Friday, 27 December 2013

XMAS SPECIAL, West Ham 1-3 Arsenal [Elia's house, Sydney]

No turkey, stuffing or sprouts to be seen.
Good morning/afternoon/evening [delete appropriate]. I hope you all had a great Christmas break and enjoyed the calorie consumption and usual garbage that fills our TV boxes at this time of the year.

For Christmas dinner, in the UK and US at least, you'll generally gorge yourself on turkey, goose, mini sausages, brussels sprouts and about fifteen different kinds of potato. It's the same story every year, you graze from dawn until dusk on food that equates to twice your body weight, and by the time you're done, you've consumed more as a person across a two-day period than most Asian families do in a week.

Christmas in Australia is something a bit different from the norm. As the temperature in Australia is usually sweltering, a traditional festive dinner here is not what you would associate with back home, people aren't slaving away next to an oven or saucepan for hours on end because they'll all combust before serving time arrives. I was lucky enough to be offered a place to stay for a few days over Christmas with Elia Eliopoulou, the guy responsible for the Sydney Gooners supporters club. As you can guess by his last name, he's of Greek descent, so the turkey was replaced with souvlaki and the goose with ham. It was a fantastic feast enjoyed with his family and, whilst it will never ever beat my late mother's Christmas dinner coronary-fest, it was a nice change and something welcomed given the climate!

An Australian-Greek-British Christmas
So, with Christmas out of the way, it was time to once again sit down and watch Arsenal climb back to the top of the Premier League. The venue of choice this time round was Elia's house, as it was a 2am start and neither of us had the energy, after the usual Christmas proceedings, to venture away from home.

The game itself was, initially, hugely frustrating to watch. As the rest of the house was asleep I had to refrain from cursing, at the top of my lungs, towards the TV every time we failed to string a few passes together. Some people will complain, but I thought we were pretty abysmal for the majority of the first half. We looked like we were short on energy and short on ideas, and we didn't seem to have the faintest idea of where the goal was.

There were two key turning points in the second half that saw us move up a gear. The first was West Ham's goal, which gave us no choice but to start pushing forward, becoming more direct in the process. I was screaming for us to do this in the first place, there just seems to be a bit of hesitancy to attack at the moment, unless absolutely necessary. With a midfield of attack-minded players, this has to change, we have to become more ruthless in and around the box and I'm hoping with more regular inclusions of Podolski and Walcott, this will happen.

The second turning point was the Ramsey injury, you could see the change in pace the moment Podolski came on and this tells you that Ramsey's beginning to experience burnout, mainly due to the amount of full games he's been playing, but also because of the amount of grass he's been covering in those games. It's a big loss, he's our top goalscorer and player of the season to date, and, despite the last couple of performances you simply don't want him sitting on the treatment table. However, it gives us an opportunity to change the shape of our starting XI and try something different. I think it will will work in favour of our upcoming fixtures, you could obviously see that it worked against West Ham.

So, we regain first spot in the Premier League, having lost it for all of 48 hours or so. But, with Man City beating Liverpool, we can't afford to slip up in our next game at Newcastle. It's time to start showing the doubters what we're really made of.


Thursday, 26 December 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [George Makrigany, Sydney]

Meet George Makrigany, host for a few days in Sydney. George is a talented professional photographer and has even had photos published on His brother, Elia, runs the Arsenal Sydney supporters group and both have been instrumental in helping raise money for my cause.

George 'Snaps' Makrigany
Q. Why Arsenal?
The club is so well run without spending a fortune on buying players. Its the standard in club management in my opinion. That and the heritage makes it a club that I'm proud to support.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
Around 1998. Though we didnt win the league I saw the greatness this team had which reminded me of the Anfield victory my brother once told me. From there on I followed football and only one team since...the Gunners.

My brother has been a loyal and passionate fan since about 1989. He told me the story once about the Liverpool Arsenal final league match. Needing two goals (which would have been the first for an away team that season) at Anfield to take the premiership we did it. I was hooked since then.

Q. Favourite Player? Its a toss of a coin between Henry and Bergkamp. How can you seperate two skillfull athletes?Both brought something rare to the club.

Q. Favourite current Player? Cazorla. His relentless efforts in each game he plays typifies the spirit of being an Arsenal player.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment? Clinching the title at Tottenham in 04. We never tire from getting one up on our neighbours.

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in Sydney?I watch at The Armoury in Sydney. We have a large screen with our own memorabilia wall and Arsenal signage. Its where our "home ground" is.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?Ive only been to the emirates so hard to say. But Highbury is the "Lords" of Arsenal so I say Highbury for its history.

Q. League Prediction? I expect our Gunners to win every season. Full stop.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch for the second half of this season? Ozil will come into his own. Hes just warming up.

Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea [Star City Casino, Sydney]

Merry Christmas from Sydney, Australia!

Having spent a week in beautiful Cairns avoiding crocodiles, man-eating spiders and sharks, I headed back down to Sydney to resume the art of watching every 2013/2014 Arsenal match with another Gooner. This particular game was a Monday evening one in the UK, translating to a 7am kickoff here in New South Wales, meaning yet another trip to a casino and my fourth in four weeks.

Don't worry, I wasn't throwing my very limited funds at the 'pokies' like some of the other shameful punters, I was there to watch us play the second of two oil-powered, manufactured-pop football clubs in a row, the filthy Chelsea, and around fifty Sidneysiders had the same idea (not bad for stupid o'clock on Christmas Eve).

Unfortunately, the game wasn't a great one, far from it in fact. I would say that, even for an Arsenal fan, the City game last weekend was a much better one to watch despite walking away with zero points. A lot of people are disappointed, saying that 'we should have won' and 'this is a disaster', and in fairness I think we had the advantage, having not played a mid-week game like Chelsea had. They played defensively but we didn't want to risk upsetting the equilibrium of defending well with a lot of attack-minded players - it was frustrating to watch because you could see that a pair of fresh legs in either Podolski or Cazorla would have given us a boost for the last fifteen minutes, and if it was Ozil or Walcott making way, the rhythm of the team wouldn't have been in doubt. But Wenger knows best, and so for the first time since I can remember, we didn't use a single sub. The goalless draw meant going into Christmas joint top of the league, but second on goal-difference to Liverpool.

It was an opportunity missed, but it could just as easily be looked at as a disaster averted. Being top of the table at Christmas is something that we haven't been able to witness for a number of years, and it should give us a great deal of hope and confidence to take into the next few weeks of football. We've had a very difficult run of fixtures and now, despite a bit of congestion, you'd like to say we'll take the majority of points up for offer against West Ham, Newcastle, Cardiff, Villa, Fulham and Southampton, if we play the way we played against City for example. And that'll take us right up to the end of January. When you consider that Liverpool have to play Chelsea and Man City in that same time, as well as the Merseyside derby, this imminent run of fixtures could definitely go in our favour.

