Wednesday 30th November 2016
Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be November without a defeat. And tonight we were well beaten. No bad luck, no bad decisions, just defeated by the better side on the night.
I’m not a believer in omens or atmospheres or the like but it’s amazing how many poor results follow a problematic build up. Firstly my ‘direct’ train from Portsmouth to London had me alighting at Guildford. A broken rail near Surbiton the reason apparently but whatever the excuse, standing on a freezing cold platform half way through my journey wasn’t part of the plans.
The Piccadilly Line is also suffering with a lack of wheels or something. A hardware essential when running a train service I would imagine and being the nearest line to Arsenal Football Club, that didn’t look a promising situation all round.
Fewer trains, in rush hour, with a game on. Triffic.
7.45 kick-offs genuinely mean I get home about 1am. But with little room for error on my journey south. 8pm starts for example, everything needs to work like clockwork to make it.
Altogether not a major issue you would think but if it doesn’t go well I get in at 4am gone. And with a working day head that doesn’t really work. So extra time and/or penalties would not go down well either.
Unless we win of course!
The game started relatively evenly I felt but there was something altogether stronger and more organised about our visitors. And as a result, from the moment they took the lead, it looked extremely unlikely we would overturn the deficit.
If the first was a little unfortunate, or certainly a fantastic strike, the second was extremely soft and avoidable.
We were arguably the better side for much of the second half but the Saints never really looked in trouble, especially the goalkeeper. But if Ox had taken our best chance of the game with 10 to 15 minutes remaining who knows.
I head home disappointed of course but not altogether surprised. I enjoy the League Cup but there is a reason why we haven’t won the competition for 23 years. In the same period we have been victorious in 9 major competitions and have been runners up or in the last or top 4 of many others. That tells the story.
I’m finishing my notes on the midnight ferry….which means I’ve made it, despite the potential travel issues and for me that means I end a disappointing evening on a positive note.
And it’s that vibe we need to take to West Ham and their new home on Saturday evening.
See you in Stratford.
Monday 28th November 2016
Penalties are so game changing the officials should be absolutely 100% sure when awarding one. And to this day, even with at the very least 3 colleagues helping them to reach the correct conclusion, I’m not convinced they are. Fortunately yesterday’s ridiculous decision didn’t prove costly in the end but just because we came away with the three points it doesn’t change my view. There were 3 or 4 potential penalty shouts and for me they were all debatable. And in my opinion if that is the case they should not be awarded. Goals are hard enough to come by and prevent without them being given away by a referee!
From a personal point of view Sunday was always likely to be something very special. I mentioned in my previous ramblings that a fellow Gooner reached 50 recently and although I have pretty much been lucky enough to visit every single part of our stadium at least once I had never experienced the whole executive box matchday offerings.
Saturday saw the celebratory party visit Camden for a few beers, a sports bar in Leicester Square where we witnessed our invincible record remaining intact for another season, a quite fantastic meal in nearby Brewer Street before concluding back at our hotel in the very heart of London. A fine way to start before the bit everyone had been seriously looking forward to on Sunday.
Even though I’d heard great things about the experience I cannot possibly praise it high enough. A noon start with drinks and top quality food started a theme that was to continue right through to 6pm, well after the game finished. The service was absolutely first class, the fare was of an equal quality, Charlie George turning up to present the birthday cake and Perry Groves popping in for an entertaining chat all made up a package that was nothing less than outstanding. Arsenal Football Club putting together something that is absolutely top class. Words that have gone together with our fantastic club throughout their history and continue to do so in the very different football world of today.
A massive thanks to Glen for inviting me along, I’m very grateful, it was a spectacular day.
There is still no doubt anything other than a win would have put a bit of a dampener on everything of course and although it definitely couldn’t be described as ‘plain sailing’, on the pitch our team duly obliged.
We started the game pretty well I thought and although our opener was very much handed to us on a plate, the goal probably went with the performance early on. Bournemouth are a good footballing side and have been for a number of seasons now so it was no shock that possession was relatively equally shared. But The Cherries hadn’t really looked like scoring as we kept our shape well. That was of course until the referee decided a shoulder to shoulder collision warranted giving our opponents a chance to level the scores.
In the few minutes after the penalty Bournemouth had their best spell and could and possibly should have taken the lead. The half time whistle probably came at a good time for us as a result and my confidence I had before a ball was kicked that we were capable of taking all three points certainly hadn’t waned at the break.
