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Monday, 26 October 2015

Ya Gunners Ya!

(or the Irish Examiner's far less long-winded version here )

It was hilarious to watch the "happy as Larry" Hammers turn over Chelsea, before trotting out the door in the teeming rain, to head around to our late KO on Saturday. Surely based on his influential displays to date, Dmitri Payet would undoubtedly appear to be the bargain buy of the summer?

Where's Wally?
I imagine that much like the majority of Gooners, I seem to be enjoying almost as much satisfaction from the self-combustion of the current title holders and their far too smug manager, as I am from our own recent exploits. In fact, if the Gunners were chugging along in the same less impressive fashion that we've grown accustomed to in recent seasons, Chelsea's apparent implosion would be of great solace, but the burgeoning optimism at the Arsenal of late means that the Blues' demise is merely an absolutely hysterical distraction.

As Mourinho appears to increasingly lose the plot with his paranoid "they're all out to get me" delusions, I can't help but wonder quite how infuriated he must be, seeing Petr Cech's safehands save all three points for his arch-rival's side in our last two outings. In fact I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was Jose's indignation at Abramovich allowing Cech to cross to North London that is the initial source of much of Mourinho's resulting petulance. Even if not, as our season progresses, I will continue to envisage the incensed image of the Chelsea manager as a constant source of amusement, every time Petr pulls another save out of the bag.

I tried, honestly I tried to get engaged in the World Cup rugby on the box the Sunday before last, but it's one of the few sports that I struggle to appreciate and in the end I found myself turning over, to watch Connery and Caine hamming it up, in one of my all time favourite movies "The Man Who Would Be King"

However, after quite such a magical occasion at the Arsenal last week, if I never watch those Philistine egg-chasers again, it will be too soon! Perhaps I fail to understand the finer points of what's labelled "the gentleman's game" but to my mind this contest of pure brute force and physical huff and puff brooks absolutely no comparison with the best football has to offer; as in the sort of utterly absorbing chess match of an artistic contest between the Gunners and Bayern Munich.

Doubtless all the pundits will soon be clamouring that the Arsenal have finally come of age, with the mature manner in which we forsook our more natural attacking instincts, in order to produce such a disciplined defensive display. Despite the German champions domination, resulting in a remarkable 70 per cent possession, with Petr Cech's impressive aid, we stood firm, preventing them from breaching our goal and eventually shocked the unbeaten outfit with the perfect sucker punch. It was indeed the epitome of a counter-attacking masterclass.

Nevertheless, I'm sure that I was far from alone in having screamed myself hoarse before half-time, bellowing out my frustration with the tactics that eventually proved so profitable. As I incessantly cursed the amount of time and space we gifted Guardiola's team in the middle of the park, affording Alonso and co. all the opportunities they needed to get their heads up and pick out threatening passes, my pal commented that this was no different to the success achieved by Mourinho's "park the bus" tactics on route to their vainglorious European triumph.

However the difference was that Chelsea were accustomed to effecting this sort of shut-out, whereas few Gooners would've put their money on our porous back-line being able to do likewise. Yet with Cech finally beginning to exert the sort of Schmeichel-like, imposing influence on our opponents, where he appears to fill the goalmouth and leaves an opposing striker far more likely to fluff his lines because he knows he needs do something special to beat him, suddenly the Gunners are starting to acquire a considerably more composed demeanour in defence.

I replied to my mate that if we continued to gift the German side so much time on the ball, eventually we'd be bound to succumb to the law of averages and be breached by one of their attacks. Yet thankfully they proved me wrong and game by game, we appear to be maturing into a side where I'm no longer bricking it every time the opposition threaten our goal with the ball.

Again on Saturday, after we gifted the Toffees a goal before the break with Gabby's unfortunate deflection, I feared this might offer Everton the incentive to put us under the cosh in the second-half. Yet although our guests saw a little more of the ball and despite fearing that we might show signs of fatigue as the game wore on, I wasn't nearly so nervous about us conceding a late equaliser as I would've been in the past because of this sense that we've begun to eliminate the costly aura of frailty that's pretty much been an ever-present problem since Spunky departed the scene.

Also, Per Mertesacker might've covered himself in glory against Bayern and you sensed in the determined displays of both him and Mezut Özil that our two member of the master race both had a point to prove. However even with Per in such great form, I'm glad Arsène is able to use him sparingly and seems to have increasing faith in Gabby. I've moaned before that for all our Big F#cking German's height, he seems to lack the sort of aerial ability one might expect from a man of his size because in truth, he doesn't appear to be able to get very far off the ground.

