Monday 29th February 2016
Analysis on yesterday’s disappointment is extremely difficult. Having seen us play in every game at Old Trafford since the mid to late eighties in fact, I have found it harder than ever before and that includes everything from history making victories, to cup semi finals, to 8-2 defeats.
In October 1990 we headed up to Manchester with a side that after a disappointing attempt at retaining the title we won in 1989, looked very capable of winning it for the second time in 3 seasons.
The game will always be remembered for what was described as a ‘brawl’ when if my memory serves me right ‘Nutty’ Nige went in with a rather zealous challenge that probably would have been given a red card in modern times and Brian Mclair, someone he had enjoyed a number of altercations with in the past, decided to put the boot into him as he laid on the deck like someone with the ‘ump in a nightclub car park! Pretty much everything else was no more than handbags but the fall out was typically, like if someone had been murdered. Fortunately the unprecedented 2 points we were docked didn’t prevent us from romping home to the title.
A combination of clever thinking by Anders Limpar and bad goalkeeping by the late Les Sealey led to us winning the game 1-nil, a goal that saw one of those traditional and raucous terrace jostles in the packed away enclosure directly behind the goal at that time. More importantly though if you listen to the commentary (by Martin Tyler I think), he describes how we had ‘pretty much defended for the previous 40 minutes against a purposeful United side’ before taking that crucial lead.
And for me, that is the point. We might have been second best. But we didn’t concede. And as a result, look what happened. It’s something away from home this season at the likes of Norwich, West Brom, Liverpool and now Old Trafford that our inability to achieve has seen us pick up just 2 points from 12 out of those matches.
Journeys home with friends and people going through the same emotions are the only way you can deal with your team’s result I feel. We celebrate as one when it goes well so to chew the fat and sound off at one another after getting beat is the way it should be.
One of our loyal regular travelling party (many of you would have met or recognise Finbar) likes the occasional pint. And if he pops to one of his local hostelries the night before an away match, his journey home passes a small supermarket. As a result his plastic bag of pre-match journey ‘goodies’ is fast becoming legendary.
And yesterday’s was bordering on sheer gluttony! Everything from pork pies to chocolate muffins to jelly babies were produced.
It was my birthday Thursday and the realisation of the fact none of us are getting any younger coupled with the fatty and sugary fare Finbar had provided and the fact we needed something to take our minds off our defeat led to a conversation regarding diets and fitness regimes of varying levels and success.
Weights to cycling and gym visits all got the treatment before one of our party brought up the difficulty levels of doing yoga on the Wii Fit!
It was at that stage we realised our conversation had reached an all time low in our attempt to avoid any further analysis or opinion regarding the game.
I would never verbally ‘attack’ any one of our players or staff so I don’t want to be accused of such. But I am totally convinced that if Per had played alongside Kos yesterday afternoon we would have won the game.
Although that statement is admittedly easy with the benefit of hindsight I was astounded when I saw our big German had been omitted for such an enormous game. In my opinion he and Kos are our best central defensive partnership and with a game away at Man Utd they should be out there.
Gabriel is a decent player and has played at a high level. But today he had an absolute shocker.
Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t play well in many areas again. But when you are not at your absolute best but relatively comfortable, it is crucial you keep the score at nil-nil.
Yet against an at best mediocre Man Utd eleven we managed to go two goals behind and leave ourselves with simply too much to do. And I believe both goals would have been avoided had our first choice centre back pairing been playing.
We scored twice, as many as any of my previous visits over the last 30 years……and that could and should have been enough to get something from the game.
But defending like schoolchildren, which we did at times yesterday, cost us in the harshest possible way.
We weren’t unlucky. We were poor I’m afraid. And that is worrying, especially in the short term at such a crucial stage of the season.
A few short weeks ago we were arguably the favourites for the title. Now we are definitely the outsiders.
More importantly, even if those around us slip up, we are not showing anything to suggest we are good enough to take advantage.
Swansea at home is our first opportunity to prove not being capable is inaccurate.
And a win is essential. There is no other way to describe it.
