If the Gunners' stock rose dramatically in a breathless January, February was most certainly a case of the morning after the night before, as the Gunners' endured their own depression. The first game of February was very much a case of the quiet before the storm. The largely uninteresting trip to Middlesbrough (I've been to the Riverside around eight times now, and I can confirm that there is no such thing as an interesting trip to Middlesbrough). Yet more crippling injuries saw Arsenal start the game with Flamini on the right wing, the absence of Hleb really showed in a largely pedestrian performance. 'Boro took a second half lead when Senderos's clumsy challenge on Yakubu saw the hapless Swiss defender receive a second red card of the season and concede a penalty, Yakubu tucked away consummately. But with all looking lost, Arsenal went route one, a long ball from Toure flicked on by Adebayor, which was almost simultaneously controlled and slotted home in one movement by Thierry Henry. A bland 1-1 draw was all the dire occasion really merited. The trip was predominantly memorable for Jens Lehmann's amusing post match rant at the Boro groundsman (Jens and confrontation? Those two go together like 'q' and 'u').
Your esteemed writer managed to bag some free club level tickets for Brazil v. Portugal, after winning a club raffle drawn by Justin Hoyte (cheers to me old mate Hoytie there). The existence of club level violates my principles as such, I do not like the physical demarcation between mega rich and well off (let's not kid ourselves, the working class have more chance of having a crap in the queen's royal box than of getting to see Arsenal regularly nowadays). That said, if I had the requisite spondoolics, I'd sit there in a second. The super sunday visit of Wigan was anything but the lifeless encounter endured eight days previous. The Gunners' adopted their usual home match template. Dominate play? Check. Miss a few sitters? Check. Allow the away side a lead with their first shot? Check. Denny Landzaat providing the hammer blow with a thirty yard wonder strike. Controversy ensued in the second half, well, controversy if you're a desperate sky pundit looking to dictate the agenda of football to the increasingly lobotomised masses. Wigan felt they should have had a penalty when Flamini made slight contact with Heskey in the area, who fell like the proverbial sack of sh*t that he is. No dice said referee Dowd, who turned in a gut wrenchingly awful performance. Arsenal had a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside, strangely sky's stance softened for luckless Wigan. Kirkland attempted to break Tim Howard's time wasting world record. So when Fitz Hall slid a Rosicky cross into his own net, Henry was quick to fetch the ball from the net and thrust it mockingly to Kirklnd's face. A protest entirely appropriate given Kirkland's cheating. Not so said sky who demonstrated unreserved disgust towards our skipper. (Yes, bskyb, the guys owned by Rupert Murdoch. You know, the guy that helped rig an election by knocking black people off the electoral roles? Yes, they showed disgust). The Grove erupted with delight late on as Julio Baptista's fizzing cross was headed in by Czech pixie Tomas Rosicky. Where controversy ensues, Jens follows with some of his most side splitting antics yet. With the Gunners' 2-1 ahead, he well and truly took the mick, instructing the ballboy to drop the ball, before throwing it waywardly towards an advertising hoarding, then, upon placing the ball for the goalkick, promptly moved the ball to the other side of the area. Phil Dowd did not appreciate having his incompetence elucidated before the world and booked the madcap 'keeper.
The midweek Cup replay at the Reebok was to follow in one of the most bizarre games I have ever witnessed. Emmanuel Adebayor gave Arsenal a first half lead after magic interplay between Denilson and Hleb. In the second half, Arsenal wasted a plethora of opportunities to extend the lead, most notably a wayward Gilberto penalty and Adebayor skipping around Jaaskelainen only to place the ball onto the post. Sure as eggs is eggs the Orcs punished us with a last minute equaliser from Meite. As the game drifted into extra time, Bolton were in the ascendancy as Anelka struck a post. But a mesmeric, 40 yard Aliadiere run saw Ljungberg give Arsenal the lead. Ljungberg's cameo prior to that was so breathtakingly awful it had to be seen to be believed. It was Julio Baptista's turn to blaze a penalty over the bar after Ben Haim had been sent off, but Adebayor made the score safe in the last minute. Travelling Gooners' swabbed with delight, airing some of my favourite renditions of the season, 'Fat Sam is a w****r, he's ugly and he's fat, his son gave him a briefcase, he said I'm having that.' That night, my coach journey home proved particularly uncomfortable as I succumbed to a bloody awful chest infection. It was the last time I smoked a cigarette and it was the last time an Arsenal result would feel that good again.
