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Kelly’s Heroes

Gabriel-training-Jan-31

I’m not much of a one for a post mortem. I’ll watch Adrian Clarke’s breakdown on the official site and that’s usually enough picking over the bones for me. I did however enjoy a chat with our Kelly, PA’s very own representative in Alabama, after the Everton match. It wasn’t so much a discussion about the match itself as a reflection on matters arising. Specifically the fickle nature of football supporters in general and Arsenal supporters in particular. I like Kelly, I like the way she supports. Whereas I specialize in a sort of lugubrious stoicism, Kelly is fierce and tigerish in defence of our players. Neither friend nor foe is safe if they are foolish enough to step over the line into unfair or ill conceived criticism. Many of us have felt the heat, smelt the scorched cloth of our smouldering collars after a poorly constructed comment to the detriment of one of Arsenal’s finest.

She was holding forth Sunday evening on the way people like to write off a player one minute then laud them as the second coming of Ferenc Puskás the next. Take Per. We all know what a wonderful assured presence he has been for us, what a huge part of our success last season. After being rested for the Everton match, and following that über tackle by our new Brazilian beauty people were suddenly consigning the master of the interception to the nearest skip along with the old mattress and bags of dog shit. As Kelly was quick to point out one costly error from the wonder kid and of course it’ll be about face everybody, all is forgiven, please come back Per and save us from Wenger’s latest defensive flop.

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What occurred to me after this exchange was first and foremost that Kelly had it exactly right. We’ve seen it with so many players over the years, just look at the way Santi was written off earlier this season and now is indispensable, first name on the sheet, player of the season material. Aaron went through hell a couple of years ago and truth be told when he isn’t banging in the goals every week people often still fail to see how much his ball retention, intelligent positional play, energy and passing bring to the team. Until we lose an important game without him, then the pendulum swings back the other way again.

My second response to our conversation concerned Gabriel. Now don’t misunderstand me, I think he had a very good game. Overall. He wasn’t my man of the match, that was Ospina. Everyone else contributed to a solid team performance while our keeper had a game of individual brilliance. But Gabriel had a shaky start and grew in confidence and really looked the part by the end. However. Just think what would have happened if Ospina hadn’t displayed such phenomenally quick thinking after Lukaku nicked the ball off the boy from Brazil. People would have rushed to judgement it’s as simple as that. In parenthesis, while we’re talking about Lukaku I have to say that there is a player not wearing an Arsenal shirt who I genuinely admire, and you know how seldom I say that. Not only could he have ruined our new boy’s league début in the seventeenth minute by choosing to tangle with Ospina he had another opportunity later when Gabriel produced that fabulous tackle to go to ground and maybe con a penalty or two out of the ref. I admire him for doing neither and felt his all round play deserved a goal on Sunday.

Which brings us back to the thrust of this post. Gabriel’s involvement in both incidents would have been identical and yet a different outcome, through other people’s actions, would have seen him hung drawn and quartered for conceding either goals or penalties or perhaps both. Football matches and our perceptions of players often hinge on the outcomes of events regardless of what the player actually does right or wrong. Look at Mesut’s superb run in the eighty first minute. He controls Ox’s pass and chips the keeper for the consummate finish to make it two nil and earn the adulation of all Arsenal fans everywhere. Except that, through no fault of our Deutscher Maestro, Phil Jaglieka’s despairing lunge somehow puts his knee into the path of the ball with just sufficient impact to send it spinning out of play. So instead it goes down as a miss or a poor finish.

This attitude often translates to our perception of the whole team. I loathe the mentality that suggests the score determines the quality of the performance. I cannot understand how people can be so gormless as to subscribe to it. Teams often win when they should have lost and vice versa. Players have goal bound shots stopped by bad luck, inspired defending or keeping without suddenly becoming poor finishers. How Olivier Giroud even got his head on the ball when Jagielka’s left boot was swinging up towards his beautiful Roman hooter is beyond me, never mind that he actually managed to head it towards Tim Howard’s goal but he put his life (or at least his smouldering good looks) on the line to do it and yet the immediate response wasn’t respect for his courage but abuse at another missed chance.

