Friday, 31 May 2013

Favourite Moments of the 2012/13 Season (Part 2)

6. Sunderland 0-1 Arsenal. This is mainly because I went to the game. I've only been able to go to 2 Arsenal games this season and this was the only one we won. We also played extremely well, in the first half we ran rings around Sunderland and probably should have been about 5 up. Santi Cazorla in particular was majestic. Then in the second half after Jenkinson got sent off we still had a few good chances to settle the win but it was defensive resilience and solidity that was impressive in this half. Sagna and Mertesacker at centre half were excellent, Szczesny was outstanding and everyone just pulled together to grind out a very satisfying, nerve-jangling 1-0 win. I was so nervous watching up in the heavens that I jumped up and celebrated when Szczesny caught a late cross when the bodies were piling into the box. I kept checking my watch, dying for 4:55 to come and it finally did. It was also great to be in and amongst Gooners, especially the away fans. It's always a terrific atmosphere in the Arsenal away end and nice to be around your people.

7. Bolton v Everton/ Brighton v Arsenal FA Cup 4th round. Going to the FA Cup tie at the Reebok Stadium, Arsenal meanwhile faced a tricky tie at Brighton. I was desperate for both sides to get to Wembley and this was a necessary step to take in order to get there for both teams. In the snowy weather I enjoyed a beautiful strawberries and cream Krispy Kreme doughnut and then went on to the game. It was a decent game evenly balanced at 1-1. Meanwhile Arsenal were also drawing 1-1 at half-time at Brighton. Then later in the second half Everton, who were playing poorly scored through Heitinga in the last minute to send Everton through. I was pleased almost as if Arsenal had won it late on and one of the teams I wanted to get to Wembley was now one step closer to doing so.

Then coming out of the ground I found out via phone that Arsenal had also snatched a late winner to win 3-2 at Brighton. It was great, both our teams getting late winners to get to the 5th round. Those are the FA Cup magic moments everyone always talks about. I then enjoyed a freezing cold walk back to the car in the dark. Not one of those cold, dark walks after a defeat where you're miserable; one of those cold, dark walks back to the car where you're warmed by the feeling of victory, or in tis case, double victory.


8. Everton 3-3 Aston Villa. This is purely because it was a cracking game. It was twisty and turny and Everton v Aston Villa games are usually very good and this one was up there with the best. 3 goals in each half, plenty of goalmouth action and good attacking football and a great goal scored by Christian Benteke, but the main reason it was great was an awesome cross by Matthew Lowton.

9. Reading 5-7 Arsenal. I came back from a driving lesson looking forward to watching Arsenal play at Reading. I generally relax a bit more when it coms to League Cup games, hence the looking forward to it. After about half a hour we were 4-0 down (not very relaxing). It was humiliation territory and slate everyone territory (and rightly so). However Walcott got a goal back before half-time and Arsenal ended up equalising in the 6th minute of stoppage time at the end of 90 minutes to make it 4-4. It was such a relief, firstly avoiding humiliation and secondly staying in the Capital One Cup. We then went on to be level at 5-5 going into the 120th minute of an amazing game and broke on the counter attack. Arshavin's shot was cleared off the line and Walcott smashed the ball in in front of the ecstatic Arsenal fans to make it 6-5 to Arsenal. I was elated, what a comeback! A last minute winner! Chamakh (who actually had a very good game after the first half by the way- when he was woeful) scored his second of the game on the counter attack to make it 7-5. It was an amazing comeback and a great night. The only thing that ended up marring it was the fact that we went out to Bradford in the next round.

10. Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal. Arsenal had drawn their first two games 0-0 and so there was a bit of disappointment looming as we went to Liverpool. However the team that day put in a great performance both offensively ad defensively and could have won by more than the two goal margin. Santi Cazorla lit up the ground; him, Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta all put in midfield master classes and ran rings around Gerrard and co. Gerrard was largely at fault for out first goal as well (Lukas Podolski' first goal for the club) so that was a nice bonus. It was a great relief when Cazorla made it 2-0 and it continued our recent great run at Anfield (we haven't lost there since that Champions League robbery in 2008, and haven't lost in the league there since 2007- winning 3 times). I was watching it live on Sky and had a great afternoon enjoying that great win and revelling in it afterwards.

Favourite Moments of 2012/13 Season (Part 1)

As I have a duel role in the football world of being an Arsenal fan and a season ticket holder at Everton, there will probably be a mix of both teams in my favourite moments of the season. Some Everton games I've been to this season have been terrific and sometimes even match some of the best Arsenal moments of this season.

1. My favourite moment of the season was Arsenal's win over Tottenham in November. Who'd have thought after last February's 5-2 win over them we'd beat them by the exact same score line again the next season? I remember being home alone with the dogs, them sat in front of me staring at me due to my tension. I was, in Layman's terms shitting my pants nervous and couldn't wait for it to be over after a nice comfortable Arsenal win.

Adebayor put Tottenham in front after a sloppy, nervy start from Arsenal. Tottenham were in the ascendancy and Lennon nearly put them 2 up. But then we started to take control a few minutes before Adebayor was sent off. Then we were all over them like a rash and Mertesacker equalised. I jumped up and frightened the hell out of my dogs by screaming 'YES! GET IN YOU BIG FUCKING GERMAN!' Then Podolski put us 2-1 up a few minutes before a great Cazorla run and cross was slid home by Giroud. The stadium was buzzing, I was buzzing, I'd nearly lost my voice already and by now the dogs were in the garden.

3-1 at half-time and Tottenham were down to 10 men. Brilliant. Of course being the paranoid, can always imagine the worst fan that I am, I was still pretty nervous and was dying for us to net a 4th to settle it. And that soon happened on the hour when Cazorla struck in the 4th expertly. I was up celebrating again, punching the air and oddly looking at myself in the mirror as I celebrated. Unfortunately Bale scored out of nowhere to make it 4-2 and sent the ecstasy of all Arsenal fans to nerves and Tottenham actually had a couple of chances. But after a nervy 5 or 10 minute spell, on reflection it was comfortable for us, and the cherry was planted on the delicious chocolate fudge cake (odd mix) when The Ox (you can't call him 'Chamberlain' now, it's 'The Ox') drove forward as only he does best to set up Walcott for the fifth.

It was a great day, I went out walking the dogs and watched the chit-chat afterwards with such glee and had an awesome evening revelling in the much desired North London derby win.

2. Early season Monday night Everton games. Second on the list of my favourite moments was the two cracking night matches back in August and September. Everton played at home to Man Utd on the opening programme of the season on a Monday night and I couldn't wait for it. It was an excellent game played in a great atmosphere with some top football on show. The excitement of the new season starting just budged the adrenalin up a notch as well. Just to be going to games again was great enough, let alone it be against Man Utd and a great game. Plus, we saw David Weir pulling into the car park outside the ground in his mini. If that doesn't get the adrenalin pumped for the start of the season, what does?

Then a few weeks later the second home match of the season was also played on a Monday night. It was also incidentally my first day at university so I was a little nervous about that. Therefore all day I was looking forward to my longest day at university of the week ending so I could get going to Everton v Newcastle, a game lined up quite well as both teams finished close to each other in the table the previous season. Not to mention both teams having a fair bit of attacking excitement in their line-ups.

