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An Appeal & Stone Cold Friday: Unscrew The Pooch

Ordinarily, I would have thought of some witty, pithy quote from a movie or joke. Instead, a note I received yesterday from a long time reader, Flint McCullough, who has been a huge source of encouragement since the early days, is reproduced here:

My great nephew Freddie Garcha, just 22 years old, was shot dead in Colombia for a gold chain. He had been travelling through South America to learn the languages & about life. Like his Mum & brother Max, Freddie was literally a lifelong Gunner, he must have been about 6 or 7 when I first took him to Highbury.

His last message on his Facebook page before he went out on his shopping trip was just after the Sunderland game is here:

Arsenal fans stop moaning like a bunch of f****** d********s its doing my head in. People like you take us down. Obviously pissed we didn’t win, but what you saying its over? Need to show some fucking encouragement, don’t need you bitching & moaning, we need to support whether win lose or draw. You lot bring bad energy for the game on Tuesday…come on you Gunners…be optimistic

The first indication of what happened was when messages of sympathy from his many Colombian friends started appearing on his Facebook page. These were picked up by friends in England & eventually the truth was revealed, albeit with very little help from the British Consulate.

My point in writing is that it has been a huge expense (around £10k) just to bring Freddie home.

His friends in England have set up Bring Freddie Home completely off their own bat to help the family with this unexpected sad loss. It has raised to date around £4000.

Freddie is now back in England & his funeral is on Sunday. The hurt will go on forever but I hope that some more Gunners/Gooners might be able to help with the financial burden.

I would ask that if people feel able to contribute they do so via the above link. If you are unable to do so, take a moment to reflect that there is more to life that bitching over whether Arsène said this or that, or did this or that.

Here’s Darius

I told you folks last week. That blasted warning sign outside the entrance to the Arsenal rollercoaster is there for a reason. It’s not just about ‘Elf and Safety to protect the faint-hearted. What do we then go do? We jump on the damn thing and press the self-destruct button as a bonfire is lit under our arses.

This week hasn’t just been about the disappointment of dropping out of 3 cups in 2 weeks. I’m pissed off about Birmingham’s smash and grab; I’m pissed off that Bendtner didn’t wipe that smug grin off the face of all the arse-licking Broke Back sycophants.

I’m pissed off that yet again, we let the Manure roll us over at Old Trafford. I’m pissed off that at a critical stage in the season, we have given the anti-Arsenal brigade all they need to bury us in the media and on the blogosphere.

But let’s get it straight, none of these emotions and feelings should never ever lead to the collective hammering that we have witnessed this week. I can understand and accept the reaction of the hacks, pundits and smug supporters of our rivals, but I continue to be baffled and deeply saddened by the reaction within the Arsenal ranks.

Those who can’t stomach the rollercoaster ride have picked a really ideal moment, just when its trajectory changes to 79º due south at 187 miles per hour. All they see is Armageddon and their weak, lily-livered psyche defaults to pressing self-destruct as they sing “Kumbayah my Lord” in unison, making peace in preparation for meeting with the footballing gods.

“But we’ve been here before”, they scream from the as they plot our very own Jasmine revolution to oust Wenger, the board, the players and anyone who steps in the way of Arsenal getting trophies.

“Bring me the head of Arsène Wenger” is the refrain as they march steadfastly towards Highbury House, oblivious to the fact that there’s still 30 points up for grabs and a small matter of the Premier league to fight for.

Many take the fence sitting position and demand that actions should speak louder than words, that the team should stop talking and start ‘doing’. Look into the mirror my fellow brethren. Stop talking about supporting your team and actually do it.

The business end of the season is not the time to pontificate and bitch about what could, should and would have been. It is time to take the here and now, to run with it. We are where we are; that’s the most important thing right now.

We have the whole of the summer to drag Arsène Wenger and all his ‘scapegoats de jour’ to Tower Bridge and carry out the executions; to chew the fat about improving our fortunes.

