The optimistic murmurings will be reverberating in pub toilets across North London for a few days to come: “It was a fucking good game etc. etc.” They’re optimists in North London; Gunners fans have every reason to be delighted with their team’s attacking football and in particular the resurgence of Freddie Ljungberg to his excellent best, and false hope is a way of life over at White Hart Lane. Excitement aside, Arsenal’s 5-4 win only served to underline certain old truths. Over the years Tottenham have always attracted decent players but have consistently underachieved for over a decade; the quality in their squad is such that they are probably one or two midfielders short of a top six finish. January can’t come soon enough, and PSV’s classy midfielder Mark Van Bommel would be a tremendous acquisition. In the meantime, the burden on Jermaine Defoe and Robbie Keane is just too great; they will always get goals, but you can’t ask them to single-handedly beat teams like Arsenal. Paul Robinson had a torrid afternoon, as did the Spurs full-backs; the Jamie Redknapps of this world will have to go if Tottenham are to build a midfield capable of competing with the likes of Vieira or Lampard.
Secondly, there’s the matter of Arsenal’s defending, quite rightly described as “disgraceful” by Chelsea head narcissist Jose Mourinho. Arsenal can and will outscore most Premiership teams this season with this kind of performance, but in the latter stages of the European Cup is simply won’t be good enough. Jens Lehmann’s positioning for Ledley King’s header was the latest example of the German’s staggering mediocrity. The following is a list of the players who have played in goal for the last few European Champions:
1999: Peter Schmeical
2000: Iker Cassilas
2001: Oliver Kahn
2002: Iker Cassilas
2003: Christian Abbiati
2004: Vitor Baia
It’s also a list of world-class goalkeepers. I somehow can’t see “Jens Lehmann” belonging on that list. Nor will Arsenal succeed in Europe if Pascal Cygan remains the only back-up centre-half available to Wenger. In terms of personnel, though, the present first-choice back-four is certainly good enough not to be conceding so many goals, and it seems the problem relates more to attitude than ability. Chelsea, with their resilient trio of Cech, Terry and Carvalho, must be considered England’s best hope in Europe.
Elsewhere, Wayne Rooney ended his mini-drought in emphatic fashion at StJames’s Park, as Manchester United defeated Newcastle 3-1. Newcastle still haven’t worked out how to accommodate Partick Kluivert into their side without upsetting people; Craig Bellamy plays on the wing these days, and the words “square pegs” and “round holes” spring to mind. Liverpool edged out a resilient Crystal Palace side thanks to a hat-trick from Milan Baros, and Everton beat Birmingham City 1-0, with City’s Emile Heskey looking an increasingly forlorn figure up front. Arjen Robben’s return from injury has sparked Chelsea into life; where before they ground out 1-0 wins, they’re now free-scoring and have depth and variety in attack. This week’s victims, Fulham, were beaten 4-1. Norwich and West Brom look predictably doomed, beaten by Charlton and Middesbrough respectively. Man City played Blackburn and no-one cared.
Finally, spare a thought for Kingstonian chairman-turned-asset-stripper Rajesh Khosla, who this week failed to submit the club’s financial details to Companies House as required by company law. Khosla paid £0.45m to buy the club in 2002, and has since received £1.55m (set to rise to 2.4m) for selling the club’s stadium to AFC Wimbledon in June 2003. In a bizarre twist, Khosla is now threatening to “ban” representatives from the local newspaper, the Surrey Comet, from attending press conferences, on the grounds that they “ask too many questions about the club’s financial affairs.” Mr Khosla’s official statement on the matter was: “Kingstonian is a private company. You have no right to be asking these questions – it’s none of your business.” Charming. Oh the times they are a-changing (see my earlier article, re: “The state of Football in 2004”). Khosla, and other vultures like him, are simply beneath contempt; it may be too late now to save Kingtonian in any meaningful sense, but it is of the utmost importance to keep people like him out of football in future. Football clubs are cornerstones of communities, not ordinary businesses. So long as they are denied a special legal status to reflect this, they will never be adequately protected from the whims of the private sector.