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Wednesday 4 February 2015

It Ain't What You Do, It's The Way That You Do It

Hi All,

I've been woefully slack in recent weeks, as getting home straight after a Sunday game and filing my missive to the Irish Examiner has been proving all the more stressful, knowing there are those over in the Emerald Isle waiting to put their Monday sports supplement to bed. As a result, I've merely ended up lazily posting links on Twitter and Facebook to the Examiner's edited version on a Monday these past few weeks.

Mind you, since my No. 1 fan, my dear old Mum, seems to be the only one who's noticed my absence, after fifteen odd seasons of posting my overly loquacious ravings every week, I must admit that there are times when I struggle to find the motivation. Not that I require my ego tickled by any comments (as I'd be bang in trouble if I did!) but Arsenal matches invariably leave me feeling emotionally spent and the process of having to bash out a piece in double-quick time, the moment I walk back in the door after a Sunday match has become such a chore that I'm relieved to be able to slam my laptop shut after fulfilling this obligation.

Moreover, with succinctness hardly being my strong suit, it's decidedly unsatisfying to have to cram my rambling thoughts into a mere 750 words. So I increasingly find myself thinking that I'll leave posting out my missive, until such time as I've got the energy and enthusiasm to expound somewhat because the original "raison d'être" for my diary blog was to offer a more personal viewpoint of the matchday experience. 

With the massive proliferation of Arsenal related opinions on the Interweb nowadays, if I'm just rehashing the same thoughts one can find on a hundred and one different Gooner web sites (albeit in my own peculiar order!) then I really have to ask myself "why bother", without the USP of my inherent tendency to want to prattle on about the sort of minutae that happens to tickle or interest me. Instead of which, time and word constraints leave me sitting here fretting upon how I can cram sentiments into the minimal number of words, or having to prioritise what merits inclusion and what to leave out.

However mercifully (some might suggest "unfortunately"!), every now and again a game comes along which is guaranteed to inspire the creative juices. Sunday's drubbing of Villa might make for good reading and will hopefully serve as the ideal, confidence inspiring precursor to Saturday's date at the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road. Yet with the majority of us present spending the best part of an hour, bemoaning our reluctance to press home our blatantly obvious advantage and the pessimists amongst us expecting fate to intervene, with a smash and grab sucker punch, this was hardly an example of the perfect Arsenal performance and I've therefore made a concerted effort to avoid going overboard

Nevertheless, after a season so far of such lamentable inconsistency, where with each passing game we've searched for a glimmer of any form of "new dawn", false, or otherwise, coming on the back of our recent successes, it is the incremental flickers of feint hope that have left us all salivating since Sunday. 

Self-confidence is such an ephemeral sensation that perception is equally significant, if not more so, than reality. So the fact that it took until the 56th minute for us to pull our finger our and press home our advantage against a sorry-looking Villa, or that it took a scrabbling David Ospina to prevent the equaliser that might've resulted in a thoroughly contrasting outcome has now become totally irrelevant in hindsight.

With Villa's new Spanish import, Carles Gil seemingly yet to be infected with the malaise that's sucked the life out of Delph, Benteke and any of the visitor's other vaguely competent players and seemingly the only individual capable of conjuring up the slightest goal threat, it would be wrong to use the Villa encounter as any sort of genuine litmus test. 

Although Francis Coquelin seems to be relishing his opportunity and growing with each game, into the increasingly masterful protective screen, of the sort that our sorely put-upon defence has been crying out for, for so very long, to the point where on Sunday he appeared to achieve an almost Gilberto-like crucial significance, by way of an effective anonymity that only truly becomes apparent in his absence, I think we'd all agree that this will be so much more impressive if Franny manages likewise against the likes of Eriksen (and/or the powder-puff Lamela) on Saturday, by ensuring he nullifies Spurs midfield threat from goalside, without giving away naive fouls, or being forced into making the sort of recovery tackles from the wrong side that we've grown accustomed to from the ageing Arteta and which might present Spurs with the sort of set-piece opportunity that their super Swede has been banging in with alarming regularity.

