Wednesday 22nd April 2015
Only 2 clubs in England will still have on field business to complete come the morning of Saturday 30th May. To know we are one of them is hugely satisfying. Again.
Surely however, especially as Arsenal supporters, any of us who thought getting through Saturday’s semi final would be a stroll in the park can only be described as foolish! When have we EVER made things easy for ourselves!? Those kind of emotions could also be described as cocky or arrogant perhaps. They certainly show a degree of disrespect to our opponents on the day. Which brings me to my next point…..
We are all guilty sometimes I feel of forgetting there are two teams in every game. We only consider our own assets (and issues) and never the fact there will be eleven or more other human beings out there who have reached this stage of the competition on merit and will be giving every last drop of effort to try and progress instead of us. On paper, of course we were big favourites to go through. But every single week, many of those ‘expected’ to be victorious are overcome on the day. Topically, just ask ‘favourites’ Liverpool and ‘favourites’ Celtic how their weekends went.
Being our 4th visit in the last year or so, tried and tested pre-match plans that first went fantastically well this time 12 months ago when we took on FA Cup holders Wigan were put in place once again and they proved no less successful on this occasion.
An early start on a gorgeous sunny morning saw us enjoying some brekkie in North West London before taking in all the build up in a fine hostelry, one that was also hosting our friends from Liverpool 24 hours later. I have no idea if their pre-match ‘party’ was as enjoyable as ours, one thing I do know however, the rest of their day was much much worse.
That walk up Wembley Way is special. For me, it always will be. No matter how many times I do it in support of our great club it will stir incredible emotions in me. That alone means I want to do it time and time again. Saturday was no different of course and despite our huge ‘favourites’ tag I was racked with PMT and nerves. Yes, we should win. But, even after all these years, I remember York away. And Wrexham away where we lost as League Champions to a team who only just avoided being relegated into non-league football just a few months earlier. I also remember how much we needed to battle to overcome Wigan just twelve months ago, a match of attrition that completely shredded the nerves.
Wembley Way has changed a little down the years of course and the ‘Holy Grail’ at the end of it has been completely rebuilt. That view from Wembley Park tube station however, is still nothing short of awesome and sends shivers down your spine as the reality of the day kicks in. The twin towers will always be embedded in the memories of all football supporters old enough to have seen them but in its own modern way the new ‘arch’ gives rise to similar emotions.
Approaching the stadium we still have the slope that splits with the majority of one teams’ fans heading up one and their opponents the other. Having walked together down the previous 800 yards or so, you can almost here the phrase ‘let battle commence’.
On each of our three recent visits we have taken the right hand fork and given how successful each trip has been, heading this way again felt ‘right’ whether you believe in lucky omens or not.
One game from another FA Cup Final. Let’s get this done boys.
The game itself, was a little disappointing. Whilst dominating the vast majority, we weren’t at our best and Reading defended extremely well. To suggest we were lucky however, is ridiculous in my book. We created pretty much all the chances throughout, had far more corners and hit the woodwork twice. We all know Reading’s goalkeeper made a howler for our winner in extra time but Chezz made a similar mistake that prevented us from winning 1-0 in normal time. All irrelevant when people read the history books in years to come of course but if you were an alien and this was the first game you had ever seen you would say the team who came through victorious deserved to do so.
Neutral supporters I know and respect said we played ‘ok’ and always looked in control. And d’you know what? We are through to the FA Cup Final. So I don’t care anyway. Awesome. Job done.
Apart from the usual scramble for the paltry amount of tickets the FA always allocate for the game and that buzz and air of anticipation that inevitably and expectedly builds over the coming weeks, we can now put our admirable defence of the FA Cup on the backburner. Concentration must turn to our six remaining home games, starting of course with Chelsea’s visit on Sunday afternoon.
I don’t do blue.
I’m red to the core.
And I don’t mind a yellow ribbon in May either!
Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Tuesday 14th April 2015
The unmistakable drone of foghorns outside my bedroom window this morning confirmed it was a little bit foggy out on The Solent. Being occasionally woken by a sound like that is one of the very few disadvantages of living by the sea (and is certainly not a complaint!). Another however, is destinations such as Burnley feel a seriously long way! I certainly needed my pit when I got back in the early hours of Sunday morning. Another three points of course made it all worthwhile.
I try and get my thoughts written relatively quickly after each game but the delay on this occasion is again something I am not going to moan about. We are going to Wembley again on Saturday. Why on earth would I complain!? But the last 2 days and much of Friday too have been spent desperately trying to obtain match tickets for all of the members in our supporters club who meet the criteria set out by Arsenal.
To be honest, by and large I think our club do things pretty fairly. An adjustment that means season ticket holders who don’t actually use their season tickets don’t receive the same benefits is certainly in order in my book but other than that I can’t see any better or fairer way to distribute when numbers are so limited.
The way the FA distribute them however, is another matter. No disrespect to Reading but to be given more tickets than not only their average home gate but the capacity of their stadium is an absolute joke. We have all heard and read the stories but by the time ticket sales ended in the Berkshire town, Reading members had tickets for their whole family, friends, cats, dogs, budgies etc etc etc. Grossly unfair and a story that has been the same for years. That doesn’t mean it can’t be adjusted and improved for the future of course. But hang on a minute…..I’m forgetting the fans come well and truly LAST when banishing that ‘fair’ stick!
The gloriously sunny weather this week hadn’t graced us with its presence early on Saturday morning as our particular party set off Lancashire bound, light drizzle on the south coast something usually associated more with our destination.
There was a time in recent years where Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton and Wigan accompanied the ‘big clubs’ from this part of the world in the top flight and as a result it felt like we were forever travelling up that delightful road they call the M6. This season however, only Burnley are flying that flag. Our journey on this occasion was comfortable and smooth but once you pass Manchester and Liverpool and you still have 40 odd miles to go you realise its a long old way!
Parked up it was a bright and sunny town that met us and we made our way to Burnley Cricket Club for a pre-match refreshment, located adjacent to the away end at Turf Moor and with cheap prices and the Grand National on the telly it proved a perfect location. Being the club of a current cricketing ‘star’ the ‘James Anderson Stand’ was a great host to many of the travelling Gooners present and I was also one of those who came up trumps with the winner of the big race at Aintree!
Gambling has never been something I have been hugely into but like most of us I’ll have the occasional flutter, including on the National. On this occasion however, I had forgotten to put a bet on. One of our party decided to seek out a bookies so returning from the bar and seeing his absence I decide to call him. “Is there one at 33/1 Rich?” I asked. “Yes mate” came the reply. “Ok do me an each way on that”.
Hardly ‘studying the form’ but probably an indication as to what a lottery the race is! Lovely :-)
What we would call traditional stadia are fast disappearing in this country. Progress I guess but a real shame to see so many of them go. Turf Moor (or certainly 2 sides to it) definitely fall into that category, especially the away end. Lacking in comfort and facilities but hugely atmospheric. The thousands of travelling Gooners (interestingly twice as many as Middlesex FC brought the previous week if you believe the matchday programme), got behind the team as always and we started the game extremely well.
Let’s be honest, the game won’t be remembered as a ‘classic’. Once our good start was rewarded with Rambo’s goal we were never in any real danger of letting the lead slip I feel. That professionalism is admirable of course, but not trying to kill the game off is a trifle risky for me, especially with just a one goal lead. It is difficult to criticise when we have come away with the three points and might I add I am absolutely ecstatic with that and would have taken it before a ball was kicked….but…….well……just but!!
The long long journey home is always that much easier with a victory of course so overall a thoroughly satisfying day. It definitely keeps that momentum as we look forward to our 4th trip up Wembley way in less than a year.
My colours are ready, the weather looks set to be bright and despite having made this trip on many many occasions down the years, I am genuinely massively excited yet again.
For now I need to find a branch of Corals!
