Tuesday 22nd March 2016
Along with the fact Goodison Park is never an easy place to go and get a victory, my biggest fear on Saturday lunchtime is we would tire quite dramatically in the latter stages and that could cost us. If they felt anything like I did as I traipsed across Stanley Park in fact, we would have absolutely no chance! In a ‘burning the candle at both ends’ kind of way, it has been an exhausting few days!
Back in January 1989 we headed to the blue half of Liverpool sitting top of the league. The game will be remembered due to what had been described (particularly in the media) as a shoot-out between Merse and Everton’s Tony Cottee. According to reports Cottee turned down the Marble Halls of Highbury to join Everton in the Summer and as a result George Graham had put is faith in Merse to produce the goods. As it turned out on the day the Toffees’ striker left the field goalless and Merse scored one and generally ripped our hosts apart in a 3-1 win that sent us 5 points clear.
Amongst my memorabilia I have numerous newspaper cuttings and from this day Harry Harris’ piece in the Mirror quotes, “Arsenal’s army of 4000 travelling fans taunted Tony Cottee with ‘We all agree, Merson is better than Cottee’.” Every point proved crucial in that season as we all know but who could have predicted we would be back in the same city to pick up the league trophy 5 months later.
As mentioned previously, last week’s trip to Spain was a heavy one. And having got into bed about 2am on Thursday night/Friday morning, the Friday afternoon fight through the traffic to Liverpool brought on as a result of Saturday’s early kick-off dictating I had little choice from where I live, was genuinely one of the least attractive ideas I can remember!
But, depart we did and despite the near on 6 and a half hour drive we arrived at our hotel in relatively good spirits. And thirsty of course. Discussions had suggested we could all struggle with a ‘late one’ due to sheer tiredness. After sampling numerous establishments, 3am in Matthews Street suggests things didn’t quite work out that way!
The vast majority of our overnight trips tend to involve a twin room. Sharing with a mate is something we have all experienced. And these tend to work ok. The one thing you cannot allow for however, is your room mate’s habits. Mine on this occasion decided to bring his kebab back to his room, open it, and leave it next to his bed. The extra chilli and garlic mayonnaise meant that when I woke up a few hours later the aroma was quite horrific. See ‘rubbing your face in a bucket of raw onion’ for an indication of where we are here.
Suitably removed I managed to get a little more shut eye before we headed to the city’s location for our latest encounter, Goodison Park.
Thoughts pre match couldn’t really have emphasized how important a game it was for us. In what has been an incredibly topsy turvy season there are results every single week that are having an effect on the upper reaches of the table and ours could be hugely influential. And that ‘travelling Gooner Army’ described earlier in my ramblings was there in great numbers as always to offer considerable vocal support.
Goodison Park is one of the older stadia we still get to visit. And it has that traditional and atmospheric feel about it as a result. It also doesn’t change the fact however, that wherever you sit you will have something blocking part of the pitch. And although I am very much one of those who loves history and the various old stadia still standing around the country, better views at the very least are they way forward for me.
The way our hosts played last week at home to Chelsea meant we knew we might have to dig in at times but to be honest for the first hour we completely and totally dominated the game, particularly in the first half. Apart from one slight scare in the opening exchanges we looked sharp, determined and played some quite fantastic football a times, DW’s opener the perfect example of that. Once Alex Iwobi showed pace, strength and a fine finish to double our lead and jostle number two ensued in the away end we had definitely put ourselves in a winning position. The only thing missing come the half time whistle was the 2 or 3 more goals that some of our promising positions and the definite penalty the referee failed to give us possibly should have led to. That would be a bit harsh though as I thought we were excellent.
Good stuff then but we all knew we were one goal from it being game on. And that, coupled with our obvious tiredness as time went on, made it feel a long second half. Overall though, we were professional and relatively comfortable and three massive points were in the bag. Not that anyone other than Danny Murphy on Match of the Day recognised it was actually a very good, entertaining and powerful performance of course. It was because Everton played badly.
The win made that long, tired journey back south go hugely quicker than had we got beat and that was good enough for me as I settled down to enjoy a night’s sleep in my own bed.
And fortunately my missus is not over keen on kebabs.
Enjoy the break and see you at Watford at home.
Thursday 17th March 2016
A trip to the Mediterranean coast automatically throws up visions of sunshine, sand and sangria. The thousands of Gooners who braved the wind, driving rain and cold high up in the Nou Camp away section deserve considerable credit. It was more like a winter’s night in Oldham.
‘Messy’ is a word often associated with out adventures overseas and this was no different.
A good 30 of us gathered at Gatwick on Tuesday morning, all thoroughly looking forward to the few days ahead, not because any of us genuinely thought we had a chance of progressing, but our football club have constantly provided us with the opportunity to visit some of the world’s greatest cities. And a midweek jolly to Barcelona was eagerly awaited.
Our flight was smooth and on time and our hotel very comfortable, located near to the Puerto Olympico area of the city. It was to be a location that played host for much of the trip.
The first day without fail always heads down a boozy route and as result matchday arrived with many an amusing tale about the previous night’s exploits, all told as we enjoyed the build up.
