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Monday 20 March 2017

Deux Avions Arsène

            I was so depressed after Saturday's miserable capitulation to the Baggies that I was tempted not to bother adding my own contribution to the resulting inevitable tumult of Arse bashing, at least not until I'd allowed some time to try and put matters into some proper perspective.

            From my point of view, confirmation that our club is so far up kack creek that we've reached an absolute nadir, is evident when our fans start taking their cues from the self-aggrandising antics of the over-entitled Mancunian masses. 

            Never mind "Two Jags Prescott", we've now got "Deux Avions Arsène" as we endured the tortuous disunity at the Arsenal being embarrassingly played out in the West Midlands' skies Saturday lunchtime, for the hilarity of the Hawthorns' crowd and all the local Yam Yams.

            If it wasn't bad enough that the WOB had crowd-funded the fly past with their "No Contract #Wenger Out" banner just before KO, when such needless expense might've been put to far better use to feed the swollen bellies of all those starving babes in Africa, the battles of the skies was joined with the appearance of a second plane, twenty minutes later, trailing the AKB's "In Arsène We Trust #respectAW" ensign (with the more amusing t-shirt alternative "In Arsène We Rust" available online).

            Rumours abound that this second stunt was funded by a firm that's run by our chairman's family and as if to emphasise their superior status, compared to the brief fly-by afforded by the WOB, this second plane seemed to linger overhead for the remainder of the first-half, just to ensure their message was seen. Admittedly the score was only 1-1 up until half-time and I'm certain the response would've been far more emphatic after the final whistle, but if one wanted to take a temperature of the Gooner mood on the terraces, the reaction to the first plane was mild curiousity, with the almost obligatory raft of mobiles appearing to record the event, whereas the second plane resulted in a brief chorus of "Only One Arsène Wenger".

            Obviously, all the usual suspects amongst the publicity-seeking Gooners produced their customary "Wenger Out" and "Thanks for the Memories" banners at the final whistle, thereby providing our humiliated side with an excuse to skulk off into the dressing room, even quicker than would've been the case, if they weren't confronted with the dilemma of them not wanting to risk being seen to condone the WOB. Moreover, Saturday's abysmal display only served to reaffirm what appears to be an increasing consensus on the terraces that there's absolutely no evidence of the sort of commitment from the players to save the gaffer's bacon.

            Nevertheless, although the WOB's social media white noise might be by far the loudest, I remain of the opinion that, much like myself, the vast majority of Gooners feel uncomfortable at the prospect of Wenger being hounded out the door. Much like a doctor's hippocratic oath to do no harm, Arsène is certainly not intent on "killing our club" and has devoted the past twenty years to putting the Arsenal on the map. In truth, Wenger's only crime is his culpability in seemingly not being able to appreciate quite how stale the circumstances have become in London N5. And surely the real blame for this is down to the complacent suits, who've grown so content with the club's full coffers that they are neither inclined, nor have the cajones to proclaim our emperor's stark bollock nakedness.

Never mind Wenger, is Bouldie earning his keep?

            If the headlines on the back pages of Monday's tabloids are to be believed, the board have bottled it and have chosen the path of least resistance, with a contract renewal. Although this would be likely to result in absolute uproar from the Gooner masses, perhaps from the board's point of view it enables them to continue to postpone actually having to do their jobs, by replacing Wenger with the entire apparatus of football management structure that will be required, when he eventually chooses to let go of his all-encompassing reins. Additionally, I wouldn't be at all surprised if there is more than a little trepidation amongst the suits at the Arsenal. Failing immediate success for the manager who fills Wenger's shoes, the finger of blame and the clamorous ire of our fan base will rapidly point in their direction.

            When I go back through weekly missives written as the league campaign reaches the finishing straight in the vast majority of recent seasons, I fast lose count of the number of occasions upon which we've witnessed such half-hearted displays that I've been moved to state that one could be forgiven for wondering which of the two team was chasing a top four finish and the side with little but pride left to play for. So when viewed in isolation, Saturday's miserable defeat to the Baggies was little different to many of the unimpressive performances that we've endured in the past at this time of the year, aside from the fact that previously we've often benefited from the likes of West Brom being that little bit more distracted by the summer holyers and remembering to buy their Factor 10 from Boots than our unmotivated lot.