Giroud header

Inconstant, judgemental, unfair and fickle. Never mind, let’s put it behind us and look forward to this evening’s entertainment. The boys make the short coach journey across town to Loftus Road to face Queens Park Rangers. We are at that point in the season where it doesn’t really matter who we play home or away, the points at the top of the table are so tight that we have simply got to keep winning and trust Man City to keep slipping up. Some people are getting excited at the battle taking place between us Liverpool and Man United for third place. Not me. Those other riff raff are below us in the table. I only look at the team directly in front of Arsenal and hope we can catch and overtake them. That is it and all about it. How else do you climb higher up the table? By staying ahead of the team beneath you? Nope. Bad maths that.

Having just said it doesn’t matter who the opposition is, it happens to be QPR so I suppose I ought to give you my usual in depth analysis. We are still second in the current form table and Rangers are eighteenth. So that’s that then. No need to worry about tonight’s result. Foregone conclusion. Move on nothing more to read here. Except of course for one rather significant fly in that particularly over confident ointment. QPR are in the mire of a relegation dog fight, an unseemly scrap with several other teams all convinced they can escape the noose. Their survival in the hallowed money sea of top flight English footy is at stake and they can’t be expected to go quietly. Some sides may fold with resigned despair when their season looks like it’s headed down the toilet but others rage against the dying of the light. Recent results may suggest that QPR already have one foot in the slough of despond but it may not be so, they might start their fightback at any moment, and as such we must be prepared for dogged resistance. Human nature dictates that people often strive their hardest when they’re backed into a corner.

I do believe we have enough spirit and bloody mindedness in our own squad to match anyone in the guts and determination department and of course our players possess skill and invention by the bucket load, so I remain as cautiously optimistic as ever. We saw the boys playing it a little bit safe on Sunday, the manager being experienced enough to know how to set up his team after a setback. Tonight I expect them to build on the blocks laid against Everton and go at QPR with a little more verve. Having said that if the men in blue and white elect to defend in depth then we may have to be patient. Patient, consistent, sensible and fair. Now that’s four better words for Arsenal fans, right?

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Bright, With Occasional Early Cloud

Morning Positivistas from a greyish Monday in Norfolk.

I take your mood, like mine, will be a little more elevated this morning going into the week, buoyed by three points taken at the Ems, earned in fact through a combination of some resolute organised defending and two instances of hitting the back of the net when the half opportunity presented itself.

The media microscope and cameras were on Olivier but my eye was taken very much to our back five who I thought played a blinder.

Kosc was quite obviously in charge, directing, pointing, shouting and taking a necessary card. Never put a foot wrong all afternoon in spite of Everton’s front men trying to run straight and hard at us. Gibbs and Hector did their defensive jobs quietly, thoroughly, no fuss and very few errors. Ospina pulled off a couple of good stops and a timely intervention. Who says ‘keepers cannot be clever footballers too?

Our new centre back made his first PL start. Social media was its usual demented self, as Gabriel first made an error by misjudging the bounce, then a skewed header, at which point he had been written off as a worse signing than Mikel Silvestre. Then in the 37th minute had performed a perfect retrieving tackle on Lukaku which may have turned the game. After that Gabriel had been anointed as the answer to all our previous defensive wobbles and poor old Per might as well pack his lederhosen.

Anyway to brighten your morning have one last look, before the PL insist it is taken down;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihUPjkmE0A0

After those few opening flutters I thought our defenders played better and better as the game went on. Everton pressed and I was impressed with the quality of the crossing from their young Garbutt, but for all the pressing and puff at no time did I think we would crack and concede. Once we were ahead, the game was won.

