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Monday 31 October 2011

A Load Of Refreshingly New Bull

Hi folks,

Saturday scintillating encounter was the sort of match that was a complete and utter privilege to attend, for all the reasons I've explained below (and more!). Whether it's likely to prove some sort of watershed, remains to be seen in the weeks ahead.

Personally I tend to believe it's just one more step, in the process of rebuilding of this Arsenal side as a force to be reckoned with (albeit a slightly bigger one than the more mundane home wins against Sunderland and Stoke). As inclined as I am to want to shout about our credentials as the capital's top dogs, after such an emphatic triumph on enemy soil, I'm loathe to get too carried away on all the euphoria, because as we've witnessed all too frequently in the first quarter of this season, all competitors involved are only one bad day at the office away from serious humiliation.

If I'm honest, I was full of dread from the moment I arrived at the Bridge, on discovering that we were still relying on Djourou for defensive cover, as to my mind Johan looks such a fish out of water when playing at full-back that he's an accident waiting to happen.

However I was left questioning Andre Villa Boas' credentials as a tactician, as I would've thought it would be patently obvious to anyone who's seen us play in recent weeks that it was worth targeting our right flank and Johan's lack of positional nous in this position. But instead of which AVB appeared to have opted for the other side, judging by the number of times Chelsea played the long diagonal ball, perhaps believing Santos could be done for pace by Sturridge.

Admittedly Andre struggled first-half and it was the source of most of the Chelsea threat, as both Mata and Sturridge gave our Brazilian full-back a hard time, but where a younger head might've gone to pieces, Santos showed the benefit of his experience, eventually seeing off the challenge of the over-hyped Chelsea youngster.

Having got ourselves back onto equal terms by taking the game to the opposition, I was devastated when we conceded a second, only seconds before the break. Although I have to admit to being a bit preoccupied at the time, with our fate tempting taunting of John Terry, who sadly responded in the most painful fashion to our vociferous chorus of "Simon Cowell shagged your missus" (thankfully we were to have the last laugh at JT's expense!). In contests against Chelsea in the past (where we've been physically dwarfed), this might well have proved decisive.

Plenty might point the finger of blame at Per Mertesacher, but personally I believe this goal was purely down to the sort of defensive disorganisation that is almost inevitable when you've got players who aren't familiar with their duties. Under normal circumstances Bakari Sagna would've automatically occupied a position guarding the near post, which would've prevented this goal going in and instead of which we had Arteta aimlessly wandering about, right in the middle of the posts, making more of a nuisance of himself to Sczczny than the opposition, with Miguel seemingly unsure which post to position himself on.

To my mind these are the exact sort of defensive nightmares that could be ironed out by the type of regimented drilling which would have everyone instinctively aware of their responsibilities at set-pieces, without a second thought. But then for the want of a vocal outfield defensive general, we can at least take comfort in the fact that Sczczny appears to be growing into a leadership role, judging by the way in which he was man-handling his team-mates into position in a set piece later in the game.

Who knows if Mertesacher is hindered from taking charge by his limited command of the language, but on current form there's absolutely no justification for Arsène dropping Koscielny in favour of Vermaelen, as Laurent is just about the most dependable and consistent component of our all too porous back four. Perhaps Vermaelen would be more comfortable than Djourou at left-back (let's face it, that's no great ask!).

Although in truth, despite the fact that he's likely to come a cropper occasionally because of his lack of experience, I'd be far more happier with Jenkinson playing there than Djourou because it is at least his natural position and besides Carl's crossing ability (with both feet!) offers us so much more going forward than Johan. Then again, if Theo's going to bring his crossing boots to the party every week, in the same way as he did on Saturday, then we might no longer be starved of decent ammunition into the box.

Going into the break 2-1 down, it was patently obvious that the next goal was going to be crucial. I don't think there'd have been any way back from 3-1. But we started the second half with some real intent, with Santos deciding that the best form of defence was attack. In the best traditions of Winterburn and Silvinho, from the moment Andre spanked home (beating Cech at his near post for the first of three times on Saturday!!), you just had the feeling that something special was on.

In the past I've always felt that Walcott had a little too much respect for Ashley Cole (about the only person on the planet who does!), or perhaps for Cole's reputation as the country's no. 1 full-back. But it was as if Theo finally discovered some real belief on Saturday, suddenly realising he's was capable of leaving the greedy little emperor looking as bare-naked as the day Cashley had the misfortune to be born. Now if only Theo could reproduce the same sort of hungry display on a more regular basis, he'd soon win me and his many detractors over.

Despite Alex Song's desperate lunging efforts to effect a block on Mata's shot, I'm sure I wasn't alone in fearing the worst as the Spaniard made it 3-3. When the myopic ref Marriner ignored the intervention of the brick shithouse that is Lukaku, as he eased Santos out of the way in the build up, it felt as if the Gunner's valiant efforts were to go unrewarded yet again, by dint of another bad decision. But the very best was yet to come.

Arsène was still apoplectic with rage, giving the 4th official an ear-bashing, when Malouda attempted his heavy-footed backpass. At first glance, I thought Terry had thrown himself to the floor, realising Robin was already past him. But on watching the replays (which I haven't stopped doing since!), it would appear that fate intervened to pull the rug from under JT's feet.

Such misfortune couldn't have befell a more deserving specimen of human "drech" as far as I'm concerned. Nevertheless, I'm sure many might disagree, but I can't help but be amused by the entire overblown Terry/Ferdinand racist saga. While all those in the media shout down from their high horses about the England and Chelsea captain setting such a deplorable example, where exactly are all these high-priests of political correctness when far worse racial epithets are being bandied about like confetti on football pitches up and down the country every Sunday.

