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The joy of being an Arsenal fan For me, a trip to see Arsenal is obviously one of the things I look forward to most. I have been lucky, most have been wins. I have seen Arsenal play against many big teams, Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, and many others. I have been away quite a few times as well. I was in Old Trafford in 1991 when we were deducted 2 points for the infamous brawl despite the fact that Man Utd started it as anyone can see on Youtube. I have seen Arsenal win and lose European matches. I have seen controversial matches, boring matches, friendlies, sending offs, debuts, missed goals due to distractions, watched from terraces and stands, had terrible positions and great positions, been jostled immensely on the terrace, seen fights among fans, listened to the incredible singing and chanting, and most of all, been caught up in the joy of Arsenal scoring and winning important matches. Our badge radiates outwards towards the world We are all fused together Those of you out there who have never been there need to go for that reason alone, to get caught up in the emotion of being surrounded by strangers who share the love of Arsenal, to experience that sheer untrammelled joy when a whole stadium erupts to celebrate their team. You forget yourself, as you transcend normal consciousness to become part of a union far greater than yourself, as you become one with your team. Go, experience it, you will always remember that feeling. It is not the same as being in a pub with all your friends, great though that experience can be. It is being alone, at the ground, yet surrounded by kindred souls, united by a lifetime bond, and exploding into unparalleled joy, hugging strangers, and being lifted up by that shared communication that fizzes through us all. It is Arsenal and we are there, with all the players, the staff, and even the away supporters, who are thrown backwards into despondency, at the same moment as we have been sent into raptures. Go. Leeds on Sunday was a crucial match. A must win for the forward march of the Arsenal. We knew it, and the Spuds knew it. They had dropped points against Liverpool, and we had to capitalise. 4 points clear and the Spuds know that even 3 wins will not be enough to guarantee them 4th place. A draw on Thursday gives us a very strong position. My View on Sunday Could Leeds not see Martinelli? And so, I sat in the ground, wondering what a desperate Leeds could do, they had fallen into a relegation dogfight. They had changed styles from the exhilarating attacking of Bielsa to the defensive conservatism of Jesse Marsch. They, strangely, played a narrow line, allowing huge wingspace, considering we were playing with 2 exceptional wingers in Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka. Martinelli was left out wide to gather up every ball that our midfield and defence collected. He was an easy option to pass to and he went on so many runs it was unprecedented in my time of watching football. It was like nobody at Leeds could see him there ready to grab the ball and run at their goal. They relied on numbers surrounding their goals to smother the attacks. We hear you, Eddie But that didn’t work, Meslier, gifted a true howler to Eddie Nketiah, who thought he was chasing him down to put him under pressure, instead found that he didn’t know what he was doing, and poked the ball into the net with Meslier looking on in disbelief. As was I. It was as soft a goal as I have seen and if it was Ramsdale, he would have felt the weight of the fans anger. The Leeds fans were behind Meslier and I am sure they couldn’t believe what they were seeing, in what was their most important match of the season, the one in which they drop down into the relegation zone at exactly the wrong time. Oh my god, they must have thought. I have no idea what went through Aylings mind, down near the corner flag 2 Leeds players imploded But it was to get worse, Nketiah fired in a second minutes later to make it 2-0. Us Arsenal fans were flying, cheering, singing and felt sure we were watching a demolition as Leeds looked clueless, inept and beaten all ends up. But it got worse again for them. Luke Ayling, seeing Martinelli on another run down at the corner flag, flew in with both feet to upend him. VAR was called in but honestly, even though I was at the other end of the ground in the North Bank, I could see that this was reckless and unnecessary. He was gone and the irritatingly persistent aggressiveness of Raphinho towards the referee should have seen him get red as well. I am amazed he allowed him to pull and drag him like that. They were down to ten, 2 goals down and going nowhere. But somehow we deflated. We kept pushing forward, making chances, even some quite good ones, but it was like we don’t have that killer instinct, to put our feet on the throat of our opponents and squeeze the life out of them. We should have got 3 or 4 more but we didn’t. Doing things the hard Arsenal way In the second half they were a bit better. Marsch must have tried to impress upon them that they are fighting for their lives, their careers, and their reputations. I expected them to come out flying. They didn't, the game meandered, we were better, but not really doing much. Marsch seemed to want to keep the goals down And so they got a corner. And we gave away a bit of a soft touch as Diego Llorente was left unmarked to head in what I think is our first goal conceded from a corner in the Premier League this season. 2-1 and a nervy, unsettling end to what had been one of the easiest matches I have seen Arsenal play. We won when it mattered But the crowd erupted at the end, jumping, singing, dancing, waiting, applauding, and communing as one with that electric buzz that comes from knowing that this time, we had won when it mattered. We were Arsenal. Leeds have to go home crying, wondering if their glorious resurrection has come to an end. Will they go back down to the championship and struggle to get back out? Honestly I don’t want any of Burnley, Everton or Leeds to go down. I have friends in all three and I know one has to go. We play Everton and we may do Leeds a favour in their last match. But I have no wish for either to go down or to know that we played a decisive part. But that is what we have to do. Beat teams no matter what. Throw out your arms And so we did. We got the win. The Spuds are under greater pressure than us. We must at least draw against them and it would be unbelievable to beat them. To be in the ground as we score and at the end, triumph as we have done in our stellar past, and then to be caught up as the atmosphere goes into overdrive, fizzing, buzzing with lightning bolts of happiness flowing through us, making us so glad we are Arsenal and we have prevailed. This is why you should go, be there in the ground, make that connection with all the fans there, and the millions watching worldwide, and the millions that went before and will come after you. You are connected to them all, that part of us that is Arsenal. We are Arsenal.
