Stick That in Your Stocking
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……