Thursday 15th March 2018
There have been some crucial moments in both legs. And tonight that penalty decision was definitely one of them. And crucially, it went our way. But, overall, if you win a tie 5-1 you deserve to go through. Happy days.
I travelled up early today. The chance to have a bit of lunch with my dad and friends, a chance in fact that the snow prevented on a previous plan pre Man City at home. And it meant, along with those deep fears that we were very capable of undoing all the first leg’s good work, we arrived in London N5 in good spirits.
Recent home games have definitely felt a bit ‘damp’. A bit apathetic to quote a well used word lately. But tonight felt quite good. Not fantastic. But ok. It had that slight air of anticipation. That edge to it.
And as a result football felt ‘back again’ for a while.
Despite going behind I found myself asking if I was genuinely unhappy with the way we went about the game. And to be honest I genuinely think the answer to that is no. We looked comfortable, compact and relatively dangerous going forward and with a 2 nil lead in the bag I was quite happy with that.
But, pretty much out of the blue, it was game on.
The penalty incident was a long way from where I sit. But even by the length of time it took the officials to award it, combined with the lack of appeal from our own players, we knew it must have been a tad dubious. I am writing these thoughts on my train home in fact so I am yet to view a replay, but, even some extremely biased Arsenal fans I know who couldn’t make it tonight have text me saying it was never a pen. So, to avoid blatant hypocrisy, it appears our equalising goal was fortunate. Maybe the tide has turned on that front.
Overall tonight, after we done the seriously hard work last week, we got the job done. And that is all we wanted.
Into the hat then. 5 games and 3 ties from possible success. Lunchtime tomorrow we will know the next hurdle.
A massive break now, a time to perhaps enjoy those activities away from the beautiful game.
Before we return in early April to take on our friends from Stoke.
On we go.
Sunday 11th March 2018
With the undeniable apathy surrounding our support at the moment, this is massively more apparent in our home games. Even if we use the correct ‘excuse’ that the sparse gate at home to Man City was as a result of the weather as much as anything else, if I heard “I can’t make the Watford game as it’s Mothers Day” once, I’ve heard it hundreds of times over the last couple of weeks. And I’m sorry but I consider that absolute bollocks.
Don’t get me wrong, my mum is of course the best mum in the world. But she knew I thought that yesterday and I’ll still think it tomorrow. She didn’t need me missing football to be standing on her doorstep with a bunch of flowers or a bar of chocolates to somehow confirm it!
The point is, if we’re challenging at the very summit of the league our stadium would have been full today. And although I feel until Arsenal change the way they deal with season ticket holders who continuously don’t bother to turn up the situation won’t change, I would much rather someone say they “didn’t fancy it” than use whatever excuse is available that week.
Of course, I am very aware I am generalising here and there are other reasons why people can’t attend but my ticketing duties as secretary of our supporters club mean I am in a position to be pretty accurate about what I hear.
Today was a pleasing end to a good few days. Three goals, a clean sheet, a penalty save and a bit of terrace banter made for relatively entertaining fare overall. But it certainly wasn’t a stroll in the park.
Mustafi’s fine header was all we had to show for a first half where we probably should have scored 3 or 4. And a couple of good saves at the other end prevented if from being another 45 mins of frustration. And that at least was a positive to take into the break.
The 2nd period was all about being defensively strong and efficient going forward when able to break. And we did that pretty well to double our lead. Big Pete in goal is vastly experienced. But he would be the first to admit I’m sure, saving penalties is simply not his expertise.
And the combined reaction from the crowd to his fine one handed stop and the outspoken Deeney being the one who missed it demonstrated it was a rare and momentous occasion. The lift it gave us all attending was extraordinary in fact. And the players seemed to react by stepping up a gear, trebling the lead and seeing the game out for an enjoyable 3 points.
I don’t mind admitting I’m tired this afternoon. As enjoyable as this week’s Italian adventure has been, getting home yesterday evening, enjoying a fine Cobra/Indian tucker combination before sorting and collating tickets for this morning’s early departure has taken it out of me a bit.
But tired is one thing. I’m certainly not apathetic. And the reason? Despite a relatively difficult period for our great club, the famous Arsenal are the reason why I’m tired. Not the excuse. The reason.
Thursday is a big game. That is not in doubt. We got a fantastic result in the week. But it is only half a job done.
We can play our part in getting that second half right too.
So get upbeat, turn up and get behind your team.
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Saturday 10th March 2018
Sat in the reception of my hotel around 30 minutes walk from Milan’s iconic and spectacular Duomo I finally have time to reflect on what has been my 5th visit following the mighty Arsenal. Winning in stadia such as the San Siro doesn’t happen very often. In fact the vast majority of fans will go through their whole life without witnessing such an event. Yet I’m sitting here writing my thoughts after this magnificent football club of ours has been victorious for a 3rd time.
