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Wednesday 29 August 2012

Vito Veni, Vidi and very nearly Vici

It would’ve been brilliant to have come away from an unalluring outing to the Brittania with all three points, not just because it would’ve saved me from having to find an excuse to elbow in the perfect tabloid headline “Veni, Vici, Vito”, but so as to be able to put a sock in the mouths of the media ratpack, who will doubtless ramp up the pressure after another goalless draw, with a myriad of gauche representations of the meter now running, on the game time minutes without an Arsenal goal.
Not to mention the merciful prospect of putting us out of our misery, by silencing the incessant taunts from those such as the cruel Potters’ fans, who took such great pleasure in their every opportunity to point out (as if we needed reminding!) that our dead Dutch parrot “he would’ve scored that”!

Albeit on the evidence thus far that this latest incarnation of the Arsenal squad is devoid of anyone with the necessary natural goal-scoring gifts to be anywhere near as prolific as the newly departed Judas, then I rather suspect that we’re going to have to grow accustomed to suffering variations on this particularly pertinent comparative theme from opposition fans, until such time as the Gunners’ boots begin to do our talking for us.

The “I wanna go home” chant is rarely sung in such earnest as on awaydays to the Potteries. As one Gooner reminded me, as I sucked on a sneaky a cancer stick amidst the less than conspicuous fog of cigarette smoke in the karseys at half-time, based on our recent woeful record at Stoke, this is a ground where one wants to get there, nick a result and get back home in time for MOTD, hopefully relatively unscathed.

Considering Stoke have scored first in all 5 games at the Brittania (and within 11 mins in 4 of these), in normal circumstances, a clean sheet and a point would be viewed in a fairly positive light. But on a day when our 3rd choice keeper had bugger all to do, the admirable way in which Mannone coped with Stoke’s new “septic” special team and commanded his area during the now customary “chuckathon” was about the only cause for optimism (along with Kieran Gibbs' rock solid shift), in an encounter where the absence of any cutting edge in the final third only lends weight to Gooner suspicions regarding the overall mediocrity of the latest incarnation of Arsène’s squad.

Obviously the new ingredients in the Wenger bouillabaisse will take time to ferment. Yet as patently apparent as it is that Cazorla is the real deal, surely even through his purple-tinted specs (chanting “come on you blues” might’ve been a complete anathema, but we don’t even have a choral option with the colour purple!), le Prof can appreciate that Podolski and Giroud are not even close to being top-draw footballing talent?

Based on this performance, to my mind Giroud appears to have the more likely potential of maturing into a player capable of an impact in the Premiership (once his team mates begin to recall how to react to second ball possibilities, with the front-line having long forgotten how best to take advantage of an aerial battler). We were all as mortified as our manager when Olivier failed to spot Ramsey’s run at the death. Yet compared to the sort of reticence that would have seen Chamakh passing on responsibility within spitting distance of the net, I’m certainly not going to knock this new Gunner, for having the confidence to take a last gasp pop at securing all three points from 40-yards out.

Such are the fine margins between success and failure because if Giroud’s speculative effort had dipped a couple of inches lower, we’d have been returning to Highbury believing that everything in our Arsenal world was hunky-dory. Moreover, in search of some silver-lining to the increasingly dense grey clouds of doom & gloom hanging oppressively over N5, who knows, a last-minute smash & grab at Stoke might’ve only encouraged AW to kid himself that our depressingly prosaic outfit can continue to get away with it; whereas hopefully now he might be unable to resist the mounting pressure from a second impotent performance and will be forced to put his hand in the club’s pockets before Friday and blow an entire £80m wedge on a couple of genuine marquee signings (dream on McDuff!).

Despite Wilkinson’s best efforts to encourage the rotund ref (when the immobile Mason wasn’t busy obstructing Abou) to produce a red card, with his half-decent attempt to scythe Vermaelen in two from behind, this wasn’t Pullis’ bunch of bullies at their most physical. Nevertheless, considering the Gunners so often seem to “bottle it” at the Britannia even before a ball has been kicked, there was at least a hint of promise in our efforts to resist our opponent’s muscular attentions.

Albeit that there remained the odd instant involving an obvious lack of commitment and this seems symptomatic of an underlying absence of the sort of burning appetite that is to be expected from an Arsenal side that has so much to prove right now. The overall lack of width left us playing to our hosts strengths, as we tried in vain to pick a dainty furrow through Stoke’s sub-human midst and when our two diddy wide men eventually appeared, sadly this was too little, too late.

Yet the Ox alone appeared to possess the zest and determination to make something happen in his all too brief cameo. Most of us are just delighted to see Diaby last a second consecutive outing, without picking up the customary niggle that results in him disappearing for the remainder of the season. Abou’s languid demeanour doesn’t exactly do dynamism and perhaps it’s understandable that he lacks sufficient confidence to assume play-making responsibilities, by driving into the penalty area, but Walcott has no such excuse.

Perhaps Theo was pissed at being left on the bench for players with less exalted profiles, but instead of coming on late on desperate to make an impact, Theo’s lackluster tempo might lead one to conclude he’s suffering from the delusion that the club are not feeding enough coinage into his meter?

