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A Day Out at the Emirates The 12 Pins lifts our hopes It all started by getting the train from Homerton to Highbury and Islington on a cold, wind-biting Sunday in January, the day after my birthday in which I had a great day, meeting old friends. Normally I walk to the stadium from here but this time I had to meet up with my brother Myles and his son Niall, both huge Arsenal fans and fairly regular travellers from Dublin. They were in the 12 Pins in Finsbury Park, which merited a change to the Tube and one more stop, a fabled Irish pub which accommodates enormous numbers of verified Gooners both inside and out. They have at least one mighty attribute, the drink comes quickly no matter the numbers, a testament to the ability of the Irish staff working there and always served with a smile. The best pub in London? The songs constantly break out, from Super Mik Arteta to North London Forever and back to the old favourites we all love to hear. Tributes to Rocky, winning the title at Old Trafford and many more increase the good vibrations and the happy expectation that we would get revenge for the unlucky loss earlier in Manchester. We fell asleep that day, and Var was unkind, but we are home, we are top of the league, and Arsenal are the greatest football team. Ah, it is great to be back, the buzz and the thrill level increasing all the time. Deep talks about the future But of course, a trip to the Arsenal and meeting with my family is always replete with serious discussions of where Arsenal are, are the buys likely to be good, and can we finally do it? We all agreed that Leandro Trossard could be the perfect choice as he can provide competition and cover all across the front three, an area where we badly need it at the moment, an injury could have been a calamity but now we can breathe again. I opined that a win today pretty much guarantees top four as we would need relegation form from now on. Myles laughed and said top four is certain, we want the league. We do, indeed. Me and the gang I also said that United will defend without embarrassment, same as they did at home, particularly without Casemiro, they will be afraid of a tonking. They will look forward to a Rashford or an Anthony finding us asleep again as they hammer a long ball upfield. I really hoped we would be vigilant, use our awareness and our speed to guard against such tactics. They both agreed that we must not outplay them and lose. The Hungarian Emperor My next stop was the Arsenal supporters club bar and a meeting with the extraordinary Alexander Sztranyovszky, a major superfan who tries to attend all matches. Everyone knows Alex. He is Hungarian, and I had to deliver some ASCB presents from Georgi Stoyanov , our esteemed chairman. I found him around the corner with Peggy, the fabled owner of the shop which supplies refreshments to all Arsenal explorers, both physical and mental, as can only be found in the presence of so many dedicated Gooners. Alex alone brightens up your day with his broad smile, his welcoming attitude and the inevitable selfie which is an enduring memory of a fantastic day. Alex and me at Peggy's place There was one bad note for me, though. I had printed out my ticket in case my phone wouldn’t work but I couldn’t find it. I was staying in my friend’s Krum’s apartment in Homerton not far from the ground but had spent the previous few days in a hotel in Lancaster gate. I guessed I must have left it there. As my ticket had no name on it I was worried that someone had got hold of it and may try to use it so I left the superb atmosphere emanating from the Supporters Club to get to the ground early so I wouldn’t have any problems. Maybe they wouldn’t let me in Krasi, Lily and me I got in no problem and quickly as normally I leave it a bit late and the queues can snake around quite a bit. Inside I had a beer and then found my seat. The position was great, a nice spot in the corner, at a convenient height to watch the action well. We got a present of a clacker to make noise tucked into our seat and on inspection it was the campaign against discrimination. Good, I thought, and it had the added bonus of increasing the noise levels to unprecedented intensity which reminded me of my days in Highbury in the George Graham 1980’s. My next surprise was my Bulgarian buddy Krasi Kolev and his wife Lily came along to sit beside me amid much hugs. They were accompanied by Kristian, a Bulgarian ensconced in Scotland who I had never met before. A mighty nice man with a big smile on his face. More selfies followed. They all made plenty of noise, singing and cheering all the time. Sometimes I am on my own and the atmosphere is never as good. I was so happy to see them. When we got our goal to equalise a Rashford breakaway which I had feared, the stadium erupted in a cacophony of high decibels which the local residents of the graveyards could hear. A half-time surprise Despite a 1-1 halftime, our feeling was good, we were playing much better than the Mancs, and surely our pressure would lead to goals. I got a big surprise when we went to the bar as my old friend Tsvetomir Tsetkov was there with a selection of beer waiting for us. He is Arsenal, a great ambassador for Bulgaria, for Shumen, and London where he has been living for 15 years. He always lifts my spirits, and this time was no exception. I owe you pints, old friend. Krasi, me and Tsvetomir at halftime We went back inside. Soon we scored, a Saka masterpiece, and we jumped so high we thought we would never land. Mancs, prepare to die. No more humiliation for us, and a few more goals would be very nice. We shall overcome But we are Arsenal, and you need a strong heart to be an Arsenal supporter. A mix-up in the box and Lisandro Martinez loops a header over the stranded Ramsdale to get back to a position their play never merited. Saka the master It went on, us pressing, Utd defending, and all the while the noise and the singing never stopped. We all believed despite the clock ticking and ticking. Our hero, Eddie the undroppable, sneakily tucked the ball in the net and we had done it, the clackers, the singers, the screamers and the shouters coalesced to frighten the poor local graveyard residents out of their tombs. What noise, what atmosphere, what smiles on our faces, but then the demon VAR was summoned. Ah, we will be cheated once again. I couldn’t see how, though, the goal looked good. As the ghosts settled back peacefully into the ground, a searing crescendo erupted to frighten them up once more. The Arsenal had won, and the almighty sounds erupted and boomed throughout the stadium, and all the pubs, clubs and gathering places worldwide. We were united, not Manchester. Arsenal ARE the greatest football team! Go home crying, Ten Hag, Rashford, Martinez and all the rest. You have come to our home and we have shown you the Champions! Eddie is our winner Ps. I predicted the correct score here. The printed word doesn't fly away.
