Sunday, 29 January 2012

UP FOR THE CUP


This is how it feels!

Let's face it, if you can't be up for the cup; FA cup that is, then there's something wrong. Don't we all want a day at Wembley? a day to forget our troubles?
This years FA Cup is certainly 'up for grabs' with the exit of MUFC,MCFC & NUFC lets see what the old numbered balls sling our way before kick off. Lets gird our loins, beat Villa and bring on the next round. Given our history in this tournament it's about time we got hold of it again. We've beaten Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea in the final so why not think we can win it once more.
UP THE ARSE!
It's only Ray Parlour

Saturday, 28 January 2012

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS


 
‘No one knows what goes on behind closed doors’ sang Charlie Rich in his wonderfully evocative country hit, and never has that term been more pertinent than it is now for supporters of the Arsenal. The feeling of frustration within the ranks of the Arsenal faithful was shown by the much mentioned reaction during the Arsenal v Man Utd game. This reaction was a ‘tip of the iceberg’ moment, in the sense that this may have been the first obvious show of disapproval that some have seen. Arsene was somewhat defensive in his comments and to be fair the paying supporters are entitled to voice an opinion and in the scheme of things the criticism was very much small potatoes compared to how other managers are treated when dissatisfaction rears its head.
I don’t believe that this show of disgruntlement was entirely about the substitution but the accumulation of feeling out of the loop and not understanding what is going on at the club.
If patience is a virtue Arsenal supporters must be the most morally excellent supporters in the league. That there has been only this one moment of voluble criticism is amazing given the decline at the club. That our manager has only received this one public show of discontent is astounding. Yes there are many opinions about Arsene and that’s fine; there’s nothing wrong with debate, but criticism of him is not generally something that is as recognisable as crowd reaction.
We see the manager making substitutions at the 70 minute mark and the word is that this is based on some sort of performance/fitness data. This would lead us to feel that managing the player’s fitness is intrinsic to the management of the players yet we have seen for many years now unparalleled levels of injury. No one knows why. Is it just bad luck, is the sports science at the club faulty, is it our style of play that attracts bad challenges or are the types of players that we buy injury prone in their very physiques? No one knows but it has been detrimental to the cause for a number of years; this causes frustration.
From this...
to this
We see good players leave year on year and inferior replacements come in. Are we financially handicapped? Does our manager choose not to pay amounts he feels excessive or does he choose players regardless of cost? Again, we don’t know; this causes frustration.
The mess of the summer has never been adequately explained. The collapses that are now an annual occurrence have not been rationalised. There are so many unknowns and it feels as if the powers that be at the club don’t care whether we are frustrated as long as the books balance. The powers that be obviously feel that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but I think it can be an empowering and reassuring thing. We are not simply customers; we are the clubs heart and soul and therefore deserve respect not contempt.
Yes we have seen some amazing things under Arsene; the Invincibles, Doubles and scintillating football. Yes great days, but they are in the past more. Recently we have seen Arsenal accumulate less points each season, the disastrous turn around at St James’ from a 4-0 lead and of course the humiliation of Old Trafford. We have seen Arsenal squads deteriorate in quality year on year yet we stick with it, as all good supporters do; a trusting attitude has indeed been shown by us all.
On the whole, as a body of supporters, we have shown tremendous respect and patience despite all the frustration and when that frustration boils over it is only natural that we verbalise it.
I don’t think any of us has the answers but there is a limit to how much of being kept in the dark we can tolerate. Season ticket prices increase, refreshment costs soar, corporate greed flourishes and we are the ones not reaping any benefit out there on the pitch. If the guys upstairs are really only interested in revenue they are being short sighted because lack of investment in the squad is a sure fire way to decrease our marketability and yes, marketability seems to be the primary motivator.
Which brings us back to Arsene; is he employed for financial reasons or for footballing ones? This may seem a frivolous question but look at the evidence and have a think about what that answer may be from the board’s point of view.
Apportioning blame is not what this is about, but understanding what’s going wrong, what changes need to be made and how well equipped or how willing we are as a club to make those changes. As I said; without information we are left drawing conclusions and this only leads to disharmony. Not a positive environment for our team and club to thrive in.

from this...
to this

Friday, 27 January 2012

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

Looking through the window

The transfer window is seen as some sort of a First aid box for ailing teams. Presumably all ills can be fixed by pulling out a saviour or two during this period.

