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Sunday 15 May 2016

"It's Happened Again...."

After events at Wigan, West Brom etc. in similarly hilarious end of season shenanigans in recent years, one would've thought we'd have grown accustomed to Spurs falling on their face, to the extent that it should no longer come as a surprise when they do. 

Nevertheless, it seems I mistakenly assumed that this young Spurs squad no longer carries the sort of psychological baggage that's resulted in them bottling it in the past, to the extent that I was convinced that surely they weren't going to blow it at St James Park this afternoon. Myself I felt that at the very most, the Toon might manage an honours even draw, to appease the St James Park faithful.

I was taken to task a couple of weeks back, for suggesting that such would be the unexpected pleasure of pegging Spurs back at this late stage, that it would almost be as satisfying as winning the league. I had to agree that obviously I would much prefer to be in Leicester's exalted shoes right now. Yet after the incredibly euphoric events this afternoon, I feel sure that there are plenty of Gooners who will concur that this was indeed some consolation prize?

We caught a glimpse against Villa of quite how much we've missed Santi's incisive promptings. Yet as I stood in the sunshine, soaking up the sort of celebratory post-match mood that's been sorely missed at home games for most of the season, I couldn't avoid one negative thought as I watched Arsène enjoying some rare plaudits.

In the absence of such an ecstatic ending, the pressure would've been ramped up for Arsène to flash the cash, but watching le Gaffer's satisfied face as he wandered around the pitch, it occurred to me that he might be contemplating the emerging likes of Chris Willock, Dan Crowley and Stephy Mavididi and thinking "I hardly need to break the bank after our highest finish in over a decade"!!

Have a good summer

"It's Happened Again...."

"We want him to stay....Pochettino, we want him to stay!"

Just how does one account for a season which was the source of so much anger and frustration amongst our fans and yet which has ended up with our highest league finish since we moved to our new stadium (over a decade back)? I think it was Napoleon who spoke about the benefits of a lucky general, over a competent one and Arsène certainly had “the force” on his side on Sunday!

Personally I felt that the game was up in midweek, as far as any possibility of quite such an ecstatic finish was concerned, when Everton condemned the Toon to relegation, by rolling over against Sunderland. After successive seasons of tangible FA Cup success, it seemed as if this campaign was destined to fall decidedly flat, with constantly maintaining our seat at Europe’s top table for two decades as scant consolation for the Gunners’ lamentable failure to take advantage of the bizarre domestic circumstances; especially when the rare opportunity of all our traditional competitors tripping up is unlikely to present itself again.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal and after having pooh, poohed my pals customary “you never know” comments as we made our way to our seats on Sunday, it wasn’t long before I found myself focused more on the radio commentary from St. James Park, than the match taking place in front of me. With the only terrace tranny in our vicinity, I fast became the font of all knowledge, with a sea of faces turning with their jaws on the floor, agog at my incredulous announcement that the Toon had taken a two-goal lead.

Who'll replace Tommy
Arteta and Flamini?
         Much like a Mexican wave, the tide of jubilation washed over our crowd, injecting some much needed atmosphere into proceedings, which had turned increasingly perfunctory since Olly’s early goal. However, as has been the case far too frequently this season, the Gunners struggled to kill Villa off. Then when Spurs pulled a goal back on the hour mark and this was swiftly followed with my news that Mitrovic had been sent off, the whole stadium was enveloped in a stifling air of anxiety, where briefly we looked more in danger of gifting Villa an equaliser.

Mercifully there followed the sort of magical five-minute spell that is the barely credible essence of the beautiful game’s enduring fascination. First the 10-man Toon extended their lead from the penalty spot and then Giroud truly kicked the party off, by completing his hat-trick. The cherry on this “couldn’t make it up” script came, when in a moment akin to Tony Adams league-winning goal, Arteta appeared off the bench, to sign off on his Arsenal career, by scoring our fourth (aided and abetted by Villa’s hapless keeper).

News of Newcastle’s 4th and 5th goals was greeted with utter disbelief, as the afternoon turned even more delicious than the dodgy lasagna denouement of 2006. The rapturous chorus of “it’s happened again” must’ve had them burying their heads at the other end of the Seven Sisters Road.

That we’ve not witnessed this sort of euphoria at a home game, since we walloped Man Utd back in October (not forgetting the brilliant victory over Bayern) speaks volumes as to why, ultimately, we’ve ended up empty-handed. Not that we knew it at the time, but it was only the weekend prior that we battered the Foxes 5-2, inflicting their only home defeat all season. Upon reflection, this is the most blatant evidence that we were the side that was most capable of winning the title. So as much as the Foxes deserve full credit for their momentous achievement, there’s no escaping the enormous disappointment at how badly we’ve blown it.

