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Stone Cold Friday: Arsenal Must Focus On The C-Word

We judge people by many standards. Personally, I never trust a man, who when left alone with a tea cosey… Doesn’t try it on. Darius has a wardrobe full…

Wipe that dirty and perverted smirk off your face – I’m talking about ‘consistency’ here. With a quarter of the season gone, the report card has some pleasant and positive reading, with Arsenal deservedly perched in the top percentile of the various league tables.

The term report is also tempered with a ruthless reminder of the cost of not being clinical with our chances; or turning up for games and assuming certain teams will roll over, let us tickle them on the belly, pat them on the head and send them back up the motorway with a thrashing.

The points lost so far especially due to moments of mental lapses, should not cloud the individual and collective successes that the team has registered so far. It’s now time to build on this and show consistency in the achievement of positive results.

When I reflect on the season this far, the most pleasing aspect for me has been the maturity and patience the team has shown in knuckling down and getting on with a professional job. My sense is that part of this is because the players have collectively got more experienced in playing within the 4-3-3 system, and some of the kinks from last season seem to be fading away.

Personnel changes have also played a major part – in particular with Koscielny, Squillaci, Chamakh and Wilshere blending in like they’ve always been part of the furniture. The net result being that as a whole, the squad seems to be better equipped for this campaign.

Even with our customary roll call of injuries, there are fewer frayed nerves as we seem to have the personnel to cope with the absences. The individual improvement of certain players like Fabianski, Walcott, Wilshere, Nasri and Song – Arsenal’s new goal machine – has seriously reduced the quality gap between the first and second string players, massively improving the squad strength and depth.

Despite all these ingredients – it’s important that particularly at this stage, the team shows consistency by building on the positive results we have achieved so far. There used to be a time when certain games were bankers for 3 points. West Brom and Sunderland have shown that come match day – history doesn’t mean anything.

I think it’s also fair to say that individuals in the team still also blow hot and cold. Take Clichy for example who within 4 days, turned from hero with his assist for Song, to villain, for his ‘assist’ for Eduardo. This is not to say that Clichy has suddenly become a bad player – far from that. I think he’s one of the best left backs in the game.

But consistency demands that such Jekyll and Hyde performances are cut out. Perhaps it’s worth it that Gibbs is breathing down his throat in the same way that Szczesny is breathing down Fabianski’s throat; that Bendtner and Chamakh are breathing down Van Persie’s throat; that Rosicky is sweating Arshavin or Eboue is sweating Sagna.

If it makes individuals more ‘uncomfortable’ and hence more consistent – then all hail to a strong squad with hungry ‘breathers’. But it’s not enough that individuals are consistent. Our team performances have to also be consistent.

The fact that we’ll play at least 60 games this season, coupled with inevitable suspensions and injuries means that squad rotation is a given. It’s the consistency of the squad – despite any personnel changes – that has to see us through some tight spots, for there will be many more to come.

Watching Newcastle United giving Sunderland a good hiding last weekend made me wonder how it is we can beat the Toon and not Sunderland. I suppose it’s the same reason we can beat Man City who easily beat Chelsea a team we failed to beat, but City were beaten by West Brom who smuggled 3 points out of the Emirates – and then I start getting a headache.

The thing is that all teams will drop points, sometimes in the most unexpected places. The EPL has become a tougher proposition since we were last at the helm and there are stronger teams right across the board. The only way we will continue enjoying the position we occupy and move on to claiming the title is by building on the current successes and showing consistency.

Chelsea is not going to bend over and let us shaft them to the title. We’re going to have to violently wrestle it away from them. United will be hell bent on reminding us that they’re no mugs and didn’t walk into this title race from the cotton fields.

This Arsenal team has enough in the locker to achieve its ultimate potential and bring the first trophy home. But we’re not going to do that by not showing consistency. We need to get positive results in the next game, and the next and the one after that.

Consistency begets results; results beget confidence and as Peter Hill-Wood would say “woe betide any team that steps into the path of a confident, consistent Arsenal”.

