Bring 'Em All On

Last updated : 27 November 2002 By Bernard Azulay

....a turbocharged Thomson's gazelle leaving his ponderous Spurs predators looking positively statuesque by comparison, then I have yet to see it. Sure my adjacent amis are bound to suggest the sight of Owen arrowing his way through the Argentineans, or Giggs galloping past the former dinosaurs of our own defence both brook no comparison. Yet through my rose tinted specs there is something about Henry, not just his petrifying pace, but a mesmeric grace to his movement that makes his motion more poetic than any player I've seen.

Then again between Dennis Bergkamp's footballing brain, the rapier like passes of Robert Pires and the fleet-footed Freddie Ljungberg, to name but a few of Arsène's incredibly talented Arsenal squad, we Gooners are so blessed by an abundance of amazing entertainers that I can't help feeling a little greedy. Patrick Vieira might not appear to have such precise control of his lolloping limbs but this makes his deft ability to delicately lift the ball over the head of one and poke it through the legs of a second opponent, all the more pleasurable. With Patrick back to his very best as he was on Saturday, ably assisted by Gilberto his World Cup winning sidekick, it would appear that we have reemerged on the other side of our seasonal slump (or our "blimp" in Hoddle speak!) as a squad that is perhaps capable of fulfilling the ridiculous hype of the red-tops.

North London Derbies are usually such frenetic, scrappy affairs that there are few that have gone down as such a thing of beauty. Obviously the rotten refereeing of Mike Riley and his assistant could have been a major factor in the course of this match, as we might not have found so much time and space to play such stylish football in the cauldron like atmosphere without a man advantage. Mind you I was almost as upset about the sending off as the Spurs supporters. At the time I was afraid Riley might have done us no favours, having so often seen such malfeasance supply a ten man Gunners team with the motivation that has galvanized them into getting a result against the odds. Moreover, at 1-0 up I could afford to be magnanimously gutted that a highly entertaining and mildly competitive game was about to become a one-sided, no contest.

As a Gooner, I don't have the words to do justice to the consummate joy of three goals and a clean sheet against the auld enemy. But as a lover of the game (and a conjugal Celt!) I was aggrieved that Robbie Keane was forced to roam the right flank as a result. I'd been looking forward to seeing him perform in the flesh up front for Spurs, in the hope he might provide Shabaan, our stand-in keeper, with a more severe test than the one measly shot he had to save all afternoon. Not to mention the fact that the red card gives Spurs' supporters a ready made excuse for a stay of execution. They'll suffer stick aplenty in the meantime but we'll have to wait a month to truly lord it over them, after once again taking candy but from all eleven babies at White Hart Lane

I regularly rant and rail at the ineffectual tossers on the touchline who might be replaced by a more efficient offside robot. Perhaps they are afraid of usurping the authority of the power mad men in the middle, or could it be the fact that their flag waving botch ups are featured so often on the box. Whatever the cause they are usually so completely focused on the offside rule that they fail to see anything else at all, even incidents occurring right in front of their eyes. It was therefore most frustrating to see the linesman furiously flagging an innocuous incident when it was apparent that the ref was happy to let us have the advantage. At a time when tempers were fraying, I understood Riley's desire to stamp his authority on the game before it bubbled over, but booking Davies was downright ridiculous when Freund and other Spurs' felons were rampaging around, trying to cause actual bodily harm. Personally I'd prefer to see the video panel pensioned off so that the curtain could come down on any such controversies with the final whistle. Nevertheless it will come as no surprise if Ledley King avoids the disrepute charge facing Dennis Bergkamp, for an incident that lacked any malicious intent. Were there any consistency King would be facing a ban equivalent to the depth of the stud marks on Freddie Ljungberg's leg!

It is a testament to our growing reputation that the Arsenal have become resigned to dealing with opponents who resort to this 'can't beat 'em, batter 'em' behaviour. However it is only the Derby game where this conduct isn't confined to the pitch. Sadly it's the one game at Highbury where aggro is virtually guaranteed. Perhaps the increased police presence only helps to perpetuate the problem, but with the metal shutters down on the windows of the local corner shop (the amiable Indian owners having learnt the hard way over the years) and helicopters hovering above like the harbingers of doom, the ominous scent of impending violence intruded on my football focus as I flew around to the West Upper (late as ever!).

You only have to look at the bouncers on the door of every bar and pub to know it's Derby day because they seem to double in size and number. Myself I was concentrating on trying to grip those pesky little headphones with my ears, eager for some team news from the radio as I hurried along. It was only as I passed a couple of hard-core hoolie posses who weren't the slightest bit interested in the impending kick-off, that I suddenly wondered whether I'd been wise to let Róna walk around alone. Their designer duds, without a team colour in sight was as identifiable as if they'd been wearing a uniform. These middle-aged men whispering in conspicuous huddles, about outmanoeuvering the old bill to cause some serious mayhem would have been funny, if it wasn't so sad. And if it wasn't for the worst of the tribal traditions being passing on to their bovver-boy progeny, standing on the periphery, awaiting the taste of the sort of action they'd only previously heard tale of, their faces a picture of excitement.

On the scale of the siren noise heard from the sanctuary of our living room, mercifully the post-match madness must have been limited to a few minor skirmishes. However the missus was left with her own war story having found herself caught up in a mini cavalry charge. The mounted police only managed to incite our own imbeciles into lobbing a barrage of bottles back in return and Ró was sufficiently frightened that she was forced back and had to find an alternative route to the ground. With the Spurs fans' sorry reputation for lacking discrimination when it comes to dishing it out to females, the aged and the uninterested, I grow increasingly concerned each season about Ró accompanying me down the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road for the return fixture .

Of my two closest Spurs pals who have been relying on me for their tickets at Highbury these past few years, one bottled out some weeks back and the other benefited from a corporate hospitality invite. All due 'respek' to Clive as I was just commenting that, on a hiding to nothing at half-time, he wouldn't have the front to come and find us, when up he popped. There was a time when he would have choked on the suggestion that the Arsenal deserved to win, but such is the quality of football from the current side that even Spurs supporters can't avoid expressing, most begrudgingly, their admiration. Now I know we've really arrived! Bring on Roma and the rest!