Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday March 8 2007
I am sure most of you reading this are familiar with Hornby's seminal text 'Fever Pitch.' (That is save for gloating Spurs fans, who are currently whooping in their caravan parks with delight, their mullets flapping forcefully in the wind). There's a passage in it, which is included prominently in the cinematic adaptation that always presents itself to my conscience in moments like these. It goes something along the lines of, 'the beauty of football is it keeps coming around again. If you go out of the Cup Final in May, there's always the fourth round in January. That's pretty comforting when you think about it.'
This morning life in Goonerdom does not feel good. Having exited three cup competitions in ten days, we are left to contemplate the remains of our season. Of course the Lotto Chavs are loving it, their vital editor Merlin declaring the fact that they are the sole London club left in the competition, 'a unique achievement.' How that is I am not quite sure, but given the fact that Chelsea still have '1955 Youth Cup runners up' listed under Honours in their programme, you could see why the poor mite would think that. I am sure he considered dispatching his morning turd 'a unique achivement' as well. Not to worry, Chelsea football club will literally cease to exist in ten years time, and you will not find me contributing to the Chelsea collection buckets when it does. As for the Tottenham fans that are gloating here, their barbs laced with the usual cocktail of ignorance and schaudenfraude, they really have nothing on us here. The material we have over them is more rich and varied than a Steve Coogan characterisation, when they develop opposable thumbs and actually manage to beat Arsenal (perhaps we should bet on which will happen first) they may realise how pathetic they look.
Anyway, rant nowithstanding I arrived at the ground with a mixture of fear, nerves, apprehension and that nausea in my stomach that had nothing to do with the volume of Guinness consumed pre match. We knew it would be tight, but we needed to stay patient and play our game. We only needed one goal to level the tie and we played it correctly in the first half, keeping the game tight and being sure not to concede. Predictably we monopolised possession, but only half chances came our way, a rumbustuous Toure raid down the right could have produced better results early on, but his decision making let him down at the byline. Julio Baptista continued to be a nuisance, collecting a Hleb cross, flicking it in the air and scissor kicking it wide. Arsenal continued to get the ball in the box and Emmanuel Adebayor headed iwde. At the other end, little trouble was encountered save for a dangerously underhit backpass from Gilberto which nearly let Jefferson Farfan in.
In the second half, the Gunners raised their game, as Hleb once again assumed the mantle of creator, looking to commit PSV defenders, working the Chinese left back Sun Xing ragged and looking to create opportunities. Natuarlly, the home crowd berated him and Baptista for having the gall to try and create in dangerous areas, howling their discontent whenever PSV's ten man defence, superbly marshalled by Alex, frustrated. Naturally, Freddie went off to thunderous applause for nil output, he should really journey to Rwanda with these idiot fans who insist on berating players that put themselves in the firing line, together they should be able to crack the problem of famine. Because Ljungberg has been dining out on 2002 for five years. Arsenal stayed patient and got their reward. Wenger commented in the days building up to the game that they ahd worked extra hard on converting set pieces. Well, Denilson whipped in a wicked corner from the left which cannonned in off of Alex. It was a very undeserving own goal, but I did not concern myself with that. Convinced we could go on and win the game, the pathetic atmosphere lifted slightly and it was game on.
Seconds after the restart, a long ball from Toure found Adebayor onside, his controlling touch was good but he contrived to blast the ball straight at Gomes. My feeling became more negative as at this level of the game you cannot waste chances of that calibre. With the Gunners firmly on top, we were to repeat the trick minutes later. Hleb brilliantly beat three players (how dare he? sell him!) and found an onrushing Fabregas who placed the ball over the bar when he really should have scored. Once again, it is worthless blaming individuals, our profligacy in front of goal is a collective problem and it is one that has seen us exit three competitions in ten days. Interestingly, our two central midfielders' combined age is only two years more than Philip Cocu, yet they dominated the central midfield. Wenger looked to panic for me in sending Henry on, he clearly was not fit and I felt we could have scored again without him. I know it is a stomach muscle he has torn, but when you are carrying an injury, you shift emphasis to other parts of your body and this sort of problem usually follows. With Henry prone, we were suddenly playing with ten men. Ljungberg ran out of legs after half time and Fabregas found himself covering cental midfield and the left wing as the game became stretched.
The culmination was sickeningly predictable. Hleb conceded an unnecessary free kick in his eagerness to get the ball and Arsenal, once again, did not produce on the only defensive situation they were presented with all night. Simons swung the free kick in, and Alex climbed incredibly high above Diaby to head home. Lehmann looked to be caught in no mans' land, but given his heroics in last year's run to the Final it is hard to castigate him. My feeling is that this will probably his last European game for us and I only wish for him, that it could have been in more prosperous circumstances. As the ball hit the net, legions of 'fans' headed for the exits. All I can say is that I am glad none of these people are my friends/family if that is their pathetic and childish reaction to adversity. They might as well have thrown dollies and dumbies onto the pitch and the ignorance I see at home games continues to astound me. PSV keeper Gomes injured himself in the celebrations with all substitutions used. As unlikely as it seemed, a goal could have sparked a last ditch rally against a goalie who was rendered immobile. But the players' morale visibly sapped at the sight of their own supporters turning their backs on them. Some people really do not deserve to get tickets for games of this stature. Through this site, I am regularly in touch with people who, through a quirk of geography, cannot get to see Arsenal live and I know the sight of these erudite twats walking out will have hurt you more than it did me. For my part, I stayed until the bitter end and, yes, I got stuck in a huge jam in the Blackwall Tunnel, but that's the way it goes. If you cannot handle that, do us all a favour and fuck right off, honestly.
Watching PSV celebrate like they had won the Cup stung my sensibilities as well, it made you realise that this was the ceiling of their ambition, a Quarter Final berth. But credit to them, they fed ravenously on our weaknesses and the best of luck to them in the next round. As for us, well it was lost on two major factors. Firstly, not scoring in the first half an hour in Eindhoven was frankly criminal. Secondly, not defending a simple set piece in a game you dominate, we have been punished time and time again in a like manner this year. But remember last year? We all thought we would continue to be outmuscled and lose 0-1 away from home ad infinitum, that seems like a long while ago now and Arsene will sort this problem. The Carling Cup run should by now have convinced all concerned that the future here is incredibly bright. Football offers you something life does not, another chance. Lose on Wednesday, there's always the next game. Out of the Champions Legaue, well there's next year. These young Gunners have got a few years left in them yet and we now have the opportunity to begin the planning for next season. The likes of Denilson and Diaby can now fully ingratiate themselves and Mr. Wenger can assess what needs to be done in the summer. I leave you with a quote from Thomas Paine, 'the real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength in distress, and grows barve by reflection.' We are the Arsenal and we will be back, because we are the Arsenal. LD.
Date:Thursday March 8 2007
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