Sunday, 29 April 2012

London- Missed Out Bits

One of the iconic things about our trip down to the Old Smoke was the tube. The tube did amuse me from time to time. The first being the 'Mind The Gap' motto they have started using since we were last down here (I think, as I don't remember it before). They say 'Mind The (Bloody) Gap' every time the doors open and close at every sodding stop, which means it gets said about 300 hundred times every tube journey you take.

Now, as an Arsenal fan I know that Tottenham fans have adopted this local phrase to brag about being above Arsenal in the table to us Gooners during the season, as in the gap between Tottenham and Arsenal in the table. However, since Tottenham crumbled and Arsenal's form surged, hence leading them to over- take Tottenham, Arsenal fans have rather ironically also adopted it to brag back to the over cocky Tottenham fans about being back above them as per usual. For instance, the Arsenal fans at Wolves the other week sang 'Tottenham, Tottenham, mind the gap' which was music to my ears. It's just a phrase that looks to be ending up as a very funny, ironic one for Arsenal fans this season, so it made me smile every time I heard it on the tube. It was also written on the platform edges in white spray paint, it was everywhere, (much to my Dad's annoyance, easily irritated that man ((yes, I know- pot kettle black))).

Another thing that amused me about the tube was 'tube etiquette'. All Londoners seem to have started a certain unspoken code of how to behave when on the tube. And it goes like this:

  1. There will be no looking at any other passenger for any longer than a split second.
  2. There will be no eye contact with other passengers
  3. There will be no speaking, whatsoever.

(Please note the 'tube etiquette' taking place in this picture, apart from the woman in green, she must be an out- of- towner who hasn't got used to the laws of the tube yet. 'Stop smiling! And stop looking at me! Don't you know the code of the tube woman?!')

Everybody's silent! Nobody talks, nobody smiles or even breaks their hostile facial expression. Often, away fans in football sing 'Is this a library?' to the home fans when the stadiums quiet. Instead it should be 'Is this the tube?'. Another funny thing that happened on the tube was on the Saturday night I think when our tube carriage was virtually empty as we made our way back to the hotel at about 9 or 10 o'clock at night. Dad and I were sat opposite each other and this bloke got on and could have sat almost anywhere, he had an avalanche of seats to choose from and he rather wierdly decided to park his backside right next to Dad. It was quite creepy, as Dad's creeped out facial expression conveyed. They were both snuggled up together on the end of the row as I sat there trying to keep my face straight. Slipping Dad the tongue was where the bloke went a bit overboard (I'm joking again, of course... or am I?)

Anyway, what else did I forget to mention? Oh yeah, Friday's shopping experience. We went into Lilywhites, which is a sports shop like JJB right opposite the iconic Piccadilly advertising thing and right next to the Piccadilly Circus tube station entrance/ exit and an iconic statue (all pictured above, apart from the tube station entrance/ exit). I, with my eye for a bargain (I'm from Yorkshire remember), spotted some nice looking trainers on the cheap, so went to try them on. However, I had to make my way through the barrage of people just stood around with shopping bags not shopping, just getting in the way. People also leave shopping bags on the chairs where you try shoes on! Get them off there you morons! That's where people sit to try on footwear,it's not a place for bag storage. Bloody Londoners, no etiquette (apart from on the tube, of course).

After I tried them on, I went to find Dad. I couldn't find him as the place was packed and I was confused as to which floor he was on. I eventually found him and bought the trainers. £10 they were, pretty good as they're very trendy in my opinion. It's quite ironic it's called 'Lilywhites' as that's Tottenham's nickname, yet it's filled with Arsenal stuff. A big picture of Theo Walcott decorates the staircase, a signed Jack Wilshere boot is also there I think and there's a load of good Arsenal gear on the 2nd floor. Good for Gooners.

