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Thursday 26 April 2012

You Can Stick Your Early KOs Up The Arse

G’day Gooners,

It goes completely against the grain for me to have been screaming for the Germans last night, but the logic is that it's going to be that much more enjoyable to see Chelsea get beat in the final, knowing that smug bastard Mourinho won't be the one to profit.

One might’ve assumed that the death of entertainment on offer in Saturday’s non-event of a Derby would’ve left me with little to “write home about”, but somehow the limitations of the Irish Examiner’s wordage requirements have resulted in me having to omit a whole heap of anecdotal musings from my weekly meanderings below.

So feel perfectly free to scroll straight down to my regular weekly missive (even if it is a little outdated by now) unless you’ve really nothing better to do than to while away he remainder of your day, absorbing what's likely to be the sort of inordinately long-winded preamble that's almost guaranteed to result in verbal indigestion.

I'd love to see some stats on how frequently we've lost the toss at home and how often this has resulted in the visitors turning us around? I certainly don't recall playing towards the North Bank in the first half many times, but I don't know whether this means we're just a bunch of very lucky (coin) tossers, or that other opponents haven't thought of playing this card. But after turning us around served Wigan so well on Monday (with Martinez demonstrating his tactical astuteness even before a ball had been kicked!), I think it's fairly safe to assume it was no coincidence that Chelsea did likewise. In which case, we're going to have to learn to deal with this possibility poste haste, to ensure that we're not completely thrown by it, as I imagine every other opponent will have taken note.

I've an uncle with a couple of upper tier seasons tickets and with him having acquired a third for the latter stages of this season, not wanting a spare seat to go begging when my cousins have been unable to get to games, he's occasionally phoned my Ma to see if she wants to join them. However, gawd love her, my Mum has often been reluctant to accept the invitation, for fear of putting "the bok" on us and feeling singularly culpable in the event of a disastrous defeat.

So being fully aware of her concerns to this regard, when Mum informed me on Friday night that she'd agreed to come to the Chelsea game, it was great to be able set her mind at rest, by informing her that she was entirely off the hook in the event of a bad result. This Gooner at the van hire company we use every week was desperate to break his Arsenal cherry and was chuffed to bits when I went in there on Friday morning, to inform him that a mate of mine had found a ticket for him. However I made it very clear that it might well be his first and last Arsenal match, if we ended up getting beat :-)

I hope he didn't take me seriously, but I bet he was relieved that we didn't end up blowing it. Still, considering it was his first game and the first time my Ma has been to a match in years, I was absolutely gutted for the both of them, since the odds of witnessing the only scoreless draw of the season at our place must've been pretty long (excluding Marseille in the Champs League).

Mind you, it didn't stop this kid getting the Gooner bug, as despite the fact that I imagine it's very hard for him to justify spending 50 quid of his hard earned wages on a ticket (I wonder what this equates to in respect of the number of vans he has to wash!), he's definitely planning on coming back for the Norwich game.

And I haven't even started with the story about having the membership card in my name confiscated by a steward doing spot checks inside the ground on Monday night because it wasn't me sitting in the seat (in return for a form on which this steward had ticked "suspected touting"!). Mercifully at least, I was able to get the card back in time for Saturday's match. Although then again, in light of the woeful entertainment on offer, they'd have probably been doing me a favour if they'd kept it!

But I'll save this tale for another time, as otherwise I'll never get this missive posted. Myself I'm trying to look at Chelsea's progress to the Champs League final from the glass half-full perspective of there being a possibility that the team finishing 4th in the league won't qualify for the big prize of Champs League football next season. Hopefully at least this should ensure that we turn up at Stoke and West Brom, knowing that we really can't afford to lose our grip on 3rd place? Personally I always felt that after all their misfortune against Barca, Chelsea were long overdue a lucky break against the Catalan cohorts.

Nevertheless, not only will it be a complete & utter travesty if Di Matteo's Blues actually manage to spoil their way to finally fulfilling Roman Abramovich's fantasy (especially when you consider how much the Ruski has invested in far better Blues footballing sides that have tried and failed in recent times), but the greatest crime would be if The Toon end up miraculously achieving 4th place, only to be deprived of the dream that's inspired them and to end up with the ignominy of Thursday night football. Truth be told, when you consider the lacklustre performances of virtually every other Premiership outfit and the fact that they're playing as if their season ended a couple of weeks back, even if the Alan Pardew charabanc should eventually prove to be a flash in the pan, on current form, compared to the way in which the wheels have fallen off Harry's wagon and our spluttering efforts to get over the finishin line, The Toon are probably the only side that is truly deserving of this highly-prized reward.

