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Friday 14 December 2012

I Schlepped All The Way To Bradford And All I Have To Show For MyEfforts Is A Free Santa Hat!

(having attempted to exorcise some of my frustration on the Arsenal mailing list, my reply to a post on the list  about AW's future, resulted in such a rambling and all too long-winded rant - nothing new there then - that I thought I might as well post it to my blog, in the event that there might be other sad buggers like myself, who based on recent events, really should get a life because as far as the Gunners are concerned, I fear that the prospects for the immediate future suggest that according to Gooner Jagger's immortal words, there really "ain't no satisfaction"!)

From my most humble perspective, what many seem to fail to appreciate is that there are basically only two possible ways in which Arsene will depart the Arsenal, either if he decides he's had enough, or if we the fans end up revolting to such an extent that his position becomes untenable.

Wenger has been working the oracle for so many years, maintaining Champions Lg qualification, even when the club's finances were stretched to the brink and the stadium build was in jeopardy and he's so obsessed with "value for money" that he's the ultimate dream manager, for any football club that's primarily focused on maintaining a viable, profitable business.

As a result, can anyone seriously imagine that there's a single suit at Highbury House who doesn't revere our leader to such an extent that they worship the very ground AW walks on and you are seriously off your rocker, if you believe that, even if there was the slightest element of the board losing faith in Wenger's ability to continue running the club at a profit, the likes of Ivan Gazides actually possesses balls big enough to tell Arsene Wenger that his time is up!!

Get real! Arsene will only leave when he chooses to, either because he's had enough, or because we end up making his position positively unbearable.

As someone who's schlepped to Athens and Bradford recently, I'm certainly no Arsène apologist, as his decisions, such as those to persist in showing such faith in the headless chicken Gervinho, remain infuriatingly unfathomable. Nevertheless, I am someone who would dearly love to see his reign at the Arsenal end in a high, rather than suffer the unbearable sight of the great man, sloping off into the sunset with his tail between his legs.

And the criteria I have always used to judge whether I feel Arsène's time is up is exactly who would we be guaranteed to be able to replace him with, at that precise point in time, where we could be certain of them doing a better job? How many of our competitors would be queuing up to take Wenger off our hands, albeit probably primarily nowadays because of his capacity to keep a club operating at a profit, while remaining within the new FFP rules. Finally and perhaps most significantly, quite how much my Spurs pals will rejoice euphorically on the day Arsene finally receives his P45.

The day my Spurs mates' attitude changes and they start to grieve at the prospect of Wenger's departure because they feel his replacement is more likely to ruin any remaining fantasies they have of finishing above us, this will be the day when I know Arsene has outstayed his welcome.

Moreover for those of you expecting a miracle in January, you might do well to remember that there will be a myriad of clubs, many in a far more precarious position than ourselves, with many prepared to gamble the shirt off their back, for some hope of salvation and as a result, willing to throw far more moola at potential answers to their problems than the value obsessed Arsène. Take the rumours about our interest in Huntelaar for example. Does the fact that he found the net against our positively porous, zonal defence, prove him capable of producing an immediate impact in the Premiership? Some might think him to be more of a "Giroud plus" than a genuine top draw signing ? But all of these clubs will be desperately seeking solutions from the relatively limited pool of talent available in the January window and whether it's physical or mental, many of whom would already be considered to be damaged goods!

As for Tuesday's debacle in Bradford, we can argue all day about the rights & wrongs of AW putting out such a strong side. With us not having a game until Monday, I suppose it was a typically logical decision on Wenger's part, but I was nevertheless surprised to see the line up and I'd be a liar to say that I wasn't a little disappointed.

With the game live on the box (and with me not feeling nearly so obligated midweek, as I do with weekend games, when having to write my weekly column on Sunday night), the principal reasons I enjoy attending such Carling Cup awaydays (or whatever it's sponsor is this week) quite so religiously, is the prospect of seeing a few kids playing in red & white, who are willing to give it a real go.

Moreover, you really had to be there on Tuesday night, to fully appreciate that after a decade of depressing misery, quite what a Cup Final occasion this was for lowly Bradford and the entire town in general.

