It was bad enough to wake up on Sunday morning to the news that Ricky
Hatton had been knocked out by the loathsome Floyd Mayweather in Las
Vegas. I was well gutted because I hoped that Ricky would knock the little
bastard's block off.
Still, if I was gutted at Hatton's misfortunes, I was absolutely beside
myself with fury after watching the Arsenal at the Riverside on Sunday
I'm not just saying this for effect. I mean this. The Arsenal put on one
of the worst performances I have seen from ANY side in the history of the
Premier League. And although the circumstances were totally different, the
last time I was genuinely as angry as I was on Sunday was when we were
beaten by Newcastle in the league at Highbury just before Christmas back
in 2001. I'm sure you all remember the game. It was when Henry lost it at
the end with the referee after Ray Parlour and Craig Bellamy had both been
I really lost my head that night. I was so angry I punched a hole clean
through my bathroom door. And the only thing that stopped me doing a
similar thing on Sunday was that I had my mother in law staying. So, with
my urge to break something suppressed by my circumstances, I had to keep
my emotions in check. It was as difficult as hell I can tell you.
I decided to seek temporary sanctuary in my kitchen and I phoned Gazza. I
needed to let off steam somehow. In talking, Gazza took the words right
out of my mouth when he said that he was lost for words pretty much after
watching the first half hour of the game and right there, I knew that he
was as apoplectic as I was over what he had seen.
Gazza also mentioned one other telling thing - he said that Sunday's
defeat had been coming pretty much since we played Wigan a few weeks back.
He was 100% right, it was coming. I wasn't too perturbed by what happened
in Seville. I was just disappointed that we didn't hammer home the
advantage we had over the Spaniards and the way that we threw the game
away at a time when we had them pretty much by the throat.
The first real signs of a general sea change at Arsenal came in the second
half against Villa. After being given a football lesson in the first half,
The Villains came out swinging and in the face of Villa's resurgence, we
totally lost our poise and composure.
Newcastle obviously took note of Villa's approach and they went on to give
us an uncomfortable night last Wednesday. And then of course Boro followed
suit once again and succeeded where Villa and Newcastle failed.
But I'm not going to make excuses for the Arsenal lads. Yes, playing four
away games on the spin was always going to be taxing. I cannot think of
any other English club that have been faced with that kind of schedule at
any stage of this season.
Still, that doesn't justify the way that we sold ourselves short up at the
Riverside on Sunday and my heart really went out the Arsenal fans that
paid damn good money and got up at God only knows what time on Sunday
morning to haul themselves all the way up to Teeside to watch a display of
such staggering incompetence.
It doesn't matter what style of football you play. You can play a kick and
rush game, a passing game or total football but you would be amazed how
effective a simple, accurate ten to fifteen yard pass can be. And if you
cannot execute simple ten/fifteen yard passes, whether you happen to be
under duress or not, you have got no chance of ever winning a football
match at ANY level of professional football, never mind in the Premier
Arsenal were simply incapable of doing this on the afternoon. Yes Boro
were in our faces but not for every single second of the game. Yet because
we were unable to even string two accurate ten yard passes together, we
only served to compound the pressure Boro were applying.
And when you are up against a side that are looking to press you and break
up your game, you have to be willing to play with a degree of urgency,
purpose and above all care yourself. All of those things were missing from
us as a team on Sunday. We played at a tempo similar to that of a
testimonial. As we found out, you cannot get away that in the Premier
League even against a side that hasn't won since September.
The fact that we had several players missing wasn't enough of an excuse
either. In my opinion, we still had enough players out there on Sunday
that really should have known better.
In midfield, we had Gilberto, World Cup winner and Copa America winning
captain of Brazil in the summer just gone. I know that he was been treated
badly by Arsene in the summer and he has been generally out of favour this
But if Bertie is serious about fighting for his place in the Arsenal line
up he certainly has a funny way of showing it. If anything, he showed both
against Newcastle and Boro exactly why Flamini has overtaken him in the
midfield pecking order.
