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fifty - fifty by safety

Manchester United v Arsenal on 24 th October 2004

Sky's "Soccer AM" have taken a classic football manager polysemy - by affable squaddie lookalike Ian Dowie - "bouncebackability", and are trying to get it in the Oxford English Dictionary. Although the provenance is doubtful and it is clearly another publicity stunt for Chelsea-loving attention seeker Tim Lovejoy (Save Chip, by the way), it highlights not only the glorious flexibility of our native language, but also the way in which, in cases where a word doesn't exist for something, it is often necessary to invent one. It also points to the fact that (trying not to be too blunt) those who choose a career in sport often do so at the expense of their intellectual education.

The English language continues to grow by a few thousand words every year. But apparently journalists are running out of ones to use for describing Arsenal's performances! This is of grave concern. Perhaps we might even refer to it as a crisis, catastrophe, disaster, calamity or cataclysm? Will English be able to import enough words from other languages to plug the gap? Are Ian Dowie and Ian Holloway, and all the other Ian's currently donning the sheepskin mantle, prolific enough to invent new words to replace the superlatives being frittered away by these profligate hacks? It is at least an indictment of the fourth estate that a former Northern Ireland centre-forward is contributing more to the development of the language than those with a vocation in communication.

There could be a future in making up superlatives to describe Arsenal. The "Gazelluscious" Thierry Henry, The "tricksytwistyturntastic" Reyes and the "imperiousuberartytainmentatiousness" of Dennis Bergkamp. Maybe not.

Perhaps even now Kevin McCarra is seeking inspiration from the yellow tattered pages of Roget's in the Guardian bogs and Henry Winter is deep in conflab with an old school friend trying to remember that word his first English teacher used to use to describe the smell of snow or the colour of music. To help them out I have turned to that resource known as sniglets (http://www.bertc.com/sniglets.htm). These are words that should be in the dictionary, but aren't (unlike "bouncebackability" which probably will be by January). Here's a few to get those journo's started:

Flintstep (flint' step) - v. To wind up one's feet before running away.... Common among cartoon characters.

If Thierry Henry is ever going to be caught by a defender (legally, Mark Delaney, legally), perhaps he needs to adopt a flintstep to give his marker fair warning that he's about to set off.

Kedophobia (ked oh fo' be uh) - n. The fear of having one's sneakers eaten by the teeth on the escalator.

"Manchester United suffered yesterday from an attack of Kedophobia. As Arsenal continued their imperious climb to the pinnacle of world club football, they nipped at their erstwhile tormentors and dared them to try and follow".

Squatic Diversion (skwa' tik dy vur' zhun) - n. Any pretended activity that commands a dog owner's attention while the dog relieves itself on a neighbor's lawn.

"With typical squatic diversion, Arsene Wenger was looking elsewhere when Jose Reyes held his head quite near to [snide elf] Lee Hendrie. We're left wondering again why a player blessed with astonishing gifts feels it necessary... blah, blah, blah... "

Puntificate (puhn tih' fih kayt) - v. To try to predict in what direction a football will bounce.

This is really a rugby or gridiron word. But the non-egg-shaped ball has been known to bounce unpredictably as well. If Phil Neville plays on Sunday expect to see some puntification (or you may prefer to use the word "hesitancy" or the expression "thinking time")

Luposlipaphobia - n. The fear of being pursued by timber wolves around a kitchen table while wearing socks on a newly waxed floor.

I think we all know what that feels like. It leads me (some segueway this) onto my impressions about how, despite being efficient hunters, Arsenal are still always hungry. Almost every manager this season has prefaced their evaluation of their chances before a game against the Gunners with the suggestion that "someone has to do it sometime, so why not us?". Now even Alex Ferguson has let slip that he is not perfect, his team selections haven't always been spot on and that, yes, someone will eventually stop Arsenal, so why not us this Sunday?

There is an inherent flaw in this reasoning (as 22 or so managers have found out on 49 previous occasions). If you approach a game with the view that statistics might favour you, you do so more in hope than expectation. It's hardly the way to motivate your boys: "Just keep kicking the ball lads, you never know, statistically there's a chance that it might go in the goal".

I used to wish that some games Arsenal lost (they used to lose league football matches, young readers, a very long time ago) would suddenly be deemed null and void by the FA and have to be replayed. Or that a ref would suddenly realise he had forgotten to add 10 minutes of stoppage time and call the players back out of the tunnel to finish the match. It never happened of course. But there's always a chance.

But we've gone beyond the point where Arsenal were chasing yet another league record. We're now through the sunlit uplands of fantasy and out the other side. The reality is this team will get beaten, but not by statistics. I think a team will actually have to play better than Arsenal to beat us. At the moment no one is playing better football than us (and this from an archpessimist for whom the level of milk in the glass, and therefore its state of fullness or emptiness, is irrelevant because it is probably poisoned anyway).

Arsenal's desire and hunger have never waned in those 49 games - they won't just get to a nominal number of unbeaten games and go "alright, that's enough, let's go master something else, like pottery or jazz dance". If we lose on Sunday, it will be because Manchester United's disparate bunch of sub-galactico's find a collective spirit that has been noticeably lacking since the FA Cup final, and Arsenal's injuries, tiredness and proneness to lapses in concentration conspire to produce an uncharacteristic performance well below what we have come to expect.

We hope it won't happen. What will be Arsenals 50 th league game undefeated has already been called a 50-50 game. Based on the history, you'd have to agree, unless you're a bookie of course. They're giving us the edge, even at Old Trafford. They don't like giving money away, so perhaps they believe that the hoodoo of that evil bowl of bile in England's northwest was finally lifted by our defiance the last time we visited them in the league? That Arsenal are no longer susceptible to being stifled and cajoled into ignoring their gifts and squandering their opportunities. That sort of logic is why the extent of my gambling is exclusively limited to putting 50p each on three horses for the kids in the Grand National and nought further.

It'll be my first time at the Theatre of Screams ("handball" being a favourite one). I'm not anticipating a comfortable stroll, like the last few away games I've been to. Every game against them is a clash of the titans (despite Chelsea's roubles). To their credit they have easily the best disciplinary record in the league this season. That's because they've been saving themselves for the opportunity to kick seven shades out of us soft southern nancy boys. You get the feeling one or two would consider any subsequent suspension as "taking one for the team" and that, despite the managers shocked protestations recently, he wouldn't mind preparing this United side for an even more bad tempered and attritional encounter than last years. Ferguson will understand if his team don't win, but he wouldn't tolerate it if they don't try (that's one of the things you have to admire about the man).

Next week might just be one week when the pressure on the dailies star penmen will abate. Instead of struggling for synonyms for "stunning", "superb" and "unstoppable", they can fall back on the tried and trusted "sad" "bad-tempered" and "nasty". But the hacks shouldn't expect a respite for long.