Wednesday, February 19, 2014

All Still Up For Grabs....

... and after seeing Man City roll over at the Etihad this evening, I thought I had better get this posted out, while it still remains that way :-)

Not that I'm being overly pessimistic because at our best and on our day, our first XI are capable of giving anyone a run for their money, even Bayern Munich. Sadly in the absence of the energetic midfield hustling of Aaron Ramsey and deprived of the threat of Theo's pace, you would have to admit that on paper, the daunting German outfit looks favourite for this game over the two legs.

Mercifully football is played on grass, not on paper and with us going into tomorrow night's game, buoyed by Sunday's Cup triumph, provided we've not already used up all of our good fortune (and it certainly feels as if we continue to be owed a large slice of which, after so many long years of lady luck's unrequited love), I for one sense that we're going to have every opportunity to overturn the odds and prove the bookies wrong for once.

I certainly hope our lads were watching events in Manchester this evening. That's assuming that they weren't otherwise occupied "schtooping" glamour models. Although in truth, while I can totally appreciate that his indignant missus fully deserves her entitlement to try and squeeze Olivier's seemingly limited amount of grey matter back up into his bonce from whence it currently appears to reside, by means of inserting his genitalia into a vice, am I not correct in believing that there have been various eminent sporting coaches (boxing?), who've espoused the benefits of a good despunking before sending their charges into battle? 

So from a strictly partisan point of view, on the basis that Giroud came out and scored (again!) against Palace after his illicit 3am exertions in his Four Seasons Hotel room the night before, instead of banning and fining Gunners for sneaking ladies in for a late-night fusilade, perhaps we should be asking why Le Prof isn't out there procuring for our main man on a more regular basis (and while he's at it..... :-)?? At least this would enable Arsène to produce some proper statistics on the subject, in order to analyse the benefits of such pre- or post match shenanigans on one of his many spreadsheets!

But if I'd been a City fan watching them play Barca at home this evening, I would've felt bitterly disappointed by the seemingly timid way in which they went about this match. You would've thought that after spending billions of pounds, amassing such a vast array of footballing talent, this would have at least afforded Pellegrini and his players the sense that their team need fear no one, providing them with the "cajones" to go out and take on the likes of Barca?

Personally I was looking forward to watching an entertaining hors d'oeuvres, to whet my appetite before tomorrow night's main course and I was a little gutted to see City sit back, like so many of Barca's underdog patsies before them. One might've thought that Pellegrini of all people would know that unless you go out there to unsettle Barca's rhythm by taking the game to them, it's almost inevitable that opponents will eventually succumb to the Spanish side's sublime tikki-takka.

Pellegrini has impressed me up until now with the way in which he's carried himself and I assumed that after having endured assorted defeats to Barca during his time in Spain, "the Engineer" would positively revel at finally having an opportunity to line a team up against them on a level financial playing field. 

But to the contrary, after watching City's uninspiring efforts, I had to wonder if the defeat was partially due to the psychological baggage Pellegrini brought with him from Spain, whereby he's been too accustomed to the underdog mentality of merely attempting to thwart the mighty Catalan giants, to even consider giving them a drubbing? And this accounted for him sending out an overly cautious line-up that was far too focused on denying Barca a goal, when he should've instead sent out a team that was more capable of concentrating on scoring their own. 

Consequently, when this tactic inevitably failed, in the time honoured fashion of so many victims who have fallen before them, having gone behind and suddenly having to try and change tack completely and take the game to their guests, City were completely buggered, with it being so much more likely that they'd be undone, as Barca picked them off on the counter, as they began to flag later in the game.

Win, lose of draw tomorrow night, I truly pray that we don't attempt the same sort of performance that produced a great result in Dortmund. If we get beat, we get beat, there's no shame in losing to a magnificent outfit like Bayern, but I will be bitterly disappointed if we go down without a fight, showing the German side too much respect and sitting back and inviting them on, instead of taking the game to our opponents.

