Its like the 2005 cup final all over again. Or it least it is for me. Much like Alan Davies’ winter tour of Australia, my work imposed absence from Arsenal games has coincided with three much improved performances, lots of goals, and a general upsurge of hope for the future among general goonerdom. Needless to say I was either on stage, devising or in the bowels of technical rehearsals during the wins over Spurs, Liverpool and Milan. As I was in 2005. Missing the cup final against Man Utd in favour of a rehearsal for a show I had no real interest in was perhaps the moment when I realised that acting had become more than just something nice to do in my spare time. Inspired by my absence from Vieira’s winning penalty celebrations, I promptly applied for Drama School at the age of 27, and next thing I knew I was on the path to being a professional actor. Happily, my relatively limited stage time in my current production allowed my to partake in a bit of minute-by-minute updates on my mobile phone! (and the obligatory watching on Arsenal Player afterwards).
I think all Arsenal fans should be grateful for the tactical naivety and lack of intestinal fortitude under pressure of England’s next manager (TM). Although the 5-2 scoreline against Spurs owed more to a really determined and strong team performance than anything, every tabloid’s favourite alleged tax-dodger helped by lacking the courage of his convictions. Although the Tottenham midfield was over-run when they were playing a 4-4-2, it did give them a dangerous attacking outlet which looked threatening against a slightly creaky Arsenal back four. That said, given the massive deflection on Saha’s goal, the Gareth Bale dive (TM), and a number of excellent saves from the evergreen Brad Friedel, Arsenal could have won by significantly more. It was a result and performance that gave an injection of confidence into the players, the club and vitally the fan-base. Also the gap is now down to four points, and Spurs are picking up a few injuries, and have massively over-played Parker, Modric, King and Bale, so they can be caught.
As ever the important thing was to follow it up. At Anfield the team rode their luck, needing wasteful finishing from Liverpool and excellent contributions from Van Persie and Szczesney to escape with all three points. The midfield that had dominated against Spurs looked ineffective against Liverpool (despite another excellent Alex Song assist), due to the hosts high tempo. And another referee playing third trombonist to the conductor of the Kop. Yes sir, no sir…..For the umpteenth time another dubious penalty was given against Arsenal by a completely unsighted official relying entirely on guesswork. Unsurprisingly serial cheat, part time racist and erratic finisher Luis Suarez was the man involved. Someone will kick him into space soon at this rate. Anyway, the Arsenal boys showed some grit, composure and an all too lacking bloody-mindedness to come away with the three points, and effectively end Liverpool’s hopes of qualifying for the Champion’s league. Which is nice. The whole Suarez/Dalglish scenario (compounded by the remarkable stupidity of Glen Johnson ), and the endless covering for the wasted £90m+ on mediocrity means that frankly my respect for the club has plummeted.
The Milan game was one that frankly i would have been happy for the team to throw in order to limit the risk of injuries, but how wrong I was. A surprising RVP miss away from taking the tie to extra-time after the 4-0 reverse in Milan was a great effort. The team basically ran out of legs in midfield after about 60 minutes, and the usual injury ravaged squad meant that there were no replacements. Having Arshavin still around may have been useful, but its a competition we cannot really compete in, so I’m ok with us going out now if it means we can secure fourth place. It does make me a little more angry about Milan’s deliberate ruining of the wide areas of the San Siro pitch, seeing how week they are at full back with their narrow midfield. Of course UEFA’s reaction to this fairly blatant piece of Milanese cheating is to charge Wenger for complaining about it. Only in keeping with their petty vindictiveness, especially that of Platini. Indeed this, added with the suspicious last minute watering and deterioration of the Sunderland pitch raise serious concerns about cheating. While ensuring home advantage via the pitch has taken place in the past (Luton’s old astroturf?), the fact that the Sunderland pitch directly caused 3 Arsenal players to pick up injuries (one of them season ending), is surely taking things to another level. Cynical cheating bastards!
Apart from the continued brilliance of the Van Persie goal machine, and the excellent hour from Oxlade-Chamberlain in Arteta’s deep central midfield role against Milan (two assists!), a major joy has been the return to form of the ‘little Mozart’. Tomas Rosicky has long been a favourite of mine, since his standout performances as an 18 year old for Sparta Prague. It is very sad that his prime has been wiped out by his 18 month mystery injury, and his subsequent struggles to return to fitness. That injury was the start of the crumbling of Arsenal’s 07/08 title charge, and his form that season had been very impressive. Since then, he has mostly looked a busted flush, playing out the rest of his contract from the bench. Over the course of this season, he has slowly regained some consistent fitness, and with it some form, with the early season performance against Udinese a particular highlight. Against Milan and Spurs, seemingly out of nowhere, he seemed to turn the clock back 5 years, like when he ran the Czech Republic midfield. It seems he can no longer play at his peak more than once a week, but if he continues this recent level of performance over the next two months, he will certainly earn that contract extension. An on form Rosicky brings much needed pace and drive to the Arsenal midfield, and he is an uncomplaining model professional.
On a sadder note, Abou Diaby’s struggles continue. A very promising 25 minutes against Liverpool ended with a hamstring injury, and more questions. Since the now call centre employee Dan Smith shattered his Ankle with a pointless and nasty tackle in injury time (Sunderland away again), the big Frenchman has missed more games than he has played. His size, skill level, pace and strength are such an alluring package of potential, but one seriously has to doubt his capacity to play regularly again. Diaby himself is optimistic about the future , but we shall see. Certainly a fit Diaby is n asset to this squad who can perform a number of roles.
The only other real news of note, is the as yet unofficial signing of Lukas Podolski for £10.9m in the summer from Koln. I certainly hop it happens. He’s having the best season of his career, is approaching his prime and with 90+ caps and 43 goals for Germany at the age of 26, he certainly has pedigree. Being able to play up front, behind a main striker or on the wing also gives the team more options. Personally, I’ve always liked the fact that his head reminds me of a bull-terrier and he has a sweet left foot. Or as Alan Partridge said, “he must have a foot like a traction engine!’