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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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