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Sunday, 21 February 2016

Leo Messi Must've Been Left Quaking In His Boots

Wot no Mars Bars
Having only just filed the following missive to the Irish Examiner, it occurs to me that I've done ourselves a slight injustice. I sensed plenty of eager anticipation in the air as I meandered my way to yesterday's game (although 12.45 KO doesn't allow for much meandering, but at least it wasn't a tardy mad dash like last weekend!).

We were all hoping Danny Welbeck's last gasp goal would be the springboard for something special. But as it began raining the moment the game started, it was as if this doused all our enthusiasm and when nothing materialised from our early domination, all our former frustration resurfaced when we realised that sadly, it was merely more of the "same old, same old".

Watching Blackburn v WHU on the box, I've just witnessed Dmitri Payet pretty much secure the Hammers place in the hat for the quarterfinal draw, with another stunning free-kick, in front of an impressive turn out of Irons fans at Ewood Park. We might well fill that stand behind the goal at Rovers, but as I've just texted my WHU pal, the difference would probably be that I'd be standing there struggling to hear the dulcet strains of cockney, amidst all the Northern Gooners array of accents.

Can rely on Alexis to grab it
now if only he could start to do something with it?
I'm sitting here enviously thinking how we could've done with a similar inspirational moment, to save me from an arduous outing to Hull in a few weeks time. Although it was only the Hull keeper's fingertips that denied Joel Campbell and credit to Alexis, as unlike all those who spent most of the 90 shirking any responsibility, he did at least demonstrate the determination to earn that last minute set piece and grabbed the ball, intent on trying to decide the tie, but sadly it proved a "meat & drink" save, in spite of their goalie's spectacular aerobatics.

Another thing I was prevented from mentioning below (having already abused the required number of words!) was quite how refreshing it was during the first-half against Hull, to finally witness an inventive corner, where Theo (?) attempted a routine straight off the training ground, instead of our habitual stream of "hit & hope" corners

Considering the endless amount of time spent with the ball at their feet at London Colney, it infuriates the hell out of me when we earn a dozen corners during a game, seemingly without any set-piece surprises up our sleeve, in order to at least be able to attempt something different once in a blue moon.

Meanwhile what pissed me off most about yesterday's game was that the same Gooners who were happy to sing their heads off last weekend, couldn't raise a squeak of encouragement to try and stoke up some atmosphere. Sadly, as ever at our place, the inspiration has to come from on the pitch, rather than from us fans.

Watching the tourists seated in front of me, cowering at the increasing decibels of my ever more desperate pleas for someone in red & white to pull something out of the hat as the clock ticked down, it was obvious that there were no other travelling fans in my vicinity and it honestly felt as if I was the only person bothered about a long trek up North for the replay, as I implored the Gunners for all my worth, in the vain hope they might save me from this fate.

Here's hoping that's "inspiration" they've all spotted
An unappealing 5th round replay up at the KC Stadium is one of those outings that's designed to sort the hard core faithful, from the Gooner glory hunters. Yet when there's the possibility of an extra-time / penalties denouement, there will be many who dare not miss out.

Also, hard as it might be to put a positive slant on cramming another fixture into an already crowded calendar, from a psychological point of view I'm not entirely averse to the idea that our Premiership rivals might be left looking over their shoulders, fretting about the fact that we only need win games in hand to overtake them.

Finally, forgive me for repeating the reference to US elections below but I've included it in the feint hope that it might not end up being edited out, as if to prove how au fait I am with current affairs, or perhaps more accurately that I don't spend every waking moment watching footie!


Leo Messi Must've Been Left Quaking In His Boots

With the weather reflecting the mood of far too many apathetic Gooners, who seemed to feel that our FA Cup date was an untimely distraction, the early kick-off against Hull coincided with the heavens opening up. Even without the much-despised midday start, with the Tigers turning up on the heels of the high drama of last weekend’s summit meeting, it was destined to be a damp “after the Lord Mayor’s show” disappointment.

If the positively miserable conditions didn’t augur well, then the prospects of things brightening up certainly weren’t improved, when the radio commentary revealed the disturbing stat about us only winning 26 per cent of games with Mike Dean as ref.

