Never Mind The Immovable Object...

Last updated : 09 March 2005 By Bernard Azulay

In truth the points had long since been in the bag but once Titi's third hit the back of the net on Saturday (with a little help from the Pompey keeper), I began to focus on the radio commentary from Selhurst Park. I was savouring the image of Fergie growing increasingly furious, pacing the boundaries of his technical area in frustration, having thrown everything but the kitchen sink at Dowie's resolute rearguard as Utd strove for that last-minute strike which would enable them to snaffle all three points.

My head told me that a win for Man U might leave the league leaders looking over their shoulders in the later kick-off at Carrow Road. Yet there's a decade or so of animosity between us and the Red Devils, which no amount of logic can disguise. Consequently you could sense an air of cautious anticipation amongst the crowd departing Highbury, before the garrulous buzz on the Gooner grapevine confirmed the final whistle had blown in South London without the habitual last gasp goal, which would have pooped our weekend party and prevented us pegging Utd back by a couple of points.

Besides there's no part of my Gooner being which can compute the idea of finishing behind Utd as acceptable, unless they are destined to thwart the massed Blue ranks of Abramovich's billions. Yet to date sadly Chelsea's title charge doesn't appear cursed by complacency, nor squeaky bums and unless they falter, I ain't about to settle for anything less than second best.

Which is more than can be said for the Pompey side which gave up the ghost in Saturday's game. The South Coast fans' shipbuilding heritage isn't required to recognise a rudderless ship. Am I alone in wondering whatever happened to the big strapping centre forward that was Joe Jordan? One look at the rapidly aging coach is enough to put any retiring player off a career in management. Looking through my binoculars on Saturday, the once robust no. 9 seemed to be turning into a wizened l'il old man right before my eyes, during the course of the 90 minutes!

An Henry hat-trick is a heavenly thing of grace no matter who this Gooner god is scoring against. Still this weekend's flattering win was a low key affair, sandwiched as it was between our faith restoring FA Cup triumph in Sheffield - a replay which ridicules the authorities efforts to tinker with our ancient tournament - and what will hopefully prove to be a reenactment of WWII at Highbury on Wednesday night.

I can't recall the last time I witnessed such an imperious performance from the Arsenal in a penalty shoot-out. We've grown so accustomed to soul destroying spot-kick disappointment that I'd written another piece of silverware off, from the moment the ref blew the final whistle. Actually I thought such an inexperienced side were on a hiding to nothing when I headed out the door earlier that day. I was sorely tempted to stop at home and watch it on the box with all the other regular awayday fans who didn't fancy it and who'll now be full of regrets that they've schlepped to matches all over the country, only to pass up on what may prove to be this season's most enthralling encounter (so far?).

Indeed I might not have gone if it wasn't for a mate who changed his mind and chose to join me at the last minute. Yet not only was I determined to avoid the incidence of Sod's Law but I'm also a firm believer that you can only truly appreciate the fruits of the Arsenal's success by paying ones dues at such potential disasters.

Our progress into the quarterfinals might be in no small part due to the peaking confidence of our penalty takers, after it had been sussed that poor Paddy Kenny could only dive in one direction with his dodgy hip. However the exciting denouement of this encounter couldn't have been better timed to breathe some life back into a season which was in danger of hitting the skids. I'd previously been thinking that there was little point in beating Sheffield because we'd only end up sick as a parrot, exiting the cup to another sucker punch as Bolton landed their almost annual body blow.

However suddenly my memory of a decidedly forgettable first-half and a second period where we might still be playing if waiting for a goal in open play, had been completely erased as a result of the shoot-out's climactic rush. As Ashley casually stroked home the winner, now was no longer the winter of our discontent because suddenly spring had sprung and Wenger's babes had begun to blossom.

Considering the season started with me wondering if at long last I was going to get my opportunity to witness the Gunners making mincemeat of the mighty Madrid in the Bernabeu, thereby establishing a new world order, I would've never imagined I'd be getting so worked up about edging out lowly Sheffield. Yet the young pups Wenger picked from our decimated squad all displayed a passion at Bramall Lane which leaves even a pessimist like myself believing anything is possible.

Obviously I would dearly love to see all those who wrote us off after the first leg, eating their words this week after we rise from the dead to batter Bayern. But limited expectations have ensured that whatever the outcome you won't catch me crying. The Champions League is the perennial immovable object, awaiting the Arsenal's successful assault. Far more important is the fact that what once felt like a requiem, now appears to be a renaissance of the irresistible force of the Arsenal spirit. Ever since the departure of Adams, Bould, Winterburn and Dixon, we Gooners have been waiting for someone to pick up the baton. Will last Tuesday prove to be the turning point when Wenger's youthful gaggle of prodigies pick up the torch of the Gunners 'never say die' credo and carry it into the 21st century?