Thursday 29th December 2016
Chilly weather, an expanded waistline, that festive feel, a defensively strong team in your way, blatant timewasting, the opposition goalkeeper having a blinder, time running out, nerves, frustration………I quite enjoy games like that. But only if you get a late winner of course! Winning one nil at home to West Brom is not an achievement that will live long in the memory. But that ‘glow’ as you head home after a game like that is difficult to explain. It is only ever matched in its intensity by that feeling of frustration if you don’t come away with the three points.
Boxing Day fixtures are always quite special, not just because everybody has that festive bank holiday feel but if you live outside of our capital city’s public transport system, actually getting to the game can be quite a challenge. That applies to all of us who fall into that category of course including my journey from my abode on a small island off the south coast.
Ferries have been known to be few and far between on Boxing Day in the past but were running as per a Sunday service on this occasion so that bit certainly didn’t prove problematic. I like a pint or two. And you can keep your ‘no shit sherlock’ comments to yourselves! But driving is pretty much the only way to do the bulk of the journey on this day when there are no trains. There are a few other options of course. Someone else could drive, but whatever way you look at that, at least one person would be ‘missing out’. You could stay in London overnight I suppose. But I enjoy the home stuff this time of year so would see that as a sacrifice unless there was no other choice. You could pay an absolute small fortune for a return taxi I guess but in the end, in what is already an expensive time of year, not having a beer for a few hours doesn’t feel anything more than a good decision if like me, you want to attend the match more than anything else.
After a few heavy days, an easy ferry, drive and journey from south to north London on the tube and a full English brekkie, my pint of shandy with my fellow Gooner friends was altogether very enjoyable and set everything up nicely for a game that probably shouldn’t have generated quite the level of PMT it most definitely did. Two defeats on the road gave it more of a ‘must win’ feel than West Brom at home should in every season, no disrespect to The Baggies intended. Even with this long to go in fact, not winning would have felt like this season’s league challenge might already be over.
Timewasting in the latter stages of any game is frustrating but arguably both understandable and acceptable. When it is present from minute one however, it is a tactic that is not only irritating and annoying but extremely disappointing. I am aware football is looked at as a ‘results’ business but there is an argument that is sheer selfishness on the part of the team’s manager. Sacrificing any chance of entertainment just to keep your job.
But being a paying customer I am looking for my team to get results of course…..but with football being incredibly expensive I also want value for money. And that means two teams trying to beat each other not waste away the 90 minutes by every possible tactic available.
Coming to Arsenal and attacking without any consideration could well be suicide. And I get that too. So I would expect very few teams to ever come to London N5 and do just that. But keeping a good defensive shape is one thing. Adjusting your shinpads and laces every time there is a break in play, letting the ball run past you when you could easily stop it, walking over to take a throw in before putting the ball down again so someone else can take it, feigning injury time and time again etc etc etc eventually becomes boring and nauseating in its repetitiveness.
And teams who employ these tactics are clever too. They take just enough time to keep within the rules. Just at that limit where the referee cannot do too much about it.
But guess who misses out? Us, the fans, the paying public. The people who without, the game wouldn’t exist.
Overall I feel that is why if you get a late winner it is enjoyed so much. It’s not just the relief, the three points it yields, the pressure it releases, the fact it doesn’t ruin your day. It’s that the team with the spoiling tactics goes home with exactly what they deserve.
Overall I thought we played pretty well all afternoon. Our passing looked sharp, we worked extremely hard and we kept our defensive shape well on the very rare occasions The Baggies ventured into our half. Chances were numerous but that combination of resilient defending, great goalkeeping, the woodwork and slightly nervous finishing at times were all to the fore. Along with sheer bad luck.
But we kept going and going and going again. And eventually from Mesut’s cross, the only player in red and white who could score a goal like our winner did just that. Body strength, determination, strong neck muscles and an eye for goal, Olly’s effort was a fine finish. And it produced a jostle containing every one of the feelings and emotions I have described above.
One nil. After a tough few days before Christmas, that will definitely do. It certainly made the cold meats, pickles and late night beers back home thoroughly enjoyable.
Crystal Palace next as we head into 2017 full of hope.
Thanks for reading my thoughts and your kind words throughout 2016 folks. May your new year be happy, successful and above all healthy.