Let's first see how we get on at Upton Park. COYG

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal [The Armoury, Sydney]

I was in Sydney, one of the world's great cities, for Saturday's big one against Etihad Rovers. Having watched the mid-week defeat to Napoli at Luke Wurthman's house in Manly, it was only right that I took a trip to the Sydney Gooner's official home at 'The Armoury' to watch this important clash.

Sydney Gooners at 'The Armoury'
Not only was there a big top-of-the table duel to watch, Elia Eliopoulou (the man behind the Sydney supporters group) also organised a big fundraiser for my visit. More than 300 Gooners gathered at The Armoury for this game, mostly because of the importance, but also because the game was being aired at midnight local time, an 'early' game for those on the east coast of Australia.  There was a big opportunity here so Elia arranged a raffle, and in total the Sydney Gooners managed to raise more than AUD $2000 for my cause. So well done Elia and the rest of the crew for a storming effort! It's a shame that the game didn't go as smoothly.

The Sydney Gooners going mental after Walcott's equaliser. Shame it didn't last.

It's hard to take positives out of such a bad result. Going into this game, Man City had only conceded two goals at the Middle Eastlands for the season to date.

Temporarily happy Gooners.
But we put five past them in ninety minutes on Saturday, even if two of them were (wrongly) ruled offside. What does that tell you about this Arsenal team? It tells you we have the tools to score against the best. It also tells you that we're not spending enough money on bribing match officials.

So, six goals conceded, a likely match ban for Wilshere, and news of us drawing Bayern Munich in the next round of the Champions League. It's been a tough few days, but hey, at least Tottenham are looking for a new manager. AV-Believe! Yeah. Haha.


Saturday, 14 December 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [Luke Wurthman, Manly]

Meet Luke, host for a few days in Manly, Australia. Luke's originally from East London and moved to Australia with his girlfriend Alice in October 2011

Q. Why Arsenal?
My family is Arsenal, my whole family is Arsenal, my Granddad, my Aunt (unfortunately my two brothers support Liverpool and the Spuds). A family-run club years ago, well put together, the way they bring the players in, they don't spend a fortune, they like homegrown. All the fans I meet are truly genuine.
Two handsome bald chaps

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
Around 1989, I would have been nine years old, but that was around the time I started to follow. I was a bit young to really appreciate the Anfield victory back then.

Q. Favourite Player?
Ian Wright. I loved watching him play, he was a great footballer, he could score from anywhere, when he combined with Kevin Campbell up front they were just unstoppable at times. He was also a laugh on and off the field.

Q. Favourite current Player?
Jacky Wilshere. He's English, he's been there since 9 or 10, he's going to be captain one day for both England and Arsenal. 

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
Definitely Henry scoring 3-2 at Highbury against Untied, I was sat in the North Bank with my Granddad and my cousin, it was a great goal, one of the very best.

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in Sydney?
To be fair if I can get to the Armoury I will do, but generally I'll watch it at home because of the hours

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
Highbury. It's just intimate, it's where I watched the majority of games, it's a classic stadium.

Q. League Prediction?
We'll win it this season.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch for the second half of this season?

Ozil's going to be the player that comes alive, I think he's still a bit reserved. He needs enough rest though.


Friday, 13 December 2013

Napoli 2-0 Arsenal [Luke's apartment, Manly, Australia]

Manly Beach has been my town of choice for watching the Napoli match whilst on the road. After having spent a few days 'all the way out there' in Perth, I landed in Sydney a few days ago so I could spend the festive period on the East Coast. There's a lot more going on over here, that's for sure. You've got Sydney, you've got Gold Coast (Australia's version of Bournemouth Beach, only more sharks and less chavs), and of course there's the Great Barrier Reef which, with any luck, I'll be mildly drowning in next week.

It's Christmas Time!
Manly Beach is one of the Sydney area's two anchor beaches, the other one being the infamous Bondi Beach, where orange-skinned teenagers with shorts around their ankles go to 'catch the surf'. What I can't get used to here is the complete lack of anything resembling Christmas. Actually that's a lie, you'll still see the occasional Santa here and there, fully kitted out in typical fat-Santa dress, sweating profusely in the thirty-degree baking sun as they tell children to behave themselves. Poor buggers. Aside from that though, there's no snow, the trees are green, people are running around on the beach practically naked. It's just odd, but I'm certainly not complaining.

One of my many offices
For the Napoli game, being a 6:45am kick-off, I watched it with my host Luke at his house in Manly. It was a poor performance and a poor result, and I'm not particularly happy with finishing second in the group, but as they say, if you want to win a trophy like the Champions League you have to play the best eventually. I'd still prefer to draw PSG over Barcelona though.

So, Manchester City is lurking around the corner, either later this evening or tomorrow morning depending on where you are and when you read this! I will be watching at the infamous Armoury in Sydney, home to Sydney's Arsenal Supporters Club

What a massive game. Come On You Gunners!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [Kevin Sanders, Perth]

Meet Kevin Sanders, one of the Gooners in Perth that showed me around the city. He gave me $250 for my cause, so it's only right that I ask a few questions about his love for The Arsenal. Kevin grew up in Epsom, Surrey, before moving to Australia in 2008.
Kevin just some of his Arsenal shirts.

Q. Why Arsenal?
History and tradition. The story of the club from Woolwich to Arsenal. The Marble Halls, the hooped socks, Herbert Chapman. Would a Chelsea or a City fan be proud of their club's roots as much as an Arsenal fan would be of theirs?

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
1971. In our school class we were all asked to choose our club for the Cup Final, then we'd make a rosette out of milk-bottle tops for the clubs we chose. I chose Arsenal but I can't remember why, but I was obviously influenced by my Uncle who was a big Arsenal fan. I watched the cup final around my uncle's house (because he had colour TV) and I have been sold on the Arsenal story ever since.

Q. Favourite Player?
Thierry or Dennis. I got a dog and named it Thierry, but then got another dog and named it Denise (she's a girl obviously). I'd have to go with Henry though, I was blessed to be going to Highbury in a period when he was playing the best football of his career.

Q. Favourite current Player?
This season it's really difficult to choose, I could pick a new player every week but I'm actually going to go with Podolski, I just think that this season once he's over his injury he's going to be amazing. I love everything he does on and off the pitch, I love his tweets and his Facebook posts.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
Being at Higbury for the 5-0 win against Leeds in the Invincibles season. Aside from the fact that Henry scored 4, I actually hooked up with an old school friend that I hadn't seen for over ten years which blossomed into my connection with Arsenal Football Supporters Club London, which I became a part of until my move to Perth in 2008.

