Wednesday 31st October 2018
Two players sent off and the short margin of victory tonight suggests it was a right old feisty affair. But believe you me it wasn’t. To see both teams reduced to ten men in fact is an absolute joke. I’ve said this many times before but us fans don’t pay our money to see a referee try and be the centrepiece. We pay to see 11 v 11.
And as for VAR. As my mate pointed out, it felt like the referee was checking with the DVLA. Nope, he hasn’t got tax and insurance so he’s off. Ridiculous.
The game was competitive to be fair. Blackpool put 10 behind the ball as you would expect and attacked when they could. At half time I felt we were one goal from being home and dry so when it came I felt it was job done. Patience rewarded with two goals and a comfortable passage into the next round.
And then the referee got involved.
I’m not saying he was biased against us. Because I felt when he sent the Blackpool player off he did it just to even things up. But he could not have looked any more proud of himself if he tried when theatrically producing the cards from his pocket.
Once things were back on an even keel player wise it was a case of game management and we undertook that pretty well to head into the last eight.
Sitting here on the train that means a home game against Tottenham apparently. Fairly low key then.
Saturday holds a huge test in the shape of arguably the best Liverpool side since the Premier League began. To get anything out of the game we will need to be at our very best I feel.
And we can play our part as always.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Wednesday 31st October 2018
On a freezing cold night we took refuge after last night’s game ended in a lovely warm and proper back street pub. And amongst the general analysis we agreed it was very difficult to look too much into what we had just witnessed for a number of reasons.
That goes hand in hand with the competition itself and what the benefits are to actually being in it. Experience against the ‘big boys’ is one of course. But when you have the highs of deservedly beating Coventry on the one hand, you need to face up to a right royal stuffing on the other.
Two games clashing in the same week is one thing and it is less likely to have an influence on our Checkatrade Trophy outings if the other match is in the Premier League. But many of our younger talents’ opportunities to impress in the first team come in the League Cup and consequently virtually all of our best players at under 21 level were not involved last night. You only need to look at our 3 goalscorers at Coventry. Smith-Rowe, Willock and Nketiah. None of them were present.
And throw in the fact we were down to ten men after just a few minutes, it is very difficult to draw any accurate conclusions from the night overall.
Off the pitch I loved it. Train travel to a destination I’ve visited only once before, a few pre match beers in a local establishment and a game in a stadium where I have never seen the Arsenal. And with good company I took up our host’s option to go VIP. Some tidy pre-match tucker, a programme and seats on the half way line was a very civilised way to take in what will quite possibly be my only visit to the Jonny Rocks Stadium.
Before I head off for a bit of breakfast and my train, not home but direct to London, we now look forward to tonight’s game in the League Cup at home to Blackpool. A professional performance with the right attitude and concentration is required if we are to progress. And I’m confident our players will offer just that.
Come on you mighty reds!
Monday 29th October 2018
We didn’t play particularly well at Selhurst Park yesterday and for that reason alone I’m not sitting here feeling we threw 2 points away. But when you are leading with just a few minutes remaining anything other than a victory is frustrating. Palace played well I felt. And we looked a little laboured, our passing and movement stuttered and lacked fluidity and we created only a few chances across the 90 minutes. So we’ll take a point, eleven wins on the bounce becomes twelve unbeaten and on we go.
Travelling up to the game was a tad uncomfortable if I’m honest. A Gooner mate and his good lady celebrated tying the knot with a big party on Saturday night so spending that in their company with many close friends and family was a pretty heavy affair all round! A great night, the difficult journey was eased by some of the usual pre-match refreshment. Hair of the dog I think they call it.
Although I don’t usually write too much about the game itself, there was a huge amount of debatable incidents so it feels wrong not to look at them from my own personal point of view. And by that I mean both ‘live’ from the away end and after watching slow motion highlights from a variety of angles since.
