Friday 23rd February 2018
As I sit here waiting for the Europa League draw I’d be delighted with 1 of 4 destinations I haven’t been to. Things generally don’t tend to work out too well on that front however, so I expect it will throw up somewhere I have been many times. Us being in that hat is as a result of the professional performance we put in last night to progress. It wasn’t fantastic. But 3 nil was both enough and, under a little bit of pressure, satisfactory overall.
Thursday Club still took place yesterday afternoon. The early kick-off wasn’t ideal for people trying to get to the game of course. But there was no way it was getting in the way of what has become a regular and very entertaining pre-match build up over the last couple of seasons. So we just arranged to meet a little bit earlier. Simples.
And as a result we headed into London N5 for what felt quite a surreal experience, in a fine mood and full of anticipation for the game ahead.
To ease that pressure valve we needed 2 things last night I felt. To not concede and to grab an early goal. Not only did we manage to do that all night, let’s be honest a rarity this season, but we achieved the latter too.
The second eased it a little further but we all were extremely aware we were still only one conceded goal from going out of the competition.
So, on a night where the performance wasn’t inspiring, the result we all wanted came to fruition. And in any cup competition that is more important than anything else. Over 2 legs, job done.
Southampton come to North London next on Sunday afternoon and no disrespect to the Saints it is a must win for us. Our visitors know they can beat us. They’ve already done it this season. And that is a dangerous ingredient in the cocktail. We can play our part by getting behind the team of course.
For now however, that draw is about to start.
Friday 15th February 2019
I’m sat in reception of my hotel in a snowy forest on the edge of Borisov waiting for our minibus to arrive to take us back to Minsk and a cat has just jumped up onto my lap and curled up without a care in the world. I wish I could say the same about us but our hangovers are accompanied by disappointment after our 1st leg defeat and worrying form. There is genuinely only one positive we can take out of last night. It’s half time. Against a very average side we were poor. And it makes it a tougher task next week than it needed to be.
Minsk is a good city. Plenty to do, good food and drink and nice people. Unlike our previous visit however, the blue sky and sunshine was replaced with a blizzard as our plane touched down on Wednesday afternoon. But it’s always warm and dry in a pub. And a brewery pub with fine ales, good food and a live band, all laid on by the wonderful Belarussian Gooners, was a quite superb way to start proceedings.
Matchday and our minibus took us the 40 or so miles into Borisov, our cracking little hotel and the same pub we visited last time providing our pre match hospitality.
On an icy chilly night we started the game very much like we did last time we came out. The big difference however, we didn’t take our chances. And as the pitch deteriorated so did our performance. Personally I don’t believe we deserved to lose the game but overall we were poor. There’s no other way to describe it.
Today we intend to experience Minsk as much as time allows before an early flight tomorrow takes us back for a football free weekend.
We have a chance to put last night to bed and turn it around on Thursday evening. But that will only happen if we turn up and put in a performance.
Keep the faith.
If you want me to tell you that was an awesome away performance where we completely took the game by the scruff of the neck and absolutely smashed our opponent, then you ain’t getting it from me. But if you were tuning in to BBC World Service in search of our result, above all else, a victory would make you very happy. And that’s what we got. We weren’t great. The game was worse. But we won 2-1 and after a long day I’ll have that.
Talking about money in football is not something I tend to do too much. Of course, the amounts involved are gratuitous, be it the cost to attend games or the wages involved. The clubs will argue that the former is the going rate for the level of football we are witnessing, however they completely fail to understand that the vast vast majority of us would be happy to pay far less as long as our team is putting the effort in and we get to witness a fair and competitive league. As for the latter, I don’t blame the players. How can we when the wage level is dictated by both the industry and what the clubs are prepared to pay.
I mention all this because it crossed my mind this morning. Every player has ambitions. To play at the highest level possible. To walk out at Wembley for a cup final. To score in front of an adoring crowd. But, when they woke up this morning, either in their multi million pound home or their 5 star hotel room having been transported in their luxury and stress free transport, all whilst the latest weekly six figure sum drops into their bank account, do they ever spare a thought for what exactly us fans are going through to make sure we are there to support them?
