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Arsenal 2 Swansea 1: About a Boy

MY five and a half year old, quite sensibly, really couldn’t care which match was to be his first. I, however, was more particular. It couldn’t be in August and September because it could feel like summer and that would be just wrong. Mid February until the end of the season was out too because assuming we’re going to be out of the hunt by then, you can easily end up with that melancholic, half drunk atmosphere which I hate. So sometime between October and early February.

But obviously not any game kicking off at some completely non footballistic time – 12pm on a Sunday for example. Or 12.45 on a Saturday. Or 1.30pm on a Sunday. Or 7.45pm on a Friday.

And high profile opposition were out too – they could wait. A win would be nice but otherwise the construct in my head said there should be no distracting, memorable features about the day. It should be an occasion that he would never forget but almost everyone else in attendance easily would.

So Swansea at home it was.

We began with fish and chips at the Chip Inn on the Holloway Road, exactly as we had on the 14th October 1989. It’s barely changed. On that occasion the wide eyed children attending their first game were my brother and I. 28 years and 14 days later, we were accompanying my eldest to his.

From the fish and chips we crossed over the Holloway Road as we had all those years ago and set off along Drayton Park. Back then we had walked until we got to the pub, turned right up the hill and then left down to the family enclosure. The route, of course, was different this time.

I bought a programme for the first time in years. In the club shop he chose a scarf. In my jacket pocket was his cuddly lamb. Lamby rarely leaves the house nowadays but his presence had been pointedly requested. First day nerves.

We had a pre-game pee because nobody wants to be leaving their seat after 36 minutes. That said, 36 minutes into this game an enforced departure from pitch side would have been a blessed relief.

And then we walked in. I saw a very empty, songless stadium six minutes before kick-off. One look at his face told you he saw something very different.

The first half vomited itself up in front of us. Sometimes a game can go really badly. Sometimes it can be really boring. Rarely is it both. But this was bad and boring. Not that he knew.

I promised we’d improve after the break. We didn’t. Then suddenly we scored twice. We played OK from then on. Not one single player really excelled. And we won. The perfect day for the newcomer.

As for the game, had it been any more unmemorable it would have been in danger of becoming notorious for being so. Really, it had been a classic of its genre. The genre being a scrappy win against a struggling side on a Saturday afternoon in October.

It had been perfect for him and perfect for me too.

68 Responses to “Arsenal 2 Swansea 1: About a Boy”

  1. PD says:

    I actually think the end of George’s era has clouded what he had done previously. (and not just the brown envelope stuff)
    I think we played much better football under George originally than some give him credit for. You don’t pick players like Rocky, Mickey Thomas, Merse, Limpar etc if you don’t want to play football. I think the Benfica game was a watershed : first season back in Europe and we got totally outplayed at Highbury. I think George retreated from there on into ultra defensive mode thinking we couldn’t match the big European teams if we tried to play. After that it was grim stuff to watch, reflected in the league results but with the odd glorious Cup moment to sustain us. People remember the end rather than the beginning.
    Sadly, history is repeating itself now & I think Arsene’s legacy is being tainted by the tepid football that is marking the end of his era rather than the simply magnificent stuff we were privileged to witness in his first 7-8 years.

  2. Elvis says:

    Totally agree PD. It needs saying too that the board starved George Graham of cash after Ian Wright came to the club, so he was asked to fight with one tied behind his back. He still managed to pull off the League Cup, FA Cup and Cup Winners Cup with a midfield featuring players like Ian Selley, Steve Morrow, David Hillier and Eddie McGoldrick. He also had half his team walking on to the field either hungover or still pissed.

    As soon as he’d gone the board gave Bruce Rioch a shedload of money for Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt.

  3. MDP says:

    George certainly left at the right time and I think his exit was coming regardless of what happened. Despite being sad the day he left I do recall knowing his best days were behind him as expectancy levels severely dropped and Arsenal were slipping towards mid-table. I will however celebrate both George and Arsene after they’ve gone purely for the incredible memories which outweigh everything so far for me.

    I know what you’re getting at in terms of reputations being tarnished and Arsene has clearly left it far too late to walk but I still believe we’d be in a much worse place had these two men not walked through the marble halls. For that, their contributions should be carved in stone for all to remember.

  4. PD says:

    In relation to 89…..does anyone know why no Kevin Richardson? Every other player involved (apart from our beloved Rocky) on the night was included but no sign of him?? Just curious.

  5. Elvis says:

    No sign of Brian Marwood either. He was so important in the squad that season. I can only assume neither wanted to be interviewed. Or maybe they asked too much money and the production company baulked.

