Saturday 17th February 2018
It’s not every day that you find yourself stood in a pub with a load of very friendly and welcoming Swedes, wearing a tin hat, as once you had chucked the tequila based shot down your neck the barman smashed you over the head with a baseball bat. But, our last night of the awesome 3 we have spent in this snowy and chilly corner of Europe was graced with just that. Another example I feel that the only thing we can expect from following our team overseas is the unexpected.
The outbound journey wasn’t the smoothest for some and that was nothing to do with either the London to Stockholm leg or onward being delayed or in anyway inconvenient. But when you leave your passport at home or the airline manages to lose your luggage it is a different matter. And believe me Ostersund was not a town to be lacking clothes!
Back in the days of travelling around Austria pre-season I always felt there was real sense of occasion each time the Arsenal juggernaut pulled in. And this trip had that same feel. Within seconds of stepping out of our hotel front door we had locals offering to lend us a hand with tips on what to do and where to go. The whole town was set up with posters hanging from lamp posts, activities in the main square and a number of very decent pubs to keep us refreshed and above all, warm!
Our friends from Scandinavia certainly know how to have a good time and it was fantastic to spend a few days both with the locals and old friends from this part of the world.
We had all been warned about the cold. And although if we believe what we were told it would have been a lot worse had we come out 1 week earlier, dressing up like an unfit skiier was definitely the right move on the night of the match.
Everything was there for it to be a bit of a banana skin. Freezing cold, an artificial pitch and a confident crowd meant things could have gone horribly wrong. But we put in a professional performance overall and whilst recognising it is only half time in the tie we have to be confident of progressing.
And on a trip that felt like a party from start to finish that theme continued into the wee small hours.
There’s snow and there’s snow. UK getting a sprinkle and coming to a standstill snow or up to 12 foot deep and life continues as normal type. Ostersund is very pleasing to the eye and the snow made it an absolute Winter wonderland. And Friday we had a chance to have a stroll. Huge snow castles and nutters having a ‘character building’ dip in a hole smashed through the quite beautiful frozen lake were just a couple of things we got to experience.
I’m writing these notes in Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport so we are homeward bound. And it’s been yet another awesome few days.
Let’s be honest, we are unlikely to ever return, but if we do, we definitely wouldn’t have a problem with that.
See you Thursday for the 2nd half.
Monday 12th February 2018
Chances come and go in football matches. Some are missed, some produce great saves and/or defending. And our hosts had the majority across the game on Saturday afternoon, particularly in the second half. But we had crucial moments too. Laca’s chance in injury time springs to mind, a fantastic opportunity to snatch a late point. And when an onside Auba latched onto Jack’s superb through ball in the first half, things just might had been different had the lino not got it wrong.
But, overall, in a game where we didn’t do enough and were second best for almost all of the 2nd half, a draw would have been the very most we ‘deserved’.
Horrible is the way I would describe the day. Us Gooners have been extremely fortunate to see our team not only qualify to play in our national stadium but win there on numerous occasions in recent years. So to see a team ‘renting’ it almost made it feel dirty. Only Cup Finals and Internationals should be played there in my book and nothing else. And I didn’t feel any different turning up for 1 of 19 standard normal league games.
Once again our geographical neighbours from up the road in Middlesex will conveniently forget all the facts regarding trophy wins, a recent 21 year run of finishing above them every season and not forgetting winning the title at their own ground more times than they have as they crow about their tight victory in our latest encounter. But we are kind of used to that.
Incredibly we now go at least the best part of 3 weeks before we play our next league game, our disappointment in 1 cup competition and our success in another dictating that.
Before any of that we have 2 games against Östersund of Sweden to try and progress in the Europa League.
For anyone out there who knows little about our destination a quick search this morning tells me it is an urban area in Jämtland in the middle of Sweden. It is the seat of Östersund Municipality and the capital of Jämtland County. Östersund is located at the shores of Sweden’s fifth largest lake, Storsjön, opposite the island Frösön, and is the only city in Jämtland. Östersund is the region’s cultural and economical centre and by tradition a city of trade and commerce. Östersund had one of the most extensive garrisons in Sweden prior to its closure in the early-21st century. The city is the Mid Sweden University’s largest campus site with approximately 7,000 students. With a total population of 44,327 Östersund is the 22nd most populous city in Sweden, the 46th most populous city in Scandinavia, and by far the largest inland city in Northern Sweden.
