Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Off the road (for now)...

What an incredible end to an incredible season. I still can't quite believe that Arsenal won a trophy a couple of weekends ago. It almost feels like the FA Cup was the first trophy we've ever won, that's how overdue it is.

What made it particularly special for me was the success I had with the fundraising. With all your donations, I managed to exceed my target of $15,000 for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation before the end-of-season deadline. Once again, my thanks goes to everybody that helped me reach that very important goal.

With the season now over, and therefore my challenge, I've had the chance to reflect on a memorable roller coaster journey, and I'm quite proud of how I managed to make something feared impossible, possible. I travelled for 8 months, from the start of the football season to the end, never missing a match and always with a roof over my head, despite only having a few grand in my pocket. Actually, it wasn't me that made it possible at all, it was the Arsenal family; without all those warm-hearted people putting me up for a few days each (sometimes a few weeks!), the trip wouldn't have been viable.

People are saying that I've done an amazing thing but the true heroes are Andy, Trevor, Olivar, Jesper, Graeme, Jeff W, Kurtis, Brett, Colin, Miles, Barry, Davy, Jeremy, Par, David S, Kevin, Paul, Blake, Jordan, Channelle, Seth, Nick, Luke, George, Elia, Kanika, Diya, Scott, Phillip, Sean, Matt, Geof, Mick, Jonny, Andrew, Ali, Ahmed, Neil, Shane, Ashley, Adam, Yukie, Kevin, Jeff T, James, Veno, Arsya, Anand, Thierry, Seany, Dung Pham, Running Man and Jay! I think I've remembered everybody, but due to my complete lack of organisation and terrible memory, somebody might be missing, so I apologise in advance!

Anyway, the above people are the ones that helped out by giving up a couch, an inflatable bed or a guest room. I was a complete stranger to them but they welcomed me into their homes and set the benchmark as members of the Arsenal family. Bravo.

Right now, my focus lies on bringing out a book on my adventure. There's a lot of work to be done, but expect it to be released towards the tail end of the year barring any disasters. If it goes well, who knows, another adventure could be on the cards.

Finally, I'm holding a Twitter Q&A session, my first of hopefully many, Tomorrow at 9-10pm UK time. Remember to use the hashtag #AskGOTR. You can ask anything, providing it doesn't get me into any trouble!!! If you're not already following me on Twitter, you can do so here.


Friday, 16 May 2014

Penultimate post: 6 points, FA Cup Final preview + Tea with Piers

Well, I'm back in the UK after a monumental trip around the world. It's been successful beyond my wildest expectations, and I have the #GoonerFamily to thank for the majority of it.

I actually returned to England on the 1st May, which isn't exactly the end of the season. I had it in my mind that, considering I watched the first Premier League fixture of the season, at the Emirates
Elia and Anand from Oz and Malaysia respectively
against Aston Villa, I'd do all that I could to watch the last home match there too. So that's what I did. With Arsenal already guaranteed a top-four finish, the match against West Brom was tension-free. It was also rather tedious to watch if I must admit, apart from Giroud's headed goal. But it was nice to be back at the stadium, particularly as there were a few Arsenal supporters attending who I'd met and stayed with along the journey.

Of course, West Brom wasn't the last game of the season. And I had set out to watch every match, live, regardless of location. As is tradition in the UK, every single game on the final weekend of the Premier League is played at 3pm. And as the final game, versus Norwich, had nothing resting on it, there was no TV coverage. It meant I had to get hold of a ticket. Thankfully I've built up quite a following on Twitter and, with nothing decisive to come out of the game, there were tickets popping up everywhere. A nice chap called Shaun sorted me out with one and I was relieved to know I'd be going to watch my last game of the regular season.

Scotland, Hong Kong, Malaysia. In a Belgian restaurant.
In London
Norwich was, in all fairness, a much better outing for me than The Emirates a week before. For a start, our travelling fans are a great vocal bunch and, with Wembley looming, there was more than enough incentive for our support to get rowdy. Tie that together with a convincing Gunners display and a stunning volleyed goal from Aaron Ramsey, and the day was a hoot. It was definitely a satisfying way to finish off the journey.

But, the journey still isn't over. Wembley is this weekend. Our biggest chance yet to get that horrible, ageing monkey off our back. I never imagined that we'd get this far so didn't anticipate there being a hunt for a ticket. To be honest, I was just glad that we managed to get to the final. There were loads of options available for me to watch the game at pubs. And I had something more important to focus on, I still had to find $1400 in time for the fundraising deadline (the 17th May, last day of our season).

Of course, most will know about this:


Yep. I won one of three ticket from Piers Morgan for the FA Cup Final. I was gobsmacked by the amount of people who had suggested, on Twitter, that I should be one of the lucky winners. I've never won anything in my life either. It was truly humbling.

So when Piers messaged me to say that I'd won, I asked him if it would be OK to auction the ticket off for my fundraiser, as it would have likely made up a big chunk of what remained. But he probably would have gotten into trouble (haha, Piers Morgan getting into trouble?) for giving away a ticket that would be sold. So, instead:


I can't quite sum up how it felt to know that A) so many people had put me forward to win a ticket B) I'd won a ticket to Wem-ber-lee! C) Piers Morgan loved what I had done D) I reached my milestone goal of $15k for the charity and E) I would be meeting Piers at his bloody house to pick up the ticket! Craziness.

So, I met Piers at his house yesterday at [top secret location]. He really is a good guy, despite what others will say. Some people get a bad rap, but Piers Morgan really is alright, and remember, despite what people say, he is a true Gooner, with his own opinion, much like everybody else. Also makes a good cup of tea!

Beyond my wildest dreams, this is how the adventure is coming to an end. Now if we could just lift that cup, please.


Friday, 2 May 2014

Arsenal 3-0 Newcastle [Prime Sky Lounge, Hong Kong]

The win against Newcastle (happy belated St Totteringhams!) was my final game as a Gooner On The Road. It was a convincing display, much like Hull previously, and was a great way to say goodbye to the Arsenal Family.

As I write this, I'm sitting at Hong Kong Airport reflecting on what has undoubtedly been the most memorable eight months of my life. I don't really know where to begin either, so many emotions. I think there's some anxiety in there somewhere, some sadness that the journey is coming to an end, but also some excitement about going home and seeing friends and family.

The one feeling that I'm sure of though, is pride. I've always been proud to support my club, but over the past eight months I've become proud to call myself a member of the Arsenal Family. You don't just become a member of the the Family overnight. It doesn't happen when you start supporting the club, at least not in my book. There's no application list and no pre-requisites to meet. It's not a circle of trust, or a cult either. To me, the Arsenal Family is all about camaraderie, trust and hospitality. It is this family that has defined the journey as a Gooner On The Road. Without these fellow fans by my side, the adventure wouldn't have been feasible, I wouldn't have been able to experience the many destinations the way I have done, and of course I wouldn't have raised anywhere near as much for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation. So, from the bottom of my heart I say thank you to the many, many members of the Arsenal Family that have helped shape such an unforgettable journey. 