If we analyse the first penalty decision it is hard to disagree with the referee when it comes to the actual foul he penalised. Rob Holding was fouled in the build up to the corner however, right in front of the linesman, his opponent having so much of his shirt in his hand that it completely ripped it. It is easy to say that we should have defended the corner better but not only was there a clear foul on our goalie when the cross came in but if the linesman had been doing his job correctly he would have flagged for the two clear fouls I have detailed and the penalty decision would not be relevant. My thoughts on those two incidents were the same in normal time too and with the lino having the same view us all of us in the away end he can offer no excuses.
Other than that both teams enjoyed a couple of clear cut chances in what was a pretty mediocre first period but to let in a goal on the stroke of half time was irritating.
We all know however, this team is capable of putting in a great second half performance and that alone kept the optimism at a decent level. Granit’s strike was a cracker. And arguably what we needed considering clear cut openings were at a premium. It was also the only goal of the game graced with no controversy. And at one each we piled forward in search of a goal to put us in the driving seat to take the three points.
And, from a corner that is what we got. But, for me, there is no way it should have been allowed to stand. Even in normal time it was clear Laca had flicked the ball on with his hand. Of course, you take those fortunate moments when they happen, but even with the understandable bias we have for our team, it is impossible not to admit we were fortunate. I’m not a great believer that these things even themselves out but I completely agree sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t. And as two of the first three goals should have been ruled out, the equaliser late on is my case in point.
Watching some of the games on TV I have found myself sympathising with Zaha a little. He is a decent player and when constantly being fouled I can see why he feels, on occasion, a little hard done by. Additionally I couldn’t really work out why other teams’ fans booed his every touch. Yesterday maybe offered a reason why. The incident was far too distant for anyone in the away end to form an opinion at the time but if you don’t agree with me, take a look at the slow motion replay from the camera located near the benches at Selhurst Park. A dive that Tom Daley would be proud of, it was total, utter blatant cheating. And on a very poor day for the referee all round, he was always going to fall for it.
None of this is sour grapes. As I mentioned at the very outset I don’t think our performance on the day deserved any more than a point. And it was only when I saw the above mentioned replay that I found myself irritated more than frustrated. Cheating is cheating and if it was one of our players and I was analysing in a similar fashion to these words I wouldn’t change my opinion. Maybe everyone should cheat. Or maybe officials should take a look at these replays and make efforts to stamp it out. I defy anyone to watch it and claim Zaha didn’t just throw himself in the air and couldn’t have stayed on his feet. I’m not going to say the referee didn’t have the ‘ability’ to see it but he was conned, of that there is no doubt.
Tomorrow I’m going to Cheltenham to see the Arsenal. There’s a phrase I have never used before! And if it proves anywhere near as entertaining as our trip to Coventry a few weeks back I will be very happy.
Up the Gunners!
Friday 26th October 2018
Warm sunshine as we head into Winter is always welcome. And the 2 to 3 thousand travelling Gooners have been fortunate enough to enjoy that this week in Portugal’s fine capital city. And yet another victory has turned what is always a fine few days off the pitch to an equally successful one on it.
Departing my home on Tuesday evening felt like the second part of what is a hugely football filled 10 days or so, our home game on Monday night against Leicester being the first. A very early Wednesday morning flight from Heathrow dictated an overnight stay but feeling that warm sunshine on our faces as we strolled from our accommodation into the city centre soon had us forgetting the early start.
Lisbon is a great city. Only once have I been before and I remember thoroughly enjoying it then too. A mix of coastal views, great architecture, quirky trams, delicious food and of a night the considerable buzz in the city’s old town. All have been experienced and enjoyed on our short stay.
An early kick-off midweek did feel a little strange and certainly the first I can remember in all our European travels down the years and it meant late afternoon we took the efficient and easy metro up to Sporting Lisbon’s stadium for the 3rd game in our group.
A pretty decent ground, getting in proved relatively easy and civilised, certainly not something that can be claimed with many of the so called ‘great’ stadia in Europe. But, we still had to put up with the ridiculous and inhumane netting surrounding the away section. I have mentioned before but I find that single aspect both offensive and infringement on my rights as a human being and a ticket holder.
