Harsh or Good?

Tuesday 27th July 2021

These trips to reserve/academy/youth, call them what you like, friendlies are always very enjoyable. Summer dictating you have a good chance they will be accompanied by decent weather coupled with a relaxing journey to a destination we either haven’t been to or certainly not very often, make them an attractive few hours.

Orlando didn’t happen in the end then. My flights and accommodation were booked but given the American government was a long way from considering letting us in as UK citizens, the inevitably of needing to cancel had already hit home. And coupling the fact I knew I could cancel my hotel without loss, get a long term voucher on my flight & my considerable selfishness that I hate any Arsenal 1st team game being allowed to go ahead without being able to attend, I was delighted it got cancelled.

My only sorrow was for all those American Gooners who have lost money or missed out as a result.

So Bromley FC it was and the old Hayes Lane ground looked proud as it awaited the attendence of the mighty Arsenal.

Friendlies involving the 1st team squad at such grounds seem to be a thing of the past but whoever had the cannon on their chest they would be representing our club. And a bumper crowd gave up their Tuesdsy night as a result.

Before all that, we enjoyed the hospitality of a couple of local West Kent hostelries and the Ravens Bar located just inside the ground. All welcoming and enjoyable for all the usual attendees.

We forget that artificial surfaces are still permitted outside of the top four decisions and although far less than back in days gone by at places such as Luton, Oldham & QPR and I would never consider offering it as an excuse, I still believe they offer a considerable unfair advantage to teams who are not used to playing on them. And the powers that be at the top of the game obviously still agree, Sutton United for example needing to rip theirs up now they have been promoted out of the Conference.

Bromley very nearly found themselves in a similar position at the end of last season but having just missed out it was no surprise to not only witness they are a pretty decent outfit, but their whole team simply towered above our youngsters throughout the pitch. And we can debate as to whether it was a good lesson or not for our players to come up against such huge men. One thing is for sure I have no complaints about the 3-1 defeat as a scoreline.

A sunny evening in Bromley

An enjoyable evening in Kent then and if we ignore the couple of behind closed doors friendlies hastily arranged to replace Orlando, thoughts turn to the weekend.

Academy games against Hendon & Ebbsfleet that I cannot attend are followed by Chelsea at home for the 1st team as the start of the season gets ever closer.

I look forward to seeing a few of you there.

Up the Gunners.

Frank

@stubbsy70

Scotland Anti-Clockwise

Sunday 18th July 2021

There will be a few pictures accompanying these words once again, mainly because it has been a proper multi day Scottish tour since Hibs. So why not. I left you on the day I departed sunny Edinburgh and that weather has continued ever since. Starting with a trip to Dundee, a city I have never visited, we enjoyed the glorious Tayside sunshine and took a look round both Tannadice and Dens Park whilst we were at it. The closest two top flight clubs in the UK location wise, the fact they are genuinely across the road from each other is quite something.

Tannadice
Dens Park

Our Scottish tour continued a few miles up the road on the North Sea coast at Arbroath, a small fishing town that (I would imagine) is proper cold in the Winter months being so open to the elements. Not for our visit of course and we enjoyed the extremely tasty local delicacy, the Arbroath Smokie on a sundrenched coastline.

Yes please

Why Arbroath? Well, along with wanting to try the food, this is a football trip after all, so attending the Scottish League Cup tie in the incredibly located Gayfield Park felt almost like a no brainer. And travelling north initially to Aberdeen the following morning, that decision was definitely a correct one.

Location location location

The first half was extremely non eventful but in the last half an hour we were to witness the home goalie being dismissed, a midfielder going in goal, the ten men grabbing 2 goals in front of the enthusiastic home support and an amusing incident where a substitute was reprimanded by the referee for ‘coaching’ the stand in goalkeeper so he simply stepped over the fence back onto the terrace and carried on! A brilliant night but sod going there in December!

Two nil!

Aberdeen came next on Thursday with a stroll to Pittodrie and along the beach, the latter not necessarily something I thought I would be putting in the same sentence as the Granite City. A relaxing few hours including Cullen Skink, my latest sample of the culinary delights in this part of the world and late afternoon it was on to Inverness as the tour continued.

