Sunday 28th February 2021
Other than possibly politicians, us football supporters have to be the most hypocritical people on the planet. We moan, groan and express our displeasure in many aspects including our manager’s decisions, players’ on pitch decisions and how, always with the benefit of hindsight of course, we should have done things differently. And on a day with a wonderful result, today is no different.
Yet, we do like to wallow in the glory of victory. Understandable? Of course. But do those same people admit that they were wrong? Rarely.
Since our late win on Thursday, rather than read Gooners being upbeat that we managed to come back from being a goal behind to reach the last sixteen, opinion has been weighted heavily in either criticism that we made mistakes or that some of our players are in desperate need of a rest.
Today Mikel made six changes, rested some of the very same players people had suggested and had the decency to then explain why when interviewed before the game. Yet many of those who wanted that then offered criticism bordering on abusive.
Not everyone is on Twitter I know, but if you are, take five minutes to go back and read the vast majority of the comments shortly after today’s team was announced. If you can see the funny side of life, you will find many of them amusing. But some take criticism, especially before a ball is kicked, into the offensive category for me. And it’s a side to our sport I absolutely despise. Opinion is one thing, and I’m glad I have enough long term Gooner mates and contacts where I very much respect theirs. But I’ve no time for those who appear to hate us more than offer support.
There was reason to lack confidence that the team picked would find things difficult. In fact more than one. I completely accept that. Firstly our hosts are in the top four for a reason. The league simply doesn’t lie. And secondly being knocked out by Slavia Prague on Thursday suggests that their priorities are very much in the league.
Couple that with some of our more consistent players in recent weeks being absent and more importantly perhaps some of those in the other category being given a start, the whole package makes a degree of negativity understandable. And yes, although I am probably more positive than most, I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence. But anything can happen in football, I trust and respect my manager’s decisions whatever my opinion and whoever crosses that white line with the cannon on their chest will get my full support. Surely that’s what its all about……
We couldn’t have made a worse start. Not just because we conceded so early but the fact, just like at Villa the other week, our defending was appalling. And for those most negative about the situation, not only did it feed their desire to criticise at every opportunity but it must have felt inevitable.
Unlike at Villa however, I felt both before and after going behind we were the better side. Dominating midfield and dangerous down both flanks it made it all the more frustrating poor defending had us behind when it was completely avoidable.
VAR is still making all the headlines week in week out as we know. But today, I think it got both situations correct. And for me, the fact it took until I saw a magnified replay at half time to agree that the first penalty shout should have been overturned probably emphasizes how difficult it is.
The disappointment could have seen us drop our heads but credit where credit is due we continued to press, probe and dominate. If our deserved equaliser was something off the training ground it was magnificent. But even if it wasn’t David’s run and header are worthy of a similar superlative. Back on level terms, it was almost time to start again. The promising side was just how sharp and determined we were looking.
The infringement for our penalty was an example of exactly what has (or hopefully should have) changed when it comes to handball decisions. Making yourself ‘bigger’ by putting your arms out or up is now a penalty. One that only ever used to be awarded in front of The Kop at Anfield or the Stretford End at Old Trafford. And I for one think the fact it is now awarded everywhere else is a good thing.
It certainly was today and Laca slotting home from the spot against a goalkeeper renowned for his ability when facing penalties provided as much relief as it did joy. Half time. Winning. Playing well. Lovely.
I think we all knew the second half could be different. It was unlikely our hosts would continue to sit back. So we needed to be strong, resolute and disciplined. And clinical on the break.
And our 3rd goal very much fell into that category. A fine sweeping move, attacking in numbers on the break and a tap in for Nico at the end of it. Get in you beauty.
There was a long long way to go of course but not only were we composed, we were dangerous when the time to attack was right, our hosts only looking threatening in the very latter stages of injury time.
Apart from our costly early defensive deficiencies we were magnificent today. Every single member of our matchday squad played their part when called upon. Some with what we’ve come to expect and more importantly others from players who have left us disappointed far too often this season. In fact I think, despite Mikel making a team selection decision that disappointed and angered so many, that was one of our very best performances of the season. Imagine that.
Three massive points. And a big big performance to boot.
