The way I see it - Arsenal v The Phoney Russian Franchise

Last updated : 27 November 2009 By Jason Hogan

In contrast to certain observers I was content with what unfolded before me at The Grove against the champions of Belgium. The first five minutes of the game were a damn site better than the ones we had over there and the tone for the game was set right there and then.

The flow to our football was back and it was very welcome to see. But given our history of dominating games without going on to win them, I bet there were more than a few Gooners who were starting to think after half an hour that it was going to be one of those nights yet again. But, fuelled by what I had seen up to that point I refused to lose the faith and kept believing that the breakthrough would come sooner or later.

I didn't have to wait all that long as Nasri took advantage of a slip by a Liege defender to finish adroitly and put the Gunners ahead. That slice of vindication was soon followed up by a goal for the returning Denilson. The referee (whose name I choose to forget) made of a string of bizarre decisions all night and that's putting things very mildly. But on this occasion he chose to play on rather than stop play for a foul. Denilson didn't wait to be asked twice and under no pressure, he advanced forward and unleashed a shot which completely caught the Liege keeper out.

At half time I was a pretty happy man and I was expecting us to really cut loose on Liege. It didn't quite happen that way and we had to be content with a 2-0 win. Paul Merson, bless him, was at his usual baffling, contradictory best after the game, wasn't he? He claimed that as good as Arsenal were, they could have lost the game. Well, if I were to have taken that on pure face value then technically he was correct. But, as I said earlier, they may have hit the post twice, Witsel wasted a great chance from a free kick and they were denied THAT penalty.

But they were totally isolated incidents in a game where Liege were hanging on for dear life even before we scored and on another day they could (and should) have been on the wrong end of a hiding of equal proportion to the one we gave them back 1993. There are times when you get what you want or expect. We should have gone on to wipe the floor with them but in football things do not work out like that.

I'm more than happy, in this context, to say that we won the game and sealed qualification as of right for the last 16 as group winners with one game to spare. And even with people outside of Arsenal picking holes in us and using every petty excuse they can lay their hands on to discredit us, we can take satisfaction in delivering on what we expected of ourselves given the group we were landed in.

Looking forward to Sunday well, we know who we are playing and personally see them for what they are. From a commercial standpoint there is no doubt that this is a big game. For me as a fan and what I consider to be sacred, it isn't anything of the sort.

For me, there are only three fixtures home and away that carry a real sense of occasion, feeling and a genuine sense of significance about them. When we play ManUre I feel that this is a massive game regardless of where they happen to be in the league in relation to us or vice versa.

Also, when we play them, you are not just playing to beat them as a team you are looking to put a dent into how they are perceived as a club. More than that, if someone told me we would win the next ten league games against them, my reaction would be that I wouldn't be happy unless we have beaten them in the next ten after that and the next ten after that!

There are plenty of football fans up and down the country who are enjoying the current trials and tribulations at Liverpool but I will always see games against them as being massive affairs. It's now the trend to dismiss history and heritage, consign it to the past and ignore it's relevance to the present.

But I have always believed that whilst you can't live your life looking back at the past, it seems almost disrespectful not to acknowledge the fact that the past is very much a bi-product of who or what you are today. In other words, just because they haven't won anything in a while it doesn't mean they have become suddenly Merseyside's equivalent of Accrington Stanley.

And, like ManUre, the Mersey Men have a heritage that I as an Arsenal fan aspire to. That fact alone fuels a desire in my own mind to see us beat them both because it is the next best thing outside of winning a trophy and every time you beat them, it feels like you are taking a tiny step towards redressing the balance somehow.

Last but not least of course is that lot from up the road. There have been times over years when I myself have been guilty of sometimes looking beyond fixtures against them and looking at a bigger picture. But at the end of the day we are talking about 90- odd years of traditional rivalry here and whilst there are a number of reasons why this is a fixture that matters, the mere idea of them beating or even getting anything from us makes my blood run cold.

Sunday's opponents do not stir up those feelings at all. In fact, my all round view of them is rather cold and clinical. The PRF epitomise the shallow, manufactured world we live in today.

In a metaphorical sense, they are like someone who has grown up on his mum's home made curries all of his life only to find that one day that he has been left with no option other than to pick up a ready made processed and packaged one from Sainsbury's. On the face of things, the processed version may taste OK but in comparison to what you were brought up on you cannot even begin to seriously believe that the curry is truly authentic.

In other words, I will never see them as genuine rivals even though there are obvious geographic reasons to say why not. For me rivalries are built on things which you have in common that bind you (however loosely) together but also things that will create a permanent divide at the same time.

I think Bob Wilson got it right. Once upon a time a long time ago, I used to listen to him on the old Arsenal Clubcall phone service. On the eve of a game against what we now know as the PRF, he described this fixture as just an ordinary London derby in comparison to playing a North London derby against that lot from N17.

I thought it was right then and, in spite of the emergence of the financially doped franchise that has sprung up to replace the club that once existed on the Fulham Road, I still do now.

If that sounds bitter I really couldn't give a monkeys. If you happen to believe I'm jealous then you have misunderstood me. I have a drinking buddy called Jimmy Dodds who is a season ticket holder down at The Bridge. When he was crowing about his team en route to their second title in 50-odd years I simply told him that all his club have really done is ensure we have to play a longer game in terms of achieving success.

Which brings me nicely round to Sunday's game. How do I feel about it? Relaxed, if I am honest. I know that we will get absolutely hammered in the press and the media should we lose. As last week's reports after the Sunderland will testify, that sort of thing unfortunately comes with the territory if you're Arsenal.

But whilst I am aware of that, I can honestly say that for once Arsenal do not have anything to lose on Sunday. After all, we were not supposed to be anywhere near the top four never mind the PRF according to most and besides, they are supposed to have a team that are everything we're not. They are physically strong, experienced and have infinitely more depth to their squad.

I don't do pessimism as a rule and I am not going to start here. Not everything in football works out the way it should and as far as I am concerned Arsenal have upset far bigger odds than this in their time. Who's to say that we won't do it again on Sunday? Come on you Gunners!