Why did this cross my mind? Well, after a sleepless night due to numerous reasons from an attention seeking cat to that fear of an alarm failure, I got up just before 5 am before taking my 20 minute stroll to my first form of transport. A walk that involved almost being blown off the UK’s 4th longest pier in the middle of ‘Storm Erik’. And believe me when it comes to sea legs I’m no Ben fecking Ainslie!
An hour and 45 minute train into London follows, enough time for my ferry induced nausea to ease a little, before the tube gets me to Kings Cross and my venture north continues, to Huddersfield, via Leeds.
All this costs a small fortune of course and always comes laced with a fear that any slight delays on route and all that money might have been spent without actually seeing the game.
I’m not moaning believe me. I choose to live where I do for many many reasons. And I wouldn’t change it for anything. And without getting too deep and dramatic it’s a good analogy of life. We all make decisions, not always good ones, but once we do, you have to take responsibility for those and either enjoy or accept the consequences. Even if that means a right old bashing from Storm Erik along the way!
But, football fans’ loyalty holds no bounds. Lost jobs, lost relationships, lost friendships, big debts, you name it, they have all been consequences of that loyalty for many thousands of us up and down the country. And in today’s massively inflated football bubble, I don’t believe it is recognised.
But, we won today. So all the effort, all the pain and all the money was worth it. On we go.
I’m going to see The Vaccines tonight at the Camden Roundhouse. Or I will be if my train from Leeds is on time. I genuinely don’t look forward to nights out after a defeat. Mainly because im a miserable loser. But we won today. So I’m sure I will enjoy it. Hopefully as much as someone earning a six figure sum every week.
Sorry for my cynicism. Enjoy the break.
Up the mighty Gunners.
Monday 4th February 2018
Writing these thoughts on a train heading south on Monday morning was never in my plans. But minutes after going 2-1 behind yesterday afternoon I glanced at my phone to see a message advising my return flight to Southampton had been cancelled. The icing on a rubbish Sunday cake.
As is often the case it has been a relatively entertaining weekend off the pitch, our Saturday evening northbound flight took off and landed early meaning a curry and the late night entertainment provided by our host city were thoroughly enjoyed.
Matchday went pretty much down the same route with breakfast and local fare seeing us jump in a taxi up to City’s stadium built for athletics and bankrolled by far eastern billionaires in fine spirits.
Optimism is always there prior to any game but you would struggle to find any of the magnificent travelling support that would suggest they were confident of a positive result. And when we simply handed our hosts a 1st minute lead, that minor amount of hope dwindled further. Frustrating, disappointing and ridiculously avoidable.
To be fair, between City’s first 2 goals I thought we were excellent. Our shape was good, we kept them at arms length and looked dangerous on the break. And we were well worth the 1 all scoreline as a result. There is a reason why they are challenging for the title and we are not however, and in a flash we were undone and went in at half time, arguably a tad unfortunate to be behind.
The second period however, it was nothing more than us hanging on and all the time we were just one behind we had a chance. The 3rd going in off their striker’s hand summed up our day.
Every defeat is disappointing but in our current position our ‘success’ will not be judged by results away at the likes of Liverpool and Man City. Defeats at your Southamptons and West Hams will do though.
And Huddersfield next week has to be seen as the first step on a run to the end of the season where we have little or no room for error.
For now my ‘wasted’ Monday continues, the fact Flybe’s 4 flights today from Manchester to Southampton were all fully booked gave us little option.
Another long, drawn out and laborious compensation claim to deal with as we look forward to Saturday’s trip to Yorkshire.
Come on you mighty reds!
Tuesday 29th January 2019
It was good to see Jenko get a run out tonight. And I’m sure he thoroughly enjoyed the three points. So much so in fact I would like to think he went home, put on his Arsenal pyjamas, got under his Arsenal duvet and before he turned his Arsenal bedside light out he celebrated with a little tot of something in his cuppa served up in his Arsenal mug.
When you live on the Isle of Wight, journey planning is quite important. And midweek it can make a difference if it’s a 7.45 or 8pm kick-off. The former driving is an option but it does involve a dash down the A3 for a ferry. The latter and making it is unlikely. And tonight, with potentially dodgy weather in the pipeline I just didn’t fancy taking that gamble. So I got the train. And i’ll be checking into my B & B in Portsmouth shortly, just after midnight in fact.
