Monday 28th December 2015
My last blog of the year….and least it is on the back of a win.
And if I look at the year 2015 it is yet another one where we have a trophy next to our name. Don’t forget that Gooners. Many of us do. A little too easily.
Tonight was important. For so so many reasons. To bounce back after our Boxing Day trouncing. To prove it was a defeat we can deal with on and off the field. To make sure we don’t lose ground at the top of the league. All that.
Off the field it was certainly irrelevant pre match. We had arranged a kind of Christmas mid London ‘crawl’ you see. We certainly weren’t gonna cancel it just because we got spanked down in Southampton!
Given the only time we played The Cherries at home was October 1987 it has been my easiest blog so far to reminisce. I was at the game. But if I’m honest I don’t really remember it. Talking to a couple of my friends tonight they challenged me to name the scorers in our 3 nil win. I could guess of course…..but to have named Smudger, Kevin Richardson and Micky Thomas would have been pure luck.
It was part of a run to Wembley of course and a game against Luton where to this day I still scratch my head as to how we managed to lose. But we did. It’s in the record books.
Back to the present and the current Bournemouth play extremely good football. We knew that already. And we were a little bit ‘vulnerable’. But on the night we done ok.
We were professional, defended extremely well when they had the ball and scored the two goals that were enough to secure those extremely important three points.
And d’you know what?! That’ll do.
I feel slightly guilty for writing another relatively short blog. But again, there is little more to say.
I will mention a conversation on the tube though. A Bournemouth fan was loudly claiming his team had been a little unlucky. I said to him if I concede you had a couple of speculative efforts in the first ten minutes and quite a lot of possession would you accept you didn’t have a single shot in the remaining 80 minutes?
His mate stepped in and admitted I had a point.
But that’s it. For 20 years we have enjoyed the majority of possession. And you don’t always win. I apologise for sounding so condescending to the Premier League newcomers but it is all about adjusting your game as and when required. It has taken a long time for us to do that on a regular basis but this season has seen us do just that more than once. And successfully too.
The best team won today, it’s as simple as that.
The Geordies are next. Saturday. 3 o’clock.
Their long long journey home needs to be empty handed. Not me being nasty to our friends from the north east. Just the way it needs to be as we continue our push.
A Happy new year to each and every one of you.
Sunday 27th December 2015
Sometimes you need to put your hands up and say you were beaten by the better side on the day. We were. And then some.
In 1970-71 Stoke did the same. And we all know what happened then. I’m clinging on to that. Please forgive me.
I did what the majority of us do at Christmas. I spent it with family. I ate too much. And I got pissed. And feck me my sister knows how to party.
Southampton away is my local game these days. And I think I’m not the only one that went into the game with confidence.
March 1989 we went to The Dell. And after the ‘Winter wobbles’ described in the video, we all felt that we might of blown it. But Perry, Rocky and Merse scored fine goals and we were back in it.
If nothing else it proved how that ‘feel good factor’ can be back where we want it to be very quickly.
The League table dictates we are still well and truly in this season’s race. But 1 point from West Brom, Norwich and Southampton away in recent weeks is not title winning form.
We can beat anyone on our day. But results in games like those prove we are very beatable too. Not great that.
But we have 2 home games now where 6 points out of 6 will paint a different Christmas picture.
A short blog today as I’m not sure there is much else I can say.
In a mighty weird and unpredictable League we need to keep going and do everything possible to win our next game. And Eddie Howe’s men will be confident they can prevent us from doing just that.
But in home games, against anyone, it is about what we do.
And tomorrow is no different.
Chins up boys and girls.
Tuesday 22nd December 2015
There’s something very special about night games. A relatively obvious statement admittedly and I’m certainly not the first to acknowledge it. And if our North London home could have been wrapped in crisp and shiny Christmas paper last night, what we all received from within produced a smile to rival that of a small boy receiving his first train set or scalextric.
Last night’s programme notes included details of our route to Wembley and ultimate success in the 1987 Littlewoods League Cup. For those of a certain age (including me) it was a season and victory that looking back seriously feels like where our current era ‘all began’.
Ok, it was 28 years ago and a huge number of current Gooners were not even born let alone can remember it! But for me it feels like from that moment we have won trophies, reached finals, reached semi finals, qualified for European competitions and/or competed in the top 4 of this country’s awesome league structure ever since.
And it wasn’t always like that believe me, even with our quite awesome history.