I expected the Bantams to be so hyped up that they would steam straight into us, but I guess it wasn't so surprising that, after putting out a pretty much full strength Arsenal team (on paper!), the home side were sufficiently intimidated that they showed us far too much respect during the opening few minutes, timidly standing off our players, not daring to kick us up in the air with a tackle.

What really pissed me off is our complete and utter failure to recognise this and take advantage, as I could envisage the likes of Utd taking the piss from minute one, by tearing their lower league opponents apart. Sadly, where it might've been a different story with an injection of over-exuberant youth, our first team regulars started the game at the tragically low-tempo that we've grown all too accustomed to in recent times.

As a consequence, after pushing the ball sideways and backwards for the first twenty minutes, barely disturbing the Bantams' defence (while, by contrast, poor old Tommy Vermaelen appeared to completely crap himself every time the nippy Nakhi Wells came anywhere near him!), we completely blew any advantage we might of had with the home side's deluded perceptions of us as footballing giants, as we blatantly gifted them the time they needed to settle into the match, with the absence of any brilliance on our part presenting them with the opportunity to begin to sense that this Gunners side are mere mortals, who were no less beatable than bloomin' Torquay!

Frankly you don't need to be a rocket scientist to appreciate the complete absence of a cutting edge with the likes of Podolski and Gervinho playing up front (making Olivier Giroud look positively potent by comparison to these two anonymous twonks!). But in truth it wasn't so much a lack of effort which bothered me (as someone who's always harping on about being sufficiently gratified, so long as the Gunners put a shift in) but the fact that our now traditional lack of tempo prevented us from putting Bradford under the cosh.

Amongst my main criticisms of AW is that he's far too cerebral, setting far too much store in science and statistics but that unfortunately he has always seemed to be dreadfully lacking in the crucial ability to be in touch with the intangible emotional qualities that simply cannot be measured on an Excel spreadsheet.

For example, I suspect that if AW let Stevie Bould off his leash, he'd have been standing on the touch line bellowing at the players from the opening whistle, both encouraging and intimidating in equal measure, to try and get them to "take the handbrake off" and make the most of their superior abilities by taking the opposition on, whereas Wenger just stood there with his hands stuck in his duvet and his silent frustration etched in every new wrinkle on his ageing phizog

When ever we start a game at such a slow tempo, it's invariably impossible to shift up through the gears and put the foot on the gas, so as to turn up the heat. At least not without the significant sort of event needed to act as the catalyst for the necessary inspiration, namely the act of going a goal behind.

Even then, on Tuesday night, it was only as the desperation mounted and the clock ticked down towards our embarrassing cup exit on 90 minutes that we discovered the necessary motivation to throw the kitchen sink at getting an equaliser and we still lacked the guile and the craft to get behind the Bantams' rearguard, as their staunch efforts continued to limit us to long range efforts from outside the box.

And you stand their freezing your cods off on the Valley Parade terraces, having forsaken a day's wages to undertake a seven hour round trip drive on our dangerously foggy, icy motorways, wondering why on earth it took until the 80th minute for the Gunners to pull their collective finger out?

It's not that I'm complaining about our work-rate, as frankly on such a cold night, it's not as if any of them were going to be guilty of standing around idle for too long. Who knows whether it's down to a lack of belief, confidence, or merely due to complacency, but there's this thoroughly conspicuous lack of intent about the Arsenal's football nowadays, in all the utterly superfluous sideways and backwards passes (which invariably end up with me leaving the ground hoarse, after spending much of the match hollering "Sczczny's on"!) which results in the sort of impotence in so much of our play that leaves the likes of Bradford and every other opponent believing that we are there for the taking.

With a little more intent in Gervinho's game, he wouldn't have missed that sitter on Tuesday, as no matter how little control he seems to have, a player with sufficient commitment (eg. The cumbersome Grant Holt) would've barrelled into the six yard box, so that he, the ball and even the keeper if necessary, would've all ended up in the back of the net.

