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Sunday 30 November 2014

All I Want For Xmas.......

            The utterly remorseless footballing diet that feeds the insatiable appetite of the sporting media beast and it's ever more bloated online belly has created this farcically fluid environment, where any absence of consistency has clubs constantly portrayed as lurching between absolute boom and bust. 

            For all the media's effort to throw kindling on the smouldering fire of discontent at the Arsenal, the two wins this past week that have put us through to the knockout stages of the Champions League (for the 15th successive season!) and restored us to the upper-echelons of the Premiership, have inevitably taken the pressure off our pugnacious manager. To the point where the unfurling of the "thanks for the memories" banner behind the goal at the Hawthorns, after beating the Baggies on Saturday, seemed more than a little churlish.

            After having gone to all the bother, it felt as if le Gaffer’s hard-core detractors were going to broadcast their anti-Arsène bulletin, no matter what had transpired on the pitch. Although their message might've been loud and clear, the sentiments expressed were far from unanimous, judging by the unrest it's appearance caused as the majority of us were communing with our match-winning heroes after the final whistle.

            Truth be told, no matter what side of the great Gooner divide one sits on, the vast majority are not the least bit interested in throwing our toys out of the pram, so long as our beloved team are doing the business; even after witnessing our title prospects sink faster than the Belgrano, in our worst start to a campaign since the Falklands War.

            And if any assistance was required to put events into proper perspective, it came in the form of the chilling reminder of the tragedy in the Antipodes, upon seeing "Hughes 63" etched on the homemade cardboard tribute in the hands of one of the travelling faithful exiting the Travel Club charabanc as we strolled towards Saturday's unacceptably early sporting spectacle.

          Shorn of their early season ebullience with them languishing at the bottom of the Bundesliga, Klopp’s cohorts were unrecognizable in midweek as the same daunting side that bulldozed us in Dortmund early doors. And on discovering the recently unveiled, gravity-defying bronze statue of Tony “Bomber” Brown outside the Hawthorns, doubtless this Baggies hero of yesteryear won’t have been impressed by the home side’s impotent efforts at the weekend, where despite a hearty chorus of “you don’t know what you are doing” disgust, it wasn’t until after Irvine replaced Sessegnon with Samaras on 76 mins that they finally managed an effort on goal.

            Whether it’s down to biorhythms or their maladjusted bodyclocks, with the early KO, inevitably we failed to produce the sort of zestful blitzkrieg we witnessed against Man Utd & Dortmund. But with Giroud and Koscielny restored to our ranks, the Gunners are instantly transformed into a far more physically imposing outfit, by contrast to psychologically disadvantaged team of nine-stone weaklings that we’ve grown accustomed to watching in previous weeks.

            The nerve-wracking responsibility of amalgamating our decimated defence has taken its toll on Mertesacker and it might take time for Per to rediscover his Teutonic efficiency. But having his regular partner back playing alongside made an immediate difference as that crucial aura of calm and composure that we’ve so sorely missed was patently apparent on Saturday.

            At least it was, up until the last ten minutes, as the tension mounted and the Gunners appeared no less haunted than those of us on the terraces, by all those costly gaffes that we’ve endured in recent games. So it was important for us to prove ourselves capable of reaching the finishing line, with our clean sheet intact.

            Obviously Southampton are likely to offer a far more testing examination of our credentials on Wednesday. But with Welbeck and Giroud demonstrating that they can play together and Cazorla having his most influential game to date, at last there appears to be some light at the end of our inconsistent tunnel.

            With matches coming thick and fast as the festive season approaches, I worry that Alexis might eventually burn out. Especially while others in midfield appear to be taking advantage of his astonishing work-rate. On occasion Ramsey doesn’t bother closing the opposition down, knowing he can rely on our Chilean terrier to all the donkeywork. Now if only Aaron could add his compliments to the Xmas season, things might start to get truly festive.

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Tuesday 25 November 2014

One Egg Is An Oeuf, Obviously Six Defenders Ain't!