Nowhere in that description though does it say its cold. But the weather forecast offers enough of a confirmation to make sure we take suitable attire to enjoy a snowbound and chilly city.
My journey involves an early flight out of Heathrow on Wednesday morning, the first of 2 required to reach our host destination.
So, if anybody from Östersund is reading this right now, we look forward to meeting you and enjoying your hospitality. Just make sure you wack the fire on before we arrive!
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Tuesday 6th February 2018
When you support a team they have become so used to free flowing football and goals a plenty over the last 20 years or so, that not happening any more becomes far more noticeable than the norm. Saturday evening felt very much a case of ‘that’s more like it!’
All the time they don’t become the most regular day and kick-off position I am quite a fan of the 5.30pm Saturday home games. Although I guess it’s not big or clever there is definitely far more than just coincidence that the crowd feels more upbeat and boisterous. Those extra couple of hours in the pub have often proved to be more of a positive than anything else when it comes to the atmosphere.
Whatever way we look at the January transfer window we have certainly been hugely active as a club and our league form alone has given plenty of evidence that changes were required in certain areas. The debate as to what the positives and negatives are has already been enormous and passionate but for me personally I would like to say thanks to those who have contributed to my life during their Arsenal career and say a very big welcome to the greatest football club in the world to those who have joined.
Whilst recognising there are other areas of the team that also need strengthening, if Saturday evening’s contribution is an example of what’s to come I am pretty happy.
Fast flowing, exciting football and plenty of goals to boot. Everything we pay our entrance money to see and the glow of victory helped warm up a chilly old night in north London.
A good start to February then after a hugely inconsistent January and we head to a stadium on Saturday that has become hugely familiar to us in recent times.
Dare thirteen you’ve do only titles to league to two won is.
Be safe and enjoy.
Come on you mighty reds!
Wednesday 31st January 2018
Feeling slightly rough the morning after an away game is nothing unusual. But travelling home by train I wanted ‘simple’. Hopefully now I have a seat things will improve. Having a reservation in coach J is great. But less so when coach J doesn’t exist!
Although our performance in Nottingham was poor I have always felt if you play your second string you run the risk of things going wrong. I also felt a couple of big decisions went against us on the day. Overall the shock that we were no longer in a competition we have been so successful in far outweighed the feelings accompanying the actual defeat.
Last night’s performance however, is extremely difficult to either defend or offer any kind of excuses for. We were terrible. It is as simple as that.
Whether this makes me slightly deluded or not I was confident going into the game. Reaching Wembley has given back a little bit of that feel good factor and generally we often find we kick on from that kind of situation. But, last night, in a poor game, we ground out a lead, as we have done away from home on numerous occasions and then defended like school children to throw it away.
Perhaps even more worrying is the fact we created nothing.
Very very disappointing, no matter how much a blinding curry and the city’s Wind Street area tried to improve the mood into the wee small hours.
Onto Everton at home then where improvement is not only necessary but completely essential if we are to get something from the game.
Wednesday 24th January 2018
We’ve now played that blue team from the Russian quarter of London’s West end 5 times this season. That’s over 7 and a half hours. Ignoring a penalty shoot out, until tonight we hadn’t been victorious. But more importantly I feel, nor had they. And tonight, when the prize was yet another trip to Wembley, we got it just about right.
Back in April 2014, on a chilly afternoon, we witnessed a nervy Wembley semi final full of attrition and almost scraped our way into a final appearance against Hull. Little did we know that afternoon less than 4 years later we would be booking a return for the TENTH time. Simply incredible. It’s shit being a Gooner it really is.
Alexis Sanchez is a fantastic footballer. And I will look back in years to come and remember his great goals for us with fondness. But he no longer plays for my team. So I couldn’t give a flying pheasant as to what happens in his future career. He is no longer wearing the cannon on his chest. So he is no longer relevant. I remember the bitterness we felt when Frank Stapleton did the same. And the disappointment when Liam Brady headed off to Italy. But I still look back at the former’s 1979 cup final header and the latter’s beauty at the Lane with sheer glee. And that applies to the likes of Ray Kennedy and Charlie George before them I’m sure and names like Adebayor, Van Persie and Fabregas since.
