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Sunday 23 December 2012

All I Want For Xmas......

Hi folks,

Was it good fortune, or merely convenient that Olivier Giroud was left in London on Saturday, with him and Rosicky suffering from colds, as after Monday's result at Reading, surely it would've been impossible for AW not to have continued with Theo playing up front. Sadly we were not treated to a repeat performance at Wigan. I was pleased to see Arsène continue with this experiment (even if it is all merely a ruse to convince Walcott to sign a new contract)  because there's nothing that frightens defenders more than blistering pace and we've not benefited from this threat since Thierry took his leave.

Nevertheless, unfortunately Theo didn't leave me feeling convinced that he's about to devote himself to the Arsenal, as he stood around on Saturday, largely unemployed, waiting to receive the ball at his feet. Say what you will about the comparatively lumbering Giroud and the fact that the French centre forward is unlikely to develop into a "top draw" striker, but compared to Theo, Olivier is a far more willing grafter and I would've imagined that if he had been playing on Saturday, he would've soon grown tired of his lack of involvement and unlike Walcott, he would've gone looking for the ball, even if this involved him having to drop deep.

My main reason for not wanting Walcott to leave is because of what it says about our club if he does and that it would be confirmation of quite how far we've slipped in the natural pecking order of clubs. However AW's efforts to convince Walcott to sign a new contact to date don't exactly speak volumes for his strategic prowess. First he tried the big stick, by refusing to play him and now the use of the carrot of playing him at centre forward, it all feels a little desperate and perhaps too little, too late.

Whats more, I wonder if last week's big PR stunt was all for Walcott's benefit and if so, I am not sure Theo is so naive as to be influenced by the sight of our five English youngsters all sat round a table signing their new contracts. Apparently Carl Jenkinson's deal was agreed months back and much like Tony Adams, I envisage true Gooner Carl being willing to put pen to paper, no matter what his contract included. But it would appear as if the club saved the actual signing ritual for a suitable occasion.

I didn't have room below to refer to Thursday's Champions League draw. Malaga would've been the plum draw, not just for footballing reasons, but because personally I would've preferred the prospect of travelling to somewhere warm in the spring. Still, I am looking forward to an opportunity to make my first visit to an impressive looking Allianz Arena, Bayern's new home and it's far preferable to a return trip to the cavernous Olympic Stadium, where one inevitably ends up confronted by the trauma of the 1972 hostage tragedy as one walks past the largely unchanged scene of this outrage on route.

Sadly nowadays, one feels obliged to make the very most of every successive Champions League encounter, just in case if it might be our last for some time to come. And so I sat down to watch the live draw on the telly, with a list I'd prepared of various permutations of cheap flight alternatives to the eight possible destinations.

Interestingly, during their coverage of the draw, Sky Sports played a rare interview with Alisher Usmanov courtesy of CNBC. It's the first time I've seen the man speak publicly about his interest in the Arsenal and I have to wonder if this is a significant indication of an effort on his part to raise the stakes, as Usmanov seeks to apply some pressure upon the Arsenal board, by increasing his profile and thereby building upon the corresponding level of public support amongst the many red & white malcontents? 

Who knows if Usmanov's riches are any dirtier than those of Abramovich, or any of the many other fortunes sunk into football clubs in recent times by billionaire investors. His money is certainly not too dirty for the charities that have pocketed £120 million of his disposable readies! 

What I do know is that unless the Gunners can recapture the glory days in the near future, there will be plenty of Gooners who are likely to grow increasingly frustrated about the fact that we have this potential benefactor sitting on the sidelines, eager, but thus far unable to throw his substantial financial weight behind bringing success back to London N5, while our current owner sits in his Montana ranch, content to count his profits from the club, but seemingly unperturbed by and utterly uninterested in the Arsenal's silverware drought.

Meanwhile, the most stressful part of the Champions League draw is the period after the opposition has been decided, as one sits anxiously awaiting for the actual dates to be announced, constantly refreshing the Arsenal web site page, so as to be able to be quick off the mark booking flights, within minutes of the seeing confirmation of the fixture schedule.

All the budget airlines are wise to the Champions League draw nowadays and their ability to react to the instant increase in demand is reflected in the fact that all bargain fares disappear in a flash. Easyjet prices to Munich were originally under 70 quid but these shot up to £130 and were about £400 before the end of the day. Fortunately we were able to bag four flights on BA via air miles and I was left feeling quite smug when I checked out of curiousity on Thursday evening, flabbergasted to find the same flights were now priced at an extortionate 700 quid!

I now have to worry about whether my large stock of Camel filters (purchased on our trips to Schalke and Olympiakos) will last me up until March and then how I'm going to be able to maintain my nicotine addiction if we should end up exiting the competition against Bayern. I daren't even contemplate the impact upon my noxious smoking habits should the Gunners fail to qualify for the competition next season.