Later on (and by the time most of you will read this) I'll be back in the UK. This doesn't mean that the challenge is over. Due to Arsenal progressing to the FA Cup Final, the deadline for my fundraising has been extended to the 17th May. That gives me just over two weeks to find $2,500 or less than £1,500. My friends have said I've done an amazing job so far to raise the amount I have, and there's truth to that, but it would still feel like a kick in the teeth if I came all this way only to fail to reach the final target by a thousand dollars (imagine us losing in the FA Cup Final against Hull. Similar feeling perhaps). I know I sound like a broken record here but I still need your help. Please, support The Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, and my objective to raise $15k for the charity, by donating here

So it's definitely not the end from me. Expect to see more blog updates with reactions from the West Brom game, where I'll be watching in person (I watched the first home game at the Emirates so it's fitting to do the last there too). I'll also be keeping you regularly updated on the progress of the fundraiser, and of course there will be an announcement, at some point, about my book!

As for the FA Cup Final itself, I'm not sure where I'll be yet, but it looks highly unlikely that I'll be going to Wembley, so I'll probably settle for a pub close by. We'll see what happens.

Until Sunday!


Friday, 25 April 2014

Hull City 0-3 Arsenal [Roadhouse, Macau] + CHARITY UPDATE

Macau, a special administrative region (SAR) of China, was the fifteenth and final country where I've watched an Arsenal match this season (bearing in mind I've returned to Hong Kong to watch the Newcastle match on the 28th). I watched the match in Macau with a few local fans at a pub called 'Roadhouse'. The Gunners completely dominated Hull, a welcome change to the usual tail-between-legs, 'will-they-won't-they' Arsenal performance of late. It was also a good warm up for the FA Cup Final, though we all know that football has an almost bottomless bucket of surprises. Nothing can be taken for granted in English football....ever.
Macau. And some Gooners. And a cannon. 

This time next week I will be somewhat emotionally returning to the UK, after having watched every single Arsenal match of the season, live, with another Arsenal fan.

So that's 52 matches. 8 months. 4 continents. 14 countries. 36 different cities. Oh, and more than 50 of the most genuine, passionate and hospitable Arsenal fans around the world as hosts. When I take a moment to look back at those numbers, it's kind of tough to fathom. You see, people come up with ridiculous ideas all the time, things that sound awesome on paper, or in a dream or on a chalkboard, but in reality that vision is rarely executed. Usually it's because there isn't enough time or money, or people's eyes are bigger than their stomach, or there's been a big error in the planning, or time-machines haven't been invented yet (I'm sure that last one has been the stumbling block for many people's big aspirations).

I'm guilty of having big ideas and failing to follow through on them and I bet you can think of an example for yourself in the past, too. When I came up with the idea of travelling the world for eight months, watching every Arsenal game of the season, LIVE, with only £5,000 in my pocket, every sensible cell in my brain was telling me it wasn't going to work. Yet here I am, approaching the final sprint. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, whatever you like to call it. There's still a week left to go and although anything can happen, I've exceeded my own expectations, and it's such a humbling feeling to have. And to think that I have the #GoonerFamily to thank for most of it!

But, there is one other goal that I'm playing catchup with. And it's the most important of all.

For all those that are wondering, I made the decision to return to London for the final home game, as I started the journey this way (against, ahem, Aston Villa). It just felt like the right thing to do, book-ending the journey at the Emirates, Arsenal's home, with every game in-between watched overseas. It also means that I'm going to be on home soil for the FA Cup final, which should tie in nicely with my fundraising efforts.

Which is where all you readers come in. As I've just mentioned above, there's one goal that I'm chasing, one that means more to me than anything else. I'm doing this trip for a cause. As hopefully most of you know by now, my mother passed away in February last year from breast cancer. Being part of a small, close family, losing mum was the beginning of the end of the world for me. I was at the lowest point in my life and, perhaps slightly selfishly, I couldn't think of a way to climb out of the dark hole that my existence had turned into. Traveling was an opportunity to heal, a therapeutic journey if you like. It was during the planning for this journey that I came up with the Gooner On The Road idea.

So, this trip isn't just an exercise to see if it's possible to do something that many people say would be impossible, it's a journey that's tied to a very important cause, one close to my heart. My goal is to raise $15,000 for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation. But you can probably tell from my Facebook post below (from earlier today) that I'm pushing water uphill at the moment:

So, if you have a moment, and a spare few quid, please, please donate what you can. I still need to raise $4k between now and the end of the FA Cup Final, and whilst I have a few ideas that could see me getting close to that $15k figure, like Arsenal I'm not taking anything for granted. To support the cause, please click HERE to donate. Remember you can pay with a credit card or using Paypal. And I'm sorry, but if you're not in the US there's no opportunity to claim back tax I'm afraid.


Monday, 14 April 2014

Happy Ending in Saigon [Arsenal 1-1* WBA, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam]

For a moment there I was starting to think that Vietnam had become a curse of disappointing results, seeing the humiliating defeat at Goodison Park followed a draw at home to Manchester City. I was back in Ho Chi Minh City for this one.

It really looked like it wasn't going to be our day. Creatively, Arsenal were poor, cautious in their approach to every move, which resulted in an attacking performance matching the fluidity of an elephant's carcass. There were few chances for either side, but the point-blank Sanogo header into Carson's feet early in the first half should have been the goal that made things comfortable.

The comfort-ometer went in the other direction though. Mertesacker made a rare mistimed lunge on Callum McManaman in the box, and although there was a delay in the penalty taking due to Monreal's injury (double-ugh), it didn't put off Jordi Gomez from converting to put his team in front. With 63 minutes on the clock, Arsenal were one-nil down in the Semi-Final, and an all too familiar feeling was making its way to the pit of my stomach.

But, Arsenal managed to find a way back into the game as Wigan sat back to try and defend their lead. With Giroud coming on for Podolksi, there were more chances to hold the ball up in the attacking third, creating space and opening up the pitch for more opportunities. You have to give the guy credit, he may not be the most instinctual finisher, but he holds up the ball very well and he's one of the best players in the country at doing this. With Giroud on the pitch at Wembley, we were finding time for other attackers to get into space and open up the opposition's defence.

Eventually, on the 82nd minute, Mertesacker made up for his error by heading a scuffed shot from Oxlade-Chamberlain beyond Scott Carson. It was club-captain stuff. We're not talking about diving diva Arteta here, or out-of-favour (but still starting) Vermaelen, this was sheer determination and enterprise - if it hasn't convinced the Big Fucking German's peers, critics and manager that he should be wearing the armband next season, then nothing will.

Consequently the game went into extra time and penalties were looming. An Arsenal team winning two penalty shootouts in a single season was a task not worth thinking about - I personally drank seven pints of Saigon Red between the 91st minute and the 120th. The Ox hit the crossbar during this time but, other than that, there was only going to be one way to decide the match.

Fortunately for Arsenal, Fabianski, 'The Other Pole in Goal', showed his worth and denied Wigan's first penalty from Cauldwell. Arteta took the first for Arsenal, and scored one of the best penalties I've seen this season, hitting the side netting beyond the despair of Scott Jackson, who was too busy trying to orchestrate a bollywood music video with his shimmying around. Fabianski then played hero for the second time in as many minutes, guessing which way Collison would shoot. This was it, our chance. Up stepped Källström, a wise last-minute, last-ditch sub by Wenger, and he calmly tucked it away. All we had to do was keep our cool, and for the first time in a long time, we did. Cazorla scored the fourth after Giroud had netted his, and Wigan were out. Wembley here we are come!

We are now in the best position to win silverware in years. Now we just have to focus on a top-four finish. So that'll be another five cup finals then!


