Beat The Arsenal, But Down In The Dumps? - You're Havin' A Larf!

Last updated : 25 October 2004 By Bernard Azulay

However after that it's a never ending story. Journeying North surrounded by cars full of Utd's Southern contingent I was reading about the 108 game run of Kolo Touré's old team from the Ivory Coast. Nevertheless, despite the duopoly or the tripartite dominance that now exists in the top division, I've no doubt that in the fullness of time our remarkable 49 game feat will come to be regarded as an increasingly astonishing achievement, considering the competitive climate in the Premiership and the fact that we are unlikely to see it surpassed in the current era. I'm tempted to say it will never be repeated forever but I've no doubt Nottm. Forest fans thought likewise about their team's accomplishments (as was said about the Double feats of the Lilywhite side of the recently departed Bill Nich).

So I was somewhat surprised that I wasn't left feeling nearly so funereal as I'd expected when the footballing gods finally forsook the Gunners irresistible forces and half century eluded us at Old Trafford. In some respects we always known it was an accident waiting to happen. An upset which according to the law of averages became more inevitable with each successive game. Personally I'd always predicted that we'd end up coming a cropper when it was least expected, against one of the lesser lights. For example if we'd succeeded after all the hype surrounding Sunday's game, we might have switched off and succumbed to a superhuman effort from someone as unlikely as Soton.

In our search for a silver lining, some Gooners were suggesting there was a slight sense of relief to getting this undefeated monkey off our back. Personally I would have happily shouldered this particular primate pal for the rest of the season but I can appreciate the sentiment. In some of our closer contests it's felt as if our focus on avoiding failure has inhibited some of the more extrovert elements of our game.

In my humble opinion this was key to Sunday's calamity. Never mind about any of the controversy over Riley's officiating (although I can't deny that there'd be some solace if Horeseface was hammered by the FA for his cynical assault on Ashley Cole), the single most significant statistic was our sole shot on target. The intoxicating constitution of Arsène Wenger's Invincibles isn't at all conducive to a negative mentality of merely avoiding defeat. Sucking sides in and demolishing them with the pace of our swift counters might be an Arsenal forté but we are patently not designed for shutting shop with 20 on the clock.

Attack is without doubt our best form of defence. Utd's resolute rearguard kept us from conjuring up much of a threat. But the Red Devil's dearth of invention, or cohesiveness in the centre of the park meant that a more positive approach might have avoided any potential penalty shouts while we chased all three points playing in their half of the park. It would've been easier to accept if we'd been humbled by some heavenly footballing finesse from the feet of Rooney, or even from that recidivist Ruud. But when we're so convinced our capabilities are currently on another plane to a somewhat impotent Utd side (at this precise time), our efforts to settle for a scoreless draw were not only frustrating but were tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot (which in Reyes' opinion was probably only marginally more painful a prospect than the Nevilles attempts to knobble our likeliest key to Man Utd's Maginot line).

Exiting Old Trafford and getting drenched on a trudge back to the tram in an interminable Mancunian deluge only reinforced the ignominy of our miserable outing. At least our depression was momentarily lifted during this damp march by the illuminating diversion of a fabulous display of fork lightning which, Henry's first-half effort aside, was about the most exciting event of the day. The incandescent forks were like arrows reaching down from the heavens as if the gods themselves were highlighting the precise point of the finale to our record breaking run of some of the most fabulous football it has ever been my privilege to watch.

Are we downhearted? You're havin' a larf! We came back from Greece on Friday with a Champs League point and a suntan to boot, after a week spent luxuriating on the beach. What's more we enjoyed the company of a party of about 30 gregarious Geordies on our return journey who were an education for any glory hunting footie fan on what the beautiful game is all about. They'd flown to Rhodes the day before, but their connecting internal flight back to Athens was delayed so they only ended up arriving at the ground at half-time. At least they witnessed Shearer's late penalty winner but after an uninspiring performance, they were aboard our plane home the following day on a circuitous route from Athens, via Crete back to Gatwick, where apparently a coach was waiting to take them on an all night schlep back up North.

They serenaded us and all the passengers for much of the flight as virtually the lot of them joined in with a medley of Lindisfarne hits including a rousing rendition of 'Meet Me On The Corner'. They tried to get a song out of me but I'm far too shy and would have needed to consume a quantity of their booze before I'd sufficient Dutch courage to sing a song, but Róna and my Ma didn't let the side down with a chorus of 'Good Old Arsenal'. The sour faced stewardesses refused to allow any of them more than one tipple on our six hour trip and they were literally pouncing on any of the poor lads who'd been slipped a second by the odd abstainer. But we were rolling and they were falling in the aisles as they all managed to stretch their orange juices for the duration by diverting the Gestapo's attention long enough to top up their cups from the bottles of spirits in their bags.

It made for an amusing journey and there's a lot to be learned from the great humour of Geordie fans who religiously follow a side which hasn't rewarded them the gratification of any silverware since the penny ante Fairs Cup in 69, or an FA Cup triumph as many years back as our run of undefeated games! Perhaps such support is just as deserving of our Invincibles moniker?