The long trip north to Turf Moor comes next, a ground where our record is decent but we all know is also a place where every one of the points we have picked up has proved extremely difficult to earn.
Today was yet another example as to why I am and have never been close to being a football manager.
And that applies to you lot too 😉
A fine end to a good few days.
Up the mighty Arsenal.
I’m very aware it’s not big or clever but I have a hangover this morning. A proper thumper. One of those where I physically move my head and my brain catches up a moment later. But Auba’s late winner makes the pain a lot easier to handle.
Yesterday was my birthday. And it felt a little bit like a landmark day to me and a number of my best pals. This time last year I was celebrating my 50th you see. And the weekend and party we enjoyed was very much the last day we all spent together socially before Covid kicked in.
The boys, many of them having taken the afternoon off work, kindly set up a Zoom meeting. Nothing unusual there in these times but the fact it was from 1pm meant there was always a chance it might get a little bit ‘messy’. And looking at the resulting carnage in my kitchen this morning it appears that’s a fitting description.
I’ve mentioned before that Thursdays have become ‘our’ day as an Arsenal supporting group. A day where for home games we get to central London early and enjoy a pretty full on match build up together. Our ‘Thursday Club’ as it has become known. And even if we ignore the football, it has provided many a fantastic day as a result.
Not being in London for the game, having a beer with my mates through a computer screen and our ‘home’ leg taking place 2000 miles away in Athens is as good an example as any of these strange times. But saying that, the banter was still there and if the individual jostles in each of their homes was anything like mine when we grabbed our late winner, there is some similarity to the reaction the goal would have created had we been in Block 12.
Over the 2 legs, we deserved to go through I feel. But when Benfica made the most of Dani’s mistake to go ahead it seriously didn’t look like we would be progressing. KT’s thumping strike gave us hope and I remember looking at the on screen clock and seeing there was still plenty of time left to go on and get a winner. But that time ebbed away. And fast.
We still had the agony of a VAR check of course and it was tight enough to cause serious concern. But the bad luck of seeing a goal ruled out for an equally close call earlier in the half didn’t materialise again when it was crucial. And through we go.
In normal circumstances I would be researching travel options to the various destinations we could get in the last 16. But without needing to do that I doubt I’ll even watch today’s draw. Having beaten them twice already I guess Molde would be the pick of the potential ties.
Then it’s the extremely tough trip to Leicester on Sunday.
Right, where’s the paracetamol? ☹
Up the Gunners.
Sunday 21st February 2021
Sometimes you can devide a match into 15 minute periods. Roughly. In the 1st we went behind to a ridiculously soft, avoidable and ultimately crucial goal. And we could have been two or three goals behind and dead and buried.
In the middle fifteen nothing really happened, yet in the last third of the first half we got a foot in the game, started to create dangerous situations of our own and could have got back into it. If nothing else it gave us hope going into the break.
The second period saw very little happen. Great game control from Man City? Given the standard of the opposition quite probably. And it’s so easy to criticise our choice of tactics with the benefit of hindsight. After two minutes, if you would have offered me 1 nil with 15 minutes to go I would have bitten your hand off.
But I hoped in those latter stages we might have our visitors under a little bit of pressure. And that never happened.
Our poor start, or City’s excellent one, dictated the outcome of today’s match. And we were 2nd best all game.
I believe we are not a million miles away from competing with teams below Man City right now. But at that very summit we are simply miles away.
And tonight served as a reminder.
Our home Europa League leg comes next. In Athens. Absolutely ridiculous. I’m looking forward to it.
Up the Gunners!
Friday 19th February 2021
Let me take you back to a Sunday in February 28 years ago. Back then I played football. Not at a particularly high level but for a Sunday side that won leagues and cups as high as it could get in that format. On the morning of the League Cup Semi Final 1st Leg tie away at Crystal Palace I played in a cup match. My dad had kindly offered to drive me and 3 mates up to Selhurst Park immediately after the game had ended but time was a little bit ‘tight’.
In an extremely evenly fought match there was no score and extra time beckoned. But with moments to go I found myself through one on one with the keeper. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I waited for the keeper to react, picked my spot and could not have struck the ball any cleaner. I was convinced I’d done everything right and I’d buried it only to look up and see it clip the outside of the post.