Obviously I don't expect us to go gung-ho and it's more likely to be your standard cagey European fare at this high pressure point in the competition, but while it might be acceptable to grind out a result away from home, defending for our lives in our half of the park, Bayern are in our house tomorrow night and it is therefore behoven of our full backs (and anyone supposedly playing out wide) to play in their half of the park, pressing on down the flanks and preventing their full-backs from bombing forward all night.

Negredo made some effort against Barca, but not until Na$ri came on as a sub for City, did I get the sense of one of the players in sky blue looking to try and grab the game by the scruff, when the rest of his colleagues had performed for most of the ninety as if they'd been infected by their manager's inferiority complex.

I've managed to bash out all this without a single reference to the ignominious comments of the Chelsea manager, but perhaps therein lies a clue to superiority complex which has played such a significant part in Mourinho's short term success in his assorted posts. Ah but building an entire that's an entirely different and far more enduring achievement.

After being discharged from hospital last Tuesday, following fairly major surgery, I was forced to stop at home and watch the Man Utd match on TV. But it's very hard to endure watching a home game on the box, listening to the sound of the stadium announcer wafting through our living room window and amongst the many reasons I attend most every match with such religious devotion is because for some strange reason, it's always far less stressful watching the Gunners play in the flesh, than spending 90 minutes screaming blue murder at an inanimate screen in the corner of our living room. 

It would've been sensible for me to have continued to stop at home for Sunday's game, rather than putting myself at risk amongst 60,000 people coughing and spluttering and passing on their germs and I was debating right up until Sunday morning whether I should go or not. But it proved such a glorious afternoon for watching football, that when it came to it, Rona would've had to tie me down to the armchair to prevent me from wandering around to THOF2 come KO time.

And boy am I glad that I made the effort, as I simply can't imagine how devastated I would've been, if I'd ended up missing out on the experience of being there for such an enthralling afternoon of knockout cup football right on my doorstep. Mind you, as someone who's not exactly known for sitting quietly at football, I have to tell you that it was nigh on impossible for me to stick to my promise to adhere to instructions to remain schtum for the entire 90 minutes, for fear that my customary screaming and shouting was bound to end up with me literally busting a blood vessel and being carted off on a stretcher!

I think there was one point where I couldn't stop myself from attempting to bellow "pressure" at one of our players over on our flank in the first half, in an effort to encourage him to close down the Liverpool player with the ball. But due to the fact that it hurts too much to shout (not to mention laugh, blow my nose, brush my teeth and wipe my arse!) right at this present point in time, my customary holler came out instead as a feeble squeak and so at least this encouraged me to put a cork in it for the remainder of the match.

I'm hoping that the weather tomorrow night is not too inclement, otherwise Rona might end up handcuffing me to the bedstead to prevent me from going to the game and in my current parlous state, I'd end up with neither the promise of football nor any sexual gratification!

But hopefully I am going to make it around to there, come hell, or high water to watch an even more scintillating triumph than Sunday's? And while I'm encouraging everyone else to get behind the lads and scream and shout on my behalf, to be our twelfth man tomorrow night, I should perhaps temper this with the warning that while in my case the 20-40 Camel filters might well be a contributing factor, Gooners everywhere might want to be cautious about maintaining their anonymity when supporting their team too vehemently on home turf, as you don't want to end up like me and wake up one morning to find that your club have exercised a somewhat harsh punishment for shouting too loud at the Emirates, doubtless halving my decibels by extracting one of my lungs!


It's All Still Up For Grabs.....

There wasn’t a lot of optimism in the air prior to kick-off yesterday, especially after the cup draw had proffered our guests the additional motivation of a potential Merseyside derby in the quarterfinals. In fact I’d fully prepared myself for writing a miserable, doom and gloom filled report, fearing for the couple of successive defeats, which might have left our season looking completely in tatters come this Thursday morning.

Yet after Suarez and co. had sliced and diced our defence, twice in the opening five minutes and could have easily taken a two-goal lead, but where in contrast to our mauling at Anfield, the Scousers failed to make the most of both opportunities, perhaps it should’ve dawned on me that this was destined to be our day.

