Archive | May 2017

Never Losing Faith

Monday 29th May 2017

It feels more than obvious to be saying winning a cup final at Wembley will live long in the memory. But in that incredibly long list that us Gooners are so fortunate to have, Saturday evening has to be right up there with the very best.

The feelings and emotions in the build up to our 3 finals in 4 years could not possibly have been more different. If pre-Hull was filled with nerves and fear of failure after 9 trophyless years and for Villa we couldn’t really be anything else than confident, I had totally made my mind up to try and take it all in and enjoy the day this time round, realistically resigned to the fact there was every chance we might get beat on the day.

With Kos missing, Gabriel also out after going through by far his best vein of form since joining and Mustafi also not available we were down to the bare bones in the very heart of defence. And this, against the best team in the country. Coupling all that with the fact we had to somehow pick ourselves up after the disappointment of not quite getting in the top four, very few felt we had a chance.

But……..and massively deservedly so on the day, we produced a match winning performance that was up there amongst the very best we have produced in our long and illustrious history.

Arsenal Football Club. FA Cup winners 2017. Absolutely magnificent.

I slept terribly on Friday night. An uncomfortably warm temperature and a massive thunderstorm didn’t help….but thoughts about the game have to take a huge responsibility. And now, well into my forties, that is still the case. Maybe a bit sad….but totally and utterly genuine.

The sun, as it always does on Cup Final day was well and truly shining brightly as I left my house early in the morning. But more importantly, that buzz was there. Even if it was tainted with a little bit of pessimism. Deep down however, I felt there was as much chance of us winning as there was us getting absolutely spanked. And the latter was being predicted by many so called ‘experts’.

And that gave me enough optimism to experience pre-match emotions heavily laced with the kind of nerves Cup Final day always produce.

We followed the same routine as our previous 7 victorious visits. And why wouldn’t we. A great pub, virtually all of my very best friends and Arsenal supporting family joining me in a thoroughly entertaining afternoon. And with people who not only want the same thing but are going through the very same emotions. So they get it.

Leaving the pub, confidence had grown considerably. Not realistically of course. Just alcohol driven. But the journey to the stadium, that incredible walk up Wembley Way, the atmosphere, the colour and the sheer emotion was something to behold. I’ve done it many times but it never ever gets any less special.

‘Abide With Me’ rings out, an emotional moment in itself, and all the debate becomes irrelevant. Its all about all those things that make up the package that decides a football match. Desire, ability, attitude, tactics and of course luck.

Kick-off approaches

We started the game well. But we’ve done that before. But that excellent play, that dominance went on. Even after we scored. It was a strange goal of course. One with a degree of controversy and by the nature of how long it took to be allowed, an absolute nightmare to watch! The offside decision got the right outcome….but on another day the possible hand ball might have worked against us.

A lead we thoroughly deserved and our domination throughout the rest of the half could and should have seen us almost home and dry by the break. The fact we weren’t however, meant we all knew despite the delight and possible surprise in our how much we were on top in the first period, we still had a very long way to go.

Keeping our shape during the early stages of the second half was incredibly important I felt and we did just that. And on the break we looked very dangerous.

I still hadn’t considered at this stage we might go on a win the game. But when the Chelsea player tried to cheat and got sent off, I looked at the clock and a wave of confidence swept over me for the first time. Winning, our opponents down to 10 and more importantly than anything else playing really well, I genuinely thought we had a massive chance all of a sudden.

Of course, being Arsenal, we don’t do things the easy way. Ever!

And against the odds and during a period where we looked no more under pressure than at any other stage, Chelsea equalised. And with a goal that our goalie will be more disappointed than anybody that he didn’t save it.

But, with disappointment clear all around, I felt it was crucial we didn’t change anything. We had been the better side all afternoon and there was still plenty of time to win it.

