Sunday 21st September 2014
Travelling home from the West Midlands yesterday evening my fellow away Gooners and I listened to ‘radio 5 live’ as do many thousands of football fans all over the country. I like to hear the results, the brief match reports and interviews with all those involved. Listening to those describing our fine victory however, you would think we had just won away at Chatham Town!
Please correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t this a Villa side that won at Anfield last week, a team unbeaten in their first four games sitting proudly in 2nd spot? Were we not going into the game off the back of a rightly criticised poor performance out in Germany just a few days ago? Was it not being reported in some quarters that we were going into the game under considerable pressure?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to go completely over the top but I also refuse to accept that wasn’t an excellent, powerful, controlled and thoroughly professional performance in a potentially extremely difficult game.
Rarely will you get to enjoy a better Balti than in the West Midlands and being rather partial to this particular culinary option our pre-match time in the area was too good an opportunity to turn down. My choice of a chicken aloo balti with 3 roti was right up there with the best I’ve tasted and awesome value at a fiver.
Such cuisine creates a thirst of course so a couple of jars were enjoyed to ‘put the fire out’ before we made our way into Villa Park, definitely one of those stadia we have not only visited more than most but one with so many fantastic memories (and 1 or 2 bad ones too).
Looking resplendent in our awesome yellow away kit the number of attacking options we have right now was demonstrated by the fact we had Alexis, Jack, Poldi and Tommy Rosicky on the bench! Villa Park seems rarely full to the brim these days but the fact it wasn’t far off it yesterday demonstrates the locals’ optimism. The scene was set then for a tough afternoon.
Much has been said in the various match reports about how well Villa played in in the opening exchanges. I think I must have been at a different game! We controlled possession without really threatening but I do remember one shot from distance that Chezz comfortably saved and Villa’s only chance of the whole game when our big Pole made a fantastic stop from an unchallenged far post header……so I guess that is what they are referring to.
Our game is all about that combination of passing, patience and picking the right times to make that telling contribution in the final third and pulling all the strings yesterday was the quite magnificent Mesut Ozil. Nobody can argue that he won the World Cup playing wide left but surely on yesterday’s showing his best position is that much talked about number 10 role. He totally ran the show all afternoon.
The transmission from patient ball retention to quick, incisive and completely destructive passing was so evident in our opening goal. Mesut calmly slotted home and the travelling Gooner army went ballistic. Get in!
No sooner had we dusted ourselves down when he turned provider for DW and our big new striker opened his account with aplomb. Cue total and utter carnage!
I’d like to maybe talk about something else between our goals but with a little over 3 minutes between when Mesut slotted home our lead being trebled I can’t really offer you anything! Needless to say amongst the considerable jostling and enjoyment we also all looked at one another with a small amount of disbelief.
At half time I remember saying I’d be quite happy if the second half was the most boring I’d ever witnessed. And to be fair, in the way we were so professional, there really wasn’t much that happened. Perfect.
So an awesome day out in Birmingham and on getting back I celebrated well into the early hours before my thoughts turn to the first of this season’s two roads to Wembley and Tuesday night’s home game against high flying Southampton.
Don’t forget Gooners, the media have told us these away games at the likes of Aston Villa, West Ham and Leicester are easy, a stroll in the park. Just ask Liverpool and Man Utd this weekend.
Victoria Concordia Crescit
Friday 19th September 2014
If I was a betting man I wouldn’t mind placing a little wager that most of you who travelled to Germany this week have been faced with the following question,
“Apart from the football, how was your trip?!”
Following your team week in week out it is a question we have to accept will crop up from time to time and although the smug/cheeky grin that accompanies can be more than annoying depending on how important the game was, I do believe the way we feel after a victory happens far more regularly.