Whether it was the chance to redeem themselves after last weekend’s embarrassment, or their appreciation of quite what a pivotal encounter this might prove to be, in terms of the mood in the camp and our psychological well-being in advance of Wednesday clash with what many will regard as the best team on the planet, you only had to see all the fist-pumping and heart-thumping going on, as the players savoured their well-deserved ovation at the final whistle, to appreciate that they were no less euphoric about the result than the rest of us.

If you compare the calibre of the teams left in the FA Cup with the cream of European football that’s still involved in the Champions League, it could be argued that as the eternal pragmatist, Arsène should actually be selecting our best XI for the domestic competition and leaving anyone in need of a breather on the bench against Bayern this Wednesday because it’s patently obvious which way lies the easiest route to ending our trophy drought.

But then Wenger wouldn’t dream of pitting his wits against Guardiola with one arm tied behind his back and if he hadn’t rested Giroud against Liverpool, we wouldn’t have been afforded the opportunity to witness the apparent transformation in Yaya Sanogo, who suddenly looks like an entirely different creature to the timid rabbit caught in the glare of British football’s frenetic headlights, in his extremely brief early season cameo.

Although there was a whisper about the possibility of Wenger selecting the French striker, having not seen hide nor hare of Sanogo since August, it was no less of a surprise to see him thrown into the fray instead of Bendtner, for what might well have proven to be a massive make or break moment in his fledgling Arsenal career. Yet I for one was delighted that Bendtner wasn’t even included on the bench, since to my mind the Dane’s prima-donna attitude stinks and I’d much prefer to see him quarantined off from the rest of the squad, unable to infect others with the poison of his apparent disaffection.

Considering it’s not exactly been a common occurrence in recent years, I was gutted that the Gunners failed to make the most of our midweek opportunity to kick Man Utd while Moyes’ side are quite so down and following the humiliating assault on our confidence at Anfield, I was terrified at the prospect of containing Liverpool’s rampant front line with a weakened team.

I was just walking through the turnstile when I heard news on my radio of Kevin Doyle scoring his first goal for QPR. But while Gooners everywhere having been baying for blood because of our apparent transfer window ineptitude and what appeared to be a blatant failure to offer our emaciated squad the psychological boost of bringing in some more (fit!) bodies, perhaps by pulling Sanogo from his sleeve at this precise point in time, we’ve just discovered how our manager has continued to maintain his equanimity, while all about him have been questioning his sanity.

Up until 4pm yesterday I too was pondering whether it was feasible for this Arsenal squad to continue fighting on all three fronts, whereas following 90 glorious minutes of fabulously entertaining FA Cup football, suddenly anything is possible once again!

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Monday, January 27, 2014

The Gunners's Guaranteed Silverware Safely Ensconced In My Compression Stockings

While the Skyblues' Fans Pined For the Ricoh, THOF2 Was Lit Up Like An Xmas Tree
There was a genuine “more important than this” moment on Friday night, as the entire stadium stood to applaud the Coventry fans protest on 35 mins, with 35 being the number of miles the Skyblues’ fans have to travel to watch their football in Northampton. Coventry were always a constant fixture amongst the top flight Soccer Stars albums of my childhood and the tragic demise of such a grand old footballing institution, stands as a salutary lesson for us all.

I enquired of a couple of Coventry fans as to the whys and wherefores of their proposed protests that evening. Although I must admit that I’m a little vague on the reason for the second on 61 mins. It was something to do with Jimmy Hill, maybe the length of his chin? I only engaged the two lads, in an effort to try and lift their spirits, after hearing the “game’s up” resignation in their voices, as one of them announced the team news that Mezut Özil was included in our starting lineup.

It seems I mislead them, by suggesting that they needn’t fret because our Mezut is a bit of a luxury player. Boy did he prove me wrong on Friday. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Özil graft quite so industriously in an Arsenal shirt. Who knows, perhaps he’d been asked to help ease Keiran Gibbs’ return to fitness because he was up and down the length of our left flank all night, showing the sort of admirable responsibility for the Arsenal’s cause, the absence of which, I’ve been all too quick to criticise, when he’s appeared to loaf about like a disaffected teenager in other less energetic outings.

Then again, it was a good night all round for the Gunners’ German contingent, with Podolski
Aha! Lukas knows what time it is
positively bursting with the vim and vigour that resulted in the opening two goals, making for several distasteful but nonetheless amusing cracks about Coventry getting bombed by the Krauts again.

