Archive | February 2017

With Ribbons Intact

Tuesday 21st February 2017

What is it with Arsenal bashing? Why us? Always. 

We should have won the league last year. Liverpool shouldn’t have. Nor Chelsea. Nor Man Utd. And definitely not Tottenham. Maybe if any of them had put in a performance against the deserved Champions we might have won it. But that doesn’t matter. That’s our fault. We should have won it.

We should have won the league for a number of years now. And the fact we haven’t we are being absolutely slaughtered for it. No mention of Liverpool going 25 years without doing that despite spending horrific amounts of money. Tottenham doing the same and still waiting after near on 60 years is not worth a discussion. And Chelsea going 50 years until they pretty much bought it is all very hush hush.

Knocking the Arsenal is nothing new. We have always had to deal with that. But things have changed a little for me.

So, after a disappointing period, the vultures were well and truly circling above Gander Green Lane last night. Nothing (and I mean nothing) would have pleased the football world more than seeing us get beat last night. But I (and fortunately all of the people I attend fixtures with) were thoroughly looking forward to the whole event and were not going to allow the knockers of our great club to ruin it. It was a special occasion in many many ways. Almost unique in fact. And we came through it with a win to send everyone but us Gooners home disappointed.

But it wasn’t all good and I will detail just why……

An ageing souvenir cap from a memorable day out

An ageing souvenir cap from a memorable day out

Back in January 1993 we played Yeovil away in the FA Cup 3rd Round. I remember the hype surrounding the fixture due to a combination of our hosts being a non league side, the link to our previous fixture back in 1971 and the fact the whole football world wanted us to lose. We had a fantastic day out, Wrighty banged in a hat-trick and that was that. A few months later we put the grand old pot in our trophy cabinet once again. 

But the difference back then was all the criticism, all that dislike of the Arsenal, all that desire to see us fail made us Gooners stick together. The attitude if everyone else is against us we’ll make doubly sure we are in it as one. That ‘siege mentality’ we’ve all heard about. And that is in a season where we had already lost against the likes of Norwich, Blackburn (twice), Wimbledon, Leeds, Southampton, Villa and others. A season where leading up to the Yeovil game we had scored 1 goal in our previous 7 league games! In a 1-1 home draw with Middlesbrough for the record…

But, that sticking together, that ‘us against the world’ doesn’t seem to be the case any more.

Once again, every single person outside of Arsenal FC wanted us to lose last night. And that I completely understand. But the fact, even in the away end of Gander Green Lane with only 750 of us present it felt like there were many who would have been quite happy to see us get beat I genuinely do not get. Why bother going if you don’t go to enjoy it? What is the point of constant negativity? Back in the day, even if we weren’t exactly overjoyed about the way things were going, we certainly didn’t show that to anyone outside of the club. We are Arsenal. Bollocks to everyone else. I wish I could say that is still the way. But I genuinely don’t think amongst the ‘new generation’ it is.

Or maybe I’m just getting old.

‘Minnows beat the Arsenal’. The headlines were already written. And we would have endured that until the day we died. But on the night, due to a thoroughly professional if not stunning performance we made sure it didn’t happen.

And no matter how much it was expected we should take that with pride, satisfaction and class and look forward to a quarter final where we’ll need to go through it all again.

A surface covered in banana skins

A surface covered in banana skins

Those of us who were lucky enough (and in the majority of cases deservedly) to have a ticket for tonight’s match were thoroughly looking forward to it. Supporting a top side we have been able to travel the globe and visit some of the world’s greatest stadia. And some of our most awesome moments have been in the world’s greatest club Cup competition.

And to win it 12 times you need to overcome many teams.

But to visit such a stadium for a massive fixture with interest being present globally is kind of unique. Winning would make sure it wasn’t an experience ruined.

This season we have beaten Burnley twice, both with last minute winners. At the weekend that team lost, at home, to a team from the conference.

So, apparently, that means last night was easy for Arsenal. Should be a stroll in the park.

We all knew that wasn’t the case. Everyone was waiting for us to fail. But we didn’t. Sorry about that. 

I had a bit of PMT in the build up. To be fair I always do for cup games. But that fear of embarrassment intensifies that emotion. But once the game had started there wasn’t a single moment where I felt we would lose. And as a result, into the last 8 we go……yet again.

We now have a short break due to Southampton’s success in the League Cup. A rare weekend off. And it’s my birthday. So I will enjoy it. And if you want to knock me for that you go ahead.

We’re used to it.

