Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday May 23 2007
I did actually write this article yesterday, but my internet provider at work decided to very kindly chuck me off the system the instant I hit 'submit', which led to much cursing of the digital deities. But, in any case, in the words of Bill Hicks, forgive me while I plaster on a fake smile and plough through this sh*t one more time.
Morale was at an all time low as we were propelled with longing into December, having picked up one point from nine in the league and vented our frustration on a kid who participated in one sixth of the sequence, the arrival of the Spuds for the Grove's inaugral North London derby could scarsely have been timed worse. Nevertheless, one can always count on Tottenham for a bit of charity when feeling glum. The build up was dominated by talk of mutiny, as Arsene Wenger revealed the iron fist inside his velvet glove by instructing weary striker Thierry Henry to take a fricking holiday. Apparently our erstwhile skipper was less than amused at the suggestion, and Wenger could barely conceal the bitter taste in his mouth when questioned over the incident. Pat Rice apparently instructed Emmanuel Adebayor that a goal against Spurs will instantly mute the naysayers, it was advice he was to heed, springing the offside trap to put Arsenal a goal up. Two Gilberto penalties gave us a comfortable victory against our beloved neighbours. Tottenham's invertebrae display had left us felling a lot more jovial about our own jellyfish offering at Craven Cottage three days previous.
Arsenal travelled to Porto for the ultimate Champions' League group game. When I say 'ultimate', I mean last, the game was the biggest non event since Tottenham Hotspur journied to Rome to visit the Pope. A Hamburg victory over CSKA Moskva meant both sides only needed a draw and the last ten minutes of the game were the most farcical I have ever witnessed, passes strung across the back with all the conviction and belief of a Tory election campaign. Though things looked rocky at one point, with CSKA winning and Quaresma striking a post, but we were safely through to the knockout phase as group winners. The blockbusters came thick and fast as we travelled to Stamford Bridge for a showdown with the chequebook champions'. Fake Cashley banknotes flooded my inbox, as did offers to take inflatable mobile phones to the game, but personally, I had little interest in venting any anger towards Ashley Cole. Francis Bacon once said, 'he who exacts revenge on his enemy gets even, he who passes it over is superior.' However, my fellow Gooners were hardly in charitable mood and neither were Chelsea, exhibiting their customary class by frisking Arsenal fans at the turnstiles in a manner I have only ever experienced in Italy. A vastly depleted side, shorn of its two first choice centre backs, battled admirably and looked on course for victory when Mathieu Flamini gave us the lead with twelve minutes remaining. Michael Essien's thirty yard thunderbolt put paid to that. But the draw felt less disappointing when Lumplard's injury time effort hit the inside of the post. Press tongues were a flutter post match after an allged Fabregas- Cole bust up in the tunnel, Cole, predictably, pleaded innocence. Perhpas calling people who dwarf your own respective talents, 'unproven fetherweights' in certain autobiographies grates with the owner of said talent. Fabregas' frank post match assertion, 'I don't care about him, we are not friends,' made reconciliation about as likely as a graceful Rolling Stones retirement.
Arsenal continued their busy month with a trip to struggling Wigan. With Hleb and Fabregas rested to the bench, the Gunners' build up play was slow and laboured, the game was notable for Heskey literally falling over in a one on one and for surely the biggest gathering of Northern Gooners ever seen. I began to feel self conscious about my own London drawl in the Arsenal end! Wenger removed the straitjacket and unleashed Cesc with ten minutes to go, he received the ball and played a brilliant through ball to Adebayor, who scored a last minute winner. Fabregas' contribution was very much one of a heavyweight. A home game against resurgent Pompey followed, with repatriated Gooners' Sol Campbell and Kanu receiving good receptions. But Pompey threatened to take Ashburton's cherry when ex Spud Noe Pamarot and a Taylor dipping volley gave Pompey a two goal lead. Emmanuel Adebayor charged from the bench, taking the game by the scruff of the neck and muscling us back into it with a messy close range goal. Minutes later, Gilberto levelled the score from a low Walcott cross. There could not have been two more apt goalscorers, all month, and indeed all season long, these two would dig us out of some rather spurious looking holes. van Persie danced between two defenders and looked to smash the winner, but the side netting and a point was scant reward.
What followed was one of the more frustrating nights of my footballing existence, travelling all the way to Anfield and being told, literally as we parked at Stanley Park, that the game had been called off due to heavy fog. Passing Scousers informed us that they had been in the stadium and said that visibility was untroubled. Not so for sky's cameras. I think we know who wears the trousers in this relationship! Christmas weekend saw us welcome a Blackburn side intent on playing football, Arsenal displayed their customary grace by granting Rovers a one goal lead through a Nonda penalty. Bentley's celebrations towards the Arsenal fans as he earned it were ill advised to say the least. But a Gilberto header from a corner, a neat dribble and finsih from Hleb and an Adebayor penalty gave Arsenal a two goal cushion. Nonda's brave diving header gave Blackburn a lifeline and Jens Lehmann kept us in it with two brilliant saves. But Robin van Persie's two quickfire goals sured up the result. Cesc gave us all the ideal xmas present, nutmegging Robbie Savage by the corner flga before stting up Mathieu Flamini's injury time effort.
With travelling Gooners' suitably bloated with xmas turkey and sporting some rather ambiguous looking knitwear, Arsenal travelled to Vicarage Road, home to the world's smallest concourse. Seriously, in the away end concourse, one could scarsely remove one's hand from one's pockets. Gilberto continued his quest for the Golden Boot by heading Arsenal in front from a corner. But Hammeur Bouazza profited from some poor defending, Smith skinning Hoyte before Bouazza slid in ahead of Toure for the equaliser. Arsenal looked bereft of inspiration with Robin van Persie putting in a display that was nonchalant to say the least. But the Dutch master was to make one significant contribution (other than having a girly whinge at Baptista), collecting a Walcott pass, before cutting in on his hammer left foot and curling home a late winner.
If Arsenal played their get out of jail card at Vicarage Road, they did not pass go at Bramall Lane in a performance so lacking intesticular fortitude, I myself began to wonder if we were indeed Tottneham in disguise. Adebayor had dug us out of a few of these moments of entrapy in December, but with a calf injury robbing us of his services, the injury stricken Gunners' looked woeful. Christian Nade hitting the winner. And Chris Morgan hitting van Persie, causing certain sky sports pundits to oppine that such violence was 'part of the game.' Of course when Ronaldo was the victim of thuggery a few weeks back in the Manchester derby, sky manifested their usual impartial coverage. Personally, I was sat under a strut from the upper tier, meaning large drops of icy rain dropped rhythmically onto my head about every ten seconds throughout the match. Ever get the feeling someone up there is taking the piss out of you? Still, with an exciting F.A Cup encounter at Anfield, the knock out stages of the Champions' League and the returns to fitness of Lauren and Abou Diaby, 2007 lay glistening before us. LD.
Date:Wednesday May 23 2007
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