Assuming Alexis is fit for the short trip to Spurs, Sunday's goalfest has resulted in a raging debate about le Gaffer's selection quandary. I'd be extremely disappointed if our Chilean whirlwind wasn't allowed to let rip against the "auld enemy", as I've been relishing this prospect with increasing anticipation with each passing game. As mentioned below, personally I feel we'd miss that added tempo and the forward impetus that Alexis lends us, but one could make a decidedly valid argument for keeping the same starting line up.

Mind you, I was so impressed with the balance of vigour and experience in our midfield at Upton Park that I was all for starting with Coquelin and Rosicky at Man City, so what do I know! But then to my mind, this sort of selection quandary, perming the six players in front of our defence from about a dozen genuine possibilities, once the likes of Welbeck and Wilshere return to fitness, is far more of a pleasure than a problem, if and when this squad really begins to click. 

There's a massive difference between resolving square-peg in round hole issues in creative areas because of a lack of resources (for one reason or another), when compared to having to decide between a surfeit of such a wealth of talent. When was the last time we were in a position where the Gunners had such genuine competition for places, as opposed to wondering whether we'd be better off making do with Ramsey or Cazorla nominally selected for the want of a better option out wide on the flank?

For far too much of the recent past we've been in a position where the majority of our first XI were all so comfortable, happy to tread-water seeing out much of the ninety minutes hiding in plain sight, preferring to avoid, or to pass on responsibility on the pitch, rather than risking criticism for any costly failures that might come about from them putting their heads above the parapets and trying to make an impact. 

We've been accustomed to our squad being so thinly spread that even if Arsène lost patience with anyone's failure to pull their weight and eventually left them out of the starting line-up, the culprit was secure in the knowledge that he could put his feet up on the bench for a couple of games, knowing full well that injuries or suspensions would present them with another opportunity soon enough.

I'll leave the many more learned pundits elsewhere to debate the most suitable permutation for Saturday, save to say that positively the best things about the snowball effect of the way in which we've been able to build on this germ of momentum since Xmas is that hopefully we've begun to achieve the sort of swagger that is equally significant in the effect it has upon us and the opposition alike. If this is proved to be the case, it should make absolutely no difference who lines up against the Spuds on Saturday.

It feels like it's been so long that you are going to need a better memory than I possess, with my own increasingly decrepit grey matter, but I'm sure others can confirm that the beauty of a team on song is that team selection is like an infallible game of Jackstraws (Pick Up Sticks), where no matter how the first XI falls they are all equally indefatigable and only downright bad fortune can prevent us from prevailing.

Personally I would include Alexis, solely for the sort of unbridled and hopefully infectious effervescence that he's likely to lend the occasion (compared to the more disdainful Mezut Özil, who looks like he's doing us all a favour every time he steps out onto the pitch and who I doubt is likely to relish the prospect of a Derby Day dust-up quite as much as Sanchez). Besides which, I'd quite enjoy the tease of bringing on our £42 million man when a couple of goals to the good, just to taunt my Tottenham mates with the odd delicious prompting to seriously put them and their bunch of Belgian waiters back in their place!

When you consider that it was only a few weeks ago that Coquelin was biding his time on the bench for Charlton versus Reading, for me the most bizarre irony is that he'd now be first choice on my teamsheet as the only essential ingredient who is not interchangeable with any of his teammates without there being a negative impact.

Meanwhile, having kept schtum for so many weeks, it looks as if I've more than made up for it here. Besides, I need to get busy arranging my disabled access at White Hart Lane, not only to avoid a breathless struggle up the stairs to the Upper Tier, but so as to be able to slip away after the match, without the inevitable confrontation with the local Neanderthals at the corner of Paxton Lane, as the hardy band of travelling Gooners confront the massive throng on the Tottenham High Road because if we should perform anywhere near to our capabilties, there's going to be no disguising my Gooner glee


PS. As a footnote to my reference below to the bat and ball sporting hors d'ouevres to the footie on Sunday, we had Labour canvassers for Jeremy Corbyn knocking on the door Sunday morning and I was left thinking that either they're intent on derailing Corbyn's campaign by ensuring we all vote for the Greens, after disturbing me at such an enthralling stage of the final in Australia, or they're blatantly guilty of prejudicial stereotypes, assuming only Tories watch tennis :-)


It Ain't What You Do, It's The Way That You Do It

Welcome Back Wally
                    With our five goals against Villa shared out amongst five different scorers, the Arsenal Twitterati were retweeting, with sarcastic relish, the Spurs’ fan’s tweet from before Sunday’s game which fatefully said “Hoping Alexis isn’t fit today so we can finally see just how big a one-man team Arsenal are”!

