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Tuesday 15 December 2015

“We’ll Meet Again, Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When….”

Banner For Sale - likely only to see the light of day twice
Although at this rate they'll soon be able to alter it to read "Accrington" instead!
(please forgive me as I've gone a little bit OTT with a far too long-winded load of old waffle this week, even by my extreme standards....should you have the necessary patience, feel free to scroll all the way down to my weekly Examiner piece below)

With the pre-match showreel package on the TV coverage of yesterday's game focusing on the last time we lost at Villa Park, exactly 17 years ago to the day, I completely forgot to include my reminiscences from that harrowing afternoon in my diary missive below. In truth, with my increasingly decrepit memory, much like any event more than 24 hours in the past, I really don't remember anything from the actual game, other than the seeing the goals replayed on the TV screen yesterday afternoon. 

However completely aside from the catastrophe of us ending up losing 3-2, after being 0-2 up at halftime, courtesy of two typically cultured Dennis Bergkamp goals, the triviality of football was put into proper perspective by the horrific tragedy that resulted from the half-time "entertainment", where we all stood there aghast, as instead of landing in the centre circle, we witnessed a parachutist come crashing into the side of the roof of the Trinity Road Upper Stand, right in front of us.

This was back in the day when Rona was still accompanying me to away games and so fortunately I'm able to avail myself the far more reliable recall faculties of my missus'. Ro reminded me that she was left shaking so vehemently that the bloke behind her kindly took her half-time cuppa from her trembling hands.

None of us knew how badly this poor bloke was injured and on the box this afternoon, the comments from ex-Villa players suggested that in the dressing room, they too were unaware of the seriousness of this incident. Yet if I'm not mistaken, we subsequently discovered that the poor parachutist came very close to meeting his maker and I believe eventually, he tragically lost a leg as a result!

When you think that for the vast majority, halftime is primarily an opportunity to rush for a jimmy to relieve a bursting bladder, or to grab a swift beer, pie or cuppa, if the queues aren't inordinately long, whilst waiting for the main order of business to recommence. It's utterly bonkers that a man should've ended up sacrificing an actual limb, for the purposes of providing the crowd with what was by modern day standards, a somewhat lame halftime spectacle (s'cuse the unforgivable, entirely unintentional pun).

Ro's certain that this traumatic incident impacted upon the Gunners and contributed to us throwing away a two-goal lead after the break, but I really can't remember if this was true. Fortunately no one paid for Sunday afternoon's entertainment with one of their limbs and there was no such distraction to threaten our prospects of ending the weekend, looking down upon all our competitors from atop the Premiership pile.

It was revealing as to quite how doomed Garde's side is (unless he can effect a substantial turnover of character in the dressing room during January!) when we countered en masse for our impressive second and decisive goal and we saw three Gunners bearing down on the Villa goal, with only one defender left between them and Guzan, while the likes of Hutton, Sanchez and Veretout were hardly breaking their necks to try and get back behind the ball. It's this sort of heartless (not to mention disrespectful!) capitulation that would seriously piss me off as a Villa fan.

Mind you, the home side did at least attempt to give it a bit of a go, immediately after the break. If they'd managed to nick a goal, instead of the home crowd making things worse by getting on their players' backs, a goal would've undoubtedly got them fired up and with the Gunners looking understandably leggy after our midweek exertions, who knows what might've happened. A mere soupcon of inspiration might've been all Villa needed to produce an encore of 13th December 1998, with another "2-0 and you f#cked it up" type calamity.

Mercifully Petr Cech managed to maintain the clean sheet that denied Villa any glimmer of hope of getting back into this game and in so doing our goalie finally got the monkey off his back, by equalling David James Premiership record. Hopefully, with at least a couple more good seasons in our keeper, Petr can go on to collect many more clean sheets and establish a record that will take some equalling in the future.

Doubtless the DVD will be in
the shops in time for Xmas
Ultimately, with the likes of Man Utd, Spurs, Liverpool (and very nearly Man City) all paying the price for their European forays, by way of dropped points, we have to count ourselves fortunate in finding ourselves facing a Villa side that was there for the taking from the moment Hutton wrapped his arms around Theo. Albeit that one might contend that on a gloomy afternoon in the second city, shorn of all confidence, Garde's miserable looking Villa side were beaten before they even stepped out onto the pitch? 

Mind you, I'm not sure if our neighbour's have much excuse for the culmination of their fourteen game unbeaten run, in losing at home to Newcastle, when only FOUR of Pochettino's outfield players were included in the starting XI that turned out at the Lane against Monaco on Thurs night!