But pray tell, when Arsenal have a realistic chance of winning the title, how is it acceptable that we get as miserable as we have done. How can we demand that the team show courage and character to overcome the fact that we’ve screwed the pooch in the last fortnight. When the heat is on, the cowardly hit the bunkers, hide behind the sofas and demand that the team has to change otherwise we will win nothing, yet again?

It’s not enough to blubber on the clichés about how we’ve been here before in the last 6 years. Nonsense! This is our best title challenge for years. We haven’t spent north of the £2.5 billion like United, Chelsea or City yet we have remained competitive.

Much work still has to be done on the pitch but the same is true of some sections of Arsenal supporters, including some very prominent bloggers. The team needs us now more than ever; I wonder whether it’s the supporters who don’t have the mental strength and character to go the whole distance.

I wonder if it’s the lily-livered section of supporters who are chokers and bottlers. They moan about not winning anything for 6 years yet don’t want to carry the team across the finishing line.

Of course, we’ll hear that it’s their God given right to have an opinion and to criticise where valid. A sign of maturity is knowing when and where to criticise, knowing when to fall in line and back the team to the hilt. If criticism is not constructive, it becomes venomous and consumes us.

Yes, the team has fallen short in the last fortnight, but it’s time for all of us to unscrew the damn pooch and bring the cup home.

’til Tomorrow

Stone Cold Friday: Live & Let Learn

A man comes. He travels quickly. He has purpose. He comes over water. He travels with others. He will oppose. He brings violence and destruction. His name is Darius

Last Sunday’s Blue nosed smash and grab was a coupon buster that will in time, be seen as a necessary evil. Necessary because it provided a reality check against any dose of unhealthy arrogance from the team that will self inflict more heartache in this and other campaigns to follow.

I really feel dirty saying this, but Chelsea’s acrimonious victory over United made it more bearable to lick our wounds and start seeing some light at the end of the tunnel that wasn’t an oncoming train. The positive game that dispatched Orient also went some way to cleansing the soul and spreading a bit of positivity.

My sense is that none of our players will want to ever feel the way they felt this past week. That can only be a good thing, and as they say, what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger. We still seem to be counting the cost of our recent endeavours against Stoke and Birmingham.

That Robin Van Persie is out with injury is massively unfortunate. However, we don’t have the time to gnash our teeth on this one. Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh have no choice than to get rid of those cobwebs and get on with the job.

Robin was only doing what he knows best by scoring ridiculous goals and you can’t ask for any more. The fact of the matter is that any team will miss a world class striker of Van Persie’s calibre. No matter what labels people attach about his perceived fragility, you cannot legislate for the types of injuries that he has had, especially from unsavoury tackles.

What we will definitely miss for a few weeks is RVP’s artistry, confidence, sublime skill and most importantly, his sheer impact on the game. He is so different from the often touted ‘world class’ strikers like say Torres and Drogba. RVP is not only as lethal as the others in front of goal, but he is also a play-maker extraordinaire, one of the best in the business.

When he’s not scoring, he is creating. He is linking up play with adroit mastery. He is assisting goals selflessly and taking out entire defences with cultured passes that few can envisage. Yet with the others, chances are that when they’re not scoring, they’re passengers.

Bendtner and Chamakh have these big boots to fill and they have no choice but to stand up and be counted. Both have form and very good returns with Bendtner in particular having the knack of coming up with critical match winning goals when things were tight over the last two seasons.

Chamakh has literally carried the front line in the first half of the season and it’s fair to say that the work he did created the foundation for RVP to build on during the middle part of the season.

As we enter the home straight, expectations are higher and rightly so. The team must garner the courage and rise to the challenge of overcoming the recent setback.

Injuries aside, we often shout the virtues of our squad, sometimes even describing it as the best by a country mile. There is absolutely no point in waxing lyrical about what is a truly exciting squad and when the inevitable injuries and suspensions bite, we get all tangled up in our proverbial knickers about using the squad.

It’s unrealistic to expect to play our strongest team for every game, and the return to form of squad players in recent games has been a welcome sight. Especially in the Premier league, I have a sneaky feeling that Arshavin, Diaby and Bendtner will have the last laugh as they get more game time by providing relief to the regular starters this season.

