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Monday 27 January 2014

The Gunners's Guaranteed Silverware Safely Ensconced In My Compression Stockings

While the Skyblues' Fans Pined For the Ricoh, THOF2 Was Lit Up Like An Xmas Tree
There was a genuine “more important than this” moment on Friday night, as the entire stadium stood to applaud the Coventry fans protest on 35 mins, with 35 being the number of miles the Skyblues’ fans have to travel to watch their football in Northampton. Coventry were always a constant fixture amongst the top flight Soccer Stars albums of my childhood and the tragic demise of such a grand old footballing institution, stands as a salutary lesson for us all.

I enquired of a couple of Coventry fans as to the whys and wherefores of their proposed protests that evening. Although I must admit that I’m a little vague on the reason for the second on 61 mins. It was something to do with Jimmy Hill, maybe the length of his chin? I only engaged the two lads, in an effort to try and lift their spirits, after hearing the “game’s up” resignation in their voices, as one of them announced the team news that Mezut Özil was included in our starting lineup.

It seems I mislead them, by suggesting that they needn’t fret because our Mezut is a bit of a luxury player. Boy did he prove me wrong on Friday. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Özil graft quite so industriously in an Arsenal shirt. Who knows, perhaps he’d been asked to help ease Keiran Gibbs’ return to fitness because he was up and down the length of our left flank all night, showing the sort of admirable responsibility for the Arsenal’s cause, the absence of which, I’ve been all too quick to criticise, when he’s appeared to loaf about like a disaffected teenager in other less energetic outings.

Then again, it was a good night all round for the Gunners’ German contingent, with Podolski
Aha! Lukas knows what time it is
positively bursting with the vim and vigour that resulted in the opening two goals, making for several distasteful but nonetheless amusing cracks about Coventry getting bombed by the Krauts again.

Doubtless no one who endured the Second World War barrage would find it a laughing matter. Similarly, I’m sure all my ancestors must be turning in their graves, as I sit here, gleefully contemplating Arsène’s second coming and the prospect that this might be founded on a growing assortment of “big effing Germans”

I distinctly recall my old man’s dilemma as a kid, sensing and sharing his delight at posing in our street in the “ultimate driving machine” by way of his new company car, but with him positively dreading the wrath of my grandparents, should he dare to park the abomination of a shiny new BeeMer outside their Golders Green home.

Nevertheless, sadly I can’t afford a new Mercedes and even if such sensitivities were a consideration nowadays, I’d probably be contributing more to the German GDP by purchasing a Mini. I just happen to believe that if we’re going to end up finally parading some proper silverware around our not so new home come May, our prospects of any such success might well benefit from a mindset of mental toughness, instilled into our squad by an Aryan backbone.

Andries Jonker inherits Liam Brady's role as Academy boss
I always endeavour to ignore the endless media gossip, taking it all with a pinch of salt, until actually seeing a new arrival paraded in the red & white, but I’m certainly not averse to the prospect of Draxler joining up with Mertesacker, Podolski, Gnabry & young Zelalem to add to the Arsenal’s growing band of Bratwurst munchers. Doubtless Premiership football’s increasing penchant for raiding the Bundesliga is no coincidence. Even our Dutch replacement for Liam Brady as Academy boss, comes with Bayern and Wolfsburg as the most recent entries on his CV.

Yet with Arsène blessed with his mixed Alsatian Franco-German heritage, considering his initial success was based on plundering young French fruits from Clairfontaine, there’s a certain irony to this recent increase in the percentage of German passports in and around the current set-up. Although of them all, only Mertesacker has any real “master race” credentials and I’m pleased to report that he continues to exert these, with mounting gusto in each successive match.

General Mertesacker
I almost felt sorry that Coventry missed a glaring opportunity to give their fans a consolation goal to celebrate on Friday, but not sufficiently sorry to want to waste another big fat zero in the goals conceded column. The stats don’t reveal the fine margins of missed sitters, which might have ruined our clean sheet record and yet as this continues to augment in such impressive fashion, currently Koscielny and Mertesacker must be candidates for the Premiership’s most consistent centre-back pairing.

