Springtime For Gooners in Germany?

Last updated : 01 March 2004 By Bernard Azulay

The song says "And now you gotta believe us" and as Charlton's Johansson very nearly pooped Saturday's party with his injury time bicycle kick, when the ball hit the post and bounced harmlessly away, I turned to Róna and said "we're gonna win the league".

If my fate tempting utterance should result in the end of our unbeaten run and the rapid disposal of our nine point cushion, you know exactly who to blame! Yet with the competition apparently falling over themselves to throw away any prospect of pegging us back, it would appear that as far as the Premiership is concerned, the only thing the Arsenal has to fear is complacency.

Charlton's brave second-half challenge and their last gasp blitzkrieg left us Gooners holding our breath, with our hearts in our mouths. But following our consummate first-half effort it would have been an absolute travesty if we'd failed to take all three points. It was a fabulous 45 minutes of flowing footie which was more reminiscent of some of our runaway victories early last season, rather than some of our stuttering successes so far this term,

There was a time when, on the weekend after a midweek sortie to foreign shores, Arsenal fans would be expressing their concerns about how we might cope with the possibility of a Champions League hangover. However it would seem that fatigue is not such a significant factor when you are as stocious with success as we currently are. Where Fergie appeared to underestimate the Cottagers, by benching Horseface and Giggs, Arsène included all our big guns as the Gunners flew out of the traps, intent on finishing the job before five minutes had elapsed.

I was just grateful that I'd promised to deliver some pictures to the ed of the Gooner fanzine to add some flavour to my Vigo match report. Otherwise I would have still been indoors until a few minutes before KO, instead of shooting the breeze with Kev at his bookstall opposite the North Bank. He usually stands there shaking his head in consternation at my habitual tardiness, as I hail my customary greeting while hotfooting it along Gillespie Rd after the game has started. So he suggested that I should get a wriggle on because there was for once a rare chance of me making it to to my seat before kick-off.

If it wasn't for Kev's coaxing I would have undoubtedly ended up with my West Uppers neighbours teasing me as to why I'd bothered turning up, because I'd already missed all the excitement. Ironically when I e-mailed Kev to express my gratitude, I discovered that he'd actually been deprived of this delectable five minute feast of football by hunger pangs and a curative fishcake from the Highbury chipper. At least he couldn't want for a more sympathetic ear for his tale of woe. As the pot who has missed countless early goals, I was hardy in a position to poke fun at Kev's coal coloured kettle.

Unfortunately the third goal which might have enabled us to put our feet up and relax for the remainder of the afternoon, never materialized. As a result we spent the entire second-half on the edge of our seats, teetering on an exhausting emotional tightrope. On the pitch, a heady mix of nerves and leg-weary laziness left us uncustomarily hoofing the ball away from danger during the last few minutes. I had a phone call from Cork from a Gooner who was getting intermittent radio reports. Desperate to pass on news of Fulham's equalizer at Loftus Rd., he wanted reassurance from the "front line" that we weren't really clinging on.

In their admirable, albeit futile efforts to improve the Highbury Library's reputation, the club had designated the previous home game as "Fan's Day". Following on from this disastrous effort, I discovered in the programme at half-time that Saturday's game was supposed to be "Flag Day".(despite the fact that the biggest of these has long since been banned from the stadium for health and safety reasons!) Perhaps we'd blinked and missed it because even with my binoculars I couldn't see a single flag during the break. Nevertheless there was indeed a discernible difference in the atmosphere this weekend which had nothing to do with the club's feeble pronouncements.

In the past the tangible tension which would have resulted on the terraces as we failed to kill off an opponent would have transmitted itself onto the pitch and produced an even more nervy, error filled ending. Whereas on Saturday one suddenly sensed that we've become so high on the scent of success that the stands are now filled with a bloodthirsty pack of hounds prepared to bark their heads off in pursuit of our prey. I don't recall hearing the West Upper whingers leading the singing. Yet there we were last weekend finally fulfilling our twelfth man responsibilities, "singing our hearts out for the lads", summoning up the sort of atmosphere to inspire one last surge of adrenaline which might energize legs full of lactic acid.

It was brilliant to hear that we Gooners weren't going to sit back in silence and watch our side blow OUR title a second successive time. However any concerns I had that we might be helplessly watching a slow motion replay of the Arsenal's Premiership charabanc careering into an anticlimactic crash again in vainglorious technicolour, were allayed when fate's force field sent first Stuart and then Johansson, packing with a flea in their ear.

Superstitious Gooners such as myself have witnessed several similarly propitious signs this season which might suggest perhaps, just perhaps the time has come to add the one missing honour to the illustrious list in the front of our matchday programmes. Unlike Fergie, the Champions League monkey is not weighing down upon Arsène's Premiership prospects. Yet you can be sure he is more than aware that his relative shoestring Cinderellas won't truly have fulfilled their destiny until they've claimed this crown and with it their rightful place amongst football's European royalty. Vigo caught us cold when they stormed out of the blocks in the second-half in Spain. Even at senselessly short odds of 10 to 1 for what amounts to a near miracle, you won't hear the 'T' word passing my lips. But as Mostovoi's firmly struck header bounced back off the crossbar, I found myself foolhardily woolgathering whether Gelsenkirchen might be warm in May?