What followed was what footballing dreams are made of. Big Olly Giroud ran into the channel for his first touch since coming on. His ball in was perfect, if nothing more than a calculated gamble. And that is where the brilliant bit comes in. Rambo’s run wasn’t luck. It happens too often. He gambled when nobody else did. And right in front of the Gooners he buried the header. Get in you absolute beauty! I have never seen an Arsenal end jump up in unison in that way for any other goal with such intensity. It was incredible. Nothing can explain it. A moment. A genuine moment.

Chelsea were beaten. But they are league champions for a reason. And they had one more chance. Probably their best in the whole game. And David Ospina saved it. He deserved that. And not only was it crucial it saw us over the line.

Get in you beauties

We had been simply magnificent. And our celebrations were intense with as much surprise as joy.

Every single one of our players put in a shift on the day. But given how things had developed over the previous couple of weeks it would be wrong not to give special praise to our defence. And in particular the BFG. Faultless. It is as simple as that.

Celebrations!

A great great day.

I’m not going to say any more. It’s Monday night and I’m still smiling. And in a difficult season it feels like one of our greatest ever victories.

And I mean that.

Get in.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Magnificent

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The Pre Match Buzz

Friday 26th May 2017

There are a number of reasons why it has taken me so long to pen my thoughts since the Everton game last Sunday. The first is boring but genuine nonetheless. I’ve just been very very busy. Work makes up most of that but being secretary of a supporters club makes this a crazy time of year. Even without the small distraction of an FA Cup Final it is a time for closing down one season and concentrating on renewals in time for the next one. Renewals that always have a time deadline that is imminent!

Secondly I felt Friday 26th May would be a good time to write. A date that will always lift the spirits (unless your a red Scouser of course) and with my sparkling and new FA Cup Final rosette sat on the side glowing in the sunshine that is pouring through my office window, why wouldn’t I feel wonderful about the hours ahead?!

Sunday was a good day……but not quite as good as we all hoped. Even though I felt it would be, 7 wins out of our last 8 didn’t prove enough to take our place in the Champions League for the 21st time on the trot. And as a result it means our European tour will take a different route on this occasion. And when I say different I mean a completely new experience. And that is the positive I am taking out of it. A competition format we have never been involved in before is for me, something to look forward to. And one we all hope we will experience for 1 season only. Its up to us as a club to put that right over the coming season.

But as I keep telling the knockers, it’s fantastic to be entering a competition we have never had the chance to be involved in. Tell me, what is it like?

For now, we have yet another trip to Wembley to look forward to. And when it comes to recent Cup Finals it is definitely the first where we go in as considerable underdogs. That’s not me being negative, just realistic. Chelsea have won the league for a reason. They were the best team over the 38 games. And we have finished 5th 22 points behind them. That makes us a clear outside bet on the day.

But it is just a day. One game. And in one game anything can happen. We can give ourselves a chance by turning up on the day and not making mistakes.

The final of the biggest domestic club cup competition in the world is very special. Although times have changed considerably, it didn’t matter who was in it when I was a boy, I would still get up and watch all the TV build up from before breakfast until the victorious team enjoyed their lap of honour after the game. That was pretty much a ‘once a year’ TV experience back then.

Despite things being a little bit different, millions around the world will be doing that again tomorrow. And our wonderful club will be part of that yet again.

Although the nerves will be there in abundance tomorrow (in fact they have started to kick in as I write this!), I can’t see how it is possible for them to reach the levels they did on our previous 2 visits. So I intend (as difficult as that is) to try and take it all in and enjoy the experience. A day with many of my very best friends in the sunshine.

Nobody genuinely expected us to beat City in the semi final. But we did just that. And we can do it again tomorrow.

Sing your hearts out boys and girls and wear that cannon with pride.

Come on you mighty reds!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Keeping Hopes Alive

Wednesday 17th May 2017

We didn’t score a hatful on the night. But we could have done. Given just how many chances and attempts we had across the course of the game. Just as the frustration was bordering on excruciating however, our patience paid off and the three points were in the bag.