“Wemberlee, Wemberlee, we’re the famous Arsenal……..”
Sunday 5th April 2015
Gardening isn’t an activity I would necessarily say I love or I’m any good at but I don’t mind having a go. Likewise, diy or painting and decorating are not favourites but strangely I find it quite therapeutic when I get involved with such activities. Undertaking them with a stinking hangover however, is downright nauseating and painful!
I make no apology for feeling this way today. After a performance and result like that an unplanned celebration felt totally the right think to do.
You can keep your chocolate eggs and bunnies this time of year. I’ll take a thumping 4-1 win over Liverpool any day.
Other than Saturday’s game I had planned to use this extended weekend to undertake a number of those essential chores in and around my house. Life has been pretty full on in recent weeks (mainly following our great club of course) and the coming weeks and months look no different. Totally my choice but it is a situation that dictates finding the time to do the former is proving very difficult. As a result Good Friday was spent painting and putting together furniture. I’m ‘Rock & Roll’ me.
We all go through these International ‘breaks’ with a large degree of fear. Most of our squad are always involved and with so much still to play for we all hope more than anything else that they all return injury free.
On this occasion and extremely rare it seems, we looked forward to Saturday not only with all of our squad coming through unscathed but a number of our injured players back in full training and taking part in a ‘behind closed doors’ friendly.
The lunchtime kick-off meant an early start but travel and pre-match activities going smoothly and successfully, the atmosphere heading to the ground certainly had a real air of anticipation and optimism.
Result wise I really felt that a draw would not have been a complete disaster. Liverpool desperately needed a win to stay in the race for Champions League football and a point would have kept our visitors 6 points behind as we look to achieve the same target.
That however, was not me being negative. I was extremely confident if we performed well we could come away with all 3 points.
In the first 15 or 20 minutes we were magnificent. We totally battered Liverpool, the only thing missing from a great start the all important goal. Very nearly and arguably the most crucial moment in the first half, if not the whole game, not taking the lead came back to bite us. A terrible miss from what looked like a certain goal it might have been, but going behind would have been completely undeserved. There is no doubt however, had our visitors taken the lead, the whole game could have been different.
And how we made them pay!
Last season’s heavy defeat at Anfield was very painful. I don’t remember attending another game where I’ve felt so shell shocked at half time.
Well, our friends from the red side of Liverpool, I genuinely hope Saturday you felt exactly the same at the break. Have some of that!
All 3 goals were things of absolute beauty yet again, Hector’s fine run and finish, Mesut’s magnificent free kick and Alexis’ crashing thumping finish, all in less than 10 minutes seeing us positively dancing in our seats. Get in! Magnificent.
Being in a winning position, the second period was all about being solid and professional and that is exactly what we did. And on the break we looked extremely dangerous too. Liverpool’s pen had us twitching a little but Olly’s superb late strike settled those nerves and put the icing on a very huge and tasty cake. Arsenal 4 Liverpool 1. A beautiful scoreline.
We all celebrate our victories in different ways. Drink options have always been similar for train journeys home. Food on the other hand has changed down the years. In the past a greasy burger, something with chips or at best a sarnie were all you could hope for.
On this occasion, the drink remained the same (although I’m not convinced the ‘perfect accompaniment to chicken, fish or mussels’ was an accurate statement on the side of my ‘Belgian Lager’!) but a packet of beetroot crisps, a salad with some ingredients I’ve never heard of and fellow Gooner Ian munching on a tray of sushi are all examples of just how things have changed!
And that pretty much brings me up to date. A fine fine day ended in my local pub. I remember smiling a lot and feeling chilled and full of satisfaction. As well as beer of course!
The long trip to Turf Moor comes next to play a team fighting for their Premier League lives. Positive results against teams around us are enough to prevent any complacency on our part you would hope but it promises to be a tough game.
For now however, I’m going to continue the household stuff with a smile on my face.
Happy Easter Gooners! A very happy one.
