Saturday, 29 July 2017

Emirates Cup 2017 Part 1: RB Leipzig 0 v Sevilla FC 1 & Arsenal 5 v SL Benfica 2

I-Spy with my little eye... Arsenal FC, from out of the train window
This is Arsenal's tenth season in their 'new' home at Ashburton Grove and this is the ninth Emirates Cup tournament that the Gunners have hosted here.
They skipped a year last pre-season, because the pitch needed some 'Weed & Feed' treatment in places and a bit of strimming around the borders...  or something similar to that.
The competition rules this weekend, implemented to encourage attacking football; awarded the usual three points for a win and one for a draw, but also gave clubs an extra bonus point for each goal they scored.
Furthermore, if the top league position was shared after each of the teams had played both of their games, then goal difference would come into play; and if there was still a tie the team who had scored the most goals over the two days would be the winner. And if the teams at the top of the group still couldn't be separated, then the adjudicators would count up which team had managed the most shots on target and they would be deemed champions.
The rules specifically said 'shots on target', so I don't know if headers on target actually counted, or what other means might be employed, if after all that, there still wasn't an outright winner.
I'm not entirely sure, but I think that it is hidden somewhere in the small print, that a best of three 'paper, scissors, stone' shoot out, the Duckworth Lewis method, or an egg and spoon race to the old Arsenal Stadium and back were all also acceptable methods of reaching a final decision.
There was no mention of resorting to a penalty shoot out, which is probably because it would give the teams with German players an unfair advantage.
Holloway Road on the Piccadilly tube line, is the best station to alight at if you visiting the Emirates Stadium and want a bar or somewhere to eat before the game.
It is the same short distance from the ground as Arsenal station, but be warned: Holloway Road is closed for anything up to a hour and a half after all of the Gunners home games, due to health and safety reasons.
So if you need to get back promptly for a train connection after the game, you can take your chances with the big queues at Arsenal station, or take the short hike to either Finsbury Park or Highbury & Islington, which are both approximately a ten minute walk away.
Saturday 29th July 2017
Emirates Cup 2017
at Ashburton Grove/Emirates Stadium
RB Leipzig (0) 0
Sevilla FC (1) 1
Ben Yedder 35 pen
I avoided buying a coffee inside the ground itself, given that it would cost roughly the same for a paper cup of the stuff as I would pay for a full jar from the local Spar at the bottom of the our hill and I settled down pitch side, where I had an unspoilt view of the opening game.
As it had been Factor 30 sunblock weather when I left my homestead in the north Midlands this morning, I had naively bought into all of that bullshit about the 'sunny south' and travelled light, wearing a (very) smart but casual t-shirt and jeans combination.
The Emirates Stadium may well be a state of the art, easy upon the eye, high calibre sporting arena, but the front few rows are exposed to the elements and in spite of the sub tropical morning weather oop t'norrth, fairly soon after the first game kicked off, it began to drizzle, then pour with rain... and before long it was absolutely bucketing it down, as a rogue and off course tsunami hit north London with malicious intentions.
Tony Adams with both arms aloft for a change
RB Leipzig and Sevilla played a patient passing game, with both sides using the foundations of solid defensive core to build from the back. 
Their ball retention, whereby they kept possession via countless amounts of crisp accurate passes, zipping around on the immaculate (wet) pitch, bought gasps of approval from the purists in attendance.
If points were being awarded for the number of consecutive passes any team could string together, then the competition would've been over and done with by half time.
Now, I'm all for teams letting the ball do all the work and avoiding going direct to the nth degree, but lets be honest here, there is such a thing as passing the ball to death, for the sake of it.
Sevilla employed the use of fast breaks via runners chasing diagonal balls through the channels, while Leipzig preferred to use more width and depended on a supply of decent crosses to make any headway, when they did show a couple of traces of willingness to move the ball forward.
But with both defences ruling the roost, the two sides were playing a hell of a lot of their tippy tappy stuff inside their own respective halves. 
It was pretty much, a game of cat and mouse between two evenly matched sides waiting for each other to make a slip up that could be exploited. However what we had here was too ultra efficient and technically adept teams, who were seemingly impervious to defensive leaks and slip ups. In fact, given just how heavy the deluge of rain had become by now, one had to wonder if all of the players were actually waterproof too.
