Thursday 29th October 2015
As much as I agree that when such a huge Gooner away following has spent enormous amounts of time and money getting to Sheffield on a Tuesday night we all expect to witness a performance where there isn’t just one team in it, I do also believe if you choose to support the team in League Cup ties there is always the chance you will get to see a game like that. After such an entertaining night out in the previous round however, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that we went out with such a whimper against a side, who despite playing very well and thoroughly deserving to win, are little more than an average Championship outfit. Our distinct lack of success at Hillsborough continues.
Those regular bad days included many in the nineties and for this piece I am going to take you back to September 1998 and an afternoon where despite our double winning team suffering a defeat, will be remembered throughout football for an incident involving Paolo di Canio and referee Paul Alcock.
The majority of football fans will have seen the incident on the TV or via social media these days but it didn’t look any less shocking or amusing from the away end believe me. The shock was only the fact that seeing a professional football player (and a high profile one at that) push a referee so that he ends up on the ground has always been extremely rare and remains that way to this day. The amusing side came from both the way Mr Alcock stumbled to the ground like someone who had enjoyed too many jars down his local and the way Nigel Winterburn danced like a boxer trying to avoid a punch in the same incident! Altogether not something to be condoned of course but a very amusing memory nonetheless!
The fall out was something like an 11 match ban for the Italian and for Mr Alcock, despite him very kindly agreeing to be a speaker at a future Maidstone Arsenal Supporters Club Christmas do, I detected on the night that even after a number of years he still didn’t really see the funny side! The difference between footballers, fans and referees at times I guess….
Despite the very long drive and the disappointing game, overall I pretty enjoyed my trip to Yorkshire. Like all cities with universities present, the lifestyle is pretty social in Sheffield and consequently we enjoyed the pre-match build up in one of the many options such a city centre provides.
Hillsborough is old school. Traditional, atmospheric and in places, a little bit ‘grotty’ to be honest. Despite the night time cup tie feel very much being present, the Leppings Lane end can do nothing else but evoke graphic memories and emotions for the vast majority of football fans, especially those of a certain age, no matter what your views are about what happened on that terrible day 26 years ago. And for that reason, it did feel a little bit of a strange night at times.
The love for cup ties has always been there for the majority and although our success in this particular competition is limited to semi and final defeats since Stephen Morrow’s winner against Tuesday’s hosts back in 1993, our success in the FA Cup over the last 2 seasons has certainly re-lit any dwindling flame for this kind of fixture. And to have 5 odd thousand travel to Sheffield on a Tuesday night it is difficult to argue with that fact.
The game was as odd for me as it was disappointing. For half an hour absolutely nothing happened. Plenty of passing but little else. Then, with their first soiree into our defensive third, our hosts took the lead. Everything we concede is disappointing, frustrating and annoying defensively of course, but to be fair, I thought it was a decent goal. It certainly meant we needed to improve and pull ourselves together if we were to progress.
The team selection process for these games is a difficult one for me. Mr Wenger has been consistent down the years and depending on the games immediately around each fixture he adjusts his matchday squad accordingly. If we have injuries in the squad he is reluctant to play his ‘first choice’ players. He made 10 changes against Tottenham, but with very few injuries it was still an experienced line up. And we got a night and performance to enjoy out of that.
Tuesday on the other hand was different. He could have picked 10 or 11 first choice players and we might have progressed. But if 2 or 3 of them picked up injuries he would have been slaughtered for it. He chose to only pick 2 or 3, we got knocked out……and we still came out with a couple of knocks. It’s difficult to know how our manager can win in that situation.
On the other hand however, Tuesday did demonstrate one thing. Outside of our ‘main’ squad of 18, we are a long way from putting together a team that could compete on any professional level. That’s not me saying individually these players are not talented and could go on to prove me wrong but ‘en masse’ we struggle. And on the showing the other night it is difficult to argue.
And I’m sorry, but I cannot stand that ‘cup kit’. We looked like clowns on the night. And at times, we played like them too. I sincerely hope we never have to wear it again. Red for home, yellow/gold for away. Wednesday play in blue. So either would have done.
So, our League Cup adventure comes to an end for another season and will be remembered for 2 things. A great great night at the Lane where Matty Flamini slammed in a 20 yard volley to put us through and very much a damp squib of a night at Hillsborough.
And it was the former we discussed as we enjoyed the city’s Tuesday night hospitality until the wee small hours. If nothing else, student night’s certainly give you an option of ‘cheap’ drink deals, whatever your age!! 🙂
The tough trip to south Wales comes next as we visit the Liberty Stadium and take on a team where we have enjoyed a mixed bag of results since their return to the top flight.
