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Stone Cold Friday: No More Mr Nice Guy

And now, on with the soap opera. Let joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the parlor. Here’s Darius

This week, I wrote to Arsenal with a demand. I felt it was justified to ask the powers that be to force Arsène Wenger, the coaching staff, and all the players on that team sheet that travelled to Stoke City to forfeit their wages for the day. It can only be right that after such a criminal performance, the docked pay be given to Centrepoint, Arsenal’s charity of the season.

The Britannia Stadium seems to be that sort of place that took over from Sam Allardyce’s Reebok stadium as a place Arsenal players don’t fancy. You could almost picture the classic footage of Robert Pires’ funny but contemptuous demeanour as he got off the bus at Bradford City a few years ago.

His body language was more of “what the frigging hell am I doing in a place like this on a freezing day”, as opposed to “hey, there’s 3 points up for grabs here”.

Even though it was clear to tell that Bobby Pires would rather have been somewhere else, he was always a dependable lieutenant for us on the left side of the pitch. I think somehow, he would have found solutions to work something out at the Britannia.

You have to ask yourself though, what is it about a team that can comfortably put United, Chelsea and Barcelona to the sword at home; yet play like a League 1 side devoid of nous and guile when it matters most. This only a week after a tenacious and spirited performance against United.

Do we have a schizophrenic team that adopts different personalities?

As the season concludes, it becomes ever more painful to reflect back, especially at the 15 points we lost from leading positions this season. This isn’t even taking into account the home and return ties against West Brom, and the away games at Bolton and Stoke.

The least we expected, especially after the United game was a spirited end to the season with great performances against stoke, Villa and Fulham. Truth be told, I have no clue what to expect for the remaining games.

The only joy over the last couple of months seems to be that Tottenham are back in their rightful place firmly heading for mid-table mediocrity.

Patrick Vieira’s thoughts about knowing when to win ugly and balancing finesse with a selective mix of brawn, laced with a no-nonsense attitude should be framed and placed at strategic points in London Colney alongside the medical and fitness charts you find everywhere from dressing rooms to the toilets.

Wenger has some tough decisions to make to find the balance that is needed to move this team to the next level. It’s not enough that when we fix some things, we still have the knack of losing focus on other aspects of our game.

It doesn’t help of course that the silly season is in full effect. I even heard that we’re in the market for an experienced customer like David Weir who at 41 will give us the necessary experience without threatening the place of our up-coming charges.

It’s nonsense to suggest that the team needs massive surgery, but Wenger will have to pull his finger out and work with a mix of new faces and this talented squad of players who need to make that mental leap to the next level.

I’m actually excited about the possibilities and potential new faces coming in, but pray that they’re not signings for the sake of signings to appease the baying mob calling for Wenger to be issued with his P45, and some players be permanently shipped to Australia.

I would love to see a player like Chiek Tiote join our ranks and provide cover and rotation options for our midfield when Song is being rested or is not available. This to me makes much more sense than some of the options being touted out there.

If Pat Rice does retire, his replacement will probably be a more significant signing than we would anticipate. This also is another opportunity to reinvigorate the squad and to build on the stellar work that the Irishman has done in the decades he’s spent at Arsenal.

More importantly, the team that takes the pitch next season has to prove to the Arsenal faithful that they can walk the walk, whether they swagger or whether they walk ugly. I suspect most fans would take a “No more Mr. Nice guy” approach as a manifestation of the mental maturity needed to move us to the next level.

The team can do well by seeking a modicum of redemption with acceptable performances against Villa and Fulham. Silverware is out of our reach this season, but there’s still a hell of a lot of pride to fight for.

’til Tomorrow

Stone Cold Friday: When Chickens Come Home To Roost

First he traded the Cadillac for a microphone. Then he lied to me about the band. Just as well he’s delivered the post. Here’s Darius..

Yesterday afternoon, a few of us at work huddled around a radio with our notebooks at the ready listening to the Chancellor meet his clear target of becoming the most unpopular politician in history. We weren’t interested in the headline grabbing “we’re all in it” nonsense – we just wanted to know how the government’s ruthless austerity measures were going to affect our small business and our personal lives.