            Yet whether it was the fact that we've ended the weekend in sixth place, behind Man U, on equal points with Everton and enduring a whole NINE point chasm between us and our neighbours, or the circumstances of Wenger's uncertain future and Özil failing to even bother turning up at West Brom (supposedly suffering from a hamstring strain, when gossip might lead one to conclude that Mesut's nocturnal acitivities are far more likely to cause a groin strain!), which might imply that our two world class stars are about to engineer their exit, there's a definite "end of days" feel to this campaign that's distinctly different to the way in which we've grown accustomed to seasons petering out in the past.

            Never mind Wenger, perhaps it should be Bouldie getting the "tin tack" considering our set-piece defending was so unbelievably criminal, against a side that's scored half their goals this season from such routines. Moreover, I don't usually set much store by statistics, but to my mind, only two shots on target from 77% possession and not one of these after the 33rd minute, this screams to me of a side devoid of any real appetite. Most poignantly to me was the sight of our statuesque midfield, as they were bypassed for the Baggies second goal, where not one amongst the likes of Xhaka, Ramsey, the Ox and Theo appeared willing to bust a gut to get back, but were content to leave our defence struggling to cope. Similarly, our alleged zonal defending at corners is perfectly designed for players who are unwilling to take responsibility and eager to apportion blame elsewhere.

Closest Xhaka comes to working up a sweat!
            I can take getting beat by the Baggies and in the great scheme of things, even the spectre of finishing out of the top four wouldn't be such a disaster. Finishing below Spurs would be mortifying and might result in me having to turn my phone off for the entire summer, but to gift them this crumb of comfort only once every couple of decades wouldn't be the end of the world. What I can't accept is watching an Arsenal side simply settling for their fate, without even showing us fans the respect of putting a proper shift in.

            Then again, is this so surprising, as I can't help but wonder how it sits with his team mates that Mesut is an apparent law unto himself and can seemingly swan off, whenever he gets the yen. Whatever happened to the whole squad travelling to matches whether on the teamsheet or not, to at least feign support for their colleagues? Meanwhile, I see all the complaints about Alexis being too greedy and not being a "team player" and it's true, he's increasingly guilty of running with the ball and being reluctant to pass. But in his shoes, I wonder if I wouldn't be exactly the same. Again in the first-half on Saturday Sanchez was the single only player in yellow willing to make the effort to try and make something happen, rather than passively passing the ball around, waiting for the opposition to present us with an opening. 

            When Alexis is the only Arsenal player willing to take the opposition on, why on earth would he want to go past someone, only to lay the ball off and see it end up going back past the halfway line, for us to begin yet again. As just about our only player who demonstrates a "winning mentality' it should come as no shock that he's growing increasingly resentful of being surrounded by team mates who've grown so accustomed to settling for ending up amongst the "also rans"!

            Seeing the decidedly uninspiring but industrious likes of West Brom's Livermore getting an England call-up, I wondered if Theo Walcott might feel like he had a point to prove on Saturday. Yet aside from being caught on the ball in his own half, I can barely recall Theo being involved in the 65 minutes he spent on the pitch. It's wrong for me to single out individuals from such a lamentable team showing, but this was symptomatic of a side that plays as if they've been so immersed in Arsène's cocoon of "unbelievable belief" that they expect victory to be handed to them on a plate and can no longer remember how to go about earning it.

            No matter how concerned I might be about what the future might hold in a post-Wenger era and in the likely absence of Özil and Sanchez, the prospect of more of the same is far more mortifying. I'm sure that like the vast majority of others, I wish Arsène would hurry up and bite the bullet, so we can indeed #respectAW and bid him the fondest of farewells. Even if he's able to galvanise this squad into providing him with a fitting send off and heaven forfend, a 4th place finish and an FA Cup win, which result in him changing his mind, it's likely to prove a whole lot more enticing than an argumentative, ten-game wake.

            As it stands at present, the thought of facing City at Wembley and then going to our last ever game at the Lane the following weekend fills me full of dread and as humiliating as it would be to lose both these encounters, at the very minimum, I need to be going to both games believing we're capable of victory, instead of willingly walking into a masochistic car-crash!



