Thursday 28th August
Looking at all our previous Champions League qualifiers we can all be forgiven for remembering them as relatively easy obstacles to overcome (although those of us who went to Udinese know how tough a trip that was!!) Previous results and matches however, mean absolutely nothing when the next one comes along. After 180 minutes or so, just the one goal sees a team go through. Fortunately it was not only the one that deserved it most but it was us. Altogether now, “We’re all going on a European Tour…..again…..a European Tour…..again!”
Pre-match nerves are not always present. Often, yes, but not always. Last night however, we knew if we didn’t get it right there was every chance we would get punished. And that was enough to have those jittery emotions there in the build up to the game.
We started the game well I thought, looked sharp, slick and holding our shape extremely well on the odd occasion where our visitors looked to come forward. I can remember chances falling to Jack, Alexis and Santi during that period but the fact they didn’t go in kinda set the tone for the rest of the night. With time running out in the first half we scored that all important match winning goal and a good one it was too (not that that matters!). A slick move on the edge of the box and Alexis slotted home to open his Gooner account.
Looking all ok at half time then but thoughts that an equaliser would knock us out didn’t help those nerves!!
Like many of us followers of the beautiful game I am a programme collector. In fact I tend to hoard everything and anything connected with the mighty Gooners! Looking through a Daily Telegraph article a few days ago, from December 1968 we had just overcome that lot from down the road in a two legged League Cup Semi Final, securing a one all draw at their place after winning one-nil at Highbury.
“In the 26th minute, goalscoring hero John Radford kicked the ball away as players were arguing about a free-kick. He followed the ball out towards the touchline and was pushed by Cyril Knowles. Radford retaliated by swinging a punch at Knowles’ jaw. Alan Mullery rushed over on a peace-making errand and for his pains Radford hit him as well!”
The penalty for this unsavoury but hugely amusing incident……Radders was ‘admonished’ apparently. As far as I’m aware that means the referee ‘gave him a piece of his mind!’ or ‘a damn good telling off’!
For what reason is any of this relevant to last night I hear you ask. Well, does anybody think last night’s big game was a dirty affair? Does anyone remember anything really bad happening? Do we not think it was 2 teams just battling it out for the right to play in Europe’s most prestigious competition? Last night’s referee managed to give out 9 yellows and a red. How is that right? And having seen the replay of the second yellow for Mat Debuchy it wasn’t even close to being a foul let alone a yellow but that is one example of many ridiculous situations. An absolute joke in my opinion and I’m so glad in the end it didn’t prove costly.
Keeping our shape was crucial last night I feel and I thought by and large we did this superbly. We were as good when we didn’t have the ball as we were when we did. Only numerous missed chances in the second half made it as close as it was, the last 10 minutes or so shredding those already slightly frayed nerves. Overall however, we played well I felt, we were very professional throughout (despite the ref suggesting otherwise) and ultimately we are through. Job done. Very very pleased.
Cup draws are in the news too of course starting with last night’s pairing with Southampton in the League Cup. A home draw is positive of course although having to face a fellow Premier League side hardly makes it easy! I can see it being nothing less than a tough test. I’ve given up on the chance of getting one of those interesting away draws like Burton, MK Dons, Shrewsbury or my choice out of the hat in Bournemouth. They just never seem to happen for us!
Later today we will find out who we will face over the coming months and will determine the destinations of our next three Euro jollies. I’m sure we all do it but I have made it tradition through this blog to write my chosen destinations so I will do that again this time round. 2 new cities plus 1 new ground sit in pot 2, Basel would be destination of choice, whilst 1 new city but 3 new grounds in pot 3 have me wanting Sporting Lisbon. Pot 4 I have more of a chance, 6 of the grounds I haven’t been to but I’ll go for Malmo I think (although Cyprus in September sounds quite appealing!). I bet we get Roma from that pot!
The news about Olly’s injury is extremely frustrating and disappointing but we have to get on with it for a few months without him. Back in 1970 we played Everton in our first game away from home. Charlie George broke a bone in his ankle and we drew 2-2. He returned after Christmas and we went on to do the double. I’m a big fan of omens 😉
See you in Leicester boys and girls.