I remember thinking that I don’t really give a damn about how many aircraft carriers we remain with, I just wanted the local council to collect my rubbish on time, and for someone to force banks to start lending to small businesses and stop contributing to our misery.

It was interesting in this same week, that football conspired to remind us how out of touch with reality the game has become. For starters, it was hard enough wading through the mountain of the ‘Rooney and Fergie’ soap opera in the media to find a decent story about Arsenal’s Champions league rampage against the Ukrainians.

Yet in this media frenzy about ‘Boy England’ – there is a profound lesson that I found myself reflecting on. Football doesn’t want to learn the fact that the game does not exist in a vacuum. Call it arrogance, call it vanity – the fact is that the establishment’s head – alongside the majority of clubs and their owners have their heads so far up the proverbial rectum, no one seems interested in embracing the reality that the rest of the world has to live within their means.

The fall of a footballing giant like Liverpool hasn’t been enough to serve up the reality check, and it’s entirely appropriate that Manchester United is in the spot-light. Observers up and down the country are baffled and bewildered about how United got themselves in such a mess, culminating in one of the most bizarre press conferences the United manager has ever given.

I don’t accept the assertion as suggested by some, that United lack ambition and have made poor choices when it comes to the squad. The bottom line is that it’s not a choice. They’re damn broke – plain and simple. You wonder why this is a surprise to the handful of pundits and hacks doing the circuit on radio and TV, the writing has always been on the wall. They just refused to believe that United would start the fall from grace.

The irony of all this is that even now, Arsenal and Wenger continue to be derided and ridiculed for having the audacity and courage to do what is right for our club. Wenger in particular, has sacrificed a lot and put his credibility on the line by having the strength to see through an ambitious vision that continues to balance sound management of the business and entertaining competitive football.

The “hasn’t won a trophy in 5 years” stick has been swung his way so many times, very few have stopped to reflect on the context or overall success made in this same period.

Even among Arsenal fans who are of the “give us trophies now or else…” persuasion – There has been little or no acknowledgement that the necessary and sometimes painful path Arsenal has taken in the last decade has started to show itself as the resounding success it has always promised to be.

As football drowns itself in a sea of debt, bad management, hopelessness and the vanity of thinking that the game is immune to the laws of economics – Arsenal stands firm and grounded. It stands as a pillar of hope and stability for the future. It stands as a beacon of the virtues of the beautiful game. It stands as an oasis of sanity in an orgy of excess.

And yet we’re told that Arsenal is not ambitious. What? Because we refuse to run the club with debts that surpass the GDP of some developing countries? Because we refuse to live beyond our means? Because we have a tight fisted and egotistic manager with a Masters degree in Economics – who is only interested in proving the media and establishment wrong with his youth experiment?

I sometimes wonder what is more sad. The fact that clubs seem incapable of grasping the scale of the crisis football is in, let alone the economic crisis chopping its way through the rest of the world; or whether the opinion shapers in the game – as Consols refers to them, actually recognize how intellectually bankrupt they are on this issue.

There are people who still think it’s sustainable to pay ridiculous transfer fees and absolutely obscene wages when hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs and livelihoods around the world every week. There are still those who think that there is romance and sensation in football being a high stakes game where clubs spend tens of millions of pounds as a matter of routine.

If you wanted to know how ridiculously out of touch this school of thought is – ask Roman Abramovich. He’s only manage to get little under 2,000 extra Chelsea supporters for a cool £700 million and counting. But he’s won trophies I hear the screaming from the shadows. What has Arsenal won?

Arsenal has won the right to be respected for keeping their head when all around them are losing it. For having the foresight and vision to know that they needed to secure the long term future of the club and give us the chances to win those very trophies for years to come. And believe it or not, we’re going to do it within our means.

Just as our lives are about to ruthlessly change with the austerity measures that the government has shepherded us into – and so shall football have its casualties.

The future is bright, the future is red and white.

’til Tomorrow.

Stone Cold Friday: Finding Opportunity In The Midst Of Adversity

He’s fearless, intrepid and laughs in the face of danger. Which is just as well because even Indiana Jones wouldn’t venture into his neck of the woods. A place where the men are men and the sheep are worried. Here’s Darius...