There is definitely no reason to feel down after this week I feel and taking positivity into Saturday afternoon is hugely important.
Both on and off the pitch.
Saturday 24th October 2015
I’m travelling home on one of those trains that splits. Not my usual route but trying to cut a long story short, last night I went to see Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse in Brighton. A very very good deal and my intended ferry back to the little island where I live working on my plans means I am at Horsham.
We are being held up because someone has ‘thrown up’ and the driver of the rear ‘portion’ going to Bognor Regis is refusing to go forward because it ‘pongs a bit’. Genuinely.
At this stage that is very amusing. And I’m dealing with it. But it would be very difficult had we not just got a positive result.
But we did. Whatever way we look at it. Or want to analyse it. We won. 3 points. Yes. Thanks. Lovely.
And it don’t smell of sick.
I like 5.30 kick offs. In fact I’m thinking of starting a campaign to name this the new 3pm. Whatever way we look at it, it certainly makes for a good day out. If you like a pint of course. And I do.
It was Royston the other week……..but today it was Brighton. A ‘different’ routine keeps us all fresh I guess! But within an hour I was embarking on a similar London pub tour to pre-Watford away. It’s these 5.30 kick offs you see……
Looking back at home games against Everton, one in particular will always spring to mind for all us Gooners. The 4nil victory to seal the League title back in 1998 (yes that was 17 years ago!!) was yet another very special day in our history. And footage of that ‘would you believe it’ moment still sends shivers down the spine.
For this memory jerker however, I’m going back a further 10 years and our Littlewoods League Cup Semi final 2nd leg victory in 1988.
After a fine Perry Groves strike had given us a hugely important 1 nil lead from the 1st leg at Goodison we were strong favourites to return to Wembley just 12 months after our famous win over Liverpool.
That confidence was tempered however, when reminded Spurs were one up from their away leg that year and we all know what happened after that!
Highbury was packed to the rafters and with the atmosphere electric we secured our spot at Wembley with an emphatic 3-1 victory on the night against The Toffees.
Those are the facts and figures but I also remember it for one particular moment for me personally that has forever remained in my memory as the evidence things just ‘had to change’.
I’ve watched us play from all parts of Highbury but my favoured spot at that time of life was the North Bank. Half way up, just in front of the gangway that separated the ‘top side’ from the ‘middle’ and just to the left of the left hand goalpost to be exact.
It used to get very busy at times looking back, but that slight discomfort was heavily outweighed by the sheer excitement and enjoyment of swaying and jostling and feeling as one. Like down the front at gigs, there was an unwritten rule that you all looked after one another should things get a bit ‘hectic’.
As a result I, along with all of us who remember those times, look back on them with a huge amount of fondness.
On that night in early 1988 however, there was a few quite frightening seconds where I genuinely didn’t feel safe.
Rocky had just smashed home and the usual pandemonium ensued. As it progressed however, I remember being somehow twisted so my back was to the pitch. And then that same back was against one of the crush barriers. For the first time that involuntary (as it had become at that moment) leaping up and down as one was really hurting my back.
The sheer weight of those around me was bending me backwards over the barrier. Not only did I think I was going to snap but I couldn’t breathe and/or do anything to stop it.
Of course, as it always did, that swaying, swell and forward pressure subsided within a few seconds and relative normality returned. But it was a moment I will never forget and the grazes and bruises on every single one of my back bones the following morning was the evidence. (Yes I was pretty skinny back then, no comments required! 🙂 )
I loved the terraces. I really did. But change needed to happen. And quickly before something catastrophic happened. But what did we/I know? Terribly, shockingly and desperately sadly, an awful lot it seems.
This afternoon the world’s eyes were upon us. Nothing unusual of course but we needed to win. Above all else. And we did. Not particularly impressively in the second period, but we won. 2-1 goes in the record books, we’ll take 3 points and move on to another competition.
That will do. And tonight if you start at the bottom of this country’s awesome football pyramid and keep looking up, eventually you will see the name Arsenal. That’s alright that is.
Sheffield Wednesday, for a long time were our bogey team. Certainly at Hillsborough. I’ve been there many times over the years but victories are hard to find. That needs to change on Tuesday night where the number of travelling Gooners expected exceeds those back then by quite some distance (apart from our FA Cup Semi final exploits back in the 70s of course).
We know our travelling support can make some serious noise. Let’s show our hosts the respect they deserve and give another example.
Come on you mighty reds!
Wednesday 21st October 2015
We have a decent side. One that can be hard working, marvellously entertaining and victorious most weeks but bordering on naive, calamitous and incredibly frustrating on occasion.
And we are a long way from bring able to claim to be the best club side in Europe. You know that, I know that and i’m pretty sure our great club’s players and staff know that.
