When I was much younger, in the early 80s, team busses would sometime drive along the main road near my house on their way to East Anglia when Ipswich had a team to be proud of. On Arsenal away days to Ipswich or Norwich I would put on my full 1981 season kit and burn it down to the main road on my chopper and muck about down there until we saw a football bus. Often it was just teams on their way to the Abbey Stadium to play Cambridge United. I remember seeing the Aston Villa coach once. Sometimes Arsenal didn't pass or we just missed it. However, on one occasion we hit gold. The bus, totally normal apart from a rectangular sign saying "Official Arsenal Team Coach" in the front window, stopped only a few yards from us as a car in front of it turned right. I froze then started punching the air and pointing to the plastic cannon on my chest as if they wouldn't recognise the red shirt with white sleves I was sporting. Then it happened. Brian Talbot, ex Ipswich, looked straight at me and clenched his fist. The passion! They were going into battle with the blue foe for me, The thin kid in a cheap replica kit on a chopper, on a Cambridge pavement. The bus disappeared but I'd made contact. Brian Ernest Talbot clenched his fist at me!
I'm sure we lost. We were crap then but Tolbot's fist had proved to me they wanted it. It kept me going through the dark days of Lee Chapman and it's what upset me last night. There were no clenched fists, no passion, no real shots, no nothing. It was lack lustre, pathetic and frankly embarrassing. It has dented my faith in this team further still in a season of inconsistency and faith denting.
If this is the best set of player Arsene has ever seen they are hiding it well. These performances are not blips anymore. It wasn't just one of those nights just like Leeds wasn't just one of those lunchtimes. I'm afraid I'm coming to the conclusion that this squad is not good enough. We are suffering from a lack of funds to bolster a clearly talented crop. Something is missing. Experience? Drive? A passion for success? I don't know. What I do know is no team of any standard should put in a performance like that in a semi final of any cup. It short changes the fans. Managers and players come and go as we remain and we deserve better than that.
I didn't want to pick out individuals as it seems to run deeper than that. The team isn't functioning. However, if you are a professional and you can't control the ball on the half way line thus allowing your opponent to have a clear run on goal you have a problem. If you get caught out by a long high ball and all you can do is stick your leg out hopefully thus allowing you opponent to have a clear run on goal you have a problem. If you midfield don't defend the ball or create any chances you have a problem. If your goalscorers won't shoot you have a problem. If nobody in your team will clench their bloody fist when you are up against it you have a problem.
Of course we might still win this cup. We could coast the second leg. Or we could be sloppy like we were against Leeds, get a 1-1 and slump in the corner with our heads down. After a season of defeats by crap and draws with crap would any of us be surprised? I don't know what to think anymore. Support you evermore and all that but I'm not confident of anything. I think we will beat W'Ham 3-0 on Saturday but we could lose 2-0. Would any of us be surprised of either?
Last night took me back to the early 80s. Hope dashed by a poor performance and a 1-0 loss at Ipswich Town. I stuck with them then and I'll be by their side forever. I feel 11 again all of a sudden. I'm off for a Marathon, a can of Quattro while Ant Music glides over me (on 7" vinyl of course.)