Sunday 22nd March 2015
Newcastle has to be a top contender for best away game destination. I love the place and it never fails to deliver. Writing these notes at Newcastle Airport whilst supping on a fine pint of ‘Bitter & Twisted’ the feelings all over my body confirm once again it has been a top top trip. Wack those massively important 3 points into the equation and we are approaching perfection!
The whole experience started in the usual manner in recent times, an early flight from Southampton on Saturday morning and an on time arrival and comfortably locating our hotel meant pre-match refreshment and banter was enjoyed with the usual gusto.
The hotel was ok. Nothing special. But we were made to feel very welcome, located near the city centre and the stadium and the view from my room was stunning (if you like blocks of flats).
The away end at St James Park is a long way from Terra Firma. Approximately 7 floors away in fact. That means a lot of stairs. Ok if you are fit. Not if, like me, it is not an adjective you would use to describe yourself! So to be puffing a bit on reaching our section was no surprise. I’m not sure what it says about us football fans but I was definitely in the majority believe me!
No game is a ‘gimme’ and for me anyone who believes any different is naive. There are so many factors that can influence any game’s outcome. One of those is fatigue and given our current run of form that was the only aspect that concerned me about our latest encounter with Newcastle.
Without being at our best we could and quite probably should have been 4 or 5 up at half time. Little did we know however, that those missed opportunities might come back to haunt us as the game progressed. 2 more Olly goals had us jostling up in the clouds and less than emphasized our overall dominance. A cracking half time score nonetheless and it looked like being another mighty fine away win.
If we had kept it at two nil for the first 15 minutes of the second half I am convinced we would have won comfortably. Our hosts were much faster out of the blocks however and very much found themselves back.in it.
The impetus and drive the goal created, coupled with the fact we certainly began to tire meant we seriously had to dig in to get that all important victory. We all love ‘pretty’ football of course but the fact we saw the game through and achieved our goal felt equally as satisfying. Three more away points, that will do very nicely.
The night out in our host city was always going to be there. That however, is always influenced by the result, despite some not agreeing. A win and it’s party time. A defeat on the other hand (or letting slip a four goal half time lead) and the whole trying to enjoy yourself thing doesn’t feel the same.
We won though. So we partied. Well into the wee small hours in a variety of locations and establishments. ‘Geordied’ is the word I think!
Unlike the cold and windy matchday we faced, today it is gloriously sunny t-shirt weather. Spring is definitely upon us and things are looking extremely positive.
We have the momentum going into the latest international break and it feels good.
See you in a couple of weeks when we welcome the red side of Liverpool to the Home of Football.
Enjoy the break Gooners.
Wednesday 18th March 2015
Every trip I arrange for myself and fellow friends and Gooners involves a large amount of instruction and direction both before and during the adventure, to make things as easy as possible for everyone if nothing else.
Extremely rarely however, do my directional tips involve the line ‘walk pass the big bloke with his cock out’! This morning the only thing I can think of that is rarer is coming back from 3-1 down away from home in the last 16 of the Champions League. In fact it has never happened.
Last night, with a near on perfect performance we came very very close.
Despite the wet and relatively dreary weather do its best to spoil it has been yet another momentous trip following our team. This morning it is difficult to hide the disappointment of going out of a competition where we all know deep down we should be in the quarter finals.
Monday we decided to go into Monaco itself, one of the few opportunities you have to actually walk a grand prix street circuit. Without too many plans, some decided to take in the casino whilst most walked the circuit taking in the incredible architecture, marina and picturing how the city transforms on grand prix weekend.
Heading back into Nice we enjoyed more good food and vino before we found out our opponents in our latest Wembley trip as Reading overcame Bradford.
Another cracking night and matchday was finally upon us.
Like every city and town in the world Nice has its share of Irish Bars. Tuesday being St Patricks Day made it hugely likely that these establishments would certainly be a fun place to enjoy the pre-match build up. And they certainly made us very welcome.