Sunday 18th December 2016
Tactically it was extremely obvious what we were going to do this afternoon. In fact it always is. That doesn’t mean I necessarily disagree with them either. Let our hosts have most of the ball, keep our defensive shape well and capitalise when we have dangerous situations on the break. And in the first half we got it spot on.
Even after City equalised as a result of yet another questionable decision, we saw out a period of pressure that inevitably follows a goal.
But just when the opportunity was looking good to perhaps have a spell where we took the game by the scruff of the neck we let in a soft goal and we were facing another away defeat.
And for me if you can’t keep a clean sheet, something that it is becoming increasingly obvious we can’t, our tactic falls down.
Chelsea have scored the same number of goals as us away from home this week. They have 6 points, we have none. It may well be a thin dividing line but it’s a genuine situation that can determine whether you win the league or not I’m afraid, no matter how strong your squad looks.
I try and keep my blog as a kind of ‘diary’ surrounding my life supporting our team home and away rather than a match report. The fact you can pretty much pick up our game ‘live’ by numerous means whether you attend or not means nobody needs to be told what happened anyway!
On that basis I can be guilty sometimes of going off on a bit of a tangent. But having left my house on Thursday afternoon for today’s match (and I have some time before my flight back south) I feel I need something to take my mind off our thoroughly disappointing and frustrating week!
This weekend being around my better half’s birthday is an annual affair (no shit!) so depending where we are playing she pretty much knows if I decide to take her away to celebrate, it will be somewhere that includes accessibility to our fixture.
For the second time in 5 years, Manchester’s stadium built for the Commonwealth Games has played host so once the 4pm on a Sunday kick off was confirmed I made some plans.
Apart from a relatively fleeting visit I have never enjoyed the sights, sounds and hospitality thrown up by the city of Chester. So, with an evening train on Thursday, a cross Cheshire train on Sunday morning and a flight back south this evening all fitting in very nicely that is where I have spent the last couple of days.
The food, wine, beautiful city centre, Christmas market and witnessing a baby elephant no more than a few hours old at Chester Zoo making up the highlights it has been a thoroughly enjoyable weekend (whether that is your thing or not)!
But I feel I should paint the picture of my Saturday and Sunday nights for no other reason that it became so ridiculous it was amusing.
The hotel I booked was one of those that described itself as ’boutique’. And the reviews I read online were more than favourable. Location wise it was fantastic, a few minutes walk from public transport and everything the city had to offer. The rooms were different and quirky, clean and very comfortable. All just perfect I would say.
But being located on one of the main thoroughfares, the weekend nightlife made it a tad noisy!
Picture the scene Friday night…..cracking day out, an awesome bit of dinner, a few drinks and we decided to retire and relax. But outside in the street, being Christmas and a Friday, it was carnage.
Believe me I like a party. But when you don’t want to be invited……
I turned on the TV which drowned it out for a while. But the later it got the louder it got. I thought when I heard ‘Brian, get in your fucking cab’ at 4am followed by considerable laughter and a short period of silence, it was all over.
So I rolled over, closed my eyes and looked forward to some shut eye.
Until at 4.30am I heard ‘beep, beep, beep, beep’ as the the street cleaners arrived! For a full hour they roared, beeped, scrubbed and polished at a noise level that was beyond ridiculous. I’m assuming it was so clean that when the giggling, carol singing Christmas shoppers started arriving about 7am they could eat their fucking breakfast off it!
Anyway…..despite a couple of challenging nights sleep I absolutely loved Chester and will be returning.
As I will to Man City next season.
Because we are Arsenal.
And always will be.
Merry Christmas to all.
Thursday 15th December 2016
We’ve got a pretty good record at Goodison Park down the years but you are only as good as your next game. And although I’ve seen us play a lot worse, we certainly didn’t do enough on Tuesday night to deserve any more than a point.
When things are that ‘tight’ defending crosses properly is essential. And no matter whether the second goal came as a result of an incorrect corner decision or not, that doesn’t allow excuses for not doing that.
As can be the case, it put a real dampener on what was a thoroughly enjoyable away day. Our train journey proved on time and relaxing and our hotel in the city’s Albert Dock area was quite superb.
There are an enormous amount of establishments to enjoy pre-match fare in Liverpool and this time of year the atmosphere is very festive. Consequently 3 different hostelries looked after us and proved very hospitable.
Goodison Park is one of the more atmospheric stadia in the UK and always has been. It’s location amongst the terraced houses matches many of the ‘old style’ grounds we have visited down the years, including our very own Highbury of course.
