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Is it, as I suggested in the opening, an issue of their style being extremely well suited in some situations but not others? Is it that it is particularly physically taxing to play this style of football and that excellence can only be sustained for brief periods? Whatever it is, as soon as you jump on board that this could be a big year for Spurs, they disappoint.

While Lallana may still do exactly that it looks like Benteke is in line to see the entire process play out very quickly. Everton — The Toffees square off with Palace later today. Aston Villa — A point on the road at St. Bournemouth — A great win at Stamford Bridge. Norwich City — Watford are clearly the class of the newly promoted group and Norwich helped them showcase this fact.

Like Manchester United, the Canaries only managed a single shot on target and this was even true despite Watford having rotated Almen Abdi who has been one of their better attackers. Each week sees something new in midfield with Redmond, Hoolahan, and others coming in and out of the line-up with little seeming method to the changes.

Newcastle United — That Wijnaldum had an excellent attacking game was nice but it was the ability of the defense to shut down a Liverpool group that scored six against Southampton in mid-week after conceding five to Crystal Palace last weekend. Hard to know how sustainable any of this is for Newcastle but there is probably enough of it for them to just barely avoid relegation. Patrick Van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin will make some mistakes but having three center backs to help backstop those errors will help.

The funny thing in dropping them down so significantly is that watching them this weekend, there are certainly signs of hope. Eden Hazard was very good. Willian continues to be good. The candidates are the supporters, Pedro himself or Costa. Just shocking to see how this malaise has impacted very good players in the primes of their careers. Odion Ighalo continues to be a revelation for Watford.

The year-old was impressive in his directness and looks like he has a bright future that looks like it may happen sooner rather than later. If Hughes gets consistent performances like this from both of his wings then the Potters may force themselves into Europa League conversations. For the third time in four weeks, the manager facing Manchester City is going to get this award.

It was a weekend where I looked bad for dropping a few players just before they put in heroic performances in massive upsets. I dropped Shaqiri in two leagues and Glenn Murray in another but was fortunate that the damage was limited at least in the short term. I finished the week with two wins and one loss in my expert leagues, a solid performance in PL.

Speaking of leagues where I faded in November like so many Arsenal seasons have over the past ten years, I went into this weekend in the Togga Premier League Fantasy Expert League having lost three matches on the trot. Things rebounded nicely for me with Riyad Mahrez hitting a hat trick and Odion Ighalo scoring again and having a big phantom point day as well.

Christian Fuchs continues to be a great pick-up and my entire midfield and forward groups — Stanislas, Lingard, Moses, Mahrez, Tadic, and Ighalo — were in double figures. That was good enough for the best return in the league. Kevin got a big match from Willian but after him, only Daryl Janmaat at Joy has returned to my fake locker room in this league. Death, taxes and me winning in the Togga Premier League Writers League seem to be about the only things we can count on this season now that Jamie Vardy went a weekend without scoring.

Only Cech and Bellerin failed to clear double digits. I still have Lukaku to play. Obviously Riyad Mahrez was the big story here with a hat trick. All I ask is that there be two, if not three, Sunday matches instead of just one. What did we find out? Leicester City are going to give it a better go than anyone was giving them credit for as recently as a few weeks ago.

Aston Villa are cooked. What's more in recent matches, when we've most needed a captain to inspire some 'do or die' commitment, there's been obvious signs of Henry's head dropping. While we've often witnessed Thierry leading by example, haring the length of the pitch to try and win back possession, personally I've never been convinced that a player who shoulders such a huge share of the goal scoring burden should be bothered by any further responsibilities.

I've always believed either midfielders or defenders make the best captains, because unlike a striker they don't play with their back to their team mates for much of the match and are therefore much more aware whether their colleagues are pulling their weight. Also a team leader is the last player who could be transferred into our club.

It takes time to learn the correct buttons to push with each individual. To date Senderos seems the only viable alternative in my humble opinion and if Henry should leave, I only hope Wenger doesn't choose another stop-gap due to the fact that he feels it's too soon for the Swiss centre-back. If given a long term run in the team, I'm sure Phillipe will grow in confidence. At least his inclusion in Saturday's line-up left our defence looking far less nervous.

Although in the absence of Pascal Cygan, they certainly weren't the only ones, as at least I didn't have to spend the entire match hiding behind the sofa, absolutely bricking it whenever the Toon attacked. Circumstances prevented me making it to St.

James and I find the rare instance of having to watch the Gunners live on the telly far more aggravating. Even where the away fans sit at St. James Park, right up in the gods, it may be hard to maintain the illusion of being able to make oneself heard, but at least there's still some sense of playing ones part in proceedings, by hollering ones head off with encouragement. Whereas I get incredibly hot and bothered by the impotent feeling of sitting in front of the gogglebox, screaming about every single mistake.

I'm reminded that it's much more stressful supporting the Arsenal from afar. I wouldn't wish ill on any Arsenal player, least of all one whose limited abilities don't prevent him from trying his best, but I am sorry Pascal that I can't help but hope your injury is nothing too trivial, or one which doesn't heal before the broken bones in the feet of either Cole or Clichy.

At least on Saturday Cygan's enforced absence meant we got the defensive line-up which would be most Gooners preference. Although personally I'd have reversed the full-backs, as Ralphie doesn't look too comfortable at left-back and with Kolo there instead, only one of our four defenders would be playing out of his natural position. However it would seem that as far as Wenger is concerned, there is no substitute for experience.

Mind you there was some evidence of this in Senderos' struggle with Alan Shearer, as the wily old striker provided our Swiss centre-back with an education in the abuse of the elbow. Much like Mark Hughes in his day, Shearer is the sort of striker capable of ruffling any defender's feathers. Yet while they might be the subject for so much loathing in an opposition shirt, what I wouldn't give right now for a just little evidence of such feistiness in the Arsenal squad. Perhaps it will serve us well to be going into the Chelsea game with our backs so far up against the wall, instead of riding high as we've been in recent encounters.

Although on this occasion I rather suspect, if we are going to achieve the right result, it will be us who'll be required to disturb the Blues recent winning rhythm, with some of our own old school physicality. In seasons past such a disappointment has served as a timely reminder to some of our prima donnas, that when the going gets tough, merely turning up with our pretty passing game, is often not nearly enough, in a Premiership where hunger and commitment still count for plenty.

However what was so depressing against Newcastle on Saturday night was that we've grown accustomed to witnessing a robust reaction to such a hiccup. James Park after our woeful capitulation at the Reebok last week. My brow became even more furrowed listening to Le Prof's bitter post-match postulating. It might be his policy not to criticize his players in public but he sounded like every other broken record manager as he blamed the ref, Shearer and Gilberto's sending off.

Inconsistent officials are, and always will be an intrinsic part of the beautiful game and griping about them is as pointless as complaining about a bad bobble of the ball. To my mind it looked as if Dermott Gallagher suddenly decided he needed to get to grips with the game before it became too feisty. As a result, I thought he flashed a yellow card at Gilberto without realising he'd already booked the Brazilian and it was far easier to show him the red than admit his mistake in front of millions, by rescinding the second booking.

Anyone who's found themselves flagging during a football match would be familiar with the way in which the Brazilian dangled out a lackadaisical leg. So I'm inclined to believe our lazy midfielder was already looking forward to his half-time breather, when he foolishly chose to bring his opponent down instead of having to leg it after the zippy zebra.

It also occurred to me at the time that he might regret putting himself on a knife-edge for the entire second-half, only one badly timed challenge away from having to take an early bath. Yet in truth the Arsenal had a full complement of players for the first hour of this encounter, which was more than enough time for our talented team to put the Toon to the sword. Bramble showed some early promise at Ipswich and Boumsong formed one half of a formidable partnership with Mexes at Auxerre.

Perhaps these two lummoxes will go on to prove everyone wrong, but I rather suspect their lapses in concentration will be the cause of Newcastle being torn apart in matches to come against stouter opposition this season. So while the media laud the mettle Newcastle demonstrated to defeat the not so mighty Arsenal, like all our other rotten results on the road, in my opinion we were the architects of our own downfall.

Wenger was also wasting his breath blaming Shearer. Saint Alan has been getting away with being the St. On Saturday the ref appeared so reluctant to reprimand the old war horse, that when Gallagher was finally forced to book him, I thought he did so almost apologetically. There was an item on MOTD2 about long-suffering Sunderland fans, schlepping a similar mile round trip to the capital for the second time in seven days, subsequent to 9 successive defeats, loyally supporting their side, despite the inevitability of the drop and with little more to hope for than the occasional goal celebration and a rare point.