Hi folks,

I thought I'd better get Sunday's Irish Examiner missive posted out, before events on the pitch make it obsolete. Moreover, as I suffered the ignominy of exiting the ground on Saturday via the South Bridge, followed far too closely by the hordes of joyful Utd fans heading back to their Surrey homes, I felt no less angry than all those Gooners having kniptcheons around me, muttering their contempt for our not so glorious leader.

Yet with the benefit of a couple of days to calm down, it's much easier to put Saturday's disaster into proper perspective. There can be no denying the groundswell of anti-Wenger feeling in recent weeks, as even Arsène's most staunch supporters struggle to defend the seemingly blatant incompetence of commencing this season's campaign without sufficient defensive cover.

Nevertheless, while we might all be entitled to express our opinions, I couldn't be more against the idea of bringing this mood of disunity to the terraces on a matchday. I can fully appreciate that an increasing number of Gooners are inclined to vent their mounting frustration and to make their feelings known in this vocal fashion, but in my most humble opinion, by doing so on the terraces, during a game this constitutes a gross breach of our eternally binding contract.

It is perhaps indicative of the changing face of football crowds, where nowadays we've grown accustomed to occupying our extortionately-priced seats on a matchday, only to sit back and wait to be entertained. But in the past, entertainment and enjoyment of a football outing was merely a bonus by-product. Our primary objective, nay obligation even, amidst the privilege of being present to witness the spectacle, was to make our presence known with our unstinting vocal support for whoever happened to be representing the red and white of the Arsenal.

"If Only I'd Spent £250M, We Could've Been As Crap as Man U"
I'm not against protesting, or making ones feelings known in any shape or form, so long as all such animosity gets left at the turnstiles. And for all those who think otherwise, I have two things to say. Firstly, do you honestly believe that any such visual or vocal expression of anger from the terraces during a game is going to benefit the Gunners' cause? At best, it only fuels the fervour of the opposition fans and their team. At worst, the mood of dissension is transmitted from the terraces onto the pitch, eroding the motivation of our players and diminishing any prospects we might've had of turning the game around!

Secondly, it's the futility of it all that I find so farcical. Aside from damaging the moral in the Arsenal camp, does anyone seriously envisage there being absolutely anyone at the club with the necessary cajones to be able call Arsène Wenger into their office and hand him his P45 as he informs le Boss that he's been given the "tin tack"? Absolutely the only protest that might cause a few raised eyebrows in the far too cosy environs of the Arsenal boardroom might be the sight of empty seats on a matchday, if fans began voting with their feet.

Moreover, with there being no-one in authority capable of making the decision that 'enough is enough', knowing the stubborn old-bugger as we do, can you honestly picture Arsène buckling in the face of concerted protests, handing in his notice and walking away with his tail between his legs? Personally I think it more likely that this will only encourage Wenger to hang on in there, for grim death, in the hope of turning things around, getting everyone back on side, in order to be able to hold his head high as he brings his long reign to a conclusion at a time of his choosing.

At this particular point in time, my instincts are that with AW having lost his shirt, in his apparent gamble on the Gunners being able to last the distance with the gossamer thin number of defensive bodies in the existing squad and with us having been dealt yet another awful hand, as far as significant early season injuries are concerned, I fancy Arsène is intent on sweating it out, safe in the knowledge that if we can manage to string a couple of results together, the fickle Gooner faithful will soon forget and our expressions of anger towards our "lame duck" leader will fast begin to wane.

Like many other Arsenal fans, I am in such awe of what Wenger has achieved during his long tenure, both for our beloved club and for British football as a whole that I find it very hard to come to terms with the increasingly overwhelming evidence that suggests that the man who once revolutionised the game in this country, has now become an outdated dinosaur.

I've read where others have used the marital analogy and at this particular point in time, we've reached that stage in our relationship where the best hopes for many are for them to be sufficiently nasty to their spouse that he ends up being left with absolutely no choice but to walk away. Myself I still believe that it would be such a travesty and a tragedy for "irreconcilable differences" to be cited as the cause of our divorce. I still hold out some hope that the marriage might be annulled in an amicable fashion, as both parties accept that the relationship has reached a natural conclusion, with minimal psychological impact upon all the offspring.

