Boy in the Clock End
By Nick MacWilliam
I knew it couldn’t last. I’d been reliving
the moment again and again in my mind. He picks it up in the centre
circle. Skips away easily from the first challenge, ghosts past
the second… the third…the fourth… must be, surely…
byooodiful! Real Madrid 0 – Arsenal 1! Up yours, General Franco!
You too, Beckham! What a display from the boys. Forget the media
with their ‘Madrid were rubbish’ jargon, this was a
new dawn in the history of the mighty Arsenal.
My state of nirvana lasted until roughly 4.45pm the next Saturday.
Who needs the killjoys in the press when your own team can bring
you down quicker than a case of birdflu. Sure enough, the lions
of the Bernabeu reverted back to the donkeys of the premiership
at Blackburn, going down 1-0 in an inspiration-free performance.
Again. Now it’s starting to look as if there won’t be
too many big trips to Spain or Italy next season (although possibly
to Estonia or Norway in the wotnot cup). Top brass at the club have
been reassuring everyone that they can cover for missing a year
in the Champion’s League. That’s nice to hear (must
be particularly sweet music to the players, knowing that low is
acceptable), but forgive me if I’m not convinced.
Like it or not, this is the benchmark, the bare minimum if you
have pretensions of being a big player in Europe. If you’re
not in, you’re nothing. Forget about raking in the biggest
gate receipts in the world, it’s not going to happen against
the likes of Viking Stavanger. This team has gone from genuinely
being one of the best in the world to struggling for the UEFA cup
(I knew the name, really) in under two years. It’s a funny
Some people say there’s not enough Englishness in the team,
too many bloody foreigners. Of course, Kolo Toure couldn’t
give a toss, whereas Ashley Cole is as loyal as they come. I don’t
think so. It seems to me that certain players have reached a level
of comfort which has numbed their passion. But we shouldn’t
blame them. It must be difficult to maintain your focus when the
club is trying to drown you in cash. Maybe it’s time to say
goodbye to some people. No hard feelings. They’ve been good
for the club and the club’s been good for them. If they ever
return, we can wave white handkerchiefs in appreciation.
But hang on a minute. Arsenal are perfectly capable of putting
together another one of their late-season surges and claiming fourth.
After all, the Spuds must be getting nosebleeds up where they are.
The fixture list isn’t too daunting and, at least for the
time being, we’ve still got Henry. But it’s going to
require one thing that’s been lacking all season: consistency
(and by that I don’t mean consistently losing away games).
They need to find it quickly as well, and not only for the status
and financial rewards that Champion’s League football brings.
But also because the prospect of having Spurs turn up to the penultimate-ever
game at Highbury, having already sealed our European spot, is getting
more real every week. And that’s a scenario that doesn’t
bear thinking about.