Rahm Emmanuel, the White House Chief of Staff, when responding to a question about how Obama’s administration intends to manage the economic crisis said: ”There’s nothing worse than letting a good crisis go to waste”.

If you believe some of the stuff being printed out there about Arsenal’s’ short-comings, you wouldn’t be mistaken to think that we’re a club operating in crisis mode.

With a first choice centre half, a talismanic captain and one of the world’s best strikers in Robin Van Persie out for the season, surely mid-table mediocrity is a position Arsenal should be thankful for?

At least that’s what they say or seem to suggest. To give you an idea about the lengths some media houses will go in their desperation to push ratings and get traffic (to increase their advertising revenue of course), one of them even questioned whether Fabregas had played his last match for Arsenal.

I’ve got to tell you that some people are only alive because it’s illegal to kill. I would have been content with writing up this column for the next 14 years from the library at Belmarsh Prison south of the river if that comment was made in the same room I was in, but I digress.

What is it about this Arsenal team that refuses to go away or refuses to die?

On Wednesday night, I was watching the game against Barca with my wife and a friend. After 20 minutes, my wife went upstairs to watch one of her soaps instead because she was embarrassed for me and couldn’t take the footballing master class the Catalans were dishing out in plenty.

I don’t blame her, believe me – I was tempted to hide under the sofa. I had to be a good host and pretend that what happened in that first 25 minutes was an anomaly.

As the match went on though, I was totally convinced that riding that Spanish inquisition was perhaps one of the best tests of adversity this team has faced. We were playing the best team in the world, a team that admitted that they played the best football they’d ever played in those 45 minutes.

We were put under so much pressure, that the Arsenal team could not retreat or surrender; we had no option but to deal with the relentless pressure. The fact that the entire footballing population around the world who could get to a TV or a radio were probably tuned in did not help in relieving that pressure.

However, this is the key thing. Arsenal survived that onslaught in the first half. The only reason Barca weren’t rolling into the sunset with a 6 nil lead after the first half is because Arsenal defended like their lives depended on it.

It was funny watching Premiership managers give their verdict on the game as they did their routine interviews yesterday. A handful of them praised both Barca and Arsenal for their respective roles in the epic encounter, but the funniest comments came from managers who had suffered the wrath of the Arsenal.

Mick McCarthy for example, took pleasure in pointing out that ”Well, at least Arsenal know how we all feel when we try to play them”.

It’s true; this team has never had to live with being starved of the ball and being made to chase shadows. The fact that they dealt with it and came out of the battle with their heads held up high tells me a lot about how this team has grown up.

We can question the team’s tactics; we can question individual and collective performances. However, it’s becoming harder and harder to question the teams determination, tenacity, character and resolve.

As every obstacle is placed in front of this team, the young men are showing that they feel nothing and will do whatever it takes to find a way around that obstacle.

We face yet another hurdle with the walking wounded who are keeping Colin Lewin and his team gainfully employed. Ordinarily, I would have been concerned about not having our talismanic captain, our big bad Billy G out back, and the lethal streak of Robin Van Persie. Arshavin has some down time to kill while entertaining his website visitors.

In most other clubs I know, injuries to the fulcrum of the team would be considered a crisis and a disaster.

However, this team has yet another opportunity to rise from the ashes and continue with the ’never say die’ spirit that they’ve shown throughout this season.

We have no time to chew fat on the impact Fabregas’ loss will have; Samir Nasri has an unbelievable opportunity to nail a first team place in the Les Bleus squad for the World Cup.

We have no time to ponder which version of Andrey Arshavin will turn up for the match; Eduardo, Vela and Walcott have statements to make to remind the masses that they aren’t just bench warmers.

We have no time to moan about whether Wenger should have risked William Gallas or bought brand spanking new centre half backups; there’s 6 games in the EPL and 4 games in the Champions League that stand between Arsenal and 2 trophies.

Before the season started, we were allegedly destined for the wilderness of mid-table, and the team continue to defy the odds as they refuse to go away.