George Graham always referred to building winning teams from the back forward. Yet considering how long we’ve been crying out for Arsène to make a serious investment in a decent keeper as evidence of the club's genuine intent, you would hardly have Le Prof marked down as a pupil of such a pragmatic defensive philosophy. We once again witnessed some wonderfully entertaining football on Friday, of the sort that has my tongue hanging out, salivating in eager anticipation of each successive encounter.

However, no matter that nicking “1-0 to the Arsenal” wins has never been in the DNA of Wenger’s teams up until now and despite the increasingly resolute heart, beating away at the back, I continue to have my reservations about the Gunners' capacity for grinding out games in this fashion. Then again, recent events might lead one to conclude that perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks and that just maybe Stevie Bould has been leading the stubborn old bugger to water, to demonstrate a somewhat less enthralling, but no less satisfying means for le Gaffer to slake his thirst?

Like the vast majority of Gooners, I share what appears to be a general consensus of opinion, where all that matters is the maintenance of our winning momentum and none of us give a stuff for the manner in which we achieve said success. With our wealth of midfield quality, at our best, we’ve no reason to fear anyone. It might have only been lowly Coventry on Friday night, but by contrast to some of the ponderous, uninspiring football that we’ve witnessed at home of late, it was most encouraging to see the goalbound thrusts of the likes of Wilshere and Gnabry, energetically surging past opponents with the ball.

Ever since we received all those plaudits for grinding out a magnificent triumph in Dortmund, we seem to have acquired a somewhat passive tendency to sit back and invite the opposition to do their worst, a little too safe in the belief (for my liking) that we’ve now acquired the stalwart capacity to hold all-comers at bay, until such time as the opposition begins to run out of steam and our superior quality will eventually begin to tell.

For my money it was just such a phlegmatic approach, which enabled Everton to grow so comfortable on the ball, affording the Toffees time and space to lift their heads and pick out the bursting runs of Ross Barkley & co. (can’t seem to let my anger lie over dropping these two unnecessary points!). By contrast, with the snowball effect associated with our recent consistency and the fact that this engenders the sort of fear and respect, in those opponents who might previously have turned up with something more than mere “park the bus” ambitions, Friday’s display demonstrated that it only takes the inspiration of an injection of tempo from a single player, for the rest of his teammates to pick up the pace of their play and produce the sort of scintillating staccato passing triangles that will unsettle most every opponent and where at our very best, will result in them all being duly sliced and diced.

It was this vitality which was most pleasing, on a night when it would’ve have been all too easy for elements of complacency to raise their ugly head and where we might’ve easily succumbed to a giant-killing upset as a result of the visitors vigour, if we’d been guilty of taking our guests too lightly.

Already 2-0 up by the time of the nine thousand Skyblues’ fans “why?” protest (did I hear correctly when the radio reported that there were three times as many Coventry fans as their average turn out in Northampton?), we Gooners could afford to demonstrate a certain generosity of spirit.

Admittedly I visited a hypnotherapist last week, under the threat of a surgeon refusing to operate on me, unless I curb my selfish smoking habits and perhaps she’s responsible for bringing out in me the sort of touchy-feely traits that I would’ve previously mocked. But for a few brief moments there on Friday evening, it felt as if this encounter transcended partisan football and events on the pitch were a mere sideshow to what was taking place on the terraces, as football fans came together to commune as one, in protest at the business world’s ransacking of the beautiful game and to express our abhorrence of the continual rape and pillage, with such utter disregard for trampling on all of our ancient traditions. Surely this must eventually begin to alienate all those of us mug punters, whose presence is essential to make the game in this country such an attractive global commercial product?

Even the subsequent partial floodlight failure felt like some sort of timely allegory. There was plenty of light for the match to continue without any problems, but as everyone in the stands began to pull out their mobile phones, much like a rock concert, the twinkling of thousands of tiny torches, lit up the stadium like a sparkling Christmas tree. A metaphor perhaps to reiterate that as the beautiful game continues to barrel headlong down the road of rampant commercialization, for all the wonders of modern technology, there’d be little interest in twenty-two men kicking a ball about on the pitch, without the illuminating atmosphere from the terraces.