Tuesday 26th August 2014
Walking back to the car on Saturday evening the Everton fans around us looked absolutely shellshocked. Understandably so of course but it did demonstrate how even the way a game goes can determine our emotions whether that changes the result or not. To us it felt almost like a victory, yet had we let a two goal lead slip late on it would have felt completely the opposite, despite the result being exactly the same. As we set off on our journey that morning we all agreed we would take a point. Given the way the game went we were even more happy with achieving just that as we travelled back south!
The M6 might be the longest motorway in the country but I can’t be the only one that hates using it! Some roads have got busier down the years but this one seems to have been ridiculously ‘stop start’ as far back as I remember. So the journey on Saturday being just that should not have come as a major shock! Fortunately we always try and allow for delays by leaving nice and early so a couple of jars of pre-match refreshment in our usual haunt had us heading for the away end in good spirits.
Goodison Park definitely falls into that ‘traditional’ category when it comes to stadia and our section is included in that description. With posts holding the roof up the viewing isn’t great from the upper tier and if my memory serves me right the lower is possibly even worse!
I felt we started the game quite well but 2 more soft goals being conceded is a little worrying, even if the second one was clearly offside. It certainly made the half time atmosphere one of frustration and disappointment. Mr Wenger could obviously see the tactics in the first half had not really worked and unusually he made a change that was to prove hugely significant at half time, Olly coming on and almost immediately getting us back in the game with a volley if he hadn’t caught quite as sweet as he did may well have hit the back of the net.
Time seemed to be flying by however and a come back was looking less and less likely. Rambo’s typical run into the box saw him nudge home Santi’s cross however, we were back in it.
I have always been a fan of a ‘jostle’ when we score. They come from days standing on the terraces of Highbury. Both important and in particular late goals add an extra vigour to such occasions and Olly’s fine header saw a fine example ensue. Undertaking these in today’s seated areas does have its pitfuls, mainly the minor injuries that can result from the general leaping about with joy. They seem a small price to pay however, when you have just equalised late on when it looked so unlikely. A point from a tough tough game, we’ll have that.
On an extremely bumpy pitch in a white hot atmosphere last week’s draw in Istanbul looks a decent result. Just how good it was however, will be determined by how we do in Wednesday’s second leg. We know our visitors will be up for it both on and off the pitch. Its up to us to make sure we are too.
Come on you mighty reds!
Wednesday 20th August 2014
Catching an early flight from Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport is not easy when the game ends so late the previous night, especially if you have enjoyed some of the ‘aspects’ usually associated with following our team overseas. Apart from feeling a little washed out I feel relatively ok on this occasion for reasons to be revealed below.
The combination of an extremely good hotel deal and the fact I have been lucky enough to do the tourist thing twice before in what is an incredibly fascinating city has seen me staying quite a distance from all of Istanbul’s main sights. Being located nearer both the stadium and the airport seemed a good idea at the time, especially with difficult transport links to the former and my early return flight.
The main reason it has been a great decision however, is down to the service I have been given by my hotel in what has proved to be a difficult couple of days for me personally.
I don’t mind admitting I like an occasional kebab and in true British style, those I have consumed down the years have usually been late at night after a few beers. Not the healthiest thing to do but I’m not the first and certainly won’t be the last!
After Sunday’s travel I headed into the Taksim Square area of the city, joining some fellow travelling Gooners for some light refreshment. A few beers later and I decided to call it a night, only stopping for a bit of tucker before taking a taxi back to my hotel.
You will never see more kebab shops than in Istanbul, be they in tourist areas or the not so visited by outsiders. They are everywhere and always busy. In my previous visits I have sampled examples of various shapes, colours and content and have never experienced any ‘issues’.
Waking in the middle of Sunday night however, with the kind of stomach cramps where you definitely know what is coming, my choice of late night munchies was looking decidedly dodgy!
Without going into too much detail I spent pretty much all of Monday and Tuesday in bed going through all the horrific symptoms only food poisoning can give you. Not something in the plans or want to go through again if I can help it.
Come early Tuesday evening it was time to get to the Ataturk Olympic Stadium and as you might expect it wasn’t something I was exactly looking forward to!
Chucking water down my throat as if it was going out of fashion however, to the stadium I went and fortunately I started to feel a little bit more stable once I arrived.
