Every Day Can't Be Christmas

Last updated : 20 September 2004 By Bernard Azulay

For once I was looking forward to an early kick-off at Highbury so I could get home and put my feet up in front of the gogglebox for the duration, dipping in and out of the golf, the cricket and the delightful prospects of the other Premiership games. Although my own weekend didn't exactly get off to the most fortuitous start. I should've known the omens weren't favourable in the wee hours of Saturday morning when one of our motors failed to start. After having two cars stolen outside our flat in the 12 years we've lived here, it works out a lot cheaper to have both of our motors registered out in the 'burbs, by my Ma's house, kept in her tardis of a garage as far as the insurance is concerned.

Sadly as a result we are unable to obtain the necessary resident's permit and so I'm forced to play a ridiculous game of shuffle car, moving them a couple of streets away, out of the matchday parking zone. We both had a brainstorm on Tuesday and completely forgot. In addition to welcoming three points against PSV, I was almost more relieved to discover that it's not just us who haven't got back into our usual routine. It seems we evaded £100 quid's worth of parking fines (clamps even!) because the local authority must have neglected to bus in their usual fleet of wardens.

However having been very lucky to get away with it once, hopefully I won't be forgetting again in the near future. Unfortunately I left it very late on Friday for these maddening manoeuvres and so when one of the motors refused to move, by the time the AA turned up it was hardly worth going to bed. If that wasn't inauspicious enough, my hackles were up a few minutes before we left the house for the match, as all four pundits on Sky's panel went for a home win. Considering the Arsenal's incredible current run, this is probably a regular occurrence but it was the first time I'd seen it this season. I said to Róna that it was a surefire guarantee that something was going to go awry against Bolton.

Nevertheless there is absolutely no shame in our 100% record falling to the half-decent side moulded by Sam Allardyce out of a mishmash of has-beens from the continent and unheard of foreigners from further afield. If they can maintain Saturday's form throughout the season, the Arsenal won't be the only side to be worried by the Wanderers. Moreover no one died at Highbury, our undefeated record remains intact and in the light of what subsequently transpired at Stamford Bridge, we are still two points clear, sitting pretty atop the pile. Those Gooners present at all 3 games over the past eight days
can confirm that this was a point dropping accident that was waiting to happen.

Everyone at the club continues to try and convince us that the players are oblivious to the significance of their relentless march towards making themselves even more immortal than they already are. Personally I would love to go on undefeated ad infinitum (or preferably at least until we've beaten the remarkable record set by the AC Milan side of Baresi and co.). Yet there is a body of Gooner opinion that believes it might be in our best long term interests to get the inevitable defeat out of the way. With 20 odd minutes left on the clock on Saturday and only a slim, single goal advantage, there are some who feel that an overriding fear of losing is affecting our performance and preventing us from playing with the usual composure. Although having begun the season in the absence of our two influential rocks of Vieira and Campbell and with a somewhat uninspiring spine consisting of the likes of Lehmann, Cygan and Gilberto, if you'd offered me 16 points from six games by the time we were back to full strength, I would've bitten your hand off!

There's no denying that Lehmann's admirable shot-stopping capabilities kept us in the game at Craven Cottage but against the Wanderers I once again found myself wondering about such a big strong geezer's apparent failure to dominate his area. I can't help contemplate whether there is something slightly cowardly about the way Jens enjoys bullying in inappropriate circumstances but rarely when required. I noticed that Bolton stuck a player on his toes for set pieces towards the end of Saturday's game. Jens responded by requesting a team mate to stand in between. The nett effect was that not only was our goalie far too busy posturing, playing push and shove, to be able to focus properly when the ball was floated over but he also had to try and get over the top of two players. Instead of which, I would expect him to be using what I assume is a fairly substantial weight advantage and the fact that he should be able to reach the ball with an additional three feet of arms and hands, to barrel his way through any obstruction. I rarely recall a multimillion pound keeper like Schmeichel being hindered in this fashion. It must be most reassuring for any defence when they can count on their keeper to come clattering through the mêlée to claim anything within the vicinity of the six yard box. But then I forget, at only £1.5 mill. Lehmann came on the cheap. I only hope he doesn't go on to prove the maxim that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!

Much of Saturday's fickle finger pointing was directed at Cygan. I have some sympathy with poor Pascal. So long as he is giving of his best for the Gunners, I will take every opportunity to show him my support. Sadly for him, he will always be seen as a somewhat second rate replacement. Despite the turning circle of a lumbering oil tanker, once you recognize Lurch's limitations he's not such a bad player. He's certainly not such a bad person that he deserves the sort of vilification heard from some of our so called "supporters". They appear to fail to take into account that perhaps Pascal has been exposed more frequently in recent encounters because he hasn't been afforded sufficient protection by those in front of him.

The connection with Paddy's comeback is no coincidence. Our captain seems to be struggling for the sort of imperious midfield domination which he's previously exerted with almost effortless ease. It remains to be seen whether this is merely a matter of match fitness or a psychological repercussion of this summer's shenanigans. Some might contend that Madrid might not be in their current parlous predicament if they'd managed to pinch our Paddy. Yet with Real's manager resigning after only 4 months (surviving twice the length of Hector's 22 day first tenure at the helm of this waterlogged, volatile vessel), in retrospect I imagine Vieira must be bloody relieved he wasn't macho Camacho's main summer signing. Meanwhile many Gooners would prefer Wenger to have experimented with a midfield partnership of Paddy and the fabulous Fabregas, instead of Gilberto. I understand Arsène's cautious approach with the young Spanish prodigy. But I can't comprehend rewarding Cesc with a new contract and promptly leaving him out of the squad entirely to languish with the stiffs. Perhaps he's concerned about keeping Fab's feet on the ground.

On the subject of humility, I am not sure what the opposite of a charm offensive is, but the manager of the mafia money bought mercenaries at Chelsea is certainly on one! Having often been taken as a child to White Hart Lane on alternate weeks by my old man, it is not quite such a contradiction for me but it must have been strange for many Gooners who found themselves cheering for Spurs on Sunday. First off we saw Mourinho doing a decent Fergie impersonation, haranguing the ref on route to the dressing rooms at half-time. There's little doubt that his dressing down about a measly one minute of injury time resulted in an infuriating further five added on at the end of the match. Then the arrogant SOB had the front to kick up a fuss because the over-hyped Blues had failed to score against a Spurs side that applied fairly standard away side tactics, in exactly the same fashion we'd seen from his own team at Old Trafford. Sorry Jose I disagree mate. I might not have paid 50 quid but I got great value entertainment for my Sky subscription. What's more I thought that Spurs were inviting the sort of constant pressure which would eventually result in them conceding a goal. It would have been more in their interest to be slightly more ambitious in the other half of the pitch.

As for Mourinho's bellyaching about this bus bollix, he obviously hasn't resided in London for long, otherwise he'd know full well that you can't leave a motor for more than 5 minutes anywhere in SW6 without getting clamped, let alone a bleedin' bus for an entire 90! Still I suppose I shouldn't complain about the British game having a new character to keep us amused when we've just suffered a loss to the increasingly limited ranks of the outrageous. I must end by offering my sympathies to the Clough family as I can't help wonder if we are partially responsible for lessening his will to live; unless it's just a bizarre coincidence that Brian should choose to shuffle off this mortal coil so soon after his Forest side have been eradicated from the record books.