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Monday 27 February 2012

Here Comes The Sun?

Arsène Wenger looked like death warmed up, sitting on the bench on Sunday. This might have only been due to a bug, but he couldn’t have possibly wished for a more rejuvenating tonic, as the Arsenal conjured up the sort of panacea of a performance that dragged Gooners everywhere back from the brink of despair.

For the best part of half a century, our dominance over Spurs has been such that our neighbours have rarely ever rolled up at our place feeling quite so bullish. After witnessing the complete disintegration of our season during our past two woeful displays, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in dreading that Sunday’s Derby might prove to be the perfunctory nail in the coffin of our North London supremacy.

As it turned out, we couldn’t have wished for a more timely and poignant reminder of the beautiful game’s seemingly infinite capacity to burst even the most inflated bubble. Having proved himself too cute for the terrier like clutches of HM’s tax inspectors, Teflon Harry must’ve thought he was untouchable. Then when least expected, our flu-ridden French bulldog bares his teeth and sinks them into the hallowed backside of England’s crown prince-in-waiting.

I’m doing my utmost not to go overboard (although this hasn’t stopped me from dispatching wholesale text messages to my Spurs pals at 50 minutes past every hour “just to remind you that it’s nearly 5-2”), because we now need to go to Anfield this weekend and prove that we’ve not been left clinging to our Derby Day rapture, as an anomalous life-raft of scintillating euphoria, amidst an ocean of otherwise disappointing dross thus far. This might’ve been the case, if we’d merely snatched a narrow-margin triumph against Spurs.

Yet in the manner in which we turned this game on its head, by recouping a two goal deficit in five unforgettable minutes of football before the break and then going on to dominate the second-half, with a display that was reminiscent of Wenger-ball at its best (from the Arsenal’s worst ever eleven, according to Roy Keane’s not so humble opinion!), inflicting the sort of arrant defeat that left the auld enemy trudging off the park, dazed and bewildered (believe me they weren’t the only ones!), I can’t help but hope this will prove to be a landmark demolition that will result in a lingering psychological impact on both sides.

It was a barmy afternoon all round. According to the “where there’s blame, there’s a claim” maxim, I should be suing my missus’ airline. After her plane was delayed, I didn’t arrive back from collecting Róna at the airport until 6am on Sunday. Having ‘slept out’ assorted alarms, I think it must’ve been the helicopters hovering overhead, which eventually dragged me back from the arms of Morpheus, to my horror, only five minutes before kick-off. Rather than missing half an hour of the match while dashing around to the ground, I decided to watch the first-half on the box and barrel around there at the break.

But with it being that bit further to walk to the new stadium, I needed to be out the door as the whistle blew. As a result, when Sagna struck, believing this to be the last significant action before the break, I turned the volume on the TV up and dived into the karsey, to relieve the call of nature that had been ‘on hold’ for the entire first-half. Needless to say, I came running back out with my kecks around my ankles, just in time to hear Gary Neville’s dumbfounded “wow” response to Van Persie’s peach of an equalizer.

Having restored the status quo, it crossed my mind momentarily that I might do better to stop at home. But boy am I glad that I braved any fear of tempting fate. Naturally, in light of what subsequently transpired, there were plenty of wags in my vicinity petitioning me to turn up at half-time for every match. But then I suppose my impact on Sunday’s proceedings is no less credulous, than the team of impostors we’ve been watching all season, suddenly turning into the genuine article!

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Wednesday 22 February 2012

Good to know we're taking Sunday's game seriously!

Hi folks

Will the lads be busy tomorrow working out how to crowd out Modric and Bale on Sunday? It seems, to the contrary for the likes of Song, Sagna, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sczczny, as they'll be busy filming a car TV ad with the ballet dancers from our company!

I told the lads I work with to make sure they tape the lino down properly, or else as usual our lot will be blaming the playing surface. And I sure hope they prove more entertaining in tutus and tights, than they've been in footie boots of late. I've warned the dancers, in case our woeful form is catching (not to mention the plague of injuries)

Meanwhile I neglected to post out Monday's pieces, so here's my tuppence (more like fifty guineas!) worth of whinging

Come on you Gunners
Big Love


After umpteen years, my Spurs pals have been reveling in their opportunity to return the compliment, with their teasing invitations to the Arsenal’s premature end of season party. My somewhat implausible rejoinder has been to suggest that the catastrophe of our last couple of results was all part of a masterplan, to lull our North London neighbours into a false sense of security.