As supporters, we must continue to stand firm against the negativity abound, and we must continue to have faith. The snide comments, the disdain and contempt, the cynicism and bias that often lace opinion and reflection about Arsenal are not likely to go away until we cross that threshold.

Many this week have questioned whether this team is capable of winning anything and whether they’ve learnt the lessons that need learning, making a misguided assumption that learning is a static state of affairs. This team has the character, tenacity and mental strength to do it. They’ll just have to show it the hard way when prizes are being divvied up at the end of the season.

Unlike previous seasons, this campaign is within our destiny and our own performances will determine the level of our success. We mustn’t get all giddy about Chelsea and Liverpool doing us favours by beating the common enemy. That matters not if we cannot put the points on the board ourselves and that continues with the visit of the Black Cats tomorrow. An ideal opportunity if ever there was one of exorcising the demons of Wembley.

’til Tomorrow

Stone Cold Friday: He Who Dares Rodney, He Who Dares.

He was known as “The Raffles of Peckham”. He was a gentleman safe-cracker. He was a conisiour of fine wines, gourmet of foreign quisine, big art lover, snappy dresser, and big-time charmer. Now he’s simply called Darius

It’s often said that one of the worst things that can happen is letting a good crisis go to waste.  The headline writers certainly think we’re in crisis seeing that Theo Walcott and Cesc Fabregas are crocked and won’t make it for the Carling Cup final.  It’s a body blow they say, one that has rocked Arsenal.

One of the best lessons ever unleashed on an unsuspecting crowd was during the semi-final of the 1995 Rugby World cup between the New Zealand All Blacks and England.  It was the misguided focus on a certain Jonah Lomu who uncannily had a Fabregas-esque impact on the All Blacks.  Rory Underwood had his hands full in the first place, but England opted to dedicate another man to police mark Lomu alongside Underwood – and it did the trick.  Pretty much stopped the explosive winger for most part.

What England forgot was that all the other 14 All Blacks players on the pitch were capable of annihilating anyone in the world who dared accept the challenge of the ‘Hakka’.  In truth, they really didn’t need Lomu; he was the classic decoy.  England were humiliated and given a master class in how to play Rugby.

Cesc is very important to Arsenal and a peak at the stats bears this fact.  Without him though, the team must rise to the challenge and complete the job they have been sent to Wembley to do.  Even if there was a small chance of playing him, my take would be that it’s not worth the risk.  A much fitter Cesc is required for the home straight.

The captain can most certainly serve the purpose of being our decoy, one who gives false hope to an unsuspecting enemy lying in wait.  Lest we forget, Samir Nasri might have something to say to those who dare scoff at the suggestion that he has been the best player in England this season.

Robin Van Persie will also want to remind us all why he has been the most lethal striker in the world since the beginning of the year, with an added incentive of being the stand-in captain at a cup final.

While it’s important to get the “haven’t won a trophy in half a decade” monkey off our collective backs; what’s more important for the team and the fans is that this milestone is crossed so as to cement our belief in what this team is capable of.

Not that we’re likely to hear the last of the trophy drought nonsense – Neil Ashton of that blasted red rag has already confirmed live on air that if Arsenal do indeed win the Carling Cup, the narrative will change to “but they haven’t won a major trophy since 2005”.

Make no mistake, Birmingham are not going to roll over, let us tickle them on the belly, pat them on their heads and send them back up the motorway.  Their last trip to a league cup final against Liverpool 10 years ago is something they want to wipe out of the history of the club and Arsenal is fair game to them.

Mike Riley – the cynical and baffling referee chief is already on a mission this season to show us that he has power and is willing to use it.  How else would you explain the sheer impunity of giving Peter Walton the same fixture as he did last season where Walton’s incompetence gave Stoke the licence to ‘get in our face’s and for Shawcross to assault Aaron Ramsey.

Clearly, he knows that Birmingham has a history with Arsenal and goes ahead and hands Mike Dean – the same referee who managed the game which Martin Taylor hacked off Eduardo’s ankle.

The team must focus and put the game way beyond the match officials and way beyond Birmingham City.  It will be good for the world to experience our brand of Wengerball at a cup final but that is not necessary in my view.