Players that are of high quality are few and far between during this period, either through rarity or due to being cup tied and the like.

It occurs to me that instances of a new signing made in January, having a meaningful impact on the season are a scarcity and therefore the obsession with buying during this period needs to be tempered with a dose of reality.

Our club will probably not bring in anyone before the window closes and to be fair most other clubs won’t either. Confidence in the quality of their squads should be a factor and if failure to strengthen is based on squad confidence we should be a little perturbed if the view is that this squad is fine to be getting along with.

Of course Clubs may want to buy this player or that, only to be outbid or find a player unwilling to move mid season. This is why seeing the January transfer window as a chance for major surgery is pointless; it is at best a means of providing a sticking plaster. Real opportunity for change takes place in the summer and should be taken; in this way January becomes less of an issue.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

FEAR OF SPEED DATING

speed dating



Criticism of Arsene Wenger is generally viewed in polarised terms. There are those who regard him as not being immune and those who think of any criticism as heresy. The truth is that he manages our football club and therefore is fair game for critical appraisal. I should point out that, in my view this never incorporates personalisation or obscenity. The thing is that this weekend I have sensed a swing in opinion.  The substitution of AOC for the ineffective AA against United was frustrating and was greeted as such but should not be over examined. The fact that prior to the game the normally staunch Merson and Nicholas turned on Wenger on Sky Soccer Saturday says a lot.

Perhaps, finally, time, good will and memory are not enough. Perhaps we are formally seeing a seed change in the perception of Arsene.

If one accepts that the club have been in decline where it matters; on the pitch, there has to be some scrutiny in why this has happened. Why the decline hasn’t been halted, who’s responsible and how do things change. So far so reasonable, however discontent breeds irrationality particularly when this discontent appears to have its roots in the irrational way the club is being managed.

Are we as Arsenal supporters too busy being angry to enable us to debate and discuss our club? Too busy abusing each other to converse?Supporters who are unhappy about having lost as many games this season so far, as we lost the whole of last season would say that unhappiness is  a reasonable response. A key thing is how that unhappiness is transmitted. Hayley Wright makes a good point in her ‘diary of a season’ when she encourages articulating that feeling through writing, blogging and commenting on forums; this is a way of getting feelings across and encouraging debate. Debate, though, is hard when vitriol and abuse are in the mix.  Passionate argument and discussion is what it’s all about yet supporters of Arsenal who, having read other clubs’ internet fan base’s blogs, are amongst the most articulate of writers are using marginalisation as a tool to prevent discourse.

We have seen Arsenal drop 30 points so far this season and certainly been involved in games where those points were not battled for. We have seen the limitations of the squad, albeit that an appalling injury list has been our nemesis, and we are staring down the barrel at a Thursday night Channel 5 scenario. We have gone through a period of trophylessness (if that’s even a word) and we have seen a number of good players leave the club. These conditions, by their very definition are bound to provoke strong feelings and concerns; if not then we are in the wrong business as Arsenal supporters.

We all want the same don’t we? For the Arsenal to be better, to achieve more to have a bright future? Of course we do but the subject that keeps rearing its head is the subject of whether or not our current manager is the right man for the job.

The state of play at boardroom and cashpoint level is unknown to most of us so we can only look at the stuff out there on the green oblong.

Most fans want Arsenal to move forward with Wenger at the helm; a changed Wenger, in most cases, a Wenger that accepts that some things aren’t working and responds with positive changes. Now Arsene seems like a good bloke and he’s someone who you would have all day long compared to some of the obnoxious managers at other clubs, but some of the mystique surrounding him is up for scrutiny. Defenders of Arsene often use the word ‘genius’, often the terms ‘he discovers great players’ or ‘he develops youth’ are bandied about. Yet when you look underneath the headline the truth doesn’t quite match up to the presumption.

