This Time Next Week.....?

Last updated : 22 December 2003 By Bernard Azulay
Rona reckon's my Wee Willie Winkie type Arsenal titfer makes me look a right dork but what do I care? It's warm and with my lucky Shamrock badge attached, we were one up within a few minutes!

If I had known it was going to be so effective I would have pulled my hat down over my ears an hour earlier because it had been a dreadfully dour affair until Dennis Bergkamp illuminated a decidedly grey afternoon with his inspirational assist for Gilberto's goal. A move which started out with Pires passing the ball out to the Dutchman on the wing, ended with an passionate embrace from the eccentric lady beside me, as though we'd just won the Premiership itself. I wouldn't flatter myself by thinking she was making a pass, as it was far more probable that this manifestation of her euphoria was related to the whiff I caught of whacky-baccy at the break.

With hindsight perhaps someone should have passed Ashley Cole a half-time spliff, in the hope that he would chill out a bit. No matter that Ben Thatcher is a Spurs reject, or that he roughed the Arsenal's Calvin Klein model in some first-half hanky-panky with Freddie. I cannot possibly condone the rush of blood to the head which saw Ash hurtling the width of the pitch to hurl himself into a shocking, potentially career wrecking challenge. Personally I love a game with plenty of needle and loads of argy-bargy to inflame the passions of the all too often impassive punters. So long as there is no intent to cause actual harm. However as stupid as Ashley was, especially since he got himself sent off in the process and put his team mates under pressure, I find I cannot be too critical.

The red & white spirit coursing through Cole's bones that causes him to stick the boot in a little too wantonly, is part and parcel of the 'never say die' commitment to the Arsenal cause which was crucial in our continued involvement in the Champions League. Saturday's rough comes with the smooth of saving one last puff of breath to sprint into the box and score his crucial winner in the dying seconds against Kiev. It might be argued that Arsene Wenger should be the pumice stone mentor who must polish off Cole's coarsest edges. Yet I will take Ashley any day even with the occasional rash act of youthful over exuberrance, rather than someone like Sylvain Wiltord and his disgusting indifference.

Perhaps I was watching the Premiership round-up on Saturday night through rose tinted specs in need of a wipe, or is it merely my Gooner siege mentality? I didn't think there was any less intent in the reckless incident involving the Scouser's two-footed tackle specialist, and Solano. Football is indeed a fickle pasttime, when Stephen Gerrard's foul not only did not rate a card of any colour, a review by the video panel, nor the wrath of that old woman Des Lynam. It remains to be seen whether Cole's eventual suspension will prove costly (someone should have told him it's the turkey that's supposed to get stuffed over Xmas). Yet considering playing ten a side is not exactly an uncommon occurence for the Arsenal, he's far from the sole culprit for Saturday's two point clanger.

If the Gooners celebrated our goal with gay abandon, then Leicester's last gasp equalizer was a swift kick which knocked the wind out of three thousand guts. It was already '.'5pm when I finally left Highbury earlier that afternoon. However a fairly short and for once traffic free trip up the motorway meant that miraculously we only missed the first ten minutes. Mind you there was so little of merit during the entire forty-five that we might as well have saved some fuel by sparing the horses and sauntered up for a somewhat more stimulating second-half. It's certainly not what I would have wished for, but hopefully at least our last minute lapse in concentration will have contributed to keeping Leicester up, as it's one of our least arduous awaydays. Although if we end up a whisper from winning the title, I have no doubt it will be this draw which will be responsible for a good deal of Gooner regret!

You might have seen Leicester's goal written up as a hopeful long punt from almost halfway by Impey, Scowcroft heading it back across the penalty are for Hignett to run in and stab home. Yet from where I was sitting it was a lamentably lazy, injury-time effort to compete for a header by Gilberto with Pascal Cygan having switched off seconds too early, letting the scorer get goal side. It may all be "ifs and buts" yet neither of these two would be to blame if our blinking keeper had hung on to the ball for a few seconds. instead of twice handing possession back by hoofing it down field. Perhaps the German's head had failed to clear after a grievous assault from Les Ferdinand's nipple?

I can only wonder as to Wiltord's excuse. Coming on as a sub for the last half hour, the French striker's lack of effort was nothing short of criminal. He could have saved this game singlehandedly, if only he'd deigned to run around for a few minutes and offer the Arsenal an outlet up front. OK so the Walkers Stadium ain't exactly the San Siro but he could easily have appeased the punters by at least feigning the slightest interest. Wiltord's apathy was so patent that in Arsene's shoes I would have had no qualms about admonishing him with the ultimate affront of subbing the sub. I'm sure Kanu could have held the ball up and I would have rather he brought Ailiadiere back on than allow Sylvain to diss us fans in such an infuriating fashion.

By contrast Thierry Henry's commitment is often such that his only crime can be not knowing when to conserve his energy for those areas where he is most effective. I'm told its three years since the Arsenal played without both Titi and Vieira in the Premiership. Not a bad attendance record for two foreign money grabbers!. Let's hope Wenger hears "present sir" from his star pupils when taking register on Wednesday and Arsene is awarding gold stars to both by the final whistle. Going out of Europe last season put everyone on such a downer, it was as if there'd been a death in the Arsenal family. Suprised to find ourselves installed amongst the bookies favourites after our amazing Italian escapade, expectations have now been raised to the point where the mood will be even blacker should we fail against the Moscovites.

Vanquish Vassily and co. (I assume there's at least one amongst the Russian's numbers) and who knows, in the words of the wise one "this time next week we could all be millionaires" emotionally speaking, riding along on the crest of a wave of confidence which might carry us through a merry month stuffed full of modest encounters. Not to mention avoiding the cream in the knockout stages of our next continental adventure. Mind you if all our opponents were females, as far as our date up at Elland Road in the 3rd round of the FA Cup is concerned I certainly don't fancy ours much!