Where can we finish 2023 part 1? Palace (a), Leicester (h) Bournemouth (a) Fulham (h) Aston Villa (h) Man Utd (a) Everton (h) Brentford (a) Ah, the bane of a sportswriters life, predicting results when anything can happen on the pitch. But it never stops me, I will keep on trying to enlighten or infuriate you with my take on the scores and position we will be in if we get those scores. This year I will start with the first 8 matches as the new part of the season is far more difficult. The transfer window is not over and Fulham might buy Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo throwing all predictions into the wind. I know that this feature is among my most popular judging by readership numbers and I will give it a go again. And, in fairness, I haven’t done badly, normally getting within 3 points of our eventual tally. My Crystal Ball says Arsenal First up, away to Crystal Patrick which is my new name for them as our boy seems to have put his own unique stamp on the Londoners. Truly I wish him well and would love to see them challenging for a European spot but we owe them. We owe them bigtime a true splattering for heaping indignity on us last year and I won’t even mention the score because I certainly didn’t predict it. So, I would love to beat them 3-0 (blast, I mentioned the score) but I doubt it. Their addition of defender Chris Roberts from Bayern Munich and midfielder Cheick Doucouré from Lens seem to indicate a tightening in defence so I am going for 2-1 in our favour after a hard fought match. 3 points to the Arsenal. Can these 2 give us a winning mentality? Leicester at home. In general we have a good record against them but sometimes in recent years they have caused us big problems. Schmeichel and particularly Jamie Vardy give us headaches but Schmeichel could be gone by then as he is going for a medical to Lens. Vardy is a hundred years old, still a big threat and we never seem to find an answer to him, but we are at home and we win with Tielemans scoring for us even if he isn’t our player by then. A tight, scruffy affair gives us 1-0 to the Arsenal with six points and we are starting to dream. Finally we play well Bournemouth away and this is last years Brentford who sent us home crying. Can they do the same? It is hard to see with their buys so far as nobody seems to be frightening. I see us hitting our stride after two hard matches and giving them a tonking of that fabled 3-0 that Crystal Patrick inflicted on us last year. 9 points, top of the league and all bets are off. We are the Champions of the world! Fulham didn't sign these guys Fulham at home. They don’t sign Messi, Neymar or Ronaldo but Solomon, Paulinha, Mbabu and Šekularac look like interesting buys. But we are the Arsenal, we blast away the Fulhams of this world…it all goes wrong! We start off spinning the ball all around them, watching them jumping around like demented puppets as they somehow keep the ball out of the net but they score from nowhere. A penalty from Xhaka and he argues so hard with the ref he gets sent off. They score and we go to pieces, blundering around shellshocked, only occasionally doing good things with the ball but we don’t score. 1-0 to the Cottagers and they do a Brentford on us. Still 9 points but now the whole atmosphere changes. Gerrards Gougers make us work And so to Villa again at home. Coutinho, Kamara and Carlos look the pick of their signings and they will surely be better than last year. Our team come out as nervous and tentative as rabbits, but Gerrard’s aggressive style (read dirty) wakens our boys up. We don’t allow them to bully us and a couple of our strong experienced boys show we know how to deal with a professional style. A bad tempered match ends 1-1 and we go, battle weary, to 10 points. The early season optimism now replaced with a dogged determination to at least always put up a fight. Ten Haag - I like this guy. A bit of a Guardiola look? Ah, Manchester United away. My favourite fixture and I will be there again this year. Ten Haag is good, he will get them playing well and with purpose. He can’t fix all their problems straightaway but I expect them to make a good start to the season. A lot of players have been cleared out and Martinez, Eriksen, and Malacia should be strong signings. This time Arsenal play well, as both teams stroke the ball about very nicely. We scramble a late goal for 2-2 after a very entertaining game. 11 points means we are not far off the top and this game seems to put us back on track. Thanks Frank Everton at home. I always liked Frank Lampard but I don’t think he has managed to solve his problems with Richarlison gone and Tarkowski and McNeil in from Burnley. They are good players and will certainly fight but unless he can make some strong signings he may still struggle. And Arsenal add to his problems with our best game so far. 4-1 brings back that winning feeling and the mindless enthusiasm of our fans. 14 points, pushing towards the top and Arteta is a genius. Yes, throw up your hands, Frank Brentford away. This match destroyed our team last season. They showed up our weakness against professional teams. We were bullied, we were outmuscled and Leno never recovered. This is not the same Arsenal. We go at them but they give as good as they get. They are tight, organised and get good breakaways. Chances are few and our supposed target Aaron Hickey who went there instead, plays very well as if he has a point to prove. But it ends as a dreary 0-0 and we have 17 points. Aaron Hickey - Could he have starred for us? Worldbeaters? That puts us joint third but we are ahead on goal difference courtesy of our two good wins. And so, we enter the next phase a bit more realistic. Champions League is within our grasp but only occasionally have we shown glimpses that we can maybe do better, be a real winning machine like Man City or Liverpool. The many hard matches are a testing ground for character, for improving our players self-belief. Last year some of our players wouldn’t dig deep when it mattered. Some are now gone. Are they replaced by battlers? I am optimistic that we will do better this year. Of course those astute fans out there will realise that the three monsters and the Spuds who finished in front of us last season are not on this list. They are the testers. We need some points on the board before we tackle them. Up the Arsenal! RIP To King Terry Neill of which I have written about extensively in these columns. A real Arsenal man, he could be found around the Emirates on match days reliving his glory days. And he did mastermind that amazing victory over Manchester United in the 1979 FA cup final which cemented Liam Brady as one of our greatest.