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Monday 26 March 2012

One Man Team.....My Arse!

G'day fellow Gooners,

It doesn't get much better than spending a blissful Saturday afternoon, soaking up the sunshine at the Grove (ask the Villa lads!) watching the Gunners cruise to victory, with results elsewhere going our way. In fact I heard some stat on the box this weekend which suggested that we've won every single game we've played when kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday, which is just more grist to the mill of my grievances about the Premiership's infuriatingly incessant tinkering with the fixture schedule.

The other stat trotted out after Saturday's 3-0 success was to demonstrate that we're not quite the one-man-band that we've previously been perceived to be, in light of the goal-scoring contribution from all comers in recent weeks. Truth be told, although our Robin reliant hasn't exactly been off his game (take RVP's piss-taking "tekkers" on Saturday for example), he seems to have racked up a whole heap of missed chances during the past three games.

Still at least this has afforded others the opportunity to step up to the plate and after having been so dependent on Van Persie's set-pieces for far too long, it was great to see Arteta and Theo arguing the toss over the odd free-kick against Villa. What's more, although Miguel's invisible contribution in matches was evident in our dip in form during his absence, I'm delighted that he's begun to have a more tangible impact in the final third, as I've always believed him capable of imposing himself more in many of our encounters (in the manner of his "main man" role for Everton).

And while Kieran Gibbs deserves all due respect for finally putting a notch on his Premiership belt on Saturday, I simply can't sign off without giving a shout out to Sagna. I can't recall noticing it in the past and so perhaps he's recently been supplied with spring-loaded boots. But during the course of the past couple of games against Everton and Villa and despite competing against various opponents who are several inches taller, I simply can't recall Baks ever getting beat when competing in the air for headers.

Also after watching MOTD on Saturday night and contrasting Liverpool's woeful showing against Wigan, with our walkover against Villa and after seeing Alex Song set-up yet another goal with a perfectly weighted 30-yard pass, one could be forgiven for thinking Song is actually Steven Gerrard in disguise and that the Scousers have been left with some mediocre body-double, while Alex already has his feet up on a beach in Cameroon.

I've some sympathy for Rangers due to the fact that I know several long-suffering Hoops fans. Should they survive the threat of relegation, I'd be happy both for them and for the fact that with Loftus Road being such a short hop down the A40, it's almost like a home fixture.

However I'm hardly Mark Hughes' No. 1 fan and after seeing that compelling documentary about QPR on BBC2 the other week (a highly recommended watch - revealing everything one had ever imagined about the clubs which have become the playthings of their arrogant rich owners, but which you never actually expected to see shown on camera) and following the positively shameless way in which Briatore dispensed with both players and manager who achieved their promotion to the Premiership (where judging by the evidence of the Football League show on Saturday night, ironically it would appear as if the majority of players who were deemed superfluous to QPR's Premiership needs are currently assisting other clubs in their push for promotion), I wouldn't exactly lose any sleep if we stuffed them next Saturday.

Come on you Gunners. Let's keep this run going and maintain our focus for the sort of big sprint-finish that will at least ensure we end the season on an optimistic note, full of renewed hope for a success-filled future.

Big Love


Pilfering a set-piece goal and then shutting shop might’ve been a trademark of the more resilient, “boring, boring” Gunners’ sides of yesteryear but with Arsène’s offensive focus and our resulting fragility in defence, success has been largely dependent on our ability to out score the opposition.

Considering our competitors have come away from Goodison with nothing but cavities to show for their efforts, I was astonished how easily we chewed up the Toffees during a scintillating 15-minute opening salvo. However it was somewhat disappointing that our ebullient start only resulted in a slender, single goal lead. After expending so much energy early on, it was inevitable that we’d eventually invite our hosts back into the game and I really didn't fancy our prospects of grinding out a good old-fashioned “1-0 to the Arsenal”.

A settled defence, in which everyone can trust their team-mates to fulfil their TCB (taking care of business) obligations, could well be the most significant factor in what might hopefully be the Gunners rediscovery of the long lost art of “winning ugly”. The crucial contrIbution of Sagna & Gibbs since returning to fitness is the most obvious factor, but the beating heart of the Gunners’ recent success has been the developing partnership between Tommie and Laurent, our two wholehearted centre-halves.

