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Monday 18 March 2013

It's Never Over, Until The Fat Cockerel Falls Off Its Perch

I doubt Arsène Wenger had the Carling Cup debacle against Birmingham in mind, when he told us that the Gunners had to treat each of our remaining matches as a cup final. But this is what we were laughing about behind the goal at the Liberty on Saturday. For much of the game it appeared as if it was the home side, not us, who still had something to play for. The Swans crisp, incisive possession was in complete contrast to our plodding, far too predictable football.

Once again Swansea stirred up painful rememberances of times past. While the Gunners struggled to find any rhythm for long periods of this encounter, the Swans pleasing on the eye passing game, ensured that theirs was a far better impersonation of the entertaining Arsenal teams of yesteryear than the fraudulent fumblings of the mediocre incarnation of Arsène’s modern day outfit.

Our fragile confidence continues to ensure that, instead of looking after the ball like it was their best friend, the Gunners tend to shirk responsibility for it, as if it was a psychotic cyber-bully. Nevertheless, momentum is everything in football and if victory in Munich last week served a purpose, it was to provide us with the sort of platform, upon which we might just be able to build a consistent run-in to conclude our Premiership campaign.

Such hope isn’t engendered by the prospect of free-scoring purple patch but the possibility that we’re finally discovering some composure in defence and that the genuine commitment of the likes of Jenkinson and Koscielny is serving as an example to their team mates. After being accused of failing to talk to one another, Arteta appears to have taken it to the opposite extreme, immersing himself in the responsibilities of the captain’s armband, constantly barking out orders and herding his charges into shape like a Basque Shepherd dog.

Flappyhandski has been left out long enough for many to seemingly have forgotten his past misdemeanours. But thus far in the best “change is as good as a rest” traditions, his reintroduction seems to have lent us some stability. Above all, I’m hoping that from the evidence of our last two displays, the most important change of recent weeks is that we might have at long last abandoned the patently obvious failings of a rigidly zonal defence at set-pieces, for a more flexible set-up.

I travelled to Munich last week, determined to make the most, of what I was convinced would be our last Champions League outing for some time. But with Gervinho leaving us all on the floor in shock, with the composed finish that secured all three points at Swansea and with Spurs never failing to provide the “wheels coming off” pleasure of blowing all three points against Fulham, suddenly we’ve everything to play for again.

I fancy there’s plenty of twists and turns to come in this particular passion play over the course of the remaining eight games. While recent events offer good cause for optimism, if Wednesday’s performance in the Allianz Arena was to prove our Champions League swansong, I couldn’t think of a better place.

We all got a right old soaking on the long walk back to Swansea station on Saturday. Yet despite being sopping wet, this couldn’t put a dampener on our high spirits. Even all the obnoxious posh twat rugby fans who invaded our train at Cardiff and proceeded to drown their miseries all the way back to London, couldn’t spoil our high, as Gooners recounted tales of the many litres quaffed in Munich beerkellers.

As hard as it is for me to admit, going to a match in Germany is football how it should be, a civilized, sociable experience, without detriment to the atmosphere and with far less sense of the separation between the plebs and the high-rollers. Our clubs and our police could do well to take a lesson or two from the Gerries!

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Sunday 10 March 2013

No Arsenal, No Withdrawals....No Sh*t!

In the past, an entire week watching other sides play without an Arsenal fixture was the equivalent of being condemned to doing time in purgatory.  It’s perhaps indicative of our morose Gooner melancholia that this currently isn’t the case.

For decades now I’ve been teasing my Spurs pals on St. Totteringham’s Day (the celebratory occasion when our league superiority is confirmed), with the traditional text message salute “Never mind mate, always next season!” Yet after the “death in the family” type agony that we endured at White Hart last week and (in the cyclical nature of things) the traumatic prospect that “next season” might have finally come around (first time since 1995, when George Graham was sacked!), it felt as if the gods had smiled upon us, saving us from more Arsenal angst by giving us the week off. Then again, the fates can be so cruel that this could just be the calm before the storm set-up, for a humiliating ‘end of season’ finale at the Allianz Arena in Munich on Weds?

It was difficult not to wallow in our Derby defeat but instead, I put my feet up on the sofa and savoured the Schadenfreude of Fergie’s apoplexy at Nani’s ejection (s’funny Ol’ Red Nose’s sense of injustice wasn’t the least bit piqued when Manny Eboue received a red card for a similar assault on Evra at Old Trafford), or of Everton getting stuffed at Goodison by Wigan. Mind you, it was the Toffees FA Cup swansong that caused the match at our place to be postponed and I would’ve quite fancied encountering the shamefully unfocused Everton side that Moyes sent out on Saturday.

I recall first being impressed with Moyes back in 1999, listening to him taking questions at a press conference after the Gunners came back from 2-0 down to beat Preston North End 2-4 in the FA Cup 3rd round. For some reason this took place outside and with his inquisitors sat above him on the steeply elevated seats at Deepdale, it felt as if we were being lectured to, by a manager who was destined for greater things. Nowadays the stern Scot seems to be in the frame for every potential vacancy at any of the ‘big’ clubs, despite the fact that his Everton teams have consistently failed to deliver.

