With Ribbons Intact

Tuesday 21st February 2017

What is it with Arsenal bashing? Why us? Always. 

We should have won the league last year. Liverpool shouldn’t have. Nor Chelsea. Nor Man Utd. And definitely not Tottenham. Maybe if any of them had put in a performance against the deserved Champions we might have won it. But that doesn’t matter. That’s our fault. We should have won it.

We should have won the league for a number of years now. And the fact we haven’t we are being absolutely slaughtered for it. No mention of Liverpool going 25 years without doing that despite spending horrific amounts of money. Tottenham doing the same and still waiting after near on 60 years is not worth a discussion. And Chelsea going 50 years until they pretty much bought it is all very hush hush.

Knocking the Arsenal is nothing new. We have always had to deal with that. But things have changed a little for me.

So, after a disappointing period, the vultures were well and truly circling above Gander Green Lane last night. Nothing (and I mean nothing) would have pleased the football world more than seeing us get beat last night. But I (and fortunately all of the people I attend fixtures with) were thoroughly looking forward to the whole event and were not going to allow the knockers of our great club to ruin it. It was a special occasion in many many ways. Almost unique in fact. And we came through it with a win to send everyone but us Gooners home disappointed.

But it wasn’t all good and I will detail just why……

An ageing souvenir cap from a memorable day out

An ageing souvenir cap from a memorable day out

Back in January 1993 we played Yeovil away in the FA Cup 3rd Round. I remember the hype surrounding the fixture due to a combination of our hosts being a non league side, the link to our previous fixture back in 1971 and the fact the whole football world wanted us to lose. We had a fantastic day out, Wrighty banged in a hat-trick and that was that. A few months later we put the grand old pot in our trophy cabinet once again. 

But the difference back then was all the criticism, all that dislike of the Arsenal, all that desire to see us fail made us Gooners stick together. The attitude if everyone else is against us we’ll make doubly sure we are in it as one. That ‘siege mentality’ we’ve all heard about. And that is in a season where we had already lost against the likes of Norwich, Blackburn (twice), Wimbledon, Leeds, Southampton, Villa and others. A season where leading up to the Yeovil game we had scored 1 goal in our previous 7 league games! In a 1-1 home draw with Middlesbrough for the record…

But, that sticking together, that ‘us against the world’ doesn’t seem to be the case any more.

Once again, every single person outside of Arsenal FC wanted us to lose last night. And that I completely understand. But the fact, even in the away end of Gander Green Lane with only 750 of us present it felt like there were many who would have been quite happy to see us get beat I genuinely do not get. Why bother going if you don’t go to enjoy it? What is the point of constant negativity? Back in the day, even if we weren’t exactly overjoyed about the way things were going, we certainly didn’t show that to anyone outside of the club. We are Arsenal. Bollocks to everyone else. I wish I could say that is still the way. But I genuinely don’t think amongst the ‘new generation’ it is.

Or maybe I’m just getting old.

‘Minnows beat the Arsenal’. The headlines were already written. And we would have endured that until the day we died. But on the night, due to a thoroughly professional if not stunning performance we made sure it didn’t happen.

And no matter how much it was expected we should take that with pride, satisfaction and class and look forward to a quarter final where we’ll need to go through it all again.

A surface covered in banana skins

A surface covered in banana skins

Those of us who were lucky enough (and in the majority of cases deservedly) to have a ticket for tonight’s match were thoroughly looking forward to it. Supporting a top side we have been able to travel the globe and visit some of the world’s greatest stadia. And some of our most awesome moments have been in the world’s greatest club Cup competition.

And to win it 12 times you need to overcome many teams.

But to visit such a stadium for a massive fixture with interest being present globally is kind of unique. Winning would make sure it wasn’t an experience ruined.

This season we have beaten Burnley twice, both with last minute winners. At the weekend that team lost, at home, to a team from the conference.

So, apparently, that means last night was easy for Arsenal. Should be a stroll in the park.

We all knew that wasn’t the case. Everyone was waiting for us to fail. But we didn’t. Sorry about that. 

I had a bit of PMT in the build up. To be fair I always do for cup games. But that fear of embarrassment intensifies that emotion. But once the game had started there wasn’t a single moment where I felt we would lose. And as a result, into the last 8 we go……yet again.