Bayern Munich however, can claim to have that right. They are arguably the best side in Europe right now. The vast majority will agree with that statement.
Yet last night, with correct tactics, guts, desire, ability and a little bit of luck we turned them over. And on a night where a positive result was crucial to any chance of survival in this year’s Champions League.
Roughly ten years ago we also beat them. But on that occasion we were to go home disappointed, Thierry’s winner at Highbury not quite enough to overturn the 3-1 defeat we endured at a freezing cold Munich Olympic Stadium a couple of weeks previous.
Against a side containing the likes of Oliver Kahn, Michael Ballack and a young Bastian Schweinsteiger I felt there were similarities to last night when I remember I felt we got our tactics right. Conceding would have been a disaster so we concentrated on that for large chunks of the game. Thierry’s goal past one of the world’s great goalkeepers at that time meant we needed one more to progress but it wasn’t to be.
It would have been slightly naive to go into last night’s encounter actually confident of victory I feel but we all new we have been in good form and if we got things right on all fronts we certainly had a chance.
Each time we have shown our colours before kick off at our new stadium, by means of a planned and combined effort, it has preceded a disaster on the pitch. So although I knew it would look impressive this time round, I wasn’t convinced it would be a good idea.
Nobody could argue however, along with that very special night game atmosphere, it looked absolutely fantastic as the spine tingling Champions League music blared out. A massive congratulations to all those involved in organising it…….especially as we won this time! 🙂
We started well I thought, looking dangerous each time we went forward but then there was a 20 minute spell where we hardly touched the ball!! It was a period that included the first of Bayern’s 2 clear cut chances on the night and of course the first of Petr Cech’s great saves.
Defensive shape is talked about a lot and last night was a perfect example of why it so critically important, especially against the world’s best passing and possession based teams. Had we shown the kind of concentration we showed last night I am convinced we would not have lost to either Zagreb or Olympiacos.
The whole game was depending on a combination of our collective defensive concentration and application and our ability to be dangerous on the break.
Munich’s goalkeeper demonstrated just why he is considered the world’s best with his incredible save from Theo’s header shortly before a quite breathless first half came to a close.
Before a ball was kicked I genuinely stated if it was nil nil after 70 minutes I would be happy. And that is what we got.
Because I felt if we could hold out for that long I would really fancy us in the last 20 minutes.
And that was some jostle! However messy the goal appeared!!
The noise inside the ground was phenomenal. Right up there with some of the loudest I have heard. And like it or hate it, the Giroud song sounds incredible when the whole stadium sings it with gusto.
The late second was the icing on the cake of course and completed a memorable night that just about keeps us in with a shout.
Football dictates however, we now need to get the whole night out of our system as Everton come to North London with their fans and staff demanding a positive reaction to their home defeat last week.
Home games should be about us though and we need to put in another performance to keep our League challenge on track.
Come on you reds!!
Sunday 28th October 2015
Many of us have that ‘collecting’ bug and I am certainly one of them. It was football stickers and train numbers when I was a kid living near the railway line through Medway in Kent but even back then I would always keep anything I had involving the Arsenal.
That included match tickets and programmes of course, all kept relatively neat and tidy, definitely in date order and logged in a book.
If you do get involved in this kind of activity, gaps in your collection tend to niggle. Ridiculous really but they do.
The likes of eBay have been around for a while now but recently I’ve seriously got that ‘bug’ again and 2 weeks without football has seen me feed that particular addiction a little bit too fervently!!
Seeing this week was the anniversary of Mr Wenger taking the helm at our great club had me digging out the programme for his first ‘official’ game away at Blackburn. Seeing the notes welcoming him to the English League feels strange and the haircuts, players and fashions confirm it was a whole generation ago.
9 major trophies, countless other finals, semi finals, runners up spots, a brand new stadium in London N5 and permanent European Football later and he is still our leader.
Time and age dictates he is now in the latter stages of that incredible career. I look forward to enjoying both that and hopefully our future under a new boss when it happens.
We all completely dread these international breaks for a couple of reasons. Firstly we have to go without a proper football fix for a fortnight and that fear members of our squad will return injured is extremely strong. Incredibly with so many involved we seem to have come out the other side with everyone relatively unscathed.
And the former had me almost biting at the bit to get out of bed and onto my London bound transport.
The 5.30 kick-off had our group making plans to enjoy the refreshment on offer in and around the Charing Cross/Leicester Square part of our great capital city, an area full of good traditional pubs before heading up to Euston for the short journey to Watford Junction.
Great company and banter as always and it meant we made our way in fine spirits.