’til Tomorrow

Stone Cold Friday: When Maturity Is Mistaken For Desperation

“There are two kinds of spurs, my friend. Those that come in by the door; those that come in by the window.” How wrong you were Tuco, how wrong you were. There is a third type. Those Spurs always finish below Arsenal but hopefully will do us a favour by beating Manchester United tomorrow. To keep you going, here’s Darius

There’s a vicious rumour doing the rounds that Arsenal is so desperate to win a trophy, they’ve become outright flat track bullies in the Carling cup. While every team now uses the league cup to blood youngsters and give fringe players a chance for some pitch time, Arsenal are being ungentlemanly by unleashing a full strength side.

The irony of all this is the fact that not so long ago, Arsenal was being berated for not taking the cup seriously and bringing the game into disrepute. You have to ask though, that if Wenger makes 9 changes to a team and still ends up with a formidable starting 11, isn’t he fielding his under strength team?

So are we that desperate?

You need to get past the smoke screen of the most quoted statistic in English football – ‘…but Arsenal hasn’t won anything in 5 years’. You need to climb over the mountain of lazy clichés and shameless bias of commentators who tempt you to throw your TV right out the window.

You need to get past the intellectual masturbation unleashed on us by pundits and hacks as they fumble in search of a plausible explanation as to why they think project Arsenal has failed. You need to get past the vocal rabble that is a minority of anti-Arsenal Arsenal supporters who seem hell bent on sending Wenger and a few players to the gallows if we end up with another barren season.

For only when you get past this muck, do you realise how far this team has travelled on this audacious journey to greatness. Not enough credit is given to Wenger, and to individual players for the continuous development that has seen this team grow right in front of our eyes.

Granted, our patience has been tested many a time, but that is the price we have to pay to see this vision through. It’s unfortunate sometimes that this 24-hour – give me what I want now culture has thrown the concept of patience out of the window. Few people seem prepared to build things any more, a quick fix being the order of the day.

What the Carling cup is showing us is that Arsenal has a formidable squad that will challenge on all fronts. It’s a squad that has been brought together by a painstaking and meticulous process of a youth development program tempered with a sprinkling of experience. It’s a squad that is developed to stand us in good stead for a long time to come.

What was also interesting this week was the revelation of the psychology that Arsenal applies as part of the development process. It was always rumoured that the Professor demanded intelligence in his players, but a rare glimpse of the hoops players have to jump for the right to wear an Arsenal shirt was fascinating.

The psychology in part, provides an explanation as to why Wenger only signs certain types of players as opposed to the regulation short-list provided to him by the tabloids every transfer window. This season has seen the introduction of Koscielny, Squillaci and Chamakh – all of who are playing like they’ve always been part and parcel of the Arsenal setup.

What is also becoming more evident is that Arsenal’s impending – and in my view inevitable success is a fact that has started to sink in for many in the establishment. I know that as fans, we tend to get aggrieved by the sometimes criminally biased representation that Arsenal gets in the media. The ‘last kick of a dying horse’ comes to mind when you reflect soberly on the begrudging acknowledgement we occasionally get.

The job is not yet done, but to use one of Wenger’s nuggets, the ‘ingredients’ are there. It’s also noticeable that we’ve collected a few more along the way – like the skill of diplomatically applying the dark arts – for the good of the team.

The team’s mental strength is not an issue for me – we have it in abundance. The rub of the green has also become a familiar bedfellow in recent times. What has been most impressive for me though is the patience and maturity that the team has shown when it has been called for.

You can see it in the way we close out games, or the way we grind and wear down teams with pace, stamina and Wengerball – before licking them to submission.

Teams are also ill-advised to consider Arsenal a soft touch, a myth that has become conventional wisdom if you believe some commentators. The boys are consistently showing that they can ‘take care of themselves’ to use a common euphemism for having a no-nonsense approach or response to teams attempting to bully us off the park.

When people talk about desperation and a clamour for the Carling cup – I think they totally miss the point that Arsenal has become a different beast – one that is also the best at making beasts look beautiful.

The team know what they have to do – and they’ll take it a game at a time. The prizes are not being handed out yet, contrary to the procession being prepared down the Kings Road. The least we can do is enjoy the ride – it’s going to be a fascinating one this season.