Big Love

You Can Stick Your Early KOs Up The Arse

If I never see another early kick-off at the Arsenal, it’ll be too soon! Our encounter with Norwich on what was always a sacrosanct FA Cup Saturday is the next. Could the TV tail wagging the football dog possibly do any more to smother their Golden Goose?

Time was when the opposition making eight changes for a crucial London derby would’ve been more than sufficient disrespect, to inspire the Gunners to produce a grandstand display.  By coincidence on London Marathon weekend, the Gunners, along with virtually every other club (seemingly bar the Barcodes!) are sadly showing obvious signs of having hit The Wall in the Premiership endurance event.

Still I suppose that we should be grateful for small mercies, since (as yet!) our form hasn’t nosedived quite so dramatically as our North London neighbours. My Spurs pals’ fanciful aspirations of finishing above us are suddenly looking as deluded as ever. Yet I can fully appreciate why they’ve been left scratching their heads, as if you compare our two squads, like for like, (with us being deprived of Wilshere for the duration) they actually appear to be a stronger outfit on paper and you can’t help but wonder how they’ve managed such an accomplished job of cocking it up?

However before the cry of “Harry for England” comes wafting on the breeze from across the Irish Sea into Hollyhead lugholes, much like the charismatic Cockney Venables before him, Redknapp still seems best placed to use his affable, man of the people charm, to effortlessly negotiate the International high-wire trapeze act of charming the media (who in turn feed their insatiable public) and inspiring the best out of blasé stars in a tournament environment.

Meanwhile, it’s not as us paying punters are being offered reduced priced tickets for the below par product that seems to have become the norm in recent times, due to the detrimental effects of end-of-seasonitis, So in some respects I can understand the misplaced scorn, from those who took umbrage on the terraces on Saturday. Whether it’s a question of physical or mental fatigue, poor Aaron Ramsey is far from alone in running out of steam and if Wilshere had been fit, I suspect he wouldn’t have been required to perform so frequently.

In the pressure cooker circumstances of the Premiership, where every match is so significant, it’s inevitable that players will suffer from adrenaline deficit, where as the finishing line hoves into view and their thoughts turn to a tropical beach, they struggle to fire themselves up sufficiently for a sprint down the home straight.

Nevertheless, with the less glamorous likes of Stoke, West Brom & Norwich to come, you would’ve thought the Gunners might’ve at least motivated themselves to put their noses to the grindstone, for what amounts to our last big game of this campaign. Sadly Saturday’s Derby had all the dynamism of a damp squib, with Rosicky the only player in red & white looking to make something happen in the first-half.

But then it takes two to tango and unlike at the Bridge, where Chelsea were caught betwixt and between, by AVB’s ambitions for more aesthetically pleasing football, sadly the Blues reverted to the same pragmatic tactics that have served them so well in recent times. In the absence of the sort of inspirational player capable of finding sufficient space between the rows of seats of the Blues’ parked bus to unlock the door, the visitors were able to sit back in far too much comfort and soak up all our possession, waiting patiently, mercifully in vain on this occasion, to eventually profit from our gung-ho exuberance, as we throw caution to the wind in refusing to settle for a point.

Sadly the fact that both sides seemed far too content to settle for a draw made for a disappointingly drab spectacle. At least we didn’t lose, doubtless largely due to Di Matteo keeping most of his powder dry for their daunting trip to Catalonia. Yet in spite of their creditable success at the Bridge, compared to the mouth-wateringly entertaining alternatives, I simply can’t subscribe to the travesty of Chelsea stifling Barca, Bayern or Real, all the way to the big-eared prize.

Thus I felt the Blues had far more riding on all three points than we did, as 4th place slipped ever further from their grasp. My greatest concern for the Gunners is that with the likes of Arteta & Walcott dropping like flies, we’re in danger of losing all momentum and instead of finishing the season on a high, we could end up inconsolably limping over the line, should we fail to find sufficient inspiration to prevail against Stoke and West Brom.

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