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Tuesday 3 December 2019

Are We Family?

Desolate expanses of the Clock End on Thursday night signal Emery's death knell
            Sadly I've grown so enfeebled in recent times and awaydays have become such a debilitating ordeal that I'm forced to be somewhat discriminating about which outings I can and can't manage.

            Following the almost inevitable consequences of Thursday night's thoroughly depressing defeat, amidst the desolate expanses of a half-empty Emirates and facing the potential prospect of an FL8 inspired renaissance at Carrow Road on Sunday, by hook, or by crook, I was going to make it to Norwich.

            Mercifully, I'm blessed with such kind Gooner pals, who will always do their utmost to encourage my continued attendance at away games, with their willingness to fetch and carry me, door to door, thereby trying to ensure minimal physical exertion. On Sunday morning, Jim had arranged a convenient pitstop on route, at the Bull in Barton Mills, to meet up with a mate from the Arsenal mailing list and to join up with a couple of other Gooner pals coming from Banbury.

            Yakking about all things Arsenal, over my doorstop sausage sandwich, I was listening to Michael from the mailing list, expressing his desire that above all, he was concerned that any appointment of a new gaffer shouldn't be at the expense of sustaining "the Arsenal family". He was referring to the way in which we've grown accustomed to seeing Arsenal players come and go, over the decades and from the boundless egos of the multimillionaire superstars, to the humblest schoolboy apprentice, all those who part ways with the club invariably express sincere affection for the Arsenal, as an extremely special institution.

            The anti-climax of a somewhat disappointing 2-2 draw with the Canaries certainly wasn't quite the optimistic overture that we were all hoping for, from the anticipated injection of enthusiasm that was our minimum expectation. following Freddie having been handed the reins on Friday. 

            With the Gunners getting off to a more effervescent start, on the front foot for the opening thrusts of this entertaining, end to end encounter, there was a sense that Ljungberg had at least inspired a positive reaction amongst the troops. Yet the evidence of the Canaries first riposte, with the Gunners defence parting like the waters of the Red Sea, leaving Leno exposed by one long ball down the middle, only served to remind us that even the much beloved Freddie Ljungberg can't make a mickle out of a muckle.

            Perhaps Freddie felt it was worth a try, believing he might be able to encourage a little more of a concerted an effort from the likes of Xhaka and Luiz, but myself I felt he'd made a massive ricket putting his faith in the triumvirate of Xhaka, Luiz and Mustafi, as the defensive heart of his debut team selection. Witnessing the limited amount of effort that Xhaka appeared willing to expend, I suspect the club's relationship with Granit is irreparable.

            If recent events have resulted in Xhaka losing his Arsenal mojo, I'm unsure David Luiz ever had it! I believe the Brazilian defender rocked up at the club this past summer, merely with a view to bolstering his pension. Who knows, I might well be wrong, but my instinct is that both Xhaka and Luiz no longer care sufficiently about winning games and achieving success for the Gunners, in order to be able to produce a fully-focused, 100% committed shift.

            Many believe we'd be best off playing Torreira in the holding role, in front of our defense. The whirlwind Lucas Torreira who turned up last season and covered every blade of grass would be top of my team-sheet. However, I feel it's Torreira's intensity which is his principle asset. Ever since the rumours of him wanting out, we've seen little, or no evidence of the same sort of wholehearted zest and without it, sadly he's a somewhat banal looking participant. Unless Freddie (or any other managerial successor) can reignite Torreira's flame, I fancy we might be best advised to cut our losses.

            When it comes to Mustafi, I don't know, perhaps he's guilty of trying too hard, but watching Shkodran on Sunday, if he wasn't backing off from the opposition attack with infuriating timidity, he was diving in, with his severest bout yet of "go to ground-itis". 

            Personally, I wouldn't have Xhaka, Luiz or Mustafi anywhere near our first XI from now on because it's patently obvious that the heart of this Arsenal team is liable to have a coronary at any moment. If Freddie is to be afforded the time to try and build anything, surely he must appreciate that he needs to somehow achieve a more solid foundation at the back.

