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Tuesday 27 December 2011

Santa Comes But Once A Year, But He Doesn't Look Anything Like Mick McCarthy

Hi folks,

Although I'm hardly feeling the festive spirit, after we blatantly blew two points this afternoon, I guess I should take this opportunity to wish everyone the compliments of the seasons and a happy & healthy New Year.

Ref Stuart Atwell has definitely joined the ever increasing number of officials who are no longer on my Xmas Card list (if I actually sent any out!) and it will undoubtedly add insult to today's injury (RVP's shiner?) should Spurs take advantage of our failure to beat Wolves, when they play at Carrow Road this evening.

Then again, I'll probably be left feeling no less wound up, should the Lilywhites fluff their lines against Norwich because we will have ended up making such a hash of a rare opportunity to gain some ground on our own noisy neighbours (especially with increasing rumours of Harry making a marquee signing during the forthcoming transfer window - they were talking about Tevez on the radio this afternoon - which is likely to give their squad the exact sort of boost that we're crying out for!)

Everyone has been talking about our festive schedule of games against Wolves, QPR and Fulham as if it was a guaranteed nine points. When in truth I'd probably be feeling less concerned about the potential negative effects of complacency knocking the wind out of our sails, if we were facing stiffer opposition.

Today's game was a case in point, as with us having taken the lead so early on, we should really have kicked on and put the opposition to the sword. This would've made far more sense as far as energy conservation is concerned, as it would've saved us from the positively exhausting efforts to pile on the pressure and produce a winner at the death, which I assume will have left the lads feeling all the more fatigued, as a result of them having tried in vain!

Meanwhile it seems obvious to me that our performances of late have suffered as a result of the lack of full-backs because we patently lack the same attacking threat, when there's no-one overlapping down the flanks, to occupy the opposition defence's attention and afford the likes of Walcott, Gervinho and Rosicky sufficient room to threaten the penalty area.

Under such circumstances, it falls to RVP almost singlehandedly, to provide the moment of inspiration to unlock the massed ranks of the opposition and we simply have to accept the fact that Robin just cannot be relied upon to come up with the goods in every single game.

AW badly needs to resolve this problem, if we're not going to suffer several more similar stalemates in the weeks ahead. Since he's already tried (and largely failed) with the likes of Rosicky and Benayoun, in my most humble opinion, failing any immediate additions, it's about time le Boss gives the yoof a chance?

Big Love

I was thrilled and more than a little relieved to be returning from Villa Park with all three points last Wednesday night, after the Gunners hadn’t exactly covered themselves with glory, with a somewhat complacent, sloppy performance. Our lethargy hardly improved after having been presented with an early Xmas pressie, by way of Villa gifting us a penalty 15 minutes in.

I’ve some Egyptian Gooner pals who revealed afterwards that never have the exploits of an Israeli been lauded so loudly in Cairo. Benayoun’s late winner was in fact a rare instance of us actually beating the opposition to the ball, as we were second best all evening. But despite us taking the “season of goodwill” a little too literally, by doing our best to make patently inferior opposition look good, for all our hosts industry, it’s just fortunate that we were second best to a decidedly impotent Aston Villa.

Mercifully we came away with the right result on the night, but in the rare absence of the suspended Alex Song, I was most disappointed that Manny Frimpong failed to grasp the nettle. We’ve set such great hopes in Frimpong as our future midfield enforcer that I was anticipating the sort of display which might stake him a claim to a more permanent place in the side. But on a night when there were no stand-out performances and with Villa showing such limited ambition, I suppose it’s not so surprising that our teenage tank failed to shine.

There were rumours on the trip up to Birmingham that our Boxing Day fixture had been postponed due to a tube strike. It may be ‘de riguer’ nowadays for fans of Chelsea (and Fulham) to journey up from their country piles in the Surrey stockbrocker belt, aboard ostentatious 4 x 4 Chelsea tractors. Yet surely this West London derby would’ve been no less affected by a tube strike, probably more so and yet it went ahead, seemingly without hiccup.

At the time I’m sure I wasn’t the only Gooner thinking that it was positively cruel to starve us of our Boxing Day pleasures for a further 24-hours. Having spent so long, in such close confinement with one’s family over Xmas, the festive footie invariably comes as welcome respite and will even prevent outright war breaking out in many a household.

Nevertheless with Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool all bringing glad tidings of comfort and joy with their lacklustre displays (it was only Wigan, but was it mere coincidence that Fergie’s troops were the only top team that managed to maintain their focus on Boxing Day?), I was half hoping that we might profit from the postponement, by being suitably motivated by the opportunity to gain ground on those teams that had frittered points away the day before.

Personally I’m not convinced that the tendency for sluggish post-Xmas displays of recent times are merely down to too much Xmas pud. I just think that modern day pros are such creatures of habit and so accustomed to their rigid schedule of training and competition that they struggle to cope with the upheaval of the hectic festive fixture schedule. Consequently they’re all too often found wanting, when it comes to brewing up the required reserves of adrenaline at these abnormal times.

Sadly, despite the added inspiration of a sniff of 4th place, the Gunners proved no less prone to this malaise. After carving open Mick McCarthy’s side in the opening minutes, I foolishly began contemplating the possibility of scoring the five goals necessary for us to leapfrog our neighbours! But instead of putting Wolves to the sword, in the way Man Utd might do, once they’ve caught the scent of blood, we settled back into the sort of torpor that suggested we felt we’d done enough and it only remained for us to see the clock out.

At least Wolves equalizer guaranteed a far more entertaining (albeit ultimately extremely frustrating) second-half. However once a team has taken it’s foot off the pedal, it’s always that much harder to shift down through the gears and by the time we finally managed to exert some concerted pressure late on, we’d already offered the visitors the glimmer of hope necessary for them to be sufficiently inspired to cling on tooth and nail to their hard fought point.

Sending on Chamakh as a last resort was laughable, as apart from him being utterly useless, this was playing to the oppositions muscular strengths. And with Arshavin seemingly so disinterested in assuming any responsibility, once again, as at Villa Park, we Gooners were left mystified as to what exactly Oxlade-Chamberlain needs to do, to be deserving of a run out.

With Walcott suffering from a dodgy tummy, with Gervinho doing his best impression of a headless chicken (both literally and metaphorically) and with our makeshift defence again denying us sufficient width, young Alex’s blistering pace along the flanks would appear to be the perfect weapon to run at tired legs.

Perhaps le Prof has grown a little too circumspect to want to risk throwing our young prodigy to the lions. But with his energy and hunger alone, Oxlade-Chamberlain might light the rest of the team’s blue touch paper and when the alternatives are so blatantly ineffective, surely some hope coming off the bench is better than the no-hopers that Arsène insists on turning to?

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