Last week I wrote about my perception that results become more variable at this stage of the season, as pressure and fatigue begin to lay siege on players. Lactic acid grips limbs and coils itself tightly. This is why plucky little minnows Chelsea, with their £50m substitute striker, can slay the behemoth of Barcelona and their Barcisssistic ballet of passing and write the kind of David and Goliath script that causes British journalists to writhe in Nevillegasm.
In all seriousness, there can be no moralising about the manner in which Chelsea won the tie. The only “right way to play” is within the rules of the game. Thereafter, everything else comes down to personal taste and to privilege one style over another borders on snobbery. The reason I mention that pack of oil funded, mob handed fuck weasels is two fold. Firstly, it’s instructive for our visit to Stoke. It’s not their long throws, long balls or their distaste for possession football that makes them worthy of loathing.
Frankly, percentage football has its place. It can be exciting, positive even. Though I wouldn’t encourage Arsenal to start playing percentages (we don’t have the players for it anyway), a long throw into the box can get the heart racing and create incident. It can also be very effective. We needn’t get too precious about that. What makes Stoke worthy of our contempt is their contravention of the rules with the shirt pulling and the leg snapping. Plus, their manager wears that annoying fucking cap. Without wishing to get all Trinny and Susannah on your arses, any man over 50 that wears a baseball cap and a tracksuit needs to be slapped. Repeatedly.
Secondly, it refocuses the objective of finishing 3rd. It now becomes more than just avoiding an inconvenient qualifier, Chelsea’s participation in the Final makes 3rd the new golden ticket. Spurs and Newcastle in the chasing pack, now know that 4th might not be enough, which could make them compete that bit harder. I have the uncomfortable feeling from players and supporters that 3rd place is being taken for granted.
I’m still of the mind that there is plenty of evidence for anxiety. Maybe I need to bosh a Diazepam and get in touch with my inner Eno, but a season of relying on a core of 15 or so players pretty constantly looks to be taking its toll. Two of our most regular players are now injured for the rest of the season in the shape of Arteta and Walcott (the latter has as many games as van Persie under his belt this season). Alex Song has 43 Arsenal appearances this season and it’s beginning to show in some of his decision making. But most chiefly the signs are that, after a season which has deservedly reaped individual reward, van Persie is out of steam.
This piece, written prior to the Chelsea game, provides an excellent forensic study of his form of late. Defences have become much more perceptive about his favoured positions, but the chances he missed against Chelsea showed a rare lack of poise in his decision making too. The worry here is that our second most likely scorer on current form is a centre half.
Ramsey, though overly criticised, currently enjoys the shooting precision of the ghost of Kaba Diawara. Gervinho has joined the likes of Yaya Toure and Demba Ba in a post African Nations funk. That tournament seems to provide enough latter season funk to fill a couple of Parliament LPs. Walcott is now banjaxed, probably for the remainder of the season. As frustrating as he can be and as infuriatingly negligent as he has been in protecting Sagna over the last few weeks, he is both our second top scorer and the main supply line to van Persie.
It’s no coincidence that van Persie thanked Walcott explicitly in his PFA Player of the Year award acceptance speech. There is a lot of talk of buying new players in order to convince van Persie to stay, but with Walcott in the self same contractual position, it could hinge just as much on keeping what we have too. In any case, we are now missing players that are vital cogs in our side and others look fatigued. It looks to me as though we will crawl over the finishing line.
Moving on and having attended the latest Arsenal Supporters’ Trust meeting this week, it would appear a slight change in general admissions ticketing policy will be announced by the club very soon. It seems as though supply and demand will be at the heart of it. Category A admission prices could rise. Realistically, the club knows they can pack out games against Manchester United, Spurs etc twice over even if the donation of vital organs was part of the cover price.
On the flipside, the pricing categories for less attractive games will stretch and more matches will be effectively downgraded in recognition. So Bolton at home on a Wednesday night would, logically, be cheaper next season. The ultimate upshot would mean there will be more cheap tickets around next season and a better value for season ticket holders, who will be unaffected by the Category A price rise. I’m not a huge fan of category based pricing, @timbo_slice1991 puts together a good argument against that here. Incidentally, in attending all 19 Premiership away matches this season, I have paid £168 more in total than a supporter of Wolves or Wigan making the exact same commitment.
It also looks as though the club will resist the call to move away supporters to the pricier environs of the upper tier. I have to say I applaud the club’s stance here. As an away supporter myself, I don’t think it’s right that travelling fans are made to pay higher prices when no choice exists as to where to sit. I understand the objective of making more of the cheaper seats available to home fans, but to do so at the expense of the away support, which is a captive market, is inherently unfair. I think for matters such as this, which serve a general interest, our parochial selfishness should be put aside and we should all recognise the commonality of the football fan. (Hey, I think that Diazepam is kicking in).
On a final note, if you are attending / have attended (depending on when you read this), the Arsenal Ladies game with Chelsea at the Emirates on Thursday night, they play the same opposition in the Women’s F.A. Cup semi final at Brentford’s Griffin Park on Sunday. Admission is a recession busting £3 for adults, £1.50 for phogeys and nippers. Why not go along and support? Arsenal Reserves also play their last match of the season at Underhill on Wednesday evening too and admission is totally free. Until next week, hasta mañana Arse bandits.
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