It could not be a more exciting pre-Christmas appetiser. We have a hectic programme in front of us and Glenn and the boys will be spending a normal Christmas — with only football in mind.
Like ourselves, Arsenal have been busy trying to dilute their squad and give young players an opportunity to show their talents elsewhere. Steven Sidwell and Graham Barrett are both helping Brighton, Matthew Upson has been at Reading and Jermaine Pennant has now played three games at Watford.
As Arsenal move the short distance to Ashburton Grove some of the famous traditions of Highbury will fade. The cost of such a move is a massive dilemma for the custodians of the club and such a decision has to be taken with many factors in mind, not least trying to visualise the future developments within the game.
Although this is a Sunday afternoon game I’m sure we could have doubled our attendance and it is on fixtures such as these that optimistic thoughts turn towards new stadium possibilities. We have always made it clear that, unless the local council improved the surrounding infrastructure with a special emphasis on improved transportation, we are unlikely to invest in our current surroundings.
Seven points out of the last nine is a healthy recent return but we know that we will have to up our performance levels to gain a result against our neighbours this afternoon.
Our on loan goalkeepers Gavin Kelly and Shwan Jalal are both having good spells at Kettering and Woking respectively. Two of our younger players who have not quite made the progress expected of them, George Snee and Walter Thomas, have been offered the opportunity to find another club before the end of season high fallout.
The transfer window is unlikely to produce any major signings, other than by the Champions League clubs. There is a sense of wariness at the moment and most clubs will be looking to have loans or swaps during this month. I’m sure it will bring some sanity to the game. The problem currently has been that most clubs are unable to shift the relatively high earners.
Indeed, there is no vibrant transfer market because some clubs have been guilty of mismanagement of their income.
When I attended a League Managers’ Association committee meeting last week in the Midlands, the very same day Port Vale were added to the list of insolvent clubs. Two years ago we paid nearly £1million for Anthony Gardner from that club but sadly, even with this cash injection, they have been unable to cope.
Our Youth team played more than efficiently at Portsmouth in winning 3-1 after going a goal down. Five of the boys are able to play in next year’s FA Youth Cup side, another sign that we are progressing the quality of young players at the club. Two second half goals by Jamie Slabber and an own goal overturned an early Portsmouth effort. We meet Swindon for a place in the last 16.
After the Charlton game on Boxing Day, another sell-out, we will be turning into the second half of the season. It has flown by and if we can improve on our current record of won eight, drawn three, lost six, 23-23, by that time, it should give us a good basis for the second period. The recent stutters by Liverpool has given cause for optimism in other camps and I think it is fair to say now there are six clubs fighting for those important places behind the Champions League clubs but within the top six.
Our ambition in the New Year must be as one of those clubs in this group.
Outside of the game we have many friends at Arsenal and we have a healthy respect for each other. That includes the playing squads, the coaching departments and at Board level. After the game, win, lose or draw, we will all shake hands.
I remind our supporters that at all times to remember the importance of the good name of our club and to make sure today that your genuine support is enough to make a massive 12th man for Glenn and his team.
We wish all supporters a happy festive period and look forward to seeing you again soon.
We welcome Arsene Wenger’s side as double winners with another relatively easy cup draw awaiting, whilst sitting on top of the league.