See you Wednesday (if my Yoga efforts don’t prevent me attending!)
Wednesday 24th February 2016
Having written most of my thoughts on the tube after last night’s game, I thought I would give them 24 hours and read them again before publishing.
Overall I expected to think I might have been a bit over negative. But I’m not sure that is the case. A sense of resignation that not only were we beaten by a fantastic team but I almost expected it……maybe. But not negativity with the way we went about it on the night. In fact, I think we probably deserved something from the game. But the world’s best lack naivety, something we don’t seem to be able to totally eradicate from our game for a whole ninety minutes.
Although words like ‘inevitability’ and ‘expected’ spring to mind unfortunately, overall I feel a two nil defeat was a bit harsh.
But whatever way you look at it, we are all but out of the Champions League again. That’s not being negative, but anyone who thinks otherwise is not facing reality.
We are not facing a 2 goal deficit against a relatively mediocre French outfit like last season. Monaco’s frailties meant we always had a glimmer of hope, something we so nearly achieved down on the south coast of France 12 months ago. But being 2 behind before stepping into the home of the best club side in the world, that is game over for me.
For this blog’s ‘look at a previous fixture’ I was going to say a few words about Geordie Armstrong’s testimonial back in the mid seventies but having looked at the programme that has already been covered it seems!! Instead I am going back just the 17 years or so and to one of the Champions League games we played at out temporary European home of Wembley.
Despite crowds for every game we played at the national stadium reaching well over 70 thousand we all knew it was a gamble due to the attraction of playing there for all of our opposing sides. And so it proved with only 1 victory coming from our 6 ‘home’ matches over 2 seasons.
That October night against Barca was no different as a side boasting the likes of Pep Guardiola, Ronald de Boer, Patrick Kluivert, Rivaldo and Figo powerfully overcame us in a 4-2 victory. Our goals came from Marc Overmars and a quite superb Dennis Bergkamp finished move but the night was a perfect example of the issues we had playing our home games away from the comfortable surroundings of London N5. We went out in the group stages for the 2nd season in succession, something we, quite remarkably, have avoided in every single season since.
Success wise, after winning the double the previous season, our quest for another trophy came to an end with the very last kick of the season on a sultry night in Copenhagen in May.
The emotions we go through in the build up to any fixture can range from relaxed to nerve shredding. Last night however, I felt a bit odd. Despite rarely being anything other than positive I just couldn’t see us getting through the night without conceding.
And although admittedly it’s easy for me to say this now, all my fears were proved accurate.
The razzmatazz and colour in the few moments leading up to kick-off were impressive and contributed to a fine atmosphere from minute one.
And we started the game well. Our whole performance in the first period in fact was very good and other than a moment in the one minute of injury time, we looked both solid at the back and creative going forward.
Come the break it was a positive atmosphere present as we caught our breath.
That chance in the dying seconds of the half provided the warning of just what our visitors were capable of in the blink of an eye.
And despite us coming close on a couple of occasions and our overall performance being a good one, the opener definitely felt as inevitable as it was gut wrenching and disappointing.
I felt the referee was poor….again. In fact in my opinion if you get 2 teams playing against one another from 2 of the top 4 leagues in Europe you should always get officials from one of the other leagues in that top 4 (ie; Germany or Italy last night) .
The referee was out of his depth and it was obvious to all present. Probably as a result of refereeing the likes of Izmir v Ankara every other week I guess.
So a disappointing result on a night where we witnessed a quite superb football match with some of the current football world’s greatest players on show.
But this time of year there is absolutely no time to dwell on defeat and a trip to Man United will always find you out if you are not back on it with immediate effect.
In my opinion we should completely give up on any chance of going through in the Champions League. That might sound ridiculously obvious but I’m convinced that is not something our manager will consider. I understand his pride of course but despite being one of the thousands of Gooners who has spent a lot of money on a trip to the second leg I still believe we should cut our losses.
And by that I mean by now concentrating all our efforts on trying to be successful in one (or both) of the trophies we are still in with a chance of winning. We are a good side. Losing last night is no disgrace and on another night it could even have gone our way. And we need to take the positives from that.
