Time for a break

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, May 15, 2008, 1.58 PM
Admittedly I find it very frustrating to read many people's reasoning for why we have failed to bring in any silverware this season but having written the diary/blog for nearly 10 years now I have learnt to digest and analyse before ranting and raving!

I've mentioned it before and I will mention it again, if we had come away from Old Trafford with the three points that our performance deserved we would be sitting here with the Premiership trophy in the cabinet. Nobody can argue that because if you look at the points in the league table it is simply pure fact.

Of course, there are lots of other games where we didn't win, be it through not deserving to or sheer bad luck and likewise there have been occasions where we have been perhaps a little fortunate to come away with more points than our performance warranted. That is football. You never get a perfect season.

But by looking at the game at Old Trafford alone it demonstrates just how incredibly close we were to picking up this country's biggest prize.

Of course there are areas and ways where we can improve, that has always been the case in football, even in those seasons where we have dominated all before us but to start saying we need to get rid of loads of our players and replace them with others is downright ridiculous having gone so close.

Some of your e-mails have even accused me of just following some kind of 'Arsenal propaganda' but I can assure you that (within reason) I have a totally open licence to air my exact thoughts and opinions and I'm not influenced in any way by anybody within the Club. Like every fan I have an opinion of my own but please remember that like you I am just that, a fan!

We all want the same from this great club of ours and having watched the team for over 30 years now I for one am very happy to trust Mr Wenger to get it right. I absolutely love watching us play football right now and I cannot believe any of our fans believe the way we play to be not enjoyable. We have won trophies before and we will win them again, just keep the faith.

My grandmother could go out, buy the best players in the world at hugely inflated prices and pay them ridiculously high wages in a bid to win the league. This season we have finished just one match from achieving that goal the Arsenal way. For that alone I am proud.

Sunderland is a long way from Kent especially after Radio One's Big Weekend the previous day had left me a little weary to say the least but as we set off in our minibus early on a sundrenched Sunday morning all attendees seemed in high spirits. One last trip before we call it a day for another season.

It might have been a glorious sunny day over the majority of the country but on arriving in the north east we found a city shrouded in a very chilly North Sea mist! The shorts and flip-flops might have been on but thank goodness for the hoodie!

The Mackems 'last home game of the season' full house made for a cracking atmosphere and it will be remembered for another example of what we all hope will be a regular feature to his game in the coming seasons, Theo sprinting onto a through-ball and calmly smashing it into the net for the winning goal.

A thoroughly satisfying way to complete the season then, dreams of what might have been getting a severe reality check when bumping into a bus load of Man City fans on their way back from Middlesbrough after an 8-1 defeat! Now that's what I call a disappointing away day!!

So summer's here then, a time to rest, recharge the batteries, rebuild the optimism and look forward to trips to Barnet, Huddersfield and whatever else pre-season throws up!

Thanks very much to each and every one of you who has taken time to e-mail me throughout the season (even those who vehemently don't agree with anything I say!), I really do enjoy reading your comments.

Enjoy the summer and remember, be proud.

Frank

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The Silly Season

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, May 8, 2008, 11.47 AM
Everton have come to Highbury on more than one occasion in recent times and been 'forced' to enjoy the party. On this occasion it proved to be one still graced with an element of emotion but nowhere near at the levels experienced in the past.

For me it was a shame our hosts came in search of just a point and I feel with nothing to play for or even requiring all three would have made for a far more interesting spectacle.

As a result Everton rarely ventured into our half and with our own team showing an understandable lack of urgency it was real 'end of season' fare. Saying that however, there was only one team that looked like taking the three points, especially in the second half, and time will tell if our visitors regret taking such a negative attitude into the game.

Indeed the phrase 'time will tell' can be used for a number of issues at the end of any season. For me, our best player on Sunday was Alex Song. In each of the games he has played at centre half this season he has done well and it will be interesting to see if he continues to grow and make the position his own.

So, our unbeaten home season comes to a close with a victory and of course the chance for us to say thanks and goodbye to one or two of our squad. If Jens goes, as looks extremely likely, it was fantastic to give him a fitting send-off. He will always be remembered for his part in the unbeaten season and for a good couple of years he was probably the best goalkeeper in the Premiership. He will be fondly remembered by all Gooners.

The news that Matt Flamini has gone is disappointing I feel, especially after a fantastic season that had seen him cement his place at the very heart of our midfield. Very few players over the years have left our great club and gone on to bigger and better things. Will he regret his decision? It's that 'time will tell' situation again.

With just the long trip up to Sunderland to complete the 38, that period is upon us where the best thing we can do is avoid the rumour-filled media. If I'm involved in one more conversation where someone says, "See such and such is off..." I will scream! "Says who?!" "It's in the paper this morning....."!

Aagghhhhhhhhhhhh!!

Taking a look at the kind of talent we have coming through in a testimonial down at Dorchester Town on Tuesday night, believe me, if players decide to leave, we'll be just fine.

Come on you mighty reds!

Frank

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The final knockings

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, May 1, 2008, 11.38 AM
With the amount of negativity in the air before a ball was even kicked this season, if we were told at that time we would have two league games left and still be in with a mathmatical chance of taking the title, I think it's safe to say we all would have been delighted to have taken it.

