No Question Whether Gunner Jose Has The 'Cahones'!

Last updated : 03 February 2004 By Bernard Azulay

Apparently, without the proverbial pot to piss in, plans for a state of the art new stadium were up in the air, the entire project suspended pending sufficient financial backing, as all the men in suits ran scared of such a substantial investment in our unpredictable sport.

Supposedly our squad was more than a little on the lean side, with the Gunners able to afford only a relatively unknown German keeper, who'd spent his career shrouded by Oliver Kahn's considerable shadow and seemingly a somewhat injury prone young Swiss centre-back. If I hadn't seen with my own eyes Phillipe Senderos produce an unspectacular 45 minutes of reserve team football in between his inordinate amount of time on the treatment table, I'd probably be concurring with all the other Gooners who've been questioning his actual existence.

With the Gunners' armoury bolstered by such unimpressive buckshot, compared to the motley assortment of intercontinental ballistic missiles bought by some of our competitors and with a boardroom row brewing over Ashburton Grove, which saw the directors divided into two distinct camps with completely different visions for the club's future, such disturbing events within the Marble Halls were hardly cause for a mood of optimism amongst most Gooners.

Even including those whose loyalty is totally blinkered, I can't believe there will have been too many of us who could have dared predict that this was a healthy basis for perhaps the most successful season ever seen at Highbury. After enduring a 0-3 drubbing against Inter as our disastrous opening gambit in the Champions League, I don't think the wildest dreams of gloomy Gooners will have imagined we would be passing the halfway point, not only sitting pretty atop the pile, as the team to be shot at after equaling George Graham's longest undefeated domestic run (90/91 - in the Arsenal's history) but still in with a decent shout for all four competitions. Not to mention positively the plum draw of the round in Europe, where if we can't stroll into the last eight by sweeping aside a Celta Vigo in absolute turmoil having sacked their manager as they struggle just to stay in Spain's La Liga, we don't deserve our Champions League status.

Personally I tend to agree with Kevin Keegan assertions that we are unlikely to last the entire 38 games without at least one off day where defeat is on the cards. At this present point in time I would be over the metaphorical moon if we could make it through another six league games without losing. It would be the icing on the cake if we could break Liverpool's longest ever unbeaten run, against our main rivals at Highbury, on a day when Man Utd's defeat might just about clinch the Premiership title (it would be delightful but I tend to believe this particular debate is destined to go right down to the wire!).

Watching Keegan on the touchline on Saturday, his worried expression can't have inspired much confidence. Yet for a manager with a reputation for tactical naivety, I couldn't fault his 4-5-1 formation. With so many bodies in midfield, City managed to stifle most of our slick passing manoeuvres. Until Henry's 'Exocet' match winner (which was worth the price of admission alone) many of us were wondering whether his team might poop our party with their feisty efforts.

I recall Robert Pires sitting out his first match up at Sunderland on the bench, stating afterwards that he was shocked because football in this country was sometimes like a "street fight". Whereas there was no such timidity from Jose Reyes. He appeared anxious to be involved all afternoon, spending much of the match warming up on the touchline. As far as I am concerned Dennis Bergkamp will retain a special place in my heart forever, as it was his arrival at the Arsenal (signed, believe it or not, by the soon forgotten Bruce Rioch) which signaled the start of something very special. Even if only on the fringe, hopefully Dennis will still be involved as perhaps the greatest era in the Arsenal's already hallowed history appears to be reaching a climax.

I hope it was a physical problem and not just his injured pride which saw Dennis disappear straight down the tunnel on Sunday. As our new no. 9 was introduced in his stead, there was a certain sense of 'the king is dead, long live the king'! The young Spaniard will be no stranger to a bit of argy-bargy as his obvious adroitness have made him the no. 1 target for his country's hatchet men and the most fouled against player in La Liga. His Spanish card count alone make him eminently eligible as a candidate for inclusion in Arsène's unruly crew. It didn't take long for the tricky forward to make himself at home with a 'handbags' incident that suggested our diminutive toreador was determined to send a message to all the Premiership's burly defensive bandoleros.

However I have to admit that if it had been me coming from Seville's clement climate to suffer Sunday's cats and dogs conditions, if the weather wasn't bad enough, I would have taken one look at the players mowing each other down in all the mud and surface water, which resulted in the hurly-burly of one of our higher octane encounters and wondered what on earth had possessed me to forsake the comparatively sedate comforts of my Spanish home! And if that was his appetizer, what will he make of Tuesday's main course on Teeside and a date with the devil incarnate, Danny Mills? Hopefully Vieira's obduracy and Reyes' inspiration will help to overcome the one goal disadvantage. I won't exactly be devastated if our exit from the Worthless Cup saves us from the considerable cost of yet another schlep to Cardiff. I will be more disappointed if Reyes should end up on the losing side on his full debut.

Ever since the sudden news of his arrival, I've been walking around with a stupefied smile on my face. After Monday's barrage of fairly small beer business brought the transfer window to a close, it seems incredible that on top of all the troubles at Old Trafford and the Mancunian standoff, we have for once trumped them and everyone else in the transfer stakes. Most Gooners are wondering where the money is coming from. Abramovich might be able to blow £17 million without blinking (eg. the £16 mill. Makalele hasn't made an immediate impact, so he simply spends another £10 mill. on Scott Parker!) but the Arsenal have put all their eggs in a basket banking on Reyes' brilliance.

After having his fingers burnt somewhat with Wiltord, don't imagine Wenger was in a hurry to act in haste again and repent at leisure. I recall when Keegan signed Macmanaman, I wanted to ask him if there was any danger in signing a player who he hadn't seen play in a competitive game for three months. Whereas Wenger had Reyes watched 40 times before he decided to act on his estimable instincts. I wonder at the cost of his caution? Mallorca's Samuel Eto and Reyes were mooted as our main targets after our trouncing from Inter. Which was how I came to witness the Spanish starlet almost single-handedly vanquish Madrid's 'galacticos'. After flagging his fabulous skills to every scout in Europe save the deaf, dumb and blind by scoring two and having a foot in all four goals against Real, I believed we might have missed the boat as I imagined his price would multiply accordingly, well beyond the Arsenal's paltry pockets.

Alan Shearer eat your heart out. Never mind Gazza's nut grabbing exploits, apparently prior to Reyes' feet doing so much talking against Madrid, his greatest claim to fame was having his gonads bitten by a celebrating team mate in front of an audience of millions. I might be a little miffed that his arrival appears to have resulted in the departure of another young homegrown talent, with Jerome Thomas going to Charlton because he's no longer prepared to wait a turn which might never come at Highbury. Yet here's hoping that we've witnessed the start of a career in which Jose Reyes becomes renowned for breaking the balls of all future opponents and burying a few unattached ones in the back of the net!