Date: 15th August 2008 at 4:30pm
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So the serious stuff has started once again, the toothbrush was packed, the flights were booked and myself, Lord Lowe and Luigi set off on a stopping service to Rome. First stop, the sleepy town of Arnhemin the Netherlands. The red eye from Stanstead on Wednesday morning saw us land in Bremen on Wednesday morning. We were in for something of a shock when we realised that the train over the border wasn’t as cheap as we had expected. In the interests of travelling cheaply, we usually fly to a neighbouring city and hop a train on the basis that European trains are cheap, comfortable and reliable. But the 104 Euros return we were quoted was an unpleasant surprise!

The town of Arnhem was as sleepy and,well, boring as we expected, so we spent most of the afternoon holed up away from the rain in a roadside watering hole. The Twente fans that invaded the town were obviously in party mode. So once we had finished gawping at the Dutch women and kick off time approached, the cavorting Dutch hordes audible from the noisy pubs and bars (those that were open), carried their optimism onto the shuttle bus. Being that I was wearing coloursand one of only three Gooners visible on the bus, I kept fairly schtum on the journey to the ground. But once we were in the stadium (which was ostensibly a carbon copy of Wigan’s JJB), we were disappointed to find only half of our 1,300 allocation sold. I suspect if we get to the Final, the scramble for tickets will be somewhat more severe.

The hosts were in fine voice throughout, the sense that this was their Cup Final was palpable. Farcically, Arsenal went into the match with only Denilson and Ramsey available for central midfield. Injuries to Toure and Fabregas were obviously a consequence of being overstretched in pre season training to rush them back for this game. Particularly in Cesc’s case, that is astoundingly poor judgement from a manager who has had three months to buy a central midfielder. Even if Cesc hadn’t pulled up, he would not have been match fit. The manager has mortgaged our Champions League future and jeapoardised our chances of a much needed good start to the season for the sake of saving a few quid on a transfer nearer deadline day. Given Cesc’s busy summer and Diaby’s injury record, that is a quite ludicrous position to have put us in. If we do not beat West Brom tomorrow, Wenger will have a hell of a lot to answer for. Denilson is a fine player and Rambo looks a decent prospect but to propel them into this position was awful judgement. The gestation that we have been short in that area of the pitch has been there for some time and it should have been sorted.

The lack of experience in the middle told as Twente predictably pressed and harried us in midfield, leaving us unable to retain possession and starving the idle van Persie and anonymous Adebayor starved of service. If that was one of van Persie’s ‘six lives’ before he inevitably toddles off injured again, then it was a waste of time. Still, at least he got that pay rise he was angling for. Twente matched the enthusiasm of the supporters and should have taken the lead when Wilkshire dispossessed Walcott and sent Elia clear, luckily Almunia thwarted him. But the warning signs were there again when Denneboom went around Denilson and fired over when a more composed finish would have put the hosts ahead. Arnautovic was sent clear by Denneboom, but once again the nerves were palpable as his touch was heavy and Almunia was again off his line to smother. Arsenal did create one chance in the first half via their two best performers. Clichy sent a swerving shot goalwards, which was fumbled by Boschker and Sagna pounced only to send his close range effort wide.

Half time came and you sensed Arsenal would be o.k. There was no way Twente would be able to maintain their momentum and the Gunners would do as they did unto Prague and Zagreb in past qualifiers, step it up in the latter stages. On the hour mark, Eboue stepped in to intercept Wilkshire’s stray pass, but once again his appalling lack of composure cost him as he ambled towards goal with all the composure of a one legged pigeon and he was duly dispatched before he could get a shot away, which probably would have sailed a hundred yards wide anyway. But one could sense the home side’s reverie was fading and defeat was inevitable. On 63 minutes, van Persie swung in a left foot free kick which Big Willy bundled home with his… get where I’m going with this, right? Yet another goalscoring contribution from the captain when we needed it. That’s good captaincy in my book, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the naysayers to acknowledge it. Just as they chose to ignore it at the Reebok Stadium last seasonand just as they ignored Almunia’s comments about Walcott, similar quotes from Gallas drew mass opprobrium in March. Go figure.

The Gunners looked comfortable save for one final flurry when Amunitovic was once again guilty of profligacy by firing into the side netting from close range. With eight minutes remaining, Denilson, who was at the heart of the second half renaissance put Theo through on the right, and the otherwise subdued Walcott squared for Adebayor, just as he had at Anfield and the San Siro last season and Ade proved he is just as wasteful as everybody says he is by scoring with his only chance. The travelling Gooners then wasted a few minutes with derogatory chants towards Steve McLaren. A club like Arsenal has no business wasting its breath on something as irrelevant as the England side. Hardly the height of irreverant and sardonic wit to sing, ‘where’s your brolly gone?’ Seriously, it’slike talking loudly about the Hollyoaks omnibus at a Boticelli exhibition. Worth discussing, but not in these settings. So it was a solid professional job done and another 53 Euros to exchange train tickets back to Bremen as the service we had bought tickets for only ran every six hours. All is forgiven British Rail!LD.