Dortmund is a city we have visited a number of times, especially recently and each time I have travelled by road. Just the four of us decided to make the trip on this occasion, Sheppey Gooner Mark joining myself and two of my longest and very best mates as we drove across Kent early on Monday morning. A simple Eurotunnel ‘crossing’ and just under three hundred miles of clear French, Belgian, Dutch and German motorways we arrived and checked into hotel with our host city’s entertainment firmly on our minds.
I would like to detail a tale of culture and history but if that is what you are expecting I am afraid you will be a little bit disappointed on this occasion. A small amount of liquid and solid refreshment was followed by a visit to a bar that had played host on previous visits. A ‘Happy Hour’ (or more accurately, 2 hours) saw beers at just 1 euro a pop……very disappointing as you can imagine!
Overall it all helped make up a very enjoyable opening day.
Matchday arrived with a certain degree of nausea but nothing that a bit of brunch in a city centre bathed in glorious sunshine wouldn’t sort out. That achieved it was time to enjoy the pre-match build up.
Previous visits had seen us locate a superb bar, not only within the shadow of what is one of the world’s greatest stadia but literally a few metres from the entrance to the away end. Consequently it was here we headed and accompanied by some of the many other Gooner friends present we did the usual thing of talking about how we would improve the world, our team and of course plenty of other total rubbish that us blokes tend to find amusing! The perfect pre-match combination I would say.
Entering the ground in fine spirits it was to see a totally different story unfold than our last visit. On the day we played poorly, it is as simple as that. Although like most games I felt the game turned on moments that could have seen an alternative outcome had they been different, we all have to accept we were beaten by the better team on the night. Disappointing but being the first game in the group it doesn’t have to be a disaster.
One last night enjoying our German friends’ hospitality and we headed back to the UK on Wednesday after another thoroughly enjoyable European adventure…….apart from the football of course!!
Aston Villa have made a great start this season and it is they we face next. Villa Park when full and noisy is a difficult place to go. There is only one way to keep that to a minimum.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Sunday 14th September 2014
Packing my passport, currency, Eurotunnel booking and maps this morning it is a little bit disappointing that I cannot put three points in the bag too. On the other hand we could be sitting here with nothing, no matter how cruel that would have been.
Of all the TV dictated kick-off times I quite enjoy those moved on a Saturday. The evening ones very much extend the pre-match activities whilst giving the game that added night time ingredient that is often so special and although it usually means an early start the lunchtime versions, like yesterday, mean there is still plenty of your Saturday to enjoy even after the match has finished.
We all knew Man City would prove a tough test but on the day I felt we thoroughly deserved our point at the very least.
In the first half an hour we were excellent and totally dominated the game, Danny Welbeck’s chip no more than half an inch from giving us a thoroughly deserved lead. A combination of bad luck when a fine challenge on the half way line saw the ball stay in play when it looked to all of us like it was heading out for a throw in and our visitors being clinical from the position the situation had presented them saw us go behind completely against the run of play.
Gutwrenching to say the least, especially having played so well. In a game packed full of them, an incident shortly after going behind was crucial for me, Chezz making a fine save to prevent City doubling their lead and probably giving us too big a mountain to climb.
As it was we went in at half time hugely disappointed to be behind yet upbeat about our performance.
I don’t like to complain too much about referees and officials. I do believe they have an extremely tough job out there and we all tend to forget they are human beings and not robots. I do wonder sometimes however, how decisions are not made as a team when they don’t have one pair of eyes but four!
Mark Clattenberg is one of our top referees in my opinion. Fernandinho, although a fine player, is known throughout the country by us fans as someone who makes sure promising situations are ‘stopped’. Every team needs one and although it is an extremely cynical side there are many of us who accept it is part of the game. In the opening exchanges he made a scything foul in the middle of the pitch and received a stiff warning. From that moment he committed foul after cynical foul for the remainder of the time he stayed on the pitch and nothing was done about it.
I like referees who do their utmost to keep cards in their pocket but the above was bordering on ridiculous.
