Monday 28th August 2018
Last week’s showing saw us arguably in a position where points wise we should have already been off the mark. But before a ball was kicked on Saturday afternoon the league table showed us as played 2, lost 2 and zero points. So everything else is irrelevant. It meant that even this early in the season a few nerves accompanied the usual concoction of matchday emotions as The Hammers arrived in N5.
Domestic football always returns in mid August and the fact matches are often attended by fans in short sleeves and sunglasses provides evidence that we are still in Summer. Consequently along with the beautiful game the likes of cricket and music festivals are very much to the fore.
So, after an evening in Brixton on Thursday night in the company of some Gooner pals and the mighty Kasabian, Friday was spent braving the typical bank holiday weather at Portsmouth & Southsea’s Victorious Festival, the likes of The Lightning Seeds, Shed Seven, Kaiser Chiefs and The Libertines providing the entertainment.
The weekend also seeing my home town hosting a huge annual international scooter festival meant the amount and variety of entertainment was quite incredible and the whole package contributed to my bleary eyes when I strolled along the seafront Islington bound on what was a quite gloriously sunny Saturday morning.
The usual home game journey successfully undertaken, pre-match refreshment and banter was of the expected high quality before heading in for a game kicking off at the definitely not usual time of 3pm. On a Saturday. Imagine that!
The transitional period we are going through at the moment means it is difficult to predict exactly what kind of performance we will witness right now, or indeed what kind of game will pan out. But overall the vast vast majority are behind the club and what we are trying to build as we move forward. And initially I believe whilst we can all see we are well capable of scoring goals, we also look like conceding opportunities. If we can get that balance right, something we all know is being worked on every day, we can only improve.
Saturday was about getting the win and 3 points on the board above all else. And, despite our visitors enjoying as many scoring opportunities across the 90 minutes as we did, we went home with just that. I say ‘home’, but it was back to Victorious Festival for its Saturday night offerings by means of celebrating!
A result to build on, whatever way we look at it. And our first opportunity to do that is down in South Wales on Sunday afternoon in a city that holds so many incredible memories for all us Gooners.
Writing these thoughts, AFC Wimbledon v West Ham in the Carabao League Cup is on my telly and serves as a reminder that before we head down to Cardiff we have a week of draws ahead of us. Thursday evening will determine who we are to face in the 3rd round of a competition that saw us go all the way to Wembley last time round whilst Friday we discover what parts of the European continent will play host to this season’s Europa League group stage adventure.
The 2 competitions are very different of course but like always destinations where I’ve not seen us play are very top of my choice list. Before tonight there are 17 potential new ones in the League Cup for me although many of those will have gone come 10pm. And in the Europa League there are numerous.
Plenty to discuss in Cardiff.
Come on you Gunners!
Sunday 19th August 2018
Travelling back down the A3 yesterday I considered writing my thoughts at that time (I wasn’t driving might I add!) Added to the fact I’m not the best traveller if I don’t look where I’m going however, was a genuine issue with actually working out what to say. I felt more positive than after last week’s defeat but also totally deflated at coming away from a game where we should have picked up a point.
5.30pm kick-offs, like all the other variations, have their pluses and minuses for me. The additional time means you certainly can enjoy a ‘proper’ day out but if you live any distance from the ground, it does potentially totally wipe out any other Saturday night plans.
Our group tried something different pre-match and headed to Clapham where an entertaining few hours were spent sampling the wares of a number of the area’s large choice of hostelries. The short journey north of the river was consequently made in fine spirits and our attention turned to game 2 of this long league season, Roman’s billionaires playing host.
To say the first half was mildly entertaining is a huge understatement as the considerable disappointment of going 2 goals behind was matched in its intensity by the joy and satisfaction when we came back to bring the scores level.
Incredibly after a difficult start however, nobody could have complained if we went in at the break 2 or 3 goals up. Our attacking football in the second half of the first period was sublime at times, just a lack of composure right in front of goal denying us from taking the lead.
The second period was on a knife edge for long periods but just when the game looked like it was heading for a draw we conceded. Annoying, frustrating and deflating.
The opening 2 games of Unai’s reign have certainly been a baptism of fire. And 2 defeats were as likely as they were not. But, we definitely need to see where we are after the next 7 or 8 games before analysing too much I feel.
That run starts with Saturday’s visit of huge spending West Ham. I don’t think we can quite call it a ‘must win’ game but anything less will be a big disappointment.
And that adds pressure.
