Thursday 26th April 2018
For those of us who use the Piccadilly Line from Arsenal station, that driver’s announcement gives a proper sense of normality to every home game. And it’s one accompanied by differing emotions depending on our result. Tonight’s is full of deflation after a result our performance didn’t deserve.
Some will argue the colour and noise created before a home game of a certain magnitude proves detrimental to the team. Adds more pressure perhaps. And there is also the argument it shouldn’t be required. If us alone can’t create an atmosphere we might as well give up. The whole ‘you wouldn’t see that at Anfield’ bollocks. You also won’t see the fans acting with class and respect when their opponents turn up on the coach at Anfield. But that’s another discussion altogether.
Overall I felt it worked tonight. It looked tremendous and the vast majority joined in to add the noise to the colour. A bit corny but overall those involved in the effort to help in the creation of an atmosphere for the occasion that is a European semi final deserve credit in my book.
Playing against 10 men only becomes easier if you are winning and your opponent needs, at some stage, to gamble to get something from the game. Those gaps appear and in the vast majority of cases, the numerically stronger team goes on to win the game.
But if your opponent will be quite happy with a 1 nil defeat things are very different.
Breaking down a mass defence is just as hard in that situation as if against eleven.
Travelling home tonight I’m asking myself if I would change anything about the way we played. And my answer is a definite no.
For the first half an hour we were excellent and nobody could have suggested we were not worthy of a 2 or 3 goal lead had we taken our chances. But having not made the most of our domination it was essential we remained patient.
The second period continued in the same fashion and pressure eventually told when Laca’s towering header from Jack’s fine run and cross broke the deadlock. A stadium that had been rocking all night throbbed beyond belief.
With plenty of time left we kept pushing to try and increase that lead and our visitors offered no threat at the other end admittedly influenced by our numerical advantage.
And that beyond all else is the most frustrating thing about the whole night. We were under no pressure and the last 20 minutes or so were totally about whether we could break Athletico Madrid down and increase our lead rather than anything else.
A tough second leg with a one goal lead and no away goal conceded has become massively more difficult. But we are not out yet.
I am proud of my team tonight and the way they played. On another night we could have been 4 or 5 to the good and with one foot firmly in the final. Certainly our performance deserved a huge amount more that a 1 all half time scoreline.
And it’s Old Trafford we head to next for arguably a fixture with less relevance than any other involving our 2 teams in recent memory.
But I still want to win.
Come on you yellows! (I don’t do blue or pink I’m afraid).
Tuesday 24th April 2018
I was at an auction on Friday morning. No particular reason, just my mum had never been to one before and it ticked it off her ‘bucket list’. About half an hour in and my mobile phone started to buzz like crazy. Taking a quick glance the main reason was obvious of course. The other I will come to in a minute.
With Mr Wenger being in the latter stages of his long and illustrious managerial career we all knew it was coming sooner rather than later. But, in a way that is so typically and professionally Arsenal, it was an announcement that absolutely nobody expected or predicted.
My reaction lacked shock. But it felt weirdly full of emotion. Full of a heady mix of fear and anticipation looking ahead. And a combination of smiles and shivers as I looked back. Reality has kicked in. The man at the helm of our football club for an entire generation will be leaving.
A man who at his very best steered his squad to the double on 2 occasions and a whole league winning season unbeaten and if his last season can be described this way, to a domestic cup final and at least a European semi final at his worst, would no longer be our leader.
It meant heading up to London N5 on Sunday for the visit of West Ham also felt strange. We’re not a club with an uncertain future, hiring and firing manager after manager. We leave that to other clubs. But, whilst completely recognising the vast majority will admit we have reached a time where change is required, being completely unsure as to what happens next is as unnerving as it is exciting.
In glorious sunshine patience was the key on Sunday. Firstly because the big story from Friday had definitely taken centre stage ahead of the action out on the pitch. But secondly because when you play any team desperate for points they never simply just roll over.
As a result the first half was a fairly cagey affair with few chances for either side, a header from Laurent and a good save from David Ospina the main incidents.
We seemed to step it up a gear in the second period, only being guilty of not increasing our lead once going in front, something we were ultimately to pay for when our visitors equalised. What followed was probably West Ham’s best spell but we defended well and eventually tore into The Hammers in the latter stages to achieve a scoreline that whilst it arguably flattered us a little it could have ended up being 6 or 7.
So 4 goals and 3 points from a day that felt unsurprisingly different.
In my role as a supporters club secretary ticket sales for home games have been quite tricky of late. And for the first time in 20 years or more. If that doesn’t also demonstrate we are coming to the end of an era then nothing does.