Meanwhile it was interesting in the build-up to the penalty decision, as when Walcott and Hutton were side-by-side, the Villa full-back's shoulder barge would've previously floored a more fragile incarnation of Theo, but we witnessed the increasingly obvious evidence of how much stronger he and all our diminutive players have become, in the muscular way he bounced off Hutton without breaking stride.

At least ref Kevin Friend didn't take quite as much time to make his mind up, as the officials who appeared to take an absolute lifetime to rule out the Baggies offside goal at Anfield. Yet there seems to be increasingly prevalent trend for officials to vacillate, when all decision-making in the past was more instinctively instantaneous. I'm certainly not complaining about this recent practice, when they appear to be taking more time to try and ensure that they get the decision right, but I'm wondering if there should be some sort of time limit on the ref returning to the incident and ruling upon it differently to how it first appears. Not only did time stop, as having seemingly walked away, Friend returned to apparently accept the viewpoint of the linesman furthest from the incident and award the penalty, but my heart also missed several beats. As the season builds to a climax, we might well experience increasingly tense moments such as the penalty incident on Sunday and I can seriously envisage my old ticker giving up the ghost and me parting this mortal coil, in the seeming eternity whilst we wait for a ruling on a goal, another spot kick, or any equally dramatic decision.

I must admit that I was slightly concerned to see Gestede in the Villa starting XI, fearing he'd be likely to get the better of Mertesacker in the air, especially when we were guilty of standing off Villa, offering them all the time in the world to pick out their aerial threat and with our BFG looking so much more vulnerable overall, without the protection he's grown accustomed to, when having Coquelin screening everything in front of him.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried as Villa were pretty impotent up front and with Thierry Henry labelling Garde as a "Wenger clone" in the Sky studio, you have to wonder quite how much faith Remi must have in being able to retain Villa's Premiership status, when any cultured disciple of Arsène is resorting to vain attempts to hoof it up to the big man as his Plan A?

No matter the outcome of today's Champions League draw, February is a long way off, while the immediate benefits of our success last Wednesday night are patently obvious. We were far from at our scintillating best in beating Villa and in truth, if you ignore the victory over a Dynamo Zagreb side that barely offered competent resistance, you have to go all the way back to October for the last time the Gunner truly sparkled. Nevertheless we've just enjoyed a week where we've joined Europe's best 16 clubs at football's most glamorous top table and no matter how ephemeral as a result of events at the King Power Stadium this evening, we're savouring our current "top of the league" status.

My Spurs mates were most relieved when Man City nicked an injury-time winner against Swansea on Saturday, as they're absolutely terrified that if City's challenge falls away, there will be no one to prevent us from running away with the title.

I'm long enough in the tooth not to get too excited, in the knowledge that there's a long way between now and May and that for the moment, we're not exactly rolling opponents over in the manner expected of firm Premiership favourites. Yet so long as we can continue to keep ourselves in the frame, until some of our more influential stars recover their fitness and we begin to fire on all four cylinders, there's no hiding from the inescapable sense that we're beginning to build some momentum. Despite our unimpressive form, it seems that of all of our competitors, we appear to be the only club in a buoyant mood, as we begin to acquire that intangible aura of a team that has the scent of the promise of something special?

Too soon to say? I guess we'll find out next Monday night. Meanwhile it will be most amusing not quite knowing who to root for in tonight's encounter. It goes completely against the grain to be wanting Chelsea to win anything, even if it should leave us occupying the table's summit for the time being. I suppose a draw would suit us best but in the hope that Leicester can't possibly continue to maintain their challenge for the duration of the Premiership marathon, in the infamous words of Kevin Keegan "I would absolutely love it" to see Tinkerman get one over on his countryman and perhaps precipitate Mourinho's imminent demise!


“We’ll Meet Again, Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When….”

            I often despair at the thought of what other footie fans must make of us Gooners. When, for example, we achieve the sort of rapturous recovery as the one witnessed in Athens in midweek and instead of wallowing in such a wonderfully memorable night of Champions League football (that fans of most other clubs would give their eye teeth to be involved in) and instead of teasing all those devastated Spurs fans, who were fully expecting us to accompany them into the Europa Cup, we have to put up with the perennial sound of our insufferably spoiled “supporters” bemoaning le Gaffer on the radio phone-ins.

