The way I see it - Arsenal v Portsmouth

Last updated : 31 August 2007 By Jason Hogan
It really did take me almost by surprise because I had prepared myself for another one of those nights where we fell behind, rallied and won the game in the last minute by the odd goal in three.

I have to give a shout out to young Theo who set up the opening goal with the kind of direct and decisive poise that we hope to see far more often in the coming years. There are still plenty of rough edges to his game but it's nice to see him show people that he is not as far out his depth as people like to make out.

In converting Walcott's centre, Tomas Rosicky had a look of genuine contrition about him (somewhat understandably) but to see him get on the scoresheet was heartening. This season is big one particularly for Tomas as well as Hleb and Adebayor amongst others this year in my opinion.

Too many people still harp on about the exploits of Pires, Ljungberg and their contributions they made to Arsenal from midfield and they all have to potential to stamp their personality on this current Arsenal side and become legends on their own right. And in my opinion their time is right here and now.

After Rosicky's early strike the game lost its edge and had the feel of a low key testimonial. Sparta never had anything like the same in your face attitude they had in their own back yard though to be fair they did have a few moments where they could and maybe should have taken advantage of Arsenal side that went into a casual, sloppy mode for a good 70 minutes thereafter.

It was that sense of sloppiness that prompted Arsene to send on Fabregas and Adebayor late on. The rocket had effectively been placed up the backside and in a matter of minutes of coming on Fabregas had bagged his second goal in four days and Eduardo bagged a very well taken third goal to round things off. It was no more than the Croatian boy deserved having worked his socks off all night long.

So, the job was done and the reward for the lads in the tournament proper is an eventual four-way face off with Steua Bucharest, Slavia Prague and one of Sevilla or AEK Athens. How do I see our group? Well, Sevilla's credentials shouldn't really need to be spelt out to anyone even though they will sadly not be able to call on the services of young Antonio Puerta, the exciting young left sided player who died at the ridiculous age of 22 the other day. Seeing someone of his talent taken away from the world's football community to say nothing of his family and friends… well, it's really hard to make any sense out of. Rest in peace, amigo.

Whilst I'm at it, may I take this opportunity on behalf of Arsenal fans everywhere to offer my condolences to the family of Ray Jones. In a time when there is supposedly a dearth of young English talent in the game, this boy seemed to be on an almost inevitable rise to the top. The QPR players have decided to honour him by carrying his name on the back of all their shirts in their next game. Let's hope the young man has something to smile about as he looks down on his team-mates at the weekend. I know I will drink to that.

Back to our Champions League group and I have to say that I'm actually more wary of Steua than anyone else. They are definitely the dark horses in the group and with our record in Eastern Europe not being especially great then we will have to be careful against Slavia too.

In other words our group is not as easy as a lot of people are suggesting. I'm always wary of sides from Eastern Europe. You never know what the quality of the pitches are going to be like on the day when you go over there, the crowds are highly partisan (and racist) and more often than not, they always tend to be far more troublesome opponents than you expect them to be. If Arsenal manage to qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament with a game or two to spare we will have done very well.

Mind you, it wasn't news about the Champions League that was dominating the headlines in most of the papers on Friday. It was the news that David Dein had finally sold his shares to some Russian billionaire called Usmanov.

All I can tell you is that if anything I am even more worried now than I was when Kroenke first came on the scene. Whether it's Kroenke, Usmanov, Ecclestone or bloody Uncle Tom Cobley and all, the day Arsenal Football Club is taken over by any of the above is the day I will don a black armband.

Why? Well, for a start, that will essentially be the day when Arsenal ceases to exist as a football club certainly as we have all known it.

Arsenal will just become another expendable commodity that is acquired and manipulated or bought and sold almost like some expensive antique where nobody gives a damn about its beauty or the craft that went into making that antique so special but only what it's worth is now and potentially in the future.

This is where people like Usmanov and Kroenke come in. They don't give a damn about the history of Arsenal Football Club. They don't give a damn about what makes the average Arsenal fan tick or what the club means to us all. In pure and simple terms they are businessmen that happen to have been seduced by the idea of the supposedly rich pickings that exist in the Premier League these days - and nothing else.

The fact that David Dein is heading up this new fangled holding company for Usmanov does not make me feel any easier about things either. Dein may have had a love affair with the club since he was a boy but I think what really floats his boat is power and he is not fussy about who he uses along the way to get him that power.

