all enquiries to:

Monday 20 April 2015

'Oop For The Cup

It seemed as if there were some noticeable similarities as I watched the Scousers suffer the ignominy of their semi-final cup exit on Sunday. Strangely, much like the Gunners, it felt as if Liverpool were playing with "the handbrake on" and having taken the lead, it seemed as if they also suffered from the fact that they started the second half on the back foot and then struggled to pick up any real momentum, after Villa managed to turn the game on its head.

I sat here with my head on a swivel, trying to keep abreast of events at Wembley, St James Park and a thrilling Ferrari/Mercedes dice-up in the Grand Prix, but I was soon gripped by the coverage of the second semi-final, when suddenly it looked as if there was a genuine possibility of an unexpected result and the pleasant surprise of us playing Villa in the final in May.

All due credit to Tim Sherwood, for whatever it is that the 'gileted one' has done to drag the likes of Benteke up out of the mire of the striker's recent malaise, to return to his former goal-scoring form. But truth be told, as much as I savoured Villa's victory and the fact that we no longer need fear the spectre of Stevie Gerrard enjoying a worthy, silverware-laden swansong at Wembley next month, based on the form of the two teams in Sunday's display, it might actually be argued that Aston Villa will prove more awkward opposition than Liverpool! Especially when one considers that aside from losing their injured centre-half, this was a Villa side deprived of regular first choice players such as Agbonlahor and Sanchez.

Nevertheless, one would assume that even with their best XI, they should be no match for the Gunners, so long as we turn up in a more energised manner on the day than our somewhat lethargic incarnation on Saturday.

Meanwhile, with the climax to the football season drawing ever closer, I find myself casting ever more frequent glances at the Championship table, musing over the potential awaydays we might be enjoying in the future. From a strictly geographical point of view, my personal preference for a dream ticket of promoted teams would be Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich (or their East Anglian "mates" Ipswich).

After a midweek outing to Brighton, I must admit that a seaside awayday to the South Coast next season sounds most appealing, especially when contrasted with an arduous schlep to the North East. If the likes of Middlesborough are destined to interject upon this trio of minimal awayday miles, then I suppose this wouldn't be so bad, if they end up replacing Sunderland. Doubtless the Wearsiders might have something to say about this and it will also be disappointing if QPR get relegated because aside from Loftus Road feeling almost like a home game, it's one of the few remaining venues with a proper, old-fashioned atmosphere. However recent events have only added to the sense that the patently hearty team-spirit at Leicester and Burnley makes both teams, in my humble opinion, the most deserving candidates for Premiership survival.

Nuff waffle! Can't wait for Chelsea next weekend. Bring it on!


'Oop For The Cup

            I'm relieved we weren't playing Villa on Saturday and when Aaron Ramsey hit the post in the dying throes against Reading, I’m sure I wasn’t the only Gooner wondering if it might be destined not to be our day. With my terrace tranny tuned into Chelsea beating Man Utd at the Bridge, I had a nightmare vision of our assault on the FA Cup petering out in extra-time and our season suddenly being brought to an impromptu conclusion, with my hands covering my eyes, watching through the cracks in my fingers as Reading progressed to the final in an agonizing penalty shoot-out.

            With their side’s campaign rapidly fading towards its customary insignificance, I pictured my Spurs mates gleefully wringing every last drop of pleasure, from the unexpected solace of the Schadenfreude of our shock semi-final demise. But then I’d been fretting all week about the way in which everyone was talking as if our return for the final in May was already a foregone conclusion. Especially after the foreboding omen of Martin Keown’s kid scoring the winning goal, as Reading’s unknown U21 side beat a Gunners’ team including the illustrious likes of Wilshere, Diaby and Gnabry last Monday night. 

            All such fears seemed well founded, as we endured a nervy ninety minutes, waiting for our far superior quality to tell against the comparatively toothless Royals. But with us having recently looked as if the penny has finally dropped and that “Project Wenger (Mark 8!)” has eventually managed to mature into a multi-faceted, more efficient outfit, sadly on Saturday, Alexis Sanchez aside, it was back to our most dementing ways of old, as we ponderously waited for the relentless waves of bodies Reading got behind the ball, to be mesmerized by our sideways passing, into parting like the waters of the Red Sea.