We now have a short break due to Southampton’s success in the League Cup. A rare weekend off. And it’s my birthday. So I will enjoy it. And if you want to knock me for that you go ahead.

We’re used to it.

Frank
@stubbsy70

A New Emotion

Thursday 16th February 2017

Wembley 1978 and again in 1980 along with Brussels just a few days later I remember being disappointed. But I was a little too young to feel any other emotion. Losing to Luton in 1988 always springs to mind when trying to remember the first time I felt genuinely gutted. And of course there have been other times too, Liverpool robbing us down in Cardiff, Bergkamp’s penalty miss at Villa Park and a couple of trips to Paris to name but a few.

But, in 40 years of support, I don’t ever remember experiencing the feeling of total and utter deflation after last night.

Trip wise it has been fantastically entertaining as always, no shock when visiting a city that never fails on that front.

Arriving around about rush hour on Tuesday evening there was always only going to be one thing on the agenda and an establishment that we have been in so many times now that it almost feels like a ‘local’ played host until the wee small hours. A fine start.

Oh go on then.....

Oh go on then…..

Matchday arrived graced with beautiful sunshine and consequently the city was full of people enjoying the local wares al fresco. That of course included the usual travelling army of Gooners spread far and wide inside and outside one of the many bierkellers. A good atmosphere full of anticipation if not exuberant confidence.

Actually getting into some stadia amazes me. The Allianz is one of the world’s greatest modern sporting arenas. An incredible sight as you approach and equally impressive inside. But getting through the turnstiles, for both home and away fans was unnecessarily slow, difficult and chaotic.

We had been warned that we would all have our photo ID checked and this could take some time. But that bit took no more than seconds and caused no delays or problems. But actually getting through the turnstiles, in a modern stadium, in a country known for its clockwork efficiency was ridiculously difficult and meant many, even having arrived in what should be ample time, missed the kick-off.

False optimism again

False optimism again

Normally when we get beat you can pinpoint particular incidents or moments that could have been different. Mistakes, bad luck, that kind of thing. But our second half performance last night was like something you see in a school playground.

None of us were shocked that our hosts completely dominated the first half possession. Defending well and trying to make the most of opportunities on the break were not unexpected tactics. And short of an absolute worldy we did that pretty well I felt. In fact after we equalised we enjoyed our best spell and could and arguably should have taken the lead.

So, at half time we found ourselves in a better position than before a ball was kicked.

Then, Laurent limped off and basically we collapsed.

Of course we can all scratch our heads as to just how we fell apart but more alarming was the fact we appeared to just give up. At 3-1 down we were still in the tie. Yet we looked like a team already defeated.

Since mid December we have lost 5 times. That period includes a last minute penalty win at home to Burnley and having to come from 3 nil down to scrape a point at Bournemouth. That form speaks for itself. And consequently losing last night was more likely than not. But the manner of the defeat was very very worrying.

Drowning your sorrows until nearly 4am is not big or clever. But I almost felt I had no choice.

It almost has an ‘end of an era’ feel today. And I genuinely have never felt like that since Georgie Graham departed.

So what happens next? Well, first things first we need to show Sutton United some respect and put in a performance that sees us into the FA Cup quarter final.

We are Arsenal.

We’ll come again.

Frank
@stubbsy70

An Essential Victory

Monday 13th February 2017

We all have differing opinions in life and football is no exception. And that is the way it should be. The ability to accept other people’s, especially when they are different to yours, is almost a skill in itself! I used to believe that comes with experience. The increased wisdom the older we all get. But when we look at the ‘debates’ we all have I am no longer convinced that is the case! Some get even more set in their ways and consequently their opinions as their age increases. One thing I think the majority of us agree on however, is the most important aspect of any league game is to come away with the three points. Everything else, especially as time goes by, becomes almost irrelevant. If you look back at your copy of the 1977-78 official Arsenal handbook and page 51 tells you on 15th January 1977 we beat Norwich at home 1 nil, only a minute few will remember the details of the game. But the result is in the book. A home victory. Nothing else matters.

Given the previous few days, Hull at home on Saturday afternoon was one of those. Freezing cold and largely forgettable, the 2 nil home win will very much do. We can save the more entertaining days for other matches.