I recorded the sycophantic British backslapping of the Sports Personality of the Year earlier that same evening, in favour of flicking between Barca v Seville and the Milan derby. There was plenty of talent on display but a dearth of the sort of frantic, full-blooded commitment, which makes football in this country so exciting.

It occurred to me that the tepid brand of football we are playing at the moment might be perfect on the Continent. Instead of the prospect of losing our star striker in the summer, perhaps Wenger should be considering shifting the club, lock stock and new stadia, to southern Spain! The only glimmer of hope at St. James was the sight of Senderos geeing up his colleagues in the tunnel before the game. As I drive past this increasingly impressive edifice a couple of times a day, I never imagined the possibility of commencing our first campaign at the new gaff without the prospect of Champions League footie.

OK I guess I'd better admit it, never mind dodgy Dermott and the sending-off at St James Park, this evening's defeat was all my fault, as circumstances conspired to prevent me making it to Tyneside. Mind you with yet another kick-off inconveniently timed, with total disregard to the hardy legion of loyal travelling fans, I am almost relieved I couldn't get there.

Or else I would've doubtless been holed up in a hotel room in Newcastle all night, too depressed to venture out until tomorrow's trip home, for fear of being recognised as a southerner and having salt rubbed in my open Arsenal wounds, by some smart-arsed Geordies. Not that I, or any of the Gooners who actually did make the five hundred mile round trip schlep to Toon Town, had any chance of influencing proceedings and altering the outcome.

At least certainly not from the seats right up in the gods, which away fans are allocated at St James. However as is always the case on those rare occasions when I can't get to a game and the result has gone against us, I can't help but feel that it would've all been different, if only I'd been there. It's totally illogical I know, but no more barmy than the idea that I can predict the score based on how substantial a "pony" I've had the previous evening, or that the Arsenal's success is dependent on me putting on a particularly lucky t-shirt that day Then again it's probably more productive to be pointing the finger at me, than at Dermott Gallagher's incompetent and dreadfully inconsistent refereeing.

At least I can guarantee I'll be able to turn up at the next game, whereas such awful officiating is just part and parcel of football's infuriating vagaries and rotten referees will continue to remain as ever present at the ball itself. So to be honest I find it a bit of a wind up, and I'm sure I am not alone, when Wenger comes on TV afterwards, sounding like all those other broken record managers, by blaming the outcome on bad decisions. Obviously I appreciate he was annoyed, I was no less livid myself, and I realise he can't be seen to be coating off his own players in public.

Personally my immediate reaction was that the ref didn't realise he'd already booked Gilberto and it wasn't until Gallagher pulled out the yellow card, that it dawned on him he'd made a ricket and was then obliged to produce the red.

Naturally it might be a complete figment of my imagination, but I thought that Gallagher was just trying to get to grips with the game and prevent it becoming too feisty. However I'm inclined to wonder whether he might have been a little more lenient, over what was after all a completely innocuous challenge, if he'd realised he already booked the Brazilian.

I can't actually recall whether there was the prospect of a threatening counter-attack and Gilberto could use the excuse that he was breaking this up, in order to give us time to retreat. Yet having committed many similar fouls myself in my youth, when I was flagging during matches, the way he dangled out a lackadaisical leg and took his opponent down, I'm inclined to believe Gilberto was already looking forward to his half-time breather and therefore decided on the laziest option, not to nullify any immediate danger, but because he couldn't be bothered to leg it after the zippy zebra.

Playing as our holding midfielder, the Brazilian should know much better than to pick up such unnecessary bookings. With the number of challenges he has to make, he's faced with the possibility of committing fouls all over the pitch, by being only a fraction of a second late. It occurred to me at the time that he could well end up regretting picking up the yellow card so carelessly and spending the entire second half on a knife edge.

Although I wouldn't have dreamt he'd be taking an early bath for such a banal incident. Especially when Saint Shearer was causing actual bodily harm all over the pitch with almost absolute impunity. When Gallagher finally punished his umpteenth transgression, I almost expected the ref to apologise to the old war horse. It might've only come to some folks attention a few years back, when he got off scott free with that stamping incident, which was conveniently ignored so that he could play for his country, but actually Shearer's been getting away with his dirty tricks for donkey's years.

To the extent that these days some of the refs who've been around for a while seem to turn an increasing blind eye to many of his antics, as if there's an "old school" acceptance that there's one set of rules for everyone else and one for Shearer, in sympathy with his advancing years and the fact that he increasingly depends on maintaining such an unfair advantage over some of his younger, more naive opponents. However the fact that he's fast approaching his eventual retirement is no excuse for any such partiality.

Shearer's been singing his "it's a physical game tune" his entire career, while leaving the imprint of his elbow on the ugly mugs of defenders up and down the country and the fact of the matter is that he's nothing short of the playground bully. However with all this whinging I am beginning to sound like Wenger, when Shearer's been at St James for most of the nine seasons since our last defeat up there.

We've also been on the wrong end of our fair share of incompetent officials, without suffering two successive defeats in the past three years, or more's the point, without failing to score in the two successive games in the past five years. What's more we had a full complement of players for the first hour of this game without making an impression on the score-sheet.

As with our other rotten results on the road this season, what annoys me most is that the media are likely to go overboard about a terrific Toon performance in the second half. Shay Given made a fabulous reaction save to keep out Thierry Henry's well struck volley, but the truth of the matter is that Wenger can contend all he wants that "we were the better team" but the fact that we only worked the Newcastle keeper once, in the entire ninety minutes just ain't good enough.

To date the centre-back partnership of Bramble and Boumsong has been the Toons' principal achilles heel. There was a time when I thought Bramble was quite a decent prospect and playing alongside Mexes, Boumsong was one half of a pretty effective defensive brick wall I believe for Auxerre? They are both big, strong and fast, but so far their performances in the Premiership have given me cause to question Souness' judgement as a manager.

Perhaps they will build on this performance and go on to settle down into a redoubtable defence. However I rather suspect that before the season is out, there will be visitors to St James Park, like Chelsea or Utd, who will take advantage of their lapses in concentration, to positively tear the Toon apart.

And it will be in the light of such results that we will fully realise quite how lame our efforts were tonight, in respect of our failure to get behind these two lummoxes more than a couple of times! I was seriously hoping that our woeful display at the Reebok would prove enough of a wake up call. The reason we've not suffered successive defeats for so long has been that in seasons past we've only required one such reverse of the form book, to remind us that no matter how good you are on paper, football in this country remains sufficiently committed that the desired outcome in most matches requires a lot more than merely turning up!

There were a couple of minor consolations in this lamentable single goal defeat. I quite like the fact that we now get another chance to snuff out completely Spurs renewed glimmer of hope. The other was the fact that Cygan's "injury" meant we finally got the defensive lline-up most Gooners have been calling for since Cole and Clichy both broke the same bone in their feet.

Personally I'd prefer to see the full-backs reversed, with Lauren in his regular position at right-back and Kolo at left-back. Then at least we'd only be playing the one defender out of their more customary position. Also I am not sure the right-footed Ralphie looks particularly comfortable on the opposite flank. However I am not going to quibble, because anything is better than the sort of nervous performances we've seen from our back line with Cygan at full-back.

Personally I find watching the Arsenal play so badly!! I wouldn't dream of giving Arsenal players anything but my support from the terraces and at least there's a sense, no matter how futile, that you can at least try and have an impact on the circumstances. Yet in the privacy of my own living room, I will scream blue murder over our every mistake and I find nothing more frustrating than bellowing my head off at an inanimate goggle box in the corner of the lounge.

Saturday's example reminded me that if it wasn't for the outlet of being able to vent my fervent feelings about the Arsenal at live football matches, so far this season I'd probably be blowing a gasket every other week and doubtless would've long since lost what remains of my heir, having torn much of it out whilst fuming in front of the TV. Moreove, never mind Treacle our monster of a pooch being petrified of firework bangs, my caterwauling would've probably have turned her into a nervous wreck.

As a result Cygan's absence was a great relief because at least it meant I didn't have to spend the entire match hiding behind the sofa, absolutely bricking it every time our defence was called into action. It's not ideal for the Arsenal to be turning out without a recognised left-back, but at least with this line-up, you didn't get the sense that there was an overall air of nervousness pervading the squad, with everyone unsure of their roles and their responsibilities, whilst trying to cover for the inadequacies of our leaden-footed lurch.

