Gillespie Guest Post – The Southampton perspective

What a difference a year makes! This last time I wrote for this site ahead of a trip to the Emirates both ourselves and the Arsenal were shite!

Look at us now, mocking those tin pot clubs like United and City who can’t keep up with us. Yes I am getting carried away but who can blame me!? This is the best football I have ever seen being played by my beloved Southampton FC, and for this reason, much like my trip to Old Trafford a few weeks ago, I genuinely look at Saturday’s game without any of the fear or dread that usually bestows a Saints fan for these types of occasions.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Arsenal v Southampton - Emirates Stadium

The season so far has been great for us. Particular highlights include a win at Liverpool and a last minute equaliser at United, but my own personal highlights have been our last two home games. Both first half performances against Fulham and Hull have been outstanding. The team is really working hard and for each other, and the feel good factor around St Marys is like nothing I’ve experienced before.

It’s great to see three of the big performers rewarded for their fine form with England call ups. Although I was slightly surprised with Jay Rod’s call up, I certainly wasn’t about Adam Lallana’s. His form last season was a bit patchy, mainly due to injuries and niggles that plagued him all season, but this season he has excelled and become one of the best creative players in the Premiership.

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Probably the most impressive part of our game at the moment is how tight our defence has become. In my eyes our player of the season so far, Dejan Lovren has been a major reason for this. He’s a natural leader, something we were crying out for last season, and with two quality wing backs in Shaw and Clyne, a very good goalkeeper in Boruc and an ever improving Jose Fonte playing alongside him, Arsenal will have to work hard to break them down. Another new signing who’s done well after a slow start is Victor Wanyama. Although his passing is pretty poor, his ability to break up play is exceptional and he’s got a massive role to play if we are going to get something from the game on Saturday. I’m rather surprised Arsenal didn’t go in for him in the summer to be honest as he’s the type of player that I feel you guys could do with.

The less we talk about last year’s game at the Emirates the better. It was one of those games where you wish you weren’t there, 6-1 and it honestly could have been ten. I remember the best player on the pitch for a lot of the game was old boy Gervinho! I don’t remember much else. I tend to block those kind of games out of my memory. I’ve been to some great games away at Arsenal. A couple that stick out are when we nicked a 1-1 draw at Highbury. Wiltord scored and then late in the game a very average midfielder of ours Jo Tessem scored a header. Another that sticks out is a 2-2 draw when some kid called Robin Van Persie scored a 95th minute equalizer after Rory Delap had scored two identical headers from corners late on. A game that still haunts me now is when Arsenal were 5-0 up against us after about 25 minutes, I’ve never been to a game and seen supporters walking out after half an hour. I remember Robert Pires was near un-playable.

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I’ve been very impressed with Arsenal so far this year, Aaron Ramsey especially. The boy has almost come from nowhere this season and his volume of goals already is incredible. I have a lot of admiration for Oliver Giroud as well, his movement is superb and he works his socks off. Mertesaker coming back is a huge plus for you guys ahead of the game as I quite fancied Lambert up against Vermaelen. I think that the January transfer window is huge for Arsenal if they want to seriously challenge for the title this year, the squad is a little thin compared to title rivals and I think a centre forward and a defensive midfielder are must buys.
Do I think Arsenal will win the league? no. Do I think Saints will finish in the top four? no, but I think Saturday is going to be a belter.

Probable Saints line-up:
Boruc

Clyne Fonte Lovren Shaw

Wanyama

Ward-Prowse Schneiderlin Rodriguez Lallana

Lambert

Prediction 1-1 Ramsey and Lambert to score.

James Callen

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Dortmund – Savour it

Tonight sees last year’s finalist and one of the best teams in Europe visit The Emirates. A team built on a great footballing philosophy with a passionate coach, an exceptional group of players and a phenomenal fan base. They have set an example to the rest of Europe of how to build from a relatively humble beginning into a team capable of beating anyone on their day.

There is no denying that they bring the kind of test that we are yet to experience so far this year, the thought of this game has filled me with excitement for some weeks and now it is within touching distance.

The weekend’s performance has allowed us to build our confidence further and the team should go into this game with genuine expectations of the win. The news of Mathieu Flamani’s expected absence is a blow, his exceptional performances have been well documented this season and it will be vital for someone to step up into his place and take on both the defensive and organisational responsibility.

It was telling at the weekend that in the period between him going off and half time the team struggled with their shape. Norwich were allowed more space in between the midfield and defense and produced their best period of the game.

It was also interesting and slightly worrying to see how the atmosphere of the stadium changed in that short period. For the most part the fans were, once again, sensational. However, during this spell of Norwich dominance that the old groan, that we all know far to well could be heard around the stands. With the exquisite football we are playing at the moment it is frustrating to see loose passes and sloppy play but there are going to be times when we are not dominating the opposition. There will be occasions this season when we lose and lose to teams that many of us would consider inferior. This, sadly, is the way football goes.