The object of the exercise here is to win the game.  It matters not whether it’s a scrappy win; or whether we pass them to death; or whether we wear them down for 75 minutes and then lick them to submission; or whether we smash and grab the game.  The players know that they must deliver.

A lot has been said about the possibility of Arsenal winning a historic quadruple.  Some may think that it’s a task too far, and to them it must be said – “Ye of little faith”.  He who dares wins.

We have to believe that we’re the best and we have to have that confidence.  Sunday is a good start and an opportunity to knock off the list of available trophies this season.  It’s been a long time coming and we have had to be patient.

We have no divine right to win at Wembley – but we have the team, we have the attitude, we have the desire and we have the hunger.  Many have suggested that this season, Wenger has prioritized the league cup and played a really strong team all through the competition.

What most of them fail to recognize is that the vision is coming to fruition, and the strength of the team is a culmination of years of work with our young players who are now mature well beyond their peers.  As the other teams are only now catching up with the concept of using the Carling Cup for developing their squad, they’re clearly only playing catch-up to what Arsenal has been doing for years.

Wenger was derided and fingers were pointed at Arsenal for not taking the Carling Cup seriously – and would you believe it, most clubs are now doing what Arsenal started years ago, and we’re bearing the fruits of this endeavour, long before others will catch up with our visionary development path.

The opportunity to win the first cup for this team is nigh.  And it will be just one of many to come.

’til Tomorrow.

Stone Cold Friday: Yes We Can

Fire at Will! Poor old Will, why do they always fire at him…luckily he’s called Darius but he’s willing to put himself in the firing line…

One of the most ironic and hopelessly defiant images of recent times was the charade fronted by the comedian masquerading as a former Iraqi Information minister. The aptly named “Comical Ali” stood in front of the world cameras many a time on the onset of the Iraq war – with a straight face while trying to convince the world that all was hunky dory, and that the allied forces were being swatted away like the irrelevant nuisance they were.

And all this took place despite the undeniable evidence right behind him of cruise missiles being offloaded in his backyard faster than you can shout ‘Hail Mary’. It’s not that he could miss the carnage unfolding. These were the intelligent precision missiles that could navigate traffic lights and the rush hour, manoeuvre the cul-de-sac, and head straight for apartment 4C, taking care to knock and wait for the target to open the door before exploding.

Comical Ali’s defiance reminds me of the punditocracy and the general reaction to one of the most iconic nights in Arsenal’s history. A night that was a watershed moment for the club, for the players, and for the entire Gooniverse. The comedy was best captured in the press box at the Emirates where the majority of the hacks were already online starting to file their clichéd Barcelona arselicking reports before Van Persie rudely interrupted their flow and threw a monkey wrench into their whole program.

By the time Arshavin masterfully escorted Nasri’s ball past a hapless Valdes, the press gang were clearly flustered and hot under the collar. This was never supposed to happen and you could tell they were stupefied by the spectacular turnaround. The supporters around the press box did not disappoint with their well timed chants of “Rewrite – Rewrite – Rewrite”, pointing out the obvious and reminding them that their pre-prepared Barca loving copy will have to go in the trash.

It matters not that there’s a second leg at the Camp Nou in just under 3 weeks. It matters not that the face savers try to point out that Barcelona are going to ‘murder’ us when we visit for the return leg. What happened this week was monumental for the simple reason that the mother of all psychological barriers was shattered by this team; and it was shattered with a spirited performance that dared anyone to question what this team was capable of.

Listening to the fallout from the game, you would think that Arsenal actually lost the match. The Comical Ali’s from the media and pundit circles shamelessly continue to tell us that what happened at the Emirates was a freak result and all would be corrected in the return leg.

The problem for most of them is that they haven’t seen this team coming. It was only a matter of time before the different parts of the jigsaw clicked. It was only a matter of time before the belief in the team was cemented in a spectacular way.

