Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday October 26 2009
With a pretty heavy night on the tiles having been negotiated on Saturday night for a friend`s birthday, the thought of keeping to my arrangement of watching the Liverpool United game in the Duke of Edinburgh pub on Green Street made me feel queasy, sleazy and slightly uneasy, so Sunday morning saw the procurement of one bacon sandwich, brown bread and one large bottle of still Lucozade to be consumed in one fell swoop. Fortunately, the conditions on London Underground are that sub human that I managed to sweat most of the excess out on the long, long tube ride on the District Line to Upton Park. So two jugs of Guinness were secured together with supplementary leaning ledge (those of you familiar with the Duke will know that you`ve got more chance of getting into Kelly Brook`s knickers than you`ve got of getting to the bar after 2pm) as we watched Torres tear United a new a hole.
We squeezed our way through the dangerously narrow away concourse and into our seats at the back of the Trevor Brooking Stand Lower Tier (the irony of having Arsenal fans sit in a stand of that name). Whoever gave Upton Park and Health and Safety Certificate needs to take a serious look at themselves, the concourses will accommodate around three people stood shoulder to shoulder, in the event of a fire or an emergency, evacuation would absolutely certainly see people killed. I suspect the cretin that signed that piece of paperwork probably works for London Underground now. (He or she is probably striking over conditions too). The game got under way and West Ham, players and supporters alike, were as vapid and drained of confidence as their current form has suggested. Arsenal and Robin van Persie might have scored twice in the opening eight minutes. Sagna`s cross was glanced on by van Persie, Upson failed to deal with the clearance and as the ball skated slowly across the six yard box, van Persie back heeled towards goal but was blocked by Ilunga. It was van Persie again on seven minutes who was the first to test a goalkeeper, receiving Diaby`s pass on the left the Dutchman unleashed a rising left footed drive which Green palmed over the bar. It would prove to be third time lucky then for Arsenal`s marksman on sixteen minutes. Diaby again angled a smart ball to Sagna on the right, Banger amazingly managed his second decent delivery of the game (like London Buses, you wait eons for a good Sagna cross then he provides several in one game), Green grasped desperately at thin air but missed the ball entirely and van Persie showed good poise and concentration to watch the ball all the way onto his feet and stay alert enough to tap in a simple left footed finish. I would have been very easy for him to switch off and assume Green was going to collect the ball. An Arsenal player not switching off and taking it easy is cause for raucous celebration on the streets of North London nowadays.
But Arsenal were still displaying the familiar old frailties at the back, Mark Noble`s free kick hit the wall, but the ball spun clear to Noble again and his dinked cross was met with a Carlton Cole header that drifted just wide. However, the home side didn`t appear to have the gumption or the confidence to seize upon those weaknesses and Arsenal were soon two goals up, van Persie`s swinging corner should have been a relatively simple take for Green as the ball was whipped into his six yard box, but William Gallas rose highest to nod the ball into the roof of the net via Scott Parker`s head. Two goals to the good at a difficult away ground and Arsenal actually looked for a minute as though they were a side with serious title pretensions. At half time, Lord Lowe turned to me and asked, "How do you see this going now?" My reply was that, though I didn`t expect it to happen, a final score line of 2-2 would not surprise me in the slightest given Arsenal`s penchant for tossing away leads combined with their refusal to learn their lessons. Familiarity breeds contempt and this morning I feel incredibly contemptuous towards the players of our club that sully the affix "professional" footballers.
Arsenal were coasting in the second half and could have scored a third when Cesc Fabregas` dipping shot whistled just wide from twenty five yards. Carlton Cole had a swivel and shot sail well over the bar as the Gunners began to relax. Arshavin`s shot was parried by Green at the other end, but a mixture of show boating and complacency saw Arsenal misplace the final ball in the myriad of attacks which broke down in the second half. Apparently, tossing away a lead at Birmingham and throwing away the Premiership title, tossing away a lead at Anfield and throwing away the Champions League a month later, throwing away a two goal lead in injury time against your deadliest rivals and then, oh let me see now, throwing away a lead on Tuesday night, (TUESDAY NIGHT!) isn`t a sufficient enough indication for this bunch of dribbling dunces not to allow complacency to set in. The warning signs have been there all season, allowing Blackburn and Birmingham to be tougher matches than they should have been; the horrible arrogance of the first half an hour in Liege, the psychological cowardice at Old Trafford in the second half. Creativity and self destruction often go hand in hand and Arsenal seem adept at contriving new and thrilling ways of self destructing at every opportunity. I`ve seen less talented Arsenal sides than this one, but I can`t recall one this infuriatingly stupid. I often wonder if they have the intellectual capacity to wipe their own arses at times.
