant Lehmann out there barking orders from the back.

It’s scant solace to read in the programme that our new Club Level restaurants are up for some design awards, when the money might’ve been better spent on preventing the implosion currently taking place on the pitch. Still if all else fails, at least I’ll be travelling North this weekend with the comfort of knowing that whatever transpires against the Tangerines, we intend to tarry for a few days to pleasure ourselves on Blackpool’s famous beach. Never mind the crowds, heaven forfend Tottenham triumph against Madrid, at least I’ll be far from the maddening taunts of my Spurs mates.

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