It's just dawned on me that the Gunners lethargy after taking the lead today and our ultimate failure to take all three points, was in fact nothing to do with the lack of full-backs, or a lacklustre display overall.
It was all down to my dreadfully insensitive pals at Piebury Corner, for daring to take a break over the festive period that included a home game, thereby leaving all their many devotees stranded, without our habitual pre- and post-match vittles, resulting in the more superstitious amongst us not merely being left with an empty stomach, but convinced that it was due to me having been denied my customary Ian Wright (lamb stew pie) that cost us the three points :-)
Both for the Gunners sake and my own sustenance, I sincerely hope that normal service will be resumed for our New Year's Eve encounter with QPR?
Tuesday, 27 December 2011
It's just dawned on me that the Gunners lethargy after taking the lead today and our ultimate failure to take all three points, was in fact nothing to do with the lack of full-backs, or a lacklustre display overall.
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?
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?
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Posted by Bernard Azulay at 6:58 pm
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
I'm on route to Villa Park and there's a rumour on the coach that our Boxing Day match v Wolves has been postponed to the following day (because of the tube strike). I can't find any confirmation of this and bit loathe to post without being certain, but just in case it effects anyone's plans, I thought it worth mentioning the possibility
Posted by Bernard Azulay at 2:29 pm
Tuesday, 20 December 2011
Premature Alzheimers strikes again! I completely forgot until seeing something about it on Twitter and I'm gutted I neglected to include it in my diary piece, as it scans quite well with the title, but having sucked on a few fags outside the Middle Eastern on Sunday, to get my nicotine levels up before 90 minute chewing on my fingernails, when I finally entered the Etihad, the customary raucous scenes on the concourse were punctuated by even louder roars of disapproval, every time $amir Na$ri appeared on the TV screens.
I'm not sure whether to be disappointed, or grateful to have missed what subsequently transpired (as I wouldn't have fancied enduring the entire return trip stinking of lager) but having warmed my hands on a cup of hot chocolate before finding my seat, moments before kick off, a travelling Gooner acquaintance taking his seat in front of me, revealed that when the teams were being announced, as Na$ri's phizog appeared on the screens on the concourse, four plastic pint pots full of lager were lobbed at one of them, which promptly proceeded to explode.
I actually would've loved to have seen it with my own eyes and I couldn't help but wonder if Keith was exaggerating, but true enough, when I stepped out for a sneaky halftime suck on a cigarette in the karseys, said TV screen had definitely expired (still City won't exactly have to pass the hat around to rustle up the money to replace it!).
Mind you, I'm not sure I'd have found it quite so hilarious, if I'd been amongst the throng of Gooners standing directly beneath it, as it was an ice cold afternoon to start with, never mind being showered by lager and having to sit through the game and the long trip home dripping with beer. Still least the poor loves would've been able to avoid spending all of halftime queuing to be served, as they could instead suck on their coats for some refreshment :-)
Nevertheless, with all due sensitivity to the unfortunate victims of the loutish behaviour of these Gooner larrikins, it must've been a bloody funny scene.
There was a load of other stuff that I omitted to mention in my diary piece, but this was merely due to the constraints of the Irish Examiner and so I guess this Na$ri anecdote affords me an excuse to waffle on some more.
A delicious snooze during the journey up to the North-West was rudely disturbed, when some City fans boarded the train at Crewe. Naturally I always make like Rip Van Winkle, when ever I'm spread out across a couple of seats, hoping that passengers boarding the train won't have the heart to disturb me and will choose to sit elsewhere. But this ruse is pointless when the train is completely packed and as I've already previously mentioned, one of the advantages of train travel is the opportunity for an exchange of opinions with similarly devoted fans of other teams.
Although I'm not so keen on the prospect of the Premiership crown becoming the exclusive domain of the club with the deepest pockets from here on in, one certainly can't blame City's incredibly loyal following for their good fortune, in becoming the Quataris favourite plaything for spunking up all their petro-dollars.
Thus I endeavoured to endear myself to my travelling companions over the last leg of this train trip, by suggesting that after a relative eternity without a sniff of success (I was actually at Wembley to see City beat the Baggies in the League Cup Final in 1970 - I only remember because I still have the programme to prove it!), I couldn't begrudge the Sky Blues fans their time in the limelight, as they've certainly paid their dues and that it someone has to win the title, other than the Arsenal, I'd definitely rather it was them (than Man Utd, Chelsea, or heaven forfend the unthinkable.....!).