Of course, some will be quick to point out the short-comings of this team in the familiar defensive pessimism streak. My sense is what the team has done this far demand that we as a collective fan base, rally behind and help carry them through to the finishing line.

If this was the crisis that we are made to believe, I would suggest that those not acknowledging what this team has achieved so far don’t know what success looks like any more.

I’ll be honest with you – the journey this team has taken us through this season is a roller coaster ride and it’s not good for my heart. I wouldn’t have it any other way though.

Is there a sweeter way to victory than to experience adversity and come out on top?

’til Tomorrow

Stone Cold Friday: The Nervy Road To Arsenal’s Vindication

RIP Alex Chilton. Here’s another Big Star, Darius

What do West Ham United, Sol Campbell and ‘A Cultured Left Foot’ have in common?

You may not know this, but the first blog post on ACLF was written on the day after Sol Campbell walked off the pitch at half time, straight past the home dressing room, and into the solitary confinement of Gary Lewin’s medical room.

Perhaps Lewin didn’t understand why an uninjured Campbell opted for his office instead of the half time team talk down the corridor during a match that was still very salvageable. Clearly, Sol was convinced that his issue would be better dealt with by Lewin than by Wenger.

Campbell’s subsequent actions baffled the footballing world as the Arsenal colossus then walked straight out of Highbury and into the central reservation. It forced Wenger to turn to 20 year old Seb Larson to complete the game at centre half.

I suspect the events of that day may have influenced YW to start this blog, and if it did, then there’s clearly a silver lining to every cloud. (YW – Ain’t that the truth, Brother! Just re-read the first post, as close a teetering towards the ‘Dark Side’ as ever there has been)

Apart from being the last team to beat Arsenal at Highbury, West Ham were also the first team to win a match at the Emirates stadium. They also seem to have the knack of scoring against Arsenal in recent times.

The visit of the Hammers tomorrow evening easily qualifies as a nervous affair for many supporters. My sense is that it’s not necessarily because Arsenal have an intrinsic fear of our unpredictable cousins from the east end of London – it’s more to do with the fact that there’s another 3 out of the remaining 24 points up for grabs, and there’s no margin for error.

I think that if there’s one perception the ’Invincibles’ left on our psyche, it’s perhaps the expectation that winning the league title can be a straight forward affair.

It’s not strictly true however, for even with the ’Invincibles’, there were some nervy squeaky bum times, not least the 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane that secured the title that season.

Much has been made about Arsenal’s supposed easier run-in compared to our title challengers. My sense is that suggesting that we have easier games is perhaps the first symptom of vanity, a slippery slope that we’re best kept away from.

The truth is that regardless of who we play, the fewer the games between us and that finishing line, the more nervous and fragile we get. Arsenal’s impudence in refusing to go away and literally defying the odds as title challengers has shortened the distance between aspiration and reality.

I’ve said before that the biggest strength and weapon that this Arsenal team have had this season is the fact that people haven’t seen the team coming. Let’s face it, the players have even blindsided critics within Arsenal ranks who gave this team no hope whatsoever at the beginning of the season.

What has intrigued me the most over the last few weeks is the slow but sure vindication of Arsenal’s strategy to grow organically by focussing on developing a core of young players.

Call me a sadist, but the recent exits out of the Champions league by Real Madrid and Chelsea were cause for celebration in the footballing world. Those defeats were the triumphs of good over evil (the evil of financial doping) within a game that required an industrial dose of reality check.

Somewhere along the line, the game lost the plot and arrogance and vanity took over. Sustainability and long term stability got laughed out of football administration as clubs up and down the land chased the Queen’s shilling.

For some sanity to be injected back into football, it’s extremely important that Arsenal continue to rack up every available point until the end of the season. It’s not an easy job, but someone has to do it.

I noticed that after the Hull game this past weekend, there’s been a lot of talk about Arsenal finally maturing as if maturity is an event that can be measured by the flick of a light switch. Far from that, Arsenal has proven that this season, they are a team with formidable mental strength and the character to last the distance.

Our nervousness around the remaining games have more to do with the prize at stake. And it’s not just the trophy at the end of the road – it has more to do with the realisation of Arsenal’s vision.

