We Gooners have experienced enough false dawns during our tiresome sojourn in the silverware-starved doldrums, to know better than to inauspiciously commence banging our own drum. Listening to the radio phone-ins, on the long schlep home, you could hear hesitant Arsenal fans postulating to the pundits, hankering for some sort of ratification of their premature (but increasingly plausible) sense that perhaps we are ‘the real mccoy’.
The Bluebirds new home appeared close to completion on our last trip to Ninian Park for a 0-0 FA Cup draw in 2009. Despite its resemblance to a myriad of other homogenous, identikit arenas, there was no mistaking this statement of Cardiff’s upwardly mobile ambitions. Yet with Gooners rocking up on Saturday, chiding their hosts outside the ground with “Red Army, Blue Army” taunts, I couldn’t help but wonder how much the Cardiff fans relished their schizophrenic welcome to the pernicious, tradition pummeling business that is the Premiership promised land?
With the entire Arsenal family rallying to the support of poor Pat Rice, I was counting on the sort of zealous performance that might do one of our club’s most devoted servants proud. Malky Mackay’s terriers have ably demonstrated their ability to take the top flight’s less focused prima donnas down a peg or two thus far.
Perhaps the hyped up return of Aaron Ramsey, our water-walking Welsh Jesus, impacted upon the surprisingly mooted atmosphere of these proceedings. Yet after Wilshere came so agonizingly close to repeating the feat of his opening minute goal against Marseille last Tuesday night, this seemed to set the tone for the afternoon. The dust-up I’d been expecting from Medel, the Bluebirds impressive midfield pitbull, never materialized and instead of attempting to ruffle our feathers, Cardiff were guilty of standing off and showing us far too much respect.
However, after first Giroud (aping one of my own more bizarre ‘senior moments’ as Olivier stood their gawping, following an imaginary offside whistle) and then Ramsey failed to take advantage, I was certain Cardiff were going to make us pay second-half. To their credit and perhaps as a result of a halftime haranguing from their volatile gaffer, Cardiff turned up the heat somewhat after the break. Again, if it wasn’t for a couple of timely interventions from Sczcny, Saturday afternoon’s ‘Aaron Ramsey love-in’ might’ve taken a far less gratifying course.
Still even when all five interchangeable cylinders of our attacking midfield engine aren’t operating at their smoothest, the Gunners rearguard have garnered this cumulative composure over the course of the past couple of months, to the point where we’ve recently become unrecognizable as the fragile ingénues of yesteryear.
Santi struggled to find his touch all afternoon and Özil continues to astound me. Considering the princely cost of our sporting pleasures nowadays, I spend an obsessive amount of time forsaking the entertainment, while studying Mezut through my binoculars, in my efforts to distill the footballing essence of 42 million quid.
Aside from the trifling matter of another two pinpoint assists on Saturday, as ever, Mezut spent much of the remainder of the match, lolloping around like a disaffected teenager. But then there’ll be one drop of the shoulder, or an unexpected feint that leaves two lesser mortals for dead and as several thousand smiling faces shake their heads in awe, suddenly the beautiful game’s wages of sin are self-evident.
Yet while Arsène’s aesthetes attract all the plaudits, it’s Flamini who’s fast forging the steely resolve that’s likely to prove the most essential ingredient, if our challenge is to survive the festive season’s onslaught of fixtures. Returning to the Gunners, in his more mature incarnation, Mathieu appears to appreciate that he carries the weight to become the flag-bearing “marechal” that we’ve pined for, ever since TA packed it in.
Amidst all the superlatives of late, not to mention the hilarious run on “AVB spent £100m and this tosh is all we have to show for it” t-shirts at our neighbours down the road, it’s perhaps the sight of the Flamster frantically cajoling our troops to rally around him, that’s responsible for the broadest of Gooner smiles. Who knows, this illusory bubble could explode in our faces before the cod grease blurs these lines, but in the meantime, you’ll forgive me a few moments to revel in the prospect that this Arsenal squad might've finally ‘come of age’.