Earlier in the day, we went for a spot of lunch at Bella Italia, one of the 5,460 Bella Italia restaurants there. There were almost as many of them as there were 'Pret A Manger's'. This was a nice surprise for me as I'm not used to having this sort of meal for lunch, it's more of a tea thing usually. Lunch is more usually some fruit and sweets or a plate of oven chips with something chicken- orientated, but this was delicious Italian cuisine, yummy yum yums. We went to the back of the room and sat down. We were innocently looking at our menu's when a door next to us flew open and a tall Italian* man looked down at us and aggressively said 'what do you want?'. We both jumped. 'Yipes' I thought, 'where did this guy come from?' 'Some food would be nice' I said. No I didn't really, in fact, I can't remember what we said. My mind's hazing from him tieing us to chairs and shining a torch light in our eyes and electricuting us until we told him what we wanted.

*I say 'Italian', he was probably as Cockney as they come, but put on an Italian accent when serving the customers. But then when he goes 'backstage' into the kitchen, it's all 'Oy Tony, there's a capple o' geezers wonting sam o' that pasta nosh, taybew faw'.

(He looks a bit more feminine in this picture, but you get the point- bloody Goggle Images didn't have an aggressive looking male waiter.)

The meal was very nice when it came, 'Polpette Americano' for me (Spaghetti and Meatballs). We then went and did the Covent Garden things I mentioned in the 'Day 1' blog, we also walked round Hyde Park Corner, lovely park, and walked past the Hard Rock cafe. My Dad told me that Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone were responsible for it being there and that they owned it. I had the amusing image of Bruce Willis behind the counter in an apron serving people coffee and scones. '£3.75 please' he'd say in his John McLane voice, (customer gives him the money) 'Yippi Ki Yay Mother F****r' he'd reply. It turns out he was wrong about that anyway, they own 'Planet Hollywood'.

Another place we went browsing in was Harrods. To be honest, I think that shop is filled with people like us all the time, just people going in there and saying 'bloody hell, look at how expensive that is! You can get a buy one get one free offer on them at Tesco's and they're £3.00 cheaper there.' We went round the food section first, I got myself a cookie, which I had later on that night in the hotel room watching a stand- up comedy show hosted by the guy that plays 'Thermo Man' in 'My Hero', the Irish dude. It wasn't that expensive either, everything else was mind you. The clothes, the gym and sports gear, most of the other food. I was looking around the gym gear and they had this new, small water thing that looked quite good, but not extraordinary. It was in the £100,000's I think. What a rip off. You could get treadmill's for thousands of pounds as well. Why wouldn't you just run yourself on a pathway or field and save yourself a few thousand bob? Beats me.

(Here's 'Harrods', looking an awful lot like The Plaza Hotel in New York City- or at least this is how I remember it looking in 'Home Alone 2' when Kevin's checking in.)

Another thing that caught my eye with 'Harrods' is that you apparently have to be a super hot woman in your mid- twenties to work there as a shop assistant. I was minding my own business looking through the men's clothes section when a young blonde woman appeared and asked me if I needed any help. 'No thanks' I said, although it might have squeaked out of my voice as I stood there like an in- awe dog of this beautiful woman. Of course, being a male, I'd already noticed the attractiveness of the female workers there, but this one just highlighted it with shininess and flourescentness.

You don't get that in 'Next' in Wakefield do you? You get spotty, fat teenagers grumpily asking you if you want any help and then scowling at you merely because of your presence in the shop. I'd like blonde Goddess woman thanks, not acne- suffering miserable fat git boy that looks hungover. That's the difference between 'Harrods' in London and shops in downtown 'Wakey'.

Anyway, that's it, for now at least. I hope you enjoyed my words. I've still probably missed out the odd detail, but nothing huge I hope. If I realise over the coming days or weeks that I have, I'll put it in here if it's worth telling. Overall, it was a great weekend with much to write about (as you can probably tell). Thanks for reading and good night (or day, depending on what time of day you're reading this at). ;)

Thursday, 26 April 2012

London 2012- Day 3

After Saturday being revolved around the football, we were back to sight- seeing on Sunday. On Friday we'd seen Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus (which I learnt is Latin for 'Circle'), Hyde Park Corner, Covent Garden and a bit of Leicester Square I think.