If any further proof of this was fact was required, it was witnessed in all those thousands of empty seats seen up and down the land in assorted FA Cup encounters over the remainder of the weekend. Sure the TV pictures showed some full stadia, but for the most part, the tragic sight of vast swathes of barren terraces, only served to reiterate that the glorious FA Cup has been milked by all the marketing bandits, beyond the point of no return. It seems to me that clubs would be far better off by at least trying to foster some sort of regeneration, giving all the unsold tickets away to local schools, in an effort to restore some sort of decent FA Cup atmosphere, with matches taking place in front of full houses.

Meanwhile I’m due to go under the surgeon’s knife on the 5th February and this afternoon’s fifth round draw felt like yet another attack from the scalpel. In light of my quasi-religious devotion to following the Gunners all over for so many years, it’s agonizing that in a season which continues to hold so much promise, I’m suddenly to be denied attendance at Anfield for the encounter with Liverpool, the midweek home game against Man Utd and now a return fixture against the Scousers in the FA Cup, all in the space of a week, let along any subsequent matches that I might be forced to miss whilst, hopefully, I continue to recover from my operation (assuming the stress of watching all these matches on the box doesn’t prove too much for the old blood pressure and my ticker ends up giving up the ghost!).

I’m not a betting man and I never tempt fate by backing the Gunners, but if I was, I fancy it might be worth staking my compression stockings on the likelihood that fate’s cruel sense of humour has determined that I’m going to miss out on being there in person to savour this series of enthralling encounters, in a campaign that’s now pretty much guaranteed to bear silverware-laden fruit!

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Friday 24 January 2014

We Are STILL Top Of The League

I'm sure that much like every other Gooner, I never tire of reminding myself and anyone else who hasn't grown utterly fed up of hearing it, that the Arsenal remain atop our lofty perch, looking down upon the rest of the Premiership challengers. Moreover I can't help but feel a certain pressure to savour every second that the mighty Gunners bestride the summit, because even if it wasn't for my customarily pessimistic, glass half-empty outlook, I still couldn't escape the nagging doubt that surely it can't possibly last.

Nevertheless, I'm growing more accustomed to this feeling with each passing week and in some respects, I'm enjoying it all the more, as it reminds me of the days of yore, when a more humdrum, hardworking Gunners were the complete anathema of their current incarnation as everybody's favourite other team. The longer that our anorexic-looking squad continues to make a mockery of the perception resulting from the glut of goals scored by Manuel Pellegrini's bloated battalions that has Man City confirmed as Champions elect in all but deed, the more I relish watching all the pundits squirm, as they struggle to find the least discomfiting means of retracting their premature predictions eg. "I never said that Arsenal couldn't win it, but that they wouldn't".

And no matter how hard I try to keep a lid on it and prevent myself from fantasising about still being there or thereabouts, come May, defying the indubitable odds and still hanging on in there, with a shout for the title, I'm sure that like everyone else, it's becoming increasingly hard to prevent myself from drifting off into such euphoric dreams.

As ever, I've the customary raft of excuses for failing to post Sunday's Irish Examiner missive below (most of which, as usual, relate to my sloth-like tendencies!). Yet I did want to expand on the theme of our seemingly increasing potential for coming a cropper in home games, against opponents whose ambitions only extend so far as to limiting us to the minimum possible number of genuine goalscoring opportunities.

On seeing the highlights of the Fulham game on MOTD, I realised that Serge Gnabry had produced a couple of bold assaults upon the Cottagers goal, but comparing the youngster's overall performance with his man of the match display, in metaphorically pulling Tim Sherwood's pants down in the North London Derby, there was little evidence of the same utterly fearless zest and vitality that did for Spurs.

Arsène's oft repeated "handbrake" references seem to have resulted in the terminology rapidly being adopted into the lingua franca of football clichés. Perhaps it's all the hype that resulted from Gnabry's impressive outing against Spurs which have caused him to become a tad more inhibited? I seem to recall that we experienced something similar after Jack Wilshere first burst onto the big stage with such a bang. Where for some time after this I was just itching to see him repeat the feat of wriggling past half a dozen statuesque opponents, resulting in the sort of "glad all over" feeling upon discovering a young Gunner who appeared to be performing on an astral plane that was entirely out of the ordinary footballing world.