There’s some frustration about Sczczny’s palpably poor kicking ability and his frequent naivety, in not hanging onto the ball and wasting a few precious seconds when the situation dictates. Yet Mannone’s hapless display for Hull demonstrated quite how fortunate we are to have the young Pole tending goal, instead of a triumvirate of frail keepers, whose inflated incomes only add to the unwanted burden of immovable ballast, currently weighing heavy on the Arsenal’s books.

Le Gaffer’s glory-hunting critics have mostly all crawled back under their rocks and in some respects our worst start to a season in 58 years and our more recent misadventures (Milan & Sunderland) have resulted in an expectation reset amongst the more fickle of our not-so-faithful home fans. Seasons past have often petered out when we’ve reached this stage, with nothing but Champions League qualification to play for.

By contrast, much like a marvelously dramatic episode of Upstairs Downstairs, we’ve been so rejuvenated by the thrill of putting our neighbours firmly back in their servile place, with the 13 point swing between us and Spurs over the space of a mere couple of weeks, that suddenly we’re raising the roof at the Grove, roaring the team on to finish in 3rd, perfectly satisfied to see us restored to our rightful seat amongst the aristocratic elite, despite any prospects of silverware for yet another season.

So long as we can maintain this winning momentum, Wenger can do no wrong. Still this doesn’t make his recent ‘square peg in round hole’ preference for playing Ramsey out wide on the right any more fathomable. Aaron's natural tendency to drift in towards the middle of the park deprives us of width on that flank. While opting for experience at Everton was understandable, it seemed ridiculous to bring him on for Gervinho when 2-0 up on Saturday, with our little Ox so eager to take on Villa’s tired legs that he was trotting up and down the touchline with steam coming out of his ears.

I can appreciate Arsène’s desire to want to protect our latest young prodigy, but at some point he needs to remove the reins and give the Ox his head. Alex is far too talented for ten-minute cameos, as he ably demonstrated when he eventually appeared during the dying throes, bristling with positive energy in his desperation to make some impact.

Flattering TV highlights left us looking like world-beaters but as Villa’s slide down the table suggests, in truth the visitors barely turned up. Heskey might’ve been auditioning for his future role as a nightclub bouncer but their appetite was pitiful compared with the passion of the Birmingham side that bullied us out of the Carling Cup Final. With Villa still playing for time after going a goal down, one might conclude that their match with McCleish is not exactly a marriage made in heaven?

Meanwhile the omens weren’t particularly auspicious prior to kick-off, when, having dawdled for fear of walking out the door while Chelsea v Spurs was still 0-0, I ended up leaving home too late for a pre-match pie. Having thus opted for an alternative route, I was just questioning the foolhardyness of wholesale changes to my ritualistic regimen, when news came over the radio of the inclusion in the starting line-up of the liability that is Djourou, after Laurent injured himself in the warm up.

My anxiety level only increased on eventually arriving at my seat, on finding myself beside a couple of infuriatingly annoying strangers, who insisted on gabbling their way through the entire game. Mercifully I blocked most of their chatter out by transferring the earphone from my terrace tranny to the other ear, but from the little I did overhear, they appeared more interested in discussing their wallpaper than they were in watching the football. Not that I mean to get all homophobic on your ass but I thought they might at least pass judgment on the players performing in Nike's nauseating new peach flavoured boots and the resulting clash with our red & white shirts.

Thankfully any such concerns soon evaporated as I savoured the Gunners stroll in the sunshine. I can’t recall if these unappreciative tourists interrupted their conversation for the first couple of goals, but it served them right that they missed out on the highlight of the afternoon, having made their exit moments before Arteta crowned the perfect afternoon, with his belter of a free-kick.

A reminder (if any was needed!) of what makes the long schlep
of an 8-hour round trip drive to Goodison feel so worthwhile

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Monday 19 March 2012


I forgot that I'd neglected to post this on Monday and thought I'd better get it done before it becomes completely outdated. Hopefully by Fabrice Muamba making a full recovery (and not to mention three points at Goodison tomorrow night!). But after popping into one of my Spurs pals this evening and hearing quite how disturbed they all were (and still are!) by poor Fabrice Muamba's plight at White Hart Lane on Saturday, I'm not sure whether I've done them an injustice by my comments below. Nevertheless, it's what I was thinking at the time and if I'm guilty of a faux pas, I apologise



With the Toffees still clinging to their FA Cup dreams and with our game at Goodison postponed until Wednesday, we Gooners were left kicking our heels over the course of the weekend.

