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Sunday 27 May 2012

Great piece in the Observer...

...about the sort of inspirational dedication (in the face of unbelievable adversity and advancing years) that should truly shame all those overly spoilt football brats

PS. I remember her coach, Frank Attoh, as he was triple-jumping for Shaftesbury Harriers when I was high-jumping as a callow youth

Saturday 26 May 2012

Please...Anything But A Verschlepte, Summer Long Van Persie Krenk

It completely slipped my mind that I’d neglected to post my concluding diary missive of the season, until my most loyal reader (my Ma) reminded me after dinner at her place last night – at least I can count on one person to notice when I neglect to send out a post!

So while doubtless much of the piece below is way past its sell by date, being such a pedantic bugger, it occurred to me that even if our team struggles to maintain a level of consistency, I should at least keep up my end by ensuring that there’s a corresponding entry for every week of the past season.

Meanwhile my apologies to anyone who might struggle with the meaning of the title above but a Friday night session of mainlining chopped liver will often result in the side-effect of me spouting my Mrs Malapropski Yiddish (it translates to “Anything but a dragged out, summer long Van Persie story)

Ever since the season ended, I’ve been avoiding the media like the plague. Apart from briefly glancing at the headlines when waiting for my morning caffeine fix, I have barely seen a newspaper. Hence I am hardly qualified to offer an opinion on any of the latest rumours and gossip.

Apart from wanting to do my best to avoid all the sycophantic blathering about the exploits of Chelsea and Man City, my principal motivation for steering well clear is so as to avoid getting sucked in to a daily diet of transfer saga claptrap that will only result in an increased level of anxiety over the Gunners' future.

My feelings on Robin Van Persie are that while I would seriously hope that the suits at the club are prepared to do whatever is necessary to persuade Robin to put pen to paper on a new contract, in order to make a statement of intent, of the sort that was seemingly achieved last summer by Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy (in the way in which they were intent on matching Chelsea’s ever more exorbitant courtship of Luka Modric), I guess that ultimately we have to accept that “que sera, sera”.

Although it’s long overdue time for the Gunners to put their foot down and demonstrate that we have sufficient financial clout to ensure that we’re not perceived as a “selling club”, where absolutely any of our best players can be poached so long as the price is right, the truth of the matter is that at the end of the day there is no point in paying Van Persie an obscene amount of money to renew his contract, if Robin has already made his mind up that his future lies elsewhere.

On the basis that I can think of little that one can buy with a fortune of £200 million that one cannot afford with a mere £100 million (other than perhaps the odd third-world dictatorship), personally I will be very disappointed if money is the motivating factor in our simply peerless Dutch striker’s eventual decision. However, should Arsène be unable to demonstrate to him that the Gunners will have an improved chance of competing for silverware in the season to come, as a result of a guaranteed substantial investment in our squad, then I’m afraid that as distraught as I would be to lose Van Persie at his peak, I would have to side with him, if he should decide that he has improved prospects of putting some medals in his trophy cabinet with a move elsewhere; because despite the fact that Robin appears to have some truly genuine feelings for the Gunners, if I was in his shoes, I would seriously be questioning quite how long I am expected to swallow Arsène’s assurances about “the Promised Land” without any demonstrable evidence of having made any progress towards this objective.

I received a phone call from a Gooner pal in midweek and was instantly reminded as to why I’d been avoiding the football media up until now, because after having requested details of the latest Van Persie gossip, within minutes I felt my blood beginning to boil, as my mate revealed in one breath that there’s a rumour about Vermaelen having already moved into Robin’s London home and in the next that some scurrilous Mancunian estate agent has suggested that the Dutchman is already building a swimming pool at his new gaff in Cheshire.

This is probably just a result of some unscrupulous Northern monkey trying to make a fast buck, by pushing up the prices of ostentatious Prestbury mansions on the back of the prospect of having Van Persie as a neighbour. Over the years I have learned to take all such unsubstantiated nonsense with a pinch of salt. Nevetheless, it’s a hint of the sort of claptrap we can expect over the coming months and the main reason why I choose to try and withdraw from playing this particularly stressful game, because it only adds to the sense of anxiety.