Our second half performance was considerably better I felt and we dominated for long periods. Apart from a debatable penalty shout when the ball struck Nacho’s hand, The Cherries had very limited opportunities to score and Theo and Alexis made sure we came away with the three points we all craved after our recent run of drawn games.
Normally my departure from any game is pretty swift, especially those played at home. So watching the players leave the pitch and the stadium slowly empty is not something I see that regularly. Watching it from such a fantastic vantage point was also quite something. Whilst we continue our post match routines, players are on the pitch ‘warming down’, the small army of ground staff are already tending and mowing the pitch in preparation for our next outing and the ground slowly closes down after another successful day.
That ‘next outing’ is this coming Wednesday of course as we take on another south coast team in the shape of Southampton with the prize a League Cup Semi Final place for the winners. Last season saw the Saints’ performances rewarded with a European adventure this year but we don’t need that evidence to know we always find them a tough opponent. Squad rotation may well be evident for both sides given the amount of games we both have played in recent weeks but I’ve no doubt it will be an evenly contested cup tie whoever is on the pitch.
And like in every game we are capable of winning if we put in a performance.
Come on you Gunners!
Friday 25th November 2016
The problems we seem to have in November every season are very difficult to explain. But some of the negativity I have heard this week is well beyond belief. Looking at it from a positive point of view are we not unbeaten from three tough games? Are we not 3 points off top of the league? Are we not in the League Cup quarter final? And more relevant this week, are we not already through (yet again) to the last 16 of Europe’s biggest club competition?
Admittedly we haven’t been at our very best over the last few weeks, however on that basis I can’t help but feel upbeat about the whole situation. We know we can play better and I’m convinced we will. Yet even with below par performances we have come out with something from the games.
Wednesday night was a strange one. On paper it looked like a belter of a fixture. But with both teams already through it had every chance of being a bit of a damp squib. Big Champions League nights can create some of the best atmospheres of the pitch too but I felt the whole package was at best a little bit ‘flat’.
The fact that at least 3 of the 4 goals came from extremely avoidable mistakes seems almost apt when analysing the night’s events and overall it was hugely forgettable I felt. I read a report after the match (on the BBC website I think) and the reporter described the game as ‘intriguing’. For me that is definitely over complimentary! But maybe I’m guilty of forgetting just how spoilt we are in the majority of games.
Realistically it means we won’t finish top of the group now of course but looking at the way all the other groups are standing, I’m not really sure it makes a helluva difference. And I always believe if you are going to be successful in any competition, you need to beat the very best at some stage anyway!
But being through is no achievement of course. Its a piece of cake to do it year in year out. Look at that lot with a chicken on a beachball as a badge for example. Its easy to progress from a group with only 4 teams in it. A doddle. And haven’t they proved it well!
Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth come to the Home of Football next and it is an opportunity to play at the level we know we can and end the month on a positive note. But The Cherries have proved more than once in the Premier League, if we are not at our best they are very capable of taking advantage.
For me personally Sunday sees a first at The Emirates. A good friend and fellow Gooner reached the grand age of 50 last week and has booked an executive box to celebrate reaching that milestone. He very kindly has included me on his guest list and as a result it promises to certainly be a thoroughly enjoyable experience off the pitch.
Only our team can make it the perfect day by doing a successful job on it.
Come on you mighty reds!
Monday 21st November 2016
Coming away with something from a trip to Old Trafford should always be seen as a positive. And when you have been second best for large chunks of it and equalise with a towering thumping beauty of a header with time nearly up, the satisfaction increases considerably. Having seen us totally dominate many many games down the years and come away with less than we deserved, I’ll have that thanks very much.
My local airport these days is Southampton and using it is simplicity in itself. With these departure points in major cities often being the busiest and most stressful locations you can ever have the displeasure of passing through, the one nearest my abode could not be more opposite.
With direct flights to and from Newcastle it has made our numerous trips to play the Geordies and Mackems far less daunting journey wise over the last 6 years or so and in recent times we have also considered the similar options available to Manchester.
The lunchtime kick-off on Saturday and a flight available departing so early that if cancelled we still had the opportunity to jump in the car and make the game made it a total no brainer on this occasion and although one or two jars on Friday meant it wasn’t exactly comfortable getting up that early, the full English in Manchester’s city centre just 2 hours after our flight was due to depart emphasized just how simple the whole idea is when it works.
A few late morning ales soon had us all buzzing for the next couple of hours and the travelling Gooners certainly seemed confident we were well capable of getting a positive result from the day.
