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Monday, 19 December 2016

All Arsène Wants For Xmas.....?

            It was adding insult, to injury, to finally get back in the car at Euston on Sunday night, after the long train journey back from Manchester, only to hear Arsène on the radio, banging on about offside, as if the two disastrous defeats of the past week were purely down to some sort of nefarious "they're all out to get me" conspiracy by the officials. 

            When we all know full well that we've been subject to officiating that is no more incompetent than at any other match and that this finger pointing is merely the same ingracious and frankly feeble attempt to divert attention from the real issues at hand, as is always the irritating habit of our autocratic manager, in his exclusively privileged position of not having to answer to anyone for more pertinent failings, far closer to home.

            As the Gunners' campaign implodes in the blink of any eye, it's usually around this time of the season when I'm most often reminded that if it wasn't for the cathartic benefit of being able to vent my frustrations, in truth, instead of posting individual weekly missives, I could easily rotate a meagre stock of around half a dozen different diary piece templates and simply amend the facts to suit the specific occasion.

            We might enjoy the occasional tease, where events on the pitch provide a glimmer of optimism that the Gunners have finally escaped our Groundhog Day existence, but sure as eggs is eggs, it's always only a matter of time before this balloon is burst and it becomes self-evident that there is no reprieve from our lifetime sentence of cyclical non-fulfilment.

            Whether or not David Silva was standing offside when Sterling beat Petr Cech at his near post, or whether Sane's big toe was offside when Silva put him in on goal for the equaliser, I certainly don't hold Martin Atkinson responsible for Sunday's defeat and the main source of my anger is not the ref. 

            What seriously pisses me off is that with Conté's Chelsea churning out wins, like genuine title favourites and with us going into this match a massive nine points adrift of the cowboy outfit that Abramovich told Santa he always wanted, the world and his wife knew that if we were to have any hope of clinging to Chelsea's coattails, the Gunners badly needed to lay down a marker of intent against Man City.

            Following the feeble manner of our demise at Goodison, we needed the sort of performance that would silence all those who'd returned to the age old question of the Arsenal's soft underbelly, by proving that we've at long last evolved from habitual 4th place also-rans, into genuine contenders.

            Instead of which, after having given us all false hope that an "eff off" win was on the cards, when we scythed through a patently inadequate City defence (as evidenced by the number of goals shipped against all and sundry!), like a knife through butter, in our first attack on goal in the fifth minute, much as we did after grabbing a far more fortuitous lead at Goodison on Tuesday night, instead of pressing home this advantage, fatally, the Gunners were culpable of taking their foot off the gas.

            Who knows if this is down to conceit (believing we can always score another, if needed), complacency, or fatigue. Yet no matter the cause of any such mental weaknesses, when one considers our new Kiwi psychologist's former rugby clients and the renown of the All Blacks for relentless ruthlessness, (unless you count an improvement in Theo's attitude) Ceri Lewis certainly doesn't appear to be earning his corn at the Arsenal as yet. 

            On the pitch, mercifully Mustafi appears to have brought some much needed grit to the Gunners party. Yet in Shkodran's absence, sadly we seem to have returned to being a side that is all too often capable of rolling over, for the want of some vocal "stand and deliver" authority.

            Just how often do we have to suffer the bitter taste of blowing a lead, before we learn the costly lesson of the difficulties in shifting up through the gears, once a side has slacked off and sacrificed all momentum and intensity?

            Moreover, although personally I refuse to swallow all the hype surrounding Guardiola and have witnessed nothing to suggest that City's new gaffer is blessed with some sort of tactical superpower, with Pep having experienced the Gunners make relatively light work of containing a City side deprived of the likes of Aguero, Gundogan and Fernandihno during the first half, in contrast to our stubbornly unyielding pensioner, City's gaffer did at least shake things up with their lineup after the break, in an effort to present us with a different problem.

            Instead of berating the officials, as far as I'm concerned, Wenger would earn far more respect if he questioned his own impotency on the bench. From our perspective, high up in the gods, behind the goal that we were forlornly hoping to see the Gunners attack in the second half at the Etihad, it fast became blatantly obvious that with the listless body language of the likes of Özil and Xhaka, we would struggle to stem the tide of sky blue pressure.