Passionate is an understatement when it comes to Turkish football fans so the build up to kick-off being colourful and noisy was no more than we expected. A white hot atmosphere on a warm, breezy night on a bumpy pitch all making up a difficult hurdle to overcome.
The Gooners present from all over the globe did their utmost to get behind the team on what was to be a tough old night.
With both sides enjoying chances and Mikel and Rambo being forced to leave the field for differing reasons I think overall it was just about a fair result. It certainly gives us a good chance of qualifying from the second leg if we put in a good performance.
Everton await next in another extremely tough early season fixture.
For now boarding time approaches. I do hope the in flight meal is not a kebab.
Monday 18th August 2014
The fact I enjoy a pint has never been a secret! Having a bit of a fat head on a Monday morning is not necessarily something to be proud of but as I write these thoughts in the quite incredible city of Istanbul I can’t help but reflect on the number of different cities and countries where recovering from such a feeling has been necessary in pursuit of the mighty Gooners!
There is of course a big sense of deja vu given we were here only 12 months ago and surely I can be forgiven for celebrating the fact our first three points of the season are well and truly in the bag.
My Luton airport flight departure time on Sunday meant when I left my house early on Saturday morning I wouldn’t be returning until Wednesday so even for our very first home game of the season my tried and tested routine was a little different to the norm.
We all love the opening day I think but anyone who thought it would be a comfortable victory was a little foolish I feel. Palace had very few players away during the Summer, any Tony Pulis side are difficult to beat (I say that as his departure only happened very near to the game) and the new additions to our squad, 3 if which were in the starting eleven, have all had only a very small amount of time to integrate into the team.
When you do not have the BFG, Olly or Abou in the side we look very small. Talented, but small. Especially when up against a very big Crystal Palace side. We knew we would enjoy plenty of possession but it was crucial we turned that into goals. At some stage our visitors would find themselves with a set piece. And given the nature of the goals we let in pre-season against New York, Benfica and Monaco, that was always going to worry me all the time we hadn’t taken the lead.
Football is incredibly unpredictable and inconsistent however, and just as Palace taking the lead in the manner that they did felt kind of inevitable, the fact we equalised from a similar dead ball situation proves height is not the only important aspect! A crucial goal at a very important time had us all a little bit more upbeat as we enjoyed our half time refreshment.
Patience is important when enjoying so much possession but as the minutes flew by it looked like it wasn’t going to be our day. Deep into injury time however, Rambo tapped home and London N5 erupted with relief as much as joy. Three points from a relatively disjointed performance on the day. That will do.
For me there is nothing remotely enjoyable about flying. Checking in, queues to be physically groped at security, sitting in a departure lounge, crammed into an uncomfortable aeroplane, in flight ‘meals’, turbulence, passport control queues, luggage conveyer belts etc etc really don’t float my boat. The sooner someone invents time travel the better! But it is all part of following our team over land and sea and consequently all that discomfort sees me on the very edge of Europe for Tuesday’s absolutely crucial first leg against Besiktas.
Twice we have been in this part of the world in recent years and both times we achieved excellent results.
More if the same would be perfect please.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Monday 11th August 2014
Be it scrabble, a pub quiz or even buckaroo I am competitive and want to win. Not at all costs, but I certainly don’t like losing. For that reason alone I wanted to win on Sunday. And a fine victory in any situation looks far better than getting spanked. Yesterday us Gooners enjoyed another fine day out at Wembley, it is as simple as that.
We have enjoyed a great Summer weather wise or I certainly have in my part of the country but with the slightly over emphasized remains of a hurricane due to hit on Sunday morning we all awoke expecting it to be potentially difficult to reach north west London for this country’s traditional season opener. Yes, it was a bit windy and yes at times it was a bit wet but without all the reports of how horrific it could be would we have really noticed? I don’t think so!
Consequently we reached our chosen venue for pre-match activities without fuss and it was time to enjoy the day, one graced with a totally different set of emotions than our previous two visits. Relaxation was the order of the day, a time to enjoy an afternoon at our national stadium without any fears, pressure or nerves. Of course, there was a trophy to play for and it is a recognised first class fixture so despite the fact it is thought by many to be a pre-season friendly it is more than nice to have another piece of silverware on the shelf.