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Everton 3-0 Arsenal [Hanoi]

Note - due to the crappy internet in Vietnam I'm struggling to upload photos. You can check out my Flickr Page soon (link to the right) which should contain some snaps once I find a better connection. GOTR

Good Morning Vietnam! Hello rest of world. OK, first things first, before talking about this stunning country, I need to clear something up.

I've found it very difficult to write about anything Arsenal-related over the past few weeks. Put simply the team has depressed me to the point where I've given up hope and (temporarily) lost most of my passion for the club. Arsenal FC is, right now, an embarrassment to its fans and its stakeholders. If it were possible to discontinue interest in the club, I would attempt to do it. But, it's a love affair that can't be broken, so we must soldier on with this constant pain until the people that are 
paid to make decisions, actually make decisions. Until that happens, I'm afraid to say Arsenal is a sinking ship and, as usual, it's the fans that bear the brunt of it.

Yesterday I watched Chelsea systematically break apart a resilient PSG team. Now this is really hard for me to say, but you'd be a numskull if you couldn't tell by the emotions of the players and the fans, let alone that trollop Mourinho, that there is some real fighting team spirit in that club. It is something that Arsenal completely lack, and it simply has to be down to management. I think it is utterly disgraceful, unprofessional even, for a manager to constantly blame his players for shortcomings. I have always stood up for Arsene Wenger, but even I have to start realistically thinking about the consequences of him staying at the helm, especially when he comes out with nonsense like that.

There are a few scenarios over the next few weeks that will surely confirm how the board views the club and the 'importance' of silverware. If we win the FA Cup and fail to qualify for the Champions League, realistically the board will relieve Wenger of his duties because it is those eighteen consecutive years in Europe's top competition that have lined the shareholders' pockets with millions. On the other hand, if we fail to win the FA Cup but secure fourth place, Wenger will likely stay, because the club is raking in the wonga, which we all know is the most important thing to the club, unfortunately. Finally, if we fail on both accounts [the FA Cup and UCL spot], there surely can only be one outcome. And I think we all know what that will be.

I really want Wenger to continue his reign at Arsenal but I simply wouldn't be a true Gooner if I wanted it at the expense of silverware. The perfect scenario for me would be for him to win the FA Cup and bow out with dignity. He deserves a lot of respect for what he's managed to do with the club over the past eighteen years (including successive UCL qualifications with restricted resources) and I think more fans need to show that respect, but at the same time I will view this like any other CEO of a business would – if you fail to deliver results as a manager of a team (any team, be it sales, marketing, finance, project management) then you will be clearing your desk to make way for somebody who wants to succeed.

Another thing we need to consider is that this is only the first season where we have splashed some big cash on players, and the arrival of Özil, at least for the first few months of the season, had really injected some vigour into our football. It has been made crystal clear that there is a large transfer kitty available, so perhaps we need to make judgement after the next summer transfer window has come and gone – if we haven't made any efforts to strengthen our squad and spread our risk [squad depth] then we are in a sad, sad situation indeed.

Anyway, rant over. I've been in Vietnam for almost two weeks now, and I have to say it's probably the most exhilarating country I've visited on the trip. I've learned to appreciate the beauty of the place but also the history – this country has been through a hell of a lot and yet it still finds a way to smile as a nation. The scenery is stunningly beautiful, the people are very friendly and the food is fantastic and even reasonably healthy (I haven't seen a single fat Vietnamese person).

The Vietnamese Arsenal fans have been very welcoming and I've had the pleasure of staying with some great Gooners here, none more so than Vu Xuan Tien or, for those that know him by his alter ego, the Running Man! Tien, as he likes to be called, prepared a typical Vietnamese meal for me to enjoy with him, his girlfriend and his uncle before I headed off to Ha Long Bay to take in the sights of Vietnam's most breathtaking views. I've also had some other very memorable times in Vietnam, but to find out more about my experiences you'll have to buy and read my book, which I'll be making an official announcement about soon!

I head back to Hong Kong on the 14th, where I will be spending some time winding down before flying back home to the UK on 1st May, just in time to catch West Brom, the last home game of the season.

Before that, there is an important cup match to watch of course. So until then...


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal [Sri Yakim Cafe, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo]

OK. Chelsea at the weekend was an embarrassment, and perhaps proof that we simply aren't good (or rich) enough to compete for the title. That being said, our season still isn't over and we have a lot to fight for, not just the FA Cup but making sure we stay as high up in the top-four as possible, with the aim of avoiding another Champions League qualifier in August. We have Swansea at home this evening. If we don't pick up three points, it'll be a key message that drastic action needs to be taken in time for the start of next season.

If it were me, I'd drop Arteta. I always try to play the optimist but I know that he's just not up to the job of playing a holding role. It's not even his natural position. Arsenal desperately need a proper holding midfielder, especially with the way our fullbacks play (high up the pitch). And, I think I've finally conceded that we need a true talisman striker. Giroud has practically proven that he's not up to the job and I wouldn't be surprised if he left at the end of the season. It has been made quite clear that there is a good transfer kitty available for the next window. The top two priorities, in my eyes, are a genuine, enforcing defensive midfielder and a clinical striker. I won't bother with any names as that's completely pointless.

There are of course other areas which need addressed. The Sagna situation is still unclear, but it looks like he may depart for France at the end of the year to take advantage of the bosman stuff. I suppose you can't really argue too much with him if that's the case. It means we will need to look for another right-back, and whilst I love Carl Jenkinson and his heart for the club, he simply isn't ready for the task in hand. Another important subject is the backup for Mertescielny - is Vermaelen up to the job?

Tea plantation, Mount Kinabalu.
The Chelsea match for me, and many others, was a depression-fest. Fortunately I was in Kola Kinabalu in Borneo to watch the match so my surroundings helped cheer me up. In just one day alone for example I managed to take a walk on the beach, drive up a mountain (somewhat), sample local tea and get literally eaten by fish in a freshwater river. It's a truly wonderful experience.

Due to lack of time and funds I didn't get to sample some of the other thrills of Borneo, like a river cruise or jungle walk, but despite this I still highly recommend visiting. I will definitely be coming back here when I can take advantage of the place more.

I'm back in Kuala Lumpur now (for the third time) to watch the Swansea match, then, on Friday, I'll be flying up to Vietnam, a country home to tens of thousands of Arsenal fans. It's going to get really interesting!


Thursday, 20 March 2014

Those Lot 0-1 Us Lot [Herris Damansara Perdana, Kuala Lumpur]

I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Borneo writing this, and I'm quite smug. Why's that you ask? Let me see:

I witnessed a good ol' one-nil to the Arsenal. Against Sp*rs. At White Hart Lane. To make it three consecutive beatings this season (I like the term 'beatings' over 'wins' when it comes to Sp*rs, it seems more fitting somehow). We are in strong contention to qualify for the Champions League for the umpteenth time whilst that lot over there are having to settle, once again, for the Europa 'Special'
Podolski. I think he likes it here
League that, let's face it, isn't any more salubrious than the 'UEFA Cup' which preceded it. We're also within a shout of winning the FA Cup and, whilst it's a long shot, the possibility to lift the Premier League trophy too. It. Just. Might. Happen.

Meanwhile Tim Sherwood is trying to eat his own face.