I’ve mentioned it before but Sunday matches are the ones I’m not a fan of. Anything on a Saturday is fine by me and Friday and Monday are not the end of the world either. But if I didn’t say the walk to my ferry on Saturday morning was a tad painful I would be lying. Most of you will be expecting me to say that was as a result of a ridiculous decision to hit it hard on Friday night given the following day’s lunchtime kick-off but no, you would be wrong! I had a ‘quiet night in for a change’ as Smashy and Nicey used to say. But leaving my house, as night was just about turning to day, it was proper freezing. And that is my excuse for having a few breakfast liveners on my train journey into London! 🙂

The atmosphere was a little flat in the ground and that cannot be put down totally to the cold weather. None of us can be blamed for being a little downbeat after our previous 2 games. But there is nothing like a win the improve the mood.

The better team won on the day but there is no doubt it was a tough old game. Not until Alexis penalty in injury time was it put to bed and it needed some good defending, a couple of good saves and plenty of discipline to see it home.

Considering how advanced the game has become I think it is incredible that there are still a number of grey areas within the rules and laws. Penalty decisions, diving, simulation, call it whatever you like is certainly one of them and I’ve discussed that before. And handballs are definitely another. For me it must come down to the officials’ opinion and decision and nothing else. If the rule was changed that if the ball strikes your hand it is handball whatever the situation we would be faced with players just aiming for an opponent’s hand to win a penalty. And that is simply ridiculous.

Our first goal on Saturday was one such example. Did Alexis mean to put his hand there so as to knock it into the net? Or was it simply smashed against him from a foot and he knew very little about it? The goal was given so we can only assume the officials saw it as the latter. The referee has since been reported as saying if he had the benefit of a replay it would have been disallowed. But does that mean it shouldn’t have been a goal? That means if Alexis did know absolutely nothing about it and the ball went in off whatever part of his body it hit, that is deemed a ‘foul’. And that seems a little bit odd to me.

Fortunately for all of us it is a decision that has gone in our favour on this occasion. And it was crucial too, given the way the game had gone so far.

We’ll take the three points from a tough game on the day and move on and that of course takes us to Germany and our latest trip to Bavaria. The majority of our previous visits have been either for a group game or the second leg after a disappointing result at home. Although this one is different to that we have been in this situation before. On a freezing cold night in 2005 (those who attended will remember the snowball fight!) we got beat 3-1 in Bayern’s old Olympic Stadium ground and it was enough to put us out despite Thierry scoring in the home leg in a 1 nil victory. So, despite all our encounters, actually getting through against the Germans of Bayern Munich is not territory we have reached before.

Our 2 games over the next 3 weeks will determine if we can change that, starting with Wednesday night’s latest trip to the Allianz Arena.

Over Land and Sea!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Forearm Smash

Monday 6th February 2017

Everyone knows and can see that the first goal we conceded on Saturday was a foul. In fact, if it happened anywhere else on the pitch not only would it have been penalised but there is every chance it would have resulted in a sending off. We could see it from the away end….but the officials got caught up in the moment and excitement and decided to let it stand. Believe you me that is not me offering an excuse for getting beat but those who argue it wasn’t crucial and influential are simply wrong in their conclusions.

If we had won in the week against Watford, Saturday would have been ever so slightly easier to take. It still would of hurt. All defeats do. But if the gap was an unlikely one to bridge before a ball was kicked it is almost impossible now. The likeliness of the Bank of Russia losing 4 games between now and the end of the season is as likely as us managing to win all of ours.

I don’t like going to Chelsea. And before anyone suggests that is hardly surprising in recent times, I never have. Even during the period when we pretty much used to get a result over there every season. Those victories used to make it a lot easier to endure of course but since the money has changed them from a middle sized ‘yo-yo’ club to one where they can persuade anyone to join just because of their unlimited wage budget, the trip and surrounding area are still remarkably irritating and uninspiring.

My emotions approaching the game were a little bit confusing. Everyone knows I am extremely positive and consequently I go to any game confident we can win. But Saturday morning that feeling wasn’t there. Once I had convinced myself that Tuesday’s disappointing defeat doesn’t make us a bad side overnight however, I entered the turnstiles after the usual almost degrading body search feeling far more optimistic.

Before the 'assault'

Before the ‘assault’

Overall I think we played ‘ok’. But nothing better than that. And away at the team looking most likely to take the league title, that level is never going to be good enough. Our hosts don’t let in many goals. But we created chances on the day. And there were some crucial moments too, none more so than the opener and the header we missed during our best spell of the first half.