Offering up an example of the impression City fans had made on me, with an astonishing demonstration of both their loyalty and their appreciation of the beautiful game, I referred to a match a few years back, which might have been our last trip to Maine Road (and which might well have been the season when City were relegated from the top flight - I'm sure anyone with anything vaguely resembling a memory will be able to correct me if I'm wrong).
We well and truly whalloped them that afternoon, with a performance of Wengerball played at its very best. But when you watch the Gunners play every week, it's like living with a child, where the incremental changes aren't obvious to the nearest and dearest. As a result, I'm almost feeling misty-eyed when I think back to the sort of football we produced that day, compared to Sunday's less effective display.
We were something like four-nil up already by the break and although we took the foot off the gas second-half and only scored the odd goal, the game could've easily ended with is in double figures. I actually attended the post-match conference, a memory which has only been caught in my sieve-like grey matter because it was the only press conference I can recall attending, where the manager sat there, drowning his sorrows with a tin of beer that was unashamedly sitting on the dais. The resigned expression on Joe Royle's face spoke a million words (in fact I think Royle was out the door soon after) and told of a manager who was utterly powerless to compete, in the face the Gunners' supremely peerless quality.
However it wasn't just the City fans' dignity in defeat that left a lasting impression, as back then it was an everyday occurrence for the Gunners to be applauded off by the opposition fans and unlike on Sunday, there wasn't one iota of irony in our chants of "You've only come to see the Arsenal" because it was true.
It was the ferocity of the Maine Road crowd's unwavering support that day, in the face of such a humbling defeat, that was seriously impressive and it left me feeling quite envious, when compared with how quick the fickle faithful at our place are to get on the players' backs nowadays, whenever things don't go our way. But as I chatted with these two City fans, they revealed that things aren't that different at Eastlands any more, as according to them City still have a core support of 30 odd thousand loyal fans who moved with the club from Maine Road, but apparently the 20 odd thousand extra punters in their new stadium are no less likely than we are, to throw their toys out of the pram the moment they feel they aren't getting good value for their money.
Obviously we discussed Na$ri and much to my chagrin, they believed the greedy Frenchman was just beginning to find his feet at their place and naturally I pleaded with them to keep their cash-rich paws off Van Persie. But the other topic of conversation I found interesting was that they told me that they were discussing the enigma of Fergie's longevity in the pub the other night and the conclusion they came to, was that his enduring success bears some relation to the fact that he has constantly refreshed his pool of assistants during the time of reign at Old Trafford, so that the players never get bored, or lose respect for the man ordering them about on the training field every day.
BTW, going off on a bit of a tangent, but talking of training fields, Sunday's trip to the Middle Eastern afforded me my first glimpse of City's extremely impressive looking new facility!
But when you think of the old footballing adage about needing to change either the team or the management over the period of every five year cycle, to avoid the sort of familiarity which inevitably breeds contempt, then Fergie's revolving door policy with new coaches bringing in fresh ideas every couple of seasons seems to make absolute sense and perhaps lends weight to all those who contend that Pat Rice is long past his sell-by date.
Don't get me wrong, I adore Pat Rice and wouldn't have a bad word said about the sort of "mensch", who is in every sense of the words, a one club man. But when you envisage dear old Pat putting the cones out at London Colney every day and watching him bawling out the same smattering of footballing clichés from the sidelines for so many seasons, it's fairly likely that for the vast majority of our squad, Pat's pearls of wisdom go in one ear and straight out the other.
Moreover, with Arsène being surrounded by somewhat sycophantic disciples at the Arsenal, you wonder quite how much le Gaffer might benefit by having someone at his side, with the balls to tell him what time it is, when required?
But then that's more than enough waffle for one post and if I don't send it out now, I'll end up going off on another tangent which will see me still typing away until the middle of the week, when, hopefully with plenty more to say, after we've bounced back with a convincing win against Villa, this missive will end up sitting on my laptop for all eternity, or at least until my hard drive dies.
Posted by Bernard Azulay at 1:31 am
Monday, 19 December 2011
Obviously feeling more than a little disconsolate as I queued up for a bus back to Picadilly Station after Sunday’s defeat, I took some comfort from ear-wigging the conversations of those City fans who suggested this was the most entertaining match they’d witnessed thus far at the Middle-Eastern.
