Sunday 28th April 2019
At nil nil there is all to play for. Whether your tactics are right, you are dominating the game or if you are simply hanging in there. In the modern game however, if you are reduced to ten men with an hour or so still to play, the match is pretty much over as a contest. And today, in a match littered with fouls, the referee decided Ainsley’s pair of distinctly debatable misdemeanors warranted a red card, so determining the inevitable result.
This is not sour grapes. Arsenal’s ten men were well beaten today. But not when the teams were numerically even. We will never know if we could have got the result we all craved.
Our first trip to the Midlands this week saw us play into our hosts’ hands I felt. They expected us to dominate possession, defended properly and well, before picking us off on the break. And with Leicester being at their best doing the same it was crucial we didn’t make the same mistake this time out.
And on that front, tactically I think we got it about right. The Foxes enjoyed the majority of possession and created a few chances although only one set piece header caused Leno the requirement to make a save of any note.
We knew if we could keep a clean sheet we would enjoy chances and sure enough both Laca and Alex Iwobi saw the best two opportunities of the half go begging.
And then, after what were at worst two innocuous fouls, the referee decided to change the game enormously in our opponents’ favour.
I’m not saying we were brilliant up that point. But not only had we adjusted our game to not make the same mistakes as Wednesday night but we were well a truly in the match.
We need something not much short of a miracle to finish in the top 4 now after an incredibly disappointing week. But Thursday means we still have a huge amount to play for.
We need a lift, the players needs lift and the club need a lift. And that shouldn’t be a chore or difficult for a European semi final.
But it is only possible if we do it together.
Keep the faith Gooners.
Thursday 25th April 2019
A week in football is an extremely long time. And if the last one doesn’t prove that nothing does. Seven days ago we were basking in the Italian sunshine thoroughly satisfied with our night’s work. This morning however, I found myself negotiating the country’s motorway network heading south accompanied by enormous disappointment, a mild hangover and those feelings in the belly only late night spicy food can give you.
Firstly we need to recognise that getting a result away at Wolves is not easy these days. Especially given our frustratingly poor form away from home. So we headed north through typical April weather of sunshine and heavy showers knowing on a night where Sunday’s defeat had made it all the more important we had a potentially very tricky few hours ahead of us.
The road network safely and successfully negotiated we checked into our cheap (there was good reason for that) city centre accommodation and met with the usual travelling suspects to enjoy the pre-match build up.
Once inside atmospheric Molineux you could really sense the air of confidence in the home fans. Supporters who had seen their team win on big nights regularly this season. And, instead of running out in that world famous iconic kit of red shirts with white arms, we emerged from the tunnel in one of the increasingly annoying other abominations of away kits, this time the one that makes us look like we’ve just stepped off a Ribena advert.
Of course that shouldn’t make any difference in the long run. But I am getting more and more convinced it does. When we run out in that red shirt with white sleeves people take notice. “The Arsenal have arrived”. In the purple or light blue rubbish we just look like any other club.
I tweeted one of my thoughts during the game last night. Something I do extremely rarely. But I stand by my point. I have no problem with our tactics going forward. Our passing, our probing, our patience, our searching for that one opening that could win you the game. And even last night where we have been heavily criticised for the lack of opportunities we created, we dominated possession and there were enough chances across the ninety minutes to have nicked a result.
But we can only be happy with those tactics if we defend correctly and in the last two matches we have failed dismally on that front. Not against Barcelona or Bayern Munich. But against (no disrespect intended) Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Last night, defensively, collectively, not one single player came out with any credit. Individually and as a group our performance was littered with errors and we were picked off with absolute ease.
So what do we do next?
We get up in the early hours of Sunday morning and travel up to Leicester, that’s what we do. Because even though it has been a bad week for us Gooners we’ve had them before. In fact far worse. And that’s not only part of being a fan, it’s what makes us more determined, more defiant and stronger.
And if you can’t deal with that you are in the wrong game I’m afraid.
See you Sunday lunchtime. We go again.
Arsenal til I die.
Sunday 21st April 2019.
Can we still finish in the top 4? Of course we can. But, this afternoon, we had an enormous chance to put us almost in pole position to achieve just that. And no matter how much analysis you want to undertake, we blew it.
Tomorrow’s Easter Monday is enormously attractive. A proper chance to recharge the batteries after a hectic week. And as a Gooner I hoped to be going into that feeling very good about the world. But we were beaten today. And in my opinion by the better side. And that’s even more disappointing.
Our first half performance was woeful. We created nothing, looked pedestrian and went in deservedly a goal behind after some dreadful defending at a set piece. I wasn’t too downhearted. Because I felt we could make adjustments and turn the game around. We certainly did that at half time and sure enough it worked. One all and a chance to rectify the day.
Defensively we have dramatically improved in recent weeks. Not today however. And it cost us dearly.
We drove forward to get something from the game but it was too little too late. A defeat at home to Crystal Palace. When you are chasing a top four spot it’s not good enough. And if we miss out due to 3 points come the end of the season I promise it’s the one we will all look back on as where we blew our chance.
Football means we move on to the next one. And Wednesday (all of a sudden) has become a must win. Away at Wolves with little to play for. Not home to a Palace side with little to play for.