Pittodrie
Costa del Aberdeen

The Gateway to the Highlands is a nice place and the local hospitality was enjoyed once again before a good long walk to Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s ground and along the River Ness and a few beers in a microbrewery completed our stay. A beautiful journey south through the Cairngorms followed as we headed for Glasgow and the delights that a covid reduced Friday night had to offer before waking on a hot and sunny matchday.

Thistle

Tickets for the Rangers game were always going to be extremely difficult to get hold of, even with countless friends and contacts in this part of the world. Yes the 2000 limit was the same as at Hibs but Rangers and Ibrox was a whole different ball game. And we travelled knowing that was the case. Incredibly, I got lucky the day before the game and almost more unbelievably my fellow travelling Gooner benefitted from the extreme generosity of a local less than an hour before the game. The success was strangely satisfying. How many Arsenal got in? I would say no more than 10.

Ibrox

Ibrox is a great stadium. Proper old school and it would have been wonderful to have been in a full away end with the noise and colour the home support would have brought. But being inside for the game was a privilege and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Players warm up

As a game I thought there was a lot to admire. We dominated throughout and could easily have scored 6 or 7. But missing those chances and conceding 2 soft goals from set pieces was of course disappointing. But given our hosts are pretty much match ready and we are in the early stages of training I was pretty impressed with what I saw. And for the record, I like our new kit too.

My view of a 1st half corner

So, writing these notes on my train from Edinburgh to London that pretty much brings things to a conclusion. A different and quite marvellous pre-season jolly, I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Apart from the hangover accompanying the journey after Saturday night’s Glasgow antics. When will I ever learn?!

Up the Gunners.

Frank

@stubbsy70

North of The Border

Wednesday 14th July 2021

There was something that felt very special about tonight. Not normal. Having to rely on friends from the remarkable Gooner family to help get us in is testament to that. But special. Why? Yesterday I got on a train and headed up north to see my team at an away game. And it feels an awful long time ago that I was able to do that.

Just to keep things in order date wise, I’ll offer a few words to reflect my opinion regarding Euro 2020. Firstly, just as I felt about Liverpool’s recent league title win, although it goes down in the history books, the fact the covid pandemic meant there was never a level playing field makes the whole tournament difficult to accept as genuine for me. One team heading to Baku whilst another plays at ‘home’, others to near empty stadia when in another city the ground is full with fans and noise make that playing field a million miles away from ‘level’.

I’ve never hidden the fact I am 100% club before country. And my emotions back that up. My nerves before an Arsenal game can be so shredded it makes me feel sick whereas before and during Sunday night’s final I couldn’t possibly have been any calmer.

Don’t get me wrong, I am English so want England to win in any game in any sport. And there was a 12 year period where I didn’t miss a single England home game. And that includes the dreadful meaningless friendlies when only 20 odd thousand bothered to turn up. That run included Euro 96, so I have huge empathy towards everyone walking out of Wembley after a penalty shoot out defeat just like I did all those years ago. But was I genuinely ‘gutted’ Sunday night? I would rather be honest and say not really.

As for England, I don’t think we were outstanding throughout the tournament. But I do think we played well enough to deserve our place in the final. And after an excellent first half performance, I felt Italy were the better side for the rest of the match.

As for the penalties, I’m never going to knock anyone for taking, not taking, scoring or missing. But the one thing that can be influenced is the decision on who takes them. And with a long list of hugely experienced players available Bukayo being the boy to take the 5th was a combination very poor management and a lack of balls from his team mates in my book.

We are looking forward to you coming home to the Arsenal young man.

When detailing my feelings about the tournament as a whole I purposely refrained from using the word ‘irrelevant’. Why? Well, if nothing else, for a few short weeks, when England give people hope, the whole country gets a huge lift. And in frustratingly and shockingly difficult times, the importance of that cannot be emphasised enough.

England are good and young enough to be back. Along with all the constantly repeated songs and anthems that comes with it.

Monday morning and it was Arsenal all the way so after negotiating my usual transport options north to London it was hugely relaxing and enjoyable journey north to the beautiful Scottish capital. One of my favourite cities anywhere in the world, events began with a few beers with fellow Gooners and those based in that part of the world who had fought so hard to get me match tickets. I certainly meant matchday started with a big requirement to clear the head in the quite stunning sunshine.

Sunshine on Leith?