However there was a seemingly interminable, anti-climactic opening act following the sensational prologue to the Jack Wilshere story, where it was as if someone had whispered a "keep it simple" instruction into his shell-like, instructing the young prodigy that he shouldn't be trying to win every encounter single-handed. Similiarly with Serge Gnabry, I get the distinct sense that they've tried to rein in his unbridled enthusiasm, in an effort to try and teach him when to bring his talents to bear to the greatest effect, much in the same vein of the ancient joke about the young bull that's eager to bowl down the hill to bang one of the many cows in the field below, but where his more experienced elder suggests that they stroll down and bang them all.

Still, I'd hoped that the energy and the pace of Gnabry, or with his recent return to fitness, the equally speedy attributes of the other young Ox, would compensate for Theo's unfortunate demise, by offering us a Plan B; both by being able to barrel around the exposed flank of the opposition's parked bus, as they pack the heart of their defence with all the bodies blocking the width of the penalty area and by creating more space for our array of ball-players to operate, amongst opposition defences who could no longer condense the area in the middle of the park, when being forced to drop off due to the threat of being made to look foolish by a single incisive pass, to one of these "B" of the bang, speed merchants.

Yet we've already witnessed the Ox's central midfield aspirations, which perhaps make it less intuitive for Alex to operate as an out and out wide man, with a first instinct to tear down the wing and whip a ball in from the byeline and similarly, along with virtually every other midfielder in red and white, Gnabry also appears to enjoy cutting in from the flank, bearing down on the penalty area, to participate in the customary array of intricate one-twos, as part of the Gunners incessant efforts to pick a path through the most crowded area of the pitch.

What would I give for a George Armstrong type individual right now, a player with the blinkered, singular focus for his cameo role, regularly guaranteed to tear down the flank to the byeline, nine time out of ten resulting in him whipping in a dangerous cross from somewhere near the corner flag.

Without someone willing to turn up the intensity of our football in the sort of performance we're growing accustomed to witnessing at our place, the Gunners seem to settle into this slow tempo, far too deliberate football, affording the opposition defence every opportunity to organise their rearguard. And as we're all sitting, impatiently waiting for one of these long periods of ponderous possession to actually pick the lock to the door of the opposition's parked bus, by achieving the point of threatening our opponents goal (and even then we always seem intent on playing one pass too many, when we're crying out for someone to be a little more selfish and take some responsibility by taking the shot on), it seems to become increasingly difficult for anyone to inject the sort of energetic momentum, which is most unlikely to unsettle their patently inferior opponents.

It's not so easy for teams to achieve when the Gunners are out on the road because the opposition are obliged, or their home fans will encourage them to produce just a little more intent and this will often afford us the opportunity for our superior skills to prevail. Yet according to the law of averages, unless we can produce some more variety to our assault on defences at our place, we're making it that much easier for opponents to effect a strategy to deny us and it's likely that there will come a time when they eventually succeed.

I pray that AW's focus on Tuesday's trip to the South Coast doesn't result in him selecting a team for tonight's encounter that leaves us regretting that we took Coventry too lightly, by neglecting to show them sufficient respect and inspiring the Sky Blues to an infamous giant-killing! Hopefully we'll witness the customary mix of youth and experience which will prove just a little too strong for the embattled Midland's outfit.

Sadly the Coventry game appears to have come just a little too soon for the likes of Yaya Sanogo. Although his Bambi-like nine minute brush with the frenetic cut and thrust of British football since his arrival from Auxerre suggests that the French striker is still a some way from making the transition to the unforgiving pace of Premiership football. But who knows, perhaps he, or another youngster will emerge tomorrow night as the answer to le Prof's prayers.

Although in some respects, we don't need anyone to create the sort of sufficiently significant impression which could kid our gaffer into believing that perhaps he does have sufficient numbers to maintain a title challenge! I have to admit that it was somewhat transparent to hear Arsène throwing his toys out of the pram, in whinging about the January transfer window, merely because Juan Mata is likely to be comfortably in situe for David Moyes, come Man Utd's trip to our place in a couple of weeks time.