Yet even the authority of managerial titans like Fergie, seems to be waning, in inverse proportion to the astronomic earnings of their star turns, once they step out onto the turf nowadays. The St Vitus Dance touchline antics of dinosaurs, such as those of Ians Warnock and Holloway, have largely given way to the ‘laissez-faire’ attitude of all those who sit back in their Recaro style car seats, in the certain knowledge that they’ve no further part to play (until a bad decision pushes their ejector button) and that the only thing they’re likely to encourage by getting hot under the collar, is a premature heart attack.

Does the fact that Marouane Fellaini was booed off by the Blues’ fans reflect on Moyes motivational skills, or the big Belgian fella’s lack of commitment to the cause? I’d definitely like to see a player with his intimidating presence playing in red & white. But it was another Belgian who impressed me in midweek, as Dembele had something of the Vieira about him, as he dominated the middle of the park against Inter on Thurs night.

Keep it under your hat, but I tried out my Europa Cup training wheels, after being invited to go and watch Spurs barely break sweat, in swatting the Italian’s surprisingly feeble challenge. It wasn’t easy sitting there like a cuckold, listening to the Cockerels crow (although I was tempted to join in with the chorus of “Are you Arsenal in disguise?”). But I came home praying that the 3-0 drubbing was more down to a disappointing display from a decrepit, disinterested Inter side, as the thought of Spurs surfing through the remainder of the season, on the surge of confidence brought about by shaking off the shackles of North London inferiority, really doesn’t bear thinking about.

I only wish we were travelling to Germany on Weds, still clinging to the hope that would be engendered by having a world class goalscorer, capable of turning this tie on it’s head. Ho hum, guess I’ll have to settle for the comforting prospect of coming home with a carrier bag full of cheap Camel ciggies?

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Separated At Birth?

Saturday 9 March 2013

Sound familiar....

....NFL is all gobbledigook to me but no translation required for the sentiments expressed

An Open Letter to St. Louis Rams’ Owner Stan Kroenke: Fan’s View

whether it's the head or the body of the snake that has to go. something has to happen for us to shed this "sustainable business model" skin, if we're not to end up spending several more years in purgatory as just another of Silent Stan's mediocre cash-cow outfits

Friday 8 March 2013

Carl Jenkinson?

Can anyone confirm if Jenkinson was subbed at WHL with a knock?

I haven't been able to bring myself to watch the game again to see if he was at all at fault with the goals (although I must admit that my Spurs mate took me to WHL last night to watch the Spuds beat Inter and to be fair, I've never experienced Thursday night Europa League football, so sadly, perhaps it's a good idea that I start getting used to it! - although I could've done without all the wind up "Arsenal in disguise" chants, but really couldn't argue with the entertaining football)

But at 2-0 down on Sunday, even if Jenkinson was in any way at fault for either of the goals (looked like they strolled through the middle of our statuesque centre-backs from where I stood), he was about our greatest threat getting down the flank and whipping in the sort of crosses that we've not seen nearly enough of from anyone else. So to my mind, to take him off in order to introduce Rosicky and then to move Ramsey to right-back, unless Carl was injured, this was just about the most bonkers substitution I've ever seen Wenger make. And frankly even if Carl was at all culpable with either of the goals, what's the point in punishing the kid after his mistakes

Also I've always got my binoculars with me and I noticed this for the first time when BBC Bouldie (Balls, Bibs & Cones - how the mighty have fallen) called Podolski back from warming up, for him to come on against Blackburn and the same was true on Sunday and I simply can't help but take issue with the fact that having been told to get himself ready, Lucas then spends what seems like an eternity, getting his tracksuit off and phaffing with his boots, as to my mind this simply isn't the attitude of a player who's desperate to get out there and have some impact on the game.

Maybe I'm being harsh and it's down to the fact that I've always had my suspicions about Podolski not exactly being made of the psychological "right stuff" as a player who was happy to leave Bayern and go back to the relative 'big fish in a small pond' security of his home town club, Cologne. But I want to see Arsenal substitutes who can't get on the pitch quick enough and who are raring to drag us back into the game, not someone who looks as if they believe that if they procrastinate long enough, they might limit their liability for the team's failure

But please someone confirm that Carl had a knock and if not can anyone possibly explain AW's logic in believing Ramsey was going to serve us better at RB, as if not then I really can't find any more excuses for not sending in the men with the white coats to drag AW away, before I start losing all respect for someone who really deserves far better from us all

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Large Thumb Wanted! To Shore Up N5's Ever More Fragile Dam

Apologies for the lack of recent posts. It's not that I haven't been writing my weekly missives for the Irish Examiner, but limited to only 800 or 650 words and after the struggle to meet a Sunday deadline, I always think I'll find the time to subsequently add everything else that I was forced to omit and then never get around to it. But then my gravestone will undoubtedly be engraved with the old adage "procrastination is the thief of time"

Mind you, apart from my number one fan (my dear old Mum), it's not as if my absence appears to have been noted by anyone else these past few weeks?