The game was a fascinating encounter, if not an entirely thrilling one.
Ben Yedder scores the only goal of the game. Oi! Linesman, mooove!
The only goal of the game duly arrived in the thirty fifth minute when Leipzig's Bernardo was penalised, (very) harshly in my opinion, when he executed an inch perfect slide tackle on Walter Montoya and quite clearly won the ball fairly and squarely, but Montoya went to ground in slow motion and Ben Yedder planted the ball firmly into the back of the German side's net with a no nonsense strike from the resulting penalty kick.
"That just goes to show you how referee's from different countries don't interpret things the same way" said an expert sat along the row from me, wearing a jester hat (complete with bells on), to the two young and impressionable children he was providing with a non stop and factually wrong, wrong, effing wrong again stupid! Running commentary.
For the record, all three match officials were actually Premier League referees, from a place called England.
Leipzig were spurred into action and were soon moving the ball around in their opponents half, in a manner befitting their Bundesliga runners up status.
As an aside, the runners up spot in Germany, given the dominance and financial clout of Bayern Munich, almost constitutes winning a separate competition that excludes the presence of  Carlo Ancelotti's 'Die Roten'.
Yussuf Poulsen went close to pulling the game level, twice, but shot over from twenty yards out before wasting a good opening by trying to be too clever with a spectacularly comedic attempted back-heel, that deserves to be shown from a variety of angles on Danny Baker's next 'Football Bloopers' VHS video release.
The goal meant that the second half opened up more, a bit like the storm clouds that had all moved towards the  Ashburton Grove football ground this afternoon, to gang up on people who weren't suitably dressed for such a raging torrent.
Clear cut chances were still at a premium, but at least both teams were pinging the ball around in the opposition's half now.
Leipzig endeavoured to get back into the game and maintained a high tempo pressing game, but it was Sevilla who were just about edging the game and they went close to adding a second goal, when
Peter Gulacsi pulled off a good save from Joaquin Correa, who'd latched onto a rare poor clearance by Stefan Ilsanker.
Daniel Carrico ought to have killed the game off, but struck the ball against the crossbar from close range as the game petered out to it's conclusion.
FT: RB Leipzig 0 v Sevilla FC 1 
Running total: Four points to Sevilla, three for their win and one for the goal.
No points or anything for Leipzig.
In days of old (September 1991), when knights were bold and the Premier League hadn't even been invented, I saw Benfica beat Arsenal 3-1 in the second leg of a European Cup second round game at Highbury, after extra time; meaning that the Portuguese side won the tie 4-2 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw at Estadio da Luz (Stadium of Light) in Lisbon.
Arsenal were out thought and out manoeuvred in that additional thirty minutes, on a night that seemed to prompt their then manager George Graham to adopt increasingly defensive tactics, whereby not losing games seemingly became more important to him than actually winning them.
The visiting head coach who plotted Benfica's win that night and was responsible for his side giving Arsenal a bit of a masterclass during extra time, was none other than Sven-Goran Eriksson.
He is currently in gainful employment with the Chinese League One club Shenzhen FC and in all probability is still a pervy old philanderer.
Arsenal v Benfica programme.
From September 1991
I heard Mr Jester Hat (with bells on) telling his misinformed offspring that it was the end of George Graham's reign at Highbury after he lost to Benfica after the last time Arsenal played them.
Wrong again! He 'left' in February 2015, when his job became untenable, after a FA enquiry found that he had accepted illegal payments of at least £400,000 to facilitate the transfers of John Jensen and Pal Lydersen to Arsenal.
Yeah, y'know!
That Pal Lyderson, the one who made fifteen appearance for Arsenal while picking up a decent salary for the four years that he was subsequently at the club, who you'd probably never even heard of until now and whose name you will instantly forget, within moments of reading this tournament overview.
I bet that George Graham will always remember him though.
