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Tuesday 24 November 2015

Chickens Coming Home To Roost, Or Merely The Momentary Crowing From The Cockerel At The Wrong End Of The Seven Sisters Road?

When slack West Brom defending at a set-piece gifted us an all too brief lead, after half an hour on Saturday, I found myself muttering under my breath that it was tempting fate and far too premature to be crowing "we are top of the league".

If we'd been 3-0 up and the result was already in the bag, I would've been enjoying  the opportunity to bellow this chant out along with everyone else, but it really wasn't appropriate at this point in time, with the Gunners so obviously struggling to find some form. And so it proved, with our sojourn at the summit of the table lasting little more than seven whole minutes.

With Berahino seemingly so out of favour that he doesn't even merit a place in Tony Pullis' starting XI and Rondon ploughing such an isolated, lonely furrow up front, with little or no assistance from the likes of Sessegnon and McClean, the home side played with such humble ambitions that the Baggies would've been absolutely blown away, by an Arsenal side firing on all cylinders.

I often scan the airwaves at away games, searching for a local radio commentary on my terrace tranny because it's invariably interesting to hear the contrasting perspective of an unashamedly partisan ex-player, turned pundit, from the opposition camp. For most of the first-half, he was cursing the fact that the Arsenal were winning most of the battles all over the park, which considering we were so far from our scintillating best, was a mark of quite how unimpressive West Brom were.

As stated on Match of the Day, the Baggies achieved the remarkable feat of scoring two goals, with only one effort on target during the entire ninety minutes. It might well have been a different story if Mezut Özil's shot had found the back of the net, instead of glancing off the woodwork right at the start of the second half. But for the most part our 73% domination of possession all took place in front of the Baggies defence and we barely tested Myhill.

It wasn't that long ago that we were glorying in the Gunners variety of attacking options. Yet how quickly things change, as suddenly we find ourselves in a position where the first team virtually picks itself, from the last eleven fit footballers who remain standing! It was strange on Saturday, as when Coquelin went down injured, Flamini jumped up off the bench and began warming up on the touchline, as if he expected to replace Franny, only for AW to bring on Arteta?

Although Arteta lasted just a little longer than Walcott did against Sheff Weds, in little over half an hour Miguel managed to concede a free-kick that never was, which resulted in West Brom's equaliser and inadvertently turned in the Baggies winner. Still at least Flamini's premature warm up wasn't completely wasted and one can't help but wonder how things might've turned out if Arteta had remained on the bench? With the Arsenal's midfielders dropping like flies, the way things are going, I am beginning to wonder if it might be worth bringing my boots?

Even if the players are not guilty of being consciously complacent, to my mind a situation where they know they're guaranteed to play, no matter their form because Wenger is left with so little choice, this is always bound to have a psychological impact upon a player's level of focus and intensity.

In selecting Kieran Gibbs after his exceedingly rare, point-saving strike against Spurs, perhaps Arsène was hoping lightning would strike twice. Sadly his team-mates didn't appear to be quite so optimistic about Gibbs goalscoring prospects. While, unlike anyone else, Kieran did get into some advanced position, nobody seemed to want to give the defender the ball!

With John O'Shea seemingly far too comfortable, with Giroud pretty much in his pocket, we could've badly done with being able to present the Baggies defence with an alternative pacy, attacking threat. But with the likes of Olly, just as with Alexis, Wenger is denied the opportunity of injecting some rotational spark into our flagging form, by the fact that our squad is already down to the bare bones.

Mind you, without the protection of Coquelin in front of him, sadly Per Mertesacker is suddenly looking a lot more vulnerable and perhaps sufficiently past his sell-by date that the time has come for Gabriel to prove his worth as a permanent long-term replacement?

With the not so illustrious likes of Zagreb, Norwich, Sunderland, Olympiakos and Villa to come before our date with Pellegrini's title favourites, we can but hope that we can cling on and that our competitors continue to be equally inconsistent, until such time as the likes of Walcott, Ramsey, the Ox, Wilshere and Welbeck (remember him!) begin to return to fitness and restore our squad to something like the promising looking outfit that commenced this campaign.

