Not a great performance by the boys (and many of them were boys) against Ukraine’s finest last night at the Grove, but it was enough – just. We’ll need a minimum of a point in Oporto at O Estádio do Dragão (“The Dragon Stadium”) in thirteen days’ time to finish first. I’d imagine though, looking back to last season, when Arsčne rested players in the last two Champions League group games in Prague and Seville, that we’ll play a weakened side out there.
I know it’s a bit of a fetish with me,  but I think being home second –  guaranteed to group winners – in a two leg tie is a REAL advantage. You know what you need to do. If it goes to extra-time or penalties, that too is  on your own patch . Still, last season finishing runners-up and drawing Milan away second in the San Siro turned out OK. In fact, for me, our performance in one of the world’s classic grounds was by some distance our best of the season in all competitions. The San Siro is turning into a happy hunting ground for us, what with THAT fabulous 5 goal win against Inter there as well in 2003/4. On current form there’s little chance of a visit to Rome next May but, just maybe, if we pick up some form we can get the party started again this season. We’ll see.
Next up, Chelsea at the Bridge on Sunday. Total focus please boys. We need to dig out some sort of result. It would be especially sweet for me if we could REALLY work it up Nicolas Anelka. His outburst in last Sunday’s News of the World really took the biscuit. WHAT a total plum! According to him he decided to leave because he lost out in a poll of Gooners between him and Ian Wright for who should be first choice partner for the Devine Dennis up front. What? Are you sure? Ian Wright had his detractors amongst the Gooner Nation, not so much of him per se but of the fact that we became very much a one trick pony after his arrival, coming to rely more and more on him alone to win us games with the No Goal Patrol doing its thing at the back. What is beyond doubt however is that Anelka, at the time, was a young player making his way. Wright was an established goal scorer and an Arsenal legend.
Wright had a personality that made him adored by his teams’ followers and cordially detested by opposing fans. Anelka appeared to have undergone personality by-pass surgery. I’ve been lucky to watch some incredibly gifted goal-scoring forwards in the 43 years since I watched my first live match, from Pelé to Geoff Hurst, Gerd Müller to il gigante buono John Charles, from Johann Cruyff to Diego Maradona, from Marco van Basten to Luigi Riva. They were all very different in physique and style. What they all shared was a fantastic attitude and personality. When I first saw Nicholas Anelka, it only took a few games for him to show that technically and physically he had it ALL. I still remember a wonderful goal he scored at Ewood Park in the run in to the double in 1998. After receiving the ball he made a great run, and with  just the slightest swing of the hips he had the Rovers goalie going the wrong way to allow him to clinically slot home. He also scored a fine goal on the counter-attack against Toon in the Cup Final to complete our second Double. Yet he never seemed to smile, to celebrate a great goal with the totally unhinged, completely mental, pure JOY of Ian Wright. I always had that nagging doubt that he wasn’t really enjoying himself.
He moved off to Real Madrid, never settled, back to his first club Paris Saint-Germain, never settled,  then on loan to Liverpool, never settled, then to Manchester City, never settled,  then to Fenerbahçe, never settled, then to Bolton Wanderers, never settled and now, finally (maybe) to Chelsea. He’s had runs of good form. There’s no doubt that in a good Chelsea side he’s definitely in form at the moment. Yet he should have been so, so much more. By now, in the best years of his career, he should be one of the top 2-3 players in the world. There’s something lacking in his make-up. He just ain’t got soul. I REALLY would like to do him up a treat on Sunday. Such a waste.
Next blog I’ll return to my all-time Arsenal and World XI selections. It just hasn’t seemed appropriate for the last couple, with the wheels coming off.
Here’s to a battling performance at the Bridge on Sunday.