Sweet to be leading the way in Europe

THERE can be no denying there was a certain delicious irony to being the first (and so far only) Premier League side to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Admittedly Dortmund’s playmaker (and supposed Arsenal target), Gotze limped off after only half an hour, but overall I was underwhelmed by the best the Bundesliga has to offer.

By contrast, Borussia’s support was seriously impressive. I envisaged the Emirates’ architects holding their breath, as they watched the 7,000 Krauts standing in both the upper and lower ties of the visitors’ corner of the stadium, all jumping up and down in unison. Yet after the roof had been raised by BvB’s raucous brigade in midweek, a low-key local derby with lowly Fulham was always likely to have something of an ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ feel to it.

After the lessons of last season’s fiasco in the group stages, I’m sure the lads put a lot of effort into ensuring that we finished in top spot, thereby avoiding the likes of Barca, Real, Inter and Bayern in the last 16. But I’m not sure Arsene helps our cause, as his interminable references to tired legs after midweek European fixtures, often seems to invite a lethargic, lacklustre display the following weekend.

So when Vermaelen unwittingly put the ball in the back of our own net on Saturday, this did at least light the touch paper, to put some much-needed spark into this insipid encounter with the Cottagers; thereby guaranteeing a far more intense final 25 minutes of football, as the Gunners desperately tried to salvage a result.

After spending so much time cooling his heels on the bench — fatigue certainly couldn’t have been a factor for Arshavin — I fully expected our midget striker to be hungry to demonstrate that he deserved to be restored to the starting XI. Perhaps Shava’s phlegmatic approach to football is a Russian trait but I swear the fastest he moved all afternoon, was when he saw his number being held up on the touchline with 15 minutes to play.

With Theo Walcott finally beginning to fire on all four cylinders on the opposite flank and with the long-awaited first shoots of some genuine team spirit only just beginning to sprout (doubtless aided by the manure of our early-season misfortune), I’m not really sure I want the seemingly passionless likes of Arshavin spraying weed-killer all over the camp, with their apparent lack of commitment.

On a lighter note, until an indignant Vermaelen rectified his own error with a late equaliser, it looked as if our unbeaten run might be coming to an end. But with the Arsenal’s upturn in fortune having coincided with my discovery of the delectable pies on offer on route to the ground, a defeat will mean that I can no longer blame my recent gluttonous pre-match habits on any superstitious obligation.

* Bernard Azulay

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