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Tonight represents a real challenge and there will be very tough periods. But it is worth remembering how privileged we are as fans to have these teams come to town. Champions League nights, for me, as for the many are some of the greatest sporting spectacles around and some times in the absence of trophies it is easy to take these nights for granted. Barca at home will live long in all our memories despite a trophyless season that year.

It does not get much better than Dortmund under the lights. My prediction is a well fought draw and it would represent a great result, but even if it doesn’t go to plan, savour it, cause it’s not everyday we are treated to such nights!

COYG!

Will  


Consults when he wants: India’s @RVP overnight internet sensation

In a dramatic and unpredictable turn, Arsenal fans have once again found a hero going by the initials RVP. He boasts an impressive CV, largely centred around his extensive experience in telecommunications, IT and electronics, and looks to have little history of sexual deviance (although this remains unconfirmed).

Excitable Utd fans, after his title-securing hat-rick against Aston Villa, bombarded Ravi Vivesvaraya Prasad (RVP), who lives and works in New Delhi, with congratulatory messages on twitter, mistaking him for the despicable Dutch forward. Over the last few days Ravi’s followers have gone through the roof and his humorous take on proceedings has seen him take on the status of a cult hero. Re-live the whole sage below:

RVP bio

rvp's wikipedia

Throughout the season poor old Ravi had been on the receiving end of Spam from mistaken football fans:

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But Ravi fought back:

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Then Ravi thought he’d have some fun:

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Separated at birth:

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rvp fergie hug

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Obviously Piers got involved:

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Then it all got too much for Ravi who seemed to lose the plot:

rvp weird face

comment on weird face rvp

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If you’re on twitter and you don’t already follow Ravi (@RVP) I suggest you join his increasingly dedicated fan-club. Whilst you’re watching the dreaded guard of honour on Sunday just pretend you’re saluting the real RVP, hands down New Delhi’s leading defence and security analyst. Keep doing your thing Ravi.

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And just as an added bonus, the main man himself read and enjoyed this article! He got in touch on twitter (below) and is now following us.

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Nick


Comfort in the Arsenal Community: Unique Football Friendships

Season ticket holders, especially at a Club like Arsenal are in the vast minority. Those of you who don’t sit in the same seat week in week out, year in year out, won’t be aware of the unique relationships we strike up with those who sit in the vicinity, often for decades on end. If you’re one of the lucky minority you’ll be aware that the faces of those who sit in your block are some of the most recognisable anywhere. You’ve probably spoken to the bloke you sit next to at the Arsenal more than your wife over the last few years, but how much do you actually know about him? You’ve almost certainly been in each others arms in either raucous joy or abject despair, but do you even know his name?

At the end of last season I moved to a new seat at the Emirates to be closer to the action but on Saturday at the Hawthorns, I bumped into the bloke who I used to sit next to. We did what we had done for years at home games, amicably share opinions on football, ask how each other had been, and then, through either lack of interest or fear of crossing ‘the line’, ‘the football fan code’, we ran out of conversation and wished each other well. After we had gone our separate ways I reflected on the situation. I still hold a huge amount of affection for this guy, presumably rooted in the shared memories accumulated through sitting together, shouting for the same cause. I used to talk to him every week but scarcely if ever did we delve into each other’s story away from football.

Arsenal fan 1

You go through a journey unlike any other with these people. You collect priceless, unforgettable memories that are shared collectively and which you can recount in pinpoint accuracy twenty years later. You lose all sense of emotional and bodily control in each others company. You swear, you shout, you sing, you scream, you smile, you laugh, you hate, you curse, you vilify, you might even cry. We’ve all been to games in which a huge goal is scored and, once the madness of celebration is over, you’ve ended up on the floor two rows in front of where you started in a state of delirium never found outside of football stadia. The ball crosses the line and within half a second a mass of 50,000 separate people merges into one being. All of this takes place in the company of the same individuals, week in week out for years on end.

How could you not feel you know these comrades incredibly well? The truth is, in most cases, you probably never will, but perhaps that’s why these relationships remain so special. Unlike the XI players on the pitch, the fans are reliable, they’re trustworthy. There’s something incredibly comforting in the knowledge that they’ll all be there next week, and next year, and the year after that. It’s the simplest of relationships, devoid of baggage or politics. There’s a mutual enemy. You share a common dedication, knowledge and sacrifice (although none of you will see it as that).

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Every block has it’s big characters. There are comedians, there are drunks, there are extroverts, there are introverts, there are experts that think they know everything and are only too happy to pass comment and there are moaners who whinge non-stop. Most people will know which category they fit into and will be able to position those around them with ease, and perhaps a level of satisfaction.