If Wenger can somehow wangle a result against Spurs at the weekend it would indeed be some compensation for the ignominy of our mauling in Milan and for lying down like lambs at the Stadium of Light. Or more’s the point, it would at least avoid the unthinkable prospect of having to come to terms with a Derby day defeat, which added to our current state of despair, is likely to leave most Gooners feeling like the end our Arsenal world is all too nigh.

Nevertheless, while a respectable result against the auld enemy on Sunday might redress the balance of most Gooner minds, it certainly won’t mask the fact that our current squad appears to be a million miles further from its intended destination, than we’ve been at any point over the past six success-starved seasons.

We actually contemplated making our exit before the final bell in Milan (if it had been a boxing match a sympathetic ref would’ve stepped in to end our suffering long before!), if only to avoid the insult of having hypothermia added to our humiliating injury, while enduring our interminable and entirely unnecessary detention long after the final whistle. The only Milanese likely to have wanted to give us a good kicking were the Inter tifosi who’d been hoping we’d trounce their rivals, rather than gifting AC with a confidence boosting rout.

The main reason we lingered to the bitter end was because we feared winding our way down the never-ending spiral walkways of the turret in our corner of the ground, only to find ourselves held back at the bottom. So as I sat with my head in my hands, amidst the sub-zero thin air at the summit of an empty San Siro (save for a couple of thousand masochistic Gooners), I pondered upon the excuses Arsène might be making to explain away our abysmal display.

To his credit, for once Wenger labeled this woeful spade, a spade but I had to laugh at his analysis of us having only a 2 or 5 per cent chance of progressing to the quarterfinals, as if he’d plucked these precise statistics straight from an Excel spreadsheet. After Spurs lost 4-0 to Real, Redknapp wasn’t anything like so rational, when he suggested that if they scored a couple of quick goals in the return leg, anything could happen.

Although we came out of the traps against Sunderland like a team possessed, as if they’d been on the receiving end of a serious kick up the backside, the fire in our bellies was soon snuffed out. Personally I knew the game was up, when the first of three defensive reshuffles left us with Laurel & Hardy in situe at centre-back.

Encouraged by the media, there’s an increasing clamour coming from those Gooners who are growing ever more certain that Arsène’s past his sell-by date. Judging by our manager’s despondent mood in the post-match press conference, with project Wenger crumbling around his ears, their wishes might come to pass sooner than they think!

Meanwhile every time the Gunners hit the skids, the name of Usmanov raises its ugly head. There remain plenty of highly principled Arsenal fans who refuse to accept the prospect of the club selling its soul to someone who’s alleged to have sat at the devil’s right-hand. But such principles are costly in our morally bankrupt sport, especially when they involve the rejection of a high-roller who’s leapfrogged Abramovich into 2nd place in the Sunday Times rich list.

Rumours abound that Usmanov already has access to the shares necessary to take him past the 30 per cent threshold. And if he hasn’t, I’m sure the administrators at Rangers will be oblige, in their efforts to maximize the return on the Arsenal shares gifted to the ‘Gers by a quirk of history.

I’m certainly not an advocate for success at any cost. Such crucial defeats only feel quite so unacceptable because we were beaten by sides who simply wanted it more. But compared to not seeing hide nor hair of an absentee US landlord, who only appears interested in counting his shekels from the comfort of his Missouri mansion, at least the Uzbeki demonstrates a tangible attraction to the Arsenal, watching most matches from the exclusive environs of his plush “superbox”.Moreover, aside from any potential benefits from Usmanov’s deep pockets, his involvement might result in David Dein riding in on his red & white charger. With his oil-slick obsequiousness, I’m not exactly Dein’s no. 1 fan, but I don’t think it can be any coincidence that the silverware drought dates back to the day he was shown the door.

Many will argue that we’d now be playing at Wembley if Dein had his way. While this idea was abhorrent at the time (heaven forfend the thought of actually having to travel to get to home games!), where would the Gunners be now, without having been encumbered by the costs of our new stadium. What’s more, Highbury was my much adored second home, but as an anonymous punter in a far more sterile arena, I don’t feel anything like the same emotional attachment to the new gaff and in truth, I’m not really sure that playing at Wembley would’ve felt that much different.