But the fact we still continue to concede goals is more worrying for me. We know we can score. And generally, pretty much in every game we play we do just that. In all 5 of our league defeats this season in fact, we have done just that. That means if we had kept a clean sheet we would have won those games. But every game we play at the moment I feel we could let in goals. And that is not the sign of a side that will go on to win trophies.

We have endured a seriously bad week since our win at Southampton in the cup. But there is still an enormous amount to play for. And that is more important than anything else right now.

That starts with the visit of in form Hull City on Saturday lunchtime. It’s a game where we need to start again. Create a new base to build upon. And the only way we can do that is to take the three points.

Keep the faith.

Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Disaster?

Tuesday 31st January 2017

I’m at Earls Court. The driver of my District Line train has just announced we need to get off, ‘coz the train is faulty’.

Earlier today my 1 hour and 40 minute train journey took nearly 3 and a half hours.

So……I should have known.

I thought we played well in the second half. And I’m not going to knock that because it was the only thing we could do given we were 2 goals behind.

But it is so so frustrating that we didn’t wake up until then.

Gilly is leaving soon. For pastures long off. But he managed to squeeze this one in. So we met in Covent Garden for a few pre match ales and our opinions were laced with confidence, optimism and anticipation. Why wouldn’t they be?

But. We were also aware of what happened against Burnley.

And tonight we experienced what happens if your opponents make the most of early opportunities. 2 nil down before we could even blink. Brilliant.

It’s easy to criticise with the benefit of hindsight, so I’m not going to. But, having got ourselves in a position of threat, we blew it. Against Watford. At home. Draw your own conclusions.

Chelsea away next. Much the same as Watford at home I guess.

Chins up.

Come on you mighty reds!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Marching In

Sunday 29th January 2017

There is absolutely nothing mildly interesting, enjoyable or appealing about ‘The One Show’. Yesterday’s fun day out on the south coast however, means Monday night’s will contain something of interest to all us Gooners. Just 16 teams can now win the FA Cup. And we are very much one of them.

Living where I do a trip to Southampton is pretty much my local game these days and that of course means its exactly the same for all my fellow Arsenal fans in this area. That means it is always one helluva day out. In recent years however, the enjoyment off the pitch has been tainted by performances and results ranging from deflating to crushing.

Our pre-match fun yesterday matched any previous trips entertainment wise, a couple of pubs and fantastic company adding to those unique football emotions only cup games seem to throw up.

One of our supporters club members was to experience an altogether unexpected treat when checking into his hotel too. The team were using the facilities for their own pre-match build up and it was great to hear Mr Wenger, Bouldy and the players could not have been any nicer or approachable, especially with his young children. When the media are always so quick to jump on anything negative that kind of thing restores our faith (and hope I guess) that the club appreciates us as fans.

Mr Wenger and friends

Mr Wenger and friends

Similarly to Preston our travelling army was large in number and noisy with anticipation. But as always only our team could prove if our confidence was foolhardy.

Ten changes from the team that beat Burnley was a brave decision in my book but also demonstrates the total confidence Mr Wenger has in every member of our squad. Our hosts made a similar number of changes but we can only assume this is not something our boss was aware of before he picked his team. And with the Saints impressing so much in both legs of the League Cup semi aganist Liverpool, it certainly looked like we would need to be at our best to get a result.

What unfolded in front of us was simply sublime. Every player all over the pitch put in a performance and it was thoroughly enjoyable. 5 high quality goals, marvellous entertainment and of course progression to the next round. A job well done.

24 hours after we find out who will stand in our way from a quarter final appearance we take on Watford in another fixture where we need to come away with the three points.

Who to pick is a good problem to have I would say. On Saturday’s evidence it could be any of our squad and we couldn’t moan.

Come on you mighty reds!

Frank
@stubbsy70

The Waiting Game

Wednesday 25th January 2017

We seem to be spending an awful lot of time waiting at the moment. Southampton have been involved in a lot of it, their FA Cup replay against Norwich meaning we had to wait 10 days or so after beating Preston to find out our 4th round opponent whereas tonight will determine if we have another trip to St Marys at the end of February or an unexpected free weekend. There has also been quite a large gap between the final whistle on Sunday and me writing these thoughts and I apologise to those of you who have enquired if I am ok/busy/away/dead! Look on the bright side, you could be waiting for a service operated by Southern Trains!