Now where I presume that Arsène stands there thinking that after such a glaring miss, "statistically speaking", according to mathematic logic, the Ivorian has just improved his odds of putting his next opportunity in the back of the net and thereby comes to the conclusion that he's best leaving Gervinho out there, even though his confidence is so shot that he's taken to hiding out wide on the wing and even his team mates have stopped wasting possession by giving him the ball, a more instinctive manager, like Mourinho for example, would've been so incensed at such incompetence that he'd have grabbed the board out of the fourth official's hands in his impatience to pull the numpty off the pitch! 

While Wenger puts his faith in science, waiting for the law of averages to have its say, a more emotionally sensitive manager would immediately recognised the need to alter the status quo and to take immediate action, both to serve as a warning to all concerned that there is some "cause and effect" consequences of such a complete f#ck up and to give an all too comfortable opposition defence something different to worry about. Sure this alternative approach might well prove to be no more effective but it at least leaves everyone feeling as if we've tried to play all our cards, instead of constantly and stubbornly sticking with the same hand until it is too late.

Santi smacked his stunning extra-time shot from outside the box with more than enough intent and when such a deserved effort failed to dip under the bar, you kind of sensed that our search for silverware bobbled away off the bar with the ball. 

I really don't want to relive the emotional trauma of the penalty shoot-out, suffice to say that with the Bantams' confidence from the penalty spot, we should've known full well that we couldn't afford to let them get that far. In our failure to put them to the sword, or in Bradford's heroic efforts to thwart us during 120 minutes of football, I have to admit that when Dean eventually blew the whistle that took us to the dreaded crap shoot of spot-kicks, there was some small part of me that felt that the locals deserved their long awaited moment of glory and would be far more appreciative of it than we would, in making such a meal of rolling over lower league opponents.

What's more, we were made to feel most welcome in Bradford. They might've taken the maximum advantage of this rare opportunity with the exorbitantly priced, four quid programmes, but we'd paid a paltry "macaroni" (25 quid, or a pony for the uninitiated amongst us), by today's extortionate standards, for a prime pitch, bang on the halfway line and they'd even been so kind as to throw in an Xmas pressie of a free Santa Hat on the seats of those of us who arrived early enough to bag one.

Set amidst streets of the sort of terraced Victorian housing that looks like a scene straight out of Coronation Street and built on the sort of slope that leaves the more imaginative amongst us wondering if it was constructed on top of a coal mine slag heap (forgive my historic inaccuracies, as I suspect Bradford was built on woollen mills rather than coal mines but doubtless I was akip in the corner dreaming of being Charlie George, during that particular history lesson?), Bradford has the feel of a proper old-fashioned football club.

Amongst my old man's Bernard Manning type racist material back in the 70s was an oft repeated crack about dialling 999 in Bradford and them calling out the Bengal Lancers. But unlike so many other traditional footballing epicentres around the country, like Leicester and Birmingham, where the glory might be faded but sadly the racism remains far too entrenched, there is some sense that supporting Bradford City FC is a far more inclusive experience for its massive Asian community, as absolutely all the locals of every hue and creed seemed "up for the Cup"

Thus as much as I would've preferred for Santi to have saved us from the excruciating agony of the shoot-out (as we blew our semi-final berth by going 0-2 down, only for Sczczny, the redeemer, to restore our belief but in vain, as TV5 extinguished it again!), despite all this angst, I couldn't help but feel a little pleased for the locals as a rammed Valley Parade savoured their moment in the limelight, especially after witnessing the way in which all that euphoria was sucked out of that stadium as we burst the bubble of their league cup fantasy with only three minutes left on the clock.

Perhaps the most telling appraisal of the obvious limitations of our current squad was heard from the Bradford fans that we chatted with, on the miserable, hangdog walk back to our motor after the match. They seemed genuinely mystified and more than a little disappointed that they'd turned up to see the mighty Arsenal and that a team from the upper echelons of the Premiership and a regular amongst Europe's elite, had failed so patently to produce the sort of entertainment they'd been expecting. 

As was the case against the Baggies on Saturday, apart from the odd all too rare glimpse of artistry from the likes of Cazorla & Wilshere (not forgetting Francis Coquelin surprising us all, with our holding midfielder's single and very nearly successful effort to demonstrate the art of attacking to his more recalcitrant team mates, with his mazy run into the box, as a precursor to le Prof baffling us all once again, by replacing our best player on the park thus far?), the Bantam fans were more than a little mystified how it could be possible that a collection of international stars, costing umpteen times the couple of million quid value of their more humble squad, could produce a display so utterly devoid of class that the Gunners were no more effective than any of their 2nd division opposition.