Indeed, as least going 1-0 down to the goal from City’s silky, Rolls Royce of a midfielder forced the Gunners out of our shell and in taking the game to our hosts, the entire stadium spent most of the second half on the edge of our seats, witnessing a breathtaking, end-to-end contest.
Yet by doing so, Mancini has amassed such a surfeit of scintillating quality, that we were guaranteed to leave ourselves at risk of being exposed at the back, by the sort of incisive football, which (despite the fiscal doping!) simply has to be admired by any genuine footballing aficionado, even those of us on the wrong end of it!
Nevertheless, considering to what extent some of our own star turns (such as Walcott) failed miserably, or perhaps were denied the opportunity to have an impact on this match and how it was left to the obdurate resolve of the likes of Vermaelen, to try in vain to impose themselves at the death, if I’m entirely honest, no matter how irate I was at allowing our own increasingly noisy neighbours to extend their advantage by an additional 3 points, I couldn’t help but be left feeling somewhat impressed that our injury ravaged outfit had competed all the way to the final whistle, against the potential champions in waiting.
That we weren’t too downhearted was perfectly understandable, as much of the Gooner chatter on the journey back to London focused on the pride of having given it a real go and the stark contrast with the humiliation we’d all experienced, returning from our last outing to Manchester, in those cataclysmic opening weeks of the campaign.
Frankly, I was pessimistic that we’d succeed against City. Without any full-backs with the instinct to forage forward down the flanks, I always feared this would allow Richards and Zabaleta too much freedom to roam and might invite pressure, with too much of the game being played in our half of the pitch. Still, even if it was left to Sczczny to ensure we didn’t succumb, there’s solace aplenty that the Arsenal of soft-centered renown of recent times, has acquired some much-needed armour-plating, by way of the resolve of those prepared to stand and be counted.
Personally I find no end of amusement in the fact that we still have the auld enemy in our sights, after Spurs best start to a season since ’61 and our worst in 58 years. If the more stalwart components of our squad can continue to keep us in the frame, until such time as we begin to return to full-strength and if Le Prof can pull a player out of his hat in the transfer window that leaves us just a little less dependent on Van Persie, this season’s story might still have a happy ending.
Besides which, as bleak as the weather might be, with a trip to the San Siro in February, the future certainly isn’t. Dreading the cost of travelling to either of the two Russian clubs, I was delighted with the draw, as all my online research came to fruition, confirming cheap flights the instant the dates were announced, which had tripled in price before the day was out! More importantly, playing AC Milan should provide a sufficiently glamorous stage to inspire the troops, but with Italian footie in the doldrums, unless they’re planning on digging up the ghost of Franco Baresi, we’ve little to fear other than the Milanese giants reputation.
Meanwhile, Messrs Dunn & Collins might’ve been shipping goals in a manner which hardly befits their manager’s obdurate image of the game, but I’ll leave the chicken-counting to Venky, since for some strange reason this centre-back duo invariably seem to save their very best for the Gunners - but then hopefully such kidology will guarantee Villa yet another off night?--
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Posted by Bernard Azulay at 4:44 pm
Sunday, 18 December 2011
On the train to Manchester, listening to The Tuesday Club podcast (sitting in the "Quiet" car, doubtless winding folk up with my incessant giggling).
Amusing fact of the Day (courtesy of an unnamed podcast devotee): We're only deux points behind the auld enemy, after the Lillywhites best start to a season since 1961 and our worst start in 58 years!
Perhaps a little later this season than usual, but never fear, St. Totteringham's Day celebrations soon come!
Wish I was feeling a bit more optimistic about this afternoon but I worry that with four centre-backs on the field, we won't have enough width to ensure that we are sufficiently offensive, thereby preventing us from getting hemmed in by the sort of attacking surges which might make it inevitable that we concede. If Arsène's left with no choice but to continue with Djourou and Vermaelen playing at full backs, I fear their natural instincts to stop at home would give Richards and Zabaleta too much license to roam forward, leaving us playing too much of the game in our own half.
Then again, so long as we don't take a hit to our confidence by conceding too early, on the wide expanses at the Etihad we're invariably able to create goal scoring chances, it just depends if we can minimise these at t'other end?
Meanwhile I've copied below my brief "half-term report" for the Observer. I was a bit disappointed that they don't appear to have included my answers to a request for my Premiership team of the season thus far and so after having had to agonise about this for so long, mainly because of not being able to include any of our own players (and the inclusion of THREE from our neighbours!), I guess I might as well put it out there:
Vorn / Krul, Jones, Kompany, King, Enrique, Silva, Parker, Modric, Mata, Suarez, Aguerro.