We had to wait a long time for three points on Sunday afternoon too……but we got there in the end. Just.

It put the icing on the cake of a fine weekend. A fellow Gooner and long term mate ‘Gilly’ has decided to up sticks with his family and move house. Living in Kent he is only going ‘local’. Sydney, Australia to be exact!! So it only seemed right to try and see him off in style.

Consequently a large group of us got together in the city of London to enjoy some Saturday afternoon refreshment, top tucker in Shoreditch and after dinner entertainment that is a little bit more difficult to recall given the previous few hours’ excesses.

Not for the first time it meant we re-convened in our usual pre-match establishment feeling a little bit ‘under the weather’ but medicine consumed we headed along Gillespie Road and over the North Bridge for our latest home encounter.

The fact my biggest memory of the first half is the fact the sun was in my eyes is comfortably evidence enough that it wasn’t exactly inspiring. But although it was an average game, time starting to tick by at nil-nil starts to get those nerves jangling a little. And if nothing else that always adds to that unique set of emotions football puts us all through.

After much hard work and constant probing, our crucial opener could not have been more simple. A glancing and well placed header and we were on our way. The atmosphere was laced with relief as much as anything else but having given ourselves that winning platform it was hugely important we turned that into three points.

Not for the first time and it certainly won’t be the last, the remainder of the game was crammed full of incidents that provide huge subjects for debate.

Granit needs to eradicate the clumsiness from his game. And quickly. I’m convinced his ‘scissor’ type lunge is a genuine attempt to win the ball and there is no intent to foul or injure his opponent. But if he gets it wrong and if you watch highlights of his game, he does regularly, he runs the risk every time of getting sent off. There are other incidents too including giving away costly penalties. He is a fine player and for me a good addition to our squad but the clumsy side to his game has, can and will prove costly across the course of the season if he doesn’t get rid of it as soon as possible.

After doing pretty well with ten men and the Coq coming close to opening his Arsenal account and doubling our lead, the same player stuck out a leg, made minor contact and it looked like our whole afternoon’s hard work would be undone. A footballer’s life in a nutshell.

A fan’s life on the other hand means football can make you feel lower than low. Yet within seconds it can lift you from those depths and make you feel as high as a kite. And Sunday, deep into injury time, we went through those emotions. But it couldn’t be a last minute 30 yarder could it? No we had to wait an unbearable few minutes before Alexis showed coolness and cheek beyond belief to clinch those all important 3 points.

The debate surrounding all 3 incidents has been long and intense. For me, although we got the favourable side of an incredibly tight offside decision in the build up to our penalty, by the letter of the law, the referee got all 3 right. But, I also believe something needs to change.

Its not a new thing that players throw themselves in the air in supposed fits of agony when they have hardly been touched. Players falling to the floor in the penalty area when just ‘touched’ when quite clearly they could have stayed on their feet is not exactly news. But I also think it is currently worse than it has ever been before.

There are a number of reasons I believe but one that never seems to get a mention by any media pundits and reporters is the fact those players who are a little bit more ‘honest’ when quite clearly they have been fouled, by doing their utmost to stay on their feet for example, do not receive the free kicks, the penalties and punishment to the offender that they deserve. So in other words, they pay for their ‘honesty’. So what encouragement are they getting to remain honest? Those who do a pirouette accompanied by graphic facial expressions, or dive to the floor when touched in the box are getting away with it, week in week out. So the ‘honest’ players might as well join them and reap the benefits.

Some decisions are difficult to judge in normal time of course. But many it is extremely obvious a player has ‘bought’ a foul. Even from distance in the stands. Even after a few beers!! But the rule seems to be if a player is ‘touched’, he has the right to go down. Utter rubbish in my book! Since when did football become a non contact sport.

Overall, we can debate for 24 hours, 7 days a week if we like. But a 2-1 home win has gone down in the book. And crucially for us Gooners that is all that counts.

Southampton away comes next, not exactly our most fruitful fixture in recent times. But cup games are unique. And our huge following need to make some serious noise to assist our attempt to progress.

As I sign off, 70 minutes has gone in Saturday’s opponents League Cup tie at Anfield. And we are no nearer to knowing what will be doing on 25th Feb!

The waiting game indeed.