After all that, before anything else, I wanted my team to give me three points. And on a cold night where the sleet started falling well before kick-off and didn’t stop all evening, we got just that.
Cardiff had their chances, in particular in a couple of situations in the first period and overall, in a game that can’t really be described as anything other than disjointed, I for one was pleased to come away with a win.
Man City away next.
Come on you mighty reds!
Sunday 27th January 2019
To say it’s been a heavy old weekend is a gross understatement. A good Gooner pal reaches a half century in years tomorrow and a few of us have joined him in celebrating that milestone. I guess that makes it a good weekend. Except for the result of course. Not the first time we’ve said that and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
The match itself has been analysed again and again and again elsewhere so it doesn’t need me to add my version. But as disappointing as it always is to get knocked out of any cup competition I felt we played ok. Around about the time Kos got injured we were completely dominating the game and looking like we could equalise. And if we had, that momentum could well have seen us going on to get a winner.
Losing both centre halves is extremely unlucky and with defensive injuries already stretching our squad it was to prove too much to overcome on the day.
Back to league action next as we welcome Cardiff City on Tuesday night.
I’m hoping this hangover has gone by then.
Tuesday 21st January 2019
Rivalries are there in all age groups and at all levels. Even in lower league or grass roots football. They can be for a number of reasons of course. Challenging for trophies. Particular famous incidents or matches. Even manager feuds. But more often than not they tend to be simply geographical.
Being in London that dictates we have many many ‘derby’ matches to negotiate in every season, some of them more intense than others of course. And this week, in 2 very different situations, we can be considered Kings of London!
On Thursday night I made the journey from the Isle of Wight to Borehamwood as our youngsters entertained our nearest geographical rivals in the FA Youth Cup. And if ever evidence was required that these rivalries exist at every level this was the night.
My abode being where it is these days I’m far from a regular at youth or under 23 level matches but if there is one competition I have attended quite a number down the years it is this one. Being youth football’s premier cup competition still to this day, it has historically been considered a prestigious tournament to win. Throw in the game was against that lot from Middlesex and it had been made an all ticket affair, I just couldn’t resist.
On a freezing cold night our opponents definitely saw the better of the first half and deservedly took a 2-1 lead into the break. Where have we seen that before I wonder.
Come full time, after becoming much the more dominant team, it was level and extra time would follow and possibly penalties beckoned. Until we scored a 3rd that is. And a 4th. And a 5th. Thoroughly entertaining, well deserved and into the 5th round we go.
It is safe to say we have been on a difficult run of late. Frustrating after our pretty decent start. So when the likes of Chelsea come next you can’t help but fear the worst. But I had an air of optimism around me on Saturday afternoon. Admittedly I generally always do and the evening kick-off meant my pre-match refreshment might have been clouding my view a little!
And on the day we played well and were deserved winners I felt. 2 good goals, the second with an element of fortune about the actual finish of course and a 2nd period where I felt our game management in a winning position was excellent.
So, 3 big points then before another match where the atmosphere will be simply crackling I’m sure. That Friday night feel, the beginning of the weekend and an FA Cup tie at home to one of them rivals I mentioned earlier that is nothing to do with geography.
Having gone on an impressive run since their manager departed, there is no doubt it is a hugely tough game.
And we can play our part as always.
Come on you mighty reds!!
Saturday 12th January 2018
Sometimes, in defeat, you can argue it hasn’t been your day. And in 2 short periods during the course of today’s game we created enough decent chances to have scored. But in the vast majority of the 90 plus minutes we cannot have any argument or excuses for our performance.
That’s not me saying our hosts were great. They were no more than mediocre. Yet we lost to them.
Sometimes I’m full of words. But not this afternoon. Our recent away performances have very much mirrored virtually all of last season’s. And although I am very much a believer our manager needs to build and nurture his own squad rather than totally rely on the one he has inherited, our performances need to drastically improve. And quickly.
