Wednesday 27th March 2019
There is some absolutely incredible footage on YouTube of the last time Arsenal came to Dubai for a match against Al Nasr back in 1976. The difference between those amazing scenes and the city of today are quite something. But the sense of Tuesday being an equally historical match was definitely evident.
I’ve been to Dubai before on more than one occasion when a very good Gooner pal of mine lived out here with his family for a while. But I’ve never of course, been here to see the Arsenal.
Very few chose to make the journey as you would expect but a dozen or so have travelled and enjoyed all the delights this exciting place has to offer.
My personal trip involved an overnight flight on Sunday followed by a couple of ours of snoozing in the ‘dusty’ sunshine next to my hotel’s rooftop pool. A nice and easy way to get the trip going and definitely different to the kind of away games we are used to attending in the month of March!
Food, drink, great company and the England game made up the rest of Monday meaning Tuesday morning was laced with an element of delicacy! The local Gooners however, invited all comers to enjoy their pre match hospitality in an area called the Irish Village so being ‘back in the game’ we made our way to the Al Maktoum Stadium for the main event.
The mix of locals, expats, cultures, traditions and clothing is quite something in this part of the world and the build up to kick-off in and around the stadium really was quite an experience. Like with every single aspect of the trip, we could not possibly have been made more welcome and our seats, located pretty much on the half way line, were a fine way to enjoy the match.
This was very much a showpiece friendly so any result would have really not been that important. But I hate losing. So to win 3-2 was pleasing.
Dubai is full of locations to enjoy the nightlife and one such place is the Barasti Beach Bar. With an almost hedonistic feel to it, we enjoyed refreshment under the stars with the sea on one side, the incredible high rise skyline on the other, a live band and huge screens showing the evening’s live football. It was horrible as you can imagine and brought matchday to a suitable conclusion.
Today has been a ‘touristy’ day with initial plans to visit the city’s brand new safari park. Unfortunately it is that brand new that it hasn’t opened yet! So we headed to take in some of the incredible malls, the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm and everything that goes on in and around it.
My flight home is in about 4 hours so hopefully some sleep and a problem free journey will bring my trip to a simple end before looking forward to Newcastle at home on Monday night.
A mid season friendly on another continent is not the norm of course. But it has certainly been enjoyable.
See you Monday, come on you mighty Gunners!
Friday 15th March 2019
On the pitch it has been pretty much the perfect week I would say. Two massive wins, two clean sheets and considering how disappointed we all felt coming away from the first leg in Rennes, everything looks mighty fine and rosy. I say on the pitch, because I’m sure I’m not the only travelling Gooner who is a not exactly delighted with the quarter final draw. Anyone who went to Naples last time will know why. And with the second leg away (because we can’t play 2 games in London on the same night apparently). And in Easter week too. Triffic.
One of the very best things about going to football is the banter. And last week’s trip to Brittany was graced with some of the very best. So yesterday’s ‘Thursday Club’ was the perfect opportunity for that to continue. So, meeting in a central London hostelry around lunchtime, a mighty fine afternoon and early evening was enjoyed as we looked forward to a night where we needed to put in a completely mistake free performance.
The streets in London N5 had a definite air of anticipation. A kind of cup tie feel. And graced with a few nerves as much as anything else. But that package is definitely not a negative.
We needed a good start of course and to wipe out the 2 goal deficit inside the first quarter of an hour or so certainly gave us that. We couldn’t relax though, but good game management and no silly mistakes and we were through.
Auba’s second after another excellent flowing move and we definitely had 1 foot in the quarter final. Conscious of the fact our visitors were 1 goal from levelling things up however, there was still a few nerves flying around as the game headed into its latter stages.
Thoroughly professional I think would be a good way to describe our performance and into the last eight we go. Lovely.
We now face that extremely strange situation at this stage of the season where we have no game for the best part of 2 and a half weeks. A good chance to charge the batteries? Or an irritating pause to our considerable momentum? Time will tell I guess.
Dubai for a mid season friendly. Shall we?
Sunday 10th March 2019
Only one of the four teams fighting for those two available Champions League spots didn’t drop points this weekend. And for that reason alone we have to be satisfied. But we beat Man Utd. And in any season that adds to the happy package. Get in.
Travel to and from where I live has been difficult today. In fact that is being generous. It’s been proper pony. Rough seas were accompanied by glorious sunshine and the ferries and their operators are a hardy old bunch so that bit went as smoothly as it could do. But the trains to London went from delayed by engineering work to delayed for another reason, to cancelled, to trees being on the line, to no train crew, to an extra drop at ‘Virginia Water’ (wherever that is) to an overall journey time door to door of around 5 hours instead of half that.
So I enjoyed my pint when I arrived. And the second, and the third etc etc.
After coming so close to picking up a deserved three points at Wembley last week, it genuinely felt, even with our visitors being in such a rich vein of form since Mourinho left, like we needed to turn our week’s haul into four. A point wouldn’t have been a disaster but two from six would have looked scant in comparison.
Optimism was definitely there and more confidence too, due to our recent run of good league form. But throw in a huge dose of trepidation and you probably get somewhere near the overall pre-match mood.
A good performance, accurate tactics and more importantly the ability to put those into practice are hugely important in games against the top sides. And luck being with you too. Last week was a fine example of what happens when it goes against you of course but today, after analysing post match, we arguably had that in the required three way package detailed.
We started well but in the first attack of the game Man United could and probably should have taken the lead when they struck the crossbar. Overall however, we kept our shape extremely well and looked dangerous in and around their box. Granit’s strike had venom and was on target but the deceptive swerve that saw it end up in the back of the net must surely go down to the high winds as much as anything else. Unless Granit knows otherwise! But. We’ll take that thanks. You need to shoot to score a goal, whatever the analysis.