’til Tomorrow.

Stone Cold Friday: The Different Shades Of Arsenal’s Success

It would be tempting to continue crow about the victory at The Lane. Instead Darius is here to talk sense…Who am I kidding. He’s lifted his boot and planted it firmly on their heads, pushing their faces further into the sand. But he has bigger feet than most of us and has got every other club down there with them…

Undertaking an arduous and challenging journey of growth and development can consume us, making it difficult to even recognise what success looks like any more. Losing that sense of perspective, clouds context and tests the boundaries of disillusionment.

This week in my view has been a very important milestone in football, one that draws a clear marker of Arsenal’s continuing success on and off the field. Some would have you believe that trophies are the only measure of success. By definition, that renders 85 of the 92 professional clubs in England and Wales as failures each season.

Those consumed by this tunnel-visioned approach miss the multi-dimensional nature of football and its impact to communities around the world. Arsenal is often beaten with the “they haven’t won a trophy for 5 seasons” stick, implying a simplistic assumption of failure, a club that supposedly hasn’t been able to build from its historic success of the 2003-04 season.

This week provided a tangible illustration of how such a school of thought is way off the mark. Slowly but surely, it’s clearer to see that the trail that Arsenal has blazed is shaping the approach to the development of football through youth in the top echelons in the country.

For several years now, Arsenal has been roundly criticised for allegedly showing disdain and disrespect to the League Cup by fielding teams that some observers called the “London Colney Kindergarten”. It has taken courage on our part to stick to this strategy and to use the competition to blood younger players.

By his own admission, Wenger ranks this as his lowest priority. It is a competition which if we fielded our strongest team, we would have a chance of winning year in, year out. Many fail to see the merits of going 5 years without a trophy, yet the League Cup is fair game.

In recent times it has gone unnoticed that Premier league teams are now widely using the League Cup to blood young players and to test the strength of their second string sides. Selective amnesia when it comes to Arsenal?

This is a direct legacy of Arsenal’s continued approach of using this competition to support their youth development programme. The key lesson here is directly related to the stability and longevity of football clubs in today’s economy.

The days of living beyond your means are over and clubs are desperate to be in a position their youth systems are a viable strategy to squad development. Some managers were quick to berate Wenger for persisting with the policy of using the League Cup for his young charges. Their envy is driven by the reality that cheque book management is no longer an option.

That Arsenal can make 9 changes to its preferred Premier league squad, as well as not having 7 key players available because of injury, is nothing short of remarkable. It highlights the squad’s strength in depth.

It was bemusing to hear claims from hacks and pundits that Arsene is finally taking the League Cup seriously. Allegedly, he recognises that we cannot go on without a trophy so the League Cup will have to do. Nonsense!

For one, bragging rights were at stake. Wenger and the team knew this. More importantly, the reality that our second string team is that strong is testament to the hard work that has been going on for years. Arsenal hasn’t got here by accident; it’s a tangible illustration of the benefits of the youth development approach. The important thing to appreciate is that this is only the beginning, that there is a production line ready to unleash Wengerball clones fit for purpose for years to come.

Also in this week, Arsenal are set to announce record profits for the last trading year, in conjunction with the repayment of the debts related to the Highbury square development. The mortgage for the stadium is all that remains, and repayments for this are covered by organic income from our activities.

Some have argued that we should use this windfall exclusively to bring in marquee players to the team, but this has never been and will never be Arsène’s style. Saying that, year on year, the resources available for squad development whether internally or by strategic transfers to augment the current team, will continue to grow.

This year alone, regardless of the amount used in transfer fees, the players who have been brought in seem to be adding that bite to the team that was a recognised deficiency. And we didn’t have to break the bank to do that.

Comparing this with the performances of teams this week like Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton – and most other EPL teams – it’s clear to see that Arsenal’s youth development programme is paying massive dividends now and also for the future.

Even though it has become fashionable to now use the Carling cup to develop the youth – it’s painful to watch how woefully inadequate the 2nd and 3rd string teams are for most top clubs. Not only do they now face the prospect of having to build their squads by incorporating underprepared youth, they are not going to have the resources of previous years to buy ready-made players off the shelf.