Doubtless no one who endured the Second World War barrage would find it a laughing matter. Similarly, I’m sure all my ancestors must be turning in their graves, as I sit here, gleefully contemplating Arsène’s second coming and the prospect that this might be founded on a growing assortment of “big effing Germans”

I distinctly recall my old man’s dilemma as a kid, sensing and sharing his delight at posing in our street in the “ultimate driving machine” by way of his new company car, but with him positively dreading the wrath of my grandparents, should he dare to park the abomination of a shiny new BeeMer outside their Golders Green home.

Nevertheless, sadly I can’t afford a new Mercedes and even if such sensitivities were a consideration nowadays, I’d probably be contributing more to the German GDP by purchasing a Mini. I just happen to believe that if we’re going to end up finally parading some proper silverware around our not so new home come May, our prospects of any such success might well benefit from a mindset of mental toughness, instilled into our squad by an Aryan backbone.

Andries Jonker inherits Liam Brady's role as Academy boss
I always endeavour to ignore the endless media gossip, taking it all with a pinch of salt, until actually seeing a new arrival paraded in the red & white, but I’m certainly not averse to the prospect of Draxler joining up with Mertesacker, Podolski, Gnabry & young Zelalem to add to the Arsenal’s growing band of Bratwurst munchers. Doubtless Premiership football’s increasing penchant for raiding the Bundesliga is no coincidence. Even our Dutch replacement for Liam Brady as Academy boss, comes with Bayern and Wolfsburg as the most recent entries on his CV.

Yet with Arsène blessed with his mixed Alsatian Franco-German heritage, considering his initial success was based on plundering young French fruits from Clairfontaine, there’s a certain irony to this recent increase in the percentage of German passports in and around the current set-up. Although of them all, only Mertesacker has any real “master race” credentials and I’m pleased to report that he continues to exert these, with mounting gusto in each successive match.

General Mertesacker
I almost felt sorry that Coventry missed a glaring opportunity to give their fans a consolation goal to celebrate on Friday, but not sufficiently sorry to want to waste another big fat zero in the goals conceded column. The stats don’t reveal the fine margins of missed sitters, which might have ruined our clean sheet record and yet as this continues to augment in such impressive fashion, currently Koscielny and Mertesacker must be candidates for the Premiership’s most consistent centre-back pairing.

George Graham always referred to building winning teams from the back forward. Yet considering how long we’ve been crying out for Arsène to make a serious investment in a decent keeper as evidence of the club's genuine intent, you would hardly have Le Prof marked down as a pupil of such a pragmatic defensive philosophy. We once again witnessed some wonderfully entertaining football on Friday, of the sort that has my tongue hanging out, salivating in eager anticipation of each successive encounter.

However, no matter that nicking “1-0 to the Arsenal” wins has never been in the DNA of Wenger’s teams up until now and despite the increasingly resolute heart, beating away at the back, I continue to have my reservations about the Gunners' capacity for grinding out games in this fashion. Then again, recent events might lead one to conclude that perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks and that just maybe Stevie Bould has been leading the stubborn old bugger to water, to demonstrate a somewhat less enthralling, but no less satisfying means for le Gaffer to slake his thirst?

Like the vast majority of Gooners, I share what appears to be a general consensus of opinion, where all that matters is the maintenance of our winning momentum and none of us give a stuff for the manner in which we achieve said success. With our wealth of midfield quality, at our best, we’ve no reason to fear anyone. It might have only been lowly Coventry on Friday night, but by contrast to some of the ponderous, uninspiring football that we’ve witnessed at home of late, it was most encouraging to see the goalbound thrusts of the likes of Wilshere and Gnabry, energetically surging past opponents with the ball.

Ever since we received all those plaudits for grinding out a magnificent triumph in Dortmund, we seem to have acquired a somewhat passive tendency to sit back and invite the opposition to do their worst, a little too safe in the belief (for my liking) that we’ve now acquired the stalwart capacity to hold all-comers at bay, until such time as the opposition begins to run out of steam and our superior quality will eventually begin to tell.

