Archive | April 2017

By Hook or By Crook

Thursday 27th April 2017

Every season has games like last night. Even the all conquering league winning examples. Sometimes you are on the end of them whilst on other occasions, such as last night, you come out the other end with an important three points. So given that reasoning, I’ll happily take them and move on.

I started writing my thoughts late last night. Not because I had a passion to get them out there as soon as possible. Just because of the following;

…..picture the scene. It’s just gone midnight and Wightlink ferries have ‘laid on’ a boat to get us home because of their decision to cancel the usual ferry service.

The boat is dated, about as warm as a fridge and is so bad it’s laughable.

Heading out into the dark deep waters of The Solent we are not moving very fast….and an announcement has been made that “we’ve lost an engine”. We are genuinely not sure what that means but we have come to a reasonable assumption that doesn’t mean it has fallen off and on its way to the sea bed. Apparently, rather pleasingly, “someone is trying to sort it out”.

As we bob around like a cork, a few further minutes have passed so I will keep you updated. One of our ship/ferry/boat/raft/pedalo’s massive crew……we think there are 3…..one is behind the 1960s style refreshment counter, another is trying to fix the engine so we assume the other one is steering……has just returned from the engine room shaking his head and muffling something about a “smell of burning”. Nothing to worry about there then.

A further announcement reveals “fixing the engine has not been possible but don’t worry we’re gonna try and get across on the other one!”

Our lack of sea going knowledge dictates the kind of banter you would expect to keeping us sane and relatively confident we will reach our destination……’Don’t mean to worry you but crew member number 3 has just put on a lifejacket’ and ‘I’m in the process of drafting a note to my wife’ and ‘the guy behind the refreshment counter has just started to neck the top shelf’……amongst other things.

High spirits on the high seas

Wondering in their luxurious worlds if the players genuinely know what we all put ourselves through in support of the team has never felt so apt. It was certainly not rock n roll but the fact I am continuing my thoughts today at least means our ferry journey had a satisfactory ending!

The game itself definitely had a sense of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ about it last night. Those who did attend (there were many who didn’t) were very quiet despite still being in a buoyant mood over Sunday and the idea that there are any easy games disappeared long ago.

Passing wise I thought we looked sharp, slick and constantly looking to penetrate the massed Leicester defence. But as a fellow Gooner pointed out, the hardest pass of all is always the last one. And for long periods that is exactly how it panned out.

Our visitors looked quick on the counter although I felt we defended that side of their game pretty well throughout. And we were well aware their biggest threat given the size of some of their players would be from set pieces, particularly long throws. And The Foxes’ couple of most dangerous moments came in exactly that manner.

But, with time running out, we kept going and our relative domination finally told, even if the goal had a large amount of good fortune about it.

Relief all round then on a chilly Spring night in North London……..and like part of my journey home….it just about keeps our hopes afloat!

Enjoy Sunday Gooners and be safe.

Frank
@stubbsy70

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Seven

Tuesday 25th April 2017

Over reactions to both victories and defeats are often talked about and there is a huge amount of truth in the fact we all do it. Consequently I felt writing my blog yesterday when my smile was still from ear to ear, or even worse on Sunday evening, wouldn’t necessarily have me offering well balanced words!

But if that wasn’t just the perfect weekend I don’t know what is! 😊

Some have said they would have liked to be facing that lot from down the road in the final. But most of us didn’t. For me personally, if we had both got through, I think it could have finished me off! I remember the nerves approaching the semis in 1991, 1993 and 2001 and they were almost unbearable. To have gone through 5 weeks before meeting them in a final could quite possibly have been too much to take.

As a result, well before anything kicked in regarding our game on Sunday, I felt very uncomfortable on Saturday afternoon. Wanting the Russians from Fulham to win is rare. Very very rare. But I don’t mind admitting I wanted that more than anything come Saturday evening.