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Monday 13 March 2017

Come All Ye Faithful

an extended wake, where sadly the deceased appears to be
the only one on the planet ignoring the Grim Reaper's call

            It was only when driving past the Marble Halls of THOF and I saw the gaggle of Gooners gathering, prior to Saturday's game, that it dawned upon me that there was another protest on the cards. But to be honest, it looked like a somewhat meagre turn-out and although they'd collected a couple of hundred more of the WOB, by the time they rounded the bend in Drayton Park and approached the steps of Highbury House on the walk to the new stadium, it was a fairly feeble looking demo, especially when compared to the nine thousand Imps fans who'd journeyed down to London N5 and who were all definitely "up for the cup".

            In fact, I don't ever recall seeing quite such a long queue for the away fans turnstiles at Entrance K in the past, as this seemed to stretch almost halfway around the ground half an hour before KO. It left the few hundred Gooners, who made up this half-hearted "Wenger Out" protest looking somewhat embarrassing by comparison. I had to laugh, when later the 9,000 Lincoln City fans were to be heard singing "Lincoln 'till I die" and "we support our local team", when you consider that the Imps average attendance is only 3,750 (and this is 44% up on 2016, presumably on the back of their impressive FA Cup run!). Yet credit to them, they all turned up, determined to enjoy and to make the most of their big day out.

#Impvasion queuing halfway around the ground
              And thank heavens they did, or else the Emirates might've been less library and more morgue like. When I reflect back upon so many of the incredibly atmospheric FA Cup quarterfinals that I've been privileged to witness the Gunners participate in over the years, frankly, from my perspective, there was something particularly sad about the way in which the Arsenal's home crowd failed so miserably to rouse ourselves and respond, to the fairly constant racket coming from the away end on Saturday.

              Admittedly I had my radio headphones in one ear and might've failed to notice at times, if the Arsenal's laughable, singing section were making absolutely any effort, but it seemed to me that when Theo eventually broke the deadlock just before the break, we couldn't even muster a tepid chorus of "1-0 to the Arsenal"!

              OK, so we were all a bit depressed, after our midweek Champions League humiliation and we'd all turned up fully expecting a perfunctory triumph, as the Gunners finally put paid to the non-leaguer's romantic cup run. Yet while one might've assumed that as a result of the peculiar circumstances, this would've been bound to put a bit of a dampener on proceedings, I would've at least expected something other than a wall of complete and utter silence from the home fans attending the library?

              It was a crying shame, as the Imps and their 9000 raucous fans deserved a more fitting climax, to an accomplishment that hasn't been achieved in over a century (with QPR the last non-league outfit to achieve the quarterfinals of the FA Cup in 1914). Yet it felt as if there were 51,000 Gooners turning up to an extended wake, where sadly the deceased appears to be the only one on the planet ignoring the Grim Reaper's call.

              It pains me to admit it, but when I subsequently witnessed the events on Sunday afternoon, where Spurs fans appeared to be positively revelling, in what was their last ever cup encounter at White Hart Lane, I was dead envious of the seemingly deafening crowd noise. And it's certainly come to something when I'm feeling jealous of the atmosphere created by the even more fickle mob at the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road!

              On a similar note, standing outside our ground before KO on Saturday, I found myself debating whether the ultimate ignominy of losing to non-league Lincoln might possibly be preferable, to what is increasingly looking like an odds on encounter with either Spurs or Chelsea, in a Wembley semifinal. 

              Not that I hold with all that horoscope hogwash (even as a typical Scorpio!), but failing a "spacequake" type shift of seizmic proportions in the astrological heavens, which might reverse the Arsenal's fortunes in the coming month and mend the patently obvious disunity in the dressing room (not to mention the climate of uncertainty), at this present point in time, it's hard to envisage the Gunners turning out at Wembley at the end of April transformed into a "team" that's capable of progressing to the final.

              Let's face it, it seems as if this Wembley semifinal and our final outing to the dilapidated environs of White Hart Lane the following weekend looks set to not only define our entire season, but this might well be 180 (or 210) minutes of football which could be the curtain call for Arsène's two decade long tenure.

              Even if by some miracle, we manage to win the FA Cup and qualify for the Champions League by avoiding finishing below Spurs for the first time in 22 seasons and as a result, Wenger leaves the WOB up in arms as he changes his mind, personally I wish he'd announce his impending retirement now, so that the remainder of this season might be a celebration of an autocratic career in top flight management, the like of which we're probably never going to see again in the ephemeral modern game.