For my money it was just such a phlegmatic approach, which enabled Everton to grow so comfortable on the ball, affording the Toffees time and space to lift their heads and pick out the bursting runs of Ross Barkley & co. (can’t seem to let my anger lie over dropping these two unnecessary points!). By contrast, with the snowball effect associated with our recent consistency and the fact that this engenders the sort of fear and respect, in those opponents who might previously have turned up with something more than mere “park the bus” ambitions, Friday’s display demonstrated that it only takes the inspiration of an injection of tempo from a single player, for the rest of his teammates to pick up the pace of their play and produce the sort of scintillating staccato passing triangles that will unsettle most every opponent and where at our very best, will result in them all being duly sliced and diced.

It was this vitality which was most pleasing, on a night when it would’ve have been all too easy for elements of complacency to raise their ugly head and where we might’ve easily succumbed to a giant-killing upset as a result of the visitors vigour, if we’d been guilty of taking our guests too lightly.

Already 2-0 up by the time of the nine thousand Skyblues’ fans “why?” protest (did I hear correctly when the radio reported that there were three times as many Coventry fans as their average turn out in Northampton?), we Gooners could afford to demonstrate a certain generosity of spirit.

Admittedly I visited a hypnotherapist last week, under the threat of a surgeon refusing to operate on me, unless I curb my selfish smoking habits and perhaps she’s responsible for bringing out in me the sort of touchy-feely traits that I would’ve previously mocked. But for a few brief moments there on Friday evening, it felt as if this encounter transcended partisan football and events on the pitch were a mere sideshow to what was taking place on the terraces, as football fans came together to commune as one, in protest at the business world’s ransacking of the beautiful game and to express our abhorrence of the continual rape and pillage, with such utter disregard for trampling on all of our ancient traditions. Surely this must eventually begin to alienate all those of us mug punters, whose presence is essential to make the game in this country such an attractive global commercial product?

Even the subsequent partial floodlight failure felt like some sort of timely allegory. There was plenty of light for the match to continue without any problems, but as everyone in the stands began to pull out their mobile phones, much like a rock concert, the twinkling of thousands of tiny torches, lit up the stadium like a sparkling Christmas tree. A metaphor perhaps to reiterate that as the beautiful game continues to barrel headlong down the road of rampant commercialization, for all the wonders of modern technology, there’d be little interest in twenty-two men kicking a ball about on the pitch, without the illuminating atmosphere from the terraces.

If any further proof of this was fact was required, it was witnessed in all those thousands of empty seats seen up and down the land in assorted FA Cup encounters over the remainder of the weekend. Sure the TV pictures showed some full stadia, but for the most part, the tragic sight of vast swathes of barren terraces, only served to reiterate that the glorious FA Cup has been milked by all the marketing bandits, beyond the point of no return. It seems to me that clubs would be far better off by at least trying to foster some sort of regeneration, giving all the unsold tickets away to local schools, in an effort to restore some sort of decent FA Cup atmosphere, with matches taking place in front of full houses.

Meanwhile I’m due to go under the surgeon’s knife on the 5th February and this afternoon’s fifth round draw felt like yet another attack from the scalpel. In light of my quasi-religious devotion to following the Gunners all over for so many years, it’s agonizing that in a season which continues to hold so much promise, I’m suddenly to be denied attendance at Anfield for the encounter with Liverpool, the midweek home game against Man Utd and now a return fixture against the Scousers in the FA Cup, all in the space of a week, let along any subsequent matches that I might be forced to miss whilst, hopefully, I continue to recover from my operation (assuming the stress of watching all these matches on the box doesn’t prove too much for the old blood pressure and my ticker ends up giving up the ghost!).

I’m not a betting man and I never tempt fate by backing the Gunners, but if I was, I fancy it might be worth staking my compression stockings on the likelihood that fate’s cruel sense of humour has determined that I’m going to miss out on being there in person to savour this series of enthralling encounters, in a campaign that’s now pretty much guaranteed to bear silverware-laden fruit!