I was just looking forward to it all day, excited about the game, and had had a successful first day at university. Then before I knew it I was on my way to the game. The first half was a bit one sided but nonetheless entertaining, Baines putting Everton 1 up. The second half was more even after Newcastle made a sub at half-time, bringing Demba Ba on, and they equalised through him pretty quickly. Then it was end to end, Everton looked dangerous, Newcastle counter-attacked dangerously and the game was such a joy to watch- both teams attacking and the game being in the balance. There was a lot of drama in the second half too, Everton controversially having two rightful goals not given- one being when the ball was actually over the line and one being a wrong offside decision. Despite that, after a frantic second half thus far Victor Anichebe slammed the ball in the net at the Glwadys Street End in the 86th minute. However there was more drama to come as nerves in the Everton defence let a long, hoofed ball get to Ba, who again equalised. It was a fabulous game and I even remember the chit-chat on the radio being enjoyable on the way home.

3. AND IT FALLS TO JELAVIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIC!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes my third favourite moment is again an Everton- related moment. It has a bit of Arsenal in there too on the basis it was against Tottenham. This was another game I was really looking forward to. The Christmas holidays were approaching, Arsenal had won the previous day and it's usually a great game when these two meet at Goodison Park. The game was surprisingly lacklustre until the last 15 minutes. Everton were poor, Tottenham were also quite sluggish. Then Clint Dempsey rather fortuitously put the Spuds 1-0 up and Everton just didn't look like scoring in a month of Sundays (as Paul Merson would say). Then all of a sudden Seamus Coleman broke on the right hand side and crossed the ball into to Steven Pienaar who, of all people, headed home. I was so relieved. Tottenham were about to grab an unexpected march on Arsenal and Everton in the top 4 race. I turned to my left and shouted 'SHUT THE FUCK UP' to the nearby Tottenham fans, probably giving Kev next to me a bit of a fright. The mood around the stadium had completely changed and those visiting fans had indeed shut the f up. Then Darron Gibson sent forward a searching ball which Vellios flicked on and Jelavic prodded home. The stadium erupted and it was just such a funny, dramatic moment (and at the expense of the shit side of North London). It was great to be in and amongst that drama and atmosphere. What an ending to a match. I then joined in in the traditional 'all the best' wishes that fans exchange after the last game before Christmas. It always strikes me as a bit strange: 'all the best mate... (until we see you at the next home game in 2 and a half weeks)'.

4. The first half of the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. That 45 minutes blew my mind, it was the best half of football I've seen in a long time. It was end to end, there were 4 goals, it was evenly contested and the atmosphere was great. The only disappointing aspect of the game was that it faded in the second half. It wasn't dull but it was nowhere near as good as the first half. Liverpool went 2-0 up early on after a nervy start from Everton but then the Toffees stormed back by being level by half-time. I'd been looking forward to it all week and when it arrived it delivered above my excited expectations.

5. Finding out Arsenal had won 3-1 at West Ham whilst in Menorca. I was sitting in a restaurant and noticed that a bar across the street was showing West Ham v Arsenal on live. I could only see it really small so every now and then I went over to check the score. When I went over with suspicions Arsenal had scored, West Ham scored to make it 1-0. Damn deceptive long distance view. However I later found out after leaving the restaurant that Arsenal had equalised and spent the next period of the evening worrying about how were getting on in what I saw as a game we needed to be winning given we'd lost 2-1 to Chelsea the previous week. West Ham had started off really well as well and hadn't lost at home yet so it was lined up as a really tough game. I nervously waited for the texted news from back home about what the final score was.

My Dad received a text telling him what the score was and he revealed it to be in a way that made it obvious Arsenal had won (thanks to late-ish goals from Walcott and Cazorla). I clenched my fists and celebrated, probably looking quite strange to the other few people around that area of Punta Prima. I revelled in the win and watched with delight later that night as I watched the win on Match of the Day.

(Part 2 of my favourite moments to be revealed soon...)

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Do you ever feel sorry for Tottenham?

They are our arch rivals and there is a lot of hate between Arsenal and Tottenham, but don't you ever pity Tottenham? Don't you ever look at their frustrations and failures and feel sorry for them? Isn't it small to not pity them when year after year no matter what they do they still finish below Arsenal and the two respective histories of the clubs points to such a vast superiority in favour of Arsenal?

