all enquiries to:

Saturday 21 April 2018

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

            So it would appear that swathes of empty seats and the prospect of the financial pain of a desolate prawn circle, after the installation of more Club Level seats this summer, has finally forced a response to the interminable outcry for change at the Arsenal, signalling the end of a glorious era.

            There will be plenty of ingrate Gooners celebrating Wenger’s announcement, but it feels as if the vast majority of loyal fans of my ilk are left not knowing whether to laugh, or to cry.

            Frankly I’m relieved, if only because I couldn’t abide the thought of yet another fractious season on the terraces, putting a massive dampener upon my own enthusiasm level. Moreover, Arsène simply had to call “time” at some stage and even if his departure should result in several seasons of upheaval, it’s surely better that we bite the bullet sooner, rather than later.

            With the apparent renaissance of the Ox since his move to Merseyside, reinforcing the semblance of uninspiring staleness around the Arsenal dressing room, perhaps the only ammo left to le Gaffer, to try and lift his troops in advance of our daunting Europa Cup semifinal v Atletico Madrid, was to drop this timely bombshell.

            If there was anything that might galvanize fickle Gooners, to ensure that everyone at the Arsenal is finally pulling in the same positive direction, towards the final in Lyon and hopefully to secure a precious seat at Europe’s top table next season by bringing home the Europa Cup bacon, it will be the opportunity to give the old codger a fitting send off.

            Despite the depressing downturn of the past decade, younger Arsenal fans simply cannot fully appreciate quite how good we’ve had it over the fulsome course of Wenger’s astonishingly enduring tenure. Davie Provan emitted a duly scornful snort, during his midweek commentary on Brighton v Spurs, when his Sky colleague revealed that our North London neighbours have enjoyed a whole 29 days sitting atop the pile, during the entire 26 years since the Premiership’s inception.

            Meanwhile, we Gooners were savouring the fabulously filling fruits of the sort of relentless silverware diet, the 3 titles and 7 FA Cups that proved to be the rod of success that would eventually be used to beat le Boss into submission.  After having grown so ungratefully blasé about finishing in the top four, it is only in retrospect, with our noses pressed firmly up against the Champions League window that we’re learning the full value of Arsène’s incredible feat of consistency, during the past two decades of competing upon football’s most illustrious stage (with one hand tied behind his back, financially speaking, while the Arsenal dug themselves out of the new stadium black hole!).

            While Guardiola’s City are deservedly receiving all the plaudits for playing the competition off the park all season long, the failure of such a dominant team to last the course unbeaten, serves as proper context to the achievement of the Arsenal’s Invincibles. Enduring the thirty-eight game marathon, without once falling down on the job, is a feat which is likely to stand the test of time because it might never be repeated. Few will recall the succession of draws necessary to get the Gunners over the line in 2004.

            Yet if the Invincibles were a reflection of our manager’s unstinting stubbornness, it was the supremely balanced squad of the class of ’98 that first converted Gooners to the church of Wenger. Bruce Rioch’s signing of Dennis Bergkamp was the precursor to this new era, gifting Arsène with a magnet to attract players of the calibre of Vieira and Overmars. Wenger was blessed with being able to build a scintillatingly artistic side around the impermeable backbone of George Graham’s defence.

            Following a childhood spent listening to my peers laud the feats of the Hammers’ Moore, Hurst and Peters, we revelled in Vieira and Petit doing likewise in the Stade de France in ’98. I still have the t-shirt buried in my cupboard that’s proudly emblazoned with the Mirror front-page headline “Arsenal win the World Cup”.

            A title winning campaign is such a momentous achievement that they are all extremely special, but in the summer of ’98 it truly felt as if the Gunners were on top of the world, as we struggled to come to terms with the fact that our “boring, boring Arsenal” had suddenly become the darlings of the beautiful game. Sitting in the Highbury sunshine, savouring Arsène’s first title with that 4-0 drubbing of Everton, sealed with Stevie Bould’s defence-splitting through ball, for the donkey, Tony Adams, to volley home, in that moment, it honestly felt as if football (life even!) couldn’t possibly get any better.