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Friday, January 24, 2014

We Are STILL Top Of The League

I'm sure that much like every other Gooner, I never tire of reminding myself and anyone else who hasn't grown utterly fed up of hearing it, that the Arsenal remain atop our lofty perch, looking down upon the rest of the Premiership challengers. Moreover I can't help but feel a certain pressure to savour every second that the mighty Gunners bestride the summit, because even if it wasn't for my customarily pessimistic, glass half-empty outlook, I still couldn't escape the nagging doubt that surely it can't possibly last.

Nevertheless, I'm growing more accustomed to this feeling with each passing week and in some respects, I'm enjoying it all the more, as it reminds me of the days of yore, when a more humdrum, hardworking Gunners were the complete anathema of their current incarnation as everybody's favourite other team. The longer that our anorexic-looking squad continues to make a mockery of the perception resulting from the glut of goals scored by Manuel Pellegrini's bloated battalions that has Man City confirmed as Champions elect in all but deed, the more I relish watching all the pundits squirm, as they struggle to find the least discomfiting means of retracting their premature predictions eg. "I never said that Arsenal couldn't win it, but that they wouldn't".

And no matter how hard I try to keep a lid on it and prevent myself from fantasising about still being there or thereabouts, come May, defying the indubitable odds and still hanging on in there, with a shout for the title, I'm sure that like everyone else, it's becoming increasingly hard to prevent myself from drifting off into such euphoric dreams.

As ever, I've the customary raft of excuses for failing to post Sunday's Irish Examiner missive below (most of which, as usual, relate to my sloth-like tendencies!). Yet I did want to expand on the theme of our seemingly increasing potential for coming a cropper in home games, against opponents whose ambitions only extend so far as to limiting us to the minimum possible number of genuine goalscoring opportunities.

On seeing the highlights of the Fulham game on MOTD, I realised that Serge Gnabry had produced a couple of bold assaults upon the Cottagers goal, but comparing the youngster's overall performance with his man of the match display, in metaphorically pulling Tim Sherwood's pants down in the North London Derby, there was little evidence of the same utterly fearless zest and vitality that did for Spurs.

Arsène's oft repeated "handbrake" references seem to have resulted in the terminology rapidly being adopted into the lingua franca of football clichés. Perhaps it's all the hype that resulted from Gnabry's impressive outing against Spurs which have caused him to become a tad more inhibited? I seem to recall that we experienced something similar after Jack Wilshere first burst onto the big stage with such a bang. Where for some time after this I was just itching to see him repeat the feat of wriggling past half a dozen statuesque opponents, resulting in the sort of "glad all over" feeling upon discovering a young Gunner who appeared to be performing on an astral plane that was entirely out of the ordinary footballing world.

However there was a seemingly interminable, anti-climactic opening act following the sensational prologue to the Jack Wilshere story, where it was as if someone had whispered a "keep it simple" instruction into his shell-like, instructing the young prodigy that he shouldn't be trying to win every encounter single-handed. Similiarly with Serge Gnabry, I get the distinct sense that they've tried to rein in his unbridled enthusiasm, in an effort to try and teach him when to bring his talents to bear to the greatest effect, much in the same vein of the ancient joke about the young bull that's eager to bowl down the hill to bang one of the many cows in the field below, but where his more experienced elder suggests that they stroll down and bang them all.

Still, I'd hoped that the energy and the pace of Gnabry, or with his recent return to fitness, the equally speedy attributes of the other young Ox, would compensate for Theo's unfortunate demise, by offering us a Plan B; both by being able to barrel around the exposed flank of the opposition's parked bus, as they pack the heart of their defence with all the bodies blocking the width of the penalty area and by creating more space for our array of ball-players to operate, amongst opposition defences who could no longer condense the area in the middle of the park, when being forced to drop off due to the threat of being made to look foolish by a single incisive pass, to one of these "B" of the bang, speed merchants.

Yet we've already witnessed the Ox's central midfield aspirations, which perhaps make it less intuitive for Alex to operate as an out and out wide man, with a first instinct to tear down the wing and whip a ball in from the byeline and similarly, along with virtually every other midfielder in red and white, Gnabry also appears to enjoy cutting in from the flank, bearing down on the penalty area, to participate in the customary array of intricate one-twos, as part of the Gunners incessant efforts to pick a path through the most crowded area of the pitch.

