I feel like I really should keep you up to date.
Well…..today I’ve taken a day off. Pretty much. Due to where I live a trip to London dictates that. And different to every other time I have been to Moscow, they need fingerprints as part of the VISA application.
And the VISA application office is near to Barbican. A long long way from where i live and work.
A visa ain’t cheap either. So add that to our costs today, the flight, the accommodation, the cost of getting an ‘invitation letter’ from the hotel and a match ticket and this is not a cheap trip.
I have just got back from Tromso in Norway. An incredible weekend with our Norwegian Gooner friends, in the pipeline a long time ago given the ‘international’ weekend.
But today was reality if you want to follow the team home and away without fail.
See you Sunday at home to Stoke. Supposedly the easy bit.
Thursday 15th March 2018
There have been some crucial moments in both legs. And tonight that penalty decision was definitely one of them. And crucially, it went our way. But, overall, if you win a tie 5-1 you deserve to go through. Happy days.
I travelled up early today. The chance to have a bit of lunch with my dad and friends, a chance in fact that the snow prevented on a previous plan pre Man City at home. And it meant, along with those deep fears that we were very capable of undoing all the first leg’s good work, we arrived in London N5 in good spirits.
Recent home games have definitely felt a bit ‘damp’. A bit apathetic to quote a well used word lately. But tonight felt quite good. Not fantastic. But ok. It had that slight air of anticipation. That edge to it.
And as a result football felt ‘back again’ for a while.
Despite going behind I found myself asking if I was genuinely unhappy with the way we went about the game. And to be honest I genuinely think the answer to that is no. We looked comfortable, compact and relatively dangerous going forward and with a 2 nil lead in the bag I was quite happy with that.
But, pretty much out of the blue, it was game on.
The penalty incident was a long way from where I sit. But even by the length of time it took the officials to award it, combined with the lack of appeal from our own players, we knew it must have been a tad dubious. I am writing these thoughts on my train home in fact so I am yet to view a replay, but, even some extremely biased Arsenal fans I know who couldn’t make it tonight have text me saying it was never a pen. So, to avoid blatant hypocrisy, it appears our equalising goal was fortunate. Maybe the tide has turned on that front.
Overall tonight, after we done the seriously hard work last week, we got the job done. And that is all we wanted.
Into the hat then. 5 games and 3 ties from possible success. Lunchtime tomorrow we will know the next hurdle.
A massive break now, a time to perhaps enjoy those activities away from the beautiful game.
Before we return in early April to take on our friends from Stoke.
On we go.
Sunday 11th March 2018
With the undeniable apathy surrounding our support at the moment, this is massively more apparent in our home games. Even if we use the correct ‘excuse’ that the sparse gate at home to Man City was as a result of the weather as much as anything else, if I heard “I can’t make the Watford game as it’s Mothers Day” once, I’ve heard it hundreds of times over the last couple of weeks. And I’m sorry but I consider that absolute bollocks.
Don’t get me wrong, my mum is of course the best mum in the world. But she knew I thought that yesterday and I’ll still think it tomorrow. She didn’t need me missing football to be standing on her doorstep with a bunch of flowers or a bar of chocolates to somehow confirm it!
The point is, if we’re challenging at the very summit of the league our stadium would have been full today. And although I feel until Arsenal change the way they deal with season ticket holders who continuously don’t bother to turn up the situation won’t change, I would much rather someone say they “didn’t fancy it” than use whatever excuse is available that week.
Of course, I am very aware I am generalising here and there are other reasons why people can’t attend but my ticketing duties as secretary of our supporters club mean I am in a position to be pretty accurate about what I hear.
Today was a pleasing end to a good few days. Three goals, a clean sheet, a penalty save and a bit of terrace banter made for relatively entertaining fare overall. But it certainly wasn’t a stroll in the park.
Mustafi’s fine header was all we had to show for a first half where we probably should have scored 3 or 4. And a couple of good saves at the other end prevented if from being another 45 mins of frustration. And that at least was a positive to take into the break.
The 2nd period was all about being defensively strong and efficient going forward when able to break. And we did that pretty well to double our lead. Big Pete in goal is vastly experienced. But he would be the first to admit I’m sure, saving penalties is simply not his expertise.
And the combined reaction from the crowd to his fine one handed stop and the outspoken Deeney being the one who missed it demonstrated it was a rare and momentous occasion. The lift it gave us all attending was extraordinary in fact. And the players seemed to react by stepping up a gear, trebling the lead and seeing the game out for an enjoyable 3 points.
I don’t mind admitting I’m tired this afternoon. As enjoyable as this week’s Italian adventure has been, getting home yesterday evening, enjoying a fine Cobra/Indian tucker combination before sorting and collating tickets for this morning’s early departure has taken it out of me a bit.
But tired is one thing. I’m certainly not apathetic. And the reason? Despite a relatively difficult period for our great club, the famous Arsenal are the reason why I’m tired. Not the excuse. The reason.
Thursday is a big game. That is not in doubt. We got a fantastic result in the week. But it is only half a job done.
We can play our part in getting that second half right too.
So get upbeat, turn up and get behind your team.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Saturday 10th March 2018
Sat in the reception of my hotel around 30 minutes walk from Milan’s iconic and spectacular Duomo I finally have time to reflect on what has been my 5th visit following the mighty Arsenal. Winning in stadia such as the San Siro doesn’t happen very often. In fact the vast majority of fans will go through their whole life without witnessing such an event. Yet I’m sitting here writing my thoughts after this magnificent football club of ours has been victorious for a 3rd time.