But, that often means the facilities and viewing is not of a standard we have become used to in recent times!
Having taken the lead it was extremely disappointing to not get through to half time with that advantage intact. Theo arguably could have done more to prevent the cross from coming in and although it was a decent ball, a player being able to nod in unmarked is very very frustrating.
The longer the second period went on it looked like we would take home a point for our efforts. Not perfect but not disastrous. But another unmarked header saw us leave with nothing despite going incredibly close to snatching something in the dying seconds.
It made the city’s hospitality into the small hours less enjoyable by some distance.
A tough one to take then but an extremely tough away day back up in the North West on Sunday means we have no time to dwell on it.
Come on you Gunners!
Saturday 10th December 2016
Not many people like Stoke. Not necessarily because they do anything wrong either. Just because they are always very difficult to beat. And especially away from home, they seem to save some of their best performances for us. Not today Potters. You played well. But we thoroughly deserved the 3 points.
There are 3 similarities between today’s game and our last home outing. One is the final score, the second the referee awarded a very soft penalty and the 3rd is ultimately it didn’t prove costly. But, again that doesn’t take away we were pegged back by poor refereeing.
Having not seen TV replays as yet my judgement might be proved inaccurate but you show me a similar challenge go unpunished to the one the Stoke centre forward made in the build up when he wasn’t even looking at the ball! It was a foul all day long. Seconds later we were one nil down.
We beat Bournemouth well in the end last time out at home but I didn’t come away feeling we had been fantastic. Today I thought we played extremely well from start to finish and it always looked only a matter of time before we would score.
All over the pitch we looked sharp, up for it and full of desire even, somewhat crucially, in that period from when Stoke were handed the lead and Theo’s equaliser just before half time.
The mood ‘out the back’ during the break was definitely more upbeat than not. We were playing well and having gone behind everything looked positive for the second period.
Mesut nodded us in front and our thoughts looked to have been the correct ones.
Alex’s good finish completed an excellent win and day tainted only slightly by Mustafi limping off with what looked like a ‘hammy’.
A big chance for Gabriel to shine at centre half and at least he comes in match fit having enjoyed plenty of game time in Hector’s absence.
Two extremely tough fixtures come next as we head to the North West, firstly to Goodison Park on Tuesday night.
Sandwiched between now and then however, is the Champions League draw and when we find out which one of the 6 teams we will need to overcome to reach the quarter finals.
I quite fancy a trip to Lisbon.
Another one successfully ticked off today, onto the next one we go.
See you in Liverpool.
Come on you mighty reds!
Thursday 8th December 2016
Sitting in reception of a Basel city centre hotel approximately 12 hours after I was expecting to be home indoors is altogether unexpected. But, whilst trying not to be over dramatic, at least we are safe and well.
Many of the media websites detailed extremely speculative and largely inaccurate information as to what happened at Basel Airport last night but the conclusion was a loss of life and that is both dreadfully sad and difficult to comprehend.
Those sitting (like me) on the left hand side of our BA flight, second in the queue for take-off in the taxi area running parallel to the run way, saw a flash of orange that lit up both our aircraft wing and the dark and very murky area around us. It lasted less than a second but was unlike anything you would consider as ‘normal’.
A few moments later I looked out my window and backwards and could see a mass of blue flashing lights.
Our captain announced there had been an ‘unsuccessful landing attempt’ and very quickly it became apparent this had resulted in a loss of life and the airfield had been closed down.
After further waiting time we headed back to the airport and our BA staff made the decision to cancel the flight and to try again in the morning.
Only when looking at aviation news stories once back at our hotel did it become clear that the stricken aircraft appeared to have missed our own plane’s cockpit by a ‘matter of a few feet’.
The atmosphere amongst us felt kind of surreal and the fact it seems none have us slept well suggests we all found it difficult to remove those thoughts from our head.
At the moment we have been told we are booked on a flight at 11am…..but given the number of cancellations and delays we certainly aren’t counting our chickens.
But inconvenience is one thing….
Wednesday 7th December 2016
Helsinki was not a cheap weekend when we played Man City pre-season a couple of years back. Nor was Gothenburg or Stavanger. And Trondheim for Rosenborg away a few years ago gave the wallet a right caning too. But I’m not sure they were anywhere near to the levels of expenditure Basel has yielded.