            Although I must admit that I was no less guilty of my mind not being fully focused on the job at hand. Unlike Reading on their big day out, our club may have been sufficiently blasé about the 10th FA Cup semi-final of Arsène’s tenure that they didn’t bother organising for 30,000 t-shirts to be laid out on the seats at our end of the stadium. Additionally, while I appreciate that it’s an economic necessity for the national stadium to pay its way, I’m amongst those traditionalists who feel that Wembley should be solely reserved for the final. Nevertheless, this doesn’t detract from the fact that marching up Wembley Way with the Red Army, in glorious Spring sunshine will always be a memorable highlight of any season.

            As a result, I was so caught up capturing the obligatory Wembley “selfies” as I soaked up the atmosphere around the stadium that I only just made it to my seat as the combatants took to the stage, without having given a thought to Wenger’s team selection. I was shocked to discover our best goal scorer had been left on the bench and it wasn’t until some minutes into the match that it dawned on me that Debuchy was out there, playing in his first competitive match in three months. 

            Although it was Kieran Gibbs on the opposite flank who perhaps proved to be our weakest link but neither full-back provided the necessary width, or the energy to stretch the opposition. With Reading spending the majority of the match camped in their own half, Steve Clarke’s surprising 4-4-2 wasn’t anywhere near as ambitious as it sounded. Considering they were arriving at Wembley not exactly bristling with confidence, I expected to see Reading overrun in the middle of the park. Alexis apart, we were devoid of the verve required to expose inevitable chinks in the Royals’ doughty armour.

            Watching a recording of the game on the box later that night, I was flabbergasted to hear Danny Mills comment that Cazorla was perhaps our best player on the day, as I felt that Santi had taken such a backseat that I forgot he was out there for most of the match! It wasn't until Giroud made his far more muscular entrance late on, that we really began to expose the limitations of our lower league opponents. Even then, there was a palpable sense of relief seeing Reading's strikers “bottle it” when 'two on one' right at the death.

            On another afternoon, our habitual failure to go for the jugular after taking the lead could’ve proved fatal. We were so lethargic at the start of the second half that I worried we might not be able to grind up through the gears, after Reading breathed the life back into this contest with their equalizer. At least this meant that the Royals' fans got their money’s worth and with Alexis eventually ensuring that I was able to rejoice to my Spurs mates that the result was “never in doubt”, mercifully I could afford such magnanimity.

            At least Chelsea’s win has taken the wind out of Van Gaal’s sails and will finally extinguish the media’s efforts to ramp up foolish title tease delusions any further. Hopefully this will leave us solely focused on the primary objective of overcoming our psychological inferiority next Sunday, with the sort of convincing victory that will serve the Gobby One with notice of the long overdue restoration of the “only one team in London” balance of power. What's more I fancy that with Stevie Gerrard denied a Wembley swansong, we've a far better chance of retaining the FA Cup.
email to:

Sunday 12 April 2015

It's The Hope That Kills!

            In spite of infernal overnight motorway roadworks, I suspect our 180-mile trek home from Burnley on Saturday night must’ve felt a helluva lot less tiresome than it did for the smattering of Spurs fans who schlepped back from their half-hearted display at Turf Moor the previous weekend. By contrast, there was an impressive turn out of around 4,000 Gooners on Saturday, despite a customarily inconvenient kick-off time depriving us of any possibility of returning to the capital via public transport.

            Mind you, the myriad of Northern accents in the away end at such outings nowadays, serves as a reminder of the increasing universality of the Gunners appeal. Although it remains “de rigeur” for everyone to imitate the broadest possible Cockney tones, when bellowing out the traditional terrace ditties.