Come on you mighty Gooners!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Willoughby Court

Tuesday 17th January 2017

Any 4 nil victory away from home should be memorable. Even though we thoroughly enjoyed our day out in South Wales however, the game almost felt like a little bit of a damp squib. And, despite having a few days to think about it, I’m still nowhere closer to understanding why that is. With the third Monday in January often referred to as ‘Blue Monday’ or the ‘most depressing day of the year’ I have decided to put the whole feeling down to Saturday’s close proximity to this occasion!

Given the fact our away games are pretty much split between London and the North I quite enjoy going to Swansea. The change of scenery is almost enough but just travelling in a different direction for once can help the monotony!

We set off bright and early as always and the usual banter on route was only matched in its intensity once settled in the warmth of our chosen pre match hostelry.

Our hosts currently prop up the Premier League table and there is a reason for that. So before a ball was kicked a win was absolutely essential. But football doesn’t always work like that as we all know, especially when your opponent has a new manager sat on the bench for the first time. New beginnings, new horizons, a chance for the squad to show their new boss what they’ve got, more intense optimism etc etc make the whole affair a potential banana skin. And one we have slipped upon in the past.

And in the opening exchanges all the above was quite evident. The Swans didn’t exactly ‘threaten’, a couple of shots from distance the extent of their positivity, but they were definitely up for it and not looking like a side who simply cannot buy a win right now.

For me, in that situation you need to match your opponent toe to toe in the battling side of the game, remain thoroughly switched on defensively and bide your time. The league table dictates we are a superior outfit and with this in mind you will at some stage dominate the game. It is during that period that you need to make it count. And on Saturday afternoon we pretty much did that.

All 4 of our goals had a degree of good fortune about them, a couple of OGs and close finishing after a bit of ‘pinball’ in the box but in between those we showed considerable domination and could and probably should have scored a hatful.

Overall then, despite a relatively low key atmosphere it was a job well done in Wales and it keeps us in the hunt.

An enjoyable journey home accompanied by some quality (or dodgy depending how you look at it) Saturday night tunes and a few celebratory beers upon our return completed a fine day all round.

Tomorrow night we will know if its Southampton or Norwich we head to at the end of the month but before that we welcome Burnley to London N5 in a fixture that is a ‘must win’ once again. Anyone who went to Turf Moor earlier in the season will know what a tough side The Clarets are to beat so I expect nothing but a similar encounter once again.

So…why the title to this piece? Well…walking into the Liberty Stadium I found a twenty pound note on the floor. So, those in our group wacked it on some random horse running in the 3 o’clock at Warwick. Half way back up the M4 we remembered……and checking the results on my mobile, it romped home!!

Not exactly a tactic that will beat the bookies I feel but these things happen on days when you are victorious! If we had got beat down in Swansea I’m convinced it would have come nowhere.

See you Sunday.

Frank
@stubbsy70

A Proper Away Day

Sunday 8th January 2017

The FA Cup will always hold a very special place in the minds of all us Gooners. My late grandfather was at Wembley for our triumphs in the thirties and 1950 and my dad still regularly describes the day Charlie belted in the winner to clinch the double in 1971. In my lifetime, who can forget Alan Sunderland’s dramatic injury time goal back in 1979 and all our numerous victories during the nineties, noughties and within the last three seasons.

But on top of that, it’s some of those quality days out in earlier rounds over the many years that make up that overall package of quite fantastic memories. And yesterday is right up there with some of the best.

In earlier years of our lives the birthdays, stag/hen dos and weddings far outweigh anything negative. Life’s natural process dictates that changes the older we get unfortunately but on the positive side we get to celebrate friends and family reaching milestones along the way.

Friday night was another one of those as many of us got together to congratulate fellow Gooner Grant (‘upgrade’) on reaching his 50th birthday. A very fine night it was but sitting in my lounge with a glass of red and a lump of Stilton on the go at about 2am with the long trip to Preston to embark on was probably not the best idea!

Admittedly I’ve said it before but it takes some commitment to get out of bed in that situation, especially on a cold and dreary January day when you are in self inflicted pain. But we all do it. And why? Well, not only because we want to, we love it, red and white runs through our veins and nothing beats that sense of loyalty and belonging. But what exactly would we do if our club wasn’t there? Probably the biggest aspect that many off should consider a little bit more often I feel.