Meanwhile, no matter how infuriated I might feel at how different the outcome might’ve been, if only the Gunners had turned up at Southampton on Boxing Day and avoided a humiliating 0-4 disaster, fortunately all Gooner irritation paled into insignificance on Sunday.

Mikel signing off in style
Not many of our spoiled, far too entitled fans would’ve lingered for the post-match lap of appreciation, if Newcastle had failed to do us such a fabulous favour and doubtless the protestors banners’ will be back with next season’s first defeat. Yet even if it should’ve prove fleeting, it was great to be able to enjoy the emotion, as a blubbing Arteta, Rosicky and Flamini bid us a last farewell and for our inimical boss to disappear off to look for his cheque book this summer, with a hearty (full-house!) chorus of  “only one Arsène Wenger” ringing in his ears.
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Sunday 8 May 2016

Con Te Partiro

It nearly always rains in Manchester
As beautiful as it was to hear Andrea Bocelli serenading the Foxes fans at the King Power on Saturday, their duly euphoric celebrations of this fairy tale Premiership triumph made for particularly painful viewing, knowing full well that yesterday’s encounter at Man City really should’ve been this season’s climactic title decider.

However while we might’ve witnessed a meeting of the two sides that, on paper at least, both contain the quality necessary to reign supreme, sadly there proved to be a lamentable absence of the sort of intensity and appetite for Sunday’s stroll in the sunshine, which ably demonstrated why both sides failed miserably to live up to our lofty expectations.

I’m certainly not moaning, since it was only a couple of weeks back when the Gunners already appeared doomed to suffer the ignominious fate of ending this season trailing in the wake of the Pochettino inspired renaissance at White Hart Lane. In truth, I’d already resigned myself to finishing below Spurs and was consoling myself with the thought that, compared to the excruciating prospect of the old enemy piping Leicester to the post, throwing my Spurs pals this rare bone, only the once every couple of decades would really be no big deal.

I would’ve bitten your hand off back then, if you’d offered me the opportunity to be going into the last game of the season with 2nd place still up for grabs, while savouring the sphincter twitching anxieties of my Lilywhite mates and their dread of another dodgy lasagna.

Nevertheless, after the Saints had truly earned their haloes with their hard-fought triumph in the sweltering heat at Tottenham, I at least expected the Gunners to match the honest attitude shown by Koeman’s team in Sunday’s lunchtime KO. It seems that it was somewhat naïve of me to expect the homegrown likes of Jack Wilshere to be chomping at the bit to kick open the door that Spurs had kindly left ajar.

So while I was happy enough that the Gunners were able to hang on for a point, after twice going behind, it was evident that we only really started playing when we were 2-1 down and my satisfaction with the draw was tinged with disappointment that this was the limit of the Arsenal’s ambition.

Unfortunately our prospects of wrestling 2nd place from Spurs hinge on Wednesday’s game at the Stadium of Light and Everton’s ability to prevent Sunderland from condemning Newcastle to relegation, as we badly need Spurs to be travelling to St James Park on Sunday with the Toon still battling for their Premiership lives.

Nevertheless, although the team might’ve been solely focused on securing guaranteed Champions League football in 3rd place, the renewed hope of the redemption offered by leapfrogging Spurs at the death, seems to have satiated the travelling Gooner faithful, to the extent that the banner boys were shouted down at the Etihad. Yet sadly, no matter what transpires in the final week, nothing can dispel the abiding mood of despair, over quite how badly the Gunners have blown it this season.

I can’t honestly envisage Man Utd pooping the Hammers farewell party at the Boleyn on Tuesday, but it’s nonetheless amusing to think that Guardiola could be taking over a City side deprived of Champions League football, when they were playing for a place in the final only last week. Still with Pep’s much lauded arrival on the Premiership stage and with the changes afoot at all our other traditional competitors, it’s evident that the conflux of circumstances that resulted in their disastrous starts to this campaign are unlikely to be repeated.

Worse still, with Arsène seemingly going nowhere anytime soon, the stale microclimate that’s closeted London N5 with a stifling air of disunity, is only set to endure. Meanwhile, elsewhere it appears that the influx of obscene additional sums in TV sponsorship are destined to result in the continued all round improvement of the level of competition and the increased ambitions of those such as Leicester, Spurs and West Ham. All of which leaves us only too aware that we could live another lifetime, without being presented with a better opportunity to win the league!

