The way I see it - Aston Villa v Arsenal

Last updated : 04 February 2005 By Jason Hogan

I left my house at six and, as I was walking down the road to the tube, I remember thinking to myself that the last time I was out anywhere at this time of day was when I was born! Anyway, having got up there, the first thing that struck me was how close Norwich City's stadium was to the train station. I hadn't been to Carrow Road itself since 1987 (when we turned the Canaries over 4-2) but I could have sworn that the stadium wasn't as close to the station as I remembered.

How I managed to stay both awake and alert during the morning session of the seminar I'll never know but when we finally reached the interval for lunch I took the opportunity got to lunchtime, I went for a little stroll around the grounds outside the building where my seminar was taking place.

Now, I wouldn't say that I was the kind of guy that is necessarily glib or flippant by nature but as I was walking around I suddenly found myself gazing out at the countryside and thinking that the Arsenal should have been the ones wearing black in Tuesday night's game not our opponents.

I know what you're all thinking. How comes it took me the best part of 48 hours for the events of Tuesday night to hit home in some way. I could sit here, indulge in some amateurish psychobabble and say I was in some kind of denial but in truth the answer is I don't honestly know.

What I know for certain is that this time last year, things were so much clearer for everyone connected with Arsenal Football Club. Even when we did have our disappointments along the way (not least in the Champions League) we still had enough character about us to go on and not only win the league but do it in a manner which never be emulated.

And, as I dragged on a fag and blew a plume of smoke into the Norfolk air thinking about that, I chuckled to myself and for a fleeting moment broke out into a spontaneous wry smile. The next minute my wry smile turned into a rueful one as my thoughts turned back to Tuesday night and the spectacular way we capsized at home and surrendered an unbeaten home record in the league that had stood for the best part of two years as a consequence.

Part of me was thinking that I should be philosophical about things. After all it's not the first time in recent years that we have made a pigs ear of defending our title, is it? On the other hand there is another part of me (even as I'm writing this) that is still genuinely searching for reasons as to why the ability to retain our title appears to have eluded us once again.

I was interested to read some of the opinions of my fellow Gooners over the last couple of days, particularly the ones that have said that we have been "punching above our weight" for quite some time. I would like to think that the notion (or indeed, the FACT) being tendered here is that we have achieved great things, particularly in the last three seasons, in SPITE of our relatively poor financial expenditure rather than BECAUSE of the generosity of a club that is supposedly superior to us (i.e. that lot from Old Trafford) because I'm not bloody having any of that from anyone. Not whilst there's a "Y" in every day of the bloody week!

I'm also not having some of the bull that some Gooners have apparently been spreading around claiming that Arsene should go. Yes, that's right, in case you haven't heard. There are Gooners out there that have been calling for the boss's head. All I can say to those Gooners is this - ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR F*CKING MIND?!!

If anything, we should all be praying that the boss doesn't walk away. To recite what Arsene has done for this club here and now would be like teaching most rationally minded Gooners (never mine grandma) to suck eggs but I'll tell you all this for nothing - show me another manager, now or in the next nine years (Mourinho and Ferguson included) that would have brought the kind of recent success to our club on the resources Wenger has had at his disposal and I'll show you a damn liar!!

Why would the boss possibly walk away? Well, think about it. It's no secret that Real Madrid (amongst others) would kill to get him on board. For me, there are two reasons why he hasn't succumbed to the overtures of the men from the Bernabeu.

Firstly, there may invariably be more money to play with at Real Madrid for example but because of the highly political way Real is run, he would not necessarily have any influence over how it is spent. Secondly, when he signed his new contract back in October, yes, I think that there was a huge part of him that wanted to be around at least in the mid to long-term when the new stadium opens.

However, a couple of weeks before he signed that new contract, he did say at the back end of September that he wanted to bring in one or two experienced players into the squad to compensate for some of the players he lost in the summer though he didn't specify the particular positions.

What happened come January? Well, in spite of Peter Hill-Wood's insisting this Thursday evening that Arsene has money at his disposal nothing even remotely approaching a significant signing (never mind a major one) materialised, did it?

Hill-Wood's assertion doesn't ring true to me. After all, are you telling me that it would have cost us a king's ransom to pluck Edwin Van Der Sar from Fulham, for example, when he had barely six months left on his existing contract? I don't think so.

I could be way off beam here (and I would be happy if I was) but that suggests to me one of two things. Firstly, that we don't really have any money in the kitty right now and secondly, if that's the case, then you only have to bear in mind what Wenger said last September to see that, someone, somewhere within the club, is being a little economical (no pun intended) with the truth.

Having said all that our financial situation (whatever that happens to be) doesn't alter the fact that the Arsenal were guilty of a chronic lack of character and diligence on Tuesday night. As was the case at Bolton the other day too many players went on the missing list when the chips were really down and there are one or two that need to shape up and some (like Cygan, Almunia AND Lehmann) that definitely need to be shipped out.

Which brings me nicely round to the subject of Ashley Cole. There is no doubt that this is a very thorny issue amongst us Gooners right now but I'm going to make this very short and sweet. If the Phoney Russian Franchise have indeed been tapping the player up then it's the club's duty, purely out of principle, to take this to the highest authorities possible.

As for Cole himself, well all I can say is I'm enough of a realist to know that money talks these days perhaps more than it ever did and everybody knows there is no such thing as loyalty in football any more.

He has to search his own conscience and remember that no amount of money will replace the medals that he has won with Arsenal Football Club. This is the club that made him into an international. This is the club that turned him into a winner. Does he want to be at a club of genuine substance or does he want to chase the mighty rouble? If he joins the gravy train at the Phoney Russian Franchise for example then (hypothetically speaking) he would be just another mercenary in pursuit of hollow success. If he is a man of any integrity at all then he will stay put and at least see out his contract.

In spite of what is currently happening behind the scenes at Highbury life does go on and next on our agenda is a trip to Villa Park where Aston Villa will entertain us.

Whilst there is continuous speculation over Arsenal's finances the situation is far clearer for David O'Leary at Villa. He never stops moaning about the size of his squad and the lack of money being made available to him.

At least he did make one signing during the transfer window bringing in Djemba-Djemba. I was a little surprised by this move because I don't think that he is particularly any better than say Thomas Hitzelsperger and I would be totally amazed if he managed to get into the team ahead of the injured Gavin McCann when he regains fitness.

Villa will go into the game buoyed in general by the fact that injury was literally added to insult for Arsenal when Campbell hobbled off late in the game on Tuesday night. As for the key man for Villa I would say that it would be Nobby Solano. The boy can be a touch lightweight at times but he has a cultured way about him and if he is on his game (particularly at dead ball situations) then our depleted back line could have their work cut out for them.

Right now, I find myself in a position where I honestly don't know how things are going to pan out for us both tomorrow and for the rest of the season. All I know for certain is that if our season isn't going to go for a complete Burton we have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and find some kind of resolve and some sort of form. And we need to do it fast.