Jack had a great game for me and his goal was a move and finish of beauty. London N5 erupted and it was thoroughly deserved. Back on level terms, now to go on and win it.
If the move wasn’t anything of note, Alexis’ stunning volleyed finish to put us into the lead certainly was. Bang! 2-1. Get in!
The next few moments were frantic to say the least but just as we had settled down and looked in total control that dreaded injury curse struck yet again, this time Matt Debuchy laid on the turf in considerable pain.
It was a break we could have done without and arguably changed the direction of the game. It gave our opponents time to think, gather their composure and assess their situation when before the minutes were running short and we looked in total control of our winning position.
If our visitors’ first goal had a degree of bad luck their equalizer was totally avoidable. The header was far far too easy and between Chezz and Flammers it probably should have been kept out. Disappointing and hugely frustrating.
In the few minutes of normal and added time that remained it was the one and only time in the whole match where City had the upper hand and we could have ended up with nothing. To be winning so late on however, the satisfaction of a point and our performance was tinged with a little disappointment as we headed back to the pub to discuss.
It’s certainly no disaster however, and we head to Germany still unbeaten if a little battle scarred.
Being my 4th visit there is no other stadium outside of the UK I have been to more (other than Bad Waltersdorf!), a defeat, a draw and a victory the results from the previous 3. Another from either of the latter two would be a hugely positive start.
See you in Deutschland.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Wednesday 10th September 2014
Writing a blog during the season when we haven’t actually played since my last one, is not something I tend to do. But without our team playing, I tend to get a bit bored! Not that there hasn’t been plenty going on to talk about of course.
I like a music festival. In fact I quite like any kind of festival. The word alone suggests it will be an event with plenty going on! Over the last three years, including this, the September International break has coincided with the quite immense event that is ‘Bestival’, an incredible 4 day party with live music, djs, comedy, ‘streetfood’ etc etc where 60 thousand people turn up to enjoy the fun and frolics. The stunning weather over the last few days meant it could not have been any better. I didn’t see many football shirts over the weekend, the ‘Desert Island Disco’ theme not really lending itself to that kind of attire. The vast majority I did see however, were Gooners. Proud as ever.
Returning to reality on Monday I sat down to watch England’s trip to Switzerland whilst trying to ignore all the enormous hype that goes with every England International. With four of our own in the squad it certainly gives more of a reason to watch the game, coupled with the fact any ‘competition’ game is always more attractive to watch than a friendly. Don’t get me wrong, I am English and as a result my competitive side means I would rather my country wins against any opponent but I have never made it any secret that I put my club allegiances first.
For that reason alone wanting all our players back, fit and available for Saturday is way more important than anything else in my opinion, something that is always extremely difficult when most of your squad is involved all over the world.
Watching Danny Welbeck play on Monday night, became much more interesting of course when he became a Gooner last week and some of my thoughts demonstrate just how little attention I had given him as a player previously. Firstly I didn’t realise how big he is. Couple that with his unquestionable speed, something else I hadn’t really noticed in the past, and that is quite a package for a centre forward to possess. Twice on Monday night we were to also see his finishing ability in front of goal. As Arsenal fans that could not possibly be any more pleasing to see and leaves us all quite excited in anticipation of his future career as a Gooner.
Seeing Rambo limp off from the absolutely disgusting playing surface in Andorra just 24 hours later however, shows that other side we all fear when our players go off to play in Internationals. It kind of mirrors our trip to Everton. The sheer joy of a late equaliser followed by the news Olly would be out for a few months. As I write these thoughts I have everything crossed that the news regarding Rambo is more encouraging.
We certainly need as many of our squad available with the tough week we have ahead. Can we win all three games? Of course we can but the quality of our opponents means they are all fixtures that could go the other way too. Hosting the league champions is the first hurdle of course and a fixture to thoroughly look forward to.
Come on you mighty reds!
