Saturday 29th September 2018
Do I think we were the better side this afternoon? No. Do I think we were second best on too many occasions across the ninety minutes? Yes. Am I encouraged by our defending? Partially. Has my opinion changed that if you don’t let in a goal we’ve always got a great chance of winning? Nope. Have i got any sympathy for Watford today? No. Of course not. And if it was the other way round I wouldn’t expect any in the other direction. So am I going home happy? More than that, I’m ecstatic to be taking home three massive points.
Somebody emailed me earlier in the week asking me to be more detailed about my home game routine. So, on my train journey back south I’m gonna do just that.
So, if you’ve got 5 minutes or so please do read on. And if you’ve got a strong coffee, a jug of Red Bull or a packet of Pro Plus to keep you awake, all the better.
Getting to games can be really easy. But not always. And today felt like it fell into the latter category. Normally a train from Portsmouth Harbour to London Waterloo takes about an hour and 40 minutes. Looking online today’s were taking about 40 minutes longer. But, I have another option. I can take a train to London Victoria, it takes about 2 hours and the cost for a Travelcard was less than half the price of the other route. Sounds like a no brainer so I purchased a ticket.
Between Wightlink, the ferry company that meets the train services in Portsmouth, and Southern Trains, the company that operates the London Victoria service, they have managed to sort a situation where they only meet if the ferry is absolutely 100% on time. And even then it’s mighty tight. So this morning we were, of course, running a couple of minutes late meaning as I ran up the ramp out of the ferry terminal the train was pulling out of the platform. Not a good start. One privatised company will say it’s not their fault and the other will claim the same. All I would say is it’s hardly ideal for the paying customer and it certainly wouldn’t have happened back in the days of British Rail and Sealink!
Continuing my ‘warts n all’ account I headed to a local take away cafe to grab a good old fashioned bacon and sausage breakfast baguette, enough to keep me going for the hour before my next train. The only train I could get on with my particular ticket. It’s a train. Going to London. Surely any one is good enough!? Whilst purchasing my brekkie I asked for some mandatory ketchup but the guy behind the ramp advised he couldn’t help because some of the Friday night revellers had nabbed his 3 bottles because ‘it was a laugh’. What is the matter with people?!
Chelsea, West Ham and Arsenal all being at home, cheap tickets and an engineering work battered service into Waterloo meant my train was always going to be busy. But having settled into my table seat (I travelled up on my own today), 3 lads with arms full of beer joining me at Fratton could have gone one of two ways.
“I think we’ll win 3-1 today”, one of them announced. “At least 3 I would say”, said another. “I hope he plays Torreira”, said the 3rd. Bingo. Revealing my allegiance we put on our best impressions of being Arsenal manager for the next 2 hours and kindly offering me a beer to accompany the journey, it could have been a lot worse.
The Victoria Line then got me to Finsbury Park and the short walk along a sundrenched Blackstock Road saw me take my usual spot in my usual pub to enjoy my pre-match refreshment, a bit of the Ryder Cup, Man Utd getting beat at West Ham and masses of the usual banter.
The walk along Gillespie Road jerks many memories when you have been doing it for as long as many of us. “Prograaaamme and Handbook”, can be heard loud and clear. “D’you want onions with that boss?” accompanies the pungent smells of the food outlets. “Who wants tickets, I’ll buy any spares”, is inevitable from the dozens of touts. Followed by “you got any spares mate?” if you dare even glance at any of them. “No” is sufficient but I never lose that intense temptation to say, “And I wouldn’t fucking sell them to you if I did!”
Heading up the stairs and over the North Bridge we are treated to, “Red Arrrrmy” from a young Gooner oozing anticipation, adrenalin and excitement. “Our support is shit” follows as nobody joins in, fuelled by his half a shandy consumed as part of his own pre match build up.
I promise you it ain’t mate.
Into the stadium we head, after the mandatory and necessary bag search if required and the full ‘pat down’ body search that although I fully understand, it’s certainly not something you have to go through when going to the theatre (so I’m told) or the cinema.
If that proves quick and efficient you might be able to squeeze in ‘one for the road’ once you get inside. Because by that stage we need another one!
And then it’s that walk through the short corridor to witness that splendour of green, red and white, something that if you are growing tired of surely it is time to call it a day. Maybe you could go shopping or something. Or go to the theatre. You won’t get bodysearched there remember.
Watford came to London N5 in good form. And their confidence was evident. Yet despite the Hornets being the better side for considerable periods, the best 2 chances both fell to us in the first hour, both missed by Laca.
When our opponent has nil I always fancy us. Even when we are not playing well. But in a game that would certainly not be approaching anywhere near the start of any highlights package only one team looked like preventing it from finishing nil nil. And it wasn’t us.
But, we looked resolute to be fair. And we dug in to get something from the game.