To have enjoyed a good lead however, and to play so well in some crucial games before coming away with nothing, I think we all know that for some reason it's just not been our season.

Although a little 'gung-ho' at times, our trip to Derby pretty much summed up our season on the playing front I feel.

From a supporting point of view I am disappointed the Rams have been relegated. Any trip to the Midlands beats the countless long journeys we have to the North, even in a midweek game I found myself tucked up in bed back in Kent before 1.00am. The atmosphere is good at Pride Park too and with pre-match proving smooth and enjoyable I will be extremely happy should they bounce straight back next year and rejoin us come the 2009/10 season.

Going forward on Monday night, at times our football was simply breathtaking. Don't get me wrong Derby are not bottom of the Premier League for no reason but in addition to the six goals we did grab we could have netted at least another dozen. The four-goal victory will certainly help our situation should Chelsea slip up in their final two games and we finish level on points with them, as unlikely as that is of course!

To concede another two goals however, is disappointing and for me perhaps highlights our weakness, certainly in the latter part of the season.
Successful teams are built around a water-tight defence. In the last three months of the season we have really struggled to keep a clean sheet.

As a team, I'm sure we will learn from this season's experience in all departments and come back even hungrier to succeed next time round.

For now however, I fully intend to thoroughly enjoy our last home game of the season as Everton come to the Home of Football in search of points to secure European football at Goodison next season. When we kick off we will already be aware if our unlikely (at this stage) Premier League dream is still alive but with Chelsea's match not taking place until Monday the game will be hugely important whatever has happened at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Whatever happens in the last two games I for one am very proud of the steps we have made this season.

Keep dreaming... you never know! ;-)

Frank

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The home straight

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, April 24, 2008, 3.24 PM
An awful lot has been said about why we are not top of the league and why nothing but a miracle will now see us take the title. Many games have been played and analysed but for me, now emphasizes more then ever how desperately close we have come.

If we had come away from Old Trafford last week with the result our performance deserved we would be sitting here just one point behind Utd and level with Chelsea with this weekend's match between the two still to come.

With three games to go we would well and truly be in with a great chance of taking the title.

A situation like this makes me realise that much of the analysis we make, be it us fans or the media, is often total and utter rubbish!

Of course there are lots of 'ifs' and 'buts' with every match of every week of every season but with the Man Utd away game still being fresh in the mind we could argue if Rio Ferdinand's wild mis-kick had flown into the net instead of straight at his own goalkeeper to put us two-nil up the very situation I have described above could be reality.

So much for analysis for our so called 'failures'!

After recent weeks Reading at home was always going to be a bit flat. With our visitors however desperate for points, it could also have been one of those games that saw us drop further behind in the race for second spot.

A comfortable two goal victory could quite easily have been five or six without appearing to get out of third gear but it was definitely really pleasing to get three points under our belt after a period where this feels like a bit of a rarity!

Talking of things that don't seem to happen very often, we are now in late April and find ourselves with a free weekend. A chance maybe to do those weekend things that non football followers get up to, whatever they are, before heading up the M1 on Monday to take on Derby County.

Once again it is a game that we know we should win if we play to our ability and strengths. Paul Jewell however, is already building for next season and he will relish the chance of seeing his team competing with one of the country's top sides.

If Chelsea are to slip up this weekend we must take every advantage of the chance to keep fighting for that second spot. If they don't then it keeps that little 'miracle' alive for at least one more week!

Come on you reds!

Frank

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Not very far away

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, April 15, 2008, 12.40 PM
Walking out of Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon I was surprised to be experiencing feelings of a total and utter pride and not the anger and such emotions that one can often feel immediately after a defeat.

Don't get me wrong, for the second time in a week, like each and every Gooner around the world I was also feeling absolutely gutted. Sickness is uncomfortable be it illness or brought on by one or two beers more than you should have consumed! That feeling in your stomach when you lose an important game should have its own definition!

Like on previous occasions I have left recording my thoughts until the dust has settled a little. I have avoided all football phone-in shows and 'expert' media ramblings because they leave me more angry than anything else.

My inbox is crammed full of your e-mails and if I'm honest, although I like to read and appreciate the time you take to send them I am extremely disappointed at the extent of the majority's negativity.

Fortunately I know that the vast majority of our fan base, particularly those that travel the length and breadth of England and Europe watching the team, can see the bigger picture. The fact that many of those at Old Trafford stayed and sung their hearts out long after the final whistle demonstrated this perfectly.

Personally I thought we were excellent at Anfield and fantastic at Old Trafford. Looking at the two games (three if you include the Champions League home game), there is absolutely no way the best team on the day won the games.

We have paid for defensive mistakes, a whole lot of bad luck, possibly bad finishing on Sunday and quite probably too little experience.

I am convinced the defeats, as painful as they are, will see us come back next year with more of the latter under our belt and an increased hunger to succeed.

And in my opinion we are very VERY close to having an all-conquering squad. Add one or two adjustments to the squad in the summer and a season of better fortune when it comes to the whole package of injuries, refereeing decisions and just the simple rub of the green and we will be there. Despite the two defeats, our performances in both games have convinced me even more.

Throughout the building of a brand new team since the unbeaten squad we have not just seen outstanding football week-in week-out but we have continued to challenge on all four fronts. Those clubs all over the country have tried to build squads to challenge us and year-in year-out they have failed.

Bar a miracle only second spot is up for grabs now and winning all our final games gives us a chance of achieving just that.

Out of the pain we are all feeling from recent games, we must remain together, defiant and filled with pride. That should never change.

I cannot wait for next season, if and when we go on to collect silverware over the coming years, the sense of pride in achieving it will better anything we have experienced in the past.

No, we are not beyond criticism, but in a situation where our still very young squad are so very near to being the best, think with a little more reality, get behind the club you love, share the disappointments and believe me, when those successful days return, we will all enjoy the party together.

We are Arsenal. Be proud of it.

Frank

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The Lady is avoiding us

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, April 7, 2008, 1.15 PM
When Cesc's shot bounced into the net off two defenders back at the Reebok last week, not only did it send us all doolally but we hoped at long last it was a sign that that hugely important aspect to football 'luck', was finally heading our way!

Not on your nelly!!

I'm sick of hearing from all angles this week after our first leg draw with Liverpool, that our opponents know how to to play in Europe. Since when exactly has Arsenal v Liverpool been a European fixture?! It is no more than a domestic fixture in a different competition and could just as easily be a Carling Cup semi final!

I felt we played extremely well in the game overall and paid for hesitating briefly in our defensive third at a time when we were a goal up and in complete control of the match.

Even then, when an away goal could have seen us crumble, we totally dominated the match and created the only chances throughout. It may appear I am going on a bit too much about Lady Luck at the moment but I am convinced that even though it doesn't change the performance, when it is on your side the results that you often deserve come your way.

I can only recall one game during this period of numerous drawn matches where we haven't necessarily deserved any more than a point. With the rub of the green we still could have been clear at the top of the Premier League and with one foot in the Champions League semi-final.

Only three people it seems, in the whole of the stadium and throughout the millions watching on TV, did not think the foul on Alex was a penalty.

Unfortunately, it was the three that make that decision. How unlucky can you be when Cesc's shot was rolling into an empty net and one of his team mates simply cannot get out of the ball's way and prevents it from crossing the line?!

There was always a chance Saturday's encounter could turn out to be a bit of a damp squib. The second half however, was almost like a cup tie and hugely entertaining. For all our dominance for the last hour however, we couldn't quite turn a point into three.

Liverpool were the better side in the first half hour but the most disappointing aspect is we conceded again during a period when there was only one team that looked like scoring.

Apart from the odd break that could have seen our visitors clinch all three points, the second period was simply one-way traffic. Nicky Bendtner's header gave us enough time to go on and take the points but it wasn't to be in another frustrating afternoon.

Half time it is then as we all look forward to the trip to Anfield. We are definitely still in the tie but it is unusual for us to go into a game as underdogs. I am happy with that and with desire, effort and concentration I am confident we can come away with a semi-final place in the bag.

If anyone has got a space in their car for the journey up the M6, please can you save it for Ms Luck?! I've got a feeling that at some stage during the night we might just need a little bit of her help too!

Frank

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It's a funny old game

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, March 31, 2008, 2.45 PM
I was never a big fan of Jimmy Greaves as a TV personality (I am too young to remember him as a player) but back in the days where our weekend football TV fix was pretty much just highlights, his Saturday lunchtime ITV chat show along side Ian St. John battled with BBC's "Football Focus" for the huge viewing figures on offer.

His catchphrase is arguably over-used even today but on occasion there seems to be no more appropriate words to describe what we have just witnessed. Saturday, at a rainsoaked Reebok Stadium was one such occasion!

Just seven days earlier we somehow left Stamford Bridge with nothing from a game we had once again largely dominated.

As we discussed the pending match over a Sunday lunchtime pint in our chosen haunt it was agreed that along with that desire, passion and ability, factors such as the simple 'rub of the green' would be equally important in a fixture that can always go either way.

For 70-odd minutes, I felt we were excellent and apart from a couple of dangerous crosses, totally controlling the game. Bacary's near post header to put us into the lead was comfortably deserved.

Then that little bit of luck that is so important deserted us once again.

It is not an excuse as the changes it brought about should not have affected the way we were playing but in tight games against the better teams, any amendment can be so influential and Bacary's injury completely changed the game.

I am convinced had he not picked up his knock we would have gone on to take the three points as our shape was good, our football was sharp and as mentioned before, we were in total control of the game.

Very disappointing but we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that the performance was good and if we are to fall short in this season's title race it certainly won't be that result we look back on as where we dropped unnecessary points.

The weather in Bolton on Saturday was dreadful. Unlike on most occasions however, it didn't cause us any problems on the M6 and the pitch at the Reebok looked better than I've ever seen it. That alone gave me a lot of confidence pre-match that our passing game could see us take all three points.

Come half-time the away end was full of people scratching their heads in disbelief.

We started well, in fact for most of the half we controlled the play, created chances and always looked the more dangerous of the two sides.

Kolo was caught napping at our hosts' first attack and we were a goal behind. Triffic! Even going one down however, what followed was quite unbelievable.

We will always concede a couple of goals per season like Bolton's second.

Wherever we are on the pitch we will continue to play football and not hoof it into row Z. On this occasion it didn't work but it still took a huge slab of the luck that we have not been graced with in recent weeks, for Taylor's shot to deflect beyond Manuel's dive and into the net.

Abou's challenge deserved a red card, expecially in the current climate.

All we can hope is he learns from it, although in his defence I don't believe it was a malicious challenge, just one of those where he was stretching and consequently not in total control. Clumsy and silly, but not malicious.

To be honest, passions were running a little high in the away end at half time. Discussions were heated as quite understandably our frustration that our league season seemed to be falling apart in front of our very eyes was probably making many of those that had made the five to six hundred mile round trip think slightly more irrationally than usual.

As unlikely as it seemed, at 2-0 you feel there might be just a glimmer of hope. If we had gone three down I think many of the travelling Gooners would have headed back to their transport. Consequently, looking back at the game as a whole,  the first 15 minutes of the second half were crucial.

Strangely it was probably Bolton's best spell in the match, one save in particular from Manuel was quite superb from a header where having seen TV replays, it was quite ridiculous that the referee hadn't given a foul. If it had gone in it would have been game over, there is no doubt.

Bringing on Ade and Theo, almost in an attacking full-back role, was a masterstroke by Mr. Wenger, although probably laced with an element of 'all or nothing' desperation. Whatever it was, boy did it work!

Billy's far-post volley from a corner got us back in the game. With the best part of half-an-hour to play, suddenly there was an air of optimism spread across the away end, only matched by the extra urgency quite obvious in the players as they streamed forward in search of something from the game.

Probably the best move of the game saw Matty Flamini steaming into the box, a great save from the keeper, Alex was first to the ball, he goes down, there's the ridiculously long split-second as we wait for the referee to make his decision, PENALTY! Come on!!

RVP, with another crucial 90 minutes under his belt, smashed home the pen and it was what can only be described as controlled pandemonium in the away end! We couldn't... could we?!

"Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal..." roared into the dreary sky as we dreamed of three points from an impossible situation.

Theo was absolutely flying, in fact he was frightening and after setting up RVP for a volley that he fired high and wide it looked like our chance might have gone.

Still we poured forward and with just seconds on the clock, yet another fine move saw Cesc scuff his shot across the goal, two deflections and incredibly, expecially considering our run of bad luck, it was in!

The situation in the away end cannot be described! I'd be wrong if I was to use the word controlled, this time it was absolute carnage! Bodies and limbs everywhere, close contact with complete strangers, trust me, ask anyone who was there, it was incredible!

In the space of two hours we had seen the entire emotional spectrum when it comes to football. Events that have you questioning why you travel all that way at one end to exactly why we do it at the other. Quite phenomenal.

To pick ourselves up for Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final had we got beaten would have been extremely difficult. To go into the tie with an improbable victory will hopefully not only give the team that lift we so badly needed but will go somewhere towards us fans making it an incredible atmosphere as we try to roar our team into the semi-finals.

You know we can play our part so sing until you are hoarse.

Frank

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Frustration

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, March 20, 2008, 11.45 AM
For most home games I tend to travel up on the day of the match before trudging back to my transport and heading straight back to Kent immediately after but on occasion I seek to enjoy alternative post and pre-match entertainment.

My mum probably falls in to that category often described as 'football widow'. Throughout her married (and pre wedded) life, her husband has been a dedicated follower of the Gooners and has joined the many thousands of us that travel the length and breadth of Britain and Europe to watch our team.

Having produced a son 38 years ago it was only natural that he would follow in his father's footsteps!

As a result, when Arsenal are playing, the male side of the Stubbsy household tends to be away from home. It is a story heard time and time again all over the world and a situation my mum admits is one "she is used to"!

She can only remember ever visiting Highbury on three occasions, only two of which I can recall, the first being a 2-1 victory at home to Leicester back in the mid eighties that saw a certain Gary Lineker open the scoring for the Foxes before two goals in the last five minutes saw us home, one from Paul Davis if my memory serves me right. I seem to recall Charlie Nicholas and one of the Leicester players being sent off after a bit of a scuffle too!

The second saw a Thierry Henry double clinch a 2-1 victory over Derby. All in all, quite a lucky omen then, so when we made plans to bring her along to her first (and probably last!) visit to our new stadium for the Middlesbrough game, we hoped this good fortune would continue.

Her first job some 40 odd years ago was also in the vicinity of Upper Street so we booked a hotel for the night and planned to make it a thoroughly entertaining couple of days full of reminiscing. Saturday in fact also saw us enjoying the company of Dave 'Meat' Castle, a Maidstone home and away season ticket Gooner who now resides in Vancouver, Canada!

The later kick-off allowed a long and lazy lunch to commence proceedings and fortunately the rain just about held off long enough to get to the ground before getting drenched.

Despite my mum's support, the game unfortunately proved hugely disappointing and extremely frustrating.

Once again we seemed to lack that spark, that sharpness in our passing, yet even when below par we could and should have won the game at a canter.
Kolo's goal grabbed us a point and gave us late hope of an improbable victory but I am convinced if Cesc's great chance midway through the half had gone in it would have given us enough time to go on and win the game.

Middlesbrough defended well admittedly and in vast numbers but overall, we came away with two points less than we should have done from a game we simply had to win.

The torrential rain that met the game's conclusion seemed almost apt and it brought a disappointing walk back to Upper Street for our post match entertainment. Spirits lifted as we listened to mum's interpretation of the whole affair and a fine meal in one of the street's many excellent restaurants completed an entertaining day, if frustrating football wise.

So, we've left ourselves it all to do. We are not totally out of the title race, but there is no doubt it will be very difficult from here on in.
That challenge starts at Chelsea on Sunday, an extremely tough fixture but one that always fills you with all those football emotions.

I'm sure that secretly my mum might well take a look on the telly come late Sunday afternoon, let's hope she has reason to enjoy a very mumsy jostle come the final whistle!!

Frank

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Anyone fancy a game of rugby?!

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, March 11, 2008, 1.14 PM
Returning from winning in the Bernabeu a couple of years back, our next game was away at Blackburn. On the day we were poor and thoroughly deserved to get beaten. It really did feel like a hangover from the marvellous events in midweek and brought us all back down to earth with a bump.

Admittedly that was in the back of my mind as we made yet another long trip up to the North West but overall, it was only the fact we didn't head back south with the three points that totally disappointed me.

What is it with a minority of other teams' fans and their singing about Eduardo's terrible injury?! I apologise to the majority that support Villa and Wigan but I just don't get it. Eddy is quite obviously not one of 'those' players that on occasion can get opposing teams' backs up and their is no 'history' I am aware of between us and Villa or Wigan. Thirty years of following Arsenal all over the UK and Europe still fails to offer me an explanation. Maybe I am just being a little naive but much of what I'm sure we all feel about the situation is unprintable. All I can say is it's  very strange and extremely disappointing.

I hate making 'excuses' for defeats or disappointing results. Consequently I am not going to offer the state of Wigan's pitch as an excuse. There is no doubt however, that when a surface is more suitable for sports where the ball remains off the ground, it is a great leveller. Many of the biggest cup shocks down the years have been as a result of a pitch being in a condition that prevents the superior footballing side from playing the beautiful game. Unfortunately Wigan's on Sunday did just that.

Even taking that into consideration however, we should have taken the three points. Apart from one shot from distance late on Wigan did not carve out a single chance. All we needed to do was take one of the five or six that fell our way, in particular Ade's in the first minute and Cesc's with time running out, and we would have travelled home happy in the knowledge that we had taken three points from a difficult day.

It is difficult to be over-positive when we have only taken three points from our last nine but let me take you back to before the season started.
The media were already writing us off, suggesting we might struggle to make the top four. Yet here we are with nine games left, top of the league and still in with a very good chance of taking the title.

With the likes of Kolo, RVP and Tommy Rosicky all ready or almost ready to make a contribution at a crucial time, we welcome Middlesbrough to north London.

Before all that it's Friday's Champions League draw. I would like a trip to Istanbul.

Come on you reds!

Frank

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Outplayed, outgunned, outsung

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, March 6, 2008, 10.12 AM
Having been to the city of Milan three times before including our Super Cup defeat in 1995 and of course that famous 'Italian Job' against Inter, I had just four aims when setting off for Gatwick early on Sunday morning. Good Italian food, ice cream, a successsful couple of evenings enjoying the nightlife and, most importantly of all, defeating the European champions in their own back yard.

Total and utter mission accomplished!

Villa at home was not the result we all wanted on Saturday, especially after we simply threw away two points at St Andrews one week earlier. Saying that however, the unlikely point we took in the dying moments could be so crucial and for me summed up much of this season.

To take a point with us to Italy on a day where we weren't at our best and to be fair to Villa they played extremely well, was relatively satisfying if not exactly what we hoped for.

Spirits were high as we mingled with the skiiers at Gatwick but even the most confident among the travelling Gooners couldn't have imagined what a history-making night we were all to witness.

Two full days of eating, drinking and sightseeing in glorious sunshine followed before the weather changed to wind and freezing rain and the PMT really kicked in as kick off time approached.

The San Siro is an imposing structure by day, by night it almost resembles something from out of space. On all four corners there are huge cylindrical towers and it was one of these we all had to wind our way up to reach our vantage point high up on the third level.

Once inside, the view almost takes your breath away, despite the standard netting that you find yourself behind as an away fan in Europe, there for 'our own safety' apparently.

 

Gooners in the San Siro

Gooners in the San Siro

...and more on a chilly night

...and more on a chilly night


 

Players line up, the Champions League theme rings out...

Players line up, the Champions League theme rings out...

Satisfied Gooners at a sundrenched Duomo

Satisfied Gooners at a sundrenched Duomo



Overall, despite the limited facilities, there is no doubt it is an awesome sporting arena.

From the opening minute we looked really up for it and apart from one or two short periods we totally dominated the whole match.

The only thing that matched our performance was the absolutely tremendous support from the travelling Gooners. I do hope the TV pictures and audio equipment did it justice. We outsang the many thousands of Milan fans and it was a privilege to be part of it.

Not until about 15 minutes to go did I start to get that feeling it just wasn't going to be our night. We had created so many great opportunities, had outpassed and outfought our prestigious hosts, often against some strange and, let's be honest, blatantly incorrect refereeing decisions, but I wondered if our chance might be slipping away.

Then, out of nothing, Cesc picked up the ball fully 25 yards out and lashed it into the bottom corner. What a jostle! High up in the Milan sky it simply went absolutely mental.

So late in the game it was the perfect time to score. We knew and Milan knew it too and if they didn't we certainly made sure it sank in very shortly after!

Theo's fresh legs saw him win a ball he had no right to and Ade stole in for the second. Cue total pandemonium in the away end.

"Two nil in the San Siro" echoed into the Milan night sky. A truly memorable occasion.

A celebration was on the cards of course and it completed a quite fantastic Italian adventure.

I am writing these notes on my coach back to Milan's Malpensa airport and, trust me, despite the fat head I still have a smile from ear to ear.

Football dictates it is a celebration we must have reason to continue in Wigan on Sunday.

Once again we will sing up!

Come on!

Frank

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Get well soon

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, February 28, 2008, 11.35 AM
Sometimes I write my thoughts immediately after a game or anything else that happens surrounding our team. On other occasions I tend to let the dust settle a little and give myself time to reflect. Certainly as far as the last seven days or so are concerned I have chosen the latter.

For a nil-nil draw I felt the AC Milan game was an absolute cracker. The football and technical ability on show was fantastic and, for me, both our tactics and performance were spot on. Of course this is an obvious statement but all we lacked was that all important, and thoroughly deserved, first leg goal. Manu Eboue and in particular Ade in the dying seconds came closest but as in all two legged European ties, above all else it was crucial we kept a clean sheet at home.

If Ade's last minute header had gone in, as it should have done, Milan would have to beat us in the San Siro. That situation remains the same having drawn nil-nil. Plenty of reason, then, to remain upbeat for what promises to be one hell of an occasion out in northern Italy.

The weekend just passed coincided with my birthday and as part of the proceedings we decided to take a VIP coach from Maidstone to St Andrews.
The day that followed proved massively entertaining if an enormous strain on our emotions.

The journey up was extremely smooth, like clockwork in fact, and with a top quality brekkie served and consumed on board we arrived at Birmingham on time and rather amusingly, on the back of the team coach's police escort!

The way the home fans were waving at us in our VIP coach we could only assume they thought we had brought two squads! Watching us alight would have very much put pay to that!

Every game at this stage of the season is crucial and although it is easy to criticise Gael's lapse in concentration deep into injury time, decisions did not go our way on what could have been a comfortable three points.

Our hosts' first goal wasn't a free-kick but I tend to accept these decisions as we would have benefitted from similarly generous situations to these on other occasions.

Ade should have rolled the ball into Nicky Bendtner's path for an open goal midway through the second half - we know it and I'm sure he does too but how he wasn't given a penalty when clearly having his shirt pulled from his back is beyond me. The fact that Gael actually took the ball in the last minute too, simply rubbed salt in the wound.

Although we certainly tried, the onboard party planned for the journey home seemed a little flat.

I've purposely avoided what happened in the opening stages until now, not because of any other reason than I'm sure like everyone, even a few days on, it is still very much at the forefront of every Arsenal fan's mind.

To those present the tackle looked innocuous, the distance between the incident and the away section at St Andrews making it impossible to be any more specific. Very quickly however, the players' reactions made it hugely apparent it was very serious. I'm sure I speak on behalf of everyone that this and the text messages coming through from those watching on the TV made me feel sick to the core.

I always reserve my judgement on things until I see them on the TV and on that basis I would very much like to think that the culprit was simply beaten for pace. To be fair only he will know. For me however, to slide in, studs first, with your foot 8 inches or so off the ground is a tackle that every player, especially at the highest level, knows is at the least very dangerous.

Like all football fans I cannot believe any player would deliberately hurt another, especially one so sporting and unassuming as Eddy. On that basis alone I for one give Mr Taylor the benefit of the doubt.

As for Eddy, like every Gooner (and every football fan around the world) I'm sure, all we can do is tell him he is in our thoughts and wish him a speedy and successful recovery. Your contribution to our season has been increasingly influential and us fans will be doing our bit to roar on your team mates in their bid to complete the season with silverware on the shelf.

I would like also to thank an essential part of the Arsenal team and one that very much fits the part of unsung heroes. Gary Lewin and his colleagues once again were there with their dedication and expertise when needed most. With the very best medical assistance such as theirs, Eddy could not be in better hands.

Villa at home next, a real tough game after a real tough week.

Come on you Gooners!

Frank

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A bad day at the office

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, February 19, 2008, 12.42 PM
We all have them I suppose and when we do we usually go home in a foul mood. The only difference is unless you are a sports person, in particular a footballer, it is unlikely you have 9,000 people doing a 500-mile round trip to watch your every move and millions of others witnessing your downfall through their TV sets!

Under Mr Wenger our record has been quite unbelievable in the FA Cup so nobody can accuse anyone of taking the competition lightly. There is, however, an obvious priority list and although it doesn't feel like it on a day of defeat, the cup competitions will always play second-fiddle to the bread and butter of the league campaign.

The league table never lies, an old and well-used cliche admittedly but one that is totally accurate. Anyone can lose a cup tie on any given day.

It's a one-off and gives you no chance to bounce back. If you lose a league match, the opportunity to do just that is available. The team that wins the most points over the long hard eight months is the best in the country, it is as simple as that.

We took a coach from Kent on Saturday and it was a long, long day. An early departure meant it was a relatively traffic-free journey and consequently our arrival into Manchester gave us all the opportunity to enjoy pre-match refreshment that made the whole match a little easier to endure than for most!

Let's be honest, on this occasion we simply didn't turn up. OK, we had a number of players missing and/or carrying niggling injuries, more in fact than at any other time this season but those that were available did not perform at anywhere near the level we have seen week-in, week-out.

Our level dropped in our league match up at the Riverside earlier in the season and on a day where they played extremely well, very much took advantage of that. No disrespect to Boro' but on another day we might have got away with it. If you are not at your best when you go to Old Trafford however, you will get beaten, it's as simple as that.

I don't really think there needs to be much more said about the match. It was an off-day, fortunately one of very very few we have to experience and we got well beaten. The road to Wembley comes to an end for us on this occasion. If evidence is required that us Gooners from Kent weren't too downhearted the whole day ended with a bit of a 'do' in my lounge in the early hours of Sunday morning ;-))

Concentration now turns to the two biggest competitions in any season and what a game to try and bounce back! It doesn't come much bigger than taking on the current European champions! If that doesn't give you a buzz then you shouldn't be going to football!

The twirling of the red and white bar scarves is something that the vast majority of you seem to agree is becoming more and more of an impressive spectacle. In a freezing cold week (of a night time at least!) I can see no better opportunity than Wednesday night to use this medium as part of all our efforts to lift the team to victory and bury Saturday's disappointment immediately.

You know it makes sense!

Frank

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TreeHouse

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, February 14, 2008, 13.27 PM
As Arsenal fans, our support for the Club's chosen charity has and will continue to be well documented with Childline, The Rocastle Trust and The Willow Foundation and more importantly those they help with their incredibly dedicated work all benefitting in recent times.

As a supporters club down in Maidstone, our fundraising for these organisations is something we take very seriously and as part of these ongoing efforts Sue, Matt, Mary Ann and Elaine all joined me on a recent visit to the Treehouse School, just a few miles up the road from Arsenal, in Muswell Hill, North London.

I am sure with the Club's help by increasing awareness most of you will already be aware of the fantastic work Treehouse continues to undertake since their formation back in 1997 but for those of you that don't it is a charity that through education and other means transforms the lives of children with autism.

Each of those who took the trip to the school has a connection with autism, be it through work or personal reasons, except for me and as a result my own lack of knowledge was something I was looking forward to improving.

A massive thanks to both Vicky and Caroline for not only making us feel so very welcome but giving us such a detailed insight into the tremendous work they do.

We were able to see the classes and groups in action as our visit obviously coincided with a normal day at the school and seeing the smiles on the kids' faces was very special.

After spending the last 10 years or so in temporary accommodation work continues on the construction of their new permanent building and the continued raising of funds has very much helped this to become reality. As visitors it was very easy to feel the sense of excitement amongst everyone present that this particular development is nearing completion.

For obvious reasons it was also very interesting to hear information concerning visiting members of our squad and just how rewarding they are for the kids. The picture in my head of Cesc or Willy Gallas painting with their feet with kids climbing all over them is one to savour!

Overall we all agreed we found the whole visit not only very interesting and educational but extremely rewarding and humbling too. A totally worthwhile morning in the sunshine!

Our and Arsenal's support helps greatly in the continued development of Treehouse but like all charities the fundraising efforts and targets never end if they are to have a bright future. For more information please go to www.treehouse.org.uk

Frank

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Big Weekend

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, February 12, 2008, 11.54 AM
Liverpool getting a result at Chelsea seemed unlikely but it was always going to be one of those games where we lived in hope. Man City taking all three points from Old Trafford however, was never going to happen! Our hard- earned three points last night made it a nigh-on perfect couple of days.

I made a prediction a few weeks back that if we won every league match until the end of the season we could afford to lose at both Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge and take the title. I still strongly believe that to be the case and this weekend's results mean that such a scenario would make it impossible for Chelsea to catch us and leave United in a position where they can't afford to drop any more points between now and the end of the season.

Of course, this is all opinion and there is so much football to play between now and mid-May but who's to say we won't take points from our two matches against Chelsea and Man Utd or all three of us won't drop points in any of the other matches remaining.

One thing's for sure, with 12 games to go we have to be the happiest with our current position!

Many of you might think this is a bit of a strange thing for me to say but I really enjoyed a weekend without football, especially with the quite beautiful weather that accompanied it. Sunday's results on the other hand gave the whole atmosphere around the streets of Highbury and Islington an extra buzz last night.

Blackburn always have been a tough team to beat, in fact for a number of seasons they were very much considered our bogey side. Mark Hughes' teams have a reputation for being extremely tough-tackling but the current crop of players have added good passing football to their game.

Big Phil gave us the perfect start with his thumping header and any nerves were eased as a result. In the first 20 minutes or so in fact, we really could and should have put the game to bed. It remained one-nil however, and it was obvious Rovers could sense they were very much still in the game. In the latter stages of the first half it was hugely apparent we were in a game.

I felt one of last night's biggest positives was our defending. Despite Blackburn enjoying a lot of possession, especially in the first half, we limited them to only a couple of half-chances in the whole match.

Our football wasn't at its very best but we totally dominated the opening stages and pretty much all of the second half and created a number of chances over the whole match.

Ade smashed home yet another fine strike and we all went home extremely happy with another game out of the way and three points firmly in the bag.

Now would be a great time for that element of luck to also be with us, especially when it comes to injuries. Our players are back from the African Nations Cup and the likes of RVP and Tommy Rosicky will still have a massive part to play in the latter stages of the season as they return from injury. If the remainder of the squad can stay fit we have every chance of success.

Come on you mighty reds!

Frank

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The Feel-Good Factor

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, February 5, 2008, 3.11 PM
Of course Man Utd v Arsenal in an FA Cup tie is simply huge and for that reason alone it is something for us all to look forward to. The fact one of us will have to go out will also please every other club left in the competition! For me Man Utd away was my 30th choice of the 30 home and away ties we could have been handed! Triffic!

Newcastle at home just a few days after we had already dumped them out of the cup was always going to be a fixture that filled you with a little uncertainty as to how it would pan out. Why I would suggest that to be the case I really do not know after the quite superb performance we put together come Tuesday night!

The benefit of hindsight I suppose linked with that deep sense of potential disaster all us football fans seem to carry with them from week to week!

In a powerful all-round performance that saw our visitors limited to a couple of efforts in injury time when the game was already over, Matty Flamini was simply awesome. If anyone deserved to pick up the ball fully 30 yards out and lash it into the top corner it was him. The icing on the cake for a man who has made that position his very own and for all of us an extremely enjoyable and satisfying few days.

Away to Man City is always a fixture that goes down as at the very least 'tricky'. With an unbeaten home record to defend and Europe still very much in their sights, this was even more accurate as we headed across the Pennines in a blizzard on Saturday morning!

Apart from one uncharacteristic individual error from Gael we were fantastic once again and left all the travelling Gooners in a buoyant mood as we headed back south.

Ade was magnificent again, his two goals and a healthy assist for Eddy's magnificent control and finish emphasising the fact surely Dunne and Richards could not have endured a more difficult afternoon all season.

It certainly feels good to be a Gooner right now. The football we are playing is a joy to behold and we are rightly receiving the kind of plaudits that alone deserves. Not only that but the players look like they are not only enjoying themselves but have that togetherness that we all know is so important when looking to be successful.

The season is reaching that period I like to call the 'Rock and Roll stage'! Every game, no matter who you are playing or what the competition, is a total rollercoaster of emotion from the moment the build up begins until the final whistle.

That build up for now, is for Blackburn at home. No disrespect to Mark Hughes' men but it's not a fixture that usually demands a huge amount of anticipation.

So why am I so nervous then!?

Come on you reds!!

Frank

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Three games from Wembley!

Frank Stubbs, Fans' Diarist, January 23, 2008, 10.32 AM
I really enjoyed Saturday. It's rare we see a visiting side looking to play good football in order to get a satisfying result. After our midweek disappointment however, we very much needed to bounce back in style.

The weather is all a bit odd at the moment. Choosing what to wear should be easy in January but after cooking at Fulham last week, wearing a lighter coat and leaving the hat indoors was not the best of ideas on Saturday! It was a chilly north London afternoon.

I love FA Cup days for no other reason than they seem to provide their own kinds of emotion, probably due to the whole feeling that if you lose on the day that's it for another year.

I cannot remember a team ever coming to our place and enjoying at least as much, if not more possession than us but that unsurprising 'Keegan' brand of football certainly saw that for much of the first half. To be fair other than Owen missing a good chance from a right wing cross and Gael heading a goalbound shot off the line, the better chances still fell our way so, for me, a level scoreline at half time was just about right.

The second half was a different story as our own brand of fantastic football took over and saw us completely dominate. The opening goal was crucial as always. Ade is on fire at the moment and smashed home with his 'weaker' foot after Eddy's superb curling shot hit the post.

After taking the lead it was easy to see how the Geordies got beaten so heavily by Man Utd the other week. Not only did they do their best to go forward in search of an equaliser but the more defensive players looked to attack too and consequently in the latter stages we too could have knocked up a cricket score.

As it was Ade topped off a quite superb performance with his second and an OG put the icing on the cake of a very enjoyable day.

A few beers in a pub near Victoria proved celebratory as you can imagine. As I said earlier, I really enjoyed it Saturday ;-)

As I pen these words, thoughts turn to our second and at the very least as equally important encounter against the Geordies on Tuesday but before all that the draw for the FA Cup 5th round at lunchtime today.

Many of us live, work and drink with supporters of that club down the other end of the Seven Sisters Road. Despite them really not seeing the bigger picture we have all had to endure a little bit of ribbing this week for the first time for many many years.

Many of you may have already seen this but as we wait to see who we've got in the next round of the world's greatest cup competition and our dear neighbours do not, I thought I'd finish with the next few sentences just to add a little bit of reality to the whole situation!

Arsenal could have gone 9 years and 22 games without a win against Spurs.

Could have lost 6 of the previous 8 semi finals against them.

Could have gone 6 years without reaching a major final, or 9 years without winning one.

Gone 24 years without a European trophy.

We might not have finished above them for 13 years.

We might have NEVER qualified for Europe's premier club competition, or gone 47 years without a league title.

We might have had to watch them win the league twice on our pitch...

But... We didn't... THEY DID...

Frank

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Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 15 May 2008