So what was left? Ah yes, the open top London bus tour and the museums. We started with breakfast again, only this time with a lot less football fans around. I grabbed a muffin on my way out again, for some reason this amused my Dad. He said I was being like you Unc Dunc. I wasn't aware of your apparently notorious muffin stealing days.

So anyway, after much searching we found the starting point of the open top bus tours thanks to a dodgy Del boy-ish character that sold us the tickets for it. The weather was very cold but we sat on the top deck anyway, underneath the shelter at the front. I was quietly enjoying that, listening to the woman speaking in the earphones (a recording, not a miniature woman) when some German sounding bloke came and plonked himself next to me. I budged up for some reason, fully aware that I'd tried the earphones in that seat a few minutes ago, only to find out that they didn't work. Despite this I budged up, thinking they might be working again. I'm too nice at times. It still didn't work. Between us, we managed to get the frankly quite rude foreigner away so he could badger someone else and I got my earphones back. Lesson for future reference: be a miserable bastard to anyone who tries to sit next to me on an open top bus tour, especially when they're quite rude.

We got off after a while and wandered round, quite lost. But we eventually found the museums. We saw the History one had a looooooooooong cue, but we managed to find the disabled entrance round the side of the building and walsed in there no problem. I must say, it wasn't really my can of Pepsi Max. It was too Geographical and made me feel that I was on a boring school trip with Ms Bruce from A- Level Geography. The Science one wasn't much better, again not my sort of thing, but it wasn't the worst thing ever. One or two things in there mildly interested me, but not enough to make me want to stay for longer than half an hour. Still, it was nice to see what they were like and now I can say 'I've been to the London museums', which is also nice.

We then went back on the bus tour for what turned out to be a longer time than expected and planned. We ended up stuck in traffic for ages but on the plus side, we got to see more sights and we happened to be stuck in horrendous traffic on Tower Bridge, looking out towards London bridge whilest Dad gave me updates of Man Utd v Aston Villa on his phone behind me. We eventually got off and walked to the nearest tube station. Shut. So we had to get a bus back to Piccadilly before getting the tube there to Kings Cross as we now needed to get back there for going home time, unfortunately.

We both had a burger at the freezing cold train station and sadly caught the train home. We were sat right behind a bunch oof loud Doncaster lasses and I read and finished my Jason Manford autobiography. We arrived back at Wakefield Westgate just after 10pm and Mum met us on the platform before driving us home. It was sad to be home, the hardest part was accepting that we wouldn't be going back there in a few weeks for the final.

Overall, it was a lovely weekend and, despite the result, I enjoyed myself very much. I'd love to do it again and will be very keen for Everton to get to Wembley again next year. Maybe more than once this time, who knows?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

London 2012- Day 2

This was it. The moment we'd been waiting for. Arsenal had just won the league... no wait, not that one. Ah yes, it was Everton v Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi- Final at Wembley. It was here, the moment I'd been counting down the days for 2 weeks and 4 days. Ever since we drove back from The Stadium Of Light (Sunderland, not Benfica) on Tuesday 27th March 2012, we were excited about this day, especially me.

I got up in bouyant mood, knowing that the game was only 4 or so hours away. We bathed (not together) in the hotel room, then headed down for breakfast. It was like the last semi- final we were in London for, we were surrounded by other football fans, this time some were in blu and some red. What it meant was, we were surrounded by scousers. I'd forgotten to wear trousers with zips on the pockets to protect my phone and wallet. Damn.

Anyway, we enjoyed the brekafast; fruit (pineapple, melon, watermelon for me), sausage, bacon, beans and hash browns. Mmm, yum. I then grabbed an apple and a lovely chocolate muffin on our way out as we headed to Wembley. I think we set off at about 9.40am for the 12.30pm kick- off. Destination: Wembley Stadium. ETA: 11.00am. Mission: Enjoy the game and hope to come back later excited about another trip there in May. We walked about 4 miles to the ground, eventually got there after a couple of dodgy detours and saw seas of blue and red making their way to the match. It was great, the time was nearly here and as silly as it may sound, I enjoyed seeing all the other fans and walking up Wembley Way, it's a great buzz for an avid football fan like myself. My Dad took a picture of me at the scene and I then bought an Everton Wembley scarf for £10. £10! Good job it was my Dad's money.

