Archive | September 2015

When the Excuses Run Out

Wednesday 30th September 2015

We should have beaten Zagreb away and we should have done the same to Olympiacos at home. Yet we sit here with zero points from those 2 games. One defeat from those we can perhaps offer the odd excuse. If we claim to be banging on the doors of success in the 2 biggest competitions we enter however, we need to sit down and re-evaluate.

I can accept after a couple of big games over the last 7 days if we look a bit ‘jaded’. But if the first goal we conceded tonight was a tad unfortunate, the 2nd was a mistake of schoolboy proportions and the 3rd was total and utter naivety.

Despite everything that happened in the first hour or so we could and should have come out with a win.

For the first time since the opening 10 minutes we looked sharp and creative and after coming close on numerous occasions, Alexis headed home at the end of the best move of the match. With plenty of time on the clock the momentum was finally with us.

But, not for the first time, especially in this competition, we lost our discipline and defensive shape and found ourselves back to square one. And after experiencing that situation so many times we simply cannot offer any excuses.

Not just frustrating but intensely annoying and it was that emotion you could very much sense all around the stadium.

We kept banging on the door of course but we gave ourselves far too much to do with very little time to achieve it.

We have left ourselves with a huge mountain to climb and although the optimist in me still believes we are just about still in it, tonight’s performance suggests it will be an unlikely and unexpected turnaround.

Our season feels like ‘good week, bad week’ right now and the way we all feel today is a million miles away from how we felt coming out of the King Power Stadium on Saturday or indeed the Lane last week.

Those two performances proved we can do it and it’s that we must all take into Sunday when we host the current League leaders.

Keep the faith Gooners.



We are Invincible

Sunday 27th September 2015

Apart from the expected ‘misty’ head this Sunday morning the quite beautiful weather matches our performance yesterday.

Some people could call Leicester’s tactics a little naive against an Arsenal side that will always take advantage of the space an attacking policy creates. One thing’s for sure though, it certainly makes for incredible entertainment.

Again I had a slightly different matchday, a weekend visit to good friends and fellow Gooners meaning my journey started early on Saturday morning with a sausage sarnie on Royston station.

Changing at Cambridge the fun started there. A busy Saturday, big sporting events taking place all across the Midlands meant it was understandably busy. I’m old enough to remember the days of British Rail. It wasn’t perfect admittedly but not only would such a train consisted of 6 or more carriages, on busy days extra trains would be laid on.

We live in a world of privatisation now of course and Cross Country Trains provided a massive 2 coach effort. Brilliant. Travel is not cheap. Disgraceful that yet again many had to stand for their entire journey.

Standing room only

Standing room only

Tom and I were fortunate, we managed to grab a couple of seats but whilst we enjoyed our first refreshment of the day I’m not going to say travelling with a stranger’s behind 2 inches from my earhole is altogether particularly pleasant!

The sun drenched city of Leicester was soon upon us and the build up was enjoyed in a number of hostelries before passing the location of Filbert Street on route to the King Power Stadium for what was to be a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours.

Sun and goals

Sun and goals

The game had ‘goals’ written all over it from minute one and it was a case of making sure we got more than they did.

Defensively our hosts’ opener was disappointing but he certainly took it well. To equalise so quickly after, especially as the Foxes had just hit the woodwork, was crucial. Theo finished well on the end of a fine move.

Once Alexis tapped home his first Leicester had to come at us even more and in the 2nd period it was all about taking one of the many chances we created. Cue yet another awesome pass from Mesut and Alexis nodded in number 3.

His 3rd had the travelling Gooners delirious and Oly’s good and hopefully confidence building finish put the icing on the cake.

A fantastic end to what has been a great week ever since the disappointment of the Chelsea debacle.

Considering some were mentioning words such as ‘crisis’ we are sitting quite well in 2 competitions.

To make that 3 Tuesday is an absolute must win game.

Come on you mighty reds!


Here’s to you…..back to the eighties

Thursday 24th September 2015

Let’s be honest, if we were told before this season started we would go to the Lane in a cup tie and Matty Flamini would smash in a 20 yard volley to put us through, there would have been very few of us who were not laughing.

Well… happened. Pick that out!!

Writing these notes sat on a ferry at 7am on Thursday morning is enough to tell you it’s been a long old night. But although it is only the 3rd round of a competition that has become hugely popular for utilising both youngsters and the full extent of the 1st team squad, nights like that are why we all do it.

Although alive and on the planet I don’t remember the 1971 double. The 1979 FA Cup win is in the memory bank but in 1987 I saw our great club win their first trophy as an adult. And for that reason alone the League Cup remains very special personally. The noise, sound, colour and emotion of that sunny April afternoon will forever be with me.