Still it didn't stop me from "tweeting" Van Persie, in the vain hope of being offered some reassurance. For while there's only degrees of distraughtness involved in Van Persie's eventual destination, in the unthinkable event of his departure, the sense of betrayal would be vastly increased if he should end up playing against us in the Premiership. My mate reckoned that while everyone's assuming Man City are the only game in Manchester, we might be surprised to see him end up at Man Utd and somehow this would feel all the more galling, knowing that we couldn't match Utd's offer, even with their £350 million debt. If we do end up losing Robin, it won't be nearly so traumatic if he ends up going abroad and we at least don't end up falling further out of love with him everytime we face the daunting prospect of having to prevent him scoring against us!

So I’ll be spending my summer focusing on the cricket, athletics, boxing, along with all the various other Olympics' hooplah and doubtless getting drawn into Euro 2012, when it eventually kicks off (does anyone actually know someone who intends on travelling to Eastern Europe for the Euros, I certainly don’t?), in the hope that this might provide sufficient a distraction for me to be able to ignore the constant cacophony of transfer rumours, until such a time as there is hard and fast proof of any definitive transactions.

Meanwhile, as ever at this time of the year, there’s still the none too insignificant matter of having to rustle up a thousand quid by 1st June, in order to renew my season ticket and so as to avoid Arsenal Cold Turkey completely, there’s the prospect of alleviating withdrawal symptoms with a temporary Gooner fix, on 6th June, in the form of a Q & A session with Ivan “sustainable business model” Gazides.

I’ve been to one of these gigs previously, where I was intent on laying into Ivan about matching the club’s off pitch achievements, with our on pitch ambition. Yet as hard as I tried to dislike the fella, I have to admit that Gazides is such an incredibly smooth operator, that along with virtually everyone else in the audience, I came away from this event, thinking that he’s not such a bad bloke, with Gazides having successfully snowed us all into believing that we shared the same desire for the club’s successful future.

However I sense that there’s an ever-rising tide of dissatisfaction amongst my red & white brethren with the current status quo and an absentee landlord who appears perfectly happy not to meddle in the club’s affairs, so long as the cash registers continue to ring loud and clear. From what I’ve perceived, it seems to me that American accents are ever more prevalent in the corridors of power at the Arsenal (eg. the "Septic" who’s succeeded Amanda Docherty as the club’s PR chief) and that Silent Stan has installed a series of “yes men” (and women) to run his “business” profitably. As much as these suits might claim that they share our dreams and that they aspire to achieving silverware, it seems evident to me that this will simply not occur at the expense of our healthy balance sheet.

Although there was a loud hue and cry when Alisher Usmanov was originally mooted as a potential sugar-daddy, I have to wonder if all these Gooners continue to sit astride their moral high-horse when it comes to this matter. At the end of the day, I very much doubt that there are many fortunes that have been amassed in an entirely ethical fashion, whether the money is a result of an association with a modern day mafia, or whether it dates back to an ancient investment in the slave trade.

In this respect, are we seriously going to draw a “can’t beat ‘em, won’t join ‘em” line in the sand, whereby we accept that from here on in, the Gunners are never going to have anything but the occasional fortunate tilt at a knockout trophy, on account of our point blank refusal to entertain the idea of a generous philanthropist, due to the fact that they all have skeletons in their closets and ulterior motives?

Or are we going to wait for a knight who’s shining armour is a just slightly more lustrous (or slightly less offensive) than that of Alisher Usmanov. Here we have the 2nd richest person in the country (who just happens to be seriously "liquid" at present after having pocketed billions from the flotations of Facebook and Megafon!), who seems desperately keen to align himself with the Arsenal, but so long as the current regime are intent on resisting his advances, it’s fairly likely that eventually he will look elsewhere.

Is it seriously the case that there are Gooners out there of such strict moral conviction, that they’d prefer to see the Gunners limping along for the forseeable future, scrabbling every season for continued Champions League qualification, rather than accept the almost inevitable course of our morally bankrupt sport? If so, pray tell me, exactly how would it sit with you, should Usmanov eventually decide to invest several hundred million down the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road, purely out of spite?

Personally I would’ve much preferred to have not seen Chelsea win the Champions League and be able to lord it over us with their conquest of the big-eared trophy. Nevertheless, at least there was plenty of mileage to be had along the way, out of the agonies of the auld enemy. But as I reveled in all that Schadenfreude, thinking of the relief they must have felt when Bayern scored on 84 mins and then when Doddier conceded the penalty in extra-time, only for all this hope to evaporate moments later, in football’s typically fickle and most cruel fashion, I couldn’t escape the thought that, but for the hapless incompetence of  Marton Fullop,at the Hawthornes, it would’ve been us suffering all the anguish of Spurs parlous predicament.

