Superstitious, Yes. But Stupid....?

Last updated : 22 May 2002 By Bernard Azulay
The missus had the misfortune to be stretched out on a sun-bed in Tenerife on Saturday, instead of huddling up with me for some warmth, in the hail storm which hit Highbury. Waking up that morning to weather which would have chilled a brass monkey to the bone, I was more than a little jealous. Still no tan would have been worth the tease of text message news, that I'd forfeited the four-one fiesta against Fulham. Moreover, while it may not have been our most impressive home performance, I would have been gutted to have missed out, on what were without doubt some of the most sumptuous, scintillating skills seen at Highbury so far this season.

In less satisfying early season home games, I often found myself screaming at our mercurial footballing maestros to play the simple ball, frustrated by all the fancy dan flicks and bootless back heels, which so frequently failed to find a team mate. Where far too few of these seemed to come off in previous contests, these same players couldn't put a foot wrong for much of Saturday's match. We were left marvelling at the magical entertainment of football of such an intuitive nature, one might have thought it a team that had been playing together since time immemorial.

The mazy patterns drawn by our slick passing and prescient movement were all the more surprising considering the makeshift make-up of the side. Even the Arsenal's sizable squad has been stretched to the very brink, by the boundless blight of injuries and the scourge of scandalous suspensions. So when stand-in left-back Van Bronckhorst limped off at the weekend, we were all left wondering what possible permutations are left to Wenger for Wednesday, in the way of a defensive hand to deal the Deutschlanders.

We've spent the vast majority of matches at Highbury, sitting on the edge of our seats, either regretting or awaiting the relief of the final whistle. Not since August have the Arsenal availed themselves of their home team advantage and afforded us the therapy of being able to relax, in the comfort of a two goal cushion. This rare treat meant that we left Highbury in fairly optimistic mood. Despite the crucial absences which leave us with such a dodgy defensive line-up, in all other areas of the pitch, we appear to be hitting the sort of form which inspires confidence in our side's cavalier capability to outscore any opponent.

With the Arsenal going strong in all three competitions, it seems I got caught up in all the tabloid talk about it being our most successful season since '98. However it has taken donkey's years of disappointments to grow my customary skin of pessimism, as a necessary protection and if I shed it on Saturday afternoon, it was rapidly replaced come Sunday evening. While I revelled in the way our North London rivals rolled over in the Worthington Cup and took great pleasure in taunting my poor pals, as they trundled the long road home from Cardiff, in their five hundred quid limo, it came as a timely reminder that reputations count for nothing in this fantastic game of football.

The triumph of the Lancashire underdogs was an ideal example of how exponents of the beautiful game are all well and good for entertainment purposes, but at the end of the day, all the quality in the world is wasted without those quantities of endurance and team-spirit, which are a prerequisite for all potential trophy winners. Moreover if I was pining for some pessimism, there was a little bomb from the Bundesliga later that evening, with the news that Bayer Leverkusen had beaten Borussia Dortmund 4-0, to leapfrog them into top spot in the German League. If you were to believe the papers (hardly the most perspicacious source!), qualification for the Champions League quarterfinals is a mere formality for the Arsenal. Recent experience has shown that at the highest level, European games are rarely the sort of goal fests which flatter our strengths going forward. Invariably such contests can turn on a single lapse in concentration and with our ever changing back line, it is just such balls ups which might prove to be our achilles heel.

At present, when we get the breaks and games go for us, we look like the world-beaters, that I know we have the capacity to be. It is when our backs are up against the wall, that the cracks begin to appear and the absence of a natural leader leaves an air of insecurity to our play. Perhaps Tony Adams will prove a temporary solution and they can wrap his crippled limbs in cotton wool, so we could count on the air of authority our old warhorse lends to the team, for our most crucial encounters. But if we are to offer a serious challenge on all fronts, the result of every match between now and the end of the season will be significant. It is evident Adams' battered old body will not be able to cope with the twice weekly torture of a frenzied fixture list, that is likely to test the fittest amongst our legions.

I sold Rona's ticket to a young South African Gooner on Saturday. I have calculated that our season tickets work out to over forty-eight quid a match. Yet despite this knowledge, when one of us has been unable to attend in the past, I have tended to subsidize the recipient of our spare ticket, because I've been downright embarrassed to ask them to hand over such an extortionate amount, to watch ninety minutes of football. It is crazy when I think of how I slogged my guts out and left myself partially crippled, in the process of stumping up the two and a half grand renewal cost last summer. The undoubted entertainment this entitles me to might be something which is impossible to value in mere monetary terms, but on Saturday I could only bring myself to take forty quid from this feller. And even then I had to ask if this price was acceptable, after pointing out that the box office would have charged a flagrant fifty quid for the same seat.

Such are my superstitions that after winning at the weekend in the company of my new pal, I am reluctant to change this routine on Wednesday. I am convinced that it is in the Arsenal's nature to end up having to go to Turin needing some kind of result, in the last group game. Yet I would forever blame myself, if we were to lose on Wednesday night. With Rona not returning until Friday, it would have been my fault for forsaking my South African pal, in favour of the person who had previously been promised her ticket. To solve this dilemma, I have just been over to the Box Office, to beg an additional ticket from an extremely accommodating Arsenal employee. So surprised was the South African to secure a seat at this late stage that he didn't flinch at it's fifty quid cost. As for the three compadres from Cork, whose tickets I sorted for Saturday's game, I'm afraid my dire financial straits ensure that my superstition doesn't quite stretch so far as one hundred and fifty smackers!