During that 1987 campaign we took on last night’s visitors in the Littlewoods League Cup third round. Back in those days we had already got through one round, something we haven’t needed to do for many years now due to our successes on reaching European competitions. A two legged victory over Huddersfield brought about a home tie with Man City and goals from Rocky, Martin Hayes and Paul Davis helped secure a 3-1 win in front of a crowd of just under 22 thousand at Highbury. Mick (or Mike as he is called in the programme pen pictures) McCarthy sat in the centre of City’s defence that night but could do nothing to prevent us progressing on what was to be an eventful, emotional and ultimately fruitful competition that season.
Similarly to now, Southampton away was one of the upcoming fixtures in the programme notes, the Travel Club train at £5.30 return from Waterloo, £6 for a seat and £3 for terrace admission at The Dell an indication that it’s not just the crowd numbers that have changed!
These days, just like their money bags friends at Chelsea, rather than a club where year on year it was difficult to predict what division they would be in, they have a never ending financial situation that allows them to hand pick the world’s best players. This of course means they have become competitive on the pitch and in a position to try and achieve the consistency we have enjoyed for many years now whilst operating within the budget our self raised model dictates.
As supporters of course, all we want to do is win and enjoy the football and goals that go with that. And that means needing to compete with clubs like City. And as we approach Christmas 2015 the fact both of us are well and truly in with a shout of picking up the title in May, last night’s encounter took on an extra edge.
You could feel it around the ground too. That strange and heady sense of optimism, tension and adrenaline.
I remember those Friday night games we enjoyed a few years back having something different about them. The whole ‘start to the weekend’ feel had everyone in a party mood. And the whole ‘start to Christmas’ feel about last night is probably in the same bracket.
Along with the fact we know we are capable of scoring goals, we have seen a few examples now of how we can adapt our game tactically depending on how it progresses.
And last night was definitely another example. Our visitors played well. Their poor performance being the only reason we were victorious simply did not happen. We just had the desire, the want and the ability to win on the night and deservedly so.
City had one chance in the first period and probably should have scored but when they didn’t we certainly made them pay for it. Theo’s superb strike got the stadium rocking and Olly’s thumping finish after latching on to yet another inch perfect Mesut pass made it a half time break that was positively bouncing.
It was crucial for me we didn’t concede early in the second half and although we achieved just that it was more the positive side to our play that was apparent. In fact 15 minutes into the second period we could and arguably should have been out of sight.
Toure’s accurate strike late on meant it was a little dicey in the final minutes but overall it was very much job done.
Before the game a draw would not have been a disaster. But City would have been very happy with that too and seen it as a point gained rather than two dropped. A win last night was massive for us. It takes us in to the Christmas games full of confidence and buoyed by another example we can compete at the very highest level against a team containing some of the world’s best players.
Southampton away comes next on Boxing Day evening. An extremely tough fixture as we have seen in previous encounters. Three points to enjoy with the cold meat and piccalilli would be extremely satisfying. We can as always make a difference by making some serious noise.
As I am enjoying writing my blogs whilst reflecting on similar fixtures in the past I’m going to take you back to the 3rd full season after the end of the 2nd World War and our home fixture with Derby County. Nothing unusual about that of course but the game kicking off at 11.30am on Christmas morning is certainly not something we are used to these days! Approximately 40 thousand people enjoyed a 3-3 draw before heading back home for their Christmas dinner that day and all in all it feels a good place to end my latest ramblings.
Apart from of course to say a very merry Christmas to all and see you on the south coast on Boxing Day!
I never did get that scalextric……
Sunday 13th December 2015
Playing a team that is currently bottom of the league suggests a victory is almost a foregone conclusion. I am always wary however, after a Champions League midweek fixture. Especially one where we put so much into it to achieve the perfect result.
Villa Park is one of those grounds we have played in many many times over the years. And not just to play Aston Villa of course. I remember FA Cup Semi Finals…..and replays. I remember League Cup 2nd replays too. And the Mercantile Credit Centenary Trophy Final. And all these have taken place during the time I have been travelling home and away.
Going back to 1986 we had reached the quarter final of the League Cup and took on the Villains in their own back yard. I was still at school at the time (in Maidstone, Kent) but with the home programmes in the build up featuring Travel Club adverts announcing “We’ll be at Villa Park, will you?”, I was desperate to go!
The only way I could get there at that time was if my dad was prepared to drive. But looking back, deep down, I don’t think he took a lot of persuading!!