He’s gone. But Arsenal have not. Or ever will.
Despite being potentially only 90 minutes from another cup final I think we all knew any result was possible tonight. A victory would be no less surprising than a 3 nil defeat. But, along with our disciplined performance in the first leg, if nothing else that filled me with hope.
A combination of the dodgy weather and train issues done their utmost to make it a difficult fixture to reach but by luck or good judgement a successful route was chosen and pre-match was filled with good company and refreshment of both the liquid and solid variety.
It set things up for a very satisfying night all round.
Our great club doesn’t always get things right. And I don’t think they would claim to either. But off the pitch very little has been said about the pricing policy remaining exactly the same for a semi final against Chelsea or a 3rd Round tie versus Doncaster. They have always done this in the competition and it deserves to be applauded in my book. For less than a pint in a central London pub children could watch some of the best players in world football in a domestic semi final. And to see some of their faces was priceless.
Amongst relentless scrutiny and criticism bordering abuse from some quarters I think our manager deserves some credit in this tie too. He got it right you know. And on this occasion the players he put out there put their necks on the line to implement his tactics reaping the ultimate reward of another trip down Wembley Way as a result.
Chelsea started the game quickly I felt and unfortunately we failed to see that spell of pressure through. 1 nil down and it all to do Jack was a better touch from surely equalizing a few moments later but more importantly it demonstrated we were capable of getting into scoring positions.
Nacho is surely enjoying the form of his life right now. Both defensively and when venturing forward. And again tonight it was his header that got us back in the game.
Getting to half time level was crucial I felt and after achieving just that our second half performance was excellent. Defensively sound, David Ospina had little to do and we always looked dangerous going forward.
Both our goals had a bit of good fortune about them but our overall victory was certainly deserved. So when Granit poked home and we comfortably saw out a half an hour or so where the best chance fell to our own Alex Iwobi, we certainly couldn’t consider ourselves lucky to be victorious.
We have a weekend off now. And it will be far far easier and a far far happier place to be now we have yet another cup final to look forward to.
See you in 2 weeks as we welcome The Toffees.
Wemberly, Wemberly, we’re the famous Arsenal………..
Saturday 20th January 2018
You wouldn’t believe how many people base their football day out on whether they catch a particular train or not. I do get it to a certain extent. Because I live on the Isle of Wight. So certain games and certain kick off times determine how difficult it is to get home. But, generally, especially on days like today, if I miss my train, I get home an hour later. 1 hour. Not the end of the world. Although in our heads sometimes it is.
Arsenal tube was busy just after the game tonight. No shit. But it was busier than usual. If we had been 1 all with a few minutes to go it would have been relatively clear. But it was 4 nil and people had gone early as a result. Some will be for a reason. A birthday party where they had admitted , “if we are winning comfortably I will leave early to get home as soon as I can”. But some leave for reasons that, if they actually sat down and analysed them, they wouldn’t know why.
A late winner in a tight game and you can feel the furore as you walk down that long tunnel at Arsenal station. Yet having won very comfortably it’s not the same. Routine maybe. Almost mundane. Incredible really. But very ‘Arsenal.
Consequently, not surprisingly, I’m writing these notes on the Piccadilly Line.
At the end of a difficult week we needed to come out and play. And we did. And chances created were buried. Not something that happens every time. But today it did. And come half time the resulting relaxation was beyond belief.
I remember loads of games where we put the game to bed early on. But not in recent weeks/ months/ years. Nice feeling. If without the drama and excitement. Again my analysis is limited. But the entertainment/success line is hugely fragile.
Wednesday is the 2nd leg, 2nd half in fact of a domestic fixture that could see us at Wembley for a cup final. It could also see an exit at the semi final stage.
That makes it a big game in my book. But then again, that, like football in general, might be a generation thing.
Please, someone, tell me it’s not.
4 goals, 3 points. Sing up on Wednesday.
Tuesday 16th January 2018
Again I have chosen to let the dust settle a little before writing my thoughts on Sunday afternoon’s disaster. Choosing to air one’s opinions immediately after any game or after a few hours/days both have their positives and negatives in my book. And my choice tends to be made pretty much on when I have the opportunity more than anything else.