The longer the day went on the clearer it got that my fellow traveller and I were not the only ones who had made the journey north. We’re a hardy and enthusiastic old bunch us Gooners and if there is any way we can attend a fixture, that is exactly what we’ll do. And it was with a tidy old number of that very bunch that we enjoyed more of Edinburgh’s considerable hospitality in the build up to the match.

I have never seen a match at Easter Road so as well as it being fantastic my first visit involved my team, the walk along the streets to the stadium also contained all things new. Something I particular enjoy.

Proper walk to a proper ground

With huge covid restrictions and guidelines in place we made our way into the stadium and everything felt wonderful.

With pre-season training only just underway it was a ‘bits & pieces’ kind of match but relatively enjoyable overall, despite the defeat. The game needs little summarising but we ran about a lot (arguably the main reason for being there), we missed big chances in the opening half hour, our goalie fresh after signing his contract handed our hosts a goal on a plate, Nico missed a pen, TP smashed the post, we let in another and ESR slotted in to make the final few minutes a little bit interesting. And that was pretty much it.

We are back

I toyed with heading up to Edinburgh, heading home and then back up to Glasgow on Saturday, but armed with my laptop so I could keep on top of work, I decided to stay up here for a few days. And today that means a little trip to Dundee followed by Arbroath to try the famous smokies. And of course to take in the big one from Gayfield Park as the latter host East Fife in the Scottish league cup.

You just have to don’t you.

This on the other hand you do not………..

The search for a Rangers ticket goes on. I would desperately like to attend but it is looking less and less likely by the day.

Ridiculous.

Over Land and Sea….and rivers.

Frank

@stubbsy70

Planes, Trains……& More Trains

Friday 9th July 2021

Although technically a hovercraft, the crossing is called a flight, so I’m having that! My return journey into Cornwall for last night’s friendly just over the border in Tavistock, Devon has been quite something. Long, interesting, incredibly picturesque and thoroughly enjoyable. Arsenal being the excuse for my destination is nothing new. But a little jolly to Cornwall is certainly a new one for me.

A return journey from the Isle of Wight to Gunnislake, the nearest station to Tavistock since Dr Beeching removed the bustling town from the network back in the sixties, took a little bit of planning. And in both directions it also needed on time trains to make sure every connection worked smoothly. Writing these notes on my penultimate one of nine boarded over the two days, so far everything has gone pleasingly smoothly. And being a fan of rail travel, its been a wonderful couple of days.

Just for those interested it has been Ryde to Southsea by hover, Southsea to Portsmouth by bus, Portsmouth to Southampton to Westbury to Exeter to Plymouth to Gunnislake on various trains and a taxi to our digs in Tavistock. Our return today has been similar but remove Westbury and replace with Salisbury and you get the overall picture.

Beside the seaside

The scenery, in particular west of Exeter is incredible, thundering along the Devon coastline around Dawlish and the route from Plymouth to Gunnislake up the Tamar Valley was as quirky as it was stunning. Accompanied by a couple of ales and a fellow Gooner, there was loads to enjoy.

The Tamar Valley

Tavistock AFC are very much a local club but on a night where the weather turned from rain pre-match to a glorious sunset as the game progressed we were made very welcome. Our talented youngsters put in a good performance too, easing to a 4 nil win. Enjoying the night and the match with some familiar faces made sure the standard banter was present and a few beers post match completed a thoroughly enjoyable few hours.

The players come out to set the scene
A beautiful end to the evening & a 4 nil win in the bag

This morning it was a short walk to take a look around what is an extremely picturesque town centre before our taxi took us back to Gunnislake to start all over again.

Gunnislake, Cornwall. A local train for local people

What comes next?

Well, the plan is to head north to bonny Scotland for a few days. Again Arsenal being the reason. Last night was pay, in cash, on the door, so getting in was easy. Whether Easter Road and/or Ibrox will be graced with my presence only time will tell.

Over land and sea. Up the Gunners!

Frank

@stubbsy70

Go West

Monday 7th July 2021

Every pre-season I try and consider what would be the best time to write my first thoughts and the truth is that time and occasion never seems to be the same. So, what has made my mind up this time round? Well, all being well, on Thursday I plan to head to my first game. One where, at the moment I should be able to exercise my ‘right’ to do just that. Not something that looks likely for all the potential pre-season destinations yet again.