The genius status is only relevant when discussing past achievements and a real genius continues to develop and adapt. Discovering great players is somewhat misleading also; Vieira, Henry, Pires, Ljungberg etc were all internationals who had cost clubs proper money prior to them being bought to Arsenal. So good was this era of Arsenal players that inevitably every squad that has come since has been compared to it; and failed the comparison.

Development of youth is another one that doesn’t quite stack up for me; aside from Anelka and Fabregas are there really that many young players that have come through and developed to that standard since 1997? (Remember Cole was already here)

http://youtu.be/XppEzopIahs
beginning

In a way the reason that some hang onto these proclamations about Arsene is a bit likes a relationship. The girl/boyfriend with whom you’ve spent the last fifteen years doesn’t do it for you anymore but you don’t want to be single, out there in the meat markets with the rebuilding that needs to be undertaken when embarking on a new relationship.

middle

Hanging on to past memories because you’re frightened that you will never find someone who will be as good together with as you were in the early days of your time together. It's not all about speed dating, Blind dates and hopeless set ups, there are plenty of other ways of meeting Mr/Miss Right.

the end?

I want Arsene to make changes, I have no axe to grind against him as a human being, but I don’t think he can change. I think that we should not accept mediocrity for fear of the unknown. Most of all I think we, as Arsenal supporters need to start thinking about our Football Club and not focus on individual perceived loyalties and factionalisation.

We need to be united whoever is at the helm. And if the person at the helm is steering us in the right direction we should give him all the support and encouragement we can muster. If he’s sailing us towards an iceberg we should not be afraid of recognising it and acting accordingly; with dignity, respect and above all honesty.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

DAYS OF FUTURES PAST


Ahead of today's game I am reminded of some of the great head to heads between the clubs during the Premier era and a name that keeps popping up is Freddie Ljungberg's. Freddie had a great habit of scoring against the big teams in big games notably against Manchester United home or away. His debut game featured a chip over Schmiecel at the clock end and he scored many significant goals against the Red Devils, he even made a killer contribution to Wiltord’s title clincher at Old Trafford.
In the words of Martin Tyler


“Freddie Ljungberg. Against Manchester United. Again”

With discussion about the merits of our squad it's clear that we need more players with the habit of our old number 8.


Saturday, 21 January 2012

RIDDLE ME THIS

There are always more questions than answers, particularly when you don’t have the inside track. Very, very few Arsenal supporters have the insider knowledge regarding what the state of play is during those clandestine boardroom meetings at the Arsenal; therefore we are only left with conjecture.

Our current situation is that we are 5th in the Premier League, in the knockout stages of the Champions League and in the 4th round of the FA Cup. Most clubs’ supporters would be happy with this situation, yet we aren’t. Is this because we have higher aspirations or unrealistic expectations?

A lot is based on past achievements and certainly perceptions of our status both in actuality and based on promises made when leaving Highbury.

The questions that keep coming back to me are ones of how we have declined in the last 5 years and I can’t make a categorical case for any one reason.
The meat and drink of any club is its squad and the person charged with assembling the squad has to, by definition, think that the players he assembles are good enough. Good enough to compete for honours; and that person is employed to have opinions and act on them. When those opinions leave the club with a squad that is not good enough (it isn’t, clearly) what then happens? Do the people charged with running Arsenal Football Club at every level accept mediocrity or be unhappy about it and act to make positive change.

Tactics, first team selection, training methods, psychology and other day to day matters are outside of our influence and knowledge, but these things must be analysed by the pay masters of Arsenal. Do they feel these factors are all okay?

When Peter Hill Wood talks of Arsenal being financially prepared for life in the Europa League is he being infuriatingly myopic or just being realistic about the potential of our squad?

Hard to mind read but I do wonder about a number of things that have and haven’t happened.

What happened to the money we received for Adebayor, Toure, Clichy, Nasri and Fabregas? Was this not earmarked for investment in players, and if so why where commensurate replacements not purchased?

Why did we start the 2011/12 season carrying a handicap that took the Old Trafford debacle to prompt action?