So come mid afternoon I was looking out of my classroom window eagerly awaiting his arrival. It’s funny what you remember and I recall it was a French lesson. My teacher wasn’t particularly impressed at me looking out of the window unsurprisingly. And equally it wasn’t a shock that despite being able to relate my name, age and abode in that language I had absolutely no idea how to say “Hurry up Sir, I’m going to see the Arsenal!”
Getting to games was different back then. Part of the M25 wasn’t quite finished at that time and the Dartford Crossing was just a 2 lane tunnel in each direction. So leaving mid to late afternoon, driving through the rush hour and thousands of Gooners heading to the West Midlands wasn’t the easiest thing to do.
We made it of course, Charlie Nicholas scored a fine goal to give us the lead, the travelling thousands went ballistic and we should of won on the night. We were happy with bringing them back to Highbury but that was pretty much where the good news ended.
We lost the replay 2-1 and our trophy hunt was over for another year.
But I did get a ‘C’ in French.
Leaving for a game in the dark is not much fun. The temptation when looking out of the window and it’s pouring with rain is to get back into bed, pull those covers back round your ears and go back to sleep.
But doing that when you support the mighty Arsenal is very weak in my opinion. People have said they admire my dedication but although it’s nice to hear I am lucky to have been born a Gooner. Hartlepool fans getting to Portsmouth away when the weather countrywide is appalling and getting spanked 4 nought. That’s dedication.
But…..it wasn’t the greatest experience walking away from the warmth of home this morning nonetheless!
The usual journey, banter, brekkie on route, pre-match pint etc. soon has that enthusiasm well and truly back in place.
And on a dirty horrible day we needed that win to keep us warm.
New managers are analysing what they’ve got. Who has both the ability and the appetite for the battle ahead. Who wants to be picked before one of his fellow squad members.
So on that basis I fully expected Villa to close us down all over the pitch and be hard and tough in the tackle.
And there are no easy games. Not these days. Look at our recent results against West Brom and Norwich. Look at Liverpool away at Newcastle last week. Look at Chelsea & Man Utd’s results against Bournemouth. Look at how lucky Man City were to beat Swansea yesterday.
So we needed to start well. And although we didn’t actually fly out the blocks Theo’s pace won as a (definite) penalty and Olly’s calm finish from the spot gave us the perfect opening to build on.
Our big striker has enjoyed a fine week. And I thought he was magnificent today.
Rambo is relishing his opportunity in midfield too and along with Theo’s superb pass and Mesut’s simple square ball that had class written all over it, his desire to power into the box after starting the move with his tackle on the edge of his own was hugely impressive and satisfying for the travelling Gooner army.
And a bit like last year, having created a winning position we defended well and were professional for the remainder of the match.
Job done and the perfect end to a perfect week. Top of the tree, for 24 hours at least. And that feels great.
Tomorrow sees the Champions League knock out stage draw, something that few thought we would be involved in this time a week ago.
From a personal point of view I haven’t been to Athletico Madrid, Wolfsburg or Zenit. One of the two latter would be my choice. So we’ll get Barca or Real of course.
As I approach home on my car journey back south, Tottenham and Liverpool have dropped home points against sides they were expected to beat.
May I refer you to my title above……
“We are top a the League, say we are top a the League”!!
10th December 2015
Sometimes all the hours, money dedication find you questioning your own sanity. And then you get a trip like this one. Sat in Athens airport there are lot of very tired looking people. But there are a huge number of smiles too.
Monday night feels a long time ago now. But that’s when our latest adventure began with our flight from Heathrow.
A few hours of kip and we enjoyed a slap up meal and took in the nightlife, initially in Psiri before going to somewhere we hadn’t visited on any of our numerous visits, Gazi.
By day we experienced the strange scenario of sitting in the city’s Christmas Wonderland in glorious sunshine whilst the night saw us in a bar come club well into the wee small hours.
Our trip on this occasion was a 2 centre holiday! So matchday arrived with us checking out of our Athens city centre hotel and checking in to one in Piraeus, the home area of our hosts.
Everything had gone very smoothly so far and matchday was no different. A location that looked after us on our previous visit played host once more and accompanying the excellent food, huge beer menu and great banter was an enormous amount of PMT.
Everyone has aired their views as to whether we should have been in a position where only a healthy win would see us through. And there can be little arguments as to the fact we definitely shouldn’t have.
But after 5 matches that was the situation. Nothing could change that.
I think the majority of us were optimistic. But I also feel deep down we all feared it was a too bigger hurdle to overcome.
Our hosts were noisy of course and I think they all felt it was their night. Their time to party. Their time to celebrate. But we also knew if we could get our noses in front, the pressure could really get to them.