The odds could have been in our favour by 6pm this evening. As it is I now think they are massively stacked against us. That is the importance I put on today.
A massive missed opportunity.
Come on Arsenal, prove me wrong.
Friday 19th April 2019
Somewhat surprisingly I’ve developed a soft spot for the city of Naples. Yes, it’s a little bit grotty, maybe even dirty in places. But I prefer to use the word gritty or edgy even. And for me there is definitely an element of chaotic excitement about the place. Throw in a European quarter final victory and I’m writing these notes in the early hours of Friday morning surrounded by a very satisfied glow.
My second visit started at Gatwick very early on Wednesday morning and my experience from last time meant our group of eight’s accommodation was located in the crazy, hilly and narrow streets of the old town. And having arrived without any problems we took a stroll, ate the inevitable pizzas and enjoyed some afternoon refreshment in a sundrenched square before being thoroughly looked after by a restaurant that had done exactly the same last time we were in this part of the world. A first day full of top food, wine and beer and marvellous hospitality. The perfect start then.
Matchday began and very much followed a similar theme, culminating in taking one of the supporters buses through the busy rush hour traffic, a journey made all the more amusing by the fact the Gooners on the bus in front of us were forced to ‘abandon ship’ when it appeared to be on the verge of catching fire!
The almost military operation to get us all to the stadium feels almost surreal and perhaps a little unnecessary but in a city not exactly renowned for Napoli’s ‘ultras’ offering the most friendly of welcomes it is definitely the most sensible way to make the pre-match journey.
Our hosts’ stadium has seen better days and is typical of many of the ‘concrete bowl’ type stadia we often find ourselves visiting but totally different to last time we played here when the game was largely irrelevent, there was definitely an edge to this one. Consequently the noise and colour was there along of course with those pre-match butterflies.
We started the game well I felt but big Pete’s save with his legs about 15 or so minutes into the game was a huge moment I felt. To go 1 nil down then we might have seen a whole different game.
As it was Laca fired home a quite awesome free kick and approximately a thousand Gooners celebrated knowing that crucial away goal very much meant we had one foot in the semi final.
The remainder of the game we were very professional and relatively solid, limiting our hosts to few chances. The best other chance of the game in fact fell to Auba where despite an outstanding save he really should have buried it.
Into the semis we go then the only disappointment on the night being it looked like we picked up a few knocks, Rambo looking the most serious.
The same buses relayed us back to the centre and a couple of celebratory beers completed a fine day I would say. Job done.
A Good Friday with a bit more tourism, possibly to Pompeii before we fly home tomorrow evening and our thoughts turn to Sunday’s visit of Crystal Palace.
Sunny, adrenolin filled and hospitable Naples, we thank you. Its been emotional.
Happy Easter Gooners.
Come on you mighty reds!
Tuesday 16th April 2019
It’s funny but we all have little things we do on match days. I for example wear home socks for home games (red & white) and away socks for away games (yellow & blue). And yep, I’m 49. At Everton I forgot. So that defeat was my fault. Tonight I didn’t forget. And it worked. That result is in the book. Despite the fact the performance wasn’t the greatest we ground it out. It’s in the book.
A number of us met down in the city mid afternoon. So by the time we headed to Euston we were all in the usual fine spirits. And consequently the commuters heading back to Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and beyond were treated to the fine company of Gooners heading to a Monday night away game.
Watford were always going to be buoyant after last weekend. And we all looked at it as a game of 2 possibilities Would they be on a massive high full of players demanding a place in the cup final line up? Or players pulling out of tackles so they don’t get injured? Or should we all just admit that is too much analysis? Especially with our away form.
We started ok I felt and took the game to our hosts. But our opener was a massive combination of strange, unusual, excellent gambling from our centre forward, good luck and bad goalkeeping. And it all added up to an opening goal that was to prove ultimately crucial on the night.
The sending was a little bit soft. But if you choose to put your forearm into the face of an opponent well after the ball has gone you run a huge risk of having to face the consequences. And with that particular player you wont find any sympathy coming from any Gooner I’m afraid.
Our hosts going down to 10 men could only help our target to come away with 3 points. But did it? As is often the case it seemed to galvanize the team who felt they had been punished and arguably made it even more difficult on the night. Throw in the fact we looked a little bit nervous at times and it was definitely pleasing to hear that final whistle with our lead in tact.
We have 2 potential routes to claiming a Champions League spot and the other is where we head next. At half time we are in a good position but Naples is an extremely tough place to get a result. They will be immensely fired up. We go there however, on the back of a good result last night and a lead to fight for.
Be safe and come on you mighty Gunners!!
Friday 12th April 2019
When we got beat in Rennes I remember thinking it was very much only half time. Even though, on the night, they had just beaten the mighty Arsenal, I could still detect, even amongst the most ardent of home fans, they were still very much aware of the fact their first leg winning margin could be overturned when they travelled to London for the second leg.
Well, last night as we left the Emirates, although upbeat, I didn’t detect the same buoyancy as that experienced out in Brittany. We all knew we played well on the night. And we all knew we achieved a 1st leg score that we would have taken before a ball was kicked. But we also know it will be more than tough out in Naples next week.