Why are players that are not selectable; Almunia, Denilson, Bendtner still being paid? If they are not attractive to other clubs to buy is it because those clubs don’t think they are good enough or is it because Arsenal have given them contracts that are far too lucrative?
I don’t know why we have so many recurring injuries, but I do know it has been the case for a number of years and therefore the dependency on a good squad becomes even more salient. Having a good first XI is meaningless when you know, based on statistics and prior knowledge that members of that XI will miss games through injury; the only logical assessment is to seek a squad capable of handling this. I’m not talking about a blank chequebook approach I’m talking about decent Premier League players who you could bring in alongside the promising younger players, as opposed to reasonable players that come from other leagues and take substantial adjustment time.

Why sign players like Park and Miyaichi and Vela with no intention of playing them when we are struggling with injuries? If they are not good enough, or not good enough now, surely they are taking up squad space this season for players that can come in when needed.
riddler
I pays my money and I takes my chance and as a season ticket holder I accept this; it's a 'thick and thin' philosophy, but as a season ticket holder I am entitled to ask questions. Am I entitled to answers, that's the question. Certainly when I've read about fan forums with the club and supporters there is little coming the fans way in terms of tangible responses. Of course my questions and ideas may seem simplistic as I don’t know all the facts; none of us do, but just because an idea or thought is a simple one doesn’t make it of no value.

Sometimes answers are right in front of our faces.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

MAD FOR IT? MAD FOR IT?


It may not have been noticed amongst the doom and indeed gloom that Arsenal's league record against Man Utd at the Emirates is actually very good.
WDWLW
What this counts for is hard to quantify. Certainly it may have a psychological impact for us knowing that we have done well at the Emirates against our adversary (ECL game aside; which had the circumstances of a second leg and a great Man Utd performance)
So in league terms Sunday should be a game to savour and another opportunity to reverse our league trend of 2012
It's also a game that players should rise to. If there are question marks over mentality within the squad, playing the Champions (something that seems to have been forgotten amidst talk of Man City & Sp*rs) is a game for players to show what they're made of.
And as a supporter if you can't get marginally enthused, regardless of current issues, about a home game against Man Utd you may be in the wrong business.


Tuesday, 17 January 2012

About Football Commerce?

If financial achievement is all that matters perhaps we should commission a piggy bank statue at the Emirates to reflect our recent success

Tough times ahead for the Arsenal. The facts are that we are in The FA Cup and the Champions League; given that they are cup competitions we have a chance of winning one of them. A lot of factors need to be taken into consideration but if not, why bother?

As regards the Premier League; we are not going to win it and therefore you would think that the target is to finish as high as possible, be it in a ECL spot or a Europa League place.

Now I would like to think that a place in The Champions League next season and a trophy are achievable but in the cold hard light of day I feel it’s more likely that we will be playing in the Europa League next season and that the trophy cabinet will not be added to; this is not pessimism, its realism.

You see, our squad of players is not equipped to compete on multiple fronts. This is not to say that our squad is the worst ever assembled, it’s simply that our league position pretty much reflects the quality of our squad and what is achievable given this set of players. Injuries? Yes of course they play a part but that’s why you have a squad.

Much as I don’t like to dwell on the past I think it is reasonable to make a comparison given that it is a comparison involving the same manager. A lot of talk is about an unwillingness to pay for players as being a reason the club is in the position it’s in but when analysing the last Arsenal Championship squad, who also went far in the FA cup and ECL, one can see that it didn’t exactly cost the earth.

Look at our squad from that era.

These players were bought

Lehmann £1.5m
Lauren £7.2m
Toure £0.25m
Ljungberg £3m
Vieira £3.5m
Gilberto £4.5m
Pires £6m
Bergkamp £7.5m
Henry £10m
Edu £6m
Cygan £2m
Wiltord £13.3m
Clichy £0.25m
Reyes £10m
Kanu £4.2m
Keown £2m
Van Bronckhorst £8.5m
Jeffers £9m
Senderos £2.5m

And these were free

Campbelll Free
Fabregas Free

And these from the youth system

Cole
Parlour
Aliadiere
Bentley
Stack
Tavlaridis
Hoyte
Thomas
Owusu-Abeyie
Simek
Skulason
Spicer
Smith
Papadopulos Loan

This squad cost £101.2. This does not take into account players sold in previous season and the revenue from those sales, wages or the sell on revenue.