Watford hasn’t been an annual destination over the years but depending how old you are, one we have visited numerous times. The recent rekindling of my programme collecting passion has made me decide to include some references to our similar fixtures from history as this season progresses, some I would have attended and some not.
A couple spring to mind on this occasion.
Back in September 1984 the likes of Charlie Nicholas and Tony woodcock looking bang in scoring form meant things were looking up for us Gooners after a relatively disappointing period and an exciting 4-3 win at Vicarage Road was one such example. It would be 3 more years of course before the silverware started to appear back on the shelf but it was a good win away at a Graham Taylor side fresh from going all the way to the FA Cup Final only a few months previous. Costs were a lot different back then too, 50p for the programme emphasising that. And if you were lucky enough to predict the 2nd ‘Golden Goal’ against QPR you went home with the princely sum of 30 quid!!
Roughly sixteen years on and Graham Taylor was still at the helm at Vicarage Road against an Arsenal side that although made it all the way to the UEFA Cup Final in Copenhagen were kind of ‘between trophies’ at that time. Another entertaining encounter saw 5 goals, a quite awesome individual strike by Thierry being the outstanding memory. I also recall there being one or two almighty thunderstorms around that afternoon, the kind that make it feel like the world is ending!! Cost wise we were up to £2.50 for the programme by then and 2nd prize in the ‘Gold Draw’ saw the winner pick up a tidy 500 quid. The top prize was given out to the lucky winner by a grown man in a huge hornet suit, a sign that mascots had well and truly hit top flight football by this time!
Back to the present and we played ok in the first half I felt. Certainly well enough to make me feel if we did the same again in the 2nd period we would win.
And we did. With bells on. And chocolate sprinkles.
It doesn’t matter how much a jostle next door to a JCB graced building site feels, it is always enjoyable away from home. And we got 3 of them. Lovely.
The perfect result from a highly entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable day then, and a good way to prepare for our hugely tough home game with Bayern Munich on Tuesday night, a game that could pretty much decide whether we are still in with a chance of progressing from this year’s Champions League group.
The walk through my home town felt a bit odd yesterday morning, dozens of people standing on street corners carrying cameras not something I have seen before early on a Saturday. Then I remembered. It’s a real ale and vintage bus weekender! 40 odd examples of transport history taking enthusiasts not just to well known pubs in this part of the world but also to many not normally on a bus route.
Today, especially as yesterday’s result deserves additional celebration, I plan to get involved. Just for the transport reasons of course! 🙂
Sunday 4th October 2015
A fellow traveller has just advised me he was a little surprised we made the same train as him, especially as he ‘only just made it’. He then informed me he only just about had time to ‘get himself a sandwich’!! That’s not just about making it!!
Me not getting a sarnie is probably the only bad thing about what has been a fine day. And maybe it was the spring in my step that has me writing these notes on the train that is the icing on the cake. I might even have time to pick up a celebratory Ruby Murray when I get home.
And I wouldn’t have fancied that had I enough time to pick up a sarnie 🙂
We were all seriously down after Tuesday. It wasn’t just the defeat but the fact it was a ridiculous situation we know we could and should of avoided.
All in all though I had quite a good feeling about today. Not because of Tuesday or the fact our visitors are on a good run themselves. But over the last fortnight we have also demonstrated we can be very good on our day.
And knowing we needed to be on fire from the off probably worked to our benefit.
Tuesday hurt. But today it was nice to witness it quite obviously hurt our team too. And boy, did our opponents pay for it.
In the first 20 minutes we were irresistible. It’s as simple as that. It wasn’t just the goals but the way we wanted that ball so so much more than them.
Most home games we dominate the first 15 to 20 minutes. But if our opponents come through that unscathed the day can become tougher and tougher. Today we made our domination count and then some.
I’m not someone who gloats. The range of emotions us fans go through is incredible. So I take the rough with the smooth.
But do you know what? I hope after 20 minutes you Mancs were hurting. I’ve enjoyed some good days against you lot of course but I’ve also endured those days where you’ve spanked us. Today was your turn.
And don’t think because you enjoyed the lion’s share of the 2nd half today you deserved something from the game. You were well and truly spanked today.
Like any League game, it’s only 3 points of course but we’ll take them and very much enjoy the highlights when we get home. Make no mistake, we were stunning going forward today and strong, disciplined and professional at the back.
Amazing considering Tuesday night’s display.
Our start has been average. Apparently. I get that opinion. But in a league that never fails to surprise it’s certainly not been a disaster.
And…..as I sit here looking forward to my curry, we go into the October international break in 2nd spot and right in amongst it. That’s alright that is.
Today was simply awesome.
And I never did want that sandwich 🙂