Young Francis Coquelin may have a sore nose this morning but he has done himself no harm in gilding his reputation in the eyes of supporters (well this supporter anyway) for his willingness to battle on with a broken nose. There is talk of surgery which may rob us of him for at least the midweek game. My recollection of broken noses is however the insertion and deft twisting of steel rods to refashion the nasal sculpture which, although it will make his eyes water, should have him back on Wednesday.  And he can wear a mask which, in my opinion, is an accoutrement that every young footballer should aspire to.  The Telegraph captured the original coming together nicely.

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I was not expecting a classic game, but a difficult contest against a side who came into the game on the back of a Euro win, but a poor domestic record. Just one win in twelve PL matches Mr Martinez is relegation form, and you know it. Everton would have been delighted with a point, even that though was never a likely outcome. It was not a sparkling performance from us, but intelligent, measured football. The sort of performance on which a successful run-in can be securely founded.

While Roberto may therefore be justifiably feeling a little sweaty at the collar this morning, our form, since mid December, is the best in the PL bar none. I was a bit surprised to see we had won 28 points from a possible 36. I had not realised we had been quite so effective. Amazing what happens when we have most (although not all) players fit and firing. If we kept that up over a season we would have 89 points.

Makes you think doesn’t it?

Enjoy yer week!!

113 Comments

Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Positive anything is better than negative nothing.

Elbert Hubbard

One of the biggest thrills in the life of a footy fan is riding the great spin cycle of renewal. We wake up on the morning after a disappointing result and even as the bitterness of memory steals over us spoiling the taste of our Honey Nut Loops there is already a tiny kernel of hope germinating somewhere deep beneath the scorched, blackened soil of our desires. By day two only the armchair experts, masochists and the terminally depressed are still picking over the corpse of their shattered dreams and by day three we are nearly restored to health. How does this happen? It’s a simple but wonderful alchemy. I am already unable to remember how I felt as I watched us unravel against Man City and Liverpool last season and yet I cannot hear more than four bars of Pharrell Williams singing Happy without being instantly transported back to those wonderful days in May. Every emotion from the final itself to the players and fans united outside the Emirates on that Sunday of celebration is imprinted in my emotional scrapbook and ready for me to access any time that I please.

fa cup arsene

Women apparently report a similar phenomenon in relation to the pain of childbirth. I’ve heard them say that the extraordinary discomfort is immediately forgotten while the joy remains with them forever. Now I’m not suggesting that losing or winning an important football match can be compared to the moment a mother brings new life into the world. Admittedly I have only been a spectator at either event and both look messy and hard work. I know for a fact the human race would have died out a long time ago if it was left to me and the rest of the men to do any of the real work. As my friend Jon said to me when asked if women should take pain medication during labour “I needed gas and air to get through the conception so it seems only fair”. Well quite.

I wouldn’t be without the misery of Wednesday night. Not for all the tea in Whittards. Don’t get me wrong I derive no perverse pleasure from spending weeks counting down to such a big night only to be left feeling sick, angry and bitterly disappointed but I do recognise the importance of that pain. It is the certain knowledge of how rancorous is the taste of defeat that makes our victories so much sweeter. It is, in short, much more exciting walking a tightrope over a hundred foot deep canyon filled with pointy sticks than walking one six inches from the surface of a child’s paddling pool. Experience tells us what is at stake prior to kick off and that is what makes the weaker among our support go to pieces before a shot is even fired. You only need look at the gibbering reaction to the announcement of the team line up before each and every match to see this phenomenon in full swing. But to those of us fortunate enough to have achieved a great and unlikely age that same experience tells us that the next game or indeed the next season is just around the corner and we can once again tie our happiness back onto the rail tracks of fortune. Sometimes we get rescued before the train comes. Sometimes not.