This is a blueprint that pleased both fans and the money men at the club, however if you look at the bulk of this squad you are talking about a higher level of player achievement. You would say that more or less all the players that had a fee performed and of course Cole, Parlour, Campbell and Fabregas who where free, contributed.

Performance and achievement from this group outstrips the players we have invested in over the last few years. The youth players by and large did not prosper but then again there was no financial gamble involved. A lot of our players that came in for fees have disappointed and our youth system has not delivered for the first team on the same level either.

The point is that we had assembled a squad that practically could provide two XIs that could compete; this meant that injuries could be absorbed. This made the blueprint workable.

Year on year we have not repeated this yet we are entrenched in trying to do so. What should have been rationally assessed is that either player selection is not good enough or changes to this system need to be implemented. Neither has been done. We are trying to make a failed methodology work.

But times have changed. What is it about the teams that have won the title since we were last champions? Is it that Chelsea and Manchester United spent more on players or is it that Ferguson, Mourinho etc selected better players and were better tactically? Hard to say but cost of squad seems to be the common denominator in a world where you get what you pay for.

Our current squad cost £171.2m. The current Manchester City Squad that sits atop the league is reported to have cost somewhere in the region of £252m obviously we can’t compete with that, nor should we seek to but the discrepancy is huge and therefore we can’t look to compete in squad strength unless we are prepared to extend the amount we are willing to pay; that is to say being in for a player at a price that is requisite with that players quality. No one wants to sell cheap but if your offer is derisory you won’t even get to the table.

I am not advocating throwing money at a problem, I’m looking at how we can compete.

I want all the players that Wenger has faith in to ‘come good’ I always have, but examples like Denilson, Eboue, Merida, Bendtner, Traore, Fabianski, Watt, Hoyte and Traore never did. Players bought in that showed quality on the International stage like Rosicky, Arshavin and Vela have faded badly. I totally acknowledge that both Diaby and Eduardo have had their Arsenal careers destroyed by appalling challenges that have been condoned as being ‘part of the game’ and in this respect we have a genuine grievance. I also see that we have been blighted with injuries, but (pardon the pun) those are the breaks.

It has been a waiting game for the fans for too long and waiting is hard. Potential is one thing, but unfulfilled potential cannot be ignored. You need players who are the finished product alongside that potential in order to enable potential to thrive. Finished product comes at a price.

The reality is that in today’s football world you have to spend; like it or not. The only alternative is having a mercurial manager with a great eye for a player; something I fear we used to have but perhaps we no longer have.

Changes are needed at the club in my opinion. When you mention change in relation to a football club, some automatically assume that it only means getting rid of people. I’m talking about making changes that are positive and meaningful; changes in ethos, changes in perspectives; yes some personnel changes, but most importantly changes that ensure that, as a club, we look forward with a united objective that, whilst always being mindful of financial one way streets, is not just based on pounds shillings and pence.

Unvieling Summer 2012?

Monday, 16 January 2012

REALIGN ING PERCEPTIONS


This is no time for hysteria. Facts speak for themselves; a better than average Swansea side beat an average Arsenal side. We have no divine right, despite expectation, to win these games. Our position as an elite club probably remains, but as an elite team the reality is humbling.

Arsenal Football Club does not have an elite squad and struggles to field an eleven that are any better (or worse) than a number of Premier League teams, therefore, as I’ve been saying for a while, we have to align our perceptions accordingly.

Talk of how we’ve turned around a disastrous start overlooks two things; 1. Why we were in a position whereby we had such a terrible start. 2. ‘turning around’ is relative; given our position after those initial games, being amongst the Europa League places come the turn of the year would be viewed as a triumph.  That’s where we are as a club. Those that think we have done the right things at all levels within the club to sustain ourselves as perennial title contenders over the last half a dozen years is at best naïve and at worst deluded.

I love the Arsenal and want everything; however we are currently not in a false position. As much as I would like to think otherwise we are pretty much where we deserve to be if you look at our levels of investment in our bread and butter; the playing staff.