There are too many Arsenal fans out there at the moment who go along ‘angry’ and not because they enjoy it. I’ve always felt if you find going to support your team a chore, don’t do it. Simple.

FA Cup 3rd Round is very special. And even more so if you get something a little bit different like yesterday. There was something about the whole of yesterday that felt a little bit ‘old school’.

London’s Euston station was full of Gooners. And it was a theme that continued throughout the day. I’m sure it sounds a bit weird to all the non believers out there but when nearly 6 thousand fans from ‘the big city’ arrive in good spirits and voice and kind of ‘take over’ a town/city in the distant and mysterious ‘industrial north’ for the day, it does give you an almost unexplainable buzz.

The North?

The North?

And when our train arrived into the cavernous Preston station a ridiculously quick 2 hours and 8 minutes after leaving London, the noise announcing our arrival was something else.

Our country has changed and developed in many ways over the years but that ‘North South divide’ is still talked about to this day. The fact travel and our desire to visit other areas to our home has increased so much means the mystery has probably gone and the friendliness of everywhere extends to all to a very large extent.

And although it is hugely important that all areas stick to their local traditions, customs, culinary offerings etc etc, the fact the differences are looked at with humour rather than distaste and offence is an enormous plus point that is often overlooked.

Southern Softie?

Southern Softie?

Our pre-match refreshment was enjoyed as always and the misty and murky early evening sky only added to the incredibly atmospheric approach to an expectant Deepdale.

FA Cup ties, especially away to any club in a lower division, are always described as potential ‘banana skins’. So for that reason only we all knew it could be a very tough afternoon. I’ve always felt in any such tie however, if you match your hosts in terms of effort, strength, sharpness and desire, your ability as the superior team will see you home. That victory however, becomes far less likely if you don’t bother with the former aspects.

And it doesn’t need me to tell you our first half performance pretty much lacked any of it. Disappointing and bordering on not acceptable to be honest I also feel we should give credit to PNE for the way they approached the game. The only plus as we reached half time was we were only a goal behind. Although I felt our host’s goal was a tad fortunate they could and probably should have at least doubled their lead.

Roll on the 2nd half

Roll on the 2nd half

We all like a cliché and the ‘game of two halves’ was exactly what we all longed for. And, to be fair that is exactly what we got.

Rambo smashed home our fine equaliser and the mood amongst the travelling masses changed from one of disillusionment to optimism.

Wave after wave of attacks followed but with time running out it looked like we might have to do it all again back in North London.

If we could choose how we would like to win a cup tie I’m sure we would all go for going behind, equalising and grabbing a late winner right in front of the away end. Only with the benefit of choice or hindsight might I add! And Olly continued his current knack of late goals to send the travelling masses doolally.

It meant that long journey home was happy and enjoyable. Preston station was amusing to say the least. Thousands of Gooners all getting on pretty much the same train. The victorious mood probably helped and what might as well have been an ‘Arsenal Special’ set off for the South with our name firmly in that 4th round hat.

The trip concluded with the sound of ‘Wemberleeeeee’ echoing around London Euston as we arrived home…….and me finally getting indoors at 4am! Tired but happy. And ecstatic my ‘commitment’ led to yet another day that will live long in the memory.

Monday’s draw will determine our next opponent and potential adventure scheduled for the end of the month. Before that we are on the road again, this time heading west and into Wales to take on Swansea.

Our 2nd half performance in both our previous 2 games has been pretty good.

A vastly improved 1st half showing is essential however, if our season is to produce any kind of success. Hopefully our recent experiences demonstrate that enough to make sure we put that right.

Still on the march………

Frank
@stubbsy70

Softened Pain

Wednesday 4th January 2017

At half time last night I went downstairs in the away end as I needed to use the facilities. I wasn’t particularly angry but I was definitely deflated and disappointed. But, a few of the game in, game out faces were there (more noticeable in a smaller away allocation) and many of them were smiling. Not because they were happy with what they had witnessed of course. But they had seen it all before. And a good day out with fellow Gooners, fellow believers, fellow winners and fellow sufferers is far more important than anything else.

We’ve heard about ‘the pain and the glory’ and most of us have witnessed both. League wins, cup wins, history being made etc etc. Walsall, Wrexham, York and the like make up the other side to that coin.

