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Monday 10 December 2012

Bring On The Bantams

I’m mad for my football.  Least it was warm in Athens and I came back with a carrier bag full of cheap fags. But if travelling a couple of thousand miles to watch last week’s load of old tosh against Olympiakos wasn’t sufficiently batty, then sacrificing a day’s wages to schlep up to Bradford in this bitterly cold weather, for the depreciated denizens of the Capital One Cup, must surely rank as positively certifiable?

After all these years, it’s pretty much an automated response for me to turn up to support the Gunners. Yet compared to how eager I was to drink in the high-class entertainment that we were enjoying, whilst being spoiled by the more rewarding early years of Wenger’s reign, never mind our players, nowadays I find myself reflecting on whether I’m merely going through the motions.

Such was my limited enthusiasm for forsaking the far more cozy environs of our flat, to freeze my cods off on the terraces (and I would’ve done, without the aid of my trusty longjohns!) that I didn’t get out of the door until ten minutes prior to kick-off of our crunch encounter with West Brom. In the past I would’ve nearly induced a heart-attack by hurtling around to the ground, for fear of missing out on a flurry of goalmouth activity in the opening moments.

I suppose it’s a reflection on quite how far the mighty have fallen that I wasn’t about to get into a lather about being late on Saturday. There were already 5 minutes on the clock by the time I took my seat and I didn’t even bother turning to my neighbour, to enquire what I had missed. After all, sadly most of our recent matches have tended to start at such a low-tempo that we end up playing amongst ourselves for at least 10 minutes, before anyone even dares take on the opposition.

Our guests might have lost their last couple of games and my tardy arrival might’ve coincided with Liam Ridgewell limping off. Nevertheless it’s hard to believe that such a surprisingly docile West Brom, could be the same over-achieving Steve Clarke outfit that’s been the Premiership’s surprise package to date, soaring to 5th in the table. But I’m not complaining because if ever the Gunners needed the leg-up of meeting the Baggies on a “bad day at the office” it was Saturday.

Under less stressful circumstances, it would’ve been great to see Cazorla stand up and do a Robbie Fowler, dismissing our penalty claim. Sadly such momentous sporting gestures aren’t exactly encouraged, amidst the obscenely high stakes of the modern game. It will also be a shame if Santi ends up branded as a result, with his card marked, along with the likes of Suarez and Bale, to the point where opponents can take a frying pan to his head, without worrying about conceding a spot kick.

Besides, despite being camped in the opposition half, we were making such hard work of breaking the Baggies down that it was a massive relief when Cazorla conned the spot-kick from the laughably incompetent ref (to be fair, everyone in the ground, bar our guests, thought it was a stuck-on penalty claim) as we hadn’t looked like scoring up until that point.

I heard Ray Parlour admit on the radio that it was a blatant dive and I was fully expecting the karmic reward of Arteta cocking up the penalty, but mercifully it would appear that cheats can prosper in the Premiership. Up until now, I’ve been impressed at the way Cazorla has ridden challenges, rather than hitting the deck. But in this instance, our desperation for success, deserved or not, is such, that the Spaniard would’ve been the principal guest at a 50,000 lynching, if he’d declined his ill-gotten gain.

At least the goal resulted in the game opening up and where we’d looked like a team of complete strangers first-half, after the break, for the first time in ages we savoured some all too brief glimpses of sort of graceful artistry between Cazorla and Wilshere that does at least offer a glimmer of hope.

Meanwhile, presumably having been informed of his ricket, the hair-brained ref spent most of the second half trying to right his wrong, with a succession of unfathomable decisions. It was therefore ironic that we should end up benefiting from the most significant of these, as he ignored the foul in the build up to the second penalty.

The Ox did well bursting into the box, but overall Alex has been decidedly disappointing, thus far wasting the opportunity Arsène has afforded him, to demonstrate Theo’s dispensability. But how much longer must we suffer Gervinho’s headless chicken impersonation, before our stubborn manager finally admits that compared to the incompetent Ivorian striker, Walcott looks world class.

Saturday’s much needed victory would appear to vindicate Wenger’s decision to leave half our team at home for the midweek trip to Olympiakos. Albeit that there was little evidence of the benefit of fresh-legs during such a dull first-half display. Chelsea may have exited the Champions League, but perhaps their 6-1 victory will have kickstarted their spluttering league campaign, as you can only build momentum by winning games. But we’ll have plenty of time to reflect on our defeat in Greece and the logic of fielding a team too weak to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to win our group, over a long cold winter

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