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in Perth?
The Carbon Bar at Perth Casino for the big games. We regularly get a good bunch of fans down there and we are looking to grow.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
Highbury, just for everything I mentioned at the beginning. But I have to say, we're blessed that we get to play at The Emirates, it was an inevitable decision but we only moved across the street and therefore I (and many others) didn't have to change the matchday routine, getting off at Finsbury Park station, going to the Auld Triangle for pre-match pints, hanging out with AFSC London boys. The same ritual takes place every match day, or so I'm told!

Q. League Prediction?
We're going to be in the top two. My heart says we'll win, I just think we can grind out the results this year.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch for the second half of this season?

Gnabry. I don't think we'll spend in January and I think we're going to need to use him with the fixture congestion. I reckon he's going to make a big contribution.

Meet the Gooner Family [Geof Green, Perth, Australia]

Meet Geof Green, my host in Perth for the Everton match. Geof was born in the UK but moved to Australia when he was a few year old.

Purf Gooner
Q. Why Arsenal? First thing that comes to mind is their history. The fact that they've never been relegated, The Invincibles. The list could go on and on. When Charlie George scored (I forget the goal) I remembered trying to be him. It's been a great team to support throughout their existence.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
I was about 9 or 10 years old, it was the mid-seventies. I remember watching an Arsenal game on TV at home, just because it was on, and from then on I started trying to watch replays. I even pretended to be Arsenal players when I played football. My Dad is an Arsenal fan, and it wasn't until I was in my twenties that I realised the reason the TV was on that channel with the game playing was because he was bloody watching it. My Granddad was also a Gooner. He never really tried to get me into Arsenal though.

Q. Favourite Player?
Thierry Henry. He was classy and I loved his loyalty, even to this day he still calls himself a Gooner.

Q. Favourite current Player?
I really like Podolski at the moment. I like the fact that he came to the club and got a tattoo straight away. He's really into the badge and I think his general positive attitude spreads to other members of the squad.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
Going 49 games unbeaten. I know it's not a 'moment' but that's what I'm most proud of.

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in Perth?
I watch Arsenal at the Carbon Bar at the Crown Casino downtown. Sometimes we'll get fifteen to twenty people, at other times there'll just be five of us. The time difference can be a bit of a pain at times.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
It would have to be The Emirates, it's a big stadium and that's helped us to be more competitive in Europe and gives us sustainability.

Q. League Prediction?
We're gonna win it! I have a good feeling about it. I think United will finish mid-table.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch for the second half of this season?
I don't think Ozil has really gotten into his stride yet, he's made a great immediate impact but there's still a lot to come from him. The thing is with Ozil is he's not a flamboyant player, but you don't pay big money for flamboyance, you pay for consistency, you pay for assists and goals and that's what he's going to give us.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Arsenal 1-1 Everton [Carbon Bar, Perth]

Wow. What a game.

Perth has been the host city for watching the important clash with David Moyes' Roberto Martinez's in-form Everton side. If you look at Perth on a map, you'll realise it's just a little bit out of the way; 1,500 miles, give or take a few hundred, from Adelaide, the nearest major city and the one I was in last week.


A lot of people asked why I was traveling so far to see such a mediocre place. Forking out on a flight and sitting 4 hours in a tin can for a three day visit, those comments didn't exactly fill me with excitement. Fortunately it's one of those typically Australian 'my-city-is-better-than-your-city' things, because Perth is a fantastic place, full of character and there's a lot going on. If you want great weather and beaches, you won't be disappointed. The people here are super friendly, although there are also a considerable amount of drunk characters around, which might explain the 'super-friendly' bit.

Like most cities in Australia, Perth is home to a considerable-sized casino, which is quite literally open 24 hours a day. With the time difference regularly coming into play for watching live Premier League games, the casino's the only real place where fans can congregate to see their favourite team. So it was here, or more precisely the Carbon Bar inside the casino, where I would watch the match. Kickoff was midnight on a Sunday night, so I wasn't expecting a great turnout.

But this is a casino. It's the only place open on a Sunday night if you fancy a bevy and a cheeky punt, so the place was rammed with fans who turned up to watch, albeit slightly spread-out and not part of the official supporters group in Perth. One Gooner that joined us was an intoxicated chap from Aberdeen known only as 'infamous Rob'. He obviously lives under a rock because he was adamant that Aaron Ramsey is 'a s**t footballer' and that he's 'just lucky'. When you combine these comments with a thick, slurred Aberdonian accent, it makes for quite an event-within-an-event. Rob, we salute you, even if you are a prize plonker.

Infamous Rob
The game itself was, for all intents and purposes, a cup final. The tempo was high, the tackles were frantic, it was pinball, it was air-hockey. It was as if we were playing Man United - prior to Mr Moyes of course. When Ozil scored, the Carbon Bar exploded in rapturous applause. This was more like it. Unfortunately for us, the Toffees, perhaps deservedly, came back with a great individual effort from Deulofeu.

It was a disappointment. Yes, we played a great in-form Everton team and they have some very strong players, managed by one of the country's best. But we really had to win this, especially when we still have to travel to Napoli, the Middle Eastlands and then host Chelsea. Everton should have been the 'easiest' of these four games. But, the least we can take away from the game, aside from a point, is that we played very well defensively and we looked like we wanted it.

Most notably, we should be really positive and excited about the triple-substition that Wenger made to turn the game. It wasn't a last-ditch effort, which is something that you would typically associate with switching three players around. We weren't trying to claw back from being behind, and we were going to extend our lead by a point anyway. With 25 minutes to go, we used a 'would-you-like-to-see-what-else-I-have-in-my-warchest' move. Wenger, who never fails to surprise us, fished out an English crossbow in Walcott, a medieval spiked mace in Rosicky and some Semtex in Flamini.  Normally when a team switches three players around like that all at once, that match-day squad chemistry goes down a notch and the balance is lost, especially in a game where one slip of concentration won't go unpunished. But that triple-sub saw us go a goal up, and this is why Arsenal's stocks are on the rise; we have some real depth, the kind of depth we've been craving for the past seven years. This is an Arsenal side that can go the whole way. Will we win the league? Ask me again on Christmas Eve.

So the next stop for me is Sydney, Australia, where I'll be spending the festive period with some awesome Gooners. There will be a local fundraiser at the official branch of Arsenal Australia Sydney for the Man City game, where they are hoping to challenge the OC Gooners after they raised $1,600 back in November. Before that however, there is the important task of qualifying for the knockout round of the Champions League. And I'll be watching that one in Manly Beach. The things I have to do for my team!