Tuesday 2nd September 2014
Today I have been nursing a bit of a hangover. Not the first (or last) time of course but generally I don’t tend to go too mad on a ‘school night’. On this occasion however, a night of live music at Camden’s excellent Koko had been booked a few weeks back and thoroughly entertaining it was too. I open my thoughts with this information as it confirms I didn’t have the misfortune of having to consider watching ‘Transfer Deadline Day’. I’m sure there are many out there who don’t agree with me but its a day that gets totally on my nerves. The best bit is when it is all over for four months or so. Or is it? Today sees the opening of the latest ‘rumour mill’ of course. Another hundred or so players we have signed, are linked with, have been seen looking at property in London N5, are currently undergoing a medical etc. etc. etc.
Of all the current social media options I quite like Twitter. Simply because it is less intrusive than some of the other platforms available and also because I can choose who I want to follow. But all those of you who like to keep an eye on what people have to say through this medium will also be very aware that it is hugely opinionated and more often than not a huge chunk of it is absolute and utter rubbish!
For me there is one question that all us Gooners need to ask themselves. If we go on a ten match losing streak, if you travel all the way to Burnley on a wet January evening and lose to a last minute winner, if you sit in a 20 mile traffic jam trying to get to see your team, if your other half is giving your earhole a right old bashing because you want to follow your team, if you can’t really afford it……..do you wake every morning proud to wear that cannon on your chest? If the answer is yes then you and I are from the same stock. If you fell asleep after winning the cup back in May and awoke as the new season started would you change your allegiances based on what players were running out in the famous red and white? And that is why the transfer ‘window’ or whatever they call it these days is totally and utterly irrelevant.
I simply couldn’t give a flying pheasant who is out there on that pitch. If they give their all and its not good enough so be it. There are two teams out there both trying to win the same game. And like every team’s supporters all over the globe I want mine to win as much as anyone else.
I live on the Isle of Wight these days so following our team over land a sea (and Leicester) has to be a regular occurrence if I am to attend every game. Away games in particular can involve quite a lot of planning. Choosing the right ferry bookings is one thing and on Sunday morning we were treated to a quite glorious crossing over the sunny Solent before heading for Leicester for the first time in many years. Only once before have we visited the Foxes’ ‘new’ stadium, a late sending off and equaliser not making it an overly enjoyable day if my memory serves me right.
Like all travelling fans, regular visits to cities and stadia usually set up a routine we can follow each time but Sunday was not one of them. Parked up however, we enjoyed the pre-match refreshment and atmosphere before making our way along the terraced streets echoing with memories of a Dennis Bergkamp hat-trick and Wrighty’s first goal as a Gooner among countless others.
As always the travelling Gooners made plenty of noise in a sundrenched King Power Stadium and even more so when Alexis slotted home to deservedly put us in front. Things however, didn’t go so well from there. Laurent split his head open and was visibly groggy and it was disappointing as to how easy our hosts were able to put in the cross that led to the equaliser. We are told time and time again how players train hard at ways to prevent crosses coming in. It certainly didn’t look that way on this occasion.
I remember Leicester having one great chance in the second period but other than that we enjoyed huge long periods of possession. Faced by a blanket defence however, we seemed to lack that sharpness and cutting edge, Yaya seeing his shot saved after a superb sweeping move probably our best opportunity. On a hot day we definitely looked a little bit tired in the latter stages, not helped by the fact at least 3 of our players seemed to be suffering with knocks. We could put the tiredness down to having played two more games than everyone else in the opening 2 weeks of the season but no excuses, it was a game we should have won. We didn’t, we’ll take a point after not playing particularly well and we’ll move on to Man City at home in a couple of weeks, another side who found breaking down a blanket defence too tougher obstacle to overcome this weekend.
Moving in to the first International break we haven’t made what can be described as a blistering to start to the season. Five points, unbeaten, two away games out of the way and through to the Champions League yet again however, suggests to me it hasn’t been too bad either. We will get better, I’m convinced of it.
