Sunday 28th December 2014
When a ‘Man of the Match’ announcement is made inside a stadium I am very much aware it will always be given to a player from the home team. I am also aware it will often be chosen by people such as the matchday sponsors.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely don’t have a problem with ex Gooner Alex Song. In fact I would go as far as to say he looked the classiest player in a West Ham shirt by some distance.
But The Hammers’ goalkeeper Adrien was the winner of Sunday’s ‘award’ by a country mile. 3 of his second half saves were world class and mindbogglingly (now there’s a word!) frustrating.
Maybe a couple of big decisions could have gone the other way on another day but the West Ham goalkeeper certainly prevented our excellent counter attacks from making it a rout.
A sunny and chilly day met us when we arrived in East London and discussions pre-match surrounded how tough an afternoon we all knew it potentially could be.
Our record against West Ham, especially in recent years, is very good but we all knew our hosts really would have fancied themselves in this latest encounter.
Defending well and working hard were essential I felt. Chances always come our way in every game but earning that ‘right’ is equally as important. For me we did that extremely well this afternoon and a two goal lead at half time was extremely satisfying.
Our hosts goal early in the 2nd period made it a nervy remaining half hour or so of course but how we didn’t go on to make the scoreline more comfortable is beyond me. Only Adrien knows how!
A massive result and our 13th point out of our last potential 15. Good form, even if we haven’t been at our best.
Pleasing for me today is not only that we held out for the victory against a constant aerial bombardment but I felt we looked extremely dangerous going forward. With so many players still missing that has to be a massive positive.
A good Christmas so far then and it doesn’t get any easier in our first game of 2015.
For us Gooners 2014 will be remembered for our fantastic FA Cup run and that awesome day in May. It still sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it.
Us football fans however, crave more feelings like those. That journey starts on Thursday down in Southampton.
Have a cracking New Years Eve folks.
Lets make the following day noisy and yellow.
Saturday 27th December 2014
Traditionally Boxing Day has been quite fruitful down the years, extremely important when it comes to hoping it doesn’t go some way to ruining our Christmas. QPR have yet to win on the road this season so on paper it looked like a fine opportunity to continue that trend. Football isn’t played on paper (bonus points for an early cliche surely!) and in a game crammed full of incident and discussion points we seemed to do everything possible to not come away with the three points!
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and the lack of public transport options available anywhere outside of London has to be one of the major reasons but I have always been a big fan of Boxing Day football. Christmas Day and all the gluttony that goes with it sees the following Day arrive with serious cravings to get out of the house…..and going to support our great club seems the perfect excuse.
The weather looked altogether rather pleasant leaving home with quite a large degree of fatigue but it certainly wasn’t a sign of what was to come! Leaving the warm comfort of our chosen location for pre-match fare definitely didn’t look particularly attractive as the skies threw torrents of water onto London N5.
We started the game extremely well I felt with just that opening goal missing from it being pretty much perfect. The penalty of course did give us that opportunity and fortunately the miss didn’t prove costly in the end.
I am one of those who believes any player at the highest level should be able to take and score a penalty. To see a world class footballer miss one however, proves the greatest can do just that. The only bit I couldn’t understand on the day was why Alexis took it when Santi had taken and scored the previous two. A strange decision and a wrong one it seems.
Our domination was incredible however, the fact Chezz hardly touched the ball until we scored our fine opener as good an indication as any.
A half time lead was no less than we deserved, in fact we should have been home and dry (pardon the pun).
I am extremely confident if Olly hadn’t seen that red mist briefly descend we would have gone on to win comfortably. His moment of madness however, made our lead extremely precarious.
Although I do understand why he reacted there can be no excuse for the extent of what he did. Of course the player reacted as if he’d been shot but the proximity of the referee suggests even if he hadn’t the result would have been the same.
Letting his team mates and us fans down, the effect could have been twofold. Losing him for the next three games is a blow and it definitely could have cost us three points too.
To win with 10 men for so long certainly deserves credit but it only got nervy when the penalty was awarded despite Matt clearly taking the ball.
Given the circumstances it was satisfying to get the three points.
West Ham away next. Always tough. potentially than for a long period this time round.
Tuesday 23rd December 2014
Looking at the fixture list every season I don’t believe there is anyone that earmarks Liverpool away as one where three points look probable. We might have witnessed some incredibly positive results down the years but we have also been on the end of some proper spankings. Including last season of course. Like every one of us I hoped we could take maximum points but before a ball was kicked on Sunday I would have taken a point. Based on that, as the dust settles and debate wanes, I have to be satisfied with the fact we did just that. In a game where we didn’t play particularly well we cannot help but be disappointed however, that we didn’t manage to see the game out so late on due to a total lack of concentration at a set piece.