            Winning the title at Old Trafford in 2002 and then at White Hart Lane in 2004 (after having seen Ray Kennedy do likewise in 1971) both occasions proved no less memorable. We might have ground out our entirely unbeaten run in 2004, but with goals scored in every single encounter in 2002 and winning every game on the road, it could be argued that this flair-filled title charge was a more impressive achievement. Yet when you consider the vast multitudes of footie fans who’ve never seen their side challenge for a title, let alone making Wembley Cup Finals their second home, there can be no denying that Arsène spoiled us all rotten.

            It’s ironic that eight years later in 2006, the Stade de France became the scene of what must rank as Wenger’s (and every Gooners’) greatest disappointment, with our defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League final. Little did we appreciate back then that this was as close as he’d get to crowning his career with the big-eared prize (it will rankle more than a little if the Ox pulls this off with the Scousers at the first attempt, or if Wenger ends up doing likewise with PSG!).

            This was an incredibly emotional ten-day rollercoaster, with Thierry Henry signing off at Highbury with a fitting celebratory hat-trick in a 4-2 victory over Wigan. I was devastated to depart our Home of Football. Our antiseptic new arena doesn’t hold half the charm of that glorious Art Deco ground and watching the Arsenal will never be the same. If I’m being entirely honest, I can’t help but begrudge the probability that without Wenger’s vision, the staid Arsenal suits would likely still be dawdling over such a mammoth investment gamble.

            Yet, from an entirely selfish perspective, while I’d love to still be watching the Gunners from my privileged West Upper pitch at Highbury, I could appreciate Wenger wanting to put the Gunners on the map, as one of European football’s big players.

            With le Prof’s arrival in ’96 proving to be the catalyst for a complete revolution of the game in this country, for all his obdurate, blinkered faults, there remains an inestimable debt of gratitude, which has made the demise of this decent and honourable human-being, from innovator to an anachronistic dinosaur, utterly agonising viewing.  When my cancer was diagnosed five years ago, I demanded of the oncologist if I’d be around long enough to witness the Arsenal winning the Champions League. As with so many other poorly Gooners, I was incredibly touched to receive a personal letter from le Gaffer, wishing me a speedy recovery.

            The mélange of emotion is mixed with a great deal of comfort, knowing that Wenger won’t be hounded out, but will instead enjoy a fitting send off over the remaining few weeks of the season. If he’s not destined to leave us with a Champions League trophy, I’ll gladly settle for the consolation prize of its ugly sister. Now if only our squad can muster the necessary determination to gift the greatest manager our glorious club has ever known with a suitable golden watch?
email to:

Saturday 7 April 2018

Apathy, Apathy, The Curse of the Gooner Bourgeoisie

(or in Wenger's best Kenneth Williams "infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me") 

I'm fully aware that all right-thinking, reasonably civilised footie fans should've been suitably appalled by events at Anfield prior to the Champions League encounter in midweek, when pissed up Scousers went above and beyond the pale, in their efforts to intimidate the opposition, by bombarding the Man City team coach. 

Yet when one contrasts the rabid fervour that was whipped up by Liverpool fans on Wednesday night, in what proved to be a successful effort to try and ensure that they maximised their home advantage, with the all-pervasive apathy that prevails at the Emirates nowadays, I'd be a liar if I didn't admit to feeling more than a little envious.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting the Scousers on any pedestal. I've stood in the Anfield Road Stand on enough occasions in recent seasons, where the deathly hush emanating from the Kop has inevitably resulted in the customary taunt of "where's your famous atmosphere?" One of the most depressing drawbacks of the advent of all-seater stadia and the corporatization of the beautiful game, to develop a profitable, family friendly product, has been the quiescence of all the famous football crowds of yesteryear. Just as one would with an over aggressive puppy, what began with Maggie and continued with the inception of the Premier League, was the complete castration of the rabid atmosphere of old.

We've not seen a Scouser quite so excited about one leg, since Paul Mccartney met Heather Mills. It might not have invoked the same outrage in the Daily Mail as the fiery welcome, but perhaps more influential upon the decisive defeat of their more illustrious opposition was the fact that a fairly blatant second-half penalty shout went almost completely under the wire. 