What is not in doubt is that the team now has the belief and confidence that they can beat the best in the world. Despite what people say about the second leg, even Barcelona are not stupid enough to think that it will be a walk in the park. It certainly won’t be easy for us, but the pressure is on them and we are very capable of scoring an away goal to crank up that pressure 10 fold. Barcelona now know that Arsenal can beat them, and that’s the difference.

What’s more important though is what the win this week means for the team from here on. The confidence will be extremely high, and we will have learnt the lessons especially from Newcastle. What is also true is that our domestic and European opponents have no illusions about what we are now capable of. This is not a ‘nearly’ also-rans team. This Arsenal team has arrived.

The next few matches are very critical in augmenting the gains from this week, and the team must take these very seriously. The fact that we are playing Leyton Orient, Stoke City and Birmingham City next should not be taken lightly and the team should play with the same tenacity and spirit as they did this week.

With United likely to meet Chelsea a week before our return trip to the Camp Nou, there is a real opportunity for us to have lifted the first trophy at Wembley, for us to be in the FA Cup quarter final, and for us to be top of the league. The confidence that this will give the team cannot be underestimated, but it is not going to be easy and we must give each one of the teams we face their due respect.

Robin Van Persie took the time in his post match interview to specifically thank the supporters in the stadium; and Wenger and Cesc have also commented on the impact the supporters have. It is now also time for the doubting Thomas’s to fall in line and get behind this team.

Enough of the moaning and bitching; enough of the anti-Arsenal sentiments from those who call themselves Arsenal fans. This team has earned the right and the goodwill to be supported unequivocally and unconditionally for the remainder of this campaign.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the stadium, in a pub watching the game, with friends, at home or on the street. We all need to shamelessly stand as one, and we all need to be counted. Many doubted that this team was capable of crossing the threshold that they’ve now crossed; let alone win any trophy.

The answer to that couldn’t be more clearer. Yes we can, and yes we will.

I’ll save my final word today for a special mention. The team as a whole performed admirably and everyone is deserving of praise especially our big name players like Van Persie and Arshavin who came to the fore when their club needed them.

But two players in particular stood out for me. Laurent Koscielny and Jack Wilshere came of age. They announced their arrival and they announced it with style. They were not great, they were not excellent – they were world class.

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

Best get the shades out…’til Tomorrow

Stone Cold Friday: Unite & Win. Divide & Fall – The Sequel

“Choose your next wittisism wisely, Mr. Bond, it may be your last.” Here’s Darius’ latest letter to the unconverted. Or unconvinced, I’m never quite sure which is most appropriate.

The name is Bond. Darius Bond…

As the resident analyst and spook working for the ‘Anti-Football’ espionage establishment; I hereby file my annual report having been commissioned to carry out a destructive interference programme on Arsenal. For the uninitiated, the establishment runs a dubious committee set up to oversee the capitulation of Arsenal.

The committee sits late every Friday night guided by the silhouette of a hangman and his noose perched above their heads.

To: The Dubious Black-ops Committee Of The Anti-Football Establishment

Since my last report in December last year, we have continued to make great strides with our Arsenal destruction program. Our biggest interference activity was during the summer as we implemented Operation ‘Broke-back Barca’. We may not have succeeded this time, but we managed to recruit the useful idiots in the Spanish and English media that were desperate for anything sensational.

Our inside sources have confirmed to us that they are ready next summer to continue with the subversion to lure the Arsenal captain back to the homeland. We can also continue to count on the stupidity of some of the ‘Broke-back’ players who are desperate to get in front of any camera given the right sort of nudge.

Our continued campaign to spread poison and conspiracy theories about how the team has a “soft and milky” under-belly and how they lack substance is well on target. As you know, achieving this hasn’t been easy – and we have spent considerable resources over the last 5 years ‘encouraging’ media hacks and pundits to spread the misguided narrative that Arsenal will never cut it.

We have also uncannily recruited more moles to pose as influential Arsenal bloggers to pump home our Anti-Arsenal message from within the ranks. It was paramount that we attacked the very strong ground and foundations that the club has invested in – it was critical that no focus was directed towards the hapless plight of rival clubs in the north of England who are buried in unmanageable debt.