But. Even though we have every right to be proud of the victory and performance, it is only half time. And not only are AC Milan very capable of producing a performance to turn it around, we all know we also in the kind of form that could see us blow it.
I have really enjoyed this season’s European tour. Somehow it has felt like we have been under no pressure and as a result the whole campaign has felt like a big relaxed jolly. Both Minsk & Borisov and Ostersund have provided new and hugely entertaining destinations but having successfully negotiated each hurdle so far, the current round and opponent feels graced with that heady mix of anticipation, fear, expectancy and hope that European football should contain.
Wednesday’s outbound travel went extremely smoothly and a couple of city centre bars played host to the typical first night entertainment accompanied of course by the thoroughly amusing demise of the Wembley Squatters’ European campaign. But, they had a go. And remember, there’s definitely a power shift in North London.
Matchday started with a headache so Wednesday night had done it’s job. And the excellent Bootleg pub played host to us, the majority of the regular faces and Gooners from all over Europe as kick off approached.
Warnings had been issued about a city wide transport strike on the day so getting to and from the match could have proved difficult. But, in addition to Arsenal managing to arrange coaches after the match (a fine effort at such short notice), the metro was running the kind of service that meant we wouldn’t have even noticed had we not been warned!
The San Siro is a huge, imposing and iconic stadium. And as a result it really gives you a sense of occasion as you approach.
And, to match the enthusiastic and optimistic 2000 travelling Gooners, our team put in a dominant performance to take a thoroughly deserved 2 goal lead at the half way stage. A great great night in a relatively disappointing season.
Celebrations were long and hard of course and after a touristy and relaxing Friday it will soon be time to take our Gatwick bound return flight.
Winning is a fine habit. That is of course obvious. And it felt really good on Thursday night. As good as it felt terrible when we threw away 3 points at Vicarage Rd earlier this season. Sunday we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Come on you reds!
Thursday 1st March 2018
To be totally taken apart by the same team for the second time in a week is tough to take. Even if it was by one of the very best sides in Europe right now. But overall it has been a night of mistakes, both on and off the pitch.
I’ll start with the boring stuff. Having managed to get to North London without too many issues but a few quid lighter for needing to book a hotel for the night, the streets around N5 made it very difficult to argue that the game should have been postponed. And for that reason alone I have some sympathy for those who decided the game should go ahead. But if you ever needed evidence as to why it should have been called off it was the fact the stadium was virtually half empty.
Whether we like it or not our club is not only countrywide these days but global. And not only has the news been crammed full of snow stories but people have been warned to travel ‘only if absolutely necessary’. Throw in the fact a number of the railway companies announced they would be finishing their London outbound services around 9pm and the situation was more than difficult. And I’m not talking from many hundreds of miles away either. Locations as local as Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Fans who wanted to be there. But simply couldn’t.
We pay a huge amount of money to watch our team. The cheapest ticket in the whole stadium tonight for example was a lumpy 64 quid. And it has been enormously obvious over the last few days that it would be at best difficult at worst dangerously impossible for many thousands to get to the match. And for me, unless at the very least the club guaranteed full refunds to all those who couldn’t get there, the game should have been postponed. But it’s not about the fans these days. We are well aware of that.
On a bitterly cold night there is not much we can say about the game. We looked ok going forward but when it means your opponent can move through your defensive unit like a hot knife through butter that means very little.
We came out well in the second half too and if we had scored the penalty things might have been different. But I very much doubt it. I can’t help but think if we had got any kind of foothold in the game City would have simply picked us off to take back full control.
We are not the first side to be taken apart by this City side, nor will we be the last. But even when we had very mediocre sides down the years I am proper struggling to remember a league game where we were 3 nil down at half time.
Bad decisions off the field, bad defending, a bad (but understandable) attendance…….a very sad night indeed.
But that is where we are right now.
I need to be proved wrong, starting down in East Sussex on Sunday.
Keep the faith.
Sunday 25th February 2018
I guess it was bound to happen eventually. Even if you don’t believe in things like the law of averages. And against the best team in the country with arguably our poorest side for 20 odd years it was more likely to happen today than ever.
We were beaten by a far better team today, it’s as simple as that.
At half time I felt we were still in it and there were 2 crucial incidents in the first period that could have seen an opposite scoreline. But missing from point blank range and being caught out by a simple massive punt down the middle of the pitch usually leads to a defeat. Especially at the highest level. And having experienced both in the first half we simply weren’t at the races during the second.
