Fun In The Sun

Sunday 12th May 2019

Considering there was every chance this afternoon could have been extreme ‘end of season’ fare, it was a pretty entertaining 100 odd minutes in the sunshine. And importance wise it means we have secured 5th spot and at the very least automatic qualification for the Europa League group stages next season. Of course we are one win from securing more but if it all goes wrong out in Baku, the guarantee of another European adventure is a small consolation.

Getting home from Valencia on Friday night and having to leave early on Saturday morning to catch my flight up to Manchester for a fixture that had far less relevance that it looked like in might have a couple of weeks ago was tough if I’m honest.

But after an entertaining night out, simple train travel up to Burnley and a good win on a quite beautiful early Summer’s afternoon I am very glad I made the effort.

Burnley Cricket Club is immediately behind the away end at Turf Moor and on match days it doubles up as a decent enough place to enjoy pre-match refreshment. I’ve done that a few times now down the years but today was the first time there has actually been a match taking place. Our hosts were taking on Clitheroe in a cup game and the batting side probably could have chosen a better day to slump to 28 for 5! The stick the outgoing batsmen got was amusing to say the least!

The sound of leather on willow

As for The Clarets, they are quite a noisy lot and just like the team they support they do everything they possibly can to make it an uncomfortable afternoon for any visiting team.

Game 38

Having made 9 changes to the team that played out in Spain we knew we could be in for a difficult afternoon, particularly when trying to defend against the expected aerial bombardment. And we rode our luck at times in the first half. But whilst recognising that I also felt we offered an attacking threat that could have just as easily seen us take the lead.

Going forward in the second period we looked very dangerous I felt, Auba and Alex Iwobi in particular for me. And if our opener was down to a defensive error, our 2nd was an absolute cracker. How our in form striker didn’t come away with the match ball for the 2nd time in a week is a miracle. And not winning the Golden Boot outright was the result.

A decent game, performance and victory then to complete our league season and our thoughts turn to the long long trip back to Azerbaijan at the end of the month.

That includes all the difficulties of travel arrangements, Visas, match ticket applications and outrageous costs of course.

Good luck with all that people, I hope to see many of you out in Baku.

Up the Gunners!

Frank
@stubbsy70

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We’re On Our Way

Friday 10th May 2019

My head hurts. Quite a lot to be honest. And it should do too. Coz that was one of ‘those’ nights. And after the last couple of weeks we deserve it. Four great goals away from home. An atmosphere to savour. Destroying that Valencia hoodoo in the process. And an away end that simply rocked all night. I hope that came across well on the telly.

I’m sat in Alicante airport right now, waiting for my flight back home. And if that bit goes well it concludes yet another awesome European trip. Not our last of course. Because our 7-3 victory means we head to Baku in a couple of weeks time.

Tuesday evening seems a long time ago. But a bit of dinner in a hotel near Gatwick started our latest adventure and come Wednesday lunchtime our group were enjoying tapas and liquid refreshment al fresco in a bar overlooking Alicante’s harbour. A few hours of sunshine and relaxation, the perfect way to start a couple of days that would contain it’s fair share of nerves.

Matchday arrived with a lot of Gooners catching what almost looked like a football special! And the on train bar made sure those proper struggling after Wednesday night’s exploits could get back on the straight and narrow. It also meant of course, we arrived into our host city in fine spirits, a theme that continued throughout the build up in a sunny square near our accommodation.

But the nerves were there too. That confidence laced with worry that our 1st leg lead could be overturned.

Despite our awful record there I love the Mestalla. Crazily steep, squeezed in between the city’s high rise flats and hugely atmospheric, the approaches to the stadium give you a real sense of occasion. And a European semi final is certainly just that.

Going behind wasn’t ideal. But it didn’t change the fact that we knew one goal and we would have a foot in the final. And when that moment came it was some goal. Bang! Get in!

From that moment the night got better and better and high up in the Valencia sky, boy did we enjoy it. We’re on our way indeed.