Unless Ryo Miyaichi walks around with his dinner dripping down the front of his shirt, our young Oriental starlet might still be a long way from living up to his moniker as “the Japanese Messi”. Yet our loaned out wing wizard - who’s supposedly capable of leaving Theo Walcott trailing in his wake, with Ryo having clocked an impressive 10.6 seconds for the 100m - at least offered a soupçon of partisan interest in events at the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road on Saturday.

I tuned into the TV coverage of Spurs v Bolton, in the feint hope that by thwarting Harry’s cup run, Myaichi might bring comfort to Gooners everywhere, by ensuring that any remaining Lilywhite fantasies of being “on their way to Wembley” were merely due to the media conjecture on its potential as a temporary home during the redevelopment at White Hart Lane.

As someone who finds it hard to get enthused by burly egg-chasers’ somewhat tedious exploits and on the basis that Bendtner, our only other damp squib of a loanee with continued Cup interest, was hardly likely to be lighting any fires for Sunderland at Goodison, this was the closest I came to embracing the weekend’s sporting encounters

As it turned out, tragically, it was another former Arsenal starlet who became the focus of everyone’s attention, with the entire footballing world left feeling benumbed by the horrifically nauseating TV images that briefly portrayed poor Fabrice Muamba lying prone on the turf in such grave distress. With Fabrice having spent five years learning his trade under Arsène’s tutelage and based on the old enemy’s egregious track record (bearing in mind these are the same Spurs supporters who take relentless pleasure in tormenting Wenger with their “packet of sweets....paedophile” vitriol), I must admit that I was half-expecting the home fans to disgrace themselves anew, by breaking into a characteristically callous chorus of “let him die”.

Mercifully “the football family” was able to pat itself on the back, as to their credit, the home crowd reacted to such disturbing scenes with all due decorum. Having spoken since to Spurs mates who were at the match, it sounds as if the seriousness of the situation was so immediately apparent from the grief-stricken response of the rest of the players and the appearance of the defibrillator etc on the pitch that they were largely shocked into stunned silence. Although they weren’t so traumatized as to prevent them from contemplating the potential significant consequences soon after the game was abandoned, both in terms of the psychological impact and a potential fixture pile-up.

Meanwhile Muamba might not be the most naturally gifted player to have rolled off the Arsenal Academy’s production line of talent, but it’s his 100%, committed attitude which is his most endearing quality and which made him stand out amidst a crowd of more spoilt and less motivated young prodigies. We can but hope that it will be this immense fighting spirit which will ensure that Fabrice triumphs, in a battle which puts all footballing matters into positively trivial perspective. There can be little more sobering evidence of the need to make the very most of our brief time on this mortal coil, than to witness live, as the grim-reaper arbitrarily wields his axe, in his effort to prematurely fell such a supremely fit individual in his prime.

Yet while sufficient respect has been shown by all concerned, with the postponement of Villa v Bolton, elsewhere, the show must go on. My fatalistic Spurs pals are convinced that they’ve blown it and that the battle for 3rd place is all but over. There can be no overstating the significance of a return to some defensive stability. The Gunners now look an entirely different proposition to the team that endured a farcical couple of months trying to compete without any recognised full-backs. Nevertheless, the fact that we’ve only enjoyed the victors spoils in our two most recent matches thanks to a long-overdue, large slice of good fortune, is evidence enough that the transition is far from complete, in respect of acquiring the necessary winning momentum for a consistent sprint-finish.

There may now only be one point between us and Spurs, but last I looked, the league table shows the Gunners as being in arrears and with 30 points still to play for, about the only thing I’m certain of is that we’re still a long way from being able to draw any such Premiership conclusions.

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Tuesday 13 March 2012

Toon Insert A Tazar Up The Arsenal

I spent much of the weekend struggling to resist the temptation to gloat over Spurs defeat at Goodison, for fear of tempting fate. But with seemingly little tread left on the three wheels of the wobbly White Hart Lane wagon and with the auld enemy leaving the door wide agape, for the Gunners to be able to whittle a massive ten point gap right back down to one (all within the space of a sensational 16 days), I strolled around to the ground last night after a gorgeous, sun-soaked Spring day in the capital, increasingly convinced that Pardew’s Barcodes were bound to rain on our parade. I was pessimistically predicting that it wouldn’t be completely out of character for us to fall flat on our Arse as we attempted to cross the threshold into a fantasy land that was less credulous than Narnia only a few short weeks back.

