You Leave With Nothing
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.