1991-92 We were the Kings and we could beat everyone In my second last blog on the season 1990-91 I wrote about how good we were. One defeat to Chelsea in the league and we had 85 points at the end, with 2 taken away for the handbags at Man U leaving us with 83 and seven points ahead of Liverpool. 2 championships in 3 years, this time clearly. I was cock-a -hoop, the big man, we were ready, we were Arsenal and nothing could stop us dominating the lesser teams around us. And we were the first team back in the European cup, surely we could win that as well? Why could we not win the FA cup and the League cup as well? We were the best. To give a bit of background, this was the last year of the old First Division. The Premier League was about to start along with the changes that would be introduced with it. Constant live football and all sorts of different camera angles and analysis would change football forever but that is a story for next week plus a little rule change that was to have a huge impact on George Graham. Better than the rest But for now, I was strutting around at the start of the season, waiting for what I had been waiting for all my Arsenal life, the year when we are the greatest and ready to smack down any of the inept pretenders. Liverpool? With Graeme Souness? Mediocre. Alex Ferguson and Man U? Too inconsistent, manager out of his depth at a big club. Nobody could understand why he was being kept. Crystal Palace had come 3rd under Steve Coppell. They were good, I loved what they were doing, they had Mark Bright and Ian Wright upfront and they played a simple straightforward game, which was defend in numbers and get the ball as quickly as you can to these 2, they were a nightmare. But we nicked Wrighty in September, their best player, and that put paid to their chances. We bought him and Wrightly so Ian Wright was the right choice Ian Wright surely was the final piece of the jigsaw. We hadn’t really strengthened in the summer with only bit players coming in. This was reflected in our poor start. A draw with QPR and defeats to Villa and Everton. Oh, what it is to be an Arsenal supporter. Finally I felt we were top guns and now brought back down to earth. If I understood Graham correctly, he had his idea of the player he wanted in every position and that is why he didn’t strengthen, whoever he may have wanted wasn’t available until Wright pushed for his move in September. The other teams did reinforce, though, none more so than Leeds. Leeds, under Howard Wilkinson, improved with shrewd signings like Rod Wallace, Tony Dorigo and Steve Hodge and the iconic Eric Cantona arrived in February. They contested with Manchester United for the title and won out at the end. We were 4th, 10 points behind Leeds and 6 behind Alex Ferguson. Howard Wilkinson had his finest year To understand my frustration, Ian Wright was a great signing, he scored 26 goals in 33 matches, we were the highest scoring team in the division with 81 goals, we went on a long unbeaten run towards the end to get that 4th place. The same players as last season with the addition of Wright and we finished a long way back? I couldn’t understand it. Wright had 5 goals from Palace and 24 in the league with us to pip Gary Lineker for top scorer in the division. But it all went wrong The European Cup? A great start with a 6-1 over Austria Wien so that the second leg didn’t matter. Alan Smith, not the most prolific of scorers whacked in 4. Benfica did for us in the second round, though, beating us after extra time at Highbury in the second leg. The League Cup? We struggled home against Leicester over 2 rounds with Ian Wright, who else?, scoring in both ties, 1-1 away and then 2-0 at home. But we went out tamely to Coventry in the next round 0-1 away. The Fa Cup, our trophy? Rubbish. Wrexham from the 4th division took us on. When Alan Smith put us one goal ahead before halftime I thought this is it, maybe we could have a nice run in the cup, instead they equalized and then scored the winner in a giant-killing shock. Wrexham's Mickey Thomas did us No Strut anymore So, by then, we were out of everything, 7th in the league after a horrible spell around December/January and out of all competitions. Strutting around? Giving it the Big I am? No way, I was hiding away, politely saying to Leeds and Man U supporters that their teams were doing well. Liverpool had fallen apart under Souness, ending 6th, their worst in ages. They did win the FA Cup, though, and Man U the League Cup. For us, nothing. The excitement I had when Ian Wright came faded, we took way too long to get going. For us Irish, David O’Leary had garnered his 700 appearance although he was becoming more and more a bit player. The famous back four of Dixon, Winterburn, Bould and Adams played most games and Seaman was ever present. The strong finish though, gave me hope. We were unbeaten from Feb 1. We trounced Liverpool 4-0 in our 3rd last match to send them home crying and Southampton 5-1 in our last. Ian Wright notched up a hat trick in that to beat Gary Lineker for top scorer. It was just a hangover from being so good the previous season. I believed Graham will have us ready next time, we will be the winners again. We just had to learn that we must prove we are Arsenal every season. I had great hopes. You will always be second best with Tottenham, Gary Still 61 is our max. We must beat Chelsea to keep alive the barest flicker of hope. They look good at the moment but perhaps Arteta should talk to Big Sam Allardyce to find out the secret to beating them. Lose this and our fire has gone out. I have hope still. A tiny little teeny piece of hope that we can somehow fluke a Europa league spot.