By comparison, there's an intensity and a resolve about our Brazilian centre-half that might occasionally find disturbing expression, but with a trio of Gabby, Kos and Giroud on the pitch, I feel we suddenly look so much more threatening at set-pieces, to the extent that I'm no longer merely raising my eyebrows at the award of yet another corner, but am instead eagerly wondering if the ball might end up in the back of the net.

I've been forced to become a little more discriminating about awayday outings of late, as my unfortunate state of decrepitude means that they are that much more exhausting and in truth, I'd actually settled for the likelihood that I'd end up watching tomorrow night's outing live on the box, with my feet up. However away matches in the League Cup have taken on a certain significance in recent times, as a rare opportunity for some of our youngsters to grab some limelight, in a genuinely competitive environment and with reduced ticket prices offering so many more youngsters a rare opportunity to see their heroes play live, there's invariably an entirely different atmosphere.

My increasingly colander-like grey matter leaves me struggling to recall my last outing to the extremely traditional environs of Hillsborough and so when the opportunity to travel up to tomorrow night's game presented itself, there was no way I was going to turn it down!

It's brilliant that the Gunners seem to have developed from our more one-dimensional all out attack previous incarnation, to the multi-faceted side of the past three outings. Having seen us successfully park the bus against Bayern and torture the Hornets and the Toffees by mixing up the tikki-takka and the long ball percentage game, heaven only knows what the kids are going to conjure up next?


Ya Gunners Ya

Singing in the rain "Top of the League" for the first
but hopefully not the last time!
After a week in which we’ve beaten one of the best teams on the planet, in Bayern Munich and temporarily tasted the rarefied air at the top of the table for the first time in 20 months, it would be easy to get carried away. However we’ve witnessed more than a few false dawns in recent times and after having endured so many seasons where the limit of the Arsenal’s ambitions was a top-four finish, I’m not about to pass on a rare opportunity to revel in the possibility that the Gunners are finally beginning to acquire the appearance of a force that is capable of achieving the sort of consistency which might, at the very least, keep us in the frame for a competitive title challenge.

In these hysterically capricious times, where we are only ever one dodgy result away from see-sawing between being a club in such comparative clover, to one in supposed crisis, the mood of optimism that currently abounds can be so ephemeral that you simply have to make hay while the sun shines.

While it feels like such a privilege to be witnessing the Gunners manufacturing such magically entertaining fodder and the recent evidence suggests that the imposing presence of Petr Cech might indeed amount to us amassing a sufficient number of additional points to mount a serious assault on the big prize, I still can’t escape the sense that our campaign continues to rest on a knife-edge.

In the past, the evidence of an Arsenal team that truly has the bit between it’s teeth, has been seen in the way Arsène has been able to rotate the squad. Where the confidence has been sufficiently high that players are able to seamlessly slip into the roles of their counterparts. If you look at our bench at present, there might be the appearance of sufficient strength in depth, but along with most Gooners, I live in permanent fear of how we’d cope in the absence of the likes of Coquelin, Koscielny or Alexis.

So I’m savouring the smorgasbord of tikki-takka, long-ball and counter-attacking success that we’ve relished this past week and hoping the Gunners can garner sufficient wind in our sails to avoid floundering on any of the many precarious reefs of fixture congestion, fatigue, injuries and suspensions that are bound to assail us between here and our distant destination next May. At the same time, I’ll spend most every match praying that fate smiles upon us, for us to be able to avoid the couple of key absences that might result in our campaign running aground long before then.

The injury to Aaron Ramsey in midweek, at least afforded the Ox a rare berth in Saturday’s starting XI and it feels as if Alex needs a decent run in the side for him to begin to shine. And it’s brilliant to be able to keep our opponents on their toes, never knowing if they need plan to contain the pace of Theo, or the threat of a more traditional centre-forward and the aerial ability of Olivier. Giroud might’ve rightly been the man of the match against Everton, but as against Bayern, ultimately it was Cech’s safehands that saved all three points.

The well renowned library-like atmosphere at the Arsenal is invariably improved somewhat, by nature of the fact that the vocal chords of the majority of fans are that much more well lubricated come late kick-offs on a Saturday. Approaching the stadium before kick-off, I lingered outside the away section, impressed by the raucous serenading of the tanked up Toffees bellowing their hearts out on the concourse.