A combination of alcohol, adrenalin, longing and possibly naivety had everyone giving us a chance as the day went on and in a two horse race I guess we did have a very very slight one.
The Nou Camp is a big stadium. But it’s size is pretty much all it has going for it. Away from the viewing area is a mass of dated concrete. And it doesn’t have a roof of course.
Checking the weather we knew there was a chance of some rain. But none of us expected the cold and wind accompanied deluge that fell over the next few hours.
Before a ball was kicked I would have taken nil nil after an hour. And I would have bitten your hand off for 1 all. And we played well enough to get just that. To be fair it was thoroughly deserved too.
Briefly, we were in with a shout and if we had scored again over the next few minutes who knows.
Saying that however, I did always feel our hosts could and probably would step up a gear if required. And it could be argued that is exactly what they did. But it just had to be yet another worldy!
And with that our slim chance had gone.
Given the fact we were in both legs for a good hour I think the aggregate scoreline is very harsh. But all in all our opponents are on a slightly different level to us unfortunately.
So we left cold, wet but pretty happy overall with the way we played. But disappointed of course that our latest European adventure has come to a close.
Discussions back in Puerto Olympico continued long into the night as our thoughts turned to Saturday’s tough tough trip to Goodison Park.
Talk on the way out had seen some slightly tongue in cheek comments that we were heading for Barcelona to enjoy our end of season party. Our craving for more European jollies means that it some way from the truth of course.
But the players need to prove it.
That starts up in Liverpool on Saturday.
Keep the faith.
Sunday 13th March 2016
Negativity is something I don’t feel I can ever be accused of. But I had a real bad feeling about today. Eventually a run in a cup competition must come to an end. And never before had I felt it would be at the latest hurdle. I will even go as far as to say I had a picture in my mind as to how it would pan out.
That nightmare, premonition, call it what you like came true and unfortunately, one game from equalling our unique record of reaching the semi final after winning it the previous 2 seasons, we are out.
To begin with we need to analyse the facts. We totally dominated the first period and created all of the chances. We won all the 50/50s, probed and looked for that opener and could and should have scored.
Watford had a game plan however. And having not made our dominance count, they would have been happy at half time that it had worked.
All the time the game remained nil nil I fancied us. But that wasn’t going to happen, not in my dream anyway.
We haven’t been playing consistently well for some time and having gone behind it was difficult to see how we were going to get level and back in the game.
That became even less likely of course with our visitors’ 2nd. And just like a Spurs it just had to be a stunner.
It simply wasn’t going to happen. But when DW slotted home with a couple to go, it just could have done.
The same player missing an absolute sitter just moments later probably summed up the fact as to why, eventually your luck in any cup competition runs out.
The final fact is of course, we are out. And any view, opinion and debate cannot change that.
I’m as disappointed as anyone. Gutted in fact. But slightly more worried as to how the remainder of our season pans out.
We look jaded for me. Whereas in the last 2 seasons our cup run had us on a kind ‘crest of a wave’ and that carried us through. We looked strong, fit and like we could and would get a result in every game we played.
But we don’t right now.
Not turning our considerable possession into chances and victories has become a regular occurrence, especially at home seems. Think Southampton, Swansea and today in recent weeks.
And that could be the reason for my nightmare.
Tomorrow I head to Gatwick for my flight to Spain, early on Tuesday morning. That’s not because I felt we had a good chance of going through. Or because I have not seen us in the Nou Camp. I’ve been numerous times and would be going if we were 10 nil down after the 1st leg.
That’s my choice. Just like it’s my choice to support my team and club, win, lose or draw. And have my own views too. Not because some bloke with a flag or someone like that twat Piers Morgan tells me otherwise.
And am I that blinkered that I think we have a chance?
No. Of course not. I believe that if we went through it would not only be the greatest result in the truly awesome history of our magnificent club, but one of the very greatest in the history of the game.
But that is not relevant. We want success. Of course we do. But that is certainly not the be all and end all of supporting your club.
Proud to be a Gooner. Yesterday, today and forever more.
Wednesday 9th March 2016
Fixture congestion is always as a result of one of two things. Bad weather forcing postponements or progressing in cup competitions. Last night means the latter of course and our love affair with the FA Cup continues.
Writing these notes heading south on the East Coast mainline, my journey, purely for social reasons, started in Portsmouth on Monday and will end up back there some time later today….but via Brighton, London Victoria, Kings Cross, Doncaster and Hull. You could wallpaper a room with the amount of tickets this has required!
The journey up was thoroughly enjoyable and the levels of comfort being across the scale from the speed and efficiency of the London to Doncaster bit to the rather amusing train that took us east to Hull.
An article on the BBC website on Monday described how a train constructed in the eighties known as a ‘Pacer’ would finally be phased out over the next 3 years. The 2 coach example we got to ‘enjoy’ can only be described as a bus on wheels. It was very uncomfortable, bumpy and slow but provided brief amusement to the many travelling Gooners onboard.
“Excuse me, where do we get the next train to Hull mate?” was overheard on Doncaster station.
