by JAMES CURTIS - Now I know how Paula Radcliffe felt when she stopped, squatted down, and relieved herself on the side of the road in that famous London marathon. Like Radders, Arsenal had run their course by the final whistle at Spurs last night, dropping out of the title race for another season, mind, body and soul at long last destroyed. And having to watch one filthy Spurs fan wearing a Barcelona kit, giving it the two fingers, placed me firmly in Radcliffe’s gutter-toilet.
Last week a friend had compared the business end of this season to an aeroplane crashing and burning as it comes in for landing. Indeed, the injury nightmare was like watching Arsenal drop from the heavens, as the tail, nose and wings rattled apart and plummeted earthwards.
In the build up to the North London derby, the ejector seat of our metaphoric plane was the last chance to free ourselves from the ensuing mess. By full time Danny Rose and Gareth Bale had stolen the last parachutes and the ejector seat button was jammed. Right there and then, Arsenal’s season had exploded just before entry.
To keep up the belief that something magical could come of this season was no more than a tease, which simply goes with watching such an up and down season. Being told by that horrible confederacy of media pundits that Arsenal were in the title race and then out of it made the path Arsenal were treading on an overgrown one to follow.
Only in hindsight can we see that the season was stretched too far for Arsenal. In truth, Wenger’s team had not been playing well for a while, but the results and late drama kept on coming like a heart attack that just wouldn’t stop. Perhaps asking Arsenal to seal yet another comeback against their most treacherous rivals was all too much, and maybe it was safe they didn’t in case any fans did actually keel over.
It’s one of the lowest moments I’ve ever felt as an Arsenal fan. On this occasion It was difficult to stick around for the end of the game, although I couldn’t tear my twisted eyes away, probably in hope that one Arsenal fan more pent up than I had the bravery to run on the pitch and stick a corner flag in the ribs of a fat, slimy Spurs ball-boy who bathed in provoking the away section.
The walk down Seven Sisters High Road was like the long green mile, and the heat of the underground nearly had me fried. The fumes from the car exhausts and the steam from the burger bars increased the throbbing in my temples, and because of the long walk to the tube I just couldn’t get away from the broken-down shit-hole of Tottenham, where the main source of business seemed to be cheap haircuts.
But that’s just it about football and the city; it’s really one big heat ball where the average man suffers. The derby had been hotly contested and I could see the thin transparent layer of warmth lingering just above the away supporters. The guy next to me was red with anger where his neck burst over the collar of his polo-shirt like a baked muffin, and grew to a fine scarlet when he led a chant of “YOU’RE JUST A FAT ROBERT PIRES” at David Ginola, Spurs’ half-time guest.
The Arsenal fans had shown great support from start to finish and if only the players could have mustered the same high intense passion for the capitals biggest derby, the outcome might have been different. There were too many shrugs of the shoulders and hanging heads when things were not going to plan, even if the effort was there.
Sol Campbell’s heroic endeavour couldn’t be traced by the rest of the team who found themselves sprawled out on the grass when really they needed to stand on their feet and do battle. At times I couldn’t tell the difference between the twenty and thirty-somethings, and sadly the introduction of Robin van Persie was too little too late, the underlying story of this enthralling season; enthralling, but all too familiar in its sour culmination.
The beauty of football though is that it isn’t a marathon, more like a never ending race. Sure, this season looks to be all but finished but in the long history of our national game this is just a checkpoint for Arsenal. Yes, there will need to be assessments and rethinking come the summer and I suspect a few names that were good for the sprint, but not capable of a long distance Arsenal career will be quietly dropping out.
Sadly for Radcliffe the embarrassment of her public call of nature will always tarnish her, and for the time being last night’s result will haunt all of you. In the long scheme of things however, Arsenal are storming ahead in the race with their loathsome north London rivals who will forever be playing catch-up, and last night I was just glad to leave behind that armpit of English football that we all know as Shite Hart Lane. THE ARSENAL