Meanwhile, I for one am eagerly looking forward to our trip to Munich next week, as I can at least be guaranteed not to come back totally empty-handed because I've long since run out of my stock of Camel filters (no longer available in the UK) and I'm not sure how I'm going to manage maintaining my nicotine addiction if we should fail to qualify for the Champions League next season. I'll guess I can just add this to the sadly ever lengthening list of AW's war crimes !



I imagine I wasn’t the only Arsenal fan looking forward to Sunday’s outing to White Hart Lane, much like I would a trip to the dentist, full of trepidation about having to endure some incisive Gareth Bale route canal agony.

With my sadly, ever diminishing faculties of recall, I tend to forget each season how intimidating this fixture can be. I’m convinced that the reverse encounter at our place doesn’t have anything like the same intense level of testosterone-fuelled animosity. This was only augmented by the rare instance of a high-risk match kicking off at 4pm. When in recent times all such derby games tend to be early kick-offs, in an effort to limit the potential for all the increased aggravation, provoked by the quaffing of large quantities of pre-match lubricants.
Still, I guess the late KO made for a far improved atmosphere inside White Hart Lane than the disappointingly sedate midday meetings of late. Although, I imagine the tense old bill weren’t too enamoured with those responsible, as they struggled to maintain segregation between all the more legless Neanderthals outside the ground.

I made the mistake of neglecting to obscure my red & white scarf under my coat after parking up. As a consequence, even my desensitized ears couldn’t believe the disgustingly offensive tirade of abuse from the locals, forcing me to quicken my step in search of safer sanctuary, surrounded by the fluorescent yellow coats of the cops, their mounted colleagues and all the barking Alsatian dogs by the away fans entrance, adding to the high-profile police presence, which only tends to worsen the white-knuckle, war zone atmosphere of what is supposed to be a civil sporting occasion.

Whilst raising my nicotine levels, by chain-smoking cancer sticks to try and calm my nerves before making my entrance, out of the corner of my eye, I espied a mother trying to give her daughter a bunk-up, for a precious glimpse of what was going on behind the big wall. The two of them had travelled from Switzerland, with the daughter, a Spurs fan, desperate to gain entrance, but with her poor mother unable to afford an extortionate three hundred quid being demanded by the touts.

If she’d been a Gooner and there had been sufficient time to make it home to watch the game on the box, I might’ve been tempted to make the ultimate sacrifice, by giving her my own ticket. But instead I suggested that they might be better off heading around to the main West Stand entrance, where the miracle of a last minute, or post KO spare amongst her tardy fellow Spurs fans, might just result in her fantasy coming to fruition and at least her and her tearful daughter wouldn't have to suffer more abuse from all those savagely malicious Spurs fans who assumed she must be one of us.

The two of them enquired with utter bemusement, as to what was going on. Naturally they were aware that the encounter between Spurs and the Arsenal was imminent. Yet it was patently obvious that they’d never before experienced such overtly offensive displays of bellicose aggression between two sets of supporters before a mere football match, Thus I felt obliged to explain that this was far from par for the Premiership course.

It was a relief to get inside to the relative safety of our seats and our nail-biting anxieties were further eased, by the fact that home team favourites appeared to suffer stage-fright for the most of the match. However for all our domination, the Gunners lacked any cutting edge. Almost every effort to threaten Spurs goal was thwarted by the unstinting resolve of the stalwarts in their defence.

Meanwhile we were all left utterly shell-shocked by the break, due to the fifteen minutes spell in which Bale & Lennon scythed through our statuesque defence. Nevertheless, where at our ground Wenger would’ve likely endured untold abuse at 0-2 down in such a crucial encounter with our local rivals, it was great to experience our unwavering loyalty, as we responded to the Spurs’ fans teasing of “we want to him to stay”, with our own chorus of support for our encumbered leader.

It was indicative of our inability to break Spurs down, that it took a fortunate Mertesacher header to get us back into the game but then all our momentum seemed to evaporate with a couple of bizarre substitutions. I saw Stevie Bould call Podolski back from his touchline calisthenics, but as against Blackburn previously, it hardly suggested a man who was desperate to come on and impact upon proceedings, as it took the German almost ten minutes to tinker with his boots as he readied himself.

To my mind this was the difference in the two teams in a nutshell, as while the home side were intent upon making the most of this rare advantage to usurp our North London superiority, the Gunners ambitions were limited to maintaining the old order, while sorely lacking in the leadership and the focus to redress the current status-quo. And with the margin now stretched to seven points and the resulting impact upon the respective confidence of the two clubs, it would take a serial optimist to believe that the Gunners haven’t blown their best opportunity to salvage the sort of pride, which might at least offer the necessary encouragement to stump up our hard earned wedge when season ticket renewals come around in the weeks ahead.

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