            With City equalising only two minutes after the restart, frankly it didn't take a genius to realise that in spite of returning to the pitch several minutes before our hosts, this was only because we were eager to get the game over and done with. If the determined spirit of togetherness that Arsène so often remarks upon, truly existed in this Arsenal squad, then surely they should've spent the break stoking the fire in their bellies, reminding themselves that they had quietened an already anxious home crowd with the opening goal and that they had a perfect opportunity to silence them permanently, by starting the second half with the concentration and commitment necessary to stick the knife in.

            Sadly, with us seemingly still being devoid of any leadership characteristics, we commenced the second forty-five much like we finished the first, as if we could sluggishly continue going through the motions, thereby gifting City the goal, which got the home crowd's gander up, leaving the Gunners on the back foot. 

            This is where I struggle most to remain loyal to our vainglorious manager because it seemed evident to me that this situation called for a bold response, with an immediate injection of two or three subs, to overhaul our flagging side and to try and turn our fortunes around.

            Theo might've scored a great goal and earnestly grafted first-half, in aiding Hector to defend our right flank, but he joined Özil and Xhaka on the missing list after the break and the mere replacement of Iwobi with the Ox was never likely to achieve a sufficiently significant impact. Instead of which, we had to endure the almost inevitable sight of Arsène shutting the stable door, after City's horse had bolted, with Olly only entering the fray after Sterling had scored what would eventually prove to be the winner.

            This was only marginally more infuriating than the incessant badgering from the home fans beside us, before they and the entire home crowd came back to haunt us, with a piss-taking rendition of our own "1-0 to the Arsenal" anthem.

            Although it was galling to hear our own red and white refrain continue to echo out from jubilant home fans, as we were herded like cattle, around the metal maze of the crowded queue for the tram back to Picadilly Station, it could've been a lot worse. Wearing my bobble hat and scarf to ward off the cold as the temperature dropped, I was expecting plenty of stick as we inched our way towards the platform. 

            Yet the mood was surprisingly sympathetic and amongst the hubbub of foreign languages from hordes of tourists, I sensed a mutual respect from the more knowledgable City fans. With their campaign no less precariously balanced, perhaps they concluded that the scoreline was merely a reflection of a more pro-active Pep, compared to our reactive Prof?

            Continuing the bovine theme, my mate proposed we club together to buy Arsène a cattle prod for Christmas. Suggestions on a postcard for who'd be more suited to wearing the back of the Arsenal's panto cow. I imagine there might be plenty more Gooners who'd prefer for Santa to bring him a more chair like electrical appliance?

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Sunday, 11 December 2016

That's No Limp, Aaron's Just Pleased To See You

Milk it for all it's worth
When Gary Lineker asked Wrighty  on MOTD last night what the Gunners need to do, to still be top of the table come May, WWW suggested that our entire team needs to replicate Alexis' work-rate. In truth if they all showed half the determination and intensity of our Chilean Duracell Bunny, or half the team put in the same sort of unstinting shift every match, the Premiership title would probably prove an absolute stroll in the park!

Against Stoke yesterday, as in most games, I invariably find myself bringing my binoculars up to my eyes at some stage to scrutinize Alexis' reaction, after he's chased yet another lost cause and has turned to cast a thoroughly withering stare at his team mates, for failing to attempt to make his fruitless efforts worthwhile, by accompanying him in the high press that might've denied the opposition a get out of jail ball.

I know, I know, I really should be savouring the pleasure of looking down upon the rest of the Premiership, even if it should only last a few brief hours, until Chelsea are given an opportunity to leapfrog us back into top spot at the Bridge, by not blowing all three points against the Baggies.

But curmudgeonly Grinch that I am, even as I celebrated Theo's crucial 42nd minute equaliser, knowing that psychologically, coming back out after the break all square would make a world of difference, I still couldn't contain my frustration that it had taken the indignation felt over the penalty awarded to Joe Allen (for prostrating himself in a passable impersonation of one of Anthony Joshua's string of chump patsies), to pull our finger out, half an hour into yesterday's encounter and finally begin to put the Potters under the cosh.

Aside from the media's obsession with the delicate negotiations concerning the contract renewals of our two most high profile stars, the only other focus of attention in the build up to Saturday's game seemed to be fact that Sparky's side had managed four clean sheets in their previous seven outings. 

When Lee Mason played Santa, gifting Hughes an early Xmas pressie (now there's one ref who I really wouldn't mind being permanently stuck down a chimney.... I couldn't get the kindling lit quick enough and if Granit was going to concede a penalty, he could've at least made the crime fit the punishment, by knocking Joe Allen's lights out and perhaps busting his cheek bone!), I thought surely we must be long overdue the sight of Petr Cech finally laying a glove on a spot-kick.