The rivalry between Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger was well documented down the years but it only matched similar situations all over the pitch, arguably starting back in Georgie Graham’s days. The Nutty Nige/Brian McLair altercations are hugely memorable to all those who are old enough to have experienced them culminating in the infamous ‘brawl’ at Old Trafford on a day where a cheeky Anders Limpar strike grabbed us the points. Keane/Vieira, Van Nistelrooy/Keown and numerous overs continued that trend of course.
Interestingly however, as time passed, the respect between the majority of those involved became hugely apparent and looking back these types of characters were born winners. Their competitive nature might have gone beyond the boundaries at times but you don’t hear many of them uttering any bad words about their past rivals these days without admitting their respect for them too.
Even as a fan I begrudgingly look back at the likes of Roy Keane as someone who enjoyed the battle and hated losing and I would definitely put Alex Ferguson in that bracket too.
But Jose Mourinho lacks respect and class and in my opinion is not worthy of managing a club such as Man United. His managerial and tactical skills cannot be questioned due to his record but the way he goes about the other aspects of the game when it comes to how he treats many of his fellow professionals leaves an extremely sour taste in the mouth.
And that makes any game where he is involved with our opponents have added ‘spice’ I guess.
That alone, even with every other aspect adding to the final ingredients, meant Saturday’s encounter was going to be more than just tough. And nobody can argue that is exactly how it panned out.
Our hosts certainly started on the front foot but we had our moments, in particular a header that Alexis failed to turn goalwards midway through the half. In a game of very few clear cut openings however, us surviving a debatable penalty shout and Petr Cech making a couple of saves are enough evidence that we were pretty pleased to get through to the break on level terms.
With even fewer clear chances, the second period certainly saw our hosts dominate possession once again but we looked strong defensively and nil nil was looking more and more likely the eventual outcome. After knocking on the door for a while however, we eventually cracked and left ourselves with it all to do if we were to not go away empty handed.
The Ox came on against Spurs last week and would be the first to admit I’m sure, he was pretty poor. With one drop of the shoulder and a short burst of pace on Saturday afternoon he certainly gave a brief cameo of what we all know he is capable of. A fine cross to the far stick followed and you will not see a better jump and thumping header anywhere in the world than Olly’s. In a game where it had looked hugely unlikely, the intensity of the jostle in an away end where we have seen us win the league in the past was a perfect demonstration of how much the goal meant to all those who had made the journey north. Get in.
The fact snatching a late equaliser in a game where you have been largely second best almost feels ‘like a victory’ might be one of the many football clichés. But from a fixture where in any season you would take a point it definitely felt just like that.
In today’s football games never get any easier and taking on Paris St. Germain falls well and truly into that category. Admittedly we are through. We all know that. So even if we lose our last 2 games we will still be in that hat. But a win on Wednesday would see us top the group, even if we lost 15 nil in Switzerland in a couple of weeks time.
And that has to be incentive enough to put in a good performance
Come on you mighty reds!
Tuesday 8th November 2016
Although the fact that lot from down the road came to our place on Sunday, scored two goals to our none yet went away with the same number of points is as amusing as the fact last season they managed to finish 3rd in a 2 horse race, it doesn’t take away the fact that because we were at home we can’t be anything but disappointed we didn’t secure all three points. Saying all that however, now the dust has settled, it certainly isn’t a total disaster.
My pre-match activities on this occasion started on Saturday evening in West London, our Gooner friends from Norway over in force to enjoy food and refreshment in the usual way. Not only was it a thoroughly enjoyable few hours as always but it took away any difficulty in actually getting to a 12 noon Sunday kick-off when you live on an island just off the south coast!
A crisp and chilly morning accompanied the slight hangover come match day but once in the vicinity of N5 those emotions and PMT that are so unique on derby day were certainly present. Our visitors have probably been their most consistent for decades over the last year or so and would surely provide a stiff test for our side also in a fine vein of form.
The Remembrance Day words and rendition of ‘The Last Post’ was emotional and spine tingling I felt, the silence throughout the stadium something to behold. We might be massive rivals and often do or say things we regret but the unity when it comes to remembering those that gave us the right to live the way we do today could not be stronger. And Sunday demonstrated that perfectly.
With a crackling atmosphere present as always it very much depends on what aspects of the game you look at when deciding if one of the teams deserved to win on the day.
I thought we looked good in the opening stages but Spurs had much of the possession during the middle part of the first half. But they created one chance. In the last 15 minutes of the first 45 we came close on numerous occasions, none more so than when Theo smashed the post with an absolute rasper. With a little bit more composure we might have doubled our lead and given ourselves a cushion that surely would have seen us go on and take all 3 points.