Yet whatever your opinion and no matter how certain you might be that le Prof is long past his sell-by date, we shouldn't become the sort of parents who are constantly berating their partner to try and influence the children. Nothing good will ever come from this!

For all his failings this summer, Wenger has been somewhat unlucky (although we should expect nothing less by now) and if he's able to make good on his promise to strengthen the squad in January, I can't help but feel that if only according to the law of averages, the current team will eventually come good. Albeit that sadly, should it happen, it appears increasingly likely that it will be far too late in the day for anything but the feint hope of a decent cup run.

Watching the Villa v Soton game yesterday, I heard it commented that seven of Koeman's side have started every game this season. Similarly, I heard exactly the same thing said of Mourinho's team in the radio commentary of their impressive display on Saturday. Football isn't rocket science and surely this statistic and the fact that these two teams have been the only consistent sides in the Premiership is no coincidence?

Despite the dismal outcome, there were some promising signs on Saturday and our defeat to Man Utd certainly wasn't for the want of trying. I've watched plenty of games where I've been left disgusted by our failure to win because I just didn't feel that we've wanted it enough. But you couldn't fault the effort on Saturday and as a result, although we witnessed the customary (and IMHO disgusting) "fire drill" before the final whistle, there wasn't the expected barrage of booing from those of us who did remain to the bitter end. 

As Mertesacker and a couple of other of the usual suspects with the maturity to comprehend the value of showing their appreciation to the more devoted amongst us who pay their wages, lingered for a few moments to applaud the faithful, despite our devastated misery, the majority felt obliged to return the compliment, in the knowledge that they'd given everything over the course of the 90 minutes.

Additionally, despite all the obvious criticisms from the pundits about our defensive naivety, while I might agree as far as the sucker punch of Utd's first goal was concerned, in truth, I've got no problems about us conceding the second. Personally, I would've been far more disappointed if we hadn't thrown the kitchen sink at trying to turn the game around. To my mind, getting caught on the counter with five minutes left on the clock is always an acceptable risk, when you end up chasing the game in this fashion.

The hilarious sight of Jack Wilshere more belly-buttoning than head-butting Fellaini happened right in front of me and at the time I assumed he'd be lucky to escape with just a booking. It's therefore more than a little ironic that for once, I was left praising Mike Dean for using his discretion. How often have I been left bemoaning a ref, for thoroughly spoiling a high-profile encounter such as this, by reacting by the book to a momentary rash incident, where no real harm has been caused.

Instead of which, quite frankly, I was pleasantly surprised by the way Dean handled it and I only wish more referees were able to apply some common sense to this sort of petulant temper-tantrum, rather than immediately producing a red card and instantly ruining the spectacle for the watching millions.

However, as it turned out, since we lost the game anyway, Dean would've actually done us a favour by sending Jack off, saving him from the subsequent injury and us from losing, currently our most effective midfielder for at least a couple of months and just as Jack was beginning to find the sort of form that's expected from him!!

Trying to find some sight of a silver-lining to another depressing injury cloud, on the basis that to date Ramsey's form has been so poor compared to his fabulous feats of last season and the fact that we never seem to get the best from both him and Wilshere whenever they play together, hopefully Jack's enforced absence might give Aaron an opportunity to shine.

Similarly, Giroud's late strike might have been scant consolation, but this instantaneous thwack on target was a sight for sore eyes, as evidence of something that's been sorely missing in Olivier's absence.

With Dortmund coming to us on the back of an even worse run of form than our own, I sincerely hope we capitalise on their lack of confidence, by laying into the German side with the same sort of intensity that we witnessed from the opening whistle on Saturday.

And hopefully this time, with just a little more luck on our side

Keep the faith


One Egg Is An Oeuf, Obviously Six Defenders Ain't!

I didn't see any of the reported in-fighting between the AKB (Arsėne Knows Best) and the WO (Wenger Out) brigades outside the Liberty Stadium a couple of weeks back, but with many more displays like Saturday's infuriating defeat to Man Utd and we Gooners will all turn into total schizophrenics.