Mercifully, after such a bad start to the season and having virtually given up any hope of maintaining our Champions League run, most Gooners have been satiated by the opportunity to retain our seat at Europe’s top table. But if it wasn’t for poor Fullop’s (worst ever?) Premiership debut and two gift-wrapped goals from the Baggies minder, we’d have probably been up in arms right now, demanding a revolution!

Enjoy your Summer
Keep the Faith
Big Love

PS. I was driving along the Fulham Road this week, a few hundred yards from Stamford Bridge and couldn't resist taking a snap of the truck in front of me, with four chequered blue and white flags and a business sign on the back "We Talk Rubbish"


Once More With Feeling

I can only begin to imagine the agonies endured by long-suffering City fans on Sunday, considering I must’ve aged a dozen years or more, merely due to the anxiety involved in watching the Gunners falling over their own feet, as we scrabbled over the line to our 15th consecutive Champions League qualification.

Following out worst start to a campaign in more than half a century, this has to be viewed as a success overall. Yet as with the majority of this season’s other significant issues, all too often it wasn’t the beautiful football that won out, but a seemingly endless array of tragi-comic twists of fate and a team’s propensity to produce fewer cock-ups than the competition.

So despite the plethora of engrossing end of season encounters that stood as testament to the Premiership’s indisputable claim as the most exciting competition on the planet, it’s certainly not a gauge of the quality on offer. Or indeed a measure of that clinical equanimity, which enables the best sides to navigate the rockiest of roads to success.

Although such an astonishingly capricious season across the board suggests the Gunners are far from alone in our failings to this regard, if any further corroboration was required, we witnessed it at West Brom; where mercifully we ended up wallowing in the euphoria of having avoided finishing up in Spurs unenviable 4th place predicament, on the back of a customarily shambolic display, almost totally devoid of defensive composure.

Moreover, having travelled up to the Hawthorns expecting the Arsenal to be motivated to fight tooth and nail, to earn their right to return to the big stage, it was baffling and a source of palpable frustration watching the Baggies perform as if they were the side with more than pride to play for. But then sadly this seems to be an all-pervasive malaise amongst the Premiership’s prima-donnas nowadays. They’re deluded by their superstar status into believing they only need turn up, to earn our adoration and their obscene income and often only producing the goods when their pride has been sufficiently pricked by hungrier, more committed upstarts.

Vermaelen is a case in point. If only the Belgian could match Koscielny’s massive heart with a consistent level of intensity, the Gunners might have the basic ingredients to build a more resolute defence. There are times when Tommie goes about his game with the sort of ardor that suggests he could be the Arsenal’s answer to Vincent Kompany. But then on Sunday, as was the case against QPR, he seemed bereft of the sort of blinkered focus, until we’d gift-wrapped a couple of goals and suddenly any such arguments appear specious.

It was brilliant to see our squad making a point of giving Pat Rice a decent send off. Along with Ken Friar, dear old Pat must rank as one of the most loyal ever servants to the Arsenal’s cause. Nevertheless it was perhaps revealing as an indicator of how Rice is perceived in the dressing room, to see him given the bumps. It’s hard to imagine any of the players doing likewise with a stony-faced Steve Bould .I’m therefore optimistic about this changing of the training ground guard, in the hope that Bouldie might bring some much needed organizational discipline, thereby eradicating the sort of schoolboy disquiet that appears responsible for our defence’s tiresome tendency to implode.

Meanwhile with West Brom eager to usher the Arsenal off the pitch, to conduct their own end of season ritual and Roy Hodgson’s last rites, there was a decidedly disconcerting end to our afternoon, as Robin insisted on returning on his tod to take one last (??!!) bow. Who knows, perhaps Van Persie was merely hedging his bets, prompting the sort of insecurity that might ensure several million more, on his offer of a contract renewal. But while I tried to put a brave face on things, my worst fears were realized in a response that questioned if this wasn’t a “thanks for the memories” moment of farewell, what possible other reason could there have been for Van Persie to act in this fashion?