They have had to sit through us winning leagues and cups on a regular basis throughout various periods of history whereas we have had to sit through a lot less envy and hate. Even over recent years when Arsenal haven't being winning anything, we've still managed to out-do Tottenham during years of financial limits and transition. The last two seasons they've looked like nailed on cert's to finish above us and keep us out of the Champions League and both years they've crumbled and we've come out of nowhere to sneak in and overtake them at the expense of them missing on the Champions League.

I dislike them hugely, I hate losing to them. I can't stand their fans but at the same time I can't help but feel sorry for them. I mean come on, they thought Newcastle had scored on Sunday when they hadn't. Whilst that was amusing, it also has to provoke sympathy. Imagine if it was the other way around, you'd be gutted.

I understand the hatred more of older Gooners who have seen Tottenham win the league (OK, really old!) and such things but I have to admit there's a reluctant element of pity within me. For a group of fans to have to cope with such envy, inferiority and hate towards Arsenal must be hard. It's not that I think we shouldn't dislike or even 'hate' them back, I understand that of any Gooner. I myself have a strong dislike towards them but I'm tempted to say I hate Chelsea more. I'd rather us lose against Chelsea than Tottenham so I don't know what that suggests to the contrary. But I've got more envy of Chelsea, they've won the Champions League and now the Europa League and over recent years have won a shed load. Historically they're still far inferior to us so I'm not that envious, but my hatred is often more directed at them because currently they are enjoying a lot more success than Tottenham and, more importantly, us.

So my point is: is it inhuman to not feel sorry for Tottenham at least to some small extent? I'm reluctant to feel it because you never know when that sort of thing is going to come back and bite you. I remember playing for my junior football team and we were 5-0 up at half-time against Halton Juniors. And my watching Gran, visiting for the day, said at half-time that she 'felt sorry' for them. They then came back to give us a very nervy game and we just about scraped a 6-5 win. So the lesson was be careful what you say.

But it's just a passing curiosity about the psyche of the football fan; what does it take to feel sorry for a team you despise? Do you pity your inferior rivals, or merely enjoy your superiority over them without feeling an ounce of pity?

Monday, 20 May 2013

Arsenal Goals of the Season 2012/13

10. Walcott vs West Ham (away)

The reason I've chosen this in the top 10 ahead of goals such as Podolski v Norwich, Giroud v West Ham (home) and Podolski at Montpellier is because it was a very well created move and finished of with composure. Cazorla collected the ball in his own half under pressure from a couple of West Ham players. Instead of playing a simple pass sideways or backwards or hoofing it aimlessly away, he turned and passed the ball through the players into the path of Giroud. Giroud then ran with purpose at the West Ham defence and played an inch perfect through ball for Walcott, who made a great in-field run and finished with aplomb to put Arsenal 2-1 up in a crucial game under pressure.

9. Podolski v Southampton

This one is more simple but just as good, if not better. A freekick from 25 yards blasted into the top corner with pace and accuracy.

8. Chamberlain v Coventry

This goal was a very impressive long-range smash into the top corner of the goal. It probably won't get the recognition it deserves from most people because it was only against Coventry in the Capital One Cup in a easy win. Whereas if it was in a big game against Man Utd it would be hailed as a goal of the season candidate. The lack of occasion does however take something away from it as it's easier to try this sort of goal in that type of game, but nevertheless it was a cracking goal.

7. Cazorla v West Ham (home)

My favourite goals are team goals. This was a beautifully carved out team goal. The Arsenal players flicked the ball around West Ham's, who didn't get a touch, and a lovely ball over the top of their defence played Podolski in who unselfishly squared it to Cazorla who scored with the most delightful of flicks into the goal.