But enough of my waffle. Here's wishing everyone a great Xmas and a happy & healthy New Year. Eat, drink and be very merry

Come on you Reds


Ho Ho Ho

In case anyone failed to notice the arrival of the festive season (or a blue moon), Stuart Downing marked it’s arrival on Saturday by stunning Scousers with an actual goal. Soul, or no soul, the beautiful game will maintain it’s allure, so long as it retains it’s eternal ability to confound.
Listening to the radio in the car on route back from our ridiculously early kick off in the North-West, I simply couldn’t fathom how a star-studded Man City could make such a meal, out of overcoming the same statuesque Royals side that rolled over against us on Monday night.
After setting off at 5.45am, I made it up to Wigan by way of Stoke, where my pal Stuart donned his santa outfit, to join all the other Xmas crackers in fancy dress bashing out 5k park run in the pouring rain in Hanley Park, cheered on by a decidedly damp and only slightly less bonkers Donner and Blitzen (myself and his lad).
Following a brief pit-stop to freshen up with a shower at Sandbach services, Stuart was probably closest to the land of the living, by the time we joined the other 4500 Gooners at the JJB; where many of us turned up in hope and expectation of witnessing the same sort of energized Arsenal performance that we’d enjoyed at the Madjeski earlier in the week.
Arriving home from Reading on Monday night, I promptly sat down to watch a repeat of the game on the box because with Walcott finally fulfilling his wish to play up front, I hadn’t been able to work out whether the Gunners had miraculously begun to discover some real form, or if this was a bit of a delusion and that our 5-2 thrashing of the Royals was more down to the inept display of a side that had performed like obvious relegation fodder.
Considering their precarious position, Reading were surprisingly meek. Yet, nevertheless, you could sense a response to our humiliating cup exit in Bradford, by the way we tore into the Royals. Right from the opening whistle, Chamberlain charged at their defence with such drive and determination that he ended up filching the ball back from Cazorla’s feet before taking a pot shot. Perhaps for the first time this season, we set about the opposition from the start, with the sort of vim and vigour, which has been sorely lacking from all the low-tempo performances that have been devoid of this sort of intent.
If we’d finally managed to release the handbrake on Monday, most disappointingly it was firmly back in place come Saturday, as sadly we reverted to type, trudging about in the unabating downpour, back to relentlessly moving the ball sideways and backwards, with no one in red & white willing to take the game to the opposition and with none of them looking as if they really wanted to be there.
Although Wigan played their part in nullifying the likes of Cazorla. After McCarthy trod on the Spaniard in the opening moments and continued to bite at his ankles every time he received the ball, Santi soon began to acquire the demeanour of someone who’d have much preferred to have been left back in London with Giroud and Rosicky. McCarthy then turned his attentions upon our other main creative source, welcoming Jack Wilshere to Wigan. But unlike Cazorla, with his terrier like qualities, Wilshere wasn’t about to seek refuge on the ropes, but remained in the centre of the ring, to give as good as he got.
The fact that we clung on to grind out a victory, when in the past we’d have probably failed to keep a clean sheet, might be viewed as an indication of an increasing resilience. Yet in truth Wigan were hard done by, as our success was only due to the fact that we were slightly less slipshod than our hosts.
If they’d been more clinical in front of goal and Walcott hadn’t bought us a penalty from the utterly incompetent ref (as a match official, Jon Moss makes for a good bisexual drummer in an 80s New Romantic pop outfit), merely by getting goalside of his opponent, it might’ve been a miserable, empty-handed return trip from the North-West.
Instead of which we came home with the 3 points and a small, token reward for our support, by way of an Xmas card, handed out as we entered the ground, which included a £10 voucher for food & drink at any home game. Never mind a free voucher, at the very top of many Gooner festive wish-lists would be for the club to put an end to their farcical refusal to entertain the advances of Alisher Usmanov. Can you imagine any other club, but the Arsenal, taking such an intransigent stance, with a fan who happens to be one of the wealthiest men on the planet, willing to throw whatever it takes, from his seemingly bottomless pit of resources, in order to make our club successful?
Mercifully six points in a week has elevated the Gunners from the mid-table morass, back to the battle for 3rd and 4th place and enables us to go into the festive schedule with some momentum. But it highlights the fickle way in which the media machine has clubs constantly lurching from crisis, to the comfort zone, from game to game. 
Only last week, after the debacle at Bradford, Arsène Wenger looked like the proverbial little boy, trying to plug the Gunners leaky dyke, not with his fingers but with rolled up copies of his Excel spreadsheets, whereas suddenly he’s back to being courted, as the media sycophants admire the cut of our Emperor’s new clothes. Meanwhile those of us of a more considered nature and who’ve endured so many disappointing performances so far this season, beyond all the hype, sadly we know that le Gaffer remains stark bollock naked!
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