This might not have been the heavyweight, top of the table clash of yesteryear, but coming on the back of, thank heavens, the last of a succession of interminable International breaks, at least until the end of March, it felt like a significant encounter. It remains to be seen whether this was, in effect, a fourth place play-off, but there was definitely an added frisson, with both sides desperate to acquire some momentum at the recommencement of domestic hostilities.

I really didn’t fancy the chances of our makeshift backline being able to keep Man Utd’s £250 million’s worth of talent at bay. Yet there was some solace, in hearing how their fans were no more confident in the prospects of their own pre-pubescent rearguard. Thus on the face of it, this appeared to be a contest to decide which of the two defences would prove least incompetent.

In the end, it was our experienced professionals that were left looking woefully naïve and there’s certainly no arguing with the scoreline. Nevertheless, considering how terrified I’d been at the thought of Di Maria, Rooney and Van Persie running Monreal and Chambers ragged, quite frankly I was shocked, as I can rarely recall us ever meeting a more subdued bunch of Red Devils.

In fact it was most pleasing to see the Gunners tear into the opposition right from the opening whistle, with a verve and vigour which left Utd’s youthful five-man defence looking entirely at sixes and sevens. This opening onslaught resulted in the sight of Wayne Rooney running around the pitch, hollering in the shell-like of his team-mates, seemingly attempting to calm their nerves.

Fortunately Fellaini's Afro Not Nearly So Sharp As His Elbows
Nevertheless, as the Arsenal’s initial intensity began to fizzle out and Fellaini’s elbows began to impose themselves in the middle of the park, I began to fear that we might find ourselves rueing our failure to make an impact on the scoresheet with all that early dominance.

Sadly thus far, Aaron Ramsey has been a shadow of the player that was running the show last season. So when Wilshere hobbled out of the fray, the Gunners seemed to lose much of our forward impetus, as evidenced by the fateful and ultimately calamitous sight of our BFG doing his best Stormtrooper impersonation, when we were left chasing the game at the death. I can’t knock Monreal, as our lack of defensive options are certainly not his fault, but if I was going to choose one player to guard the Gunners back door, the Spaniard wouldn’t exactly be top of my list!

I fancy that Van Gaal has too much talent at his disposal for Man Utd not to come good at some stage, which makes Saturday’s defeat all the more distressing because we’ve wasted a prime opportunity to stick the knife in while they are at such a low ebb. However, after their lavish spending spree last summer, if I was a Utd fan, I’d be disappointed my side could muster nothing more than this somewhat hollow “smash and grab” victory.

Hands Up Who Thinks I Should've Been Sent Off
As Rooney celebrated Utd’s second goal in front of their travelling fans, I initially thought the Gooners in front of me were turning to watch some “handbags” in the prawn circle above. In fact they were all looking aghast, as for the first time we heard the mood of discontent made manifest in the stadium as some of the posh punters attempted to start a “Wenger Out” chant.

Mercifully, we’ve an opportunity to get misery of losing to Man Utd out of our system, by climbing straight back on the horse with Wednesday’s big clash and beating Dortmund to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Failing that, the clamour for Arsène’s head will only grow louder as pretty much our entire season comes crashing down around our ears, in the space of five days!

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Tuesday 11 November 2014

Sunday Bloody Sunday

 I'm fast growing to detest Sunday matches, due to having to bash out a missive immediately after the match to meet my deadline for the Irish Examiner. Either I should've known better than to take the mickey out of my Spurs pals prematurely, as they suffered another case of the Thurs/Sun Europa Cub blues at White Hart Lane in their miserable defeat at home to Stoke, or I should've been glad to have got my digs in at them early, before the Gunners went and spoiled our afternoon and left me having to suffer all the sarcastic barbs back in return. 

But what I do know is that if we should ever end up having to endure the Thurs/Sun vagaries of Europe's Mickey Mouse competition (which is looking all the more likely this season), I'm emigrating!

Meanwhile in my rush to meet my deadline, knowing there's a sub-editor in Cork waiting for my copy to be able to put their Sports Supplement to bed and put his feet up, if anyone read last Weds' blog then you'll have to forgive me for repeating the closing sentiments, in my efforts to bring the following missive to a swift conclusion.