Bernard Azulay, GoonersDiary.blogspot.com It feels as if the mettle we've displayed in our recent run of form was forged in the debacle of the opening weeks of our campaign, when we struggled to cope with the departures of Fábregas and Nasri, together with the absence of Vermaelen and Wilshere. We may remain only one hamstring away from disaster in respect of Van Persie but, no matter where we end up, most Gooners see plenty of reason for optimism in the burgeoning spirit within this squad – something that had been missing for far too long.
Star man Obviously Van Persie, but with plenty of kudos to the unstinting commitment of others such as Koscielny.
The flops Chamakh, a mysteriously pale shadow of the striker who first arrived at the club, and Arshavin, who appears as if he can't wait to escape.
The gaffer: Arsène Wenger, 7/10 While Wenger's desire to cling on to our star players was perfectly understandable, the fact that he was forced into the equivalent of Supermarket Sweep in the final few hours of the transfer window felt like a failure on his part. Nevertheless, all credit must go to Le Gaffer for silencing the critics who were far too quick to sound our death knell.
Who should he sign? Although our recent injury crisis at full-back has exposed a disconcerting lack of depth in the squad, we are desperate for some replacement firepower up front. Albeit somewhat erratic, Podolski is not cup-tied in Europe and may be best suited to adapt to the Premier League.
Posted by Bernard Azulay at 1:48 pm
Monday, 12 December 2011
After experiencing the spontaneous fervour of the Greek fans at Olympiacos in midweek, not to mention a couple of days of welcome respite from the arctic weather, Saturday’s celebrations of the Arsenal’s 125th anniversary felt a little contrived and somewhat anaemic by comparison. A bit like the commemorative matchday programme, which much to my chagrin was completely sold out to all the souvenir-collecting tourists, it came neatly packaged in a cellophane wrapper.
Not that it wasn’t great to see such an august array of Arsenal legends turn out for the occasion and not that the Gunners don’t do such grandiose affairs with a certain amount of style. Mercifully, I’m not nearly so ancient as to be able to comment on the image of Herbert Chapman but the likenesses of Adams and Henry leave a little to be desired. However with these bronzes and all the other elements of the continued Arsenalisation of the new stadium, there can be no doubting the admirable efforts being made to develop, what was originally an anonymous concrete and glass arena, into our Gooner home.
Nevertheless, it’s memories that maketh a football ground and for all the decorative additions in the past five years since the move, we’ve still nothing to show by way of silverware. Sadly Arsène’s ‘promised land’ seems destined to remain a decidedly soulless gaff, until such time as our new arena begins to accrue some success-filled recollections of its own.
Without doubt the most touching moment, was the sight of Thierry Henry welling up at the unveiling of his statue on Friday; noticeable by his absence, perhaps Tony Adams preferred to stop in Azerbaijan, rather than risk being confronted by similar emotions? Meanwhile, although the milk & honey, or more likely the canapés and champagne were doubtless flowing in the Directors Box and the Executive and Club Levels on Saturday, from where I sat in the Lower Tier, it felt a bit like being one of a multitude of after-dinner guests at a wedding, invited merely to fill up the dance floor and lend the place some much needed atmosphere, but only able to muse on what we’d missed out on at the main shindig.
Aside from the unwanted distraction of all this hoopla prior to facing Everton, I was concerned there might be some ramifications from our defeat in Greece. At least for once Arsène couldn’t claim fatigue as a factor, since Vermaelen was the only player who featured in both games. Yet despite the luxury of being able to leave so many first-string players back at home, due to having already qualified as group winners, I feared for the possibility of a display in Athens that might put a dent in our burgeoning winning mentality.
Then again, although the Gunners hardly covered themselves with glory, with a below par performance and our frustrating first-half profligacy in front of goal against the Toffees, in truth it was fitting that the day was won with a traditional “1-0 to the Arsenal”. Although this auspicious occasion might’ve ended as a bit of a damp squib, if Van Persie hadn’t popped up in the 70th minute to steal the show with his exquisite volley.
It transpired that the unveiling of immobile figures wasn’t solely confined to the stadium’s perimeter, as with Santos, the last of our recognized full-backs, joining the ranks of our walking wounded, Arsène was forced to resort to a statuesque defence, comprised of four centre-halves. With the resulting lack of width going forward, this game was always unlikely to produce the most scintillating fare. In fact the match ended with seven centre-backs on the field, as Moyes signaled his intent to baton down the hatches on the hour, by replacing Saha, Everton’s lone front man, with Distin.