It seems blindingly obvious that Wenger has becomes less effective since the demise of the chalk and cheese partnership with his old pal. Whatever his faults, as an Arsenal man, Dein was always willing to go the extra imprudent mile, for the pleasure of seeing a talented star perform in his beloved red & white and to further the Gunners’ cause; whereas with his “sustainable” mantra, Gazides and Wenger are like two-peas in an overly pragmatic pod, trying in vain to squeeze the barmy world of the beautiful game into an idealistic business model.

With Club Level renewals due next month, I have to wonder if those at the club are fully conversant with the potential consequences (on and off the pitch) of a continued slide towards mediocrity. With Wenger managing the minor miracle of maintaining our elevated status over 15 years of plenty, many will have never experienced a genuine period of famine. On the assumption that RVP is unlikely to want to continue keeping the entire club afloat, even if we should qualify for the Champions League (without improved prospects of ever actually picking up the big-eared prize), there’s a school of thought that suggests that it might not be in our best interest to scrape into 4th place. since this would only offer encouragement to maintain the current status-quo; when what’s really required is the sort of complete failure which might guarantee a rethink.

Based on our current pitiful form, myself I can look no further ahead than a week of penance, in hope of earning sufficient credit for the gods to smile upon us come Sunday and a one-way plane ticket out of the country, in case they don’t!

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Tuesday 14 February 2012

Tottenham Watching Eastenders...So Long As Harry Has Technical Assistance To Turn On His TV!

It’s barmy to think that it was only a couple of weeks back that we were contemplating the potentially catastrophic consequences of failing to finish in the top four and the tragi-comic, comedown of bromidic Thursday night football in the Europa League. In the absence of any silverware, Champions League qualification has come to be viewed as scant consolation, as we Gooners have grown accustomed to taking our seat at Europe’s top table for granted, following 14 consecutive seasons of our participation in this highly-prized pearl of club football.

Now here we are delighted to be flying off to a glamorous encounter in Milan (arctic weather permitting?), against the renowned Rossoneri, whilst sitting pretty in 4th place - albeit only by grace of having scored four more goals than the Blues - optimistically feeling as if we’re suddenly back in the Champions League frame.

As cock-a-hoop as we were to have seen Titi take a bow in his final Premiership curtain call, after a last-minute smash & grab on Wearside, there could be no denying that our elevated status is largely due to error-strewn efforts of the inconsistent sides around us. And as if we needed further reminding of the calibre of football required of a genuine form side, the Gunners were still removing their boots at the Stadium of Light when we received news of the slap in the face of Spurs’ quick-fire barrage against the Barcodes.

By contrast, it was hard to imagine where a goal was going to come from against Sunderland, up until Aaron Ramsey’s strike after 75 frustrating minutes. Even then, as his opportunistic effort pinballed between the posts, I was convinced the ball was going to bounce away from the goal and into Mignolet’s hands.

Van Persie’s peach of a goal against Man Utd was the only Gunners’ effort to make it into the Goal of the Month montage, shown on the box on Sunday night. Seeing us cut a swathe through Utd, moving the ball from one end of the pitch to the other in the blink of an eye with just three passes, only served to highlight why we’d struggled to break down the Black Cats. With the scintillating pace of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain operating on the flanks, it shouldn't be beyond us to stretch any opposition, by getting them turned and running towards their own goal.

Yet with Martin O’Neill relying on the same XI who required extra-time to eject Boro from the FA Cup in midweek, instead of trying to run them ragged, we insisted on playing to their ‘park the bus’ strengths, with the sort of slow-tempo, predictable passing game, which all took place in front of the massed ranks of Sunderland’s defence, as we tried in vain to pass our way through the eye of this resolute needle.

O’Neill’s tactics were pragmatic and on another day McClean might’ve stolen all three points, as the Derry lad took advantage of Mertesacker’s mishap (on this cabbage patch of a pitch!). But defence against attack doesn’t exactly make for exhilarating entertainment and with this being our least impressive season during Arsène’s long tenure, these days I’m always surprised when opposition managers afford us the same level of respect that they might show to the Premiership’s form sides. While I’m sure Sunderland fans currently believe O’Neill walks on water, in their shoes I’d have been disappointed with the lack of ambition evident in the Black Cats apparent reluctance to take us on.