While we fret about retaining our far too limited number of truly genuine world-class stars in our gossamer thin squad, we can rest assured that Man City will maintain their momentum, to ensure two or three options in every position. Although many principled Gooners might express their indignation at the prospect of our beloved club selling it’s soul to the second richest man in the country, there’s also an increasing number of dissenters about Silent Stan and our absentee landlord’s apparent lack of interest in anything but the balance sheet.

In this morally bankrupt sport of ours, where dubiety exists about the boundless wealth of all of its sugar-daddy patrons, are the Gunners intent on drawing a ‘can’t beat ‘em, won’t join ‘em” line in the sand that guarantees our “also ran” status? Because other than Van Persie, it could be argued that the only summer signatory that will truly enable us to compete is that of the Uzbek oligarch, Alisher Usmanov?

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Sunday 13 May 2012

A Reluctant Pat Rice Takes A Bow & RVP Leaves Us All Wondering

It was truly wonderful to see the ever humble Pat Rice being pulled over to take a reluctant bow with the rest of the team (see attached video) after the final whistle today, then seriously embarrassed to be carried and given the bumps in front of us.

Considering Pat's lifetime of loyal service and the fact that I struggle to recall him ever taking the plaudits with the rest of the players during his period as AW's right-hand man, it was brilliant to see him receive all due recognition prior to his retirement.

Meanwhile, it was more than a little perturbing that when the rest of the team were then being ushered off as quickly as possible, so that the Baggies could get on with their own "end of season" spiel, RVP insisted on returning completely on his tod, to take another bow.

It was hard not to see this without wondering if he was taking the opportunity to bid us Gooners farewell and in an effort to try and put a positive slant on this disconcerting end to the afternoon, I said to my pals that perhaps Robin was merely hedging his bets, trying to inject the air of insecurity that might ensure there are a sufficient number of zeros on the end of his contract renewal offer. Although the response I received was to question what possible other reason there could be for RVP to act in this fashion?

Watch the video and when you've made your own mind up, hopefully you'll be able to reassure me otherwise.

I don't know what it was like for Man City fans this afternoon, but our game proved so stressful that I feel as if I've aged ten years just watching it. In fact, even though I was listening to events elsewhere on my terrace tranny and I'd heard and absorbed the fact that Man City had equalised, at that stage I was so terrified that we were going to cock it up, during the five minutes of injury time (as was AW, judging by Arseblog's screen grab of him with his head literally in Pat Rice's lap, with the agony etched across his face), that I didn't hear, or failed to absorb the fact that City had actually scored a winner.

As a result, having been the font of knowledge of the other scores for those in my vicinity all afternoon, I continued to give out the fallacious information that Utd had won the title and didn't realise the embarrassing error of my ways until long after, as we were exiting the Hawthornes and I began to absorb the radio interview with Vincent Kompany, trying to work out why there were asking him what it felt like to finally achieve their ambition!

I've only just walked in the door and despite the happy outcome, the traumatic way in which scrabbled over the line has left me emotionally and physically cream-crackered and I can't believe I've got to remain awake long enough to fully absorb the entire gamut of this afternoon's intoxicating excitement, before bashing out my missive for the Irish Examiner. Matchsticks anyone.....?

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Monday 7 May 2012

Time For Pat Rice To Give The Cattle Prod One Last Outing At London Colney

Hi foks,

With hope restored after Sunday's get outta jail reprieve, I'm not feeling anything like as suicidal as I was on Saturday afternoon. Although going to West Brom, needing a win against the Baggies in their last home game of the season and Woy Hodgson's curtain call at the Hawthorns, is not exactly the ideal situation and I'm not feeling particularly optimistic, it's a great relief to be holding our chances of qualifying for the Champions League in our own hands, rather than having to count on results elsewhere (although it might well come to that!)

Here's wishing poor Bakari Sagna a speedy recovery and many happy returns (for Saturday) to Yossie Benayoun - I bet he couldn't have wished for a more beautiful birthday pressie. It's just a great pity that the subsequent slackness resulted in all the fizz evaporating and instead of Yossi popping the cork on a champagne celebration of a redemptive season, we were left crying in our beer, as we witnessed a demoralisingly flat trudge around the pitch following the final whistle. Here's hoping that after quaffing from Saturday's poisoned chalice, the Gunners might be suitably motivated for a Dom Perrignon performance against the Baggies, rather than suffer another ignominious dunking in this contaminated well.