My disappointment was big, but it was nothing compared to my dad and mates stood on the sideline in the freezing cold as they realised extra-time was now a reality!!
We made it up to Palace that day so all was well, supported of course by the fact we stormed to a 3-1 victory and had one foot in the final in a year crammed full of Wembley visits (5 to be exact!)
The reason for all this? Well, at that relatively low level of football I scored a lot of goals down the years. I was always confident in my ability to finish in front of goal and believe me I scored my fair share that also went in off my shinpad, my shoulder or my arse too! They all count 😊 But, I also missed a lot. Days where it felt like I couldn’t hit a barn door. Four attempts, four goals one week, ten attempts, no goals the next. It happens. At all levels.
And Auba had one of ‘those’ games last night.
Overall I was really pleased with our performance. We looked sharp, dominated possession, were tight and disciplined at the back, scored an excellent goal and created enough chances and dangerous situations to have comfortably taken a lead out of the first leg.
If one all saw us exit the competition I would have been desperately disappointed. But it is half time so it doesn’t. And with a similar performance in the second leg I am confident we will progress. It’s now down to us to make sure that happens as anything less and, just like last season, we will come unstuck.
Sunday is a tough one. Extremely. City simply could not be a in a better run of form and are proving they are the best team in the country right now by some distance.
But, anything can happen in 90 minutes and at our best we can get something from the game.
Come on you reds!
Monday 15th February 2021
……violets are blue, the Arsenal scored 4, Leeds only got 2.
I’m not sure if anybody else has used this very light hearted and easy Valentines based opening line but as far as I’m aware it is a totally accurate statement. Or it was when I turned in about midnight last night happy and more than merry. Apart from the violets bit. Surely they’re violet. But that doesn’t rhyme with two. So, just like the three points our Sunday yielded, I’ll take it.
We desperately needed a win yesterday. We could and arguably should have come out of our last three games with a decent haul of points. But we didn’t. And one out of nine has put a considerable dent in our hopes to grab a European spot for yet another year. But that chase is far from over and it was crucial we treated yesterday as the chance to get back on the rails.
Sunday football has been around for many years now. So it can hardly be described as detrimental to any routine these days. I like a Sunday roast. For me, it’s a dinner that’s right up there with the very best. But I like it as a treat, not something that becomes the norm. So if anything, us playing on many Sundays means the opportunities to enjoy that traditional lunch are rare enough to fall into that category. And that works for me.
Enjoying both the food and the Arsenal playing on the same day however, is simply not possible, especially if like me your football routine involves relatively lengthy travel even for home games. But, these are not normal times of course and consequently my pre-match beverages were accompanied by roast chicken and all the trimmings. It’s not the pub and banter with your mates and I’m certainly not claiming that but it was very pleasant indeed.
Leeds are a very dangerous opponent. I think that is fair to say. Their counter attacking almost cavalier style can produce chances and goals at any time in the game. I remember watching their match away at Leicester a few weeks back and thinking the fact the Foxes hadn’t scored more in the first half they were in a dangerous position. And Leeds came on strong as the game progressed as expected and went on to win the game.
To be four up just after half time was not only extremely satisfying but as the game progressed it demonstrated also just how important it was that we took the chances we either created or fell our way. And an Auba hat-trick was just what the doctor ordered both collectively and for him personally.
VAR was involved yet again of course and fortunately the process overturning the penalty we were awarded didn’t ultimately prove costly. And again in my opinion they got it wrong. It was a little bit ‘soft’ I guess but you have to ask the question could Bukayo have stayed on his feet when he was challenged? The answer is quite clearly no. And given he would have been through on goal had he not been fouled, it was a penalty. It didn’t prevent us from going on to win the game but that’s not the point. It could have done.
Would we have taken a 4-2 win before the game? Of course we would. So I’d rather take the positives of smashing in four goals from that than the negatives of conceding twice. It made for a memorable Valentines Day.
We should be looking forward to a nice little European jolly to the fantastic Portuguese city of Lisbon this week. Instead, after what seems an absolutely ridiculous decision logistically, strategically and morally, we get to watch our team on the telly take on Benfica in Rome this week and Athens next! Or Piraeus to be exact, ironically the last overseas destination and stadium we were officially allowed to attend a match in before Covid kicked in. Madness. But it is what it is I guess.
