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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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