Thursday 27th November 2014
We all hoped that come game six of our group we would be making our latest visit to Istanbul when the game is largely irrelevant. With half an hour to go against Anderlecht a few weeks ago that situation looked highly likely. Given what happened that night and our recent run of results however, we couldn’t help but go into last night’s encounter with Borussia Dortmund wondering if we could still slip up. Without a better performance I don’t think there is any doubt we could have!
A misty and murky London N5 greeted our arrival pre-match, considerably clearer than many parts for any of us who had travelled from outside of London believe me! The fog was that thick in some areas we could be forgiven for thinking the game might be off! With it being relatively mild, very little breeze and some moisture in the air, the mist did not take away the fact it was an atmospheric and perfect night for football. All we needed was our team to prove just that.
With our friends from Germany being as noisy and colourful as ever we could not have asked for a better start. A fine one-two between Santi and Yaya before the latter buried the chance to get us on our way. The joy around the stadium was definitely graced with a degree of relief, any nerves being eased a little to the bargain.
Easy to say this when you are winning of course but lessons learned from Saturday were hugely apparent for the rest of the night. Our visitors were typically and expectedly good with the ball but we kept our defensive shape extremely well and always looked threatening going forward. Perhaps demonstrating how fragile any lead can be, no matter how well you play, Dortmund did have a couple of chances but only 2 throughout, one of those being in injury time when the game was virtually over as a contest. Both times, in addition to his handling being safe and secure all night, our young goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez made fine stops.
The Ox put in another fine performance I felt, matching his current form and only the crossbar prevented him from wacking the icing on the cake from a quite superb long range effort. Naturally coming so close can have us all wondering if yet again it might not be our night!
Alexis soon eased those fears of course with another quite superb strike from outside the box. Happy faces all round at last. It certainly feels like a while since we’ve seen those.
I was also very pleased for Nacho Monreal last night. Playing totally out of position yet again he has found himself a little bit of a scapegoat in recent weeks when there are plenty of others out there than have contributed to some poor results. I thought he was excellent in an all round much more pleasing team performance. If only the ‘injury Gods’ could be just a little bit kinder to us we might see what this current squad is capable of.
So, yet again, we progress from our Champions League Group. It hasn’t been totally plain sailing of course but we are through. Although looking unlikely now, we still have an outside chance of winning the group. With a victory for us in Turkey and Anderlecht in Dortmund the only way this can happen, the odds are heavily stacked against this being the situation. But we are through and that is the main thing. We can forget about the competition until February.
Premier League points are now the number one priority with a hugely important run of games as we head towards that busy Christmas period. That starts with Saturday lunchtime’s visit to The Hawthorns.
Lets make some noise!
Tuesday 25th November 2014
Did we get our tactics totally wrong on Saturday evening? I’m genuinely not sure we did. Even after gathering my thoughts I am finding it very difficult to be angry or disappointed by the way we played, especially in the first hour. The fact still remains however, whatever way we look at the game, we conceded two goals yet again and came away with absolutely nothing for our efforts.
I’m not a huge fan of international breaks, certainly on the football front. But for aspects away from the beautiful game they come in quite handy a times. Especially I feel after a defeat so on this occasion it was very welcome. The majority of our players enjoyed a successful time away with their respective national squads and it was pleasing to see them all return without any serious injuries.
Of all the TV dictated kick-off times (as long as it doesn’t put you in the doghouse over any previously planned Saturday night activities) I quite like the 5.30pm option. For me the fact you have far more time to enjoy the various pre-match activities available seems to make the day a little bit more relaxing. Kick-off arrives in darkness this time of year too and I do agree with those who suggest there always seems to be a better atmosphere ‘under the lights’.
In relatively recent times just before hugely rich individuals from around the world started chucking their money at clubs in an attempt to buy success, both Man Utd and us were the two most successful clubs in the country. A fixture that has always been attractive, that rivalry had reached massive heights over that time. Still there but arguably not quite as intense these days, it all added to the eager anticipation as kick-off approached.
Given we like many clubs have endured a ‘sticky’ first part to the season, many looked at the game as one where we very much had something to prove.
As mentioned above, for the first hour or so I thought we were excellent. Our passing was good, our workrate was incredible, the desire and confidence looked there, we looked defensively solid and we absolutely dominated the game. Only that oh so crucial aspect was missing on this occasion, Jack missing the best of the many chances we created. Against the better teams of course, not taking the lead when you dominate can prove immensely costly. And Saturday could not possibly have emphasized that any more strongly.
Like against Hull, Anderlecht and Swansea in recent games, the opening goal certainly didn’t see that ‘rub of the green’ come our way. A speculative cross shot in a rare Utd attack strikes Gibbo on the deck and we found ourselves behind. More than frustrating.
If we must be ‘critical’ it has to be when we look at the second goal. As annoying as it was, at 1 nil down we were still in the game. We continued to attack and could have equalised at any stage. To go ‘gung ho’ when only one behind is at best risky, at worst suicidally naive. Against any team you could get badly stung. Against the better sides offensively it is highly highly likely. We have enough experience in the team to prevent this from happening. So no excuse is acceptable.