My opening blog tends to give a snippet of information about what my life has been filled with since we last took the field back in May. But everything has been so limited due to the continued restrictions that I haven’t got very much to detail. There could have been gigs. Festivals. Comedy. A possible holiday. And ‘other’ sports of course but short of a thoroughly enjoyable day with fellow Gooners at The Oval last week, any entertainment of that kind has been confined to what the TV can offer.

This weekend however, buoyed by a little bit of reality on my Thursday in Kennington, things finally did feel a little bit more ‘normal’ as a group of my very best Gooner pals headed to the south island for an enormously entertaining 2 day jolly. A bit of local live music, refreshment in the sunshine, street food and enjoying our national side reaching the latter stages of another international tournament made up a package that left my body telling me I might be getting a little bit too old for all this come Sunday!

As far as our great club is concerned we all know this is the ‘silly’ season. One where we are linked with signing hundreds of players every day. One where the media fight and speculate until due to the law of averages, they get the chance to eventually say they scooped that ‘exclusive’. What will be will be as far as I’m concerned. Whoever we sign and whoever departs, I will always be there to support my club. Those who want to play for the Arsenal, will wear the cannon with pride and do everything they can to be successful. Those who don’t, see yer.

We need to improve. Of course we do. But the fact our results since just before Christmas would have us finishing in 2nd place, we are not completely ‘broken’. Keeping and getting the best out of what we have got whilst adding something extra and I think we’ll be just fine.

Off the pitch, the fixtures coming out and draws being made mean we can start to make tentative plans. And I use that word due to covid and the way TV coverage eventually moulds the reality.

I’m not someone who tends to go to youth and academy games in general. But over the years I’ve been to quite a few. I like the FA Youth Cup and have thoroughly enjoyed our relatively new inclusion to the Papa Johns Trophy. But I have also always been a fan of any ‘friendlies’, especially if the destination is something different or slightly unusual.

Our youngsters enjoyed a trip to Chelmsford City on Saturday and came away with a 4 nil win for their efforts. And having made plans for a weekender with my friends, it was one I didn’t attend. But having headed off to a short pre-season training camp now, they take on Tavistock next on Thursday evening. A little day out on the train? Post lockdown, it almost feels like a no brainer.

Two games in Scotland and two games in Orlando follow for our first team. The former there are no tickets for away fans. The latter we are currently not allowed to travel. Both irritating and frustrating but there you go. I’m going to head north. With hope and fingers crossed that something works out. But unless the highly unlikely happens and some kind of UK/US travel corridor opens up, my flights to Florida look like they will need to be cancelled.

For now, Devon awaits!

Let’s get this party back on the road….

Up the mighty Gunners.

Frank

@stubbsy70

We Know Where We Are

Sunday 23rd May 2021

The league campaign is 38 games long and consequently position wise, come the end of the season, as an accurate reflection, it simply doesn’t lie. So 8th is where we are, whether we like it or not. And that of course means, achievement wise, we take very little from the last eight months or so.

But with about 10 minutes to go we still had a chance of something. Not anything big. But something. The name Schmeichel has never been one that Arsenal fans are particularly fond of. And one of them punching the ball into his own net to end our chances of that minor prize has not done anything to improve that relationship.

Today was something special off the pitch. A number of our lot got ‘lucky’ in the latest ballot and it meant, after what seems like an eternity, something like what we remember as our ‘normal’ matchday routine returned. And when I say that, it included what seemed like some of the ‘usual’ problems.

Bus replacement services that weren’t there when I checked yesterday, tube line closures and pouring rain couldn’t ruin our day and the few hours pre-match with my Arsenal friends were simply fantastic. Oh how we’ve missed those.

The game was decent too. A first half that saw us dominate possession without creating much and stepping up a gear after the break, Pepe scored his second brace in a week to secure the three points.

We kept our side of the final day bargain but unfortunately the bit we couldn’t control didn’t work out. And that is that.

A full summary I will save for another day. But in general I will mention 4 aspects. We reached a European semi final. We had an awful first half of the season. And given our results since Christmas would have us in 2nd position, the second half showed a vast improvement. And lastly, I am slightly reluctant to say, it will be remembered as simply awful for any fan of attending football matches. We often look back fondly on seasons, even those that weren’t successful. Not this one. Apart from the odd moment, you can bury it away never to be seen again as far as I’m concerned.