With the introduction of Diamanti, the home side had something of a catalyst, prepared to actually try and get at Arsenal`s back line- even with some speculative efforts. They finally had someone willing to support Carlton Cole and Arsenal simply didn`t get the memo, largely leaving Song and Diaby alone against onrushing West Ham attacks, desperately trying to keep hold of the rope and allow our defence to remain intact. So when West Ham won a dubious free kick after Zavon Hines ran into Diaby then proceeded to pull him to the floor, there was a grim inevitability about what was to follow. Mannone massively misjudged Diamanti`s curling free kick, palming it back out into his six yard box, inviting Carlton Cole to stoop and head in the rebound. The Hammers had the bit between their teeth whilst Arsenal still had their thumbs in their arses. Scott Parker should have been booked after charging into the area and throwing himself to the floor over William Gallas` third leg. I guess a penalty area dive is only an atrocity when committed against persecution complex ridden Scots on free to air terrestrial television.
But West Ham did get their spot kick on 80 minutes, Carlton Cole moved onto the edge of Arsenal`s area, shielded the ball with his back to goal and an untidy challenge from behind by Alex Song yielded a penalty which Diamanti duly dispatched. It was a shame for Song who seemed to be one of the few Arsenal players who took the second half seriously as a contest, though he gave away the penalty with an inexperienced and needless challenge, there are guiltier Gunners than he this morning. His deputy Denilson can`t come back soon enough. The goals conceded statistics with Denilson in the side compared to without him over the last eighteen months are too stark to ignore- particularly away from home. There were still further drams to come; Scott Parker was given his marching orders after two cynical pieces of play within minutes of one another inviting two bookings. Arsenal threw on Bendtner and Eduardo in the hope of rescuing themselves. But in injury time it was our most prolific striker of all guilty of a harrowing miss. Fabregas played a perfectly measured pass to Sagna on the right, once again he delivered an inch perfect cross which was destined for van Persie`s forehead, but he headed straight at Green from close range. Often headers are more successful when they are instinctive and thoughtless, that the cross was so accurate and the marking so slack was ironically his undoing.
The final whistle went and once again, the players had to be ordered to execute the basic courtesy of acknowledging those of us that had paid astronomical sums for a ticket. Mind you, the team show the intelligence of small school children often enough that I suppose it`s no great surprise they have to be treated as such and that basic manners still haven`t filtered through. Simply the players ought to be stung with embarrassment this morning at being so blood curdlingly dumb to throw away simple victories twice in five days- especially as the examples I have given enough should have been enough to inoculate them for life from such crass idiocy. Doubtless though, they will wander into training again this morning, be told their shit doesn`t stink and we`ll see this sort of thing happen again and again. Eh Arsene, what`s the French for "once bitten twice shy?" ultimately, such aberrations reveal why we don`t have a prayer of winning the league, despite the weaknesses of the other members of the Top Four quadruplet. When put under pressure we wilt like sunflowers in November. When put under no pressure, we invite it onto ourselves. The shotgun is always cocked and never far away from the temple. Vincent van Gogh chopped off his own ear, Virginia Woolf drowned herself, Tennessee Williams choked to death on a paper cup, Madame Bovary necked arsenic, Kurt Cobain shot himself. Arsenal are in good company when it comes to these creative powerhouses. (Though technically, Madame Bovary was fictional). We toss away easy victories with cheerful disdain, as if recognising that using three strikers when two goals up away from home with twenty minutes to go is not strictly necessary is somehow beneath us and tracking back and defending calmly and easily is something that those Italians do and unbecoming of our artistry. We`re football`s answer to the Romantic Movement. If Coleridge or Wordsworth were alive today, they`d give up their country homes and pen insights from the Holloway Road. In nearly tossing away games against Birmingham and Blackburn in recent weeks, Wenger has used the apologist phrase "that`s a consequence a bit of our philosophy." Our philosophy too often veers on the interests of the neutral and not the team. I`m not advocating long ball football because it wouldn`t work for us, nor am I asking for us to change our free flowing style, but an ounce of fucking common sense when two goals up away from home is hardly a crime against art. The midfield simply could not get a grip on the game when West Ham came into the game because the front three were ambling and refusing to help, the goalkeeper does not yet have the requisite experience or trust to push his defensive line up. We also don`t have a midfield combination solid enough to replace what Denilson and Song bring us as a duo. I think Diaby has played quite well in his recent run in the side but we can`t replicate that chemistry and don`t hunt in packs for the ball as Denilson and Song do. Ultimately, Arsenal`s crime- a repeat offence- was unforgivable and one I would not expect from a League Two side. Still, we kept a few television viewers loosely entertained, and that`s what it`s all about right?LD.
Team: 24.MANNONE, 3.SAGNA, 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 4.FABREGAS(c), 2.DIABY (9.Eduardo '82), 27.EBOUE (52.Bendtner '82), 23.ARSHAVIN, 11.v.PERSIE. Unused: 1.Almunia, 8.Nasri, 16.Ramsey, 18.Silvestre.
Date:Monday October 26 2009
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