Pardew does appear blessed with the ability to galvanize his troops, but Tiote & co. set about putting a muscular spoke in the Gunners’ engine, with such physical intent that they forgot to play football. Yet where we’ve been bullied out of our rhythm in the past and wilted under similar pressure, there are promising signs of hardier Arsenal perennials amongst this season’s crop, in the likes of Walcott and Rosicky rediscovering a willingness to resist all efforts to steal their sunlight.

However, as evidenced by the electrifying response, both on and off the pitch, in some respects, it was probably fortunate that Ben Arfa found the back of the net with the Toon’s solitary moment of fluid football. It was as if a Tazar had been inserted up the Arsenal.

I’ve been touting my own “Pay him what he wants” version of the Van Persie “scores when he wants” ditty. Yet in spite of Robin’s almost instantaneous rejoinder, by his own stratospheric standards, this was a decidedly bad day at the office. The longer the Geordies resisted the fairly relentless, second-half waves of red & white pressure, the more I began to fear yet another "coulda, woulda, shoulda" conclusion.

However as we wallowed in the post-match euphoria of Tommie Vermaelen’s tremendous last gasp triumph, it was my neighbour who pointed out that if one didn’t know any better, you might conclude that the denouement of this campaign had been specifically designed to “pump up the volume” at what was previously our far too passive new home.

All too often in the six seasons since the move, I’ve had cause to complain about the sterile atmosphere and our theatre-like audience’s inability to influence games, in the manner that we’re accustomed to at more fervent grounds. How gratifying it is that in the space of the past three matches, the Grove seems to have suddenly found it’s voice. Quite apart from refusing to accept a draw, with the crowd’s contribution in roaring the team on to this victory and the North Bank successfully sucking the ball into the back of the net, I’m convinced we had a definite influence on the addition of those five vital minutes of injury time, with our relentless and somewhat OTT objections to Krul eeking out the clock with every goalkick.

I had some sympathy for the likes of Ben Arfa and Cabaye, as they spent the second half, watching the ball sailing over their heads for the few brief moments that the visitors retained possession. With Pardew paying such devoted homage to the Harry Bassett school of percentage foot(head!)ball, in the end it was poetic justice that our panache won the day. Not to mention being one in the eye for so many of the Emirates’ premature evacuators. I had a couple of irritating tourists sitting on the other side of me, yapping the entire game through. I couldn’t help but feel that in their unfathomable efforts to beat the queues at the station, they’d got exactly what they deserved, by missing out on such a magical climax.

Meanwhile I couldn’t help but spare a thought for all my mortified Spurs mates, watching with their fingers prematurely poised on the text message “send” button, counting their cockerels as the 90 minutes came and went. They should take comfort in the fact that there’s likely to be plenty of twists & turns still to come in such a topsy-turvy season.

Don’t ask me how, but having miraculously managed to gain a foothold on 3rd place (with the likes of Santos, Diaby and Wilshere still waiting in the wings), the big question now is that with little else to fight for, can we continue to maintain the same focus and intensity, for the sort of positive sprint-finish that can truly provide Van Persie with sufficient promise for his future?

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Tuesday 6 March 2012

Mind That Gap!

Hi folks,

I hate having to file my missive for the Examiner on a Monday, for publication on Wednesday, after tonight's game. Although in this particular instance, it doesn't really take the faculties of a seer to be able to predict the outcome.

I'd love to be able to believe a 4-0 win was possible this evening and obviously you never know, but ultimately if we're to seriously go for it in order to try and restore parity, it's hard to imagine that we're capable of keeping a clean sheet at the same time.

So as to avoid any disappointment, I'll be going this evening without any serious expectations, but no one will be happier to be going to bed with with egg on my face tonight


Arriving home at 1am after an exhausting night’s work last Friday, it seemed seriously bonkers and hardly a recipe for a relaxing weekend, to be setting my alarm for 4.30am, in order to be up in time to walk the dog, before a crack of dawn departure on the Travel Club coach to Anfield. Come the revolution, the tyrannical TV tail responsible for wagging the fixture schedule dog, without the slightest consideration for the travails of the travelling fan, will be first up against my wall!

I’ve no idea how the home side weren’t home & hosed by half-time and I spent the break wondering why on earth I’d bothered going to all that effort, when only three on our side seemed prepared to demonstrate similar commitment (and one of these being an inanimate object) with the fortitude shown by Van Persie, Sczczny and the woodwork!

