I have started the new year very much as I rounded off the old, by going to a number of football matches in a short space of time. This time it has been three games in five days, the first coming merely hours after landing back from a holiday in Cape Town to see in the New Year. Unfortunately our trip didn’t provide sufficient time to be able to take in a local match but I consoled myself safe in the knowledge that a return football trip would definitely be on the list for the future.
First up was a Wednesday evening clash between Arsenal and their once perennial bogey side Chelsea. While it is fair to say that the Gunners’ performance was much better than the sloppy disinterested first half display against Liverpool; the seemingly carefree disregard for even the basic fundamentals of defensive organisation meant that we still had to be thankful for some wasteful finishing, by Morata in particular, to remain on terms at half-time.
Having taken the lead just past the hour mark through the seemingly reborn, at least in a football sense, Jack Wilshere; there was still the nagging doubt in the back of my mind that it was never going to last, such is the clear lack of in-game management nous of the current Arsenal squad.
As it was, a second controversial penalty in a matter of days allowed Hazard to restore parity before Zappacosta put Chelsea ahead after being largely ignored by the Gunners’ defence. Once again it begged the question as to what actually happens in Arsenal training sessions.
Arsenal managed to salvage a point thanks to an injury time strike from an unexpected source, namely wing back Hector Bellerin, but even then we very nearly conspired to let Chelsea in for a third in the dying embers of the match. It was all very entertaining for the neutral but yet another clear indication of why Arsenal are simply not good enough to challenge at the very top.
Just two days later Mrs Football Nerd and I were off to Orient again for the visit of sixth-placed Borehamwood. As I have chronicled on these pages previously (https://football-nerd.org/2017/10/06/football-nerd-weekly-ramblings-a-dilemma-of-hopelessness-and-questioned-loyalty/), these trips to Brisbane Road were meant to be a harmless distraction for when Arsenal aren’t playing, but increasingly they have taken on a life of their own and we have found ourselves being drawn hopelessly into the regular routine of following the O’s.
In trying to understand our slide into addiction we could only conclude that it is a combination of: the traditional Saturday 3pm kick-offs, the old school feel to the ground and the reminders of a bygone era when football was football, rather than the overblown, financially driven bloated corporate entity that it has become at the top level that keep us obsessively wanting to come back for more.
For those not overly familiar with Orient’s plight, they are desperately trying to recover from relegation from the Football League brought about by a malevolent, if not maniacal, previous owner and have been desperately striving to find their feet under new ownership that at least seems to have the fortunes of the club and the fans’ interests at heart. With a by-necessity rather hastily assembled playing squad, after an ok start to the campaign rather predictably things went awry as the season progressed and a run of fifteen games without a win through the autumn saw Head Coach Steve Davis relieved of his duties to be replaced by Justin Edinburgh.
Edinburgh has righted the ship since taking up post and other than the spectacular win over Sutton United in December (https://football-nerd.org/2017/12/14/an-arsenal-orient-nerds-diary-7-games-in-23-days-part-four/) has focused on making the O’s harder to beat as the basis for working towards securing their survival. With only one league goal conceded in the four matches since the Sutton win it seems very much as if the new coach has at least stopped the rot if not yet sparked a rise up the table.
The game itself was far from spectacular, although enjoyable enough for a goalless draw, and indeed the O’s could have sneaked it at the death only for Macauley Bonne’s 82nd minute strike to be ruled out thanks to an alleged foul in the build-up. Suffice it to say that neither Mrs Football Nerd nor I, nor any of our associates in the East Stand agreed with the referee’s perception of events.
Afterwards during the now traditional post-match debriefing in the Leyton Technical pub, the general consensus was that things are at least stable at the club if not spectacular; a return to the promised land of the Football League may be out of reach this time but there are definite grounds for optimism for the remainder of the season.
The following day it was an early start for me as I headed off to Nottingham and a ground that I have wanted to visit for more years than I care to remember. After a quick burger pit-stop with a couple of friends in the city centre I wandered my way down to the ground.
Despite the cold, the City Ground on the banks of the River Trent offers a highly picturesque setting and you can almost feel the history of this once great club seeping out of the very fabric of the place. The home support wasted no time in reminding us of their illustrious past with a loud chorus of ‘Champions of Europe… you’ll never sing that’, to which our retort was ‘Champions of Europe… you weren’t even born!’
In many ways, perhaps I would have been better served to simply visit the ground and go home such was the ineptitude of Arsenal’s latest capitulation. ‘A Jeckyll and Hyde team’ doesn’t even begin to describe Arsenal this season, all too often the players simply don’t seem to be ‘at it’ to coin a familiar football phrase. The story that emerged in the days after the game that midfielder Alex Iwobi had been at a party into the wee small hours of Saturday morning, may not only explain his own dismal performance but might encapsulate the couldn’t-care-less attitude throughout the squad.
As it was, managerless Forest, who have lost more games than anyone else in the Championship bar bottom of the table Birmingham City, not only outfought but at times outplayed their supposedly elite opponents and thoroughly deserved their victory.
The general feeling of apathetic resignation with which being dumped out of the Cup was accepted by the travelling support provided a clear indication of how Arsenal as a club is now seen by even its most loyal supporters. It is a club that is going nowhere and won’t until those in charge finally accept that the time for change was reached a couple of seasons ago. As I made my way home after the match I realised that we have a lot in common with the Forest supporters clinging to a once great past; and they could also tell us a thing or two about the dangers of a manager clinging on way beyond his sell-by-date.