And although our two late goals flattered us they were hugely satisfying. I genuinely believe that was a game we would have lost last season. But we didn’t. We won. And that’s seven on the bounce. It’s easy to say those seven are games we should have won. But actually going and doing that is a different matter.
I’m on my train back south now and although, even with my bias, I can recognise it is quite difficult to claim we deserved to win today, I’m very happy we did.
And I will be packing those 3 points in my bag early on Wednesday morning as I head off to the furthest destination I have ever seen my team play in a competitive fixture in the shape of Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku.
It promises to be quite an adventure.
Victoria Concordia Crescit
Wednesday 26th September 2018
With 9 thousand bees in North London tonight, there was always a chance it might be a noisy old night. After 50 minutes or so however, you would hardly have noticed they were there. But, having not scored a 3rd when completely dominating, the game came alive from our visitors’ point of view when they got themselves back in the game with a well taken free kick.
I quite like the mystery with the League Cup. Arsenal playing at home to any Championship side looks like a home win every time on paper. But questions regarding who will be picked, the strength in depth of all professional squads these days and the fine form Brentford have shown this season make it a difficult night to predict. And time and time again we see Premier League sides get knocked out by clubs from lower divisions.
We have been used to Mr Wenger’s policy in this competition for many years of course and whatever your views on that I always felt the positives outweighed the negatives. And reaching semi finals and finals during that time meant we cannot argue we also remained competitive.
But this is a new era and consequently it was impossible to predict who would line up come 7.45pm.
Travel to and from the ground was difficult tonight. The Piccadilly Line being shut when Arsenal are at home is not helpful. Throw in rush hour and public transport possibilities become more and more frustrating. So come kick-off time it was no surprise that many thousands were still making their way to the stadium.
And when Welbs’ fine header put us one nil up early on many would have missed it as a result.
I was a tad surprised at our starting eleven tonight and even more so by the strength on our bench. Maybe that’s due to what we have been used to previously but the players that got us into the next round were much stronger than I expected nonetheless.
But then you need to turn up, have the right attitude and put in the kind of performance that demands the manager considers you for Saturday’s game against Watford.
And, certainly until Brentford scored, it is difficult to argue that they didn’t do just that.
Welbs doubled his tally and our lead by slotting home after an excellent passing move and we had one foot in the 4th round. Come half time then we were more than comfortable.
I expected a rally from our visitors and after scoring that’s what we got. Defensively though we looked pretty solid and could have finished the game off on the break well before Laca’s strike finally did.
A thoroughly entertaining cup tie then and we look forward to Saturday night’s draw to see who we face in the last 16.
Hopefully, as more bees come to N5, that draw will accompany 3 more big points. Watford’s fine start to their league campaign however, offers enough evidence that will be tough.
We can of course play our part as always.
Come on you mighty reds!
Sunday 23rd September 2018
Every game is massive right now. So correct me if I’m wrong but I’m going home, not only with three points in the bag but with a massive feeling of, “that’s gone, onto the next one”.
Did we put in a performance that everyone stands up and goes, ‘look at the Arsenal? No.
But, after being beat on our first 2 outings, we’ve bounced back. Not just slightly either. We’ve won every game. And that, whatever way you look or analyse it is ok.
Again, we weren’t brilliant today. But, and it’s a massive case of we chose our moment to score I felt. And when we did, we did! And it meant we went on to win the game. Whether you choose to analyse that or not. And we got 3 points for our efforts too.
As far as Sundays go we’ve had a good one. Genuinely. And we move on with confidence.
Brentford come to town next. Not something I’ve ever said before. Certainly not since the late forties. And I definitely didn’t say it then!
But, it’s the Carabao League Cup. And I want to progress. That’s a winning mentality for you!
The Bees will be bringing 9 plus thousand. And as a result they will make one helluva racket.
There’s only one way to silence them.
Come on you reds!
Friday 21st September 2018
Along with putting our first all important three points on the board in this season’s initial group stage European tour, discussions included the idea of forming a ‘Thursday Club’ for the regular pre-match build ups across the journey. All the pressing important matters get dealt with on matchdays you see.
But, on second thoughts we are all hoping our future European adventures might include plenty of Tuesdays and Wednesdays again like they had for 20 odd years previous.
It’s yet another example however, of one of the absolutely essential ingredients when analysing why we choose to spend so much time and money on following our team. A huge amount of what we talk about is utter rubbish! But it’s often very funny and hugely entertaining. There doesn’t need to be any other reasons.
The football, the Arsenal in fact, is the excuse. For the destination. For the meeting arrangements with your mates. For the choice of establishment playing host to our antics. And it’s a hugely important part of why we do it.
The resulting camaraderie is incredible. We win together and we lose together too. The highs and the lows have all been experienced. But once the dust has settled there is one constant. We will know where to meet again in a few days time.
