Last updated : 17 September 2003 By Bernard Azulay

Arsène may be the dog's proverbial whatsits but that does not make him immune from dropping the occasional clanger. The rigorous demands of International call-ups on a crowded fixture list have been a fairly regular theme of his in recent times. Perhaps Arsène is hoping that the authorities will eventually heed his plea for those who pay the performing pipers to be able to call the tune about the all too common conflict of interest concerning International encounters. Or his reflections on this matter in Saturday¹s matchday programme notes might merely have indicated that Wayne Rooney's wonder strike and the resulting demise of our undefeated away record after a similar intermission last season, was as much on his mind as it was on all of ours.

Whatever the case, Arsène appeared to have made a ricket by raising the topic. It was a though he was responsible for putting thoughts of fatigue inside the heads of our foreign contingent. Our fab four Frenchmen returned from Slovenia in fine style. An Arsenal director sent his private jet over to fetch them back as fast as possible. I could have accepted the subsequent excuses if some of our players had begun to fade towards the end of the second-half. Yet from the leg weary look of our lot right from the first whistle against Portsmouth, one could be forgiven for wondering whether they had pedalled their way back on a pushbike!

The gaffer's word is gospel and his disciples were unlikely to make a mockery of his grievances. Autosuggestion alone didn't account for us giving away a couple of points that, according to many presumptuous pundits, were already ours before a ball had been booted. But it certainly didn't encourage the Gunners to gallop onto the pitch and promptly put Pompey to the sword with a "fresh as daisies" performance.

The fact that this was probably Teddy Sherringham's Highbury swansong didn't help either. Having taken so much stick from our supporters as the butt of so many Arsenal anthems, it is obvious that Teddy gets untold pleasure from putting a sock in Gooner gobs. You only had to see his last ditch tackles in the unfamiliar territory of Pompey's own penalty area, to know that he was determined to do his level best to leave us with a parting gift, to add to all the other unpleasant "made by Sherringham" memories which have haunted us over the course of his long career.

He was ably assisted by his strike partner Yakubu who, according to Redknapp, had been a doubt during the week when he came down with malaria. If this is an example of how much of a handful the Nigerian is when he's under the weather, I eagerly await an opportunity to witness what a nightmare he can be when 100% fit! Although if the forward fails to prove quite such a problem for some of our competitors' centre-backs, it will be further confirmation of the fact that this was probably Sol Campbell's most error prone performance for many a moon.

I'd been particularly impressed by Pompey's Amdy Fey prior to our encounter. Patrick Vieira spent most of the afternoon in Fey's pocket, a feat rarely accomplished by any world class opponents, let alone a relatively unknown midfield lieutenant from lowly Pompey. Considering our captain's Senegalese compatriot was in the Auxerre side which hindered our progress in Europe last season, again it remains to be seen whether he's one of the few French players to slip under Arsène's ubiquitous radar, or if Fey was flattered by Paddy's particularly off day at the office.

Nevertheless in this instance it is not like we can blame the break because the weekend's encounter was equally as lacklustre as those which came before it. According to the law of averages, the lack of inspiration in the Arsenal's efforts to date meant that without a marked improvement, our luck was bound to run out sometime soon. What's more, we must acknowledge the fact that the fickle finger of fortune didn't exactly desert us when Pires managed to finagle a penalty with his much maligned prat-fall.

I am no fan of football's con artists, Arsenal or otherwise. When Henry was asked to retake the penalty, I wondered whether bad karma was about to cost us. Having equalized, I was praying for another Arsenal goal primarily because I would have much preferred that any points were earned honestly. Perhaps "Le garcon qui a crié loup" is not such a popular parable across the Channel, otherwise Pires might have been more aware that his crime will probably condemn the Arsenal to any number of genuine penalty shouts going against us! However I am not nearly such a hypocrite as all those tabloid hacks who took Pires to task, as if being hung, drawn and quartered would be far too good for the joker who was personally at fault for the jiggery-pokery which now permeates the game at every level.

These are the same "slieveens" who sniggered smugly when their blue-eyed boy bit the duplicitous dust for queen and country during a World Cup quarter-final (now if he'd been biting a pillow for some old queen......)! Maybe, like Sol I am suffering from a severe case of paranoia, or perhaps his sly shenanigans are so common that they don't merit such malevolent comment, but I am sure Van the Manchester man's dastardly deeds aren't received with quite so much rancour by the "red tops" (if he wasn't Dutch doubtless I'd be spouting off about their dogmatic, anti-frog agenda).

Talking of which, I know that much of the sporting media struggles to speak ill of our northern nemesis because their tongues are stuck so far up Fergie's backside for fear of offending him. Yet when our whimsical football "wunderkinder" are playing with plasters on their conks, tape on their ears, Vicks on their chest and heaven only knows what pierced, doesn't it strike you as odd that the disseminators of such serious details haven't satisfied their discerning public with an explanation as to why the Mancunian's new Portuguese starlet insists on playing with spaghetti on his head?

Meanwhile it is the Milanese pasta eaters on the Arsenal's plate this week. With our somewhat fragile defence, most of the Highbury faithful are focusing on the threat of Vieri. With his sexy long hair the Inter centre forward suddenly looks more of an Italian than an Aussie and seems to be playing with the style of one. Myself I am more worried about the lessons learned by any of our European opponents who watched Ajax last season. They proved that it was eminently possible to prevent us from scoring on our own narrow playing surface.

On the assumption that a clean sheet is hardly likely to be on the cards, victory will require a whole lot more vim and verve than has been evident to date. We Gooners have our own sex god in the form of Freddie Ljungberg. Let's hope the Calvin Klein model and his compadres can catch Inter with their pants down as we all know how vital home victories are, if we have any aspirations of achieving Champions League success.