Arsenal by contrast, has an increasingly strong squad built from within the ranks and augmented by external signings. It’s clear for all to see that we will continue to have the necessary financial resources to develop the club in all areas – not just the squad.

The trophies will come, but for now, it’s important to take a step back and recognise the significant milestones that have occurred, all of which illustrate the success that Arsenal has achieved over the years. Whether it’s recognised by the establishment or not, the performances of the top teams in this Carling cup week is a tangible illustration that Arsenal like it has done many times, is leading the way, and others are begrudgingly following.

The future’s bright, the future’s red and white.

’til Tomorrow.

Stone Cold Friday: Litmus Test Of Arsenal’s Resolve

He’s fat, he’s round, he bounces on the ground, no wait that was Sammy Lee. This is the infinitely more mobile Darius:

Even at this early juncture in the season, everybody is chipping in about Arsenal’s chances of grabbing some silverware.  From the self-proclaimed ‘special ones’ in the Iberian Peninsula to the landlord of the Britannia’s local public house; from smug pundits to the tea lady at White Hart Lane – the consensus seems to be that Arsenal still don’t have what it takes to shake off the ‘also-rans’ status hammered to our forehead.

It’s the age old cliché about the spine we don’t have. The spine made of steel, grit, height and filled with Neanderthals built like brick shithouses – I sometimes forget what it is exactly we need.  If you asked Professor Meerkat of the ‘Compare the football market’ legend, he would suggest that what isn’t in doubt is that Arsenal needs to score more goals and concede less – Simples!

In the grand scheme of things, last season’s league table suggests that we weren’t far off the mark.  The manner of our concession to the title challenge caused acrimony and disquiet within the Gooner nation.

While many would suggest that this unhappy state of affairs is universal, a significant proportion of Arsenal fans around the world remain disappointed but still recognise and acknowledge the virtues that the club continues to uphold and the steady progress we are making, on and off the field.

Nevertheless, Wenger and the players clearly recognise that they are walking a tightrope of expectations. There is an added urgency to bring the bacon home after the long haul of development, goodwill that has been handed to this young cohort of players over the last few years.

Even Government spooks at GCHQ looked at the Arsenal blogosphere as it went ballistic this summer. Imagine their surprise as a handful of rabble rousers were responsible for the noise, compared to the millions of moderate, well-rounded and positively expectant Arsenal supporters around the world.

New signings were demanded, but some are still underwhelmed by the signings that Wenger has made so far.  The only reason I can point to as an explanation – and I’m speculating here – is that for those who believe that enough is enough and something has to give, only the signing of established, YouTube profiled and media-recognised players who come with a hefty price tag and huge wage demands will do.

“We need an experienced and established centre back”, the cries came from far and wide, and to his credit, Wenger has done what he said he will do.  Sort out our defence.  There’s that age old burning issue of the Arsenal keeper, but that’s a story for another day.

On the defensive side, it’s time to park the ‘we need another CB’ conversation and get about the business of settling the new recruits in.  I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that we’re lacking for experience and quality in this area.  If we use United and Chelsea as a simplistic but practical comparison – our defensive personnel of Sagna/Eboue, Koscielny/Squillaci, Vermaelen/Djourou and Clichy/Gibbs – is better equipped and better resourced for the coming campaign than both United and Chelsea.

It’s time to knuckle down and get about the business of navigating the many challenges of the season.  Five more days until the transfer window is nailed shut and boarded up is five days too long pontificating about the PlayStation choices in personnel that the manager could, should and won’t make?  We are where we are as they say.

For me, passing our litmus test to judge whether the necessary improvements have been made depends on three areas of our game: our patience and maturity during the game; the decisions we make during the transitions when possession of the ball changes; and the mental fortitude to overcome the numerous obstacles that will be thrown our way.

The recent hammering of Blackpool and West Brom by Arsenal and Chelsea are a template of what can happen to teams who decide to play football against the top sides.  Let’s face it, not all clubs will come to play football, clearly content with throwing the virtues of the beautiful game out of the fourth floor window in a bid not to be given a good hiding and a cricket score to boot.