If only our blinkered stars had appreciated the uniqueness of this situation and truly sensed that this was their time, this might’ve encouraged that crucial extra 5/10 per cent commitment that might have resulted in us Gooners enjoying the dulcet strains of Bocelli, singing (with absolutely no disrespect intended) what might well be our new anthem, Con Te Partiro, Time To Say Goodbye.

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Sunday 1 May 2016

United We Stand, Divided We Stink The Place Out

Momentous week when Gooner
gripes seem somewhat petty
While myself and a substantial number of Gooners might well concur with the sentiments being expressed in Saturday’s vague and decidedly futile protest, following a week in which the focus has rightly been on far weightier football matters, the somewhat embarrassing and decidedly schizophrenic scenes during our encounter with Norwich felt like a sad indictment of our modern day, social-media obsessed “supporters”. Our incessant demands for gratification imply some sort of divine right to receive a return on our exorbitant investment in a seat at the Arsenal, by way of regular silverware.

Much in the same way some pooches are perceived to resemble their owners, perhaps it’s our spoiled, far too fickle fans (the self same ones who were painting Islington red at successive May trophy parades!) that are partially reflected in the sort of phlegmatic football that we are far too frequently forced to endure?

I hate to hold our neighbours up as any kind of example, since it wasn’t so long ago that their chairman was public enemy No. 1 and with their revolving managerial door, we’re accustomed to Spurs fans being the gold standard in tergiversation. Yet despite having kindly left the 2nd place door ajar with their failure to beat the Baggies, enabling us to retain faint hopes of a climax that might yet prove an extremely satisfying consolation prize, this certainly wasn’t for the want of the sort of atmosphere and appetite evident at White Hart Lane last Monday night, which was in such complete contrast to Saturday’s fetid farrago.

In the first-half against Norwich, Iwobi was the sole attacking player to show willing, while the lethargy elsewhere suggested that the majority couldn’t care less about the ignominious threat of Thursday night football in the Europa Cup. After witnessing Simeone’s heart-on-his-sleeve antics on the touchline for Atletico in midweek, it occurred to me that our players wouldn’t dare fob the fans off with such a lazy, limp-wristed display, if they were facing the wrath of a rabid Diego in the dressing room at the break.

Not that our staid club would risk adverse PR and its impact upon commercial revenue streams by employing such a hot-headed manager. Nor is Wenger likely to want to walk away from another season’s worth of his £8mill salary and even in the unlikely event the smattering of disgruntled punters registered with Stan Kroenke, he’s not exactly going to be on the phone to his broker this morning to divest himself of his majority interest.

After a deluded Arsène incensed Gooners on Friday by deeming our home crowd culpable for our poor form, at least our arrogant manager had the good sense to apologise for his team’s failure this season, after we’d scraped over the line on Saturday. But then this concession came after hearing the chorus of “only one Arsène Wenger” that rang out simultaneously to the few hundred flyers appearing 12 mins into the match (and in some cases, was sung by those holding them up!).

These knee jerk protests at our place and at Goodison, largely inspired by publicity-seeking egotists, are a reaction to the semblance that the customary excuses no longer wash, so long as bargain buys such as Kanté and Alli are tearing it up for the likes of Leicester and Tottenham.

Nevertheless, although there’s as much good fortune as savoir-faire, in unearthing the crucial catalyst responsible for the chemistry involved in the sort of camaraderie that every club craves, it’s the Gunners perennial failure to address our long-standing, legitimate grievances that leaves us looking like we’re throwing our toys out of our pram. At least it does to those who view the bane of encountering the glamorous likes of Bayern and Barca every season as the very limit of their ambitions!

Aaron might be having a pop at Olly on the pitch
(pot calling kettle black?) but least Santi's back & still smiling
We need to bring our boots, instead of flip-flops, if we’re to beat City next weekend and prolong the fantasy of leapfrogging Spurs Yet where once I’d hoped Alexis would inspire his team-mates with his appetite, sadly even our Chilean dynamo appears to be coming down with a dose of Arsenal apathy.

It’s invariably the apparent lack of motivation at this crucial stage in the season that is the starkest possible evidence of the costly lack of insecurity that exists throughout our club. With Wenger reigning supreme, the board reaping their dividends and with neither a carrot and stick wielding guv’nor on the bench, nor on the pitch, unlike every other outfit, everyone at our club trundles along, safe in the knowledge there’s absolutely no threat of sanction.

Yet while I can appreciate that some feel obliged to find some means to vent their frustrations, such overt displays of disunity are undoubtedly to the detriment of the Gunner’s cause, when steadfast support in pursuit of the three points should really be sacrosanct.

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