Sunday's game at the Lane of Farts was an odd one though. We went ahead after two minutes, courtesy of an absolute stunner by that man Tom Ross. It will go down as one of the great derby goals, although lets face it, there have been many, many, many good ones netted against them over the years. Once the ball had ripped its way through the back of the net and scorched on towards Essex, we had a few clear chances to really put the game to bed but, with the Ox failing to find his shooting boots (even his 'assist' for Rosicky was questionable) we were once again left squandering our opportunities. It was another one of those matches where we carved out a result despite accepting that at any point we could have drawn, or even lost the tie.

It's because we simply aren't ruthless enough. I'm perfectly happy with us winning every game by a single goal to clinch the title, but we all know that's about as probable as Nicky Bendtner passing a sobriety test on a Saturday morning. We have a solid defensive pairing in Mertescielny at the back but even they can't stop the inevitable few goals from creeping in, be it as a result of a calamity from Szczesny, a slip (or late tackle) from Kos or simply a stunning bit of individual play, like Deulofeu's equaliser against us earlier in the season. We can't assume we're going to get these one-nils all the time.

The fact is, Arsenal are a team that simply don't capitalise on opportunities and possession as well as others would do in our situation. Eventually this'll come back and bite us like the proverbial monkey with rabies, and we'll be left on the floor struggling to pick ourselves up. Now I'm not one to complain, I really am the optimist when it comes to Arsenal and the Wenger-era, but even I know that we have a lot more to give in terms of goals, and we can do it with the squad we've got at the moment.

Arsenal's chance-taking is getting better, and it's become evident over the past few weeks. Our game is now more direct, which I can only see as a good thing (everybody knows Arsenal are the world-leader in passing the ball from one player to the other horizontally whilst avoiding shooting at every opportunity). It's no coincidence that we are without the likes of Ramsey, Wilshere, Özil and Walcott and yet our attacking has become more fluent and aggressive. The absence of the aforementioned has presented the likes of Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain – arguably our most direct players - with the opportunity to demonstrate their worth, and boy have they done just that.

It's not just about ability, Özil and the others have that in spades. It's about mentality, it's about having balls, 'enterprise' if you like, and taking the game by the scruff of the neck, inviting tackles in as we move forward the moment we have the ball and accepting that a move may or may not pay off (and that we might just lose possession). No hesitancy, just direct play, towards those white sticks some people call 'the goal'. Rosicky and the Ox are already doing it. Özil, Ramsey, Wilshere and even Walcott are not. I've seen it myself on more than one occasion where they will actually slow down their own counterattack to get the pass rate up, at which point opposing defenders have already regrouped and pushed us back into our own half. WHY!? It's bloody frustrating and I'm sure many others will agree.

We have to look at the basics, the foundations of our tactics: keeping the ball, something that has always been the Arsenal way, because if you have the ball, the opposition can't score, simples. But if that's the case, why do a good handful of the teams we play against, who average 20-40% possession in each game, still beat us? It's because they take risks with their forward play. Put simply, it's a numbers game, like anything else, be it gambling, dating or selling timeshares. The more you have a stab at it, the more likely you are to succeed. And that's the kind of mentality we need to adopt. Passes don't make goals, shots do (hey I came up with a new song!).

A snake. Borneo
So essentially, if it were me wearing the body-length Nike embroidered ribbed condom with malfunctioning zip, and not Mr Wenger, I'd take a look at what TR7 and OX15 are bringing to the team and try replicating that mentality with the others, or at least make sure that we always have at least one of those players on the field at any one time. We have others that have been 'pre-programmed' to automatically run for goal the moment they have the ball who are chomping at the bit to get on the pitch, that includes Serge Gnabry. I'm sure that the involvement of these direct players, together with our technical playmakers, will give us a whole new dynamic without upsetting the possession play that is part and parcel of present-day Arsenal football.

So, with 'Clueless Pete's Guide To Winning' out of the way, I can give you a bit of an update on the charity situation. As of right now, I'm currently at the $11k mark in fundraising for the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation. If you're not aware of the motive behind this, please read more about it here. I still have another $4,000 to go, and the season ends as soon as we've lifted the FA Cup Trophy (!) in May. So I don't have long to go, but that's still a hefty amount to raise. I would really appreciate your help in achieving this goal, so please spare what you can, literally anything, and donate here.

Right now I'm in Kota Kinabalu in eastern Borneo, where I have already had some encounters with the local residents, including the Proboscis Monkey with it's massive schnozzer (related to our Olivier perhaps?). I will be watching the Chel$ea game here with the local Arsenal fans before heading back to Kuala Lumpur next week to watch my final match in Malaysia, Arsenal v Swansea.Then, at the end of the month I head to Vietnam and, last but not least, China!

For now though, selamat tinggal!


Saturday, 15 March 2014

Bayern 1-1 Arsenal [3-1 on Aggregate] - Some food centre in Penang.

Arsenal have been somewhat undeservedly knocked out of the Champions League, yet again, by Bayern Munich. It was a fixture that didn't have much in the way of hope for Arsenal fans, yet as soon as the boys kicked off you could see there was intent to repeat what we did last year, and that gave us all hope during the match but consequently disappointment after the final whistle. It was simply too little too late, the inevitable was confirmed and Arjen Robben (along with his vagina) has once again cheated his way through to the next round of the UCL.

Robben: no testicles.
Robben's antics may have cost us the first leg and he no has no doubt helped his employers, both past and present, (Chelsea, Real and Bayern) win games undeservedly. If it were down to me he'd get punished retrospectively by UEFA, preferably by firing squad, but we all know that these sporting bodies display more corruption than a Sopranos episode.

The defeat leaves us with two competitions to concentrate on, the Premier League and the FA Cup, the latter of which is easily our biggest silverware opportunity since the Carling Cup against Birmingham. Once again there's no clear outcome here, it'll mostly come down to how we cope with our brutal fixture run-in and typical Arsenal injury table implosion. It is evident that Arsenal are an improved side overall, compared with last season. The Gunners have grown up physically, technically, mentally and, most important of all, statistically, and this is a great thing to look forward to for seasons to come. It's food for thought, and the FA Cup will be the overdue cherry on top of it all.
A cannon in Penang. Fitting

I watched the Champions League match in Penang with Anand, the Arsenal fan who's putting me up whilst I'm in Malaysia. It was a different affair to the usual match-screening as there's no real Arsenal supporters club in Penang, but it didn't matter. The most important thing for me was to enjoy what the city had to offer, and that, once again, meant food. Penang is where foodies, chefs and critics from all over the world head to when they want to eat some of the tastiest, cheapest street food available. It's not all about the food though - a large portion of the city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its unique architecture and well-preserved colonial age buildings. 

So, I've done Kuala Lumpur and Penang. I will be back in Malaysia's capital for the North London Derby before flying to Borneo to spend some time in the jungle. Hopefully I won't get eaten.

Until Sp*rs then...


Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Arsenal 4-1 Everton [Herris Damansara Perdana, Kuala Lumpur]

We're going to Wemb-er-ley!

Although, I must say, I believe that we're only really 'going to Wembley' if we reach the final. It serves as a bit of an anti-climax to know that the semi-final venue is the same as the venue for the final. You have the FA to thank for this; they made the decision because they want to recoup the costs of building the stadium, which, once again, is an example of how money is ruining the traditions of football. At the moment, we're going to Wembley, but we're not actually 'going to Wembley'. It's a bit like going out, but not going 'out out'. If I've confused you, just watch this

We now have the best opportunity to win our first bit of real silverware since 2005. And by 'real silverware' I don't mean the Emirates Cup. It's by no means an easy feat to beat a stern-looking Wigan side that dumped Man City out of the quarter finals at the weekend, but you can be sure that there will be no assumptions made this time. We have learned our (many) lessons over the past 9 years and you have to think this lesson-learning will only add to our firepower and our drive.