Friday, 6 December 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [Matt Mays, Adelaide, Australia]

Meet Matt Mays, host for my two days in sunny Adelaide. Originally from Sussex, Matt was a ball-boy for Arsenal's 2001/2002 season and is obviously besotted with The Gunners. Now in Australia after moving here last year with his Australian girlfriend, he follows his team just as passionately. Unlike many of the Gooners I've met over here so far, Matt won't miss a live game no matter what
time it is locally.

Interestingly enough, Matt writes for Australian Soccer fanzine Goal!Weekly and is even writing a pilot episode for his new TV show, a kids' television programme called Kick It! TV, which educates kids about the world game. It looks like a really promising concept, so here's hoping it makes it big some time soon.

Q. Why Arsenal? 
Big Matt
It's a bit of a cliché but it's more than just a football club. The matchdays at Highbury, full of tradition, smelling the hamburgers cooking, walking through the backstreets of North London with thousands of other Gooners. And I just love it when I meet an Arsenal fan there's already a connection. There's so much heritage with this club and we just all understand each other.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal? 
I first started supporting Arsenal in 96 or 97. I was quite good at artwork as a kid, and I used to trace football players out of this book, I started tracing Dennis Bergkamp and just fell in love him and the team.

Q. Favourite Player? 
My favourite player was Robert Pires, he just oozed class and his movement on and off the ball looked so effortless.

Q. Favourite current Player? 
I have a soft spot for Rosicky, I just love how he passes and moves, he speeds the game up like no other player we have in our team right now. I also love Mertesacker because of his passion, he's been a rock so far this season.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment? 
I remember celebrating with Freddie Ljungberg when he scored to beat Ipswich in 2002 - obviously we were getting close to clinching the title so there was a raucous atmosphere. You can even see me on the replays if you google the highlights.

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in Adelaide? 
Most of the time at the Rosemont Hotel, however for the breakfast games we will usually watch at Adelaide Casino as it's the only venue open and showing live games.

Q. Emirates or Highbury? 
Highbury, but I understand and accept why we had to move. Highbury will also be the true spiritual home of Arsenal.

Q. League Prediction? 
I don't like to tempt fate but we'll finish in the top three for sure.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch for the second half of this season? 
Karim Benzema. Haha! Fingers crossed. No, seriously, there's a lot more to come from Wilshere, but it's the whole team that should be watched this season.


Arsenal 2-0 Hull City [Adelaide Casino, South Australia]

Don't worry. I didn't spend any of my travel fund at the casino, it was simply the (only) venue where myself and the local Adelaide Gooners could watch this week's clash against Humberside City FC.

The city of Adelaide is significantly smaller than Melbourne, its population is about 1.2 million people. That means there aren't as many football fans around, but we still managed to get a viewing party of literally 7 people for the match. It didn't help that kickoff was 6:15am local time.

Adelaide skyline taken up by the local rounders stadium

The chap I'm staying with, Matt, and I, were actually up and ready despite only getting a few hours sleep from the night before. Unfortunately as we walked out the door we noticed two golden retrievers wandering around the side of the road, looking lost. I'm not making this up, and remember, my goal is to watch every game of the season wherever I am. The dogs' owner was nowhere to be seen, and Matt's friend was waiting with his car to give us a lift down to the casino. Thankfully, the dogs had identity tags on their collars and we realised they had obviously left their masters's house, just round the corner, as the front gate was open. It meant Matt grabbing hold of one's collar, me taking the other, and walking them down to the house to receive a lucrative cash reward. Instead there was what seemed like a routine 'thank you' and the ignorant owner took the dogs inside. 

We obviously did get some good karma though; we were literally walking into the bar at the casino, when Arsenal kicked off and Bendtner (Nicky Beeeeee!) grabbed a 1st minute goal with his head. Both Matt and I were fully responsible for this goal, and we're only too happy to receive credit in the form of cash, bonds, precious gems etc.

I know we would have liked Bendtner to get a brace (not the trouser kind of brace, although he clearly needs one of those too) but we should take encouragement from the fact that he's not  a complete embarrassment on the field. It's his first start in all of eternity, and the link up play he demonstrated was generally purposeful, if not quite as superhuman as the Good Looking French Guy. I'm sure if he gets more opportunities off the bench he'll improve, but I still think he'll be packing his bags in January.

So, I'm only in Adelaide for two days. It's a really nice change from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne as its much smaller, but the weather here has been really crappy. Apparently there is a rounders game on at the Adelaide Oval as I write this, but there's also plenty of wet paint around the city that I can watch slowly dry off. As I'm being dragged along to one of these events in Melbourne at the end of the month, I don't think it's necessary for me to subject myself to extreme boredom whilst I'm here.

Tomorrow I jump on a plane to my next stop, Perth, approximately 25,000 miles away on the west coast of Australia, to watch the Everton game there.


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [Sean Jenkinson, Melbourne Australia]

Meet Sean Jenkinson, my host whilst in Melbourne. Sean has literally only just moved back from Tokyo, where he used to live for six years. His wife and children are still in Japan, they'll move to Australia next weekend. It meant a relatively empty house to sleep in, as most of the furniture is still on a boat in the Pacific Ocean. As is always the case with the Gooner Family, Sean has provided some great hospitality whilst I've been here. I'm sure he's looking forward to trading me in for his wife though, who by the way doesn't realise I'm staying with him in their new house that she hasn't seen yet! Good luck explaining that one Sean!
Gooner Family

Q. Why Arsenal? 
It's the Arsenal Family. The people I've met, these are lifelong bonds I'll have because of the love for Arsenal. It doesn't get better than that. The people, both staff and supporters, are what makes Arsenal the team a cut above the rest.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal.
I became a real supporter of Arsenal back in 1997, when I lived in London. I found that the further I moved away from Highbury, the more I loved them. I'm now in Melbourne; it's not easy to get any further away and yet I'm completely besotted with them. It's been interwoven into my life for the past 16 years.

Q. Favourite all-time Player. 
Thierry Henry. He just had that Va Va Voom factor, he'd take your breath away with everything he did on the pitch, and most stuff off it too.

Q. Favourite current Player.
Per Mertesacker. He probably epitomises the team right now - he came into the league and everybody wrote him off, he was slow, he made errors and the pundits said he wouldn't adapt to the pace of the Premier League. Now look at him. What Top Four team wouldn't want The Big F***ing German? He has height, he's efficient, he reads the game as well as any other German international would, and he's unbelievably consistent.