So we’ve had better days. And it certainly wasn’t the birthday present I hoped for. Disappointing? Yes. Unexpected? Definitely not.
So in this season’s League Cup competition we have finished 2nd. Unfortunately our league form and resulting position suggests that means we have punched above our weight. And today’s match provided no evidence to suggest that statement is not correct.
I had a good day. But my team were not good enough. And they need to do an awful lot to make me believe anything different.
That starts with a nice easy fixture on Thursday night against…..errrrrr……Man City. And a buoyant one at that. Getting ourselves up for that will be quite tough if we are honest, both on and off the pitch. But that we must do folks.
Arsenal til I die.
Thursday 22nd February 2018
Firstly, we won the tie 4-2 and we are into the last 16. And above everything else that is the most important thing.
But that takes nothing away from the fact the perfectly capable eleven chosen for tonight’s second leg were very poor on the night. I didn’t necessarily expect much. Certainly not the goalfest that many predicted. The sheer pride of our opponents and the fact we’ve got a cup final on Sunday warned me away from such thoughts. But I expected more than we got.
Those Arsenal fans who come home and away every single week don’t like games where we don’t win. But we can deal with it. Because just a few days later we will be at the next game. But when there are those who would rather not bother than use the season ticket seat they have paid for because ‘I ain’t gonna go and watch that shite’ it is ok to the rest of us if we can go back to them the following morning and say ‘you missed out there’.
But tonight wasn’t one of those nights. They can wallow in their satisfaction that it was the right decision not to bother.
Tomorrow we are in the hat for the last 16. But looking at our potential opponents we are a long way from being favourites to win it. Despite what any outsider wants to suggest.
And that situation is the same on Sunday too.
But it’s a cup final. There are only 2 teams left in it of the 92 who entered. And we are one of them. And relatively recent Wembley history tells us if we put in a performance we can be victorious.
So be proud, be loud and be classy.
Come on you mighty reds!
Saturday 17th February 2018
It’s not every day that you find yourself stood in a pub with a load of very friendly and welcoming Swedes, wearing a tin hat, as once you had chucked the tequila based shot down your neck the barman smashed you over the head with a baseball bat. But, our last night of the awesome 3 we have spent in this snowy and chilly corner of Europe was graced with just that. Another example I feel that the only thing we can expect from following our team overseas is the unexpected.
The outbound journey wasn’t the smoothest for some and that was nothing to do with either the London to Stockholm leg or onward being delayed or in anyway inconvenient. But when you leave your passport at home or the airline manages to lose your luggage it is a different matter. And believe me Ostersund was not a town to be lacking clothes!
Back in the days of travelling around Austria pre-season I always felt there was real sense of occasion each time the Arsenal juggernaut pulled in. And this trip had that same feel. Within seconds of stepping out of our hotel front door we had locals offering to lend us a hand with tips on what to do and where to go. The whole town was set up with posters hanging from lamp posts, activities in the main square and a number of very decent pubs to keep us refreshed and above all, warm!
Our friends from Scandinavia certainly know how to have a good time and it was fantastic to spend a few days both with the locals and old friends from this part of the world.
We had all been warned about the cold. And although if we believe what we were told it would have been a lot worse had we come out 1 week earlier, dressing up like an unfit skiier was definitely the right move on the night of the match.
Everything was there for it to be a bit of a banana skin. Freezing cold, an artificial pitch and a confident crowd meant things could have gone horribly wrong. But we put in a professional performance overall and whilst recognising it is only half time in the tie we have to be confident of progressing.
And on a trip that felt like a party from start to finish that theme continued into the wee small hours.
There’s snow and there’s snow. UK getting a sprinkle and coming to a standstill snow or up to 12 foot deep and life continues as normal type. Ostersund is very pleasing to the eye and the snow made it an absolute Winter wonderland. And Friday we had a chance to have a stroll. Huge snow castles and nutters having a ‘character building’ dip in a hole smashed through the quite beautiful frozen lake were just a couple of things we got to experience.
I’m writing these notes in Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport so we are homeward bound. And it’s been yet another awesome few days.
Let’s be honest, we are unlikely to ever return, but if we do, we definitely wouldn’t have a problem with that.
See you Thursday for the 2nd half.
Monday 12th February 2018
Chances come and go in football matches. Some are missed, some produce great saves and/or defending. And our hosts had the majority across the game on Saturday afternoon, particularly in the second half. But we had crucial moments too. Laca’s chance in injury time springs to mind, a fantastic opportunity to snatch a late point. And when an onside Auba latched onto Jack’s superb through ball in the first half, things just might had been different had the lino not got it wrong.
