Arsenal vs. Chelsea : 29 December 2019.
I was sitting in a cosy corner of “The St. James Tavern” just off Piccadilly Circus with PD and Lord Parsnips. There was just time for a couple of scoops before it was time to head on up the Piccadilly Line to Arsenal. Pints of Peroni had been poured, but not just any pints. At £6.30 a go, these were – I am quite sure – the most expensive pints in the UK that we had ever purchased. Bloody hell, they must have seen us coming. In fact, they certainly had seen us coming; we had popped in at 11.30am but had been unceremoniously told “no alcohol until midday” so we just had a little meander to kill some time, so imagine our annoyance when we re-entered at 11.55am to see some punters with pints three-quarters imbibed already.
“Oh, so you were serving alcohol before midday then.”
The bar staff chose to ignore me. To be honest, two pints was ample, but it was a shame they were a little rushed. The day had started off quietly – I was away at 8am – and the weather outside was mid-winter bleak, but at least with no rain. We had again parked-up at Barons Court – like last Sunday, bang on time at 11am, a three-hour trip exactly on target – and I liked the fact that right in front of me was a car with a Chelsea number plate – JC03 CFC – and I wondered if the owner had driven in like myself or was a local. Either way, I looked on it as a good omen.
There was a good deal of symmetry about the game at Arsenal.
We had played nineteen games. The end of the first-half of the season had been completed. The last away day of the first-nineteen games was also in North London, at Tottenham, and the first away game of the second nineteen games was just four miles away in Islington. Heading into 2020, our twentieth league game of the season was just a couple of hours away.
There and then, I decided to call this particular match report – number 597 – “Tales From The Second-Half.”
It would be rather prescient.
We arrived at a sunny Emirates bang on time at 1.15pm. To be honest, this made a refreshing change. Arrivals at Arsenal are usually ridiculously hurried. Very often, we get in with seconds to spare. I was able to take my time and take a few mood shots outside. Walking over the southern bridge, a statue of Herbert Chapman greets supporters.
It’s a fine statue. I imagined that many of our new supporter base – FIFA ready, eager to impress, scarves and replica shirts at the ready – do not know who Ted Drake is, let alone Herbert Chapman. Mind you, it’s quite likely that many of Arsenal’s new supporter base – FIFA ready, eager to impress, scarves and replica shirts at the ready – do not know who Herbert Chapman is. It is a major shame that many believe that football began in 1992, and is even more galling to hear those in the media forever banging on about Premier League records as if all other data has been expunged from the record books.
I was hanging around to make sure the safe transfer of a spare ticket had taken place OK. Although I didn’t need to meet the two parties, I didn’t want to leave them stranded.
At about 1.20pm, I got the OK by text. I could relax a little. I bumped into a few mates. Took some more photos. We weren’t sure, collectively, how to regard this match.
“At Tottenham last week, I would have been happy with a draw. No question. With Arsenal, I feel we need to beat them. We are away, after all. Less pressure. Hopefully more space. But, it could go one of any three ways – a win, a loss, a draw. They’re poor though. Worse than Tottenham.”
Inside the stadium, everything was so familiar. This would be my fourteenth consecutive league visit to this ground; the only game I have missed was when we took 9,000 in that League Cup game in 2013. There was also a ropey League Cup semi in 2018.
It has been a stadium of mixed results.
Thus far in the league –
Won : 4
Drawn : 5
Lost : 4
Stepping out of the Arsenal tube, I am always reminded of how magnificent Highbury was. Those art deco stands were beauties. And on the corner of Gillespie Road, as it turns into Drayton Park, is one of my favourite art deco houses of all. I just never seem to have the time to stop and take a photograph. Maybe next season. Can somebody remind me? I consider it a failing of whoever designed the new Arsenal stadium (and that is what it should really be called, it won’t be sponsored by Emirates in twenty years’ time will it?) that there is no reference to the old Highbury ground. Not a single nod. Not one.
It’s an Arsenal Stadium Mystery.