Whatever my views are on people not turning up, if they do not want to go to games then so be it. But I would rather they just said that. I find it remarkable how many could not make the Burnley home game because they were ‘busy’ that day yet all of a sudden they can now attend. I can only assume whatever was making them ‘busy’ has been cancelled. Quite a coincidence that. And the other reason why my phone was buzzing away in my pocket in Friday morning’s auction.
Any thoughts and tributes to our manager I will make at the end of the season. There’s work still to do at the moment I feel.
And that starts with the first leg of our European semi final against Athletico Madrid on Thursday night. A big game of course.
And we can play our part.
Come on you mighty reds!
Sunday 15th April 2018
One of the most popular Arsenal fanzines over the years has been ‘One Nil Down Two One Up’. And I’m pretty sure it was as a result of our results in the latter stages of the 1987 league cup winning run. Well, this season we have certainly perfected the complete opposite.
I felt pretty ok boarding my train at Kings Cross this morning. And given the ‘couple of beers’ in the area ended up being a few more I probably shouldn’t have. And the journey with great company was as enjoyable as ever.
Crossing the Tyne into the city is quite a feeling. It’s when you realise Newcastle away is quite iconic. And that’s why we like going to this fixture.
But normally we win. And today, shock horror away from home in the league, we got beat after a promising start and taking the lead.
So it wasn’t a good day. Simple.
I’m on my way home now. Finally, after leaving Tuesday.
And I’ve got the ‘ump. Coz I don’t like losing.
West Ham at home next.
Come on you reds.
Saturday 14th April 2018
There are obvious reasons why coming to Moscow right now could be considered anything from risky to foolish. But the astronomical cost aside, if we lived in a media free life we would genuinely have not known there was anything to ‘worry’ about. It has been a fine trip from start to finish.
I’ve been here 3 times before, all following our team and all my memories are lengthy and positive. But in the 12 years since our last visit there is no doubt the city has changed considerably. I recall it feeling a city with a very rich side (ie; someone pulling up in dark glasses and a red Ferrari) and a very poor and regimented side (ie; millions of people, all dressed the same in dark overcoats going about their daily business). I remember there being police everywhere, many of them looking for any excuse to stop you, request to see your ‘documents’ and only letting you go after accepting a cash payment if they felt you done something as illegal as crossing the road in the wrong place.
But not this time. It couldn’t have felt more different in fact. A city fully of affluent types, classy shops, restaurants and bars and very friendly people appearing to be happy you were visiting their city. It feels kind of weird with everything that is going on right now that a city where I really didn’t fancy coming back to has become one where I’d have no hesitation in returning.
Initially I’m writing these notes on my train back to Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, a service that didn’t even exist last time we were here. And it brings to a close what has been a fine few days.
Our journey out on Wednesday couldn’t have been smoother and after checking in to our hotel 10 mins walk from the Kremlin and Red Square we settled into a nearby pub that was to pretty much become our ‘local’, an establishment that was not only full of friendly people but it did a mighty fine pint of IPA to boot!
Next we headed to a bar called The Snooty Fox where we got to meet some of the local Gooners from this part of the world and enjoy some good food and refreshment to complete a highly enjoyable and successful first day.
An enjoyable Stubbsy walking tour commenced matchday before we started the build up back in our local. It all added up to a metro trip up to the CSKA stadium for the main reason we were all here.
CSKA’s away goal meant we all knew the tie wasn’t over. But we were also aware that we were probably just 1 goal from putting it to bed. And not in any of my previous 3 visits have I seen us win in this city. So although our feelings were positive, they were graced with a few nerves too.
The first half hour of the game passed by with very little happening. And when you are 4-1 up that pretty much suits to be honest. But not making the most of the possession and good positions we enjoyed almost came back to bite us.
Out of nothing and not after a spell of pressure or anything that worried us we found ourselves a goal behind. And in a week of European comebacks it very much made it feel like game on.
One became two and we looked in trouble and one particular strike that sailed past the post springs to mind as to when the unthinkable could have happened.
But we all knew just one goal would see us home.
And then, a quite superb bit of play from Welbs matched only by the equally excellent through ball from Mo, and that goal came. Cue a jostle in the away end graced with relief as much as anything else.
Into the last 4 we go then. Happy days.
A few celebratory beers with fellow travelling Gooners followed meaning Friday morning began accompanied by a degree of discomfort but a stroll round a sundrenched Kremlin, a couple of liveners in our local and making the most of the city’s Friday night offerings were enjoyed to the fore.
Getting in after 4am hurts at my age if I’m honest. And yes, I should know better. But going for a quite incredible lunch in Moscow’s famous Cafe Pushkin today has me back in the game. That’s rock n roll that is.