            I simply cannot imagine quite how frustrating it must be for our forwards to be patiently plugging away at creating a goal-scoring opportunity, only to find that no sooner have they breached the opposition's defences than our own backline is guaranteed to fold, at the first sign of the slightest pressure.

            Nevertheless, we came away from Carrow Road clutching at the positives, content in the knowledge that at least we hadn't capitulated and hoping Freddie can build on the draw, by securing a victory against Brighton on Thursday. Meanwhile, it was while watching Match Of The Day 2, later that same night that the thought struck me that any misguided illusions of an "Arsenal family" might well prove to be an oxymoron nowadays.

            We witnessed a touching tribute from the Wolves players, in the black armbands worn in honour of the tragic passing of Benik Afobe's two-year old daughter. Yet when Afobe was with Wolves for a mere couple of seasons, after spending an entire decade with the Gunners, one simply has to question why it hadn't occurred to anyone at our club to merely avail themselves of the black tape in the kit tins, to show some sympathy for the plight of our former player?

            Moreover, watching the highlights of Leicester notching up yet another win against Everton, we suffered the irritating reminder that Brendan Rodgers appears to be receiving able assistance from Kolo Touré on the Foxes' bench. 

            Following on from the likes of Vieira, Arteta and countless other ex-Arsenal stars who've left the club, only to go on and lend their experience and their knowledge to one of our competitors, I can't help but wonder why it is that the suits at our club simply don't appear to comprehend the invaluable benefits to be had from having players of this sort of stature in and around our squad. Even if this is solely for the purpose of our existing players to be able to look up at our former stars and appreciate the winning mentality required to achieve success.

            I find it hard to believe that a player like Kolo would prefer to be working at Leicester than at the Arsenal, as I imagine he'd be "weally, weally" happy to be invited back to his old stomping ground. Then again, perhaps it's foolish of us to expect our beloved club to have retained the slightest sense of a family spirit, when we're blighted by an absentee owner, who's interest in his cash cow only extends to showing his face a mere couple of times per season? If the man at the top couldn't care less, so long as he continues to receive his regular dividends, can we really expect the rest of his staff to want to go "above and beyond" the call of duty, in the best interests of their employer?

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Sunday 1 December 2019

In the words of Andy Kaufman AKA Latka from Taxi "Thank You Very Much"

Not worth reading if you've already seen the edited version in the Examiner, but I thought I might as well post the original



            Standing shooting the breeze at half-time last night, in a humiliatingly half-empty stadium, the like of which we’d not seen since the inauguration of the Gunners new home in 2006, it couldn’t have possibly been more glaringly obvious that Unai Emery’s number was up.

            If the match itself wasn’t miserable enough, with the likes of David Luiz ambling off after half an hour, following an innocuous looking collision, as if the Brazilian had decided he really didn’t fancy all the running around involved in this midfield malarkey and where we watched Joe Willock taking instructions from the manager at one point, knowing Emery is incomprehensible at the best of times, never mind trying to make himself understood from the touchline, there was an abiding sense that even our absentee landlord surely must now sit up and take notice of the inescapable evidence of the lack of bums on seats.

            When Frankfurt took the lead around the hour mark, frankly I resigned myself to believing that it would be worth binning a few Europa League points, if this was likely to precipitate the Basque bodgers imminent exit, before our few remaining star-turns lose complete patience and some of our more promising youngsters risk their confidence being permanently shattered by this car crash calamity of a campaign.

            Truth be told, the writing has been on the wall since our campaign flat-lined in quite such a disappointing and demoralising fashion at the tail end of last season. The exasperation levels both on and off the pitch since the start of this season seem to have risen with each passing match, in direct proportion to the damming statistical evidence of shots and goals conceded. But then how could the Arsenal’s very own incarnation of Latka from Taxi possibly be expected to command any respect, amongst the callous banter of a Premiership dressing room, when he’d become a complete laughing stock on the terraces.

