Can You Hear Blue Bottoms Squeak?

Instead of which I was forced to endure four days where it felt like the whole bleedin' world wanted to broach me on what was "a brilliant game for the neutral"! I've been overseeing the work of a team of decorators, or Bodgit & Scarper as I like to call them, who all appear to be extended members of one massive family of West Ham supporting East Londoners. Mercifully my influence over their paymaster means they daren't lay into me too maliciously. Besides considering the sorry state of their team, they are always likely to suffer some severely sarcastic comeback.

I was hoping they'd all take the hint that football was definitely off-topic when I walked into work Wednesday morning, holding my hand up and shaking my head. Gawd luv 'em, they kept schtum for all of about five minutes, until their sensitivity stretched to it's max, they managed to inveigle me into talking about this "marvelous match". So why should this column be any different?

Leaving aside our suicidal Spanish keeper (if only Wenger would!), for me Arsenal v Utd was a tale of two captains and it saddens me to say that only one is the genuine article. You would have never caught the Patrick Vieira of a couple of seasons back being gobby with the opposition in the tunnel. Back then he would have kept his own counsel, being supremely confident of inflicting pain on his opponents where it hurts and matters most, out on the park. To my mind the match might have been lost there and then, as it suggested Paddy was in completely the wrong headspace, distracted by all the trivial periphery.

Whereas there was absolutely no mistaking the passion which still burns deep in the eyes of his opposite number, perhaps even more intense as he struggles to avoid the inevitable swing of Father Time's scythe, with the laser like focus with which Roy Keane can fell all but the hardiest of opponents. If anything Paddy probably only ended up pouring oil onto the Corkonian's battle-scarred boiler.

Besides I've always assumed it was due to Vieira's shy, retiring off-pitch nature that we've had to settle for him leading by example, rather than him being the sort of captain capable of cajoling the very best from his team mates. But if he can be so lary with the opposition, what's stopping him from shouting the odds out on the park, laying into his pals when they're performance is below par.

Nevertheless there's no denying that we came out of the traps faster than Mick the Miller. For the first half hour I thought Man U made like the frightened hare, frozen in the glare of our onrushing headlights. However before the evening was out we'd turned into the hare from the famous parable. Having started at a hundred miles an hour, we were flagging by the time the finishing post came into sight, as Utd's steady tortoise stole the points.

For anyone who has ever pooh, poohed Bill Shankly's famous quote, just before the break there was an announcement informing us that our half-time refreshments would be inconvenienced by the emergency services treating an unfortunate fan. I'm sure I wasn't alone in being unsurprised, as such was the intensity of this high-octane encounter that there must have been more than a few borderline heart-attacks as Gooner aortas (including my own!) struggled to cope with the euphoric blood rush both times we took the
lead.

We're still confused as to how my missus managed a cock-up with the calendar that resulted in her travelling to Tenerife on the day of this match. The only consolation was that it meant my mate Amr, who'd come all the way from Egypt just to see the Gunners, was able to use her ticket. As we walked round to Highbury, Róna and my Ma were high-tailing it from the airport to meet a big bunch of her family who'd flown out from Dublin. They were all going to watch the game in a Tenerife pub. I was gutted at half-time because it was great to share a hug with Amr and all my other West Upper mates when the goals went in. However I don't know whether it's a reflection of a faulty libido, or my football mania but there's nowt to match the almost post-coital like embrace with my missus during our ecstatic celebrations. Don't believe a word of those who say it comes close to sex because the radiant rapture last Wednesday was far better than that.

Yet sadly the altitude of the high is also relative to the depth of the resultant depression and by the 90th minute I wasn't just wishing I'd forgotten about the football and flown to warmer climes with my missus, but along with every other Gooner I was wondering where to find the number of the Samaritans! And if I thought I had it bad, by the following day the heartless mates of my Egyptian pal had already imposed Amr's face on a mock up of the Mastercard ad "Flights £750, Hotel £250, Match Ticket £50, Fish & Chips £5. Watching Arsenal lose to Man Utd at Highbury.....Priceless!"

Time was when Utd took the lead, a determined Arsenal would have dug in and displayed the very best of our 'never say die' spirit. Yet where Roy Keane was still managing to intercede in all the most vital areas at both ends of the park, there was no sense of a leader in red & white capable of redoubling his team mates efforts. In the past we Gooners would never have given up so readily at Highbury. We'd have been roaring the Gunners on in hope of a last minute rescue act. Whereas last week, from the moment
Utd's 3rd hit the back of the net, it was as if the entire ground was enveloped in a fatalistic air of inevitability, which was sufficiently suffocating that many had left their seats long before O'Shea added insult to our injury.

Despite the slightest suggestion of squeaking bottoms at the Bridge on Sunday and the feintest possibility that it's not just the shouting we have to look forward to, most assume our midweek defeat sounded the death-knell to any last hopes we had of retaining the title. Still what I found almost as irksome is that upshot of Utd's win was that the media were all left deifying the Red Devils when Dennis Bergkamp deserved at least some of the plaudits.

Dennis might not have received the ball from a 60 yard pass but there was a magical first-half moment that was reminiscent of his memorable goal against Argentina during the '98 World Cup. It's been almost as long since we last saw Bergkamp shine quite so brilliantly as he did last week. Dennis deserved to end up on the winning side, if only so that we might look back with fondness on such a fitting swansong to the career of arguably the greatest genius to grace the Highbury turf.

I arrived home to a distraught text from my nephew Shane, who was dreading going to school in Dublin the next day. It's a supporter's lot to take it all on the chin but remember the faces of your tormentors, I told him, because one of the most beautiful things about this game of ours, is that you can almost guarantee your revenge and when our time comes he can give it all back with added interest. Another asset to this wonderful sport is that there's often little time to wallow with so many matches coming thick and fast.

I was still feeling so down come Saturday that I really didn't fancy schlepping to Birmingham but I wasn't about to blow out my Egyptian pal. However as we journeyed north that afternoon, the omens were hardly auspicious. By coincidence Mido, Amr's countryman was banging goals in for Spurs, Man U had 3 points in the bag, we hit a torrential downpour and I drove straight past our exit from the motorway. If it weren't for some extremely aggressive queue-jumping on route back to the correct junction, the game would have been all over by the time we arrived. Along with thousands of other latecomers we legged it into Villa Park, with the rain only adding to my pessimistic certainty that the home side were awaiting our arrival before taking the lead.

It was like a message from above, as we made it on to the terraces in the exact same moment as Freddie found the back of the net and in that instant all my disillusionment and my doubts about what I was doing there, were melted away by the warm glow of Gooner ecstasy which is indubitable confirmation that, in the words of the wise-one Del Boy "you know it makes sense"!