  6. slc gunner says:

    Au revoir Theo. In fairness, you contributed over 100 goals to the club and many assists in 12 years. In the scheme of things, you really didn’t cost us that much (I think it was 12m at the time), so decent value for money for a squad player.
    That said, you were never good enough to be a regular starter on a team that supposedly wants to challenge for the league title. There is a lot of talk about unfulfilled potential. I don’t agree with any of that – you lived up to your potential, which was frankly limited. You have great pace, a decent eye for a goal, but your contribution to general play was lacking and your pace was stifled by defences that park the bus. Yes, there were overly heightened expectations at the start because you were signed at a young age and you are English.
    Playing with a club such as Everton may actually help you because teams are less likely to park the bus against the blues. Even then, I don’t expect you to suddenly become the player that everyone hoped for many years ago.
    Anyway good luck Theo. It’s not all bad, there are some good memories too. You scored in a FA Cup final and some other important ones over the years. I remember one against Chelsea where you slalomed (with a bit of luck) through their defence.

  7. MDP says:

    Couldn’t agree more SLC, a great bit of business all round even if it is about 5 years too late. A good lad who did exceptionally well to score 100+ goals considering the limitations to his game. I wish him well and sure he’ll do well for a team like Everton in need of goals but always felt we needed a more rounded, more technical winger.

    So, the transfer window could yet be positive, all things considered. I said all along that Alexis should have gone in the summer as I expressed on here. I felt then that the disruption would be too much from a player that had made his mind up and I think that is the case. I still hear Arsenal fans saying we shouldn’t sell to a rival but the damage was done long ago when Sanchez, like most of us, I suspect questioned Arsenal’s ambitions. The same happened with Van Persie although I think he maybe owed us a bit more. The same can’t be said of Alexis. I just think you have to accept that a player has gone to a place of no return and it’s all the result of bad decisions within the club, our own doing. We therefore have to take it on the chin and take the cash as the damage was self inflicted and done long ago. If it’s reinvested into a couple of players that can make the season more bearable then that’s a positive. An extremely handy goal scorer who’s stats speak for themselves and a couple of promising wingers linked could yet add a silver lining. Just hope Arsenal don’t cock this up anymore than it has been.

    I should also note… This doesn’t change the fact that Arsenal are doing nothing to address the weakest part of the team in defensive midfield. That defence is being completely overlooked as we’ve now become accustomed too. And, it doesn’t change the fact that Wenger has hit an all time low for his time at the club (Incidently, if the rumours of Ancelotti are true, I can’t think of anyone better to steady the ship in the short term and do what needs to be done) However, I do take some comfort in the fact that we can hopefully start moving the team forward at the very least with players that are happy to pull on the Arsenal jersey. The Sanchez saga was doing nobody any good and dragging everyone down. I still find it baffling that a club who play the transfer market in such a tight fisted way can have passed up such a huge transfer fee in the summer. Anyway, I hope we can move forward come end of Jan and the manager and/or board do the right thing come May.

  8. PD says:

    Sorry MDP, I like Ancelotti & at another time would have been in favour but right now? Not for me. I don’t think we need someone to steady the ship. We need someone to shake the shit out of the ship & if that means a few are lost overboard never to return then so be it !

  9. PD says:

    I seem to have lost the end of my comment ….Simeone for me is the man needed.

  10. MDP says:

    Fair point. I like the defensive and kick ass aspect of Simeone and would be in favour of anyone that will build from the back forwards after experiencing a manager that appears to lack any emphasis on defending at all. I’d also still be interested in Allegri for the same reason. I’d take these two in a second and I’m sure there may be others with some kind of proven track record.

    However, I just feel someone of Ancelloti’s experience, who has working knowledge of the Premier League and has won trophies in England as well as abroad could be the right man in the short term. I want someone who worries less about the vision of ‘the club’ and can focus more on the players and what we do on the pitch. When I say steady the ship, I mean put us back in contention for the title and put a halt to Groundhog Day. I think we’ve all agreed at times that we have quality in the squad but we’re always 2 or 3 players short, it’s time we put that right. I think he could weed out anymore Walcott’s, firm up the defence, take control of midfield and get us playing cohesive football that follows some kind of plan.

    My biggest point was that we don’t go for a virtual unknown in a bid to find the ‘New Wenger’. I’d still be happy with a Simeone but would marginally prefer an Ancelloti as things stand. I might change my mind tomorrow.

  11. PD says:

    I just think Ancelotti’s biggest gift is managing big names/ egos/ players used to being winners & keeping their egos in check enough to pull then all together. By this summer will we have any big names or egos or winners left ? Agreed on Allegri. Would like him too…but just a no to Ancelotti. Right man, wrong time.