A win always makes Mondays better and that was the same today. And Thursday will soon come around.
Up the mighty Gunners.
Saturday 6th February 2021
Eliminating mistakes could not have been more emphasised than this week. Whatever we feel about the ridiculous, wrong and arguably crooked decision to send off David Luis on Tuesday, we switched off at a time where we could have easily and comfortably seen the half out to go in with the lead our fantastic performance deserved. And it cost us the lead and ultimately the game.
And today, a ridiculously sloppy error in the opening moments not only gave our hosts a one goal lead but meant any planned tactics went out of the window. And again it proved totally costly.
We were poor today overall. Not the worst I’ve seen us play. But we certainly appeared to never recover from the disaster in the opening seconds. We had our moments, in particular in the 2nd half, we dominated large chunks, and with a bit more luck and certainly a bit more composure it could have been a different result. And as long as I’ve got a hole in my backside, that was 100% a penalty when Martinez hauled Laca to the floor. Refereeing decisions going against the Arsenal, there’s a shock.
Goals mean so so much. Obvious I know. But the lift the opening goal gave our hosts cannot be over estimated. And I have to say, had we equalised, I would have fancied us to go on and win it.
Villa had something to defend and they did that well by a combination of determination, discipline and every timewasting trick in the book. Those tricks that players know and understand yet the referees still don’t. I can’t be bothered to list the examples. They are too numerous.
But for me the most annoying and frustrating thing of all is the fact we handed them that opportunity in the opening minutes with a totally avoidable glaring mistake.
I genuinely believe we are a better team than Aston Villa. And Wolves too. But you have to earn that right by not making mistakes and making the most of the positive situations you create. Twice this week we haven’t done either and have been punished.
But, all in all, we were not good enough today.
The season doesn’t end now but we have no room for any more errors I would say.
Leeds at home is next.
Tuesday 2nd February 2021
Disappointment after watching my team is something I have experienced many times. Hundreds in fact. But it is a long long time since I’ve felt so much frustration and anger than tonight. There is so much of tonight’s performance to be pleased about. And yet we sit here with nothing for our efforts.
Firstly the facts. We were magnificent in the first half. Smashed the post in an early period that could and should have seen us out of sight, millimetres from taking the lead when VAR ruled out a potential opener, dominating the game all over the pitch and eventually going deservedly ahead with Nico’s fine finish.
In additional time on top of injury time, David got caught and as he chased back the Wolves player went down in the box, our defender was sent off, the resulting penalty was scored and it was one all.
Early in the second period the Wolves player smashed one in from 30 yards, Bernd made a silly mistake just to rub salt into the gaping wound and that was that.
Now for my opinion. There are people out there who will think this is sour grapes. I am angry and stand by my opinion I’m afraid but I certainly have nothing against Wolves for the defeat. So sour grapes it certainly is not.
We should have been more than one up in the first period, that there can be no argument. But we were so so close. The width of a post. The length of a toe in an offside. You get days like that. I have no complaints at the way we played. In fact we were magnificent.
Injury time is sometimes extended. When there are further stoppages in play for example. Tonight there were 2 minutes. And no stoppages. With the ball in play in the centre of the pitch time was up. But the referee chose to keep playing. Crucial? Needs an explanation? You bet.
David Luiz got caught with the through ball. It was a mistake. It happens. And whilst chasing the forward the bottom of the attacker’s foot struck our defender’s knee. Accidental? Yes. Penalty? There is no other option than to award just that. So as disappointing as it was I have no problem with it being given.
I have been reliably informed that so there isn’t a triple punishment of a penalty, a red card and a suspension, the law has been changed. Players committing an ‘accidental’ foul that denies a goal scoring opportunity are not automatically sent off but cautioned instead.
So, the referee made a mistake. Fine, it happens. But VAR has been brought in so that any error can be corrected. Show me a replay that suggests that foul was intentional. Anywhere. Or just take a look at the still taken from the TV coverage below. Not a red card. Simple. But the referee and the VAR people will go home tonight having taken their wages with no criticism or anything to answer for as to why they got it so wrong with a decision so massive that it pretty much determined the outcome of the game.
