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Sunday 25 August 2013

The Heavens Opened And The Very Pleasing On The Eye Entertainment Poured Forth

It was more than a little ironic to hear Paul Lambert bemoaning bad decisions that contributed to  his side's defeat at Villa Park on Saturday. I didn't hear the Scot complaining quite so vehemently last weekend, after ref Andrew Taylor had such a stinker in our opening game that he was subsequently axed from officiating in the Premiership!

Still, at least we can deduce from Villa's subsequent respectable performances against the Scousers and in midweek against Chelsea that the Gunners didn't play that badly in our depressing curtain-raiser.

After being the butt of so much and somewhat undeserved terrace vitriol, it's great to see Aaron Ramsey's form continue on its upward trajectory, silencing all those detractors who'd opted to make Ramsey the scapegoat for all our ills. Especially when Aaron was still recovering from a career-threatening injury and was so frequently being asked to perform in an unfamiliar, many would say unsuitable role, as an obvious square peg in a round hole, lacking the necessary pace to play out wide on the flank.

Yet while the Welshman might have been afforded sufficient time & space in the middle of the park against Fulham, to deservedly end up with the Man of the Match plaudits, for my money and in such difficult conditions (where despite the amazingly efficient drainage, it must've been dreadfully difficult to judge a pass, with the ball being constantly slowed by all that sitting water), the most obvious class act was Cazorla.

We should have a squad with enough depth to ensure we didn't require Santi's introduction last Saturday, to try and effect a rescue, when the Spaniard was plainly not at his best after an exhausting return trek from South America. But perhaps Cazorla was left feeling somewhat guilty, following the casual lapse in concentration that led to him having his pocket picked in the build up to Villa being awarded the penalty (incorrectly IMHO in spite of all the post-match analysis that proved otherwise) because he was definitely up for it against Fulham.

And although the diminutive Spaniard might've not had such an obvious impact on the outcome, he produced an entertaining array of delicate little touches in such difficult conditions, some directly in front of his adoring faithful filling the entire Putney End behind the goal, which positively screamed of the man's genius and where the little matador left me instinctively hollering "ole", as he made a monkey of his comparatively clumsy opponent.

Better still, I'm so accustomed to us turning up for these dreaded early KOs (first up against the wall, come the revolution, will be the TV execs responsible!), only to fail to pull our finger out until the second half, that it was an extremely pleasant surprise to see the Gunners come out of the traps in such fine and hungry style from the kick-off, as if they truly had something to prove to us and every other bugger.

If I've any criticisms, then it's the fact that we didn't kick on and go for the throat, after taking the lead, but instead sat back and allowed the home team some breathing space, enabling their unfamiliar line-up to grow more comfortable on the ball. But then our inability to put opponents to the sword when we get the scent of blood is an age old failing and under such inclement circumstances and after our midweek exploits in Turkey, I guess I should cut them some slack in this instance.

After taking so much stick for his creditable Bozo the clown impersonation last week, Sczczny deserves plenty of credit. Aside from his contribution in Fulham's consolation goal, our keeper's handling was pretty much perfect, which was no mean feat under the circumstances. Moreover, if it wasn't for Woijech's double save in the first half, this match might've resulted in an entirely different story.

Two-nil up and looking very comfortable at the break, I turned to my neighbour to enquire "can we go home now?", fearful that it might all go tits up second half. Thankfully it didn't and I was glad I didn't because I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on the party atmosphere in our stand behind the goal, as a couple of thousand decidedly damp but joyful Gooners more than made up for last weekend's misery. Fulham's such a friendly ground to visit and with such a large away contingent, it often has the feeling of a home game, albeit with a far improved atmosphere and for some (usually alcohol related) reason, our visits to Craven Cottage often seem to be the inspiration for new terrace ditties.

It's not original and I fancy that you'll probably hear the same tune being sung at grounds up and down the country this season, but in case you heard it on the box and were wondering, this was the catchy chorus that was resonating from the Gooner end on Saturday.

But that's more than enough waffle from me for one week and besides hopefully it will be worth me saving some superlatives in reserve for next Sunday
Keep the faith
Come on you Reds


Fulham has always provided one of my favourite Premiership outings. If tourists were coming to London, wanting to experience our peculiar brand of the beautiful game, before the sterile corporate makeover is complete, the quaint, friendly but “in yer face” ancient environs of Craven Cottage would be my recommended destination. So long might Fulham’s hirsute new custodian ensure that this prime riverside pitch continues to evade the clutches of greedy property developers.

Sadly the weather didn’t put out the welcome mat on Saturday, with a deluge that might have eventually forced the match to be abandoned if it hadn’t abated. However, in view of the fact that Martin Jol has appeared to take a perverse pleasure in putting one over on our manager in the past, I certainly didn’t expect our hosts to hand over the bottle and invite the Gunners to help themselves.

In fact, with our depleted squad forcing Arsène to select pretty much the same side that had been disturbed by a less then friendly firework display in the wee hours, outside the team hotel in Istanbul, prior to well and truly putting Fernebace to the sword, followed by a long schlep back from Turkey, the couple of thousand Gooners who turned up at the Cottage were full of trepidation, in anticipation of a difficult afternoon.

Yet it is styles that make matches and mercifully Fulham’s latest incarnation flattered the Gunners, enabling us to turn on the sort of style that was remarkable under the water-logged circumstances and which was perhaps testament to the fact that it is not entirely soft-soap, when Wenger spouts off like a broken record about the qualities of our existing squad.

But seven days are a very long time in football and as wrong as the over the top reaction was from the not so faithful to our opening day defeat to Villa, by the same token, I’m minded to keep my powder dry after two subsequent, comprehensive victories. After all, with Spurs to come next Sunday and the transfer window inexorably sliding shut, for all we know, we could be back in the same depressing boat by Monday week.

Nevertheless, even if it should prove only temporary, I’m hugely thankful for the two impressive results that have lifted the black mood hereabouts and left us looking forward to this weekend’s Derby, feeling far more optimistic. As talented a footballer as he might be, I have my doubts as to whether Cabaye is likely to solve all our woes and I pray Wenger surprises us all with a somewhat more significant addition to the squad in the days ahead.

If the past week has demonstrated anything, it is the possibility that there exists a core spirit in the current Arsenal squad, amongst a group of players who’ve been together for a considerable amount of time and who’ve shared the anguish of successive failure. As a result, one can’t help but sense the sort of hunger for success that might only require the encouragement of a couple of fresh, but well respected faces, for this to flourish.

It’s always “crunch time” in football, but as far as the Arsenal is concerned, I can’t help but feel that le Prof is verging on a precipice. Where either he's successful in providing his young charges with the additional ammunition this squad requires, for them to push on and fulfill all our dreams, or where more of the same “make do and mend” will be the beginning of the end, as it all begins to fall apart.

But to misquote an ancient TV title (and to show my age), it’s a case of “never mind the width, feel the quality” and I fear that Wenger’s focus on talent might prove to be the stumbling block. As demonstrated by the likes of Cazorla and Ramsey on Saturday, this Arsenal side is not lacking when it comes to skill. It’s personality and character that we’ve often been found wanting for in recent times and I’m uncertain Wenger’s expertise extends to recognizing traits that can’t be measured on a spreadsheet. Only time and tide will tell?

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