I didn’t watch any of the game of course, so I can’t comment. I’ve mentioned before but I simply refuse to let that lot be on my telly. I pay a lot of money for the privilege of being able to watch TV but you would have to pay me to make it that dirty. Instead I read a book with one eye on Osasuna v Sporting Gijon. A Spanish relegation battle, it was quite entertaining to be fair and hearing one of the manager’s previous experience at the helm of a football club saw him in charge of Ibiza and Benidorm brought a smile to my face at least!

My other half was flicking around on social media like she does and advised a couple of her ‘friends’ comments suggested the result I wanted was looking like coming to fruition.

Oh dear

The feeling of relaxation I felt as a result is difficult to explain, amongst the overwhelming amusement as well of course. Especially as we had a game the following day where if we lost it was all maybe a little bit irrelevant. But somewhere deep down inside me I was filled with large degrees of confidence all of a sudden. A sensation I certainly haven’t had for some weeks.

I didn’t sleep very well Saturday night. I could blame eating a little bit late, my cats being pests during the night or just being restless. But overall it probably was that heady combination of elation, relief, anticipation and excitement at both the events of the day and those that were about to unfold on Sunday.

It was a beautiful sunny day as I left home but doesn’t that always seem to be the case when heading to Wembley? And a smooth journey saw me join my friends and fellow Gooners in the same location that proved so successful on our previous 6 victorious occasions.

And, accompanied with the nerves that had returned with a vengeance we enjoyed a quite fantastic build up to the game. I wouldn’t say everyone was exactly confident but we all knew we had a chance. A good one too if we played at our best and we enjoyed the favourable side of any luck on offer on the day.

Walking up Wembley Way never becomes a chore. Nor should it. And Sunday was certainly no different.

Nerves

With the noise, colour and sheer occasion becoming hugely apparent as always when you take your seat it was time to put in a performance.

Colour

Overall I feel City just about shaded the first 35 minutes or so but we held our shape extremely well and very much came into the game in the latter stages. We looked the stronger in the second period and if anyone was going to win it was us. And we done just that in extra time.

Looking at some of the key moments they pretty much evened themselves out in my opinion. Technically City should have scored a goal when the ball was only 7/8ths over the goal line but along with the fact our players pretty much stopped when the flag went up, it was more than close to being a correct decision and it went our way on this occasion.

City took the lead with almost a carbon copy of their first goal at the Emirates. Frustrating as I felt we were in the ascendency at that time. Credit is due I feel that our heads didn’t go down. The Ox was excellent all game and his superb cross was met on the volley by the equally impressive Nacho and it was pandemonium in the red end of Wembley. Get in, let’s go on an win it.

Nacho!!!!

Both sides could have been given penalties, City hit the bar with a header whilst Rob Holding nodded just over with a very similar chance. Petr made a fantastic save to tip Toure’s strike onto the post whilst Danny Welbeck was inches from smashing one in at the other end.

Then…that all important winner arrived. It wasn’t a goal of the season contender….but it was a thing of great beauty nonetheless when you consider its significance. Once again the jostle was quite something as finally the belief we could go on and the win the game hit home.

Sheer elation!

Overall, the best team won on the day. And that was very very pleasing. No disrespect intended but beating Wigan and Reading in our previous semi finals is one thing. But being considerable underdogs after our worst spell of form for many many years and beating the multi millionaires from Manchester takes semi final victories to another level.

And boy did we enjoy it.

Party!

In our entertaining pre-match period building up to the Middlesbrough game last Monday we discussing what we wanted from the rest of the season. The first three aspects were a win over our hosts that night, spurs to go out Saturday and us to get to Wembley yet again on Sunday afternoon. 100% success so far.

I’m not going to jinx the rest by detailing our other hopes but I’m sure they are no different to the vast majority of us. They start with tomorrow night’s visit of the league champions.

Leicester achieved something that simply didn’t seem possible in the modern game last season. And deservedly so too. And for a small part of this season it looked like the unthinkable might happen at the other end of the table too. But inspired by their excellent Champions League form the Foxes have made themselves very safe and ready to take on another Premier League campaign next year.

That makes them a dangerous proposition as we do our best to turn our own thoughts to the chase for European places.

