Hail To The Grief

Last updated : 19 August 2003 By Bernard Azulay

As one of the least mercurial members of our squad, it was surprising to see replays of Campbell's uncharacteristic reaction to Djemba-Djemba's tackle at Cardiff. I can't recall the last time Sol let an opponent get under his usually stoic skin. Additionally anyone who has ever had a kickabout in the park will know how hard it is to resist the temptation to take away the legs of an opponent who has just taken advantage of your statuesque defending, leaving you for dead, staring at your shoelaces, hoping there are no spectators. I can only imagine that such feelings must be far more intense when one is burdened by all the optimism for the forthcoming season, of thirty odd thousand baying Arsenal fans (although I couldn't help but wonder if Campbell would have been quite so quick to clip Gravesen and prevent an attempt on goal, if the reassuring frame of Dave Seaman was still standing between the sticks?).

As for Thierry Henry, I could see the disrepute charge descending on the club from the second he started prancing towards the wrong corner of the ground after sticking away his penalty on Saturday. However what Henry does with the ball at his feet is usually a big enough outrage for opposing fans. He has rarely resorted to Robbie Savage style roguery to raise the temperature a few notches. Nothing will convince me that his inadvertently triumphant teasing of the Toffees fans was anything more than an act of gross stupidity. If it wasn't the first game of the season and we were away from home, where Henry might be reacting to the remorseless badinage from the Blues fans, I wouldn't be so certain. However there would be no mileage for the tabloids in cutting Henry some slack and as a result, I have a feeling that since it's the Arsenal, the FA will relish this "early doors" opportunity to set such a high-profile example.

As with Arsène, my paranoia meter might have already been piqued by the media. I can immediately recall several instances where opponents have been equally irresponsible and their actions haven't even rated a mention (considering the passion this sport arouses, personally I think it is ridiculous to always expect players to have the patience of Job in the face of intense provocation). Moreover if incitement is a hanging offence, I can think of several officials who should have long since been hung, drawn and quartered as the lead instigators of several incidents of wholesale mayhem!

As far as I am concerned, it is no coincidence our players actions are regularly subject to far more intense scrutiny than teams located in the North. If you heard the way they moaned about having to schlep to Wales you would realize that the majority of the tabloids principle panders of tittle-tattle rarely roam beyond the boundaries of the M25. One of the privileges of their seniority is that they can bag Highbury at the weekend, sacrifice an Arsenal lamb (lion!) on the altar of their asinine headlines and still be home for tea. Please forgive me, but I have to blame the press for perpetuating the myth about our disciplinary problems by planting subconscious seeds into the minds of the officials, because while I am fully aware that we are no angels, I know full well that we are far from being the worst offenders.

Perhaps I am no better, as I've spent the weekend whinging about the media's failure to focus on the football being played, as they constantly nitpicked at the periphery (do we really give a monkey's how the Russian mogul chooses to celebrate the evidence on Merseyside that he hasn't entirely wasted a couple of hundred million quid?). Yet here I am spouting from my soapbox after less than a week of the season, because Róna and I had to scrimp and save (more like beg, stole and borrowed) nearly £3,500 for the scrumptious prospect of Highbury's high-class entertainment. If only we could demand a refund from the authorities of some of the 60 quid cost of our seats when deprived of our favourite stars, who are suspended on the sidelines as hostages to their misfortune! The senseless punishment doesn't fit the crime. Everton certainly didn't benefit on Saturday but it is their immediate competitors who might end up profiting from Sol's suspension.

Sol didn't leave his stud marks on anyone's shin. In fact Thierry was probably the most injured party and I doubt he'll be in a hurry to do it again. He looked disgusted as he subsequently brushed himself down having been showered in a hail of coins, spittle, ale and anything else that came to the berserk Blues fans' hands. No malice or harm was intended or caused by either Campbell or Henry. Compared to the GBH for which the game was once renowned, the likes of Peter Storey and Chopper Harris must be laughing their heads off over the innocuous incidents which resulted in early baths in contests up and down the country. As ever it will be us poor punters who end up being punished.

Halsey's as popular as Gollum to most Gooners but perhaps Campbell's favourite compadre has done us a great service. While I am quite confident that the Arsenal first-eleven are capable of frightening the life out of any opposition going forward, listening to the pundits on the radio rave about Utd's Portuguese prodigy and considering the collection of tried and tested talent queuing for a place in Chelsea's team, I am concerned that our squad might begin to look a little stretched (sadly it appears somewhat sooner than expected).

However I am hoping that the hard learned lessons of letting a somewhat arrogant eight point grip on the title slip through our grasp, will inspire a greater determination this term. What's more we now have one of the most settled squads in the league. This should ensure that we outshine our opponents in at least one extremely important department, team spirit. If there is one positive aspect to the repercussions from Cardiff and Saturday's contest, it could be the immediate inspiration of a backs to the wall, Arsenal against the world sense of injustice. Previously this hasn't materialized until at least midwinter after months worth of mauling by the media, when we've become well and truly demented by a multitude of diabolical refereeing decisions.

When Everton conjured up a consolation goal with 5 minutes on the clock, recent memories of late goals conceded and points carelessly wasted, resulted in plenty of worried faces in the West Upper, especially with Wayne Rooney on the pitch. However someone should have warned young Wayne that it was his ball-skills which were being compared to Gazza. It wasn't an invitation for an identical battle with the bulge (song for the day "salad for Rooney"!). Meanwhile it is onwards to Boro with 3 points in the bag, which is all that matters at the end of the day. Yet if suspensions are the source of a "fortress Arsenal" style resolve which ensures the end of weekly, last minute white knuckle rides, I guess I should be grateful to Halsey for a heart that still ticks with which to handle all this Gooner heartache.