There is a reqular train service along the beautiful coastline and into Monte Carlo and this was our chosen method for travelling to the game, especially as a special return service is organised on matchday nights to get us back again after the game.
Arriving in one of the most affluent cities in the world the travelling Gooners were all relatively confident we could climb the mountain our 1st leg defeat had created. We had a chance, yes…..but to go through would take an incredible performance.
With such a small population, the ground matches that so 1200 away tickets is all we got. Never enough of course and consequently there were many many Gooners all over the ground.
Kick-off came and over the next couple of hours we would know if these season’s European adventure would continue.
Tactically I felt we could not have got it any better. In fact I thought we were magnificennt on the night. We kept it tight in the early stages abd slowly started to create chances. Olly smashed home to give us hope and we could have doubled that lead on more than one occasion before the break.
Half-time, one-nil, so far so good.
Roared on by the travelling Gooner army we created more chances, even more so when offensive substitutions were made to try and get us over the line.
Rambo smashed home our second and in at least three sides of the stadium it was pandemonium. If we didn’t know there were Gooners everywhere, we did now!
“One more for the Arsenal!” echoed into the night sky……we couldn’t, could we?!
The answer of course is ‘no’. But we came desperately and painfully close. It was a great European night…..but not a glorious one.
And our exit brings me to my current location on Wednesday afternoon.
Nice Airport is drenched in sunshine. It would be after the last few days have been damp and dreary as we are heading home.
Another great European adventure comes to an end. But as that door closes, that craving for more starts as we head up to Newcastle on Saturday.
As always, lets make some noise!!
Monday 16th March 2015
Writing my blog in various different locations is very much part of the whole experience. Airports, trains, planes and boats have all played host to me reflecting down the years. On this occasion I wish you a very ‘bon matin’ from my hotel bed in Nice.
The way my head feels means my title for this piece feels apt for a different reason to its planned relevance too! Hardly surprising I guess when 35 of us arrived on the Mediterranean coast yesterday lunchtime in fine spirits after Saturday’s good victory.
On occasion a lot more logistical planning goes into attending matches than just jumping on the train and going straight to London N5. With our flight from Gatwick departing very early on Sunday morning this was one of those.
An early Saturday morning departure took us to Gatwick initially where we checked into our hotel and then headed up to our capital city for our latest London derby.
The fact I like an occasional pint is no secret of course and with my fellow Gooners all joining me in that passion, a very early Sunday flight departure had us stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to matchday refreshment!
That became even harder after we all witnessed a thoroughly professional and entertaining three-nil victory.
Overall it was a very comfortable win but until that 2nd goal you cannot help but feel the lead is little bit fragile.
Defensively we looked strong again I felt and it was fantastic to see Rambo looking back to his brilliant best. Man of the match for me however, was Olly. His goal was a cracker and he was involved in everything we did going forward.
Three more massive points to take with us and the inevitable celebrations meant it was a relatively painful Gatwick departure lounge for many yesterday morning.
Although the weather down here could hardly be called Mediterranean we spent yesterday enjoying the local fare and hospitality and that pretty much brings us up to date.
Apart from a picture I must share I feel. Our supporters club chairman is not known for his music taste (or is depending what way you view it). Late last night however, he turned into some strange dancing ‘groupie’. Nothing more needs to be said!
So Tuesday. Its half time and we are 3-1 down. We need to score 3 goals or we are out. Simples.
Come on you Gooners!
Tuesday 10th March 2015
I’d never been to Manchester Airport. It’s not a destination I have ever considered getting a flight to. Once our game was moved to Monday night however, a few of us liked the look of a ‘jolly’ and plans were made. It’s not the best of airports if I’m honest but even with the huge slice of nausea this morning’s return was accompanied by, it felt like the best place on earth. Get those yellow ribbons out once again boys and girls, we are heading back up Wembley Way!
My trip should have been so so different. I have some good Gooner friends who live near Stavanger in Norway. It is a beautiful part of the world and at this time of the year the nearby mountains are still covered in snow. Skiing has never been something that has attracted me, in fact I have never so much as put on a pair of skis let alone do a poor impression of Franz Klammer!