The weekend was another good one for me. Plenty of good food, drink and company with friends and family, celebrating with my father (and reason why I support our great club) on his 72nd birthday.
He is proper ‘old school’ when it comes to his team. An awful loser, he has been known to not talk to anyone (unless forced) for days on end. And those who know and love him most do their bit by avoiding him if at all possible. His hatred for that team from Middlesex is intense almost beyond belief. I have witnessed him get up and change carriages on a train just because a child cruelly brainwashed into a future life of footballing misery had the audacity to wear a beachball balancing cockerel on his chest!
If we play extremely poorly and scrape a 1 nil win he is ecstatic and you won’t hear a bad word about his team. But if we play well and are unlucky to get beat the team will get intensely lambasted. If we create countless chances but miss the target or strike the woodwork or have penalty/offside decisions go against us and we end up with a disappointing result, without fail he will quote the line, “I don’t remember their goalkeeper having one save to make!” But the one that makes me smile the most is when he says for the umpteenth time, “that is the worst performance I have seen from an Arsenal side for 40 years.”
No its not.
But would his friends or loved ones change him. Of course not. It simply wouldn’t be him if it wasn’t.
Despite waiting until now, my views on Sunday have not changed. I thought we looked up for it from the start and deserved to take the lead, not just after the best move of the game but because for the first hour (or certainly until we scored) we were the better team and had controlled the game.
But what happened after that is at best frustrating, at worst almost bewildering.
Controlling the game, taking it to our hosts, probing for a goal and looking to win the game had all worked. So why did we decide to change those tactics? Pretty much immediately after we took the lead we decided to sit back and invite Bournemouth onto us. And it backfired big time. Another extremely disappointing defeat and to a large extent, one where once again we only have ourselves to blame.
Whilst taking the vast media input and intense social media bombardment into consideration, things are not right at the moment. Even the most staunch believer knows that. And, along with many other reasons, I think this January ‘window’ has an awful lot to answer for as to why. In my opinion transfers should be allowed until the day before the first game of the season and not permitted again until the season is complete.
You have your squad for the season. Now do the best you can with it. And I think that applies even more these days with the amounts of money involved.
That’s not an excuse for our poor form. There are many reasons for that. But I believe that the disruption (not excitement as Sky Sports would describe it) takes away from what we should all be concentrating on. Alexis on Sunday is a perfect example. Whether he goes or not I couldn’t give a monkeys. I support Arsenal Football Club and anyone who goes out onto that pitch wearing the cannon on his chest. But if there wasn’t this ridiculous mid-season transfer window he would have been playing on Sunday. And a world class player can make the difference.
In form Crystal Palace come to London N5 next. Who will be in our side is difficult to predict. But when you go week in week out you would be amazed how much that doesn’t really matter. Of course I want my team to win everything. And at the moment of course I want my team to be doing an awful lot better. But when my dad correctly told me in the early seventies I would grow up supporting the greatest football club in the world he was right. And that will never ever change. Even if back then it was ‘the worst performance he had seen from an Arsenal team in 20 years’!! 😊
Happy birthday dad. See you Saturday x
Thursday 11th January 2018
Before last night’s 1st leg a friend and fellow Gooner tweeted that this was the 39th time he had seen his team play in the semi final of a competition. More importantly I feel was the fact he also admitted he was as excited, proud and full of the same anticipation experienced on each of those previous occasions. And this is not someone who is ‘blinkered’. Not someone who doesn’t want ‘change’. Not someone who fails to get angry, frustrated and upset when we lose. Just a true and passionate Gooner who despite any negative views wants us to win and be successful like each and every one of us.
Personally I don’t think I’ve been to quite that many semi final ties but I’m certainly not far behind and there are two reasons why I mention his tweet.
Talking to fellow attendees in the pub pre-match last night we discussed how there was a lack of nerves. PMT if you like. It might be a cup semi final but for a number of reasons there simply wasn’t that ‘buzz’ about it. Yet looking back to 1987 I remember the intensity of emotions in the build up to our game against Tottenham were incredible. As a 17 year old it was quite simply the biggest game in the history of football. Times have certainly changed, especially when it comes to expectancy.
The second reason is I’m delighted that I’m not the only one out there that has pride in the fact my club has reached yet another semi final. I guess that comes from all those years ago when football taught me no team has a divine right to success and consequently it meant so much more.