                    Still, I bloomin’ well hope Alexis withdrawal was merely precautionary, as I’ve been teasing my Tottenham pals for weeks that our Chilean dynamo will be leaving their team for dead at White Hart Lane. What’s more, it was evident against Villa quite how much we missed the increased tempo afforded by Alexis’ forward impetus, when the Gunners were guilty of taking our foot off the gas, after carving Villa apart only eight mins in.

                    I’d spent the morning engrossed in the coverage of the tennis and was at least grateful that Andy Murray's customary mental collapse came in the 4th set. Not that it would’ve happened, but I would’ve been even more mad at Murray, if I’d been distracted by events in Melbourne any longer and risked being late for kick-off. I’d have never forgiven him if his lost cause had been responsible for me missing Mesut Özil’s positively disdainful back-heel assist for Giroud’s opener.

That "worth the admission price alone" MÖ moment
                    Lighting up the stadium with this one sublime touch, Mezut reminded everyone present why we paid £42million for this privilege. Yet truth be told, Villa were a beaten side before they stepped onto the pitch and a more merciless Arsenal would’ve motored on, to achieve the sort of embarrassing cricket score that might’ve resulted in us leapfrogging Southampton.

                    The vast majority of Premiership sides would’ve doubtless punished us for failing to press home our advantage during the subsequent 50 mins. I’m guessing that bizarrely Villa probably dominated possession, prior to the goalfest that began when Mezut eventually scored our second. But where there was a mature caution to the way in which we sat back at West Ham and City and allowed the opposition to retain the ball in harmless areas of the pitch, there was an element of contempt in inviting Villa to do their worst on our home turf.

                    With only a slender single goal lead, we seemed to be tempting fate to repay such disrespect, with an inevitable sucker punch. However much like what I’ve seen from QPR of late, there appears to be something rotten in the state of Randy Lerner. Compared to the spirit witnessed from the likes of Leicester and Burnley, these two torpid teams currently look far more likely relegation fodder (with his planes falling out of the skies with terrifying frequency, at least Tony Fernandes has good reason for taking his eye off the ball at Rangers!).

                    Villa’s Sanchez impressed me upon his arrival, as the sort of muscular midfield specimen who was likely to flourish in the Premiership. Yet much as with the likes of Benteke, Delph and Vlar they seem to have their modicum of ability snuffed out by the rudderless malaise afflicting their club. Even their steely Scots manager seems to have been transformed, from someone with a reputation for demanding and inspiring total commitment, into a world-weary-looking gaffer, marking time with his excuses, until he’s eventually presented with his P45.

One-man team, my Arse! We're at least 1½
                    Thankfully it appeared as if the Gunners, eventually became bored with our guests patent inability to make a contest of this match and such was our superior ability that no sooner than we began to show some attacking intent, than we passed through the abysmal Aston Villa, like a dose of salts. The 5-0 scoreline might be indicative of the gulf that exists in the comparative health of the two teams at present, but it was flattering in terms of barely being taxed to achieve it.

                    Nevertheless, with a 3rd successive clean sheet and the much-needed confidence boost of goals for Özil, Walcott and Bellerin this was just the sort of result required to build on our burgeoning momentum, in advance of a North-London derby that we badly need to win, in order that our undoubted superiority over Spurs might be represented in the table.

Easy money this?
                    Parked on the bench, with no Portuguese speakers, Paulista (or Gabriel De Abrue - his other moniker just means he’s from Sao Paulo), our new centre-half must’ve been left thinking that this Premiership malarkey is a piece of cake. Here’s hoping we can achieve a similar triumph with the same sang-froid, although one would expect a slightly stiffer test?

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