To come out of the game having played poorly would have been worrying and annoying. Overall however, I felt we played pretty well on the day making only the latter emotion stand out for me. On another day, with a similar performance, we would have won that game comfortably. The fact is we didn’t and we need to move forward quickly.
That comes in the shape of Borussia Dortmund’s latest visit on Wednesday night. We only have ourselves to blame that we are not already through from our Champions League group. Looking at the two games against Anderlecht however, despite the fact it should have been 6, we also have to be honest with ourselves that the 4 points we took could quite easily have been only 1 or 2.
Victoria Concordia Crescit
Tuesday 11th November 2014
Before we travelled down to South Wales on Sunday every single Gooner I spoke to or read on social media expressed how much of a tough game they felt we had on our hands, especially given our current form hasn’t been exactly encouraging. That would suggest to me that we all knew there was a chance we might get beat. As the dust settles a little on all the anger, frustration and disappointment we all felt, I also think we were a tad unlucky to come away with nothing from the game.
If October went down as one of the warmest on record, the beginning of November suggests it could be a wet one! It didn’t appear that Sunday would be a good example when we set off, in fact it wasn’t until we got just a few miles from Swansea that the heavens opened. And conditions proved pretty wild for the rest of the day, the storm accompanying some of our journey home matching most of us Gooners’ emotions with its intensity.
Our memories of trips to this part of the world are pretty good overall, plenty of unbelievable times in Cardiff down the years and only one defeat from our four most recent visits to the home of the Jacks. For much of Sunday afternoon’s encounter it looked like we might be adding to those satisfactory memories.
Analysis, opinion and debate are very much part of our wonderful sport and along with the fact we all make great managers, we are never going to agree on all fronts! For me we need to separate our thoughts about what happened on Sunday afternoon with the overall bigger picture.
What do I mean by that?
Well, at the moment it is plainly obvious we are leaking goals left right and centre. Once again, if our opponents hadn’t scored we would have come away with the three points. Our current plight totally highlights the fact our business in the Summer transfer window may well have been hugely positive offensively but did not address the worries we all had regarding our defensive strength in depth. We needed additions, not replacements. Bac went off for his crazy paid benchwarming pension at Man City, we replaced him with Mat Debuchy. Tommy V headed off to Barcelona after not really getting a look in last season, we replaced him with a young and extremely promising Calum Chambers. Replacements, not additions. In addition, that defensive midfield position needed adding to. We could all see that unless another member of our squad could step up to the plate and make that position his own, we would struggle, especially if missing players through injury or suspension.
Injuries to players in all defensive areas have happened this season. As frustrating as that is, it is fact. And the above not being addressed in the Summer is being highlighted massively as a result. To be fair to our manager, although we have a right to criticise, he has publically admitted he came out of the transfer window ‘short’ and as he can do nothing about it until January I’m not sure what else he can say. He cannot go back and change that situation.
Moving to Sunday, why do I think we were a little unlucky? Our hosts were the better side in all but the last 5 or 10 minutes in the first period. Overall however, I felt we were defensively quite solid, were strong at set pieces and the best chances of the whole half fell to us just before the break. To have been second best for most of the first 45, to go in at half time level was pleasing and encouraging, as long as of course, we came more into the game in the second.
From the moment Ox had a great chance in the first minute after the break, we enjoyed our best half an hour of the game. We looked in control, our passing was better, Swansea rarely threatened and we created numerous dangerous situations. Alexis’ goal after another fine run from the Ox and and some excellent work from Welbs was reward for this period of domination.
And now, for me, the unlucky bit. At this time our hosts didn’t look like scoring. They broke and Gibbo did something that we would all probably praise if we watched a game live on the tv between two teams that mean nothing to us. He took one for the team to thwart a promising counter attack. Nine times out of ten 30 yard free kicks end up coming to nothing. Did that happen on Sunday? Of course not! The geezer produced a ‘worldy’. Not just frustrating but game changing. Given both our current form and the fact Calum had endured his most ‘difficult’ afternoon since becoming a Gooner, we needed just a few minutes to regroup. The second goal coming so soon after was as annoying as it seemed inevitable.
After going behind we continued to probe with promising situations and corners all proving fruitless. The fact we could and probably should have scored with our very last kick of the game pretty much summed it all up.
I’m not sure if I feel the international break has come at a good time or not on this occasion. We certainly need to lick our wounds, knuckle down and come back stronger in the tough games that follow. And we can only do that until January at least with the squad we have got, the players we have available and with us sticking together and getting behind every single one wearing the cannon on their chest.
Or of course, we can all just keep moaning like so so many of us seem to enjoy so much. Something for me personally, certainly once debate and opinion immediately after a game has finished, I just can’t get my head around.
Victoria Concordia Crescit
Thursday 6th November 2014
To Anderlecht’s travelling fans Tuesday night must have felt like ‘getting their own back’. Ok, so we only overturned a one goal deficit over in Brussels but coming away with all three points was graced with bemusement as much as anything else, given how the rest of the game had panned out. Similar feelings accompanied our journey home the other night but even if losing a three goal lead is somewhere between disappointing and totally not acceptable, as the dust settles a draw is not the end of the world. You only have to look at Man City’s result last night to realise that.