I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday. Our ‘Thursday Club’ was in full swing pre match, firstly in a sun drenched Covent Garden, followed by our usual location up in N5 and the atmosphere had an air of cautious optimism. Pre Everton away I think the mood was one of confidence. After a performance that can be described as little more than abject however, we all knew a bad result was as much of a possibility as anything else on the night.
Again at home we put in a fine performance, got ourselves a lead and kept that all important clean sheet. If anything in fact we created enough clear cut opportunities to have almost put the tie to bed before we head out to Italy next week. I said earlier however, I don’t think there are many Gooners out there who wouldn’t have taken a 2 nil victory before a ball was kicked.
A free weekend beckons and in a hugely busy period football wise it is a time for what could be called ‘essential maintenance’ before we head off to Vicarage Road for what is another huge game on Monday night.
The Hornets will be in a fine mood after they reached their first cup final for 35 years last time out. We need to take our excellent home form on the road. And quickly.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Sunday 7th April 2019
Journeys home from away games up north give you time to reflect. Time to let the frustration, the disappointment and the anger calm down when you’ve got beaten. Time to consider a more level headed opinion rather than the ranting and raving immediately post match.
Often this has you realising that maybe we were a little bit unlucky to be going home with nothing. But not today unfortunately. We were poor and got exactly what we deserved. Nothing.
Going into the game full of optimism means it feels doubly disappointing to be honest. And as my train hurtles south, I’m genuinely struggling to find any positives. Offering so little over the ninety minutes is certainly worrying given the list of games we have remaining.
Liverpool as a city at the weekend has a lot going for it. It enjoys a party and with horse racing’s biggest showpiece event just down the road it was even busier than usual. And travelling up yesterday it was definitely something to look forward to.
Our accommodation was decent, pretty cool to be fair and in an area of the city where the party vibe was full on. So it would have been extremely rude not to have enjoyed it to the fore. So we did. All a total success other than finding myself in the hotel corridor in the middle of the night having mistaken the room door for the bathroom. No disaster of course, but standing in reception, in my pants, desperate for the loo, asking for a spare key, wasn’t pretty. Especially for the night porter who had to deal with it!
Sunday morning and breakfast was consumed with a large chunk of discomfort but having enjoyed the pre match build up in our usual Everton away haunt, the stroll across Stanley Park included a mass of anticipation and hope for a positive result.
There’s not a huge amount I can say about the game. I think playing Mo and Matteo together was a mistake. And the negativity it produced proved I was correct to have those reservations. Our strongest period in the game was early in the 2nd half when we made changes. But that should have been from minute one. And it probably would have meant we wouldn’t have gone behind.
But, we had 85 plus minutes to turn it around and the most disappointing factor is we never really looked like we could do that.
So a defeat and damaging to our top 4 hopes. We need to dust ourselves down and come back strong on Thursday night. A clean sheet and a lead would be a decent result to take out to Naples. We are capable of achieving just that. But if we play like we did today we will get beaten. It’s as simple as that.
See you Thursday.
Up the mighty Arse!
Tuesday 2nd April 2019
Writing my thoughts in the very early hours of Tuesday morning was never in the plans. But anyone who travels home from a midweek game has been there. Getting indoors very late, bed and sleep being the sensible option yet still buzzing like you’ve experienced an accidental caffeine overdose!! We live, dream and kick every ball folks. And that adrenalin takes until well after the game to calm down.
As a result I thought I’d write my blog.
In addition to getting it done before Tuesday morning’s workload kicks in it will also hopefully serve the purpose of clearing and relaxing my mind so I can go to sleep.
Well, that bit certainly worked, I’ve just woken up, it’s now time to get out of my B & B bed for breakfast and my mobile phone is lying next to me having only managed to type a few words before passing out! Nothing from last night has changed however, a thoroughly satisfying three points in the bag and our chase for a Champions League place is still alive and kicking.
A gloriously sunny south coast accompanied my departure yesterday lunchtime and it was certainly no different in our capital city meaning my walk across the Thames and up into Covent Garden to enjoy a few pre-match beers was most pleasant. Talk of course surrounding the whole football world seeming to think we have ‘an easy run in’ and consequently a top 4 finish is almost in the bag. How whilst trying to conclude a successful campaign in Europe the likes of Everton, Watford, Leicester, Wolves and Burnley away are ‘easy’ is completely beyond me. And as Gooners we say that after witnessing defeats against the likes of West Ham and Southampton earlier in the season.
And taking on a Newcastle side on a recent run of decent form immediately after an international break was no gimme either.
Under the lights however, we produced a solid and thoroughly professional performance, kept both our shape and discipline extremely well, scored two excellent goals and kept a clean sheet, all meaning we took home another massive three points. Tell me something not to like about an evening like that.
As I look forward to my bacon & eggs, our thoughts now turn to our trip to take on the blue half of Liverpool on Sunday. A tough tough looking obstacle on the pitch, the fact its Grand National weekend suggests it could be an entertaining Saturday night off it.
See you at Goodison.
Up the mighty Gunners!