I wouldn't have seen it unless I was watching the match on the box, but from the moment the live Sky transmission showed Phillipe Senderos geeing up his colleagues in the tunnel prior to kick-off, it was like a breathe of fresh air, carrying a feint but beautiful and much missed scent of the sort of spirit which used to be our trademark. It was a slightly tentative shout of encouragement, the sort that one might expect from someone making his first start in a Premiership line-up since October.

But then you'd hardly expect a Tony Adams type roar from Senderos, when he's only involved as cover and is not exactly secure about his place in the team. With a run in the side and his confidence completely restored, I am sure Phillipe will begin to growling like a lion.

But in the light of the lacklustre showing of his team mates in the past two games and the absence of hunger and commitment, I was nonetheless extremely grateful for the first signs of some evidence that there is at least one member of Wenger's squad who is prepared to give some vocal expression to his desire.

After all we don't need Wenger to tell us that we were the better side, as we are all only too aware of the incredible ability of some of the players in this Arsenal squad. Yet since this is such an obvious fact, surely it is also proof positive that no matter the apparent weaknesses in certain positions, we are currently suffering, as a result, from a far more basic problem which can't be addressed so easily in the January transfer window, by simply throwing money at it.

I am beginning to feel like a broken record myself as I've been bemoaning the same problems all season long. However these past two defeats have made it patently evident that the answer to all our current woes is that certain "je ne sais quoi" which unfortunately does not grow on trees and often as not, no matter how big your budget, it's not easy to buyl.

There's a famous football mantra which says that every five years a football club either has to change it's manager, or the team. Whether or not we are currently witnessing some signs of complacency raising its ugly head, amongst an Arsenal side where some players are a little too secure about their places in the starting line-up because there isn't sufficient genuine competition for their places, or whether there are a few too many players in the team who've been listening to Wenger for so long that his words of encouragement no longer have the desired effect, in truth only those in the dressing room can answer this question.

However one of the first things I invariably look for at a football match is some confirmation that the Arsenal are sufficiently committed. From Lehmann's clearances, throw-ins and set-pieces, I want to see Arsenal players facing the ball and demanding possession from their team mate. All too often recently I've found myself bemoaning out loud "You've gotta look like you want it!

When we've been on top at THOF there are unmarked players appearing everywhere on the pitch and the ball flows from one end of the pitch to the other at pace, with everyone keen to participate. But far too often when we are away from home, when our opponents are pressing us all over the park, trying to prove "we don't like it up us", too many of the usual suspects are guilty of hiding.

To my mind it was ironic after last week's reprehensible display at the Reebok, to hear Freddie reminding his team mates that sometimes you need to "put your foot in" away from home, when Ljungberg's as guilty as anyone else of going on the missing list. So where was Freddie at St. I have to admit that for much of the match Ljungberg was so conspicuous by his absence that I forgot he was playing. Mercifully there were some more positive signs in Alexandre Hleb's return to action.

At least we witnessed him running at the opposition with the ball, prepared to take players on and beat them. I am hoping that in time, much like John Terry, Senderos will develop into the driving force of the team, capable of rallying the troops when the chips our down, but in the immediate future it's increasingly apparent which each successive performance where our opponents have managed to put us under the cosh, that we are desperate for a proper leader out on the park, who can inspire the best from his team mates with his "do or die".

With each passing week there seems to be a growing feeling of inevitability about the dreaded summer departure of our star striker. And many would suggest that his increasingly exasperated body language is only further evidence that Henry has had enough of carrying all the Arsenal's hopes on his shoulders.

Whether Thierry goes, or whether he stays, to my mind it is more than enough responsibility for one man that, Van Persie apart, Titi bears almost the entire goal scoring burden. Sometimes Thierry remembers his captain's duties, trying to lead by example, dashing back to try and recover possession in defence and tearing back down the other end of the pitch, to do what he does best.

But all too often these days, when things aren't going our way, we see our captain's head and shoulders visibly drop. Perhaps I'm too much of a traditionalist, but I've always believed a captain should come from the defence, or certainly no further forward than the midfield, where unlike Thierry, he spends the majority of the match facing most of his team mates, instead of with his back to them for most of the And we've never been more in need of a leader with a physical and vocal presence, who can put the fear of g-d into his colleagues and demand more from them.

Whereas sadly at the moment the opposite is true, where you can't help wondering if Henry really cares where the Arsenal will be next season and should this be the case, then surely such negative vibes must be infectious. I had a call from a fellow Gooner who watched George Graham's post-match analysis for Sky and who said they found themselves nostalgically longing for the boring, boring Arsenal of old.

Whatever we lacked in entertainment, at least you knew that the result mattered to that bunch of players, as much as it did to you. After a result like that George would've had them out on the training ground on Monday, punishing them with the sort of exhausting and tiresome drills, which would've ensured they'd be doing their utmost the following week to avoid a repeat of his displeasure.

Doubtless much like Utd, we'll raise our game for next Sunday's glamorous occasion. But we are going to have to wait for our Boxing Day visit to the Valley to see if there is a positive reaction, or whether the current malaise is congenital!

It was ironic that they wheeled out Danny Williams at half-time at THOF tonight, as I wouldn't be at all surprised if Saturday's "big fight" with Audley Harrison proves a similarly tedious, uneventful anti-climax, with each of the contestants shadow boxing their way through the evening waiting for t'other to make a fight of it! I guess we shouldn't be too surprised, with both teams having nothing to play for.

However I was very disappointed afterwards to discover that if Thierry's penalty had gone a few inches to the left, we would have joined only four other teams to ever achieve maximum points in the Champions League group stage. What's more Titi would have been one game away from setting a 22 match record for goals in successive European games which is the sort of record you can't imagine him coming anywhere near so close to again in a hurry!

To be honest I was so unenthralled by events out on the park, that I spent much of the match distracted by the commentary in the earpiece of my terrace tranny from the Stadium of Light. I am sure most Gooners are in unanimous agreement that this was indeed the best result of the night.

Although I purposely prevented myself from getting too animated about it, as I was almost certain Utd were going to sneak a pretty typical last leap from this particular frying pan. Fergie must have had the stopwatch out standing on the touchline, as believe it or not, they were still playing six minutes of extra time in Lisbon as we left THOF.

The whistle finally blew at the Stadium of Light as we exited the Clock End concourse and I couldn't help announcing to all and sundry that the old enemy would not only be "watching Eastenders" but the entire weeks worth of soaps for the remainder of this season, as they were bounced out of Europe all together, bottom of their group. The exultant guffaws of Shadenfreude echoed along the corridor as the gleeful news spread like the loudest Chinese whisper you ever heard.

It was the sort of news you just couldn't hear enough of and absolutely every Gooner was left making their way home with huge grins across the width of their gobs! We were due to meet up for some pasta at the local Italian but I was half tempted to take a rain check, just so I could get home in time savour the Mancunian misery on the box.

Actually I'd been fretting for much of the evening about forgetting my plastic, with which I was going to pay for our grub. But as it turned out, even with it pissing down, I was only too happy to have an excuse to dash back home to grab the credit card, as I was just in time to catch ol' Red Nose's melancholy requiem for the Champions League, along with the convoluted last rites for their involvement in any European competition, read by their plug ugly new skipper.

Wallowing in the Moaners misfortune reminds me of one of my dear departed old man's favourite "meises" stories - for the uninitiated into the less globalised yiddish vocabulary and since today would've been his birthday, you'll have to forgive me my sentimental celebration in repeating it here.

Mr Cohen walks into his local bank and ask the counter staff if he can speak to Mr Hawkins the manager. With this news the old boy duly buggers off. But then he's in and out of his branch umpteen times the same day, on each occasion he poses the same question and it's explained to him that the manager has shuffled off this mortal coil.

Eventually the counter staff loses patience "Mr Cohen, we've told you fifteen times today that sadly Mr Hawkins is dead". Upon which he chirps up "I know, but I just love to hear it! What fun we'd have over the course of three hours, constantly piping up "Who'd you fancy playing come the draw Friday week for the knockout stages? Or did I ask you already! I wonder how many Gooners will give a monkeys about such an irrelevant event, when we've far more important matters to focus on.