Although its crucial the players get thoughts of Wembley out of their heads I would be lying if I didn’t suggest thoughts of yellow ribbons and merry months of May will be accompanying my journey back to London N5!!

Smiles all round.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Best Away Trip Ever

Tuesday 19th April 2017

Middlesbrough away on a Monday night is about as attractive as eating uncooked chicken. But as I head south this morning I can’t describe events in any other way than it has been thoroughly enjoyable.

Unless I wanted to travel through the night and pretty much sit straight at my desk and try and do a day’s work, an overnight stay was my only option. And I didn’t fancy the drive either. So a 7am stroll along the seafront and an early ferry saw me start a train journey that couldn’t possibly have run any smoother.

Me and my fellow travellers discussed many things in the build up, some more important than others but all highly amusing of course. Does a pie need a bottom to be a pie? (don’t ask). Was our 3 nil cup replay defeat at Luton in 1985 an all time low? Was Olive from ‘On the Buses’ attractive? The usual important issues of the day.

But one thing we did all agree on is games like last night are the ones we most want to attend. When things aren’t going well, when the whole world is against you, when the game’s day and kick-off time couldn’t be more inconvenient. And we had an absolute scream, before, during and after.

A small pub crawl in the university part of the city started proceedings on a sunny and warm afternoon. But what happened to that Spring day is difficult to work out! Come kick off time it was not only lashing it down it was proper freezing! The decision to bring the coat was certainly a good one.

As a game it wasn’t exactly a thriller but it was all about getting the result. And despite some tricky moments and conceding yet again we got just that. A grotty horrible Monday night on Teesside with a satisfying 3 points.

Cold

Results to celebrate have been few and far between in recent times as we all know. So that was our excuse as we stumbled back to our digs in the early hours thoroughly contented with our day.

Wembley comes next and in recent times there is that ‘yet again’ feel about it. Very few of us Gooners will have that ‘buzz’ surrounding our previous visits. And that is as a result of our current form as much as anything else.

But us football fans are a funny and often fickle lot. The joy of getting to the semi in 2014 was immense and going one step further intensified that emotion enormously. And winning it was up there with the best days of our Arsenal supporting lives.

The situation was no different 12 months later and included a feeling of satisfaction that arguably outweighed the previous year’s relief.

A couple of Community Shield victories topped off an incredible period for us in our national stadium of course but I would be lying if I didn’t get the impression amongst many Gooners out there that they are not too bothered about it this time round. A mixture of ‘been there, done that’ and general apathy towards our current form seeing many using any excuse to not actually go to the game. Excuses that simply weren’t there in those previous years.

Incredible I know, but true nonetheless.

It does mean of course, that those who are attending seriously want to be there and our end will be sold out and packed to the rafters as usual. And I fully expect us to make plenty of noise too.

Admittedly we were considerably better than Wigan, Hull, Reading and Villa on paper and although every team still has to beaten on the day those Wembley visits saw us come out with victories from performances ranging from a little more than mediocre to approaching perfection. The point is any display could be enough to see us through.

To a large extent that also applies to this season’s games against Sutton and Lincoln.

But, continuing the ‘on paper’ theme we are not better than Man City, certainly based on recent months anyway. So unless we turn up and put in a performance we will get beat on Sunday, it’s as simple as that.

Stating that is not me being negative. I am thoroughly looking forward to it and will being singing my heart out to try and assist, in some small way, our bid to reach yet another FA Cup Final. Despite our troubles elsewhere that is an enormous incentive and still hugely important to me personally.

Looking out of my train window we have just gone through Retford at a fair old pace so London beckons.

And I still have a headache.

Worth every penny and all the effort.

Enjoy Sunday and sing up.

Frank
@stubbsy70

A Million Miles Away

Monday 10th April 2017

Wednesday gave me a little hope. April is a good time to hit a bit of form I thought. It’s easy to say it ‘was only West Ham’ of course but I felt we turned up against Man City too.

But it’s hard to argue that hope wasn’t false after tonight. Almost impossible in fact.

It’s all well and good saying we dominated possession and probed and pushed for much of the game. But we lost 3 nil to a very mediocre side. 3 nil.