I think that’s more than enough from my big book of vaguely football related metaphors. How about we do a bit of what I’ve been talking about and actually look forward to today’s game. Firstly, don’t forget this is an old fashioned traditional five past two Sunday afternoon kick off so if you’d planned to be home from your trip to B&Q by four you need to start back-pedalling sharpish. There will be lots of tedious predictable tripe about wanting to see a response or a reaction to what happened on Wednesday night. Plenty of people will be trotting out the usual clichés ignoring the fact that players are conditioned to put the last game behind them and focus on the match in front of them regardless of recent results. It is an essential tenet of their training. Arsène may throw such bones to the walking brain dead in the press corps but when fans repeat the baloney they’re usually just projecting their own emotions onto the players. That is what makes them assume we’ll go into battle against Everton with our knees knocking in fear of a repeat disaster. What tosh. Olivier Giroud knows he isn’t suddenly a poor striker just because he had one bad day at the office. Per knows that if we’re chasing the game then pushing up and closing down the opposition before they can instigate a counter has worked too many times to mention. Just because it failed once on Wednesday night won’t affect the way he plays the game.

Everton come to the Emirates languishing in fourteenth place in the current form table with Liverpool top and us second. A glance at thewaterlogged pitchir last six results shows they almost always draw at home and usually lose away from Goodison. However their most recent away win was one nil at Selhurst Park and we know all too well what sort of mental and physical strength that kind of result demands so they will be no pushovers. We know Martinez likes his teams to play proper football, retain possession and move it intelligently. We also know they aren’t afraid to stick the boot in when things aren’t going their way. Having said that my exclusive sources tell me that Tony Hibbert may be missing for the game this afternoon so they might not be as brutal as in previous matches. In conclusion, while we can expect a decent footballing contest and while Arsenal are without a scintilla of doubt the better team we cannot assume this will be a walk over.

Before I go, let me explain the flurry of quotations at the beginning of this article. Football, it seems to me, is all about choices and that goes for us as well as the manager and players. We can’t choose the visceral reaction we experience in defeat nor the explosion of joy when Aaron scores the winner in a cup final but we all choose how we respond to those emotions. Anyone who goes into the rest of the season assuming we will lose in Monaco, fail to hold onto third place or progress past Man United in the FA cup is choosing to make those assumptions. No one knows the future. If I choose to believe we can succeed then that is my right so to do and if you choose not to then that is your right, but don’t pretend it isn’t a conscious choice you are making. None of the harbingers of doom have any divine prerogative to claim to live in the real world nor should they paint positive supporters as fantasists. They are making a choice, they are choosing despair and choosing to wallow in it. If I were one of them I’d have to ask myself why? Why assume the worst when you can just as easily assume the best? Why look at a game like the one we just endured and ignore anything the players did well and only focus on what the opposition did better or on where we tried but failed? Why get angry and sarcastic with fellow fans who continue to hope and support the team no matter what? Why send triumphant messages to me on Twitter when the opposition scores? Choice. Behave like that by all means but don’t pretend you are not choosing to do so. Once you accept that then you must accept that you can choose not to behave in such a craven, weak and despicable way.

Bob Wilson told us what makes a proper football fan. The people I think of when I listen to Pharrell Williams are the ones who have shared the laughter, smiles and tears with me over the years and never wavered. The ones who chose courage, who chose to stay firm, above all the ones who chose to support.

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Arsenal Foudroyé

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I suppose I should have sensed the risk as I arrived far too early at the Ems for the game with the stadium empty but for the corner of Monaco fans hooting and hollering, decked out in white and red plastic sheets and evidently determined to enjoy their last 16 tie despite arriving as under-dogs.

I suppose I should have picked up the scent, despite a bright opening moment from Danny, we struggled to make any impression on the solid phalanx of Monegasque defenders with its midfield shield for the next 35 minutes. Our passing game not quite “right”, the ball when delivered a little to slow, a little behind, a little too high etc. You saw it, you know. Santi buzzed, Danny ran, Ozil tweaked but it never opened the defence. The keeper never had so much to scramble after the ball,  let alone a save to make.

Never mind I said to myself, they have come for the draw, their attacking efforts are sparse and delivered with little conviction. One man pushed up, two men at most. I understand, I forgive them, I can be generous. We will press and press and press, and a crack will appear. We had control, we had the players and the form. When our short passing clicked and they tired it would be our night.