My Norwegian friends however, are huge fans of Winter Sports and have given an open invite to head out there and sample their passion.
Dates have never quite worked but with our game being Monday night, even when I had already booked my return flight from Southampton to Manchester, I discovered Norwegian Air had a direct flight from Stavanger to Manchester on Monday morning……for just over 17 quid!
So plans were made and a flight route booked from Gatwick to Stavanger to Manchester to Southampton!
Then the pilots decided to go on strike!!
With all flights cancelled the Norway trip was off and it was back to plan A, the fact I couldn’t cancel my outbound flight from Southampton being a godsend on this occasion.
Only those who ‘know’ understand how good nights like that are. Walking up a Sir Matt Busby Way mobbed with Gooners singing “We’re the famous Arsenal and we’re going to Wem-ber-lee” after beating the mighty Manchester United in the FA Cup Quarter Final in their own backyard is really rather pleasant. And boy did we celebrate.
Pre-match activities started quite early on this occasion, our flight having us in Manchester and comfortable by lunchtime but it was a strange moment on route to our chosen hostelry that sticks in my mind.
One of my Gooner mates popped into a bank and whilst waiting outside I looked up at one of the city’s many tower blocks. On the side it said ‘Manchester One’. For a reason that it is impossible to explain I had a massive air of confidence wash over me and had the words ‘Arsenal Two’ in an imaginery position on the side of the building.
Pre-match activities undertaken we headed to Old Trafford to join our 9 thousand strong travelling army in getting behind the team. The noise we made was simply magnificent.
Like away at Man City tactically we got it spot on I felt. Our hosts had few clear cut chances throughout, in fact 2 quite awesome saves in the second period prevented it from being 3 or 4.
If the jostle after our quickly cancelled out opener was raucous the one undertaken for Welbs’ winner was bordering on carnage.
As the dust settled that 20 minutes or so to go looked like a lifetime. We were not to be denied however, and the final whistle was met with scenes of jubilation. Wembley bound again, get in there you beauties.
A tremendous result warrants a similar level of celebrations and getting in at just before 4am definitely suggests we did just that.
Bringing me nicely to the present. The seatbelt sign has just been illuminated on my short flight so it is time to sign off.
I’m uncomfortable admittedly…..but I’m smiling from ear to ear.
See you on Saturday as we entertain The Hammers.
Thursday 5th March 2015
We are all guilty of saying it is ‘hugely important’ to pick up three points when other teams around us slip up. In situations like this week we also find ourselves saying the same when the teams around us all win. So overall, can’t we all just admit that each time we win a league game it is…..well…..’hugely important’!
I like going to Shepherds Bush. Having attended many a gig in the ‘Empire’ overlooking the Green I know the immediate vicinity quite well, even if our trips to Loftus Road have been a little bit inconsistent down the years. With much of London changing all the time I also find it is an area that doesn’t look or feel any different to the first time I visited back in the eighties.
Arsenal memorabilia and programmes are something I enjoy collecting. I’m not really sure why, I am a grown adult after all! But ‘collecting’ is something many of us like to do. Only recently have I realised just how much ‘stuff’ I have managed to accumulate down the years and as a result I have decided to revamp my office to incorporate as much of it as possible! Earlier this week I almost stumbled across an ‘unfiled’ programme from April 1978 and being QPR v Arsenal felt like a huge coincidence.
There are a number of similarities to this week’s fixture, being played midweek in the latter stages of the season, and incredibly us sitting in 3rd place with our hosts third from bottom. More than anything however, it demonstrates how much our wonderful sport has changed over the last 37 years. Our starting eleven contained 4 Englishmen, 3 Northern Irishmen, 3 Southern Irishmen and a Scot. Not a player from any other part of the footballing world in sight! Last night we started with 2 Germans, 2 Spaniards, 2 Frenchmen, 1 Columbian, 1 Brazilian, 1 Chilean, 1 Czech Republican and 1 Englishmen! A quite incredible contrast and example of how small the world has become.