            Trying to fill the void left at the culmination of Wenger’s dynasty was always likely to prove something of a poisoned chalice, but it appears Emery’s prosaic management style couldn’t possibly be in more stark contrast to the erudite genius of Arsène. Personally, I would’ve settled for Unai coming in and replacing the all too casual air of complacent indolence that had pervaded the club during the latter end of Wenger’s reign, by instilling our spineless looking squad with a bit of backbone.
            Yet aside from an initial bounce from Emery’s obvious enthusiasm, the Spaniard patently failed to overhaul his listless looking dressing room. We’ve endured a season and a half of him shuffling his pack, constantly alternating line-ups and formations, seemingly throwing the cards up in the air every week, to see how they fall. Unai’s blatantly evident inability to chance upon a system, or a selection to encourage the best from our squad was only highlighted by the recent performances from Leicester and Chelsea and quite how rapidly the likes of Rodgers and Lampard have appeared to mould a team in their image with their managerial input.

            At least when Pochettino first arrived in this country, he made a concerted effort to ensure he could make himself understood, whereas Emery is no more intelligible in English today than he was on day one. Unai’s pre-match interviews on the big screens in the stadium before home games were a standing joke, where the poor sound quality only added to the embarrassment of not being able to comprehend a single word, of what I always assumed to be a fairly standard stream of clichés. It would’ve indeed proved interesting to hear how Emery justified giving his charges two-days off, after such a woefully lacklustre showing against Southampton. I wonder what the likes of George Graham would’ve made of our spoiled rotten stars being awarded with a break to “mentally recover”. A disciplinarian like Graham would’ve been more likely to have them back in for a double-training session on Sunday by way of punishment!

            Nevertheless, there’s no sense of enmity felt towards the hapless Mr “Good Ebenin”, since my anger is reserved for the suits who employed him and who somehow perceived the diminutive Spaniard as the having the sort of stature necessary to fill Wenger’s shoes. Success in France with the immense advantage of PSG’s financial doping was a given and any shine from Emery’s successive Europa League triumphs with Sevilla was decidedly tarnished by the recent discovery that in his last season in La Liga his side failed to win a single game on the road (sound familiar?).

            Even during Wenger’s decline, Arsenal fans could at least rely on the fact that our interminable inconsistency would be interspersed with odd moments of straw-clutching artistry. Not only has Emery failed to eradicate the habitually sloven lapses in concentration, but in recent weeks our football has become so painfully disjointed that our displays have been almost totally devoid of attacking flair.

            Circumstances appeared to be deteriorating so dramatically that Emery’s departure will be greeted with massive relief, since Gooners have rapidly reached the conclusion that absolutely any alternative would have to be an improvement. At the very least, I would hope that Freddie Ljungberg’s longstanding relationship with the Arsenal’s Young Guns might afford him an opportunity to galavanise the troops. Even if Freddie struggles to sustain an initial remotivation, hopefully this might afford the board time to avoid jumping out of the frying-pan and straight into the fire, by appointing another failure.

            The perennial problem is that we really need to sort of confrontational new broom, who’s capable of commanding fear and respect from his dressing room, with a “take names and kick arses” type intervention, but sadly it’s hard to envisage the Arsenal ever appointing the sort of character who might risk ruffling feathers and impacting upon the smooth running of the Gunners global commerce.

            Fortunately, only yesterday I went online at the club’s official ticket exchange to seek out a ticket for the Brighton game next Thursday for Cliona, my sister-out-of-law who’s traveling over from Dublin. I was flabbergasted to find a glut of seats available in all areas of the stadium. Doubtless Stan Kroenke will be satisfied if the Gunners return to playing in front of packed houses, whereas I’ll settle for the Gunners turning up at Carrow Road on Sunday and putting in fully-focused, wholehearted shift for ninety minutes, for the first time in many a moon.

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