Today however, the pre-match gave me a snippet of just what we’ve been missing.

So roll on mid June when the fixtures come out and we can start planning all over again.

Enjoy the Summer folks. And be nice to each other.

Arsenal TWD

Frank

@stubbsy70

Nearer to The Faroes Than We Think

Whilst I recognise finishing in 7th place and qualifying for the newly formed Europa Conference competition could be considered more detrimental than positive to our rebuild plans for next season, my considerations and thoughts are very much based on events off the pitch as well as on it. And on that basis alone, the fact our four wins on the bounce still give us an outside chance going into the very last game of this weird old season is good enough for me. Imagine the potential destinations. Go on, I dare you 😊

Our chance could have been all over last night of course. We needed at least one of West Ham and Middlesex to drop points. And on top of that, we needed to go to Selhurst Park and come away with all three points. And as late in the game as it was, by just after 9pm it was mission accomplished.

My parents have come to visit for a couple of weeks, like many of us, the first time I have seen them for many months. Along with the pubs and shops getting busier by the day, their visit is another example of how things are gradually getting back to normal. Whatever that is.

Through various contacts I clung on to the slight hope a ticket for Selhurst Park might become available and I was ready to attend at short notice but unfortunately that wasn’t to be on this occasion. And believe me, attending every game as I do, seeing fans in a stadium watching my team and I wasn’t one of them, was extremely frustrating and difficult to deal with.

Not being in luck however, meant I undertook what has been a routine for every match during these covid times and this time it was great that my dad could join me. A few jars utilising the ‘beer rover’ in various island pubs whilst dodging the showers and enjoying the sunshine in between them. A great day out as each one has been but hopefully the very last time we are forced to do it.

The chance of finishing seventh should not create nerves! But for some reason they were still present as kick-off approached. Crazy? Yep, ridiculous. But not something I am capable of controlling it seems. Seeing Middlesex were losing at home to Villa added to their intensity.

After a first half that was a bit nip and tuck Pepe’s excellent volleyed finish after a fine move saw us take that all important lead into a break that also saw the result we needed from up the road become reality. That bit had come to fruition, it was now in our own hands to take the race for a European spot to the final day.

Benteke is a bit of an enigma for me. Definitely a handful and dangerously in a current run of good form. Every set piece we conceded worried me but to be fair we done pretty well to limit those across the game. With a mix of a good ball in, poor defending and good attacking play in our box however, we found our lead and possibly our chance wiped out.

As the game developed I couldn’t help but feel we might go on to lose the game. Often there are moments late on that pretty much sum up your season. And to lose last night would have felt a bit like that. But, as we reached the latter stages I also felt we had one more chance in us. The question for me was would we take it?

Then it came…..

Gabi signalled he wanted the ball and Martin Odegaard looked up and played in the perfect ball to meet Gabi’s run. A decent first touch took it beyond the keeper and he nudged it home to bring on scenes of total delirium in one lounge on the Isle of Wight. Not even a VAR check could rule it out on this occasion. Get in.

Pepe’s fine run and finish put the icing on the cake and although West Ham’s win at The Hawthorns eliminated our slim hope of qualifying for the Europa League, if you had offered me the chance of 7th & European football going into the last day just a few short weeks ago I would have bitten your hand off.

So here we are then. Game 38. The last of our league season. One where way back in August, we genuinely didn’t believe we would still be in a situation where the majority are still not allowed to attend. And looking at pre-season announcements regarding away fans, we are far from being out of the woods yet.

On my train journey home this Sunday, I want to be looking up towns like Kratovo, Penevezys and Linnameeskond to see where they are and what attractions potentially await. That will only be reality if we pick up three points and two other results go our way. Unlikely? Probably. But not impossible.

For the first time for many a month, my pre match beer rover is defunct.

See you in the pub.

Come on you mighty reds.

Frank

@stubbsy70

Defiance

Thursday 13th May 2021

We might not have any kind of European football to look forward to next season, but if that is to be the case, all of a sudden we are certainly not going down without a fight. Last night was the game where we definitely didn’t get any points. The one that would finally blow out that slight flickering flame of hope. Instead we went to Stamford Bridge, produced a defiant and gritty performance and came away with the three points. To add that to Sunday’s win on the back of last week’s bitter disappointment and media slating is to be admired in my book. And whether there is something to play for or not, beating that lot from the Russian end of London will always be intensely satisfying.

