FA Cup Final Podcast: They See Us Rollin', They Hatin'
We only went and won the bloody cup. This is us talking about our big day out, the nicest/dumbest Spurs fan in the world, and quite a bit more. Extreme caution advised: In places it’s actually quite cheerful.
There’s a scene in the original version of the movie Bad Lieutenant, in which drug-hoovering corrupt cop Harvey Keitel is drunk in a bar being told that unless he pays off his mob debts they’re going to come to his house and blow it up with his wife and kids inside. The Lieutenant’s plan is to win the money back on the World Series, which the team he’s backed, the favourites, are busy doing their best to lose. Barely listening to the threats, he says: “I see it clearly now, it could not have gone any other way.”
As the Predictotronfinally reveals, the #Race4Fourth has been run, and once again we’ve emerged victorious – and this time with a couple of games to spare. Phew, etc. So, with a cup final still to play for, you might think this (heavily delayed) instalment of the A2M podcast would be our cheeriest yet. No dice. Instead, Tim, Dave and Elliot cast their moany minds back over the season, and start to think some unthinkable thoughts…
This isn’t usually hard to write after a win, but I find myself sat here waiting for the train to pull out of Paddington, and I’m almost overwhelmed by sadness. Not about the game of course, which was almost pre-season in its comfortableness. And not about the likely player departures, although I do feel sad that I probably won’t see Sagna, who’s been such a tremendous soldier, playing for us again at the Emirates. And not because of anything to do with the manager. Whatever my views on that, I’ll always love him and as long he’s here I’ll want nothing but success for him and the team.
No, I feel sad purely, and selfishly, for myself, because today was my last home game for a couple of years. I’m moving overseas in July, and although it’s a tremendous opportunity which I can’t wait to start, I think it’s only crept up on me now just how much going to Arsenal has been a part of my life over these past few years. And how much I’m going to feel the loss of it. I still remember the day Dave and I discovered, separately but at the same time, that someone at our office had a season ticket available for rent, and sending each other overlapping emails excitedly saying we should take it.
Stop me if you’ve heard this song before, but apparently it’s so hard to buy players in a World Cup year that we might have to just wait until the whole gosh darned thing is over before is even trying. Here’s Arsene’s thoughts:
"I believe this year again you will have to wait until July 15 to start going."
Hello! Me again. It’s currently four minutes to six in the morning, I’m jet-lagged to hell, and that, dear and constant reader, means I’m finally going to update this site with some Arsenal-related mots justes. It’s okay, you don’t have to say anything. But let’s not pretend you haven’t missed me either.
So, the last time I deigned to put finger to keyboard was after the Wigan game, a game which I remember with all the fondness of a complicated and painful but ultimately successful medical procedure. Actually, that’s not quite true. I remember the day itself fondly, because it was the first time I’d met Elliot/Yankeegunner, the third prong of our podcast trident, IRL. We didn’t kiss, but I’m pretty sure he wanted to. His wife’s feelings on the matter weren’t clear, but I got the sense she’d heard the “here’s why Giroud isn’t good enough…” story even mores times than I have. Which barely seems possible.
Getting up at 5.30am really does make for a different sort of disappointment. I couldn’t find anything new to say after the City draw, aside from the fact it was a decent fightback but honestly a game we ought to have been out of at half-time. So I didn’t say anything at all. I’m not sure there’s much new under the sun this time either, but here are my thoughts, including why whatever happens that contract should stay unsigned…
I’ve watched two 12.45 kick-offs here in San Francisco this season (which translates to an 05:45 start), and in that time I’ve seen Arsenal ship twelve goals. Well, I say ‘seen’, this morning I ducked out after the third, much as I did in the 5-1 shellacking at Anfield. No apologies then, and none now either. I feel numb, depressed, annoyed, bored. I’d say what we’ve witnessed has been astonishing, but when it’s the third time in the same season then that itself becomes a ludicrous claim.
March Podcast: Will It Be a Per-fect End To The Season?
The way to look at it is any North London Derby win is a thing of beauty, and even if this one did require a slightly harder squint from the beholder’s eye, you’d still take it all day long. On the pod to discuss the third win of the season against Spurs, plus the Champions League exit, and how much of our emotional well-being is now riding on winning the FA Cup (answer: all of the well-being, clearly), are – as usual – Tim, Dave, and Elliot.