Kenny Sansom produced a diary of that season and funnily enough I have been reading it in recent days. It certainly brings everything about that success flooding back and it included of course, a nice little 2-1 semi final replay win at the Lane.

It was the second time we had done that to them in the space of a few months and it felt hugely important in North London, almost the start of something big. I remember a huge great big 2-1 piece of graffiti on the side of a building (located at the junction of Stapleton Hall Road and Stroud Green Road for those with local knowledge). History confirms we were right to be optimistic with the next few years being trophy laden.

The League Cup is a strange competition these days. Low on the priority list but still an awful lot of fun on occasion. And last night was definitely one of those.

Just a few seasons back we beat them 4-1 in a similar stage of the competition but I remember it being a very low key night, despite the enjoyment of a spanking good win in their back yard.

This time round had much more of a big cup tie feel about it, both on and off the field. Progression felt far more important and there was that air of tension heading to the ground you only ever get in derby games.

All was relatively quiet when I headed through the turnstiles just after 7pm but from what I understand it was a little bit ‘lively’ in other areas in the build up to kick off. Hardly unexpected or unusual at a big derby of course.

Relative pre-match calm

Relative pre-match calm

With ten changes from Saturday Mr Wenger had set himself up for a possible grilling had we lost our 3rd game on the bounce. Nobody can ever say however, that he doesn’t show the utmost belief in his squad.

Brave? Maybe. Risky? Possibly. Naive. Depends if it works!! Overall probably a combination of all aspects.

It’s also a good indication of our squad depth that even with so many changes it still looked a pretty strong line up.

Come on you Gooners!

Come on you Gooners!

We started the game well I thought and always looked the most likely to score, Matty Flamini slamming in the rebound from the Ox’s strike seeing the first of the evening’s intense and crazy jostles in the away end.

A good start then, but with over an hour still to play that’s all it was.

The most crucial part of the game for me came in the first 20 minutes of the second period.

Our hosts expectedly came at us in the early stages but their equaliser was laced with a big chunk of fortune. It left us however, on the back foot and it was massive that we steadied the ship and dug in for a while, Gibbo’s header of the line a good example of that.

Once we took the sting out of the situation, it was time to go on and win the game.

Heading into the last quarter of an hour we were looking more and more dangerous. But the goal almost came out of nothing.

A half cleared Arsenal attack looped up into the air and Matty Flamini tried something that can lead to a slice, an effort woefully wide or even an embarrassing air shot.

On this occasion however, with perfect technique, he couldn’t possibly have caught it any better.

Bang! Get in you beauty.

Scoring a 20 yard stoomer to win a cup tie away at the Lane in front of the travelling Gooners. It’s what dreams are made of.

And did we jostle?! It was absolute and utter carnage 🙂

“Here’s to you, Matthieu Flamini, Arsenal loves you more than you will know, woh oh oh oh”……echoed into the night sky as everyone bounced up and down in unison.

A memorable and deserved winner on a memorable night.

Back in the eighties being ‘kept in’ after the final whistle was the norm at away games. Various reasons down the years have meant that is not the case any more.

Last night it was back.

We can argue all night long as to whether it was necessary and/or the right decision but although inconvenient to all those of us with tight transport schedules (and work in the morning), being part of a 3 thousand strong Gooner throng being marched up Tottenham High Road after winning in their own back yard was amusing if nothing else.

And the fact for those of us not interested in getting involved in a ‘tear up’ it was pretty safe too, overall it is difficult to argue against the decision.

A thoroughly entertaining Wednesday night then and it’s off to Sheffield for the next instalment.

Half way to that destination is Leicester of course and it is here we head next to take on Sven’s men. Their great start is comfortably enough to suggest it will be yet another tough test.

For now however, I will leave you with my thought of the day…..if a spurs fan tries to soften the blow of his last 24 hours by advising that ‘it was only the League cup’, remind them that is the only trophy they have won in the last 24 years.

That should do it.

See you in Leicester.


Walking Away

Sunday 20th September 2015

Sixteen years ago a crucial work commitment meant I couldn’t make an away game. Little did I know that all these years later I would have missed only 1 game in all competitions.

Looking back over the ten years previous to that and the games missed, all away, can be counted on one hand. So that’s 26 years since I didn’t attend a home game.

That run includes over 100 games overseas in European competitions.

And then there’s the friendlies, 130 plus to be exact, including about half in other countries all over the world.

I’m not even going to start to go through the reserve and youth team fixtures!

So why am I telling you this?

