Saturday, 30 May 2015

BBC Restores FA Cup to Former Glory

After six years away, the BBC wrested back the FA Cup rights from ITV for this season, and they've given it everything. The initial high-tempo promo running between programmes made that clear.

From coverage inside lower-league dressing rooms to Soccer AM-style live draws, (genuine gasping included) the likes of Dan Walker, Mark Chapman and Gary Lineker created a special aura around the competition this year.

The new Wembley is slowly building its own history.

The FA Cup has long been an ethereal thing. It is difficult to put one's finger on exactly what makes it so... what's the word for 'hot pies on a cold January afternoon while Big Team plays Little Team and Little Team earns a dull 0-0 draw and a lucrative replay at Big Team's fortress which will subsequently pay Little Team's wages for the foreseeable century'?

The best we have is 'the magic of the cup' I suppose, although in less romantic terms it's more like 'bumpy pitch and rubbish changing rooms'.

Everton and West Ham line up during their dramatic penalty shoot out
which was decided by penalty kicks from both goalkeepers.

Regardless, while ITV's coverage is routinely professional if a little within the lines, much suited to the billionaires' tea party that is the Champions League, the BBC has been a perfect fit for the Magic Cup.

The company has championed stories from the top to the bottom, from a newsagent-working young lad scoring the winning goal, to the chairmen who really care about their clubs. Linked with the growing force and importance of the BBC's alternative coverage of live games (Final Score, live text, Five Live and more) the comprehensive, multi-platform approach has created a buzz about this year's competition. It has a far less corporate feel than it did last year. (Is it still sponsored by Budweiser? I honestly haven't a clue! And I love it!)

And so to today's events.

Cup final day is more difficult to hype up than it sounds. All the teams are gone bar two, and so the broadcaster must work hard to garner the interests of the hundreds of millions of fans who could be left disenchanted by the whole occasion.

The BBC has long had the ability to bring sport to life for the masses

From 0830 this morning to 1950 this evening, the BBC gave the FA Cup final its day, and what a day. It was basically football Christmas. From 'FA Cup Finals: Classic Finals' to 'FA Cup's 50 Greatest Moments', 'Football Focus' to a 'Pointless Celebs: FA Cup Special', the BBC got it right, while watching 'Gary Lineker on the Road to FA Cup glory' offered detailed insight into particular moments of this season's tournament.

In all honesty, by the time Aston Villa v Arsenal kicked off I could have reeled off from memory far too many results from the competition so far, but it was totally worth it. I was ready to witness some more FA Cup history live on the best TV station around, and due to the effort put in by the BBC to give the cup its day, I felt like everyone else was watching with me.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Arsenal's Most Important Results of 2014/15

After a top 5 most damaging defeats of the season, a top 5 most important results is necessary I feel. So sit back and re-live some of the most satisfying moments of Arsenal's campaign!

'Olivier, take this, I have a blog to read!'

5. Arsenal 2-0 Borussia Dortmund - Champions League Group Stage - November 26, 2014

After three games without a win, including the 3-3 result v Anderlecht, Arsenal were faced with the daunting task of facing a Dortmund side poor in the Bundesliga, but as good as ever on the European scene. Yaya Sanogo stunned the German visitors with his first competitive goal for the Gunners just minuted in, and Sanchez put the tie out of reach with a curling finish from distance in the second half. The win sealed progress to the last 16 for Wenger's men, and showed that they could do it in the big games after all. The game was also notable for third choice 'keeper Emi Martinez's clean sheet.

4. Arsenal 3-0 Manchester City - Community Shield - August 10, 2014

Calum Chambers clutches his Community Shield winners medal

Perhaps a debatable choice given the nature of the Community Shield, but this was a good day for Arsenal. The first test of the season was one full of promise, with the sun shining and many talking of another Arsenal title challenge after their impressive business over the summer. Of course, the title challenge wasn't to be, but on a day where Giroud smashed in a glorious twenty-five yarder against top opposition, Arsenal fans weren't to know. Two games and two trophies was refreshing form for Wenger's men.

3. Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool - Premier League - April 4, 2015

A  Champions League qualification 6-pointer (welcome to modern football), this game between two of the form sides in the league could leave the sides three points apart, or nine. Ultimately it was the latter as Arsenal stunned Liverpool with three goals, each more fantastic than the last, to essentially finish the game before half-time. Henderson added a consolation goal for Liverpool before Giroud showed his quality with a 90th minute stunner to diminish Gerrard and co.'s chances of a Champions League spot. Whether the Gunners had switched breakfast cereal since last season remains to be seen, but the early kick-off didn't seem to trouble them on this big occasion.

2. Manchester United 1-2 Arsenal - FA Cup Quarter-Final - March 9, 2015

Apparently Arsenal shared the grounds team of the year award with the people
at Old Trafford this season. You learn something new every day!

It is telling that the top two in this list are both away games, given the nature of Arsenal's fragility away from home against the bigger sides last year. Old Trafford always holds a bit of significance for Arsenal fans due to the embarrassing nature of our results there over the last nine years or so. Furthermore, to knock United out would leave Arsenal favourites for another FA Cup trophy which would take them clear of United as the most successful FA Cup side in history. I declared myself unfit for such an occasion, deciding we might have a better chance of winning if I didn't follow the game for once. Hidden in a restaurant, I allowed myself to check my phone once. Seeing it was one apiece, I sat back down to my curry and allowed events to unfold without me. Imagine my delight to see Welbeck had scored the winner! This game cured many ills. It was Arsenal's first win against United since 2011, and their first win AT United since 2006. Danny Welbeck scored against the manager who deemed him surplus to requirements, and it healed some wounds still fresh from the loss to Monaco, not to mention the performance of Coquelin, who buzzed around Fellaini all game. The result was made sweeter by the draw against Reading/Bradford.

1. Manchester City 0-2 Arsenal - Premier League - January 18, 2015.

The answer to Wenger's problems?

I dare say I enjoyed our FA Cup win v United more than this win, but if it weren't for this great day then I may not have been talking about a win at Old Trafford at all. Arsenal's season felt a bit flat. A 2-2 draw at Liverpool in the previous month had done little to lift morale, and the loss on New Year's Day to Southampton seemed only to confirm that this had been an uninspiring Arsenal campaign so far. The Gunners sat in fifth place, only a point off fourth, but after the sustained title challenge of 2013/14, such feats were of scant consolation. We had not counted on the one they call Coquelin.

Arsenal surrendered possession, with some reports suggesting they held as little as 35% of it. But it worked. After Cazorla converted a first-half penalty, Giroud stunned the hosts by heading in for 2-0 in the second half. Arsenal's new-found tactics, to sit back and wait for City instead of leaving space in behind, worked perfectly. Francis Coquelin did well in central midfield to limit the Pellegrini's creative outlets, and Arsenal secured their third clean sheet in a row, their first win at Manchester City since 2010, and what seems to have been a turning point. Wenger perhaps has found plan B again.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Art of Football - A t-shirt for the ages

If you're the sort of person who likes the classier side of football, the elegance of Bergkamp for example, the guile of Ginola, then feast your eyes on this!

A T-Shirt of top top quality
Yes, the rumours are true. Recently I won a competition run by the good folk at Art of Football and @wengerknowsbest, in which this fantastic t-shirt was the prize. This was a great moment for fans of Arsenal like myself, and I can't think of a better way to commemorate the occasion than with a size small t-shirt with a lovely artistic interpretation on it.

The t-shirt was quickly delivered as well, and arrived with this classy note and paintbrush attached to the tissue paper. 

They can be found at, where there are numerous present ideas for football-obsessed relatives and friends. Many thanks to Art of Football and @wengerknowsbest!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Arsenal's Most Damaging Defeats 2014/15

With the Premier League and its cup cousins coming to a close in the next month, it’s time to assess the damage and delight from Arsenal’s season. In one of the most confusing seasons yet, many fans disagree whether this season can be deemed success or failure. In the next two posts I take a look at the best and worst of the Gunners' games, beginning with the latter.

Arsenal celebrate. Debuchy does it his way.


5. Arsenal 3-3 Anderlecht – November 4, 2014

Having got their CL campaign back on track, Arsenal looked in a good position to win their Champions League group for the first time in a while. At 3-0 up on 58’ against arguably the least fancied team in the group, Arsenal were in dreamland, but when Anderlecht’s first goal came, something felt wrong. Although the subsequent two goals caused a shock 3-3 result and the dropping of two vital points for the Gunners, the inability to see the game out came as little surprise to fans fatigued by such apparent mental fragility. The result didn’t prove too costly, but was the source of much mirth for rival clubs.