Now and again a game comes along where I lack a little bit of enthusiasm when my alarm goes off at a ridiculous hour for a Sunday morning. Being one of the most famous, historic and anticipated fixtures in the English football calendar, such a game shouldn’t really be Liverpool away. Yet getting up in the dark on a dreary Winter morning and driving a 500 mile round trip didn’t have me buzzing on this occasion.
I don’t feel guilty for those feelings as for me personally they don’t come along that often and travelling the length and breadth of this country and beyond week in week out I feel I am entitled to occasionally feel a little bit apathetic towards the day ahead.
Once on route my fellow travellers, the debate and the humour changed the mood as always and parked up in our usual spot near Anfield we enjoyed the pre-match build up in our traditional hostelry.
Both inside and outside the stadium I could really feel the sense of uncertainty as to how the game would pan out, both from the home fans and travelling Gooners. An obvious statement but we all knew any result was possible whereas in the majority of other games us fans always seem to be more specific!
Overall I found the game a bit strange on this occasion. A rubbish adjective and piece of analysis admittedly but maybe my apathy on the day can be used as an excuse as to why I am struggling to come up with anything better!
We really didn’t get going at all in the first half but although our hosts enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession I still never really felt like we would concede. Until just before half time of course, arguably the worst time to concede. (A fact that certainly felt inaccurate an hour or so later!) Mat Debuchy is a fine player for me. He reads the game extremely well and very much comes across as someone with huge amounts of experience under his belt. To out jump Skirtel to nod in our equaliser was quite something and a major jostle ensued in the corner of the Anfield Road end. We’ll definitely take that given how poor we had been so far.
The second period was slightly better I felt but in general play I think we have to concede we were still second best. To take the lead with probably our best move of the match was extremely pleasing and it put ourselves in what had looked an unlikely winning position all afternoon.
The lengthy injury time was expected so we have no complaints there I feel but the late late equaliser can be only be described as extremely disappointing. It certainly made the long journey back south filled with frustration rather than the joy of victory. Our season’s analysis come May however, will see a point at Anfield as a positive result for me.
This crazy festive period of fixtures comes next with QPR being our next obstacle on Boxing Day. A win is simply essential.
Merry Xmas to you all. May it be red, white, yellow and blue.
Thursday 18th December 2014
Being busy is something I like. Even on the few occasions I get to relax a little bit I find myself looking for things to do to fill my time. So the fact it has taken me until Thursday to pen my post Newcastle at home thoughts is not only down to those essential daily aspects but also other things both expected and not so. Plans for Monaco away for example. Lots of searching, booking and reserving for a destination we have never visited for a match. Some would class this as non-essential. I disagree of course….but then again , I would!
I think I have mentioned it before but I quite enjoy the Saturday evening kick-offs. Not great if you have other early evening plans of course but if you plan your diary better ( 😉 ) they are always very entertaining, especially if you get the right result of course. Plenty of time for pre-match fun and frolics took me via an excellent pub in the Covent Garden/Charing Cross area of London where the array of ‘goodies’ on offer is quite something. The perfect start to match day in my book.
After supping such treats the tube journey (especially on a Xmas shopping Saturday) can be a little bit difficult. A strong bladder is certainly essential and our chosen pre-match destination in London N5 was reached with a huge degree of relief as anything else! Events continued along the same route and contributed to a thoroughly enjoyable day all round. The football of course can take this to new heights or completely ruin your day! We have all experienced plenty of both down the years.
Saturday evening, under the lights, after an extended day, just before Christmas on a perfect day for football. All the ingredients for an ideal game to unfold in front of us. On this occasion, by and large, that is exactly what we got.
Despite dominating for long periods, those thin dividing lines were emphasized as always. The Geordies had one excellent double chance to equalise in the first period, a situation that would have undone all our hard work to take a lead we thoroughly deserved, Olly’s fine towering header giving us the first jostle of four we enjoyed across the evening. Newcastle’s goal highlighted our worryingly all to frequent failings of not being able to reach a near post cross first and at 3-1 I felt the next goal would be crucial. I think there is no doubt had it gone 3-2 there is a chance we might have crumbled. Other matches this season suggest we have little reason to think otherwise.
Saying that however, my thoughts above all sound extremely negative on what was overall a thoroughly positive and satisfying performance. After all, if we were to look at every chance in every game we would score double figures in most!