I'm afraid you can cry foul all you want Arsène, but as it stands at present, the only solution to this problem is to respond in kind, by getting the cheque book out! Besides, judging by Wednesday's incredibly dramatic and ultimately hilarious Carling Cup semi-final, it would appear that along with the vast majority of the footballing world, Chelsea's "not so special any more" manager has concluded that it is going to take a lot more than the mere addition of Mata to reinvigorate a Man Utd side littered with such mediocrity throughout?

Could it be that le Prof's bitterness is related to the rumours that Juan Mata's dad was being entertained in our directors box a few months back and maybe we should be taking it as a compliment that Mourinho chose to flog him to Man Utd because we're viewed by him as a more serious threat. compared to no threat at all?

Still "nuff respek" to Vito Mannone for his influential part in Weds night's wonderfully hilarious proceedings . Moyes might have had more sense than to accept the poisoned chalice of the Ferguson follow-up act, but if I've got some sympathy for their manager, the Schadenfreude of seeing so many of Old Trafford's spoiled glory hunters suffering at the seemingly forgotten fate of the beautiful game's eternally cyclical nature is positively marvelous

Come on you rip roaring Reds


We Are STILL Top Of The League

After the Gunners turned it on for a five minute spell of football on the half hour mark and took a two-goal lead at Villa Park on Monday night, I was convinced we were about to shoot ourselves in the foot, when we sat back in the second half.  Especially when Benteke finally broke his goal drought and the Brummies suddenly found some belief and lit the atmospheric touch-paper, for a frantic last 15 mins.

Surely it’s time to start handicapping Man City, giving opponents a goal or two start, against the massed ranks of Pellegrini’s mercenaries, so as to make matters more interesting? Nevertheless, in City’s current free-scoring incarnation, it’s hard not to put their disturbingly daunting strikeforce on a pedestal, as the benchmark for all the competition to aspire to.

I couldn’t help but ponder that if it’d been City playing against a woefully lacklustre Villa on Monday, with the home side chasing the game in an effort to salvage some self-respect, the Sky Blues’ positively rampant attack would’ve picked them off at will.

In truth, so long as Pellegrini’ s cohorts continue to suffer from their recent preponderance for not turning up on their travels (compared to sort of intense onslaught seen at the Etihad!), they might also have been guilty of sitting back on a two-goal lead. Yet with such a large array of talent competing for starting places, I suspect that any one of City’s bevy of front men would’ve bagged sufficient goals to ensure a more comfortable win, devoid of our unnecessarily stressful “squeaky bum time” at the death.

Similarly against Fulham on Saturday, despite the encouragement of the Cottagers new “brains trust” (it’s a marvel there’s any seats left for Fulham subs with Meulensteen, Wilkins and Curbishley filling up their bench!), one sensed a disappointing lack of ambition from our guests.

The game certainly lacked the high-octane intensity that’s expected of even the friendliest of London derbies, with both sides far too content to spectate when not in possession. It wasn’t long before I was crying out for someone to stoke up proceedings, by kicking an opponent up in the air (in fact I would’ve gladly settled for any sort of bodily contact!).

In contrast to the sort of “no respect” attitude that’s made for such an enthrallingly unpredictable Premiership competitions thus far, it seemed as if the Cottagers were expecting little from this encounter. Although, once again, I couldn’t help but feel that the likes of City would’ve made much lighter work of securing all three points, whereas at present, the Gunners are making life far too easy for those teams who turn up, merely intent on getting everyone behind the ball and shutting shop.

Who Needs Specsavers, Not Our Santi
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not complaining. I’m sure like many other Gooners, a massive grin materializes on my face every single morning, as the arms of Morpheus release their grip and I realize that I’m not dreaming and that the Gunners really are still “top of the league”.

It’s great that we’re now blessed with a myriad of marvelously talented midfield options. But when you contrast the overall depth of those squads with serious competition for places all over the park, it’s hard to avoid this sense that we’ve somehow sneaked under the nose of the burly bouncer, guarding the entrance to the top of the table party, or perhaps we slipped in after Paddy Vieira left the door to the emergency exit ajar and that at some point we’re going to get a tap on the shoulder and unceremoniously be booted out.