Yes, I don’t deny our injury problems, bad luck, bad refereeing etc etc, but these things have to be factored in. Winning anything has to be achieved despite those problems and by the same rationale under achieving cannot be blamed on those same things.

No one really knows categorically what is going on at boardroom, owner and managerial level at Arsenal but the factual conclusion is that year on year we have declined in the achievement department since our last title, last trophy and reaching the Champions league. All the other stuff; finance, expansion, commerce is of course relevant but a football club is about that old cliché; being ‘there or there abouts’ and Arsenal Football club have not been’ there or there abouts’ for a good length of time.

Coming full circle, my conclusion is that (while I’m gutted at every loss)  we have to realise that our current status is all about winning a few, drawing a few and unfortunately, losing a few.

Until such time as Arsenal the financial institution- doing well in the wallet has the ambition of being Arsenal the Football Club- doing well in the trophy cabinet, we have to deal with mediocrity.

Our beloved Arsenal does so many things right but has the club become so obsessed with financial matters that the powers that be have forgotten our raison d’être ; being a successful football club?

Sunday, 15 January 2012

AWAY DAYS



The beauty of the away game is it's inherent adventure, going to strange places, visiting recollections of past journeys. The thrill of it all. Win away and you feel like a conquering army. Sometimes you can stick around with friendly natives, sometimes you need to get out of Dodge.
A trip to a far flung outpost of the premier League can be wrought with danger but equally filled with fun.

It's special; the feeling of following Arsenal over land and sea. It's akin to national service; you do it for a period then it's home games and the occasional away day, or you commit to the life.

The Arsenal away support is tremendous and those that go are in some ways in the trenches. They always deliver though and put some of the supposedly more vociferous Northern supporters to shame.


Thick and thin is never more apt than when you are an away supporter.


My own period of doing lots of away games coincided with the Graham era and the start of Wenger's tenure, therefore I saw some great games but also some tedium on far flung fields.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

HOTSPURS AND HORSESHIT


Hold the back page! Now is the winter of horseshit as the press and pundits get all hot and sweaty over Tottenham. The SuperSoaraway, read by Sp*rs fans the length and breadth of Enfield, leads the way with it’s pro Lilly-white spin, it’s all Amazing stuff mind you;

I’m proud we haven’t spent like you City: ‘Arry says that Sp*rs haven’t spent their way to the position they are in, POW!

Tottenham’s glory days: Sp*rs have finished in the top three fifteen times since 1921, BLAM!

Harry’s hot sp*rs: Shots on target-2nd THWACK! Total shots-4th KA-POW! Shooting accuracy-4th BOOF! Goals scored-4th BOOM! Fewest goals conceded-4th WHAM! Clean sheets-4th KA-BLOOEY!

7-1 Sp*rs is Gunner hurt (you didn’t think they wouldn’t mention Arsenal did you?): 7-1 to win a third league title in 130 years, THOOM!



Sensational stuff, no?

Fact is that they are doing alright at the moment and there is no such thing as a false position, but it’s a little early for the gentlemen of the press nostalgic for the ‘glory, glory’ day s of 1961, when Man on the moon, a colour TV in every house, Concorde, England winning the world cup, Mobile phones, Pyschedelia, The Sex Pistols and cordless phones were only pipe dreams, to start talking about a title winning team.

Yet to visit Man City (where Adepaymore is ineligible) Liverpool or indeed the Emirates, and visits from Newcastle and Man Utd Sp*rs have a journey ahead of them that may contain twists and turns.

So, keep things in perspective, yes they are doing well, despite no longer being in Europe, but can we just hold back a bit? This eagerness for this Press darling of a club to succeed is almost sycophantic.

Mind you, the combination of yearning for Sp*rs to do well based on some fifty year old philosophy and ‘Arry’s status as the beloved one of the media makes it inevitable that they are lapping this moment up with gusto.

Friday, 13 January 2012

MOMENTS OF CLARITY

Following on from yesterday's post, of course there is the alternative match day experience; jump on my bike at 2:40 cycle down to the ground, lock up and in my seat for the whistle. Now i'm only an occassional bike person but it's certainly swift when it comes to getting to the Emirates.

