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Wednesday 30 November 2011

Champions League, We're Having A Larf!

There can be no denying that there was a certain delicious irony to being the first (and so far only) Premiership side to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Admittedly Dortmund’s playmaker (and supposed Arsenal target), Gotze limped off after only half an hour, but overall I was decidedly underwhelmed by the best the Bundesliga has to offer.

By contrast, Borussia’s support was seriously impressive. I envisaged the Emirates’ architects holding their breath, as they watched the 7000 Krauts standing in both the upper and lower ties of the visitors’ corner of the stadium, all jumping up and down in unison. Yet after the roof had been raised by BvB’s raucous brigade in midweek, a low-key local derby with lowly Fulham was always likely to have something of an ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ feel to it.

(are you watching Ivan "flags on seats" Gazides?)

After the lessons of last season’s fiasco in the group stages, sure the lads put a lot of effort into ensuring that we finished in top spot, thereby avoiding the likes of Barca, Real, Inter & Bayern in the round of 16. But I’m not sure Arsène helps our cause, as his interminable references to tired legs after midweek European fixtures, often seems to invite a lethargic, lacklustre display the following weekend.

So when Vermaelen unwittingly put the ball in the back of our own net on Saturday, this did at least light the touch paper, to put some much-needed spark into this insipid encounter with the Cottagers; thereby guaranteeing a far more intense final 25 minutes of football, as the Gunners girded their loins to try and salvage a result.

After spending so much time cooling his heels on the bench, fatigue certainly couldn’t have been a factor for Arshavin, I fully expected our midget striker to be hungry to demonstrate that he deserved to be restored to the starting XI. Perhaps Shava’s phlegmatic approach to football is a Russian trait but I swear the fastest he moved all afternoon, was when he saw his number being held up on the touchline with 15 mins to play.

Most Gooners are convinced the little feller is just a lazy, selfish SOB but after reading “A Life Too Short” the story of Robert Enke, the German keeper who topped himself and with Gary Speed tragically taking his own life on Sunday, I’m moved to be just a little more tolerant of modern footballers’ foibles. Many might covet their opulent lifestyles, but the mental anguish that must exist in this pressure-cooker environment is entirely beyond our ken.

Nevertheless, with Theo Walcott finally beginning to fire on all four cylinders on the opposite flank and with the long-awaited first shoots of some genuine team spirit only just beginning to sprout (doubtless aided by the manure of our early-season misfortune), I’m not really sure I want the seemingly passionless likes of Arshavin pissing weed-killer all over the camp, with their apparent lack of commitment.

On a lighter note, until an indignant TV5 rectified his own error with a late equalizer, it looked as if our unbeaten run might be coming to an end. But with the Arsenal’s upturn in fortune having coincided with my discovery of the delectable pies on offer on route to the ground, a defeat will mean that I can no longer blame my recent gluttonous pre-match habits on any superstitious obligation.

By the time you read this I might well have Man City to thank, if our exit from the Carling Cup means that I no longer have the Gunners continued success as my excuse to keep gorging myself before every home game. Then again, on the basis that Arsène is likely to have hedged his bets against Mancini’s massed ranks, by including enough experience to avoid a confidence-sapping massacre and a sufficient smattering of youth to be able to carry the can for a defeat to City’s limitless resources, perhaps I’m best to do likewise, by doing my bit to try and eat my way to Wembley and arriving early enough to go through Piebury Corner’s entire menu card.

Hopefully the Gunners will have achieved an unlikely victory, securing a semi-final birth that puts us within sniffing distance of ending our barren run and if not, I will at least have something to show for my efforts, even if it’s only a cholesterol level that’s off the scale!
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Tuesday 29 November 2011

Nasri Gets The Bird
But Sadly It's City Who Have The Last Laugh

According to Radio 5, Chelsea were booed off at the Bridge after getting beat by the Scousers in their Carling Cup quarterfinal last night. Remarkably, in light of the fickle reputation of the Gooner faithful in recent times (or at least our home crowd), there was no such overt expression of disapprobation after our 0-1 defeat to City.

