Sleepless In Holloway – AFC

Sunday had begun with a profound sense of foreboding. You see after our stay of execution last week (Spurs inexplicably drawing at Villa last week) I was quite enjoying a week without football, not having to worry about injuries/if we’ll ever win without Mikel Arteta/whether we’ve scored too early etc.  Now however it was back to business, so with a quiet sense of fear I made my way to The Quays pub on Holloway Road, a trusty venue which always shows the Arsenal, with a good red-and-white atmosphere. My brother, a fellow nutty Gooner, could not bear to put himself through the wringer and decided to stay at home. I couldn’t really blame him after the way things have gone lately, especially after the Norwich result last week. That said, although I knew he’d be keeping up with the scores, somehow I wasn’t wholly convinced by his insistence on not watching it…

Some forced changes and a surprise or two in there, with Francis Coquelin, Santos and Carl Jenkinson coming into the side.  With the injury to Bacary Sagna, Jenkinson was always going to start but a little surprised to see the other two. Given our receding midfield options I guess we’re always going to see something relatively new. At least if the game goes south we can bring on Theo and The Ox to change things.

The pub fills up and we’re underway. A minute in and I notice a beachball had been thrown from the stand and was rolling precariously onto the pitch – did I need these bad omens? How about Nayim warming up for West Brom maybe? Pascal Cygan warming up for us?!

3 minutes in and the little bit of help I was looking for came in the shape of Marton Fulop. And what a big piece of help this ‘little bit of help’ was. The ball is fired back to him from a West Brom interception deep in midfield and for some inexplicable reason instead of picking it up (there’s no way it would have been considered a back-pass) he decides to dilly-dally, allowing Yossi Benayoun (sign him up) to steam in there for a smash-and-grab tap-in. Yes! One-nil to the Arsenal, and whilst I was relieved that we were ahead, it certainly wasn’t lost on me that this was almost an action replay of the Norwich match. And it wasn’t long before West Brom pulled one back, almost as if the getting the first goal meant the hard work was done. Shane Long capitalises on some slack-jawed defending and scores. Subsequent pundits have claimed that he was onside – having seen it a number of times afterwards I feel my initial diagnosis on that was correct, that he was marginally off. Still, the goal stands and you’d think this would have been a warning but only 4 minutes later Graham Dorrans puts them ahead, taking advantage of yet more lax defending.

My worries of the Norwich game repeating itself was now coming to fruition. Thankfully there was more industry from Arsenal after this and along came Santos doing I think we should do more often, when the passing isn’t working just have a dig. He duly obliged, with a great low long-range drive. Not quite Winterburn/Silvinho, but relieved to see that nestle in the net. Fulop could have done better I guess, but it was nowhere near as bad as his other errors.

Even though we were currently 4th as Spurs were winning, I was pleased to get to half-time level after going behind – we can almost disregard the first half and start anew in the second. Arsène was clearly also thinking this and has made a change – Theo’s in for Tomas Rosicky. Sorry to see him come off to be honest as I love his industry, but I admit he hadn’t had the greatest game by his lofty recent standards. Hopefully Theo can run them ragged and soften them up for The Ox. And as with so many games where we’ve behind before, there was a renewed focus as we turned up the heat. My brother walks in to the pub, stating that his wife had sent him packing because his nervousness was doing her head in. And that, in all honesty, he couldn’t keep away. I knew it! Then Fulop, fast becoming Arsenal’s man of the match, punches the ball from the resulting corner behind him to a grateful Laurent Koscielny who makes no mistake.

3-2 now, and that familiar worry of “have we scored too soon?”/” we need a 4th!” comes back, as we have nearly 40 minutes go. And West Brom are coming at us, corner after corner, it almost feels like they’re trying qualify for the Champions League. Gervinho, my next candidate for a substitution, is taken off for Kieran Gibbs, and although he wasn’t The Ox, I was pleased to see a defender come on. I’m struggling to watch this now as what I call The Spectre Of Defensive Lapses, who seemed to be ever-present in the first-team squad in the first third of the season, had returned to haunt us in recent weeks and was certainly hanging around The Hawthorns. To make things worse, I realised that Peter Odemwingie wasn’t actually on the pitch and is now coming on – I could just imagine him scoring.