Keep the faith

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Spot The Mascot?
As the sort of superstitious creature of habit, who farcically, feels my choice of underpants can continue to have some influence over the outcome of 22 men kicking a ball about on a football pitch, it’s very rare for me to alter my matchday rituals, in any shape or form, unless it’s in an effort to instigate a change of fortune.

Having grown accustomed to the array of cheap tat that turns up every Autumn, in the box that makes up our Arsenal membership pack, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that instead of the usual worthless trinket, we’d been gifted a cozy red & white Wee Willie Winkie hat, perfectly timed to coincide with the drastic drop in temperature.

However after my titfer made it’s debut in our hapless midweek collapse versus Anderlecht, such was my urge to vent my frustration, after throwing away a 3-goal lead that my snug winter headwear was fortunate to make it home in one piece.

Yet so perfect was my new hat for it’s football purpose that I couldn’t possibly consign it to the drawer that’s jam-packed with all my other seemingly jinxed Gooner gear, following what was only an honours-even outing; and in truth no less than we deserved, after having gutted the Belgians with our late smash and grab at their gaff.

Although sadly, I fear that Sunday’s foolhardy defeat to the Swans has doubtless sealed my new hat’s fate, with it almost certain to return to the box from whence it came, at least for a sufficient amount of time for the memory to fade of its role in this infuriating sortie to South Wales.

Having departed the blue skies of “the Smoke” for an awayday jolly on the sort of crisp autumnal morning that has one lusting after an afternoon on the terraces, I really should’ve seen the writing on the wall, when no sooner had we crossed the Severn Bridge than the heavens opened to rain on our red & white parade.

The fervent environs of the Liberty are never an easy 3 points, but after our fairly routine success on recent visits, I was feeling somewhat optimistic, until it dawned on me that Monreal would be confronting the muscular Wilfred Bony. It’s not Nacho’s fault that as a centre-back, our Spanish defender does a decent impersonation of a window dresser and that his patent unfamiliarity with the role infects our entire defence, with a panic-stricken lack of composure

With Koscielny’s return from injury in such doubt that the club refuse to even offer an estimated date, I now realize why I had such cause for concern, when his “Achilles niggle” first came to light back in August. Now if only Arsène had been equally disturbed by the highly likely prospect of losing one of only SIX defenders for such a long period, le Prof might’ve pulled his finger out and found some cover!

At the very least I assumed that with “parking the bus” not being an option for the Swans playing in front of their own fans, their open passing game has complimented our own football in the past and I thought we were guaranteed some entertaining fare. However such expectations couldn’t have been more misplaced, as we were forced to endure watching both sides timidly prod the ball around in their own half, during a dreadfully pedestrian first 45.

Singin' In The Rain
Ironically it seemed to be the torrential downpour immediately after the break that finally set this encounter aflame. And when it eventually came, our goal also proved quite refreshing, when the Ox remained on his feet despite being clipped as he burst through on the counter. Where if it had been Wilshere in his shoes he would’ve doubtless hit the deck and settled for another feeble set-piece. Moreover it was great to see Welbeck display the sang-froid to cut the ball back and put the goal on a plate for the ubiquitous Alexis.

Despite the Gunners struggle to find some form since the start of the campaign, for a few glorious minutes it felt as if we were somehow going to end up returning to London, lying 3rd in the table, only a point behind City and that perhaps by stringing a few stuttering results together, we might finally begin to garner some confidence.

Sadly it wasn’t long before Gooner Chicken Licken found himself suffering the agonizing sight of the sky falling in and yet again for all our players frailties, it’s very hard to see past an impotent Arsène as the principal scapegoat in this recurring disaster movie.

With the Swans finally getting up a head of steam in their rescue mission, as was the case against Anderlecht, I simply cannot fathom how it is possible that we have no one on the pitch, or the bench capable of implementing the basic spoiler principles necessary to see us over the finishing line Instead of which we witnessed the familiar sight of Wenger shutting the substitutes door after Swansea’s two-goal horse had bolted.