We then had a wander round half of the ground to our turnstile and made our way inside. 'cbdjcbaebfoefamfaf?' the steward inside said. 'What?' I replied. 'Ddfnjdsbfjsfaf.' God knows what this guy was saying. I couldn't hear him. I don't know why, there wasn't a massive amount of noise, he was right in front of me and he was supposedly speaking English. He said it again and I heard it a bit clearer. It was something like 'Can I search you Sir?'. 'Yeah' I casually answered. Why did I say that? I may as well have just said no. I don't want some steward putting his hands all over me. i just want to empty my man trunk and go to my seat. Well anyway, he searched me and found the bomb. But he let me in anyway.

We went to our seats, Dad not having being searched (ageist bloody stewards). The sun was still shining, in our eyes as well but I didn't care. The view was terrific, the seats were great and we were half an hour or so away from kick- off. Just enough time to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the pre- match build- up. the 'how they got here' on the big screen, reading the programme I also got outside the ground and looking around for people we knew form Goodison. Unfortunately, we didn't see anyone around.

Then the time arrived. Kick off. The atmopshere was great and I was enjoying every moment of it. The game was good, it was quite even and the occasional chance came about for both teams. I don't want to talk too much about the actual game because it still hurts a bit. I know you're thinking 'Hurts? You're a bloody Arsenal fan Tom.' But yes, I was very disappointed. My dreams of a return for the final had been dashed. And to make it worse, if anything, Everton had been ahead for about 1/3 of the game and behind for only 4 minutes or so. It was quite hurtful, I was desperate for Everton to win and pretty much always expected them to from the moment they knocked out Sunderland. My confidence had decreased after Liverpool won earlier in the week at Blackburn in the final minutes of the game, but I still fancied the Toffees.

We walked and bussed it back to the hotel, disappointed. The rest of our day and trip was somewhat muted to an extent by the dejection of the defeat. We later had tea at 'Garfunkel's' where I had a nice Spag Bol and lovely chocolate fudge cake with ice cream and chocolate sauce. Lovely jubbly indeed.

We also went to the cinema again after discovering 'Noises Off' had sold out at the theatre and we were an hour too early for the next performance at 'The Comedy Store'. We ended up going to see 'Cold Light Of Day', which was much better than Contraband, probably a 7.5 out of 10.

We then wandered around Piccadilly for a bit and sat in an empty cafe having a drink. The night wasn't one of rejoicement, but we were having quite a good time still, drinking an in empty cafe while the presumed owners stared at us aside. Though that wasn't bad, quite amusing actually.

Monday, 23 April 2012

London 2012- Day 1

Last week I, with my Dad, visited London for the Everton v Liverpool FA Cup Semi- Final. We decided to make a weekend of it, so we went on the Friday morning. We got up at early o' clock in the morning and were driven down to the train station by my Mum.

She took joy in getting up early and taking two of her most loved ones to the train station so they could have a great weekend away, one they were very excited about... yeah right. She sulkily took us down to Wakefield Westgate and moodily waited with us for the train to come after we were all offered some breakfast food sample on our way in, about 4 blooming times. Still, credit to her for taking us, I could tell it wasn't how she wanted to spend her Friday morning.

The train came and we rode off feeling like Harry Potter in 'Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone' as we waved at Mum from the train on our way to Hogwarts, I mean London. Then we were pleasantly surprised at how empty the train was. We thought it would be packed but there was hardly anyone on it. We enjoyed the train journey down, taking in the famous, luxurious sites that even many foreign countries rave about in their holiday brochures; Grantham, Stevenage and Doncaster being among them. Ah, the great English lands.

We arrived at London's King Cross and St. Pancras Station, again feeling like Harry Potter as the station platforms looked a lot like the ones in the Harry Potter films, so one is suspecting that is where that was filmed. The only shame was I looked like a right wierdo when I tried running through the Platform 9 and three quarters wall and just bashed into it rather than making my way through. I got a few funny looks from the signalmen and fellow passengers, I can tell you.