But then a more open game would’ve probably played into our hands and as we’ve witnessed with Man City in recent weeks, in the absence of the irresistible force that is Yaya Touré, opponents have largely managed to frustrate the title contenders with smothering tactics, getting about City’s creative sources in twos and threes and making up for any lack of class, with their work rate and commitment. However while City can invariably count on a selection of keys to eventually unlock the door in such circumstances, the Gunners are all too reliant on RVP, as our one and only master locksmith.

I’d hoped Gervinho might return to lend some incisiveness to our attack, but after missing the penalty that cost Ivory Coast the African Cup of Nations, he’s hardly likely to be full of the joys of Spring. Meanwhile as big a deal as Milan might be (in case it should prove to be our Champions League swansong!), I’m sure I’m not alone with my concerns that Arsène might not view our encore at Wearside this weekend with equal significance. Surely it’s time for le Prof to set his own pragmatism aside, in an effort to end our trophy drought by going ‘eyeballs out’ for the one that’s closest to hand?
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Monday 6 February 2012

One Snowfall Does Not St. Moritz Make...But It Put A Smile On This Yeti's Phizog

Having created enough chances to have buried the Trotters, during our opening barrage at Bolton, it was depressing to be thawing out, over the course of an arduous return trip from the Reebok, with only a point to show for our goalless efforts (when only three would’ve been good enough!). Perhaps the coach driver was having a laugh at our expense, with his choice of the movie ‘True Grit’ for the return trip.

There was little evidence of this, other than the stuff they spread on the roads in advance of the weekend white-out, as I rocked up to a seriously deflated Emirates on Saturday; where one sensed from the melancholy mood as if our season had slipped so far off the rails, that we Gooners were merely going through the motions from here on in. But then the heinous tragedy in Egypt put twenty-two men kicking a ball into comparatively trivial perspective.

Obviously the transport difficulties on Saturday that necessitated an early kick-off didn’t help, as lunchtime KOs at our gaff are notoriously even more library-like than usual. Then again, in light of the goal-fest that subsequently transpired, perhaps we should be petitioning London Transport to close the Victoria Line before every home match?

However, as we all know, the beautiful game’s greatest allure is its infinite capacity to confound and Saturday’s match proved to be perfectly timed ‘manna from heaven’. With Givet being sent-off, so soon after an impressively composed Oxlade-Chamberlain had put us 3-1 up, all within ten minutes of Pedersen’s precision set-piece equalizer, this seemed to knock the stuffing out of a Blackburn side that was short on sage & onion from the get go. But rarely in recent times have the Gunners managed to translate this sort of an advantage, into such an emphatic scoreline.

Sadly nowadays, not only do we seem to struggle to produce the fast-paced, precision football necessary to dominate possession, but during those periods when we are in control of games, we’re all too often guilty of failing to create sufficient momentum to press home our advantage. Therefore, even if there’s internal strife at Ewood Park that ensured Rovers weren’t really at the races, Saturday’s result proved a timely tonic.

With Walcott firing on all cylinders for once, seemingly feeding off the bristling energy of our latest young prodigy and with Theo and OC terrorizing the Rovers defence on opposite flanks, we witnessed our first glimpse of the sort of havoc these two speed-merchants are capable of wreaking, when in such fine form and operating in tandem (and where hopefully Gervinho’s imminent return might keep both of them on their toes?).

Doubtless perturbed by the problems with the tube, half of those present had already departed prior to the injury-time “after you Claude” courtesy between Henry and Van Persie, which eventually resulted in Titi putting the cherry on top with the last kick of the game, Yet judging by the way we went about the second-half with a “fill yer boots” zest, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was significant that Wenger chose to leave Arshavin sidelined for the entirety of this confidence restoring shindig.

Obviously one snowfall does not St. Moritz make, but having arrived at the ground 90 minutes earlier, pessimistically believing that our season was all over bar the shouting, it made a wonderfully pleasant change to be heading back around for some warming sustenance at Piebury Corner, suddenly believing again that anything is possible. The Gooner consensus seems to feel we should be focusing on a four-way battle for 4th place because of the potentially catastrophic ramifications of failing to secure a Champions League berth. But with the gap between us and Spurs back down to single figures (as I type) and with the comical distraction of Redknapp v The Revenue, I haven’t quite given up hope.