Yet as Stoke strolled back to the halfway line, after Adams had celebrated his birthday by duly dispatching the penalty, with consummate certitude, I'm sure I wasn't alone in seeing my image of a victory by the two goal margin necessary for us to mount the table summit, fast evaporate. By scoring first, Stoke no longer had any attractive attacking illusions to distract them from their primary "park the bus" objective of getting all eleven men behind the ball. I therefore envisaged a frustrating hour of the sort of huff and puff efforts to thread the eye of a needle around Stoke's penalty box, which was pretty much guaranteed to leave me in a mood for the remainder of the weekend that was as foul and miserable as the teeming weather.

Personally I preferred it when I was able to despise the Potters, as the Premiership's archetypal panto villains. With Hughes having added the artistic skills of the likes of Bojan, Arnautovic and Shaqiri (coming to a theatre near you with Snow White and six of his diminutive pals) to the smattering of Irish internationals that make up our favourite "rugby club", I come over all schizophrenic nowadays. 

One of our own
If wishing harm upon Joe Allen sounds a bit below the belt, even in the absence of Shawcross, the Potters principal leg-breaker and "he's behind you" bwad bwoy, any suggestion of sympathy for Saturday's opposition was easily suppressed, at the sound of the alluring charms of the Neanderthal scum who follow them and their oh so sporting repertoire of such classics as "Aaron Ramsey, he walks with a limp". Even without Shawcross, the manifestation of such genial banter was evident from Stoke's birthday boy (OAP more like - my neighbour described him as the bloke who only gets to play cos his Mum washes the kit). In just about Charlie Adams' last contribution to proceedings, he stamped on Alexis' leg after having brought him down, in the build up to Alex Iwobi hammering home the third nail in Stoke's coffin; where the advantage played by ref Mason was just about the only thing the incompetent nincompoop got right the entire afternoon!

Stoke simply couldn't live with us, when the Gunners turned up the heat and began to move the ball around with some real purpose and intensity and it was irritating that we had to go a goal behind before discovering the necessary motivation. Perhaps the club's new Kiwi psychologist should get them all doing the Haka before kick-off, as a means of getting the Gunners fired up right from the start?

Mind you, it was certainly no coincidence that the change in tempo to our game coincided with Hector Bellerin's introduction twenty-five minutes in. But it was desperate bad luck that Bellerin's return from injury was only necessary due to Mustafi succumbing to a dreaded hamstring strain. 

Shkodran has fast become a firm favourite on the terraces because of his wholehearted, "take no prisoners" type attitude. He might still be learning the level of composure and consistency that perhaps makes Koscielny the more reliable member of our centre-back partnership, but unlike the more demure Laurent, Shkodran appears to be far more vocal. Amongst less partisan pundits, it's the pair's apparent complementary attributes, which has rapidly resulted in them inheriting the mantle of the likes of Alderweireld and Vertonghen, last season's defensive top dogs, as the league's current most respected double-act.
Another man's gain

The enforced interruption to this burgeoning relationship, at such a pivotal stage in proceedings is extremely disappointing because it's the one area of the pitch where one can least afford disruption to the sort of routine that enables the two of them to instinctively know what their partner will do in any given situation. Personally I'd prefer to see Holding come in at Goodison on Tuesday night, rather than Gabriel, but so long as we get away with it, then hopefully they'll be able to build on this performance to produce a competent display at the Etihad next Sunday. 

However, if we end up getting beat by Everton, the blame will inevitably fall on the uncertainty caused by this defensive disturbance. The resulting dent to our confidence would make the game against City suddenly look a lot more daunting. So I won't be at all surprised if Arsène tries to afford our back line as much protection as possible, sacrificing some midfield creativity, with the likes of Coquelin and Elneny as their screen. Whether Wenger chooses Holding or Gabriel (or Per makes his long-awaited comeback?), he's going to need to fill Mustafi's boots because, as we all know only too well, a three-week recovery for a hamstring strain at the Arsenal will invariably mean that we've far more chance of the Easter bunny filling in at centre-half before Mustafi is fit!