Santi has been in fine form in recent weeks and his first goal and our second was quite superb. I’m not strongly in favour of ‘cheeky’ penalties to be honest, certainly not from anyone playing for us. Probably down to a certain cock up involving Thierry and Bobby Pires a few years back! If nothing else however, it definitely shows how much Santi is playing with confidence right now.
Sandwiched in between was Olly’s second, another cracking goal that contributed towards a thoroughly entertaining game overall….and of course three crucial points.
Monday’s weekend hangover was accompanied by the eagerly awaited Champions League draw. Fortunately I can work from home so Sky Sports was on for a process that is nowhere near as painfully drawn out as the Group Stage version. For me personally there was only one destination where I hadn’t visited in pursuit of the mighty AFC with Atletico Madrid the only other team left where I hadn’t visited the stadium. The latter came out in the early stages and although our chances increased slightly as the draw progressed, so did our chances of being paired with Bayern Munich or Real Madrid! Firstly Real Madrid disappeared and as I shouted ‘Munich, Munich, Munich’ accompanied by the expletive that means ‘go away’, I soon punched the air knowing I had a 50/50 chance of getting my first choice.
I like Porto as a city so had they come out of the hat it definitely could have been worse…..but…..’Arsenal’……was shortly followed by ‘AS Monaco’ and a private personal jostle ensued like we’d just scored a last minute winner! At last, a draw that has produced something ‘different’.
Within about an hour, once the dates had been revealed, a little 3 night jolly for our party was booked and wacked in the diary for mid-March. Luvvly jubbly.
Attention now turns to Anfield and Liverpool away on Sunday afternoon, a stadium that has seen us experience every possible emotion over the years in numerous competitions. Both our clubs have made inconsistent starts to this year’s campaign making the whole game one of the more unpredictable examples.
Come on you mighty yellows!
Wednesday 10th December 2014
Istanbul is right up there amongst the world’s greatest cities. And my 4th visit in the name of the mighty Arsenal has not changed my opinion. The vibrancy, passion, culture, food, sights and what can sometimes feel like organised chaos all contribute to the overall package. Great fellow travellers and a thumping good win means I fly home with a whole host of good memories yet again.
It feels a long time ago that we got off our plane at the city’s Araturk Airport but some great service and arguably a little too much red wine on board our Atlasjet flight from Luton meant the tedium that this form of transport often brings passed by far quicker than the near on 4 hours suggests.
A nice hotel in the Sultanahmet area of the city soon played host and we headed out in search of a small example of the Sunday night offerings. A fine meal was enjoyed nearby and the usual liquid accompaniment had some of our party ‘calling it a day’ slightly earlier than others. Video evidence does exist of what was an extremely amusing incident but you know the rules folks, ‘what goes on tour…….’ 😉
Monday was ‘ tourist day’ especially for those in our group that had never visited this wonderful city before so accompanied by the incredible haunting sound of the ‘calls to prayer’ echoing from every corner of the city we took in attractions such as the Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market, all magnificent in their own individual way.
Passing the hundreds of people fishing we then crossed the bridge and headed up towards the vast Taksim Square and sank some cocktails (darling!) in the stunning Pera Palace Hotel, originally built in the late 19th century to welcome passengers from the Orient Express having reached their final destination of Constantinople.
A thoroughly awesome way to rest our weary limbs after a typically lengthy Stubbsy walking tour it preceded another fine bar/restaurant that played host until we took cabs and stumbled back to our hotel.
If there was anything slightly disappointing about the whole trip it was the fact our hotel room was located overlooking a school playground. I’ve nothing against educational establishments of course but when the kids turned it into their equivalent of Wembley at 8am every morning, I genuinely wasn’t very complimentary especially given how much we had enjoyed the city’s hospitality well into the wee small hours!
Matchday arrived and another restaurant for most of us, the offerings ranging from quite a ropey veal escalope to an incredible dish cooked in a sealed clay pot over an open fire before it was quite vigorously tapped until the lid popped off revealing the superb dish inside. Delicious it was and all part of the experience.
It was difficult to know how full Galatasaray’s Turk Telecom Arena would be given the fact our hosts had nothing more to play for than pride. Located high up in the away end I think we all left hoping we might get to return one day for a game that dictated a sell out. The noise that the small crowd made last night was fantastic and definitely left us all feeling that way.
Given the difficult few days we have all experienced since Stoke, the first half was probably just what the doctor ordered. The media scrutiny brought on by the huge and over heated debate regarding the present and the future of our great football club has been immense and quite divided. So Poldi slamming home after a few minutes was extremely pleasurable and set us on our way of giving us an outside chance of claiming top spot in our group.
