I always look forward to games in the capital as we are spared the long drive up the motorway but in terms of time there is little difference because of the wonderful transport infrastructure that we enjoy in this country. Nevertheless having caught the 10.58 from Farnborough with Jonny, my son we engaged in a pleasant conversation with Chris, a Gooner from our area. It is fascinating how fans have a different perspective on football. The Arsenal fans are upset about the fact that they have not won a trophy for five years and yet we are elated about coming ninth and reaching a FA Cup quarter final! I told Chris that I would gladly swap his situation for ours any day and he and the numerous Gooners had so much to be grateful for to be able to watch wonderful football on a carpet of a pitch in a beautiful packed stadium and he should try 135 years of winning bugger all apart from a League Cup in the days when nobody took it seriously. I have to confess that I was feeling a bit down after our recent performances and said to Chris that I expected a very comfortable victory for the Gunners and hoped that Blues for their part could put up a bit of a fight and not get totally thrashed.
I repeated this to Will when we met him on Waterloo station and he said that pessimism was his job and his alone and I was to cheer up and stop being an old curmudgeon! I was finding it a bit difficult after recent performances where Blues had looked like England in disguise. Still not to be further downhearted we retired to the hostelry on the station for a restorative pint; the first of the day Your Honour, Milord, Sir! We were meeting Chris who was travelling down from Leamington for the match at Euston but there was time for a couple and so a couple were duly sunk. We met up with Chris at Euston and immediately retrenched in the Britannia pub to grab a bite to eat and of course imbibe further refreshment. Jonny had peeled off at Leicester Square to meet up with a mate of his who is a season ticket holder at the Emirates so I was left to face the bantering onslaught of Will and Chris alone. ‘You need to be a glass half full person Baz not a glass half empty person’ said Chris. ‘We’ve got my miserable brother to do glass half empty.’ Will pointed out that as I had been supporting Blues since their inception as Small Heath Alliance in 1875 therefore I should have learned by now that to be disappointed by any performance that Blues ever put in was completely futile and what the hell was the matter with me. All this was making my mood no better so I embraced the solace of my fourth pint and the arrival of my steak and chips. We decided we should get nearer the ground before ordering another round and this turned out to be the Euston Flyer outside King’s Cross Station! After another couple of pints it really was time to move on and on we got to the Piccadilly Line to Arsenal Station. Funny old thing I was beginning to feel a little more optimistic than I had at the start of the day and as we crossed the bridge towards the Emirates we all broke out into a rendering of Keep Right On to The End of the Road with one or two close by noses adding their voices to our efforts. It amused the locals at least though I doubt they enjoyed the singing however operatic I may have thought I sounded.
Just before kick off Jonny appeared and told me he had arrived similarly fortified after a few sherbets with his mate El. The match started and Arsenal began to weave their pretty patterns around us in a worrying way and my feeling of pessimism started to surface once more. Wilshere was conducting the midfield orchestra and Blues could only dance to his tune and were forced to defend resolutely. They carved out a glorious opportunity for Arshavin who elected to shoot across Foster into the far corner but an excellent block from Dann saved Blues from going behind early doors. Sebastian Squillaci headed the ball into the net on 15 minutes only for the strike to be ruled offside. Subsequent review of the incident showed it was – just! However, I remarked to Jonny that it was too easy and at this rate we were going to get tonked. Larsson inexplicably rolled the ball into the path of Gael Clichy just afterwards but the defender drove his shot wide of the far post when he really should have converted. In all honesty despite the fact that Blues appeared to be doing alright we should have been 2-0 down by the half-hour mark. Then a throw in on our left flank was delivered to Fahey whose pin point cross found the big Serb, Zigic on the back stick. A wonderful looping header back across Fabianski nestled just inside the post for a lovely goal to cue celebrations from the vocal away support. We were 1-0 up at Arsenal, a place we have not won since 1957! Too good to be true? Of course! Exhortations of ‘Concentrate Blues! Focus! Defend properly!’ were coming thick and fast from my mouth as like most Bluenoses I knew that if we could hold on until half time we had a chance of taking something from this game. Unfortunately, fate was to vomit on our collective eiderdown before the break and I sadly have to mention the referee at this point. As many of you know that read my reports regularly, I am not a great believer in blaming officials for our team’s shortcomings but there is no doubt that decisions can and do change the destiny of games and so it was to prove here. Ridgewell went in for a challenge on Nasri which the Blues defender got the better of. In frustration, the young Frenchman kicked out at Ridgewell in full sight of the referee only to receive a yellow card. I can guarantee that had the respective roles of the two players been reversed Ridgewell would have been taking an early bath. I know that Mr Atkinson has commented on one of my reports before so if he’s reading this maybe he would be good enough to explain to me and the other 60,000 watching why Nasri was not dismissed?