Although Gabby definitely hasn't let the side down, while standing in at right-back, any suggestion that he might be suited to this task was shot down in flames within moments of Hector's reappearance. Monreal might not exactly be lightning fast, but he's capable of lending sufficient threat down the left flank to put the opposition on the back foot. But when we've got Bellerin burning rubber on the right, as evidenced against Stoke, the threat of his pace transforms us into a far more potent attacking force.

Hector also appears to be a liberating catalyst for Theo, since Walcott's performance on Saturday was as influential as he's been in weeks. Time was when Theo would recede into his shell against the physical likes of Stoke, whereas on Saturday he was not only willing to bounce off their defenders, but seems to have completely shaken off the shackles of his timidity of seasons past. I for one was gutted that his breathtaking second-half slalom run into the box didn't result in his 101st goal, as it would've been a fitting cherry on top of 250th appearance in red and white and might have earned him some capsules to go with the coffee machine Melanie had promised as his pressie.

Write your own contract Mesut
After losing to Watford on Saturday and with Koeman feeling the strain, I suspect the wounded animal that is the Toffees will be no pushover on Tuesday night. Mesut looked totally wasted walking off, after putting in a proper shift on Saturday. It would be a big loss, but I won't be so surprised if Arsène leaves Özil out of the starting line-up against Everton. I've always been an advocate for starting your best available XI, especially if they're in such a spectacularly rich vein of form.

Talking of riches, it was ironic that the players gave up their wages to charity on Saturday, following a week in which the tabloids have been bandying about such obscene sums, in all the speculation about their contracts and the earning potential of Alexis and Mesut. If one considers the humungous cost of trying to replace either of them in a hyper-inflated market (where the unproven likes of Martial could end up costing Man U a whopping £58m!), it seems evident to me that the club should just bite the bullet and do whatever it takes to get both of them to sign on the dotted line.

Otherwise we all know full well how this story will unfold, with eighteen months worth of unsettling disruption, as Wenger bats away the same annoying questions at every press conference. Meanwhile with feats such as Mesut's sublime goal on Saturday, with each passing match their stock will rise and with the looming spectre of them walking away on a free, their agents' bargaining position will only be bolstered.

For a club that's run principally as a commercial operation and that constantly lauds its business acumen, on the face of it, to us mere punters, it always appears as if our penny-pinching (albeit with a fair few pennies involved in this particular instance!) is so short-sighted and that the suits struggle to appreciate the big picture.

Obviously there's no keeping a player who wants out, but ultimately if either of these two departs for the sake of a few million quid extra, it will be a damming indictment of the Arsenal's limited ambition and will have ramifications about the way the Arsenal is perceived for the foreseeable future.

Are you watching Tottenham?
Meanwhile I've managed to finish this far too long-winded missive with the Gunners still top of the league and with us bristling with anticipation at the prospect of Monday's Champions League draw.

As they say, with eleven goals in the last three matches, a week is a long time in football. Living only a stone's throw from the stadium, I'm embarrassed to admit that I drive to home games, even if I have a decent excuse because the short walk is too strenuous for me. 

It was only a couple of weeks back when the Gunners' uninspiring form was so infuriating that I was more concerned about arriving in time to bag my parking pitch than I was about the game itself. I was parked up an hour before KO on Saturday, impatiently wishing the time away because I couldn't wait for the game to begin. Up until last week, I would've been waiting for the team news, to pick holes in Arsène's selection, whereas suddenly I'm no longer fretting about the starting XI because whoever he plays is suddenly capable of pulling their weight.

I'm reluctant to be too presumptuous and to go overboard, since we're always only ever a couple of dodgy results away from it all going tits up. Obviously I'm still whinging about our inability to keep a clean sheet because when (if?) the goals dry up, we're going to need to be able to rely on some resilience at the back. We've grown far too accustomed in recent years to successive campaigns crashing and burning as a result of our slipshod frailties.

It's often said that you can judge a team by the strength of the players on the bench and with our subs so regularly chipping in with goals, it's been a long time since the Gunners have looked better equipped to meet the challenge. Moreover where we've suffered in the past from cliques and resulting dressing room tensions, for all the bullshit regularly trotted out for the TV cameras, there's a long awaited sense that the force might finally be with us and that for once we might all be pulling in the same direction.

Doubtless I'm tempting fate just by opening my big gob and I better hit "post" before we embarrass ourselves against Everton and I'm left rueing my misguided optimism.