Sunday concludes our league season and after our recent run of results it’s a match that almost feels like an irritation. But I hate losing. At anything. So a win would make it a pleasing day out.

See you in Burnley Cricket Club.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Damp Squib

Sunday 5th May 2019

Any lap of appreciation, renamed of course because it can hardly be called a lap of honour, I normally stay for. Not for my pleasure or enjoyment. Just because I actually think it is the right thing to do. But today, if I shot off at the final whistle I had a chance of getting home about twenty to ten rather than shortly before midnight. And failing to win for the 4th league game on the bounce meant I didn’t take too much persuading.

Football puts us through pretty much every emotion it is possible for a human to experience. From elation to despair, from excitement to boredom, from satisfaction to despondency. And I thank our team for contributing to all that. That is now in writing and on record. They don’t need me stood there looking on with the ‘ump to acknowledge that. Especially when if I had chosen not to offer my support down the years I probably wouldn’t still have a mortgage to pay off.

If we were good enough we would be comfortably in the top four by now. But we have proved in the last couple of weeks we are not. Against half decent and also decidedly mediocre opposition.

I’m not one of the big moaners out there. In fact I am often (probably rightly) accused of seeing things through rose tinted glasses. But eventually the positivity begins to wane and only my team can change that.

Today, somehow, I felt we still had a glimmer of hope when it comes to a top four spot. A win and all 3 teams fighting for those two places had a tough game to complete their season. And we all know in that situation anything can happen.

But, just like our last home game against Palace, we blew it. Before yesterday’s games our opponents could still find themselves not even in the same division as us next season. And there’s a reason for that. Yet they remain unbeaten against us after 180+ minutes. Simply not good enough I’m afraid.

We had our moments today of course. In fact one or two where I’m still scratching my head as to how they didn’t go in. But so did our visitors and that cannot be ignored.

Thursday and we take on Valencia in the 2nd leg of a European semi final. Massive. I’ve been to the Mestalla three times before. We lost all 3. We crave that record to change this week.

Confident I am not, despite our 2 goal half time lead. And I challenge anyone to tell me a good reason why my feelings should be different.

See you in Spain.

Come on you mighty reds.

Frank
@stubbsy70

The Silk Road Beckons

Friday 3rd May 2019

Letting in an away goal can be hugely costly. And there is a chance that could still be the case. But if you do concede like we did last night all you can do is your utmost to try and turn it around. And to take a 3-1 lead out to Spain gives us a chance. We are not through of course but we certainly have given ourselves an opportunity to extend our season to the very end of May.

Our aim simply has to be being able to play Champions League football. I think we can all be accused of taking it for granted down the years but having slipped out of the competition it has become very obvious how difficult it is to get back in.

But it is safe to say these Thursday jobs have proved to be marvellously entertaining both on and off the pitch. And as I write these thoughts lying in my bed in a Southsea B & B my thumping head tells me this week’s has been no different.

It has been a very difficult week or so for us Gooners. What looked like a massive chance to cement a top four place has dramatically disintegrated and now looks hugely unlikely. So this semi final has become even bigger if that is possible. And in the streets of N5 you could definitely sense that.

Going behind early on definitely wasn’t in the plans but having done just that the character we showed by means of our reaction was impressive, pleasing and so so important.

Having taken the lead I genuinely thought there was a period where our visitors were there for the taking. But saying that, as the game wore on, there was also an increasing danger of an equaliser. Auba’s late strike could prove enormous. And by the massive roar that echoed into the night sky, I think all those present knew it.

So a decent half time lead to take to Spain next week but before that we welcome the Seagulls to North London for our final home league game of the season. Given how the last 3 games in the league have gone for us I feel it is impossible to offer any analysis pre match. Brighton desperately need something from the game and out recent capitulation will give them confidence they are capable of achieving just that.

But three points for us keeps our slim chances of a top 4 finish alive to the very last day. And that is enough of an incentive to put in a performance.

Enjoy your weekend folks and see you on Sunday.