What would I give for a George Armstrong type individual right now, a player with the blinkered, singular focus for his cameo role, regularly guaranteed to tear down the flank to the byeline, nine time out of ten resulting in him whipping in a dangerous cross from somewhere near the corner flag.

Without someone willing to turn up the intensity of our football in the sort of performance we're growing accustomed to witnessing at our place, the Gunners seem to settle into this slow tempo, far too deliberate football, affording the opposition defence every opportunity to organise their rearguard. And as we're all sitting, impatiently waiting for one of these long periods of ponderous possession to actually pick the lock to the door of the opposition's parked bus, by achieving the point of threatening our opponents goal (and even then we always seem intent on playing one pass too many, when we're crying out for someone to be a little more selfish and take some responsibility by taking the shot on), it seems to become increasingly difficult for anyone to inject the sort of energetic momentum, which is most unlikely to unsettle their patently inferior opponents.

It's not so easy for teams to achieve when the Gunners are out on the road because the opposition are obliged, or their home fans will encourage them to produce just a little more intent and this will often afford us the opportunity for our superior skills to prevail. Yet according to the law of averages, unless we can produce some more variety to our assault on defences at our place, we're making it that much easier for opponents to effect a strategy to deny us and it's likely that there will come a time when they eventually succeed.

I pray that AW's focus on Tuesday's trip to the South Coast doesn't result in him selecting a team for tonight's encounter that leaves us regretting that we took Coventry too lightly, by neglecting to show them sufficient respect and inspiring the Sky Blues to an infamous giant-killing! Hopefully we'll witness the customary mix of youth and experience which will prove just a little too strong for the embattled Midland's outfit.

Sadly the Coventry game appears to have come just a little too soon for the likes of Yaya Sanogo. Although his Bambi-like nine minute brush with the frenetic cut and thrust of British football since his arrival from Auxerre suggests that the French striker is still a some way from making the transition to the unforgiving pace of Premiership football. But who knows, perhaps he, or another youngster will emerge tomorrow night as the answer to le Prof's prayers.

Although in some respects, we don't need anyone to create the sort of sufficiently significant impression which could kid our gaffer into believing that perhaps he does have sufficient numbers to maintain a title challenge! I have to admit that it was somewhat transparent to hear Arsène throwing his toys out of the pram, in whinging about the January transfer window, merely because Juan Mata is likely to be comfortably in situe for David Moyes, come Man Utd's trip to our place in a couple of weeks time.

I'm afraid you can cry foul all you want Arsène, but as it stands at present, the only solution to this problem is to respond in kind, by getting the cheque book out! Besides, judging by Wednesday's incredibly dramatic and ultimately hilarious Carling Cup semi-final, it would appear that along with the vast majority of the footballing world, Chelsea's "not so special any more" manager has concluded that it is going to take a lot more than the mere addition of Mata to reinvigorate a Man Utd side littered with such mediocrity throughout?

Could it be that le Prof's bitterness is related to the rumours that Juan Mata's dad was being entertained in our directors box a few months back and maybe we should be taking it as a compliment that Mourinho chose to flog him to Man Utd because we're viewed by him as a more serious threat. compared to no threat at all?

Still "nuff respek" to Vito Mannone for his influential part in Weds night's wonderfully hilarious proceedings . Moyes might have had more sense than to accept the poisoned chalice of the Ferguson follow-up act, but if I've got some sympathy for their manager, the Schadenfreude of seeing so many of Old Trafford's spoiled glory hunters suffering at the seemingly forgotten fate of the beautiful game's eternally cyclical nature is positively marvelous

Come on you rip roaring Reds


We Are STILL Top Of The League

After the Gunners turned it on for a five minute spell of football on the half hour mark and took a two-goal lead at Villa Park on Monday night, I was convinced we were about to shoot ourselves in the foot, when we sat back in the second half.  Especially when Benteke finally broke his goal drought and the Brummies suddenly found some belief and lit the atmospheric touch-paper, for a frantic last 15 mins.