With the weather improving it was a sundrenched Wembley Way we walked down and similarly to when we played Wigan in the semi-final, it was extremely obvious that we heavily outnumbered those supporting our opponents. It was the same both in Beijing and Helsinki in our recent pre-season encounters. Much has been said about that situation but to see so many empty seats at the other end of the stadium was surprising and dare I say embarrassing for what we are all led to believe is such a massive club. Not only that but those seats could have been offered to us, as when we played Wigan and this adds ‘disappointing’ to those words I have already used. Transport issues have been offered as an ‘excuse’ but I know many Gooners who travelled from all over the country on Sunday without complaint. If we had played Man Utd, Liverpool or indeed Everton would there have been so many empty seats? I am convinced the answer to that is ‘no’.
With our end a complete sell out of course, we all hoped it would be a day to enjoy, one crucial to out fitness levels and injury free. The situation remains to be seen on the latter, the benefits in the middle are plainly obvious, a good confident display and victory would make sure the former’s target would be reached.
We are started the game extremely well, looking dangerous, fast and fit as we dominated the half, Santi and Rambo providing two fine finishes to give us the lead our first half performance deserved. Thoroughly pleasing and entertaining and putting us well and truly in the driving seat when it came to trying to win the trophy. The next goal for me would be crucial and despite City showing a little bit more attacking intent early in the second period Olly’s absolute cracker pretty much tied things up. The whole of the massed red and white army doing the ‘Poznan’, might have been a bit obvious but it was amusing and a quite incredible sight. It was only a shame there were so few City fans there to see it.
Despite tiring a little as the game went on, we defended extremely well, the 3 nil scoreline impressive and hugely pleasing for all us Gooners. Those famous steps were climbed for the second time in recent months and Mikel held the shield high with pride. Lovely.
This week has seen Tommy Vermaelen move on to pastures new and we all of course, wish him all the best. Having struggled to break in to the starting eleven last season he has been truly professional and acted with the utmost dignity throughout. Not something that can be said for all our departing players in recent years. As always however, we must look to the future and all our new players looked to have fitted in extremely well.
So, another pre-season comes to a close and we all look forward to the visit of Crystal Palace on Saturday evening. This time last year Aston Villa came and that can serve as nothing less than a warning as to how we must be at our very best on the day. We are right to be optimistic. The time has come to prove the reason why.
Come on you mighty reds!
Thursday 7th August 2014
Ground hopping has always been a very popular pastime amongst not just us sport followers but fans of subjects such as architecture and history too. An interest I have definitely enjoyed in the past I often found myself at the likes of Halifax, Bury, Torquay and the like on weekends when we didn’t have a game. Going with a few mates and taking in the town’s night time activities gave us all another reason to make the journeys.
The number of trips have definitely waned as time has gone on but whenever an ‘Arsenal XI’ fixture arises at a stadium I have not visited before I do try and make an appearance, work etc. permitting.
Forest Green Rovers away on Tuesday night very much fell into that category and consequently it was an opportunity too good to miss. As a result, fellow Gooner Tom and I set off lunchtime for the drive across country and into deepest Gloucestershire, a county I’m not sure we have ever played in before (although I am happy to be corrected if anyone knows otherwise.)
Although I have been lucky enough to visit a huge number of places all over these wonderful British shores, the small village/town of Nailsworth on the outskirts of Stroud is definitely not one of them. The journey as we approached was picturesque and quite obviously steeped in history. Our requirements were simple, some light refreshment before watching the game……but it would be wrong if we didn’t admit this to be more difficult than hoped. Having walked through the simple town centre we stumbled across a pub, not only graced with a number of food adverts but all the tables had cutlery laid out. Perfect we thought.
Barmaid, “Good afternoon lads, what can I get you?”
Me, “2 pints of your finest please.”
Barmaid, “No problem, anything else?”
Me, “Yes, we’d like to order some food please.”
Barmaid, “Oh no sir, we don’t do food.”
I can only assume the signs and cutlery had been there a very long time and nobody had noticed!
Another highly amusing conversation occurred during our short stay,
FGR fan having literally bounded over to the bar, “Alright lads, you hear for the game?”