Victory for Arsenal come the end of the season will do more for the future of football in this country and in Europe than anything Geldof or Bono ever did for Africa (note my cynicism and contempt at the thought of the fate of a continent being dependent on two aging rock stars).

With every game, the belief within the team grows, and the character and determination strengthens. The confidence of the team is the counter-balance to the frying nerves many an Arsenal fan is left with on match day.

We’re light years away from the events on 1st Feb 2006, and Sol Campbell returns to the centre of Arsenal’s defence tomorrow evening to exorcise the demons of that night.

Apart from Arsenal providing the source of redemption for Sol, the team have the opportunity to make Chelsea and Manchester United nervous when they play on Sunday. It’s also an opportunity to move closer to the realisation of an audacious vision that will go a long way in vindicating Arsenal and Arsene Wenger.

West Ham are a dangerous proposition for the simple reason that they’re fighting the demons of relegation. This is a club that was willing to ’lend’ Portsmouth £10 million to guarantee that they don’t lose 4 points.

We shouldn’t forget that on the flip side, Arsenal is also seen as a dangerous proposition for the simple reason that there’s a title to be collected at the other end of the terrain.

’til Tomorrow.

Stone Cold Friday: They Say Faith Can Move Any Mountain

I raid my record collection and nab a post title from The Buzzcocks. Darius raids his and comes up with a Tears for Fears lyric. Tears for bleedin’ Fears? Yea Gods. I know whose CDs I’d like to listen to and they ain’t his…although any article that references Steve Marriott can’t be all bad.

The Association of British Specialist Insurers has suggested that in the last few weeks members have inundated them, seeking advice on how to approach the development of a new product.

A select group of clients are clamouring to buy what has been described as ’Humble Pie’ insurance, seeking to find solutions that will save face, stop them from eating their words, and shield them from having industrial portions of humble pie shoved down their throats come the end of the football calendar this year.

Victoria Concordia-Crescit, ABI Business Development manager, observed that the enquiries from clients seemed to be from the sports media outlets, particularly BBC Sports, Talk Sport radio, Sky Sports, ESPN, tabloid newspapers and ex-footballers who sit uncomfortably on various lurid sofas.

The demand for this specialist insurance has been prompted by the unexpected and continuous resurrection of Arsenal football club in this year’s Premier and Champions League campaigns.

One Sports presenter from the BBC described this phenomenon as a ‘Lazarian’, pundits and hacks throughout the land remaining baffled that Arsenal are still in with a chance of silverware this season, despite being buried several times at publicly attended funerals.

Concordia-Crescit confirmed that despite biblical references, the Association’s specialist actuaries had categorically ruled out the principle of ’Force Majeure’:

From what we know, the actions and inspirational comebacks that Arsenal has made this season don’t qualify under our Force Majeure principle as an act of God. We have closely looked at the history and origin of this so called resurrection phenomenon, and we can attribute 5 key factors to this;

  • Excellent management and husbandry of the club by the board and their manager for more than a decade
  • The courage and tenacity of Arsenal’s manager to lay down a vision and follow it through despite the short sighted adversity of ’Johnny come lately’ customers
  • Collective contempt and disdain shown to Arsenal by the establishment clouding the reality of the progress that Arsenal has made in the last 5 years
  • The incompetence and inability of pundits, hacks and generally the establishment to understand the vision Arsenal is following and give it credit where it is due
  • The growing belief in the Arsenal side that they are destined for greatness, and that the mental fortitude they have shown in coming back time and time again is a manifestation of this belief

Crescit added that they are working with their specialist underwriting team to design an appropriate product which provides adequate cover for the inevitability of Arsenal’s dominance in the decades to come.

Asked to shed light on what were some of the issues that clients were seeking to address with this new insurance product, the business development manager suggested that the root causes of the problem were:

  • The intellectual masturbation and diatribe spewing about Arsenal that had gone unchecked for the best part of 5 years
  • The contempt shown for Arsenal’s decision to dare to do things in a different way to what the establishment comprehends
  • The implicit and explicit belittling of Arsenal laced with xenophobic euphemisms and stereotypes.