KL Gooners
The venue of choice for the FA Cup match was Herris Damansara Perdana, a food outlet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The locals here tend to head to a food outlet rather than a pub to watch the match, simply because the majority of people in Malaysia are Muslims. It makes for a nice change to the typical grog-fest of a pub viewing, although the locals still snuck a few Heinekens in for me (I have an unhealthy superstition that if there's no beer in my hand Arsenal will lose).

The Malaysia Arsenal fans are as passionate as any others that I've met on my travels so far. In fact, the one person I'm staying with at the moment is so besotted with the cannon that he's decided to paint the Arsenal crest on the bonnet of his Mazda 323. It's something you simply couldn't do in the UK, Europe or North America. And it seems you can't really do it in Malaysia either, because he's got a huge key scratch on his passenger door.

The game against Everton itself was an energetic affair reminiscent of the 1-1 league draw a few months back. Only this time we showed our superiority in the midfield department, which let's face it, is our strongest area by a country mile. I know Özil was the fan's man of the match, probably due to his contributions on the night and the way he demonstrated his mental strength [to get over the recent negativity], but for me it was Sir Chamberlain of Oxlade that gave us something hopeful almost every time he had the ball. He even lost the ball a few times but almost always won it back. I genuinely think he should be starting every game for us if he's fit enough. I've said this before and I'll say it again, as a team we are far too indirect given our potential ability to cut our oppositions defence in half. That's why players like the aforementioned Ox, Rosicky and Gnabry offer us so much, and at least one of them should be starting every game to give us that bit of dynamism that we lack when they're not on the field.

So, once again, it feels good to be an Arsenal fan. We've essentially got one hand firmly on the FA Cup despite having two rounds still to play in the competition, and as long as we keep our heads out of the clouds and show that we really want it, we'll get that monkey off our back. And then shoot him in the face.

Right then. One job complete. Tonight however, we must replicate the Great Escape in Germany. Nothing is impossible.


Friday, 7 March 2014

Orcs 1-0 Humans [Molly Roffey's, Singapore]

We resume our FA Cup campaign tomorrow against The Toffees after a disappointing loss away at Middle Earth last weekend. The defeat, a knife in the heart for many Gooners, might explain my reluctance to write anything creative up until now, six days after the result.

I watched that loss at Molly Roffey's, my third and final outing in Singapore. I actually had the chance to appear on Fox Sports Asia whilst I was at the pub, as they were keen on interviewing me for a show called 'Singha Football Crazy', which airs in a number of countries in this continent. It was another great opportunity for some exposure. Unfortunately they didn't catch me at my best because I was thoroughly pissed off with our performance and the orcs and the referee and the orcs. 

And the orcs.

It is what it is though, and we move on to what many say is our best chance at silverware, the FA Cup. We've obviously already learned that Wilshere will be out for six weeks or so thanks to a cleverly mis-timed tackle by Daniel Agger. I don't think we're going to be missing him all that much. Jack's an awesome player (my personal favourite if you must know) and has a huge amount of heart for the club, he just wants to win. But I think we all know he's not playing to his best potential at the moment, and with the Ox's form being obvious for all to see, I see it as an opportunity to finish the season strongly, and for Jack to come back at the end, just in time to play a part in a winning goal that helps us lift a trophy.

I will be watching the FA Cup match in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where once again there is a very active group of Arsenal fans who follow the badge with passion. I'm going to be in Malaysia for a few weeks, as I've decided to knock Thailand on the head. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, I've found it really difficult to find any Arsenal fans there that understand my challenge and what I require from them, and the political situation there makes it risky, not so much safety wise, but logistically speaking. If it all kicks off in Bangkok I could be stranded, which wouldn't be good news for my cause at all.

Until next time.


Friday, 28 February 2014

Arsenal 4-1 Sunderland [Hotel Bumi Asih Jaya, Bandung, Indonesia]

Good day Gooners.

Normal service has been resumed, we've wiped our shoes of Sunderland's general shoddiness and clearly have one and a half eyes firmly on the Premier League title (when could we last say that going into March?).
Bandung Gooners

Writing this piece from the same Singapore apartment I was in two weeks ago, I'm rather relieved to be back in a city that doesn't wreak of pandemonium everywhere you set foot. Jakarta was a huge step into the unknown for me, a place where essentially every single one of your senses can be rudely awakened, simultaneously. It's a dirty, smelly place, filled with pollution and people wanting to make money out of you any way that they can. But it's also filled with culture, top-notch arts and great food (if you know where you're going that is). Each person I met was not only incredibly kind and generous, but also very proud of their country.

I didn't just visit Jakarta whilst in Indonesia though, I had the opportunity to visit Bandung, the capital of West Java and the first place to hold the Asian-African Conference (also aptly named the 'Bandung Conference'), in 1955.

Bandung Gooners
It was in Bandung that I watched the Sunderland game, and originally we had planned to watch at the Bandung Arsenal Supporter's homebase, Legian Terrace. Unfortunately, due to new rules being established that prevents bars and pubs from opening past 11pm, we had to choose an alternative venue. Hotel Bumi Asih Jaya was decided upon with only a few hours to go before kickoff. I was
expecting it to be a poor turnout because of this, but to my surprise around 150 Arsenal fans turned up for the game, including a coach-load of Gooners from Karawang more than an hour away.

The Bandung fans certainly are passionate, singing more or less non-stop from kick-off to the full-time whistle. And they were obviously in good spirits because we were watching a dominating display by the Gunners over a poor, poor Sunderland side

After the game we visited a local natural springs hot pool to relieve all the non-stress from the game (it's nice to have a comfortable win every once in a while) before heading back to a graphics studio which local Gooner Arsya had arranged for us to sleep at.

An alley
I was off back to Jakarta the following day, via surprisingly comfortable train, to spend my last evening with the Gooners that I had met during my stay. We had some Murtabuk and some Fried Chicken, took a few photos and shared a few stories (of which I'm sure there would be many more had I longer to stay) before bidding farewell.

Now back in Singapore, you probably won't be surprised to learn that I'm on a crash diet. The coronary fest of the quite typical Jakarta eating habits has gotten the better of me and now my waistline has given in completely. Time for a change!


Thursday, 20 February 2014

Arsenal 0-2 Bayern Munich (Warung Bang Hoody, Jakarta)

Mesut Özil is not fit enough to play at Arsenal. He has had a terrible season. He's hardly scored any goals for us. He looks disinterested. Why are we not resting him? Is he worth the record-sum we paid?

The above statements/questions are being asked by many Arsenal fans after yet another disappointing result, whilst the whole Özil debate has been on many people's agendas for quite some time.

Yes, he missed a penalty yesterday that would unquestionably have given us momentum and confidence to put Bayern firmly in their place. He's also missed a few before. But, the best players miss them. David Alaba missed his against us in the second half. We also seem to forget that it was Özil that won us the penalty in the first place.