And, I know it sounds silly, but compared to Tottenham’s new home, Arsenal’s pad looks less impressive with every visit. Yes, there is comfort. Yes, every seat is padded (imagine that in 1984 when we scurried out of the Arsenal tube and queued up at the Clock End to squeeze our young bodies onto that large terrace – padded seats in the away end!), yes it’s modern, but it lacks a visual impact, it lacks charm, it lacks intimidation. As my mate Daryl commented in the concourse “it’s like a shopping centre.”
We were down the front for this one, row three. I met up with Alan, Gary and Parky. I tried to remember if the stewards at Arsenal gave me a hard time with my camera; I think I would be OK.
The team news filtered through.
Another outing for the 3/4/3.
I guess it worked at Tottenham.
Rudiger – Zouma – Tomori
Azpilicueta – Kovacic – Kante – Emerson
Willian – Abraham – Mount
I had been in contact with two Arsenal lads that I had met on the outbound trip to Baku in May – it still seems like a dream – but I would not be able to meet up with them for a quick handshake as they were both pushed for time. I wished them well.
Kick-off soon arrived.
As always, we attacked the North Bank in the first-half.
Yes, it was odd seeing David Luiz in Arsenal red and white. Very odd.
In fact, our former defender was heavily involved in the very first few minutes, jumping and narrowly missing with a header from a cross, attempting an optimistic scissor-kick from inside the box, and a trademark free-kick from outside it. Thankfully, Kepas’s goal remained unscathed. Sadly, despite our manager’s emotional and heartfelt protestations about his under-performing players against Southampton, it was sadly business as usual for the early part of the game. Arsenal seemed more invigorated, livelier, and they put us under pressure from the off.
We managed to create a chance for Mason Mount at the North Bank, Willian working a short free-kick, but his tame shot was saved by Bernd Leno.
Shortly after, a whipped-in corner from Mesut Ozil was headed on at the near post and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang nodded in, with our marking awry.
“One nil to The Arsenal” sang the home areas. It was the first real noise of the entire game.
With their nippy winger Riess Nelson looking impressive on the Arsenal right and with their other players closing space, we drifted in to a very uncomfortable period of play. Our passing was strained, and there was a lack of movement off the ball. Yet again, Toni Rudiger was given the task of playmaker as others did not have the time and space to do so. But he, like others, found it difficult to hit targets. I’d imagine that teams have sussed out the diagonal to Emerson by now. Arsenal were full or funning and intent. They looked by far the better team. To be brutally frank, a better team than Arsenal would have punished us further, because we were not at the races, the amusement arcade, the pantomime or the family outing to Ramsgate. It was dire stuff and the fans around me were huffing and puffing their disdain.
Nothing vitriolic – we save that for the home games – but noticeable.
“CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”
The usual terrace regulars were regurgitated.
“Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that.”
“We’ve won it all.”
No, this was poor football. Only Kante and, possibly – only possibly – Kovacic seemed up for the task ahead. Tammy was not involved; of course there was a drought of service, for sure, but there was poor involvement through being unwilling to move his marker.
Just after the half-hour mark, Frank changed it. Off came Emerson, to be replaced by Jorginho. And a change of formation. Dave switched sides, Tomori moved to right back. There was, of course, immediately more solidity in midfield. Emerson was always a steady player – I rated him, generally – but his form has certainly dipped of late. I struggle with his reluctance to take players on when “one-on-one” and he has recently been a subject of the boo boys at games and the ranters on social media.
Our attacking abilities noticeably changed and we, arguably, had the best of it over the last ten minutes of the half. There were half-chances for both teams. However, over the course of the entire half, I think, generally, we had got off lightly. And yet. How many times did Kepa have to scramble to save shots, to tip over, to lunge at an attacker’s feet? Not many.
It wasn’t the best of games.
It was 100 % doom and gloom in the crowded concourse and in the padded seats at the break.
Inside my head : “Frank is new to this game. It’s only his second season as a manager. Has he got it in his locker to motivate the players, to get across his ideas, but to remain calm and focussed too?”
I bloody hoped so.
For all our sakes.
Soon into the second-half, I whispered to Alan.
“Seems like a proper game now, this.”
Tackles were being won, passes were being threaded through, players were running off the ball, this was more fucking like it boys.