Up the mighty Gunners!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Fair Criticism

Sunday 28th April 2019

At nil nil there is all to play for. Whether your tactics are right, you are dominating the game or if you are simply hanging in there. In the modern game however, if you are reduced to ten men with an hour or so still to play, the match is pretty much over as a contest. And today, in a match littered with fouls, the referee decided Ainsley’s pair of distinctly debatable misdemeanors warranted a red card, so determining the inevitable result.

This is not sour grapes. Arsenal’s ten men were well beaten today. But not when the teams were numerically even. We will never know if we could have got the result we all craved.

Our first trip to the Midlands this week saw us play into our hosts’ hands I felt. They expected us to dominate possession, defended properly and well, before picking us off on the break. And with Leicester being at their best doing the same it was crucial we didn’t make the same mistake this time out.

And on that front, tactically I think we got it about right. The Foxes enjoyed the majority of possession and created a few chances although only one set piece header caused Leno the requirement to make a save of any note.

We knew if we could keep a clean sheet we would enjoy chances and sure enough both Laca and Alex Iwobi saw the best two opportunities of the half go begging.

And then, after what were at worst two innocuous fouls, the referee decided to change the game enormously in our opponents’ favour.

I’m not saying we were brilliant up that point. But not only had we adjusted our game to not make the same mistakes as Wednesday night but we were well a truly in the match.

We need something not much short of a miracle to finish in the top 4 now after an incredibly disappointing week. But Thursday means we still have a huge amount to play for.

We need a lift, the players needs lift and the club need a lift. And that shouldn’t be a chore or difficult for a European semi final.

But it is only possible if we do it together.

Keep the faith Gooners.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Defenceless

Thursday 25th April 2019

A week in football is an extremely long time. And if the last one doesn’t prove that nothing does. Seven days ago we were basking in the Italian sunshine thoroughly satisfied with our night’s work. This morning however, I found myself negotiating the country’s motorway network heading south accompanied by enormous disappointment, a mild hangover and those feelings in the belly only late night spicy food can give you.

Firstly we need to recognise that getting a result away at Wolves is not easy these days. Especially given our frustratingly poor form away from home. So we headed north through typical April weather of sunshine and heavy showers knowing on a night where Sunday’s defeat had made it all the more important we had a potentially very tricky few hours ahead of us.

The road network safely and successfully negotiated we checked into our cheap (there was good reason for that) city centre accommodation and met with the usual travelling suspects to enjoy the pre-match build up.

Once inside atmospheric Molineux you could really sense the air of confidence in the home fans. Supporters who had seen their team win on big nights regularly this season. And, instead of running out in that world famous iconic kit of red shirts with white arms, we emerged from the tunnel in one of the increasingly annoying other abominations of away kits, this time the one that makes us look like we’ve just stepped off a Ribena advert.

Of course that shouldn’t make any difference in the long run. But I am getting more and more convinced it does. When we run out in that red shirt with white sleeves people take notice. “The Arsenal have arrived”. In the purple or light blue rubbish we just look like any other club.

A Sunny Evening in Molineux

A Sunny Evening in Molineux

I tweeted one of my thoughts during the game last night. Something I do extremely rarely. But I stand by my point. I have no problem with our tactics going forward. Our passing, our probing, our patience, our searching for that one opening that could win you the game. And even last night where we have been heavily criticised for the lack of opportunities we created, we dominated possession and there were enough chances across the ninety minutes to have nicked a result.

But we can only be happy with those tactics if we defend correctly and in the last two matches we have failed dismally on that front. Not against Barcelona or Bayern Munich. But against (no disrespect intended) Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Last night, defensively, collectively, not one single player came out with any credit. Individually and as a group our performance was littered with errors and we were picked off with absolute ease.

So what do we do next?

We get up in the early hours of Sunday morning and travel up to Leicester, that’s what we do. Because even though it has been a bad week for us Gooners we’ve had them before. In fact far worse. And that’s not only part of being a fan, it’s what makes us more determined, more defiant and stronger.