And then on 38 minutes, out of nothing save for a creditably speculative shot and a lack of closing down, a slight but decisive deflection and the keeper distracted, the whole evening turned.

It did not turn in the sense that buoyed by their goal the visitors suddenly moved on to the front foot and delivered a display of scintillating football. No, Monaco played throughout the 90 minutes as they did from the first minute, organised and intelligent. Rather like their fans nothing spectacular, nothing we have not seen before.

Now after the goal went in like me I am sure you thought, “bugger” that was bad luck but with a few minutes to half time and a full second half to go plenty of time and quality on the field and on the bench to put that setback behind us, and set ourselves up for the second leg on a firm foundation. We have special players, a rabbit will be flourished.

What had changed, what had turned was our attitude to the game. From a patient approach, albeit one in which the gears were not quite meshing, we lost our composure. We lost, as Steww referred to yesterday, perhaps our Grace. I sensed that players were looking at one another saying “ what now” ? We took no confidence from the fact that to that point at 38 minutes we had controlled the ball and pressed the opposition.

Half time came and went, Olivier skied one over the bar just before the break, then another as the second half opened which I think marked another watershed in the game. The admirable core  that runs through  our game, of being willing and able to retain the ball, to pass accurately, to try to tease out an opening was replaced by an increasingly frantic and ever quickening assault on the Monaco goal.

Chances were created and absolutely spurned. A header from six yards out shot off at right angles to the goal. I have no idea how they looked on TV but from the Clock End the two rebounds off the keeper which looked entirely convertible but ended in both cases somewhere about 27 rows back in the lower tier were excruciating. I am not a man given to gesture but after the second I was out in the gangway on my knees. (Alright, I am a man given to gesture but it was so painful.)

And thereafter, for the next 43 minutes or so, calamity heaped upon misfortune. What we tried failed, players who normally are confident and creative looked bereft of ideas. Berby plunged a second dagger which turned a lack of composure to outright panic. Per and Kosc as twitchy as cats at the greyhound derby. Olivier departed, carried out on a metaphorical footballing stretcher.

And then, and then, and then the Ox dangled the lifeline of opportunity in the water, after 90 minutes of discomfort could it be an Anderlecht style revival could be open ? Even if not then to travel to Monaco at 2-1 down was a hill that could be conquered. Yes, Yes YES!

But no NO – not at all – not even that small worm of comfort on a night of frustration and ultimate disappointment. And on cue the Monaco fans kept up their racket to the final whistle and beyond. They may still be there. Good luck to them.

Two faint sparks of comfort to end on.

One, that Monaco players celebrated at the end in a way that showed they feel they have won the tie. The tie is not over.

Second, we travel with nothing to lose. We have done it before against Inter, we may do it again.

I suppose it is plain porridge this morning though.

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A Short Blog Of Despondency and Hope

Well, that was a disappointment wasn’t it? I don’t know about you but I didn’t sleep well last night. Ridiculous really how much of an emotional impact a reversal on a football pitch can inflict isn’t it?

If an uninvolved bystander such as myself is so crestfallen after the match (and contrary to what others might think I am deeply deeply fed up) one can readily apprehend the depths of despair to which the players must have sunk. That’s before we even consider the unenviable task facing the manager. Imagine the gut wrenching anguish Arsène must be feeling this morning and he, unlike us, cannot express it, cannot wallow  but instead must ignore his own pain and try to motivate his players, to instil the necessary belief without which they cannot hope to overturn the two goal deficit when they travel to Monaco on St Patrick’s day.

Many people underrated Monaco yesterday, at least I must assume so judging by the wildly optimistic scoreline predictions we saw being bandied about. The simple truth is that if you wanted to demonstrate the consummate away performance in a European tie you would be hard pressed to beat the men from the Principality and the way they went about their business last night. Before you shoot me down for that remark let me say that I am well aware that they rode their luck last night, not once but twice. The first time was when they got away with as blatant a handball as you will ever see go unpunished inside a penalty area and the second of course was when, entirely against the run of play, they fluked a goal with the aid of a horrible deflection. The point is, however, that many great victories come with a lucky break. How many double centuries have you witnessed where the batsman was dropped while still in single figures? The Spanish Armada, Waterloo the outcomes of both battles hinged largely upon the vagaries of the weather. What matters is how you use that good fortune, how you turn it to your advantage.