  12. MDP says:

    You could have a point but maybe I feel more comfortable with a big name who’s won trophies everywhere he’s managed. I just fear what United did with Moyes or Liverpool with their numerous punts on mediocre managers. I guess a lot rests on how this transfer window pans out. We could have quite a frontline of names and egos if everything goes through and Ozil re-signs. That might leave us with 2 or 3 players in and out to sure up midfield and defence in the summer to have a side that can start to compete again.

    I still wonder how much influence Stan will have on things as I don’t trust him one bit. I get the impression that the board are preparing for Arsene’s exit with the new scout in place from Dortmund and negotiator from Barca. I’m just concerned that differing opinions, loyalties and Stans track record in America could make the appointment of a new manager a difficult one.

  13. PD says:

    So Alexis is gone. Such a shame. I think pretty clear at this stage it’s best for all concerned but it’s a bit cheeky of Arsene to use City pulling out as proof that we couldn’t keep him. i.e. it was all financial. I do 100% agree Alexis chose Utd for the money over City (& I think he might come to regret it) but the money is not the reason he decided to leave Arsenal in the first place. The two things are not the same. He left because he saw a future with no hope of challenging for the league or CL. (at this stage I’m not sure we’ll even play in the CL again under Arsene, never mind challenge for it !)
    Micky Taryan in style looks more like an Ozil replacement that an Alexis one too which I think is quite telling. Tough times ahead.

  14. MDP says:

    I’d agree with all of that PD.

    I’m still slightly in that blinkered period where the thought of a couple (assuming we can get Aubamayang over the line) of world class signings is filling me with excitement just because it’s something different and less dull than what has gone before and will still probably make us a bit better. But, as you say above PD, Mkhitaryan is much more an Ozil type player and everything I read of him seems to back that up.

    So, we seem to be in that familiar position of taking the ‘kid in a sweet shop’ approach to building a football team. We already have midfielders fighting over the same position, now a question mark over how we accommodate Ozil and Mkhitaryan together and potentially the same issue with Lacazette and Aubamayang. Yet, we still overlook the defensive midfield position which sits empty if we’re being serious.

    Oh well, I’m still going to enjoy seeing how we can accomodate Mkhitaryan and if he can re-discover his form at Dortmund with a bit more freedom to play at Arsenal. I enjoyed watching Chambers and Holding play together just for the break in usual Arsenal montony (even if it was throwing them to the wolves without decent defensive cover in midfield). Anything for a bit of change from the norm.

  15. MDP says:

    Okay, I thought I’d share my thoughts on recent events, starting on the positives…

    I’m delighted with the Abamayang signing. He’s always struck me as one of the best strikers out there in terms of stats and what I’ve seen him doing at Dortmund. Something about his personality has kept him away from Madrid or Barca but I don’t think we have a Mario Balotelli on our hands in terms of trouble making. I think we could now have the most talented out and out goal scorer since Thierry left for Barca.

    I think Ozil has been extremely fortunate to get such a lucrative contract based on his first three seasons at Arsenal. His performances of the last few months have swayed my thinking slightly and my gut reaction is positive about this move. I think from a PR perspective it’s a great move and coupled with Abamayang and Mykitarian I think Arsenal are a more attractive proposition and the tide of negativity is certainly reduced and changing at the very least. I certainly think that these players could attract more players of their quality should that be Arsenal’s plan in the summer.

    I also think that the addition of Sven Mislintat (Head of recruitment), Huss Farhmy(contract negotiator) and Raul Sanellhi (head of football relations) has clearly had an influence behind the scenes already. It’s an extremely healthy thing to see with Arsene relinquishing a bit of power. I’m very pleased looking from the outside.

    I also don’t think Arsenal appear ready (I hope) to go down the road of other Sports franchises owned by Kroenke although it still remains to be seen based on the above. Net spend was quite healthy in this window, I hear 7million was spent so more in the old war chest for the summer eh! (@&???!!!!??<<).

    I think all 4 outgoings were good deals and all in all considering Sanchez wanted out, I think we’ve come out of a bad situation quite well.

    On the negative…

    We still have a defensively weak unbalanced midfield, a troubled defence and an ageing goalkeeper. We lack a heart to this squad like the group of homegrown players/well bought lower league players of 89, the English back five in 98 or the French etc contingent of the early 00’s. We need to sign Jack up as a priority as I think he has the qualities of some of those players of 89 but other than that I struggle to see that type of player. Maybe Monreal or Mustafi. We need to find that heart either in the players coming through, in the transfer market or other players in the squad need to step up.