Well, I didn’t go to Stamford Bridge on Saturday. For the same reason as the majority of the others over the last 26 years, a bestie friend was getting married. In the football season. At his age he should know the rules! 😉

It meant when I awoke on Saturday morning I felt very very strange. Not stressed or disappointed or annoyed, but extremely odd.

By the time I had headed up to Kent for the wedding however, the PMT had kicked in at levels I don’t generally experience when attending the game. I guess there is no other way of putting it, I hate not being there.

The time of the wedding and my sister’s house being only a few minutes from the venue meant I could at least watch the game. But it doesn’t need me to tell you it is absolutely no substitute.

As these fixtures tend to be, it was a game with much controversy. And after the dust has settled I can’t help but feel for the second time in a week one of our player’s stupidity and lack of discipline when provoked has cost us the game.

Costa is a good player but a nasty piece of work. No news there. But he is also clever. And it is the latter that got him exactly what he wanted.

He should have been sent off with his initial behaviour in his tussle with Kos. But the referee didn’t see it. Or if he or one of his THREE colleagues did, they got it badly wrong. Gabriel ‘stuck up’ for his fellow centre half and got a yellow card as a result. I don’t mind a bit of that. Fighting for each other is crucial. Just before half time, that should have been it. We had more than held our own and all was set for the 2nd period.

And that is where Costa’s cynical cleverness came in. He knew if he kept winding Gabriel up he could snap. And that is exactly what he did. And instead of dealing with it, he pleaded with the officials to send him off. And Jose wonders why people hate his club.

I’m sorry but Gabriel has enough experience to have walked away. And by not doing so he has to accept the criticism. That is the bit that is disappointing.

Costa could be retrospectively ‘done’ for his role in the initial incident but I doubt it. And even if he is it won’t bring any potential points back.

From that moment of madness onwards our chances of getting a positive result were lowered considerably.

Analysis of the game and our performance overall is extremely difficult after such an incident.

So I’ll leave that to other so called experts.

Another ‘car crash’ at the Bridge then in a disappointing week.

For the record the wedding was a right good shindig and i’m delighted that my bestie mate and his new ‘trouble and strife’ had such a good day.

As for our team, we desperately need to get things back on track. And fast.

Starting of course at the other end of Seven Sisters Road on Wednesday night.

Keep the faith.


Chumpions League

Thursday 17th September 2015

Many things have changed in the city of Zagreb since we last paid a visit 9 years ago, most of them certainly to the advantage of the visitor. The most annoyingly frustrating difference however, is our result.

A conversation is often heard between those fans who travel overseas to watch our team. It surrounds how wonderfully enjoyable these trips always seem to be……followed by the slightly tongue in cheek ‘before the football does its best to spoil it’.

Well…..that is definitely an accurate summary on this occasion.

When Dynamo Zagreb came out of the hat I was very disappointed. Not only had I been here before but my recollections of the city were not exactly favourable. I don’t remember there being anything particularly wrong with it but trying hard not to offend any Croats here, especially given how hospitable they have been on this visit, I recall it being a bit……boring and drab.

If this time round is anything to go on I must have seriously missed something 9 years ago.

Tuesday’s early start and battle through the rush hour traffic to Heathrow seems a long time ago now and preceded what has been a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining experience.

Until the match of course.

The weather has been lovely and made the excellent Al fresco food and drink options in the city’s old town flow long into the night.

Old Town Al fresco fun

Old Town Al fresco fun

Matchday saw a good stroll around the city taking in many of the sights and sounds and with the old town positively buzzing it was a fine way to enjoy the build up to the game.

One of the other aspects I remember from last time we came was the incredible noise our hosts made in their stadium. Due to many current fans not being supporters of how their club is being run however, the crowd was always going to be smaller on this occasion.

Before the disaster unfolded

Before the disaster unfolded

The scene was set.

So what went wrong?

Pretty much everything to be honest.

We played ok in the first 20 minutes I felt and could and should of been in front. But we weren’t and patience was the key.

Olly lost his and seriously left his team mates in the mire.

Both goals were avoidable, especially the second where we were guilty of simply falling asleep at a set piece.

And even though we gave it a good go the damage was beyond repair.

So a terrible start then. But it is only game 1 of 6 so far from being a situation that can’t be rectified.

The worrying thing however, is losing for the 2nd time already thus early in the season.

A fast recovery is required as we head to the expensive end of Fulham on Saturday lunchtime.

Come on you reds!


Party Pain

Monday 14th September 2015

I’ve always believed life is for living and although I totally accept there are many many ways of doing that, I can confidently claim that my choice of journey is never dull!