Last night Monaco turned it to their advantage in a ruthlessly efficient manner which you can only admire. Set up to defend and hit on the break it was vital for the visitors not to concede early on and the platform that the lucky goal gave them came at the perfect time. Up until that decisive moment Arsenal’s tactics had been perfect, closing down, cutting off their supply before they had a chance to mount a counter attack and keeping them pressed back. The penalty apart we came close on a couple of occasions but sadly it was not to be. Once they had the lead they simply needed to defend well and wait for us to come at them knowing that as the game went on we would have to attack in ever increasing numbers. When this inevitably happened they  knew gaps would appear in our rearguard which their fast direct counter attacking style could easily exploit. And that of course is just what they did. Superb defending at the team level with every man in his position stifling the quick inventive approach for which we are rightly famed but also at the individual level with so many well timed tackles and interceptions that I lost count of them.

Sometimes you simply have to doff your cap to the opposition and say well played. They got their lucky break, they made absolutely the best of it and now our squad has somehow to rise from the ashes of this setback and show its mettle. It is of course simple for me to sit here in rainy Somerset and say these things. So much harder for the people actually involved at the club. There are however some important facts to remember. We’ve overturned such deficits before. We’ve gone away in Europe where nobody gave us a prayer and got the result. We’ve overcome disappointment in cup ties to raise our game in the league plenty of times. Above all we have to face Everton on Sunday and every new game is an opportunity to wipe clean the stain of previous setbacks and get ourselves back into winning ways.

Wallow if you want to, that’s fine, without the despair there is no joy, it’s the emotional cycle through which all sports fans must go, but never lose hope and never lose faith in these players. They were handed a lesson yesterday, without question, but today is a new day and they must dust themselves off and get on with the job.

That’s enough omphaloskepsis for one morning - I’m already looking forward to Sunday.

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Grace Under Fire

Monaco, ah Monaco. How well I remember your tight twisting turns, your dark tunnel, the difficulty of shaving a half second from my best lap time and the despair as Pete the Greek or The Lizard Man shot past me on the home straight. Our race evenings with the Sega Megadrive were dissolute affairs and towards the end of the night the driving had become more than a little erratic due as much to the thick coiling mist of dope smoke as to the occasional full bodied bottle of red despatched by the drivers. Looking back I can’t help thinking Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczęsny would have fitted rather well into my social circle. These days I am of course chaste and pure and the Formula One games on offer are so ridiculously complex and cluttered with unnecessary petrol head pleasing detail about engines, tyres, pit stops and leaderboards that I have formally retired from the circuit. Monaco will never again thrill to my stoned, mercurial driving performance.

super-monaco-grand-prix-04

Back in those halcyon hazy days the only other thing Monaco meant to me was Grace Kelly. Oh and there was that time when Bertie cancelled a trip to Monte Carlo preferring to spend Christmas with Bobbie Wickham and her family much, it has to be said, to Jeeves’ chagrin. Little did I know as I adroitly applied the tongue to a heavily laden four skinner and prepared to take my place at the front of the grid that a man called Arsène Wenger, unknown outside of Nancy where he had enjoyed an unremarkable managerial career, had recently taken over the reins at AS Monaco FC. To be fair I probably didn’t know Monaco even had a football team. You know what they say, if you can remember the nineteen eighties you weren’t there man. Anyway this young unknown manager replaced none other than Ștefan Kovács who deserves his own special place in the hearts of all adherents to the beauty of the game for his commitment to the total football of the Ajax teams of the early seventies. Monsieur Wenger revived Monaco’s waning fortunes winning the league in his first season and signing the likes of Weah, Klinsmann, Djorkaeff, Hately and some bloke called Hoddle, oh and while he was at it he oversaw the development of Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit and Lilian Thuram. Not a bad day at the office. Sadly in return, Monaco would treat the man destined to become our glorious leader in a somewhat shoddy fashion. They refused to allow him to discuss the vacant managerial role at Bayern München who were apparently very keen to talk to him, but then dismissed him not long after the Germans had become fed up of waiting and in their impatience gave the job to Giovanni Trapattoni.How they must have rued the day.