This remains an arduous task, especially when the more level headed voices of reason within the Arsenal community actually get their message across that the club is doing very well under the circumstances. Our strategy has to be that of attacking their fickle, spineless, weak glory hunting fans.

This undoubtedly is a small vocal minority, but combined with our allies in the media and pundit circles, we continue to plough the message of how the team is crap. We have actually succeeded in making everyone believe that Arsenal has the worst defence of the top flight teams. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t factual, the idea is to grab something, and run with it.

Look at their home form for example. The team are actually scared of playing at home, a clear indicator that our strategy is bearing fruit. All the ‘useful idiots’ we’ve planted in the crowd have developed the fine art of moaning and bitching, and they have believed the narrative to the point where they don’t even know how to support any more.

Another area of slow progress in our interference strategy is the continued attack on their goal keeping situation. We were doing well up until they installed a Polish chap as their number one. Truth be told, we’re having difficulty with this one. The Arsenal keeper is actually the most in-form keeper in the Premier league as I write this report, but luckily, their fans are to fickle to even bother looking at the ‘Lazarian-esque’ resurrection that this young man has had in goal.

They have been brainwashed so much in believing that they only have useless keepers, and we have to focus on this angle to keep the masses believing and talking about this, especially with the transfer window coming up in a couple of weeks.

We must continue to encourage this group of fair-weather plastic fans to unleash the customary venomous tirade as they spit fire and brimstone on the internet and airwaves. The voices of reason of the realistic and level minded supporters will soon be drowned out if we maintain the current pace of interference.

The main concern however is the momentum that the team continues to build. So far, we have been successful with our mission for the simple reason that majority of the Arsenal fans focusing on the moaning and complaining have failed to see how far this team has got. Our worst nightmare is that the supporters as a collective actually get behind the team and support them through thick and thin.

We must make them believe that being top of the table is simply a fluke conspired into reality by the weather. We must make them think that being in 4 competitions with a chance of winning each of them by this time of the season shows a team that is desperate of winning anything even the tin cup.

We must spread the message that the tin cup is only for the losers who can’t hack the ‘grown-up’ tournaments, despite the fact that Chelsea and Man United have always fielded their strongest teams to win this competition.

We must insist that the only reason that Arsenal are doing well as compared to other title rivals is that others are going through a ‘blip’ while Arsenal is just not good enough when they show any signs of weakness. Our friends in the media continue to effectively spread the message that they are weak and useless, that there is no place for beautiful football in the game as we want it.

In conclusion, let me remind you all of the cost of letting Arsenal succeed in anything. They’re perhaps one of the world’s best run sporting businesses, and their success is a direct counter argument to how the establishment has been doing things for decades now. They threaten to shame the establishment into accepting that there is an alternative way, and they threaten to impose themselves for decades to come as the dominant force in European football.

We cannot let that happen, and our most effective strategy is continuing with this interference program. We must stop their supporters from uniting behind the team at all costs.

’til Tomorrow.

Stone Cold Friday: The Good, The Bad & The Downright Ugly

You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig. Here’s Darius with this week’s musings…

My short-lived media blackout was ruthlessly shattered this week. I had forgotten that Royal Mail and my mobile phone service provider still had the ability to let Tottenham fans and other undesirables get to me.

I had promised myself not to do anything ‘Arsenal’ until 7.43 pm on Tuesday when I could safely watch an Arsenal redemption. The thought of some good football with the TV sound muted, and a ‘safe’ Arsenal TV commentary was supposed to lift my spirits.

Yet it was the practical joke played on me by a very good friend and long term Liverpool supporter that slapped me back into reality and got me out of the bunker. A package arrived in the mail on Wednesday – a nicely wrapped DVD with a neatly printed label stating: ‘Official Tottenham Hotspur Match DVD – 20th November 2010 – Arsenal v Tottenham.

Inside the blank casing was a note that simply said, “Snap out of it you bastard, now you know how Liverpool fans have been feeling for the last 20 years”.

And he was right. This is what I subscribed to. This is what we all subscribed to. The highs, the lows, the emotional roller coaster, the excitement and elation, the despair and hopelessness.