If not and our challenge begins to flounder on our squad's obvious lack of depth in crucial positions, there will be only one person to blame and unfortunately he's not accountable! But this Groundhog Day scenario is likely to feel a whole lot more agonising than it has been in recent seasons because with none of our competitors achieving the sort of consistency necessary to set the pace, rarely has there been a better opportunity for us to challenge for the title and with all of them urgently looking to address their own problems, it might well be a while before such a promising chance comes around again!

Keep the faith

Chickens Coming Home To Roost, Or Merely The Momentary Crowing From The Cockerel At The Wrong End Of The Seven Sisters Road?

If the Marseillaise can't inspire them, maybe a kick up the Arse will do?

The omens were hardly auspicious as we travelled up to West Brom on Saturday and the blokes in the back of the car with me admitted that their only other awayday this season was the dismal defeat at the Bridge. Indeed it proved such a frustratingly fruitless afternoon against the Baggies that poor, old Ernie was sat in the front of the motor threatening to burn his brand new ‘titfer the moment he arrived home.

Albeit with me not wanting to go the way of the proverbial brass monkeys, in the face of such a bitterly cold snap, perhaps I was no less at fault for having dug out my longjohns for the first time this season. If ever proof was needed to decry all such superstitious pish-posh, it was evident in the long awaited payback for Thierry Henry’s handiwork, at the Aviva last Monday night. Whereupon it was obvious that the Boys In Green had just achieved something very special, when we witnessed Roy Keane actually cracking a smile.

Despite the heroics of O’Neill’s troops, following a fortnight in which the world’s worst horrors have been brought to our doorstep, thereby suddenly making everyone terrifyingly aware of our patent vulnerability, I was positively desperate for the blissful distraction of the recommencement of Premiership hostilities. Such was the level of anticipation at being able to lose myself on the terraces for 90 minutes that somewhat inevitably, our afternoon ended up an infuriating anti-climax.

I should’ve seen the disappointing writing on the wall, when one minute I was doing a little jig of joy, hearing on my radio that the Hornets had equalized as I walked up to the Hawthorns, only for Man Utd to go top of the table (briefly), by bagging a last gasp winner before I’d even reached the turnstiles.

The new reality of the world’s heightened state of dread was evident in the way previously cursory body searches have now become far more rigorous; and yet no less futile, since every regular matchday goer can attest that nothing will stop the most determined nutter from doing their worst.

Mind you what I would have given to the Gooner who'd smuggled in a selection of rockets on Saturday. After seeing the Baggies gift us a set-piece goal, only for the Gunners to promptly switch off and concede two in quick succession, I will leave it to your imagination how these might’ve been best employed (right “up the Arsenal”!).

As one would expect with Pullis at the helm, West Brom are typically well organized behind the ball. Yet with the home side being so woefully short of firepower on current form, it seems absolutely everyone, bar our manager, appreciated quite how important it was for a team with genuine title ambitions to come away with all three points on Saturday.

After being left out of the starting line-up in favour of a second full-back out on our left flank, judging by the way Joel Cambell fluffed his lines when he eventually entered the fray, where once Arsène inspired “unbelievable belief”, he has instead taken to fostering “indubitable doubt”!

Worse still, any sentient being worth his salt would have no need a technical data spreadsheet to deduce that Alexis has lost his mojo. It’s blindingly obvious from the stands that even if our Chilean dynamo is still covering the same mileage, he’s no longer doing so with a smile on his face.

When Santi’s standing foot slipped from under him, along with our last chance of a face-saving point, this pretty much summed up our miserable afternoon. Prior to this, the partisan pundit on the local Black Country radio suggested it was as if ref Clattenburg was playing for the home team. Yet truth be told, we’ve enjoyed such flattering good fortune on the road in recent times, in spite of our indifferent form that our luck was bound to run out.

Making a slippery escape from the gridlocked car park seemed to be the only result of the day, prior to the resurrection at the Etihad. While Brendan’s ragbag Scousers returned from the break seemingly miraculously transformed by Klopp into a side that’s “just like watching Brazil”, City and the Gunners both appear blighted by the lugubrious global mood.

Still there was some solace in seeing the amiable Tinkerman savouring his entertaining Foxes’ moment in the spotlight, instead of a far too smug LVG. The big question is whether we’ve seen every Gooners’ worst fear realized when Coquelin limped off. But, in the event of such a catastrophe, our myopic manager must be just about the only person on the planet who couldn’t see this coming!
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