Rambo’s recent form has yet to reach anywhere near the incredible heights of last season, we all know that. But I do believe he is getting there and the three goals he has grabbed this week have to help especially as there isn’t a bad one amongst them. His 3rd last night in fact was an absolute stunner.
So we end the group in second spot but comfortably through yet again and look forward to next week’s draw and the destination for our next overseas jolly in March. As I write these thoughts that could be anywhere from Madrid, Paris, Munich, Barcelona, Porto and Monaco. Having not seen us play there the latter would be my first choice. It would be nice if we could actually get something ‘interesting’ out of a draw for once unlike every one we seem to get in our domestic cup competitions!
Newcastle come to London N5 next and in the middle of a fine run of form. On Saturday afternoon they brought our West London neighbours down to earth and destroyed any chance of them matching our unbeaten season. One day we might just get the credit we deserve for that incredible achievement you know. But I doubt it.
For now, I desperately need some sleep. Not just because it has been a heavy few days. But due to some noisy football playing kids!!!
Keep the faith boys and girls.
Sunday 7th December 2014
Many moons ago, when I first started to play football on a competitive basis, the coaching I received was fairly basic. Or to be more accurate, emphasis was placed on teaching the ‘basics’. At such a young age of course, this couldn’t possibly have been more valuable.
My playing days were spent in midfield or up front and consequently defending definitely wasn’t my area if expertise. Back in that ‘basic’ training however, I do remember one particular aspect of the defensive art being drummed into my team mates. Cutting out any cross at the earliest opportunity could not have been emphasized enough.
Let’s be honest we don’t like going to Stoke. I can only think of Hillsborough as possibly a stadium that has proved to be more of a bogey ground down the years. And after yesterday, we all probably like it even less.
I would prefer to start with the bad rather than the good and it doesn’t need me to tell you the first half was a total disaster. Its the nature of the first two goals however, that is so disappointing. Two low, comfortably clearable crosses got to our near post and the attacking player comfortably got there first. When you do the ‘basics’ I was taught all those years ago, that simply does not happen.
Between the goals, Olly missed a headed chance he should have buried and it pretty much summed up our day.
I cannot criticise our second half performance. We were committed, showed considerable pride and were very close to gaining something from what looked impossible. Pleasing, yes…..but it doesn’t change the fact we were poor enough to come away with nothing from a game against a beatable side.
At half time it was ‘heated’ in the away end with lots of travelling Gooners venting their frustration. I didn’t see what happened after but I have heard various reports. For me, I find that all incredibly disappointing. I get the frustration of course but don’t we all support the same team and want the same things from our club? I’m all for passion people but show some class boys and girls!
Football of course is graced with the beauty that when u lose a game there’s another one just round the corner.
So, i’m writing these notes on my flight from Luton to Istanbul accompanied by similar minded company, some in flight tucker and a bucket load of vino.
And d’you know what? I think that’s kinda my point.
I’m going to one of the world’s greatest cities.
And d’you know why??
Because of my club. Your club. Our club.
Victoria Concordia Crescit
Thursday 4th December 2014
After George Graham moulded two exciting and relatively attack minded title winning sides in 1989 and 1991 we went on to win further trophies over the next few years. These teams however, were very much based on a water tight defensive shape above all else. This of course not only resulted in us being labelled with a ‘boring’ tag at times but culminated in the run to the European Cup Winners Cup victory and the whole ‘1 nil to the Arsenal’ concept. Well…..inside 5 days we have picked up two victories that are identical in the scoreline at least. And they feel as equally satisfying as many of them did all those years ago.
We all knew Southampton would provide an extremely tough test and despite thoroughly deserving our victory on the night they definitely gave us just that.
The sheer size of the Saints team was hugely apparent and none more so than their keeper Forster. For us Gooners he was to prove a highly frustrating figure for the vast majority of the evening. Time and time again he produced fine saves that looked like they would prevent us from getting the result we deserved.
Defensively we have certainly looked far stronger over the last three games and it is no coincidence I feel that we have kept three clean sheets on the bounce. I only remember our visitors having one clear cut chance all night, a good move on the edge of our box leading to an opening where the striker should have done better. Give me a pound however, for every time we have not taken advantage of similar situations, especially in recent weeks and I’m sure I could buy a very large round of drinks!
Another example of crowd ‘ignorance’ unfortunately reared its ugly head last night I felt, with the sound of booing from some quarters when the Ox was substituted. As a player he has been in fine form but last night he came less and less effective as the game progressed, possibly due to the slight knock his late fitness test suggested he was carrying. The game was level and very tight at the time of the substitution. Changing our attacking shape and options is a decision only our manager can make. He is our manager for that reason and whether they are right or not, something that can only be confirmed with the benefit of hindsight, he has to stand by the decisions he decides to make.