15_Ars_ne_WENGER_Paniin_Monaco_1989

If I’m honest I was an international illiterate when it came to football in the eighties and nineties and, unless Arsenal were in a European tournament, paid scant regard to what went on south of Dover. What a parochial little stoner I was. Shameful really. During my period of self imposed exile from the human race  Monaco enjoyed success and despair in almost equal measure both winning titles and being booted out of Ligue Une for financial irregularities (although that punishment was commuted on appeal). They endured seven years of the managerial merry go round before being relegated for real this time. In a sadly familiar twist to a modern footballing tale they were ‘rescued’ while languishing at the bottom of Ligue deux by, yep, you guessed it a Russian billionaire. Predictably enough the obscene torrent of spending has seen them rise with the smell of burnt feathers from first in the second division in 2013 to second in the first last year. They are currently fourth after a stop start season not dissimilar to ours in many ways.

Once again Arsène agrees with me (he so often does, great minds and all that, I believe we both gave up smoking at a similar time too) that there are parallels to be drawn between the two clubs saying Monaco are in a similar position to us. They came back into a good position in the league and their confidence level will be high.” I don’t know if our confidence levels will be high after the amusement at Selhurst Park on Saturday or not. I believe they ought to be as the untidy little scrap at the very end of the game should not cloud the ease with which we had held off a spirited Palace side and the consummate skill with which we had taken such a commanding lead beforehand. To attempt to play proper football on what amounted to little more than a Sunday league pitch against a side set up for kick and rush was always going to be a big ask and I think the players showed huge character to stick at it and get the job done. Those who want to whine and bleat about Palace hitting the post need to include our near misses as well if they are going to play ifs and buts. The simple fact is we scored more than them and played the better football. Our only mistake if it was a mistake was allowing them to put us under too much pressure in the final part of the match. Sometimes though, in football, the other side just dictates the play and you have to grin and bear it. As much as we’d love to put all our opponents to the sword in the way we dispatched Aston Villa you can’t expect it to happen every week. Had Alexis not had a rare off day with his finishing we’d have gone three up and I very much doubt Palace would have had any fight left in them, but then who knows? See I can play ifs and buts just as well as the next man.

Selhurst Park

Tonight we can put the nightmarish up and under of English mud ball behind us. Tonight is what so many other supporters can only dream of. Tonight they must look on in envy. Yet, incredibly enough, under Arsène Wenger Arsenal fans have come to think of this as the norm. The knock-out stages of the Champions league. So many have spent so much trying to emulate what Arsène achieves, and he has done it while simultaneously building a new stadium, while constricted by such a tight budget that he has been forced to sell his best players. Yet he delivers it every single year. We really are lucky Arsenal aren’t we? Lucky to have such a great man in charge, lucky to have such a fantastic stadium, lucky to be treated to some of the best football ever played. I love the feeling of waking up on the day of a Champions league fixture, let’s face it you are following the wrong sport if you don’t love it. It is the holy grail for every Premiership team and make no mistake if any one else achieved it year in year out while being outspent by nearly all of the competition they would be lauded as the greatest manager in English football.

Well, we don’t need the hideous reptiles of the British sports media to tell us what we already know do we? Monaco were once lucky enough to have him and we’ve been blessed to have had him during the most vital years in our club’s modern history. This is a tournament in which we have come so close, enjoyed some famous victories and suffered some agonising defeats. Tonight and in all future rounds of the competition all I hope is that the fans and players give him the victory he has earned, no man deserves it more. I believe the team are good enough and I believe they are ready.

102 Comments

Horses For Courses ?