              Those Gooners who fail to appreciate the sort of dour football that we were accustomed to enduring in the era before Wenger, they won't understand why the idea of Arsène being hounded out of the club so distresses me. As much as I believe that change is utterly essential, such is my feeling of indebtedness to the man that anything other than respect and gratitude towards him, goes entirely against the grain. Wenger's earned the right to leave on his own terms and even if you happen to disagree, surely it's obvious that no matter how vociferous the WOB, there is no one at the club who's inclined to hand the obdurate old bugger his P45.

              Arsène's phraseology has always been very deliberate and from the recent subtle changes in his post-match comments, I'm of the opinion that he's currently not planning to extend his contract. In fact, with us sadly never having achieved the Holy Grail of Champions League success, after having fallen infuriatingly short these past two decades, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see fate kick us in the goolies, with Wenger going to PSG, spending a couple of hundred million and promptly swanning off into retirement with the big-eared prize in his back pocket!
Nuff Said!

               Meanwhile, with inane social media already twittering away about the WOB's arrangements for next weekend's banner protest versus the Baggies, this is hardly going to prove a positive force, for getting everybody on side and fully focused on the task at hand. If we're to redeem any pride from the remainder of this season, surely we'd be better off presenting the sort of unified front that might enable us to achieve a collective push to clear every remaining hurdle on the finishing straight?

               Instead of which, we're now seeing the infighting and the disunity on the terraces being reflected on the pitch. The fall-out from the rumoured fracas at London Colney was evident on Saturday. Whether he was gesticulating at Gibbs for failing to go on the overlap, or at Giroud for one reason, or another, Alexis spent most of the ninety minutes waving his arms around in frustration. Until Theo finally eased the tension, by finding the back of the net (courtesy of a deflection) just before the break, up until then it was the non-league outfit who had the only decent effort on goal. 

               One could be forgiven for wondering which of the two sides was the top flight club, when Arnold went past Koscielny in the penalty box with worrying ease and very nearly elevated the Imp army into paradise, if it wasn't for Petr Cech pulling off a smart save. Such was the Arsenal's inability to impose our superior ability until almost the last kick of the half that the Gunners' increasing frustration and the chasm that's recently been exposed in the dressing-room camaraderie was patently evident in most of our players' downbeat body language and the obvious lack of intensity necessary in a cup quarterfinal.

Have to forgive Imps' over-eagerness, it's not
every week they get to swap shirts with Mesut Özil
              On the radio they told how the Cowley "Dynamic Duo" had approached the game by breaking it down into nine ten minute segments. If this had been a boxing match, basically Lincoln had almost reached the halfway point, without the Arsenal having barely laid a glove on them! Considering to what extent Özil began pulling the strings after the break, I guess we should be grateful that the Ox was forced to limp off with "a tight hamstring" but Walcott and Bellerin were about the only two players in red and white who deserved any credit for their first-half efforts.

               I guess Lincoln should be lauded, as they definitely didn't allow the occasion to get to them and certainly managed to avoid showing us any respect, breaking the game up at every possible opportunity and thereby ensuring that we had no chance of developing any rhythm.

               However, having subsequently seen the dismissive way in which Spurs mullahed Millwall on Sunday, in a nutshell the Gunners failure to find our mojo until the second-half against Lincoln, compared to the way in which Spurs were camped in the opposition's half from the opening whistle of their quarterfinal, this was incontrovertible evidence of the contrasting moods in the two camps being reflected on the pitch.

               Over the years, one of my Spurs mates has constantly moaned about Daniel Levy's mismanagement and yet they flashed up a screen on Football Focus on the Beeb on Saturday, showing how virtually all of Spurs first choice players, with the exception of Alderweireld have been secured on long-term contracts. Whereas the Gunners are at imminent risk of losing our only two genuine world class players for little, or no money!

               With virtually all the cards being in the player's hand (or more accurately the hand of their agent) nowadays, the moment their contract has less than two years to run, when one considers that this can result in them eventually walking away on a free transfer, instead of being sold for the sort of obscene sum that at least provides the selling club with the wherewithal to be able to try and replace them, it seems to me that failure to avoid such a disadvantageous position amounts to gross ineptitude of the MOST costly nature by the management.