Yesterday’s pre-match entertainment took a slightly different turn as a couple of us headed north to the mainland to enjoy a few jars and banter with another Gooner in our group, the sights and sounds of Portsmouth’s old town docks area playing host basked in considerable sunshine. So whilst although we all agreed we could go to Chelsea and win but recognised that was also unlikely, the entertainment off the pitch was thoroughly enjoyable once again.

There was a time when we seemed to get positive results at Chelsea all the time. Memories of goals by the likes of Vieira, Lauren, Nutty Nige, Silvinho, Edu, Bergkamp, Wrighty and of course Kanu dancing through the puddles still remain very fresh in the memory. The truth of the matter however, is whether we like it or not, they are a long time ago. Our nightmare in Baku aside of course, our recent results against them have definitely taken a turn for the better, the well deserved point at the Bridge last season, our fine home victory back on Boxing Day and of course that giddy day at Wembley in August again all spring to mind. But, given the general form of the two sides, surely last night would be a bridge too far.

Not a lot happened in the first half and for me that was the best chance we had of getting a result. Our hosts have dangerous players who can and will hurt you if you give them space and time to do so. So to go for their throats would have almost been tactical suicide in my book. Yes, one defensive error probably should have led to them taking the lead and they had a couple of other half chances but little else and our pressing all over the pitch was to prove crucially fruitful.

It was a bad mistake at the other end that led to our goal but with all teams continuing to play this passing game at the back, there will be errors, as we’ve witnessed ourselves of course. And the one thing I will say, if you look at the replays, our pressing was excellent and that is a huge contributory factor in the overall reason for us grabbing that winner.

Taking a lead into the break was fantastic but I think we all knew there was a long way to go. The second period was about defending with discipline and desire whilst trying to look dangerous on the break. And by and large, I think it is fair to say we did just that. We rode our luck a little bit here and there, in particular with Giroud’s strike but we were away to a Chelsea side fresh off the back of beating Man City twice and in two cup finals for good reason. So conceding the odd chance here and there was highly likely. And I say ‘odd chance’ because that is all there were in what overall was an excellent defensive performance from our team. The kind that seems to be lauded by the media when its another team. But not when it’s the Arsenal.

This is an extremely obvious statement I know but it’s strange how football gets you. With what appears little to play for I was very relaxed going into last night’s game. Watching it with a beer and a curry, wanting us to win of course, but very chilled. I roared when ESR slotted home but not with the kind of intensity you do when it feels more crucial.

Yet, with ten minutes to go, I was strutting round my lounge like a man possessed! I hate losing. And I love winning. Passionately. Especially against traditional rivals. Especially in games you are expected to lose. And with time running out our chances of doing just that were getting ever higher. My fist pump when that final whistle went was as strong as ever. Get in.

Mikel’s post match reaction was passionate and heartfelt. I agree totally that everyone, including the media, can and will air their opinion. But if anyone’s comments are mis-represented or twisted to what they want to write rather than what was actually said, why shouldn’t our manager stand against that? And I am extremely glad Mikel took the opportunity and did just that. Don’t mess with the Arsenal. Us against the world mentality. Love it.

Moving our Crystal Palace away fixture to Wednesday means we now have the weird situation of a football free weekend with only two games to play.

There’s only so much gardening you can do!

London is red.

Up the Gunners.

Frank

@stubbsy70

Allardown

Monday 10th May 2021

Over the course of a 38 game season the league simply does not lie. And there are many reasons why we sit in such a disappointing position and our chance of continuing our long annual European participation is so slim. But for me our recent home games against Fulham and Everton were where we finally blew it. Add five points to our current total and that opportunity would still be very much alive.

Instead we went into our home game against The Baggies yesterday evening knowing even if we pick up maximum points from our last four games we are totally reliant on the teams above us dropping a number of points.

All the time there is a glimmer of hope however, throwing in the towel is not an option. Otherwise, like much in life has felt over the last year or so, what’s the point?

It was difficult not to wake up on this particular matchday feeling flat of course. The low ebb we all found ourselves on when waking on Friday morning was not going to disappear over night. But if football has taught me one thing over the last forty-five years is there will be disappointing periods and games, even if the good ones and memories outweigh them.