Dortmund, Anderlecht, Galatasaray and Southampton have come out of the various hats/balls since I last aired my thoughts. Nothing ‘different’ yet again, when asked what I thought about the draws the only word I could come up with was ‘boring’! With plans and trips organised and in place however, I’m sure they will prove as entertaining as always (although I will be altering my chosen diet in Istanbul!)
My late night train journey home last night saw my phone confirm Danny Welbeck is a Gooner. Welcome to the Arsenal Danny. Be as proud as we are and you’ll be just fine.
Victoria Concordia Crescit
Thursday 28th August
Looking at all our previous Champions League qualifiers we can all be forgiven for remembering them as relatively easy obstacles to overcome (although those of us who went to Udinese know how tough a trip that was!!) Previous results and matches however, mean absolutely nothing when the next one comes along. After 180 minutes or so, just the one goal sees a team go through. Fortunately it was not only the one that deserved it most but it was us. Altogether now, “We’re all going on a European Tour…..again…..a European Tour…..again!”
Pre-match nerves are not always present. Often, yes, but not always. Last night however, we knew if we didn’t get it right there was every chance we would get punished. And that was enough to have those jittery emotions there in the build up to the game.
We started the game well I thought, looked sharp, slick and holding our shape extremely well on the odd occasion where our visitors looked to come forward. I can remember chances falling to Jack, Alexis and Santi during that period but the fact they didn’t go in kinda set the tone for the rest of the night. With time running out in the first half we scored that all important match winning goal and a good one it was too (not that that matters!). A slick move on the edge of the box and Alexis slotted home to open his Gooner account.
Looking all ok at half time then but thoughts that an equaliser would knock us out didn’t help those nerves!!
Like many of us followers of the beautiful game I am a programme collector. In fact I tend to hoard everything and anything connected with the mighty Gooners! Looking through a Daily Telegraph article a few days ago, from December 1968 we had just overcome that lot from down the road in a two legged League Cup Semi Final, securing a one all draw at their place after winning one-nil at Highbury.
“In the 26th minute, goalscoring hero John Radford kicked the ball away as players were arguing about a free-kick. He followed the ball out towards the touchline and was pushed by Cyril Knowles. Radford retaliated by swinging a punch at Knowles’ jaw. Alan Mullery rushed over on a peace-making errand and for his pains Radford hit him as well!”
The penalty for this unsavoury but hugely amusing incident……Radders was ‘admonished’ apparently. As far as I’m aware that means the referee ‘gave him a piece of his mind!’ or ‘a damn good telling off’!
For what reason is any of this relevant to last night I hear you ask. Well, does anybody think last night’s big game was a dirty affair? Does anyone remember anything really bad happening? Do we not think it was 2 teams just battling it out for the right to play in Europe’s most prestigious competition? Last night’s referee managed to give out 9 yellows and a red. How is that right? And having seen the replay of the second yellow for Mat Debuchy it wasn’t even close to being a foul let alone a yellow but that is one example of many ridiculous situations. An absolute joke in my opinion and I’m so glad in the end it didn’t prove costly.
Keeping our shape was crucial last night I feel and I thought by and large we did this superbly. We were as good when we didn’t have the ball as we were when we did. Only numerous missed chances in the second half made it as close as it was, the last 10 minutes or so shredding those already slightly frayed nerves. Overall however, we played well I felt, we were very professional throughout (despite the ref suggesting otherwise) and ultimately we are through. Job done. Very very pleased.
Cup draws are in the news too of course starting with last night’s pairing with Southampton in the League Cup. A home draw is positive of course although having to face a fellow Premier League side hardly makes it easy! I can see it being nothing less than a tough test. I’ve given up on the chance of getting one of those interesting away draws like Burton, MK Dons, Shrewsbury or my choice out of the hat in Bournemouth. They just never seem to happen for us!