We support a team that plays in the English Premier League. Where there are no fences and no nets. Every week. In every stadium. So the fact we are being treated in the same way as supporters from any other country is wrong. And to suggest it has no bearing on your view of the pitch is totally inaccurate.
With our usual fantastic away support as vocal as ever it was another first half where we were not at our best and little happened. But importantly, knowing we would create chances as the game went on, we hadn’t looked like conceding.
Our performance in the 2nd period was hugely better and with time running out, after creating numerous opportunities, Welbs looked sharp and alert to latch onto a defensive error, Sprint through and bury the winner. Cue the usual away end carnage.
Another win then, happy days.
Celebrations continued in the old town long into the night, that side of it seeing the benefits of an early kick-off before a relaxing lunch today sees us back at Lisbon airport for our flight home.
The weekend awaits and that includes our trip to Selhurst Park on Sunday. Palace always seem to raise their game against us and many of their fans have not been over keen on our great club since the days of Ian Wright coming back to haunt them time and time again.
So I expect a tough old afternoon in South London.
Come on you mighty Gunners, let’s make it a dozen!
Tuesday 23rd October 2018
Mondays are the new Thursdays. Or is it the other way round? All I know is when we embarked on our inaugural Europa League campaign last season a number of our group chose the competition to meet up somewhere in our great capital city matchday lunchtime for some light refreshment and banter. And so, almost by accident, our very own ‘Thursday Club’ was up and running.
Conveniently timed and located ‘meetings’ yesterday lunchtime meant we had an opportunity to replicate that on a Monday. And, after a marvellously entertaining few hours culminating in our dazzling 2nd half display, it was a decision that matched the Thursday version with aplomb!
Apart from some of the travel difficulties they can throw up, I think we all like night games. And yesterday was a perfect example as to why. A very respectable early arrival time into London N5 saw some fine tucker and a few beers consumed heightening the pre-match banter to new levels if indeed, that is possible.
And even in a League game the darkened skies, the bright lights and the night time sounds see the fixture take on that cup tie feel.
After our fine run it was crucial I felt that we continued that. All the fixtures have looked winnable on paper and this was another. Even in our championship winning seasons with some of our greatest sides however, those games don’t always throw up the positive result you expect and give you the risk of coming back down to earth with a bump.
Complacency is definitely not something that has reared its ugly head so far in the Unai Emery era however, so we had every right to go into the game confident.
The first period mirrored most of our games this season, particularly at home. We looked a little cagey and after Jay Leno made a couple of good saves and our visitors had a penalty shout turned down its is very difficult to argue we didn’t deserve to be behind.
Faced with a slightly different situation to our home games against the likes of Everton and Watford by going a goal down however, our reaction to being behind ranked somewhere between impressive and extraordinary.
All 3 of our goals were things of absolute footballing beauty and with Hector, Wobes and Mesut at the very heart of all of them, you could watch them over and over again without getting tired. Unless perhaps, you are a fan of The Foxes.
Our captain on the night was quite brilliant at times, his controlled finish for our massively important equaliser just before half time, only matched by his almost awe inspiring defence splitting pass to Hector in the build up to our second.
Throw in his dummy, run and dink over the keeper for Auba’s 2nd and our 3rd and it was nothing less than an absolute pleasure to be there. And what a passing move too. The noise, elation and joy on the faces of everyone present demonstrated we all knew, just like at Fulham last time out, we had just witnessed something very special. The atmosphere was simply crackling.
Leicester thumping the bar early in the half demonstrated how thin any lead can be of course but Laca’s miss from a yard after another fantastic move was just one of many other great opportunities we created in the second period.
Overall then, a quite marvellous evening’s entertainment, our 10th win in a row and three more massive points.
Although Thursday Club is something we are thoroughly enjoying right now, our ultimate aim is of course to get back into that top four. But whilst our league performances and results will dictate whether we achieve that or not we have three other competitions to try and win and enjoy (4 if you include the Checkatrade Trophy!).