Come on you mighty reds!
Sunday 12th August 2018
Confidence is not something I can claim I had before today’s season opener. Hope? Yes. Optimism? Of course. But City were simply streets ahead of us last season. And deep down I haven’t seen anything pre-season that suggested that gap has been bridged.
It’s not been the best of weeks for viewing sport for me personally. Thursday I went to Lords for the 1st day of the 2nd test against India. Stepping out of St John’s Wood station it was raining. And it stopped just as I headed back there about 8 hours later with not a single minute’s play in the bag.
A thoroughly entertaining weekend with friends followed before that familiar routine was undertaken this morning.
An early (and painful) alarm call, a walk up the pier, a ferry crossing, a train to London and the Northern and Piccadilly lines saw me take my place in the usual spot of the usual pub and the next few hours with friends were thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining.
That walk to the ground along Gillespie Rd, the smell of the burgers, the inevitable and intensely irritating ticket touts, the throng of people who have arranged ‘to meet someone outside of Arsenal station’, the stalls selling colours of numerous shapes, kinds and sizes, the walk over the North bridge with anticipation to the fore, the purchase of the matchday programme, the short queue (and in my case bag search) and the click of the turnstile. A routine full of sights and sounds that in my 43rd season of supporting and following my team, are very very familiar but never tiring.
And with a new manager at the helm and a different looking squad the whole lot was accompanied by a real sense of new era.
I don’t tend to write too much about the match itself as regular readers of my blog will know, mainly because there are literally hundreds of other places where you can do that. But I can’t help but be travelling home very disappointed.
If I felt we matched our opponents and things didn’t go our way I would state that. But I don’t. I genuinely thought we were a million miles away. And that is perhaps as worrying as it is disheartening.
I also feel however, judging our new look team after our first game against last year’s runaway league champions is a little harsh and unfair.
I’m on my train home now and Monday morning will be all the more tougher just like on any occasion where we get beat.
And a trip to Stamford Bridge is not exactly the easiest way to try and bounce back. But we can. We have to believe that.
Come on you mighty reds!
Sunday 5th August 2018
From Borehamwood to Stockholm. A journey that has taken in Singapore and Dublin makes it a funny old adventure. And one that can only mean a pre-season tour. Despite how incredible each of our overseas destinations have been, you will never find anyone who would put all 3 into their fortnight Summer holiday plans! But our club has dictated just that and last night’s victory over Lazio has brought the preparations to an unbeaten close. And its been thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.
My taxi journey to Dublin Airport on Friday morning was accompanied by pretty miserable drizzly weather. If nothing else it proved there are some isolated times and areas within Europe where it is not stiflingly hot. After our short direct flight to Sweden’s capital however, Stockholm certainly wasn’t one of them!
Our Champions League group game away at AIK Solna was my last visit, 20 odd years ago, a game that saw Marc Overmars net a brace in a 3-2 away victory that was too little, too late as we exited the competition. But although I remember the weather being particularly chilly I also recall really liking this waterfront city. And this time round definitely hasn’t changed my opinion.
Making the most of the quite stunning warm weather, a lengthy walking tour saw us taking in the city’s stunning old town, some of the many areas adjacent to the water’s edge, one or two of the numerous and diverse shopping and dining areas before Friday was completed in a bar enjoying the excellent hospitality and friendliness offered by some of the Swedish Gooners.
Matchday arrived and a bit of brunch was followed by more walking and an entertaining and relaxing boat trip around some of the waterways, canals and harbour areas, again accompanied by glorious sunshine.
This time round our friendly against Lazio was to see us return to the Solna area of the city but to their new ‘Friends Arena’, a totally different stadium just a short distance from their old home (since converted to accommodation in a similar fashion to our very own Highbury).
A short train journey was very simple but the walk to the stadium’s location was pretty unique, perhaps only slightly matched by West Ham away since they have moved to their new abode. A walk through a modern and glossy shopping mall brought us to the absolutely vast O’learys bar and indoor sports ‘complex’ located right opposite the stadium.
Even a pub traditionalist like me couldn’t fail to be quite impressed by the sheer size of this place, the dozens of TV screens all showing football, the pool tables, dart boards, 12 lane bowling alley amongst many other aspects including a large bar and eating area.
Seeing a typical ‘Westfield’ like shopping centre just full of people in Arsenal shirts was a little bit surreal and despite its size, the venue for our pre-match refreshment was nothing short of a Gooner takeover.