A special mention for Jorginho. Excellent.
How to accommodate both him and Kante in their strongest positions?
This season’s $64,000 question.
On the hour, fresh legs and a fresh player for that matter. Making his debut as a replacement for Tomori was Tariq Lamptey.
Bloody hell, he looked about twelve.
Even I would tower over him.
He was soon involved, and impressed everyone with a turn and run into the heart of the Arsenal defence before slipping a ball right into the path of Tammy Abraham. The steadily improving striker’s first time shot was blocked by the long legs of David Luiz. There was the usual noise of discontent about Tammy not shooting earlier, but – honestly – he struck it first time and I am not sure he could have reacted any quicker.
Dave headed tamely over.
The final substitution took place; number 20 Callum with 20 to go.
Again, he looked lively from the off, and seemed more comfortable in his own skin, dancing past players and intelligently passing to others. Behind all this was the magnificent work rate of Kovacic, Kante, Jorginho – some splendid tackles, one nasty one, unpunished – and Willian looked a different player.
“Come on Chelsea.”
“Come on you blue boys.”
“Come on Chels.”
A simple header from Tammy at a corner was straight at Leno. A yard either side and we would have been celebrating.
At the other end, a rare Arsenal chance, but Joe Willock, the silly pillock, swept it wide.
A second goal then would have killed us.
Throughout the game, I thought the home areas were dead quiet. Only when they sensed a home victory did they bother.
“We’re the North Bank. We’re the North Bank. We’re the North Bank Highbury.”
“We’re the Clock End. We’re the Clock End. We’re the Clock End Highbury.”
“We’re the North Bank. We’re the North Bank. We’re the North Bank Highbury.”
“We’re the Clock End. We’re the Clock End. We’re the Clock End Highbury.”
Seems the Arsenal fans have remembered the old stadium in the new stadium, even if the architects hadn’t.
The minutes ticked by.
“CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA, CAM ON CHOWLSEA.”
On eighty-three minutes, I steadied my camera to snap Mason as he weighed up the options before taking a free-kick just fifteen yards from me. He swiped and I snapped. I saw the ‘keeper miss the flight of the ball and I exploded as Jorginho tapped the ball in to an empty net.
GET IN YOU BASTARD.
That I managed to get any photo at all of the delirious scenes is a minor miracle.
Three minutes later, Chelsea in the ascendency, we found ourselves momentarily defending deep. The ball broke, and I thought to myself “here we go” and brought the trusty Canon up to my eyes. Over the next thirty seconds or so, I took twenty-seven photos – and the better ones are included. The strong and purposeful run from Tammy – up against Shkodran Mustafi – and the pass outside to Willian. The return pass.
I steadied myself, waiting for the moment – “We’re going to fucking win this” – and watched as Tammy turned a defender – Mustafi again, oh bloody hell – and prodded the ball goal wards.
Right through his legs.
FUCKING GET IN.
Pandemonium in the South Stand, pandemonium in South Norwood, pandemonium in Southsea, pandemonium in South Korea, pandemonium in South Philly.
I felt arms pushing against me – I steadied myself – but missed Tammy’s slide. But I captured the rest, more or less. What a joy to see the players – Tammy especially – so pleased.
Tales From The Second-Half?
You had better fucking believe it.
Screams, smiles, roars.
“Scenes” as the kids say.
I prefer to call it “Chelsea Soup.”
Alan : “They’ll have to come at us now.”
Chris : “Come on my little diamonds.”
We were in our element. One song dominated. It dominated at Tottenham a week previously and it took over the away end at Arsenal.
“We’ve got super Frankie Lampard. He knows exactly what we need. Tomori at the back. Tammy in attack. Chelsea’s gonna win the Champions League.”
(I whispered an add-on – “but not this season.”)
