Early kick-off in Newcastle. It has been a long wish to watch Arsenal at St James Park and the experience definitely matched expectations. Now that I live in the south of Scotland, I am just two hours away, so this might become a regular occurrence over the next few years. I took the 9.38 Scotrail train from Carlisle to Newcastle, expecting to find a dozen or so Magpies to travel in the same direction….
When I arrived at the station I was amazed to see hundreds of barcoded shirts everywhere. Not a single Gunners shirt around me. The 85 minutes journey to Newcastle had to be done in a ridiculously small train – just three carriages – for at least 400 passengers, and I was lucky to get myself a seat.
The train full to the rafter, off we went to Newcastle. The atmosphere on board was great: Boxes of Budweiser on tables and cheap beer flowing freely almost everywhere, one table with four young lads all looking like a young Gazza – with nr.1 shaved lower heads and lots of hair product in the top bit, fake tans and full of life – playing cards and sharing a bottle of Buckfast tonic wine, everybody talking and engaging, strangers speaking to each other encouraged by the effect of alcohol on hardly awake stomachs and the prospect of pecking the Gunners to bits today, and all this whilst we are rolling through the gentle, green, timeless slopes of the very north of England, and through fabulously named places like Hexham, Haltwhistle, Wetheral, Haydon Bridge and Prudhoe. I observed it all whilst checking the comments on Bergkampesque and reading the sports sections of BBC and the Guardian and keep schtum as much as possible.
The ‘fear word’ I could hear all the way through the train was…. Giroud. They all expected Ollie to start and to score at some point in the game…
I met up with my mate E and his wife D at the station, and we had a beer and a good chat about life, football, Arsene and you name it in a too posh bar at about five minutes’ walk from the ground. We spoke to a nice, older gentleman there with a brilliant local accent who did his best to speak slowly so we could understand him :) . Lots of mutual respect and we went through some of the greats who donned the Magpies shirt: Keegan, Shearer, (our very own) Supermac, Gazza etc. We also spoke about the true gentleman that is Sir Bobby Robson – how a cancer unit in the hospital is named after him and how we should have a look at his statue on our way up the away section in the stadium.
That we did and then we walked up the never-ending steps all the way to the top of the stadium. Most of us were panting our heads off whilst laughing hysterically at the ordeal we just went through. In the ground I was so high up I had to check myself not to fall forward whilst watching the game, but the view of the city was brilliant and I was in fine position to study the game.
We started well and played the Magpies off the pitch. They did not like it and started to put heavy tackles in… Mitrovic got rightly sent off and then it was 11 against 10 for 4/5 of the game. It did not help the game but we were not complaining of course. The omission of Ozil and Giroud meant we had a lot of possession but not much bite, resulting in not many well worked chances. However, we had some good opportunities from both fast attacks and hard drives from distance, and on another day Theo would have had a brace.
The second half saw more of the same. Theo was running around the box a lot but the defence dealt well with him and he just cannot offer the hold up play of Giroud. Alexis and the Ox tried to work the wings and get behind the defence but we did not crack the solid looking Barcodes’ parked busses. Without Ozil we struggled to get near and in the box enough to really get into the areas were we could hurt them.
So we started to shoot from distance and in the 52nd minute we pin-balled it in with the final shot by the improving Ox coming off the leg of Coloccini. After that we should have finished it with a second goal but we never looked sharp enough to do so, even with Giroud on the pitch who, just like Theo, wasted some good opportunities. We also seemed to like to keep possession and see the game out, making use of our numerical advantage.
Our defence looked good and the Barcodes were never allowed in to this game. The sending off did not help them of course but we still had to finish them off, which we just about did. The three points are very welcome and we can build on this going forward, especially now that Pool, Chavs and Mancs all dropped three points in their games this weekend.
This team, just like all top teams except the Northern Oilers at the moment, is working hard to find form, which is a combination between playing with urgency, control and composure, and ability to finish off our chances. Once this is there the goals will come and a good run can begin. The next mini-journey starts in two weeks, against Mark Hughes’ Orcs: an excellent game for rediscovering our mojo. Bring it on!
The journey back was uneventful, but travelling with three points in the back made it easy for me, especially with the news coming in that the Chavs – Alan Pardoe we love you! – were losing and Pool were getting hammered.