Aaron Ramsey comes on, which was a surprise given his recent form. Where I stand at the North Bank he has been receiving some serious vitriol, particularly from a moronic ‘fan’ whom I will refer to as The Grumpy Sh*thead behind me. I feel Ramsey is an honest and fair player who doesn’t deserve the derision he has been getting. I’m sure Ramsey knows he isn’t playing well – berating him will not reverse his slump, so I was hoping he’d end up scoring the 4th, for both his confidence and the two proud fingers he’d stick up at the boo-boys.

Into the last 10 and I’m beginning to become frustrated as West Brom were seeing far too much of the ball. Wojciech Szczesny kept launching the ball instead of holding onto it and slowing the pace of the game down. Someone else who was getting a bit of stick during the Norwich game was Gibbs, so I was pleased with his match-saving tackle at the end of the game. It’s been said it’s the £30million tackle, and boy it really did look like one, absolutely perfectly-timed, a tackle any of the Back Four would have been proud to make. I hope The Grumpy Sh*thead saw that one.

After 5 minutes of hands-on-head, nervous-gaspy, I-need-a-wee, Arsène-Pat Rice-hugging injury time we complete the job (and without needing The Ox or an RvP goal I might add). We now know that there is nothing Spurs can do that can change our 3rd place position. As The Quays celebrates the victory the big screen switches to the Etihad Stadium, almost as if to cut short our cheers. I couldn’t stand for that and defiantly started an “Ooh To Be A Gooner” chant, which drowned out the Sky commentary. The Spectre inspired no more errors, it felt like we won through the sheer force of Arsène’s anger at times. The end of the season could not come soon enough as with the injuries to Arteta, Sagna and Theo, the tiredness of Ramsey, Gervinho and to a certain extent RvP I feel we’ve been running on petrol fumes just to get over the line. I’m not alone in being glad to see the back of this season although I feel a little strange saying that when I really think about it. Curiously there have actually been some extraordinary highlights (the 5-2, the 5-3 against Chelsea, TH12’s winner against Leeds to name a few), it’s just unfortunate that these were countered by some truly shocking results. But as every Gooner knows Arsenal rarely ever do things the easy way, so we really shouldn’t be too surprised by season-ends like this. All the worry about whether RvP will stay/who should we bring in/who should we get rid of could wait for another day, just wanted to enjoy this victory (with a lot of post-match beers, unusual for me on a Sunday). If there is one thing that is to be learned, especially by that horrible mob up the road, is that is never ever over until that final whistle.  (It is probably advisable that any ‘Mind The Gap’ pictures should wait until after this.) Now I can relax, safe in the knowledge that Spurs have come up short again and this time, there’s not a lasagne in sight.

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Sleeping is for wimps, Arsenal are playing – AFC

The big day is here, our cup final in a way. So much hinges on one game. The guarantee of champion’s league football if we get third, the future of Robin Van Persie as an Arsenal player, the pulling power of higher calibre players, the pressure back on Arsene.

We as football fans are a very fickle bunch, we go through so many highs and lows throughout a season. Silverware or a strong finish at the end of the season and we dismiss all the lows. Failure at the end and all highlights are quickly forgotten. Taking into account how badly we started the season even the most diehard fans would never have envisaged us ending up in third place. We went on such an amazing run during the final third of the season to put us in this position but lately have somewhat stumbled to some less than satisfactory results.

If we had a crystal ball back during the darks days of the early part of the season we would take the position we are in ‘3rd place with a win at west brom to secure it’ we would literally bite your hand off for that.