Aside from the faint consolation that our early season misadventures and the resulting reduction in expectations, seem to have had a positive impact at home games, with the vast majority of our fans seemingly far less inclined to get on our own players backs the very instant they fail to perform and with most of us being prepared to be far more patient and supportive, as far as last night's game was concerned, I don't think there many present who presumed that our stalwart coterie of Carling Cup kids were likely to triumph in the face of the overwhelming odds offered by Mancini's multitude of petro-dollar dandies.

As a result, I'm sure that much like myself, the vast majority were well pleased by the performances of the likes of Coquelin, Frimpong, Oxlade-Chamberlain and a defence (even one which comprised Squillaci & Flappyhandski) that truly did itself justice by barely giving City's formidable front line a sniff of goal all evening.

Sadly our energy levels did appear to diminish in the latter stages, resulting in us dropping off and allowing the opposition far too much space on the ball, providing them with time to look up and pick the sort of pass which eventually resulted in the crucial goal. Yet City were no less prone to flagging somewhat as the game wore on and at the end of the day, much to my displeasure, the only telling difference between the two teams was that Mancini was blessed with being able to play the influential likes of Aguerro and Dzeko up front, while sadly our striking options were limited to Chamakh and Park, neither of whom, on the night, looked capable of scoring in the proverbial brothel.

Marouanne did at least try and put himself about a bit, winning the odd header and holding up the odd ball in the traditional manner. Albeit that the Moroccan's knock-ons invariably ended up at the feet of someone in Sky Blue and in holding up the ball, he only ever looked to lay it back, when a striker with any real goal-getting intent would occasionally turn and attempt to take on the opposition!

However, for me, the evidence (for whatever reason?) that Chamakh is devoid of the necessary drive and determination required of a centre-forward who's capable of making a match winning impact, was succinctly encapsulated in an instant only moments before the break, when I saw him turn towards our keeper, as Fabianski was about to release the ball. Marouanne waved his hands, in the manner which signaled our goalie to slow the game down; thereby suggesting he wanted Fabianski to hang onto the ball, indicating that Marouanne was more than content to make it to half-time with the game still all square.

When in truth I want a striker out there with the sort of mindset that leaves him hollering at his goalie to get on with the game, in the knowledge that there's every possibility the opposition are already thinking about sucking on their half-time oranges (or whatever it is that passes for the modern equivalent in the professional game, to refresh the parts that vitamin C doesn't reach during the break) and that the minutes immediately before the halftime whistle are the perfect moment to strike.

As for Park, to my mind the Korean striker looks a bit clueless. Obviously I appreciate that he probably needs to be given time to adapt, but our need for credible stand-in for Van Persie is right now! We had a taste of what Park might be capable of, with the goal he scored in the previous leg and personally I was disappointed that he failed to despatch home his solitary goal scoring opportunity during the first-half.

But as for the remainder of the game, Park's demeanour left me feeling that he's uncertain what he's supposed to be doing out there and where if someone like Van Persie isn't seeing enough of the ball, he goes looking for it, Park seems to lack the necessary self-confidence and as a result he lacks the movement and isn't nearly busy enough to get himself involved.

However considering how well the kids did, to hold their own for so long and to restrict City to only a rare glimpse of a goal threat (doing a great kindness to my blood pressure, by ensuring my heart remained in its correct cavity, rather than in my mouth for fear of what Fabianski might do), this only made City's 83rd minute smash-and-grab raid that much more painful. In fact as disappointed as I was to be deprived of being only 90 minutes away from the dubious pleasure of a return to Wembley this morning, I was even more devasted for the lads, after they'd done themselves justice with a performance that deserved better.

Especially in the case of Laurent Koscielny, who's 100 per cent committed attitude ever since his unfortunate Cup Final cock-up has been so impressive, that he more than most merits just such an opportunity to redeem his reputation.