The biggest disappointment of course is the fact we were a few minutes from progressing out of the group stage with two games to spare. One point from our remaining two games however, would see us progress. The biggest worry on the other hand, is how vulnerable and frail we looked defensively, not just in the final half an hour, but for much of the match.
We are all getting a bit bored of regularly needing to talk about the officials but along with our latest in a long line of injuries when Mikel was forced off, the direction and more importantly momentum changed in the game when the officials failed to spot our visitors’ opening goal was at least a yard offside. Don’t worry, I am not offering this as an excuse for not holding on to a three goal lead but it is something that can happen in football. Reading and Newcastle away immediately spring to mind in recent times. Anderlecht could sniff a chance of getting back into the match, something that arguably would not have been there had the goal been correctly ruled out. An excuse? No. Hugely influential however? Yes.
For me personally, if I ignore the frustration we all felt as we left the ground, it was an enjoyable evening. Accompanying customers, colleagues and friends to the game we thoroughly made the most of plenty of pre-match fare, all the banter that goes with it and I viewed the game from a different vantage point to usual. Those who go regularly are aware how much a game can look ‘different’ depending on where you are sat, and Tuesday night was certainly one such occasion.
One more game before the third international break of the season as we head off to South Wales to take on Swansea City.
Every game we play in I am confident we can score goals. Midweek however, more than suggests a defensive improvement of epic proportions is required if we are to achieve a positive result.
Come on you Mighty Reds!
Monday 3rd November 2014
Just as we were approaching that time in a game where thoughts turn to the fact we might not actually win a match we have totally dominated, Alexis rose magnificently to head home and any nerves were calmed. Don’t get me wrong Burnley are bottom of the Premier League for a reason but how on earth we didn’t win by an absolute hatful is beyond me! Three-nil will do however, a comfortable scoreline that doesn’t tell the full story as to how late we took the lead but overall definitely doesn’t flatter us either.
Saturday was the first day of November. A Winter month in my book. Yet for much of the day, a t-shirt sufficed. Very pleasant, especially as it is highly likely to be the last time for a few months that we can enjoy such warmth at the football (although Galatasaray away must give us half a chance!). It was also to be a bit of a mad and entertaining day all round.
Beginning with a bit of a ‘head’, the kind a few after work Friday beers tends to give you, we left early to enjoy the wonderful lunchtime wares of a cracking traditional pub near to a sundrenched Covent Garden, a location that demonstrated the variety of travelling football fans you so often get in London on matchday. With us heading up to London N5 there were also Coventry fans on there way to Leyton Orient and Carlisle supporters travelling down to Pompey. Now there’s a long old journey! Its no wonder they were thirsty!
Suitably refreshed we continued the pre-match entertainment amongst the mass of red and white shirts near our home and it proved as hugely enjoyable as all 3 o’clock Saturday kick-offs tend to. A fine way to make the most of match day.
Like all of us, despite knowing full well no game is easy, I was extremely confident we would beat Hull at home the other week. Whatever analysis we make of that afternoon however, the records show we came away with just a point…..and an extremely late one at that. For that reason alone we knew even bottom of the table Burnley would be no ‘gimme’. Again however, we would be completely insane not to be confident.
Match of the Day doesn’t always give the best impression of an overall game I feel. If one team has 20 chances and the other has 2, they programme editors always tend to show those 2 it seems. Watching the Sunday morning repeat however, the fact that there was not 1 single piece of attacking action from our visitors is probably as good an example as any of our total dominance all afternoon. We don’t know for sure of course but I am convinced if we had scored early on it could have been a cricket score.
Our visitors defended admirably and the keeper had a fine afternoon too. Add that to the clear and blatant handball the officials missed mid way through the half and we really should have been out of sight by half time.
As frustrating as that always is it was crucial we not only continued to be patient and play our game, but learning from the Hull game we had to make sure we were totally switched on from minute one of the second half so as not to make it more hard for ourselves. This we did of course and with about half hour to go I really think we stepped up another gear and went for the jugular.
As is always the case, once we broke the deadlock the goals flowed and if it wasn’t for some incredible defending, goalkeeping and the woodwork it could have been 6 or 7 by the end. One particular save from Poldi’s volley was absolutely incredible and how the post didn’t snap in half from another typical effort is beyond me!
Three good points in the bag then and for us we headed down to Southampton to celebrate in the company of The Struts, a mighty fine band where entertainment is totally the order of the day. They delivered as always and completed a thoroughly jam packed and enjoyable day all round.
With 5 minutes to go out in Belgium our Champions League qualification hopes looked to be taking a bit of a turn for the worse. We all know what happened next with Gibbo’s fine volley and Poldi’s crazy jostle inducing winner and it means we go into the return fixture where if Galatasaray do not win in Dortmund, a victory could see us through with two games to spare. Although possible, these are no more than ‘ifs’ at the moment of course, our opponents on Tuesday night coming so close to beating us last time out being comfortably enough to make sure we go into the game knowing it won’t be easy. We need to ignore what is happening in Dortmund and concentrate on our own result above all else.
As always, make some noise folks.