Please don’t start to suggest it wasn’t the moment where the game changed. Yes, it was a penalty and yes, it meant the teams were level. But there was absolutely nothing about that first half that anyone can suggest meant we would not have gone on to probably win that game tonight. We were excellent as I have already said. And I strongly believe that dominance would have continued with eleven v eleven.
Sometimes in life, we all have days where absolutely everything seems to go against you. And tonight well and truly falls into that category.
Criticism of a poor performance getting the result it deserved is one thing. But you won’t get that from me tonight.
We need to take our first half, eleven v eleven performance to Villa Park on Saturday lunchtime and start again.
On we go.
Sunday 31st January 2021
For all those who have chosen to take it on, ‘dry January’ comes to a close today. We all know what that means I think, but if there is anybody out there reading this that doesn’t, I can assure you it’s absolutely nothing to do with the weather. And if it was it would be extremely inaccurate!
I decided to sleep on yesterday’s match before writing my thoughts. Not for any particular reason but between the latest batch of heavy showers this morning I have been for a lengthy walk to get some fresh air. I did consider giving the ales a miss for a month believe me. Not for very long if I’m honest with myself but the clincher was knowing we had lots of games! The situation dictates I have given up everything football throws up in my world, so giving up that as well borders on cruelty.
Consequently yesterday was accompanied by a few beers pre and post match with some of my mates (if a Zoom call can be classed as that) and this morning’s seaside stroll has me ‘back in the game’.
Overall I think there are lots of positives to take out of the game, even if there is always a little bit of disappointment when you don’t come away with all three points.
Before a ball was kicked, like all of us it seems, I was slightly concerned. Why? Well, when you are playing one of the top sides, three of your most consistent players being absent will always drum up those kinds of thoughts.
Looking at the chances both sides created I believe a draw is a fair result. We could have won it of course, great chances for Willian, Nico and ESR spring to mind as well as Laca’s magnificent free kick being less than an inch from bouncing in of the bar rather that out to safety. But, Bernd made a couple of good saves too and Cavani could have won it for the visitors, in particular late on.
Defeat would have been cruel I feel given how well we played, in particular in the second half. There were numerous periods of domination and every player certainly put in a shift. But summarising this Sunday afternoon, it is difficult to suggest anything other than a draw was deserved.
So we’ll take another clean sheet and a point and move forward. And that means another tough trip, this time to Wolverhampton.
It’s raining again, bring on the Spring. For so many reasons.
Up the mighty Gunners.
Wednesday 27th January 2020
Mikel’s press conference where he emphasizes and confirms a number of players were not available for Saturday’s FA Cup defeat is definitely a reaction to the amount of negative press he received over that game. Because all us ‘pundits’ know the situation you see. We know everyone was fit and available. We know that those decisions were made out of choice rather than necessity. We simply know better. And that includes you, me, Bryan from Coventry on Facebook, Mohammed from Karachi on Twitter, Mario from Milan on Tik Tok or, despite them thinking otherwise, every single journalist and ‘expert’ out there.
Opinion is one thing, but when criticism is based on knowledge that we simply don’t have it is rarely fair.
On the other hand if it brings on a little bit of controlled ‘fighting talk’ from our manager, I don’t personally think that is a bad thing. And from minute one last night his players represented that potential frustration extremely well.
These midweek evening games we are still watching at home have started to produce a repetitive pre-match for me, one that hasn’t been there perhaps during previous months. My kitchen has a kind of breakfast bar area if you like, with a couple of adjacent stalls. Throw in the fact I have always enjoyed cooking I have found myself knocking up and consuiming the evening dinner, with a few ales on the bar, whilst enjoying the build up on a Zoom call with a number of my fantastic Gooner mates. It might not be the watering hole we would all rather be in as we look forward to the match ahead, but at least it provides the ‘banter’ that is oh so important.
Genuine people with similar views, opinions, humour and that support of The Arsenal and we have all become much closer as a result. Hugely important for me and perhaps the only positive to come out of these dreadful few months.