Unfortunately as far as I'm concerned , I'm led to believe that a return to Bratwurstland is probably our best bet. I know Werder Bremen banged five past Panathinaikos, but Bayern have become a bit of a bogey team. Of the six team we could draw PSV, Real Madrid, Rangers, Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen, Benfica there a 33 per cent chance of a German side and apparently when you look at who our prospective opponents cannot play, these odds become even greater although I have to rely on those whose head doesn't explode when they try to contemplate the various possible permutations in the whole complicated schemozzle!

However if I had a choice it would either be Real Madrid or Benfica. Aside from the fact that these two are I believe the most southernly possibilities and therefore perhaps offering the prospect of a jolly to slightly warmer climes, personally I've been dying to see the Arsenal play in the Bernabeu, for what feels like donkeys years, as it must be one of the few major footballing temples across the Continent that I've yet to worship the Arsenal at.

And each season I've been more certain than the last that this will be my opportunity. With managerless Real Madrid hitting such a rocky patch right now, not to mention the fact that at long last, for once Lady Luck seems to be gracing us with some good favours in the Champions League, there might never be a better time for a beano in the Bernabeu.

As for Benfica, with the Stadium of Light being built by the same architects, it would be brilliant to get some idea what going to a game at our new gaff is going to be like. The consensus of opinion from the few I've broached on the subject suggests many Gooners would fancy us pulling Rangers out of the hat. I'm wondering whether this is because they're thinking it would be easy for them or cheap?

Moreover, although Rangers might appear a plum draw on paper, with their woeful record in Europe and their recent lamentable league form, personally I'd favour a far more glamorous opponent. I believe Rangers would be a no win situation, because we'd be expected to brush them aside and so if we manage to do so, we will hardly enhance our reputation. I also imagine we'd be likely to play down to their level, as they attempt to muscle us out of the match and clatter us out of the Champs League.

The thing is that if we are going to get anywhere in this competition, we are going to have to find the confidence to cope with proper competition and in my opinion, since we are already perceived to have progressed from the easiest group, the sooner we establish a reputation and begin scaring future opponents by blasting past some of the big guns, the better.

Meanwhile, watching from behind the goal in the Clock End, I might be slowly achieving my objective of working my way around the ground and getting a last chance to watch the Arsenal from every possible perspective at THOF. Although I was a little disappointed that my brief Clock End sojourn wasn't a little more atmospheric. Some of the Ajax coaches were arriving and parking up along Drayton Park when I passed by on my way to work this morning and so I was expecting them to sound hale and hearty, having doubtless spent the entire day oiling their vocal chords.

However I was hoping the response from the home crowd would've been a little more raucous. Yet I enjoyed my participation in the Clock End choir, it certainly made a change from my West Upper solo performances. Yet it proved a reminder why I prefer the posher seats along the side of the pitch because when it came to some post-match analysis with a few pals, I suddenly realised I didn't really have a clue that we were playing an extremely rare alternate formation. The sight of Le Prof popping out of the dug out, to repeatedly stand on the side of the pitch screaming at his charges and frantically gesturing some of them forward, this would suggest that the intention was for them to play more Although I have some sympathy for the kids at the club who've spent their entire careers at Highbury religiously schooled in the one regular Arsenal formation, only to be asked to do something completely different for their Champions League debuts!

From where we sat, all I can tell you is that in my humble opinion, apart from one suicidal pass towards the end, Phillipe Senderos looked extremely sharp. Admittedly Phillipe was clattered just prior, but whether the Swiss lad learnt his trade in French, German or Swahili, surely he would've been indoctrinated with the schoolboy commandment I know I was that makes passing across the face of one's own goal absolutely sacrosanct?

With Kolo off to the African Nations perhaps for the entire duration of January considering the fortuitous prospects of the Les Elephantes , I've been fretting about Wenger leaving Senderos out until he's forced to bring him back, cold, without much confidence after such a long lay-off. To my mind the fact that he looks sharp as a bell, is only further argument for playing him as Campbell's partner and making use of Kolo's versatility at left-back Sadly I didn't get to see Kerrea Gilbert's apparently impressive performance against Reading in this position as I believe he's a RB by trade but he also looked pretty bright tonight and unlike poor Pascal, at least Gilbert has plenty of pace to burn.

Personally I'd be much happier seeing him or any sprightly youngster instead of Cygan, because at least if a kid's going to make mistakes, there's some consolation in knowing that they're hopefully going to learn from their errors. Whereas if Wenger insists on stubbornly sticking with the hapless Cygan, he's soon going to end up such a hate figure, that his career will be consigned to the same Arsenal history as Stepanovs whatever happened to Igor?

To my mind Robin appears to be in such an incredibly hot streak of form right now, that every ball runs his way. Whereas for example you can almost guarantee that if Dennis try's a ting against a couple of defenders, he's going to be undone by a dodgy bounce of the ball off one of the defenders shins. Whereas by contrast Van Persie appears unable to do any wrong. From what I've gleaned of such hot streaks of form, they don't last ad infinitum.

If they did you can be sure the gamblers of the world would've long since broken the bank of Monte Carlo. So for gawd's sake gaffer, just play him, play him, play him! Otherwise you could end up denying him game time, just long enough for his form to take that almost inevitable dive into the doldrums. I can only imagine that Wenger's adopted this strategy of limiting Robin's pitch time, for fear of giving him his head, in case he loses it?

Or at least that's my suspicion from report's of Robin's wayward nature. Hopefully Jose's injury misery will prove Van Persie's good fortune for the immediate future. I only hope I am at St James Park to find out in person. Yet another awkward kick-off time, at the other end of the country this weekend, ensures that we Gooners can't get home the same night by public transport.

I'd actually probably quite enjoy a Saturday night out in Toon Town, seeking out the company of some friendly Geordie fillies in their white stilettos and fishnet stockings doubtless on a freezing cold night when I will be snugly ensconced in my thermals. Apparently it's just a matter of finding the handbags on the floor, to discover this hardy Toon tribe dancing around them. However I am not sure my missus would approve of this sort of nocturnal bird watching of the non-feathered variety, especially approaching Xmas, with so many likely to be lagging drunk, staggering around looking for the nearest nest.

More's the point I can't afford wasting any more of!!! Barclaycard's bread, if they are going to cough up for our flights in February to the Continent It's been many years since I last took a Travel Club coach and I am not sure I could bear an eleven hour round trip all being well! Normally I wouldn't think twice about pootling up their in our little Fiesta, but it's beginning to show its age and not only did I hear a nasty clunk from the axle area, which would have me paranoid about schlepping to Tyneside in it, it really needs a couple of new tyres before I'd contemplate a mile drive on icy winter roads.

Standing opposite the Reebok Stadium late Saturday afternoon, in a lengthy queue at Horwich Parkway station, with it raining cats and dogs and with the Trotters' fans merrily taking the Mickey, I was relieved not to be one of the "cockney bastards" mentioned in their misogynistic ditty. Otherwise, after such a disheartening performance, I might indeed have been dashing home to "bash the missus"! I thought I'd seen the last of the pestering text messages from one of my Tottenham pals, when we leapfrogged them in the league a couple of weeks back.

I'd bid their challenge adieu with the response "See ya, wouldn't want to be ya! Mind you there's some silver lining to slipping back behind Spurs in the league, as this merely gives us another opportunity to gloat when we snuff out their renewed glimmer of hope. Although such thoughts were of little consolation on such a gloomy Lancashire evening. I've been following Arsenal long enough to suffer the slings and arrows of football's outrageous fortunes with good grace.

Thus it wasn't so much the bad result against Bolton which bothered me so, but the marrowless manner of the defeat, as we buckled with a whimper instead of a cry. Yet such good advice evidently fell on deaf ears on Saturday. We endured a first-half where we struggled to get past the halfway line, against a Bolton side that bettered us with their work-rate, hunger and commitment.

In fact my best hope was that the Trotters might struggle to maintain this intensity for the entire And this appeared to be the case as the Arsenal came back into the match after the break. Nevertheless I couldn't possibly fathom Wenger's justification for removing Robin Van Persie, who, with 7 goals in 7 games, is in the best form of his brief career and replacing him with Bergkamp, who hasn't found the back of a Premiership net all season.

What's more Lauren was probably the best of a bad bunch before the break. At right-back, Ralphie's probably the only member of our back-line who's far enough away from the hapless Pascal Cygan that he hasn't been affected by the sort of collywobbles that are responsible for the calamitous defending on the other side of the park.