It’s for this reason that patience is a virtue as many teams will either stop us from playing by any legal means necessary, or park the coach in front of goal.  In addition, there are good teams that are content with letting us have the ball and hitting us on the counter, because it’s a strategy that has worked in the past.

In both these cases, we must be patient in controlling the game and waiting for our opportunity.  Arsenal has the players with the fitness and stamina to wear down such teams before licking them to submission.  Despite the suggestion that possession football without penetration leads to frustration and the anxiety of not making the three points, there are games that we most definitely need the patience and maturity to overcome the anti-football.

Closely linked is my second point that we need to be better during transitions.  If you analyse our games last season, especially the ones that we suffered devastating counter-attacks; the key issue is that we were caught in no-man’s land when we lost the ball.  It’s like the players got a mental block just trying to decide whether to attack the ball or fall back into defensive formation as opposed to chasing the opponent.

The system we play is significantly dependent on our ability to retain possession, and we arguably have the best ball carriers in the league.  The naivety we have occasionally shown is that we have been impatient and tried to force the issue, cheaply losing possession in some of these cases.  Compound this with not making the right decisions at the very moment of losing the ball and you have a chain of events that easily ends up with Almunia collecting the ball from the back of his net.

We are the best at turning transitions of defence to attack with devastating effect to the opposition.  We need to be better during the transitions where we lose the ball.  We need to be more consistent in defending as a unit starting with the players up front. They are crucial in buying time for us to get back in defensive shape or winning the ball outright.

Naturally, the application of what seems easier said than done in my first two hurdles of the litmus test can only come together by the team showing that they have the mental fortitude and discipline to go the whole nine yards.  With each new season, the expectation is that the team will start providing the returns for the emotional investment the fans have made in them over the last few years.  We know that the team has everything – stamina, technique, intelligence, panache, desire, belief and hunger.

The missing ingredient is the mental strength to bring all these attributes to fruition.  It’s the wiring that joins the different dots together to get this team through the last mile of this roller-coaster of a journey.

’til Tomorrow

Stone Cold Friday: Welcome to the Arsenal Rollercoaster Ride

Before we launch into today’s post, anyone who wants to ‘rent’ a Season Ticket’ for 2010-11 should contact Ashitey on a.akomfrah@student.liverpool.ac.uk PDQ. The deadline is today.

Also, a note that the ACLF Fantasy Football League can be found at http://fantasy.premierleague.com. Once you have logged in and entered your team, click on the ‘Leagues’ link you can find on the right of the page. Enter the code 755155-171684 to join the private league.

Anyway, emerging from the mist like a hero in a novel written centuries ago, here’s Darius with the first of this season’s Stone Cold Friday’s.

I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I am that good old fashioned Wengerball is back on the menu. Every summer, I’m convinced that the Arsenalitis I and thousands of others suffer due to lack of proper football is more vicious and more brutal than the time I decided to quit smoking cold turkey.

I’ve consulted long and hard, high and wide as to whether I should change my customary pre-match rituals for the season. With my better angels shouting down my resident demons each time I try to contemplate some of the suggested (and sometimes insalubrious) rituals, I find myself praying and hoping that perhaps the only rituals we need are those that appease the injury Gods so that they can smile down on us this season.

A lot has been said in the summer about what the manager and the club need to do to change our fortunes during this campaign. I get the sense that there will never be a satisfactory consensus as to whether Wenger has done enough to give us the best chance to fight for the title.

Right across the world, passions are running high within the Gooner nation. Many will still have the memories of the anti-climax of last season at White Hart Lane and the DW stadium etched firmly in their psyche. Those 2 matches against the Spuds and Latics were a representation of the pain that millions of fans endured when the team capitulated on the home straight having fought a gallant battle for most of the season.

And yet as the team stand in the tunnel on Sunday and stare firmly at the “This Is Anfield” sign strategically placed to intimidate the enemy, you can’t help but wonder whether the demons of the seasons past have been slain and buried and that the boys are ready for the new campaign.

