Arsenal review: Seven days – from Colchester to cojones via the San Siro
PUBLISHED: 11:14 12 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:56 12 March 2018
It’s been a busy seven days for Arsenal and reporter Layth Yousif. Read on for his review of one of the better weeks of Arsenal’s season.
Monday: Wenger where’s your trousers...
Arsene Wenger’s ‘Cantona’ meltdown moment at Brighton when he rambled on about trousers, shirts and general nakedness was sad to see. What was even sadder was the team slipping to a deserved defeat against a vibrant and well organised home side in an atmospheric new stadium.
I was kindly asked on to BBC Radio Sussex to talk about the match on Monday morning. The presenter must have sensed my gloom by the downbeat way I said hello.
I did manage to rally and remember to praise Chris Hughton and the club which survived trips to Gillingham and calling the Withdean home, but on the topic of Arsenal I was adamant: Wenger has to leave for the club to progress, even if no-one takes any pleasure from watching him talk about trousers.
Tuesday: The Only Way Is Essex
Myself and a talented young sports journalist Dan Mountney took a trip out east. Colchester to be precise. To watch the Arsenal U18’s take on the U’s in the FA Youth Cup quarter final. As I said to another Arsenal journo who was covering the game, it was a joy just to watch a football match for the sake of it, rather than always having to talk about the manager, or attendances. And the talented youngsters didn’t let us down. Kwame Ampadu’s gifted young side weathered an early storm to eventually win the match 5-1, including two goals from England U17 World Cup winner Emile Smith-Rowe. His second of the night was a cracker, curling in a free-kick which ended up in the top corner. What was also fun was the way the young guns took pleasure in playing for the shirt.
Wednesday: Forza Juve
In the best traditions of someone who has watched more than 100 Arsenal and England matches abroad over the years I have something of a reputation for leaving my travel arrangements to the last minute. And so it proved for Milan. After another hectic weekly deadline day I finally got down to booking a flight to Italy. I was pleasantly surprised to find a reasonably-priced last minute flight from an airport in Bedfordshire, so passport and lucky socks in tow I raced over and caught the flight with minutes to spare. I also bumped into old pals on the plane and we all convened near the stunning Duomo in the heart of the city for a few beers.
As a journalist I take pride in being completely and utterly impartial in the press box – you have to be otherwise you wouldn’t survive ten minutes in a tough trade. But, hey, on Wednesday night in the centre of Milan, in a busy bar with old pals I was a fan. And my how we laughed – especially after a Spurs supporter I know gloated beforehand that my lucky socks weren’t actually that lucky and were stuffed. Or words to that effect. I simply replied to him around 9.45pm: ‘A bit like your Champions League hopes. Forza Juve’. My how we laughed, even if it was laced with apprehension about the next day’s game.
Thursday: 2-0 in the San Siro
What can I say about the match that hasn’t been said already? A performance of courage, character, commitment and no little flair. It was the fourth time I’d been to the San Siro and the sheer majesty of the stadium and the atmosphere makes it my favourite ground after Highbury – even if the facilities leave a little to be desired. Quite simply it was a stunning - and utterly unexpected – victory which will go down in the club’s history. I asked Jack Wilshere afterwards in the mixed zone where the character came from. He wasn’t sure himself but explained it was defensive shape and organisation which helped seal an unforgettable triumph. He modestly omitted a lot of that stemmed from his excellent display in the heart of the midfield battle. Copy filed, a memorable night in Milan ensued.
Friday: Football Italia redux
Hands up who remembers that brilliant Channel Four show Football Italia presented by the equally brilliant James Richardson. It was when news of Serie A was still seen as exotic, and part of that consistently brilliant programme’s allure was watching Richardson present his immnitable views in a picturesque square somewhere in Italy, surrounded by a large and visually-spectacular Tiramasu or some such delight, as well as the iconic pink Gazzette dello Sport.
Well, it would have been rude not to at least offer an extremely pale imitation. So, after waking with a sore head, after one too many Nastro Azzurro’s in the wonderful Navigili district of Milan the night before I headed back to the piazza in front of the Duomo. The waiter literally did a double take when I asked for the sweet menu as my opening gambit, as I think you could have got 6-4 on that he would have expected me to order a beer.
One towering and colourful Tiramsu, and a few posts on social media later, I started to receive a large number of messages from pals laughing at my efforts. To see video of my efforts join the Islington Gazette Arsenal Facebook page, but as someone said to me: ‘AC Jimbo [Richardson’s Twitter feed] won’t be too worried about the threat from you.’
Saturday: From the San Siro to York Hall via the Hitchin Belles and Ben Sheaf at Stevenage
A late flight back including the rammed passport control resembling the seventh circle of hell in aforesaid Bedfordshire airport at midnight followed by an early morning National Express coach back home saw me catch daughter number two’s Saturday morning match for Arsenal sister club the Hitchin Belles. It was great to see how well the club is progressing - not least through the unsung work of so many passionate coaches, even if I could have done with another of the ridiculously strong expressos I sampled in Milan. On to Stevenage to cover their disappointing 2-2 draw with Crewe in League Two, as the Cheshire club grabbed a 97th minute equaliser which sent their fans into paroxysms of joy – and this sports journalist into despair at a late rewrite of my match report. Boss Darren Sarll was absolutely furious, although he did have a few words of praise for Arsenal loanee Ben Sheaf once Sarll had calmed down.
It was then onto Bethnal Green to cover a welterweight fight at the world famous – and raucous – York Hall. My man duly won a tough bout and I posted a picture of him and myself in the aftermath of his deserved victory on my Instagram account. Imagine my surprise when my all-time Arsenal idol Tony Adams ‘liked’ the picture. A good night all round, even if the West Ham fans at the venue were not in the best of humour.
Sunday: Karma’s gonna’ get ya’...
How good was it watching Petr Cech save Troy ‘cojones’ Deeney’s penalty? It immediately elevated itself into one of the moments of the season for the joy and schadenfreude it brought. A non-Arsenal numpty on Twitter messaged me to say the celebrations were a sign of how far the club had slipped. I shot back: “Not really mate, more a joyous moment in the life of Arsenal fans. Something you probably wouldn’t understand.’
Millwall have the chant ‘No-one likes us/We do care’. Maybe Arsenal fans should adopt ‘No-one understands us/We don’t care’. A Spurs fan who I call a good pal summed it up best when he tweeted to me: “I’m anti-Arsenal – but if a player who had slagged us off then missed a penalty after his side lost to my team I would be giving it large too.” Well said that man. Karma: your work is done. Petr Cech says hello. Memo to Deeney: What goes around comes around...
Monday: Wenger out...
Despite two wins in three days, five goals scored and none conceded, the large number of empty seats at the Emirates was a sign of a deeper malaise. As much as Thursday’s victory in the San Siro was glorious nothing changes in terms of Arsene Wenger needing to leave Arsenal in order for the club to once again challenge in the Premier League. Whether he will is another matter entirely. Which is pretty much where we came in a week ago...
I’m off on holiday until Thursday with a trip to the glorious Cheltenham Festival for three days of carousing with old pals purely as a punter – along with an excellent race card. See you at the Emirates for the AC Milan game.
Follow Arsenal reporter Layth on Twitter and Instagram @laythy29 and join our Arsenal Facebook page at the Islington Gaztte.