  1. A guest post from @foreverheady

     

    I really don’t like games that start at 3 on a Saturday: they are so last century, and we certainly got a last century pitch to play on yesterday. Three o’clock means of course you only get to see the game if you actually go, and yesterday only 24,721 lucky punters were able to do that. I’m not sure how many away supporters found tickets but I’m guessing not many. For the rest of us in the UK you had to rely on dodgy streams, a private showing at the Emirates, the audio commentary on the Arsenal player or snippets on Radio 5. It was so far back in time the only surprise was not finding a copy of the Saturday Pink through the letter box to be consumed on route to the Dog and Duck for a pint of mild and bitter and cribbage and dominoes with Ernest and Albert. Even Arsene in his pre-match presser suggested that Selhurst Park was a bit like Highbury, and it was easy to see just what he meant, with the crowd on top of the players and vocal support relentless. I doubt somehow that the Palace authorities are too fussed about safe standing.

    And safe standing was certainly a problem for the players too, the pitch ironically prepared to produce a level playing field. It certainly didn’t appear to suit our technicians, and it was no great surprise that Welbeck, almost alone, seemed to relish the conditions. Not that he lacks technical ability, but his forceful, powerful and direct approach certainly seemed to fit. I wondered after the game whether Arsene needs to pick very different teams for some of our away matches. Playing at the Emirates is easy if you have the skill to do it. A large pitch perfectly prepared allows for intricate one touch play, and we are at our best when we zip the ball around. It is no coincidence that our home form is so good, the underfoot conditions seemingly being more important to us than whatever atmosphere is generated by the Emirates crowd. But away from home is very different against some of the more robust sides on pitches that are less than perfect. I’m not going down the Arsenal are soft route here – far from it – but suggesting that maybe some players are better suited to certain types of game than others. I think this is why we so often hear the call for a physical midfielder, and yesterday would have suited Ramsey and Oxlade more than Cazorla and Ozil I suspect.

    But this is largely conjecture, because the commentary on the Arsenal Player is absolutely hopeless if you want to get an idea of how the game is unfolding. In fact it is worse than hopeless and I would say is negatively misleading. The pattern seems to be that any time Arsenal have hold of the ball the commentary team talk about anything and everything bar the action: memories are polished, emails are read, even when those emails are critical of team selection and players. Once we have lost the ball the commentary restarts so you get an impression that at no stage do we ever have any possession at all. It is a really depressing experience. I was quite surprised to see the highlights this morning to see that there were moments when we were allowed to play a bit ourselves. If I had one wish it would be that the club has a serious look at what it does with the matches it broadcasts. Not all can go to the game, not all have access to live coverage, but most can find a way to tune into the clubs own service. As such it is an important outlet and needs to be treated as such. The excellent Adrian Clarke was good at half time, and I am looking forward to his analysis of the match tomorrow.

    So what of the game itself? A truly excellent result and a heart in the mouth last few minutes. Top play by Welbeck to win the penalty and provide the assist for Giroud. I hear he was outside the box when fouled but it didn’t look that way to me on the replay and offside for the second, although there didn’t seem much protest at the time. How wonderful to get a decision go our way for a change and the three points won yesterday makes up a little for the points lost when they haven’t. I don’t think these things even up over the course of a season but we deserved a bit of payback. Before the game I saw a couple of articles that suggested that Van Gaal was right to let him go and that he wasn’t up to Arsenal standard, so I was pleased that he so quickly proved himself. I have no doubt whatsoever that he will become a major Arsenal figure and suspect that more than many he will benefit from working closely with the manager. After all Arsene Wenger seems to have done a pretty good job with Giroud, who was on hand again to score what proved to be the winning goal. And beyond that I can’t comment as I haven’t seen the game properly at all, but what I do have is a satisfied and slightly smug smirk on my face as I listen to the moans and groans of the media, Mourinhos and Rooneys of this world. We are third now, have a Champions League home fixture to look forward to, before preparing to face Everton next Sunday. And Jack is back. What’s not to like?

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