6. Walcott v Newcastle

This is very different to the last four goals described. It's an individual goal that saw excellent skill and dribbling in a tight area to get past a group of Newcastle players before having the skill and the composure to finish it off by delicately chipping the ball over the on-rushing goalkeeper from a reasonably tight angle.

5. Gibbs v Swansea

Our left back, yes our left back, collected the ball in the air after a nice ball and one-two from Giroud and after the ball dropped over him, perfectly executed a left-footed volley into the roof of the Swansea net to put Arsenal 2-1 up with just a few minutes left.

4. Cazorla v West Ham (away)

How many players can hit a ball so cleanly and expertly with their supposedly weaker foot as well as Santi Cazorla? Hardly any. He showed how good he is in this department when he accurately whacked the ball into the top corner of Wet Ham's goal when Arsenal won 3-1 there in October.

3. Wilshere v Swansea

With a few minutes left on the clock in the FA Cup 3rd round replay, Cazorla and Giroud linked up well to tee up Wilshere on the half volley from 25 yards out and he blasts it low into the net with power and drive to send Arsenal to the sunny shores of Brighton later that month.

2. Podolski v West Ham

1-0 down at home to West Ham, Arsenal passed the ball around for ages, before Cazorla played a nice pass to Wilshere who played a good ball between two West Ham players to Podolski. He takes a touch out of his feet and rasps in a left- footed drive into the bottom right-hand corner to give Jussi Jaaskeleinen no chance of saving it. The shot was struck with such power and excellent technique. Very few players hit the ball as cleanly or with as much pace as Podolski. Superb technique. And the quality of the move helped this goal to second place.

1. Podolski v Montpellier

After fantastic and dynamic forward play from Chamberlain, an excellently executed one-two with Olivier Giroud was topped off by a terrific, powerhouse volley unstoppable for the goalkeeper and taken with such expert technique and power.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Season Over- What do I do Now?

Today was great from an Arsenal fan's point of view. We won and beat Tottenham to that important 4th spot which sets Arsenal up for a real opportunity to improve the squad and start next season with optimism and as possible title contenders. This rather than starting the season with pessimism around the club and a need for re-building after losing key players.

However, it's that dreaded time of the year for us football fanatics. Mid-May. The league season is over and after next week's Champions League and Championship play-off finals, it will be over completely. And it won't start again until mid-August.

I am consumed by genuine fear and misery at this fact. My feelings today are complicated because I'm so pleased about Arsenal's completion of their mission but also depressed about the Premier League season ending. What will I do on weekends now? What will I look forward to all week? Saturday's won't be the same, Sunday's will be even worse and I'll miss mid-week and Monday night football just to top it off. Plus it's the constant thoughts about football. The constant ongoings of the season have you thinking about it all the time and keep you excited and enticed day in day out, I'll miss that.

Having said all that, this is one of the most interesting summers for a long time ahead for a lot of clubs. Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton, Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd, Liverpool, Aston Villa... so especially at the top there's a lot of change happening and there could be big transfer action with the likes of Bale and Benteke, and seeing who the likes of Arsenal bring in.

Because it is a big summer for Arsenal especially. We shouldn't lose any key players (for once) and we have the opportunity to bring in plenty of quality in order to make us title contenders again, with the reported £70 million floating around in the bank. We should also be able to release some players on big contracts like Arshavin, Squillaci, Chamakh and Djourou to free up some more dough.

I think the break from football is too long. 3 months?! I know we've got pre-season but it's not the same is it? The lack of competitiveness is sorely missed. The competitive element in football is like the bolognese to the spaghetti. Without it, it's OK but hasn't got the spice or the complexity and edge that it so needs. The break should be 2 months when there's no European Championship or World Cup. Or have it so the Football League season doesn't finish until mid to late June. That way, you'd get more coverage and ticket sales to lower league football which would promote it and help it out more financially and in terms of popularity.