The penalty was harsh too I feel, one that certainly could have gone either way. So when it goes against you when the game is very much on a knife’s edge it tends to hurt as much as frustrate.
Both teams could have won the game from then on I feel so overall a draw was probably just about a fair result. The fact there is not a lot else to say probably demonstrates it was hardly a classic.
On to the next one we go and our latest trip to Old Trafford after the international break. Never easy that one, last year’s abject performance and defeat against arguably the worst United side for many a year being as good an example as any of what can happen if you don’t turn up.
Although I like to look back at corresponding fixtures to the latest one we have played I don’t usually leave it to the end of my piece. When choosing this one however, I couldn’t help but giggle to myself like the schoolboy I was when the game took place!
1974/75 season was nothing short of a disaster for our great club. With 2 games to go we could still get relegated. The fact we have remained in the top flight for longer than any other club in the country dictates we all know it is an embarrassment that didn’t come to fruition but with our ‘friends’ from up the road coming to Highbury desperate for a win themselves, it was an absolute crunch match.
Just under 44 thousand inside Highbury witnessed a Brian Kidd winner and a one nil victory. A defeat away at West Ham on the final day meant we finished the season in a lowly 16th place. Seems almost beyond belief these days.
But the whole situation is laced with good old fashioned football humour! In a season where Derby County took the title we may well have finished 16th. But the Middlesex boys still finished 3 places below us! Avoiding relegation on the final day, yo-yo club Chelsea went down with Luton and Carlisle, but to be honest it was only delaying the inevitable. White Hart Lane was to host second division football just a short while after.
For me however, the funniest bit of all comes with the programme’s guest writer that day. Ex-Tottenham and England midfielder Alan Mullery took the stage that April day and the title of his piece is somewhat hilarious given it is over 40 years ago.
Enjoy the break folks.
London is red. It always will be.
Wednesday 2nd November 2016
When Dennis Bergkamp scored that goal at Newcastle we all looked at each other with the same thoughts. We were an awful long way from the goal but we knew he’d either capitalised on a defensive error or he’d done something very very special.
Only TV replays showed it in all its awesome glory. Back in our post match bar last night, Youtube helped all of us relive Mesut’s magic and like in the north east all those years ago, only then did it confirm what a moment of footballing mastery it was.
My head is thumping at the moment. No sympathy expected or required. I’ve been there before. But what a fine few days it has been.
Bulgaria is a country I have never visited and based on the hospitality we have been shown since we arrived in the early hours of Monday morning, I will be very happy if we get to return in the future.
We needed an on time flight home from Sunderland on Sunday and we got just that. And it was a good job we did too, the traffic on our journey up to Luton Airport being horrendous.
Our flight landed about 2am. And of course we weren’t gonna go out once we checked in to our city centre hotel. But, there was a 24 hour bar just round the corner. So what can you do?
So it was ‘misty’ Monday to say the least, a relatively short walking tour around the city doing its best to clear the head.
Halloween used to come and go almost unnoticed when I was a boy. We knew about ghosts, witches, pumpkins and all that malarkey but short of a TV ‘Rentaghost’ special there wasn’t much else that sticks in the memory.
These days it seems to be massive and in Sofia it was no different.
So again, what do you do?
We thoroughly got involved of course, including letting some bloke with a table full of make up loose on our faces. Both the bar we had almost made our own and a club called Terminal 1 had parties that we attended and enjoyed until the wee small hours.
So come matchday it had already been an extremely full on few days.
And of course, as a result we took it a bit ‘easy’.
The game was being played a long way from Razgrad so despite it being an away game for us it could also be considered one for our hosts.
But with the 2 odd thousand Gooners in good voice there was certainly only one team out there who settled well.
Being 2 goals behind had all of us scratching our heads but being so early in the game we also knew one goal would have us back in it.
Granit duly obliged and we poured forward and Olly’s header put ourselves back on level terms come the break.
To be honest I think we all felt we would go on an win the game in the second period. But that definitely wasn’t the way it panned out. If the first half was open and chance filled the second definitely wasn’t.
And then, with time running out Mo put Mesut through with a perfect pass and the chance to win it was there. His balance and skill to dink it over the keeper, leave 2 defenders off getting a coffee and slide it into the net was absolute class. And in front of us travelling Gooners too. Get in you beauty.
My flight has started it’s descent into Luton and I still have a thumping headache.
That’s your fault Mesut!
Over and out.