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Saturday 22 April 2017

Le Prof Pulls Out His Chemistry Set

            So just how excited are we all at the prospect of Sunday's Wembley semi-final outing? Perhaps it's the erosion of any last vestige of youthful exuberance that accompanies my advancing years (or merely a result of my increasingly decrepit memory), but personally I struggle to recall facing this familiar, end of season odyssey around the North Circular, with quite so much trepidation.

            It's hard to believe that it was only at the beginning of this same month that we managed to achieve an honours even share of the points with Guardiola's Man City. Then when we returned to our gaff only three days later, to produce some brief cameos of the most entertaining footie that we've witnessed from the Gunners in months, in nailing the Hammers 3-0, we were sucked in by the false dawn of a quasi-religious "born again" renaissance.

            Sadly this premature scent of a barn-storming, end of season resurgence had long since dissipated, perhaps amidst the pollution of all that traffic, as the team coach struggled to transect "the Smoke" to SE25. It was to be replaced by an all together more offensive whiff, as the Arsenal positively "stunk the place out" at Selhurst Park.

            After having to endure another irritating weekend's worth of football, where all the opponents of the teams above us seemed to roll over in an annoyingly meek manner, we were left impatiently waiting for a decidedly unappetising Bank Holiday outing to Boro. But it wasn't merely a win of any description that I was desperate for on Monday evening. 

            It felt as if any self-respecting Arsenal player should be positively desperate to be party to a collective response, to the accusations of a "lack of balls" cowardice, which were levelled at them with the fusillade of deservedly chastening criticisms that came in the aftermath of the defeat at Palace. This was an experience that couldn't have possibly proved any more humiliating (but a helluva lot more hilarious) if BFS had pranked his old foe Wenger with a friendly "wedgie"!

            So I found myself scrutinising Monday night's performance for evidence of some slight chink of Arsenal indignation; some signs of renewed resolve in their demeanour that might give me cause to feel more optimistic about Sunday's encounter. I mistakenly presumed that the players might feel some obligation to at least try to demonstrate that our leader is not an entirely spent force and that he's still capable of motivating his squad, to turn it up a notch or two when the chips are down.

            Sure, much like every other Gooner, I took plenty solace from landing all three points from our Riverside fishing trip, since these were essential just to keep us in the picture. Yet in order to garner a little confidence and momentum going into Sunday's game, we could've badly done with a more convincing display, rather than this somewhat fortuitous struggle to reel in a catch that's seemingly already doomed to relegation.

            While Wenger responded to our frequent moans about his tactical rigidity, by surprising us all with his team selection, it seems more than a little bizarre for him to be waiting until the end of April, to be experimenting with playing three at the back for the very first time in twenty years!

            In the past, our manager's point blank refusal to bow to public and media pressure has been viewed as one of his strengths, but the more cynical amongst up might ponder whether Monday's formation might've been the equivalent of "dad dancing", with Wenger suddenly feeling the need to prove that anything Pep or Conté can do, he can do better.

            I presumed this to be a "horses for courses" one off experiment, with Wenger loading up on centre-halves to deal with Boro's expected aerial threat. Yet when one considers that it might've ended up resulting in a far more miserable outcome, if either of Downing's decent crosses had been despatched, the performance hardly served as validation of our ability to effectively adapt to this particular tactical strategy.

            Others have questioned whether it might've been a dress-rehearsal for Sunday's game and I for one bloomin' well hope not, as I'm already terrified by the likelihood of Ramsey and Xhaka playing in the middle, where I fear neither is willing, nor able to produce the work rate necessary to provide our defence with sufficient protection. And surely the worrisome prospect of us being overrun by City in the middle of the park only becomes more acute, if AW includes an additional centre-back?

            If as I suspect, Wenger reverts to his more standard formation, I imagine that I'm far from alone in questioning whether "two wash-bags" Bellerin will receive a recall at right-back. It's rumoured that Hector has been carrying a knock recently and I certainly hope that this is the case, as it would at least provide Hector with some excuse for his lamentable dip in form and it offers some hope that the disturbing sight of Sane leaving him for dead might just be a one-off aberration.