Round my local for a couple of pre-match jars there were a couple of Pompey fans present, something that was highly likely to be the case in this part of the world. And seeing them looking into their beers thoroughly demoralised that their team had just missed out on the League One play-offs by losing one-nil at home to Accrington Stanley somehow offered some perspective.

I can’t say I was confident going into the game. Why would I be with our home form, not just across the season but in particular of late? But that didn’t mean I wanted us to lose. Unlike some it seems, I will never ever want that.

The match started exactly as I expected. West Brom simply had to win. And I fully expected their crook of a manager will have wound them up like a coiled spring.

But I also hoped that, if we managed to keep the game goalless in those opening moments, we would soon get a hold of the game and start to create our own threatening situations. And that is pretty much how it panned out.

Our two first half goals were very different but equally emphatic, two of the biggest positives from this season creating and finishing the opener and the much improved Pepe smacking home an absolute beauty.

Not a lot happened in the 2nd period until our visitors pulled one back after their player ran two thirds of the length of the pitch unchallenged to score. It made things slightly nervy, but not too much to be honest and Willian’s fine free-kick secured a deserved three points late on. Happy with that at the end of a difficult week.

Chelsea away comes next. And with their current form, it’s difficult to think of tougher fixture. But it’s ‘only a game’.

The West Brom manager will continue to be lauded no doubt. I and most Gooners however, will remember him for the way his teams were sent out to kick us off the park. How any poor result is never his fault. How any defeat is not deserved. And this country will remember him for the way he was still happy to take a bung even after being given the precious and privileged opportunity to manage the national team.

I’m not so naive that I think that stuff doesn’t go on. But I have never understood why someone so bent and disrespectful is not only still employed in the game but is still held in such high regard.

Well, yesterday, with no disrespect intended to West Bromwich Albion, my club got him relegated.

And that is strangely satisfying.

Up the mighty Gunners.

Frank

@stubbsy70

Out With a Whimper

Friday 7th May 2021

We could argue that we were a sliver of woodwork from getting through to the final. But the long and short of it is we were simply not good enough to beat our opponents over the 2 legs. I always respect my manager’s views and support him when he defends his players. I would have more of a problem if he didn’t. But unfortunately, to suggest in his post match interview that we did enough in the tie to deserve to progress, Mikel was way wide of the mark I’m afraid. Having got away with murder in the first leg and only scoring with a debatable penalty in 180 plus minutes of football, there is very little there to support our manager’s argument.

Off the pitch, the nerves were accompanied by a fantastic day of fun and banter. Refreshment overlooking the sea with like minded friends who had crossed The Solent to join us islanders for the build up and the match itself. That bit couldn’t have been more perfect.

Tactically I don’t think we got it totally wrong. But it is difficult to argue that when we didn’t get a result. Not conceding was equally as important as scoring before a ball was kicked. But only relevant of course if we achieved the latter. And we didn’t.

Not only does it mean our last chance of silverware has gone but barring a miracle we go into next season without a European adventure to look forward to. Something that unless you are aged over 30, its highly unlikely you have ever experienced before supporting the Arsenal.

So is Mikel’s position under threat? Or should it be?

Personally I am not one for hiring and firing when things don’t go to plan immediately. I believed we needed a number of transfer windows to overhaul our squad and my thoughts on that haven’t changed. So for me, I want to stick with him.

But, if one thing is abundantly clear right now its how our current owners are only interested in one thing, lining their own pockets. And the loss in revenue from not qualifying for European football will hurt them in the only way they care about. So on that basis, even though I hope not, I believe Mikel might be in trouble.

You never know, a season out of Europe could work to our benefit. A proper chance to regroup. To build. To go again. And if that is how it will be, as always, I will take that as a positive.

We are all hurting today, and my incredible group of loyal friends are no different. But even this morning the banter remains. One of them saying, “I wonder who we’ll get in the 2nd round of the League Cup” is a perfect example. Even though we know it will probably be Hull or Sheffield United at home!

So is there anything to play for on Sunday? Yep, seeing Sam Allardyce relegated is something I long to witness. So I want my team to get over their European exit hangover and do just that.

The Arsenal. Our Club. Always be proud.

Frank

@stubbsy70