Still as far as the Carling Cup is concerned, as they say, there's always next season and in the meantime, roll on the FA Cup third round on 7th Jan.

You'll have to forgive me, as with the weekend's diary missive being written for publication in Wednesday's Irish Examiner, it was a lot easier to post it out this morning, instead of amending it to send sooner and as you will read (if you've nothing better to do), in light of last night's disappointing result, I guess in answer to the question "who eat all the pies", sadly it wasn't me!

Big Love
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Monday 21 November 2011

l'Equipe Interview with AW translated & Philippe Auclair's comments

If interested, you can read a full translation of the interview with l'Equipe (with massive thanks to @mattspiro) here.......

And if you can be bothered to get past the guff on Chelsea v Liverpool, Philippe Auclair's opinion of the interview, as expressed on Talksport is available here......

Big Love

Never Mind Being Put Out To Grass Me'thinks Arsène Much Prefers Chowing Down In His Technical Area

Hi folks,

I just wanted to thank all those who were kind enough to send me birthday greetings last week. I was hoping to let the anniversary of my half-century slide by with as little ado as possible. Fat chance of that in the Facebook and Twitter era! :-)

The Irish Examiner were also good enough to give me the weekend off (with no domestic competition and the big story being the Boys In Green's qualification for Euro 2012), which is. the reason I've been so taciturn these past two weeks. But much like the mighty Gunners, I'm back with a vengeance, looking forward to my midweek trip to Piebury Corner....I mean the Emirates.

I'm still not sure if I was having my leg pulled on route to Carrow Road on Saturday, with the tale that the local council have renamed a street in the vicinity "Letsbe Avenue" and while I might have indicated below that "Harry's going down" was the ditty of the day in our corner of the Jarrold Stand, if I'd repeated details of Gooners relentless references to the locals tendency towards incestuous behaviour, such remarks would've only ended up on the sport's editor's floor at the Examiner (obviously due to their impropriety, rather than any suggestion that it might be thought of as being close to the bone in the West of the Emerald Isle :-) . In truth our constant chants only left me contemplating the ugliness of East Anglian sheep and I assumed our taunts were all made in jest, until we were given a lift back to the motor by a kindly local, who alleged that it's not that uncommon in a classroom of 15 kids for 10 of them to be related!

Nevertheless such suggestions of a limited Norfolk gene pool don't go very far in explaining why the XI who turned out in yellow on Saturday all appeared to have left feet

Big Love


I imagine the more morbid amongst us might already be donning their sackcloth and ashes, if any of them are gullible enough to accept as gospel, the incessant reams of “redtop” media claptrap. Having prematurely sounded the Arsenal’s death knell earlier in the season, these low-brow seers would now have us believe that our manager will soon throw the towel in, accepting top billing with our last remaining world class talent, in the Arsenal’s remake of the Exodus.

Benjamin Franklin got it wrong, death and taxes are no less inescapable than the fact that nothing in football exists in perpetuity. Yet despite the looming inevitability (with each passing season) of the dawning of the day when Arsène Wenger eventually decides to hand over the reins, or the dreaded moment when Robin Van Persie finally hangs up his red & white shirt for the last time, why bother brooding on such perturbing permutations in the future, when there’s so much to savour in the here and now?

With its participants never more than the width of a post, or one bad tackle away from greeting fortune or disaster, with each passing appearance, never mind about next summer, the beautiful game is such a capricious creature that it’s impossible to predict what will come to pass next week. In the decade since Fergie made the mistake of announcing his impending retirement, he’s added a Champions League trophy and 5 titles to his insatiable haul of baubles. While many a lesser man might have long since succumbed to the unrelenting pressure of Premiership management, much like Fergie, I can’t quite envisage Arsene being ready to tend to his roses just yet.

