Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday October 30 2008
Meeting in the Tavern pre match, it was already evident my nose was out of joint. Whilst most in my company chuckled at Cesc Fabregas` pre match comments, yours truly was apoplectic with rage. Not only was it utterly ill advised in giving our opponents an extra spring in their step, but it was just plain disrespectful from a professional point of view. I`m trying to get a handle on what the reaction would have been amongst Gooners (mentioning no arsenal blogs in particular) had Gallas made such crass comments. The fact that I then went on to predict a draw (albeit 1-1) and maintain that my only lingering doubts over Almunia surrounded his big game temperament, meant I shouldn`t have spent the pre match build up meeting up with my sister (who is inexplicably getting married on Cup Final day in 2009) and necking Guinness as I should have at the bookies with a golf visa and a cheap Marlboro red in my mouth.
With Jon idiotically deciding to go on holiday to Morocco during the season (what is with these people?) my sister took his seat for her first North London derby, I told her to expect an entirely different atmosphere to the one she had been accustomed to at home games. She was not disappointed and I, for once, did not look to be guilty of hyperbole. Tottenham set their stool out early (get it? Stool? Lasagnegate?.....Man I`m wasted on you people) to deny us room and it worked for the early stages. Then came a bolt from the blue, buoyed by boos emanating from the home fans (why did we bother?), David Bentley caught the ball on his left boot, Almunia, ironically a native of Pamplona, showed the red rag to the bull by leaving his net winking at Bentley and the ex Arsenal academy product duly punished him with a superb dipping volley from forty yards. Credit where it`s due, I despise the little twerp, but Bentley might easily have given it to the home fans both barrels in his celebration, we would have deserved it too, but he went to his won fans instead, which showed a bit of class I felt. #Bentley from the half way line# came the chant from the Spurs faithful. Ouch. Arsenal were stung into life, firstly Walcott spun onto van Persie`s through ball and hit a low shot just wide. Then van Persie expertly crafted himself some room on the edge of the area and hit a curling left foot shot which flew just wide. Fabregas had a coin aimed at him from one of a series of corners from the visiting supporters. Fabregas then had a shot blocked as Arsenal turned the heat up, Spurs simply could not hold out much longer and Arsenal decided to turn their arch enemy, the set piece, into an ideal bedfellow. Van Persie`s inswinger saw Gomes come clawing out at thin air, and the egg shaped head of Mikael Silvestre was on hand to glance the ball into the corner. For the remainder of the half, Spurs expertly took the wind out of their opponents` sails with some calm possession football to see out the half. Arsenal might have tried something similar around an hour later.
The Gunners began the half with the bit between their teeth and after van Persie, shall we say, slightly exaggerated contact from Huddlestone, Arsenal were awarded a free kick on the right. Van Persie swung in another devilish delivery which William Gallas headed into the net. If only you defended a few early season corners with the same veracity William. That said, since his quite honest self appraisal of his form this season a few weeks back, he looks a different animal. Arsenal created a golden opportunity to seemingly bury the result, Fabregas looked to have lost the ball on the edge of the Spurs area, only for a toe ended challenge to nick it into the area of van Persie, and he cleverly laid the ball off for Adebayor, who inexplicably slammed the ball wide. With left back Assou Ekotto on a yellow card and Lennon on for Bale, the chance was there for Walcott to have a big effect. I can`t help but feel it would have been ideal for us to bring him off the bench at that point. However, the game looked to have been won with around twenty minutes remaining. Van Persie spun in the centre circle and delivered a sumptuous through ball into the path of Nasri, he lifted the ball beyond Gomes, but it had insufficient weight to cross the line with Hutton bearing down on the ball and preparing to smother it in the manner Bruce Willis might smother a bomb in a Die Hard movie, but Adebayor raced onto it to make sure it went into the night. That was that. Game over. Or so we thought.
As is usually their wont when two goals to the good, the Gunners completely switched off. Denilson had battled manfully all game to try and enervate Modric`s influence, with little or no help from his other three midfielders. But he dropped off massively for the last fifteen minutes and much to the team`s detriment. Arsenal needlessly over committed to attack, Spurs won the ball back and Modric did not have to work too hard to find Huddlestone one the edge of the area. His shot was fumbled by Almunia and Darren Bent followed in the rebound for 3-2. Almunia was at fault for spilling a comfortable shot, but what was especially galling was how slow he was to get up. I have Osseo arthritis in my knees and I had four pints of Guinness and a subway in me at the time. I would have got to my feet quicker than Almunia managed. Arsenal took the warning and when Hutton`s attempted pass back to Woodgate was woefully under hit, Adebayor ran onto the loose ball before releasing van Persie on the right side of the area. Unbelievably he discovered he actually had a right foot and used it to devastating effect, smashing the ball into the net. 4-2, Eboue on for Walcott. Game well and truly over. The oles began, as did the chants of "1-0 and you fucked it up." Arsenal fans were well and truly enjoying themselves, "you`ll never play here again" we chanted to a rapidly emptying away enclosure. "Bentley, what`s the score?" How we laughed. A telling comment from the woman who sits next to me, "If we win this, it`ll be so sweet." There were eight minutes left, we were two goals to the good at home to the bottom club, yet still the qualifier IF was used. Even at that stage, we weren`t relaxed due to our shoddy defence.