Bayern 1-1 Arsenal: Was A Creditable Draw Worth The Cost?
In my unicorn-populated world of magical European fantasy, Arsenal beat Bayern by two clear goals in Munich and advanced to the Champions League quarter finals where they will now be drawn against Utd’s conqueror’s Olympiacos. In reality, chasing a two-goal win was probably a fool’s errand. And in our quixotic pursuit of progression, we have paid a heavy price.
For me that was the most important match of the season so far. And probably the most exciting one to be at, too. This was end-to-end stuff, punctuated by some excellent goals and moments of real drama. (Check out the big ol’ steel balls on Arteta to stick that second pen away. I’m surprised he can get them through airport security.) As Dave, my companion for the day and fellow podcaster, noted towards the end of the first half, it was the kind of game in which the time “just pishes away”.
Well, that was fucking awful. And, unless you’re on some sort of Kevin Costner in Field Of Dreams tip, it was probably also the end of our title challenge/tease. We have built it. They have not come. After the match, Arsene described the result as a “massive setback”, and you’ll find no argument here. Perhaps we – he and us – shouldn’t look so surprised. Arsenal haven’t won in the league at Stoke since Ramseygate. Though we tend to cuff them routinely at the Emirates, we’re yet to find a way up there.
February Podcast: People Say We're Doomers, But We're Not The Only Ones
Having let’s say semi-successfully negotiated the first horror run of fixtures, the end is almost in sight for Arsenal’s 2013-14 season, and silverware remains a real possibility. As does an arguably even more ‘exciting’ set of matches. So, as you would expect, Tim, Dave and Elliot ‘YankeeGunner’ Smith are in even more chipper mood than usual.
Arsenal 4-1 Sunderland: So There *Are* Easy Games At This Level
This will have to be a short one as I have an intimidating-looking visa application document to fill in. Not that much needs saying about what proved to be the sort of walk in the park that’s usually accompanied by bluebirds singing on your shoulder. Such was the pace of the game that the Arsenal players probably could have passed the ball around while chatting with cartoon wildlife.
When you come up against a bully, they best thing you can do is give him a swift punch in the nose.* Tonight, Arsenal faced the biggest bully in Europe and gave him a proper jab to the proboscis. But this German bully recovered, with a little help from the referee, and proceeded to give us a bit of a beating in the end.
Not for the first time, and not even that unusually, I was wrong. On this occasion, wrong to panic about a team selection that saw five changes to the side humbled at Anfield, and wrong to think we couldn’t progress in the FA Cup (which, hand on heart, I’m probably most excited about trying to win) and still field a strong side in the Champions League.
Not that it was easy. Aside from the goals, the only two clear chances I recall Arsenal creating where Ozil’s saved shot and Santi’s ejector seat of a shanked finish. Liverpool, meanwhile, made enough chances to win two games, but ended up out. C’est le sport, chums. And today I’m still wrong, but also happy. So let’s switch the usual format up and have a look at the players in some more detail…
I suppose the fact we didn’t lose means I can’t do my usual thing of completely erasing the match from history, more’s the pity. You can point at the league table all you like, but the fact remains that this was a hugely disappointing result. This was a Utd team enduring its worst season in over two decades, the schadenfreude from which Arsenal fans have taken no little pleasure in slurping up, and yet despite being in the sort of form that had seen them lose five out of eight games this year, Utd have still managed to register their usual results against us: A win at Old Trafford and a draw at the Emirates.
Well safe to say that couldn’t have gone much worse. Only last week I was smugly noting how this team doesn’t suddenly soil itself in public like the previous one did, and then whaddya know? We need to burn an entire set of away shorts. So I suppose I blame myself a little, but honestly who could see a hammering like that coming?
In some ways that was a quintessentially Arsenalish performance. A few years ago that sentence would’ve meant nuking a winning position from orbit with some ludicrous defensive mishap. Now it’s pretty much the opposite. Palace were dispatched with no muss, and no real fuss. The game never really quickened the pulse, but that’s because the 2013/14 side stands for things like good organisation, efficient chance-taking, and, most pleasingly of all, not suddenly shitting its pants in front of guests.