We took the tube to drop our luggage off at the hotel (The Ramada) in Ealing Common, before going to Piccadily Circus and enjoying a lovely lunch at Bella Italia, one of the 715 that are situated in the London area.

We followed that with some wandering around. We wandered around Covent Garden and saw two men apparently high on drugs 'performing tricks'. They were situated seperately. The first one was messing around surrounded by a big crowd. He put down his spliff (I'm joking of course) and picked out members off the audience to pick on and/ or select as 'volunteers' to assist him in his 'tricks'. Basically, he did next to nothing, but he was OK, I can't remember exactly what he did do but I think he did a couple of handkerchief- type tricks, but that's about it. We meandered down the path and onto the next trickster. His crowd was smaller... and we soon found out why. He threw a club (yes that's right, 'a' club) in the air and caught it and looked around the audience for approval. The cheeky bugger then had the cheek to look at me and signal with his face for me to smile, or even laugh. 'At what?' I thought, all he did was throw a club in the air. I'm a Yorkshireman, I ain't smiling 'till I'm impressed pal. Cheeky pratt, I'd only just turned up and he was criticsing my facial expression. I could have criticised his entertainment skills while we were at it, but thought better of it. He then picked on Dad. 'Step forward please Sir' he said before Dad, looking embarassed and as if he just wanted to sink into the earth and crawl away from this looney toon, obeyed his command. He didn't want him for any trick or act, he just wanted him to step into the audience more rather than standing a step or two further away. Boy, this guy was fussy. If you make an enemy of the audience, the audience will make an enemy of you.

And so we did, as we walked away quickly afterwards and got some very expensive pick 'n' mix. We went to the nearby cinema's and theatres to view what our options were in terms of evening entertainment. We later elected to go to the cinema and watch 'Contraband'. It was an OK film in the end, it was pretty poor to be honest until the last 20 minutes or so, which is when it bucked up. The best thing about it for me was Kate Beckinsale (I'm sure you can imagine why). I'd give it a 5/10, not too good but not awful. The meal afterwards was lovely. It was at a place in Piccadily Circus called 'Adam's Rib' that had a lovely view of the Piccadily Circus area. The main course (Scampi and Chips) was nice, but the pudding (Strawberry and vanilla ice cream with strawberries and strawberry sauce) was on another planet. Yum.

We then went back to the hotel and I thought about the game ahead the next day. I couldn't wait to set foot in Wembley Stadium for an FA Cup Semi- Final again. Only this time, without the stench of stale beer swimming around my feet and a very loud, roudy, crazy lady behind me like the Spring of '09.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Summer Targets- What Arsenal need to do to be able to challenge for the title next season

Obviously, Arsenal need to sign players to be able to move forward and be able to challenge for actual success next season. But what is success? Success isn't just finishing above Tottenham or Chelsea and finishing in the top four. Success for Arsenal would be winning the Premier League or Champions League.

And to be able to do that we need to, first of all, keep Robin Van Persie, Alex Song and Theo Walcott. All three's contracts are running out in the summer of 2013 and we need to tie them down to longer term contracts, especially Van Persie.
Second of all, we need to improve the squad, not just maintain it. In my last article, I wrote about which players I think Arsenal should sell. So the likes of Arshavin, Squillaci and Djourou need to go and we need to replace them with better players that are more likely to help the club move forward.
The positions I think we need to improve are; centre defence, left back, defensive midfield, out wide and up front. That's quite a lot of positions, but I'm talking squad- wise. If we improve at the right standard in these positions we have a good chance of winning the league. Improving 2 or 3 of these positions will maybe see us challenge for the title, but fall short and finish around 3rd.

I still think Wenger has to go if Arsenal are to move forward. The same flaws exist at the club season after season, Wenger's flaws. His mentalities aren't always good enough to win the league (e.g. his over- attacking mentality holds us back, as well as his usually poor defensive acquisitions and poor defensive tactics), he refuses to adapt to difficult situations in games and he continues to mess up in the transfer market.