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Thursday, 8 December 2016

Fortune Found In Stratford Bursting The Irons' Bubble

No it wasn't the fog that enabled Lucas to ghost into the box
 Hi folks,

With such a surprisingly delightful denouement to the Champs League group stage, both in Basel and in Paris on Tues night and the 3rd round FA Cup draw throwing up an outing to Preston, the following missive has been pretty much outdated by more recent events. However having started half a dozen posts in recent weeks, only to fail to get around to finishing them, I thought I might as well post this one, if only for my own satisfaction.

I have to admit that from the little we'd seen of Lucas Perez prior to Tuesday night's hat-trick, I wondered what on earth anyone had witnessed from him, to believe he was worth a weighty £17m investment. I was flabbergasted when Wenger played him on his own up front, in our disappointing League Cup defeat to Southampton. We'd seen us nothing to suggest that he'd be capable of fulfilling the lone striker role, in as much as sadly he doesn't appear to be blessed with either the talent, or the turn of pace to sufficiently ruffle the feathers of opposition defences.

Nevertheless, while Lucas might not possess any outstanding natural assets, he is a grafter and is the sort of sufficiently busy player who doesn't warrant criticism, If a player is working their socks off, you can hardly knock him for the fact that he's not gifted with the game-changing abilities of the likes of Thierry Henry.
Long way to go for a Toblerone

Despite decrying Lucas as a waste of money, I distinctly recall commenting as we came away from our dismal League Cup exit that he was the sort of player who would probably do well, when playing with an in-form Arsenal side. The suggestion being that when the Gunners are on song, Lucas is busy enough and hungry enough to offer a positive contribution to our slick passing moves.

I'm unsure whether Basel qualifies as a quality defence, but up until Tues night Lucas struck me as being much like the Spurs' acquisition Janssen, the sort of second rate striker with the attitude and determination that meant he might well have impressed against lesser opposition, but who lacks the top-shelf striking abilities necessary for him to be able to really cut the mustard on the big stage, against first rate opponents.

However I'm always happy to admit when I'm wrong; never more so than when writing off an Arsenal player too quickly. Albeit that folks who know me can confirm that I rarely do anything in a rush, least of all with a "rush to judgement" and in truth, the jury was still out as far as Lucas was concerned. I'd yet to see anything from him to suggest Lucas was capable of adding something to our existing squad, other than as merely adequate cover to make up the numbers.

Yet while one swallow definitely does not make a summer, on the evidence of Tuesday night's display alone, Lucas demonstrated that he might well be blessed with one single, vital attribute that the Gunners have been crying out for, for as long as I can remember (but then sadly I've the recall faculties of a goldfish nowadays!). 

Ever since Arsène had his fingers so badly burned, buying the long-term crock Franny Jeffers, any utterance of the phrase "fox in the box" has been a sacking offence at the club. So whisper it quietly, but Lucas produced a fairly decent impression of this particular creature in his performance against the Swiss champions.

One of my mates commented that Walcott wouldn't have been in the six-yard box to get on the end of the passes for Lucas' two tap-ins. As has been all too evident with the likes of Theo, when it comes sniffing out goals, knowing when to run, or when to remain stationary, sadly this is an asset that simply cannot be taught.

My old man used to call Jimmy Greaves a "goal hanger" and when playing as a hard working left-back as a kid, I can recall being seriously pissed off with those players who contributed little, other than to dawdle in the box, waiting to snaffle all the glory. The offside rule was intended to thwart these scene stealers and the development of the modern game seems to have largely put paid to goal poachers, to the point where it's become a lost art.

I saw some stat about there being 32 passes in the build up to our 2nd goal on Tuesday night, a record in the Champs Lg this season. With our nine goal haul in the past couple of outings, the Gunners have given us a glimpse of the sort of sweet rhythm and tempo to suggest the promise of some proper "on song" footie to come. Hopefully this might offer Lucas more opportunities to demonstrate the art of being in the right place, at the right time, thereby confirming that the Spaniard truly has "a nose for goal"?

As for Monday's Champions League draw, according to the laws of Sod and Murphy, it seems blatantly obvious to me that having finally managed to win our group for the first time in years (more by luck, or Ludogerets than good judgement!), we are pretty much guaranteed a bum draw against the likes of Bayern, or Real Madrid.

Although in the past it's usually been a "glass half full" effort to find some solace in the sort of duff result which is responsible for a daunting knockout stage draw as group runners up, I remain convinced that one has a better opportunity of dispensing a bloody nose to one of Europe's big boys, by meeting them earlier in the competition, before they become more motivated by the scent of a possible Champions League triumph.

