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Wednesday 19 February 2014

All Still Up For Grabs....

... and after seeing Man City roll over at the Etihad this evening, I thought I had better get this posted out, while it still remains that way :-)

Not that I'm being overly pessimistic because at our best and on our day, our first XI are capable of giving anyone a run for their money, even Bayern Munich. Sadly in the absence of the energetic midfield hustling of Aaron Ramsey and deprived of the threat of Theo's pace, you would have to admit that on paper, the daunting German outfit looks favourite for this game over the two legs.

Mercifully football is played on grass, not on paper and with us going into tomorrow night's game, buoyed by Sunday's Cup triumph, provided we've not already used up all of our good fortune (and it certainly feels as if we continue to be owed a large slice of which, after so many long years of lady luck's unrequited love), I for one sense that we're going to have every opportunity to overturn the odds and prove the bookies wrong for once.

I certainly hope our lads were watching events in Manchester this evening. That's assuming that they weren't otherwise occupied "schtooping" glamour models. Although in truth, while I can totally appreciate that his indignant missus fully deserves her entitlement to try and squeeze Olivier's seemingly limited amount of grey matter back up into his bonce from whence it currently appears to reside, by means of inserting his genitalia into a vice, am I not correct in believing that there have been various eminent sporting coaches (boxing?), who've espoused the benefits of a good despunking before sending their charges into battle? 

So from a strictly partisan point of view, on the basis that Giroud came out and scored (again!) against Palace after his illicit 3am exertions in his Four Seasons Hotel room the night before, instead of banning and fining Gunners for sneaking ladies in for a late-night fusilade, perhaps we should be asking why Le Prof isn't out there procuring for our main man on a more regular basis (and while he's at it..... :-)?? At least this would enable Arsène to produce some proper statistics on the subject, in order to analyse the benefits of such pre- or post match shenanigans on one of his many spreadsheets!

But if I'd been a City fan watching them play Barca at home this evening, I would've felt bitterly disappointed by the seemingly timid way in which they went about this match. You would've thought that after spending billions of pounds, amassing such a vast array of footballing talent, this would have at least afforded Pellegrini and his players the sense that their team need fear no one, providing them with the "cajones" to go out and take on the likes of Barca?

Personally I was looking forward to watching an entertaining hors d'oeuvres, to whet my appetite before tomorrow night's main course and I was a little gutted to see City sit back, like so many of Barca's underdog patsies before them. One might've thought that Pellegrini of all people would know that unless you go out there to unsettle Barca's rhythm by taking the game to them, it's almost inevitable that opponents will eventually succumb to the Spanish side's sublime tikki-takka.

Pellegrini has impressed me up until now with the way in which he's carried himself and I assumed that after having endured assorted defeats to Barca during his time in Spain, "the Engineer" would positively revel at finally having an opportunity to line a team up against them on a level financial playing field. 

But to the contrary, after watching City's uninspiring efforts, I had to wonder if the defeat was partially due to the psychological baggage Pellegrini brought with him from Spain, whereby he's been too accustomed to the underdog mentality of merely attempting to thwart the mighty Catalan giants, to even consider giving them a drubbing? And this accounted for him sending out an overly cautious line-up that was far too focused on denying Barca a goal, when he should've instead sent out a team that was more capable of concentrating on scoring their own. 

Consequently, when this tactic inevitably failed, in the time honoured fashion of so many victims who have fallen before them, having gone behind and suddenly having to try and change tack completely and take the game to their guests, City were completely buggered, with it being so much more likely that they'd be undone, as Barca picked them off on the counter, as they began to flag later in the game.

Win, lose of draw tomorrow night, I truly pray that we don't attempt the same sort of performance that produced a great result in Dortmund. If we get beat, we get beat, there's no shame in losing to a magnificent outfit like Bayern, but I will be bitterly disappointed if we go down without a fight, showing the German side too much respect and sitting back and inviting them on, instead of taking the game to our opponents.

Obviously I don't expect us to go gung-ho and it's more likely to be your standard cagey European fare at this high pressure point in the competition, but while it might be acceptable to grind out a result away from home, defending for our lives in our half of the park, Bayern are in our house tomorrow night and it is therefore behoven of our full backs (and anyone supposedly playing out wide) to play in their half of the park, pressing on down the flanks and preventing their full-backs from bombing forward all night.

Negredo made some effort against Barca, but not until Na$ri came on as a sub for City, did I get the sense of one of the players in sky blue looking to try and grab the game by the scruff, when the rest of his colleagues had performed for most of the ninety as if they'd been infected by their manager's inferiority complex.

I've managed to bash out all this without a single reference to the ignominious comments of the Chelsea manager, but perhaps therein lies a clue to superiority complex which has played such a significant part in Mourinho's short term success in his assorted posts. Ah but building an entire that's an entirely different and far more enduring achievement.

After being discharged from hospital last Tuesday, following fairly major surgery, I was forced to stop at home and watch the Man Utd match on TV. But it's very hard to endure watching a home game on the box, listening to the sound of the stadium announcer wafting through our living room window and amongst the many reasons I attend most every match with such religious devotion is because for some strange reason, it's always far less stressful watching the Gunners play in the flesh, than spending 90 minutes screaming blue murder at an inanimate screen in the corner of our living room. 