When every season has memories, as an overall event last night’s won’t stick around for too long. So my thoughts will reflect that.

There was nothing in my usual pre-match routine that proved different or contained anything of particular note.

And the performance was ok. Chances came and went and our visitors were stubborn and well up for it, arguably quite surprising all things considered.

The atmosphere was flat and I can understand that but I would say it was a crowd that was also patient and supportive of the team on the night. Certainly those who made the effort to come along anyway.

And we won and that was the main thing.

One more to go then and a combination of doing our job against Everton and keeping our fingers crossed for results elsewhere going our way is definitely the order of the day.

With that in mind my journey onboard the nautical equivalent of a milkfloat is approaching it’s conclusion and a night’s sleep awaits.

See you Sunday.

Frank
@stubbsy70

By a Thread

Monday 15th May 2017

Saturday evening felt like an almost unique experience. I say almost because it wasn’t as if the atmosphere, the tactics or the play of our hosts was any different to previous visits. But on this occasion we not only matched them on that side of the game but our football was sharp, dominant and incisive. And given how many times we have walked out of there disappointed it was altogether thoroughly enjoyable.

Results elsewhere at the weekend suggest we now need a minor miracle if we are to secure Champions League football once again. With the situation out of our hands however, all we could have done is finished the season strongly by winning our games. And that’s whilst recognising totally that we are in this position due to our far too often inept performances during the middle part of the season.

Our previous 2 wins and clean sheets gave us all a little bit of hope as we headed up to Stoke and there certainly was an almost party atmosphere at what was our last game ‘on the road’ for another season. We all know what it is like however. If we found ourselves viewing a poor performance or being beaten yet again in that part of the world, the atmosphere would have quickly turned sour, toxic and/or volatile.

From the very first minute I felt we looked switched on and ready. Our passing, movement, shape, desire etc etc etc were hugely prominent. So much so in fact it looked only a matter of time before we scored. That moment came eventually of course and we took a thoroughly deserved lead into the break.

Despite the clean sheets in our previous 2 games I always felt we would need 2 goals on Saturday if we were to take home the 3 points. And when it came it was a thing of beauty. More dominance, an exquisite through ball from Alexis and a brilliant finish from Mesut. Get in!

In a move that as much as it can prove effective can hardly be called tactical brilliance, Stoke threw on another couple of man mountains in a bid to get back in the game. And with a succession of corners we found ourselves under a bit of pressure for the first time in the match against an attacking line up that now resembled the New York skyline. Defending stoutly and admirably we survived that aerial onslaught with a goal kick bringing that period to a close.

Our host’s goal came after a midfield melee so typical of this fixture followed by a decent cross into the near post. That was met by a very tall man slapping the ball home with his hand. I don’t really have a problem with the scorer for attempting it (admittedly with the benefit of knowing it didn’t influence the overall result) but in the modern game it is incredible that between the 4 officials a quick ‘word in the referee’s ear’ could not have led to the correct decision. He was clever, or cheated, depending on your view but he certainly got away with it. And if he hadn’t football would be a better place for it.

Fortunately we dug very deep and went on to be convincing and thoroughly deserved winners on the day with Alexis and Olly grabbing the goals to top off an excellent overall performance by the whole team.

So it was a happy journey back from Stoke, not something I have said before.

Tomorrow we welcome Sunderland down for their last league game in London N5 for at least 18 months or so. And all we can do is everything in our power to make sure we take the fight for the top 4 to the very last day by winning the game. Simple.

In a week where that oh so difficult battle to try and source cup final tickets is underway I am going to finish with the following and excuse my language. I feel I am right to assume that prize prick who keeps on flying his disrespectful, opinion carrying, childish little plane over our matches doesn’t want his ticket for the final. On that basis please can you put it my way so I can give it to someone who is desperate to see his beloved club grace the Wembley turf once again.