Saturday 29th July 2017
Emirates Cup 2017
at Ashburton Grove/Emirates Stadium
Arsenal  (2) 5
Theo Walcott 24, 33
Lisandro Lopez 52 OG
Oliver Giroud 64
Alex Iwobi 71
Benfica (2) 2
Franco Cervi 12
Eduardo Salvio 39
I'd had quite enough of getting soaked to the skin by now and relocated to one of the few empty seats towards the back of the lower tier, on the end of a row, right next to the unsegregated and very lively Benfica hordes.
What a boisterous, noisy, enthusiastic and partisan army of away fans they were too.
With an impressive array of chants, songs and non stop vocal backing, that almost redefined what the word 'support' actually means.
This afternoon, I was missing the biggest and most prestigious local derby game in Yorkshire football, namely: Maltby Main v Maltby Main Reserves; at Muglet Lane, to be at this ever so slightly more glamorous stadium, watching a host of Champions League qualifying players (and Arsenal) in action, so this had better be good!
But my concerns were soon blown away, because the game wasn't just good... it was bloody awesome!
And possibly even on a par with anything that I might have seen at Maltby this afternoon too.
The Benfica fans must've been worth a goal start and that is exactly what they were rewarded with in the twelfth minute, when Jonas headed a cross back towards Franco Cervi, whose shot found the back of the net via Per Mertsacker who got the ball mixed up in his feet and could only divert it past David Ospina in the Gunners goal.
Sead Kolasinac, a free signing from Schalke, won the ball by the touchline and sent in a perfect pass for Theo Walcott who finished authoritatively to beat the former QPR goalkeeper Julio Cesar to level the score.
Kolasinac was involved in the build up Walcott's second goal too, stroking a pass along the lush surface to Francis Coquelin, who whipped the ball sideways into the path of Walcott and the England striker connected with ball, on the run, and beat Cesar again from twelve yards out.
You could of excused Ospina for developing a paranoid complex and thinking that there was a conspiracy brewing against him from within his own ranks, when Toto Salvio equalised for Rui Vitoria's team, with a shot that took a slight change in direction when it hit Arsenal's Rob Holding on its way past the wrong footed Arsenal keeper.
A timely reminder of how the tournament format works
In between the four first half strikes, shared equally between the two sides, it was obvious that they had both definitely entered into the attacking approach that is encouraged by the tournament's rules, and left the pitch at half time with two goals, and subsequently two points apiece, already in the bag.
The entertainment on offer had certainly been worth getting drenched for... and besides, I'm getting very close to the age where I will soon have to spend all day sitting around in soaking wet underpants anyway, so I may as well get some practice in now.
Everybody present was enjoying the occasion for what it was and then he appeared!
With all due respect to the many Londoners I know and people who support teams from the capital city of England, who are all perfectly decent people; each and every club in this sprawling metropolis has one idiot like this loathsome creature.
We've all seen them before, but probably heard them in the first instance.
I didn't take this picture. It is from 2007.
Ashburton Grove and Arsenal Stadium side by side
His volley of expletive laden abuse aimed at the Benfica fans, at least proved that despite his dialogue he wasn't prejudice against the Portuguese, he hated everything and everybody, and didn't discriminate, or care how many people he was offending.
Hmm... welcome to England circa 1972! The brown shirts are still at large.
I instinctively knew what he was going to look like before I turned round to take a peek: he was a dead ringer for the bastard offspring of a botched scientific experimental mating session between Eric Bristow and Nigel off of Eastenders, his hair resembled an oversized and frequently used mop head, he was sporting a pair of Farah slacks and one of those chequered, pastel shade Pringle or Lyle &amp Scott Jumpers that were de rigueur several decades ago and was at least three or four sizes too small for him... think the Honey Monster playing dressing up with Alan Partridge's wardrobe. He would also wearing slip on shoes because his physique dictated that he couldn't bend down to tie his laces.
I faced the general direction that the noise was emanating from and... kerching!
He ticked all of the above boxes on my half time 'Cockney Wanker' bingo' card.
A lady approached the wretched creature; "Excuse me, when you've finished your swearing, you're in our seats", he checked her ticket, scratched his head and then said "Sorry treacle! F*cking hell, c'mon kids, we've come down the wrong stairs, we don't want to miss the second half!"
And thankfully he wobbled away out of sight, while we all waited for Jeremy Beadle to pop up from behind a seat.