Making the most of it.
The German international's stats for last night's game may highlight a lack of completed passes (and interceptions of Bayern's), but they also reveal that he covered more distance than all but Flamini and Jack. People who have a keen eye will notice that Özil simply moves around the pitch in a gracious, somewhat floaty manner, which makes him appear to be lazy, slow and disinterested. When you pay more attention you notice that more players mark him than any others, which in turn opens up the field for more passing opportunities to be exploited. And I have no doubt that this would have been demonstrated if it weren't for the extra man that Bayern had.

The one thing I'd like to know about Özil is whether he has a minimum-minutes-per-game or minimum-games-played clause written into his contract, because he seems to be playing every game and is rarely subbed-off. I still think he needs a bit of a break (not against Bayern though), both physically and mentally - perhaps there is increased position competition in the German squad and he (and Wenger) wants to be involved at every opportunity to stay top of the priority list?

Anyhow, the clash against Bayern was a huge disappointment, especially given the way in which we started the game and the opportunities we failed to convert. BUT, we go to Munich with a far better chance than we had last season - we 'only' have a two-away-goal deficit to face up to, we have a better team than we did last season, we will (hopefully) have momentum in the Premier League and FA Cup to transfer to the Champions League and, let's face it, the reigning European champions will know and fear that we have unfinished business with them. We've beaten them before, we can do it again.

Jakarta Gooners in full swing. We were 1-0 down at this point
With that match-related stuff out of the way, I can tell you more about the craziness that is Indonesia. I watched the game with the local Arsenal fans at Warung Bang Hoody, an open-air venue in South Jakarta and the home base of Arsenal Indonesia Supporters Jakarta. Being a 2:45am kickoff, it was always going to be difficult to get a good bunch of fans together (they had more than 1000 Arsenal fans in attendance here for the Carling Cup Final implosion against Birmingham) but we still had around 150 Arsenal fans in attendance, not to mention a good number of Bayern supporters.

Jakarta itself is quite simply the craziest place I have ever been, it's a huge departure from anywhere else I've travelled. The sheer amount of traffic is ridiculous and the number of suicidal motorcyclists darting in and out of traffic is mind-boggling. People obviously have a far lesser interest in their own safety over here. In fact, the taxi ride alone from the airport was the most intense fairground ride I've ever been on. And at least fairground rides have seat belts or other harnesses, the taxi I was in had none. I'm quite sure the driver was about fourteen, and with his complete disregard for other road users, pedestrians, passenger comfort and wildlife, I was happy to arrive at my destination in one piece without the need to change my underwear. I suppose you can't really argue with a £10 taxi-ride that lasts two hours.
Commuting: The Jakarta Way

All that doesn't matter too much though. I'm here to see the Arsenal family, and the Indonesian fans that I've met so far have been utterly devoted to making sure that my stay is as comfortable as possible. They are incredibly proud of their supporters clubs and the passion that they show for Arsenal surpasses that of any other groups I have seen so far on my journey. I'm sure it'll continue to amaze me when I'm in Bandung, Western Java, to watch the Sunderland game at the weekend. Until then.


Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool, FA Cup [Molly Roffey's, Singapore]

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. Arsenal have beaten Liverpool by two goals to one (arguably our most favoured scoreline against them!) to reach the quarter finals of the FA Cup.

Once again, I was in Singapore to watch this must-win match. Having had an incredibly embarrassing outing at Anfield the previous weekend, I think many were expecting something similar at the Emirates. But, I could see from the manner in which we responded against United mid-week that we could take some much needed momentum and confidence into this cup tie.

Singapore Gooners

Locally, the match kicked off at midnight, which gave us an impressive turnout at Molly Roffey's, the home of the Singapore Gooners. Despite people working on the Monday morning, I would say around seventy Arsenal fans turned up to show their support. The singing culture in Singapore is fantastic, they really get behind the team. It's something that I deeply believe in too - despite being thousands of miles away I'm convinced that if we sing loud enough the players back home can hear us. It doesn't hurt to try, at least.

The game itself was a more evenly-contested affair than at Anfield. I'm not going to say we dominated the performance from start to finish, we had a few questionable decisions go our way (never thought I'd say that about Howard Webb) and a few individual player performances to be thankful for too, none more so than Fabianski. Once again, we responded to a disappointment in the best way that we could hope for, only this time we got the result we wanted (as opposed to the point against United).

Aside from the keeper, stand out players for me included the Ox for his direct-play and pace, Koscielny for making Suarez his bitch but being incredibly gentleman-like about it in the process (it's called class), and Yaya Sanogo for his air kicks work-rate.

Fed up with human flesh, Suarez takes fancy
to the (probably more than edible) Emirates turf
And to think that we did all this with seven changes from the goalless draw against United. It's once again a demonstration of just how far Arsenal, as a team, has come in the space of a season. But, for some reason, people still find reasons to complain.

So, for now, I'm bidding farewell to Singapore. I've had a great week here, but it's time to move on to somewhere a bit different. I'll be returning to the über-metropolis next week but as I write this, I'm at the airport waiting for a flight to Jakarta, to meet up with Gooners in Indonesia, where I'll be watching the Bayern and Sunderland games. As you can probably imagine, I'm feeling a bit anxious about going from ultra-modern Singapore, with its lightining-fast internet, immaculate toilets and graded food outlets, to a country where you can only drink bottle-water, or where the GDP per capita is, at most, 1/10th that of most other countries I've traveled to so far. It scares me but it excites me at the same time. Of course it's comforting to know that I'm going to be taken care of by the Arsenal Family, and that's what makes this journey so special.


Friday, 14 February 2014

Arsenal 0-0 Man United [Molly Roffey's, Singapore]

Hello from Singapore.

Usually when writing match updates for the first time in a new city or country, I'll do a little piece about the place I'm visiting and then something about the atmosphere of the pub/casino/lounge/bookmakers where I watched Arsenal with local Gooners. Finally, I'll very, very briefly talk about the match performance and implications of the result etc.

This time round, as much as I want to share my thoughts about a country that I'm deeply impressed with, I'm going to do football first, otherwise I'll likely spontaneously combust.

Many Arsenal fans' house-style of choice
Some people, through a variety of life choices, decide to live under rocks. I've never seen these rocks advertised for rent or sale in any estate agent window, on or on Craigslist. I've Googled the term but have failed to find anything useful. Perhaps you have to belong to some kind of 'under rock dwellings' club. But, judging by the sheer onslaught of hermits that have taken to the tweet-waves, Facebook groups and online forums after the Man United match, they definitely exist.

There must be whole housing estates with detached rocks, townhouse rocks and rock apartments, each one complete with internet connection, monitor and keyboard, where hundreds of like-minded numskulls simultaneously try to prove a very invalid point.

The point they try to make is that Arsenal's season is over, they emphasise that the club is currently in a disastrous scenario equivalent to DEFCON 1. These fans are foaming at the mouth like a doberman with acute rabies. Toys the size of elephants have been lobbed out of prams and many heads are wanted on a plate. 

Those that don't have soup for brains will instead define this scenario as being 'one point behind the leaders in the Premier League and still in two cup competitions'.

After the horror show at the weekend against Liverpool, the last thing anybody wanted - but the thing that many feared the most - was the start of an all-too-familiar season implosion. It was the same fear that people had after the embarrassing scoreline at the Ethihad last December. But, after that game we had a disappointing draw, at home, with Moan-rinho's chavs, which led way to a run that would see us take nineteen out of twenty one points in the league (not to mention comprehensive victories over the Spuds and Coventry in the FA Cup). During this run we remained top of the Premier League.