It would've been sensible for me to have continued to stop at home for Sunday's game, rather than putting myself at risk amongst 60,000 people coughing and spluttering and passing on their germs and I was debating right up until Sunday morning whether I should go or not. But it proved such a glorious afternoon for watching football, that when it came to it, Rona would've had to tie me down to the armchair to prevent me from wandering around to THOF2 come KO time.

And boy am I glad that I made the effort, as I simply can't imagine how devastated I would've been, if I'd ended up missing out on the experience of being there for such an enthralling afternoon of knockout cup football right on my doorstep. Mind you, as someone who's not exactly known for sitting quietly at football, I have to tell you that it was nigh on impossible for me to stick to my promise to adhere to instructions to remain schtum for the entire 90 minutes, for fear that my customary screaming and shouting was bound to end up with me literally busting a blood vessel and being carted off on a stretcher!

I think there was one point where I couldn't stop myself from attempting to bellow "pressure" at one of our players over on our flank in the first half, in an effort to encourage him to close down the Liverpool player with the ball. But due to the fact that it hurts too much to shout (not to mention laugh, blow my nose, brush my teeth and wipe my arse!) right at this present point in time, my customary holler came out instead as a feeble squeak and so at least this encouraged me to put a cork in it for the remainder of the match.

I'm hoping that the weather tomorrow night is not too inclement, otherwise Rona might end up handcuffing me to the bedstead to prevent me from going to the game and in my current parlous state, I'd end up with neither the promise of football nor any sexual gratification!

But hopefully I am going to make it around to there, come hell, or high water to watch an even more scintillating triumph than Sunday's? And while I'm encouraging everyone else to get behind the lads and scream and shout on my behalf, to be our twelfth man tomorrow night, I should perhaps temper this with the warning that while in my case the 20-40 Camel filters might well be a contributing factor, Gooners everywhere might want to be cautious about maintaining their anonymity when supporting their team too vehemently on home turf, as you don't want to end up like me and wake up one morning to find that your club have exercised a somewhat harsh punishment for shouting too loud at the Emirates, doubtless halving my decibels by extracting one of my lungs!


It's All Still Up For Grabs.....

There wasn’t a lot of optimism in the air prior to kick-off yesterday, especially after the cup draw had proffered our guests the additional motivation of a potential Merseyside derby in the quarterfinals. In fact I’d fully prepared myself for writing a miserable, doom and gloom filled report, fearing for the couple of successive defeats, which might have left our season looking completely in tatters come this Thursday morning.

Yet after Suarez and co. had sliced and diced our defence, twice in the opening five minutes and could have easily taken a two-goal lead, but where in contrast to our mauling at Anfield, the Scousers failed to make the most of both opportunities, perhaps it should’ve dawned on me that this was destined to be our day.

Whether it was the chance to redeem themselves after last weekend’s embarrassment, or their appreciation of quite what a pivotal encounter this might prove to be, in terms of the mood in the camp and our psychological well-being in advance of Wednesday clash with what many will regard as the best team on the planet, you only had to see all the fist-pumping and heart-thumping going on, as the players savoured their well-deserved ovation at the final whistle, to appreciate that they were no less euphoric about the result than the rest of us.

If you compare the calibre of the teams left in the FA Cup with the cream of European football that’s still involved in the Champions League, it could be argued that as the eternal pragmatist, Arsène should actually be selecting our best XI for the domestic competition and leaving anyone in need of a breather on the bench against Bayern this Wednesday because it’s patently obvious which way lies the easiest route to ending our trophy drought.

But then Wenger wouldn’t dream of pitting his wits against Guardiola with one arm tied behind his back and if he hadn’t rested Giroud against Liverpool, we wouldn’t have been afforded the opportunity to witness the apparent transformation in Yaya Sanogo, who suddenly looks like an entirely different creature to the timid rabbit caught in the glare of British football’s frenetic headlights, in his extremely brief early season cameo.

Although there was a whisper about the possibility of Wenger selecting the French striker, having not seen hide nor hare of Sanogo since August, it was no less of a surprise to see him thrown into the fray instead of Bendtner, for what might well have proven to be a massive make or break moment in his fledgling Arsenal career. Yet I for one was delighted that Bendtner wasn’t even included on the bench, since to my mind the Dane’s prima-donna attitude stinks and I’d much prefer to see him quarantined off from the rest of the squad, unable to infect others with the poison of his apparent disaffection.

Considering it’s not exactly been a common occurrence in recent years, I was gutted that the Gunners failed to make the most of our midweek opportunity to kick Man Utd while Moyes’ side are quite so down and following the humiliating assault on our confidence at Anfield, I was terrified at the prospect of containing Liverpool’s rampant front line with a weakened team.

I was just walking through the turnstile when I heard news on my radio of Kevin Doyle scoring his first goal for QPR. But while Gooners everywhere having been baying for blood because of our apparent transfer window ineptitude and what appeared to be a blatant failure to offer our emaciated squad the psychological boost of bringing in some more (fit!) bodies, perhaps by pulling Sanogo from his sleeve at this precise point in time, we’ve just discovered how our manager has continued to maintain his equanimity, while all about him have been questioning his sanity.

Up until 4pm yesterday I too was pondering whether it was feasible for this Arsenal squad to continue fighting on all three fronts, whereas following 90 glorious minutes of fabulously entertaining FA Cup football, suddenly anything is possible once again!

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