Being in this position now and with so much to lose as well as gain; the sense is if we do not pull off the result today there will be a massive feeling of disappointment amongst all gooners. The Wenger out backlash may resurface, well actually not may it will most definitely resurface. Every aspect of what happened this season will be examined with a microscope and the overall assessment of this season will be a massive failure. Pat Rice is gone so I wonder if his last days will be viewed with celebration of his commitment to the Arsenal or will the cyber rotten tomatoes be thrown his way.

I mean every season without a trophy can be deemed as failure but on this occasion to see the turnaround from where we were at the early part of the season 3rd place would be a pretty acceptable outcome in my books.

There is such a fine line between absolute doom and absolute joy today that all gooners are very nervous today. We believe but we also have doubt.

I mean, I didn’t even expect to blog today due to the fact that I took part in the London Moonwalk across London in the name of breast cancer. I donned a bra and walked the streets with 15,000 women (not quite the men’s fantasy you would think) from midnight. I arrived home at 4.30am and went to sleep. I woke up 8.30 and although a little sore I could not get back to sleep. I am up wide awake and blogging.

Like back in the day when you had a big exam and the night before it was one of the most uncomfortable and sleepless nights

I have Arsenal on my mind. I love my club and cannot stop thinking about today’s game. Let’s hope Arsenal pass their test today.

Come on you Gunners!!

Sleeping is for wimpszzzz…..

My big fat pre Sunday nerves – AFC

It’s nearly here, just one more day to kick off and the conclusion of either third place, the uncertainty of fourth place or the embarrassment of fifth.

This almost mirrors the feeling leading up to a wedding. As the big day looms the tension inside starts to build, your realisation that everything might not go perfectly to plan no matter how prepared you are.

The day going perfectly and as planned is equivalent to us taking third

The wedding going well but the camera with the risqué stag pictures going missing the night before could be equivalent to finishing fourth

The realisation that the big fat gypsy wedding folk are filming your big day (men, always be involved in at least some of the wedding decisions) could be equivalent to finishing fifth.

One thing we have to bear in mind is West Brom will not lie down and give us an easy game. It will be Roy Hodgson’s final game in charge before taking up England manager duty, final home game for the baggies too. Every team sets out to finish the season well in their final home game, after all you will be doing your lap of appreciation and as we learned not winning that game takes away from that moment.

I was watching the game between Bolton and West Brom last week and couldn’t help but notice the determination in the West Brom players; even after being 2-0 down they weren’t going to lie down.

They took advantage of the obvious fragile mindsets of the Bolton players and took the game to them. There’s nothing more dangerous than a team with nothing to play for.

They will want to win the game for Roy but not to the extent that they we be distraught if they lose. The gunners on the other hand will be distraught. The football gods blessed us last week with the results of Spurs and Newcastle. They won’t keep handing us gifts if we are not willing to take them. We have to win, end of.

We will be nervous throughout the game, no matter how much you prepare nerves have a way of jumping out on you at the worst possible time. Even at 2-0 up there will be doubt in the back of the mind. They pull a goal back and watch how the dynamics will change completely.

Bolton fell apart at 2-1 and I remember noticing how much the West Brom players celebrated when they got the equalizer. They had nothing to play for yet celebrated like they won the champions league with a last-minute winner. These teams with nothing to play for can be ruthless.

Norwich was the wake up call, hopefully we will have learned from that and will be on it from the get go and try to be as ruthless as possible.

There were some rumours that Chezzer was carrying an injury yesterday and could miss the game but I think that has now been dismissed.

Theo has apparently trained and could be included into the squad. With Sagna out it could mean an opportunity for Coquelin or Jenkinson. I’m sure Jenkinson isn’t injured and if so as a natural right back he may get the nod however according to the Arsenal site Wenger is quoted as saying Coquelin will deputize.

Personally I would like Coquelin as an option in midfield; we don’t seem to have a plan B at the moment as we are down to bare bones in central midfield. Whoever gets the nod at right back we will get behind them, heck we will get behind every player on that field tomorrow.

Come on you gunners!!

Enjoy your day people