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Mary Poppins

Wednesday 12th December 2017

I really hope West Ham go down. You will have never heard me say that before. And I apologise now to all those Hammers fans I know. But your new ground is so so bad. Shocking in fact. Even needing to visit once a season is bad. But if I had to do that every other week I can honestly say there is every chance my passion would wain. And to find myself saying that is incredible.

I’ve had a good day. Again. But that’s not down to the football. You do get decent nil nil draws. But you also get totally shite ones. And tonight was one that fell into the latter category.

Don’t get me wrong, until a calamitous bit of defending nearly turned our 1 point into none late on our hosts offered nothing going forward. And when I say nothing I mean nothing. But despite all our possession we offered little more. And that is what is so disappointing. So in 2 away games we come away unbeaten. But if we had lost one of them and won the other we would be in a better position.

I’m staying in London tonight. Because West Ham’s stadium being located in the middle of nowhere (because it was built for big athletics events rather than football) dictates I can’t get home. And that doesn’t help the mood. Or indeed the cost.

I would like to talk about the game. But I can’t think of anything worth talking about. It was that poor.

On the walk back to Stratford station a lady on a pedal bike sped past down a road cordoned off for people leaving the game. She rang her bell and shouted excuse me at the top of her voice. But inevitably she clipped someone not expecting her to be flying past. Nothing but an accident but one that could have been avoided nonetheless.

The man clipped shouting out, “f**king ‘el you Mary Poppins c**t” was arguably the highlight of the night. If nothing else it saw me smile for the first time all evening.

Onto Saturday we go for the visit of The Geordies.

Come on you reds!

Frank
@stubbsy70

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Constant Recovery

Monday 11th December 2017

The weather has gone all a bit chilly in recent days. Something tells me it might be nothing compared to what we will experience in the northern Swedish town of Ostersund in February!! But with a draw pot full of numerous destinations we have visited before as possible opponents I am delighted with the adventure it promises to hold.

From Friday lunchtime until early this morning I have spent my time with very good Arsenal supporting friends. The ‘Arsenal’ bit is kind of obvious I guess as time spent with anyone who supports another team tends to happen very rarely in my life. My point here is if it wasn’t because of our great football club we never would have met. The delights Austria held for so many wonderful Summers have been discussed many times before. And I genuinely miss those annual trips for so many reasons. Arguably the biggest positive that came from that period is the number of friendships that have blossomed with fellow Gooners from all over the globe. One such group includes 4 Norwegians and we have enjoyed a quite fantastic weekend in their company. Thanks to the love and passion we have for the same thing meaning we were in the same little bar, in the same little village, in the same little corner of Austria all those years ago.

The weekend included of course our trip to an extremely wet and windy St Marys Stadium on Sunday lunchtime.

Some habits in football are good ones. But going behind early certainly isn’t one of them. And it has cost us points yet again this week in a game where we largely dominated.

If there were any positives to take out of the opening exchanges is if it wasn’t for a fine save from Petr Cech we could have been two goals behind for the second week on the bounce. And with the goal being in the 3rd minute we pretty much had 90 more to try and turn it around.

That time however, seemed to pass very quickly and despite all our possession and a wave of constant pressure from our boys in that dreadful blue kit, it looked like we were going to come away from another game empty handed. If nothing else however, we kept going. We certainly didn’t give up. And eventually Alexis’ cross was nodded home by the only player in our side with the strength to hold off and outfight a defender the size of Virgil Van Dijk.

Not a great performance and not a fantastic result. But its a point away from home nonetheless and we move on to a game away at a side that beat the league champions in their last outing. If that is not proof alone that we will need to play far better than yesterday then nothing is. Not having to recover from going behind early on will certainly help our cause.

Skål!

And up the Gunners!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Hardcore

Thursday 7th December 2017

Tonight felt a little bit unique. But thinking about it that’s only because it has been a very very long time since I watched a first class game at home where the ground is half empty. That happened many times when we were at Highbury. Back in the good old days. 😉

Already having won our group tonight’s result if nothing else was completely irrelevant. And we have so many games at the moment. And we’re just coming up to Christmas. And it’s a cold night. And with no disrespect intended, especially given what wonderful hosts they were when we travelled to their part of the world, we were ‘only’ playing Bate Borisov. Blah de blah de blah.

But, overall I cannot help but accept tonight wasn’t the most attractive of fixtures and if you needed to miss one this was probably going to be it.

Sparse

On a chilly old night, those who gave up their time and made the effort to attend were treated to six goals and a clean sheet. Worth every penny in my book and I’m genuinely pleased for all those who went along.

Into the hat we go then and by now we know the full list of potential opponents and destinations for when the competition carries on in February, Monday’s draw determining exactly who and where that will be. There are places I proper fancy and others I genuinely don’t. So luck is important on that front.