Deadline Day Podcast: No-one Expects The Swedish Kimquisition
Wilde, Deal, Basinger, Cattrall, Philby, Gordon, Jong-un. All Kims who I know a lot more about than Källström. And, aside from the fact at least one of those is dead, arguably all Kims which Arsenal fans would have been equally excited to see join in this transfer window.
Southampton 2-2 Arsenal: Poor Draw + Transfer Thoughts
Well that was, in a very literal sense, a game of two halves. Of those halves, I would say the first half was a total fuckshow from which only Koscielny emerged with any sort of credit at all. The Flamteta axis in midfield was the handbrake made flesh, the front four might as well have been trussed in the boot of the Arsenal coach, and beyond a single set piece scramble we didn’t muster a single shot. The half finished with Southampton deservedly one-nil up and Arsenal sympathisers grateful it wasn’t a couple more.
I have complained in a few recent posts (who, me?) that we have allowed games which ought to have been buried to become unnecessarily nervy. This was not one of those. But for a spell in the second half it did seem like one of those games in which we look content to just do enough, after which the handbrake is applied. Hell, we even tried to turn the lights off.
"Oh Wojciech, play the one about the Pope again, it’s my favourite!” Hello friends, and as usual we begin with an apology. The podcast is, once again, somewhat tardy. It’s late like an Arsene Wenger signing. Late like a Matthieu Flamini tackle. Late like a girl who’s been looking at Giroud for too long and found herself with child as a result. Probably twins. You get the picture.
This was one of those games against a side struggling badly that ends up feeling completely routine, but until we score I can’t help checking the clock every five minutes and invariably become furious with the opposition keeper’s ornate kicking routine. Stressful times. I should probably try to stop worrying, because I don’t think we’ve dumped any points from this sort of game all season. In the end, so far at least, the goal has always come. Still, me not worrying would be like Ozil not being cool. It’s not going to happen. It’s just who we are.
Aston Villa 1-2 Arsenal: The Curious Case Of The Grinning German
According to the stats mavens at Football 365 Arsenal have gone on to win all 10 of the games which they’ve been leading at half time this season. It’s a shame someone didn’t provide me with that soothing factoid last night, ideally as the game plunged from numbly comfortable to potentially cataclysmic in the space of one ridiculous Cazrola no-look pass.
Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham: Three Things I Was Wrong About
I can only assume that underneath his confused, pained expression Tim Sherwood enjoyed that Arsenal performance every bit as much as I did. Which is to say: a lot. I’ve made no bones here about my love/hate affair with the North London Derby, and sure enough I spent most of yesterday feeling various levels of sick. I needn’t have worried this time. It was an easier win than the one in the league, and had we taken a few more of our chances it could have got ugly. Which is to say: even more beautiful.
Arsenal 2-0 Cardiff: Love Blooms In Marriage Of Convenience
Whatever else happens at the Emirates this season, there will be few more cockle-warming, or unlikely, moments than hearing the entire crowd united with love for Denmark’s second most popular export beginning with a B. (Nicklas is behind bacon, but ahead of Borgen.) Saint Nick entered the pitch on the 65th minute – slightly before Arsene’s mandatory substitution time, so you could tell things were serious – to roars of approval from an increasingly desperate home crowd. And little wonder: Arsenal had been pretty awful up until that point.
That dripping sound is the adrenalin slowly draining out of my body. At least, I think it’s adrenalin. Yesterday’s match was even harder to actually enjoy than the last one, but ultimately provided three points which feel as significant as any earned this season. Context here is everything. A day earlier Utd and City had chiselled out one-nil wins against Norwich away and Palace at home. Getting the win while not on song is the stuff of champions, so the cliche goes.
Three points, Christmas not ruined, thank fuck for that. It occurred to me around about the 55th minute yesterday that for all that I love football, I don’t actually get to enjoy – at least in the conventional sense of the word – watching my own team much. Which isn’t a criticism of Arsenal per se. Following a team that’s been ensconced in the top four over sixteen consecutive seasons inevitably means you win more than you lose or draw.
The greatest satisfaction I can take from last night’s performance/result is that I decided not to attend the Emirates, reasoning (correctly) that First Great Western’s plan to cope with monsoon conditions would be about as effective as opening a Hello Kitty umbrella in a volcano. Given that the last game I chose to swerve was the 3-1 shellacking from Bayern, perhaps I’m developing a nose for bum matches.