Did we spend money on a striker in January? No. Do we have oil money? No. Do we want to become a sugar-daddy club and give up everything that has made us who we are and who we continue to be? No. Is our season over? No. Unfortunately there are too many glass-half-emptiers out there that want to answer 'yes' to all those questions but the reality is that we've already taken a massive step forward in becoming title challengers again. Bad results happen in football, they happen to every team and that includes both Chelsea and Man City, as is evident over the past few days.

What is most important is that once again we have responded to a horrible result in the most desirable manner that we could wish for, we just didn't get the result that we wanted. Instead we take momentum and belief into our next game, which is all that the team, and the supporters, should be focusing on.

So, rant out of the way, let me tell you what I think of Singapore. I love it, and I haven't even ventured into the downtown core yet. The weather is fantastic, if a little humid (what do you expect from a country practically on the equator?), and the food is absolutely magnificent. People say that Singapore is expensive but to be honest, it doesn't seem any different to Australia or New Zealand. In fact, in Singapore, I can eat far better food and travel further with public transport, for considerably less outlay than those other countries. I haven't had a look into living expenses and so on, but maybe there are a few rocks that I can live in under, on the super-cheap.

One of many Singapore viewpoints
I loved the city that served as my first introduction to Asia, Hong Kong. It's a great place and perhaps feels more authentically 'Asia' than Singapore, but I'm not sure if I could live there. It's too crowded and too smoggy, and when I left, the weather was surprisingly Britain-like (for those that don't know, think multiple shades of grey). Singapore, to me, is almost the perfect blend between east and west, and it's on the doorstep to many different countries too. There's an awful lot going on in this place and I think it would maybe be easier to find your 'own Singapore' rather than your 'own Hong Kong'. Anyway, it's just my personal opinion. I've also only been here a few days so perhaps I'm being too judgmental too soon.

Dedicated Arsenal Supporters at Molly Roffey's
Singapore has a very active Arsenal Supporters club. They have a dedicated pub where they watch all their matches, Molly Roffey's, and it was there that we watched the United match. I would say around fifty Gooners came to watch, which isn't bad when you consider the game kicked off at 3:45am locally. The pub itself is also adorned with Arsenal flags, shirts and memorabilia, so they've really made it their home - something which I encourage other supporters clubs worldwide to think about doing.

Right now I'm staying with Jeffrey Tan, a local Singaporean, and he's been really helpful in showing me around his area, Hougang, which lies to the east of downtown Singapore. I think it's really important to befriend a local here as they can take you to the best hawker food centres and will ensure that you get great quality food without getting ripped off. I know I keep going on about food, but you can't come to Singapore and not talk about it, it's everywhere and it's bloody marvellous. 

I will also be watching the Liverpool FA Cup match here, so hopefully I can fill you in on some other non-food related Singapore niceties in a few days! Until then.


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal [Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hong Kong]

Good Morning Gooners.

Hong Kong! The Pearl of the Orient (although I think some people refer to Shanghai as the 'New Pearl', so I'm not sure how current that nickname is). After spending more than 2 months in Australia and New Zealand, I landed in Hong Kong last Tuesday to start the final leg of my round-the-world adventure. The city would be the first of many and the sights, sounds and smells of Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam await.

Fog. Not smog

On arrival into Chep Lap Kok I was greeted by Kevin Ng and Matt Haha (yes, haha!) from the Arsenal Hong Kong Supporters Club. They were very happy to see their guest and had arranged a packed itinerary for my stay, including a visit to the Big Buddha, Tai O Fishing Village, Victoria Peak and a hundred different restaurants and food stalls.

Arsenal Soccer School in Hong Kong
I was staying with Adam Ng, a local Gooner who lives in a small town (by Asian standards) called Sheung Shui, right next to the Chinese border. It meant that I could get a feel for the real Hong Kong, as I was staying in a quite typical residence where you could barely swing a bag of cats. Being away from the pandemonium of central Hong Kong and Kowloon, it also meant it was significantly quieter, and there were absolutely no tourists, aside of course from the Chinese ones, popping across the border to bulk-buy infant milk and other essentials that they can't safely obtain back home.

I had the chance to visit one of the Arsenal soccer schools in Hong Kong. This football school is open to students from 3 years to 12 years old. I met the Technical Director, Alan Lam (also a sports commentator), and he told me about the exercises and their plans for the future. The school has only be running for a few years, but it obviously gained traction quickly. They are now looking at starting classes for kids aged TWO, and already have about twelve signed up. The school's weekly sessions run year round, without a break, and there are four separate locations in Hong Kong alone.

Hong Kong Gooners
So, game time came around and it was an important one. The local Hong Kong Gooners had arranged a viewing party at one of the Jockey Clubs (the term 'Jockey Club' means 'Betting Shop' out there) and there were around 100 people in attendance to watch a complete car-crash of a performance against Liverpool. I'm not going to comment on the performance because everybody and their dog has already had their two cents, some justified, some just plain daft. All we know is, as of right now, if we win against United we go back to the top of the league. Let's hope that a blip is just that, a blip.


Friday, 7 February 2014

Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace [Chris Jack's house, Sydney] - oh, and HONG KONG!

Morning all. Sorry about the delay, I've had a bit of a nightmare getting time to do writing since touching down in Hong Kong. I've been ferried all over the place, seeing all the sights, sampling all the tastes and answering the many, many questions that the local Hong Kong Gooners have had for me. I'm also staying in an area not known to many visitors, Sheung Shui, and the particular house I'm in (which is a typically-tiny Hong Kong residence) has no internet, so I'm sitting in a cafe on Hollywood Street as I write this.

Pearl of The Orient, or City of Life. Hong Kong. 
You'll hear more about my experiences in Hong Kong in a separate article because I still have to tell you about my last few days in Australia. After flying back into Sydney from Auckland, I watched another West Sydney Wanderers game, this time in the town of Newcastle, which was obviously named after that rough place on the River Tyne (shouldn't it be 'Newnewcastle' then?). WSW were playing the 'Jets' and once again I was sitting in the atmospheric 'active' away section. The game finished 1-1 and it was another example of how the world's lesser football leagues deserve a bigger following.

Now we know where JW10 got his
sweep-over from
My host for my final few days in Sydney was none other than Chris Jack, the grandson of one of Arsenal's most notable legends, David Jack. David Jack was known for a number of things. One of Herbert Chapman's famous XI, Jack was the first player in the Premier League to sign for another club for more than £10,000, arriving at Arsenal from Bolton in 1928 for £10,890, nearly twice the previous transfer record. He scored 113 goals in 181 appearances for the Gunners, and was the first Arsenal player to captain England.

When Chris heard about my challenge he was more than happy to help out a fellow Gooner and offered me somewhere to stay for a few nights. You can read more about Chris and his Grandfather in a 'meet the Gooner Family' feature later on.

Chris and I were up and awake (just) for the 3am kickoff against Crystal Palace. An absolute must-win for us, we started very well and looked in full control of the game from the onset. In typical Arsenal style of course, we failed to turn the 75% possession into clear-cut chances in the first half. We had to wait until after the interval for some of the good stuff, and most of it came from The Ox. Both goals were well worked and well finished, showing good examples of what he can do on his own and as part of the team. It really is promising to see and I hope he gets the chance to play more regularly (through the middle). It's always a good thing to have direct players like The Ox, Gnabry and Rosicky available when we are struggling to capitalise on good possession football.

