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Monday 22 April 2013

Why bother?

Incited by this all too rare comment on Sunday's missive, I felt inspired to offer you lucky Gooners some more of my insightful thoughts, as so many of these are denied to you by the constraints of the 600 odd words that are wanted from me by the Irish Examiner each week.

Never mind the fact that our lumbering French centre forward is not now and will never be a top draw talent, it's not as if we're overly blessed with target man options and after seeing $amir Na$ri escape without even a caution for an almost identical challenge at White Hart Lane yesterday, you have to wonder how on earth ref Andre Marriner can justify sending Giroud off.

Who knows quite what an impact this is going to have on our efforts to finish in the top four? Hopefully we'll witness Walcott, perhaps even Podolski, or a goal glut from midfield as others step up, to pick up Olivier's all too sluggish slack. But if Giroud's red card at the Cottage should end up costing us Champions League football next season, Marriner will have earned himself serious promotion in my personal "Come the Revolution" league of football officials to be lined up against the wall.

I actually thought Marriner had pulled the red card out by mistake, when Sidwell went over the top of the ball on Arteta after only ten minutes. For a moment there it felt as if the ref  had decided that having already produced the red, he might as well flash it. And do you think for one minute that if Marriner hadn't sent Sidwell off, he would've been quite so quick to grab his opportunity to redress the balance at the death, by giving Giroud his marching orders?

Personally, I believe that if this pompous ref had any real feeling for football, from having actually played the game as a lad, he might've been more inclined to keep all twenty-two players on the pitch, by merely booking Sidwell for his momentary, if exceedingly rash bout of over-enthusiasm so early on in the proceedings. I've always despised the sort of automaton officiating, which doesn't allow referees to use their discretion and to give more weight to the all important question of intent.

For example, there can be argument about Luis Suarez' lunatic efforts to chow down on Ivanovic's bicep. For all his indisputably talented gifts, the Uruguayan animal is Mike Tyson bonkers and deserves to have the book thrown at him. But as an ex-Gooner, the ginger destroyer Sidwell was just desperate to make his mark in the match and it was just unfortunate that this mark proved to be the imprint of his studs on Mikel Arteta's shin.

Yet football is and always should remain a contact sport, despite the best efforts of over-zealous officiating and you simply can't eliminate these sort of dodgy tackles completely, without removing the element of passion and total commitment, which separates the beautiful game from ballroom dancing and all those other safe weekend activities, from which its participants will never be in danger of suffering a serious injury.

Few Gooners would've complained if Marriner had had the sense to merely show Sidwell a yellow and instead use the opportunity to try and ensure that the Ginger's rush of adrenaline didn't get the better of him. Besides which, the ref's application of a soupcon of common sense and a few words in Sidwell's shell-like to encourage him to calm down, would've been likely not only to benefit the 25,000 fans packed into Craven Cottage and all those millions watching around the planet, with the upshot of a far more entertaining, open contest, but the Gunners would've also likely ended up with all eleven on the park and without the rope of the resulting suspension, hanging around our necks as a potential death knell for any remaining end of season ambitions.

Customarily, encounters between us and Fulham tend to produce far more entertaining fare than was witnessed on Saturday. But subsequent to Marriner's premature intervention, Fulham's numerical disadvantage only encouraged our hosts to sit back in their own half and invite the Gunners to break down the massed ranks of their two rows of defence, with the home side only venturing a rare forage forward.

Whereas in truth, we'd have doubtless enjoyed a much more exciting outing if it had remained 11 v 11, without the wet blanket being applied to the Cottagers ambitions, which denied us any opportunity to hit the home side on the counter and which ultimately made for such a tame affair, with Fulham happy to sit in front of their goal and watch us push the ball from one side of the park to the other, for much of the remainder of the afternoon.

It was the total lack of tempo to our play and the resulting absence of any incisiveness which made it such a mundane and instantly forgettable match, other than for those all important three points. One assumes (hopes and prays!) that there might be just a little more adrenaline pumping through red & white veins by the time we step out at our place against Man Utd next Sunday.