But. Even though we have every right to be proud of the victory and performance, it is only half time. And not only are AC Milan very capable of producing a performance to turn it around, we all know we also in the kind of form that could see us blow it.
I have really enjoyed this season’s European tour. Somehow it has felt like we have been under no pressure and as a result the whole campaign has felt like a big relaxed jolly. Both Minsk & Borisov and Ostersund have provided new and hugely entertaining destinations but having successfully negotiated each hurdle so far, the current round and opponent feels graced with that heady mix of anticipation, fear, expectancy and hope that European football should contain.
Wednesday’s outbound travel went extremely smoothly and a couple of city centre bars played host to the typical first night entertainment accompanied of course by the thoroughly amusing demise of the Wembley Squatters’ European campaign. But, they had a go. And remember, there’s definitely a power shift in North London.
Matchday started with a headache so Wednesday night had done it’s job. And the excellent Bootleg pub played host to us, the majority of the regular faces and Gooners from all over Europe as kick off approached.
Warnings had been issued about a city wide transport strike on the day so getting to and from the match could have proved difficult. But, in addition to Arsenal managing to arrange coaches after the match (a fine effort at such short notice), the metro was running the kind of service that meant we wouldn’t have even noticed had we not been warned!
The San Siro is a huge, imposing and iconic stadium. And as a result it really gives you a sense of occasion as you approach.
And, to match the enthusiastic and optimistic 2000 travelling Gooners, our team put in a dominant performance to take a thoroughly deserved 2 goal lead at the half way stage. A great great night in a relatively disappointing season.
Celebrations were long and hard of course and after a touristy and relaxing Friday it will soon be time to take our Gatwick bound return flight.
Winning is a fine habit. That is of course obvious. And it felt really good on Thursday night. As good as it felt terrible when we threw away 3 points at Vicarage Rd earlier this season. Sunday we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Come on you reds!
Sunday 4th March 2018
At half time, not only had we got ourselves back in the game but the Amex was definitely the first stadium I have ever visited where I could get a mighty fine pint of IPA. And when Pompey Rich announced that it was officially the best sausage roll he had ever eaten, our 15 minute break was officially complete.
As an overall performance, I felt we played ok today. And before you shoot me down in flames hear me out. Away at Swansea for example, Bournemouth too…….and unfortunately more to boot as well, I thought we were genuinely awful. But today I don’t feel that way.
We started exactly how I longed for. On top, dominating the game. Searching for a lead. But, the first set piece, Petr made a glaring error and we were 1 nil down. And when confidence is shot that is more than a blow.
It changed the game at a painfully early stage. We fell further behind after another basic error saw us give the ball away, a cross that any half decent player could have put in was headed home by an ‘agricultural’ centre forward. Petr Cech could and should have done better but unlike the first goal the blame goes far deeper. The free header 8 yards out could have been buried either side of him and that is far more worrying.
After scoring I thought our attitude was ok. We fought and battled to try and get something from the game but it was to prove fruitless. Defensive frailties almost beyond belief meant it was too bigger mountain to climb.
Disappointed. Desperately. Worried. Yep.
Only AC Milan away to try and bounce back.
We need to stick together boys and girls….. and arguably more than ever.
Thursday 1st March 2018
To be totally taken apart by the same team for the second time in a week is tough to take. Even if it was by one of the very best sides in Europe right now. But overall it has been a night of mistakes, both on and off the pitch.
I’ll start with the boring stuff. Having managed to get to North London without too many issues but a few quid lighter for needing to book a hotel for the night, the streets around N5 made it very difficult to argue that the game should have been postponed. And for that reason alone I have some sympathy for those who decided the game should go ahead. But if you ever needed evidence as to why it should have been called off it was the fact the stadium was virtually half empty.
Whether we like it or not our club is not only countrywide these days but global. And not only has the news been crammed full of snow stories but people have been warned to travel ‘only if absolutely necessary’. Throw in the fact a number of the railway companies announced they would be finishing their London outbound services around 9pm and the situation was more than difficult. And I’m not talking from many hundreds of miles away either. Locations as local as Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Fans who wanted to be there. But simply couldn’t.
We pay a huge amount of money to watch our team. The cheapest ticket in the whole stadium tonight for example was a lumpy 64 quid. And it has been enormously obvious over the last few days that it would be at best difficult at worst dangerously impossible for many thousands to get to the match. And for me, unless at the very least the club guaranteed full refunds to all those who couldn’t get there, the game should have been postponed. But it’s not about the fans these days. We are well aware of that.
On a bitterly cold night there is not much we can say about the game. We looked ok going forward but when it means your opponent can move through your defensive unit like a hot knife through butter that means very little.
We came out well in the second half too and if we had scored the penalty things might have been different. But I very much doubt it. I can’t help but think if we had got any kind of foothold in the game City would have simply picked us off to take back full control.
We are not the first side to be taken apart by this City side, nor will we be the last. But even when we had very mediocre sides down the years I am proper struggling to remember a league game where we were 3 nil down at half time.
Bad decisions off the field, bad defending, a bad (but understandable) attendance…….a very sad night indeed.
But that is where we are right now.
I need to be proved wrong, starting down in East Sussex on Sunday.
Keep the faith.