Q. Most memorable Arsenal moment.
The crazy Jenkinson stalker family
My most memorable match moment was against Everton, 1998, when Tony Adams scored that striker's goal to confirm Arsenal's Premier League trophy. It was an iconic moment. I'd also like to say that my favourite non matchday moment was when myself, my wife and my two daughters met Carl Jenkinson at the Saitama Fan Day in Japan, as part of the 2013 Asia Tour. As a fellow (but not
related) Jenkinson, it was particularly fitting to meet Carl and get featured on Arsenal TV.

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in Melbourne?
The time difference makes it really difficult to watch Arsenal live here. a 3pm Saturday kickoff is 2am in the morning here. If I manage to stay awake long enough, I watch it at the Celtic Club, home to the Arsenal Australia Melbourne Supporters Club. Midweek 7:45pm games are shown at 6:45am here, and (if I'm up early enough) I'll watch it at the Imperial Hotel, which is one of the only venues here in Melbourne that opens early enough to show Premier League games live. You'd think it wouldn't get trickier than this, but I used to live in Tokyo, where Champions League games kicked off at 3:45am; I remember one time catching the last train into town to watch it, and then the first train of the morning back home!

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
I haven't been to Emirates but I'd have to say Highbury because of the history. 

Q. League Prediction.
Heart says first, my head says third. I don't think we have the depth to sustain a prolonged challenge - but I'm enjoying watching the Arsenal and I hope we'll get that silverware this season!

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season? 
I wouldn't have said it at the start of the year, I'll go with Ramsey. At least he's the obvious choice, but I think the player to really watch this season will be Serge Gnabry, I think he's going to make a great impact when he gets some more playing time.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Cardiff City 0-3 Arsenal [Celtic Club, Melbourne]

Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening all. I'm still in Melbourne, couldn't resist staying for one more Arsenal match whilst I'm here. This city really is one of the world's greatest; great weather, great sports scene, aesthetically pleasing, amazing food and a multicultural melting pot. It's essentially the polar opposite of Luton.

A Gooner Family in Melbourne

One of the greatest challenges with this round-the-world-escapade thing is watching Arsenal matches at ungodly hours. For the Cardiff fixture, this meant 2am on a Sunday morning, not quite as bad as 3am or 4:45am, but when you consider I was up early on the Saturday and had set out 'for the night' at 4pm to have dinner with some fellow Gooners, staying awake and relatively sober was proving to be trickier than I thought. We rolled into the Celtic Club at 1am, stomachs fully-laden with Italian food and beer, still with another hour to go before kickoff. In a lightly-sedated manner I greeted the small number of Melbourne Arsenal fans who had come out to watch Ramsey kill some celebrities.

Melbourne Arsenal Supporters

By the time the game was underway however, there were at least 60 Gooners at the pub, all staying out until the end, all singing passionately, and of course all celebrating wildly as Rambo and The Man With Short Sleeves helped keep us firmly in pole position on top of the Premier League. You can witness (although probably not see) the atmosphere at The Celtic Club in the video below.

It was a great performance against a team that continues to impress in the top flight of English Football, particularly against the big boys. Now I know it's not exactly scientific, but if Cardiff City can beat Man $ity and draw against United, surely we have what it takes to see first position in the League all the way through to May. 

We will see how the story progresses when we take on Hull City on Wednesday night - I'll be in Adelaide for that one. Until then....


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Arsenal 2-0 Marseille [Imperial Hotel, Melbourne]

G'day mate! Melbourne is my stop for this week as I work my way around the land of Oz.

The city of Melbourne is a sprawling, happening metropolis in the state of Victoria. It is considered the sporting centre of Australia. Firstly, you have the Melbourne Cricket Ground (known locally as 'The MCG') which is arguably the most well known of the country's test venues for The Ashes. Then there are 2 football teams, Melbourne Heart and Melbourne Victory, both equally abysmal. There's a rugby league team and a rugby union team. The Rod Laver Tennis Centre, where the Australian Open is held in January, also sits in Melbourne.

'Down Under' in Melbourne. Get it? I'm too funny ;)
And then you have AFL, or the Australian Football League. This is known to most of you as 'Aussie Rules' and, to describe it in as succinct a manner as possible, it's essentially a cross between rugby, Gaelic football and cage fighting. With the game taking place on a cricket field(?), Aussie Rules Football is an utterly brutal sport where players beat the living daylights out of each other in the hope of drop kicking a ball between some sticks. It's the most followed sport in Australia, and just here in Melbourne alone, there are nine teams all kicking the crap out of each other for fun and money. The season doesn't start until March next year so I won't get to witness any of this neanderthal-bashing up close, and that's unfortunate because it's the only sport here that I'm interested in learning more about.

Just a regular Aussie Rules football game. "Play on" says the ref.
Being 11 hours ahead of the UK, Sean Jenkinson (no relation to Carl) and I had the immense pleasure of waking up at 05:30am in order to get into town to catch the 6:45am kickoff at The Imperial in downtown Melbourne. The Imperial isn't the official pub for the Arsenal Australia members, but it's the only one that's open early enough to accommodate a live Champions League viewing (for the weekend we will be at AA Melbourne's regular home, the Celtic Club). There were about six of us watching the Arsenal match against Marseille, and we were all thrilled with the result. It was especially nice to see Jack Wilshere get on the scoresheet with his first ever brace for Arsenal (and also the fastest Champions League goal scored by an Englishman).

Not bad for 6am.
That result means we have one foot in the next round of the Champions League, but as everybody is well aware, the work isn't finished with yet. It's the first time in quite a few seasons that we enter the final group game of the Champions League with the qualifying teams still undecided. It means we have to go to Napoli with the intent of winning, and that will test our mettle next month when fixture congestion starts to come into play once more. Let's hope the Ultras behave themselves.


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Arsenal 2-0 Southampton [Albury, New South Wales, Australia]

I've made it to the land Down Under!

My first match in Australia went the same way as my first match in any other country I've been to so far on this tour – a win.

What's Australia like, you ask? Well, it's hard to put a finger on it. It's effin' huge for a start. It feels more like the UK and less like the US. For starters, the cars drive on the correct side of the road, and the people here speak English far more authentically when compared to Americans.

Some theatre in Australia
It still feels a million miles away from home though. For a start, we're a month away from Christmas yet it's 26 Degrees C outside, which just feels wrong. Yes, the supermarkets and shopping centres here in Albury look like they've been plucked out of early-nineties Gateshead, but they sell Kangaroo burgers and Croc Sausages. It's weird here because it's almost entirely like being in England in the Summer, yet in almost every way it's not. 