               One has to qualify any reference to David Dein with the rider that the Gunners would've likely ended up playing at Wembley today, if he'd had his own way. Nevertheless, no matter that he might've been a bit of an egomaniac, ever since Dein's enforced departure none of the corporate suits charged with running our club bleed red and white blood, in the same devoted fashion as the man responsible for bringing Wenger to the club. Gazides might be a competent corporate type, but he's not a genuine Gooner, a one-club man like Dein. Some gossip that I heard years back left me assuming that the Arsenal was merely a stepping stone and that Ivan would eventually end up going back to run the MLS in the States.

               Without Dein as Wenger's sidekick, to remove the immensely time-consuming responsibility of constant transfer and contract negotiations from our coach's plate, Arsène soon became a complete autocrat at the Arsenal, with absolutely no one to remind our emperor that under the zip he was always fiddling with, he was all too often stark bollock naked.

               Yet so long as the club's coffers continued to be replenished with such relentless consistency and our value for money obsessed leader parsimoniously played with his transfer kitty, as if spending his own money, the suits at the club have complacently refrained from interjecting upon Arsène's isolated ivory tower. Those clamouring for Wenger's exit might want to bear this in mind because there are no other manager's at this level in world football with such total and utter authority. When Arsène eventually takes his bow, we won't only be left having to find a new coach, but who exactly will end up wearing the other managerial hats that most of the list of potential replacements will be accustomed to being able to delegate to others?

               Don't get me wrong, since there's absolutely no mistaking the almost funereal "end of an era" mood that's enveloped the Emirates in recent days and as I bump into familiar Gooner faces around the ground, it feels as if we've just received news of the impending demise of a close family member. While those who've known nothing else, can't wait to holler "the King is dead, long live the King", others who well recall the dark, prehistoric days prior to Wenger are somewhat more circumspect, as for the first time in twenty years, we look into the unknown Arsenal abyss with righteous trepidation.

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Wednesday 8 March 2017

Would the last one out please turn the lights out?

How many Bayern fans does it take to spend a pfennig

Things I learned last night:

- Yet another utterly humiliating Champions League capitulation was made all the more distressing because at half-time, it felt as if this was just about the first time this season that we've witnessed a properly motivated Aaron Ramsey (playing like he was wearing a Wales shirt!) and Theo Walcott. Could it be that Ramsey was finally able to cast off the shackles in the absence of Özil? But then at the same time, one has to wonder if the Arsenal performance during the first forty-five would've proved quite so acceptable, if they were playing against a Bayern team who hadn't already qualified?

- I find that it is often the little things that are most revealing and for me, I couldn't help but wonder if evidence of just quite to what extent the wheels have come off at the club was seen in the opening minutes against Bayern. I think it was our first corner of the game, right in front of us (and the raucous Krauts), when I noticed the Ox walking over, to hand a somewhat surprised looking Granit Xhaka the ball. Perhaps I'm guilty of reading too much into it, but I had to wonder just what exactly the Gunners do at London Colney every day, when the team isn't sufficiently prepared to know precisely who is on corner duty before they take to the field?

- On the radio before the game, they were discussing Robert Pires' appearance on TV earlier in the evening. After Wenger had spent most of the previous day's press conference denying the rumours of a training ground bust up, apparently it appears as if Bobby didn't receive this "party line" directive and (embarrassingly for AW) happily admitted that an incident had taken place.

- As happened in Munich, it was most disconcerting when Koscielny made his premature departure to witness quite how incapable Mustafi was of marshalling his defence. No matter how farcically incompetent the officials were, considering how optimistic I was about his strength of personality when Mustafi first arrived, Shkodran's failure to step up and show some leadership traits when we lost Laurent, this left me feeling most depressed, wondering if any of last summer's signings are destined for long-term success at the club?

- I wonder how many of our team wished they'd been in Welbeck's shoes and avoided the ensuing ignominy by falling ill prior to KO? All credit to Bellerin for coming out and fronting up to the TV cameras after the final whistle, but then I'd expect nothing more of just about the only player in red and white to show respect for those of us Gooners who remained right to the bitter end (although I must admit, I was wondering if I lit a fag, whether the stewards might do me the favour of throwing me out :-) But this was in complete contrast to Özil, since when Wenger rolled the dice, sending all three subs on with 15 mins to play, Peres and Coquelin were both stripping off, while Mesut was standing there, still in his training vest, as if he was bemusedly pondering "Who me?".

