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Tuesday 30 May 2017

Better than Cannavaro, Rob Holding You Know

            It felt like one of those slow-motion car-crash moments when Koscielny recklessly clattered into Valencia during last Sunday’s climax to our league campaign. Doubtless I might feel somewhat differently next season, when forced to schlep to some far-flung East European wilderness in the Europa Cup on a Thurs night, but at the time I was more devastated when the realization dawned with the resulting red card that our defensive lynchpin would be suspended from the Cup Final than I was with being denied Champions League football by Boro’s capitulation at Anfield.

            All hope I had of us denying Abramovich’s upstarts the double and ending the season on a high by beating Chelsea in the Cup Final evaporated in that instant. Any remaining vestiges of Gooner optimism departed upon the stretcher that subsequently bore Gabriel from the fray.

            Such was the seemingly incredulous misfortune of the decimation of the Gunners rearguard in advance of our big day out at Wembley that as I fiddled with my radio, impatiently awaiting team news while negotiating an illusory security cordon around the national stadium on Saturday, I half expected to hear that Alexis and Özil had collided in the warm up and would also be on the missing list.

            Whether Ospina’s cup appearances are written into our Columbian keeper’s contract, or his selection was merely testament to Arsène’s obdurate loyalty, frankly it seemed to me that it didn’t matter who’d be facing Chelsea between the sticks, if our defence proved too porous to provide sufficient protection.

            After witnessing Mertesacker’s brief cameo against Everton, I was positively dreading the prospect of our BFG enduring a humiliating last Arsenal curtain call. However I’m delighted to be left eating humble pie, after Per seemed to muster his entire career’s worth of experience and put it all into Saturday’s majestic swansong. 

            To prevent the likes of Costa and Hazard exposing his oil tanker like pace, the BFG tried to maintain a 20-yard buffer zone. This often left him dropping so deep that I was most surprised Conte didn’t pick up on the opportunity to target the amount of space provided by our old warhorse’s reluctant to push up and play the opposition offside.

            Yet ever since their 3-0 defeat at our place back in September, Conte and his charges had invested so much focus and concentration into mounting a consistent title charge that it perhaps wasn’t surprising that they went somewhat off the boil after securing their principle target. For the first half hour of Saturday’s enthralling contest, it appeared as if the two sides had swapped personalities, with the Gunners coming out of the traps like a team possessed, seemingly intent on producing the sort of committed performance on the pitch that would provide the best possible response to the season’s worth of callous criticism that their Cesar was past it.

            The question left on most Gooners lips was why had we failed to produce this sort of intensity for the vast majority of our campaign and what might’ve been, if only we hadn’t hidden the light of such scintillating footie under a bushel for much of the past eight months.

            While many tried to draw inference from Arsène’s tactful withdrawal from last Sunday’s “lap of appreciation” at the Emirates, watching Wenger soaking up the heartwarming adulation as the squad celebrated their shock success in the Wembley sunshine, it was hard to imagine le Gaffer being anywhere else. I could see Gooners everywhere nudging and teasing one another over the hypocrisy of our fervent chorus of “only one Arsène Wenger”. What a complete contrast to the poisonous vitriol spewing forth from the terraces at Palace only last month!

Up for the Cup
            For the past couple of months, most have been convinced that the only question was whether Wenger would sign an extension for one year or two. But I sense a change in our manager’s demeanour over the last week. He’s suddenly responded to what he perceives as a betrayal by those Gooners who’re intent on besmirching his illustrious legacy.

            Whenever our ageing dinosaur has appeared to be at the point of extinction, the euphoria of the FA Cup has been there to provide the kiss of life. But this was no expected victory over Hull or Villa, this was a derby triumph over the club that’s provided the benchmark in recent times. In an age where quietude is invariably impinged by the bling of a mobile phone, the hush of the 90,000 crowd in memory of Monday night’s tragedy was particularly moving.

            Yet it saddens me that the authorities have been cowed by this outrage, in cancelling the traditional trophy parade and thereby depriving the red & white half of North London the opportunity to come together and revel in the very best of what multi-culturalism has to offer. I guess we’ll have to wait for the Community Shield to regale the Blues about sticking their double where the sun don’t shine and to chide Spurs about ending their best and our worst season in decades with  “no silverware”!
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