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Sunday 6 December 2015

Suck On That BFS

Hope Joel washed it before returning to his baba?
The atmosphere at Saturday’s encounter with Sunderland was so painfully muted for the first half an hour that I pitied the poor couple who found themselves sitting in front of me. As hard as I tried to direct my incessant urging of the Gunners, up and out, over their heads, watching these two constantly recoil every time I bellowed behind their sensitive shell-likes, I felt half tempted to lean forward and apologize for disturbing their peace and spoiling their sedate afternoon’s entertainment.

I watched the first half of Stoke v Man City on the box, before heading out the door to our match and heard the remainder on the radio, as storm Desmond blew me around to the ground. I’d tuned in expecting to savour the silky skills of David Silva & co. and instead of which it was Bojan, Shaquiri & Arnautovic producing the sort of Barca imitation that was positively worlds away from Stoke’s hard-men reputation as the rugby team.

After the Potters had deservedly relieved a shell-shocked City of all three points, one might’ve imagined the opportunity for the Gunners to take advantage and the possibility of perhaps topping the league by the end of the afternoon, would’ve been sufficient to enthuse both our team and the fans.

Yet aside from the customary grace of Mezut Özil and the determination of Koscielny, sadly the Arsenal barely resembled a side targeting the table’s summit. And it was evident that in the absence of Alexis and following the further depressing blow of the long-term loss of Santi Cazorla, the majority of our morose crowd was more concerned with the funereal prospect of being overtaken by Spurs, instead of fulfilling our obligation to try and inspire our team to establish themselves in the box seat as title challengers.

With it being likely that the Gunners would be devoid of any penetration, whilst we remain deprived of the forward impetus of our Chilean dynamo, I fully expected a frustrating afternoon of sideways football, camped on the edge of the Black Cat’s penalty box. But it seems Allardyce had masticated on springing an alternative masterplan (surely I’m not alone in finding the positively bovine habits of BFS so offensive?).

Time was when an under-privileged background was almost a pre-requisite for the hunger and the passion necessary to carve out a career playing in the top flight. As the progeny of the FA’s chief executive and as a bachelor of science, with his first-class honours economics degree, Duncan Watmore hardly fits this profile. The lad caught my eye, ever since I happened to catch his performance, coming on as a sub for England’s U21s, where his intensity energized all the lamentably blasé looking youngsters around him.

Whether Watmore has the talent to match his obvious drive, remains to be seen. But as part of a surprising three-pronged attack with Fletcher and Borini, he very nearly caught us cold on Saturday, in carving out the opportunities which could’ve resulted in us already being 0-3 down, by the time Joel Campbell eventually stirred the slumbering stadium with our opening goal.

Sadly, for the third successive game, the Gunners promptly went back to sleep and failed to survive until half-time with our lead intact. But until Giroud inadvertently ruined Petr Cech’s chances of achieving the clean-sheet record, we once again had our keeper to thank for preventing our goal from being breached. Borini should’ve beaten him, when he found himself one-on-one after only four minutes. However this was a prime example of Petr’s points-saving capabilities, as his imposing physical presence and his reputation forces strikers into believing they need do something special to beat him and Borini patently wasn’t up to this task.

The on pitch, half-time interview with Steffan Schwarz had me fondly reminiscing about one of my all time favourite European encounters with Sampdoria (1995). Yet I was abruptly stirred from such reveries by the gob-smacking discovery that the number on the back of my programme was only one away from winning the signed match ball, with the presentation/photos with one of our heroes!

I was convinced that this “so close but so far” moment was a marker of our fortunes for the remainder of the afternoon. Mercifully Giroud managed to make up for his own-goal, by glancing one in at the correct end. Yet I spent the remaining half an hour waiting for Sunderland to score an inevitable equalizer and it wasn’t until we scored a third in injury time that I was finally able to breathe easy.

It was amusing to hear Wrighty comment on the box later that night that Ramsey was his man of the match, with “the most passes, touches and shots”. The fact that most of us spent the entire afternoon coating Aaron off for so many misplaced efforts, makes a complete mockery of all such statistics.

It sounded as if the performance of Ranieri’s remarkable outfit was far more deserving of ending the afternoon in pride of place atop the Premiership pile, but Jimmy Dunne’s goal-scoring record survived intact. My father-out-of-law was regaling me with tales of how Dunne refused to give the Nazi salute to Hitler and I marveled at his recall of seeing Dunne score for Shamrock Rovers. The Gunners could badly do with demonstrating just a little of this Irishman’s mettle, if our understrength outfit are to achieve the necessary result in Greece?
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