Moreover, while I'd be delighted by the prospect of inflicting a Valentine's day massacre in Portugal versus the likes of Porto or Benfica, personally I believe who we end up facing as a result of Monday's draw is far less significant than the psychological impact of finishing above a star-studded PSG and such a sweeping victory in Switzerland - although I was more than a little miffed that for the second successive game, we fluffed our opportunity to build some belief in our defensive resilience, with the lapse in concentration that dirtied our clean sheet.

'Nuff Said
Come February, no one will be thinking about the fact that we could've been 0-2 down in the first half against Ludogerets, or how many goalscoring chances we gifted to Cavani. No, hopefully we'll be going into this game with the swagger of group winners, having not complacently lost a Champions League group game for the first time in over a decade. 

And the winning momentum that inspires the necessary belief is not just crucial in enabling us to play to our full potential. Hopefully it will also mean that whoever we end up meeting will no longer be going into this game with the perception of the Gunners as the sort of pushover we've all too often proved in recent seasons.

As they say, familiarity breeds contempt and personally I like the fact that the Champions League shuts shop for the next three months, enabling us to focus fully on domestic matters and ensuring there's a mounting air of anticipation, until our European crusade is rejoined. I wonder how many attendance records Spurs will set for their Europa Cup outings at Wembley and I can hardly contain my excitement at the prospect of an encounter between the mighty Zorya Luhansk v Man Utd on the box tonight!

Say what you will, no matter which side of the Arsène Wenger divide one is on, one thing is indisputable, it's not us watching Eastenders!



Finding Our Fortune In Stratford, Bursting The Irons' Bubble

In space no one can hear you scream!
            As an increasingly sentimental old bugger it was hard not to view the demise of West Ham's Boleyn ground through rose-tinted, nostalgic eyes, as yet another of the last few remaining traditional British stadia to bite the dust.

            Nevertheless, with season after season of schlepping around the country to largely the same selection of Premiership venues, there's inevitably a certain frisson to the novelty value of a first visit to see the Gunners play somewhere new.

            The thirty quid cap on away match tickets (plus a generous further four quid discount from the club) has ensured that all the Arsenal's awaydays have become increasingly hard to come by, seriously hot tickets. However seats at our debut London Stadium derby were like gold dust and it felt as if every Gooner wanted to be there on Saturday.

            The last time I made this same journey to Stratford was when I was incredibly fortunate to find myself invited to Super Saturday at London 2012 and I've been curious ever since to discover how this wonderful athletics arena would be transformed into a decidedly less appropriate football stadium. 

            Mind you, I must admit that in my frustratingly enfeebled state and in such arctic conditions, I might well have been tempted to give up my seat to one of the many desperate Gooners, to stop indoors and watch the game live on the box from under a duvet, if it wasn't for the fact of having yet to see a match at the Hammers new home.

            Albeit that any such decision would've been based on our infuriatingly tepid form of the past few weeks and I would've been absolutely gutted if I'd ended up on missing out on witnessing quite such a memorable Alexis' hat-trick live. However having lucked out on one of only eight disabled parking pitches for visiting supporters (seemingly preposterously limited availability, considering it's such a new gaff, set in such a huge expanse of what was formerly East London wasteground), I faced the daunting prospect of an unfamiliar journey on public transport, with it being the first time I've ventured onto the train in the past couple of years.

            Consequently, I spent most of the week fretting even more about getting to Saturday's match than about the Gunners ever more depleted options at right-back. Credit where due, my enquiries with the Hammers resulted in them being kind enough to post out a pass for a disabled shuttle bus service from Stratford station and actually the fifteen minute journey on the overground from Canonbury proved to be a doddle.

            Despite concerns about all the (undoubtedly exaggerated) tales of the aggro that's occurred at the London Stadium to date, I didn't feel uncomfortable combatting the cold with my Arsenal scarf, bobble hat and the surprisingly useful snood, which was included in our membership packs. Although I'd be a liar if I didn't admit to making sure that I didn't wear any colours that I wouldn't be able to stuff inside my coat, in the event that the atmosphere turned nasty and I felt the need to be more inconspicuous.

            However announcing my affiliations so publicly, as the solitary Gooner climbing onto a mini-bus crammed with home fans at Stratford station, pretty much guaranteed a good deal of banter. Having pleaded with all the other infirm old codgers to treat me gently, they were trying to persuade the driver to dump me at the Carpenters Arms boozer, presumably a pretty hostile Hammers watering hole.

