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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.
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