I came away from Craven Cottage thinking that as with last season, Champions League qualification is likely to end up being achieved, sadly not by the team that wants it the most, but is more likely to be denied to side that hasn't honestly demonstrated sufficient quantities of desire to deserve it. However if I felt angry on Saturday about the obvious absence of the sort of intensity that might indicate that this Arsenal squad are supremely motivated to retain their highly-prized seat at European football's top table and that perhaps they have instead become far too blasé about competing in the game's most glamorous competition, this sense of irritation soon abated during the snoozefest of Sunday's equally anodyne displays.

After so many consecutive seasons of Champions League football there are plenty of Gooners who seem to take our involvement in this competition for granted, believing it should be gifted to us as some sort of g-d given right. As desperate as I am to see us finish above Spurs, easing either our neighbours, or the nouveau Blue scum towards the ignominy of the Thursday/Sunday drudge of the Europa Cup, after schlepping around the Continent for so many seasons, in search of that elusive big-eared prize that continues to leave a glaring gulf in the Gunners honours list, I have to admit that I'm not quite so anxious to see another mediocre Arsenal squad make it under the wire just by the skin of our teeth, merely to participate.

If the limit of the ambitions of the Gunners infinitely "sustainable" business is merely to make it past the qualification rounds, to the hefty six-match profits of the Champions League group stages, only to fall every season at the knockout hurdle because we simply don't have the financial muscle to seriously compete with the big boys, then less partisan types might propose a sensible argument that it's high time we let someone else give it a go?

Meanwhile, after watching our two competitors turn out on Sunday in an equally laidback fashion - with Tottenham seemingly intent on sleepwalking through 75 minutes of their game at White Hart Lane, only to suddenly wake up to the fact that only fifteen minutes remained to claw themselves back from the brink, by resuscitating yet another season that was almost dead and buried and Chelsea casually gifting away the couple of points that continues to make everything appear fairly interesting (to a Scouser outfit, who without Suarez, even make our squad look quality ridden!) - I'm suddenly reminded that other than those teams battling for their Premiership lives in the quagmire at the bottom, much like the remainder, the three London sides are guilty of resting on their laurels, seemingly culpable of the same sort of smug complacency that always seems to prevail at this time of the year, in these mercenary modern times.

While the pundits endlessly pontificate on the potential permutations and us poor mug punters sit here chewing our nails down to the quick, I'm afraid I can't avoid the dreadfully cynical spectre of all those overpaid stars who are far are more interested in studying their holiday brochures than the fixture lists!

Ultimately it looks ever more likely that the Gunners fate is likely to come down to the outcome of Spurs rearranged encounter at Stamford Bridge in a couple of weeks time, when at least one our two competitors is guaranteed to drop points. If the Gunners can somehow contrive to keep our end up, even if this does only amount to ending up a mere Per Mertesacher header away from the wrong side of those gossamer thin margins between success and failure, hopefully the Gooner faithful can rest assured that at least one of our two rivals can be guaranteed to cock it up?

My Spurs mates assure me that mine must be a minority opinion (perhaps others will let me know?), but I've so many Spurs pals and knowing quite how much Champions League football would mean to them, on the basis that Everton are increasingly unlikely to interject the London monopoly on 3rd and 4th place, at this point my ideal scenario would result in the Gunners finishing in 3rd, Spurs in 4th and Chelsea continuing their Europa Cup sojourn in 5th.

Then again Spurs failure to secure an invite to the Champions League party might just be sufficient motivation for their simian-like star to make his White Hart Lane exit and I must admit that it would make a pleasant change for once, for us to be able to enjoy a close season, taking the piss out of Tottenham for cashing in on the sale of their best player, instead of us having to suffer this decidedly uncomfortable shoe each & every summer!

Cone on you Gunners

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Anonymous said...

Terrible lack of punctuation.

John Smith said...

I haven't seen the Giroud challenge but if it was anything like the Sidwell or Adebayor at the Emirates challenges then it should have been a yellow at most

In fact Giroud being sent off is interesting as that sort of thing usually doesn't happen to the Man U/C/Arsenal/Chelseas against the rest of the PL (unless it's repeated incidents that leave the ref no choice)

You could saw that it's new laws that refs have to obey but that doesn't explain Stoke or Balotelli getting away with stamping on Scott Parker with Howard Webb having a clear view despite his later lies

Glasgow Gunner said...

Great to read an unrestricted Bernard.

Todays game will hopefully mirror our game in the allianz. We win on the day despite the result being meaningless on the grander scale of things.