I’m not one for singing songs that are detrimental towards my own side. But, whilst recognising totally it is down to the manager to motivate his team, I also believe the players get away with pretty much no criticism. Not tonight. And it’s about time in my view. Too many out there not pulling their weight.

I hope it hurt a bit. Because it hurts us. Those who take time off work on a Monday, those who spend their cash to come along, those who use our ridiculously unreliable railway network or fight their way through the rush hour traffic. Those, like me, making my way back south to get on a ferry, to go to bed in the early hours of the morning only to wake up to the reality that we got spanked 3 nil by a Palace side fighting to avoid relegation. It hurts quite a lot.

On Easter Monday we go to Middlesbrough. And I will be making that long trip of course. Matches like tonight make me wonder why. But only for a moment or two

Arsenal til I die.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Much Better

Thursday 6th April 2017

Apart from major signal problems somewhere near Putney giving me a decision to make as whether to get home after 4am or part with some cash for a basic hotel room grossly overpriced due to it being school half term week…….I thoroughly enjoyed last night. The feel good factor was back. And it seems a long old time since we have been able to say that!

Although the streets around London N5 were hardly what you would call ‘full of tension’ there was absolutely no doubt it felt like a must win game. Looking at the top 7, if you disregard the top 2 it looks pretty much like the other 5 are battling for the other 2 Champions League spots. There will be lots of twists and turns I’m sure but consistency will be the winner.

Those of us lucky enough to attend every home game are well aware there are often quite a lot of spare seats dotted around our stadium. And with all games selling out the vast majority can only be season ticket holders who have not attended. It shouldn’t but that situation bugs me a little. And probably not as much as those Gooners out there who have been unable to get a ticket for what is a ‘sold out’ fixture.

The club have introduced ‘Ticket Exchange’ where season ticket holders can sell their seat for a game they cannot attend by registering it online. But the fact remains many don’t do this. Some forget I guess and many others are ‘owned’ by businesses or affluent individuals where it genuinely doesn’t really matter to them if they are used or not. Others of course, simply can’t be bothered.

Only my opinion admittedly but I think the club should go one step further. I believe if a season ticket seat is not used for let’s say 80% of matches (or at least advertised through Ticket Exchange) the club should reserve the right to take that season ticket back for the following season. The technology to administer this is certainly in place. But, the cynic in me can’t help but suggest the club are not too bothered whether there is a bum on that seat or not as it has already been paid for. I certainly believe it could go some way to providing the solution to filling those empty seats more often.

Anyway, I digress…..and the atmosphere on Wednesday night was pretty good to be honest. Everyone (bar a very small minority) pulling in the same direction in support of the team. And it was a team that put in a good performance on the night. Sitting here thinking about it in fact, I am struggling to think of any individual who didn’t have a good night. Mesut was back to his purring best, Theo looked very dangerous throughout and our under fire defence pretty much snuffed out anything The Hammers could offer. Emi Martinez dealt with the few things he needed to with ease and I was particularly pleased both with and for Gabriel. I don’t think I am talking out of line by saying he hasn’t been a fan’s favourite since he arrived but I thought he was excellent in the second half on Sunday against Man City and was arguably the best player on the park last night.

We could and should have been leading at half time but more importantly for me, we hadn’t conceded.

The way we started the second period suggested it would only be a matter of time before we took the lead but once we did there was definitely an element of relief mixed in with those usual post goal emotions. And the superb flowing move leading to Theo doubling our lead felt like the brakes in our play were finally being released. Some of our attacking football in the latter stages in fact, was as good as any we have played for a long time.

Olly’s cracking 3rd gave a more realistic look to the scoreline given our overall domination, especially in the 2nd period and coupled with each of the 4 teams around us all dropping points this midweek it was a thoroughly satisfying package.

Something for me to think about in my depressing and expensive hotel room a few hours later!!