The second draw we have been involved in on consecutive Mondays of course, the FA Cup version chucking up a trip to Nottingham in early January, another 3rd round tie that certainly has a big game feel about it.

There are many important games to take in before then however, starting with this Sunday’s trip to the south coast. The scene of some cracking days out, fine performances and pleasing victories it is also a fixture that has seen us come seriously unstuck down the years.

We need a performance to try and make sure we get more of the former come Sunday afternoon.

Come on you mighty Gunners!

Frank
@stubbsy70

A Resultless Performance

Sunday 3rd December 2017

If I was a Man United fan I would not only be going home not giving a flying pheasant about whether my team deserved to win the game or not. I would also argue it’s easy to dominate a game when you are two goals behind. And on that basis I cannot really disagree.

But do you know what, we played ok. How we didn’t score in the latter stages of the first half is a miracle. But all that happened when the game was arguably all but gone.

The day was very low key for me. It didn’t have that buzz of 2 weeks ago. And although I’m clutching at straws here, that had me lacking a little bit of confidence.

I’m not always cynical. But I can be. Don’t let Arsenal score in the first quarter of an hour might have been the tactic. And I get that. But just maybe we got double bluffed today. If we had prevented our visitors from scoring in the early stages I am convinced we would have won the game. As obvious as that might sound.

Saying we were ‘unlucky and ‘played pretty well’, no matter how much those statements contain an element of truth, does not sit comfortably with me. We let in 3 goals. At home. And that is not part of a good performance in my book.

Very disappointing but we can do nothing more than take the positives out of the overall performance and look forward to our next outing on Thursday evening.

It’s a long time since we have played in a game where the result is completely irrelevant. We have played in games where we have already qualified. But even they had top spot to play for. So our interest on Thursday can be no more than how those players selected perform on the night.

Chins up folks.

Frank
@stubbsy70

Five Star…….eventually

Thursday 30th November 2017

If you write a blog the day after the game you have normally had the chance to sleep on it. But midweek games often have me needing to catch a late ferry home. So technically it is Thursday as I write these thoughts. But being not long after midnight it’s pretty much late Wednesday!

What day I am writing may well be up for debate but it doesn’t take away the fact we won 5 nil. In a strange old game too.

I was in chilly North London quite early and my walk (for various reasons) included Holloway Road, Seven Sisters Rd (the successful end), Hornsey Rd, Tollington Rd and eventually, after walking past the North End of our stadium, onto Gillespie Road. At that time it was going through the ‘set up’ process that feels almost unchanged for decades. The merchandise stalls hanging out their products, the smell of onions from the burger and hot dog vendors, that irritating sound ‘who wants tickets for the match?’ from the inevitable touts and the supporters club opening up their doors.

And being early I kind of took that whole atmosphere in for a change. I wouldn’t say I was reminiscing exactly but it definitely hit home how much we all love those traditional sights and sounds. A couple of what I will call tourists only based on their question, were covered in red and white and just where Gillespie Rd meets Avenell Rd asked me, “excuse me, where is the old Highbury Stadium please?”

Amused by my advice to turn round followed by the line, “it’s just there” it also gave me a sense of pride in our history that these 2 ‘youngsters’ were excited by the chance to see our great old home.

The game itself is an extremely difficult one to summarise. We were excellent in the first 5 minutes and produced a devastating similar period in the second half to kill the game off. But for long spells in between we were extremely disjointed. Our passing was littered with uncharacteristic errors and with our visitors very aware they were still in the game all the time it was 1 nil, they came close on a couple of occasions.

Once Olly slotted home our 2nd however, after a stunningly simple passing move, the game was dead and buried. And although it somewhat hides the fact we were not brilliant on the night, the additional goals and excellent result made it a very satisfying conclusion.

The feel good factor continues then. And a win on Saturday in an extremely tough fixture would continue that.

And like 10 days ago, we can play our part.

Come on you mighty reds!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Late Late Joy

Monday 27th November 2017

Although I genuinely don’t mind driving to games now and again one of the only positives when fighting your way back south through the traffic from destinations as far away as Burnley is you get to think about the events you have just watched unfold before submitting any kind of reaction. The journey also becomes a whole lot easier of course when you have snatched an injury time winner from an extremely tough game. And the resulting jostle was right up there.

A November trip to Burnley was hugely unattractive given I had only got home from Cologne quite late on Friday evening but I have mentioned before I quite like those kind of challenges. Making that effort when not bothering is far easier and comfortable keeps me motivated, be that in situations like these or life in general. On this occasion my group of hardy travellers took in an exhibition at the NEC and a fine night out in Birmingham before making our way North on Sunday morning through some quite dramatic weather!