Unconfined Joy All Too Short-Lived
It’s really rubbing salt in our wounds to see a relentless Chelsea grinding out the sort of results that have got the media inspiring Mourinho, as the world begins to ponder the possibility of him repeating our unbeaten Holy Grail. While Alexis apart, the insipid air around the Arsenal appears symptomatic of the sort of complacency that exists throughout our beloved club, with everyone far too secure and comfortable in the knowledge that unlike almost everyone else in the game, they’re in absolutely no risk of the “tin tack” due to one bad result and can plod inconsistently on, seemingly ad infinitum.
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Wednesday 5 November 2014

One Record Arsène Won't Want On His CV….

...First time in 102 matches that a British side has blown a 3-0 lead!

Zut Alors!
From experience, I know it can be fatal to have a rant immediately after a game, where one can often end up regretting letting one's frustrations get the better of you, but I wanted to make a couple of observations, before they slip through my colander-like grey matter.

Firstly, after events in Anderlecht a couple of weeks back, we really can't complain about being the victims of some immediate rough justice and after blowing their historic home victory a couple of minutes from the final whistle in Belgium, I'm sure Anderlecht will feel this draw is no less than they deserve.

Nevertheless, there were a couple of things that struck me this evening that would look decidedly amateurish, if they were witnessed on Hackney Marshes on a Sunday morning, never mind seeing the Gunners being guilty of them in the greatest football competition on the planet!

Firstly, when the Ox put us 3-0 up on 58 mins, while everyone else was celebrating in front of the Red Action corner of the ground, I noticed Arteta wander over to the bench, seemingly to inform them that he'd suffered an injury and needed to be replaced.

It then took a couple of minutes for someone to tell Flamini to get off his arse and start warming up (when I would expect them all to be suitably warmed up and ready to come on at any stage!) as Mikel started waving his arms about to remind our tactical maestros that he couldn't continue. Inevitably, as Flamini rushed back to the bench to strip off, Anderlecht scored the first of their three comeback goals.

Admittedly, it was against a less than formidable Anderlecht side, but I felt sorry for Arteta, as for all our disturbingly shaky defending first-half, where Sczczny was forced to come to our rescue more than once, Mikel actually produced a particularly impressive, commanding performance in the middle of the park, capped off by him having the balls to grab the ball for the penalty kick and producing an extremely cool "Karanka".

But as far as I'm concerned, even if Anderlecht's goal was a yard offside, there was absolutely no excuse for them scoring it, while we were pretty much down to ten men. And in truth, it would've been better if Arteta had stepped off the pitch when he couldn't continue, but sadly the man is too much of a professional to let his team mates down in this fashion.

At least then we might not have had to endure the sight of Anderlecht's goal scorer ghosting into the box completely unmarked, as all of our captain's midfield colleagues were expecting Mikel to be doing the donkey work as usual and were all caught ball watching!

You Put Your Feet Up Theo
The second incidence of utterly criminal complacency is one of my habitual bugbears. It was 3-2 with 13 mins left on the clock, when Steve Bould called Rosicky and Podolski back from warming up on the touchline to replace Chamberlain and Welbeck  Admittedly the two of them were both left waiting on the touchline for a couple of minutes, waiting for the ball to go out of play and for the decidedly annoying ref to decide on an appropriate moment to allow the substitution.

But where Rosicky was stripped off in an instant, ready to come on, Podolski spent the customary eternity, phaffing around on the bench, sorting out his ties, or whatever excuse he can find to avoid actually getting out there and earning his exorbitant wages! So where at 3-2, a decision was finally made with a mere 13 mins left on the clock to bring on some fresh legs, there were only 8 mins left to play by the time these two finally made their late appearance!

If these sort of incidents were a rare one off, they might be excusable, but such unpardonably slack and far too casual cock-ups are occurring game in, game out and although we've been getting away with it for the majority of matches so far this season. according to the law of averages, they will inevitably cost us eventually.