It will be a shame to poop Martin O’Neill’s party, but having finally exorcised the feelings of foreboding, whilst being deprived of all of our full-backs these past couple of months, after Saturday’s intravenous shot of enthusiasm, I can’t wait to head off to Wearside.

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Wednesday 1 February 2012

Many A Slip Betwixt FA Cup And Lip

Hi folks,

I neglected to post this on Monday and it suddenly occurred to me that I'd better get it done before heading off to Bolton, as the thought of having to write that the gap between us and Spurs has been extended to thirteen points would be positively mortifying.

Please don't let it be so


I don’t think one can over-estimate the significance of the seven, magical second-half minutes that resulted in the Gunners turning Sunday’s game on its head. Sadly our enthralling comeback is no guarantee of the imminent reversal of our silverware-starved fortunes, especially against a weak Villa side that we should’ve wiped the floor with in the first place,.

Yet with rumours that Jack Wilshere will be out for the rest of the season, coming on top of the three successive defeats that have not only put a dampener on any remaining Premiership pretensions, but have left us lagging a seriously depressing ten points behind Spurs, an unacceptable FA Cup exit could’ve been the straw that broke the back of many a despondent red & white dromedary.

Trying to put a brave face on things, as the Arsenal trudged off at the break, with the disapprobation of the “not so faithful” ringing in their ears, I sought solace in the thought that a defeat would at least mean I’d avoid an arduous (Wear- or Teeside) awayday in the next round and the prospect of being brought back down to earth by a North-Eastern sandwich of matches, either side of the midweek glamour of our Milanese outing – seven days in Feb that are assured to separate the men from the boys (both on and off the pitch)!

I suppose I should’ve known better than to write our chances off at half-time but with the Gunners playing such predictably unpenetrative football, it was hard to imagine how we were going to drag ourselves back into contention. Although having witnessed the blur of incisive energy and inspiration that resulted in such a dramatic reversal, the big question is why we had to wait until we were two goals behind to be able to produce it?

Moreover, no sooner had we pulled our socks up and got our noses in front, rather than maintaining this momentum to go on and put the result beyond question, we let them slip again, reverting to the same meandering keep-ball that left us fretting about the rare counter-attack which might result in a regrettable replay.

Still I would’ve bitten the hand off that had offered us a replay at half-time, with a three goal turnaround being more than I could’ve hoped for. It’s a fickle old mistress football. Instead of heading home, wringing my hands in misery, in time to the Wenger knockers, bleating on about Jack Wilshere’s fate, with nothing to look forward to, other than the palliative comfort of a post-match pie, suddenly the Gooner outlook isn’t looking nearly quite so bleak (as evidenced by the 89th minute introduction of Bakary Sagna).

Obviously Arsène sent Sagna and Henry on to run down the clock, but after the furore over his inexplicable intervention last Sunday and with le Gaffer having spent most of the ninety firmly ensconced in his seat in the dug-out, like a sullen professor, determined to send out a message to his disenchanted pupils, it seemed as the substitution of Oxlade-Chamberlaine was deliberately designed to demonstrate that teacher still knows best.

Considering the majority of us had put all our eggs in the basket of clinging on in there until Wilshere’s eventual return, it’s going to be hard to come to terms with the possibility that he might not play again this season. Nevertheless with our best full-back returning to the fray and more to come, mercifully it’s not all gloom and doom. Despite the potential for further slips betwixt FA Cup and lip, dragging ourselves back from the brink of Sunday’s disaster proved a real fillip.

What’s more, off the field, there’s plenty of mileage to be had in Harry Redknapp’s courtroom shenanigans. I’ve heard conflicting informed opinions that suggest he’s banged to rights and that he’s bound to walk. But as they say, it’s not the result that matters, but the taking part and either path spells misery for my Spurs mates, whether Harry ends up holidaying temporarily at Her Majesty’s pleasure, or permanently as England manager. They’d be happiest if he ends up punished with a tag. Although a curfew would put the kibosh on midweek KOs and it would be highly amusing to see Harry standing pitchside at the Derby game at the end of the month, his ankle adorned with a shiny new Peckham Rolex

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