I'm not writing the man off as dead loss just yet. As Arsenal fans, I feel
we all owe him the benefit of doubt at least. But if he really wants to
stay part of the Arsenal set-up he really needs to get his head right and
quick. The team has worked hard to put themselves right in the mix this
season. We cannot afford to have players feeling sorry for themselves and
going through the motions
As for young Diarra, well anyone who saw his performance against Newcastle
in the Carling Cup will tell you, the boy definitely has potential. But,
the last three games have shown that whilst he has tenacity, he is still
very raw and he has still got a way to go before he becomes a permanent
fixture in our midfield.
Now, at this point I'm sure that there would be a lot of Arsenal fans out
there would be saying "Hang on a minute, as an Arsenal fan I should be
counting my blessings". Well, I'm well aware of the fact that we are still
top of the league and, like everyone else, I would have taken the position
we find ourselves in now had someone offered it to me in the summer.
But taking the bigger picture into account, it wasn't the fact that we
lost at the Riverside that disturbs me - it was the WAY it happened that
got to me most. The fact is we need to get our collective hunger back and
we need to get it back fast. Because, if the Arsenal perform half as badly
again as they did at the Riverside over the next few weeks, then we can
kiss any aspirations of the title goodbye.
It's not all doom and gloom for the Arsenal though. Without trying to
sound a little backward, we do have the PRF (the Phoney Russian Franchise)
upcoming next this Sunday of course.
The good thing is that we will go onto that game in the same kind of
position that Newcastle and Boro were in when they played us. Why? Well,
when Newcastle and Boro played us they had nothing to lose. More than
that, both sides knew that there were no grey areas attached to the game
from a tactical point of view. They knew they had to front up, get in our
faces and compete as hard as they could. They also knew they had to put
their bodies on the line and use whatever tactics fair or unfair to
When we play the PRF on Sunday, we will be the ones with the clear agenda.
We will be the ones going into a game with no grey areas and variables to
ponder. We will be the ones faced with a straight choice. Because, if the
real Arsenal fail to turn up on Sunday we will not win. It's as simple as
First of all, the Arsenal have to wrap things up in their Champions League
group and we will sign off with a tie at home to Steaua.
I have to say that I have been genuinely surprised by Steaua and their
poor showing in the group. I really believed they were going to be the
dark horses of the group and a genuine threat both ourselves and Sevilla
Mind you, there have been serious problems behind the scenes over in
Bucharest for quite a while now and the root of most of their problems
lies with their madcap Italian chairman. The guy makes Colonel Gaddaffi
look certifiably sane by all accounts!
It's such a shame. Steaua are club with a rich European history and they
are the outstanding representatives of a country that have produced their
fair share of cracking players down the years.
The fact that Steaua will now not even parachute into the UEFA Cup will
really be genuine disappointment to their fans but they will know as much
as anybody else that you do sometimes get what you deserve in football.
They will also know that the problems that exist at their club run very
deep and getting rid of the chairman would be a start. But as we all know,
madcap dictatorships can last a long time and if the club is going to move
forward again the fans know that it is going to be a long painful process.
As it is they will come to The Grove with nothing to play for except
pride. This may actually lead to them playing with a more freedom because
in effect it's a free game for them.
For Arsenal though, this game is very serious irrespective of the
personnel that Arsene elects to employ on Wednesday night. This game is
not just about securing a win it is about establishing a rhythm and it's
about sharpening up the quality of our game again.
There are whispers that Van Persie and Diaby may play some part in
proceedings. If that happens that's a bonus. I am looking for us to win
this game on Wednesday but more importantly I'm looking for us to do it in
a polished manner. Let's hope the lads do not disappoint here. Or else,
the sharpening of knives is going to reach disturbing loud proportions.
The way I see it - Arsenal v Steaua Bucharest
It was bad enough to wake up on Sunday morning to the news that Ricky