Another three points means we've an almost perfect January, the blip at Southampton being the only negative outside of the injury challenges. Even then, ten out of twelve points isn't bad. It's exactly the kind of stuff that championship-winning sides are made of. Let's hope we can do a similar job in February.


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Meet the Gooner Family [Shane Lust, Auckland]

Meet Shane Lust, my host for an evening in Auckland. Shane hails from Highbury. No two fans are the same, and they all have their own ways of being passionate towards the cannon. Shane is no exception. He's a little bit eccentric, which might explain him rambling on a bit in this 'Meet the Gooner Family' episode. Or maybe it was just him being drugged-up to the eyeballs on Vicodin after breaking his foot playing football with his five-year old nephew. No joke.

Shane Lust

Q. Why Arsenal?

Shane doing his best Källström impression
Arsenal have a tradition and class about them that very few clubs have.  From their humble beginnings as the royal armoury factory team through the Chapman era with the famous Art Deco stands to the fine suits the players wore in the Graham era.  From the captain's decision of what length sleeves the team wears to the sports science revolution that Wenger brought to the English game. There's an atmosphere of respect and discipline that surrounds the club. Arsenal have always advanced the sport.

Arsenal have watched footballing dynasties rise and fall but we have always been one of the top clubs. We've won the title in all but one decade since the thirties and had an unbroken run in England's top division for almost a hundred years. An accomplishment no other club comes close to. Oh, and The Invincibles.

If Arsenal was a bloke at a party, he'd be the one that arrives fashionably late, dressed to the nines and takes the best looking girl home. I hate that guy, but I love Arsenal.

That and I love the chicken curry and chips at the Arsenal Fish Bar on Blackstock Road, Highbury.  

Q. Started Supporting Arsenal?
As long as I can remember though wasn't really interested in following it until I was about 12 and saw us win the Littlewoods Cup against Liverpool in 1987.

Q. Favourite Player?
Thierry Adams, the two Mr Arsenals!

Q. Favourite current Player?
Theo. He gets a lot of stick but he's great to watch and scores some really important goals. The way he was carried from the pitch being showered with scarves made him look like a young Pharoah being adored by his subjects. Gutted his season is over.

Q. Favourite Arsenal moment?
Beating Loughborough Town 12-0! Okay, Anfield 89.

From a more personal point of view though, I worked for Arsenal in the club shop in Finsbury Park in the early 90s having done 3 weeks with the club on work experience when I was 16. The staff got to go to the games and stand in the staff enclosure but had to leg it back to the shop a few minutes before the end to open up again for the punters.

The day we were presented the trophy for winning the league in 90/91, having just beaten Man Utd 3-1, was about to be gutting, as I had to leave before the festivities. That's when the commercial manager, John Hazel, tapped me and his son, who worked with me, on the shoulder and said "I need you two boys to stay back and help set up the trophy table in the centre circle". There we were on the pitch with the likes of Adams, Bould, Seaman, Smith, Rocky, Limpar, Dixon, Winterburn and Arsenal legend, David Hillier! The 40,000 plus crowd were deafening from the middle of the pitch. After patting Tony Adams on the back I faced the North Bank held aloft my scarf and ensured Monday at school was met with great fury and jealousy by those who were there and had seen me. Best job I've ever had and being part of the Arsenal family in the days when it really felt like one will always hold great memories for me.

Q. Where do you watch Arsenal in Auckland?
On my patio in the sun having avoided all media until it's acceptable to drink beer and eat peanuts.

Q. Emirates or Highbury?
You can't beat the smell of horsesh*t and onions on Gillespie Road can you? Highbury for me, all day long. North Bank middle, middle, standing just behind the trench coz I'm short.

Q. League Prediction?

Q. Who will be Arsenal's player to watch for the second half of the season?I wanted to say Draxler but that never materialised. Santi's coming into some form now, I think he's going to have a considerable impact.


Southampton 2-2 Arsenal [The Fox, Auckland]

My final game in the continent of Oceania (or Australasia depending on who you are and where you come from) has arrived. Arsenal v Crystal Palace. I'm really, really fortunate to be staying with Chris Jack, the Grandson of Arsenal legend David Jack, in Sydney. It's a great way to bow out of this vast country before leaving for the pandemonium of Hong Kong and the rest of South East Asia on Tuesday.

But, before all that, a little bit about my last few days in New Zealand; I was staying with Surrey-born Gooner Neil White for a few days in the suburbs, trying to recover from the booze-laden weekend with the Essex lads who I met during the Coventry match.

The Southampton match kicked off, once again, at 8:45am. Being a mid-week fixture however, we weren't expecting a massive crowd. You see, there are a few problems with watching Premier League football in New Zealand, which in turn makes it more challenging to get fans together to watch live games. Firstly, the time differences for watching them can be even worse than in Australia. A law was also passed recently by the NZ government which means that no bar/pub can open between the hours of 4am and 8am. When you consider that the only legitimate way to watch Premier League games is by going online and logging into a paid subscription of 'Premier League Pass' (ludicrous, I know), it makes for a pretty fragmented and often unreliable viewing experience. [By the way, what was the Premier League thinking when they awarded sole media rights to a broadcaster that has no TV presence whatsoever?]

Auckland Gooners. An all-British lineup.
Anyhow, there is no active Arsenal supporters club in New Zealand at the moment, the above issues certainly don't help the matter. There are many fans around however, so the Southampton game was a good opportunity to get some more people together in the hope that it would rekindle the Gooner Family spirit in Auckland, and in turn New Zealand as a whole. I have been to so many places on my travels where I've witnessed the joys of being part of an active supporters club. It's not just the football, it's the community efforts and the camaraderie. For want of a better word, it's a fellowship, and it's something that the NZ Gooners are missing out on.

I suppose it might have been a bit easier to get these new 'fellows' fired up if it wasn't for the fact that Arsenal played abysmally for all of four minutes against a very resilient Southampton. I'm not a football tactician (despite being an EA Sports FIFA veteran) but even I know that our midfield had no dynamism whatsoever. It was a tactical #fail by Mr Wenger, putting Flamini and Arteta together (with Wilshere, Rosicky and Ramsey injured) in midfield and asking the latter to do a playmaker role. I know the man with lego-hair had a creative responsibility at Everton, but it was a recipe for disaster when asked to play in an advanced position for us, when all season he's been playing the anchor man who sweeps up loose balls and disperses them without hesitation. It would be like asking Özil to play right-back. I think Arteta has lost his pace over the past season too, and that makes him a questionable starter in any position other than a direct replacement for Flamini.

Of course that's where he'll be starting for the next few games as the Frenchman went all Semtex on Schneiderlin, which certainly didn't/doesn't help matters going forward (excuse the pun). 

It's all but a disaster though, yes Man $ity may be a point ahead of us but let's not get away from the fact that Chelsea play them soon. Plus, we still have blood and heart in our squad, whilst they have oil and aircraft parts in theirs. Also, please don't all throw your toys out the pram over the general non-happenings of the transfer window. Yes, there may be a slight boo-boo somewhere with the Källström's fitness debacle, and we didn't manage to tie down the Draxler and Vucinic deals, but we've come a long way without them so far and I'm convinced we can take the battle all the way to the wire with the two sugar-daddy clubs. Keep the faith and for f***'s sake get behind your team.

Until Asia then...