4. Stoke 3-2 Arsenal – December 6, 2014

Arsenal's ultimate away game.

Two weeks after a dismal 2-0 defeat at the hands of a dominant Dortmund side, Arsenal travelled to bogey-ground, The Britannia. Arsenal’s form at the home of ‘The Potters’ is poor, and it would be of little surprise to see that the Venn diagram of Arsenal fans who enjoy pottery has yielded a thinner and thinner overlap in recent years. Stoke’s first goal came as stereotypical as you like, as the ironically named ‘Crouch’ bundled home in the first minute. In a cruel twist of circumstance, the second goal came from a player very much in Wenger’s mould, Bojan, a La Masia academy player and diminutive chap. Jon Walters made it 3-0 at half-time.

But it’s the hope that will destroy you, and Arsenal quickly brought it back to 3-2 with twenty minutes remaining, only for Chambers to get himself sent off and Stoke to hold out. Arsenal missed the chance to go fourth, remained 13 points from Chelsea, and Wenger was heckled onto the train by angry fans.

3. Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal  - October 5, 2014

Wenger and Mourinho, two icons of the beautiful game, having a good old stare.

Arsenal returned to the scene of a loss so humiliating, that the subsequent 2-0 defeat felt almost like a point. Chelsea kept Arsenal at arm’s length in a routine win, albeit one spiced up by the appearance of former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas. Wenger pushed Mourinho, Arsenal suffered their first league loss of the season, and the critics once again had evidence that Arsenal were a long way from a) winning the title, and b) winning big games.

2. Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United – November 22, 2014

2014, FA Cup win aside, was not a great calendar year for Arsenal was it? Coming off the back of the 3-3 Anderlecht draw and a 2-1 defeat to Swansea, a win here would have alleviated much pressure. United’s defence looked shaky, existing in the form of McNair, Smalling and Blackett, and Arsenal had a near full strength team at their disposal. Arsenal dominated proceedings early on, but Wilshere missed Arsenal’s best chance to capitalise. The goal was gaping to such an extent that it was practically yelling at Wilshere to boot it in. Wilshere’s horrid injury in the second half sadly set the tone for a painful 45 minutes, as a Gibbs own-goal followed by a Rooney counter-attack seemed to conclude proceedings. Giroud’s consolation goal only confirmed that Arsenal play when the pressure is gone, although the sheer beauty of it made it more of a consolation GOLLLLLLLLL (ahem). The result left Arsenal 15 points off the top, having missed a big chance to end their poor run against United, and in eighth position (the back of the track in MarioKart Super Circuit incidentally).

1. Arsenal 1-3 Monaco, February 25, 2015.


This one hurt, in so many ways.

The Ox looks on, perhaps wistfully. Who knows.

Having drawn Barcelona, AC Milan, and Bayern Munich twice in the last four seasons, it was all too glorious that Arsenal drew Monaco this time around. Fans can hardly have been blamed for assuming progression after the plucky efforts against bigger opposition in previous years, but Monaco had qualms with such thoughts. Big qualms. Arsenal came into the fixture with a strong first team, as Sanchez, Giroud, Ozil, Coquelin, Cazorla and Koscielny made sure Arsenal were favourites. I’m sure goals scored against the team you support often seem laden with extra meaning whoever you support, but the subtext of the first two goals was alarmingly poignant. Initially, Geoffrey Kondogbia, a player oft mentioned as a potential solution to Arsenal’s paucity, exposed such characteristics to nab an away goal. Then, former Tottenham hero Dimitar Berbatov booted the second goal in.

Peak Arsenal? Not yet.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked to have salvaged legitimate hope with an absolute barnstormer late on, but Arsenal stayed too true to their attacking principles, looking to level the tie. Instead Monaco broke away, and Ferreira Carrasco slotted a third, and crucial goal, past the flailing Ospina. It was Twitter-chaos. Arsenal’s 2-0 win in Monaco weeks later was, unfortunately, the most predictable result of all time. 

Fear not Arsenal fans! The five most fantastic results of the Gunners' season are up next!