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Sunday 6 March 2016

For Whom The Bell Tolls?

The Kids Are Alright
Played in front of a relatively humble crowd of 3,000 Gooners and a smattering of extremely hardy Scousers, Friday night’s hors d’ouevres of an FA Youth Cup quarterfinal at THOF2 might’ve been world’s away from “perhaps the biggest North London derby ever”. Despite the brass monkey weather, it was an enjoyable 90 minutes and unlike Saturday’s high-profile clash, it won’t have taken at least another year off my life, due to the unhealthy toll of so much excruciating stress.

Moreover, there were plenty of high-pitched kid’s voices, to accompany the ubiquitous caterwauling of the ever-present Maria (the eccentric retired schoolteacher, who most Arsenal fans will have heard bellowing out on the box over the years). There’s always something far more genuine about a family crowd turning out on a freezing cold night, to watch some affordable (free even!) footie.

Unlike the Premiership’s increasing proliferation of tourist glory-hunters, they certainly hadn’t paid £250 to a tout for the principle purpose of posting photos on social-media, so that they can smugly be “seen to be there” by all their Facebook “friends”! Those who turned up were rewarded with the privilege of watching the bandy-legged Jeff Reine-Adelaide strut his stuff, with that same animalistic grace of Thierry Henry.

We may have progressed to the Youth Cup semis, but as with Saturday’s midday main course, it was “just like watching the Arsenal” in the way the young Guns constantly attempted to walk the ball into the back of the net. Whereas Spurs seemed so fired up by their opportunity to lord it over us, for the first time in the majority of their fans’ lifetimes that they snatched at every single opportunity to try and take advantage of Petr Cech’s absence. If Aaron Ramsey had been equally eager to get a shot off, remarkably we might even have won this dramatic derby game right at the death.

Without Cech and Koscielny and with Spurs full strength line-up, I predicted that we’d need to score at least 3 goals to win at White Hart Lane and with us hardly being in prolific form and following a week where we’ve had the Samaritans on redial, there was less optimism and more gallows humour amongst the lunatic Gooners, risking life and limb to go to this game.

As a kid I fell out of love with the beautiful game during the worst of the hooli-years because the prospect of getting stabbed on a Saturday afternoon didn’t strike me as a healthy infatuation. Believe me, it is my WORST nightmare, as life wouldn’t be worth living and I still cling to the belief that Spurs will eventually bottle what might prove to be their one and only tilt at the title. Yet for peace and pity’s sake, it is probably only some Spurs success that might calm the rising tide of bitterness, which is largely responsible for the venomous vitriol vented upon us visiting Gooners.

With each passing season of Spurs being forced to play second fiddle, their rancour rises and their fuse shortens, to the point where plenty of Gooners choose to refrain from making the short trip to the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Rd in recent times and wouldn’t dream of inflicting this ugly atmosphere upon their kids.

         I’m unsure I’d be quite so eager to attend, if it wasn’t for the infirmity that enables me to avoid all the aggro outside the ground, by availing myself of the disabled entrance. Yet for all able-bodied Gooners, the hostile mix of the Lilywhite Neanderthals’ testosterone levels and outdated, overly zealous TSG police tactics ensures that White Hart Lane is the one remaining fixture on the calendar, where an eruption of violence is always on the cards.

         On the upside, the enemy’s close proximity does at least afford me a rare opportunity to watch some of the build up on the box. Albeit that if I’ve got all the time in the world for Ian Wright, I was relieved to rush away from the rabid ravings of the plastic celeb fan, Piers Morgan. It’s ironic to hear Morgan slaughtering our manager, when he was only attracted to becoming a season-ticket holder by the glory Arsène brought to the club.

Having nailed his colours to the Arsenal’s mast in such an ostentatious fashion, my instinct is that Piers is mostly pissed off with the reflected ignominy of our repeated failures and the fact that he’s on the receiving end of so much stick from his celeb pals. If you can’t take the heat mate, f*** off out of the kitchen, as a supporters lot is a lifetime of agony, only interspersed with rare moments of ecstasy for the fortunate few.

It is the exact opposite of Morgan’s analogy of an analogue Arsène, compared to a digital Pochettino that’s Wenger’s principal weakness. Throwing Elneny into this white-hot cauldron for his Premiership debut proved a good call but it was the one unpredictable curve ball available to Arsène, in response to all those who’ve cast him as an impotent OAP. Moreover, compared to Wenger’s customary, passive watching brief on the bench, with the home fans too caught up in the tension of Saturday’s occasion to be taunting him with the usual paedophile chants, it felt as if le Prof was trying to prove that he’s no less hands-on than his opposite number, by jumping up and down like a Jack rabbit, matching Pochettino’s touchline coaxing.

However sadly Arsène is a data analyst, compared to those who’re better equipped to act more on instinct. As evidenced by the way Spurs steamed into us and bullied us off the ball from the get go, while Mertesacker & co. stumbled around as if they’d just been dragged from their beds, after a night out on the tiles. Wenger’s “feng shui” approach doesn’t allow for the red-hot poker up the backside that was needed to remind the Gunners not to dawdle on the ball, as if this was merely another run of the mill match.

Can we go home now.....Please?
I’d hoped Ramsey might feel liberated, freed from his central role, but there were many around me who wanted to string Aaron up, as we looked in serious danger of being battered, until we somehow conjured up the opening goal. If only we could’ve packed up and gone home at half-time, but sadly we had to wait for the almost inevitable ritual of the Gunners shooting ourselves in the foot, during the seven minute spell where we went from looking as if we might comfortably cruise towards the finishing post with a passable impersonation of experienced Champions elect, to returning to being the Premiership’s habitual hapless nearly men, as we went from 0-1 up to 2-1 down.

         At least we left with our pride still intact and hopefully Alexis’ long awaited contribution might get him back in the groove, but ultimately this honours even result favoured our hosts. While Wenger was left moaning about how he broke his dressing room silence, supposedly to try and remind Coquelin that he needed to be cautious, by contrast Pochettino reacted in advance to the red card writing on the wall, by removing Lamela from the fray after his contretemps with Alexis, but crucially, prior to him to earning an early bath.

Wenger could do with learning from the delightful humility of Ranieri’s “diddledee diddledong” antics. Without some sort of miraculous return to form that might ensure we don’t finish this season empty-handed, I wonder if he’ll hang around, to become no less bitter than my Spurs pals, or if he’ll have the sense to walk before he’s used up all his remaining credit of Gooner good grace?

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