Surely it’s time to start handicapping Man City, giving opponents a goal or two start, against the massed ranks of Pellegrini’s mercenaries, so as to make matters more interesting? Nevertheless, in City’s current free-scoring incarnation, it’s hard not to put their disturbingly daunting strikeforce on a pedestal, as the benchmark for all the competition to aspire to.

I couldn’t help but ponder that if it’d been City playing against a woefully lacklustre Villa on Monday, with the home side chasing the game in an effort to salvage some self-respect, the Sky Blues’ positively rampant attack would’ve picked them off at will.

In truth, so long as Pellegrini’ s cohorts continue to suffer from their recent preponderance for not turning up on their travels (compared to sort of intense onslaught seen at the Etihad!), they might also have been guilty of sitting back on a two-goal lead. Yet with such a large array of talent competing for starting places, I suspect that any one of City’s bevy of front men would’ve bagged sufficient goals to ensure a more comfortable win, devoid of our unnecessarily stressful “squeaky bum time” at the death.

Similarly against Fulham on Saturday, despite the encouragement of the Cottagers new “brains trust” (it’s a marvel there’s any seats left for Fulham subs with Meulensteen, Wilkins and Curbishley filling up their bench!), one sensed a disappointing lack of ambition from our guests.

The game certainly lacked the high-octane intensity that’s expected of even the friendliest of London derbies, with both sides far too content to spectate when not in possession. It wasn’t long before I was crying out for someone to stoke up proceedings, by kicking an opponent up in the air (in fact I would’ve gladly settled for any sort of bodily contact!).

In contrast to the sort of “no respect” attitude that’s made for such an enthrallingly unpredictable Premiership competitions thus far, it seemed as if the Cottagers were expecting little from this encounter. Although, once again, I couldn’t help but feel that the likes of City would’ve made much lighter work of securing all three points, whereas at present, the Gunners are making life far too easy for those teams who turn up, merely intent on getting everyone behind the ball and shutting shop.

Who Needs Specsavers, Not Our Santi
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not complaining. I’m sure like many other Gooners, a massive grin materializes on my face every single morning, as the arms of Morpheus release their grip and I realize that I’m not dreaming and that the Gunners really are still “top of the league”.

It’s great that we’re now blessed with a myriad of marvelously talented midfield options. But when you contrast the overall depth of those squads with serious competition for places all over the park, it’s hard to avoid this sense that we’ve somehow sneaked under the nose of the burly bouncer, guarding the entrance to the top of the table party, or perhaps we slipped in after Paddy Vieira left the door to the emergency exit ajar and that at some point we’re going to get a tap on the shoulder and unceremoniously be booted out.

Nevertheless, with Mertesacher beginning to acquire the mantle of a genuine Tony Adams type leader and the unsung Koscielny setting such an impressively stalwart example all over the park, as much as I might try to limit any tendency to get carried away, with each passing week that we can continue to retain our lofty perch (and despite our best efforts to gift Darren “couldn’t score in a brothel’ Bent a consolation prize, the stats show that we’re racking up an increasingly resolute number of clean sheets), there must eventually come a time when the title challenge illusion becomes an inescapable reality.

However, as evidenced by more frustrating “eye of the needle” efforts to pick an intricate path through Fulham’s not insubstantial wall of bodies on Saturday, the Gunners badly need to make it harder for visitors to park the bus. With everyone instinctively cutting in, to try and dance their way through the heart of opposition defences (and with Monreal’s apparent aversion to playing a forward pass!), Theo’s demise has only exaggerated our desperate need to be able to pose a more varied threat, by stretching opponents with the sort of width that’s patently lacking at present.

I tend to ignore all the transfer gossip, believing it’s all hot air until players are actually witnessed putting pen to paper. Obviously we’re crying out for a striker capable of offering Giroud some respite. Yet momentum is everything and with the burgeoning spirit in the Arsenal camp, it’s not so much the “who” as far as transfer targets are concerned, but the signal Arsène needs to send out of our intent, to reassure players and fans alike, with a couple of timely additions, which might instill the belief that our challenge is not about to flounder for yet another season, the moment injuries and suspensions begin to take their toll.

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