Burnley is a hugely traditional northern town. One where you can imagine in past times was an extremely difficult and hostile place to go.

Game on

And stating this fully aware of how condescending I probably sound, away games at clubs like The Clarets are pretty much always the same. From start to finish the home fans scream at the officials for free kicks, boos echo round the stadium on the odd occasion when they are not given and when the referee has the sheer cheek to award anything to the away team after the latest shuddering challenge they react with chants like ‘same old Arsenal, always cheating’. And if we’ve heard the ‘southern softies’ accusations once we’ve heard them a thousand times. It would be somewhere between amusing and annoying however, if it wasn’t so predictable.

On a grotty, wet and chilly afternoon we took on Burnley toe to toe and came out on top. Simple.

A long time before the penalty

But of course there was far more incidents that happened in the game worth talking about. For much of the first half I was impressed by our hosts’ game plan and their football. They threatened regularly and made it very difficult for us to get into our stride. Defensively however, under extreme pressure at times, I thought our efforts to be first to the ball were excellent and on the occasions where we didn’t, we put our bodies on the line to block.

My only gripe came with the referee and we see it time and time again in games. For me it is yet another example how the officials simply do not understand the game. Certain players are very clever. They step back into their defenders before chucking themselves to the floor. Anyone who has played the game can see it. Yet the officials fall for it every time. That decision in turn wastes time of course and the resulting set piece can lead to goals against. Burnley did that throughout the match.

We dominated the second period for long periods and that led to more time wasting of course. The goalkeeper or team mate knowingly not taking a free kick from the correct place before apologising to the referee and suggesting it was a genuine mistake being just one regular example. The referee has the opportunity to add on these minutes at the end of the game of course. I genuinely cannot remember the last time I went to any game where the injury time was just 2 minutes. So given what we had just witnessed, yesterday was almost embarrassing. Perfect in the end mind you!

Given all of the above I don’t particularly have a problem with teams that do this. I can hardly blame them when they know they are going to get away with it week in week out. But it is about time those running the game actually understood it.

I quite like the Burnley manager. He’s certainly not one of those English managers that get under my skin. But what he said after the game was an unnecessary dig in my book. To suggest the referee couldn’t wait to award us a spot kick was ridiculous given what I have mentioned above. Don’t moan about decisions going against you when they had been awarded in your favour throughout! And to suggest teams don’t get soft penalties against top sides is equally daft. All I can think is he hasn’t watched any of our recent games this season!!

Going back to my earlier points teams ‘like Burnley’ make it extremely tough to pick up anything away from home. And that includes the home fans’ participation. That’s not me moaning, I totally admire them for that whole package.

But when you get beaten despite all that I like that even more.

And I make no apology for that.

See you on Wednesday for our league game at home to Huddersfield. A line I have never said in my lifetime.

Come on you reds!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Blue Thursday

Friday 24th November 2017

Somebody out there will be able to confirm this I’m sure but in my lifetime I don’t think we have won a trophy in any season where our away kit hasn’t been yellow (or gold). Coincidental? Probably. Irrelevant? Possibly. The one thing I do know however, is this season’s horrific blue thing has got to be the worst we have ever worn. And results like Liverpool away and last night don’t improve my view. I am Arsenal. So I’m red or yellow. I don’t do blue.

I’m writing these notes on our VIP return coach journey. Yet again it has been an awesome few days. Then again I’m struggling to remember any trip to Germany that hasn’t been like that.

Tuesday’s early start was soon forgotten and a top night out in an old town area preparing itself for its Christmas markets had us all taking on matchday with the expected fragility.

Atmospheric stadium approach

Finishing top of our group makes the match pretty irrelevant but losing is never enjoyable. We were very very mediocre on the night and our hosts were even worse. It was never a penalty in a million years and it meant we managed to lose a game that deserved to finish nothing other than goalless.

Awful blue

The game didn’t have me filled with anticipation and I didn’t feel any genuine anger or disappointment after it ended either. For me however, the fact not 1 player out there has me thinking or hoping they will be in the starting eleven up at Turf Moor on Sunday is arguably a bit worrying.

A great trip nonetheless. But that bit was always going to be the case.

Burnley is a tough place to go these days. A top performance is required to continue the good vibe we created last Saturday.

Come on you yellows!

Frank
@stubbsy70

Average Day Out

Saturday 18th November 2017

“Come on, we’ll get the bus”. That was what i said to my dad last weekend when we went for a curry. It’s not a line any of you haven’t used before. But when you follow your team home and away every week it’s quite unusual. Him (and my mum) went back to Kent after a thoroughly enjoyable week or so but come this morning he knew where I would be.