Nevertheless, with Mertesacher beginning to acquire the mantle of a genuine Tony Adams type leader and the unsung Koscielny setting such an impressively stalwart example all over the park, as much as I might try to limit any tendency to get carried away, with each passing week that we can continue to retain our lofty perch (and despite our best efforts to gift Darren “couldn’t score in a brothel’ Bent a consolation prize, the stats show that we’re racking up an increasingly resolute number of clean sheets), there must eventually come a time when the title challenge illusion becomes an inescapable reality.

However, as evidenced by more frustrating “eye of the needle” efforts to pick an intricate path through Fulham’s not insubstantial wall of bodies on Saturday, the Gunners badly need to make it harder for visitors to park the bus. With everyone instinctively cutting in, to try and dance their way through the heart of opposition defences (and with Monreal’s apparent aversion to playing a forward pass!), Theo’s demise has only exaggerated our desperate need to be able to pose a more varied threat, by stretching opponents with the sort of width that’s patently lacking at present.

I tend to ignore all the transfer gossip, believing it’s all hot air until players are actually witnessed putting pen to paper. Obviously we’re crying out for a striker capable of offering Giroud some respite. Yet momentum is everything and with the burgeoning spirit in the Arsenal camp, it’s not so much the “who” as far as transfer targets are concerned, but the signal Arsène needs to send out of our intent, to reassure players and fans alike, with a couple of timely additions, which might instill the belief that our challenge is not about to flounder for yet another season, the moment injuries and suspensions begin to take their toll.

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Monday 13 January 2014

Winds Of Change, My Arse!

Apologies for failing to post last Sunday's Examiner missive. With my paltry 650 words below, it didn't really feel as if I'd done justice to such a wonderful occasion. But perennially lazy bugger that I am, I never got around to adding some more meat to the Derby day bones and with a trip to Villa Park looming tomorrow, it was a matter of sending this out now, or never.

After such a thoroughly gutless Spurs performance, personally I would've expected my Spurs pals to have been left completely schtum for the remainder of the season, or at least until our date down the wrong end of the Seven Sister's Road. But, remarkably, the poor, terminally downtrodden loves have been trying to wind me up, over the loss of Theo Walcott.

It's true, I was crying for Theo's return as loud as the next Gooner. Yet it was the threat of Theo that was required more than anything, even though we've managed quite well without him for the majority of the season so far. We are desperate for the threat of some pace, any pace, out on the flanks, so that opposition defences were threatened by the risk of the ball over the top, thereby preventing them from solely focusing on denying us a route to goal through the middle.

As much as I adore Walcott and would love him to prove me wrong, I do worry that he's far too fragile and his recent, sadly all too brief return to fitness resulted in performances that only reinforced my feelings that he's never quite going to fulfil the promise of all of his undoubted ability. I'm not sure whether it was the Cardiff game but there have been various instances when Theo has been faced with a full-back who should be left for dead, in a straight race between the two of them and where I've been left tearing my hair out, wondering why Walcott doesn't have the feller on toast, taking him on at every possible opportunity.

Who knows, perhaps Theo's constant injury woes have resulted in some psychological damage and much like Kieran Gibbs, all he really needs is an injury free, consistent run in the team, to regain complete confidence (sadly, not going to happen now for some time!). Walcott went down in a heap a couple of weeks back, clattered by the opposition as they both fell over the goal line and as he clutched his arm, I immediately assumed he'd popped his dodgy shoulder.

The pity is that this confidence might have begun to return, as much like the incidence of a blue moon, I swear I saw Theo actually make a tackle against Cardiff and lest it be forgotten, he actually injured himself in an attempt to win the ball back against Spurs. Yet in virtually all of his all too rare recent appearances, I've got the distinct sense of an absence of that all important total conviction, in almost everything he does on the pitch, whether this be closing down the opposition keeper, or racing to reach a ball, when competing with an opponent who should really be left trailing in his wake.

For some reason my rapidly failing memory doesn't prevent me from recalling certain nuggets of wisdom from my distant youth. I remember flying in for full-blooded tackles as a teenage full-back, with the mantra in my head that injury often only results for those who attempt anything on a pitch in a half-hearted, timid fashion. This has always sounded logical because any fear of doing oneself some damage will invariably result in the sort of tension and rigidity that is more likely to cause injury.