The slightly futuristic Friends Arena was impressive (as far as brand new stadia goes) and despite the crowd of just over 14 thousand isn’t enormous, the fact 95% minimum were fans of our great football club shows an impressive turn out from our Swedish contingent.
The match itself saw another victory of course and left my overall thoughts of pre-season remaining the same. I feel we look dangerous going forward and with a little bit more composure can score at any time. But defensively we are still conceding a number of chances. That was no different last night as despite the pleasing scoreline our opponents could have easily changed that had they been more clinical with some of the opportunities they created.
And we could be tested to the extreme on that front as we take on last season’s runaway league champions this coming Sunday.
My 43rd season of attending Arsenal matches I am looking forward to the months ahead with the same intense anticipation and hope as always. And I hope each and every Gooner out there is feeling the same way.
All the pre-season work, changes to our squad, new ideas, discussions and opinions have taken place. The real stuff, on the pitch, starts now.
Thanks Sweden for having us and bring on Sunday.
Come on you mighty mighty Gunners!
Thursday 2nd August 2018
This trip to Dublin has ticked a few ‘first’ boxes for me. I have visited the city once before but that was back in the early nineties for a stag weekend. The 25+ years since that trip mean my memories are limited to be honest and overall it just added to how much I was looking forward to visiting this time round.
The above confirms I have never seen us play in Dublin, or anywhere in Ireland and in turn it was to be my first ever visit to the Aviva Stadium, built on the same site as the more famous Lansdowne Road, home to our host country’s international football and rugby matches.
Travel to and from Ireland’s capital is easy with dozens of daily flights from all parts of the UK and the option to fly out of Southampton on Tuesday morning was very welcome given the fact the body and head were seriously struggling to establish what the hell was going on after arriving back from Singapore early on Monday morning!
Having checked into our apartments in the very heart of the city, it was time for our party of 5 to enjoy the offerings available. That started with a fantastic lunch and our first experience of the fantastic hospitality, considerable wit and sheer friendliness that has been the theme in every establishment throughout our stay.
From Dublin’s oldest pub to the live music on offer in many of the hostelries in Temple Bar and surrounding areas, we certainly got involved as you would expect.
And matchday morning’s thumping headache confirmed we’d certainly had a right old go at it!
A top notch Irish breakfast (think the English version but add in white pudding) helped improve the body condition as did the pint accompanying it. I know that’s not big or clever but there is no doubt ‘hair of the dog’ works! And it was matchday. And I’m on my holiday!
The Dublin (and other Irish Gooners) were out in force as you can imagine and in collaboration with Arsenal organised a thoroughly entertaining afternoon in a city centre pub and function venue including an interview and Q & A with Sol Campbell. Unsurprisingly the majority of the subject matter surrounded the big man’s move down the Seven Sisters Road all those years ago, something that, after 20 odd years, is still as famous and historic as it is absolutely hilarious.
Making our way to the stadium it was extremely obvious just how many more Gooners there were attending the match than those supporting that mob from the Russian end of Fulham. This extremely green city was a mass of red and white and it made the approaches to the Aviva Stadium quite a sight.
Once inside, the situation was no different. I must admit however, I found the stadium itself a bit odd. Design wise, space limitations mean what is a typically coliseum like sporting arena on 3 sides has one end that resembles a small modern greenhouse! Making the best of the space available I guess but it still felt a tad strange.
The first 15 to 20 minutes of the game our opponents were by far the better side, deservedly taking the lead with a completely unmarked header from a set piece. We were fortunate that lead wasn’t extended to be honest but our performance for the rest of the game was considerably better. With chances created and plenty of possession we deservedly equalised with pretty much the last kick of the game.
I don’t tend to look too much into anything with pre-season matches but I hate losing. So the goal was most welcome and the noise around the stadium emphasized our earlier observations as to how many Gooners were present.
The ridiculous situation we find ourselves in where a strange and irrelevant competition has been created around pre-season plans meant, just like in our first match in Singapore, a penalty shoot out followed and scoring all our 6 whilst big Pete managed to keep out one of theirs meant it goes down as an overall victory in the record books.
And it added to the overall mood as this marvellous city looked after us well into the wee small hours post match.
Today is Thursday and our trip has concluded with a sundrenched walking tour and the promise of a nice bit of tucker a little bit later.
Dublin and the good people of Ireland, thanks for your wonderful hospitality, it has been fantastic.
Tomorrow it’s Sweden’s turn as Stockholm awaits.