But that's another issue. I think if we signed the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Yann M'Vila, Lukas Podolski, Saloman Kalou and another striker, we'd have a very good squad capable of being able to win the league and, dare I say it, the Champions League.

Of course it's easier said than done, but this would be a great squad for next season, hyperthetically:

GK's: Szczesny, Fabianski, Mannone

Defenders: Sagna, Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Vertonghen, Gibbs, Santos

Midfielders: Song, M'Vila, Wilshere, Ramsey, Arteta, Rosicky, Frimpong, Coquelin

Wingers: Walcott, Chamberlain, Gervinho, Kalou, Miyachi

Strikers: Van Persie, Llorente, Podolski, Vela

Like I said, it's easy just to say names, but I'm just being hyperthetical. Players of this calibre in these positions will significantly improve our squad. I don't know if Llorente would be available at all, and if he is I don't know if it would be for a reasonable price, but the likes of Roberto Soldado and Olivier Giroud would also possibly be very good signings.

The point is, this is what Arsenal need to do to achieve real success next season.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Summer Sales

I think there is still quite a lot of 'deadwood' at Arsenal that needs to be removed this summer. There are mumblings coming out about what wages a lot of Arsenal's squad players are on. Players like Diaby, Denilson, Almunia, Djourou and Bendtner are on laughable wages, reportedly around the 50k, 60k, 70k mark, which is beyond riduculous.

These are players that are squad players at best. Players that probably aren't good enough for Arsenal, a club that should be aiming to win the Premier League and the Champions League. And you're not going to do that with players like Denilson, Djourou and Chamakh in your squad. Therefore, we not only need to get rid of these players becuase they're not good enough, but also because they're on silly wages, that could be better spent on better players that are more likely to help the club move forward and achieve things, success, finally.

Abou Diaby is one I have always had doubts about. He looks a good squad player, but he is too injury prone and regularly fails to earn his 60k a week wage. There's no real point in having someone so injury prone, who isn't really good enough to ever be a first choice centre midfielder for an Arsenal side. Not if we want to achieve things anyway.

Denilson, Djourou and Squillaci certainly aren't good enough for the Arsenal squad, nevermind the first team, so they should be sold too. Chamakh and Arshavin need to go too, Chamakh is an appauling player that just doesn't seem to have the passion or the spirit to play in the Premier League. Arshavin lacks the desire and the commitment too, and is more of a liability than a benefit to the team when he comes in. Plus, it might be good to get his personality away from Arsenal's younger players, to whom he isn't a very good role model to. Also, these are both players on very big wages again, so we certainly shouldn't keep them.

Nicklas Bendtner's a curious issue. He's not a bad player, will notch the odd goal, but is that really good enough for Arsenal? The trouble is, if we sell so many players, we're going to need to bring in a lot, but Bendtner is another one I'd sell, because he's on very high, overpayed wages and is a bad influence in the dressing room. He has more push factors than pulls. Another one to get rid of.
Andre Santos is probably my most controversial member of the 'get rid' list. He seems surpirsingly popular with Arsenal fans on Twitter, but I just can't understand why. He was a poor buy. He's a defensive liability, constantly giving the ball away in stupid positions and has struggled a few times with players running at him and in behind him, like at Chelsea. He's a good threat going forward, but the priority for a 'defender' is to be able to 'defend'. He's too much of a liability, lacks pace, is getting into his early thirties and does silly things when on the ball. I just don't see it with him, he's another player that costs us more than he benefits us. Even when he came on for half an hour in what was a very comfortable game at home to Aston Villa last week, he almost let them back in the game by giving the ball away in a stupid position, just outside Arsenal's penalty area and that could have cost us 2 points, or even 3. Luckily it didn't, but no thanks to Santos. Get rid.

So the players I'd get rid of are:
  1. Almunia
  2. Arshavin
  3. Chamakh
  4. Djourou
  5. Squillaci
  6. Bendtner
  7. Denilson
  8. Diaby
  9. Santos
  10. Miquel
These players, in my opinion, are quite obviously not worth our while, nor good enough for Arsenal if the club wants to move forward.