Half time then and all was well. But there was a long long way to go.
The second period followed much the same pattern as the first and our penalty, as much as I think it is fair to say was a little soft, was as much as about constantly probing and venturing into our opponents’ box as anything else. And Auba, under huge pressure after last week, did the rest to double our lead.
The crowd and noise levels visibly and audibly lifted as we forgot about the icy cold wind to try and roar the team home. And through the monsoon in the very latter stages we saw it through. Very satisfying.
Not necessarily vintage but this was against a side that has beaten all comers in recent months. Including PSG this week from 2 nil down in their own back yard remember. So we’ll take that thanks. As I said, very satisfying.
Going into the second period of any cup tie 3-1 down is not ideal of course. But that is what we are faced with on Thursday night. No matter what we think about what happened and our performance out in Rennes. So rather than cry into our Sancerre, we need to approach the game with confidence, optimism and positivity. Anything less and we are out.
I raced out of our stadium tonight, skipped through the puddles, squeezed into the tube and almost jogged into Waterloo station just in time to meet the train that would meet my boat home. Happy days. Except on the departure board it simply said ‘Delayed’.
Leaving bout 10 minutes late I still had a chance. But we went via that ‘Water’ place again and having been instructed to change trains twice on route, a part of the journey far too boring to go into, I did indeed arrive too late. It was close though. Missed it by about 55 minutes!
So I’m writing these notes on a very late boat. But believe me that whole experience, irritation and tedium is far easier when you’ve just beaten Man United 2 nought.
See you on Thursday.
Come on you mighty reds!
Friday 8th March 2019
Firstly, I’m finding it extremely difficult to analyse our game. I always do when a team goes down to 10 men with a large chunk of the game still to play. Last night was a poor result. Very poor. But the sending off definitely changed the game.
I’m writing these thoughts on our Friday afternoon train from Rennes to Nantes. And after a typical lengthy French lunch we are all totally in agreement it has been a marvellous few days. In fact we don’t want it to end.
Wednesday’s early morning flight going perfectly well set everything up and the train journey direct to Nantes, full of Gooners. One of which produced the line on taking a bottle of wine out of his rucksack, “Oh no, it’s one of those old style bottles with a cork in it!” Nothing a Bic biro can’t sort out of course but it was so typically football European away day.
Wednesday afternoon and we enjoyed some great food, wine and company with the first example of the great and friendly hospitality we have been shown throughout our short stay. And it set us up for a marvellously entertaining night that ended well into the early hours in Rennes city centre.
Matchday and as more Gooners arrived via various travel routes and options it was the usual pre-match scene in a European city centre. And thoroughly enjoyable it was too.
The locals were so up for this one. The biggest game in their history some of them were calling it. 90 thousand applicants for tickets we heard. So taking it lightly would be a massive mistake.
And if I’m honest, I don’t think we did. Not only did we take the lead in the first half hour but we could and should have been 2 or 3 up.
The guy who belted in the equaliser a few seconds after the game was turned on its head will never hit a ball sweeter again in his career. The second was an unlucky deflection. And the 3rd was (an avoidable) goal on the break when we were searching for an equaliser late on. But, and I mean but.
Even at one all and down to 10 men we had a chance to take a satisfactory 1st leg score back to North London. And we were simply not good enough to do that. Disappointing? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. Annoying? Yes.
But as always there was no way we were going to let our result ruin what was a brilliantly entertaining jolly. So last night and today we have made sure it hasn’t.
We can still come out of this with progression into the last 8. We all know that. But we have given ourselves a huge amount to do. And 7 plus thousand Rennes fans will descend on London confident we can’t. It promises to be quite a night whatever.
Before all that we have the small matter of a game against a buoyant Man United on Sunday afternoon. Prior to our good performance at Wembley on Saturday I would definitely have taken 4 points out of 6. Despite the fact if Auba had buried the penalty we would have been 1 point from achieving just that, we still have a chance.
We need to put in a great performance and unlike over the last 2 games, I think we need a little bit of luck on our side too.
It’s a big big week.
We can play our part as always.
Come on you mighty reds.
Saturday 2nd March 2019
Tactically I thought we got it spot on today. And I felt we put those tactics into place extremely well too. Tottenham’s penalty was soft, but correct. The fact it wasn’t disallowed for a clear offside however, was wrong. And the fact I felt we looked more than comfortable at the time it was awarded made it doubly frustrating that the linesman couldn’t see a straight line. Our penalty was a little bit soft too. The point is however, it all would have been irrelevant had the correct decision been made at 1 nil.
Of course, to have the ball on the spot to win the game in the 90th minute and not clinch a deserved and important victory was annoying and equally frustrating. But, I would have taken a point before a ball was kicked so maybe I’m being a little bit greedy.
Getting out of bed in the dark for the Arsenal is something we have done many times and this morning was one such occasion. But derby day always has that buzz about it. So the early start is soon forgotten.
But having to head to Wembley again as our homeless local rivals continue to squat doesn’t feel right. Why? Well, us Gooners are used to heading to this part of London to contest for silverware. And in recent times, pretty successfully too. So to see the surrounding streets and most of our national stadium full of that lot for no more than a league game feels all a bit ‘fake’.
Rambo certainly likes Wembley. And today he proved it again. But having taken the lead there was a long long way to go.
The second period was no different to the first I felt. We defended well and looked dangerous every time we went forward.
Walking away felt like a defeat. And having picked up a point I genuinely didn’t think it would be an emotion I would experience. But no matter how much you analyse the game, even if you ignore the incorrect decision in the build up to our hosts’ equaliser, we blew a chance from 12 yards to go home with all 3.
Getting up in the dark will be happening again on Wednesday as I head for my early flight to Brittany. Over land and sea and all that.