Although one might not point to such stuff as directly responsible for tonight's defeat….yes I know it was a draw, but I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking it felt like a defeat, but to my mind they are symptomatic of fatal attitude of complacency running from top to bottom of our beloved club, where for example our fans, the back room staff and the squad are so accustomed and have become so blasé about Champions League evenings and in particular the six group games that everyone appears merely to be going through the motions.

This was evident in the lamentable turn out this evening. My brother-out-of-law and a couple of his Israeli cousins were chuffed to bits to have been able to lay their hands on three tickets to watch the Arsenal play in the Champions League, but sadly, seemingly a huge number of Gooners simply couldn't be bothered to turn up tonight. There were three empty seats directly next to me and this feels positively criminal when I think of all those people who would give their right-arm to be able to watch the Arsenal play live and who don't even think of trying for tickets because they're under the mistaken impression that they are so hard to come by.

Didn't You Get The Salsa With Your Nachos?

As I trudged home across the South Bridge this evening, I overheard a fairly constant stream of "he simply has to go" mutterings. While I've done my utmost to remain loyal to Arsène and have in the past always risen to his defence in such circumstances, sadly, I must admit that it is becoming harder and harder for me to respond to the mounting criticisms of le Gaffer's blatant and inexcusable mistakes, of the sort that leaves us commencing a campaign with only SIX recognisable defenders and where, embarrassingly, we are left turning out for the biggest competition on the planet, with the hapless Monreal at centre-back!

You can positively smell the air of panic and the lack of composure in our defence at present (either that or the chef is using the Spurs recipe for his lasagne!) and as on Saturday, personally I don't understand why Wenger doesn't play Chambers at centre-back and give Bellerin a run out on the right because at least then Mertesaker would benefit from having a bit more physical presence beside him and wouldn't be left feeling like our entire defensive strategy (or lack thereof) rests on his shoulders alone.

I bloody hope Koscielny is back soon, as this sort of incompetence at the back is positively catching and we badly need to stem the tide of goals conceded, before it gets too habit-forming, but in the absence of Kos, at least having Chambers alongside Per might allay the sense of blind panic somewhat, every time the opposition approach our penalty area.

After everything Wenger has done for our club and after all he has achieved, I really wanted to see le Boss riding off into the sunset with the big-eared trophy that would cap his career and which would deservedly result in Arsène taking his rightful place amongst the pantheons of footballing greats. However, sadly with each passing season, instead of acquiring the experience and knowledge that should make us more capable contenders with the big boys of the footballing world, the Gunners appear further and further away from having the wherewithal to be able to achieve this objective.

Never Mind The Head Scratching, You Merely Had To Keep The Ball Donut!

I heard some Gooner comment on one of the chat shows that at 3-0 up this evening, he was guilty of already contemplating which of the sixteen clubs were likely to be responsible for our customary knockout round exit. But right at this minute, instead of cruising into the last 16 with two games to spare, farcically, we look like we are going to make a struggle and could end up needing to go to Galatasary to earn a result, merely to achieve this annual feat.

We owe so much to Wenger and I am so incredibly grateful to him for the entertainment I've been privileged to enjoy over the past sixteen seasons and for the commitment and effort involved in positioning the Gunners as one of the greatest teams on the planet (especially when you contrast this with our neighbours, as they continue with their efforts to play catch-up, with their seemingly futile financial and bureaucratic battle to build a new arena!) and as a result, I really don't want to see him outstay his welcome, to the point where we have to endure the tragic sight of him being ridiculed on the terraces, to the point where he is forced out of the door with his tail between his legs, instead of making a graceful exit, with all due respect and Gooner affection still intact.

Nevertheless, the sort of incidents I've remarked on above seem symptomatic of a level of complacency that exists at our beloved club, where from top to bottom, everyone appears far too comfortable and secure, knowing that unlike most everyone else in football, they are not at risk of getting "the tin tack" after one bad result and to my mind, unfortunately it's not the tree that needs shaking as a remedy, but the fact that we've become root-bound and until such time as someone recognises that replanting is the only answer, we will continue to chug along, producing entertaining performances every now and again but deprived of the sort of youthful vigour and ambition that is essential if we are ever to truly make our mark on the big stage.

Keep the faith

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