Frank
@stubbsy70

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A New Emotion

Thursday 16th February 2017

Wembley 1978 and again in 1980 along with Brussels just a few days later I remember being disappointed. But I was a little too young to feel any other emotion. Losing to Luton in 1988 always springs to mind when trying to remember the first time I felt genuinely gutted. And of course there have been other times too, Liverpool robbing us down in Cardiff, Bergkamp’s penalty miss at Villa Park and a couple of trips to Paris to name but a few.

But, in 40 years of support, I don’t ever remember experiencing the feeling of total and utter deflation after last night.

Trip wise it has been fantastically entertaining as always, no shock when visiting a city that never fails on that front.

Arriving around about rush hour on Tuesday evening there was always only going to be one thing on the agenda and an establishment that we have been in so many times now that it almost feels like a ‘local’ played host until the wee small hours. A fine start.

Oh go on then.....

Oh go on then…..

Matchday arrived graced with beautiful sunshine and consequently the city was full of people enjoying the local wares al fresco. That of course included the usual travelling army of Gooners spread far and wide inside and outside one of the many bierkellers. A good atmosphere full of anticipation if not exuberant confidence.

Actually getting into some stadia amazes me. The Allianz is one of the world’s greatest modern sporting arenas. An incredible sight as you approach and equally impressive inside. But getting through the turnstiles, for both home and away fans was unnecessarily slow, difficult and chaotic.

We had been warned that we would all have our photo ID checked and this could take some time. But that bit took no more than seconds and caused no delays or problems. But actually getting through the turnstiles, in a modern stadium, in a country known for its clockwork efficiency was ridiculously difficult and meant many, even having arrived in what should be ample time, missed the kick-off.

False optimism again

False optimism again

Normally when we get beat you can pinpoint particular incidents or moments that could have been different. Mistakes, bad luck, that kind of thing. But our second half performance last night was like something you see in a school playground.

None of us were shocked that our hosts completely dominated the first half possession. Defending well and trying to make the most of opportunities on the break were not unexpected tactics. And short of an absolute worldy we did that pretty well I felt. In fact after we equalised we enjoyed our best spell and could and arguably should have taken the lead.

So, at half time we found ourselves in a better position than before a ball was kicked.

Then, Laurent limped off and basically we collapsed.

Of course we can all scratch our heads as to just how we fell apart but more alarming was the fact we appeared to just give up. At 3-1 down we were still in the tie. Yet we looked like a team already defeated.

Since mid December we have lost 5 times. That period includes a last minute penalty win at home to Burnley and having to come from 3 nil down to scrape a point at Bournemouth. That form speaks for itself. And consequently losing last night was more likely than not. But the manner of the defeat was very very worrying.

Drowning your sorrows until nearly 4am is not big or clever. But I almost felt I had no choice.

It almost has an ‘end of an era’ feel today. And I genuinely have never felt like that since Georgie Graham departed.

So what happens next? Well, first things first we need to show Sutton United some respect and put in a performance that sees us into the FA Cup quarter final.

We are Arsenal.

We’ll come again.

Frank
@stubbsy70

An Essential Victory

Monday 13th February 2017

We all have differing opinions in life and football is no exception. And that is the way it should be. The ability to accept other people’s, especially when they are different to yours, is almost a skill in itself! I used to believe that comes with experience. The increased wisdom the older we all get. But when we look at the ‘debates’ we all have I am no longer convinced that is the case! Some get even more set in their ways and consequently their opinions as their age increases. One thing I think the majority of us agree on however, is the most important aspect of any league game is to come away with the three points. Everything else, especially as time goes by, becomes almost irrelevant. If you look back at your copy of the 1977-78 official Arsenal handbook and page 51 tells you on 15th January 1977 we beat Norwich at home 1 nil, only a minute few will remember the details of the game. But the result is in the book. A home victory. Nothing else matters.

Given the previous few days, Hull at home on Saturday afternoon was one of those. Freezing cold and largely forgettable, the 2 nil home win will very much do. We can save the more entertaining days for other matches.

I’ve mentioned it before but Sunday matches are the ones I’m not a fan of. Anything on a Saturday is fine by me and Friday and Monday are not the end of the world either. But if I didn’t say the walk to my ferry on Saturday morning was a tad painful I would be lying. Most of you will be expecting me to say that was as a result of a ridiculous decision to hit it hard on Friday night given the following day’s lunchtime kick-off but no, you would be wrong! I had a ‘quiet night in for a change’ as Smashy and Nicey used to say. But leaving my house, as night was just about turning to day, it was proper freezing. And that is my excuse for having a few breakfast liveners on my train journey into London! 🙂

The atmosphere was a little flat in the ground and that cannot be put down totally to the cold weather. None of us can be blamed for being a little downbeat after our previous 2 games. But there is nothing like a win the improve the mood.