The letters page back in 1978 is extremely amusing and although I would like to think it was ‘tongue in cheek’ I feel I must relay the details of one of them;
“Dear Sir, I wrung up General Enquiries and I asked the lady who said you were up Chiswick training. I said to the lady I wanted to play for the juniors and she said write us a letter and then let you see it. And they will answer it and come down for a trial. I said to the lady I am bit fat, she said you’ll get thinner. I am 12 years old. My favourite position is Inside Left. Yours, Leslie”!!!!!
The facts and figures are interesting too. The programme cost 20p for starters and if you wanted to follow the R’s on a luxury coach to Nottingham Forest away it would set you back £3 for travel and £2.50 for a match ticket.
And how did the season finish? Well, we went to QPR after beating Orient 3-0 in the FA Cup Semi Final at Stamford Bridge 3 days earlier to take us to Wembley for our first of 3 finals in consecutive years. Silverware was to allude us on this occasion but European football was secured in the League. The R’s avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth, the victory they secured against us on that April night proving crucial.
The final similarity comes in the 2-1 scoreline…….but bringing us up to date it was our hosts on the receiving end on this occasion of course.
Like Selhurst Park a couple of weeks back Loftus Road is very much one of those ‘old style’ grounds. Just like Highbury, night games when you walk amongst the terraced houses to reach the stadium definitely hold something very special compared to many of the new modern stadia. But if its a degree of comfort, facilities and viewing lines that are important to you, forget it!
Many of the match tickets in the away end at QPR are donned with ‘Restricted View’ or ‘Restricted Sight Line’. Fantastic when you think tickets are still 50 odd quid a pop! My ticket did not have such a message but having visited before I was confident my view wouldn’t be in the ‘outstanding’ bracket! And sure enough, although I saw the build up to both our goals and was even fortunate enough to see both Olly and Alexis strike the ball, I didn’t actually see them hit the back of the net. Only the reaction of the players and the expected jostles that ensued confirmed we had scored on both occasions.
With our hosts fighting for their Premier League lives and that London derby atmosphere, it was always going to be a potentially difficult fixture I felt. And like in a number of games in recent weeks, it was a victory for patience. QPR arguably had the slight upper hand in a fairly uneventful first half but going in at half time level definitely didn’t set the alarm bells ringing. And those chances we always create eventually arrived, Olly and Alexis slamming home to the joy of all us Gooners present.
Once again we tried to make it a little more difficult than it should have been when Austin’s unopposed strike narrowed the lead but although that had us all on edge a little, the remaining 15 minutes or so were seen out comfortably and professionally to secure three more massive points. That’ll do nicely.
The first of our two visits to Old Trafford over the coming weeks comes next as we all head to the ridiculously timed FA Cup Quarter Final on Monday night. Of the 9 odd thousand travelling Gooner Army heading to Manchester I am extremely sure my exact route will be different to every other person travelling…….but more on that next week.
For now, get those yellow and blue colours out the cupboard and sing up for the mighty Arsenal!
Sunday 1st March 2015
Travelling up to London this morning, I knew Everton were beatable. I also knew if I was fan of today’s visitors I would see this as a really good time to be taking us on. Not because I lack confidence in our team but as a natural reaction to our very disappointing midweek outing today was always going to be tough.
The atmosphere inside the ground was always going to be a bit ‘flat’. It shouldn’t be. But it was. Getting the game out of the way with a win was on the agenda. And anything less would have been considered a total and utter disaster.
We certainly wasn’t at our often free flowing best today. The performance in the first half an hour in fact, matched the atmosphere in the stadium. Then we enjoyed a ten minute spell where for the first time in the match we seriously put Everton under pressure, culminating in Olly’s fine strike.