First, an apology. Due to being in the Americas, I wasn’t able (or indeed entirely willing) to write up the defeats against Napoli or City. It turns out getting up jet lagged at 4:30am to watch your team burn up like a shuttle re-entering orbit with the sunroof still open isn’t conducive to the ol’ creative juices. Who knew?
Well, I suppose this is the point where I have to put on my big boy pants and say: “you know what, Everton are a much-improved side who came to play and put in a better performance than anyone else we’ve faced in the league so far. Martinez has got them attacking in a way Moyes couldn’t, and they have several players that would be welcome in our squad.” So, yeah, fair result, and a point isn’t at all bad considering the results around us, etc and so on.
Arsenal 2-0 Hull: Enjoyable Aperitif Before The Real Business Begins
Last night, not only was I not at the Emirates, (someone else takes most of my midweek games), but I also managed to miss both goals in real time. The first because I was sailing the Caribbean ocean on a different sort of piratical adventure, and the second because I was busy swabbing my own poop deck. Yes it’s a euphemism, no I’m not sorry. And with that entirely unwelcome image seared into your poor brain, it’s on with the ‘analysis’.
My reflections on Saturday’s game will be (mercifully) short thanks to work pressures, but suffice to say that despite Utd’s struggles against Cardiff last week, I expected us to go there and win, and win we did. Huzzah!
If Arsenal Can Deal With December, They Can Win The Title
In recent seasons, Arsenal has struggled in November. Looking at the fixture list this season, it might have been reasonable to worry that this November would bring similar difficulties. But after completing a month that included two matches against Borussia Dortmund, a visit from Liverpool, and a trip to Old Trafford, we still sit four points clear at the top of the Premier League and top of our Champions League group. Now, as we enter the final month of the year, it’s time to stop thinking about road blocks and start building a bridge to the title.
Despite the twin irritations of losing narrowly to Utd and then not being able to wash the taste away for a fortnight, I was struck yesterday by how few bad results we’ve actually had to suck up since the start of 2013. It’s got to the point where not only are we not used to losing, we’re not even used to dropping points. Deep into the second half today, leading thanks to Giroud’s ceaseless graft and Boruc’s quite magnificent brainfreeze I felt… Well… Not quite confident, but certainly not the jittery bag of spanners I normally am with a 1-0 scoreline.
Congratulations to both readers who noticed that I haven’t bothered writing up the Man Utd game, a spotter’s badge is in the post. The explanation is that after the 8-2 shuttle crash two seasons ago I quietly took a decision not to bother doing anything on games against them unless we won or drew. Bitter? Petty? Lazy? It’s all these things, but like the Thatcher government’s equally futile approach to voicing Gerry Adams with an actor on the news during the ‘80s, I’ve decided it’s best not to give them the air of publicity.
Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal: Mozart Punches Slayer In The Mouth
How do I feel about Arsenal’s 1-0 win at Dortmund on Wednesday night? I feel like Borussia Dortmund can take their heavy metal, flying-V guitar and shove it right up their bumble bee asses. How about that? And all it does is make me wish that we could fly to Manchester tonight, beat United 5-0, and then watch Arsene break out a violin and play some Tchaikovsky on the Old Trafford pitch. Is that hubristic enough for you?
Did you miss me? Don’t answer that. Regular readers – hello, as always, father – will recall that my last post-match writeup was filed from a villa in Morocco. I mention this not to show off, though the beef tagine was wonderful, but to explain the lack of updates since. There was an incident with the phone line and an industrial digger, long story short of which is that I had only intermittent internet for much of the last week. Nonetheless, despite my limited ability to follow games live, I still have OPINIONS about THINGS which I am about to SHARE with you. If only to satisfy the three slightly irritated Twitter followers who complained about the dropoff in FREE content.
Crystal Palace 0-2 Arsenal: Assorted Thoughts On A Scrappy Win
My record watching games whilst on holiday is pretty parlous. Two years ago I threw myself into a Portuguese swimming pool during the 8-2 firestorm at Old Trafford (which still feels two soon to mention, even in passing), and tried to stay underwater until either death or the final whistle came. The same season I forced my girlfriend to waste a couple of hours of an otherwise wonderful trip to New York in a gloomy bar watching Kyle ‘FFS’ Walker score the unlikeliest of winners in a largely awful game at the Lane.