It's no secret that Dein and the current board are estranged to say the least. And having hooked up initially hooked up with Kroenke in attempt to get back into the chairman's seat at Arsenal, Dein has now switched horses and hooked up with this Russian guy who appears to have, potentially at least, the financial clout to possibly mount a genuine takeover and help him gain ultimate revenge over the board that ousted him from office back in April.

The one thing that keeps running through my mind in all of this is that we didn't need to be bankrolled to infinite degree by some billionaire to win the Premier League. We didn't need a billionaire to bankroll us to the 13 league titles and 10 FA Cups we have won in all. We didn't need a billionaire to bankroll us to being the only club to have won the League and FA Cup double three times in three different decades. And we didn't need some billionaire to make us the current third richest club in the world.

We got to where we are today through the sound planning of the existing board and there is no way that I will ever endorse a takeover particularly if it is funded by the dubious intentions of some oligarch with a mentality that I cannot identify with.

Do Arsenal fans want our club to operate with the same kind of unscrupulous ethics that are present at a certain "club" over in West London? Let's put it this way, I don't want us to become a club that effectively wears diamond encrusted steel cap boots and bludgeons their way to success whilst showing absolute contempt for virtually every other club across Europe.

And I don't want us to become a club that thinks they are above the law and can fool all of the people all of the time. That's not the way I grew up understanding football to be and I would horrify me if Arsenal suddenly developed an "If you can't beat them, join them" attitude to things.

Looking back to last Saturday's league game against City, I think the text that I sent to Gazza after Saturday's game against City summed my feelings up perfectly. The message was straight to the point and contained one, solitary word - Phew!

Funnily enough, I then got a text from Gus another mate of mine almost straight after saying that it was a good win for us but it was little nerve wracking at times. He wasn't kidding.

Because whilst both Gazza and Gus were at The Grove watching that game live, I was at home going through the emotional ringer yet again whilst listening to the game on the radio.

I even turned round to my missus immediately after Fabregas had put us in front and I said to her "Why do the Arsenal put me through all this week in and week out?"

To be honest, my missus was just relieved that the rest of the Bank Holiday was destined to be a little more bearable at that point because as she knows only too well, I'm not the easiest person to be around when the Arsenal have not won.

Still, in spite of all the things the Arsenal put me through last Saturday, I have to say that I was happy with lads once again. I'm not going to start shouting from the roof tops about us being winners of the Premiership or anything but I do feel that the lads are forging themselves into a more resilient outfit that is able to win by attrition or by virtue of sheer persistence.

Don't get me wrong; City had their moments on the day and for a spell in the second half we were definitely on the ropes so to speak. Still it was credit to the Arsenal lads that they regrouped and wrested back the dominance they had for the majority of the game and eventually overcame a City side that proved to fairly doughty opponents.

The true test for City will come when days really get shorter and colder but I get the feeling that we are not the only side that are given a fair bit of food for thought after playing them this year.

Now, at last, it's time to look forward to Sunday's game against Pompey at the Grove.

It will almost be a case of Friends Reunited when Pompey turn up to the Grove, won't it? The fact that Kanu, Lauren and Campbell were rested for the Carling Cup tie against Leeds this week says to me that this is the game Redknapp is giving priority to.

From what I've seen of them so far it's hard for me to deny that Pompey are not a good each way bet for a place in Europe this year. They were a match for ManUre when the played them at Fratton a couple of weeks ago and they were desperately unlucky to lose to the PRF at the Bridge last weekend.

The three African lads have been a bit of a revelation for them. Kanu really is having a renaissance down on the South Coast and Benjani is an absolute cult hero at Fratton. He may be erratic in front of goal but he never stops running or trying.

The danger man for me though, will be John Utaka, the new boy Pompey signed from Rennes in France. In the official Arsenal magazine Arsene described this boy as a lad that has a lot of talent but is not always consistent. Well from what I have seen Utaka has taken to the Premiership like a duck to water. He has searing pace, strength and good quick feet and, as he has already proved an eye for goal.

This is a genuine test for, make no mistake. Pompey are no mugs. They have quite a few experienced players and they have a lot of pace they can call upon up front.

The kick off may be at 1.30pm on Sunday but the Arsenal definitely cannot afford to be out to lunch when the game kicks off.

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