No comment necessary
My first game in Australia was in fact in a small town called Albury in New South Wales. I watched the Arsenal Southampton game at fellow Gooner Phillip Saunders' house, as it was 2am in the morning and none of the pubs here would open for long enough. Still, it was nice to watch a game without getting completely smashed, which meant it was nice to be able to wake up the following morning (or afternoon in my case) and not feel like I was punched in the head by a wrecking ball.

So, my next stop will be Melbourne where I'll be watching the Marseille and Cardiff games.


Monday, 25 November 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [Phillip Saunders, Albury, Australia]

Apologies for the late update on this one. It would seem that the lack of sleep and abundance of Australian beer has seen me forget to press the 'publish' button on this 'meet the Gooner family feature'. Sorry Phil. Better late than never though, right?!

Meet Phillip Saunders, my first host for the Australian leg of my round-the-world Arsenalfest. Phillip lives in the city of Albury in New South Wales, which, if you looked on a map, would think it's in the middle of nowhere. And that's because it's in the middle of nowhere. But, it is approximately half way between Sydney (where my flight from Fiji landed) and Melbourne, the next destination on my list. Phil had heard of my cause and offered a couch to crash on and, of course, a Gooner to watch a game with.
Phil and his two children. All Gooners

Q. Why Arsenal?
Partly because of the shirt. I like the iconic red shirt, white sleeves. I didn't follow them because they were doing well. They're a strong, traditional yet progressive club.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
It was mid-eighties. I remember Samantha Fox was a fan, and that was one of the reasons for me getting into Arsenal.

Q. Favourite Player?
Niall Quinn. He was so different, he was an unco-ordinated lanky goofball looking thing, but he never gave up and he was an iconic player.

Q. Favourite current Player?
I like Sagna, I'm also a full-back when I play. He's reliable, he doesn't try and be fancy, he's just 'what you see is what you get'.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
First time I saw them win the Littlewoods Cup, think it was 86/87. That was my first experience seeing Arsenal win a trophy.

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in Albury?
I would normally watch it at home, sometimes I'll head down to the Celtic Club when I'm in Melbourne.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
I never went to Highbury. Even if I did go there, I'll still go with Emirates based on what the place has managed to do for us as a football club.

Q. League Prediction?
I think we'll finish top three. I don't think we'll win it, I think the other contenders are strong and I think our true test is yet to come.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season?

Aaron Ramsey for me. He's had a great season so far and I think he's going to score more decisive goals. I also think Eisfeld is one to watch, as we get more fixture congestion he will get the chance to play more games.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Meet the Gooner Family [Nathan Eggers, San Diego]

Meet Nathan Eggers, another member of the Gooner Family who put me up in San Diego for a night.

Nathan was one of a few Gooners that made their way up to Orange County to participate in the fundraising festivities during the United match.

Gooner On The Road & 'Eggers'

Q. Why Arsenal? The whole club just exudes class. From management to the players to the supporters, it is a group that joins together and fights for what they believe in. I feel the sense that the club picked me instead of the other way around. Also its the Gooner Family as well, I have met so many wonderful and interesting people because of this alliance that we have.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal? 2006/07, it started with playing FIFA as I think it does with quite a few Americans. It was how I found out about the players at first and it just blossomed into the love affair I now have for this club.

Q. Favourite Player? Think I would have to go with Thierry Henry. He was just a shear joy to watch. He made everything look so fluid and easy.

Q. Favourite current Player? Gonna have to go with Aaron Ramsey on this one. To go through the injury he did, and the stretch of poor form in addition to getting heckled from a growing collection of supporters I really admire his attitude and determination to get to where he is playing at the moment. That is someone I want wearing the Arsenal badge.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment? It has to be the Arshavin winner against Barcelona. That counter attack was something beautiful. I will always remember the commentator screaming Arshavinnnnnnnn!!!!!

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in San Diego? Bluefoot Bar & Lounge with the San Diego Gooners and our growing assembly of supporters.

Q. Emirates or Highbury? Its hard to be a judge when you have never been to either place, but I am very excited to watch my first Arsenal match in person this December.

Q. League Prediction? I truly believe that we can win the title this season. We have gotten off to a good start and now that we are getting some of our wingers back I'm very confident we will be challenging for the title. This squad is the most unified squad I have seen playing for Arsenal since I started watching them, each player is ready to battle for the others.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season? The defense has grown alot this season and especially Kieran Gibbs. He is starting to become a very solid left back and now that he has a run of games without seeing the trainers table his form is really started to come about. He hasn't gotten much credit for his performances but I think thats the way he likes it.

Meet the Gooner Family [Nick Lellenberg, San Diego]

Meet Nick Lellenberg, host for a few nights in San Diego. Nick came up to Santa Ana for the fundraiser and invited me to head down to his place for a few nights to experience a slightly less pandemoniac California - I wasn't disappointed.

Nick helps to keep Arsenal America ticking over with news updates and features, but when he's working for actual money, he's an admissions tutor at one of the private schools in La Jolla (an affluent 'retirement community' north of SD).

Gooner On The Road and Napoleon Dynamite - typical San Diego Sunset.

Nick Lellenberg

Q. Why Arsenal?
When I was small I went to France every Summer with my family and I grew up watching France in 1998 and 2000, the French Contingent of Arsenal were in their prime. It was mesmerising watching Arsenal play.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
The first game I watched was the 4-1 win over Norwich in 2005. The only reason I was watching was because my grandmother grew up in Norwich and I recognised the name of the team. Of course, Henry scored a hat-trick and it was Arsenal that I paid more attention to.

Q. Favourite all time Player?
Has to be Thierry Henry. Everybody loves the goalscorer. I watched him when he was playing for France, young and still learning.

Q. Favourite current Player?
Sagna. Unheralded. He broke his leg twice in a year but he's been with us for eight years and he is a workhorse, he never moans or gets caught up in the press for reasons right or wrong and he's got amazing headgear.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
Being in the away end at White Hart Lane when we won 3-1 in 2007 was great, but my most memorable was another away trip, this time to Milan at the San Siro (same season) where we won 2-0 despite the odds being against us – no English team had beaten AC Milan on their home turf until that evening.

Q.Where do you watch Arsenal in San Diego?
The Blue Foot Bar & Lounge in North Park. We have around 30 people to every game, we've been going for around 18 months and we're growing all the time.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
I never got to Highbury (I was one season too late) so I guess it's got to be the Emirates.

Q. League Prediction?
Top 2. I'm not comfortable saying which position (1 or 2) but I genuinely think we are at least runners up.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season?