Chelsea at home next then. I would like to describe that one as a tough fixture on paper. But I wouldn’t put Brighton, Southampton or West Ham in that bracket and we’ve picked up one point out of nine against them. So tell me any easy game right now.
Keep the faith.
Sunday 6th January 2019
Any Premier League side who plays a team from a lower league in the FA Cup is expected to win. But the competition is what it is for its lengthy history of shocks. So the TV companies turn up longing to be providing coverage of the next one. And when it doesn’t happen the higher ranked club gets zero credit for putting in a professional performance and getting the job done. Instead words like ‘strolled’ and ‘routine’ make up the match reports.
For me FA Cup 3rd Round day is right up there as one of the very best on the football calendar. Especially when you are away from home. Why this is the case is difficult to put into words. But there is certainly a buzz about the day. And a sense of a full ‘army’ of travelling fans turning up for the day.
My journey started when I left my house at 6am yesterday morning and after a brekkie at Euston it was onto a direct train to Blackpool North, one that almost felt like a football special.
A few beers with my fellow travelling Gooners saw us arrive in good spirits and we checked into our hotel located actually in Bloomfield Road on what was to be a strange old day.
Blackpool fans are very unhappy with the current owners of their club and amongst other things they have shown their anger by simply not turning up. If the stadium had been full yesterday it would have gone totally against the beliefs of the majority. But it wasn’t and fair play.
It made it a strange old atmosphere.
One of the huge attractions with an away day in the cup is a ferocious home following full of excitement and doing their utmost to make it as difficult and uncomfortable as possible for the visitors. Like at Preston and Nottingham Forest in recent seasons for example. So although I support the Tangerines’ fans in their plight, yesterday lacking any of that was a shame.
On the pitch the players out there did their job and no matter how we analyse and look at how we played, on a difficult surface, with everyone outside our club wanting us to fail, 3 nil is thoroughly satisfactory. Into Monday night’s 4th round hat we go.
Post match we enjoyed a few beers, some questionable karaoke in an even more questionable pub and a late night curry bringing a fine trip to a satisfactory conclusion.
And that brings me to my train journey home today and my thoughts turn to West Ham away this coming weekend.
Up the Gunners!
Tuesday 1st January 2019
Happy New Year everybody. May it be healthy, happy and prosperous for each and every one of you. Four goals and three points today will certainly help on getting the middle one underway.
Sorry if this sounds a bit miserable but I’m not a massive fan of New Year’s Eve. The ‘once a year’ merchants tend to be numerous and can often go on to spoil it for those of us that go out most weeks just because they’ve had a couple of shandies. Harsh? Maybe. But you know what I mean.
Right up until about 11am yesterday morning, partly as a result of my feelings detailed above, I genuinely had no plans. But my sister was hosting a bit of a shindig back in Kent. Generally I don’t take too much persuading when it comes to such events. And my sister and her family can certainly party!
So a train journey later and I was in Kent. And turning in just before 5am was par for the course when it comes to my sister. Ouch.
Getting in a taxi just 4 hours later was painful. Very very in fact. But, New Years Day means football. Certainly most years. And I thanked my lucky stars we were at home.
A few pre-match liveners helped the nausea. Not big or clever I accept. But essential if I’m honest and had me at least feeling back on the straight and narrow for the game ahead.
It could be said we rode our luck a little in the first period. But I counted 5 clear cut openings for us and 3 for our visitors. On another day we might have been 2 or 3 up or 2 or 3 down. But Granit’s strike was enough to see us go in with a lead and something to build on.
Laca doubled that lead midway through the 2nd half after a fine passing move and we looked pretty much home and hosed. But with every 2 nil scoreline we all know the next goal can be hugely influential on the final result.
Fulham went hell for leather and without sounding too condescending, deserved to get something for their efforts, even if potentially there was a foul in the build up. But we stepped up a gear having conceded and went on to win the game fairly comfortably. Pleasing and on we go.
Blackpool away next in a fantastic FA Cup 3rd round example. Historical and mouthwatering, especially for all those neutrals out there hoping for a big upset. Focussed and professional we need to be in my opinion. And with that attitude we will progress.
If we are complacent however, history demonstrates, even with our great club, you can come unstuck.
Another road to Wembley begins.
Come on you mighty reds.