As if to reaffirm his disfavour, Dean promptly failed to award a penalty. But it was too soon to start blaming his customary incompetence because everyone else in the stadium missed Bruce junior’s blatant handball. I would’ve been equally oblivious without my terrace tranny (and the inevitable wind up text message from my increasingly lary Spurs mates!).

With the game still goalless second half and facing the looming prospect of a replay, I was in a far less forgiving mood when Calum was felled from behind. This looked like a stick-on penalty from my viewpoint. By this time I was literally begging every Arsenal player within shouting range “I really don’t want to have to go to Hull!”

Ultimately, on an “after you Claude” afternoon, where no one appeared to want to take responsibility and where there was a frustrating lack of ingenuity evident in our incessant efforts to pick an intricate path through the massed ranks of Steve Bruce’s reserves, it was our lack of any real cutting edge that leaves us having to schlep back up to Humberside for a repeat performance.

Nevertheless, according to the obligatory cliché “at least we were still in the hat” come the final whistle. Some might argue that we’d have been better off finally taking our FA Cup bow, rather than risk more fixture congestion impinging on our title prospects.

However, unless we do proper justice to ourselves in Tuesday night’s titanic clash, our Champions League campaign might be all over, bar a ritual humiliation in Barcelona. I certainly wouldn’t want to be travelling to Old Trafford next Sunday, feeling only slightly less suicidal than our hosts, on the back of having pretty much made our exit from both competitions. Man Utd certainly won’t favour us with an open encounter, with LVG desperate to save his bacon after their Danish humiliation.

If we’re to have any hope of beating Barca, we badly need Alexis to play himself into some form. Aside from denying him game time, it’s inevitable other players lose focus when they see the big guns benched. I always believe there’s far more benefit in playing our best XI, only allowing them a breather after they’ve put the game to bed with a couple of goals; whereas there’s nothing to be gained by throwing them on to try and force the issue for the final 25 mins. They end up no less spent than if they’d been involved for the entire ninety.

Mo than enough
Elneny’s incisive passing and his appetite for the ball, during an entertaining opening spell, was at least one positive note. Albeit we were faced with Hull’s second string and it’s baffling why Wenger started with two defensively-minded midfielders and insisted on leaving both Mo and Matty out there for the duration, after having discovered that our guests ambitions barely stretched beyond the halfway line?

With TV milking as much live coverage as possible from the filthy lucre they’ve thrown at football, hopefully we won’t be lumbered with another early KO, to crucify the atmosphere again at the replay. With empty seats all over the shop on Saturday, I honestly couldn’t give away my neighbour’s unused ticket, I dread to think of the unearthly hour that the 3,000 Tigers’ fans had to drag themselves out of bed for the long trek down from Humberside.

         Amidst all the brouhaha about fleecing fans, it is infuriating that we Gooners get stung for Cat A price tickets at every other ground, but the 40 quid average cost for the 27 home games covered by my Arsenal season ticket is really not bad value entertainment nowadays. While we’re pleading poverty, tickets in the prawn circle for the ultimate glamour tie on Tuesday are changing hands for £500!

Following successive midday games, I’m convinced that the incessant messing with the fixture schedules, the resulting ruination of sacrosanct matchday rituals and the utter contempt for the sacrifices involved in schlepping the length and breadth of the country (and the continent), is a source of far more disgruntlement amongst the hard core, so long as the accountants seem intent on strangling the breath out of the beautiful game’s Golden Goose.

If Bernie Sanders, the proverbial red emerging from under his bed, by illiberal US standards and running for the presidential nomination across the pond, is indicative of an impending revolution, then first up against the wall will be those responsible for inflicting unreasonable, impractical and extremely unpopular kick-off times that are fast becoming the bane of long-suffering supporters’ existence.

Meanwhile I fancy the Gunners might fare better against Barca at Camp Nou. The limit of my ambition for the first leg is that Messi & co. don’t end up extinguishing all hope, in advance of our much anticipated outing to Catalonia. Above all, we can’t afford the sort of confidence bruising humiliation and the potential recriminations of a lasting hangover that would be of great comfort to our Premiership rivals. All together now “Who are ya!"

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