I think it’s fair to suggest that Liverpool is as nervous as we are because firstly, Arsenal is unpredictable; and secondly, we do love scoring at Anfield. Liverpool though, has pride to play for and that makes them a very dangerous proposition. I find it hard to believe that they’ll have as bad a season as they had in the last campaign.

Nevertheless, it’s certainly not a game for Arsenal to fear, and it’s exactly the sort of game that has the ability to galvanize the Gunners for the first stretch of this campaign.

Last week’s visit to Warsaw left many an Arsenal fan baffled and not knowing what to expect, especially when we had our first choice back 4 on the field; and in the second half, all our full backs. Having sailed through the preseason, the match against Legia shocked many out of their comfort zones.

My sense is that it was all part and parcel of our world renowned rollercoaster ride. The kind that makes the hairs at the back of your neck stand up; the kind that makes you hide behind the sofa when there’s 90 seconds to go and we are still looking for that winner or equaliser.

It’s the kind of ride that makes you scream in ecstasy at the sublime and scintillating attacking football that is delivered with panache; yet leaves you in despair as you feel like punching through the telly and bitchslapping all our defenders and goal keeper for letting in a shocking goal.

It’s the kind of ride that makes you proud and privileged to have watched a team grow and mature together; yet still test your patience and resolve with the inconsistency that comes with development

It’s the kind of ride that keeps you shamelessly smiling all week when the Arsenal win emphatically; yet when we lose, you feel that you don’t want to face your peers at work or down the pub, and will only get out of your bunker after the next game when the team can salvage a modicum of respectability.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the damn rollercoaster ride.

To Hell with those pundits and hacks who sit on sofas in the TV studios with their cheap Mataland suits and tired clichés that they pick from the bag behind the sofa. Let them continue to suggest that Arsenal won’t challenge for the title unless they buy 2 or 3 world class players.

News flash: Arsenal doesn’t buy world class players, we build them.

To Hell with the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal fans who are more content spending their energy whining and moaning about competing with financially and morally bankrupt football clubs.

News Flash: We believe in Arsenal and the ability of the club to win and win in style, and without losing focus on the vision of the club.

I hear some people complain and moan about the fact that players are leaving and we aren’t replacing them. How better to replace them by turning to our rising stars like Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Jay Emmanuel Thomas, Emmanuel Frimpong, Craig Eastmond, Havard Nordtveit, among others?

Our time has come and this is our season with this team.

Many will jump and suggest “…but surely Darius, we’ve been here before and we still aren’t there yet and we need 2 or 3 world class players…”

I would suggest, get your ticket, jump on the rollercoaster and let’s enjoy the ride for the season.

There used to be a time when supporters were supporters; and customers demanded their consumer rights and the right to moan by virtue of spending their hard earned money. I forget at what point the lines became blurred and Arsenal accumulated customers who didn’t like the look of the roller coaster and rather than get on the ride, they decided to stand on the sidelines and throw stones at it because they didn’t liked how it looked and ‘had the right to throw stones at it’.

So he’s got that off his chest. ’til Tomorrow.

Stone Cold Friday: The Agony Of Being An Arsenal Fan

Whilst Barcelona contemplate adding another €100m to their existing €420m debt (their own figures, not mine), Darius is giving you his last thoughts before heading off to a summer break…

In recent times, it’s hard to recall whether there’s been a close season that Arsenal fans can breathe easy while the team roller coaster is serviced at London Colney in preparation for the next ride. The summer is as nerve racking as the squeaky bum’ moments that litter the season up and down the land.

It’s times like these when you wouldn’t be surprised to find out that a straw poll with the Samaritans reveals extra calls attributed to Arsenal; or productivity at work for companies up and down the country is doubly affected just like the Monday’s after an Arsenal defeat.

If Arsenal were in the play ground, we would be the pretty looking snazzy kid who gets bullied by the ”well ‘ard” reprobates who throw their weight around simply because they can. Let’s face it, that’s what this week feels like for most fans.

‘We’re not even past the first week of the end of the domestic season and the bastards are at it again’. At least that’s the sub-text you can etch out of every Gooner’s face as they switch on the Sports TV news, or flips to the back pages or tune into the radio on the way to work.