You can expect that sort of thing in the stands, it`s what we pay our money to do and whilst we look a bit silly this morning, it`s forgivable. No set of fans in the country would have behaved any differently in the circumstances. What was not acceptable, was for the gloating to spread to the players. Gael Clichy, who made an error in the home game against Sunderland last season when we were 2-0 up to let them in the game, who made a massive error when we were 2-0 up against Manchester City and made an absolutely cataclysmic error in injury time against Birmingham last season due to arrogance, proved that, whilst he has an exceptional football talent, he has a brain like a fricking hamster. I hope Gallas tore a great big strip off of him in the dressing room and I hope Wenger is redistributing his wage packet to charity this week, because mistakes this unprofessional are unacceptable. To repeat the error ad infinitum is disgraceful. With two simple passes available, he pompously dithered with the ball. Spurs were still pressing the ball in the last ten minutes, but Clichy did not read the situation and ended up slipping like a twat under pressure from Jenas. Jenas ambled forward, Song half heartedly chased him down, Silvestre made a pathetic attempt to block, but Jenas curled a shot past Almunia. With ninety seconds of normal time remaining, the nerves were jangled to shredding point.
Arsenal promptly went to the other end and won a corner, Sagna wanted to sensibly play a short one and keep possession. Fabregas waved him away and pumped it into the box. Diaby committed a pointless foul on our left touchline (who knows where Clichy was at this point, presumably lighting a cigar), leaving Spurs with a set piece in a dangerous area. Arsenal cleared it along with the resulting corner. Fabregas had possession in the 93rd minute, instead of recycling it simply, he tried an impossible through ball to Adebayor. This was a young man who was living up to his pre match promise not to take his opponents seriously. What a twat he looks this morning. Because Gomes got the ball and pumped it long, Arsenal decided not to bother defending the edge of their box, leaving Modric free to line up a dipping volley which cracked the post. The ball came out and the fresher, faster Lennon beat Gallas to the rebound for an unbelievable equaliser. The few Spurs fans that stuck around to see it, predictably serenaded us with "4-2 and you fucked it up." How droll, how true.
The final whistle went and a chorus of boos rang out from the home fans. I`ve never been of this disposition before in my life, but I nearly joined them. They deserved it. A bunch of players that have collectively achieved as little as ours have have no right to display that kind of arrogance, especially when that was our hubris against the might of Hull City some three weeks earlier. You cannot write this off as a freak either, because the Fenerbahce game might easily have finished in a similar fashion. I`ve bored you all ad nauseam with my thoughts of defensive midfielders and centre halves, but that`s down to the manager. What was appalling about last night was the rank attitude. It has plagued us so many times before and our two most consistent performers, Clichy and Fabregas, were the most guilty. Worth mentioning that only Gallas did not walk off in a strop down the tunnel, he stayed behind to applaud the supporters. Certain other Arsenal blogs won`t mention that. I felt sorry for him last night, he was one of the few players who did not switch off into a self indulgent reverie. He was a born winner surrounded by arrogant children, who have achieved nothing in the game of football, who refuse to learn from their mistakes and cavort with an arrogance I simply cannot relate to. Where does it come from? And what will the manager do to make sure they learn their lessons, I don`t care if he has to stick Gael Clichy in a darkened room Clockwork Orange style, with hooks under his eyelids and make him watch his mistake over and over again. (Reminiscent of Cole against Kazakhstan was it not?) Perhaps he can make Fabregas train with the Ladies team for a week, or better still dress him up in a gingham frock. This result feels a lot, lot worse than the 5-1 defeat, if only because of the attitude that informed it. Quite simply, this team do not have the correct mentality to win the big prizes. Given their refusal to learn from mistakes and repeat their glaring errors, I hold out little hope that they ever will have the correct mentality. Mealy mouthed platitudes expressing regret followed by a win against Stoke won`t cut it. They promised us Fulham was a one off. They promised us Hull was a one off. They have to demonstrate consistently that they will have respect for their opponents and apply themselves for 90 minutes in every game. I think they can do it, I just don`t think they will.LD.
Date:Thursday October 30 2008
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