While personally I wouldn’t have wanted to sacrifice a single moment of such a sensationally enthralling encounter with Bayern, all credit to the German fans for their fabulously effective protest against exorbitant ticket prices. If ever the Gunners were likely to fall victim to an “after the Lord Mayor’s show” impact of our midweek triumph, it was in having to re-energize themselves sufficiently to overcome Everton. It’s in achieving a result immediately after such humungous and draining Champions League clash that is a real test of a team’s mettle.

Although it would be a disaster if in beating Bayern, we only end up slipping through the third place trapdoor into the Europa Cup, our midweek success was far more important in terms of lending us the sort of swagger that will hopefully engender the sort of respect that might have us beating most of our domestic opposition, before a ball has even been kicked. It might only be a shadow side that takes to the field at Hillsborough on Tuesday night, but these league cup outings have acquired a significance, as a rare competitive opportunity for our second string to grab the limelight. It will be interesting to see if the burgeoning aura of invincibility at the club is sufficiently pervasive to ensure they maintain the all-conquering mood?
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Monday, 19 October 2015

Home From Home

It was brilliant to get the ball rolling again with a convincing result against Watford. Especially after I'd been casting covetous glances at the TV pictures from White Hart Lane earlier in the afternoon and the sight of Scousers being substituted and already giving their manager of only a few days quite such a surprisingly hearty hug. As was the case at Dortmund, such evidence suggests that it won't be too long before Jurgen Klopp engenders the sort of warmth and affection within the Liverpool dressing room that might soon have his players willing to die for their new manager.

So it was a relief to see the Gunners achieve the sort of result that will keep Arsène's many critics quiet (for the moment!). It's hard to imagine our somewhat more reserved manager inspiring the same overtly emotional response, but so long as we're watching some of the most entertaining football being played anywhere and can maintain the required level of consistency, we really can't complain. Klopp's zany personality might be a breathe of fresh air, but when you consider the constant turmoil resulting from the revolving-door managerial policy at some of our competitors, we surely cannot be advocating change, for change's sake.

I have to admit that the Gunners' patience paid off against Watford, with the goal coming from the first time our hosts were eventually caught without having a sufficient number of bodies behind the ball. It's true that we're capable of passing most teams to death, forcing them to chase the ball until they eventually run out of steam, but it's a risky, not to mention stressful approach, reliant on our defensive resilience, to ensure that we're not breached beforehand.

Personally I would've much preferred to see us plough into Watford right from the opening whistle, with the same sort of urgency we showed against Man Utd, thereby preventing the home side from being able to settle into the game and to grow in confidence, to the point where they began to fancy their chances of getting something out of the game. Mercifully, Alexis goal on Saturday was perfectly timed to crush the Hornets growing sense of belief and with the two more that followed in such quick succession, you could sense all the home side's early optimism evaporating in that thrilling twelve minute spell.

I can't help but feel that if we're going to achieve anything against Bayern on Tuesday night, we need to force the German side onto the backfoot, with the same high-tempo, incisive football that did for Man U. Saturday's "quick, quick, slow" approach  that provided Watford time to organise behind the ball is only likely to have the same results. Not only are Lewandovski and co.  likely to prove far less forgiving when winning the ball back and making forays forward, they're not about to succumb to our hypnotic passing, to the point where they'll be huffing and puffing like the Hornets.

I fear that if we show Bayern too much respect, it's likely to prove fatal and that we instead need to exert our dominance on our home turf. The last thing I want is for us to end up failing to triumph against one of the best sides on the planet without having done ourselves proper justice and without having given it a real go!



Home From Home

Alexis literally puts the Hornets' lights out
Although it was blooming marvelous to witness the Boys in Green bloodying the noses of the World Champs, for the remainder of the Interlull, I found myself being offered eight matches on the red button, none of which were worth the princely sum of my TV subscription. So after a seemingly pointless fortnight of tedious football, where aside from the incredible demise of the Dutch, the only object seemed to be the elimination of minnows such as Gibraltar and San Marino, my tongue was literally hanging out, salivating at the prospect of the recommencement of some proper Premiership entertainment.

Especially after last Thursday’s appetiser of the Arsenal AGM, where obviously the trouncing of Man Utd in our previous outing somewhat tempered the whiff of revolution in the air. Nevertheless, there were plenty of the unlikely-looking peasants amongst the Arsenal shareholders, who were intent on expressing their dissatisfaction with the board’s apparent reluctance to offer even the feeblest justification for the £3million, seemingly being milked by the Kroenkes from their extremely profitable plaything; or to bellow out their indignation at our disastrous Champions League defeats to Monaco, Zagreb and Olympiacos.