And I’d like to throw last night’s pie into that mix. The chicken variety was all they had left. And being a bit cold, a bit peckish and in bad need of something to take my mind off the first half I handed over the 3 or 4 quid that you are forced to part with if you require such refreshment.

Opening the Bournemouth FC packaging (quite obviously designed for a burger rather than a pie!) I was faced with a dark brown blob that was so burnt it was stuck to the side of the silver foil trough making my decision to purchase already looking like a poor one.

Fiddling with it like the first time any of us ever handled a Rubiks Cube, removing it from its longer than required home was proving rather difficult. Then my thumb pierced the surface and I experienced that ‘pain’ mentioned above. Walsall, Wrexham, York…..and a pie in Boscombe. Leaving my hand in the oven to cook along side it might have hurt less.

It didn’t help my mood and the likes of Hector watching players dancing round him, many of his colleagues going through the motions and even the likes of Alexis acting like a spoilt child who has been asked to play in a position different to his favourite, our hosts going three nil up was seriously spoiling what had been a pretty good day out. I very rarely pick on individuals as it could not be more of a team game but I have purposely used the above as an example when it could have been any one of the players out there for the following reason. Every team’s fans have their ‘favourites’. Players that almost seem beyond criticism. And at the other end of the spectrum there are the ‘scapegoats’. Those who whatever the situation get the brunt of the blame. In the first 70 minutes last night nobody deserved any credit. So players who rightly receive praise when it is due should take criticism on the chin when it is the other way round. We were poor in every department, failed to undertake the basics and lacked that desire and effort that we normally have in abundance.

And being 3 nil down was nobody else’s fault than our own. I appreciate players can be carrying bumps and bruises over this busy period but it is the same for both squads. The penalty was very soft but that happens so I have no particular gripe with the decision. Admittedly however, I have more of an issue with the incident that led to the 3rd goal and challenge the referee to advise what exactly was different with that to the one that led to the penalty.

A draw away at a relatively decent Bournemouth side is not a result of potential Champions. And having to come back from 3 nil down even less so. On that basis i’m not going to claim anything different.

But a game like that is difficult to conclude.

After 70 minutes we were dead and buried. Beaten comfortably. Our performance was at best poor, worst embarrassing, although I appreciate that is almost condescending to our hosts who are sitting in the top half of the league for a genuine reason. But instead of hanging in there on level terms or a goal behind, we were getting stuffed 3 nil on a night that could have gone down as one of the greatest in our hosts’ history.

People don’t remember that Bournemouth are in this country’s top flight on merit. I can’t help but feel if things had ended differently, when they looked back at their history people would have said, “do you remember that night in the Premier League when we spanked the mighty Arsenal?!”

And to be fair, with time running out, it hurt. Like all defeats. But up there with those that hurt that little bit more.

Then Alexis gambled, nodded home and we had a glimmer of hope. We poured forward and looked very dangerous from that moment on and as always in football it remains a mystery as to why we couldn’t have done that earlier in the game.

Lucas smashed home an absolute belter of a volley and the mood lifted that little bit higher. Realistically however, with time fast running out a defeat still looked on the cards. But if nothing else, this Arsenal side keeps going to the bitter end. Olly’s header grabbed us an unlikely equaliser and point from a seemingly impossible situation and that embarrassment and pain was considerably softened.

Don’t get me wrong, I am aware and agree with the whole ‘papering over the cracks’ opinion and I, like all of us, am disappointed we didn’t come away with the victory we all know we were extremely capable of securing. But I am definitely one of the those ‘glass is half full’ characters and always will be. So being 3 nil down and getting something from the game I will take the positives.

After our disappointing week prior to Christmas in the North West I looked at our next 6 league games with a view that we should aim for 16 – 18 points and see where we sit after that. Coming back from the dead last night just about keeps that alive.

The long trip to Preston comes next as we approach the first hurdle in our bid to continue our great club’s love affair with the world’s greatest cup competition.

Preston North End v Arsenal…..a hugely historical fixture and one that has ‘classic cup tie’ written all over it. I’m totally ok with that as long as come the final whistle I will be joining the 5 and half thousand odd travelling Gooners in celebrating our progress into the 4th round.

That however, will only be achieved buy showing our hosts the respect they deserve and not waiting 70 minutes to turn up!!

Come on you mighty Gunners!

Frank
@stubbsy70