I find it so laughable that we look down our noses at the Neanderthals responsible for racism elsewhere in the footballing world, while patting ourselves on the back for merely brushing such intolerance under the carpet in this country. The fact that there aren't too many numbskulls like Terry getting caught on camera trading insults in their efforts to wind up the opposition, are we really so naive as to believe this means that such behaviour does not occur?

Perhaps not the most delicate metaphor under the circumstances, but personally I prefer those who call a spade, a spade, in order that we are at least able to recognise bigotry where it exists. In some respects it is at least far more honest than existing in an overtly PC world, with the pretense that all is sweetness & light, when the exact opposite is patently obvious to anyone who's dared dipped their croutons into our multicultural bouillabaisse.

All those who sit / stand on the terraces every week can confirm that the fact football fans have desisted from the disgusting habit of throwing bananas at black players, this doesn't mean to say that the multitude of racists who once populated the most obvious breeding grounds for the right-wing Nazi parties such as the NF and BNP, they haven't simply evaporated into thin air.

It might be understood that such overt racism is no longer acceptable, but all the engrained prejudice remains to a greater or lesser extent, amongst everyone, even those whose best friends swear otherwise! In my most humble opinion we are far better off recognising this fact and making continued efforts to combat such intolerance, than we are slaughtering a single public figure for their (in Terry's case, inevitable) failure to live up to the fantasy standards of our perfectly PC society.

Perhaps I'm better off sticking to the footie, anyone for Laurent's Frog's legs soup on Tuesday :-)


Obviously I would’ve much preferred to have avoided all that early season agony. Yet our suffering was almost made worth it at the weekend. The majority of us would’ve bitten your hand off for a draw at Stamford Bridge, as we traversed London on Saturday, merely hoping to avoid further embarrassment.

Therefore the distance travelled from pessimism to the positive euphoria of our 3-5 triumph, ensured that the satisfaction quotient was off the scale, compared to all those recent encounters, where we’ve been expected to give the Blues a run for their money. Not since Kanu’s hat-trick in ‘99 can I recall a more ecstatic outing to the Kings Road.

Admittedly, arriving late as ever, we could’ve been 0-2 down before I even found my seat on Saturday, as the Blues came out of the traps at a canter. However for all Abramovich’s covetous efforts to introduce a manager capable of injecting more verve into his functional Chelsea side, in recent seasons the Blues have grown far too accustomed to achieving results against us, without really have to work at it. They’ve been able to sit back and soak up our tippy-tappy football, patiently waiting to be presented with an opportunity to tear us apart on the counter at their leisure.

It should really have been 2-2, by the time the initial burst of adrenaline of Saturday’s lunchtime KO had begun to subside, with the Gunners proving equally profligate in front of goal. I seriously believed we were going to rue our own wastefulness with such gift-wrapped opportunities, as you don’t expect to be offered many more, by a defence that has in the past proved to be so parsimonious.

However perhaps this is a Chelsea side that’s wobbling between two stools, with a young manager intent on laying down a marker in the Premiership, with a team that can win games with style, but whose ageing combatants remind me of the ancient joke about the old bull, who contrary to the instincts of a young calf that wants to run down the hill and service a heffer, he prefers to stroll down and service the entire herd.

Thus after the match had settled down, following the madness of those opening minutes, Chelsea reverted to type, inviting the Gunners on to them, in the belief that we’d be the architects of our own downfall. But aside from the absence of our customary nemesis, in the form of the suspended Didier Drogba, perhaps the most crucial factor is that mercifully the “men against boys” physical differences that were patently obvious in so many recent no-contest encounters, are no more!

Just as reports of the Arsenal’s demise might’ve been somewhat premature, in a season that’s throwing up such anomalies each week, so are any suggestions that a single, albeit sensational, triumph over Chelsea, is confirmation that the Gunners are back to our best. Who knows, we might be brought back down to earth with a bump on Tuesday night, by a Marseille side intent on revenging their last-minute misfortune in France.

There were too many incidents to mention in Saturday’s match, which highlighted the gossamer thin margins between success and failure – few more poignant than the poetic justice of JT’s oopsy-daisy. Nevertheless, it was something far less tangible which gives us Gooners most cause for optimism, in the sense that even if we’re set to endure a season-long scrap to claw our way back into contention, with a squad of players who might struggle to reproduce the same precision artistry that we’ve been spoilt by in seasons past, the Gunners fall from grace might just be the making of us.

Our bullish determination to respond to all those detractors who’ve written Wenger’s team off has manifested itself in the sort of burgeoning spirit which has been markedly absent up until now, epitomized by Walcott scrambling back to his feet to burst through and score; or in the willingness of Koscielny, Song & co. to put their bodies on the line, in safeguarding our goal at all costs.

Sure we're still some way off strutting our stuff as composed, genuine contenders, Yet in setting out to prove we’re far from being a waning force that’s there for the taking, we’re witnessing the sort of passion and commitment that inspires renewed faith on the terraces that perhaps it’s not just the size of their wallets that matters, but the size of the Gunners' hearts that's fuelling this revival.

Having been so enthralled by such an emotive display, I'm sure few would’ve moaned if (as expected) ultimately we’d failed at the Bridge. But Saturday’s success tasted so much sweeter with it having been earned on the back of the sort of ardour that I for one will continue to revel in, win, lose or draw.

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