Boleyn Ground / A Look Ahead To Bolton

Not quite the performance we’d have hoped for against the ‘Appy ‘Ammers in the east end yesterday evening, especially in the first half. A particularly bone-headed piece of defending by Mikaël Silvestre allowed West Ham to open the scoring in time added on in the first half.
The first half was also marked by anonymous, disappointing performances by Jack Wilshere and Fran Mérida. Let’s give credit where credit’s due, West Ham got amongst us and wouldn’t let us settle but both players proved how difficult it is to shine without the benefit of regular first-team football.
The injection of Abou Diaby and Samir Nasri for these two from the bench made all the difference. Bish bosh, two good goals, one from Eduardo’s head and one slotted by Aaron Ramsey after close interplay in the box and that was all she wrote. Lukasz Fabiański also deserves to be mentioned in despatches for two fine saves and an overall secure performance in goal. He must start to push Manual Almunia for the automatic number one pick in goal if he keeps on turning in performances like yesterday’s.
Our reward for beating the Hammers is another away tie against Premier League opposition, Stoke City. We can’t whinge too much about the draw as we pretty much had the rub of the green with home draws last season. Sufficient that I express my relief that the more extreme pre-match forecasts about Arsčne putting out a Carling Cup team were proved wrong. Although not the strongest possible starting eleven we could have picked it was sufficiently strong to show due respect to the grand old trophy I think. Our visit to the Britannia Stadium will be a testing one, no doubt. We’ll need to pick a side at least as strong to have any hope of going through.
We need to push the FA Cup to one side now though and concentrate all our efforts on the visit of Bolton Wanderers to the Grove on Wednesday night. It the weather forecasts are right it’ll be another Arctic night in Islington. The Trotters are fighting for their lives at the wrong end of the table. I’m one of a small minority of Gooners who had some time for the work Sam Allardyce did at the Reebok. Without the cash of the heavier financial hitters in the Premier League he cleverly constructed a decent side. We never enjoyed our trips to Bolton when he was in charge and I maintain there was more to Allardyce tactically as a manager than just clogging us, although they did their fair share of that.
Anyway, Allardyce is gone now and the manager’s chair is up for grabs chairman Phil Gartside having given Gary Megson the boot. Assistant manager Chris Evans is holding the reigns pending a permanent appointment. Gartside in sacking Megson at this time of the season isn’t doing the club any favours I think, especially as he clearly doesn’t have a ready-made replacement. Leaving the club rudderless with the club in stormy seas is not a good idea. Still that’s their blues, not ours. I’m afraid we need to take advantage, as ruthlessly as possible, on Wednesday night.
Speaking of Gartside, he continues to sing his song about Premier League Two or whatever the idea is called this week. I call it the “Gartside Plan B” or “what happens when we get relegated again?” The Premier League wisely having booted into touch the parachuting of the Scottish Old Firm into England, Gartside continues to press his plan for a breakaway of the most popular (at the gate)  Football League clubs for form a second division of the Premier League. The details of the plan have never really been settled. Whenever Gartside is asked for specifics of the mechanics he can’t assist.
I’ll be unkind. I don’t think he cares as long as whatever changes are introduced lessen the gaping the financial chasm that will appear in his club’s budget the moment they get relegated. I suppose as an Arsenal supporter I can be accused of viewing this all with an Olympian detachment. Our last serious relegation scares are a generation behind us in 1974/5 and 1975/6. We haven’t gone down to the second tier since then chairman Henry Norris managed to “manoeuvre” us back into the top flight in 1919, despite only having finished fifth in the old second division in 1914-15, the last season before play was suspended for the Great War.
That said, I don’t want Arsenal to continue in the top flight just because we’re a so-called “big club”. We need to maintain our spot on sporting merit. The reality is that  relegation is all but inconceivable as things stand but we shouldn’t be exempt from it. Gartside’s plan is nothing but naked self-interest. It will do nothing to promote and strengthen the game overall. It’s all about money and self-interest and nothing else, as was the creation of the Premier League itself.
Keep the faith!

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