Hmm, if I was to hazard a guess, I would say that 'Snooker Loopy Nuts' by Chas & Dave was probably his all time favourite record. Excuse me while I delve into my dated and unsavoury politically incorrect arsenal (see what I did there!?) of abuse, but what a complete spaz!
Who the f*ck ever conceived children with him!? The mind boggles.
Herbert Chapman:
Arsenal FC have a statue of a former WorksopTown 
& Kiveton Park player stood outside their ground.
He would've enjoyed the second half today.
Wow! Just, wow!
In the second half, the Arsenal did a very passable impersonation of their 2003-04 'Invincibles' at their marauding best.
Following the recent arrival of Arsenal's record club signing Alexandre Lacazette, it is reckoned in footballing circles; at least this is what it said in a copy of yesterday's Metro that I found on the Kings Cross bound train earlier today; that Theo Walcott will be the player most likely to suffer appearances wise, even though Walcott himself has publicly stated that he looks forward to the competition for places.
But on today's showing, with his brace of well taken goals and the pivotal part he played in his sides wave upon wave (upon wave) of high tempo raids into Benfica's last third, it was almost as though he was saying to Arsene Wenger: "Drop me if you dare!"
A massive team photo and a statue of the invincible Terry Henry
Although in essence this 'tournament' game was very much a friendly, with nobs on, the quality of the opposition that the English FA Cup Holders put to the sword in the second half, could not be disputed in any kind of game. Having won four league titles in a row, they arrived at the Emirates Stadium as serious Champions League contenders this coming season and having won the domestic treble of the Primeira Liga, Taça de Portugal and Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira, in their native Portugal.
Sport Lisboa e Benfica, aren't just a big, or even a massive club, they are humongously ginormous.
The Eagles (no, not Crystal bleedin' Palace!) have millions of devotees worldwide and regardless of the second half spanking they took this evening, the Benfiquistas, as the supporters of the 'Glorious' are known, never let up with their chest thumping and raucous songs of praise in support of their legendary club, particularly the factions of the two Ultras groups, Diabos Vermelhos and the No Name Name Boys, who were both represented today, but who, by all  accounts, wouldn't be at the Benfica v Leipzig game tomorrow.
Any road, back on topic, Walcott broke free at speed on the right hand side of the Benfica goal area and drilled a square low cross that Lisandro Lopez tried to cut out, but got a heavy touch and put the ball into his own goal.
Reiss Nelson, a teenage protege if ever Arsenal have had one, delivered a pinpoint knock to Oliver Giroud, who netted Arsenal's fourth from close range, before nearly adding a fifth a few minutes later but Cesar pulled off a good save to turn a thumping shot around the post.
Sead Kolasinac, who had put in an awesome display throughout this very lively game, combined well with Giroud combined to set up a chance for Alex Owobi, who crashed the ball into the roof of the net.
"You're not singing anymore", offered up a few Arsenal fans towards their Portuguese guests, but they still were... and soon shot the Gooners down with a song about being in the Champions League this year, unlike Arsenal.
With fifteen minutes to go, the home fans stood as one and to give a joint rousing ovation to: Walcott for his efforts as he left the field of play and to greet the new guy, Alexandre Lacazette, weighing in at £52.7 million, on the occasion his home debut.
Benfica had two further half decent chances that came to nothing, while Aaron Ramsey went close to adding a sixth for the Gunners.
And that was that and the referee called time on a mighty fine game of football.
FT: Arsenal 5 v SL Benfica 2
Running total: Eight points to Arsenal, three for the win and one for each goal.
Two points to SL Benfica, one for each goal.
So folks, by virtue of their impressive win against SL Benfica, Arsenal will win the tournament tomorrow unless they loose by a margin of two goals (or more) to Sevilla FC.
OK, I got p*ss wet through, the tube station I walked to after the game was closed and a few minutes after I arrived back at Kings Cross, there was an announcement that my train home had been cancelled and I couldn't let anybody know I was running late, because my phone battery was kaput. But after all of these years of travelling to football matches, I've come to expect such first world problems and minor inconveniences, as part and parcel of the life path that I have chosen to follow.