Meanwhile, as Arsène felt obliged to chime in, he’s won a lot more than he’s lost and ultimately the abiding respect for our manager remains such that le Prof’s presence on the dais amongst all the other stuffed-shirts, will invariably save the board from the sort of lambasting that they might otherwise endure.

With the Arsenal’s Fanshare Scheme sadly now defunct and the vast majority of supporters having eventually succumbed to the irresistible temptation to cash-in their token piece of the club, there aren’t many shares left in individual hands. In fact, it won’t be long before the shareholders are outnumbered at the AGM by the ever-expanding multitudes of the global media.

Yet for those that endure, in spite of the mounting frustration at our perennial “also ran” status, with so many clubs in an almost constant state of flux and with the exception of those with limitless resources, ultimately it’s impossible to ignore the fact that as fans, we are privileged to enjoy fabulous football, when compared with the vast majority of our competitors. However where in the past we’ve giggled at the obsequious (often sozzled) pomposity of the Hill-Woods patronage, with Sir Chips at the helm, the old duffer seems downright contemptuous of the minions who dare to question their guardianship of our beloved club.

Such utter disdain doesn’t quite fit with the oily-slick corporate spiel of our chief executive. Gazides’s annual overblown Powerpoint polemic invariably leaves me feeling drenched by his blatantly disingenuous assertions that the Arsenal are the best in all aspects of our business (sure Ivan, all but THE most important one!). While such is the reticence of the real power behind the throne to even open their gobs to pass the slightest comment on their intentions for the club that if I hadn’t seen pictures of Kroenke at Watford on Saturday, one might easily believe the club are annually wheeling out waxwork dummies of Silent Stan and his son Josh for the AGM.

It’s great to have Watford back in the Premiership because the short trip to Vicarage Road invariably feels like a home game for me. Win, lose, or draw, a pit-stop at my Mum’s on route, means that I’m at least always guaranteed a good nosh up. In fact, with Watford’s proximity, I’ve heard of several Gooners defecting to the Hornets in recent years, merely because, unlike at the Arsenal, they can go to games with their kids, without having to risk taking out a second mortgage. As a result, it makes for a refreshing change to be able to enjoy a more genial family atmosphere, amongst supporters who are primarily there for the pleasure of the ride, rather than being rabidly driven by the desire for some tangible reward when the music stops.

It’s always worrying playing last on a Saturday, when the three points are only going to maintain the pressure on the sides who’ve won earlier in the day and Alexis’ goal on the hour mark was a massive relief. I was just beginning to fret that our failure to reproduce the same urgency that we’d shown against Utd, was about to cost us dear.

Troy Deeney might not be the most naturally gifted player, but rather than having the armband awarded merely by dint of seniority, I’d love to have a captain covering every blade of grass with such uncompromising commitment. The three goal flurry that resulted from the Gunners injection of pace knocked all the stuffing out of our opponents, but I won’t be at all surprised if their tactically astute manager contrives to take points from some of our competitors.

When's it due?
Hopefully, having finally got off the mark, Aaron Ramsey will enjoy a surge in confidence that will enable him to find the net far more frequently, in contrast to some of his glaring recent misses. But disconcertingly Petr Cech is still some way short of being the decisive, dominant keeper that I was expecting and such hesitancy against the likes of Bayern will doubtless be punished.

Although there are those arguing the benefits of being able to focus on our domestic campaign, by avoiding prolonging the agony of our involvement in the Champions League, we really can’t afford to have the burgeoning sense of optimism brought to an abrupt halt by Bayern tomorrow night and instead require a display that reinforces our status amongst Europe’s elite.

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Monday, 5 October 2015

From "Wenger Out" to "Arsène Knows" In Four Schizo Days For Fickle Spoilt Gooners

Hi folks,

Late KO's on a Sunday are the bane of my life because instead of being able to savour Sunday's sensational triumph with every other Gooner, I had to dash home to bash out my missive for the Irish Examiner, whilst still trying to work out if we'd been that brilliant, or if the result was more down to such a dismal performance from Utd. 