We all wanted to take the lead of course but I think we were all delighted when it was the big man up top who broke the deadlock. He had a ‘mare in front of goal in the week, there is no other way to describe it. But the last thing we wanted was him to lose confidence and today hopefully goes some way to preventing that from happening.
One up at half time then and I think we just about deserved it.
Our visitors enjoyed a lot of possession this afternoon and the 2nd half was no different. We defended well however, our shape in particular looking solid for the most part.
The crucial point in the game for me came in a five minute spell midway through the half when David Ospina made two good saves from Everton’s only clear cut openings of the afternoon. It kept that lead intact and provided that springboard to go on and grab those all important three points.
Off the pitch you could really sense our supporters could see our team were working immensely hard and seriously digging in a game where we looked a little jaded I felt, especially going forward.
Tommy Rosicky’s fresh legs were introduced at the perfect moment too and after a superb pass from Mesut, his strike doubled our lead and pretty much made sure the points were in the bag.
Not our greatest performance admittedly but we certainly kept that all important shape very well, defended competently, worked extremely hard and dug in. Keeping that clean sheet is so so crucial right now as we look like we can score in any game. Today was a fine example.
I don’t tend to get too involved with other teams results and how we want them to go unless they crucially and directly effect us. Whatever happened this weekend we are in amongst an extremely tight race for the Champions League spots. That includes being only 4 points off second of course.
West London plays host next as we head to the home of the Hoops on Wednesday night.
In the away end known for its grossly overpriced restricted views, let’s make some noise.
Come on you mighty reds!
Thursday 26th February 2015
Yesterday was my birthday. Triffic.
I always think its extremely easy to say we were ‘shit’….or this player was ‘useless’….or that player was ‘lazy’ etc etc etc. When you are so gutted with a result however, I also find those kind of reactions completely understandable.
Providing a more ‘balanced’ analysis is far more difficult I feel, even more so when you have such passion for the team that you can’t help but feel has just completely let you down.
The basic facts however, show at half time in the tie we have a mountain of Everest proportions to climb if we are to progress.
So what went wrong?
For me I was relatively satisfied after about half hour. We had dominated the game, created numerous half chances and looked extremely comfortable at the back.
The opening goal was unlucky whatever anyone says. I accept we maybe could have closed the player down but I dont remember a single game where there hasn’t been at least 3 or 4 similar shots taken from such a distance and the vast majority offer little threat. We are quite happy to praise the Ox for his fine strike for example but I’m sure Monaco will look at the fact he could have been closed down.
Whatever way we look at the goal it was definitely exactly what we didn’t want to happen. Despite that however, I still felt if we carried on keeping the same shape and applying the pressure we were well capable of getting a positive result from the remaining hour.
Olly had one of ‘those’ nights. His effort and movement were good but he couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo. Every chance that came his way was miscued. On another day he could have scored a hat-trick inside a few second half minutes. And when Welbs’ goalbound effort hit Theo on the deck and sailed over the bar it totally summed up our night in front of goal.
All of the above I can accept as part and parcel of the beautiful game.
What happened defensively in the second half however, I am really struggling to understand.
At home to Man Utd, when playing well, we went behind to an extremely unfortunate deflected goal. And then we went gung ho, left ourselves extremely exposed at the back and got picked off. All with plenty of time on the clock to get something from the game.
We all hoped we might have learned from that experience.
Last night suggested we havent. How we can leave ourselves so exposed at a time when we were seriously banging on Monaco’s defensive door is almost beyond belief.
At 2 nil we had to take risks. Again I understand that. And it that situation there is always the chance you might concede again against a counter attacking side. But we worked extremely hard to prevent that from happening whilst trying to get ourselves back in the tie.
The Ox’s strike gave us that lifeline. Above all else at that time it was massively important not to concede a third.
And we managed to do the complete opposite with what can only be described as a comical and suicidal last few minutes.
I am a very positive person and always try to see the plus points from any performance.
At the moment however, I am stunned.
Roll on Sunday, we desperately need to bounce back against The Toffees.