After Sunday’s disappointment it was hugely important we put in a decent performance. Obvious yes, but true nonetheless. Getting to half time still in the tie was even more essential and if asked if we would have taken nil-nil from the night before a ball was kicked I don’t know anyone who would say no.
The match has been described as ‘cagey’ and I would probably agree with that but surely going all out attack away at Chelsea would have been foolish. I thought we worked really hard (the least we should expect) and we were very disciplined with our overall shape throughout. We created very little going forward admittedly but we matched that by reducing our hosts to very few chances.
And “You bought it all” echoing out into the West London sky from the massed Gooners was both amusing, pleasing and beautifully accurate.
Half time then and we’ll take that. All to play for on the 24th.
Sunday we head to Bournemouth, a tricky a looking away day given our recent form. But to be honest I don’t view any game as anything other than that!
Come on you Gunners!
Tuesday 9th January 2018
Nobody has won the FA Cup more times than us. And winning it 3 times in the last 4 seasons hasn’t received the credit it deserves in my book. But whatever the reasons or views on Sunday afternoon, we will not be enjoying any trips down Wembley Way in April or May this time round.
My trip to Nottinghamshire started in a strange old way. One could argue it was a sign that it wasn’t going to be the most fruitful of days out when an incident that was as unique as it was briefly unnerving certainly shook us from any early morning tiredness!
Picture the scene. Midway across The Solent on route to Southsea aboard a hovercraft, the quickest of the numerous options we have to cross this stretch of water and it’s a little bit choppy. Nothing to write home about but in the most exposed centre we were rocking from side to side a bit. Suddenly however, we took a rock to the left…….but we didn’t rock back again! Listing considerably to the right and with there seeming to be a severe lack of air in the skirts (that for all we knew as passengers was the only thing keeping us afloat!), something definitely wasn’t right.
Once the captain stated the obvious and announced we had a slight problem, we limped back towards the Isle of Wight until the sea was no more. Beached about half a mile from the shoreline we were rather amusingly advised we might need to put plastic bags on our feet as they were bringing out another craft to park alongside and ‘rescue’ us. To be honest the fact we were safe and no longer in danger of sinking, spirits were if anything quite upbeat about the whole situation.
Overall, once in Southsea about an hour behind schedule it had all been a bit of an experience rather than a major inconvenience and with our journey to Nottingham proving problem and traffic free, even more so.
There are a number of aspects that make up the reason we are out of the FA Cup at the 3rd round stage. And playing devil’s advocate there are always two ways of looking at all of them. We made eleven changes so it was a completely different side to the one who took on Chelsea on Wednesday night. Could that be seen as disrespectful? Possibly, but we can hardly be accused of having that opinion generally when we have won the competition 3 times in 4 years.
Was that side strong enough to overcome an at best mediocre Forest side? Yes, I believe it was. And as a result the players need to take the vast majority of the blame for our exit in my opinion. It was another chance for those players to stake a claim for a regular first team spot. And worryingly, not one of them was up to it on the day.
If the manager selects what simply has to be described as a total second string eleven it can be looked at in 2 ways. You can applaud the faith being shown in our younger and fringe talent and hope, like Sunday, they don’t let you down for trusting their desire and ability. Or, if you get beaten on the day you can argue you deserve everything you get. Overall I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Again, with video replay technology hugely topical right now, decisions went against u with 2 more hugely debatable penalties, the second of which should have been disallowed due to a double touch. But, I think like all of us, I’m sick and tired of talking about referees and their apparent inability to get things right even though everyone else can see them. More importantly, especially on Sunday, we should not be relying on debatable penalty decisions to scrape through an FA cup tie we should not be losing.
Injuries are not helping at the moment either of course but whilst trying really hard not to be too disrespectful, this was managerless Nottingham Forest. Not Man City. And in my opinion, if you are good enough to be in an Arsenal first team, whatever the competition, you should be good enough to put in a better performance than Sunday.
Is there anything positive to come out of our exit? Not really. Although it does mean for the first time for as far back as I can remember we have a couple of ‘football free’ weekends to look forward to!
We could have another one at the very end of February too. And that is highly likely if we don’t turn up tomorrow night and in 2 weeks time. Anything approaching Sunday and there is every chance we will get absolutely battered. But I know where I would rather be come February 25th.