“We’ve got super Frankie Lampard. He knows exactly what we need. Tomori at the back. Tammy in attack. Chelsea’s gonna win the Champions League. We’ve got super Frankie Lampard. He knows exactly what we need. Tomori at the back. Tammy in attack. Chelsea’s gonna win the Champions League. We’ve got super Frankie Lampard. He knows exactly what we need. Tomori at the back. Tammy in attack. Chelsea’s gonna win the Champions League. We’ve got super Frankie Lampard. He knows exactly what we need. Tomori at the back. Tammy in attack. Chelsea’s gonna win the Champions League. We’ve got super Frankie Lampard. He knows exactly what we need. Tomori at the back. Tammy in attack. Chelsea’s gonna win the Champions League.”
It was our Christmas carol for 2019.
Tammy fired over in the last few minutes, but we did not care one jot.
The whistle blew and we roared.
We had done it.
No, wait, Frank had done it, Tammy had done it, the players had done it.
We had played our part, but the players had stepped up.
Inside my head : “So, so pleased for Frank. These have been worrying times. And so pleased for Tammy. He may not be a Didier or a Diego, but he gets goals. Well done him. Until it changes and we have an alternative, let’s sing his name.”
Won : 5
Drawn : 5
Lost : 4
The players came over. As some returned to walk towards the tunnel, Frank turned them around. The manager wanted his charges to thank us. I clambered onto my seat and snapped away. Smiles everywhere. Just lovely.
Tottenham Mark Two.
There was no rush to leave the stadium. My car at Barons Court was safe. As with last January’s game, we dropped into a Chinese restaurant on the Holloway Road for some scoff. We made our way slowly back, via the tried and tested Piccadilly Line once again, reaching my car at 6.30pm. We eventually made it home for 9.30pm, another six hours in the saddle.
No doubt many Chelsea supporters / fans / wannabees had been venting huge displeasure on every platform available about our ropey first-half performance, but I think that they might have failed to realise that a game is just not a first-half, a season is not nineteen games, this project will not be finished in May.
Chelsea is for life, not just for Christmas.
Next up, we play our first game of 2020 at Brighton.
Another away game.
Frankie says relax.
I recently joined in with the Facebook Ten Football Images In Ten Days “thing.” One of them was the cover of the “Shoot” annual of 1973. I chose it for a couple of reasons. I was in hospital in December 1972 for a minor operation. Gleefully it meant that I was able to miss taking part in the school nativity play which would have bloody terrified me. I can distinctly remember – as a pre-Christmas present I guess, a “pick-me-up” – a copy of this said publication. I remembered buying a normal copy of the weekly “Shoot” earlier that autumn while on holiday in North Wales (I can even remember that an Arsenal vs. Manchester City game was featured in the centre pages; a game that I had seen on “The Big Match” that involved Brian Moore getting very opinionated about an Arsenal handball on the line that stopped a City goal, but was not given as a penalty. I remember a very irate Francis Lee. VAR anyone?) This annual featured a photograph of my Chelsea hero Peter Osgood climbing high in the Highbury sun to win a header against Frank McLintock, the rugged Scottish centre-back. This book played a big part in my growing love of football. I can even remember a feature.
“Chelsea’s Deadly H Men.”
Step forward John Hollins, Peter Houseman, Ron Harris, Ian Hutchinson, Marvin Hinton and Alan Hudson.
Sadly, I lost my copy.
Imagine my happiness when I spotted an edition in the shop window of a second-hand shop in Frome about twelve years ago. What luck.
I snapped it up.
It brought back some lovely memories.
Frank McLintock, whose eightieth birthday was on the Saturday, was featured in a half-time chat on the pitch during the game. It was good to hear his voice. These players of our childhood are starting to leave us now. It’s so sad.
I almost thought about renaming this “A Tale Of Two Franks” but that has already been taken.
As we leave one decade, and enter another, time to reflect a little. It has been a wild time. Late on, after I had flicked through some photos and just before I settled down to watch “MOTD2”, I posted this on Facebook and I think it struck a chord because it has been shared twenty-two times already.
“2010 : League & FA Cup.
2012 : FA Cup & Champions League.
2013 : Europa League.
2015 : League Cup & League.
2017 : League.
2018 : FA Cup.
2019 : Europa League.
10 trophies in 10 seasons. Please excuse me if I am not too bothered about winning fuck all for a bit.”
May I wish everyone a happy new decade.
Keep the faith.
See you all at Brighton.