Qualification for Champions League football might be a minimum requirement in le Gaffer’s mind, but following our early season wake up call, the only essential obligation for most Gooners is that we finish above our own increasingly noisy neighbours. As demonstrated by Saturday’s amusing ditty of the day at Carrow Road. “Harry’s going down”, why worry about the Gunners future, when we can revel in the Schadenfreude of Spurs fate, with them caught between a rock and a hard place. If Redknapp wriggles his way out of his upcoming prosecution by the Inland Revenue, he removes the stain on his reputation barring his route to becoming the next England manager (at least until another bone slips out from amongst all the skeletons in Harry’s closet!).

We need look no further than our first outing to Norwich in 7 years for a rationale as to why it would be pie in the sky for us to be aiming too much higher. The last time I needed my sunglasses to curb the glare of Canary yellow, Henry, Bergkamp and Pires were on the scoresheet. Theo Walcott might’ve begun to offer the odd glimmer of hope that he’s discovering the sort of consistency, which might finally enable him to live up to all the teenage hype. Yet the fact remains that at this precise point in time, the class of 2011 is a pale shadow of the star-studded Invincibles of yesteryear.

Losing Jenkinson and Gibbs to long-term injuries that leave us with the Brazilian laughing boy, as our solitary recognized full-back was a bit of a body blow (especially in light of Santos’ bizarre interpretation of his defensive role!). Nevertheless I felt a lot less anxious at the weekend with Koscielny standing in at right-back, rather than Djourou. Despite our lumbering German’s costly dalliance on the ball, it was hard to believe we could end up blowing this match, so long as Walcott, Gervinho and RVP continued to tear the Canaries apart at will. Although I must admit that after Norwich had profited from their first and only first-half effort on goal, there was a point when our umpteenth effort failed to find the back of the net that I begun to wonder if the curse of ref Dowd was destined to continue.

While the numbers turning up for treatment, instead of training at London Colney continue to increase at such a disconcerting rate and with no viable substitute for Van Persie, one can’t help but wonder if Messrs. Henry & Pires might end up being invited to do a little more than merely maintain their fitness with the lads? And it doesn’t help to hear that Mancini was able to leave the likes of Silva & Dzeko with their feet up on the bench, as they set about truncheoning the Toon into submission!

Perhaps we’ll have to wait for the African Cup of Nations to take its toll on City’s squad, but I’m confident they’ll hit a blip at some stage. I only hope this happens before all the media bluenosing results in them becoming completely wrapped in a cloak of invincibility. It would be too much to bear if the Quataris end up buying their way to beating our own prestigious record.

Still with Man Utd making such heavy weather of their trip to Wales and with both Chelsea and the Scousers vying for least likely contender, so long as the spirited likes of Vermaelen and Sczczny can continue inspiring the lads to grind out the wins, whilst we attempt to rediscover our rhythm, or the return of the likes of Wilshere aids this renaissance, I remain optimistic of the return to top billing on Match of the Day, which would signify that the Gunners might yet play a significant role in the title shake-up, even if it’s only to poop Mancini’s party.

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Thursday 10 November 2011

Is The Sun About To Shine Out Of Our Annus Horribilis?

Hi folks,

It's likely to be a regular theme from now on, as I delay sending out my weekly missive after writing it on a Monday, due to the unavoidable feeling that I left far more out of my meagre 650 word offering to the Irish Examiner than I've been able to include (when one takes into account my overly loquacious tendencies!). However, as ever, procrastination remains the thief of time and since it's already Thursday and I've not got around to tapping out a long-winded preamble, I'm betting that the fact that I attain the grand old age of 50 on Friday, just about guarantees that if I don't post this out now, it's never going to see the light of day.

Hard as I tried, Róna refused to allow my half-century to slide by unceremoniously and it's only just dawned on me that I'm going to have to be showing all due enthusiasm for a family outing on Friday evening, instead of watching Estonia v Ireland. At least the game is live on Sky, so I can record it and mercifully, it's unlikely that they'll be hordes of green-shirted fans, whooping and hollering, to give away the result in the streets of St John's Wood, where we're going for our grub. So there's a good chance that I'll be able to make it back home without knowing the result.