But then we've all been asking ourselves the same question, for far too long now!

I thought a couple of locals lasses were being sarcastic when they told me that they'd happily take Gervinho (perhaps they weren't talking football, but it's not as if his elongated forehead is an indicator of our empty-headed striker's gene pool contribution towards an over-developed brain - although at least he's got plenty of space in this void to stuff his gloves - and there are plenty of more attractive players to idolise as a sex god!). I said that I'd happily swap him for my Santa hat and we'd already been given that for free!

Still unlike all those Gooners who were forced to endure yet another humiliating Gooner experience on the box, at least we didn't end up returning from Bradford entirely empty-handed

Keep the faith 


gooner-girl said...

Well thanks for going up there mate representing all of us Gooners. Seriously, I've got nothing but respect for the travelling fans, specially when they don't boo or chant the players or manager off the pitch. (No matter how ineptly some players played, or perversely our manager managed.) Like you say 'keep the faith' and don't hand ammo to the hostile press.

Our beloved club looks to be deep in the mire right now and despite a myriad of theories, none of us know how to get out of it. (My hopes were pinned on Steve Bould giving us back a defence but that wasn't to be.) It's mighty sad to know the players are suffering too in the full glare of the fans frustration, dashed hopes, and growing anger; as well as that of the worlds media. All asking - whatever became of the Arsenal?

Mebbe we need a saviour and mebbe he's on the way? For myself I pray God is s Gooner.

Anonymous said...

Your right it is a long winded rant but your entitled to that. My point i will pick up on was wenger standing in coat not shouting or bellowing at players. he may not of at bradford but if you had heard the coverage from the reading game he swore at the players ineptitude to pass the ball simply so he does get angry and frustrated. I would also like to point out that 30 plus shots at goal with 13 on gtarget against 4-2 is a pretty big gap. Yes we went out but on penalties but to a team brimming with confidence considering they had won all 8 of their last penalty shootouts. The only criticism is for gervinho who somehow contrived to miss on the goal line how he managed it we will never know but otherwise the only defensive lapse was at the corner for bradfords goal the tally of 4 shots in total show this. People and ex players like to bemoan arsenals defensive frailties yet only city above us have conceded less goals and stoke below us. I will take this time to point out that in last three or four seasons the team who won the league didn't concede the fewest goals utd conceded fewest last season and city the season before. it should be also noted that we have six premier league clean sheets this season not sure how many we had but will check.Well last season we had 14 in total and 8 by end of december so we are well on course for that toal. Anyway just wanted to know what more wenger could have done he had a strong side out there which dominated a match drew 1-1 but lost on penalties.

gooner-girl said...

One thing I thought he could have done differently would have been to have brought arteta instead of resting him. The guy won our last match with two pens so wd have been nice to bring on from the bench n the later stages. Especially knowing the opposition were v confident and successful pen takers.

Bern said...

I don't get paid millions a year for my footballing knowledge but yet in my most humble opinion, it seems blatantly obvious to me (and countless others) that our zonal defending at corners is an increasingly costly Achilles heel and this was never more obvious at Bradford, where even a team full of journeymen players were capable of throwing us into a complete state of blind panic at every set piece, by exposing the inherent frailties of this system.

In truth, sadly I've grown all too accustomed to the set-piece terrors in Premiership games, but I didn't expect to experience the same loss of control of my sphincter, every time we conceded a corner against the lowly Bantams. I find it so frustrating that our zonal system leaves us looking as if we're capable of conceding a goal at every corner and yet when we go down the other end to take a corner, there's rarely any sense of anticipation on our part, because we know that 99 times out of a 100 the opposition defence won't be troubled in the least.

And sadly, until such time as we forsake zonal defending for man marking this will inevitably continue to be the case

Bern said...

Moreover I believe that any opposition manager worth his salt will continue to target the frailties of our zonal set up at corners. Perhaps I should add a cork to my matchday kit (and not for stopping up a bottle of plonk)!!