Henry, Pires and Reyes are all letting Arsenal down in their quest for domestic and European glory.
Having already named Thierry Henry a fortnight ago, I’m going to add Pires and Reyes to the list of Arsenal players who’ve been taking the piss recently with their Premiership and Champions League performances.
I don’t think Arsenal will have a problem going to Rosenborg and getting the win they need to get into the Champions League knock-out stages, but if they’re not prepared to track-back and close people down they’re going to be murdered by a team like Juventus or Inter Milan.
That James Mellor strike would’ve caught most sides out, sure, but prior to that too many of the Arsenal players were going through the motions like they did a couple of seasons ago when a 2-2 draw at Bolton cost them the Premiership. They were 2-0 up when Henry started doing all these fancy flicks that look great on Saturday morning telly, but didn’t stop Campo waltzing straight past him and costing the Gunners a goal.
Contrast that to Chelsea who, even when they were 4-0 up against Charlton on Saturday, chased every ball. There were no silly lapses in confidence or last second goals conceded, they worked their socks off as a team, which is why they’re five points ahead of Arsenal and among the favourites to win the Champions League.
Something which sums up the lack of heart at Highbury perfectly is that Everton, a team who in many ways aren’t fit to lace their boots up, would’ve overtaken them in the Premiership if they’d won at Newcastle. An average squad of players is breathing down their necks because they’re all doing the basic things you expect of a professional properly.
There was no ranting and raving from Arsene Wenger in the post-match interview, but he knows who the shirkers are and will be telling them: “Start delivering or I’ll bring the youngsters in.” The likes of Owusu-Abeyie and Karbassiyoon showed in the 3-1 Carling Cup demolition of Everton that they’re physically and mentally up to the task, so why not start ‘em against Birmingham and give the Fancy Dans a boot up the backside?
Returning to the Champions League, you can currently get 2/1 on an English side winning it, which are excellent odds given how well Chelsea and Man U are going at the moment. United might just be peaking at the right time, and Chelsea have a confidence and swagger about them which says, “We can go all the way!”
The game I’d love to see at some point is them against the other side who’ve hardly conceded any goals, Juventus. That’d be a fascinating encounter, and another match in which Damien Duff can show how much he’s improved under Jose Mourinho.
The only blemish on what’s otherwise been a highly enjoyable Champions League so far is the disgraceful racist chanting we witnessed at Real Madrid. We used to get monkey noises and all that other crap when I was at Millwall, but the club got together with the police and the stewards and the decent fans and stamped 99.9% of it out. What worried me about the sieg heiling at the Bernabeu is that despite it being obvious where the abuse was coming from, no one was arrested or ejected from the game. If Real can’t do better than that, UEFA should pick the next really big home game against Athletico or Barcelona and make them play it behind closed doors. Maybe then they’ll pull their fingers out.
Something else which is totally unacceptable is El-Hadj Diouf spitting at Arjan de Zeeuw in the Bolton v Portsmouth game. Fining him two-week’s wages would have been an appropriate punishment if he’d never done it before, but this was the fourth spitting incident he’s been involved in since arriving in England in 2002.
It happened to me in the Euro 2000 qualifier in Turkey. Their centre-half, Ali Eren Berserler, spat in my face so I waited till the end and flicked his heels as he ran past me. He then punched me, so I smacked him back and ended up getting red-carded in what was my last Republic of Ireland game before retiring. It’s the one sending-off in my career that I have absolutely no regrets about. El-Hadj Diouf is an ignorant little coward who should be sacked by Liverpool if he does it again.
Coming tomorrow on hotpress.com: Steven Cummins talks to Match of the Day's Mark Lawrenson about the FAI, Emlyn Hughes and Ireland's World Cup hopes