She observed that there was likely to be a high claim ratio once they’d implemented this new insurance. This was not particularly worrying as they would normally counter with higher premiums in subsequent years.

Companies which employ these pundits and hacks will be calling on this insurance purely based on an assessment of risk factors. Based on their study of Arsenal’s vision, financial performance, as well as its growth and development on the field, it’s clear to see that the club has the best foundations to go on and straddle the European footballing landscape for decades to come with their dominance built on organic growth.

If you look around right now, the footballing world is littered with basket cases on one hand, and recklessness on the other hand with breath-taking financial instability. Concordia-Crescit cited the case of Real Madrid who had sold the family silverware to hedge their bets at domestic and European glory, yet they spectacularly fell short all the same.

Asked to comment on why she thinks Arsenal have survived this onslaught and has caused panic and mayhem in the ranks of punditry, she simply smiled and attributed it to one thing; Faith.

Faith that the board and manager could lay down a vision and follow it through despite the inevitable criticism;

Faith in the team that has grown together and matured over the last 5 years despite the heartaches and joy that they have shared.

Faith by the true fans that have kept patience and travelled this journey with the team, sharing in their triumphs and celebrating with the team; commiserating with the teams defeats and expressing their frustration and emotion.

Faith that it is possible to win and to win playing the beautiful game.

Faith that when the team eventually win their first title together (and they wouldn’t be selling Humble Pie insurance if this wasn’t a certainty), the victory will have been made sweeter by the joy and pain that the team and supporters have suffered through this journey – and the hard work of the team and their courage shown through adversity.

Faith can move mountains, and it’s inevitable that it will win Arsenal titles on the way to shifting those mountains.

Oh, and can someone give me Faith’s phone number whilst they are it. I’ve a huge pile of rubble in my garage that I need to get shot of. Perhaps she could do that the next time she’s moving a mountain in the Thames Valley? ‘til Tomorrow.

Stone Cold Friday: Gunners Must Be Tenacious and Hold Their Nerve

It’s Friday, he’s Darius.

If ever there was a time that the old adage of ’one game at a time’ rang true, it’s between now and May 9th; we finally get to know what stuff the team and the supporters are made of.

The path to Arsenal’s glory is littered with self doubting spineless customers, condescending and contemptuous hacks and pundits, a rough ride to fight for each of the 33 remaining points, and a small matter of good fortune.

‘Tis the season of miracles. When Arsenal fans ask for miracles – I give you Everton and Villa, with others yet to relieve our title challengers off of a few more points.

My enemy’s enemy is my friend and I will shamelessly continue with my new found closet support for Villa, Man City, Liverpool, Spurs (I’m still shaking my head you know), and any other team in a relegation dog fight willing to throw everything to stay up. Of course I’ll also accept a draw when the 2 protagonists meet each other to help us claw back the points.

It goes without saying though, that fortune does indeed favour the brave. Three weeks on from the customary ”Arsenal don’t have what it takes and they can’t win the title” refrain, the landscape at the top of the table doesn’t look as bad as it could.

Every game is now a cup final for Arsenal. There’s a lot of clichéd talk about the remaining games being winnable on paper, but football unfortunately is played on grass and nothing can be taken for granted. Hopefully there won’t be too many pitches like the DW stadium swamp that was used this past weekend.

The Gunners’ have shown that in recent years, they can sustain a decent run of positive results for over 10 games. I’ve always maintained that this team has the technical capability and the physical endurance to go all the way. What has been missing in this last mile to the first trophy this group will win together is mental fortitude and discipline.

After the filming last week of the first episode in the ’An Audience with….” series on Arsenal TV, Tony Adams, the first guest in the series was asked to list the ingredients of a title winning side.

The Arsenal legend cited good organization, character, defensive discipline, and getting the balance of the teams attacking and defensive functions right; as attributes for title winning teams.

Adams still suggests that this Arsenal team is a bit short when it comes to winning the title this season, though he is quick to point out that his bizarre form of reverse psychology is supposed to motivate the team.

His view is not isolated amongst the ex-Arsenal family and such views are often propped up by the ‘he’s a straight talker and says it as it is cop out.