Tom trying hard not to suggest the clue was in the shirts we were wearing, “Yes mate…..confident for your new season?”
FGR fan, “Oh yes, very. I think we have a strong chance of getting promoted this year.”
FGR fan’s girlfriend who had just joined him, “Don’t be ridiculous, you always get your hopes up, we’ve got no chance!”
The local chippy having satisfied the hunger pangs our first choice failed to, we headed up to The New Lawn Stadium, the venue for the evening’s main event. And this was not your ‘regular’ stadium! Owned and bankrolled by the local ‘green’ company the first thing we noticed was electrical charge points in the car park. A closer look of the stadium info revealed many other facts, none of which we are likely to have seen at another stadium. Looking out for lizards in the grass was probably the most obscure. And no, we didn’t see any!
Only built a short time ago the stadium was new, comfortable and functional and having got over the shock of so many people queuing for falafel we took or seats in the main stand, after Tom got a picture with the mascot of course. Hearing a 7ft green thing (devil from what I’ve been told) described how Frazer Campbell had destroyed them for Crystal Palace in their previous pre-season outing was amusing and almost surreal, especially with his ‘colourful’ language and local accent!
Gedion Zalalem and Chuba Akpom were amongst the players warming up as we took our seats and it was obvious many ‘local’ (and some not so local) Gooners had made the trip as they gathered behind the goal.
All you can hope for in these games I feel is for anything but a nil nil bore draw. Just some entertaining football and a few goals would be nice having made the journey. Well, we certainly got that! The defensive side to the game wasn’t at its very best of course but to see 10 goals in a 6-4 victory was hugely welcome and entertaining. Some of the football was extremely pleasing on the eye and there was some fine goals too. Not only that but I’m pretty sure that is a scoreline I have never witnessed before!
A thoroughly enjoyable evening then and getting home in the early hours of Wednesday morning our thoughts turned to our 3rd day out at Wembley in recent months as we take on Man City in our last pre-season ‘friendly’ of the year. A trophy is there to be won of course and we all want to win it. Keeping our players fit is paramount before the real stuff starts next week.
Tomorrow we will know who stands in our way of yet another year of Champions League football. I have visited 4 or the 5 cities but have only seen us play in one of the stadia, that one being a couple of trips to Liege. I would love to go to Bilbao but that would arguably be the toughest draw and as much as I like Istanbul as a city Besiktas is probably the last I would choose on this occasion.
For now I will place my pin in the UK map I have on my wall showing all the grounds I have visited watching the mighty Gooners. Yellow for friendlies, red for first class fixtures of course! Tomorrow will determine if I get the opportunity to place a new pin on my European map on the other wall!
See you at Wembley.
Sunday August 3rd 2014
The fact so many non regulars want and more importantly can afford to go to the Emirates Cup is absolutely fantastic. The fact however, so many season ticket holders and home and away stalwarts choose to avoid the weekend probably sums up the way most view it’s importance and relevance.
For me I see it as a great opportunity to visit our home with a totally different routine and set of emotions. And that is all. Of course we are all very competitive but I put as much importance on our defeat to Monaco as I do our victory over Benfica.
Club Level is not an area of our home ground where the majority of us either get or choose to view home matches. With the lower priced tickets for this round of friendlies however, I choose to take in this experience over this weekend. Some of my fellow Gooner friends join me of course but the majority of the seats around me are taken by people I have never seen before.
We are all guilty of making silly comments in the heat of passion and emotion but when you sit with the same faces week in week out these become so consistent that they are like water off a duck’s back, often becoming amusing at times.
Our defeat to Monaco wasn’t the greatest of games of course but remembering it is a friendly where every single moment is important to our pre-season preparation should be considered above all else.
Our marking at the set piece was poor. Very poor but of the many comments I heard today, one stood out. “Another season, same old shite!”. I assume this is the ‘same old shite’ we witnessed back in May. Amazing.
Saturday we saw a few goals for our day out and overall it has been a sundrenched weekend to enjoy.
Tuesday I am off to Stroud in Gloucestershire to watch an Arsenal XI take on Forest Green Rovers, not for any other reason than I have never been or seen us play there.
Rubbish we are, rubbish! 🙂