That starts with trying to take three points from Old Trafford on Sunday lunchtime.
No easy feat of course.
Come on you yellows!
Sunday 21st February 2016
Replays are always a possibility in cup competitions. That’s because it doesn’t matter how much you dominate any fixture, there is another team out there striving to prevent you from winning.
And despite being totally on top from start to finish, yesterday’s visitors fought and defended incredibly well. Throw in some poor finishing, good goalkeeping, the woodwork and some questionable penalty decisions going against us more than once, it was a frustrating afternoon overall.
Did we play any better in similar ties against Burnley, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Hull in recent seasons? I’m not sure we did. And for that reason alone I think we were one goal from it being a dominant and professional performance.
Back in November 1977 Hull came to North London for a league cup tie where we certainly didn’t struggle in front of goal. John Matthews, Frank Stapleton, Malcolm Macdonald and Chippy Brady all contributed in a thumping 5-1 victory against a side captained by Billy Bremner.
As I write these thoughts finding a date for our replay is proving a tad difficult. In 1977 a date was already in place had it been required. Tickets would have to be purchased a few days later in person from the box office in Avenell Road. And the price? A wallet busting 90 pence each!
It was the first of three seasons on the bounce where we were to prove a fine cup side. Both a final in the FA Cup and a semi in the League version were reached, with both ultimately ending in disappointment on this occasion.
We were favourites to go through yesterday and rightly so. But we didn’t quite do enough on the day. Irritating of course but getting a second bite at the cherry is no total disaster.
Shortly we will know our potential opponents. Hopefully it won’t be Spurs away….
Oh…..hang on a minute…..they’re not in it. 🙂
Probably the best club side on the planet come next. Looking on the bright side, at least they don’t appear to be on a run of good form……
Come on you mighty reds.
Monday 15th February 2015
Mentioning the ‘V word’ in relation to yesterday is not going to happen. Nor will I use, no matter how accurate they might be, statements claiming how much I ‘loved’ yesterday or how we put all our ‘heart’ into the performance.
I will also refrain from using the ‘C word’. Not because I don’t swear now and again. But because it will no doubt be directly associated with yesterday’s referee. Slightly abusive perhaps but I offer no apology for my opinion.
And here’s why.
That was a fine game Sunday lunchtime between 2 very good sides, both who wanted and done everything they could to take home the 3 points.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Two decisions, above all others, are totally and utterly game changing. Awarding penalties and sending a player off. And for that reason the official (and his 3+ colleagues) need to be 100% sure before making that decision.
Yesterday’s man in the middle had a poor afternoon. His first decision of the above nature he got wrong. And it could have cost us the game. His second was very harsh too. And arguably it had a big outcome on us (rather pleasingly) coming away with a massive win.
Our win saw us with a home & away double against the Foxes of course, a feat nobody else has I can achieve this season but back the 1963/64 season it was totally the other way round.
Having got thoroughly spanked 7-2 at Filbert Street earlier in the season the return match at Highbury saw a 1 nil victory for a side with soon to be World Cup winner Gordon Banks between the sticks and a young Scotsman by the name of Frank McLintock in the centre of the park.
The game was celebrating 50 years of Highbury, Leicester being our first ever visitors after our move from Woolwich back in 1913. The programme was a ‘bumper’ issue of fully 28 pages. Amazing that yesterday’s corresponding production was over 80!
For a home fixture, leaving my house at just after 5am was definitely the earliest I have ever departed. And it felt even more unnatural on a Sunday!
Throw in a few nerves and that situation where we all knew if we got beat our challenge for the League would have been all but over, it all added up to a kind of unique home game experience.
In an atmosphere that crackled from minute one and steadily built to a crescendo just before 2pm I felt we started the game extremely well and looked up for it whilst our visitors’ abilities on the break were very apparent too.
Chances came and went and it look like we would go into the break relatively happy with how things had gone.
Then the referee became the ‘star’.
For me, the ‘grey area’ often described when it comes to penalty decisions is no more than a smokescreen. Surely there are 2 very simple aspects to keep an eye on. Firstly could the attacking player have stayed on his feet if he wanted to?