To add insult to injury Chamakh completely cons Mr Atkinson just before the break and gives a penalty to the Arsenal player who theatrically goes down in the box. Any contact is made by the centre-forward dragging his foot onto Dann’s when he is virtually horizontal. I would refer readers to an excellent report by Pedro on the excellent Le Grove Arsenal blog here. Pedro rightly condemns this type of behaviour from his team’s player and calls it cheating however you want to dress it up and so do I. I have similarly condemned Fahey for doing the same thing in a match against Wigan last season which won us the game. I cannot and will not condone this sort of gamesmanship ever and I am pleased that Pedro, a devout Arsenal fan has chosen to highlight this and remain robust even with fellow Gooners justifying the unjustifiable on his site. The same goes for the MotD team who to my amazement tried to convince us all that this was a correct award despite the evidence from the replay. Again I doubt if that had been a Birmingham player that they would have been so generous. Up stepped the player who should not have been on the pitch to bury the shot into Foster’s right side with the keeper flying off to the left. Mr Atkinson is getting a reputation for giving dodgy decisions like this and players get to know it but from Chamakh’s perspective, referees also get to know the players who like a dive and are likely refuse an award that should be given at some later time because of it – what goes around comes around!
We got to half-time 1-1 and I thought that provided we defended properly for the first twenty minutes or so; who knows, we might actually take something from the game. Despite another pint to fill the optimistic glass this was quickly drained within two minutes of the restart. A lovely back heel into the path of Wilshere just outside our box was controlled by the brilliant 18 year-old who delivered a pass toward to running Chamakh whose turn away from Carr gave him the split second he needed to touch the ball past Foster before sliding it past the keeper’s dive into the net. Carr failed to put his foot through the ball when he had the chance and I wonder whether he was afraid that the Moroccan was going to go down again if he did? Nevertheless, it was poor defending by the full back and once the Gunners were ahead the die was cast. The game became attritional after that and despite Blues’ efforts towards the end they could not find the equaliser. O’Connor looked sharp when he came on and one lovely move involving the Scot resulted in a wide pass to Larsson whose cross was over hit with players busting a gut to get in the box and with it the last chance.
Overall this was a good performance from Blues in a game that Arsenal probably deserved to win; they are a better team and they have better players. Wilshere gave a man of the match performance which was a joy to watch but he spoiled it with a shocking challenge on Zigic that could have damaged the big Serb seriously. I am glad to say that Zigic did not break any bones but Wilshere was rightly dispatched to the dressing room; that boy has a big future but he needs to cut that sort of challenge out of his game now and not get an adverse reputation for it. As for Blues, providing they play with the same endeavour and spirit for the rest of the campaign we will be fine.
Back to the Euston Flyer for another couple then Nando’s when we all had a laugh at the sight of Will shaking a bottle of peri-peri sauce violently only for most of the contents to end up on his side plate. Then home in time for MotD and headache pills. Blackpool next; it would be nice to beat them for once because we could really do with the points.
The Good: Great goal from Zigic who had a good game and this can only be good for his confidence. Wilshere’s performance – excellent.
The Bad: Chamakh’s dive, Mr Atkinson’s performance – dreadful.
The Ugly: Nasri’s kick out at Ridgewell and Wilshere’s tackle at the end.
Fabianski 7 Squillaci 6 Djourou 5 Clichy 7 Eboue 6 Song 7 Wilshere 8 Nasri 7 Diaby 6 Arshavin 5 (Rosicky 71, 6) Chamakh 7 (Bendtner 79, 7)
Foster 7; Carr 5, Johnson 6, Dann 7, Ridgewell 6; Larsson 6, Ferguson 7, Hleb 7 Fahey 6, (Murphy, 79, 6) Bowyer 4 (O’Connor 80, 7) Zigic 7