Sunday 31st January 2016
The last day of the month and our incredible run in the FA Cup goes on. February in fact was the last time we lost in the competition. And that was in 2013!!
Looking back to that exit it was in a home game against grossly unfancied opposition. You need to turn up in every cup tie. And you have to wonder if our disappointing defeat that day has served us well ever since.
Since the war, only us (twice), Spurs (twice), Newcastle and Chelsea have won the famous old trophy for two years on the bounce. Spurs went out in the 5th Round when trying to make it a hat-trick of wins in 1983 but the best defence by some distance was our own in 2004 where we reached the last 4 again. Amazing to think when we won it again the following season how close we were to winning it 4 times in a row.
No other club has gone further than the 4th Round in this situation giving an indication of the level of achievement Saturday afternoon’s result sees us reach.
Whilst on the history vein, 1950 was another year where we enjoyed success in the competition and on our run to Wembley Burnley visited North London in the 5th Round.
Like Saturday we scored 2 that day and with no reply we progressed into the quarter final in front of 55 odd thousand people. Famous names such as captain Joe Mercer, the Compton brothers, Jimmy Logie, George Swindin and a Reg Lewis who would have no idea at this stage he would end his season scoring a double at Wembley to help his team mates win the cup, were on teamsheet that day.
The programme that day included a front page aerial view of a Highbury with a roofless North Bank where you can clearly see the famous premises located directly behind that stand that gave rise to ‘The Laundry End’.
Elsewhere British Rail offered a large advert telling potential patrons how they could enjoy cheap Sunday days out to destinations such as Folkestone, Thetford, Spalding, Cardiff and Sheffield, the latter from Marylebone!
The programme also saw the absolutely fascinating picture below where squad members including legend Alex James underwent ‘Sun-Ray treatment’, no doubt a typically Arsenal groundbreaking method in the day no matter how it looks to us these days.
Although strong favourites to progress on Saturday afternoon Burnley were always going to be a dangerous opponent. Full of Premier League experience and the in form side in the Championship, anything but a decent performance could see us slip up.
And although the 2-1 scoreline suggests it was a close run thing, as an overall contest we thoroughly deserved to go through.
There was a huge amount to feel good about too I think. Without being incredible our new signing ‘Super Mo’ Elneny enjoyed a more than satisfactory debut, Le Coq slotted back into that defensive midfield position he has almost made his own and any Tommy Rosicky appearance is a popular one.
Throw in 2 superb goals, the first a quite awesome strike from an unexpected source, the second a fast and efficient counter attack thumped home by Alexis and of course our safe progression into Round 5 and all in all it was a thoroughly satisfactory day at the office.
I also felt Alex Iwobi had an excellent afternoon. Looking extremely confident and comfortable on the ball throughout, the boy has a chance I feel. And that has to be a good thing.
My steak dinner and glass or four of red wine when I got home wouldn’t always be put hand in hand with the word ‘celebration’ but it was definitely graced with the kind of satisfaction FA Cup progression always gives you. As I said to my dad as we left the ground, “that’ll do”.
I’ve spent all day decorating today. Not rock and roll admittedly but the only aspect of today’s football activities I was genuinely interested in was this evening’s 5th Round draw.
Shrewsbury away would have been my first choice. I was at Gay Meadow back in 1991 when Mickey Thomas scored the only goal but I haven’t been to their new abode.
Like in all draws however, if you don’t get your preferred choice personally, a home tie has to be a good thing. And despite the fact it’s Hull yet again, I’ll definitely take that.
Very little time to dwell on cup success on this occasion as we return to league action and take on a side on Tuesday night that absolutely spanked us over Christmas.
That and nothing else should be enough to make sure we are ready.
The march goes on……
Sunday 24th January 2016
Hundreds and hundreds of messages I’ve had. And I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to sum them all up. There are very few positive slants (understandably) but other than that summary, there’s not an awful lot of views that would fall into the level headed view section either.
Chelsea are full of talented, mentally paid, ‘couldn’t give a shite where I play as long as It’s the highest wages’ players. And this season has proved they turn up for work as and when they can be bothered. Not playing for the badge is something we have all needed to get used to in this country.
But, no matter what we think, playing against a team that are not particularly fond of you demands you turn up.
I thought we did today. But, when taking the game to a side like Chelsea you have to be ready for getting caught on the break.