A huge amount of that whole combination involves following our great team of course. Doing that however, can make some of the other things I like doing a trifle complicated. In a strange kind of way, almost bordering on sadism, I tend to quite enjoy the challenge of fitting everything in. Hard work at times, but you certainly won’t hear me complaining. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again I am more than fortunate to be in a position to even attempt the things I choose and will never forget that.

Approaching the international weekend, a pretty ‘full on’ period approached, none more so than the days that included Saturday’s home game against Stoke.

As national sides (and most of our squad of course) took their latest steps towards qualifying for Summer tournaments, I joined a host of great friends for a stag weekend at Weyfest, a small but hugely entertaining music festival in Surrey. Naturally the vast majority of my pals support the mighty AFC and that includes the stag. It goes without saying that ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’ but seeing him dressed over the weekend in a combination of a long blonde haired lady, an elderly gentleman and a punk rocker was amusing for all attendees.

My various tales do follow a familiar pattern when it comes to the fact I enjoy a pint…….but I do stand by the fact my consumption always goes hand in hand with the kind of occasions where such activities are the norm. Such as days that end in a ‘y’ 😉

A stag weekend is certainly one where those attending don’t tend to share a milkshake or smoothie and this one was no less messy.

Getting home on the Sunday night it’s a good 48 hours or more before you feel anything approaching normality but I guess that is just an age thing! Ok in usual circumstances but Bestival started on Thursday last week……and when a party like that is taking place on your doorstep it is simply impossible not to attend. And when friends are going with you it seems almost rude not to start as you mean to go on by enjoying a few on Wednesday night!

Quickest way to the bar I guess

Quickest way to the bar I guess

Bestival.......a magnificent sight

Bestival…….a magnificent sight

Of course heading to and thoroughly enjoying a massive music festival is nothing new but when you throw in an Arsenal home game right in the middle it makes things a little bit more difficult. And requires some ‘stamina’ believe me!

Picture the scene….

Having pushed Friday night into the wee small hours, the carefully set alarm on my mobile goes off at 7am. I am in a field, in a camper van. And I’m desperate for a pee. My head hurts, I feel woozy and my mouth feels like I have swallowed my flip flop.

Fumbling around I find some clothes. Not really ‘going to football’ clothes though. More of a festival ‘outfit’. Toothbush, toothpaste and deodorant help too. And of course my season ticket, my train ticket and my wallet.

The walk from my field to the festival taxi rank takes about 30 to 40 minutes. And despite glorious weather so far, during my walk there was a ‘heavy shower’. There would be.

Two-thirds of the way to my destination my route is blocked by a temporary fence.

“I’m sorry Sir but the site is closed for an hour”.
“But I have a cab booked in 15 minutes” I replied.
“Well you can’t come this way I’m afraid” said Jobsworth.
“Look, there’s nobody about, it’s pissing with rain and I have a cab booked mate. Stop being stubborn and turn a sensible blind eye. We’ve got Stoke at home you know!”
“I couldn’t possibly do that Sir” he said.
“No, of course you can’t” I replied.

Consequently I was sent on an enormous detour that saw me reach the festival’s bus garage.

And I was soaked. And I was sweating alcohol!

“Excuse me Sir, where are you going?” I was asked.
“You tell me” I said. “One of your colleagues has sent me this way to get a cab I’ve got booked”
“Well you can’t come through here mate” he said.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m going to keep walking, you call your boss, or the police, or the SAS and get me arrested or whatever floats your boat” I advised through ever increasing frustration.

One phone call and a few more stewards ignored and I was in the relative warm, dry and comfort of my purposely ‘that will make things easier’ taxi and on my way to catch my early morning ferry.

It is safe to say things got better from there.

I hadn’t planned to meet friends and fellow Gooners on my train, especially some who were very much embarking on a jolly of their own so came ‘armed’ with vodka, diet coke & incredibly a bag of ice! Not big or clever so early in the morning but it certainly ‘sorted me out’!

Train breakfast festival style

Train breakfast festival style

Having enjoyed the usual pre match build up in London N5 it was an enjoyable, professional and extremely dominant team performance that made all my efforts seem so worthwhile. I’m convinced the goals will start to flow and looking at our current position we have made a steady start. Stoke are never easy to beat and we know that more than most.

2 goals, a clean sheet and 3 points. That will do nicely.

With that in the bag I wanted to get back to all things Bestival so a swift exit at the final whistle, fortunate tube, train and ferry connections and the same cabby that picked me up all those hours earlier saw me rejoin the party by 8pm.

Job done!

It’s now Monday, I feel like I have been hit by a steamroller and I need some sleep.

So a 6am start tomorrow to catch my flight to Zagreb is just what the doctor ordered!

Over land and sea.