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Sunday 27 December 2015

Oh Come All Ye Faithful (if only we could get there!), Hardly Joyful, Nor Triumphant

Cech revealed on Football Focus that he speaks five languages to be able to
speak to all the defenders in their own tongue. Can he make it clear they've
taken "Getting stuffed for Xmas" a bit too literally!
Sadly football fans in this country appear to be not nearly quite so militant as our counterparts in Germany. At the Gunners we’ve got “Red Action” attempting to disturb the library-like peace and quiet at our place. They’re to be commended for all the effort that must’ve gone into inserting red and white plastic bags in 57,000 seats, to try and stoke up the atmosphere prior to last Monday night’s crucial encounter, by producing the “Arsenal Together” display. Yet it is the club who stump up for the cost of these occasional stunts, so I very much doubt Red Action would want to jeopardize this cosy relationship, by being involved in anything that might be frowned upon by their sponsors, as being the least bit contentious.

With families in such close proximity over Xmas, in the past, it was always a most welcome tradition, to be able to escape the increasingly claustrophobic confines of the festive family hencoop, for a couple of hours on St. Stephens’s Day, thereby easing the tensions, avoiding yet another barney, blowing off the cobwebs and at least burning off some of the coronary-inducing, calorific intake.

In fact, for me a Boxing Day Derby match was always no less of an integral part of my own festive ritual, than the retelling of my dear old dad’s ancient joke about the kids doing show and tell in class after the Xmas holidays. Where after all his classmates have told how they wake up and open their presents, little Hymie reveals that his dad, the toy wholesaler, takes him down to the warehouse on Xmas morning, to stare at all the empty shelves and to join in with their annual rendition of “What a friend we have in Jesus”.

What do you mean Shane Long got you a teasmade?
You mean Père Nöel doesn't exist?
I would’ve loved it if we had staged a repeat of the sort of extremely effective demo seen from the Bayern fans, a couple of months back. They were protesting over the extortionate cost of their tickets at the Arsenal and I hope it came across as impressively on the box, as it did in person, when the game commenced with their corner of the ground entirely empty, save for the banners draped across the seats stating “£64 ticket but without fans football is not worth a penny”. Having boycotted the start of the game, by remaining on the concourse, it was most dramatic (ignoring the disturbing historical connotations!) when they all marched in, in unison five minutes in.

We really should’ve done likewise at St Mary’s stadium on Saturday. With such limited public transport, not only was it preposterous that the most loyal travelling faithful were faced with such a tortuous St Stephen’s Day outing, when they’re the fans who are mainly responsible for creating the sort of fervent atmosphere that actually affords our domestic game with its unique brand identity, but also the farcical 7.45pm KO meant that for many this match was a complete non-starter, as it would’ve proved impossible for them to get home.

I’m not such a sentimental idealist that I can’t appreciate the TV tail’s obligation to wag the football dog, wringing every last possible drop of return from their humungous, obscenely inflated investment in the broadcasting rights. So it was that we drew the short straw on Saturday, with our match the last of four successive live broadcasts. Yet if we don’t at least attempt to make a stand, at some point, the TV schedulers have absolutely no reason to consider the interests of us travelling fans and will continue to not even bother paying lip service to the practicalities involved in making it to matches (and home again!).

They continue to get away with it because we’re represented by so many disparate voices and it’s about time someone made it clear that “we are mad as hell and not going to take it any more!” We should’ve left the terraces empty on Saturday, except for banners stating “no fans…no product!”

Frankly I would’ve been content to have boycotted far more than the first five minutes of this particular encounter. Standing out on the concourse would’ve surely proved preferable to the agony of witnessing quite such a woeful display. Such was the Gunners apparent languor on Saturday that we could’ve been playing up until now and still not breached the Saints’ goal.

There might’ve been evidence that you can teach an old dog new tricks, in the tactical coup that Arsène pulled on Pellegrini last Monday night. Yet while it was great to beat City with such a mature and disciplined rearguard action, in the absence of such influential likes of Alexis, Cazorla and Coquelin, it might’ve been an entirely different story if De Bruyne had found the net first.

Despite all the resulting media hype, knowing that City could’ve easily nicked a last minute equalizer, I really don’t understand how we suddenly deposed the massed ranks of Pellegrini’s mob, as the bookies title favourites? Could this have been responsible for some complacency against Southampton, or were we subconsciously guilty of trying to keep something in reserve, knowing that most of them will be obliged to turn out again within 48 hours?

Petr shows off the scorch marks from
Martina's Goal of the Season contender
What was most depressing is that it didn’t take a particularly impressive performance from the Saints, but with only one point to show from their last five games, Koeman succeded in imparting the necessary kick up the backside. Even at 4-0 up the home side were still pressing for more and they could and really should’ve scored another couple of goals.

Anything less than 100% from the Gunners was always likely to be punished and I was left wondering if perhaps, in the absence of Alexis’ energy, the Gunners were left struggling to get on the front foot, after their earnest efforts to master the counter-attacking tactics that did for Man City?

I imagine that Shane Long must be an absolute nightmare to play against and Mertesacker looked like a frightened rabbit, caught in the glare of Long’s fully-focused headlights. Aaron Ramsey was far from alone, as there were several midfielders who appeared guilty of ambling back, as their sides conceded goals on Saturday. However having worked so hard to beat City and achieve the small cushion that meant we could afford to drop a couple of points, the criminal margin of Saturday night’s humiliation is tantamount to throwing away four points, should we end up missing out in May, merely on goal difference.

"Ich bin in ordnung Jack"
Moreover Ramsey’s apparent lack of concern about conceding a fourth, suggests that the good vibes from Monday have fast evaporated. While Mezut Özil might well have earned himself some respite, I can’t help but wonder how the Instagram photos of Arsène’s golden boy went down with the rest of his team mates. It appears Mezut was sunning himself in warmer climes on Thursday, while they were stuck in London Colney, enduring the dreary depressing weather with the rest of us. Did I miss the dictate from the TV paymasters for every Premiership manager to stir up friction in the dressing room that might guarantee even more unpredictability for our viewing pleasures in the New Year?

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