Victoria Concordia Crescit

Frank
@stubbsy70

Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside…

Thursday 11th May 2017

We have experienced some of our best away days down at Southampton over the years. Who can forget Rocky and Merse’s 2nd half goals on the title run in of 1989? Wrighty’s hat trick in his league debut in our colours? The sheer magic of Bergkamp in an early season 3-1 victory almost 20 years ago (yep…it’s that long ago)? Or Thierry’s memorable late strike in 1999 whilst he was learning his new role as our centre forward?

But not all our memories are good ones, especially in more recent times. Short of our FA Cup win earlier this season our previous visits have seen some painful defeats. Fortunately last night falls well and truly into the former category and it was more than enjoyable. 2 down, 3 to go.

Born in Muswell Hill and spending most of my life in Kent, an Arsenal away trip to Pompey or Southampton has only become my most local game relatively recently. But with the opportunity to be home indoors well before midnight a rare one with midweek games, they certainly make up for some of the more difficult trips when they come around.

And with the sunshine streaming down all afternoon the opportunity to enjoy a ‘few early ones’ was simply too good to turn down! So a ‘tour’ of a few establishments was enjoyed, sampling their wares ‘al fresco’ before congregating in our usual pre-match haunt.

Sunday afternoon’s victory had just about kept us in the hunt for a top four spot. But it only achieved 20% of what is likely to be a minimum points target should we have any chance. Last night of course, could double that to 40% but only if we came away with all three points.

The mood in the away end was pretty positive I felt. Probably more so than for quite a while. And indirectly I feel that was hugely important when our hosts enjoyed their best spells during the first half in particular. The Saints played well, nobody can deny that. But defensively I felt we were disciplined and kept our shape well on the night. Petr Cech saved well from their best opening and also tipped a rasping 25 yarder over the bar.

But the longer the game stayed goalless I felt we had a real chance.

Then it came. Arguably the best move from either side throughout the game gave Alexis the chance to put us in front. What followed however, was sheer class. And the travelling Gooners loved it believe me.

From that moment there was still a long way to go of course but we had put ourselves in a winning position and had that to fight for until the end.

Another great move and Olly’s header put the icing on the cake on a fine night.

If Southampton away has proved tricky, our total bogey fixture (certainly since Sheffield Wednesday away back in the eighties, nineties and noughties) comes next. In all the many many times I have been to Stoke, be it their old Victoria Ground or their current abode, I have only ever seen us win there twice. A Niall Quinn header saw us narrowly victorious in an FA Cup tie back in January 1990 and in 2010, on the weekend of my 40th birthday, we brought home 3 crucial points. Even that day however, is remembered for the terrible news that Rambo had broken his leg.

On Saturday evening we return and once again it is trial by television. Our last 2 games have given us a glimmer of hope. But arguably Saturday promises to be our toughest test yet.

As always we can help by sticking together and making some noise.

See you in The Potteries.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Always Nice

There’s a word that is very bland. Unless it is exaggerated for comedy purposes. And even then it is all about the delivery. Bit like our second goal I guess 😉

But pundits have used it to describe Sunday afternoon’s match. That is their choice of course but sometimes I feel they need to work out exactly what they want. Apparently us Arsenal fans are ‘living in the past’. Dreaming of previous glories. Yet if we put in a good attacking performance that produces a pleasing and important victory. Finish the game with all 11 on the pitch. Don’t have a punch up in the tunnel. That is not good enough.

Well……I’m sorry to disappoint, but it is for us. And that is all that matters. What other team’s fans think is less than irrelevant in my book. So if you don’t like it, keep your nose out and watch something else.

I have even heard we beat Man United and nobody in football actually cares. It’s about time these pundits started to realise what it is like to be a real fan. A real supporter of 1 club. Unless you are a fan of Arsenal or Man United, nobody has ever cared!! And nor should they. Just like we couldn’t give a flying pheasant about what any other club is up to. Chelsea are on the verge of winning the league for example……..but until I turned on my PC this morning I genuinely didn’t even know they played last night. The reason? They are not Arsenal. So I pay no interest.