And even with the many hundreds of differing opinions among us Gooners right now, I think we all agree on that.
Sing up at the Bridge.
Come on you reds!!
Thursday 4th January 2018
Happy New Year to all.
I drove to last night’s game. Or at least for most of the return journey. So only my late night ferry gave me any chance to actually write my thoughts. But even by then I was struggling to put an incredible game into words. So I slept on it.
Firstly, if we were neutrals, it must have been an incredible game to watch. But we are not. And before a ball is kicked I see anything other than a home win as points dropped. The time I stop thinking that is the time I no longer think we can challenge.
Our visitors had a number of chances during the game. They were squandered or saved by a goalkeeper in Petr Cech who enjoyed a fine night. But we enjoyed some great chances too, including one that hit both posts and rolled into the keeper’s arms.
Yet another soft penalty changed the game of course. One where if the referee chose to follow that consistently there could have been 6 or 7 similar decisions across the course of the game. And it was always going to be Eden Hazard. We know that, Chelsea fans know that, the whole football world knows that. But not the referee. Frustrating, if not quite as annoying as the Mike Dean fiasco on Sunday.
For me we just can’t seem to get the balance quite right at the moment. Or the occasions where we do happen too infrequently. We either lack bite going forward but look pretty secure at the back. Or look dangerous going forward and almost calamitous in our defending. Last night very much fell into the latter category for me. You only need to look how we nearly through away a point in the dying seconds for evidence of that.
Our work rate was excellent I felt and everyone on the pitch was definitely up for it. And we scored 2 cracking goals on the night, the second of which got us the point out of the game that our overall performance definitely deserved. And fighting to the bitter end to go home with something is equally as pleasing.
If Mike Dean hadn’t ruined our New Year’s Eve with his disability to follow the basic rules of the game, I would have come away last night feeling relatively ok. But another 2 points dropped puts us under serious pressure as we go forward.
But forward we must go, whatever happens over the coming weeks on and off the pitch. As we are Arsenal. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Before last night’s game I had a little bit of time to kill. And I was hungry. A few years back the Arsenal Fish Bar in Blackstock Road very much used to be part of my pre-match routine for every home game. Owned and run by Mr Poon and his family, they remain part of my Arsenal supporting memories. And last night I popped in. Initially for some tucker but, probably due to the slightly tired looking pictures on the walls, as I sat there I couldn’t help but find myself reminiscing.
After George’s title winning teams of 1989 and 1991 our league form over the next few seasons, until Mr Wenger arrived, waned considerably. And the kind of football we played was often, dare I say, a bit boring. We were knocked out of our one European Cup attempt in the 2nd round. But we managed to win both domestic cups in 1993 and went on to European glory in the Cup Winners Cup on that magnificent night in Copenhagen in May 1994.
And looking back, despite our quite awful league form at times, those of us who remember these cup winning sides look back with nothing but fondness. The league form is completely forgotten about. Home and away defeats to the likes of Wimbledon, QPR, Blackburn, and Coventry. Not scoring at all in 26 league games over the course of 2 seasons from August 93 to May 95. Cup defeats at home to Millwall and Bolton.
Times have changed of course. We now take European qualification each season for granted. Teams are littered with players from all over the world and have become by far the majority rather than the minority. Players with absolutely no link, affiliation or interest as to who they play for. So generally will always go to play for the club that offers them the highest wages. And by and large, as a result of this, clubs who were also rans back then, now challenge at the very summit of club football because they have the most money.
We have won 3 FA Cups in the last four seasons. And we have continued to play European football each season. Things I almost dreamt about all those years ago. But that doesn’t matter anymore. Watching strange characters rant and rave on second rate visual recordings and arguing with your fellow fans on social media and thinking you have the divine right to permanent success is the norm today.
I enjoyed my pre-match tucker and period of reminiscing and it got me also thinking about our week of cup football ahead. An FA Cup 3rd round tie away at Nottingham Forest has a very similar feel to it as our trip to Preston 12 months ago. That proved to be a fantastic day despite our hosts pretty much battering us in the first 45 minutes. And that journey ended in delirium at Wembley on that balmy May afternoon.
We’re all on the march…..