As ‘serious’ conversation rarely sparks up, humour plays a huge part in fan interaction. A common theme which travelled with me from Highbury to the Emirates is the playful reminder not to arrive late and make everyone in the row stand up to let you in. A rowdy chorus of ‘sit down’ is a favourite, only for the drunk behind me to get too involved and add a number of expletives to amuse himself and everyone else, apart from the poor sod who was late. Most of the fun is at the expense of someone else and limited to one-liners as it’s intended for a large audience. Last home game the bloke at the end of my row stopped me and shouted,’where’s your girlfriend? You wanna bring her next time, she’s much better looking than him’ (in reference to my brother). A gaggle of easy to please Gooners chuckle animatedly but one of them will most probably on the receiving end next week…

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Nevertheless, even if you spend half time chatting to your fellow Gooners, you often don’t know where they live, what they do, how many kids they have, how old they are, what background they come from, where they return to after the game. All you know is that they love Arsenal Football Club, and that’s enough to bind you in an unusual union built on fierce loyalty and dedication.

Interestingly the times that I’ve sat in Club level, none of this applies. It’s a community devoid of a sense of community and it’s a great shame that it dissects the stadium in the way that it does. The concern is that whilst the Club try to attract an even more middle class fan-base, the characteristics of Arsenal’s traditional fan community will fizzle out. The last thing we want is to end up like a rugby crowd so if you’re one of the lucky minority, see you next week at Norwich, and keep doing your thing.

Nick


Arsenal Preview: The Blackburn Perspective

The start of the season Championship previews all listed Blackburn as clear favourites to walk away with the title, but with Venkys’ still making sporadic decisions based on god knows what, the reality has been very different. There have been many comings and goings this season in the dugout and the dressing room. Venkys’ even recently hired a PR firm to try and restore a tiny iota of creditability.

We are now on our third manager of the season and the fifth person to be in charge of picking the team (taking in account two care taker managers). Steve Kean finally got sacked early in the season to many fans delight but it is worth noting we were then 3rd in the table and we are now 8th. Henning Berg was given the job to appease fans as he was a Club legend. In his two stints at the club he won the league in 94/95 and the Worthington Cup in 2002. Fans who looked at his less than impressive managerial record where not convinced and he eventually was fired when he lost the dressing room and too many games.

In his place came Michael Appleton; a former professional footballer that started at Manchester United but never really had a career of note and retired aged 27 at West Brom. He worked his way up the coaching system there and has had managerial stints at Portsmouth and Blackpool. Like his playing days they have not been hugely successful. In fact Blackpool were below us when we first approached him to be manager.

Despite this Appleton has been a breath of fresh air at the Club. He is plain speaking and seems to have a lot of common sense which has been lacking throughout Venkys’ tenure. Since he has taken over he’s managed to tighten up the defence with three clean sheets in the last four. The squad has also seemed to have some passion and drive again which was lacking under Berg and Kean. This has a lot to do with the trimming of the squad size, making it more balanced and bringing back a healthy competition for starting roles.

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Appleton has mainly been sending out the team in a 4-4-1-1 formation. This has worked well recently winning three of the last five and drawing with Brighton twice. He has admitted ahead of the game that we will concede the majority of possession again, like we did midweek away to Brighton. We will therefore be set up to try and sneak a win, like most inferior teams do against Arsenal.

In goal Paul Robinson (remember him?) has not started under Appleton. In his place is 22 year old Jake Kean who has proven to be a good shot stopper, but this is clearly the biggest game and test of his career.  At the back Hanley and Dann are improving, but I fear pace could be their undoing on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if Appleton throws in new loan signed Karim Rekik from Man City who at 18 will have pace but little experience. In centre midfield Danny Murphy and Jason Lowe have developed a good partnership with Lowe doing the running of two men and Murphy occasionally showing his class with some good long passes.  DJ Campbell made his debut on Tuesday which thankfully saw the most over rated Blackburn player Morten Gamst Pedersen drop to the bench. Up front the lively Kazim-Richards has been playing off Jordan Rhodes.

The latter is a name you will have heard due to his impressive goal tallies in the lower leagues for the last few seasons but you may not have seen him play. The best way to describe him is as a pure finisher. Often you won’t notice him for the whole game but when he gets the chance he clinically takes it. He is on fire at the moment with four goals in the last four games and 19 in total in the league. If we don’t get promoted this year I fully expect him to leave for a Premiership Club.

Jordan Rhodes

Not entirely sure what to expect of Arsenal. In this season’s FA Cup games you’ve picked strong teams as it is clearly your best chance of a trophy this season. Then again you sent out a strong team against Bradford and look what happened. I am not convinced of the wisdom of resting too many players ahead of the Bayern game as they clearly going to destroy you over the two legs. Better to concentrate on a competition you can actually win.

