The way I see it - Steaua Bucharest v Arsenal

Last updated : 02 October 2007 By Jason Hogan
Our poorer relations up the road for example played seven pre season games in total, won the lot yet find themselves in the bottom three in the current Premier League table.

There are exceptions to every rule though and I think there was one pre season games that did actually tell me a little bit about this Arsenal team. It was when we played in the Amsterdam tournament against Ajax.

Ajax have a reputation for a lot of things as a club and their status in the European game is nothing less than legendary (certainly as far as I am concerned anyway). But for the life of me I never had them down as the sort of club that would ever send out a team that used brawn over brains.

I was genuinely taken aback when Ajax played Arsenal in that tournament back in July because the Dutch tried to kick the Arsenal players from one end of the city to the other. Even so, the Arsenal stood up to it all kept playing, kept taking the game to Ajax and eventually Van Persie won us the match and the tournament.

It may have been a pre season friendly with only a tin pot trophy on offer but they certainly didn't treat it that way and when I saw the look on the faces of the likes of young Denilson after the game and the sense of pride he had as he thrust the trophy aloft in the direction of the pockets of Arsenal fans who we there, I got the feeling that the players felt like they had overcome a significant mental barrier.

Denilson's gestures seemed to sum up the feeling of the whole camp, a team of young men who had just been through a bit of a war and come out the other side as winners. It was at that point when I felt that there was something different about the Arsenal as an outfit, that there was an extra sense of inner strength and resolve.

The theory was then put further to the test when we went to Prague to play Sparta in our Champions League qualifier. Once again, the Arsenal lads came on for some pretty hefty treatment primarily at the hands of a certain Tomas Repka. But once again the lads stood up to it, carried on playing their football and, once again, they won in the end.

Despite the fact that I wasn't the only Gooner that sensed an increase in resolve amongst the Arsenal ranks, this was completely ignored by everyone else in the country at the start of the season.

Even after holding our own at Blackburn and then thumping the Scum at Shite Hart Lane, there were still people saying that the Arsenal still had a soft underbelly. But after what happened at Upton Park on Saturday it looks like that particular tune is possibly starting to change.

I was absolutely delighted over the result we got. Revenge is a dish best served cold and for me, taking into account the almost absurd circumstances in which we were beaten by West Ham at The Grove last April, the fact that we had a slice of luck along the way on Saturday made victory all the sweeter.

Ljungberg did have what looked like a perfectly good goal ruled out. If I was to describe it, I would say that was a throwback to the sort of goal he scored for us in the salad days in 2002. He made one of those typical diagonal runs from a deep position that's so hard to pick up and he finished like the Ljungberg of old.

But in truth we were worth the win. As I expected, Ashton did prove himself to be a threat for the Hammers but the fact was that Robert Green was the only thing that separated a spirited West Ham from getting a bit of a doing.

It meant that the Arsenal have amassed seven points from a possible nine on the road so far this season. That, even if I say so myself is not bad going when you consider that Blackburn, Tottenham and West Ham were all strongly fancied by more than a few experts to turn us over on each occasion.

Now, that little statistic leads me nicely on to the issue which has become the flavour of the week amongst Arsenal's detractors. Apparently there are quite a few people going round saying that the Arsenal are only at the top of the table right now because the fixture list has been kind to us and that Arsenal have basically not played anybody yet. Jonathan Pearce wrote a piece at the weekend in the Sunday Mirror echoing the same sentiments.

Well, first of all I don't bloody remember anyone in the summer giving a toss about our fixtures when all and sundry were swearing blind that Arsenal would struggle this season.

And what's more, I certainly don't remember our fixtures being a pertinent issue when all of our dissenters up and down the country were telling the world and its mother that Arsenal had no chance of even finishing in the top four.

As far as I can see, if people out there really do believe that we have had easy fixtures then we can also assume that league tables, especially the current league Premier League table actually DOES lie.

Because for a start Arsenal have played and beaten a Manchester City side who were good enough to claim a win over ManUre amongst others and currently sit in 3rd place in the league. Ah, but of course we need to dismiss this fact because everybody knows Arsenal haven't really played anybody yet, have they?

We have also played Portsmouth. We beat them at our place despite being down to 10 men for just about half the game. Yet either side of that fixture, Portsmouth were good enough to hold their own against both ManUre and Liverpool and beat Blackburn (who are 6th in the table right now lest we forget) in their own back yard - that's something WE didn't even manage. They also ran the PRF perilously close at Stamford Bridge as well before losing narrowly. But what is the sum total of all that Pompey have done so far? They are now currently fifth in the league. Ah, but of course we have to once again dismiss these facts because everybody knows Arsenal haven't really played anybody yet.