Secondly, has the attacker purposely wrapped his own feet/legs around the defender in an attempt to ‘buy’ a penalty?
Yesterday, even in normal time and speed it was blatantly obvious the answer to both questions was yes.
Personally, I’m getting sick of ex players and fellow pundits stating that a player has ‘every right’ to hit the deck if he is touched or even worse try and fool the referee by buying a penalty. That is basically saying it is perfectly ok to cheat.
It wasn’t a penalty based on the above and the referee did not have the ability to make the correct decision. My opinion admittedly but one I’m happy with when it comes down to accuracy.
I wouldn’t say it was doom and gloom at the break. There was more a sense of injustice and determination I felt. And the attitude that if we could turn it around it would be simply massive.
I’m not going to say it is 100% accurate that the referee felt he might have to even things up after his first half howler. But, even though I think a number of the Leicester players had got away with being more than cynical at times, it seems he couldn’t wait to send someone off. And that’s me saying that as a biased Gooner and realising the decision was to our benefit.
It meant for the remainder of the game we absolutely battered our impressive visitors into a last gasp submission that overall I felt our performance deserved.
The first saw the ground erupt, not just because it got us back on level terms but there was plenty of time to try and get that all important winner.
Roared on by a crowd that increased the noise levels the longer the game went it looked like being another one of those intensely frustrating afternoons. It just would not go in.
The very last throw of the dice came with a strangely off colour Mesut standing over a free kick.
Welbs rose and headed home and it was total and utter pandemonium. Limbs and bodies everywhere, facial expressions beyond belief, ear piercing noise and satisfaction that only football moments like that can give you.
Despite one person doing his utmost to ruin for all concerned, it was a quite incredible afternoon. Get in you beauty.
Such an early kick.off does mean you can get home much earlier too.
And I did.
And with fellow friends and Gooners I got drunk.
A very very happy drunk.
The FA Cup comes next as we renew our battle with the Tigers from Hull City on Saturday lunchtime.
It’s a road we are still on and have every desire to remain.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Wednesday 10th February 2016
There was a real sense that we simply had to win on Sunday lunchtime. Certainly dropping further points would have been intensely disappointing. Fortunately on the day we did exactly what we needed to do in a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon on the south coast.
Living in this part of the world as I do these days, it is extremely rare to be heading west for a game. In fact despite having seen Arsenal teams of various levels play at Plymouth, Yeovil and Dorchester down the years, it is a brand new journey since I moved to my new abode. Consequently, my UK map has a new red pin this week. Proudly sat there with 3 points to its name.
As a result of our lack of visits finding a first team fixture to talk and reminisce about was always going to be relatively difficult on this occasion……but there is one out there! Let me take you back just over 50 years to October 1965 and a friendly away at Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic Football Club, arranged as a testimonial awarded to long time Dean Court servant Dai Woodward.
Dai joined the club as far back as 1939 and went on to make over 300 appearances over a 25 year period. 1965 not only saw players such as Sammels, Radford, Armstrong and Mclintock on the team page but the late great Don Howe was at full back, scoring a goal in a 6-2 win for the Gunners. As for Dai, he went on to coach at Bournemouth teams at both youth and reserve level before passing away in 1997.
A heavy Saturday night with a few of my fellow Gooners who had chosen to travel down and enjoy the local hospitality of my home town meant it was a relatively bleary eyed start to Sunday morning’s journey. But once set up camp a short walk from the match venue, all seemed rosy.
Without meaning to be detrimental or condescending in any way Dean Court (or the Vitality Stadium as it is known these days) is very small when you compare it to all other stadia in this country’s top flight. But located in leafy Boscombe it was a fantastic place to visit and our hosts have already proved on a number of occasions they have very much got what it takes to hold their own at the top level. Consolidation has to be the way forward you would imagine before looking to take the club to the next stage. These things take time and what they have achieved so far is absolutely exceptional.