And I often wonder if this is the case with Walcott, where the football can't flow naturally from his feet, due to the possibility that subconsciously he's constantly plagued by the thought of trying to avoid another tedious spell in the treatment room. By complete contrast, perhaps having never been familiar with the pain and the endless boredom of months of rehabilitation work in the gym, young Serge Gnabry knows no such fear.

As it happens, Gnabry is also built like a compact, far more robust brick sh*thouse and his diminutive physique doesn't look anywhere near as likely to fail on him as Theo's. Gnabry  goes about his business on the pitch with the conviction of a youngster who's determined to get somewhere, double quick. His rare appearances thus far have been very promising and in truth, after he was involved early season, I've been disappointed that we've not seen more of him since.

If Theo hadn't suffered an injury which consigns him to crutches for the remainder of the season and with Gnabry slipping down the pecking order, with the return to fitness of Podolski and the Ox, I guess we wouldn't have seen much more of him, especially in a World Cup year, with players anxious to earn a squad place for the trip to Brazil.

However having grabbed his rare opportunity with both hands (or both feet) with such an impressive performance against Spurs, hopefully Serge has forced himself back into the frame and if Theo's absence means that we get to see more of the pugnacious young German prospect, I for one won't be too disappointed.

Meanwhile, I was patting myself on the back because I thought that my comments in the last para below were proving to be quite prescient (considering I didn't know the extent of Walcott's injury at the time of writing). Yet with the (disappointing?) news that Bendtner might be restored to fitness, sooner than expected, perhaps this will alleviate some of the pressure on AW to take immediate action.

Again, if we're forced to use him, I sure hope Bertie Big Bollix proves me wrong, coming on as he's done recently, to score the sort of crucial goals which will result in the instant transformation from villain, to superhero amongst the fickle Gooner faithful. But it's hard for me to envisage any such renaissance because although Bendtner has the ability to put the ball in the back of the net, it seems to me that we're never going to see him working his cods off for the Arsenal cause, when our backs are up against the wall in games to come, with the sort of relentless graft that we've come to expect from Giroud, due to the likelihood that mentally Bendtner is already beyond the point of no return.

With his over-inflated ego and his assorted loan spells elsewhere, the Dane knows he's not wanted at the club and that there's no possibility of earning his redemption because he only remains in the squad at present out of necessity. The fact that we're constantly being linked with every single available striker on the planet, only confirms that Bendtner is out on his ear, the moment AW finds adequate cover and unfortunately he's far too full of largely unjustified self-belief, to ever deign to feel he's cause to prove his detractors wrong.

Yet whether or not Bendtner remains as viable cover for our single only centre-forward is not really the question. With, or without his aid, our squad continues to appear farcically deficient compared to the competition. Even the likes of lowly Hull have more striking options than us and in truth, AW is living in cloud cuckoo-land, if he truly believes our squad has sufficient depth to survive the attritional battle ahead.

Someone sent me a list of the fixtures we face in the two months from the beginning of February to April. Needless to say, I didn't thank them, as presented in this fashion, it's a mouth-watering, but unnerving succession of mammoth clashes, where it's almost inevitable that injuries and suspensions will eventually begin to take their toll. 

Where the likes of Negredo and Dzeko can pick up the slack for City, in the absence of Aguerro, with the likes of Jovetic still waiting in the wings, desperate just to get a look in, I'm not convinced I'd want us resorting to the possibility of the bad attitude of the likes of Berbatov, impacting upon our dressing room spirit, but it would be absolutely desperate, following such a surprisingly impressive start, to see all this good work go to waste, as our challenge for yet another unrequited season flounders on the necessity to throw a patently unripened Yaya Sanogo into the fray because we've no other remaining fit options.

In the meantime we've got three points to bring back from Birmingham tomorrow night. Apparently our record at Villa Park in recent times is very good. Yet it always seems to me that no matter how content Villa have been to lie down like lambs against previous opposition, they always appear to save something for their matches against us, with individuals in claret and blue suddenly producing a performance out of the blue.

Having been leapfrogged over the weekend by City and Chelsea, we really can't afford to slip up tomorrow night and after a relatively long break, if ever our squad was to be found out for a lack of sufficient focus and some slight tendency towards arrogance, I'd fancy Villa Park could be just the sort of venue for such a calamity, if we're not totally up for it!