But then we were already 1-2 down (I think) and down to 10 men and in Özil's shoes, you could hardly blame him for his reluctance to be a party to the fiasco that followed. As much as I adore watching Mesut play and for all his "Ya ya Gunners" tweets, he hardly strikes me as being the sort of person who is ever going to put the honour and pride of the Arsenal, before self.

The fact that Özil seems to be in a position where he can dictate whenever he fancies time off, it strikes me that this sort of prima-donna situation can hardly have a positive impact upon team spirit. Am I being unrealistic to want a return to the days when the entire squad travelled with the team to every match, whether they are on the team-sheet or  not?

- Meanwhile if Arsène does decide to make his exit this summer and as looks most likely, we are also destined to witness the departure of Sanchez, should Özil join him and we lose what are our only two genuine world class stars and the new incumbent is left struggling to attract replacement as a result of a failure to finish in the top four, I fancy it might be worth betting ones shirt on Wenger's successor getting the sack in his first season!

- Finally, I wonder how many Gooners would be willing to suffer the ultimate humiliation of losing to non-league Lincoln on Saturday, if this was guaranteed to seal Arsène's fate?

Personally speaking, I retain enough appreciation and affection for the obdurate old bugger that I wish he'd bite the bullet and announce his impending retirement now. Aside from the fact that this might be the only means of getting a response out of this group of players, to galvanise both them and us into making the unified effort to give him a decent send off, I just can't bear the thought of enduring another couple of months worth of unenjoyable acrimony at every game


Le Prof's Parting Gift, Or A £35m Ronseal Ricket

I was rather hoping that by writing the following missive for the latest edition of the Gooner a couple of weeks back, I would be guaranteed to be tempting fate and that Granit was bound to leave me with egg on my face, by coming good in the interim. Sadly, as was evident in tonight's utterly humiliating experience, we're no closer to knowing what anyone ever saw in him.....

      Although the wholesale revolution that occurred at the club and the beautiful game in general, when Arsène first arrived on these shores, was grounded in le Gaffer’s scientific approach to football, one of my greatest gripes in recent years has been my suspicion that his Excel spreadsheet style of management has been at the expense of the immeasurable, sixth sense means of assessing the less tangible aptitude of potential signings.

      We’re often reminded that vocal, demonstrative players, blessed with genuine leadership traits don’t exactly grow on trees nowadays. Yet it strikes me that one of the main reasons that the club has failed so abysmally to unearth any real captain material since the eras of Tony Adams, or Paddy Vieira, is down to Wenger’s inability to quantify such attributes, in the same way in which one might assess all the other stats that are indicative of a footballer’s specific talents.

      However, last summer, along with so many other Gooners, I wondered if we might’ve finally chanced upon the sort of dominant, alpha male character, with the necessary personality to provide our invertebrate Gunners with that crucial “never say die” backbone that we’ve lacked for so very long.

      Until seeing him play for Switzerland, frankly, I didn’t have a clue who Granit Xhaka was, or why he might be worth such a massive investment. Yet merely by dint of his woeful disciplinary record, mercifully it appeared as if this was a decidedly atypical Arsène signing, rather than another from le Prof’s production line of diminutive midfield ball-meisters.

      Perhaps it was merely wishful thinking, but at first glance of Granit in red & white, I was optimistic that this might be £35m well spent. Instead of the sideways and backwards ball playing tendencies of all those who are reluctant to take responsibility, could Xhaka be a Gerrard type player, who could singlehandedly grab a game by the scruff of the neck, with the sort of accurate long-range passing that would enable us to transition from one end of the pitch to the other, in an instant?

      If this was to be combined with the sort of imposing physical presence that I interpreted from his copious collection of red cards, then maybe, just maybe Arsène had unearthed the real deal, the missing piece in the jigsaw that we’ve been waiting to be completed for a decade or more.

      As the saying goes “it’s the hope that kills” and doubtless such lofty early season expectations have contributed to my subsequent trough of despondency and my inability to avoid what many others Gooners might claim to be an impatient “rush to judgement”. All the evidence I’ve seen since then suggests that Xhaka fails to fulfill the Ronseal promise and simply lacks the wherewithal to be able to “do what it says on the tin”.