The last 135 minutes of football have left me with a bittersweet taste in my mouth. Sweet because despite everything, we’re still well in with a chance of 4 trophies, and bitter because an unacceptable level of complacency has crept in.

An ACLF regular texted me on Saturday night after Chelsea’s loss to Birmingham saying – “The sun does truly shine on a dogs arse”. It made me smile as even I didn’t expect Chelsea to give us a second ‘get out of jail free card’, and it’s safe to say, we’ve used our quota for the season.

I suppose what pains me is that if you look at the results we had at Sunderland away, and against West Brom, Newcastle and Spurs at home, all of which were arguably winnable games – we could have been sitting pretty at the top 9 points clear of the chasing pack.

I know of many jobs where if you lost such a monumental advantage especially after being in control – you’d find yourself sitting in front of a disciplinary panel charged with dereliction of duty. 9 points in the EPL for example is equivalent to a windfall in the financial markets capable of securing 6 months wages for a good proportion of your employees.

But that my friends is the ‘ugly’ side of this adventure. It’s what keeps us awake at night, tossing and turning and making our loved ones wonder why it is that we get so affected and so emotional when Arsenal lose a game. If you didn’t feel this way, I would suggest that it’s possible you’re not truly a Gooner.

The ‘ugly’ is part and parcel of this journey, and even though we mentally prepare for it, and find a way to rationalize it – the impact to us has been plain to see this week.

The team know it and it’s fair to say that they hold their heads in shame. Denilson’s public apology for the debacle against Tottenham was an indicator that the team are sensitive to the fact that they’ve let us down and they’ve let themselves down. Only a gallant performance at Villa Park will start to spell redemption in the eyes of many.

Let’s however not get to down trodden because it’s time to dust ourselves off and get back on the horse. As they say in Miami – “It’s time to ‘fan up’”. It’s time to show the team that we share their pain and their joy. It’s time for us to make sure they know that we want them to get back to winning ways and that we will support them to the hilt to do that.

It is unreasonable to expect them to get back to the ‘good’, minimize the ‘bad, and totally eliminate the ‘ugly’ – if we are not prepared to do our part and ‘fan up’ for the team. I suggest that it’s actually hypocritical to expect the team to show mental strength and fight back, yet we’re not prepared to also fight back with our unwavering support.

My sense is that it’s entirely feasible that our indifferent performance at home this season is directly impacted by the fear, or anxiety or apprehension that the players might have in case they get a lukewarm response from fans claiming to be home supporters. You cannot discount that they’re playing more like the home team when they’re away – and that is a form of indictment of what we as fans do to make the Emirates a fortress.

The next Carling cup and Champions league ties are at home, and I think that by virtue of both having a fairly different crowd base than the EPL matches, we’re likely to see a different response from the crowds ‘fanning up’, and by extension, a much better performance from the team.

Johan Djourou captured it for me this week by defining our performances as “crazy and inexplicable”. Some call it a crisis, but I would suggest Ireland is in a crisis and not Arsenal. The problem with the blogosphere is that a perceived ‘crisis mode’ is easily amplified by the click of a button.

There are issues to resolve and they will be resolved so that we sail closer to the ‘good’ as opposed to the ‘bad and ugly’.

Meanwhile, is it only me or is anyone else disturbed by Fabianski’s recent fashion sense? What’s with the shocking pink?

’til Tomorrow.

Stone Cold Friday: Arsenal’s New Set Of Brass Balls

Sorry boys but there’s rumour that Mongo’s in town. Oh, no, my mistake. It’s just his twin brother Darius

I only step away for a week and all hell breaks loose. Chelsea’s precarious and wafer thin under-belly rolls over for the world to see; the establishment pulls the classic counter-measure to austerity Britain by announcing a feel good royal wedding to keep spirits high while the populous is being shafted by ruthless government cuts.

In a not too unfamiliar script, England get bitch slapped by Laurent Blanc and his French charges. Actually, it was like watching Arsenal play a quintessentially English Premier League team – a battle between finesse and tactlessness; a clash between intelligence and uncultured brawn. Any which way you looked at it, the footballing master-class displayed by Les Bleus left England noses out of joint.