But, overall, in a game where we didn’t do enough and were second best for almost all of the 2nd half, a draw would have been the very most we ‘deserved’.
Horrible is the way I would describe the day. Us Gooners have been extremely fortunate to see our team not only qualify to play in our national stadium but win there on numerous occasions in recent years. So to see a team ‘renting’ it almost made it feel dirty. Only Cup Finals and Internationals should be played there in my book and nothing else. And I didn’t feel any different turning up for 1 of 19 standard normal league games.
Once again our geographical neighbours from up the road in Middlesex will conveniently forget all the facts regarding trophy wins, a recent 21 year run of finishing above them every season and not forgetting winning the title at their own ground more times than they have as they crow about their tight victory in our latest encounter. But we are kind of used to that.
Incredibly we now go at least the best part of 3 weeks before we play our next league game, our disappointment in 1 cup competition and our success in another dictating that.
Before any of that we have 2 games against Östersund of Sweden to try and progress in the Europa League.
For anyone out there who knows little about our destination a quick search this morning tells me it is an urban area in Jämtland in the middle of Sweden. It is the seat of Östersund Municipality and the capital of Jämtland County. Östersund is located at the shores of Sweden’s fifth largest lake, Storsjön, opposite the island Frösön, and is the only city in Jämtland. Östersund is the region’s cultural and economical centre and by tradition a city of trade and commerce. Östersund had one of the most extensive garrisons in Sweden prior to its closure in the early-21st century. The city is the Mid Sweden University’s largest campus site with approximately 7,000 students. With a total population of 44,327 Östersund is the 22nd most populous city in Sweden, the 46th most populous city in Scandinavia, and by far the largest inland city in Northern Sweden.
Nowhere in that description though does it say its cold. But the weather forecast offers enough of a confirmation to make sure we take suitable attire to enjoy a snowbound and chilly city.
My journey involves an early flight out of Heathrow on Wednesday morning, the first of 2 required to reach our host destination.
So, if anybody from Östersund is reading this right now, we look forward to meeting you and enjoying your hospitality. Just make sure you wack the fire on before we arrive!
Come on you mighty Gunners!
Tuesday 6th February 2018
When you support a team they have become so used to free flowing football and goals a plenty over the last 20 years or so, that not happening any more becomes far more noticeable than the norm. Saturday evening felt very much a case of ‘that’s more like it!’
All the time they don’t become the most regular day and kick-off position I am quite a fan of the 5.30pm Saturday home games. Although I guess it’s not big or clever there is definitely far more than just coincidence that the crowd feels more upbeat and boisterous. Those extra couple of hours in the pub have often proved to be more of a positive than anything else when it comes to the atmosphere.
Whatever way we look at the January transfer window we have certainly been hugely active as a club and our league form alone has given plenty of evidence that changes were required in certain areas. The debate as to what the positives and negatives are has already been enormous and passionate but for me personally I would like to say thanks to those who have contributed to my life during their Arsenal career and say a very big welcome to the greatest football club in the world to those who have joined.
Whilst recognising there are other areas of the team that also need strengthening, if Saturday evening’s contribution is an example of what’s to come I am pretty happy.
Fast flowing, exciting football and plenty of goals to boot. Everything we pay our entrance money to see and the glow of victory helped warm up a chilly old night in north London.
A good start to February then after a hugely inconsistent January and we head to a stadium on Saturday that has become hugely familiar to us in recent times.
Dare thirteen you’ve do only titles to league to two won is.
Be safe and enjoy.
Come on you mighty reds!
Wednesday 31st January 2018
Feeling slightly rough the morning after an away game is nothing unusual. But travelling home by train I wanted ‘simple’. Hopefully now I have a seat things will improve. Having a reservation in coach J is great. But less so when coach J doesn’t exist!
Although our performance in Nottingham was poor I have always felt if you play your second string you run the risk of things going wrong. I also felt a couple of big decisions went against us on the day. Overall the shock that we were no longer in a competition we have been so successful in far outweighed the feelings accompanying the actual defeat.
Last night’s performance however, is extremely difficult to either defend or offer any kind of excuses for. We were terrible. It is as simple as that.
Whether this makes me slightly deluded or not I was confident going into the game. Reaching Wembley has given back a little bit of that feel good factor and generally we often find we kick on from that kind of situation. But, last night, in a poor game, we ground out a lead, as we have done away from home on numerous occasions and then defended like school children to throw it away.
Perhaps even more worrying is the fact we created nothing.
Very very disappointing, no matter how much a blinding curry and the city’s Wind Street area tried to improve the mood into the wee small hours.
Onto Everton at home then where improvement is not only necessary but completely essential if we are to get something from the game.