Believe The Hype

Last updated : 07 September 2003 By Bernard Azulay

However Nell had his unusual credit card sized ticket for the City of Manchester Stadium and on the way down we speculated on the absence of any bar-code (I suppose they are all at St.James Park) which might be required for automated turnstiles.

It was when we joined a queue outside the ground that the wonders of this new stadium's technology were revealed to us. It turns out that as with almost everything these days, there is a chip contained within the ticket and when you hold this up against a gadget at your designated entrance, you have "0 seconds to get yourself through the turnstile. The bloke in front of us was explaining that apart from all the other potential problems related to the people pushing the buttons on the computer that governs this system, there were many instances were punters were turning to their pals to marvel over the technology and missing out on this "0 second window. I suppose you can't provide for human inefficiency within this automated system without providing an open invitation to wily Mancunians to attempt to defraud it.

Consequently there is no second chance and as a result the majority of the large queue was made up of irritated City fans waiting to have their tickets "reactivated" for one reason or another. Moreover I don't imagine that City's newfangled system will have made any great saving in the absence of turnstile operators, because they still have to employ staff at every entrance to explain to us idiots how to use it!

Nevertheless their modern new stadium is a magnificent place, a fitting stage for the Premiership's glamorous product. It may lack for the all of the history and a little of the intense atmosphere attached to the dilapidated Maine Road. Yet the designers are to be congratulated because there is absolutely no evidence of any compromise as far as playing and watching football is concerned, in an arena originally built for athletics as the centre piece of the Commonwealth Games. Considering the Arsenal's ongoing struggle to meet the spiraling costs of our new stadium project and it's impact on our now nonexistent spending power (despite the fact that board continue to have the brass to deny it!), I am sure the likes of David Dein covets the considerable advantages to City of being the benefactors of the local authorities impressive castoff.

My biggest gripe with many modern grounds is that the fans are too far from the pitch to have much of an influence on affairs. Compared to most of the continent where fans are kept as far apart as possible, with running tracks, nets, glass and moats between them and the action, I would hate to see British football lose its distinctive flavour. The intense fervour seen in our stadia when the fans are sitting/standing right on top of the pitch. I was pleasantly surprised to find my binoculars were somewhat superfluous on Sunday. Sitting six rows from the front I could almost reach out and touch Jens Lehmann.

"Sea-man", "Lee-man", the Gooner choristers must have sounded a little confused, but it was obvious that our affections for the big Yorkshire galoot remain undiminished. The press made a big deal of his indecisive part in Freddie's point winning strike, suggesting that Spunky had been allowed to leave the Arsenal because he was past it. But I am certain if our coffers weren't quite so dry and our manager had been able to make more than a derisory offer, both big Dave and Wenger would have been more than happy for him to have remained at Highbury.

It was events at St. Mary's that were interesting us on route, as we listened to the radio commentary of the match involving the other Mancunian team. Any doubts I had about the outcome disappeared just before kick-off. The huge roar that went up in this stadium could have only meant one thing. You would struggle to find supporters of two other teams who would have been more happy to hear that Man Utd had conceded an 88th minute match winner. Wenger and his side would all have to have been deaf, dumb and blind to not be aware of Southampton's late strike. I don't believe a word of it, when he and Keown suggested the same afterwards. It seems to be an unwritten code of practice to avoid giving the competition the satisfaction of knowing that you care about their results. Who are they kidding?

I was tempted to have a bet at the start of the weekend. With Chelsea and Utd facing awkward opponents, I had a feeling in my water that both would drop points. However as has often been the case previously when we've played later than our immediate competitors, I fully expected the Arsenal to fail to take advantage of our opportunity. To my mind, the news of Utd's loss might subconsciously allow for a little complacency, in the knowledge that they could afford to slip up without losing ground.

And the evidence of our abysmal first-half performance hardly contradicted my conjecture. It was fairly typical of the bashful big keeper that he turned down the opportunity to captain the City side on the day (in contrast to Schmeichel, who couldn't resist Keegan's similarly kind offer last season!). As I said to a steward at the break, I fancied that it might already be written that the day was to be Seaman's, where absolutely everything would stick in his OSafehands'. However I guess that one of the advantages of a manager who is prone to a naturally reserved disposition, is that when he does eventually lose his rag it is not without good reason and the rarity means he has a fair chance of making some impression.

Mind you if there was indeed a well deserved half-time haranguing, it wasn't like it produced a performance which was unrecognizable from the first-half rubbish. It might have been a different story if we hadn't managed to equalize soon after the break. The belief that we've become accustomed to seeing Keegan instill in his sides and which was evident early on, began to melt away the moment we equalized.

Yet I am glad I went to the post match press conference, if only to be able to confirm to you the utter codswallop in the tabloids. There was absolutely no "fury" about a downbeat Keegan afterwards. In fact he was quite impressed that City had been more than a match for us in the first-half and merely expressed his disappointment that their determination diminished after the break, as if they expected to be beaten by the mighty Arsenal. As for Arsène, his unflinching loyalty to his players past and present was evident in his reluctance to discuss any details of his dressing room dressing down and in the regular "didn't see it" refusal to apportion any blame on Seaman for our second goal, before going on to give us a detailed, step by step account of how the hapless Lauren managed to stick the ball in his own net.

I also find no end of amusement in the fact that before the season started, we were already being written off as also-rans because of the absence of spending at the Arsenal. Suddenly everyone is singing from a different song sheet, as a settled side, undisturbed by new arrivals makes us firm favourites. Can anyone see the parallels between Chelsea's best league performance last season for half a century, resulting from their lack of summer spending? "Logically" according to Wenger, if our undefeated start to the season stems from the side's stability, we shouldn't be surprised if Chelsea finish strongly, but such sensible theory rarely applies to our illogical sport.

A similarly timed international break last term was seen as a minor disaster because it interrupted some of the best football we Gooners have ever seen. This time around we have scraped six points from the last two encounters with entirely sloppy performances by comparison. Perhaps the only positive has been our defensive displays, where Kolo Touré and our new keeper have been the most pleasing constant. Sitting pretty atop the pile with a three point lead, after the Arsenal's best league start in fifty-six years, the media are bound to Obig us up' during the two week break. I am hoping that we will come back having swallowed plenty of the hype, breeding the confidence that will result in a return to our imperious best. We have got away with it against the likes of Villa and City but we will need to hit top form if we aren't to be found out by the fixtures soon coming thick and fast!