By Tony Stafford
Sometimes life poses you with difficult conundrums. On Saturday my choice was clear. Either go to watch my boss Ray Tooth’s comeback-making ex- Champion Hurdler Punjabi at Newbury in the 1.50, or toddle up to Towcester for the bumper at 3.25.
Being of an optimistic nature, and with an appointment booked to watch Ray’s two new recruits stepping out for their first steps around a sand ride at Hughie Morrison, down the road from Newbury at 10 a.m., my inclination was to go for the cross-country drive.
As I said: “From New-Bury down to Towcester takes an hour at the most-er” which is a pretty feeble way to parody a line from that great Peter Sellers – Sophia Loren song “Goodness, gracious me”. But even Hughie thought it would be pushing it in the Hennessy Day crowds.
But less than an hour later I was lamenting my decision when having arrived at free-to-enter Towcester - great idea that – I decided to watch the second race from Box 2, the one provided for owners, or as with me, their hangers-on, in the stand.
“Do you have a runner in this race?” I was asked, and in typically-spoilt-brat mode, almost in silence, I turned on my heel and walked down the steps back to the people-thronged concourse.
And it was as I came down the steps, the words of the Sellers song came to me. I thought, I should have told him, we have Two Jabs running in the last.
We’ve got Two Jabs, but Sellers, an Indian doctor in the film, was more efficient. As he told Sophia, “From New Delhi to Darjeeling, I have done my share of healing and have never yet been beaten or outdone. “ Peter continued: “I remember that with one jab of my needle in the Punjab how I cleared up beri beri and the dreaded dysentery, but your complaint has got me clearly foxed.”
Bet you’ve never managed to link two such disparate racehorse names into a single line of a 60’s song. As they do, the thought kept going through my mind during the pre-alarm hours last night and ended with a doctor forcibly leading me by the arm to the surgery for some overdue treatment on a hitherto unrevealed ailment, like when they found out I was diabetic.
Then the alarm rang. As to the horses, Punjabi was satisfactory enough in a hot race at Newbury, but Two Jabs was just a shade disappointing in third. Without the need to stay and celebrate, it left me with some extra time to get to the car for the Cardiff – Arsenal radio commentary.
I know the editor hates my talking about Arsenal. Like everyone else he thinks they’re not as good as I keep telling him, but for once and once only, I’m going to make a statement, well as with the Jabs, two statements.
The first is that it is ridiculous that they remain only second favourites for the Premier League title behind Manchester City. Launching into Norwich as City did to the tune of 7-0 and then beating an off-day Spurs 6-0 is not to be sniffed at, but you only get three points. True they’ve won all their home games, but their away form is dire. [Editor: I did mention the dire away form, and agree they're awful value]
Point two, and this is actually the crux of my statement, Arsene Wenger will NOT buy a striker in the January window. They all say, “what if something happens to Olivier Giroud?” It’s like saying in the old days, “what if something happens to Alan Shearer?” or more recently to Didier Drogba at Chelsea.
In fact, those big, tough guys – Giroud’s a bit like them physically – not only seem rarely to get injuries, it’s usually the other guy, but they take great offence if they’ re ever left on the bench.
Knowing M. Wenger’s dislike of spending money unnecessarily, the prospect of his forking out £20m – “they have to be better than the players we have already”, as he says – for a bench-warmer is somewhere from slim to nil and slim’s, well you know where he is.
On Saturday night for the first time even some of the “Can’t win the title” brigade, like former Spurs star Danny Murphy, were wavering a bit, but having raved about the 3-0 win at Cardiff, Danny and Sir Les Ferdinand, still demurred.
When Mezut Ozil arrived, many questioned the need for “another midfielder” as they saw this was the only area not needing strengthening, or as Jamie Redknapp would say, they ‘ave no strenf in depf”.
Michael Owen wrote a damning article in the Telegraph early in the campaign, which for a few weeks was on the web site to pick up from its main sports menu, on why they couldn’t make the top four. He cited Giroud’s inadequacy as a top-line striker, while the goalkeeper, Szczesny, according to Brown Panther’s owner “would not get into any other of the top teams”.
That looked quite silly when Owen, as the co-commentator on an earlier Arsenal match, made Szczesny man of the match, and yesterday he made a save reminiscent of Gordon Banks’ finest World Cup moment to keep the Gunners at 1-0 on their way to a fifth away win in seven this season and tenth from 12 in the League since last spring.
But to return to my guaranteed no new striker point. Arsenal have in reserve Theo Walcott, who only signed the five-year contract that I believe paved the way for the present stability at the club when assured he would get a go at the striker’s position.
He’d be quite good fun running on to Ozil’s, or Wilshere’s or Cazorla’s or Ramsey’s through balls, as he showed fleetingly on his first encounter with Ozil before that stomach injury needed surgery.
Then there’s Lukas Podolski, a multiple scorer last season – his first at the club – and veteran of at least 70 matches for Germany in either the first or second striker role. OK Bendtner of the broken gym doors might have finally been shown, well, the proverbial door, but there’s also the new French freebie Sanogo, who’ll be back by the time Giroud gets really tired, and Wenger thinks he’s special.
The experts did concede that to beat Cardiff 3-0 at home six days after Manchester United drew 2-2 and weeks after City lost there was quite good, but I think it should have resulted in more reaction. That was Arsenal’s 17th win in 22 senior matches this season. It took them 23 games to reach their tenth League win last season at which point they’d collected 37 points.
If they beat Hull on Wednesday that’ll be 11 in 14, and if they follow up at home against Everton, not impossible, that will be the 37 points in eight fewer games. I’m amazed Betfred haven’t paid out yet.