In my view, such defeatist positions provide ample fuel for the machinations of tabloid hacks and pundits. These cretins live and feed off every negative and controversial edge that they can cook up from any non-story.

What I find bemusing and disheartening in equal measure, is the inability of despondent Arsenal fans and customers to recognize when they need to set aside their grievances with whomever. They don’t seem to understand that there comes a time during the season when unity is required, and the responsibility of ’supporting’ a team through a difficult patch is of more importance here and now.

The standard riposte is that as ardent fans, they have the right to criticize the manager of the team, and that their criticism is a valid part of being a supporter. They accuse those with a sunny disposition and optimism about Arsenal of blindly following the Legend of Arsene Wenger who is leading the team up the garden path.

They remind me of the parent of a pregnant teenager who is going through a precarious final trimester before delivery. Rather than supporting and encouraging the young girl through that challenging period, they still continue to bitch about the fact that she shouldn’t have got pregnant, or she should have slept with Tom or Harry and not Dick because the former two have better quality sperm. They continue to moan and groan about how their child’s pregnancy makes them a laughing stock and batters their street cred.

My point is – there’s a time for everything, and the summer will provide ample opportunity to spit fire and brimstone. Before that, we all have a job to do and show the fighting spirit and tenacity that we demand from our players.

It’s disingenuous to expect the team to show mental fortitude and fight for the remaining games, yet our default position as supporters when the going gets tough is to hide behind the sofa. What point is there pontificating about what should have happened when it’s more important to focus on what we can do.

The team of course have a key role to play in this. Since the most recent defeats, the team has collected 6 points from 2 league games and they have done the minimum required of them.

Even so, some would rather focus on what might have gone wrong. Clearly, this is easier than throwing our collective weight behind the team to see them through the next game, and the next game, and the next game.

I think it’s fair to say that the players want to win the title as much as we want them to. They’re negotiating the last mile and understand the task ahead of them in the last 11 games. Chelsea and United will drop points, and its then up to Arsenal to make hay with this sunshine.

The kamikaze moments of individual madness have to go, and regardless of the personnel employed on the pitch – the team has to fight tooth and nail for every minute in every game. Grind a result; beg, borrow or steal; do it playing Wengerball – it really doesn’t matter.

This title is there for the taking, so let’s all get behind the team.

’til Tomorrow.

Stone Cold Friday: Is Arsenal’s Hill Of Beans Becoming A Mountain?

I’m curious. When you send huge quantities of spam emails, surely the idea is to entice someone into your web to be able to rip them off. Thus, marketing a product would play to it’s strongest points. So why, dear people, are those who try to flog me Viagra – 2 kids already, quite happy with that BTW – lowering their discounts as the night gets older? Surely they should be increasing or at the very least, holding firm? Anyway, Darius is on the case. No, not that one. This one…

I have a sequence of rituals I perform before every Arsenal game. It’s a habit I acquired from way back in high school when I was convinced that our First team school rugby squad was bewitched. Believe me, we had some insalubrious characters that would give the Mystic Meg’s and the Odome Browns (Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost – anyone?) a run for their money.

After the last training session before the game, I would take a shower in every cubicle. Shower rooms in boarding schools weren’t anything to write home about, and I suspect being anal about this ritual made me overcome the health and safety concerns of the dodgy shower cubicles.

If you asked me now why I did it, I honestly have no cotton-picking idea – but I’ll tell you what, the damn thing worked. Every time I was picked for the team and I did the shower routine, we won the rugby match the next day.

In recent times, I’ve found myself doing the following before Arsenal games:

  1. Switching off any device that has pre-match punditry to avoid any negative energy
  2. Checking and double checking whether my beer or wine is chilled to the right temperature. I take beer during afternoon games and white wine for games at night – I’ve been accused of being a borderline alcoholic at times, but there’s absolutely no evidence to justify this accusation.
  3. I take off my home Arsenal shirt, turn it inside out, and then turn it back again before putting it on. I know, I know – it’s like dressing up for a phone call – but it makes me feel good.
  4. I tap the door frame of the living room with all my fingers at the same time – making sure to do it 5 times and only 5 times.
  5. Exactly one minute to kick off – I switch on the telly, the radio or ATVO (whichever I’m watching or listening to on the day) and sit to toast the team before taking my first sip of the beer or wine at kick off.

