SAW HIS ARSENE
Mickey Blue Eyes
It promised much: Us in sixth place on fifty-five points, them in third on fifty-nine points, and one of our previous heroes, Mikky Arteta, now playing for the enemy. Our match at Arsenal had the makings alright. So once again reluctantly it was off to scruffy north Lahndan for a game we had every reason to feel confident about. There was nothing in their squad that looked superior to ours, except perhaps in what they might have on the bench. How times have changed. A few years ago David Moyes said we would be in a position to challenge Wenger's club at about this time. Congratulations, Moyesy, you were right on the nail.
The Emirates Stadium is of course a huge improvement on their previous decrepit Highbury venue. Alas, it has a second tier for corporate entertainment, thus dividing the crowd spectacle. Therefore a good design opportunity partially lost on a site with space for a more satisfactory solution. Unfortunately the Emirates is a salute to money, hence the aesthetics and ridiculous ticket prices, perhaps also the weird reaction of their decidedly odd crowd. Less well known is how close the scheme came to bankrupting the club not long after construction began. Now Wenger is faced with the problem all contemporary clubs must consider - how to pay down the debt while buying new players and gouging their wages. "Paying down the debt" means of course shovelling money you put into the game into the pockets of the same bankers and their majority shareholders who robbed the global economy...turned it in fact into the giant hollowed-out Ponzi scam that runs your life.
None of this has saved Wenger from widespread grumbling because the Lahndaners haven't won a trophy for some years now, which only illustrates vividly how crackpot some supporters and tenth-rate hack journalists can be. Now, it may well be true that the Frenchman's personality is every bit as unattractive as it sometimes appears to be, and he must certainly have made some mistakes, but so what? His record speaks for itself: he is still a quite brilliant manager. But so is David Moyes, which is much more important to Us, and which is why the clash held such promise.
Unfortunately the game ended 0-0 and was largely a physical scrap that could have gone either way. We started well, controlled play for long stretches and then faded in the last third of the match. In the end we were pleased with a point thanks to some heroic defending in the closing stages, particularly from Seamus, Jags and Sylvain. Our Boys stood firm when it mattered; you could tell how well they did because self-admitted sore-loser Wenger had a face like a smacked arse at the end. His Gallic hissyfit couldn't have been helped by a quote from Moyesy about a tunnel handbags incident that, "I didn't see." Oh irony, how we larfed while Arsene scowled.
Actually, we could and should have been in front in the fifth minute after a quick move down our right when Seamus got forward and arrowed a superb pass into the right side of their penalty area and gave Peanuts a clear chance he knocked over. Even earlier Mirallas had threatened to do them with an angled run into the area but unusually his final touch was too heavy and it got away from him. Just before half time the Lahndaners had an equally clear chance on a breakaway and their man stuck it wide when it had goal written all over it.
The rest of the game came down mostly to a pugnacious struggle for midfield which neither side won. Our main concern was how Ross Barkley would cope as replacement for Leon Osman; we needn't have worried, he did well after an uncertain start during which he tried too-clever things that didn't come off. This was a watershed game for him, a real test, perhaps a turning point. But he applied himself well and eventually proved a good foil for the greater experience of Gibbo and Felli - almost scored a cracker in the second half. His introduction meant we were occasionally uncoordinated in the centre as he settled in without doing Osman's usual water-carrying short-passing role. However, he and everyone else did enough to neutralise whatever midfield threat the enemy had. Mikky and his new mates got steadily more frustrated and narky as the minutes went on.
Our chief vulnerability turned out to be down our left where Peanuts still hasn't recovered full form and fitness after a season of being mercilessly battered to the ground. Vic received next to no service up front and could make little impact. On the right Seamus improves with every game, so does his combination play with Kevin Mirallas; I anticipate both of them will be an important part of David Moyes rebuilding plans, if he stays.
The closing fifteen minutes were our most difficult time and it looked as though we would concede at any moment, particularly when the enemy got a string of corners. It mattered not. Seamus and Sylvain made two excellent last ditch tackles to save the day, while Jags, back to his best, mopped up everything else. For all their bluster the homesters couldn't break them down. Tim didn't have much to do except catch their poor crosses. Moyesy even brought Nik on as a late addition to the attack.
So......a fair result that just keeps us in the running for Europe. And it was worth it just to see Arsene's arse-like kipper at the final whistle.