The better team won on the day but there is no doubt it was a tough old game. Not until Alexis penalty in injury time was it put to bed and it needed some good defending, a couple of good saves and plenty of discipline to see it home.

Considering how advanced the game has become I think it is incredible that there are still a number of grey areas within the rules and laws. Penalty decisions, diving, simulation, call it whatever you like is certainly one of them and I’ve discussed that before. And handballs are definitely another. For me it must come down to the officials’ opinion and decision and nothing else. If the rule was changed that if the ball strikes your hand it is handball whatever the situation we would be faced with players just aiming for an opponent’s hand to win a penalty. And that is simply ridiculous.

Our first goal on Saturday was one such example. Did Alexis mean to put his hand there so as to knock it into the net? Or was it simply smashed against him from a foot and he knew very little about it? The goal was given so we can only assume the officials saw it as the latter. The referee has since been reported as saying if he had the benefit of a replay it would have been disallowed. But does that mean it shouldn’t have been a goal? That means if Alexis did know absolutely nothing about it and the ball went in off whatever part of his body it hit, that is deemed a ‘foul’. And that seems a little bit odd to me.

Fortunately for all of us it is a decision that has gone in our favour on this occasion. And it was crucial too, given the way the game had gone so far.

We’ll take the three points from a tough game on the day and move on and that of course takes us to Germany and our latest trip to Bavaria. The majority of our previous visits have been either for a group game or the second leg after a disappointing result at home. Although this one is different to that we have been in this situation before. On a freezing cold night in 2005 (those who attended will remember the snowball fight!) we got beat 3-1 in Bayern’s old Olympic Stadium ground and it was enough to put us out despite Thierry scoring in the home leg in a 1 nil victory. So, despite all our encounters, actually getting through against the Germans of Bayern Munich is not territory we have reached before.

Our 2 games over the next 3 weeks will determine if we can change that, starting with Wednesday night’s latest trip to the Allianz Arena.

Over Land and Sea!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Forearm Smash

Monday 6th February 2017

Everyone knows and can see that the first goal we conceded on Saturday was a foul. In fact, if it happened anywhere else on the pitch not only would it have been penalised but there is every chance it would have resulted in a sending off. We could see it from the away end….but the officials got caught up in the moment and excitement and decided to let it stand. Believe you me that is not me offering an excuse for getting beat but those who argue it wasn’t crucial and influential are simply wrong in their conclusions.

If we had won in the week against Watford, Saturday would have been ever so slightly easier to take. It still would of hurt. All defeats do. But if the gap was an unlikely one to bridge before a ball was kicked it is almost impossible now. The likeliness of the Bank of Russia losing 4 games between now and the end of the season is as likely as us managing to win all of ours.

I don’t like going to Chelsea. And before anyone suggests that is hardly surprising in recent times, I never have. Even during the period when we pretty much used to get a result over there every season. Those victories used to make it a lot easier to endure of course but since the money has changed them from a middle sized ‘yo-yo’ club to one where they can persuade anyone to join just because of their unlimited wage budget, the trip and surrounding area are still remarkably irritating and uninspiring.

My emotions approaching the game were a little bit confusing. Everyone knows I am extremely positive and consequently I go to any game confident we can win. But Saturday morning that feeling wasn’t there. Once I had convinced myself that Tuesday’s disappointing defeat doesn’t make us a bad side overnight however, I entered the turnstiles after the usual almost degrading body search feeling far more optimistic.

Before the 'assault'

Before the ‘assault’

Overall I think we played ‘ok’. But nothing better than that. And away at the team looking most likely to take the league title, that level is never going to be good enough. Our hosts don’t let in many goals. But we created chances on the day. And there were some crucial moments too, none more so than the opener and the header we missed during our best spell of the first half.

But the fact we still continue to concede goals is more worrying for me. We know we can score. And generally, pretty much in every game we play we do just that. In all 5 of our league defeats this season in fact, we have done just that. That means if we had kept a clean sheet we would have won those games. But every game we play at the moment I feel we could let in goals. And that is not the sign of a side that will go on to win trophies.

We have endured a seriously bad week since our win at Southampton in the cup. But there is still an enormous amount to play for. And that is more important than anything else right now.

That starts with the visit of in form Hull City on Saturday lunchtime. It’s a game where we need to start again. Create a new base to build upon. And the only way we can do that is to take the three points.

Keep the faith.

Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Frank
@stubbsy70