I'm off to concentrate on watching the Hammers. For us travelling Gooners, geographically speaking, I'd be delighted to see Wolves, Blackburn and Bolton, replaced by Reading, Soton and the Irons

Come on you Gunners
Big Love

           It felt like sacrilege to be playing football on FA Cup Saturday, let alone yet another 12.45 KO. Still as we rocked up to the Grove for the last time this season, I felt that if we couldn’t beat Norwich at home, a team with nothing but pride to play for, then the Gunners really didn’t deserve to qualify for the Champions League. But then it seems neither do Spurs, as with Villa being just about the most apathetic outfit we’ve encountered all season, I was convinced their game on Sunday was a “gimme” and that our neighbours were guaranteed to rub our noses in Saturday’s two dropped points.

            With Benayoun only being at the Arsenal on loan, it was bizarre that of all those in red & white, Yossi seemed most irate about us squandering our early lead. While others were ambling around, with the sort of criminally casual attitude that was largely responsible for our shambolic defending, the Israeli was the only one who appeared visibly distressed by the cattle prod of the Canaries response.

            But then in his shoes, I’d have been equally pissed that instead of his rare peach of a strike (and RVP’s brace) bolstering our goal difference and securing our seat on the Euro gravy train, the highpoints of this game would be lost amidst all that Gooner angst, as the looming prospect of the ignominy of Thursday nights on Channel 5 cast a thoroughly depressing aura over the Gunners’ end of season ‘lap of appreciation’.

            With us taking the lead in the opening minute, I mistakenly presumed this was the precursor to a stress-free afternoon, saving us from all that edge-of-the-seat anxiety. But in truth this only encouraged all those (both on and off the pitch) who expected our lowly opponents to roll over, resulting in a positively sterile atmosphere, as we sat back and waited for a routine win. Instead of which, with nothing to lose Lambert had made five changes and the goal liberated a fresh-looking Norwich, as they relaxed and began to enjoy their football.

            While a totally committed Koscielny struggled to compensate for Vermaelen’s lapses in concentration and the Belgian’s uncharacteristic lack of intensity, it was our unforgivably incessant dereliction of duty in defending as a team that was primarily culpable for producing such an entertaining contest for the neutral. I felt the need to pinch myself to confirm that this was the Canaries, as opposed to more flamboyant opposition, as time and again our midfield parted like the waters of the Red Sea, presenting Hoolihan and co. with an opportunity to bear down on our goal, entirely unopposed.

So what if Aaron Ramsey and others in our midfield couldn’t match the likes of Jackson and Naughton for pace, it was downright unforgivable seeing them simply give up the chase; when, with so much at stake, they should be going hell for leather to try and help out our defence. Having dug our own grave, it was positively soul-destroying for Van Persie to have produced a two-goal rescue mission, only for us to display the naivety of a side that doesn’t know how to shut shop and run down the clock. Frankly this merely confirmed our current squad’s lack of Champions League pedigree.

In the absence of Arteta as the glue that binds this team and gives our football some real purpose, the Gunners play like a bunch of disparate individuals. With Sagna added to the list of our walking wounded, in a seemingly jinxed season for our full-backs, on current form, I weally don’t fancy our chances of wuining Woy’s swansong at West Brom.

Chelsea have been long overdue some good fortune and in case their name is already on the big-eared prize, I definitely don’t fancy ending up counting on Bayern beating the Blues, for the Gunners’ highly-prized seat at Europe’s top table – after all, it’s not as if the Germans have a reputation for doing my kind good turns! But this means securing 3rd place by matching or bettering the results of both Spurs and Newcastle on Sunday.

Even during our winning streak, I’ve been incessantly bellowing out “who wants it?’ ever since we kicked off last August. As has sadly been the case with all the other decisive issues that have been settled in a similar fashion over the course of such a capricious campaign, it’s possible that Champions League qualification won’t be earned by the side that wants it the most, but will likely be squandered by those dullards with the least desire.

In this respect The Toon can feel hard done by if their efforts go unrewarded because in recent weeks they alone have demonstrated the sort of level of enthusiasm worthy of truly deserving candidates. Then again, considering the extent to which the Gunners were written off after our worst start for 58 years, you certainly won’t catch me moaning should we end up securing 3rd place by default!

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