That’s all well and good.
But if you commit to a challenge that if you miss, you will get sent off, we have to accept that. Simples. And, unfortunately for us, that happened.
Amongst all the frustration I can’t help but write about my mindset. Yes, down to ten men, it’s very very difficult. But it was still nil nil. Give me nil nil at half time. Regroup and go again.
That didn’t happen.
And I was negative beyond belief at half time.
I still thought we could turn it around of course. You know how positive I am. But. Just but.
It’s a disappointing day. Very. But, does it mean it’s all over? Of course not.
Enjoy your week.
See you on Saturday as we attempt to continue our incredible FA Cup run.
Keep the faith.
Monday 18th January 2016
We all have our habits and some are more acceptable than others! One of mine is biting my nails, something that although I have done since I was a young boy, is definitely brought on by stress, pressure and the like. Which doesn’t really explain why I did it when I was very young but there you go!!
Following our team drums up pretty much every emotion known to man of course and as a result this week my fingers are battered! And although we haven’t taken all 6 points we have come out the other side unbeaten in two extremely tough away fixtures.
I mentioned a certain away game at Stoke back in September 1970 in a previous blog and it is the same game I am going back to on this occasion. Not because I have some weird affection for big defeats but due to the only conversation I have ever had with a fan of the Potters it was this fixture that formed part of the subject matter.
Taking place on a lads holiday back in the late eighties or early nineties I can only tell you it was somewhere hot in Europe. Playa de Las Americas, Kavos or somewhere like that gives you the picture.
These type of locations were full of fans of various teams during the off season months and my conversation when something like this;
“So you follow Stoke then?” I began.
“Yes mate” he replied. “And I can see by your shorts you’re a Gooner. That team we stuffed 5 nil the year you done the double.”
Amused that he didn’t quite get that his weak reference was followed by reminding me about a great year in our history I replied, “Yes, that’s right. The same season you blew a two goal lead in the cup semi final against us.”
“That’s always you lot’s answer” he strangely went on.
“Probably” I said, “….and usually followed by a reminder that we put you out at the same stage the following year.”
He wasn’t happy if my memory serves me right and as he disappeared off into the night he left with the parting comment, “that’s why we’ve always hated you lot.”
Things haven’t really changed to this day! And you can really feel it when you go up there. The fact it seems to be most Gooners’ least favourite away game of the season adds spice to that whole affair.
Stoke are very strong at home. And it is this that has seen them sit very comfortably in the top flight for a number of years now.
Looking at the 1970 programme it seems things were no different. After their win that day they hadn’t won any away games, yet remained unbeaten at home.
If Liverpool was wet, Stoke was absolutely freezing. Conceding a last minute equaliser Wednesday, a full, noisy and intimidating Britannia Stadium, a dreadful record in this fixture and an ice cold day certainly made up an overall package that could have seen us fail again.
Matching your team in the fight first is a football cliché often used and probably doesn’t ring any truer than in this fixture. And for the first time since our one victory was overshadowed when the Stoke centre half broke Rambo’s leg, on Sunday I felt we battled extremely hard to earn something from the game.
We created chances and late on so did our hosts. Depending where you looked after the game the man of the match was either goalkeeper. And that probably sums up the game and the reason it finished goalless.
We’ll take the point as a positive and remain top after a very difficult week I feel. We certainly shouldn’t feel downhearted.
Three home games on the bounce now, the first seeing us take on our neighbours from the blue part of Fulham. The Champions are not having a great season, their lowly League position evidence of that. None of us are stupid enough however, to expect anything other than the usual tough encounter.
A number of people have said to me us travelling Gooners sounded very loud on the TV on Sunday. That’s great to hear I think and we can make the difference by doing exactly the same at the weekend.
Come on you mighty reds!
Friday 15th January 2016
When the dust settles over Wednesday’s crazy game, a point from Anfield is never a bad result. We are all very aware of that. Having somehow got our noses in front and defended that lead well and relatively comfortably for such a long time however, it was extremely frustrating to lose two points so late in the game. Disappointed? I wouldn’t say that is how I felt. Frustrated? Definitely.