Yet I wouldn't have thought there's an Arsenal fan on this planet who felt the answer to our problems was more attacking instincts on our RIGHT flank. You won't catch me chortling again in future when Le Prof claims not to have seen an incident on the pitch.

The evidence of the past couple of weeks would suggest that Wenger's not merely visually challenged, but that he suffers from completely myopic blind spots as far as his bald countryman's incompetence as cover at left-back is concerned. Time was when the disaster of going down away from home would have most Gooners glued to their seats, in the hope of savouring the prospect of an enthralling fight-back.

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Like Manchester United, the Canaries only managed a single shot on target and this was even true despite Watford having rotated Almen Abdi who has been one of their better attackers. Each week sees something new in midfield with Redmond, Hoolahan, and others coming in and out of the line-up with little seeming method to the changes. Newcastle United — That Wijnaldum had an excellent attacking game was nice but it was the ability of the defense to shut down a Liverpool group that scored six against Southampton in mid-week after conceding five to Crystal Palace last weekend.

Hard to know how sustainable any of this is for Newcastle but there is probably enough of it for them to just barely avoid relegation. Patrick Van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin will make some mistakes but having three center backs to help backstop those errors will help. The funny thing in dropping them down so significantly is that watching them this weekend, there are certainly signs of hope.

Eden Hazard was very good. Willian continues to be good. The candidates are the supporters, Pedro himself or Costa. Just shocking to see how this malaise has impacted very good players in the primes of their careers. Odion Ighalo continues to be a revelation for Watford. The year-old was impressive in his directness and looks like he has a bright future that looks like it may happen sooner rather than later. If Hughes gets consistent performances like this from both of his wings then the Potters may force themselves into Europa League conversations.

For the third time in four weeks, the manager facing Manchester City is going to get this award. It was a weekend where I looked bad for dropping a few players just before they put in heroic performances in massive upsets. I dropped Shaqiri in two leagues and Glenn Murray in another but was fortunate that the damage was limited at least in the short term.

I finished the week with two wins and one loss in my expert leagues, a solid performance in PL. Speaking of leagues where I faded in November like so many Arsenal seasons have over the past ten years, I went into this weekend in the Togga Premier League Fantasy Expert League having lost three matches on the trot.

Things rebounded nicely for me with Riyad Mahrez hitting a hat trick and Odion Ighalo scoring again and having a big phantom point day as well. Christian Fuchs continues to be a great pick-up and my entire midfield and forward groups — Stanislas, Lingard, Moses, Mahrez, Tadic, and Ighalo — were in double figures. That was good enough for the best return in the league.

Kevin got a big match from Willian but after him, only Daryl Janmaat at Joy has returned to my fake locker room in this league. Death, taxes and me winning in the Togga Premier League Writers League seem to be about the only things we can count on this season now that Jamie Vardy went a weekend without scoring. Only Cech and Bellerin failed to clear double digits.

I still have Lukaku to play. Obviously Riyad Mahrez was the big story here with a hat trick. All I ask is that there be two, if not three, Sunday matches instead of just one. What did we find out? Leicester City are going to give it a better go than anyone was giving them credit for as recently as a few weeks ago. Aston Villa are cooked. The rest of the relegation battle is going to be a serious battle. Not exactly a marquee match in there. Skip to main navigation. Loading scores Matchday Wrap Up.

Arnautovic himself could have had four if his finishing had been a bit better. More so than any other season I remember, one week is hardly a barometer of what is going to happen next but being dominated by a mid-table team has to be the cause for some concern.

They dominated possession yet again but they managed only a single shot on target. He told how he sat there, listening to his old man clinging on to this mortal coil, holding his hand, but at a complete loss for words. Eventually he leaned over and said to his dad "I bet you don't feel half as bad as Wrighty" and according to this chap, with his very last breath, his dad whispered "Yeh but I don't feel half as good as Kevin Campbell"!!

Unfortunately I don't have time right now to share any more stories with you but the day itself left me with a warm, fuzzy Gooner feeling, and a timely reminder of what it really means to be an Arsenal fan, sharing a special common bond, which can never be broken by a mere few bad results. One of the best bits of this special occasion, is that I get a ride there and back in this absolutely beautiful relatively new Ferrari which has been on a couple of those Gumball rallies and on the way home we were discussing how sad it is to think that in 30 years timee, I can't exactly imagine any of the current Arsenal squad being the sort of lifelong Gunners, that they'd be prepared to spend an afternoon discussing all things Arsenal with a load of loyal fans at least not for anything less than an extortionate fee of 30 odd grand!!

Most commentators point to the huge chasm at the heart of our midfield, which was previously made complete by the immense physical presence of our former captain. Getting beat at our own gaff by Chelsea for the first time in 15 years was bad enough. To my mind this was the timid approach of a manager who was far too worried about avoiding defeat.

Whereas I firmly believed it was beholden of us to at least attempt to demonstrate to the rest of the Premiership how to do it, by putting out a side with the sole purpose of staking our claim to all three points. The upshot was that Henry was far too detached and Van Persie was playing in an unfamiliar role, where he struggled to have an impact on the game.

With both sides equally determined to avoid defeat, from the box seat of being a goal to the good, the Blues were always likely to appear superior, as all too late, an ashen-faced Arsenal threw caution to the wind in our efforts to chase this crucial game. However it was the heavy mood of defeatism which descended upon Highbury after the 2nd goal that I despair of more than anything. Whereas our whimpering lambs rolled over on Sunday.

Sunday's devastating defeat has ensured that some of the comments in my previous blog have been repeated above because sadly they were so appropriate in such miserable circumstances. This is an impossible feat for someone as verbose as myself on an ordinary week, let alone after this weekend just gone.

Even with me being extremely selective I still went well over. But I couldn't believe that, after all these years of waiting to pull Real Madrid out of the Champs League hat, I completely forgot to mention Friday's draw! This was crazy when I consider the drama that went on here at Highbury Quadrant.

Every season for the past few years whenever we've been involved in European draws, I've assumed that at long last this would be my opportunity to see the Arsenal play in the Bernabeu. The mammoth stadium in Madrid is one of the few footballing temples that I've yet to see the Arsenal play in.

Additionally it would've been interesting to pay a visit to the Stadium of Light in Lisbon. Benfica's ground was designed by the same firm of architects as our new gaff and it would've been great to get a better idea of what our new experience next season might be like. However I actually had an inkling we might be matched with Madrid. Somehow I felt that the Laws of Sod and Murphy wouldn't be able to resist the irony of us pulling my particular plum draw out of the hat.

Even with our woeful European record, for the past few seasons in the eyes of much of the media, the Arsenal have been considered amongst the strongest sides in the Champions League. Whereas this season we started out right off the European radar, as we went into the competition with the weakest squad on paper in Wenger's entire time at the club.

So it seemed almost fated that we'd end up going up against the Madrillenos, the team with the most illustrious European reputation. Mercifully reputations usually count for little in any knockout competition and hopefully Real's current inconsistent run might continue until our date in February. Also, somewhat bizarrely, after so much lousy luck in the Champions League for so many seasons and when our league form away from home has gone to pot, suddenly good fortune seems to be smiling down upon perhaps the least deserving Arsenal side, compared to those we've put out in the past who've had a much more worthy pedigree.

Still it will make a change for us to be going into a game as such supposed underdogs according to many. I am always sat in front of my laptop for these draws. I don't like travelling on the official club trips to European venues because the local police invariably target British fans as a result of our reputation from yesteryear which is largely unwarranted these days, especially with the majority of placid and respectful travelling Gooners. This often ensures that on the official outings one is herded off the plane, onto a coach, into the stadium and after the customary post-match delay, Gooners endure the reverse procedure.

This can often mean that one ends up getting to see so little of the locality that you might as well have travelled to Leicester for all the flavour one gets of the foreign gaff. We therefore much prefer to travel independently but with so many awaydays abroad in recent times, absolutely the only way we can afford our little sojourns to foreign shores is by bagging cheap flights. However as anyone who has tried to bag bargain flights on the day of the draw will know, unless you are very quick at the keyboard and book within seconds of the draw being announced, the prices of flight seats tend to shoot up very dramatically.

Thus it was a bit of a disaster when I discovered that I had an appointment on Friday morning which I simply couldn't avoid or postpone. Ro has heard me ranting and raving on these occasions, as I frantically try and book our trip. I've also detailed to her on many occasions the regular panic-stricken sagas, with long-winded descriptions of my various computer related tribulations. But she's never experienced it for herself. So I was up early on Friday, in order to scribble down several pages of notes on how and where to find the flights, listing each of the destinations with the various airline options and prices.