And if you can’t deal with that you are in the wrong game I’m afraid.

See you Sunday lunchtime. We go again.

Arsenal til I die.

Frank
@stubbsy70

An M.M.O.

Sunday 21st April 2019.

Can we still finish in the top 4? Of course we can. But, this afternoon, we had an enormous chance to put us almost in pole position to achieve just that. And no matter how much analysis you want to undertake, we blew it.

Tomorrow’s Easter Monday is enormously attractive. A proper chance to recharge the batteries after a hectic week. And as a Gooner I hoped to be going into that feeling very good about the world. But we were beaten today. And in my opinion by the better side. And that’s even more disappointing.

Our first half performance was woeful. We created nothing, looked pedestrian and went in deservedly a goal behind after some dreadful defending at a set piece. I wasn’t too downhearted. Because I felt we could make adjustments and turn the game around. We certainly did that at half time and sure enough it worked. One all and a chance to rectify the day.

Defensively we have dramatically improved in recent weeks. Not today however. And it cost us dearly.

We drove forward to get something from the game but it was too little too late. A defeat at home to Crystal Palace. When you are chasing a top four spot it’s not good enough. And if we miss out due to 3 points come the end of the season I promise it’s the one we will all look back on as where we blew our chance.

Football means we move on to the next one. And Wednesday (all of a sudden) has become a must win. Away at Wolves with little to play for. Not home to a Palace side with little to play for.

The odds could have been in our favour by 6pm this evening. As it is I now think they are massively stacked against us. That is the importance I put on today.

A massive missed opportunity.

Come on Arsenal, prove me wrong.

Frank
@stubbsy70

We’re All Off To Sunny Spain

Friday 19th April 2019

Somewhat surprisingly I’ve developed a soft spot for the city of Naples. Yes, it’s a little bit grotty, maybe even dirty in places. But I prefer to use the word gritty or edgy even. And for me there is definitely an element of chaotic excitement about the place. Throw in a European quarter final victory and I’m writing these notes in the early hours of Friday morning surrounded by a very satisfied glow.

My second visit started at Gatwick very early on Wednesday morning and my experience from last time meant our group of eight’s accommodation was located in the crazy, hilly and narrow streets of the old town. And having arrived without any problems we took a stroll, ate the inevitable pizzas and enjoyed some afternoon refreshment in a sundrenched square before being thoroughly looked after by a restaurant that had done exactly the same last time we were in this part of the world. A first day full of top food, wine and beer and marvellous hospitality. The perfect start then.

Chaos

Chaos

Matchday began and very much followed a similar theme, culminating in taking one of the supporters buses through the busy rush hour traffic, a journey made all the more amusing by the fact the Gooners on the bus in front of us were forced to ‘abandon ship’ when it appeared to be on the verge of catching fire!

The almost military operation to get us all to the stadium feels almost surreal and perhaps a little unnecessary but in a city not exactly renowned for Napoli’s ‘ultras’ offering the most friendly of welcomes it is definitely the most sensible way to make the pre-match journey.

Search me search me!

Search me search me!

Our hosts’ stadium has seen better days and is typical of many of the ‘concrete bowl’ type stadia we often find ourselves visiting but totally different to last time we played here when the game was largely irrelevent, there was definitely an edge to this one. Consequently the noise and colour was there along of course with those pre-match butterflies.

Noise & colour

Noise & colour

We started the game well I felt but big Pete’s save with his legs about 15 or so minutes into the game was a huge moment I felt. To go 1 nil down then we might have seen a whole different game.

As it was Laca fired home a quite awesome free kick and approximately a thousand Gooners celebrated knowing that crucial away goal very much meant we had one foot in the semi final.

The remainder of the game we were very professional and relatively solid, limiting our hosts to few chances. The best other chance of the game in fact fell to Auba where despite an outstanding save he really should have buried it.

Into the semis we go then the only disappointment on the night being it looked like we picked up a few knocks, Rambo looking the most serious.