Perhaps the dissipation of the buoyant mood, after our positively delicious Derby day elation, was partially due to the majority of our squad promptly disappearing off to all four corners of the planet. But it was incredibly frustrating to witness quite how often we were undone early on, by a Liverpool side that seemed so much more “up for it” than us.

I’d dragged my aching bones out of my pit at such an ungodly hour in expectation of the reward of witnessing an Arsenal side fired up by the faint glimmer of renewed hope, following the crest-fallen misery of our recent disappointments. Instead of which we were second best all over the park; that is apart from the all-important business of scoring and preventing goals. Despite the fact that Luis Suarez danced his way through our defence at will, like a dose of Epsom Salts, the Scousers only managed to take the lead courtesy of the hapless intervention of Laurent Koscielny.

Nevertheless, for all my exasperation with the apparent return of a team of timorous impostors, after last week’s brief interlude against Spurs, I ended up departing Anfield feeling more than a little abashed at being unable to contain the broadest of grins, as a result of Robin’s late, late “smash & grab”. Ninety minutes worth of frustration evaporated in this one instant of exquisite footballing artistry.

This and the resulting eight minutes of injury-time euphoria, along with the brief exchange of mutual admiration at the final whistle, suddenly made my personal sacrifice seem worthwhile, knowing there were plenty of sane Gooners who’d had the sense to avoid such a ludicrous expedition, but who would’ve now given anything to have been beside me, celebrating in the Anfield Road End.

Yet while our last gasp winner might have stolen all the glory, it didn’t mask the obvious deficiencies of a team, which was far too short on motivation for my liking. Hopefully this was due to the forthcoming distraction of our “Hail Mary” encounter with AC Milan, rather than heavy legs after their week of globe trotting (an excuse trotted out far too frequently for my liking!) because if fatigue was an issue on Saturday, they’re unlikely to feel refreshed forty-eight hours hence.

By now you’ll know whether the Gunners have managed to achieve a glorious exit from the European stage, restoring some much needed pride with a respectable second-leg result. I’d love to believe a miracle was possible; with an early-goal and a bit of good fortune, as we all know, the unexpected is the hallmark of the beautiful game. Yet it would require the sort of inspired performance, of the sort that up until now, sadly we’ve only managed to produce after going behind in games. Thus I can’t help but fear that our failure to find the net in Italy is likely to be punished by our inability to keep a clean sheet at home.

Yet with Spurs losing to Man Utd and Chelsea losing yet another manager, it feels somewhat churlish of me to be moaning after pretty much the perfect weekend. Few could’ve imagined the ten-point gulf between us and Tottenham would be eroded so quickly, to the point where we now have our neighbours squarely sighted in the crosshairs. So even if a Champions League quarterfinal should prove a fantasy too far, considering our token North London crown was previously such an unlikely prospect, I’ll gladly settle for a supremely satisfying St. Totteringham’s day.

Final whistle celebrations

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Saturday 3 March 2012

Definitely one for the masochists amongst us.....!

After finishing an exhausting get-out for the ballet at Tate Britain (schlepping steel-decking!) and then not arriving home until 1am, it seemed stark raving bonkers to be up at 4.30, in time to walk the dog and head off to the Grove for the 6.15am Travel Club coach to Merseyside.

I hate early KOs at the best of times, since the Gunners never seem to start playing until after half-time and these matches are too early for folks to get sufficiently lubricated to produce a decent atmosphere. But after dragging my aching bones out of my pit after only a couple of hours kip, I can't help but feel that Come The Revolution, those TV tossers responsible for this sort of bonkers scheduling (as ever, with absolutely no consideration for genuine fans) will be first up against my wall!

Meanwhile, in light of the sort of sacrifices necessary for us to be there - security had to lock up at the Tate before we'd quite finished last night and so I've had to pass on a day's wages at double-bubble, just for turning up for 30 minutes more "tidging" this morning :-( - I sincerely hope that the Arsenal that turns up at Anfield at high-noon is the same scintillating team we watched last weekend and not the bunch of impostors responsible for the disappointingly mediocre fare that we've endured for the majority of this season. Aside from the fact that I'm going to feel seriously pissed off, having made all this effort, only to see Suarez, Carroll & co. run amok, if we don't do ourselves justice against the Mickey Mousers, it will leave us wide open to arguments that last week's wonderful result was a fluke.

Besides which, absolutely the last thing I want is to give my Spurs mates the satisfaction of believing that the Derby win was our Cup Final, as after being ten points behind, with a result on Merseyside and a win for Man Utd on Sunday, it's all up for grabs