Later today we will find out who we will face over the coming months and will determine the destinations of our next three Euro jollies. I’m sure we all do it but I have made it tradition through this blog to write my chosen destinations so I will do that again this time round. 2 new cities plus 1 new ground sit in pot 2, Basel would be destination of choice, whilst 1 new city but 3 new grounds in pot 3 have me wanting Sporting Lisbon. Pot 4 I have more of a chance, 6 of the grounds I haven’t been to but I’ll go for Malmo I think (although Cyprus in September sounds quite appealing!). I bet we get Roma from that pot!
The news about Olly’s injury is extremely frustrating and disappointing but we have to get on with it for a few months without him. Back in 1970 we played Everton in our first game away from home. Charlie George broke a bone in his ankle and we drew 2-2. He returned after Christmas and we went on to do the double. I’m a big fan of omens ;-)
See you in Leicester boys and girls.
Tuesday 26th August 2014
Walking back to the car on Saturday evening the Everton fans around us looked absolutely shellshocked. Understandably so of course but it did demonstrate how even the way a game goes can determine our emotions whether that changes the result or not. To us it felt almost like a victory, yet had we let a two goal lead slip late on it would have felt completely the opposite, despite the result being exactly the same. As we set off on our journey that morning we all agreed we would take a point. Given the way the game went we were even more happy with achieving just that as we travelled back south!
The M6 might be the longest motorway in the country but I can’t be the only one that hates using it! Some roads have got busier down the years but this one seems to have been ridiculously ‘stop start’ as far back as I remember. So the journey on Saturday being just that should not have come as a major shock! Fortunately we always try and allow for delays by leaving nice and early so a couple of jars of pre-match refreshment in our usual haunt had us heading for the away end in good spirits.
Goodison Park definitely falls into that ‘traditional’ category when it comes to stadia and our section is included in that description. With posts holding the roof up the viewing isn’t great from the upper tier and if my memory serves me right the lower is possibly even worse!
I felt we started the game quite well but 2 more soft goals being conceded is a little worrying, even if the second one was clearly offside. It certainly made the half time atmosphere one of frustration and disappointment. Mr Wenger could obviously see the tactics in the first half had not really worked and unusually he made a change that was to prove hugely significant at half time, Olly coming on and almost immediately getting us back in the game with a volley if he hadn’t caught quite as sweet as he did may well have hit the back of the net.
Time seemed to be flying by however and a come back was looking less and less likely. Rambo’s typical run into the box saw him nudge home Santi’s cross however, we were back in it.
I have always been a fan of a ‘jostle’ when we score. They come from days standing on the terraces of Highbury. Both important and in particular late goals add an extra vigour to such occasions and Olly’s fine header saw a fine example ensue. Undertaking these in today’s seated areas does have its pitfuls, mainly the minor injuries that can result from the general leaping about with joy. They seem a small price to pay however, when you have just equalised late on when it looked so unlikely. A point from a tough tough game, we’ll have that.
On an extremely bumpy pitch in a white hot atmosphere last week’s draw in Istanbul looks a decent result. Just how good it was however, will be determined by how we do in Wednesday’s second leg. We know our visitors will be up for it both on and off the pitch. Its up to us to make sure we are too.
Come on you mighty reds!
Wednesday 20th August 2014
Catching an early flight from Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport is not easy when the game ends so late the previous night, especially if you have enjoyed some of the ‘aspects’ usually associated with following our team overseas. Apart from feeling a little washed out I feel relatively ok on this occasion for reasons to be revealed below.
The combination of an extremely good hotel deal and the fact I have been lucky enough to do the tourist thing twice before in what is an incredibly fascinating city has seen me staying quite a distance from all of Istanbul’s main sights. Being located nearer both the stadium and the airport seemed a good idea at the time, especially with difficult transport links to the former and my early return flight.
The main reason it has been a great decision however, is down to the service I have been given by my hotel in what has proved to be a difficult couple of days for me personally.