“This is it Sir”.
“Are you winding me up?!”
Hull’s old town has got loads of excellent pubs, a fact we discovered at last season’s League fixture and it was here we headed to enjoy the pre match refreshment.
Our quite fantastic support were present in great numbers as always and on a bumpy pitch, without being stunning, we avoided slipping on this latest potential banana skin by helping ourselves to four goals without reply.
So apart from the disrespectful idiots who brought that flag along, it was a successful night. I aired my views on that situation after the West Brom away game last season and I’m not going to go over old ground. But I reiterate I am deeply offended that these fans think they can represent me with a banner I totally and utterly don’t agree with.
Today’s announcement that away ticket prices will be cheaper next season is a step in the right direction I feel but I also strongly believe steps should be made to offer compensation to fans when fixtures are changed extremely late through no fault of their own.
I don’t mean with FA Cup ties like this coming weekend as they are on the fixture list from minute 1. But spare a thought for the 500 odd Brentford fans that were expecting to be in Hull for a league fixture last night for example. Some of them still made the journey North as we met them in a pub after the game. Their train tickets and accommodation were non refundable so they chose to have a night out anyway!
And fair play to them. But in my opinion there should be something in place to cover any costs if they didn’t travel.
It’s rare we get 2 FA Cup ties on the bounce but with Watford coming to London N5 on Sunday afternoon that is what we’ve got.
And another Wembley trip is an enormous incentive to put in the kind of performance required for us to progress.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Sunday 6th March 2016
Yesterday’s match was being described as the biggest North London derby for decades. I’m sorry but I’m not having that. It might have been viewed that way by our opponents. But their 2 games against us every season are their biggest.
For us a game back in Spring 2002 was bigger. And at the end of it we were League Champions. Games in April 1993 and the same month in 2001 were bigger too. At the end of them we were in the FA Cup Final. I won’t even mention 1971.
Even in January 2014 there was a bigger game and it started a run that saw us pick up a trophy in May.
The reason? Because they all meant something. They all were games where once we had been victorious something even bigger either awaited or was achieved.
Yesterday our hosts had the chance to briefly go top of the league. Quite an achievement for many a generation of Tottenham fans. But, against 10 men, even having taken the lead, that didn’t happen.
At least they can soften the blow by purchasing the latest DVD release that we presume will follow taking a point against the Arsenal.
Two days before Christmas 1978 our hosts from Middlesex enjoyed our company for the first time since getting promoted, having gone through the embarrassment of spending the previous season in Division 2.
The day is remembered fondly by us Gooners of course as a Spurs side containing such ‘legends’ as Ardiles and Hoddle were thoroughly spanked 5 nil. Alan Sunderland bagged a fine hat-trick and Frank Stapleton also got on the scoresheet. Even more memorable of course is THAT goal by Chippy Brady.
Coming back to the present and we’ve had a bad week. Now the dust has settled the Man United game was not only disappointing but worrying. We were poor and appeared to lack desire, fight and bottle.
Although we also lacked something on Wednesday, luck definitely went against us too.
But yesterday I left the ground with a huge amount of pride.
We needed a reaction for so many reasons. To regain a little confidence, to prove a point, to hang in there in this crazy league season to name but a few.
Until the Coq made his ill timed decision I thought we were excellent. With all odds stacked against us we battled for every ball, worked extremely hard, looked pretty solid at the back and dangerous going forward.
Rambo’s flicked finish led to a jostle of epic proportions and we went into the break with a deserved lead.
The minutes after half time were crucial I felt and the most disappointing aspect to the sending off is we were in control at the time and looked more likely to increase our lead if anything.
As is pretty much the case every time it was a moment that changed the game.
If ever we needed that bottle, desire etc I mentioned earlier it was now. And boy did we have it.
The ten men did us proud, the equaliser was more than deserved and the players’ reactions were exactly what we as fans want to see. It looked like it really meant something and lets be honest, that’s not always the case.
A massive point all things considered and if nothing else it keeps us in the mix. Especially in this very strange season and with so many games still remaining.
We are still involved in 2 other competitions too of course and if we do things well, in a week’s time we could be looking forward to yet another trip to Wembley.
That starts with the long trip to Hull on Tuesday. It is a hurdle we should have already overcome. But it’s not. So we need to approach the game with the same attitude as yesterday.
If we do I am confident. If we don’t I am not. Simple really.
For now we could crow about the fact we have played our geographical neighbours three times this season, have won 1, drawn 2 and lost NONE.
But we won’t do that. Because it’s not that important. And our values are history, tradition and class.
See you on Humberside folks.
Proud to be a Gooner.
Wednesday 2nd March 2016
Can u imagine how we would have felt had we won 4-1?
And I would love to be writing this blog with that behind me. But I’m not. Due to unbelievable goalkeeping? Bad luck?
Nope. We went through the same motions as Sunday.
Tonight was our chance.
For West Ham to do us all a favour. And for us to prove we are still right in there.
But we were poor again. I challenge anyone to tell me otherwise.
See you on Saturday.