When Flammers smashed to woodwork it looked a bit ominous but we completed that period of pressure by taking that all important lead. Jostle number 1 in the away end. Game on.
Our second was a thing of real beauty. Joel’s drag back and superb pass sliced open Olympiacos’ defence and Olly complimented his perfectly timed run by burying it.
We couldn’t……..could we?!
When shortly after the referee pointed to the spot we were in dreamland and Olly slotted home with an air of total confidence streaming through his veins.
It was nothing short of pandemonium in the away end. And with roughly half an hour to go many of the home fans headed for the exits.
We had clinically and brilliantly done a job on them in their own back yard. And boy did we enjoy it.
It was very late by the time we got out of the ground but sleep was just not an option. So we celebrated and revelled in our victory. No surprise there.
We don’t like Thursdays at Arsenal Football Club. They are for sightseeing.
So grinning and smiling through our hangovers that’s what we did today. The Olympic Stadium, Acropolis etc got the Stubbsy Tour treatment and brought a quite fantastic away trip to a close.
I like Athens. But despite having been here many times it hasn’t been happy hunting ground.
Wednesday was one of ‘those’ nights however. Winning was a possibility. But going through was a tough ask. Our performance and result should never be understated.
We were simply awesome.
See you at Villa Park.
Sunday 6th December 2015
After an extremely difficult November to start this month off with a victory is as pleasing as it was essential. It wasn’t exactly a vintage performance admittedly but three points is more than welcome.
Back in 1983 I was a 13 year old boy and thoroughly looked forward to my trips to Highbury. Our team were going through a relatively transitional period after our cup exploits of the late seventies and the success we enjoyed under George Graham.
Our home game with Sunderland highlighted our inconsistency at that time, a 2-1 defeat sandwiched in between a 6-2 away win at Villa and a memorable 2-1 away win at the Lane in the League Cup. Some things never change I guess 😉
Looking at the programme notes little did we realise at the time just what success our reserves and youths would give us all to enjoy in future seasons. Names like Thomas, Rocastle, Keown, Campbell, Hayes were present.
Another was a young lad called Adams. And despite our home defeat that day it was to be the first time we saw our legendary future captain don the famous red and white. I’m sure like us even he didn’t realise quite what a journey he was embarking on.
I think we all like a 3pm Saturday game and yesterday gave us just that, a situation that seems to be such a rarity these days. And I thoroughly enjoyed it to be fair.
Some football clichés are over used at times but I definitely think the ‘there are no easy games’ example is more accurate these days than ever before.
Yesterday’s visitors are in the lower reaches of the Premier League for a reason. But on yesterday’s showing I can’t see that remaining the situation. Don’t get me wrong we definitely deserved to win the game but if luck went against us we also could have ended up dropping points.
How crucial a victory it will turn out to be is difficult to gauge of course but heading away from the ground it certainly felt more important than usual.
We all know our injury situation but players will come back. During this time every win we get under our belts feels doubly satisfying. And yesterday was the first.
Back in the time of Tony Adams’ debut the FA Cup 3rd Round draw was always on a Monday. Mid morning or lunchtime if my memory serves me right. I say that because it always used to coincide with ‘breaktime’ at school. All those of us with an interest would gather round a crackly radio and gloss and glamour was restricted to the sound of the balls in the bag.
Tomorrow sees the big day come around once again as every club left in the competition goes into the hat with the aim of doing what we have for 2 years on the bounce and lift that famous trophy at Wembley in May.
And the fact we could face the likes of Whitehawk, Salford or Eastleigh is why it is and always will be the greatest cup competition in the world.
Soon after we find out who we will be facing in January it’s Heathrow Airport for me as I join my fellow travelling Gooners Athens bound for what is an almost unique last game in our Champions League group.
I can’t remember being in this situation before and the fact it will be us or our hosts who progress on the night means it promises to be a lively old night whatever happens.
Given our injuries and the room for no errors it’s a tough ask.
But an achievable one.
Come on you Gunners!
Wednesday 2nd December 2015
Confidence amongst us Gooners is waning a little I feel. Although I’m generalising I think it is safe to say that. And why wouldn’t it be? And if we analyse everything I don’t feel that is down to the fact we don’t think we are good enough to beat any team on our day. Some of our results this season back that up. Like anyone I hate excuses. Especially those where nothing seems to support the argument. But sooner or later…….surely…….we are going to get our share of luck on the injury front.
The question on everyone’s lips is ‘why does it always seem to be us?’