            Hopefully the snaps might convey some slight impression that in spite of the cold, it was a wonderfully crisp and clear evening, standing on the concourse outside the ground, watching the sun drop and the moon rise, as a wonderfully picturesque backdrop to the East London skyline.

            Although the stewards were subjecting folk to a fairly comprehensive frisk, it would appear as if they remain on a steep learning curve in managing this arena. Much kudos to any of those Gooners who allegedly took advantage of the lack of focus on the turnstiles, to be able to achieve the rare feat nowadays of being able to bunk in, supposedly passing through the electronic facilities more than one at a time.

            I've seen all the complaints about the stadium and the fact that one is so far from the pitch, but I have to say that my initial impression as I arrived on the terrace in our corner of the ground was quite favourable. I was relieved to have remembered to bring my binoculars, but didn't feel nearly quite so detached from the proceedings as being stuck up in the gods at St James Park.

            Obviously the circumstances dictate that with the area of an eight-lane running track between the stands and the pitch, there was always going to be a world of difference between the sightlines of a purpose built football ground. I'll never forget the incredible atmosphere in this arena, when an 80,000 full house had the hairs on the back of my neck standing to attention, creating an atmosphere that carried Greg Rutherford and Jessica Innis to gold, before roaring Mo Farah to victory in the 10k with an utterly deafening racket for the entire 27mins.

            However West Ham's new home is now so unrecognizable from the Olympic venue that I sat there on Saturday struggling to work out where I'd been seated back in 2012. Little did I realise that we were in for an alternative encore to Super Saturday. I'm no fan of any stadium where the vast space between the terraces and the pitch discourages me from hollering at the players during the game, in the certain knowledge that any delusions of influencing proceedings by making myself heard on the pitch are utterly pointless.

            Yet with me sitting in the lower tier for home games, I don't mind having this distant perspective on the rare occasion because much like some of the mammoth grounds abroad, you benefit from the ability of being able to appreciate better where the spaces appear are on the field and enjoy a better understanding of how the two sides formations and tactics match up.

            Albeit perhaps the most obvious conclusion at West Ham on Saturday was that even if this particular Hammers team selection was seriously depleted, I'm inclined to believe that the Irons home form is likely to suffer for some time to come, certainly until the team grows more accustomed to surroundings that are in such stark contrast to the tight confines of their former home.

            Moreover I gleaned the impression that many of the more staunch Hammers' fans begrudge the fact that they've suddenly inherited twenty odd thousand newbies at every home game, resenting their apparent failure to appreciate the unwritten rules. The reason for such irritation was evident when Alexis scored his 2nd and our 3rd with ten minutes still left on the clock and the home fans began to file out en masse. Rarely has the "is there a fire drill" chant seemed more appropriate as vast areas of empty terracing rapidly appeared in the previously rammed stands all around us.

            Someone in front of me commented that they'd never seen anything like it and I couldn't stop myself from remarking that they'd obviously missed our midweek cup exit, where I was mortified at the many thousands who abandoned our team, long before the final whistle,
Did I miss the free Pie & Mash at Westfields for
1000s of Billericay Dickies doing an early bunk?

            It was hilarious to see so many of these premature evacuators charging back into the stands only a couple of minutes later, when Carroll caught our defence napping, as the lanky Geordie reacted first to head home what merely proved to be a consolation goal. But they only lingered long enough for the Ox to put the kibosh on a repeat performance of Carroll's one man rescue mission, when Alex smashed in our 4th only two minutes after we'd annoyingly cocked up our clean sheet.

            On route to the ground, I'd joked with the Hammers' fans on the bus, bargaining for safe passage in return for restoring Carl Jenkinson to their porous defence and with the Corporal having enjoyed such competent looking performances whilst playing claret and blue, I'd wondered if this might be the ideal opportunity for Carl to try and redeem his severely battered reputation, playing before a crowd that has more faith in his ability than we do.

            Hector Bellerin has been such an asset this season that by comparison, Jenks has looked like a bumbling incompetent accident waiting to happen. Yet with his culpability in both of Southampton's goals, by leaving him out immediately after our cup exit, in favour of Gabriel, it felt as if Arsène has permanently written the Corporal off.