Final whistle down the stairs unlock, ride indoors, just gone 5:00. Done.

Gives you a full day and an evening ahead. I sometimes do this in order to see a game in its purest form, with clarity and without intoxicants or build up. In a way it feels like an act of will to just go and come straight home and from time to time it is a good thing to do; it’s cleansing.

We all spend our match days differently yet unite in the ground for a shared experience. Give it a go; go straight to a game, go straight home and see how it feels.

Maybe for those who always do this, try yesterday’s version.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

A GRAND DAY OUT

A recollection of some of the times when going over the Arsenal is characterised by the act itself.

The pre match meeting in either a crowded pub full of loud and boisterous supporters or better still outside a loud pub on a warm afternoon or evening. As each person arrives the drinks order changes and the equilibrium alter based on half filled pints, empty pints and various other beverages being out of synch. Watches are checked as kick off gets nearer and the anticipation (or sense of impending doom) grows. There was a time when, going over the Arsenal, I never, ever thought we would lose a game. That mindset has changed over the years but I still feel deep down that I am not going to witness a defeat from my seat upstairs at the Emirates.
Pondering whether to partake of half time refreshments is part of the final ‘drinking up’ before heading to the ground; that and the possibility of meeting after the game; who is, who isn’t. Who’s “shooting off” or just stopping for a quick one. These matters take place as the pace quickens and the ground gets closer.

Then you’re through the turnstile and you are really at the game. You take your seats (generally after a quick trip to the toilet) and you see that pitch, those shirts, that team.

Half time can take an eternity to arrive all too soon depending on the performance or pace of the game, and half time always goes too fast. If you go to the toilet again it’s over too soon. If you stay in your seat it’s over too soon and if you go top the bar it’s over far too soon.

The second half has you looking at how long is left and makes you begin to speculate on how this match is going to turn out. Scores from other games filter through as every Tom Dick and Hilary has access to T’internet and the significance of the game you are watching can begin to change.

Hanging on to a lead and the last five minutes seem like an eternity. Searching for that equaliser in the last five minutes and time flies by. Seeking that winner and anxiety permeates the stadium. Get it and everyone’s riding high; there is nothing quite like a late winner. Should the opposition get it then that sinking feeling hits home.
 
Game over and you’re either floating on air or trudging down the concrete steps. Whatever the case, more often than not a drink seems a good idea so you head off to the agreed meeting place. On a sunny afternoon maybe it’s outside the Che a very short walk away, or perhaps the Chapman for its grimy charm. It could be the Tollington because there’s another game on SKY to watch and you’re peckish for a bit of Thai. Then again it could be The Metro is designated, as a couple of the group need to jump on the tube after a swift pint. Could be the N5 for a walk on the wild side, or a quiet drink in a warm pub with lovely food at The swimmer. Whatever the case a post match meet is a chance for celebration or dissection.
 
Some have good intentions but stay too long, some stick to their guns, have the requisite pint and head off and some make a night of it. Whatever the case the match day experience is not a manufactured term to summarise expenditure on souvenirs and corporate hospitality, it’s the actual experience of sharing the before, during and after of the game and doing it again and again.
image courtesy Flckr/iscasblogspot

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

HIGHBURY HIGHS AND EMIRATES ENNUI

In moving from Highbury to a new and bigger Stadium what was lost; the soul of the club or something more tangible?