I mentioned the first minute of the game above and we could and I’m sure Laca will agree should have gone one up. With so many games being decided by the odd goal (including Saturday) I already had my head in my hands hoping and praying that wouldn’t end up being costly. And when Nico lost his concentration at a Southampton corner moments later and the man he should have picked up smashed the ball home even more so. Total disaster.
There is no doubt we looked threatening though and that didn’t change after going behind and if Nico’s error was disappointing, he certainly made up for it when he held off the two defenders and slotted home to equalise. Game on.
Bukayo Saka is 19 years old. And he is getting better and better with every game. His strength, balance, poise, decision making, passing and finishing are improving all the time. We should be proud he is one of our own, hope his almost frightening talent continues to blossom and he goes on to have a long and successful career at our club. And his performance and contribution last night was the latest example.
As the half rolled on, his intelligent run was brilliantly found by Laca and his calmness and confidence when finishing was a joy to behold. Get in, happy days.
Leading at half time is fantastic of course but there was so much more work to be done if we were to come away with three points against a team who have constantly proved they are a difficult opponent this season. And work is exactly what we did.
Cedric had another fine game despite playing out of position, he nearly scored in the 1st period and his cross field pass to Saka that led to our all important third goal was quite magnificent. Bukayo provided the inch perfect cross (of course he did!) and Laca topped his own personal impressively hard working and influential performance by tapping home at the far post. Fantastic, that will do very nicely. And it meant the post match ‘banter’ on the Zoom call was even more upbeat as you can imagine. A thoroughly enjoyable Tuesday night’s work.
Manchester United come to London N5 next and despite what we might think about their quality, they arrive flying high in this strange old Premier League season. If a win wasn’t absolutely crucial last night I believe Mikel might not have taken the risk with one or two of the players out there. And seeing them depart early means we definitely have worries going into Saturday evening. Hopefully the decision to take them off was one of caution and nothing else. With the current run of games, the more of our squad that is available the better chance we have of picking up more points. And there’s an obvious statement if ever I saw one!
Enjoy the rest of the week Gooners.
Saturday 23rd January 2021
Our grip on the FA Cup will be gone come the end of this season’s campaign then. And given how we played for the first hour this afternoon, we can’t really be shocked. Very disappointing. Probably exaggerated even further because of our love for this great competition.
My hatred and frustration at losing today is big of course It always is. But I do stand by my thoughts the fact one of the biggest clubs in this country were ordered to play their youth team in the last round has taken the integrity out of the competition anyway. And the lack of any replays too. So if we are to not win it in any of the recent seasons I would rather it was this one.
There is a huge argument as to what decision our manager should make when it comes to team selection for each game. And I’m not sure where I sit personally with that debate.
Winning the FA Cup is huge for me. So I would like us to put out our strongest side to try and win the game. And although I think that changes depending on who our opponents are or if we are playing home or away, that view includes today. And when I saw our hosts were playing their very strongest side, our numerous changes worried me.
It would be hypocritical for me to hugely criticise making changes when we have done that so many times over the the last few years yet still managed to win it 4 times though. Expressing dissatisfaction is so easy when it doesn’t work, yet it has on numerous occasions previously and we conveniently choose to forget that. But when our last game was Monday I’m very disappointed we didn’t approach the game in what I feel was the correct way. Do the players in the best form really need or want a rest? I have my doubts.
As far as the game is concerned, Gabby missed a great chance from a free kick with our one decent moment in the first period and the goal we conceded was extremely unlucky when the cross that came in could have gone anywhere. Going behind however, doesn’t hide from the fact we were very poor. Sluggish and second best all over the pitch, the players given the chance to impress were extremely disappointing.
We were better in the second half, especially in the last half an hour when we changed our shape to try and stay in the competition but it was a bit ‘too little too late’.
We did create chances. But the players out there failed to make them count. And as a result they failed to take the opportunity Mikel gave them. And, whilst I admire our manager’s trust in those players’ ability and giving them opportunities accordingly, today it has cost us a place in the 5th round.
Annoying but it is what it is. The problem is, depending on your view, even if we win on Tuesday, was it worth ‘sacrificing’ the FA Cup for that?
And having been knocked out, the pressure to get a result is now even more enormous.
A disappointing day in the FA Cup then. Not often we say that.
Arsenal til we die.