I don’t mind admitting I like an occasional kebab and in true British style, those I have consumed down the years have usually been late at night after a few beers. Not the healthiest thing to do but I’m not the first and certainly won’t be the last!
After Sunday’s travel I headed into the Taksim Square area of the city, joining some fellow travelling Gooners for some light refreshment. A few beers later and I decided to call it a night, only stopping for a bit of tucker before taking a taxi back to my hotel.
You will never see more kebab shops than in Istanbul, be they in tourist areas or the not so visited by outsiders. They are everywhere and always busy. In my previous visits I have sampled examples of various shapes, colours and content and have never experienced any ‘issues’.
Waking in the middle of Sunday night however, with the kind of stomach cramps where you definitely know what is coming, my choice of late night munchies was looking decidedly dodgy!
Without going into too much detail I spent pretty much all of Monday and Tuesday in bed going through all the horrific symptoms only food poisoning can give you. Not something in the plans or want to go through again if I can help it.
Come early Tuesday evening it was time to get to the Ataturk Olympic Stadium and as you might expect it wasn’t something I was exactly looking forward to!
Chucking water down my throat as if it was going out of fashion however, to the stadium I went and fortunately I started to feel a little bit more stable once I arrived.
Passionate is an understatement when it comes to Turkish football fans so the build up to kick-off being colourful and noisy was no more than we expected. A white hot atmosphere on a warm, breezy night on a bumpy pitch all making up a difficult hurdle to overcome.
The Gooners present from all over the globe did their utmost to get behind the team on what was to be a tough old night.
With both sides enjoying chances and Mikel and Rambo being forced to leave the field for differing reasons I think overall it was just about a fair result. It certainly gives us a good chance of qualifying from the second leg if we put in a good performance.
Everton await next in another extremely tough early season fixture.
For now boarding time approaches. I do hope the in flight meal is not a kebab.
Monday 18th August 2014
The fact I enjoy a pint has never been a secret! Having a bit of a fat head on a Monday morning is not necessarily something to be proud of but as I write these thoughts in the quite incredible city of Istanbul I can’t help but reflect on the number of different cities and countries where recovering from such a feeling has been necessary in pursuit of the mighty Gooners!
There is of course a big sense of deja vu given we were here only 12 months ago and surely I can be forgiven for celebrating the fact our first three points of the season are well and truly in the bag.
My Luton airport flight departure time on Sunday meant when I left my house early on Saturday morning I wouldn’t be returning until Wednesday so even for our very first home game of the season my tried and tested routine was a little different to the norm.
We all love the opening day I think but anyone who thought it would be a comfortable victory was a little foolish I feel. Palace had very few players away during the Summer, any Tony Pulis side are difficult to beat (I say that as his departure only happened very near to the game) and the new additions to our squad, 3 if which were in the starting eleven, have all had only a very small amount of time to integrate into the team.
When you do not have the BFG, Olly or Abou in the side we look very small. Talented, but small. Especially when up against a very big Crystal Palace side. We knew we would enjoy plenty of possession but it was crucial we turned that into goals. At some stage our visitors would find themselves with a set piece. And given the nature of the goals we let in pre-season against New York, Benfica and Monaco, that was always going to worry me all the time we hadn’t taken the lead.
Football is incredibly unpredictable and inconsistent however, and just as Palace taking the lead in the manner that they did felt kind of inevitable, the fact we equalised from a similar dead ball situation proves height is not the only important aspect! A crucial goal at a very important time had us all a little bit more upbeat as we enjoyed our half time refreshment.
Patience is important when enjoying so much possession but as the minutes flew by it looked like it wasn’t going to be our day. Deep into injury time however, Rambo tapped home and London N5 erupted with relief as much as joy. Three points from a relatively disjointed performance on the day. That will do.