I was attending this meeting on behalf of a pal who's abroad at the moment. It was really important for him otherwise I would've definitely taken a rain check , so I didn't want to let him down and as a result I completely forgot all about the draw the moment I walked out the front door. It was probably nearly 12 when we'd finished our appointment and I received a call from my mate in Thailand, primarily to find out how we'd got on. However when I think back, it was absolutely barmy to have my Spurs mate phoning me from a beach in Asia, to tell me that I'd finally got the draw I'd wanted.

So I immediately apologised to him and told him to call me back in a few minutes and was straight on the phone to the missus, holding my breath until I'd heard whether we had something sorted. I am not sure whether I'd have done any better, being slightly more proficient on the Apple Mac keyboard, but I was over the moon to hear we had flights booked for less than quid.

Ro had found cheaper flights but as is often the case, when she hit the confirm button they'd already disappeared. But by the time I called her the same seats were already quid! But she couldn't confirm who Man Utd were playing and I spent a further few minutes on the phone waiting for more details to come up on Sky Sports News, until I burst out laughing, explaining to the missus that it had genuinely slipped my mind that they'd already been knocked out of the competition I guess it was one of the few occasions when my accursed memory proved the source of such great pleasure!

Before I go, I guess I should reveal that I heard some shocking news today which might suggest that, while many of us point to a lack of Arsenal spirit as the source of our recent problems on the pitch, it could well have something to do with our club's awful karma coming back to bite them on the bum. My sister's best mate is married to a chap who's second in command of the merchandising at THOF. He's been working for Arsenal for over fifteen years now and after slogging his guts out for a long time, trying to cope with the buying, the warehouse and the shops, a few months back the club employed a couple of young whippersnappers, one of whom was placed in control of the shops and the other the warehouse.

The other week, the one in charge of the warehouse walked out of his job, unable to cope I guess under pressure with all the Xmas trade and last week our pal was invited to a meeting, where he assumed he was going to be asked to take over this responsibility again.

Having discussed the matter with his missus, they concluded that considering the way the club had shown absolutely no appreciation for all his graft when they were eventually forced to pay a couple more salaries for the work he'd been doing , there was no way he'd be going back to slogging his guts out, slaving all hours for no apparent reward. However to his astonishment this was far from the subject of his summons to a meeting.

Without a by or leave, after giving over fifteen years of his life to working there and a week before Xmas, he was given the "tin-tack", made redundant at the latter end of his working life with only the absolute minimum required by law as a pay off is it a week for every year worked? I've heard of many shoddy goings on at THOF but this is about the most shameful! It was bad enough booting him out after all these years a few days before the club's Xmas party, but the way they went about it showed no class, manners or respect.

Doubtless the bean counting Edelman is behind this fiasco and I wouldn't mind betting that it's related to the move to the new stadium. So much for the Gunners' family, shame on you Arsenal! Here's wishing one and all love, light and peace over the festive season Bernard -- mail to: LondonN5 gmail.

I'm a bit loathe to lay into the Gunners with yet another whinge. Saint Alan also pointed out that the Toons knew full well that their only chance of winning was to prevent the Arsenal from playing football. Whatever the case, we must at all times try and retain the proper perspective. However a disastrous penalty shoot-out defeat to lowly Brentford was evidence that a preference for playing and the pretty passing game are not the only factors consistent throughout the club, from top to bottom.

Sadly I never seem to be able to lever myself out of a snug warm pit on a Saturday morning early enough to watch the U18s play at a windswept London Colney. With all Premiership club absolutely terrified of having their best prospects tapped up by a club with greater resources, they are all trying their utmost to tie their best teenagers down with extremely rewarding long contracts.

These eighteen year old children can walk into a car showroom and slap down a quarter of a million quid for the flashest car of their dreams, or an entire basket load of the brightest, sparkling bling. My sympathies were with the Great Gatsby Scott Fitzgerald , as the Brentford U18s cuckold of a coach had to contend with constantly having his toes stepped on by his boss. And alongside him was another geezer who was hollering at one Brentford player in particular, in a language which according to the names on the team sheet, must have been Bulgarian.

While the life of a young professional footballer might appear glamorous to many, turning out before three men and a dog, on a windswept morning at London Colney every other week, is hardly the stuff of Champions League dreams - and I imagine the Arsenal's state of the art facility is perhaps the height of luxury, compared to some of the less impressive training grounds the kids visit when playing the likes of Millwall and MK Dons.

So for those Arsenal youngsters who haven't had a sniff of any first team exposure, this prestigious tournament is perhaps their only opportunity to appear before of a crowd of any sort, to hear their name called out by total strangers and to catch the feint, but nonetheless inspiring scent of the professional experience of performing on a public stage.

After trapping our kids in their own half for much of the first 45 with their prodigious work rate, it was hard to begrudge them going in a goal to the good at half-time. Whatever the case mercifully it was a completely different story second-half, as it was our turn to spend much of the 45 encamped in the visitors half.

Although much as with their first XI peers, as soon as the Arsenal ship started to take on water, they began to resemble a rudderless ship, with no-one really demonstrating the necessary leadership qualities to encourage his team-mates to get to grips with the game. Admittedly Fabrice Muamba is a midfielder by trade and we did see him talking to his team-mates. It would seem that Muamba has impressed sufficiently since to have earned a call up with his refugee status for his newly adopted country.

However until defeat loomed towards the end of 90 minutes and both these two senior players began to pull their fingers out, I got the distinct impression from their half-hearted efforts that they were both decidedly unimpressed with having to make this drop down after their experiences on the fringes of the first team.

Song actually stabbed home the 78th minute equaliser which finally arose after some delicate skills by the Danish striker, who left a couple of defenders for dead as he worked his way in from the bye-line towards the six yard box. After a pep talk from the Brentford gaffer at the change round for extra-time, the visitors came out with all guns blazing.

Having wolfed down my less than delectable hot-dog, I strolled down the other end of the pitch for a sneaky fag. I found myself chatting to a fellow Gooner who was in an awkward predicament with the son of his best pal playing at left-back for Brentford.

Stokes in fact scored what I assumed would prove to be the winner right in front of us, following some more good work by Bendtner. For a moment I thought the move ended with the fairly typical result, as I saw the ball nestle in what I assume was the side netting. But I immediately realised my mistake with the resultant celebrations. As I explained to the conflicted Gooner parent, Anthony Stokes is the perfect example why folks might not fancy sending their offspring to the Arsenal.

Moreover Anthony Stokes is already a hero of mine, having stuck a metaphorical two-fingers up at Fergie, as according to the Times, old Red Nose was prepared to pay half a million quid for the Dublin teenager. I am probably as desperate as Liam Brady to see an Irish player come through the ranks at the Arsenal, because it would be brilliant for me with my weekly column in the Irish Examiner.

But sadly Stokes seems to have slipped back down the striking pecking order at Highbury with the arrival of Lupoli and Bendtner. It was outrageous as the teams changed ends after the first period of extra-time, to see the overly officious referee tell the players off for taking on water and giving them a hard time for merely trying to re-hydrate themselves. Most of us thought it should've been game over, that was everyone except the Brentford lads. In the second period of extra-time, as the clock ticked down, they were humping the ball upfield for their nippy substitute striker and loading the penalty area at every possible opportunity throw-ins, free-kicks etc On one such occasion they worked themselves a shooting opportunity, where a snap shot resulted in a great save from Vito Mannone, but sadly he was only able to push the ball back out from whence it had come.

It was absolutely criminal that a half asleep Arsenal defence gifted the Brentford player a second bite of the cherry and despite Vito getting back to his feet and pulling off a decent attempt to stop the second shot, the ball found the back of the net. You could sense that it was a real big deal for Brentford and their fans and having been on the brink of going out of the tournament, they were all lifted by the equaliser.

Thus I was convinced they would go on to win the penalty shoot out. However any sympathy soon evaporated when Fabrice Muamba got his opposite number off the hook, with an almost exact replica ricket. After the sixth Brentford spot kick found the back of the net in sudden death, it was Henri Lansbury who ended up hanging his head in shame when the keeper pulled off a decent save.