            Not only am I loathe to lose a rare squad member who'd be on supporting us on the terraces with his family, if he wasn't a professional player, at least Carl is a full-back by trade, who is accustomed to haring down the flank and whipping in a decent cross. But if Wenger doesn't have sufficient trust in Jenkinson, then personally I'd prefer to see the Ox, or the likes of Maitland-Niles afforded an opportunity in the right-back spot. Although Gabby might not have been guilty of any major defensive gaffes thus far, it seems to me that by using a player who gets a nosebleed whenever he crosses the halfway line, we are only inviting pressure from the opposition.

            In the opposition manager's shoes, I'd certainly be instructing my side to target our right flank, knowing there's so little jeopardy involved in their left sided players rampaging forward, with Gabriel so unaccustomed to exploiting the resulting space at the opposite end of the pitch.

            Mercifully, even before James Collins was forced to depart proceedings only a few minutes in on Saturday, with the Hammers defense already in such disarray in the absence of their full-backs, this concern was irrelevant. Still I can't help but feel that ultimately the 1-5 thrashing was somewhat flattering,

            At the time, when Alexis scored our second and the first of his three goals, with his first touch having taken him so wide, presenting him with such a tight angle to shoot at, it seemed that such an accomplished finish was, as they say, worth the price of admission alone. It wasn't until drooling over a replay of his feats on the box later that evening that I realised Alexis third goal was the pick of the bunch, upon discovering how he'd sat Randolph down with quite such a sublime, piss-take of a dummy, in the astonishingly casual climax to his hat-trick.

            Yet truth be told, we should've put this game to bed in the first half and not only did we fail to press home our patently obvious advantage after the break, we were guilty of going to sleep, playing in such a complacent and sloppy fashion that I was convinced we were far more likely of suffering a late sucker punch. It wasn't until West Ham had given up the ghost following our second goal on 72 mins that we began to relax in our corner of the ground, as the Gunners turned on the style.

            Up until this point, I'd spent most of the match tearing my hair out in frustration at our blatant failure to get any bodies in the opposition box, with Alexis as usual, just about the only player in red and white showing the willingness to try and make something happen, whereas following the watershed of our second goal, suddenly everyone wanted in on the act.

            Meanwhile, even accounting for the infuriating lack of concentration that gifted Carroll with the opportunity to spoil Cech's clean sheet, it feels decidedly churlish of me to be whinging after a rare five goal treat (so long as Spurs superior goal difference on Saturday ultimately proves irrelevant!). What matters most will be the abiding sense that such a comprehensive margin of victory might at long last lend the team with the perception that they are finally playing themselves into some much needed form at such a crucial stage in the campaign.

            Assuming the Hammers struggles to come to terms with their cavernous new arena doesn't end up costing them a disastrous relegation trap door exit into potential oblivion, the memory of Saturday's scoreline will certainly ensure that we'll be looking forward to returning to the London Stadium in future.

            There was little more damming evidence of Bilic's problems than the long spell of "olés" ringing out from our end of the ground, during an extended period of possession of piss-taking proportions in the dying stages. In any previous London derby the increasing sense of outrage emanating from the home fans would've inevitably resulted in the sort of "take one for the team" type clattering that might've silenced our taunts and which I was become increasingly fearful of the longer our possession and the chant persisted. 

            My own "olés" might have been as loud as anyone else but at the same time, I was terrified that the ignominy felt by the homegrown likes of Noble might eventually force him into losing the plot, perhaps causing serious damage to the positively pivotal likes of Mesut or Alexis. Yet the fact that the home team failed to even intercede with such a blatant foul speaks volumes about the absence of fight in the claret and blue dog and this might not bode well for the sort of gutsy determination that might be required to drag themselves clear of the relegation mire.

            Having begun this missive before Lucas banged in another hat-trick in Basel, seemingly with two such fulsome away victories on the spin, it behoves the team to produce a similarly sweeping triumph before a full-house of Gooners against Stoke on Saturday, in the hope of getting our home crowd all pulling in the same direction.

            There's a role call of hat-trick heroes, with their individual feats recorded inside our ground near to where we sit, between the entrances to blocks 18 and 19 on the opposite wall and I was only looking at it a couple of weeks back, contemplating what the club will do when they run out of space. I reckon there might only be room for one or two more, once they've added the hat-tricks of Alexis and Lucas and hopefully, should the Gunners continue with this prolific strike rate, it might be like buying a new car because the ashtrays are full but hopefully we'll be needing another new home before this season is out!

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