Upon further reflection, I suspect that it was a little bit of both, since Man U seem to have been getting away with it, ever since the season started and their unimpressive form to date meant that they were overdue Sunday's reality check. Moreover, as wonderful as that whirlwind opening 20 minute spell of football was, in truth the resilience we displayed in closing the game out second half and securing a clean sheet, was no less satisfying. 

In the past we'd have likely conceded a goal before half-time and would've been left biting our nails throughout the remainder of the match and there was no such sense of insecurity on Sunday, as we never looked in danger of our guests making a game of it.

For me, there were a couple of standout incidents that differentiated this display from those we've grown accustomed to in recent times. I have to agree with all those Gooners gushing about how great it was to see Mezut Özil grab a game by the scruff of the neck and impose his undoubted grace with a football, Yet Mezut has the talent to be able to do this in every match and to my mind, it was a confluence of other circumstances that afforded him an opportunity to shine.

When was the last time we saw Theo surprising an opposition defender, by stealing the ball from his feet in such a committed fashion. Personally I can barely recall Walcott making a tackle of any sort, let alone diving in twice in one game, to stun the somnolent Utd defence! I've often complained that Theo's game appears to be lacking in any real intent, as if he's far too aware of his own fragility. Yet with him and his teammates all putting themselves about in quite such an urgent fashion yesterday, it was this that afforded the likes of Özil, Sanchez and Cazorla the opportunity to do some real damage.

We've just witnessed what wonders the Gunners are capable of when they're sufficiently fired up. Where in the past Alexis has stood out because of him being an exclusive member of the "run until you drop" club, for once everyone showed willing to imitate his relentless effort. However in doing so, they've gone and set a benchmark and cynic that I am, I can't help but wonder if we'll see them reproduce quite this same level of commitment at Vicarage Road on Saturday week?

From Blinker-Man to Tinker-Man?
With me being sat opposite the Arsenal dugout, the other moment that sticks in my mind from Sunday's match, was the sight of Arsène emerging from his seat during the second half, to influence proceedings from the touchline. How often have we moaned about the apparent inertia on the bench, as our leader has sat there, impotently allowing a game to slip from our grasp? In the face of constant criticism perhaps, just perhaps, we are finally seeing evidence that you can teach our old dog some new tricks?

We're accustomed to quotes from our players about Arsène's unstinting belief and the fact that this unshakeable faith in their ability is responsible for le Prof's "laissez-faire" approach, where invariably it appears as if they are responsible for their own actions, once they step over that white line. Doubtless others will point out if I'm wrong, but personally I can't ever recall seeing Wenger making obvious tactical adjustments in the middle of a game. 

However, as we inevitably began to come under a little pressure, with Man Utd chasing the game in the second half on Sunday, we saw the extremely unfamiliar sight of Arsène offering the sort of leadership from the touchline that, in the absence of a vocal captain out on the park, we've been crying out for, for far too long. We saw Wenger instructing Ramsey to move in from his starting point out on the right, to create a three man screen of Aaron, Santi and Franny across the width of the penalty area, in what proved to be a successful effort to shore up our defence.

I know there are plenty of Gooners who've become increasingly convinced that Wenger has become something of an out-dated dinosaur in recent times. Yet after a weekend which has thrown the spotlight on the disastrous and incredibly costly consequences at those clubs that exist amidst an air of constant insecurity, with Mourinho seemingly having lost the dressing room (and the plot!), Advocaat and Rodgers both losing their jobs and Van Gaal spending £300 mill and still having to resort to hoofing it up to the big lad, we've been fortunate to enjoy the benefits of the Arsenal's enduring stability and the loyalty that this inspires.

This doesn't change my opinion that Arsène's privileged position leaves him far too isolated, with no one at the club capable of telling him "what time it is" and that every other bugger on the planet with an opinion can't possibly all be wrong. I've moaned for years about Wenger's incessant efforts to resolve our goalkeeping woes on the cheap, forever wondering why he refused to go out and do whatever it takes to install a keeper with some genuine presence between the posts.

Admittedly I would have preferred Manuel Neuer and Arsène has still ended up finally attempting to rectify this situation without having to break the bank. Still with Petr Cech in situ, I think there's little doubt that we saw on Sunday how a proper world-class keeper can impact upon an encounter, by appearing two-feet taller to opposition strikers and forcing them to fluff their lines, in the knowledge that he's unlikely to gift them cheap goals.