Spain bound

Spain bound

The same buses relayed us back to the centre and a couple of celebratory beers completed a fine day I would say. Job done.

A Good Friday with a bit more tourism, possibly to Pompeii before we fly home tomorrow evening and our thoughts turn to Sunday’s visit of Crystal Palace.

Sunny, adrenolin filled and hospitable Naples, we thank you. Its been emotional.

Happy Easter Gooners.

Come on you mighty reds!

Frank

No Stings From The Hornets

Tuesday 16th April 2019

It’s funny but we all have little things we do on match days. I for example wear home socks for home games (red & white) and away socks for away games (yellow & blue). And yep, I’m 49. At Everton I forgot. So that defeat was my fault. Tonight I didn’t forget. And it worked. That result is in the book. Despite the fact the performance wasn’t the greatest we ground it out. It’s in the book.

A number of us met down in the city mid afternoon. So by the time we headed to Euston we were all in the usual fine spirits. And consequently the commuters heading back to Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and beyond were treated to the fine company of Gooners heading to a Monday night away game.

Watford were always going to be buoyant after last weekend. And we all looked at it as a game of 2 possibilities Would they be on a massive high full of players demanding a place in the cup final line up? Or players pulling out of tackles so they don’t get injured? Or should we all just admit that is too much analysis? Especially with our away form.

Let battle commence

Let battle commence

We started ok I felt and took the game to our hosts. But our opener was a massive combination of strange, unusual, excellent gambling from our centre forward, good luck and bad goalkeeping. And it all added up to an opening goal that was to prove ultimately crucial on the night.

The sending was a little bit soft. But if you choose to put your forearm into the face of an opponent well after the ball has gone you run a huge risk of having to face the consequences. And with that particular player you wont find any sympathy coming from any Gooner I’m afraid.

Our hosts going down to 10 men could only help our target to come away with 3 points. But did it? As is often the case it seemed to galvanize the team who felt they had been punished and arguably made it even more difficult on the night. Throw in the fact we looked a little bit nervous at times and it was definitely pleasing to hear that final whistle with our lead in tact.

We have 2 potential routes to claiming a Champions League spot and the other is where we head next. At half time we are in a good position but Naples is an extremely tough place to get a result. They will be immensely fired up. We go there however, on the back of a good result last night and a lead to fight for.

Be safe and come on you mighty Gunners!!

Frank
@stubbsy70

A Lead to Take To Italy

Friday 12th April 2019

When we got beat in Rennes I remember thinking it was very much only half time. Even though, on the night, they had just beaten the mighty Arsenal, I could still detect, even amongst the most ardent of home fans, they were still very much aware of the fact their first leg winning margin could be overturned when they travelled to London for the second leg.

Well, last night as we left the Emirates, although upbeat, I didn’t detect the same buoyancy as that experienced out in Brittany. We all knew we played well on the night. And we all knew we achieved a 1st leg score that we would have taken before a ball was kicked. But we also know it will be more than tough out in Naples next week.

I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday. Our ‘Thursday Club’ was in full swing pre match, firstly in a sun drenched Covent Garden, followed by our usual location up in N5 and the atmosphere had an air of cautious optimism. Pre Everton away I think the mood was one of confidence. After a performance that can be described as little more than abject however, we all knew a bad result was as much of a possibility as anything else on the night.

Again at home we put in a fine performance, got ourselves a lead and kept that all important clean sheet. If anything in fact we created enough clear cut opportunities to have almost put the tie to bed before we head out to Italy next week. I said earlier however, I don’t think there are many Gooners out there who wouldn’t have taken a 2 nil victory before a ball was kicked.

A free weekend beckons and in a hugely busy period football wise it is a time for what could be called ‘essential maintenance’ before we head off to Vicarage Road for what is another huge game on Monday night.

The Hornets will be in a fine mood after they reached their first cup final for 35 years last time out. We need to take our excellent home form on the road. And quickly.

Come on you mighty Gunners!

Frank
@stubbsy70