What's more, it could be a whole lot worse and I guess I should be counting my blessings that my birthday didn't clash with a Gunners' match. But then after all these years, my missus would know far better than to book a seat anywhere else but at the Arsenal, when Van Persie & co. are appearing. At least not without expecting me to absent myself from my own party! After all, one has got to get one's priorities right.

And if you're wondering what to get me as the perfect present, I'll take three points at Carrow Road next weekend, thank you




Is The Sun About To Shine Out Of Our Annus Horribilis?

I suppose it’s some reflection that normal service has been resumed in London N5, now that I’m back to feeling seriously pissed off about another needless interruption this weekend. When only a few weeks back, perhaps for the first time ever, the previous break for Internationals, following our Derby Day defeat at the beginning of October, came as some welcome relief from our woeful start to the season.

However the Arsenal have barely put a foot wrong since this much needed respite and as a result, we really could’ve done without the threat of a flurry of International friendlies, putting a spoke in the wheel of our recent fine run of form. We may already be a quarter of the way through this campaign, but in some respects, with the trees shedding all their leaves and the first hint of winter drawing nigh (albeit no excuse for all those nancy-boy footballers who’ve already taken to protecting their pinkies in wooly gloves), it feels as if the Gunners are only just getting warmed up.

Well we’ve at least achieved the minor feat of a positive goal-difference for the first time, after our perfunctory disposal of West Brom on Saturday. If I’d been amongst the couple of thousand fans who travelled down from Birmingham, I’d have been particularly perturbed, as Roy Hodgson’s side were thoroughly unrecognizable as the same Baggies outfit who put us under the cosh on their previous outing at the Emirates and who produced a shock result by outplaying us on our own pitch.

The only surprise on Saturday was the complete absence of the all too familiar air of anxiety, in an Arsenal win which was never in doubt from the get go. The up side to a season of such unpredictability and a schizophrenic Gunners squad, where Dr Jekyll is doing his utmost to contain Mr Hyde’s lunatic tendencies, is that we now go to games never truly knowing what to expect. Least of all the prospect of being able to sit back and savour a comfortable triumph, totally devoid of the customary, edge of the seat spills & thrills that we’ve come to associate with the Arsenal’s kamikaze football.

But then on the basis that it took Hodgson’s hamstrung Baggies until the 87th minute to force a save from Sczczny, I suppose it would be a mistake to use such lame opposition as any sort of litmus test of the remedial work to shore up the Gunners leaky ship. Nevertheless, considering our defence has been the target for so much derision in recent months, it’s ironic that the biggest bone of contention now concerns the pleasing selection quandary at centre-back. You simply can’t leave a player with Vermaelen’s presence on the sidelines, but on current form, neither Koscielny or Mertesacher deserve to be dropped.

Evidence of the Gunners’ progress is reflected in a more relaxed mood on the terraces (or at least those which remain populated!). We’d have been threatening blue murder for our Brazilian full-back’s tendency to desert his defensive duties earlier in the season. But recent signs of some long-awaited durability and a renewed resolve have resulted in us being able to laugh off Koko the clown’s antics on our left flank, so long as Santos continues to compensate for his unorthodox impression of a full-back, with his attacking prowess.

Perhaps Kieran Gibbs’ glass-like frame will have been strengthened sufficiently in a fortnight’s time and needless to say, (based on past experience) all such defensive dilemmas will have been resolved in the meantime, due to those who will doubtless end up crocked whilst playing for their respective countries. But while we Gooners spend the days ahead on our knees, praying for Van Persie to be kept out of harm’s way, whilst channel hopping as we endeavour to keep tabs on the fate of the remainder of our multi-cultural hotchpotch, in truth there’s only one encounter of any real import. Come on you Boys in Green!

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