Last night felt a little bit low key to be honest. But having been spoilt with Champions League football for so long and last year’s novelty of being in the competition for the first time having worn off, I guess that is understandable.
A win was essential in arguably our easiest game of the six in our group. And after a more than comfortable hour or so saw us take a four goal lead, those three points were safely in the bag. And despite 2 late goals continued that worrying trend of being unable to keep a clean sheet, it was pretty much job done.
That’ll do for starters and was just about as satisfying as our first ‘Thursday Club’ of the season.
And it’s Sunday next as Everton come to town.
Up the Gunners!
Sunday 16th September 2018
Please forgive me if this is inaccurate but I’m fairly sure if when checking into a hotel and you are given a room on the 7th floor, pretty much everyone would take the lift. In fact unless you have a fitness obsession, the thought of walking up 7 flights of stairs wouldn’t cross your mind. Yet at Newcastle away you have to do that or you don’t see the game! And often after a few beers too! It’s a long way down too, but is very acceptable when it’s accompanied by 3 points.
I’ve said this many times before but I love going to this fixture. Matchday always has a real sense of occasion about it. The city comes alive and it feels like everyone is going to the game. And the sheer number of establishments providing both pre and post match entertainment is enormous.
Although I always fly up to this game (or Sunderland) from Southampton and the 1 hour it takes is hugely stress free, the Saturday morning flight is so early that my departure was Friday evening. The few beers in a fine hostelry always seems a good idea at the time but waking up in my hotel right opposite the airport at 5.30am, my body completely disagreed!
Just a short time later however, we were enjoying some breakfast in Newcastle city centre and were thoroughly looking forward to the day ahead.
The build up was enjoyable and hugely amusing with the usual banter very much to the fore. The perfect situation where the result could either add to it or ruin everything. And despite having a pretty good record at St James’ Park we have experienced both.
Taking our place in the away end high up in the clouds the levels of optimism were good I would say. But we are all also very aware we are a long way from being the finished article.
Our first half performance wasn’t great. But we were also rarely troubled. In fact it was just a poor half in general. Crucially however, we went into the break with a clean sheet.
I like what Unai did at half time too. Of the 2 players in the heart of our midfield, Granit had been the better in that first period. And Torreira’s influence on the game when he came on was both massive and immediate. Our intensity increased and we looked far more dangerous.
Our opener was a magnificent strike and was met by a huge jostle amongst the noisy and jubilant travelling Gooners high up in the away end.. And with our tails up we made the most of our dominance by doubling our lead a few minutes later. Happy days.
After defending pretty solidly throughout we let our concentration slip at the death when our hosts pulled one back scoring from the 2nd of 2 very similar headed chances they created. But we saw out the remaining seconds comfortably to make sure we went away with the 3 points our performance deserved. Lovely.
Celebrations back in the city centre were long and hard as you would expect before heading back south today after another successful away day. And that’s an expression where it feels an awful long time since I’ve used it!
The very start of this year’s European campaign comes next as we welcome Vorskla Poltava to North London. It’s impossible to know too much about what they might offer as a team but like in any group stage it’s crucial we win our home games.
Come on you reds!
Thursday 13th September 2018
Good morning from the 8.51am Virgin Trains service from Coventry to London Euston. And very comfortable it is too. Apart from the bodily feelings some local West Midlands ale and an ill judged late night curry give you of course!
There wasn’t a single thing about yesterday that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. From my on time cross country train from Southampton, to enjoying the hospitality of a few of the local hostelries in a city I haven’t visited for many years to the events before, during and after the match at the Ricoh.
There has been much debate amongst the travelling Gooners as to whether our matches in the Checkatrade Trophy can be considered 1st class fixtures or not. For me, despite our team being an under 21, any game in a competition that includes 1st class teams has to be. And if I’m honest I’m surprised, certainly on arsenal.com, that last night’s match has been given no more coverage than any other academy fixture.
I mentioned hospitality earlier and our travelling numbers were swelled considerably by the Sky Blues’ excellent offer of a pre and post match bar and lounge, great seats in the equivalent of Club Level, a programme and team sheet, all for 20 quid! And by the way we were treated it was incredible value.
I mentioned in my previous blog how it was very difficult to predict the game given it was our debut in the competition. I felt we could win of course. But I also wouldn’t have been entirely shocked had we got beat 5 nought.
Overall the performance cannot be described as anything other than excellent. 3 cracking goals and a clean sheet made it an altogether awesome first trip to the Ricoh and made justification of making the journey even easier.
As for Coventry City I genuinely hope they make a return to the big time one day. The Ricoh looked like the kind of stadium that would be extremely atmospheric once full and it’s an experience I would look forward to.
Overall then the Checkatrade Trophy gets the thumbs up from me. And I look forward to the long journey to play the Geordies as this season’s tour continues.