            On seeing all the staff serving at the bar on the concourse of the David Fishwicke Stand dressed in Arsenal t-shirts, I had to enquire if they donned different colours in honour of all the teams visiting Turf Moor. The barman admitted to me that he and his missus alongside him were both Gooners. But I suppose this was indicative of Burnley pulling all the stops out for, sadly, what might prove to be one of their last big Premiership occasions.

            The imposing chimneys of the numerous cotton-mills, dating from “the Weavers’ Triangle” of the Industrial Revolution, long since converted into superfluous business centers, attest to the faded glories of the now penurious former mill-town; where the frightening prevalence of UKIP election posters is symptomatic of the social deprivation thereabouts (and should be sufficient to scare even the most apathetic liberals to get up off their backsides come election day!).

            Yet the scarcity of suitable watering holes in the vicinity of Turf Moor resulted in all the Gooners gravitating towards the adjacent Burnley Cricket Club, with them packed ten-deep at clubhouse bar, battling for some pre-match lubrication. It was bizarre, as it felt as if North London has invaded Lancashire, with not the slightest evidence of claret and blue, aside from a couple of child tourists, sporting their irritatingly ubiquitous half and half scarves. I lingered long enough to listen to the coverage of the Grand National on my radio, believing for a while there that Gooner McCoy might just leave the nation’s bookies in mourning.

Arsène Wenger's Red and White Army
            Much like myself, I presume that such a healthy turnout for so tortuous an awayday was largely down to our desire to enjoy more of the sort of wonderful entertainment that we’d witnessed last time out. And the Gunners did indeed begin where we’d left off, against Liverpool, with a flurry of fabulous football, in an open, end to end contest, but which culminated with Aaron’s opening goal.

            Sadly we couldn’t maintain this vivacity and having taken an early lead, one sensed that the remainder of the contest was all about merely getting the job done, rather than putting on a show for the troops. In the past we’d have probably struggled to break down Sean Dyche’s tenacious, miserly side. But where previously we’d have tried to pick an overly intricate path through the heart of the massed ranks of Burnley’s two determined banks of four, in the Gunners recent, more mature incarnation, we’ve discovered the necessary width to stretch the opposition. Whereby if we should fail to “tikki-takka” our way through the midst of a stalwart defence, we’ve now learned to go around them.

            Doubtless re-invigorated by their manager, Burnley returned to the fray after the break with a renewed appetite.  It took a couple of timely, typically doughty interventions from Coquelin to steady an Arsenal ship that looked to be in serious danger of being scuttled. But ultimately, for all their earnest endeavours, Burnley lacked the necessary quality to punish our odd defensive aberration.

            Still, normally I’d have been bristling with anxiety, right up until the final whistle, convinced that the home side were certain to snatch a last gasp equalizer. Yet this encounter felt like something of a metaphor for gallant Burnley’s entire season, where they’ve been bravely battling against such stiff odds, for so long that their concerted efforts to make up for what they might lack in ability were bound to run out of steam eventually. Burnley seemed to hit this wall long before the final whistle on Saturday and for once it was a pleasant surprise to be able to run down the clock in relative comfort.
Ramsey To The Rescue

            However, don’t be fooled by Arsène’s supposed sang-froid, as he was as animated on the touchline during the second half as he’s been all season. He knows better than most that the last couple of miles of any marathon are the toughest to complete. If Chelsea are to continue to make a meal of reaching the finishing line, Arsène wants to ensure that Mourinho continues to feel the Arsenal’s breath on the back of his neck.

            The Blues consistent team selection was a significant factor in their runaway start to this campaign and has doubtless contributed to the fact that some of their star hares, such as Fabregas, are now looking a little jaded. Whereas injuries have perhaps forced le Prof to manage our tortoises' fatigue levels more vigilantly (who would’ve imagined the significant likes of John Terry would last the entire course!).