Mertesacker has been tearing it up. He's not very fast but he reads the game so well that he doesn't need to be. He has the potential to be a captain.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Meet the Gooner Family INK special [Jordan & Channelle, 'Fresno']

Meet Jordan & Channelle, two members of the Gooner family who hosted me for one evening in Fresno. 'Where's Fresno?' you ask. Well, I can tell you: I don't really know, in fact, apparently nobody does. It's in California, and there are farms surrounding it. There are some buildings and some people, there are cars, some trees, roads, street lighting. There is a CVS Pharmacy. Where you can buy cigarettes and booze. Ah America.

Two completely talentless Gooners. And Me
However, there's also a tattoo parlour called 'Faithful & True', and a pub called 'Peeves'. This is where the fun stuff happens, and it happened to me. You see, the reason for the stopover in Fresno was to have a few pints (no change there) with Jordan and subject myself to some mild pain; I was there to get a tattoo.

Not just any tattoo, I was there to get my first ink, I was there to get a tattoo of the CANNON! Jordan runs the newly-formed Fresno Gooners supporters club, whilst his wife Channelle is a tattoo artist who has been stabbing people for a living for quite literally a week. Despite her obvious inexperience and questionable demeanour, I agreed to get a FREE tattoo from Channelle at Faithful & True.

The Cannon and everywhere I've been and going to (hopefully)

The result? Pictures like the one above don't do it justice, you need to see me in the flesh (yum!) but suffice to say Channelle did an amazing job and everybody, EVERYBODY that's seen the ink up close loves it. They love the design (thanks to Jordan for that, a man with many talents) and they love the fact that it looks like it's been done by a tattoo artist with more experience than Channelle. OK, full disclosure, Channelle has been tattooing people (or at least pig skin) for quite a while but has only been official for a week or two.

So, if you're thinking about getting an Arsenal tattoo and you live near Fresno (and you can find the place!) you must get in contact with these lovely people. Channelle's vision is to be the person who Gooners go to in order to get ink done, whether it's a simple Art Deco design or a blank canvas. They are a great creative team and of course they're yet another wonderful example of the Gooner Family.

Jordan Wiebe

Q. Why Arsenal?
The history, the class, the values, the way we develop young talent & play with a well-documented creative flair & panache (and I don't mean the ornamental tuft of feathers type, although Arteta may fit both definitions). I'm a fairly idealistic, imaginative person & the club seems to share some of the same values with the way they've been ahead of their time in so many different eras. For me, Arsenal was, and continues to be, a natural choice.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
Thierry Henry was on the cover of FIFA 2004, I didn't have a club to support, he was incredible & so I started following AFC nominally. Then in 2008, I moved to London to work with a charity for a year & became enmeshed in the culture of football and, specifically, Arsenal; watching matches at the pub became my default activity outside of work. Then, through a friend, I was able to go to a Premier League match against Wigan at the Emirates. Adebayor scored in the first half for a 1-0 victory and, when he did, the ensuing 2 minutes of celebration was all I needed to be hooked.

Q. Favourite Player?
For me, it's always been Henry. There's not much to say about him that hasn't already been said by folks. He was absolutely world-class for us and has continued to be the quintessential Gunner after he left with all of his involvement at the club in the past few years.

Q. Favourite current Player?
Jack. His connection and lengthy relationship with the club is well-documented, graduating through the academy and reserve ranks, and it's pretty apparent that he's going to fight as hard as anyone for the team every single match. He's obviously supremely talented, as evidenced by several notable performances (Barca in 2011 Champions League, Swansea in the FA Cup last year), and a great example of the positives Arsene's faith brings out in players. While it goes against my better judgement, I *want* to believe that Jack will be an AFC man the rest of his career; it may be naive but I think he could be one of those one-club footballers that shares a deep, unique bond with their club. He's got the potential to be an Arsenal legend.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
2-1 over Barcelona in 2011 Champions League. I still get goosebumps whenever I watch highlights back. And, to think: we did it with Djourou starting at the back.

Q.Where do you watch Arsenal in Fresno?
I started our local branch of Arsenal supporters, the Fresno Gooners, and we're lucky enough to have a great pub that serves as our host for matches called Peeve's Public House. We're a very new club, as we only started at the beginning of this season, and have had turnouts of 50+ at some matches. Peeve's has provided a great place to connect with Gooners that I hadn't previously been linked up with in our area.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
I can only say Emirates because I've never been to Highbury and wasn't really a supporter when we were playing there. My wife, who's also a proper Gooner, & I got to take a tour of the Emirates this past summer when we were over on holiday and it was easily the highlight of our trip. I really appreciated that the club has done a great job of integrating our history into the stadium.

Q. League Prediction?
I'd like to think that we've got a great shot at claiming the Premier League title this year with the way we've started; it's really dependent on whether Wenger buys cover for Giroud and how fit we are throughout the season. I'll say we get into a title race with City & Chelsea and end up 2nd.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season?
Giroud. I think once Ramsey comes back down to earth a bit, we'll learn just how integral Giroud is to our squad. Oli's improvement & adjustment to the Premier League and our style has been very evident so far and. His work-rate and link-up play has been phenomenal from the start; I think we'll see him add a bit more to his goal tally by the end of this season.


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Man United 1-0 Arsenal [The Olde Ship, Santa Ana]

The Gooner On The Road unbeaten run in the Premier League has finally come to an end. I tried my best to send good vibes to the team, through multiple pints of Harp and Guinness (no orange juice this time guys) but it just wasn't to be. The team looked tired from two massive games prior, and in the end, we didn't have what it takes to win three massive games on the trot. I don't write about key moments or decisions, because there are plenty other people on the interweb who do that just fine (there are also others that do a terrible job). But, if I was writing about it, I'd be commenting almost entirely on the refereeing, or lack of, that is atypical of an Old Trafford beating.

Hollywood Hills. Gabs [and Nilu, not picture] flew all the way from Austin for the fundraiser. This guy loves Tequila.
In the end, it was a disappointing result but one that we could essentially afford to lose because we're still top of the table going into the international break and, as many have said already, if you were to look at us playing Liverpool, then going to Dortmund and Manchester and say you would take two thirds of the points up for grabs, you'd be a happy man. It's still a sickening feeling when you lose to United but we can take comfort in those six points.

Venice Beach. Massive sunglass failure

Of course, the blow was softer for me than others because I was watching the fixture with the OC Gooners in Santa Ana, approximately 30 miles South of Los Angeles (45 minutes hours in typical LA traffic). We didn't get a result at Old Trafford but we got a result at The Olde Ship, as the boys there raised $2,150 for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, the charity I'm supporting whilst On The Road. They blew Arsenal Supporters Club Madison out of the water completely, which is really saying something. Everybody deserves a pat on the back here for being so supportive to the cause. So noble, so classy - it's things like this that make us, the Gooner Family, proud to be who we are.