Arsenal this, Arsenal that, Laporta this, Barcelona that, the Emirates this, Arsène Wenger that; it’s relentless, and there’s no breathing space to even fart. Walk into a taxi, at work, down the pub, or while waiting for a kebab – ”so he’s finally leaving, huh?” they ask with that smug face that could only be from a Tottenham fan.

And yet down at Highbury House, they take a vow of silence proclaiming that the higher ground will always triumph over diatribe and rumour. All the while, the filthy long arm of the media bully machine is shoved down the throats of Arsenal fans across the world with their hearts and emotions mercilessly yanked out in the shameless pursuit of ratings and web traffic in this 24 hour ‘dog eat dog’ media world.

This is a media machine that has no value for integrity as they trample over us mere mortals in their chase for sensationalism. They operate in a culture that would have Latin scholars refer to them collectively as Bastardi Maximus.

But then yet again, we find ourselves in familiar nail biting territory. It really doesn’t matter which player they want to hound out of Arsenal this season – it’s summer time and Arsenal is fair game.

You’d think we’d learnt something by now about dealing with transfer shenanigans, for the first ever recorded shameless poaching and tapping up of Arsenal players happened 119 years ago. And that was Derby County wanting to steal our talent from right under our noses.

Barcelona, Derby County – does it really matter? It’s agonizing and relentless as summer after summer, transfer window after transfer window – the wolves are at the door seeking to destabilize the Arsenal, and year after year, we wait with bated breath, hoping and willing that it’s another case of faecal matter being stirred by them lot.

Every summer is like that moment in limbo where nothing seems to move and certainty is only guaranteed when those punks up Wembley Way officially close the transfer window. It’s like that down time you’re subjected to when you take an HIV test and they give you a number and tell you to come back for the result in 7 days.

Damn that’s a long 7 days, time that you’re ill prepared to deal with; time that you’re forced to contemplate and rationalize all the sexual encounters you’ve had since losing your virginity, especially those of the ’Coyote Ugly’ variety. Those damn 7 days as you wait for that window to close.

Boy oh boy, the summer’s here.

But then again I ask myself. Why is it that Arsenal always seems to be targeted with this unwelcome destabilizing drama? How come no one goes for the talisman of other clubs of our ilk? Well, the lesser Ronaldo was a different case and even though Ferguson swore he would never sell a virus, let alone a player to Real Madrid, a very fat cheque made it very comfortable for him.

My sense is that it has to do with the old adage – ’if they don’t like you that much, then you must be doing something right’.

Arsenal has something they always seem to want, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The impression I got from my various forays into civilization this week (I’ve been spending some time in the bundux lately) is that Arsenal are in crisis and Armageddon has landed at N5.

Arsenal should have learned the lessons with Titi Henry of elevating one single player to a demigod status, and my only disappointment will be if that lesson is repeated.

It’s just a shame that we have to wait 22 days for England to be bum rushed by Landon Donovan and his boys in the 3 Lion’s first encounter down south for some alternative news cycles to occupy these cretins.

And remember, if some shady looking Spanish geezer asks for a £1 coin to buy a coffee, do him a favour and go into Starbucks yourself on his behalf. Otherwise, that debt mountain may just be €1 less…’til Tomorrow.

Stone Cold Friday: Staying On The Arduous And Elusive Road To Success

Peter Crouch wants Tottenham to win on Sunday so that he can play leapfrog with Arsenal place. Leapfrog? He wouldn’t even have to jump to play that with the Arsenal squad. It would be like watching Inspector Gadget and The Ant Hill Mob. Anyway, it’s Friday and here’s Darius

Acrimony has become a familiar bed fellow in recent weeks. It’s not hard to see how patience and goodwill has eroded considering that the last Arsenal win was recorded 35 days ago. Even then, it was a last gasp goal from Bendtner with the last move of the game against the 10 men of Wolves.

I get the sense that you can only use injuries and the inconsistency of youth so far before you start getting pot shots taken for not delivering. The absence of what someone recently described as ’pluck and spirit’ in Arsenal’s recent games is perhaps the biggest concern.