    The Arsenal website posted a picture of Abamayang, Ozil, Mykhitarian and Lacazette as the new look attack. My only thought was how the fuck are we going to get these four working together when you essentially have four players fighting over 2 positions and 2 of them playing out of position. We have no natural wingers in the Overmars mould but instead players like Myhkitarian or Ozil or Iwobi playing there.

    My expectations are still low for this season as a ‘Swansea’ or a ‘Bournemouth’ is never far away. Xhaka is a decent player but not in a defensive midfield position. He came with a reputation of a leader with aggression which is a bit of what we needed but we haven’t seen it and he lacks the discipline, positional sense and ball winning qualities for that position. Until we address this position primarily and firm up defence we’re in trouble. Maybe a good go at City in the League Cup and a shot at the Europa League at best. We are a ‘cup team’ who 5th or 6th is probably about right. I’d love it if they prove me wrong in the league.

    Finally, It boils down to whether this transfer window was a panic reaction to losing two of our best players on a free OR if there really is a shift behind the scenes and Arsenal will continue to show some ambition in the summer.

  16. slc gunner says:

    MDP – agreed for the most part. I think it’s ok that one of Lacazette, Miki, Ozil and Aubameyang doesn’t play. A strong team should have quality off the bench. Although Lacazette certainly didn’t show that today. But overall, we now have an abundance of attacking talent.
    By we are a shambles defensively. Koscielny has been our best buy on that front in the last 10 years, but I worry that he is now past his best. He certainly has not had his best season. While Mustafi has good games, he’s inconsistent, lacks pace and can be reckless in his challenges. I’m not sure if any of those coming through (Holding, Chambers, Mavropanos) can improve us or not. Midfield is a mess. Watching today, I would love to have a Dembele in our team. Energy, strength, terrific player. I think we should try leaving Xhaka out and going with a Wilshere or Ramsey alongside Elneny. Something has to change. As you mention MDP, we should still have cash in the bank. We need one or two top class central defenders and then an imposing midfielder. Then of course we can have the never-ending debate on the manager.

  17. MDP says:

    Arsenal are so far off defensively it’s criminal. Spurs pressed us for the entire game and stopped us playing, something we haven’t done to a team in years. Can’t see us ever being defensively stable under Wenger, it just doesn’t seem his priority. The only positive from yesterday was Spurs nearly blew it and for all their good qualities they don’t look ready for silverware yet.

  18. PD says:

    I think it was easy to get carried away with a bit of optimism after getting two new players in & Ozil to sign. We all knew Alexis was going so at least we got something in return……but…….the derby game brought reality back pretty quickly.
    The spine of our team is shocking. In goal, we have a keeper who’s best days are gone (though he did play well against the Totts) & the number 2 is miles off being good enough to take over. At centre half we have one quality centre half in Kos who has a chronic injury problem, we have Mustafi who has good moments but always looks like catastrophe isn’t far away (at 35m, he looks awfully overpriced) & two young centre halves who Arsene clearly doesn’t trust. In midfield, we have 2 DMs in the squad, one of whom, our first choice – Elneny – is a good lad who tries hard but you have to ask – how did he end up at a club as big as Arsenal ? (let’s be honest, he would be 4th choice at the Totts, all of Dembele, Wanyama & Dier are clearly better players than him) The other is a young kid who seems to have done very little wrong but yet has been completely sidelined even though he’s done nothing wrong & he clearly can’t do any worse than the alternative)
    Then we have Ozil…350k a week ? For 350k a week (roughly twice what the next highest players in the squad are on) is it enough that he’s truly sensational when the team plays well ? When the team doesn’t play well, for that money you should be getting a player who can dig you out of a hole when things aren’t going your way ?? and that is simply not Ozil. I’ll put it this way : there was a moment in the first half at 0-0 when we had the Totts on the counter, Aubemayang was flying clear. Ozil completely mishit his pass & the chance was lost. If we were 2-0 up, I guarantee Auba would have received a perfect pass & been clear on goal.

    And then there’s the old mental strength issue…..yes, the Totts were flying after the goal but that doesn’t mean you lay down & die. Where is the leadership ?? Kos ?? Give me strength. A note Arsene : a god pro is not necessarily a good leader. Vermaelen, Arteta, Kos……these men are just not Arsenal captains.

    Since Arsene signed his last contract, I’ve just been hoping he doesn’t drop us too far away over these 2 seasons…..but we’ve gone beyond that now. The Board need to act & find a way to get a replacement in at the end of this season. He cannot be allowed to be in charge next season. I don’t care whether we win the league cup or the Europa, that shouldn’t change anything. This football club needs a new manager this summer. No excuses, just get it done.

    Sorry about the length of that – rant over !!

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