I'm going to have to do things like shopping to occupy my Saturday's. Or get a job that involves me working on Saturday's. The prospects are painfully uninspiring. It doesn't seem that long since the opening day and now I'm back here again, but unlike last year with no international competition to perk up the summer months of football starvation. You may think I'm exaggerating but I'm genuinely panicked about the lack of entertainment in my life and especially my weekends over the next 12 or 13 weeks. It's usually bad enough when there's a weekend coming up where Everton are away down south or something so we're not going the game for one week, never mind there being no Premier League football for 3 months.

On the more optimistic side, next week there are two big finals over the bank holiday weekend, the fixtures will be coming out in mid to late June which is always an exciting event and when August comes the excitement alone gets you through. Knowing it's only a couple of weeks away is enough at that point. Plus the football league season usually starts off a week earlier than the Premier League season and then there's the Emirates Cup and the Communiy Shield.

So it's not all doom and gloom. And one of the great things about football is it never completely dies away. It'll still be on the back pages of the newspapers and on the telly- transfer news and rumours occurring. Who knows, it could be a great summer for Arsenal fans. Maybe it'll be a summer where we improve significantly, rather than stagger through the outgoings of star players like the last two summers.

(Image courtesy of the Daily Mirror. Accessed: on the 19/5/2013)

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Last Week

In 8 days time my time at Leeds Metropolitan University will be over. My assignments will be gone and I won't have to stress about essays anymore. The last few weeks have been hard work and tense. The last couple of weeks before the dissertation deadline and then the last 2 weeks since then have caused quite a lot of stress and hard graft. But now I'm in my last 8 days of essay writing before finally finishing.

I've only been at the university for a year so it doesn't have that feeling of the end of an era like finishing school did, or even college where I was present for 2 years. I say 'year' but I started in mid- September and will finish in mid- May so its really 8 months. It's actually a month less long than the football season. I started on the day Everton played Newcastle at home on a Monday night, it was probably one of my favourite days at 'uni' because I was looking forward to that all day. It turned out to be a cracker as well, one of the best games we've been to all season- 2-2 with a hell of a lot of drama, especially late drama.

I've had some real learning curves, met some nice people and had to read some real tosh. Seriously, whoever thought up the reading lists wants a slap in the face with an oily rag. Some of the crap I've had to read has been beyond dull and mystifying. 'And When Did You Last See Your Father?', 'Kartography', 'In The Skin of a Lion', 'Reading in the Dark', 'A Raisin in the Sun', 'The Satanic Verses' and 'Cracking India'  have all been among the string of pretty guff stuff I've had to read over the last 8 months.

I haven't disliked it, I've liked certain aspects of the experience but I will be pleased to finish next week. Not pleased to finish at university necessarily, but just be finished with the assignments and the stress and pressure that comes with them. I'm going to just chill. I'm going to spend my evenings going to bed when I feel like it, watching '24' and films until the early hours of the morning. I'm going to play Football Manager religiously, work on my fitness and body by jogging, lifting weights and riding my bike on a regular basis. I'm going to read things I actually want to read; Lee Mack's autobiography, Andy McNabb's 'Dead Centre' and Lee Evans autobiography, all presents I got for Christmas and haven't had chance to read yet. I want to carry on reading Flash Forward as well, a book I didn't get chance to finish reading whilst on holiday in Menorca in October (I loved reading that on the beach). I'm going to get the pool table out in the garage, I'm going to go out and about with recreational purposes rather than to go work. I'm going to enjoy walking the dogs twice a day again, I hardly ever walk them in the mornings these days what with university. I'm going to write a lot of my blogs; more film reviews and more football articles (especially as it's coming around to that time of year where it's time to review the season: best moments, player ratings, goals of the season, favourite away days).

And of course, among all the fun things I'm going to look for a job as I'll be in the big wide adult world as of next Monday, which scares me at the moment. I've looked forward to that prospect up until the last few weeks, the thought excited me. Whereas now it is rather daunting, I find it quite scary now it's on the horizon.