The first of two weekends off come next. Not because we haven’t got a game. But TV have decided to give us 2 of those Monday night affairs. I’m not too disappointed if I’m honest. Unless something goes totally wrong I am always going to attend our fixture whatever date or time it is. And Monday night games give me a whole weekend to enjoy something away from the beautiful game. And with a promising weather forecast that is exactly what I intend to do.

Crystal Palace are always well and truly up for it when we play them. As are any side managed by Mr Allardyce. So I expect an extremely tough encounter at Selhurst Park. We know we are capable of coming away with three points. But we need to be right on our game if we are to do just that.

Enjoy the weekend folks, see you south of the river on Monday.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Liking the Sound of One’s Voice

Tuesday 4th April 2017

Football can be very frustrating. Now there’s an obvious statement! And with bias towards and support for one team, that emotion can only truly be influenced by all the things that surround them. That can be aspects our team can dictate and those they can’t. On Sunday I heard one of our own utter the words, “I don’t really want to attend games when we’ve got nothing to play for”. Surely that is more than just frustration. Bordering on ‘spoilt’ if you ask me.

I don’t mind admitting I find that kind of statement more than ridiculous. Laughable in fact. But I also can’t help but feel it is kind of indicative of the way modern day football fans are. Certainly in the upper reaches of the Premier League anyway.

Even in possibly our most inconsistent and frustrating season of recent times we have an FA Cup Semi Final to look forward to and we fight on to try and grab a Champions League spot that many Gooners simply take for granted these days due to our incredible run of qualifying year in year out.

That, is nothing to play for in some people’s eyes.

Many many times I have said this over the 15 years or so I have been writing a diary/blog, but football and supporting your team is not compulsory. Everyone has a choice. If you don’t enjoy yourself and see it as a grind, don’t go. It’s simple. And ‘supporting’ is not about only when your team is winning either. That is easy. ‘Sticking together’ is a phrase we are hearing a lot at the moment but for me that is right up there amongst the most important aspects of following a team/club. And when things are not going quite as you long for it is not only more important than ever but should make you grow even stronger, both personally and as a unit.

When you are in a pub, on a train or any public environment, does hearing another person criticise, slate or talk bullshit about your club hurt you, especially if you don’t know him/her? Does that situation make you think irrational thoughts?! If it does, you are like me. And on that basis we are together.

And that makes the confrontational element within our ranks all the more disappointing. We can all have differing opinions but deep down we all want the same thing. Each opinion and point can be valid…..but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is correct.

In a football ground, en masse if you like, any person can shout and scream their views and opinions. But when you do, no matter how much you’ve got the loudest voice, it doesn’t mean those around you have to agree or in fact have to put up with it without expressing their own opinion. And when they do, getting the ‘ump about it is massively hypocritical.

This brings me to Sunday afternoon and our home game against Man City. The minor ‘handbags’ inside the ground (and believe me that’s all they were as they happened in the section where I sit) have been widely reported like it is some kind of massive in house brawling that is regularly taking place. That is not surprising of course with the media seeking any possible way, however small, to try and both knock our great club and undermine our support for it. But it was no more than one or two acting in the way previously described and it boiling over due to others having the sheer cheek to have a different opinion!

It wasn’t particularly nice obviously and I have no problem with people standing up for their views but the general feeling was more disappointing that our current situation has brought on such an incident than anything else.

I could be dramatic and say it took the shine of what was an extremely entertaining encounter but it didn’t. Two very attack minded sides going head to head and matching each other punch for punch made hugely entertaining fare, for a neutral if nothing else.

We are not neutrals however, so despite it being a fair result overall, our current position means it feels like another 2 points dropped rather than 1 gained.

There were good points…we looked dangerous going forward….and there were bad ones too….defensive mistakes once again. But overall it was a big improvement on recent performances I would say.

Effort and desire are two aspects we certainly can’t criticise I feel as they were both there in abundance. And both sides had opportunities to win the game throughout.

We move on and that means taking on West Ham on Wednesday evening. London derbys have those extra ingredients. Local rivalry, a game under the lights and 3 points being crucial all make it look an enthralling evening.

Victoria Concordia Crescit…………some out there need to look that up.

Come on you reds!!

Frank
@stubbsy70