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Random ramblings about Arsenal. 

Filtering by Tag: Ramsey

So Much For The Afterglow

SJS

The sweet bliss of a cup victory didn't linger for long, did it? In the span of only a few weeks our elation has been steadily accosted by the slings and arrows of the silly season. Will Wenger receive a new contract? (Little bit yes.) Will we bring Cescy back? (We don't know how to act.) Will our players survive the World Cup (Not looking good from the start.)

If the last nine years (and beyond) have conditioned us to do anything, it's to worry incessantly about the most absurd minutiae. Our jumping at shadows has become so practiced that we'd give Ronaldo competition for hang time. Can we, just this once, force ourselves to not linger on what this summer may bring and savor what the players and manager accomplished on May 17, 2014?

Allow me to paint the picture. The Saturday in question was a sunny, pleasantly warm one in the Charleston area. My Father's Moustache threw its doors wide open to embrace our group. The Post & Courier was dispatching a photographer to capture a little of our cup magic for a World Cup lead-in story. Our mood before kick-off was calm and tinged with a cautiously celebratory vibe. We had arrived at a cup final riding decent form and welcoming back some important absentees from injury to face a Hull City side we had thoroughly trounced only a handful of days before. It felt like we were cresting the final dune of the voodoo desert to glide into the gilded oasis of an FA Cup win. The fish & chips and shepherd's pie smelled like victory. All the better that a lone Tiger-supporting family was present to witness our impending glory.

Yellow ribbons distributed and raffle tickets for the half-time giveaway claimed, we all settled in for kick-off with rousing rounds of "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon." Little did we see the 3rd and 9th minutes coming. Instead of parking the bus, Hull City ran us over with it straightaway and then backed it right up again for good measure. It couldn't've gone any other way with our team, could it?

Our friend Paul Zoeller from the Post & Courier lugged his camera gear into MFM around the 10th minute, just in time to witness us all picking our sullen jaws off the ground. In greeting him I actually ended up missing Santi's free kick but what a moment for Paul to be introduced to our group. The pub erupted in disbelief, primal relief, and chants of, "OH, SANTI CAZORLA!". Paul may not have understood our devotion before arriving; he gained some sense of who we are and what we are about from our passionate reaction to that magical set piece. Our fine photographer posted up behind the bar for the rest of the half but I can only imagine he was confronted with either blank or fiercely angry faces for the duration. This match was not following our script.

With half-time came a quick speech from branch leadership thanking everyone for a wonderful season with the group and announcing our giveaways. First, a copy of "Fever Pitch" was awarded to the best-dressed attendee (when you step to the banana suit you best not slip). Finally, in a calculated gamble, we commissioned Charsenal-branded pint glasses with commemorative FA Cup Final designs to raffle off and sell.

In another life the football gods would have smiled on us and we would not have been flogging four dozen FA Cup Final pint glasses with the good guys down 2-1 at the half, but so it goes. The winners were appreciative and a fair number of the unawarded glasses went claimed (thanks again Justin!).

(It's worth noting here that based on informal headcounts and the number of tickets distributed that we easily had 70-80 people at MFM by the half. That's amazing growth from the half-dozen we could muster a couple seasons ago and really speaks to the strengthening of Arsenal support in Charleston. Attendance like we saw for the cup final is incredibly gratifying and its momentum is something that we'd like to maintain throughout the off-season into the new campaign. Keep an eye on Facebook, Twitter, and this website for approaching summer fun!)

The second half began and some of us felt that old uneasiness squirming in. Comparisons to the league cup final against Birmingham were inevitable and injected just enough doubt into the proceedings to question whether this team would have the gumption to, at the very least, tie this match up and force the same sort of excrutiating shoot-out resolution that got us here in the first place. We looked the brighter side in this half but had to wait past the 70th minute mark for Kos the Boss (who else?) to pretzel-twist in the equalizer. Thankfully Paul stuck around to this point and was able to see head-on what a proper Charsenal celebration looks like. There's jumping and singing and generally just havoc. Suffice it to say I'm fairly certain we woke the neighbors.

One defining characteristic of this generation of Arsenal is that we like to make everything as bloody difficult as possible, and clawing back from a 2-0 deficit after 10 minutes to force extra time in what many thought was a foregone conclusion of a cup final only supports this narrative. Credit where it's due, though: the single biggest difference with this side versus preceding incarnations is that previously we almost unilaterally faltered under the pressure and came up short. NOT. THIS. TIME.

Remember what it felt like when Ramsey's goal went in?

Our hunt for an elusive trophy was finally complete and it was written all over the faces around me in the pub. Waves of silly grins and high fives washed over us all as the final whistle blew. For many in the room this was the first accolade Arsenal had achieved since they became Gooners; for others this moment harkened back to the glorious time not so long ago when Arsenal were world-beaters.

I said very early in the season and again in January that I would not want to look back in May and lament what could have been had we spent a little more, tried a little harder, made fewer mistakes. In the face of a trophy it's difficult to justify having questions about whether we could have achieved more, but that feeling's still there.