That starts with our next European adventure as we head out to the beautiful Portuguese capital of Lisbon.
Time to pack my shorts for one my time I feel!
Monday 8th October 2018
Tickets for yesterday’s game were pretty difficult to come by. Craven Cottage is a historical, traditional and classic English football stadium on the banks of the River Thames in West London and is always very popular for those reasons alone. Throw in the considerable signs that Unai Emery’s new Arsenal era is beginning to take shape and it has become even more attractive. And if a match like yesterday’s was guaranteed before a ball was kicked it could just become the hottest ticket on the planet!!
Technically I left for Fulham away early on Tuesday evening. Admittedly that journey has taken me via London Heathrow (twice), Istanbul (twice), the Azerbaijan capital of Baku and Wimbledon but I haven’t been home since nevertheless!
The trip home from Baku certainly felt a long and tiring one. So checking into my hotel my hotel in the London suburbs late on Saturday evening, my bed was welcome to say the least. But as I walked back to the District Line’s terminus station on a crisp, chilly and gorgeously sunny Sunday morning I was very much looking forward to the events ahead.
Apart from the chance to enjoy the rest of the day post-match, noon kick-offs are not ideal. Meeting your pals for breakfast and a few pre-match liveners can take quite some arranging. Fortunately these days a certain pub chain that starts with a ‘W’ and ends with ‘spoons’ always opens for breakfast. Consequently one such establishment was chosen for just that.
It wasn’t my best decision.
Firstly, at 9am, with hardly anybody in the building, I was asked on the door for my match ticket. After explaining I was there for some breakfast, the dictator on the door let me in. I was then told the pub was not serving alcohol until after 12 noon. In a Spoons. Surely the only one in the country with that policy. Ridiculous, whether I wanted an early tipple or not.
Having ordered a full English, it arrived. And it was stone cold. And the coffee was pretty ropey too. Triffic.
By this time a few of my fellow Gooners were starting to arrive, mainly because in my guise as a supporters club secretary I had their match tickets to distribute.
But Hitler, Mugabe and his mates on the door would not let anyone in. Even people in no colours and with children just looking for a bit of breakfast. By this stage I was getting what is commonly known as the right ‘ump.
I expressed my concerns with this joke of an establishment’s staff in a polite and well mannered way but they were having none of it. Wearing a black ‘Duck and Cover’ v-neck sweater with a white polo shirt underneath with a small bit of red trim, I was told I needed to cover that up if I was to remain in the pub.
Those who know me are aware how laid back I am as a person but, it was at that moment that I lost it! After explaining to this idiot the differences between being a civilised human being and a total arse I was asked to leave. He needn’t had bothered, I was on my way. Treated so wonderfully in Azerbaijan this week, the whole situation made me feel a bit embarrassed to be honest. Is this what visitors to our country face?
For what its worth I don’t recommend East Putney’s Wetherspoons. The food and service were shocking and I wouldn’t go there again if my only other option was dog food. And having read the reviews on Tripadvisor since it seems I’m not the only one!
Right, now that’s off my chest I can continue with the rest of what turned out to be a near on perfect afternoon.
A couple of quick beers in a more welcoming and civilised establishment followed before walking through the park along the banks of the river and into the away end for the main reason we were all in this part of the world.
So far this season the way we have passed the ball around right from the very back has caused us problems. Fortunately however, the many mistakes have not proved ultimately costly results wise. I also believe, the errors are happening less and less frequently each week, a good indication I feel, that if you have a policy and a way of playing, you don’t just give up on your beliefs if they don’t work out initially.
Saying all that however, those mistakes are still occurring frequently enough that we will come unstuck eventually.
Very early on in Sunday’s game was the first example, only an outstanding stop from Jay Leno preventing us from going a goal behind. Our attacking play on the other hand was both exciting, penetrating and dangerous throughout the first half, Laca’s fine spin and finish the very least we deserved to show for our efforts.