While we can accept the impact of the decimation of the squad through injury, it’s hard to swallow the lack of application and effort in situations where we clearly have the ability to do a professional job. If ever there was a time and place for understudies to stand up and be counted, it’s been the last few weeks. Any competent report card will question the quality of our collective performance.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that playing Barcelona and losing in the way that we did was perhaps the best thing that could happen to this squad; a watershed moment if you will. For a variety of reasons, Barcelona provided a benchmark that the current squad could aspire to and the experience was a clear indicator of how far the team still had to travel.

In this respect, something had to give, whether it was an internal adjustment, or whether the gains that this team has achieved over the years were to be augmented by a sprinkling of experience. Losing to the Catalans therefore served a significant purpose to aid the development of this team.

Though personally disappointed with recent results, not least because of the actual teams we lost to, I’m not surprised about how the team has responded to the disappointment of being shipped out of the Champions league in the way that we were.

You could argue that perhaps the bigger challenge has been to get over that disappointment, and the squeaky bums at the Emirates on Sunday will be a viable illustration of the impact of only collecting 1 out of a possible 12 points in games after the defeat to Barcelona.

The emotional investment that fans and players alike have made this season and the expectations and hopes that have been dashed have amplified the sense of disappointment all round. Changes are being demanded from all quarters, and as Arsène Wenger avers – ”it’s for us to pontificate and for [him] to do”.

I think the important thing is that while we seek to strengthen and prepare for the new campaign next season, we shouldn’t lose track of the significant gains made this season, as well as the individual and collective triumphs. Supporting a football team by design is a very emotive issue and the roller coaster ride that we’ve been experiencing over the last few years is part and parcel of the game.

Perhaps many are tired of dusting themselves off and jumping right back in when a new season starts without the guarantee of trophies. The truth is, even if we acquired a brand spanking new team and decommissioned the current cohort, there’s absolutely no guarantee that we will win anything. The solutions are a combination of internal adjustments and one or two changes to tweak the current setup.

Most will argue that this team has had enough time to rebuild and to grow and it’s time the fans got their justified return. I suppose that is one valid point, and it’s equally valid to question what time limit should actually be put on such a nebulous endeavour.

3 years? 5 years? 8 years? Is there a science behind the expectation, or are we just tired of being the butt of jokes around the pubs and water cooler chin wags?

The team is quickly running out of the licence to use ‘youth as a mitigating factor for falling short again and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I personally think that sometimes it’s a label that’s used as a rod for our own backs and we have players, regardless of age, who have significant experience at the highest levels of the game.

Suggesting that what we miss are ‘winners’ to inject a winning mentality is a falsehood in itself for you have to ask the question as to how many so called winners can be accommodated into a starting 11. Many more teams in top flight football have world class players who haven’t won anything, but do a professional job day in, day out for their club.

The fact that this team is actually growing together and playing together is critical and will stand us in good stead for years to come. More importantly, there is a system in place that ensures a good calibre of players are following suit from the academy and getting schooled in the Arsenal way.

I can’t help but feel excited about watching the likes of Ramsey, Gibbs, Wilshere, JET, Eastmond, Le Coq, Barazite and many more for years to come. Many will still argue about the ’NOW’, and I would suggest that despite another season without a trophy, we’re actually in a very strong position if you consider the internal and external influences the game is facing.

Whether it’s the impact of the new 25 man home grown player rules, or whether it’s the financial reality that is hitting football harder than Sachin Tendulkar can swing a bat; Arsenal are poised to straddle the footballing landscape for a long time to come.

The question I guess is whether we’re willing to strap ourselves in, hold on to our hats and continue this journey.

Keep the faith people.

Win A Stadium Tour

Gooner Gifts has kindly donated An Adult Legends Emirates Stadium Tour For Two as a prize for answering the following question:

Who am I? I scored 49 goals in 179 appearances for Arsenal including a famous 111th minute strike.

Email your answer, name, age and contact email here. Competition closes at midnight, Sunday May 9th 2010. Any entries received after this date will be consigned to the electronic waste basket and totally ignored.

Best of luck.

’til Tomorrow.

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