Even the result we got against Fulham on the opening day of the season doesn't look to shabby now, does it? Up until the weekend just gone, only Arsenal had score more goals in the league than the Cottagers and having already shown the fortitude to come back from 2-0 and 3-1 down against the Scum this season, they were bloody good enough to go down to Stamford Bridge on Saturday and earn themselves a point from a game they easily could have won in then end. Ah, but we should ignore this because at the end of the day, Fulham are another just set of useless stooges we have had the pleasure of beating by way of routine, aren't they?

It's quite clear to me that Arsenal being top of the league has not gone down too well with the masses in the press and the media not too mention the Anti-Arsenal brigade up and down the country.

At the start of the season there were three super powers in the eyes of the press and the media - ManUre, Liverpool and the PRF. Arsenal supposedly didn't have the clout neither on nor off the pitch to compete with that trio.

The start we have made on the pitch and the financial results we have produced off it (in spite of not winning anything may I hasten to add) have got our dissenters on the defensive and looking for higher ground from which to try and mount an assassination.

I would be lying if I said that I wasn't enjoying our critics back peddling and having to change their tack as far as we are concerned. But although I can be a little crazy, I like to think that I'm not entirely stupid.

I have already said that I see the fact that we are top at this stage as a little moral victory. After all, the emphasis has at least switched amongst the press and media from writing off Arsenal as a genuine top four side to suddenly entertaining the pitfalls that lie between us and actually winning the title.

And as Jonathan Pearce rightly said in his little article on Sunday there are pitfalls ahead for Arsenal. But then, we are not the only club on the planet with pitfalls ahead of them in the quest for honours, surely?

Pearce talked about the fact that we have to play Liverpool and ManUre in back to back games soon. But with the best will in the world, why should we start quaking in our boots about facing them?

For a start, the Arsenal players know from last year that they are capable of beating both of those sides home and away and they know from their experiences last season that they beat both of them with AND without Henry.

In fact, even though Henry actually played in the FA Cup tie at Anfield last season, it's also worth remembering that Fabregas did NOT play in that match because he was suspended after picking up a caution just after Christmas when we lost at Sheffield United.

In any case, even if we were to play along with the idea that these fixtures are daunting yet defining fixtures for the Arsenal, the fact is what would we really have to lose even we did suffer defeat against those two? Did Manure win every fixture they played against last year's top four? No.

ManUre only managed two points from a possible twelve in games against us and the PRF but still managed to win the title. So if we were to suffer defeat in those matches what would it REALLY mean? Would we suddenly become also-rans again? Would we become the side that everybody originally thought we would be in the summer?

I say none of the above. Because come what may in those games we will still be a very good position in the league and we will still be a lot closer to the likes of ManUre and Liverpool then everyone thought.

The bottom line for me is this. I don't know if we are going to win the league this year and if you really pressed me I would say that I have my doubts about it. But I know one damn thing for sure. Ability hasn't been our problem in the last few years, consistency has.

At present we have won our last eight games on the spin. We have kept four successive clean sheets. Yet it's not that fact that we have won these games that encourages me it's the WAY we have won certain games in recent times that encourages me and makes me believe that even if we don't win the league this year we will be a bloody major threat to the club that does. Given all the derogatory things that were said about us as a club and as a team in the summer, I'll gladly settle for that.

Now it's time to look at Tuesday night's Champions League against Steaua Bucharest.

The turmoil that supposed to have engulfed Arsenal this season is nothing compared to what has been going on over in Romania with Steaua. After suffering what many people consider to be a shock defeat at the hands of Slavia Prague on Matchday One, Steaua decided to part company with their coach and legendary former player, Gheorge Hagi.

I don't know the ins and out of Romanian football too well but I can only imagine the departure of Hagi would have caused similar shock waves amongst the locals to those created by the departure of Mourinho from the PRF.

Hagi's role as coach has been taken over by a chap by the name of Massimo Pedrazzini and it seems as though the Italian has landed himself the pleasure of working for Romania's answer to legendary Atletico Madrid crackpot Jesus Gil.

Apparently, Steaua owner Gigi Becali is ready to give Pedrazzini the boot if Steaua are beaten tonight by Arsenal. No pressure then.

What doesn't make Pedrazzini's task easier is the fact that imposing central defender Dorin Goian is highly doubtful for the game with a thigh problem. He was the lad who scored Steaua's consolation goal in Prague and he would have been a real threat to Arsenal at set pieces.

In truth, I have not got a clue how things will go on Tuesday. I always fear for us whenever we go to Eastern Europe. It invariably feels like a harsh, cold, inhospitable environment to play your football in and you can guarantee tonight that the atmosphere will be hostile and indeed racist.

The other thing that makes me nervous about this game is that you never really can gauge how good the opposition are but when you come to play them they are often better than you expected them to be.

Still, the Arsenal couldn't be going there in better heart and mind. If we can repeat what we did in Prague back in August then I will be chuffed to bits.