The Saturday encounter at home to Blackburn was the diametric opposite, a dull 0-0 draw notable only for a blatant foul on Aliadiere not yielding a penalty award. William Gallas returned from injury in what was an instantly forgettable encounter. Cesc Fabregas made headlines with his post match diabtrite at Mark Hughes. There is no doubting that it was a graceless and disrespectful whine. Cesc has shown in the past that he is an appalling loser, resembling a child robbed of his favourite rattle. But do you know what? As much as I feel I should castigate him for it, I love him for it. It was Champions' League time again and a nice February trip to the Netherlands. Naturally, my cohorts and I decided to stay in Amsterdam (again), but my illness prevented me from fully indulging in the camaraderie (no, that's not what I'm talking about!) As it turned out, the mardi gras in Eindhoven made for a very interesting match day experience, with the usually lifeless Dutch outpost luminous with colour and alcohol (and free tee shirts the size of tents were distributed, I can literally get two people in mine). The first half saw Arsenal dominate and, yes, you guessed it, piss our chances up the wall like a drunken oaf slobbering all over the ladies of the dancefloor. Mendez's low shot saw the Gunners' surrender 1-0 in a depressingly meek second half showing.
There was no time to dwell on that though, as the youngest side ever to take the pitch in a Cup Final took on the Sibneft Rovers (oooh, we're packed with political commentary today aren't we?) Wenger's unwavering faith in his youngsters demonstrating both his faultless principles and his, errr, unwavering faith in his youngsters. For half an hour, Arsenal were majestic, balletic, gracile creatures of the green turf, pirhouetting around much vaunted mercenaries like Lumplard and Ballack. Theo Walcott gave the young Guns' an early lead after a typically well crafted move. But a seemingly offside Didier Drogba levelled the scores. A sickening facial injury to John Terry tipped the scales- in Chelsea's favour. The administering blow from Diaby was so venomous that he hurt his foot and the player who had been running the show robbed Arsenal of their fluency. Chelsea's experience and quality showed through when Drogba headed home a Bridge cross. A melee broke out in injury time when Toure took exception to Mikel's lecherous advances onto his shirt. It was an altercation for which the phrase 'handbags at dawn' was invented. The performative, attention hungry referee saw it differently though (or didn't see it as the case may be) as Coward Webb sent Mikel and Toure off for the hainous crime of pushing each other. Following on the heels of Patrick Vieira, once sent off at Stamford Bridge for foul and abusive language by telling the referee he had 'aucune personalite' (oooh, cover your ears kiddies), Emmanuel Adebayor was to be the catalyst for a referee's report blanketed in so much white fluid, you wondered if Jose Mourinho had seen it and mistaken it for a mirror. Adebayor was sent off for punching Frank Lampard, no, sorry, aiming a punch at Frank Lampard, what? That didn't happen either? Oh well, just say he 'acted agressively' that's vague enough. (Fans of the old British series 'Bottom' may remember an episode where Eddie is trying in vein to complete a crossword and, unable to figure out the answer for six down, shouts, 'I'll just put b*ll*cks!') Just admit it lads, it was mistaken identity eh? Eboue flopped his wrist camply into Wayne Bridge's direction, and Bridge collapsed with all the performative theatrics of a man who'd got his knackers caught in a wrench. In the aftermarth, Arsene Wenger would be charged for calling the linesmen 'a liar.' Wenger refused to confirm that the F,A also censured him for calling Adolf Hitler, 'a bit of a twerp.' Sky and the redtops once again showed their impeccible sense of morality, as their typewriters rattled with vitriol. (Yes, the tabloid press. You know the guys owned by Murdoch. The guy who..........)
Another midweek sojourn to the North West was to follow and Wenger got his real recrimination for his outburst at the F.A, Graham Poll reluctantly(!) taking centre stage again. Sat at the other end of the ground, I could clearly see that Aliadiere was tripped by Brad Friedel. No dice said Poll. The blind man sitting next to me, who incidentally had a seven foot four inch jester hat clad spectator stood in front of him, could see that Khizanishvili tripped Ljungberg. Poll's explanation for his incompetence was that he was, 'watching the upper bodies.' I'd loved to have been a fly on the wall when he explained that one to his missus. Baptista squandered a number of golden opportunities before Benni McCarthy arrived from the bench to roast Senderos and blast brilliantly into the top corner with Blackburn's only goal attempt in 180 minutes. The sight of William Gallas stood hands on hips, staring incredulously towards the Arsenal fans at the final whistle hangs in the saloon of my mind, one of those mental photographs you sometimes take at random moments of your life. Spring may have been in the air, but it certainly wasn't pervasive in the stride of the flat footed Gunners'.LD.