Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday May 21 2007
November began with one of the most unbelievable displays of footballing profligacy I have ever seen. Arsenal welcomed CSKA Moskva to North London and taught them a lesson in gracile, balletic football........but did not score. Arsenal registered an astonishing 30 shots on target yet somehow drew the game 0-0, culminating in Tomas Rosicky's now infamous miss from two yards. At the time, most of us dismissed this the events as freak, but as the season panned out, missing sitters would become our calling card, the signs were there that night, especially following on from the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City in similar circumstances. It seemed nobody heeded the warning. Thierry Henry caused controversy in his programme notes by urging the supporters to stay behind the team and not get on the players' backs at critical moments. His sentiments echoed those of us tired of the newly bred whingeing supporter popped fresh from the microwave culture. However, when a team doesn't come over and acknowledge those self same supporters in places like Moscow, you really are asking for your cake and eating it. Confirmation that football has well and truly gone to the dogs. The fans berate the players, the players don't care about the fans, I sometimes stop and wonder why I bother.
Four days later, the Gunners' journied to Upton Park in what was a rather tame performance. Alex Hleb was denied the most stonewall of stonewall penalties when upended in the box by Jonathan Spector, a slap in the face which became extra pertinent when Marlon Harewood slid home a last minute winner. Arsene Wenger took exception to Alan Pardew's rather graceless celebrations, and responded with an equally undignified refusal to shake Pardew's hand. Wenger then underwent a self imposed press embargo, presumably out of embarassment. The game was also memorable for one of my few views of football violence outside of N17. On our rather morbid tube journey through East London, several young lads were trawling up and down the carriages and we sensed something was afoot. As the train stopped at Plaistow, a plethora of Stone Island clad young men advanced upon another group of youngsters on the platform. A melee briefly erupted before the lads established that they were all in fact members of the same Hammers' firm! My amusement swiftly evaporated when they reboarded the tube just feet away from us, chatting like long lost brothers about how they were 'well up for dancing on some Gooner heads.' Needless to say, my party and I endeavoured to keep a very low profile, whilst also not physically revelaing the extent to which we were messing our kecks.
With our campaign running into something of a brick wall, the youngsters would again drag the club out of the doldrums with a muscular and professional display at Goodison Park. Denilson and Song particularly outstanding as Adebayor popped up with another valuable late goal. The following weekend we welcomed their Scouser rivals Liverpool to the Grove and gave them a 3-0 pasting. Mathieu Flamini popping up with a rare goal, while Gilberto was beginning to demonstrate his leadership skills, urging Toure to carry the ball forward while the Invisible Wall looked after things at the back. Minutes later, Toure's forray forward saw him score a popluar goal, a Gallas header made for three rather unlikely goalscorers. Little did we know that Liverpool would eventually finish above us by one goal! Arsenal continued November with one of their identikit home games, going a goal down to a Kieron Dyer effort before Thierry Henry's second half free kick levelled proceedings. Not for the first time, Arsenal found a defiant Shay Given in splendid form.
With five points dropped against group leaders Moscow, Arsenal entered a must win encounter at home to group whipping boys Hamburg. Naturally, we decided to go a goal down via a stunning effort from Rafael van der Vaart. Robin van Persie hit an early second half equaliser, causing Thierry Henry to turn and berate the bench with a message of the comparitive merits of 4-5-1 and 4-4-2. A late Manu Eboue shot gave us all three points, before Theo Walcott's pinpoint cross was met with a bullet header from Julio Baptista. We expected so much. As routinely as going a goal behind at home, Arsenal underwent their annual capitulation at the Reebok. Arsenal showed fantastic intelligence by leaving Abdoulaye Faye with a free header in the opening minutes, bad defending from an early set piece away at Bolton is never the greatest idea. Anelka's blistering shot made it 2-0 before Gilberto pulled one back. Arsenal hit the woodwork three times before Anelka made the result safe.
A pretty poor month ended with the absolute trough of our season. Having learned their lesson so brilliantly at the Reebok, Arsenal decided this time to leave Brian McBride completely unmarked in the box from a corner in the opening minutes. Fulham made light of their ineptitude, looking like world beaters in comparison with our depressing slumber. Luis Boa Morte nutmegged Alex Song before delivering a low cross met by Tomasz Radzinski. What followed was infuriating and embarassing beyond compare. With Lehmann, Toure, Hoyte, Flamini, Gilberto, Hleb, Rosicky, van Persie, Senderos and Henry all turning out some of their worst ever performances in an Arsenal shirt, a good deal of the travelling contingent decided to vent their frustration onto 18 year old Alex Song, booing him mercilessly with his every touch. Consequently I became embroiled in a number of heated debates with my fellow 'supporters' and by the time Robin van Persie cracked in a thunderous free kick, I had sincerely ceased caring about the result. A defeat was all that the team, the fans and the occasion deserved, to salvage it in any way would have been a disservice. Fans and players were not in symphony. All in all, November was one to forget, in fact, I would be willing to wager that Guy Fawkes had better Novemebrs than this. LD.
Date:Monday May 21 2007
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