Then, on the stroke of half time when a massive agricultural hoof up the field would have seen us go in with a one goal lead, an example of the mistakes mentioned above saw our first half’s work undone in the blink of an eye. Disappointing and frustrating.
Our second half performance was quite something. Maybe as a result of this group of players not only feeling the same disappointment at the break, but having the right attitude to make sure they didn’t make the same mistake again.
Wave after wave of attacks with some fantastic football to boot, the goals were all absolute things of sheer beauty.
There was a real feel good factor in the away end on Sunday. Admittedly when you win 5-1 that will always be the case but 1 or 2 new relatively new songs for some of our new ‘heroes’ feels like something we haven’t heard for a while and that bond with the players was really apparent. All positive stuff as we go forward I feel.
The end of a week involving many hours, various forms of transport, a huge number of miles, different cultures, sights and sounds and most importantly of all 2 more impressive victories. Even an abomination of a pub in East Putney can’t ruin that!
Enjoy the break, it all starts again in a fortnight with the visit of Leicester.
“Unai Emery’s Red and White Army, Unai Emery’s Red and White Army….!!”
Friday 5th October 2018
I’m writing these notes over a coffee and a typical Azerbaijani breakfast. I say breakfast, its 4.30pm. London, New York, Paris and the like are often described as cities that never sleep. Wack Baku on that list.
Don’t get me wrong, the Champions League is where we need to be. But above all else the Europa League throws up all kinds of weird, unusual and exciting destinations. And Baku certainly falls into that category. I genuinely don’t know what I was expecting from Azerbaijan’s capital but I cannot offer you anything other than a glowing report. In fact I would go as far as to say it is right up there amongst the very best cities I have ever visited.
Being nearly 3000 miles from home it is comfortably the furthest I have ever travelled to see our team play a competitive fixture. It is only when you take a good look at a map in fact that you realise just how far away it is! Saying that, we’ve all spent many hours in cars, in buses or trains to travel to domestic fixtures, often returning on the same day. So just because this time much of the return journey is spent in the sky, technically it is no different I guess.
Logistically however, the plans involve a lot more than just getting on a plane of course so our journey started on Tuesday evening as we headed to Heathrow for an overnight stop before our ridiculously early 1st flight of 2, Istanbul being our initial destination before undertaking the 2nd leg to Baku. Overall, although a lengthy day, it couldn’t have gone any smoother and once checked into our hotel on the shore of the Caspian Sea, we headed off to sample what the city’s Wednesday night had to offer.
We’ve all been there. Let’s not have a too heavy night given we’ve been up since 4am. And then we get in at quarter to five in the morning! It turns out Baku is pretty lively on a Wednesday!
Matchday morning arrived and it was beautiful, warm and sunny. And despite the tiredness, there was absolutely no way I was travelling half way round the world and spending it in bed. So a stroll along the gorgeous waterfront and into the stunning walled old city was enjoyed to the fore. Probably the best example of the kind of Azerbaijan I was probably expecting, not the dozens of spectacular modern buildings that perfectly represent what comes across as an extremely affluent city.
Having a good look around is of course thirsty work, especially in that heat so it was off to a pub for the pre-match build up, a location full of all the usual faces. And entertaining it was too.
The city’s metro system took us to the national stadium, the match having been moved there from Qarabag’s own ground due to the numbers wanting to attend. And lit up similarly to the Allianz Arena in Munich it was quite a sight.
Playing in red for the 10th match in succession is quite a thing, especially in these days of 3 kits. But the red shorts did look a bit odd.
Just like Baku as a destination we knew little about the Qarabag side we were up against. And that makes any opponent dangerous. On that basis we can be nothing less than delighted with the 3 nil victory. And 2 games into the group stages we have 6 points. The perfect start then.
And it keeps the momentum going after our difficult start.
Fulham offer a completely different challenge of course and Craven Cottage is never an easy place to go.
Friday night in Baku beckons before our journey home tomorrow. See you in Putney.