Come on you mighty reds!
Tuesday 11th September 2018
The word ‘legend’ is arguably used a little bit too often these days. For me however, it’s more down to how we perceive the word. After all, there’s plenty of us out there that have seen a mate downing pints and shots like they’re going out of fashion until the early hours of the morning and being the first at breakfast the following morning looking as right as rain!
A home and away Gooner mate of 30 years plus reached the milestone that is 60 years old last week and both his friendship and dedication to Arsenal very much make him a legend in my book. And as a result a few of us took the opportunity to not only attend Saturday afternoon’s fare but then head off for a couple of nights in the highly entertaining and beautiful city of York. So it’s been a bit of a stormer.
Events commenced in exactly the same way as every home game with some banter filled pre-match refreshment and a stroll along Gillespie Road, the only difference being the lack of nerves or similar emotion given how relaxed the next couple of hours promised to be.
Adding something a bit different we took our place in Club Level for the game, a viewpoint I still maintain takes some beating in any stadium in the world.
Much has been said about the ‘quality’ of some of the players wearing the red and white but for me those critics are completely missing the point. Firstly the whole day was about raising money for charity and that should be remembered above all else. Secondly it’s yet another example of where some of our fans need to realise our wonderful football club wasn’t formed 15 years ago!
Admittedly it wasn’t the greatest game but again that simply isn’t the point. We enjoyed it, headed straight to Kings Cross immediately after the penalty shoot out and we were supping a fine pint of local ale in York by half past 7.
A messy weekend all in all and a cracking day to share a good mate’s 60th birthday celebrations. Legendary in fact.
Tomorrow is a day of firsts. Arsenal entering an under 21 side in the Checkatrade Trophy is an interesting move. Although the benefits might seem obvious to us as fans I think that remains to be seen. Being a massive fan of football stadia and in particular witnessing our team play in anywhere new, I and many similar Gooners are genuinely quite chuffed that this competition can give us that opportunity.
Our regular trips to Highfield Road seem a long long time ago now but there was a long period when we found ourselves making an annual visit. But I have never been to the Ricoh. So I’m thoroughly looking forward to making the journey.
It’s difficult to predict exactly how it will go but it will a be a big test for our younger talent no doubt.
The one thing that is for sure, any team with the cannon on their chest I want to win.
Up the Gunners!
Wednesday 5th September 2018
Leaving my thoughts until a full 3 days after our most recent game has its good and bad side. Most analysis has been worded or aired a long time ago now it seems, although much of it, especially on social media, is often not perhaps as constructive or level headed as it could be due to it’s close proximity to the actual match. The other reason I feel I can get away with it is I’ve never intended this blog to necessarily be a cultured match analysis, more a slight inside view of what it’s like to be a travelling fan. It has been said that I delay my thoughts more often after a defeat too, so at least this occasion throws that out of the window!
Cardiff is one of my favourite cities to visit when following our team. Apart from 1 or 2 occasions, some of our very greatest experiences have taken place in and around the what was called Millenium Stadium and seeing it again brings those numerous memories flooding back. Throw in the fact I’ve only seen positive results when taking on The Bluebirds and I struggle to see any negativity when considering going back.
With all of the above being considered our group decided to take the train across the South of England, through the engineering marvel that is the Severn Tunnel and into Wales, arriving late afternoon and just in time for a Saturday night out. Our hotel located in the very heart of the city made our plans easy, starting when we were kindly invited for a drink at a Gooner’s birthday party we had inadvertently stumbled upon and continued in various establishments amongst the many on offer.
A fine night then, one where only a bit of brekkie and pre-match refreshment can get you back on the straight and narrow come matchday morning.
Cardiff City’s new stadium is just over the road from where their traditional home of Ninian Park once stood, a famous old ground that has sadly gone the way of many and is now a hugely generic housing estate. Similarly to the situation for the majority of us attending our own home games however, the new ground’s close proximity means the long running pre-match rituals for The Bluebirds’ fans have needed to change very little. And that means a good 20 – 30 minute stroll from the city centre (or a cab for those who don’t fancy it!)
The sun being out always has people attending in an upbeat mood and Sunday was certainly no different. And it was quite a game that was to develop in front of us.
Going forward we looked bright, exciting, patient and full of movement. And our three goals were all of a quality that supports that. But again we leaked 2 highlighting the vulnerability we are all well aware exists.
But, you certainly won’t find me moaning and groaning or downbeat after an away victory! A highly entertaining game, a good atmosphere and 3 great goals seeing us come away with 3 big points are all reasons to be cheerful I feel. And the cracking weekend matched it. Happy days.
It’s the first international break next, our and Real Madrid’s Legends teams utilising the free weekend to entertain those heading into London N5 on Saturday afternoon.
More memories to the fore.
Up the mighty Arsenal!