If recent weeks had puffed up the chests of the faithful, lent a cane-twirling sense of self-satisfaction at this buffed up, ruthless, sturdier version of Arsenal, then Saturday brought us, if not quite crashing back to earth, then at least lowered gently so as to graze one’s fundament on the gravel. Quite the enthuzimuzzy had taken hold over these last few weeks, with a sextuplet of flute-clinking results which began in September agin Hull.
We welcomed the green-lunged inhabitants of Middlesbrough, a town so like a Soviet chemical production zone that it removed the letter o from its name in solidarity. Those of us at the match near the away end could smell the unnatural odour of any number of chemical by-products emanating from the poor unfortunates therein. Their gaunt faces reminded one of those poor wretches employed in the match industry. ‘Phossy jaw’, or phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, is caused by exposure to white phosphorus. Now eradicated in London, it is obviously still prevalent amidst the denizens of Teeside, judging by the horrific visages of their away fans.
Mr. Windsor – 67 years young on the day, made four changes to our Bulgarian-hammering XI, with Harry the Helmet, Nobby Mandeville and Mr. Webbley all back and ready to roar, and Malcolm Elleray replacing the crocked St John Cousins. Mr. Shackleton begins his Scarlet Sabbatical following his antics the previous weekend.
Boro’s tactics were plain to see from the very first peep; ten behind the ball and Mr. Negredo the sole lump-target up front. And to be fair to them, although these tactics are as toxic to Arsenal fans as tap water is to Middlesbrough residents, they worked. Despite the very best efforts of Webbley, Saunders and Walcoué, buzzing and probing and asking questions around the box, and Mr. Orwell flashing one over the bar from a free kick and Elleray putting a shilling into the fruit machine*, we remained level. Somewhat unexpectedly, Boro sprang into life, forcing Harry the Helmet to get his daddles** onto a shot from Traore, and not quite getting his daddles onto a free kick from Mr. Ramirez. Then it was Boro’s glove butler’s turn to force a save as Mr. Saunders came close from a free kick.
The second half was an ever-growing list of frustrations. Noggin-bobblers that failed to connect, free kicks just wide, shots from ever-increasing distances saved by Mr. Valdes, Boro crowding the area is if it were a Teeside Labour Exchange. Weak shots, through balls that were just a bit too through. You know the sort of stuff. The meat and drink of Arsenal. Mr. Costerley thrillingly thwarted Mr. Negredo very late on, and Mr. Orwell might have won it at the last with an offside goal, but a point it was. No benjo*** for Woolwich. Hesitation and lack of confidence meant that yet again The Emirates became The Ermirates.
To The Emirates once more for the sideshow of the EFL Cup. Mr. Alexander Oxlade-Chamberlain, known as The Lord Chamberlain when he plays like this, had a very pretty game, scoring a brace, and sending Arsenal through to the quarters, for the first time since 12/13, when we shall meet Southampton. Reading were stubborn, and their glove butler Mr. Al-Habsi was particularly resilient.
The game was won in a reasonably satisfactory manner. Nothing particularly remarkable about it apart from The Splendid Shorts of Luke Perry. Have you seen these bloomers? Not for him the ridiculous thigh-hugging legwear of the modern footballer. These are generously tailored. Knee length. Just enough bagginess to them. A real Alex James of a short. Do yourselves a favour and wonder at the splendor of them next time he plays. They are truly magical, and he is an example to us all.
We also saw the slight return of Goring-Hildred, whose motto these days seems to be venit, vidit, commoti (he came, he saw, he wandered). He got his head on a cross, and perhaps this short time as a substitute is not enough to judge, but he does seem to be destined to be Plan B now at Arsenal. A blunt instrument. The cricket bat you reach for when your revolver clicks empty. The bayonet of strikers.
*Attempting to score from distance. The modern expression would be that you have to be in it to win it.
*** A jamboree; a party.