Rovers fans memories of the Emirates are not happy, we have never won there and often are heavily beaten. We did manage a draw in the 5th round in the 2006/7 FA Cup when Mark Hughes sent us out so defensively that the game was atrocious to watch. In that same season I went to the league game but didn’t manage to get a ticket in the away end. We went one nil up early through a Shabani Nonda penalty. Our luck didn’t last and we got outclassed going down 6-2. Despite the eight goals in the game and a Robbie Savage booking, an Arsenal fan behind me wasn’t happy. He complained loudly that he would have preferred to have gone shopping with his wife! This coupled with the quiet atmosphere easily makes Arsenal the worst home fans I have ever experienced.

I was surprised to see that the fixture is sold out. Presume the Cup prices have opened up the game to more ardent fans that are often priced out of games. Will this lead to some sort of atmosphere? We’ve also managed to sell out our 1200 application which is rare for us this far from Lancashire. It clearly shows that many fans are like me starting to feel optimistic about Rovers again under Appleton.

Clearly Arsenal will be going in as favourites and you should win by at least one goal. However I have this nagging feeling in the back of my head that we can possible pull off a draw with a bit of luck so i’ll settle for a 1-1 after a Diaby/Szczesny red card and a Rhodes penalty.


To Go Out With a Gooner: The Girlfriend’s Perspective (Valentine’s Special)

It was the run up to Valentine’s day 2012. I had been planning a nice dinner somewhere, doing my research on good deals. What I didn’t know was that he was also doing his research on good deals – the cheapest way to get to Milan, with the boys. After the initial argument, I asked if I could come – if we could share a room, I could go exploring while they go to a pub (by going to a pub I mean : them standing outside, shouting whilst spilling beer all over themselves). He laughed.

Tell me, did Arsenal lose 4 -0 to AC Milan on 15 February 2012? F*cking serves you right.

It has been over two years since we first got together, and two years since one of his friends first warned me about him being “a massive gooner”. Back then I had no idea what a gooner was, did that mean he hit women? Oh right, he supports Arsenal. OH right, he REALLY supports Arsenal, has a season ticket and will spend most weekends going back to London to watch them.

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Very quickly I realised that if this was going anywhere (and I really wanted it to) I was going to have to share my boyfriend with a football team. In the first few months, I made a huge effort; I listened in to boys conversations about football, watched Sky Sports News wiith them, read up on the BBC football page, and very soon I was able to start impressing people with my knowledge.. Turns out the stereotype that girls know nothing about football is so strong that I could impress by just saying I knew where Robin Van Persie came from. Finally he uttered those sweet words, Would you come to the Emirates with me?

For a new Gooner Girlfriend, this is an honour (in their eyes), but also a test.  Having only been to Easter Road to watch Hibs v Dunfermline, I could have done with few pointers on how to play it. Here are a few things I have learnt when at the Emirates.

1. Dress warmly, god knows why they put the football season in winter but they do.
2. Have a few drinks before – you are more likely to get involved and keep yourself entertained (too many and you’ll need to wee the whole way through the match (see 4) and apparently be annoying  (see 2&3).
2. Don’t sing a long too loudly because apparently it’ is quite cringe.
3. Don’t look at and/or touch your man if Arsenal are losing, apparently they need their space.
4. Respect the people sitting next to them, they are paying a lot to be there every week so you needing to go to the loo half way through the first half  will apparently (did) piss them off.
5. Know a bit about the team they are playing (West Ham is apparently not West Hampstead).
6. Don’t say “it ‘s not that bad”. (It apparently is that bad: A draw can be as bad as a defeat).
7. Find out a bit about the players. eg. Wojciech is both fit and hilarious to watch.
8. And finally – Do not blame yourself if they lose, you are not the bad luck.

I now bring you to August 2011 – He and I were at our most rocky – he was being horribly moody, ignoring me, then, in turn, I ignored him. We hadn’t spoken for a week. I was listening to the news and it said something about Fabregas moving to Barcelona. This whole fight had been about Cesc. Unfortunately a pattern has emerged; When things are good with Arsenal- they are really really good with us. When things at Arsenal are bad things can get messy. I guess I should be thankful that unlike Arsenal we aren’t in a 7 year drought.

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There’s something about the Arsenal, something about the fandom that sucks you in. It’s not glory hunting because they aren’t really winning. And it’s no longer to impress my boyfriend because we are way past that honeymoon stage. It’s been two years and I think I’m ready to make the upgrade from “gooner girlfriend” to “gooner”.

And if the worst happens and we break up? There’s a very good looking guy sitting two rows in front.