Arsenal 1-2 Dortmund: Beaten By The Measuring Stick
As far as performances go, Tuesday night’s display could easily have been good enough. Not good enough to draw rave reviews, but certainly good enough to come away with something from the match. Early on I thought we were caught off guard by the intensity of Dortmund’s pressing and the speed of their passing. Our spacing in midfield wasn’t great and we didn’t match their energy. That was surprising because it’s something we haven’t seen this season. It was the first time in a long time that I remember thinking that we looked a little complacent.
I wouldn’t say I was confident going into this game, because I’m never confident about anything other than the likelihood of me not being confident, but it’s indicative of my general mood towards the Norwich match that I didn’t bother with the valium that had helped smooth the passage of the draw against West Brom.
Look, okay, the timing of these has essentially gone to all shit. Blame YankeeGunner and his slavish devotion to conventional relationship norms. But now all that honeymoon unpleasantness is over, we’re back, and slightly at a loss about what to say. Arsenal are flying, the fans are happy (sort of), and even the media haven’t got anything nasty to say about… What’s that, Jack? Oh.
West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Arsenal: A Struggle To Spark + Thoughts On The Ref & Jack
Not much fun, but not a bad point. I dunno, perhaps we’ve used up all our luck against West Brom away. Only a fortnight ago we knocked them out of the Capital One Cup on penalties, and last season our ten men hung on for a vital 2-1 win during the sphincter-testing race for fourth. And, of course, the year before that we bore witness to the Miracle Of Marton Fulop – “all praise to his glory” – on the last day. So, overall, the Hawthorns has been a happy, if somewhat stressful, hunting ground.
'Belief' is a dirty word when you're a football fan. It's what makes you think that three weeks really will mean an actual three weeks when your flying winger gets diagnosed with a rare case of tummy twang. It fools you into thinking a mercurial, pot-bellied Russian will get off the donner meat and back into form. And worse, it makes you hope your football club can return to pot-winning ways as soon as you go on a decent run.
So in some ways belief is to be feared, because with it comes the possibility for disappointment – but despite all its treachery, I want to believe. And after last night my wanting to believe has reached the levels of an ET-obsessed FBI agent with a will they/won’t they crush on his level-headed ginger partner.
Swansea 1-2 Arsenal: And Now You'd Better Believe Us?
I’ve already wasted 15 minutes trying to come up with a headline based on ‘Surge Gnabry’, and failed entirely, so don’t expect anything too stellar from the rest of this morning’s post. Unlike Sky’s commentary team, I never really expected a chancefest against Swansea. If memory serves right, the previous few encounters were very cagey, and both sides seemed warier than ever of being caught up-field, sans trousers.
Thoughts On Not So Silent Stan & The West Brom Win
Last night, having read Stan Kroenke’s wide-ranging interview with the Telegraph, I noted on Twitter that he sounds like a man who’s testing the waters over taking dividends. Certainly he sounds like he has no problem with owners taking a cut of their team’s profits. I received several responses along the lines of: “duh, that’s capitalism.” To which I say, sure, but I don’t have to like it. I do, however, want to clarify why the idea of dividends makes me uneasy. While I don’t dispute that, legally, any majority investor is entitled to a cut – equally, as a fan, I’m under no obligation to think that doing so is a good or even neutral thing.
"…meanwhile, over in Bizarro World, Arsenal completed a comfortable victory at the Emirates, scoring three goals from set pieces against a Stoke team that mostly kept the ball on the deck and managed not to maim anyone." These are strange times, friends. Top of the league, playing well but with room for improvement, and still several key members of the squad to come back. Is this what happy is, father?
Strangest of all, though, is seeing Stoke play some actual football. Their bogey team status has long been overplayed, given they almost invariably lose at our place, but having spent years railing against the brand of shitkickery purveyed by Pulis, I suppose I should at least acknowledge some attempt at evolution under Hughes, not that it did them any good in the end.
As for the Arsenal performance, the word that springs to mind is enough. Enough to take the points after a tough midweek game in Europe, enough to avoid any further suspensions or injuries (the withdrawal of Walcott with indeterminate tummy knack notwithstanding), and really enough is all that matters. Here’s a few slightly more specific observations…