      Enduring our customary Champions League implosion, during that devastating ten-minute second-half spell in the Allianz Arena the other night, I found myself wondering why on earth Wenger couldn’t have opted for an experienced player of Vidal’s calibre, seemingly bought by Bayern for less than he risked on Xhaka (not to mention importing a fellow Chilean who might’ve made Alexis feel more at home!).

      And as this campaign has ebbed, in the same lily-livered fashion of so many that have gone before, I find myself watching every other club, constantly comparing the likes of Kanté, Wanyama, Romeu etc. etc. and wondering if we’d have been better off buying them for less than the exorbitant sum that we’ve gambled on Granit. Kanté certainly can’t be classed as a DM and even at a mere £11m, Wanyama blows too hot and cold, but amongst a myriad of proven Premiership midfielders, in virtually every case, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that they might’ve brought far more to the Arsenal’s party, than a player who has yet to demonstrate absolute any evidence as to the sanity of his obscenely inflated value.

      Judging by the social media stick I’ve received, when I’ve dared to contemplate the likelihood of Xhaka being a costly mistake, it appears as if there are plenty of Gooners who view the 24-year old as our future midfield fulcrum. With each successive appearance, I’ve scrutinized Granit’s performance, believing that surely we must eventually witness the talent that convinced Wenger to focus on securing his signature, in preference to any of the other midfielders on the transfer merry-go-round last summer.

      Although some players take longer than others to acclimatize to the Premiership environment, with Xhaka coming from the Bundesliga, I’d have expected him to find his feet quicker than most. Yet as hard as I’ve tried to make allowances, to date we’ve seen nothing to suggest that he’s going to prove himself capable of cutting the proverbial mustard.

      As so many others have commented, one could forgive Granit’s far too frequent disciplinary indiscretions, if this was merely a consequence of him being a domineering player, who’s determined to impose his physical presence to control the middle of the park. Sadly, more often than not, the cause of Granit’s early baths seems to be a dismissal resulting from his inability to temper his reaction to being caught on the ball. Where’s the value in spending £35m on a player who’s tendency to lose himself amidst the red mist is likely to result in him spending a quarter of the season suspended?

      I sincerely hope Xhaka proves me wrong and that I’m left having to eat these words in the future, but from what I’ve gleaned thus far, I suspect he’s a player who might’ve shined in a less frenetic footballing environment. Yet in the pressure cooker climate of the Premiership, where most of the Arsenal’s opponents are intent on denying us any opportunity to develop some rhythm to our play, sadly Granit seems to lack the footballing brain, the composure and perhaps even sufficient talent to cope with a more “in yer face” version of the game.

      To my mind, the evidence of a genuine world-class midfielder has always been someone who could be surrounded by the opposition and yet who somehow has that magical ability to create both time and space on the ball, where none exists, to be able to pull something out of the bag.

      However I wasn’t expecting Xhaka to be a surrogate for Santi Cazorla, since I assumed we were buying a dedicated holding midfielder, a Gilberto-type unselfish water-carrier, who could offer that same “invisible wall” protection for our defence; with the added bonus of having in his locker the ability to play a bit and pop up with the occasional 30-yard screamer.

      Unfortunately, he’s certainly not proved to be the workaholic who creates a sufficiently watertight screen across the middle of the park to enable Wenger to omit the likes of Coquelin. Much like many who’ve gone before him, Xhaka appears to be a more costly Jack of all midfield trades, master of none. Myself I could easily forgive any such limitations, if Toblerone man possessed those all-important, gritty leadership traits, which were capable of forging a staunch team unit that refuses to lie down. But then I can't ever recall Granit breaking sweat and as has been rightly pointed out to me, sadly he's more Flake than Toblerone!

      Would his ponderous tendencies prove less of a hindrance and could Xhaka flourish in the more circumspect climate of Champions League football? Sadly far from him being Granit by name and nature, as we’d all hoped, he showed the same timid personality of the majority of his team-mates, as we waved the white flag in Munich.

      Much as with his Arsenal colleagues, perhaps it might take new management to lift the lid off and coax the real Granit Xhaka out of his mistakenly labeled and worryingly unimpressive tin?
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Monday 6 March 2017

Please wake me up when it's all over!