And so you ask – “Why is it that the English football establishment seem incapable of chewing gum and walking at the same time”?

I suspect it’s one of the reasons in recent times we’ve seen Arsenal being shoe-horned into that “also-rans” pigeon hole; dismissed as a team only interested in tippy-tappy jiggery pokery football. As opposed of course to the blood and thunder, pluck and spirit, kick and rush percentage football that we’re told wins titles.

If Wednesday night’s game is anything to go by, you do despair for English football. I found myself chuckling at the bafflement of commentators trying to unpick what the hell went wrong during half time. The irony of course is that it was déjà vu. We’ve had this conversation so many times – you have to conclude that incompetence reigns supreme because no-one seems capable of doing what is necessary.

And yet in all this – the template that will provide a good proportion of the answer to the woes of the English game is staring them in the face. The FA couldn’t do worse than looking at London Colney, their adopted training camp. The Arsenal Academy has done more to promote the tenets of the ‘beautiful game’ than the FA would ever want to admit.

Instead, a narrative has been peddled that the brand of Wengerball Arsenal indulges in is not fit for English consumption. We’re told that to win anything, we need to get rid of our nimble twinkled-toed nifty creative types; and bring in ‘ard men of the Chuck Norris action-hero-built-like-a-brick-shithouse-who-cost-big-bucks type – because that’s how you win football titles.

Consider this though – the table doesn’t lie. How is it possible that Arsenal, with their brand of football, can continue to remain competitive despite the misleading narrative?

I have a theory. Simply put – the team is coming of age. In the process, Arsenal has grown a brand new pair of brass balls. Granted, there is still a long way to go – but despite the small kinks that shade us once in a while – it’s not inaccurate to point out that the team is in the ascendancy.

Take the curious case of Wookash Fabianski. Not so long ago, there was nothing this young man could do to get a word in edgeways. Everyone from the tea lady at White Hart Lane, to established Arsenal bloggers, to the pundits on the DSTV African sports networks dismissed him as a joke of a keeper who was destined for a new career with the Polish postal service.

Today, Wookash is toe to toe with Petr Cech on having the best stop to shot ratio in the EPL. I would even argue that after his performance at Goodison Park, he’s edged Cech on this one.

He has single-handedly pulled Arsenal by the scruff of the neck and hauled them into winning positions by his man-of-the-match performances in at least 3 crucial games. Mick McCarthy famously said of Fabianski’s performance at Molineux – “They gave me duff information. They told me Arsenal had a dodgy keeper”.

As of last Saturday, the usual suspects masquerading as pundits were pointing to Arsenal’s defence being the weak link. This despite the evidence of recent clean sheets, as well as Vermaelen being a frequent guest of our medical facility.

The more accurate situation is that Arsenal has found a rhythm and balance in the defence – and in particular – Koscielny, Squillaci and Djourou have shown that they’re no mugs.

Our goal difference suggests that we don’t necessarily have a problem in the forward positions, but even more encouragingly, we have coped admirably with injuries and suspensions. The most pleasing sight for me during the game against Everton was seeing Rosicky, Van Persie and Walcott on the bench – and yet, the team on the pitch were doing a very competent and professional job.

Many will quickly point out that alas, Arsenal are propping up the fair league table with 4 red cards to their account and a trailer-load of yellows – yet some referees have let us get away with murder by not sending our players off.

It’s like there are only extremes with Arsenal – nothing in between. Either we’re the goody two shoes of football, or we’re the nasty cheating bastards who just want things our way and we’re only good at moaning when other teams ‘stick their foot in’. The irony of our flair players like Wilshere and Fabregas allegedly being hatchet men is quickly pointed out.

I must confess I do enjoy the “nasty boy” notoriety that’s being peddled about. It’s a sign to me that they’re running scared and are recognizing that we’ve developed a no-nonsense edge to our approach.

We’re getting better at ‘mixing’ it – becoming more adept at marrying brains and brawn; better at harmonizing panache and graft. And the best part – the football still provides the best kind of ecstasy that you can have with your clothes on.

’til Tomorrow.

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