Personally I was surprised that Flamini wasn't included in the starting line-up against Spurs as the team that took to the field appeared a little lightweight compared to our neighbours and I thought we might need the Flamster's aggression, to ensure we weren't outmuscled. But what do I know, the Lilywhites left their hearts at home and appeared with a flag of the same colour and le Prof proceeded to pull Sherwood's pants down.

Nevertheless, it will be most reassuring to see Flamini included in a solid looking team tomorrow night. Although a weekend without an Arsenal game affords me an opportunity of a stress free Sunday, without having to file a column for the Examiner, it's agony having to watch everyone else bank their points before us. But as they say, a pleasure delayed, is a pleasure enhanced and here's hoping that the wait proves worth it and that our trip to the second city results in a sumptuous three point feast (although I'll gladly settle for sneaking another old fashioned 1-0 :-).

Come on you Yellows

Winds Of Change, My Arse!

It’s amusing to think that it was only a few months back that many pundits were pondering on the potential shift in the balance of power in North London. Arsène Wenger was being spoken of as a spent-force, ready for his pipe and slippers and Spurs were about to usurp our perennial consolation prize as potential Champions League qualifiers.

Mercifully, any prospect of this Orwellian nightmare coming to pass has been safely put to bed (for yet another season) and the world continues to turn on it’s axis, as the Arsenal cruised into the 4th round of the FA Cup on Saturday in a euphoric triumph over the old enemy. In fact, if I’m entirely honest, compared to some of the blood and thunder North London derbies of yesteryear, I was a little disappointed that our guests didn’t make a better fist of putting up more of a fight, instead of tamely succumbing to the demise of their last glimmer of domestic silverware.

Sure it might’ve been a different story if Eriksen had shot across goal, instead if trying to beat Fabianski at his near post early on, or if Greedybayor hadn’t gone down like Bambi, with the goal gaping at his mercy second half. But considering the pre-match butterflies had me back and forth to the karsey earlier in the day, the fact that these were the only two memorable heart-in-the-mouth moments during the entire ninety, stands as testament to quite what an unexpectedly comfortable afternoon it turned out to be.

Still it was a great occasion, with the atmosphere at our often all too sterile stadium ramped up umpteen notches, to the point where one is left wondering why we Gooners have to save such an intimidating racket for Spurs and can’t create the same cauldron-like intensity at every home game. It was a baptism of fire for the brother of a Gooner pal of mine from the USA, who was attending his first ever football match. Sadly, I had to explain to him afterwards that it was all downhill from here because any other game at our place is likely to be disappointingly dull by comparison.

With Walcott playing up front, backed up by Gnabry, Rosicky and Cazorla, my first thought was that we weren’t exactly going to win any aerial battles. But as Mark Twain once said “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog” and with Sherwood naively sticking to his preferred 4-4-2, Spurs neutered Rottweilers in midfield were positively overrun by our feisty Jack Russells. In fact I was relieved when Wenger eventually retired Jack Wilshere, as he was tearing around, looking to start a row with anyone in a white shirt, determined to demonstrate how much this derby match meant to him and looked an obvious candidate for a red card.

Yet it was young Serge Gnabry who leant us the sort of vitality that Spurs so obviously lacked, positively bristling with energy and intent and at the same time having the composure to put the first all-important goal on a plate for Cazorla. I wanted to go home there and then, but I needn’t have worried, as the expected reaction never materialised and any concerns I might’ve had evaporated, once Mertesacker was restored to our defence for the second half.

Doubtless Theo was getting untold stick from the Spurs fans in that corner of the ground and with hindsight his somewhat smug reaction from the stretcher might be deemed irresponsible because it nearly started a riot amongst the Neanderthal Lillywhites as he was carried along the length of the Clock End stand behind the goal. Nevertheless it made for hilarious viewing from where we stood and far more importantly, with Bendtner having limped off against Cardiff and Theo stretchered off on Saturday, no matter how hard Arsène tries to maintain his best poker face, circumstances are contriving to force his hand in the coming month, as far as strengthening our striking options are concerned.

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