I’ll finally get home late tomorrow night of course. Newcastle away dictates I can’t get there if I head home tonight. So a night in a Kings Cross hotel beckons before my early train departure tomorrow.
So why the title to this piece? Well, although it is definitely a ‘you had to be there’ moment one of our travelling party (Strawberry Blonde) decided to get his picture taken in front of the Kremlin with some people dressed in traditional Russian clothing. Upon us asking how much it cost him he said, “about 3 quid initially…….but then Stalin got involved….”.
Silly….but not a line you hear every day of the week!
Goodbye and thanks Moscow. It’s been a pleasure.
See you if I make it up all those stairs to the away end at St James Park!
Come on you mighty reds.
Sunday 8th April 2018
Whilst completely and totally recognising it wasn’t the best of performances or the greatest of games I thoroughly enjoyed today. Why?
Well it felt a bit like the old old days. Those ‘old days’ many pine for. The ones where only those who really want to be there turn up. Those where we all know it ain’t that great right now, but the whole day out is far more important.
Writing these notes is far easier given we got the win out of a five goal game of course. A smile at the end of a cracking day out works in all walks of life. But it genuinely felt like one of those days from back in the ‘glory’ days of the mid eighties. When we were very mediocre.
It felt like Stoke all over again early on. It was genuinely awful. But whilst recognising if I was a striker I would be rightly chuffed with my involvement in the first goal, defensively it was proper bad. And I stand by the point I’ve made many times before, it doesn’t matter how bad you are playing going forward if you keep it at nil nil at the back you are massively in with a chance of a result.
To be fair, we turned it around with a couple of good goals and we went into half time both buoyant to be winning but happy with the fact we were on top and controlling the game.
But it didn’t change the fact we knew, with The Saints desperate for points, we were in for a tough second period. And so it proved.
We come out of the game with a 3-2 win and 3 points. That is accurate whatever the analysis. The best thing for me however, is the way I feel about the day.
Great banter, genuinely not giving a shit about those who couldn’t be bothered to turn up, not having to listen about how this is better and that is the answer etc etc etc…..and overall a thoroughly good day out.
Flights and hotels booked, the overall cost of a visa to go to Moscow is a proper kick in the teeth. But our small band of hardy Gooners have bitten the bullet and we are on our way this week. To go with 3 points under our belts is satisfying. And makes me all the more happy to be full of anticipation for what the week ahead holds, both as a tourist and when meeting the many Gooners in that part of the world.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Thursday 5th April 2018
To be a little bit disappointed that we are not 5 or 6 up could be described in many ways. And realistically somewhere between that being accurate and greed is probably about right. We played well in spells And we scored 4 goals. But although CSKA’s equaliser was brilliantly taken, our play that led to the free kick was straight from the school playground. And that means the tie is far less ‘over’ than it should be.
It was a very difficult game to analyse. But we won 4-1. And as 1st Leg results go that’s pretty ok. It’s not game over (as it perhaps should have been), but it’s ok.
And I’ll take that to bed and think about Southampton at home next. And I’m looking forward to it. Not something that can be said for most right now.
I’m smiling. Anyone else up for that?
Come on you Gunners!
Sunday 1st April 2018
My title today is for no other reason than as I write these thoughts that is the station out of my train window.
There are many many aspects that influence our after game analysis. One of them for me is our ability to have a little bit of patience. And when a game is nought nought for a long period that applies even more than ever.
The first half today was one of the worst halves of football I can remember. Certainly in ‘recent’ times. And I say that appreciating it’s a hugely dramatic statement.
But, Stoke (other than a ‘fluke’ from a corner), had got nowhere near our goal. And I stand by my slightly boring view that this situation is more essential than any other. We have to fancy our team to score at some stage. Even after a first half performance as lacklustre as that one.
And on that basis alone I went into the second period still relatively upbeat.
At this stage of the season decisions need to be made based on other matches over the coming days. And against a team fighting for their Premier League lives that makes it very difficult. Choose what us fans class as a first team essential and he gets injured, the manager gets slaughtered for it. Choose players who don’t prove to be good enough on the day and the manager gets hammered again.
Well, today did he get it right? If the decision making is up for debate, the result certainly isn’t.
A 3 nil victory at home to Stoke that won’t live long in the memory. But, whilst trying very hard not to be disrespectful, you name me a fixture between our 2 teams in North London that does.
Three good points in the bag, Thursday is a bigger game, whether we choose to admit that or not.
Travelling to Moscow next week has its issues already. Going there without a positive result from the 1st leg is not one we want to add to that package.
Come on you mighty reds!