Although Anfield might often be as library-like as our own sedentary stadium, the Scousers still tend to turn up the volume when required. I can't help but wonder whether the blissful ignorance of the customarily ineffectual official behind the goal-line (the proverbial spare prick at the wedding!), only a couple of yards away from this foul, was influenced by his reluctance to incur the wrath of 30,000 baying Reds?

Sure, I can appreciate that the dynamism and attacking zeal of Klopp's side has provided the Scousers with considerably more than us to shout about so far this season. Our piss-poor first-half performance against Stoke last weekend made for such painful viewing that I pictured parents telling their unruly offspring that if they were naughty they'd be forced to remain in their seats, to endure the entire second-half.

Moreover, there's no getting away from the fact that the Mickey Mouse Europa Cup competition is always going to be the Champions League's ugly sister. Nevertheless, Thursday night's encounter with CSKA Moscow was a European Cup quarterfinal. With our FA Cup humiliation, our League Cup Final shellacking and any last vestiges of hope of a top four finish long since quashed by our relentless inconsistency, any remaining aspirations for this campaign rested on our clash with the Ruskies.

It just about sums up how shamelessly entitled and spoiled our fan base has become that season-ticket holders couldn't even be bothered to show up, or to even flog their seats to someone who might appreciate the occasion. Some might contend that Arsène is entirely to blame for all this apathy, with the obdurate old fart lingering like a bad smell. 

Albeit we must remember that if it wasn't for Wenger setting the bar so high, with all that success in his early years, much like the Cup Winners Cup in the early 90s, a European cup quarterfinal of any nature would guarantee a full-house of Gooners, positively creaming our pants at the prospect!

Surely the sight of the Ox being let off the reins at Anfield to score such a scorcher against City, only reinforces the argument about how stale our squad has become under Arsène's enduring tenure. We might've turned it on against CSKA's creaking defence, but as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Yet while I'm no less desperate than anyone else for a new broom, I remain an Arsenal supporter, through thick and thin. I've seen some proposing on social media that we should register our dissatisfaction by boycotting our remaining home games. I can only begin to imagine how the likes of Baggies' fans and any club with a genuine cause for throwing their toys out of the pram, must perceive persistent Gooner protestations!

In fact, the only slight solace to be had from our most disappointing league campaign in donkey's years, is that this has at least begun to sift out some of the glory-hunting chaff. The infuriatingly ubiquitous sort of Gooners who are keener to be seen to have been there, by proudly confirming their presence to all their pals on Facebook, than they are worried about actually witnessing events on the pitch. There are increasing swathes of empty seats in Club Level and the corporate boxes, as those whose attendance is primarily about networking, decrease in direct proportion with the kudos going to watch the Gunners.

Although it's not entirely out of the question for this Arsenal side to blow it completely, by failing to turn up for the return leg in Moscow next week (as I suspect will be the case with the vast majority of our travelling faithful!), if as expected, we should progress to the semis, I for one will be far less worried about the impact of Europa Cup success on Wenger's future, than the delicious thrill of pooping Spurs' party, by not only securing more silverware, but knowing quite what a wind up it would be for them if we are restored to Europe's top table, without even having to finish inside the top four. 

With Welbeck seemingly so utterly shorn of self-confidence (as one wag put it on Twitter, Welbz couldn't even finish a "J. Arthur"!), up until now I didn't think we had a hope, but with Laca back in the frame, I'm a little less pessimistic about our lack of firepower.

The vast majority of our crowd had departed before the final whistle on Thursday. Arsenal fans have grown so irritatingly blasé and such was the phlegmatic mood of the crowd coming away from the ground that one would never believe we'd just given CSKA such a drubbing, in one of the most entertaining games of the season, with Rambo's exquisite goal worth the price of admission alone!

Unless the likes of Lazio, Marseille or Leipzig can do us a favour, ultimately it's likely that Simeone's Atletico will stand between us and this precious prize. Should we make it to the semis, whoever we meet, sadly I can't exactly envisage us creating the sort of fervent cauldron-like atmosphere in the home leg, which might influence both opposition and officials alike (mind you, they've not needed any help in gifting us spot-kicks recently!). The headline on the front of Thursday's programme proclaimed "no quarter given" but then I guess we should have long since grown accustomed to our club ignoring the blatantly obvious lack of bums on seats.

Raise the roof for the semifinal? I'm not even sure we'll deign to show up!


email to: