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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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