Yet best of all was the hope engendered by events on Sunday that suggest Arsène might've eventually become no less frustrated than the rest of us, with the insanity of repeating the same things over and over again and expecting a different outcome. The sight of Arsène tinkering tactically in the second half suggests that he might have finally come to appreciate that Albert Einstein had a point. As marvelous as it was to savour a long-awaited battering of Man U, it might be far more significant in the long-term, if this was evidence of a much-needed rethink of le Gaffer's match day philosophy?


From "Wenger Out" to "Arsène Knows" In Four Schizo Days For Fickle Spoilt Gooners

"Alexis Sanchez baby....."
An afternoon which started with a huge social-media hoax about the Gobby one getting the boot, ended with the Scousers stealing our thunder by sacking Brendan Rodgers. In between we’ve witnessed the sort of complete performance from the Gunners against Man Utd that we’ve been waiting for, ever since Fergie sought refuge in his pipe and slippers.

Admittedly we’ve turned them over in the Cup at Old Trafford but we’ve waited a long time to inflict quite such a comprehensive defeat, against the comparatively mediocre incarnation of the Mancunian side in recent times. What’s more, it’s that much more hilarious that it should happen after they’ve spunked the best part of £300m in their seemingly vain attempts to redress this situation.

Seeing the Arsenal literally leave an impressive looking midfield on paper, of Schweinsteger, Carrick and Mata, for dead in that sensational opening twenty minute spell, there was the distinct sense that we were so pumped up, as if our players truly felt that they owed their manager proper recompense, after our midweek fiasco against Olympiakos.

Doubtless they will have seen Arsène’s embarrassingly petulant pre-match press conference, where his aggressive reaction to the media rat-pack looked to be that of a man who was in fear of his faith in our existing outfield squad being proved to be misplaced. Yet unlike Mourinho, in public at least, Wenger’s loyalty to his charges has always remained unwaveringly constant. In return, time and again, when the chips are down and the pressure upon le Prof has been mounting, they’ve invariably conjured up the sort of breathtakingly magical football that has instantly silenced his critics.

Obviously, it would be too much to ask for, to expect the Gunners to be able to reproduce quite such peerless football in every single encounter. Yet with the chant of “can we play you every week” resonating around the stadium, the inevitable question arises, as to why we can’t achieve the levels of confidence that would enable us to consistently dominate matches and to reproduce this sort of swagger against all our immediate rivals.

On the face of it, the two-week Interlull between now and our short trip to Watford couldn’t have been more badly timed. And yet after the recent relentless run of matches and after having left everything out on the park yesterday, I’m sure the players will be grateful for a bit of a breather. Additionally, it will offer recuperation time for the significant likes of Koscielny and for Arteta and Flamini. With the latter being the only alternatives for Coquelin, the Gunners would’ve been right up cack creek if Franny had also succumbed to injury!

It’s also interesting that we have the annual Arsenal AGM next week and I’m certain that the board will be mightily relieved to be meeting the shareholders after a fabulous victory that leaves the team lying second in the table. I very much doubt that they and our manager would’ve faced nearly such a convivial reception if we’d failed against Man Utd.

Nevertheless, despite parting the stadium with suitably puffed chests on Sunday, following the euphoric surge of happiness that accompanied the thrashing of the Red Devils, this welcome glimpse of some consistency to our league campaign only adds to the conundrum of our Champions League malaise.

I’ve no doubt there’ll be questions at the AGM as to what good a £200m cash surplus does for us, when we are losing to the lowly likes of Zagreb and Olympiakos. Then again, we’ve grown so accustomed to taking our European bow before the business end of this tournament that as far as I’m concerned, success in the Champions League is only ever prolonging the agony.

Albeit that our demise to date results in the looming spectre of the unfamiliar prospect of falling through the trap door into the Europa cup, due to a 3rd place group stage finish and all that entails, as far as the potential negative impact upon our Premiership prospects of a Thurs/Sun schedule. Personally I’d much rather write off our European challenge completely than to find ourselves having to schlep to meaningless fixtures in far flung outposts of the continent.

However it would be wrong to dwell on any such disappointment after such a perfect weekend, where the goalfest at Man City was the only slight dampener. I’d much rather reflect upon our manager’s glee at the sight of his nemesis’ seven-minute post-match grovel, followed by an Arsenal performance that will only have rubbed salt in the trigger-happy Abramovich’s wound. Then again, while we Gooners are entitled to head into work with a skip in our stride this week, I’m long enough in the tooth to know not to gloat so much that I can’t stomach a deserved portion of humble pie should Sunday’s heroes fall on their faces next time out.

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