Dominating possession from minute one is something we have seen many many times of course. Making it count is the important bit. And Mesut and the Ox’s thumping strikes made sure we did just that. Vitally important as our hosts got more into the game in the second period but we were relatively solid and professional and those massive three points were safely in the bag. Crucial? Possibly. Hugely satisfying? Definitely.
Our next game back in October 1965 was against Leicester, quite a coincidence all things considered. Sunday is massive.
Each and every week teams are dropping points in the top 8 of the Premier League. The fact it is so tight is testament to that. One or both of us will definitely being doing that on Sunday lunchtime. Our visitors’ capabilities are simply not in question. That alone and the positivity three points and a win can bring is totally sufficient to make sure we are up for it on the day.
Some who were originally attending can no longer be there of course. Once again those who run this country’s game putting the fans last being hugely apparent. But those of us who are lucky enough to still be able to be at the game can make a difference.
So sing up Gooners!
Come on you mighty reds!
Wednesday 3rd February 2016
No score draws are nothing new. Over the years in fact, we have experienced many. Some came in games that saw everything but a goal. Others have been the perfect example of that ‘bore draw’. Last night’s latest example however, was right up there amongst the most frustrating.
Just over 29 years ago I remember a very similar game against the Saints. The one difference being Niall Quinn being on hand to stab home a rebound off the post giving the victory our performance on the day deserved.
The game had a real air of celebration about it from what I recall. Not only were we sitting proudly at the top of the league as George Graham built his hugely successful squad of that period, but Southampton visited on the day our great club celebrated its centenary.
The programme that day looked forward to our 100th League meeting against spurs and the all ticket trip to Reading in the FA Cup 3rd round whilst an article about one of our youth team squad Kevin Campbell will make any Gooner out there of an age to remember that time feel even older!!
Photographs include Bob Wilson presenting a cheque to the latest ‘Make money with Arsenal’ draw, George Graham being given a huge bottle of Bells whisky for being ‘Manager of the Month’, Lofty from Eastenders holding a giant teddy bear called Rocky, some quality haircuts in the Southampton pen pictures including Mark Wright sporting the mighty mullet and Jack Kelsey and his staff posing in a Gunners Shop selling items from a stadium postcard at 15 pence to a duvet and pillow set at a princely 21 quid, all fine examples of the regular treats we enjoyed in the programme from week to week.
It was a chilly night on Tuesday and losing in our last outing went hand in hand with that sense of revenge since our Christmas stuffing on the south coast in an overall package that demanded a victory.
And that sense of ‘crucial’ surrounding the fixture was enough for there to be a few nerves around pre-match.
And am I the only one that is still scratching his head as to how exactly we managed not to win?
We weren’t stunning. But we played well enough and created sufficient chances to have won by a hatful on another day. Disappointing finishing, great goalkeeping and defending and downright bad luck is the combination we can draw I feel.
Midway through the first half Mesut brought the ball down out of the sky in breathtaking fashion, the save a split second later preventing it from being one of this season’s truly great goals. So it could have been 1 nil.
A few moments later the inspired Saints goalkeeper made a quite incredible point blank save from the same player. So it could have been 2 nil.
I remember Mane having a good and pretty much Southampton’s only chance of the game just before half time. So it could have been 2-1.
Or 1-0 down of course. But it wasn’t any of those as we tried to get warm at the break.
All I can remember of the second period is wave after wave of attack and chances going begging again and again.
All in all it meant a goalless game and an extremely frustrating two points dropped.
So from being one of the leaders we are now one of the chasing pack.
Trying to be as positive as possible, despite our poor points haul in recent games, we have lost only 1 of our last 4 and that in a game where we battled hard with 10 men for 70 odd minutes.
But we need to turn that grit and determination into wins. And quickly.
Dean Court is a stadium I have visited before. A fixture as part of a weekend away a number of years ago is proof of my romantic side ;-)). The stadium has been turned round and rebuilt since then and I’ve never been there to see an Arsenal side of any level.
That novelty factor however, is nowhere near as important as us needing a result on Sunday lunchtime against Eddie Howe’s in form outfit.
Keep the faith and let’s get behind our team.