Admittedly there was an end of season feel about the game. And given our visitors on the day that is unusual. But that is simply due to the level of our success over the last 20 years or more. And I say that knowing not everyone has the same opinion on what can be described in that way.

But there was still enough on show, enough desire, enough want to win, enough negative reaction and disappointment on both sides when aspects of the game didn’t go as planned, to realise winning mattered hugely on the day.

We played pretty well I thought. Our visitors had 2 chances, both in the 1st half, one they created and one that was handed to them on a plate by some very poor defending. Fortunately for us, they didn’t work against us and with the number of good things we also created, to go in level at the break was more than deserved.

Granit’s goal included a huge slice of luck of course and it provided the platform for us to go on and take the deserved three points. I say ‘luck’ but if you don’t buy that ticket you are not going to win the raffle. A cliché I know, but very much true on many occasions. I call a goal like that a ‘Lampard’. He made a living out of goals like that down the years.

There was nothing fortunate about the goal that doubled our lead. The excellent and ever improving Ox probed until he had the opportunity to send in a cracking cross, Welbz rose like a salmon and bang! It was 2 nil. A marvellous goal, not a ‘nice’ one, and it was enjoyed by all those present with the usual gusto.

So 1 down and 4 to go. A good start to that target. A target where the next hurdle is the tough trip to the south coast tomorrow night. Teams with little to play for are often described as the best to play at this stage of the season. Ask Liverpool what they feel about that after the weekend. Enough to make sure we are well and truly focused on the job in hand.

As I left the ground on Sunday evening the only line I could think of consisted of seven words…….the first 3 were, “It’s always nice…..”.

I’ll let you have a go at guessing the other 4

Come on you mighty yellows!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Rarities

Monday 1st May 2017

Losing away at Tottenham has happened before of course. And it will happen again in the future. So Sunday wasn’t a unique experience. I hate losing but believe me I felt worse after we got beat at West Brom or Crystal Palace. Simply because Sunday’s hosts are 2nd in the league for reason whereas despite those other 2 being below us all season they both beat us relatively comfortably. With 3 of the teams fighting for those European places also dropping points before we even kicked a ball on the day, I have certainly felt a lot worse leaving that part of North London after a defeat.

My sister has twin boys. And in October this year they turn 19. Although I remember the day they were born very clearly it seems an awful long time ago. And when I analyse their near on 19 years there are literally hundreds of fantastic memories crammed into that time. Far too many to even begin describing. Even more incredible is the fact that before they were born, before they were a twinkle in their parents’ eyes in fact, we find the last time our geographical rivals from Middlesex finished above us in a league season. The likes of Robson & Jerome were top of the music charts, Mel Gibson was starring in the Premiere of Braveheart and Ajax were winning the Champions League. So if they want to celebrate that like they have actually won something, let them go ahead.

The reason for such riotous celebration is extremely obvious. Losing is something they are used to you see. Generations of them in fact. Whilst that is certainly not the case at our great club. Twice in the last three seasons for example. And when you are used to picking up major pots expectations are not only different but much much higher.

Not until they have won 13 league tiles instead of 2 and not until they go 21 years of finishing above us can they even consider any crowing. Despite all their efforts!

We played ok until going behind. Not brilliant, but ok. We could have gone behind earlier of course but the 2 notable chances that came our hosts’ way were as a result of heavily deflected crosses. But overall, we were beaten by the better performance on the day. And in football, that happens.

Before the Middlesbrough away game I felt 21 points from a possible 24 could well be enough to see us sneak a top 4 spot. And I have no reason to believe any different now. But are we capable of winning our last 5 games? At the moment I cannot see it. But whilst it is possible I will keep believing. That starts with the visit of Man United this coming Sunday.

All pundits, media and other such experts are suggesting the lengthy stronghold we’ve enjoyed in North London is about to change. I’m sorry but I’m not having that. Why?

Because we are the Arsenal.

And we will come again.

Frank
@stubbsy70