Let's not worry about it for now though. Despite protestations, cajoling, and vitriol-slinging on Twitter, the Club will do what they will in the transfer market this summer (and most likely their strategy will be infuriating. Tim Stillman summed it up best at the end of March - if we enter the season with the 3rd or 4th best squad in the league, what can we expect?). Like him or not, Wenger will still not be listening to our transfer demands or tactical suggestions well into 2017. No doubt at least one of our players will return from Brazil completely banjaxed and held together with gaffer's tape.

I can't be bothered by those things. I choose to cling to the FA Cup victory and all the joy and pride it brings instead of brewing in my own toxic hellstew of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Don't forget how fleeting success can be. Savor this moment. We won a damn trophy! Up the Arsenal.

Local Til I Die

SJS

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While our branch works on its year/half-season in review entry (look for it here in the next couple of weeks), I wanted to take some time and post about our match day experience.

Surely there are some of you who are trepidatious about making the trip out to Local 616 on the day of a match because you’re not sure you’d fit in or dig the scene. You may have friends who support the teams that Arsenal are playing against and are concerned about bringing them to an “Arsenal bar”. Others of you may need a little bit of a nudge to escape the gravitational pull of your couch and remote control when 10am rolls around. Perhaps you don’t feel “hardcore” enough to come for every match and only attend intermittently. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to address each of those points and try to convince you to make watching a match with Charsenal a priority.

While a lot of us like to create a boisterous, rowdy atmosphere on match days, the one word above all others I would use to describe our group would be: friendly. The leadership of our branch mills around to introduce ourselves and make introductions between Gooners. We enjoy applauding anyone who walks through the door wearing our beloved red and white to help them feel welcome. Lasting friendships get formed through the 2 hours every week we have together during a match. Fans who have been supporting for decades intermingle with folks who barely know their Giroud from their Djourou. Simple songs get sung in the hopes that the entire bar will join in. There’s an electricity in the air when the pub is packed and we like to foster that feeling as often as possible.

Here’s the thing: we’re not friendly to you only because you have a cannon on your chest. Make no mistake, part of the reason why Local 616 is our bar of choice is because the proprietor is a Gooner. More than being our Arsenal bar, though, Local 616 encourages fans of every stripe to visit. We routinely welcome opposing supporters. Our best-attended match of the season to this point was the one against Liverpool and about a quarter of the attendees were Scousers. Things remained civil and cordial, we had some laughs, and nobody that I am aware of came away from that day frustrated with the experience (though the scoreline may’ve been a different story for them!). Ultimately a bar full of committed, good-natured supporters (regardless of the color of your shirt) contributes to an incredible match viewing experience. We’ll strive to not harass you for wearing the opposing colors if you repay the kindness and we all just might have an enjoyable time for it. Unless you support Tottenham.

So here’s another scenario: it’s 7:15am (or even 9:30am) on a match day morning. 30 minutes to kick off and your alarm is ringing. You had quite a night and you feel like Han Solo frozen in your carbonite bed. Even if you can bring yourself to roll out, thanks to NBC’s acquisition of the EPL rights you can tumble right onto your comfortable couch and flip on the game. Why should you forsake this convenience to hit the showers, pull on your replica shirt, and come out to Local 616? If you think about the match as a movie, what you’re missing by not coming out to a match is sort of like the behind-the-scenes extras. I feel my knowledge about the club (and the sport) has increased dramatically since becoming a match day regular, which has only fed my passion for the team. Spirited debates about team selection and tactics happen frequently. Wisecracks are mandatory. We all start using a common vocabulary and foster little in-jokes. Honestly, you’ll never cheer more loudly or have a bigger rush (outside of being there live) when that game-winning goal goes in than you will when you’re with a group of your peers. That sort of experience won’t happen from your couch.

Showing up for match days becomes part of your routine if you let it, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a temptation to only come for the “big" games, which tend to be the matches that will attract a larger than normal turn out anyway. When it comes right down to it, though, *every* match is a big match. With only 38 games in a league season, each of those points is vital. 3 points off Crystal Palace are worth the same as 3 points off Liverpool. Each cup tie or Champions League match could be pivotal. One of the most enjoyable matches I watched this season was our dismantling of Norwich, featuring *those* goals from Jack and Rambo. Did you miss seeing it on the projector at Local 616 because you didn’t think it would be worth showing up for a relatively assured victory at the Emirates against the Canaries?

I’m sure this isn’t unique to Charleston, but there’s a sentiment in our city that we should be loyal to our local establishments. We as Gooners here are fortunate to have a place to call our own in Local 616, with an owner/operator who is focused on growing with our supporters branch to be a football destination for the downtown area. The best way we have to repay his loyalty is with our own loyalty and steady patronage. The better our attendance and the more regularly we can fill up the pub, the easier it will be to have drink specials, giveaways, and special events. Things like that will only lead to more people coming out. Can you imagine 50 or 100 people roaring at goal after goal, every match?

This post is not trying to make you feel guilty for not showing up match-in, match-out, though. I’m a new father and try as I might, my family and fixture schedule don’t always conveniently align. Maybe it’s a trip too far for you to drive downtown. Life gets in the way sometimes and that is perfectly okay. When everything falls in to place, however, I make watching a match with my fellow Charleston Gooners a priority because I’ve learned through repeated experience that it is by far the best way for me to enjoy the beautiful game aside from a trip to London.

