In the driving seat but rocky road for cash-strapped fans

DRAWING Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final, thereby missing out on an opportunity to put a spoke in Man Utd’s efforts to monopolise this season’s domestic silverware, won’t bother me nearly so much, if we get an opportunity to pour sugar in the Red Devils’ tank in the Champions’ League semis and trample over their dreams of European domination.

However this presupposes that the wheels don’t come off Fergie’s spluttering wagon sooner and that the Gunners will vanquish Villareal in the quarters, which is a task that I won’t be taking for granted.

On paper, Friday’s quarter-final draw has been kind to Arsenal and Man Utd, but I would’ve preferred for us to have pulled a bigger fish out of the hat and to be going into the first leg in a couple of weeks time as unfancied underdogs, rather than slight favourites.

The Gunners have travelled to intimidating cathedrals of the beautiful game like the Bernabeu and the San Siro and beaten the odds in recent seasons. Continuing this trend of raising their game for the big occasion, the current squad have looked like the genuine “title challenging” article in putting Man Utd and Chelsea to the sword.

Yet it was hard to believe this was the same Arsenal side who’d endured an embarrassing defeat to Stoke and who’d capitulated against City, only the weekend prior to giving such a good account of ourselves in both glamour games.

Consequently I have my concerns that a return to the scene of a white-knuckle ride, semi-final triumph at El Madrigal in 2006 (courtesy of Lehmann’s last-gasp penalty save) might not prove to be a sufficiently inspirational occasion to get the adrenaline coursing through the Gunners’ veins. We were fortunate in the last round to come up against a Roma side without the resources to take advantage of our lack of intensity in the Olympic Stadium. But Villareal’s ranks contain quality aplenty and I very much doubt the Spanish side will be nearly so forgiving, if they face an Arsenal XI that fails to put them on the back foot.

However having ended the Tiger’s FA Cup fantasies last Tuesday and sent them back up north with their tail between their legs and following this up with Saturday’s Toon Town triumph, we continue to gather some crucial momentum, as we approach the business end of this campaign.

I know there have been times in the past when Arsène has been his own worst enemy, when it comes to winning friends and influencing people with his social graces, but the furore that followed last week’s cup game was a complete farce. One journo came out of the Hull manager’s press conference and commented that Phil Brown had all but accused Arsène of starting the holocaust! When in truth Wenger’s only crime was that, as usual, he’d viewed the game’s most controversial incident (the offside goal) through his red & white tinted specs. There are times when I admire Arsène’s efforts to defend the indefensible, in the face of incontrovertible evidence and I’m sure his squad must appreciate a gaffer who stands their corner come what may. Nevertheless le Prof and virtually all his Premiership peers could do with taking a lesson in humility from Roy Hodgson, as the Fulham manager always comes across as a genuine guy.

I’d prefer one of our players to lamp someone from the opposition, than the abhorrent act of spitting on them. But from what I saw of the TV pictures, Fabregas was no more guilty of gobbing on Horton, than all Premiership players are of spitting at the fans, when they spend the entire match clearing phlegm from their throats.

Meanwhile, after an exhausting day driving a hire van on Friday, I was still debating how I was going to get up to the North-East the next day, when I returned to my motor to find it had been clamped. When I added the cost of the congestion charge, to 130 quid cost of the clamp, it was utterly demoralising to think that it had basically cost me twenty quid to go to work that day! At the exact same time, fortunately I discovered that the FA Cup semi-final tickets had gone on sale (as otherwise I might well have missed out completely!).

So while waiting for the clampers, I got on the phone to book our two Wembley tickets, as I was terrified the £100 (e109) cost might be refused once I’d paid to have the clamp removal. Sadly the upshot of this unexpected expense was that I ended up having to sacrifice Saturday’s trip to Tyneside, in order to see the Arsenal trot out on the remodelled version of the hallowed turf for the first time. Even the most faithful of us football fans are beginning to feel the fall-out from the credit crunch!

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