It would have certainly been better than all the hangdog faces of the Arsenal youngsters, arriving in for training on Friday, totally depressed after a somewhat embarrassing defeat. I believe we last achieved success in this tournament in successive seasons and and I recall travelling to an away leg of the final against Coventry, where a young Jay Boothroyd looked the business. He reminded me of Stan Collymore, with everything in his locker, size, pace and ball control.

Then again what do I know? In recent youth teams I thought the likes of Julian Gray and Jerome Thomas looked equally, if not better prospects than Jermaine Pennant It will be off little consolation to Liam Brady, as considering the amount of money invested in our youth program, he must be absolutely desperate to be able demonstrate some significant signs of success. However in the light of the equally disappointing efforts of the first XI, if anything at least the youngsters are consistent Obviously a Spurs loss is always worth a bit of mileage in the mickey taking stakes, but our North London rivals have been off the radar for so long, that their results haven't really mattered in recent times.

Whereas tonight I sat here hollering at the telly because the ridiculous Uriah Rennie handed the Lillywhites all three points at the death, by awarding a penalty for an extremely dubious handball. Meanwhile I'm assured by my Spurs mate that their run of form can't last and that things will be back to normal soon enough. But if I'm sat here worrrying about Spurs establishing a four point advantage over us in the table, then you know that something is seriously wrong!

Its hard to put our problems into proper perspective because we grown so accustomed to success under Wenger. However in light of the cyclical nature of football, I guess we're long overdue a dodgy spell. What's more things could be a lot worse. I was listening earlier to a podcast of Radio 5's Sunday Sportsweek show, in which Gary Richardson interviewed a financial whizz kid who happens to have the misfortune to be a Man Utd fan.

He confirmed that according to the balance sheets, last season Liverpool earned 15 million Euros more than Man Utd from their triumphant run in Europe and that was with Utd going out in the knockout stages. So he estimates that with all the additional incidental income ticket sales, merchandising etc.

According to this chap, while Utd will have been unlikely to have budgeted for their extended involvement in European competition, as far as he's concerned it was probably essential if their new American owners were going to have any prospect whatsoever of servicing their ginormous loans. However the reality of this situation is that the Glazer's could end up having their new toy repossessed, with the result that Man U might find themselves in the control of a bunch of even more anonymous American bankers yes that's a "b"!

Nevertheless, the vast majority of footie fans couldn't give a monkey's about such boardroom shenanigans. All that matters to them is what goes on on the pitch. I suppose their financial circumstances could result in a "fire sale" of their star footballers in the summer. But for the moment the Moaners are fortunate that they don't have to contend with the possibility of losing Wayne Rooney at the end of this season. Whereas there seems to be an ever increasing sense of foreboding amongst us Gooners, as many have interpreted Thierry Henry's recent lukewarm body language as evidence of the inevitablity of him buggering off to Barca.

My position, as I've already stated, is that Titi's silence on the subject speaks volumes. But until such time as I've witnessed proof positive considering the portents of such doom, I'll probably refuse to believe it until the crowing Catalans are proudly displaying their latest capture in a Barca shirt!

Meanwhile whether he continues to fulfill his contract at THOF, or decides his future lies elsewhere, our captain's current preference for keeping his own counsel can't possibly be having a positive effect on team morale. After all, although our title prospects have gone for a complete burton, it's hard to imagine our leader on the pitch encouraging his team mates on to chase Champions League qualification, if there's some suspicion that Titi might be competing for another club in next season's competition.

In the opinion of many, we've already given up on the Premiership, but if they don't wake up and smell the coffee soon, we might find ourselves struggling to cling on to European qualification. Even if Henry eventually confirms that he's going to stay, the current air of uncertainty can't be healthy.

What's more in recent matches, when we've most needed a captain to inspire some 'do or die' commitment, there's been obvious signs of Henry's head dropping. While we've often witnessed Thierry leading by example, haring the length of the pitch to try and win back possession, personally I've never been convinced that a player who shoulders such a huge share of the goal scoring burden should be bothered by any further responsibilities.

I've always believed either midfielders or defenders make the best captains, because unlike a striker they don't play with their back to their team mates for much of the match and are therefore much more aware whether their colleagues are pulling their weight. Also a team leader is the last player who could be transferred into our club. It takes time to learn the correct buttons to push with each individual. To date Senderos seems the only viable alternative in my humble opinion and if Henry should leave, I only hope Wenger doesn't choose another stop-gap due to the fact that he feels it's too soon for the Swiss centre-back.

If given a long term run in the team, I'm sure Phillipe will grow in confidence. At least his inclusion in Saturday's line-up left our defence looking far less nervous. Although in the absence of Pascal Cygan, they certainly weren't the only ones, as at least I didn't have to spend the entire match hiding behind the sofa, absolutely bricking it whenever the Toon attacked. Circumstances prevented me making it to St. James and I find the rare instance of having to watch the Gunners live on the telly far more aggravating.

Even where the away fans sit at St. James Park, right up in the gods, it may be hard to maintain the illusion of being able to make oneself heard, but at least there's still some sense of playing ones part in proceedings, by hollering ones head off with encouragement. Whereas I get incredibly hot and bothered by the impotent feeling of sitting in front of the gogglebox, screaming about every single mistake.

I'm reminded that it's much more stressful supporting the Arsenal from afar. I wouldn't wish ill on any Arsenal player, least of all one whose limited abilities don't prevent him from trying his best, but I am sorry Pascal that I can't help but hope your injury is nothing too trivial, or one which doesn't heal before the broken bones in the feet of either Cole or Clichy. At least on Saturday Cygan's enforced absence meant we got the defensive line-up which would be most Gooners preference.

Although personally I'd have reversed the full-backs, as Ralphie doesn't look too comfortable at left-back and with Kolo there instead, only one of our four defenders would be playing out of his natural position. However it would seem that as far as Wenger is concerned, there is no substitute for experience. Mind you there was some evidence of this in Senderos' struggle with Alan Shearer, as the wily old striker provided our Swiss centre-back with an education in the abuse of the elbow.

Much like Mark Hughes in his day, Shearer is the sort of striker capable of ruffling any defender's feathers. Yet while they might be the subject for so much loathing in an opposition shirt, what I wouldn't give right now for a just little evidence of such feistiness in the Arsenal squad. Perhaps it will serve us well to be going into the Chelsea game with our backs so far up against the wall, instead of riding high as we've been in recent encounters.

Although on this occasion I rather suspect, if we are going to achieve the right result, it will be us who'll be required to disturb the Blues recent winning rhythm, with some of our own old school physicality. In seasons past such a disappointment has served as a timely reminder to some of our prima donnas, that when the going gets tough, merely turning up with our pretty passing game, is often not nearly enough, in a Premiership where hunger and commitment still count for plenty.

However what was so depressing against Newcastle on Saturday night was that we've grown accustomed to witnessing a robust reaction to such a hiccup. James Park after our woeful capitulation at the Reebok last week. My brow became even more furrowed listening to Le Prof's bitter post-match postulating. It might be his policy not to criticize his players in public but he sounded like every other broken record manager as he blamed the ref, Shearer and Gilberto's sending off.

Inconsistent officials are, and always will be an intrinsic part of the beautiful game and griping about them is as pointless as complaining about a bad bobble of the ball. To my mind it looked as if Dermott Gallagher suddenly decided he needed to get to grips with the game before it became too feisty. As a result, I thought he flashed a yellow card at Gilberto without realising he'd already booked the Brazilian and it was far easier to show him the red than admit his mistake in front of millions, by rescinding the second booking.

Anyone who's found themselves flagging during a football match would be familiar with the way in which the Brazilian dangled out a lackadaisical leg. So I'm inclined to believe our lazy midfielder was already looking forward to his half-time breather, when he foolishly chose to bring his opponent down instead of having to leg it after the zippy zebra. It also occurred to me at the time that he might regret putting himself on a knife-edge for the entire second-half, only one badly timed challenge away from having to take an early bath.

Yet in truth the Arsenal had a full complement of players for the first hour of this encounter, which was more than enough time for our talented team to put the Toon to the sword. Bramble showed some early promise at Ipswich and Boumsong formed one half of a formidable partnership with Mexes at Auxerre. Perhaps these two lummoxes will go on to prove everyone wrong, but I rather suspect their lapses in concentration will be the cause of Newcastle being torn apart in matches to come against stouter opposition this season.