            I never fail to be amazed by our seemingly infinite capacity to sell ourselves the starry-eyed promise of a different Arsenal story, but such is the masochistic curse of the travelling Gooner. Otherwise, if we truly resigned ourselves to being stuck in this eternal cycle of unfulfillment, there’d be nothing to persuade me to drag my aching bones out of my pit on a Saturday morning, to make the 350-mile round trip schlep to the North West.

After having stepped back in time, for our cup outing to the surreal, but refreshingly civilized non-league surroundings of Gander Green Lane, where one can still smoke in the stands, queue up for a cuppa while keeping one eye on the match and even pop out to the pub for a halftime pint, the postponement of last weekend’s outing to Southampton (not to mention Spurs emphatic trouncing of the Potters) ensured that we were all impatiently slavering in anticipation of Saturday’s trip to the opposite end of the footballing spectrum.

I was optimistically hoping that a fortnight with their feet up might result in a revitalized, “our season starts here” reboot. Yet the oppressive-looking storm clouds hanging over the towering new main stand, which lends Anfield something of a disjointed feel, were to prove portentous. Our mood took a dramatic dip, as the terrace tom-toms transmitted the unfathomable news that our star turn had been left on the bench and our enigmatic playmaker hadn’t even travelled, with Özil allegedly suffering from yet another bout of flu (doubtless the poor love is sweating it out on a beach in Dubai as I type!).

Allegedly Alexis’ frustrated watching remit was part of Wenger's tactical masterplan to enable the Gunners to be more direct. Sadly Arsène’s tenuous grasp of reality was evident right from the off, since a team can’t play direct, or otherwise, without the ball at their feet. With Sanchez pretty much solely responsible for this season’s rare sparks of electricity, without him the Arsenal seemed so apathetically uninspired that if we were a coronary patient you’d be calling for the paddles…stat!

It was hardly a surprise that Klopp got a reaction out of his troops on home turf, after their tepid defeat to the Foxes, Yet while I’ve endured enough misery over the years at Anfield to know there’s no shame in losing to a Liverpool side that invariably turns up against top-six opposition, I simply can’t abide the fact that we threw this game away, whilst sleepwalking through the first-half.

Sure the two-week furlough might not have done us any favours, but frankly, if players can’t get themselves suitably pumped for a match of this significance and at the very least, attempt to match the opposition’s intensity level, to my mind this is symptomatic of the lack of appetite of side that’s been getting away with merely going through the motions.

Wenger might be indignant at having his competency questioned in his dotage, but if he doesn’t resign surely we can have him committed, on the basis that Alexis’ omission was blatant evidence of his dementia? Firmino’s goal after only nine minutes merely confirmed our tortoise-like emergence from the starting blocks. It couldn’t get much glummer in our corner of the Anfield Road end behind that goal, as we suffered the infuriating sight of an Arsenal midfield ambling back, hardly busting a gut to recover their ground and the stark contrast with the opposition’s dynamic attacking zest.

Although Welbeck and Iwobi were both at fault for the Scousers’ second, I once again found myself focusing on the flatfooted mental and physical inertia of Xhaka. There’s a growing consensus that in Xhaka, Wenger has implanted in the corpus Arsenal an entirely superfluous, £35m appendix, albeit one that’s seemingly set to burst on a regular basis.

The only consolation about conceding a second was that at least it forced Wenger’s hand, as there was more conviction about Alexis’ halftime warm up than the combined first-half efforts of his team-mates. Much as it saddens me to admit it, in Sanchez’s shoes I’d want out, as the Chilean is so obviously a winner that it’s no wonder he’s grown increasingly intolerant of being surrounded by such mundane torpor.

At least we enjoyed a brief period of hope, as Liverpool anxiously withdrew into their shell after we pulled one back. I felt sure we’d be carved open, when Arsène went “all in” with fifteen left on the clock. But when Origi’s effort bounced harmlessly off the post, I wondered if we might end up escaping with a fluky point. Depressingly, instead of mustering a “kitchen sink” push for an equalizer, much like our season to date, our afternoon fizzled out with a whimper, as Wijnaldum applied a deserved coup de grace.

            Does Arsène’s increasingly antagonistic mood reflect his growing acceptance of the loss of Gooner good faith and the fact that he’s no longer only one good result away from getting the majority of us back on side. If so, I wish he’d announce his impending swansong instead of dragging his resignation out to the death. It might be the only means of galvanizing a unified effort to send the obdurate old bugger off with a bang!

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