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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