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Monday 30 September 2013

All Smiles At The Return Of The Colgate Ring Of Confidence

When my sister informed me that she’d booked a table at our family's favourite restaurant on the night of my Ma’s 80th birthday at the end of the month, I did warn her that fate and the laws of Sod & Murphy would undoubtedly dictate that we would defeat West Brom and draw Spurs in the next round of the League Cup on that very same Wednesday night. Well I was close, but mercifully no cigar! 

As details of the draw were announced on the radio, during extra-time at the Hawthorns in midweek and the terrace tom-toms soon transmitted the news of the peach of a home game against Chelsea that was awaiting the victors, it was the thought of the ensuing familial flashpoint that immediately weighed most heavy on my mind.

In truth, when extra-time had elapsed and we discovered that the spot-kicks were taking place at the wrong end of the pitch (supposedly for safety reasons – since when did the good old-fashioned coin toss go out the window?) and that the frayed nerves of Young Guns such as Gnabry, Olsson & Akpom were to be denied the gargantuan support of the 5,500 Gooners at our end of the ground, I really didn’t fancy our chances.

Still there’s no shame in crapping out in the lottery of spot-kicks. Moreover, I have to admit to thinking that if we’d bottled it, the bitter disappointment of a miserable drive back from the Black Country, would be tempered by the knowledge of having dodged a potentially nuclear bullet, in the ire of all those kith & kin who couldn’t possibly comprehend my loyalty to the Arsenal taking precedence over such a major obligation to my dear old Mum.

I’ve heard Gooners grumbling that we could now be five points clear at the top, if it wasn’t for our curtain-raiser cock-up against Villa. Yet it could be argued that our opening day defeat and the resulting churlish “sky is falling in” hubbub from all the media Chicken Lickens, was the essential catalyst required for the resulting tenacious doggedness that's been responsible for the unstinting run of success that’s transpired ever since.

It seems as if it’s been so long since we’ve enjoyed the glow of a titanium ring of confidence that encircles the entire club with an impenetrable aura of invincibility, once a team has attained that genuine “winning feeling”, that I’d entirely forgotten the pure unadulterated hedonism of its associated snowball momentum.

Serge Gnabry looks far more robust than Theo and must be brim full of self-confidence following the opening goal on Saturday (which returned a speculative 60/1 payday for one fortunate member of our party and left my mate Raj gloating all the way back down the M4!). Serge's spot-kick in midweek might’ve been saved by the keeper, but at least the German teenager demonstrated the “cojones” to step up and take it. And while I had my head in my hands, expecting each of our penalties to end up high, wide & not so handsome, all five second string Gunners displayed a “what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander” determination, as they stepped up with the same god-given braggadocio that’s increasingly evident, with each successive triumph of their first-team colleagues.

With our spirits already lifted by the news of both Spurs & Chelsea dropping points in the draw at White Hart Lane, as we barreled along the motorway to Wales on Saturday, we couldn’t believe our ears as we bowled up to the turnstiles at the Liberty, upon discovering that City and Utd had also blown 3-point bankers. However, we all sensed that capitalizing on such an unexpected opportunity was likely to prove far easier said, than done.

Who knows if the Gunners had one eye on Tuesday night’s encounter with the fat Spanish waiter’s high-flying Neapolitans, but truth be told, there was a frustrating lack of focus in the tentative, first-half chess match with Laudrup’s Swans.

It was only thanks to a more energetic and inventive spell immediately after the break that the Gunners managed to slice & dice a home defence, which wasn’t quite so stalwart without Ashley Williams at its heart. We could and really should have put this match to bed while our gander was up. Yet despite finding ourselves on the back foot, with the introduction of the handful that is Wilfred Bony, instead of the unbearably neurotic rearguard action that we’ve grown accustomed to watching, when the Gunners have attempted to close out matches in the recent past, while we continued to sweat it out on the terraces at the Liberty, on the pitch there was a pleasingly composed air to the way in which nailed down our two point breathing space at the top.

On the radio on route back to civilization, they were debating whether the return of Flamini could prove equally significant as the addition of Mezut Özil. On Saturday the graceful German midfielder contributed at least a couple of sublime moments of skill, of the sort that’s guaranteed to put bums on seats (and get folks up & out of them, applauding in awe).

By contrast, Flamini’s input might be more industrial in nature (agricultural even, in occasional rash instances!), but the Frenchman offers such a self-assured screen in front of our defence that his arrival appears to have breathed a long-awaited aura of unflappable poise, into our previously panic-stricken and much maligned frantic back four. Sczczny is always likely to be guilty of the sort of mad-hatter aberration that is the calling card of every bonkers keeper, but even he’s begun plucking balls out of the air, dominating his six-yard domain like a genuine class act.

Although I continue to retain disconcerting misgivings that this first flush of invincibility might all be a bit of an illusion, there’s no denying the optimistic thrill as we savour the self-perpetuating nature of this burgeoning winning spirit. Meanwhile, to my massive relief, the cup game against Chelsea has been fixed for Tuesday night (even though the Blues meet Man City on the Sunday prior!). Having been mercifully let off this particular hook, I can now truly enjoy the moment, without enduring a month’s worth of guilt, should I have been forced to face the dilemma of whether to put my adoration of the Arsenal, before a lifetime of mother love.

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