Thierry’s goal was a memorable moment at the Emirates, but, as I suggested in my previous post, those great moments have been few at the Emirates. Highbury saw some incredible games. Triumphs and spectacle. Of course given the length of time at Highbury that comparison is going to be difficult but I would suggest that in the years at the Emirates we have not seen such greatness as we did in the preceding years at Highbury.
Beating United 3-1, The Juve game, Dennis’ goal against Spurs, Thierry’s length of the pitch strike against the same opponents, the comebacks against Liverpool, Middlesbrough and Villa, even a 0-0 draw against Real Madrid, was a truly great night. Many more games and moments at Highbury were witnessed during these years; Ian Wright beating the record, the night Dennis pulled the strings, Platt's winner against Man Utd, Reyes’ debut, The Wigan finale. So many moments.
The Emirates is our home now; that’s fact and we by and large have got used to it. We all have our routines on match day, we feel familiar in our seats, we have our bars and toilets that we visit and we know those around us, but, and here’s the thing; Sometimes it’s not enough.
We all wait for those moments and when they come we are ecstatic but the rest of the time can feel like duty. Duty to our club. The thing of it is that we are like the great majority of supporters in this respect; we keep going and vast swathes of time go past without those moments, yet that is part of the deal we make.
On Monday night we were all reminded of the reason we keep coming back, and because of Monday night we want more; more the next and the time after that. We want Emirates to be more than just our all singing all dancing stadium; we want it to be our new Highbury with the connection, soul and memories that come with that billing.


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

HENRY MAKES YORKSHIRE BITTER WITH MAGIC MOMENT

Arsenal v Leeds United official programme 04/03/1950
You get the feeling that last night's programme for
 this fixture will become quite a collectors item

Last night could have been just another meeting of Arsenal and Leeds; and there have been plenty over the years between London's finest and the Yorkshiremen, but last night was just like the movies; a perfect script and a performer delivering his lines perfectly. The night was made special by the fans who contributed to an atmosphere of anticipation that rose to a crescendo late in the second half. The Leeds fans with their unintelligible chanting played their part in creating a vibrant atmosphere. Ramsey and Miquel put in good performances and Arshavin, although poor, put in more effort than usual. We saw glimpses from Oxlade-Chamberlaine and Coquelin (before he left the field with an injury), but as much as we tried we were unable to unlock Leeds dogged defence. A locksmith was needed and he duly arrived, to rapturous applause, and of course he obliged.
His goal was as crisply taken as any goal he has ever scored for the Arsenal and it generated a response that was 'one of those' moments.
The late goal against Manchester United in 2007 http://youtu.be/9eVShVf-Zts was the moment that The Emirates first came to life. The winner against Barcelona last year http://youtu.be/1PFVXJPx2O8 was the second and last night was the third http://youtu.be/_bNBN9XlTK0 ; moments that have defined the Emirates. 

Arsenal v Leeds United official programme 29/01/1983 F.A. Cup

Monday, 9 January 2012

DEFENCE OF THE REALM

A smiling Igors Stepanovs

With RVP's form, the return of Henry,Chamakh's poor form and the lack of clarity as to Young's ability, attack is very much a discussion point, but let's consider defencive issues for a moment.
Cygan, Stepanovs, Squilacci, Silvestre a string of barely adequate defenders that we have seen at The Arsenal in recent years. Senderos, Luzhny and Upson hardly set the defensive world alight either. Keeper wise we’ve seen Almunia, Fabianski, Mannone , Shaban and Wright; all of whom where/are nowhere good enough. Defence being a vital part of the game you would not be overly impressed by this roster of players. Even though some of these guys lifted a trophy or two, I don't think it's unkind to rate them as not being exactly top class.
Any team that goes 49 games unbeaten needs a good defence and in the case of Cole, Campbelll, Toure and Lauren Arsenal certainly had that along with Lehman as a reliable fulcrum.
It seems to me that we have struggled to cement a defence over the years and now for the first time we look like we have a decent back four and goalkeeper, only for injury to rear its ugly head again. A back four of Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Santos, with Szczeny in goal, looks like a good unit and hopefully that unit will return soon.
We’ve missed having proper full backs and this has impacted on Theo and Gervinho as they have had to drop a little to compensate. The overlapping doesn’t take place and therefore opportunities are less; which means decisive finishing is more important than usual.
Defence, and its importance, should never be taken for granted and like many a thing in life you miss it most when it’s gone. Luckily for us it will return. Let's have a victory tonight that takes us through to meet Villa; with Man City out of the cup and Liverpool or Man utd going out in the next round the FA cup is up for grabs with a touch of fortune you never know. But first things first; Leeds are by no means a formality and a good defensive display will be as important as how we do offensively.
Oleg Luzhny celebrates winning the FA Cup
 

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