The facts around our trip to Anfield back in November 1962 seem part of a different football world when you look at both how Liverpool dominated football through the late seventies and eighties and what they aspire to today. Their previous eight seasons had been spent in the second tier of English football for starters, something that seems almost beyond comprehension today. Looking at the league table that day, they also looked a million miles from the side that went on to win the league 2 years later under one of football’s most famous characters Bill Shankly. In the relegation zone after 16 games in a league where over half of the teams do not grace this current season’s top flight, our 2-1 defeat that day went some way to helping their plight if it did completely the opposite to us.
What it does demonstrate however, is Anfield has always been an extremely tough place to go and win. We have done that of course, some occasions being more famous that others but it will never be a fixture we will ever look at as a comfortable three points.
Getting up just after 6am on a cold Wednesday in January is never going to be fun and also seems a little bit extreme for a game that doesn’t kick-off until 8pm but having chosen to use the country’s rail network on this occasion that is what our group needed to do. After all, these days you must catch the train your ticket allows. There night not have been much gloss to train travel and the sandwiches available on board definitely were a little ‘tired’ but there’s none of the “let’s just get up and get on any service that will get us there” like we all enjoyed back in the days of British Rail!
Our trains however, were all on schedule so I have little to moan about apart from every company insisting that just because it is a little bit chilly outside they need to put the heaters on full blast and keep us all bubbling away as if we were sat in a sauna!
Arriving in fine spirits we checked into our hotel along with the huge number of Scandinavian and Irish Liverpool fans doing the same thing and we headed on a mini tour of some of the city centre’s hostelries before making our way to a very wet Anfield for the main event.
The first half was entertaining I think it is fair to say (especially for a neutral) and to be level at half time was probably just about fair. Having gone behind twice however, I think we were all happier than our hosts at that stage.
We came out of the second half blocks quickly and needed that goal to compliment that dominance. Olly’s superb turn and finish made sure we got just that and it was total carnage in the away end.
Only our host’s late equaliser prevented it from being a memorable victory.
It meant the aftermath back in the city centre was a little subdued of course, but thinking about it through the delicacy of the following day’s journey back south a Wednesday night in January was hardly going to resemble Las Vegas.
We’ll take that point and keep positive as we head up to the Potteries and arguably our least favourite away game of the season. Our hosts enjoy playing us at home it seems. Their record against us dictates they will be confident and feel they can continue their success in this fixture.
We need to be up for and I’m sure we will be.
Come on you mighty yellows!!
Sunday 10th January 2016
Cup ties are so incredibly different to League matches. An obvious statement to all those of us who follow the beautiful game. But it takes some explaining to those who are not. After all, it is ‘just a football match’ apparently!
If things get close in the league, factors such as victory margins, goals scored and goals conceded can come into play. Yet in the cup you can win 2-1, 6-5 or 15 nil and progression to the next round is the only result.
19 years ago we had a new manager at the helm and on a cold Saturday afternoon he was to get his first personal experience of the World’s greatest cup competition. Very few of us could have believed that during his tenure he would produce teams that would go on to win the trophy 6 times (and counting….)
Sunderland were our visitors that day and despite taking the lead with a John Hartson goal we ended up with a replay on our hands that was not just frustrating because we hadn’t gone through at the first attempt but it meant we had to make the long trek to Roker Park twice in the space of 4 days, our away league encounter due to take place on the Saturday before the replay.
The sport of Darts has always been popular but none more than these days and back then the World Championships took place at the Circus Tavern in Essex. Attending the Saturday night semi finals was something our Maidstone group of Gooners used to do on a regular basis.
After our draw with the Wearsiders was one such occasion. Eric Bristow losing an amazing game to Phil Taylor and Dennis Priestley beating Denis Evans adds to the many things that make that period feel a lifetime ago!
Despite winning the replay it wasn’t to be our year of course but considerable success was just around the corner as we know.
I’d be very surprised if there are any Arsenal fans out there that don’t like the FA Cup. Even if you ignore our many successful trips to Wembley and Cardiff some of our very best memories have come in this competition.
And as a result I was thoroughly looking forward to yesterday afternoon.
On a grotty old day we did enough to deservedly go through, scored 3 excellent goals and our love affair with this competition goes on.
Giving some of our youngsters a chance is always difficult. Throughout Mr Wenger’s management he has used the League Cup consistently for just that and overall pretty successfully I feel.