So while the media laud the mettle Newcastle demonstrated to defeat the not so mighty Arsenal, like all our other rotten results on the road, in my opinion we were the architects of our own downfall. Wenger was also wasting his breath blaming Shearer.

Saint Alan has been getting away with being the St. On Saturday the ref appeared so reluctant to reprimand the old war horse, that when Gallagher was finally forced to book him, I thought he did so almost apologetically. There was an item on MOTD2 about long-suffering Sunderland fans, schlepping a similar mile round trip to the capital for the second time in seven days, subsequent to 9 successive defeats, loyally supporting their side, despite the inevitability of the drop and with little more to hope for than the occasional goal celebration and a rare point.

I recorded the sycophantic British backslapping of the Sports Personality of the Year earlier that same evening, in favour of flicking between Barca v Seville and the Milan derby. There was plenty of talent on display but a dearth of the sort of frantic, full-blooded commitment, which makes football in this country so exciting.

It occurred to me that the tepid brand of football we are playing at the moment might be perfect on the Continent. Instead of the prospect of losing our star striker in the summer, perhaps Wenger should be considering shifting the club, lock stock and new stadia, to southern Spain! The only glimmer of hope at St. James was the sight of Senderos geeing up his colleagues in the tunnel before the game.

As I drive past this increasingly impressive edifice a couple of times a day, I never imagined the possibility of commencing our first campaign at the new gaff without the prospect of Champions League footie. OK I guess I'd better admit it, never mind dodgy Dermott and the sending-off at St James Park, this evening's defeat was all my fault, as circumstances conspired to prevent me making it to Tyneside.

Mind you with yet another kick-off inconveniently timed, with total disregard to the hardy legion of loyal travelling fans, I am almost relieved I couldn't get there. Or else I would've doubtless been holed up in a hotel room in Newcastle all night, too depressed to venture out until tomorrow's trip home, for fear of being recognised as a southerner and having salt rubbed in my open Arsenal wounds, by some smart-arsed Geordies.

Not that I, or any of the Gooners who actually did make the five hundred mile round trip schlep to Toon Town, had any chance of influencing proceedings and altering the outcome. At least certainly not from the seats right up in the gods, which away fans are allocated at St James. However as is always the case on those rare occasions when I can't get to a game and the result has gone against us, I can't help but feel that it would've all been different, if only I'd been there.

It's totally illogical I know, but no more barmy than the idea that I can predict the score based on how substantial a "pony" I've had the previous evening, or that the Arsenal's success is dependent on me putting on a particularly lucky t-shirt that day Then again it's probably more productive to be pointing the finger at me, than at Dermott Gallagher's incompetent and dreadfully inconsistent refereeing.

At least I can guarantee I'll be able to turn up at the next game, whereas such awful officiating is just part and parcel of football's infuriating vagaries and rotten referees will continue to remain as ever present at the ball itself. So to be honest I find it a bit of a wind up, and I'm sure I am not alone, when Wenger comes on TV afterwards, sounding like all those other broken record managers, by blaming the outcome on bad decisions.

Obviously I appreciate he was annoyed, I was no less livid myself, and I realise he can't be seen to be coating off his own players in public. Personally my immediate reaction was that the ref didn't realise he'd already booked Gilberto and it wasn't until Gallagher pulled out the yellow card, that it dawned on him he'd made a ricket and was then obliged to produce the red. Naturally it might be a complete figment of my imagination, but I thought that Gallagher was just trying to get to grips with the game and prevent it becoming too feisty.

However I'm inclined to wonder whether he might have been a little more lenient, over what was after all a completely innocuous challenge, if he'd realised he already booked the Brazilian. I can't actually recall whether there was the prospect of a threatening counter-attack and Gilberto could use the excuse that he was breaking this up, in order to give us time to retreat. Yet having committed many similar fouls myself in my youth, when I was flagging during matches, the way he dangled out a lackadaisical leg and took his opponent down, I'm inclined to believe Gilberto was already looking forward to his half-time breather and therefore decided on the laziest option, not to nullify any immediate danger, but because he couldn't be bothered to leg it after the zippy zebra.

Playing as our holding midfielder, the Brazilian should know much better than to pick up such unnecessary bookings. With the number of challenges he has to make, he's faced with the possibility of committing fouls all over the pitch, by being only a fraction of a second late.

It occurred to me at the time that he could well end up regretting picking up the yellow card so carelessly and spending the entire second half on a knife edge. Although I wouldn't have dreamt he'd be taking an early bath for such a banal incident. Especially when Saint Shearer was causing actual bodily harm all over the pitch with almost absolute impunity. When Gallagher finally punished his umpteenth transgression, I almost expected the ref to apologise to the old war horse.

It might've only come to some folks attention a few years back, when he got off scott free with that stamping incident, which was conveniently ignored so that he could play for his country, but actually Shearer's been getting away with his dirty tricks for donkey's years.

To the extent that these days some of the refs who've been around for a while seem to turn an increasing blind eye to many of his antics, as if there's an "old school" acceptance that there's one set of rules for everyone else and one for Shearer, in sympathy with his advancing years and the fact that he increasingly depends on maintaining such an unfair advantage over some of his younger, more naive opponents.

However the fact that he's fast approaching his eventual retirement is no excuse for any such partiality. Shearer's been singing his "it's a physical game tune" his entire career, while leaving the imprint of his elbow on the ugly mugs of defenders up and down the country and the fact of the matter is that he's nothing short of the playground bully. However with all this whinging I am beginning to sound like Wenger, when Shearer's been at St James for most of the nine seasons since our last defeat up there.

We've also been on the wrong end of our fair share of incompetent officials, without suffering two successive defeats in the past three years, or more's the point, without failing to score in the two successive games in the past five years. What's more we had a full complement of players for the first hour of this game without making an impression on the score-sheet.

As with our other rotten results on the road this season, what annoys me most is that the media are likely to go overboard about a terrific Toon performance in the second half. Shay Given made a fabulous reaction save to keep out Thierry Henry's well struck volley, but the truth of the matter is that Wenger can contend all he wants that "we were the better team" but the fact that we only worked the Newcastle keeper once, in the entire ninety minutes just ain't good enough.

To date the centre-back partnership of Bramble and Boumsong has been the Toons' principal achilles heel. There was a time when I thought Bramble was quite a decent prospect and playing alongside Mexes, Boumsong was one half of a pretty effective defensive brick wall I believe for Auxerre? They are both big, strong and fast, but so far their performances in the Premiership have given me cause to question Souness' judgement as a manager.

Perhaps they will build on this performance and go on to settle down into a redoubtable defence. However I rather suspect that before the season is out, there will be visitors to St James Park, like Chelsea or Utd, who will take advantage of their lapses in concentration, to positively tear the Toon apart.

And it will be in the light of such results that we will fully realise quite how lame our efforts were tonight, in respect of our failure to get behind these two lummoxes more than a couple of times! I was seriously hoping that our woeful display at the Reebok would prove enough of a wake up call. The reason we've not suffered successive defeats for so long has been that in seasons past we've only required one such reverse of the form book, to remind us that no matter how good you are on paper, football in this country remains sufficiently committed that the desired outcome in most matches requires a lot more than merely turning up!

There were a couple of minor consolations in this lamentable single goal defeat. I quite like the fact that we now get another chance to snuff out completely Spurs renewed glimmer of hope. The other was the fact that Cygan's "injury" meant we finally got the defensive lline-up most Gooners have been calling for since Cole and Clichy both broke the same bone in their feet.

Personally I'd prefer to see the full-backs reversed, with Lauren in his regular position at right-back and Kolo at left-back. Then at least we'd only be playing the one defender out of their more customary position. Also I am not sure the right-footed Ralphie looks particularly comfortable on the opposite flank.

However I am not going to quibble, because anything is better than the sort of nervous performances we've seen from our back line with Cygan at full-back. Personally I find watching the Arsenal play so badly!! I wouldn't dream of giving Arsenal players anything but my support from the terraces and at least there's a sense, no matter how futile, that you can at least try and have an impact on the circumstances.

Yet in the privacy of my own living room, I will scream blue murder over our every mistake and I find nothing more frustrating than bellowing my head off at an inanimate goggle box in the corner of the lounge. Saturday's example reminded me that if it wasn't for the outlet of being able to vent my fervent feelings about the Arsenal at live football matches, so far this season I'd probably be blowing a gasket every other week and doubtless would've long since lost what remains of my heir, having torn much of it out whilst fuming in front of the TV.

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