The Return Of The JEDI (Just Exquisite Delightful and Inspired!)

Last updated : 22 May 2002 By Bernard Azulay
They've ridden so high on their luck in recent years, that Rona has previously reckoned that some satanic Red Devils' supporters must have sold their soul to the real devil. Both of us breathed a huge sigh of relief, on seeing their luck finally begin to level out at long last. Not that I would dream of suggesting the absence of the devilish Roy Keane bore any relation, but three goal bound balls hitting the woodwork and bouncing harmlessly away (as opposed to bobbling in as usual!) and the stupendous spectacle of Van Notmissedatall ossifying in front of the old onion net and stumbling over his shooting boots, were indeed sensational sights for our sore eyes. The whole of Highbury must have heard the whooping and hollering emanating from no.14, as the furore from our flat informed the neighbourhood that this was just a tad more pleasing than a pleasant change. Dare I propose that perhaps it is about time the bleedin' tables turned?

By contrast, with the aid of some of the lesser footballing mortals drafted into the Arsenal line-up, or as some would have it, despite their presence, the positively exquisite performances this past week would suggest we cannot put a foot wrong at the moment. On Friday we were horrified to hear that Thierry Henry, currently in the form of his life as this season's most prolific scorer, had also succumbed to the injury epidemic which has stretched our squad to its extremes. At this point in the season, many clubs are plagued by this same curse. Yet there are few who could have said on Saturday they had easily an equal, or even better team on the treatment bench, as the one that turned out on Tyneside.

There is a growing feeling around Highbury that "the force" is finally with us and it doesn't seem to matter who the Arsenal's very own Obi-Wenger Kenobi selects to fill the breach, everyone seems to slip seamlessly into the boots of all our sidelined superstars. It is being whispered quietly for fear of tempting fate by appearing too full of ourselves, but the thought I've heard reiterated most often in recent days, is that this could be '98 revisited, with the added ingredient of Champions League spice.

Shmeising Bayer Leverkusen last week and sticking it to the sneakier members of their squad was supremely satisfying. Beating the Bundesliga leaders 4-1 is about as good as it gets and it was our Highbury high of the season so far. However it was far from being the breeze the scoreline might suggest. It is just that at the minute, with the ball at our feet, we are breaking from defence with such incision, intuition and precision, that every attack appears to have an inevitable momentum, whereby the ball is bound for the eventual inertia of the net.

I hadn't given the Glasgow final a thought before now, but suddenly it is not the unrealistic fantasy it was for the sorry bunch of losers, who slumped to successive away defeats to lowly Mallorca, Panathanaikos, Schalke and Deportivo. What an incredible transformation of the team which only just scraped into the 2nd stage of the Champions League. It is a privilege to be present to witness football of such a mesmerizing calibre, that we were all left with our jaws on the floor in dumbfounded delirium.

Aside from the sensational skills, if there is one image which left its imprint after Wednesday night, it was the sight of the team hug to celebrate Bergkamp's beautiful strike. Since therein lies the clue to the catalyst for the Arsenal's all-conquering confidence. There is little tangible evidence that you can put your finger on, but avid Arsenal watchers can attest to the burgeoning bond between this group of players. Perhaps Wenger pulled a masterstroke in his attempt to curb our Highbury inconsistencies, by putting the team up in a hotel prior to recent home games. There are signs of a developing selfless team ethic which is so rare in the modern game, whereby it doesn't matter who plays, who scores, or who assists, so long as it is all for the greater Gooner good. For someone bred on Bertie Mee's "Boring, boring Arsenal", where team spirit was our greatest solace, I truly rejoice in its return, especially since I was so scared we might have seen the last of this sentiment.

Such fabulous football and the narcotic effect of the Arsenal spirit aroused the notion of cramming my crocked back into a car for the five hour journey to Newcastle. Eventually I resigned myself to saving my sore body for next Saturday's quarterfinal, when a specially arranged train to Tyneside means that at least I will be able to stretch my aching limbs on route. I was celebrating my sagacity on Saturday, when I had the fabulous pleasure of frame by frame coverage of the further incredible feats of Dennis Bergkamp, compared to the Gooners in the St. James Park gods, at the opposite end of the ground to his amazing artistry. I might have missed out on the wonderful atmosphere, but they had to wait until they arrived home, to fully appreciate what had taken place before their eyes. Moreover my good mate Nell didn't even make it home. I considered myself fortunate not to have finished up in his back seat, as he ploughed into the car in front, the fifth victim of a five car pile up which closed the motorway earlier that day. Having been stranded on the hard shoulder, it was only due to the good grace of a passing Gooner that they even made it to the match, as he advised me by means of a text message stating "Just like the team that's gonna win the Premier League. We shall be moved"!