We as fans would all like to see young players make that huge step up to the first team but we are also very guilty of being critical if we lose due to our understandable demands for success. So it is incredibly difficult to get that balance right.
I thought our visitors played ok yesterday and that suggests if we had made even more changes and/or given more youngsters an opportunity we might have come unstuck.
As a game I felt we looked good in the first 20 minutes or so until a defensive error allowed Sunderland to take the lead. Despite the remainder of the half not being particularly inspiring we scored a fine and important equaliser and I felt confident at the break we would go on to win the game.
The second period was pretty much all us but might not have proved quite so successful had our visitors scored instead of hitting the woodwork midway through the half just a few moments after the Ox had done the same at the other end.
Joel Campbell had an excellent game I felt and is getting better and better each time he plays. He took his goal well and his pass in the build up to our all important second was quite superb.
So 3-1 and the march continues.
A midweek trip to Anfield comes next, always one of the toughest fixtures on the calendar.
Before that we have the FA Cup 4th Round draw on Monday evening. Everyone will have their own thoughts on who they would like but for me personally it is always about getting something ‘different’ to the week to week norm.
Wycombe, Bury, Eastleigh, Newport, MK Dons, Bristol City and Exeter are all in the hat but have still got 3rd Round opponents to get past. I have been to some of them but never to see the Arsenal.
Oxford, Colchester, Walsall and Shrewsbury are all through and play at stadia where I’ve not seen us play. For that reason I would love an away tie at one of those.
Although there is as much chance of this happening as any other draw i’ll be amazed if it does. Cynical I guess but I can’t help but think it will be something ‘boring’.
See you at Anfield.
Sunday 3rd January 2016
Did we deserve all 3 points today? Possibly not? But do you feel guilty? If you do then you are forgetting all the times we’ve come out of games (and often slated our team as a result) after dominating and coming away with nothing.
We weren’t at our best but we were dogged and persistent. And in the end we ground out a massive result. Three points first. The frilly bits second please. Every time.
Thinking a little deeper about these kind of games it could be considered a little bit odd that I’m absolutely ecstatic with the result. Happy with three points, yes. But over the moon, possibly a little bit over the top.
But we have all been there. Very pleased with the way we have played but absolutely pig sick that we came away with nothing. And all the criticism and ‘we are shite’ stuff that comes with it, no matter how well we played or what we deserved.
So days like today are alright with me.
Back in December 2000 we beat the Geordies 5 nought. The Romford Pele bagged himself a hat trick and it was a thumping victory on the day.
In this particular blog’s reminiscing section I’m not particularly proud of the facts as to why I have chosen it! But, officially, it was definitely the most drunk I have ever been at a home game!
I remember up to goal number 3……but that’s about it. I had very long hair at the time and as my mates ‘helped’ me back to our post match transport I do have a distant memory of somebody calling out, “I’ll have a pint of what she’s had”.
The Geordies were led by the late Bobby Robson back then and relied on the talents of the likes of Alan Shearer, Shay Given, Robert Lee, Gary Speed and Nobby Solano whilst the programme notes confirm some things have changed very little. Bayern Munich were one of our Champions League opponents that year and just like today Malcolm Macdonald was interviewed about life in red…& black…& white.
Looking back, my antics weren’t big and it weren’t clever. And I’d like to say sorry to Ray Parlour for missing his great goal haul on the day. But……I was in Bremen when you scored and even better triple Raymond!! 😉
Today, considering the weather and reports from some fellow Gooners, went very smoothly for me. On time trains, satisfactory tucker, a good few beers and avoiding the vast majority of the rain meant it all worked well.
And with a good result too, i’ll take that.
Heading home South West Trains have done well yet again though. A four coach train on a very busy line, on a very busy Saturday evening meaning many had to stand the whole way for their ridiculously overpriced ticket. And the ‘not enough rolling stock’ bollocks doesn’t wash when your train passes all the dozens of units parked up in the sidings doing nothing.
But, overall, that doesn’t scrape the surface when it comes to any effort to try and spoil my day.
I love going to football. And I love going to support my team a huge amount more. And I got all that today.
Next we try and start on the road to defending a trophy we won in 2014 and is still sat in our cabinet.
If those last 2 years are not enough to whet your appetite for the world’s greatest cup competition, you are in the wrong job.
Happy New Year folks……still top of the lot.