On Wednesday, for one reason or another, I missed at least 3 of those rituals. Earlier on in the day, I’d jinxed Wookash by doing an exclusive piece on my blog about his high profile howlers.

Imagine the shock on me when in the 11th minute Wookash became the 2nd Arsenal goal keeper in as many weeks to get their name on the score sheet.

I’m one of those people who believe that doing something once is a mistake, twice is a coincidence and third time around – it’s just bang out of order. So this is why I pose the question for us to debate today.

Do Arsenal’s Keystone Cop moments simply amount to a hill of beans or are they becoming a mountain of distractions? Whilst scraping me off the ceiling last night, my wife injected a huge dose of reality in my system by posing a few very interesting questions.

”Who are you actually pissed off with? Is it the referee, Fabianski, Campbell, Nasri or Clichy for giving the Porto winger the keys to the left flank of the Dragão? Or is it Wenger for being courageous enough to give the young players he believes in the opportunity that any footballer would kill for?”

I actually concluded I was simply just expressing the raw emotion and frustration that is normal when the rub of the green doesn’t go our way.

I’m lucky that Flint, one of my most loyal followers on Stone Cold Arsenal has had the privilege of being an Arsenal supporter for over 50 years. I tell you – Flint’s experience and sense of perspective is invaluable and could well benefit our core of plastic ’Johnny come lately’ customers who suggest that they’re ardent supporters.

Here’s a bit of insight and perspective into Arsenal’s goal keeping tribulations from Flint:

Bob Wilson, in fact, is a good illustration of why we need to remain patient with our project, certainly in the ‘keeper situation. Unfortunately it is not a position where you can afford much.

Arsenal had always had 2 long term goalkeepers from 1946 to 1961, in George Swindon & still my favourite Jack Kelsey. Jack had his career ended by injury c1961 & we then had several occasionally brilliant but mostly unreliable ‘keepers. including Bob, until Fingers Furnell came from Liverpool to be a little bit more reliable but I would not put him in even Almunia’s class.

Bob had a spell of about 4 games, starting brilliantly against Forest & ending looking like the amateur he still was against Chelsea. He disappeared for 5/6 seasons to reappear after Fingers made a mistake too many. He was totally different & was superb, particularly in 70/71, until he retired c1974.

What I am saying is that perhaps it is too early for Fabianski. We have not produced a permanent ‘keeper through the youth system since Jack Kelsey. I know from his book that he got off to a very poor start, in the 1st team, but made it whilst still very young, a couple of seasons later. Same with Jennings at Tottenham, he had an awful start there.

Jack was, in my opinion better than Seaman, so you have to be a great to make it so young. Fabianski has a way to go but for me Sczezsny has the look of an early achiever.

On a side note, I see Given did no better than Fabianski against the Delap throw, in the recent 2 matches. It ain’t so easy.

My opinion is that the individual errors and lapses of judgement are just a hill of beans that don’t amount to anything but a learning process. Unfortunately for Arsenal, we’re at a higher risk because of the club’s courage to stand by their players and give them opportunities to prove their worth, despite some inevitable mistakes that will lead to goals and lost points.

What was telling for me on this issue was Wenger’s response to being asked about not purchasing a striker. Wenger used Nicklas Bendtner (who was present with him at that press conference) as an example.

The manager’s view was that having taken Bendtner in at the age of 15, and investing in him for 7 years, it doesn’t make sense to turn around and drop the player because of misguided pressure from outside to buy as a knee jerk solution to every problem.

Wenger’s unwavering faith in his charges is as commendable as his courage in facing the adversity that comes their way when they go through a difficult patch. It is this courage and support that will stop the hill of beans that are the growing pains of any development process becoming an insurmountable mountain.

The more relevant question is whether some Arsenal supporters (or customers) have the spine to stand the heat of the real-time education the youngsters are having. I’m sure there are those who’d prefer that Arsenal throw the baby, the bath water and the whole bathroom down Holloway Road.

’til Tomorrow.

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