Its so so easy for us to criticise when things don’t work out and we all just take it for granted when it does. Last night, that change worked. There is no doubt about it. With limbs beginning to tire our visitors simply couldn’t cope with the new shape and the power of Olly Giroud.
At half time I said to my fellow Gooners I fancy us to win this 1 nil with a goal in the 89th minute. Genuinely. I didn’t put a bet on it of course. As it wouldn’t have happened then as we all know! But when Alexis slotted home the potential bet winnings were the last thing on my mind. We all love a late winner and it gave us what we deserved from a good performance all round. The jostle that ensued certainly helped to warm the toes on what was a chilly old night. Winter might finally be arriving.
Stoke away next and a fixture that has definitely proved to be one of our bogey games over the years. We go in with confidence however, and with the usual noisy away support hopefully we can come out with another positive result.
See you in the Potteries.
Monday 1st December 2014
The word ‘Christmas’ and everything that goes with it should be banned until we reach the month of December in my opinion! Unfortunately however, as soon as the very last embers of Guy Fawkes night die out we simply cannot escape it. TV adverts galore, pre-xmas sales (not something I ever remember in the past), festive songs being belted out from every angle, fares, festivals, lights and of course ‘banners’. Something that has certainly been treated with an enormous amount of importance by the media and created a frenzy of passionate ‘debate’ amongst us Gooners since Saturday’s trip to West Brom.
Every single person has an opinion of course and each individual has a right to air this. Fortunately we live in a ‘free speech’ society and this allows healthy debate and discussion on all subjects. This of course does not mean we will all agree, even if we are united in our support of the same team. There are ways and means of doing things. Ways that show respect, that show a knowledge of the game and demonstrate that like the club we follow we are graced with a huge degree of integrity and class. The banner raised with such ill judged timing as our players acknowledged our support having claimed a hard fought away victory represents the views of some. And that I feel is the point. It certainly does not represent the view of all Gooners out there. By raising it among the 3 odd thousand gathered in the away end at The Hawthorns it looks to all onlookers that it represents the views of everyone present. Whatever the message, I have my own views on where we are as a club and to think another Gooner out there feels he has the right to try and represent me is hugely offensive. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t air your views. Like all of us, you are entitled to do just that. But take your message and get across your thoughts with those who agree with and follow your views. Don’t take your message and try and wrongly represent those who may well have a totally different opinion to you and are consequently included in yours by association only.
In my lifetime it took from 71 to 79 to win a trophy and that was the FA Cup. It took a further 10 years for me to see my team win their first league title. Having been to my first game in January 1977, by the time I was 28 I had only seen us play in the European Cup/Champions League in one season. I have now seen my team play overseas more than 200 times. Since Mr Wenger has arrived I have seen my team win many trophies, reach many finals and play the greatest football I have ever witnessed. Earlier this year we won the FA Cup. Just over 6 months ago in fact. And even with all the success I have enjoyed over the years it was one of the greatest days of my life. I can go on and on and on. Time and age dictates we are reaching the end of this incredible era. That is fact. But until that day arrives I for one will continue to show arguably the greatest man to ever represent our fantastic football club the respect he deserves. I respect everyone’s opinion but this is my choice……and I certainly won’t be printing a banner to suggest everyone has to agree.
Moving on to the more important subject of our latest game I thoroughly enjoyed the day. A fat head as a result of going to see The Ordinary Boys on Friday night (remember them!?) meant it wasn’t the most comfortable of early starts but with the journey successfully undertaken we enjoyed some pre-match refreshment in our usual West Bromwich haunt before making our way into the Away End for what felt a crucial match.
Always a tough place to go and win I felt we completely dominated pretty much all of the game until the very latter stages but looking back to the Man Utd game we couldn’t help but wonder if for all that we might slip up again. One bit of brilliance, bad luck or a mistake and the win we deserved might not have come to fruition.
Having gone into the break level, our pressure seemed to increase early in the second half culminating in Santi’s superb run and cross before Welbs towered above the defender to head home.
Trying not to be negative I couldn’t stop my thoughts from turning to Swansea away a few weeks back. Our goal there came at the end of a period where we were dominating the game but we still came away with nothing. On this occasion we dug in and done enough to see it out. A massive three points.
A smooth journey home and a few celebratory beers on a lengthy Saturday evening brought on as a result of our early kick-off and come Sunday morning thoughts turned to our next game as we entertain high flying Southampton on Wednesday evening.
It has been a good start to the week, we now have an opportunity to continue that against tough opposition.
Come on you mighty reds!