I hope that if you haven’t watched a match with us previously or have only been able to tag in occasionally that you’ll take some time in the festive season of 2013 and resolve in 2014 to join us. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Patience

SJS

My August 21st post covering the aftershocks of our season-opening defeat against Aston Villa has really been haunting me.

I spent the off-season forcing myself (and attempting to convince others) to stay positive. Even after months of remembering that we finished the 2012/13 season with such a great record, survived a summer where we kept all our key players and got rid of the chaff, and generally remained quite stable while the other top clubs experienced change and turmoil, I decided to call for Wenger's head after our stumble out of the gates.

Even after rebounding from that initial defeat to a 3-0 win at Fenerbahçe, my faith in his management of the team and the organization had reached a breaking point. I was convinced at the time that we needed a change.

But then this happened: 

Credit Stuart MacFarlane/Getty Images

Credit Stuart MacFarlane/Getty Images

Credit Stuart MacFarlane/Getty Images

Credit Stuart MacFarlane/Getty Images

Credit Stuart MacFarlane/Getty Images

Credit Stuart MacFarlane/Getty Images

And this happened:

W - W - W - W - W - W - W - W - W - W

And this happened: 

1) Arsenal 15
2) Liverpool  13
3) T*tt*nh*m  13
4) Everton 12
5) Chelsea  11
6) Southampton  11
7) Man City  10
8) Hull  10
9) Aston Villa  9
10) West Brom  8
11) Cardiff  8
12) Man Utd  7
13) Swansea  7
14) Norwich  7
15) Stoke  7
16) Newcastle  7
17) West Ham  5
18) Fulham  4
19) Crystal Palace  3
20) Sunderland  1

What a difference a few weeks can make, eh?  I don't think I'm alone in wanting to douse my torch, pack away my pitchfork, repent my previously held rage, and revel in this newly-rediscovered attractive, fluid football. We are utterly dismantling and demoralizing the opposition. Just watch the September Goals of the Month and marvel at the peanut butter and chocolate combination of individual brilliance and team dynamics in our build up to scoring. Have a peek again at the first 15 minutes of our match against Napoli and witness the evisceration of last season's Serie A runners up. This is a side playing with a bravado and imperiousness that hypnotizes. They seem confident that a positive result is never in doubt, even with key players like Santi injured. That's infectious.

Thinking more about it now, the root of it all for me was the pressurized frustration that came with Arsenal Holdings plc seeming for a years to come before Arsenal Football Club. It felt like the decisions being made on and off the pitch were not to benefit the team on the field but instead were focused on the team in the boardroom. Great players were sold to affect the club's bottom line. Our transfers in were rather austere and frugal in comparison. The club seemed to be focused on the balance sheet and not on entertaining the supporters. It hurts when the veil gets pulled back to reveal that football is a business and that we the supporters are walking wallets and that maybe the people pulling the strings don't have our best interests at heart.

And maybe that hasn't really changed, but at least after so many barren and destitute years the dominoes have fallen into place, the club is demonstrating some ambition again, and supporters feel like we are getting returns on the investment of our time, energy, and money. Even the most unrealistic of us don't think Arsenal can win the league every year, but the perennial race to fourth place was getting tiresome. We are actually in the mix again and it's uplifting. Isn't it funny that we're doing it with players who a lot of us thought weren't "good enough"? How many of you wanted to cut bait on Ramsey, for instance?

The tired media and blog narrative of Arsenal constantly being injured, losing their best players, missing out on big transfers, and consistently falling short is improving vastly, too. Just to give one example, World Soccer Talk ran four positive Arsenal pieces in the span of three days. That's not a knock on WST; they're going to run stories that get pageviews and right now talking positively about the Gunners is bringing the clicks in. The Arsenal are title contenders again.

If you're paying attention, all I'm really talking about is the Hokey Pokey. I put my rage in Wenger, I take my rage out, we write snarky things about Arsenal, we write positive things about Arsenal, we think our players aren't good enough, we think are players are the best in the league. Supporters' moods are fickle. If I've learned anything from this it's that I should probably not snap to judgements on the back of a single negative result. Maybe he needed a little bit nudge to take the handbrake off, but Wenger has been good to our club and has us in excellent shape so far this season. We should be good to him, too.

Some Housekeeping

Make sure you come out to Local 616 (weather permitting) this Sunday; we'll be taking preorders for Charsenal t-shirts! 

 

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$12 per shirt, adult sizes small through 3XL available. We are only taking preorders in person for now, so no shipping options just yet.

On another note, you might notice that this blog doesn't get frequent updates. I write when inspiration hits and time allows, and sometimes that means there are weeks in between posts. I also don't tend to focus on stats, tactics or match reports, preferring to deal with the emotional and practical sides of following Arsenal from Charleston (with many conjunctions, commas, and parentheticals thrown in for good measure). 

If you would like to contribute to this blog, use the email form at the top of the page or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter to send along a writing sample or two. We would love to be able to showcase many perspectives from Charleston Gooners. Word.