In that situation you have 1 of 2 choices. Get involved and ‘deal with it’ later or sit in your room and get bored. The former idea won comfortably but a house remortgage might be on the cards!
Basel is a very pretty city in parts and this time of year it very much gets into everything Christmas. And with everything from Gluhwein in the markets to chestnuts roasting on an open fire every single cliché was there to be enjoyed.
Things on our jolly didn’t start there although there is an argument that it followed a traditional theme as an Irish Bar played host to our first Swiss refreshment and live coverage of Everton v Man Utd. It was a decent enough way to commence proceedings before Monday we hit the markets and in particular the Gluhwein.
Although I am a believer that coming first or second in your group can only ever be declared as important either way with the benefit of hindsight, winning the group keeps the confidence high and that all important feel good factor shining brightly.
So although come matchday those nerves and adrenalin were not to the fore, a win and things going our way in Paris, along with coming through injury free, were all aspects we would prefer from the trip.
So after some matchday refreshment in the city centre we took one of the trams up to a misty and murky St. Jakob Park and with kick-off approaching, enjoyed the hospitality of one of the bars located just outside the ground.
On a freezing cold night we soon had plenty to keep us warm and with the news from Paris also looking favourable the mood amongst the travelling Gooners was certainly upbeat.
A hat-trick for Lucas Perez and Alex Iwobi’s strike reflected our dominance in what was a quite superb display on the night. Knowing that a win for us wasn’t absolutely essential, our hosts needing a win to continue their own European adventure and Paris St Germain being so strong at home, the overall result couldn’t really be described as expected but it was extremely pleasing nonetheless.
A few celebratory beers post match and one more sightseeing walk today has completed a highly entertaining and successful, if grossly expensive, trip.
My flight is due to take off in about an hour but it’s very foggy outside. We all have our fingers crossed that our journey home matches the success of our latest European jolly.
Stoke at home comes next, always a difficult game as we look to continue our fine run of form.
One thing is for sure, it promises to be a cheaper day out!
Sunday 4th December 2016
Having been to the Olympic Stadium in Rome, Munich’s version along with those in Moscow, Beijing and others, I’ve never been a fan of watching football in these kind of stadia. Being a considerable distance from the pitch is just not football. London’s was built for athletics. And it is a fine stadium for that. But even ignoring the fact the Boleyn is and will be remembered fondly by all who experienced it, West Ham’s new home is a dreadful place.
I am writing these notes on my latest flight, British Airways the airline looking after me on this occasion for the short flight to the Swiss city of Basel. And making the journey after the magnificence of yesterday is a very happy group of Gooners.
Unusually in the UK, the trip to Stratford was very much a journey into the unknown for all of us so initially we met in the Holborn/Chancery Lane area of the capital for the usual pre-match fare, their location on the Central Line giving us easy access to the correct area if nothing else.
I was fortunate enough to have obtained tickets for 1 particular session of the London Olympics and it was a proper sporting day out. The sense of occasion was something else. And with so much going on the walk from the station was part of it. You could comfortably spend all day in the area and find things to entertain and amuse.
But a football match in comparison is very short. So the walk felt considerable and almost irritating. I certainly wouldn’t want to be doing it every week.
Despite all of the above we had a job to do of course and although The Hammers have been on a bad run of results our hosts were certainly extremely unlucky to lose their last home game to a couple of very late goals.
So, unlike on Wednesday night, a very different looking set of players needed to turn up. And boy did we!
Alexis has made capitalising on defensive mistakes an extremely pleasing habit. And the goals are not just coincidence. They come down to sheer hard work. Yesterday’s example led to Mesut’s all important opener and gave us the first half lead our domination deserved.
Not being able to find my way back to my allocated seat at half time proved a minor irritation as I found a spare one elsewhere, the lack of success when fumbling around in my pocket for match ticket probably due to the intensity of our pre-match acitivity!
It meant a half crammed full of jostles saw me undertaking this activity with fellow Gooners but strangers rather than my usual crowd!
5 fine goals, a superb performance all round and three more big points made it an altogether thoroughly successful day.
I’ve been to Switzerland once before, a trip to Berne for FC Thun away but I have never been to Basel.
So despite the game being almost a dead rubber I am thoroughly looking forward to it.
The full details will follow soon!
For now I’m going to enjoy BA’s hospitality for a hour or so.