Well, I don’t mind admitting I have absolutely no idea on the statistics from other clubs. Unlike in my younger years, I don’t even know the names of the vast majority of other club’s players these days. I’m simply not interested. I would rather have watched Stenhousemuir v East Kilbride on Sunday lunchtime than Middlesex v Moscow Fulham!
But overall, our current injury list, one that has frustratingly increased at an alarming rate in recent weeks, is now at a length bordering on ridiculous. The worrying thing for all is it has the potential to damage our season beyond repair over the coming weeks if things don’t improve quickly.
This blog’s nostalgia trip takes us back 22 years and to the days when even League Cup ties went to a replay. It is a game with a pretty crazy story attached to it on a personal level. Firstly, I made a schoolboy error. Deciding to take my girlfriend away for a week’s holiday to a small cottage north of Inverness in Scotland seemed a good idea at the time. Only when I looked in the programme for our League Cup home tie with Norwich did I realise should we draw that game the replay would be when I had booked to go away! If I remember rightly we were behind for long periods of that game and then, of course, the inevitable happened. Wrighty slammed the ball into the roof of the net in front of the North Bank and the game finished one apiece.
The sensible thing to do was completely forget about it of course.
But I was 23, and like with everything at that time of your life, thought I knew better. We could leave on the morning of the game, stay in a little B & B in Norwich and even take in the sights and sounds of Edinburgh during our journey back the following day. Easy.
A little look on Google Maps will tell you it was a journey of over 600 miles (one way) and will take you 11 hours (with normal traffic conditions)! For an early round League Cup replay. Ridiculous. But, having got up on the morning of the game in Winter darkness and travelled all day I arrived in Norwich with 45 minutes to spare. Not only did I get to witness a thumping 3 nil victory but the highlights were on the telly when I got back to my B & B after the match. She was a lucky lucky lady. It didn’t last. 🙂
Despite that pleasing victory it was to be a very inconsistent season domestically but just like our hosts who were celebrating a historical victory away at Bayern Munich it was to prove a momentous time for us on the European front culminating in our Cup Winners Cup victory in Copenhagen the following May. The Canaries’ adventure came to an end at the hands of Inter Milan due to a couple of goals from someone called Dennis Bergkamp. Whatever happened to him?!
Norwich away has seen a number of quality weekenders down the years and this season things took the usual course. A Saturday arrival and enjoying the entertainment our host city provided saw our arrival at our normal pre-match haunt the following morning accompanied by the expected levels of discomfort. A good few hours however, saw us battle our way through the windswept streets approaching Carrow Road in fine spirits.
The game, yet again, was one we should have won. But if you take our goalkeeper’s great save in the second half into account we could also have lost it. Looking at my opening gambit, I hate excuses. But would we have won the game had 2 of our most influential players not limped off and a third playing the latter stages as a mere passenger? Some won’t agree with me but I have to say I think we would have.
For the first 40 minutes, I don’t remember our hosts having the ball. And although we only had one goal to show for it we were deservedly in the lead and the most likely to score again. Norwich’s scorer had been firmly in Kos’ pocket for the entire game…….and then he was forced off. I like Gabriel as a player, but it is extremely difficult to come on ‘cold’ and be totally 100% up to the game’s speed from minute one. And he got caught out. Because the scorer was no longer in Kos’ pocket.
There has also been much discussion (mainly in the media) as to whether Alexis should have been playing. Given the fact he plays on the very limit, passes every fitness test, always claims he is raring to play and produces great performances week in week out, why wouldn’t he be!? Once again it is so so easy to criticise with the benefit of hindsight.
Overall, we came away with a point away from home. But I, just like everyone else, am genuinely a little concerned right now. Not because I don’t think we are good enough. But when you have so many world class players unavailable, producing those top quality match winning performances become even more difficult.
We need to dig in and get behind every one wearing the red shirt.
Which brings me to my final point. I absolutely hate us wearing blue. And Sunday for me took the biscuit. Has it not been described (and sold) as a ‘cup kit’?! Was Sunday not a League Game?! Don’t we usually play in red up there?!
I’m sure there are better statisticians out there than me but I’m pretty sure every season where we have won something since the war, our away kit has been yellow or gold. Or if I’m wrong with that it is certainly very much a large majority. That might be slightly superstition based but I can assure Arsenal Football Club they will never hear an Arsenal away following singing ‘come on you blues’ as long as I have blood running through my veins. And if we are going to be the ‘twelth man’ that is far more important than it looks. Maybe they’ll listen one day.
Up the Gunners.