And that’s football if it’s Swansea, Real Madrid or Tottenham.

In recent times they’ve talked about the turn of the tide. The fact our nearest geographical neighbours have become the bigger and better outfit. Admittedly they have a good side right now. probably the best side I’ve seen since I was born. In 1970. 47 years ago.

And arguably, based on ‘what you read’ this is the worst Arsenal side in 20 years.

So there was only 1 possible result today.

In the pub before the game I was asked what I felt….other than the fact I would be meeting my clan before the game. And I would be pretty smiley after it. Or not. If I hadn’t been so cocky perhaps.

I’m on my train home. And I’ve had a very good day.

I’ve had loads of over confidence. Loads of ‘shift in dominance’ bollocks. Loads of blah blah blah.

Imagine. If you hadn’t won the league for 56 years. If the tide was turning yet your nearest rivals had won 3 major trophies in the last 4 years. That must be really shit.

I’ve heard it all before.

See you in Cologne.

Frank

Do Your Job

Sunday 5th November 2017

Lots of ingredients needed to be there to get a result this afternoon. And when you are playing away to the side that is highly likely to go on and win the title one of those is the ‘rub of the green’. And with another highly dubious penalty being awarded against us and a goal being given when quite clearly it should have been disallowed we certainly didn’t get that.

Our group decided to fly up to this one and that bit couldn’t have possibly gone any smoother. Leaving Southampton at about 7pm on Saturday evening on an aircraft full of very happy Burnley fans, enjoying some refreshment in one of Manchester city centre’s many bars by 9 o’clock demonstrates how convenient it can be.

And it was to be a fine night, ending well into the early hours of Sunday morning with bleary eyes and the usual kind of dodgy tucker.

A meeting point and time of 10.30am had been arranged but when my roomy shouted, “It’s 5 to 12 Stubbsy!” that whole idea pretty much went out the window! A quick look at my phone saw a mix of ‘where are you?’ and ‘major train delays mate’ so all in all the day could have started better.

A couple of G & Ts that had so much foliage and fruit in the glass that they could just about pass as breakfast…..and I was back in the game.

We have played a lot better of course but I also think we have played a lot worse. And I don’t care what anyone says about what was ‘deserved’ on the day, bad decisions by the officials cost us 2 goals. And that was more than influential. It was crucial.

We move on. And that means a couple of weeks with no football before 56 years since they last won English football’s top prize we welcome our friends from Middlesex to North London.

Enjoy the break and keep the faith.

Frank
@stubbsy70

The Good Old Days

Thursday 2nd November 2017

The cynical side to my persona has me thinking about all those who constantly harp on about ‘bringing back the old days’. Tonight had a crowd well less of capacity, a dreary atmosphere, a number of people having had one too many beers and a dismal game with few chances or action worth talking about. So, those longing for those bygone days must have been absolutely ecstatic.

My dad is why I am an Arsenal fan. And last time I saw Arsenal take on Red Star Belgrade in North London was as a result of him taking me, aged 8, back in 1978. You tend to remember an incredible amount of facts at that age. Probably as a result of football sticker books. I remember Willie Young scoring a goal in the previous round to knock out Hadjuk Split on away goals. And I remember on a freezing cold night Red Star getting a late goal at Highbury to prevent the game going into extra time and knocking us out too. The good old days I guess.

Views on our manager’s take on the League Cup are varied. And so far his view on the Europa League is quite clearly the same. Having won 5 out of 5 so far this season it is very difficult to argue that it is not the right way to go about things in both competitions, this despite the fact, other than possibly our first half hour away in Borisov, I genuinely don’t think we have played very well.

But overall I am quite happy to go with the ‘policy’ in these competitions based on the fact if you don’t give up and coming talent a chance in these games, when else are you go to get that opportunity?

My opinion however, is definitely based on a belief that in the latter stages of both competitions, when the quality of opponent vastly improves, you need to put out a team that can beat them on the day. And this season I have seen nothing so far that suggests our second string are capable of beating one of those better sides we will definitely face.

This is not me being negative, just realistic. And there is a difference.

Tonight was a poor game. I can pretty much recall 2 or 3 chances per team at best. But nil nil games happen in football. We’ve all been to loads of them. In the ‘good old days’ and in recent times. 10 from 12 points is a good return however, and it is that we should be looking at overall.

Looking ahead to the weekend we are arguably about to take on the best team in Europe right now. And in their own back yard too. I can’t say I’m brimming full of confidence. Any Gooner who is in fact would be considered a fool.

But I wasn’t confident in the cup semi final either. Nor the final for that matter. And that trophy sits proudly in our cabinet.

We can get a result. But we need to put it an almost perfect performance I feel.

Come on you mighty Gunners!

Frank
@stubbsy70