            Rather than Hector carrying the psychological baggage of the Man City wide man getting the better of him, into next season, I think I'd want him to be challenged on Sunday to go out and prove his mettle. In fact the club could do a lot worse than sitting the entire team down and force feeding them recordings of their forbears more memorable displays, by way of a much needed reminder of the sort of resolve, the 100 per cent committed attitude that's expected of them come Sunday.

            The Ox appeared to be just about the only energised Arsenal player against Boro, willing to take responsibility to run with the ball and at least make something happen. But even he seemed to run out of puff, or enthusiasm, as he slipped into comparative anonymity, along with his colleagues second-half. Will Wenger take a risk on Alex maintaining his energy level for 90 minutes on Sunday. Or will Walcott get the shout, knowing he might contribute little overall, but is at least capable of popping up with a goal? In truth I fancy that all such selection quandaries will not prove nearly so significant as the attitude of the starting XI.

            When I contrast the Gunners utterly tame efforts of late, with some of the engrossing Champions League encounters in midweek, it seems to me that leaving aside the question of sufficient quality, it's been the woeful lack of intensity to the Gunners efforts that's been the most obvious difference. In the past I've invariably been able to kid myself that our players were at least willing to make it look like the outcome mattered to them. But watching a positively distraught Neymar, blubbing his eyes out after Barca had exited the competition, I simply couldn't envisage any of our lot as having been equally distressed after they were trounced by Bayern.

            Never mind the daunting prospect of proceeding to the cup final, I'm absolutely desperate for us to win, or at the very least to produce a performance in which they do themselves proper justice on Sunday, if only to be able to carry some confidence into the North London derby. If, in addition to finishing below Spurs for the first time in a couple of decades, we have to face the ignominy of losing our last ever encounter at White Hart Lane, I'll have a depressingly long summer's worth of piss-taking to look forward to, from all those puffed up Spurs pals who'll be keen to make the most of their rare bragging rights.

            I'll be only too delighted to end up having to eat these words, but watching Spurs batter Bournemouth last Saturday, it didn't exactly appear as if Pochettino's side are about to produce an encore of the way in which they ran out of steam last season. With the Spuds 2-0 up after only twenty minutes, the game already looked done and dusted as a contest and on TV it sounded as if the atmosphere evaporated as the first half wore on; to such an extent that the only noise being picked up by the pitchside sound effects mics was that of their Argie manager bellowing at his team to maintain their high-intensity fervour.

            Equally revealing was that unlike the Gunners far more sedentary displays, there was no sense of Spurs smugly sitting back on a three goal lead and it was hard not to be impressed, watching our neighbours continue to work their socks off, as they pressed for a fourth goal in the 92nd minute.

            As we all know, mercifully form can go straight out the window when it comes to a derby game but it's precisely this sort of hunger and determination that the Gunners are going to need to match (and which has been on the missing list for most of the season), if we're to have any hope of taking them down a peg, or two and putting a spoke in their Premiership hopes, thereby calming the rising panic about a last gasp title charge.

            Even if we're to end up failing, so long as the Gunners give us a performance to be proud of. I'm already dreading the short trip to the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road far more than would normally be the case and I couldn't bear the thought of putting myself through such an ordeal, only to watch an uninspired Arsenal side that rocks up expecting to get turned over.

            Sunday's semi-final is crucial in this context because it's essential that we produce the sort of impressive display that inspires some hope. Otherwise I might end up sitting here, seriously wondering if I'd be better off cashing in the gold-dust of my White Hart Lane ticket, putting the cash towards my season ticket renewal and allowing some other mug to suffer a sado-masochistic adieu to Spurs dilapidated old home.

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Anonymous said...

Stop calling him "le Prof"
It is so irritating.
The time when Arsene Wenger commanded respect are long gone - he is done and dusted and dragging the club down with him.
Le prof my arse..

Bern said...

Sorry mate! I'm certain change is long overdue, but it goes against the grain for me to disrespect the man who's responsible for giving me SO much pleasure. Spoiled Gooners seem to forget that it's only as a result of 20 years of top 4 that our expectations have been raised to the point where we've come to believe we've got some heaven sent right to success.

Any blame and anger should be directed at the complacent cowards who haven't got the balls to do their jobs and recognise the need to bring the curtain down