I had hoped that the departure of the last of our genuine mega-stars might result in some sort of payoff, by way of some genuine camaraderie evolving amidst our more modest squad. Especially after being suckered into believing there was such a buoyant mood in the Arsenal camp, by a pre-season interview with the Ox. If I’m honest, I could accept a resulting expectation adjustment, if in return we were able to enjoy the refreshing satisfaction of witnessing an Arsenal side eager to prove they want it just as much as we do, by their willingness to work their socks off

I nearly bumped into Gerry Francis, as this refugee from the 70s breezed into the Britannia with his blow-dried grey coiffure before the game. At least I was able to consult my extortionately-priced programme to discover that Francis was one of three first-team coaches. Albeit the footballing flotsam on Pullis’ firm must prove the exception to the rule about the infinite number of monkey’s creating Shakespeare, where Stoke are concerned! At £3.50 this weighty tome wasn’t worth the trees felled to print it, as it didn’t even include a list of honours for me to discover exactly what tinpot trophy they’ve won “ten times” as the home fans responded to our own “you’ve always been shit” rejoinder.

Who could’ve possibly imagined my own 6-year old grandson would enjoy his Gooner initiation for almost half this price, whilst watching the U21s demolish Blackburn 3-0 at our gaff on Saturday. Riley certainly got far better value as far as goalmouth action was concerned and I only hope some of our older dogs can still learn a thing or two from the youngsters passion for putting the ball in the net.

Friday 17 August 2012

Are We Downhearted.......?

As far as I was concerned Robin Van Persie was dead to me, from the moment he came over to bid us all adieu, at the conclusion of last season’s campaign at the Hawthornes. Mercifully London 2012 proved sufficient a distraction to ensure that I managed to avoid the endless deluge of funeral notices in the media and at the end of the day, I’m just gutted he chose to be interred at Old Trafford.

I’ll be booing Robin as vociferously as the next Gooner, but only because of the Dutchman’s sacrilegious decision to dance with the Red Devils. If I’m honest, if Fergie is foolish enough to spunk up £22.5 million for an injury-prone 29 year old striker, who’s likely to spend more time preening on the treatment-table, than earning his obscene amount of corn on the pitch, it’s hardly bad business.

And putting myself in Van Persie’s boots, can I seriously blame the man for choosing to pocket the best part of £50 million over the course of his Utd contract, whilst discharging himself of the burden of his “big-fish” responsibilities at the Arsenal; where, as captain, he was tasked with singlehandedly keeping the club afloat.

At least “once bitten, twice shy’ Wenger acted more promptly in this instance, to provide us with alternative striking options. We’ll have to wait and see how these work out, but potentially more disconcerting is the alleged imminent departure of Alex Song to Barca, since we’re not exactly overly blessed with obvious replacements in the holding role. Although perhaps this position won’t prove quite so crucial in the future?

With Stevie Bould having learned his trade at the Don Howe school of regimented discipline, hopefully his stern demeanour on the touchlines (the worse they perform, "da meaner" he gets - compared to the benign presence of Uncle Pat Rice) will prove to be just what the doctor ordered for plugging the holes in our positively porous defence. Besides which, Nuri Sahin, or A.N Other just might end up being an upgrade, with Song being so prone to occasional bouts of Dennis Bergkamp delusions and forgetting his primary function.

I must admit that up until last weekend, I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic, with our most bankable star already spinning out the revolving door, merely waiting for it to stop at a specific exit, all sorts of worrying rumours about the ongoing fitness problems of our most talented prodigy, Jack Wilshere and umpteen million pounds worth of dead-weight wasters such as Bendtner and Arshavin, still stinking up the place, like the repercussions from last night’s curry.

Podolski hardly had me bristling with anticipation following his anonymity in the Euros. Besides, the fact that Lukas departed Bayern to return to the relative security of his home-town team doesn’t exactly scream the winning mentality of a player who’s desperate to leave their mark. While Giroud may have notched plenty of goals for Montpelier last season, but the fact that he wasn’t deserving of a starting place in a not overly prolific French side during the summer, wasn’t particularly encouraging.

I happened to do the letters page for the latest edition of the Gooner fanzine that Saturday and I was seriously struggling to inject a hint of optimism in my comments on all the gloom and doom correspondence. However by Sunday afternoon I was pulling the editor’s leg, asking if I could redo them. I admit it was only a friendly against Cologne and I almost managed to forget that this match was being shown on the box, with all the other sporting hoop-la on the last day of the Olympics.

Yet having thankfully been sent a reminder, I tuned into a first-half performance from the likes of Giroud, Podolski and Cazorla which suddenly renewed my appetite. Who knows if Arsène’s new signings can cut the Premiership mustard, but their efforts to do so are certainly likely to make far more interesting viewing than the same old, same old, downer diet that we’ve endured at the commencement of these past few campaigns.

The Arsenal’s most obvious failing last season was the lack of depth to our squad, which deprived us of the calibre of player necessary to play to Arsène’s tikki-takka philosophy because this entertaining brand of football simply isn’t possible without sufficient players with the necessary composure to retain possession.

In this respect, Cazorla looks very promising and if  Giroud, “le buteur de charme”, can work the sort of magic that I witnessed against Cologne, Van Persie’s wake will be very brief.