The OC Gooners. NYC Arsenal Supporters' biggest rivals, atmosphere-wise. 
To make things better, the Austin Gooners and the Portland (PDX) Gooners raised roughly $1200 between them on the same day, taking advantage of big crowds who came to watch that Dutch guy score and celebrate in a sporting, ungrateful manner. This means we raised over $3000 (out of a $15000 target) across three supporters clubs in the US. Not a bad day, not bad at all.

And that brings me on to my final thought today. I've passed the $7000 mark for all donations so far this season. I'm ecstatic about that, BUT I know I wouldn't have been able to do it without the support from the local clubs mentioned above. The thing is, I don't want to only rely on these big hitters coming in, I would be in a much better position if I could count on volume, just $5, $10, $15 donations from a much bigger audience. And that requires exposure. So, if you're reading this and you feel like you're an influential figure that can help spread the word, please DO IT! You can find me on Twitter, you can find me on Facebook, Youtube and more. And of course, last but not least, you can find my FUNDRAISING page HERE. Please don't be the one that says "other people will donate, I don't have to", it all makes a difference.


Saturday, 9 November 2013

Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal [Maggie McGarry's, San Francisco]

Yes, you heard right. That's ONE-NIL to the Arsenal. It's been a few days since that historic victory at  the Westfalonstadion, but I'm still ecstatic about it, especially the way in which we turned the game around with a slightly ugly but altogether dominating second-half performance. And, once again, it was the Welsh Wizard that made the difference. He scores when he wants, you know...

Just one of a million great perspectives of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge (taken from the rooftop of my hosts apartment building)
Anyhow, I was in the city of San Francisco for this fixture, the penultimate game in the North American leg of my itinerary. I've been to many amazing cities in the U.S over the past ten weeks, but San Francisco has to be, along with New York (which I've been to many times before) the most iconic. For once I was in tourist-mode, trying to do as many thing as possible in the two days I was there. I got to walk around Alcatraz, I had Dim Sum in Chinatown, I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and I got to ride the infamous cable car (one of only two US National Historic Landmarks that moves, the other being the New Orleans streetcar which I've also used). It was full of 'when in Rome' moments but I enjoyed every minute in SFO and will definitely be heading back.

Bay Area Gooners. These guys sing better than most. It must be a coastal thing.
We were watching the Arsenal game at Maggie McGarry's pub. As you can see below, the members of the Bay Area Gooners supporters club exploded into life as we saw Aaron Ramsey silenced the crown at the WestfalenStadion. It was a moment to remember, like many others this season.

I'm almost at the end of my trip in North America, the last stop will be Los Angeles, or to be precise Santa Ana in Orange County, which technically isn't actually Los Angeles, but for most of the people reading this who are oblivious to Californian geography (and for arguments' sake), it's LA! We play the filth from Old Trafford. I can't wait.


Meet the Gooner Family [Blake & Paul, San Francisco]

Meet Blake and Paul, two Gooners living in San Francisco, and my hosts in California!

Blake Kraft and Paul Sanchez
Q. Why Arsenal?
Blake: Victory Through Harmony. This is more than a football club. The way they do business, the management, the brand, the style of play, their youth development, the type of players they sign, Arsene Wenger… it’s all class.

Paul: Obviously I love the style of football we play, but choosing a club that had values I agreed with was a major factor in my decision. I wanted to support a club with rich history, but also one that didn't "sell its soul" in the name of success. I also fell in love with Arsene Wenger when I read his biography; he's done so much for the sport and Arsenal.

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
Blake: I started supporting Arsenal during the 2003-2004 season. I loved watching Henry during the World Cups so it was a natural choice even though my childhood team wore Barcelona uniforms. I stopped playing in the middle of high school and then began watching every game and religiously supporting.

Paul: After the 2006 World Cup, I was enthralled by football, I think partly because I enjoy learning about sports and how they transcend culture in peoples' everyday lives. My best friend Blake (who I still live with) was already a Gooner and he did the rest for me. I started watching during the 2006/2007 season and have been all in ever since.

Q. Favourite Player?
Blake: The legend. Thierry Henry.

Paul: Cesc Fabregas. When I started watching Arsenal, his position was the most interesting to me, and I thought he played it beautifully. I am not bitter that he went back to Barca, and I really think he'll be back at Arsenal in some capacity when he is in his 30's. He knows what it means to breathe Arsenal.

Q. Favourite current Player?
Blake: Wilshere. We raised him. He is 100% Arsenal and I love his grit. He’s like a jack russell terrier out there.

Paul: Aaron Ramsey. It has been so much fun watching his development since we signed him & Jack as teenagers. He has an incredible engine, and always wants the ball. I'm happy to say that I didn't give up on him when he went through his rough patch coming back from injury, and to see his confidence skyrocket is just an absolute joy. I think it's a testament to Wenger and his decision-making.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
Blake: Arshavins’s Champions League goal and win against Barcelona or Henry’s header in the 94th minute against United.

Paul: That's a very tough question, but I'm going to say the victory last season at the Allianz against Bayern. I know we didn't make it through the knockout, but I believe that victory was the catalyst for our amazing run of form, and put us in the position we are in now. The boys proved they could win ugly against the toughest opposition in hostile territory, which was always questioned before that match.

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in San Francisco?
Blake: I watch Arsenal at Maggie McGarry’s with the Bay Area Gooners.

Paul: I try to make it to Maggie McGarry's every weekend, because it's the closest thing I can get to the experiences I had while living in London. I love watching the matches with other supporters who can relate with how much the club means on a personal level to them.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
Blake: I’ve never been to Highbury, so I guess The Emirates. I wish I could’ve seen a match at Highbury.

Paul: I have to say Emirates simply because that's where I saw my first match, the North London Derby. It is also symbolic of the club transitioning into a new generation of football, and it shows our ambition.

Q. League Prediction?
Blake: I think we’ll nick it. We’re first in the league at the moment but it’s a long season. If we keep on this run and get a couple players fit I don’t see why not!

Paul: I don't see why we can't win the league this season! I love that we keep proving the pundits wrong, and this squad is more resilient than ever--the chemistry is unprecedented.

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch this season?
Blake: Ozil! He’s the world-class player we’ve been missing. His impact on the pitch and with the fans has been invaluable. You can’t dispute the results since he’s been brought in. 

Paul: I have to say the Mertesacker - Koscielny partnership (even though that's two players). It has to be one of the most underrated CB pairings in the world, and I love how they work for each other. We've had some impressive clean sheets against quality sides this year, which I think in large part is due to that partnership improving so drastically...and Flamini.