            I mean just how great a result do the Gunners need to achieve to silence such niggardly whingers and instead leave everyone enthusing about the actual game for once? No matter on which side of the Wenger rift one rests, last Wednesday night certainly wasn’t the time to be returning to this pointless debate (on the basis that it will be le Boss and him alone who decides when his number’s up!), especially moments after Arsène had just pulled off perhaps the greatest, amongst an illustrious litany of great escapes.

            Sure, in retrospect, when compared with some of the many magical European nights that we’ve been privileged to savour, over the course of Arsène’s tenure (eg. beating Real Madrid in the Bernabeu), on the face of it this trouncing of the Greek champs might seem like fairly small potatoes. Despite their formidable looking home record, when you contrast the two clubs comparative resources and the contrasting quality of both squads, one might fully expect the Gunners to bestride Mount Olympus, clinking glasses with Zeus & co.

            Nevertheless, I’d be a liar if I said that I was confident going into this match. When we vanquished Dynamo Zagreb in such fine style, I came away from this game wishing that I’d had the foresight to book the trip to Athens. Fearing of missing out on what might well prove to be a very special occasion, I was straight on the laptop, to see whether I could still pick up a cheap flight.

            However, when both Alexis and Cazorla subsequently joined the remorseless ranks of our walking wounded, I was most relieved that I’d resisted the temptation to hit the “confirm” button for a two-day trip to Greece. I firmly believed that all hope of us scoring the required number of goals had evaporated.

            So it was that I found myself tuning into the TV coverage last Wednesday night, more nervous than I can recall being about a match for many a moon and ending up absolutely kicking myself for my feeble lack of faith! Having watched the incredibly dramatic denouement of Man Utd’s doomed European campaign the previous night, their fans might well be left wondering why we’re quite so cock-a-hoop, if all we end up achieving is a humbling at the hands of the likes of Real or Barca.

            Yet if the majority of our first-choice players are fit come February, you can be sure that none of the teams involved in today’s draw will relish the prospect of facing the Arsenal and on our day, we’re perfectly capable of beating anybody. Who knows, after our Houdini-like escape act, perhaps we’re fated to finally get our hands on that elusive big-eared trophy, thereby allowing Arsène to walk off into the sunset with all due recognition.

            Albeit, even if we’re destined to make our customary prompt exit from the Champions League knockout stages, every Arsenal fan sensed the huge significance of quite such an accomplished performance against Olympiakos.

            Not only was I dreading the likelihood of having to write off all hope of a Premiership title challenge, due to the detrimental impact of the Thurs/Sun schedule that seems to put the kibosh on all clubs involved in the Europa Cup, but of equal influence is the massive difference in the mood surrounding the entire Arsenal camp.

            Instead of returning to the domestic fray encumbered by the customary depressing hangover, of the sort that saw Man U choking on the admirable Cherries, we travelled up to Birmingham emboldened by the positive “can do” vibes that result from such a severely depleted squad doing the business, by way of a man of the match display from Joel Campbell, our 4th choice wide-man.

            Like the premature “top of the league” chants ringing out after only ten minutes at Villa Park, I’m a little loath to tempt fate by opening my big gob too soon. Yet while Mourinho’s mob are in such disarray and with the incomprehensible sight of quite such a mediocre Man Utd somehow managing to remain in the frame, there’s no escaping the sense that the evanescent mayfly of destiny might have finally fluttered back to London N5.

            A typically low-tempo, early KO against Remi Garde’s relegation fodder was just what the doctor ordered, by way of a 3-point remedy for the Gunners fatigued, lactic-acid filled legs, with the home side gift-wrapping this result by their failure to turn up before the break. Garde has to be wondering just what sort of injury he’s inflicted on his former boss, for Wenger to wreak his revenge by recommending him to take up the positively doomed poisoned chalice at Villa Park!

            With the Gunners fast acquiring the sort of arrogant, lazy swagger of a side that’s far too sure of our own impregnability, we would’ve soon been undone by more competent opposition. Yet while it took until the end of the first-half for Ramsey to validate this victory with a second goal, with Villa already shorn of all confidence, this game was pretty much over as a contest, from the moment Hutton conceded such an early penalty.

            Even the award of a spot-kick the very first time we ventured forward, had the whiff of the sort of good fortune associated with a team that’s discovered trophy fever. Now if an understrength Arsenal can stretch our luck to triumph over Man City next time out, I might seriously begin to struggle to contain ever more optimistic flights of fantasy.
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DrShaglove said...

Brilliantly written. This. is. Entertainment. The lame pun was "word" class.

DrShaglove said...

Brilliantly written. This. is. Entertainment. The lame pun was "word" class.