For me there is nothing remotely enjoyable about flying. Checking in, queues to be physically groped at security, sitting in a departure lounge, crammed into an uncomfortable aeroplane, in flight ‘meals’, turbulence, passport control queues, luggage conveyer belts etc etc really don’t float my boat. The sooner someone invents time travel the better! But it is all part of following our team over land and sea and consequently all that discomfort sees me on the very edge of Europe for Tuesday’s absolutely crucial first leg against Besiktas.
Twice we have been in this part of the world in recent years and both times we achieved excellent results.
More if the same would be perfect please.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Monday 11th August 2014
Be it scrabble, a pub quiz or even buckaroo I am competitive and want to win. Not at all costs, but I certainly don’t like losing. For that reason alone I wanted to win on Sunday. And a fine victory in any situation looks far better than getting spanked. Yesterday us Gooners enjoyed another fine day out at Wembley, it is as simple as that.
We have enjoyed a great Summer weather wise or I certainly have in my part of the country but with the slightly over emphasized remains of a hurricane due to hit on Sunday morning we all awoke expecting it to be potentially difficult to reach north west London for this country’s traditional season opener. Yes, it was a bit windy and yes at times it was a bit wet but without all the reports of how horrific it could be would we have really noticed? I don’t think so!
Consequently we reached our chosen venue for pre-match activities without fuss and it was time to enjoy the day, one graced with a totally different set of emotions than our previous two visits. Relaxation was the order of the day, a time to enjoy an afternoon at our national stadium without any fears, pressure or nerves. Of course, there was a trophy to play for and it is a recognised first class fixture so despite the fact it is thought by many to be a pre-season friendly it is more than nice to have another piece of silverware on the shelf.
With the weather improving it was a sundrenched Wembley Way we walked down and similarly to when we played Wigan in the semi-final, it was extremely obvious that we heavily outnumbered those supporting our opponents. It was the same both in Beijing and Helsinki in our recent pre-season encounters. Much has been said about that situation but to see so many empty seats at the other end of the stadium was surprising and dare I say embarrassing for what we are all led to believe is such a massive club. Not only that but those seats could have been offered to us, as when we played Wigan and this adds ‘disappointing’ to those words I have already used. Transport issues have been offered as an ‘excuse’ but I know many Gooners who travelled from all over the country on Sunday without complaint. If we had played Man Utd, Liverpool or indeed Everton would there have been so many empty seats? I am convinced the answer to that is ‘no’.
With our end a complete sell out of course, we all hoped it would be a day to enjoy, one crucial to out fitness levels and injury free. The situation remains to be seen on the latter, the benefits in the middle are plainly obvious, a good confident display and victory would make sure the former’s target would be reached.
We are started the game extremely well, looking dangerous, fast and fit as we dominated the half, Santi and Rambo providing two fine finishes to give us the lead our first half performance deserved. Thoroughly pleasing and entertaining and putting us well and truly in the driving seat when it came to trying to win the trophy. The next goal for me would be crucial and despite City showing a little bit more attacking intent early in the second period Olly’s absolute cracker pretty much tied things up. The whole of the massed red and white army doing the ‘Poznan’, might have been a bit obvious but it was amusing and a quite incredible sight. It was only a shame there were so few City fans there to see it.
Despite tiring a little as the game went on, we defended extremely well, the 3 nil scoreline impressive and hugely pleasing for all us Gooners. Those famous steps were climbed for the second time in recent months and Mikel held the shield high with pride. Lovely.
This week has seen Tommy Vermaelen move on to pastures new and we all of course, wish him all the best. Having struggled to break in to the starting eleven last season he has been truly professional and acted with the utmost dignity throughout. Not something that can be said for all our departing players in recent years. As always however, we must look to the future and all our new players looked to have fitted in extremely well.
So, another pre-season comes to a close and we all look forward to the visit of Crystal Palace on Saturday evening. This time last year Aston Villa came and that can serve as nothing less than a warning as to how we must be at our very best on the day. We are right to be optimistic. The time has come to prove the reason why.
Come on you mighty reds!