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Monday, 8 May 2017

The Fat Lady Takes A Rain Check

Prior to yesterday’s match I met up with a mate who’d flown over from Dublin to bring Joel, his youngster to his first ever Arsenal game. If one was planning such an outing, you would’ve thought that with the momentous history between the two sides and with so little love lost between Wenger and Mourihno, a high-profile, end of season clash between Arsenal and Man Utd should prove a guaranteed winner.

Don’t get me wrong because as far as I’m concerned, there can’t possibly be a more pleasant way to pass a Sunday afternoon than watching the Gunners, while soaking up some particularly agreeable Spring sunshine. Yet when one reflects upon the obscenely inflated sums invested in the prima-donna purveyors of our afternoon’s entertainment, frankly I sat there at half-time thinking that my Irish pal and his lad must’ve felt like they’d been sold a pup, with the sum total of the first forty-five minutes amounting to quite such disappointingly dour and uninspiring fare.

I can recall so many titanic encounters with Man Utd in the past, where often the tension has been so great that it’s been ten minutes into the match before I’ve even dared draw breath. This might only have been a clash between the also-rans in 5th and 6th in the table, but it was hard to credit that both teams were supposedly battling to cling to the slightly increased hope of Champions League qualification, after the Scousers had kindly left the door ajar by dropping two points at Anfield.

Even the library-like Emirates has risen to the occasion in the past and the atmosphere has been absolutely electric for so many of our previous meetings. Perhaps there was still some hangover from the gut-wrenching disappointment of last weekend’s derby defeat. Or maybe it’s down to an abiding mood of disillusionment, amongst all those Gooners who are distraught at the inertia that exists at the club and the apparent unwillingness to dynamite the current, complacent status quo and effect some long overdue change.

Yet even by the sedentary standards of our new stadium, I struggle to recall a Man Utd game where the home crowd has been quite so insipid, as the testimonial like circumstances of the first-half on Sunday. I guess the lack of goalmouth action didn’t exactly help. I’m not sure that the containment of an unimpressive Martial counts as much of a test, but while the Gunners might’ve acquired a more calm and composed aura in defence with the current formation, sadly it would appear that the inclusion of an additional centre-half is not without cost to our attacking potency.

With both Alexis and Özil finding themselves forced to drop deep to see anything of the ball and with Ramsey and Xhaka reluctant to make runs into the box, on those rare occasions when the Ox or Gibbs threatened down the flanks, either an isolated Welbeck was the only target in the box, or more often than not, our lone striker’s tendency to roam left the opposition’s penalty area entirely vacant of red and white.

While enduring our lamentable display at White Hart Lane, it struck me that Spurs formation was far less rigid, with their three centre-halves having more license to influence proceedings when they were in possession and only reverting to five across the back when they lost the ball.

Every time I’ve seen Man Utd play this season, I’ve marveled at the club’s ability to spend SO much money, while managing to remain quite so mediocre. I almost feel sorry for Rooney, since he’s become such an ineffectual shadow of the player who left us all with our jaws on the floor when he burst onto the world stage with THAT first goal at Goodison. 

I guess Arsène was long overdue some luck against his gobby, managerial nemesis. Mercifully he got it in spades on Sunday. It was only upon seeing the replay on the big screen that I realized Xhaka’s speculative effort had deflected off Herera’s back, causing the bizarre arc that defeated De Gea.

I was most relieved that Joel was able to enjoy the euphoria of witnessing his first live goal, as up until then, this contest was so sterile that it appeared destined to end goalless. It was the hunger of young Rob Holding that was the catalyst, which led to Welbeck heading home and much as occurred last weekend, with the second goal coming in such swift succession, it pretty much killed the game off as a contest.

Alexis should’ve been embarrassed by his inability to disturb Utd’s debutante right-back. With our Chilean pocket-rocket seemingly so out of sorts, it’s hard to envisage where the goals are going to come from. Yet amidst all the doom and gloom, it would be some feat if we were to sneak under the wire into 4th spot.

Not that I’d wish harm upon anyone, but after knobbling Silva in the semi (I'm really not sure if we'd have won otherwise!), Gabriel might do likewise with Hazard in the final. If we were to beat Chelsea and end a miserable season on a high, by both winning the Cup and qualifying for the Champions League, much like UKIP, the Wenger Out mob would be left with little to protest about. Personally I feel fans should be forced to endure a season supporting the likes of Leyton Orient, or Blackburn Rovers to afford all those Gooner ingrates some proper perspective.

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Anonymous said...

7/10 in the Observer Bernard?

Surely 5/10 would be pushing it?

Regards Pete t F