            Trust Cesc to pop up and ruin our weekend, with Chelsea’s single only shot on target at Loftus Road. But then, as they say, it’s the hope that kills and with the media doing their utmost to fuel Gooner delusions, there is some comfort in quelling the barmy title bandwagon, so that we might focus on the business at hand at Wembley next weekend. Especially with everyone talking as if the Arsenal and Liverpool need only turn up, in order to progress to the final. That way lies fate-tempting complacency and all the inspiration our opponents need.
email to:

Sunday 5 April 2015

Le Coq Sportif

            There’s always plenty of trepidation in the aftermath of an International break, wondering how many of our players might return from their globetrotting exploits crocked, either physically or psychologically. The Gunners were hardly in scintillating form in our victory up at St. James Park, immediately before the majority of our players disappeared off to meet up with their respective national squads.

            Moreover, with Raheem Sterling caught in the glare of the media spotlight, after the youngster’s somewhat naïve public comments and with so many memorable contests between Liverpool and the Arsenal littered with a history of sumptuous hat-tricks, I was understandably concerned that Saturday’s stage might’ve been set for Sterling to silence the cacophonous cannonade from his myopic critics.

            Especially with our lamentable track record in these lunchtime encounters, where we all too often fail to turn up until the second half and with the Gunners being in a somewhat more comfortable position than the Scousers, for whom defeat would sound the death-knell to their Champions League dreams for yet another season.

            However for once it was the Arsenal who flew out of the traps, like a team possessed, playing at such a fabulously free-flowing, high tempo right from the opening whistle that you could be forgiven for thinking that we were the team who simply couldn’t afford to lose this game.

What A Day For A Demo! My 40 Quid Certainly VFM!!
          Judging by the scant number of empty spaces on the terraces, I was far from alone in my unwillingness to want to deprive myself of the tremendous entertainment on offer in the opening period and I can’t imagine that there were too many fans who lingered outside the ground for the admirable, if somewhat ill-advised attempts at a united protest over extortionate ticket prices.

            Just making it in time for these early KOs is an arduous enough task for most supporters, let alone arriving early to support a pre-match demonstration and with us having been starved of Premiership footie for a fortnight, I’m not sure the organizers could’ve possibly picked a more inappropriate occasion to expect supporters to miss 10 minutes of this match, as we were all itching to get inside and “get it on”.

            With Mignolet thwarting most of our efforts to reap any material reward from the Gunners high-intensity, early assault on our guest’s goal, the Scousers eventually managed to draw breath and for a moment there, it looked as if our worst fears of succumbing to a solitary Liverpool counter were about to be realized, when Markovic broke free. Surely only a lack of confidence can explain the striker’s attempt to play in Sterling, instead of taking on Ospina himself?

            It’s hard to believe that back in September we were debating whether Balotelli might’ve been a better bet than Welbeck. As if to highlight this point, on reveling in the replay on Match of the Day on Saturday night, amongst the distracting facts flashing along the bottom of the screen was the revelation that with his two Premiership strikes, our young French full-back, Bellerin, has now scored more than Balotelli!

            With three spectacular goals, Bellerin, Ozil and Sanchez might’ve taken all the plaudits, in those eight magical minutes that secured our impressive triumph at the end of the first half, but for me, once again it was young Franny Coquelin who deserved most credit. Playing with a high back line and with both full-backs bombing forward, the Gunners appeared susceptible to pacy counter-attacks, if it wasn’t for the fact that time and again Coquelin snuffed out the threat at source, dominating the middle of the park.

          I’m sure the possibility of Chelsea being reliant on Remy’s goals for the remainder of the campaign must be disconcerting to Blues fans. But even in the unlikely event of us winning all of our remaining matches, no one can seriously believe we’ll witness the sort of complete implosion necessary at the Bridge to bring us into the title frame.

            Myself I will gladly settle for making Mourinho squirm, by maintaining the pressure with this sort of sparkling form. But for Coquelin to be securely anointed as our undisputed homegrown holding midfielder and perhaps save le Prof umpteen millions in the process, he needs to not merely match, but outshine the likes of Matic, as the architect of Arsène’s first ever victory over the Gobby one. The Gunners looked like the real deal on Saturday, but psychologically, not until we’ve put Mourinho’s side to the sword will I really begin to believe that we’ve truly arrived!

Oi Deschamps! Sakho Instead of Kos...You're Having A Larf!
email to: