Playing a team that is currently bottom of the league suggests a victory is almost a foregone conclusion. I am always wary however, after a Champions League midweek fixture. Especially one where we put so much into it to achieve the perfect result.
Villa Park is one of those grounds we have played in many many times over the years. And not just to play Aston Villa of course. I remember FA Cup Semi Finals…..and replays. I remember League Cup 2nd replays too. And the Mercantile Credit Centenary Trophy Final. And all these have taken place during the time I have been travelling home and away.
Going back to 1986 we had reached the quarter final of the League Cup and took on the Villains in their own back yard. I was still at school at the time (in Maidstone, Kent) but with the home programmes in the build up featuring Travel Club adverts announcing “We’ll be at Villa Park, will you?”, I was desperate to go!
The only way I could get there at that time was if my dad was prepared to drive. But looking back, deep down, I don’t think he took a lot of persuading!
So come mid afternoon I was looking out of my classroom window eagerly awaiting his arrival. It’s funny what you remember and I recall it was a French lesson. My teacher wasn’t particularly impressed at me looking out of the window unsurprisingly. And equally it wasn’t a shock that despite being able to relate my name, age and abode in that language I had absolutely no idea how to say “Hurry up Sir, I’m going to see the Arsenal!”
Getting to games was different back then. Part of the M25 wasn’t quite finished at that time and the Dartford Crossing was just a two lane tunnel in each direction. So leaving mid to late afternoon, driving through the rush hour and thousands of Gooners heading to the West Midlands wasn’t the easiest thing to do.
We made it of course, Charlie Nicholas scored a fine goal to give us the lead, the travelling thousands went ballistic and we should of won on the night. We were happy with bringing them back to Highbury but that was pretty much where the good news ended.
We lost the replay 2-1 and our trophy hunt was over for another year.
But I did get a ‘C’ in French.
Leaving for a game in the dark is not much fun. The temptation when looking out of the window and it’s pouring with rain is to get back into bed, pull those covers back and go back to sleep.
But doing that when you support the mighty Arsenal is very weak in my opinion. People have said they admire my dedication but although it’s nice to hear I am lucky to have been born a Gooner. Hartlepool fans getting to Portsmouth away when the weather countrywide is appalling and then getting beaten. That’s dedication.
But…..it wasn’t the greatest experience walking away from the warmth of home this morning nonetheless!
The usual journey, banter, brekkie on route, pre-match pint etc. soon has that enthusiasm well and truly back in place.
And on a dirty horrible day we needed that win to keep us warm.
New managers are analysing what they’ve got. Who has both the ability and the appetite for the battle ahead. Who wants to be picked before one of his fellow squad members.
So on that basis I fully expected Villa to close us down all over the pitch and be hard and tough in the tackle.
And there are no easy games. Not these days. Look at our recent results against West Brom and Norwich. Look at Liverpool away at Newcastle last week. Look at Chelsea & Man Utd’s results against Bournemouth. Look at how lucky Man City were to beat Swansea yesterday.
So we needed to start well. And although we didn’t actually fly out the blocks Theo’s pace won as a (definite) penalty and Olly’s calm finish from the spot gave us the perfect opening to build on.
Our big striker has enjoyed a fine week. And I thought he was magnificent.
Rambo is relishing his opportunity in midfield too and along with Theo’s superb pass and Mesut’s simple square ball that had class written all over it, his desire to power into the box after starting the move with his tackle on the edge of his own was hugely impressive and satisfying for the travelling Gooner army.
And a bit like last year, having created a winning position we defended well and were professional for the remainder of the match.
Job done and the perfect end to a perfect week. Top of the tree, for 24 hours at least. And that felt great.
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