Personally I was hoping all of Saturday’s encounters might be preceded by a minute’s laughter, in appreciation of the demise of our Mancunian pals. I’m not sure I’d fancy facing Mancini’s wounded animal next weekend, handicapped by this clutch of defensive centre-halves. Still Saturday’s win offered cause for optimism, with an undertone of immutability that was reminiscent of the spirit on which the club’s traditions were forged.
Wenger badly needs to address the fact that we remain only one hamstring away from disaster, as far as our reliance on our prolific Dutch striker’s fitness is concerned. But elsewhere, hopefully the renaissance of a genuine “they shall not pass” attitude will continue to evolve into a Gunners whole that is far greater than the sum of its individual parts.
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Posted by Bernard Azulay at 3:55 pm
Monday, 5 December 2011
...must be feeling a bit of a prick :-)
Posted by Bernard Azulay at 11:41 am
Like most car drivers, I much prefer being master of my own destiny, rather than getting drenched in both directions, trudging from Wigan station to the JJB and hanging around, waiting for trains. But it was definitely worth schlepping to the North-West for a soaking on Saturday. What’s more the journey back to London reminded me that there are some advantages to letting the train take the strain, enabling me to compare notes as I commiserated with a Lactics supporting resident of Stoke, until we changed trains at Crewe. Then adopting an all-together more cocky demeanour, as I shared my journey back to ‘the smoke’ with a bunch of understandably smug City fans (thereby disproving the theory that it’s only the red half of Manchester who travel South for the winter!).
It’s a far more genuine melting pot of football opinion, compared to the ear-bashing one gets when isolated in a smaller tin can on the motorway, listening to the opinionated lunatics who bombard the radio phone-ins on route home from games. Many of whose only comprehension of the quid pro quo relationship of those on the terraces (where the reward enjoyed is in direct-proportion to the amount of effort expended), involves the sacrifice made when forced to tarry on the sofa in front of the TV, instead of fetching another tin from the fridge!
For the 5000 travelling Gooner faithful, our pay-off for the purgatory of an outing to the industrial wastelands of Wigan (obviously aside from 90 unspoiled minutes of our demonstration of how the beautiful game should be played) came immediately after the final-whistle, in a few brief moments of joyous communion with our Polish keeper. After the more traditional token of his teammates’ appreciation as they tossed their shirts into the crowd, Wojciech Sczczny secured his entry into Gooner folklore, as he lingered to lead us all in a chorus of “we’re by far the greatest team”.
Who knows, after spending the entire afternoon virtually unemployed, standing around in the rain, perhaps "the Shez" was merely seizing upon an expedient opportunity to get his blood pumping. But no matter how sincere, it felt like much more to us. So even in the event that we’re forced to endure yet another fruitless season, it’s likely to prove a whole lot more satisfying than any of late because of this sense of some sorely missed, emotional commitment from the lads.
Not that our Carling Cup exit has caused me to write off all hope of a trophy, before we’ve even put the Xmas tree up. Traditionally that’s my Spurs pals’ prerogative prior to lighting the Chanukah candles. I don’t think many of us expected to endure against City. Yet on the night, there was very little to choose between the massed ranks of Mancini’s petro-dollar dandies and Arsène’s coterie of Carling Cup kids (of the calibre of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Frimpong & Coquelin), aside from the crucial difference between a thoroughbred strikeforce and our couple of goal shy geldings.
Unless Wenger can add some potency up front during the transfer window, all our eggs will remain finely balanced in our flying Dutchman’s all too fragile basket. Still there’s an auspicious tinge to drawing dirty Leeds in the FA Cup and so long as our confidence continues to blossom, we might yet give the big boys a run for their money in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
But we shouldn’t get carried away, on the back of a 4-0 win against lowly Wigan. While the “oles” echoed out from our terrace behind the goal on Saturday, for the first time this season, I rather suspect that the return of our mickey-taking ability to maintain control of the ball and the sight of Miguel Arteta finally influencing play in the last third of the pitch, was no coincidence and was largely due to the opposition’s dreadfully stand-offish display. Based on this showing, Wigan require a drastic improvement, if the extremely likeable Martinez and his friendly football club aren’t to be inexorably doomed.
We've Got Gervinho
e-mail to: londonN5@gmail.com
Posted by Bernard Azulay at 8:26 am