Not that there is any need for an outbreak of paranoia among the Arsenal fanbase but this morning saw the release of the Premier League fixtures. A quick scan of the list shows that we have a tricky season, playing every other side twice with some of the games – roughly half – being away from home.
Half the fun is working out when St Totteringham’s Day will be next season and judging by the run-in, before the end of April might be a good idea. There’s the chance of winning the title at White Hart Lane again with the two sides meeting over the last weekend of that month, a match followed by United (h), Stoke (a) and Everton (h).
There’s little room for complaint in the way that the Champions League group stage fixtures have fallen. Matchday 1 is sandwiched between Southampton (h) / Hull (a); 2, Chelsea (h) / Burnley (a); 3, Swansea (h) / Middlesbrough (h); 4, Sunderland (a), Tottenham (h); 5, United (a) / Bournemouth (h); 6, West Ham (a) / Stoke (h). Rarely have they been so benign.
The Round of Sixteen exit will starts between Hull (h) / FAC 5 and is confirmed after playing at Anfield.
Christmas once more sees City (a) but that’s followed by two home games against WBA and Palace. Easter is the City return and West Ham. Indeed, not until the end of the season can we genuinely claim to have a difficult run of fixtures.
Even so, they mean nothing at this moment in time. The squad has been strengthened with the arrival of Granit Xhaka but there’s more work to be done on that front and in all honesty, until the window slams shut or is close to doing so, will we really be able to see if there’s a chance of genuine progression next season.
It’s always a good day in the calendar though. The announcement of the fixtures, even with international tournaments ongoing, signals the pre-pre-season has begun. A little bit of excitement in the air at the prospect of ‘proper’ football returning, unfettered by the cynical chains which take over as the campaign unfolds.
I, like a few of you, have a different productivity schedule to those our bosses require. A day calculating the potential outcomes to the season, looking at crunch points, interspersed with three football matches, awaits. Russia v Slovakia holds a passing interest to see if UEFA’s threat will hold true whilst France v Albania and Switzerland v Romania signal the beginning of the second round of group matches.
Yesterday at Euro2016, it was the day of the underdog. Things got off to a good start with Hungary winning 2 – 0 in the Mitropa derby, he says throwing in the clever historical football reference and in no way smug with himself for remembering.
I’m not sure why I hold a soft spot for the Magyars. Yes, the mesmeric footage of their wins in the mid-50s spellbinds in the same way that Real Madrid’s early European Cup wins do but since then, nothing of note has come out of Hungarian football.
Perhaps it’s that elusiveness, the fact that England don’t play them regularly any more and that the great names of Honved and Ferencvaros don’t feature in the group stages of the Champions League. No disrespect to the clubs but recent title winners Debrecen, Gyor and Videoton don’t hold the same sway.
Mention of Hungary in matches in my lifetime and I can still see with great clarity in my mind’s eye, the ball nestling in the stanchion of the Nepstadion – now the Puskas Ferenc Stadion – and Paul Mariner’s stumbled winner at the old Wembley.
I don’t, before you ask, dislike Austria; love the country and remember Krankl – who Arsenal were interested in at one point – and Prohaska whilst Willy Meisl’s book, Soccer Revolution, is a fascinating read. But whilst I’ve enjoyed holidays and remember Vienna fondly, the football ‘romance’ just isn’t there.
And it’s not just because the only place we could get a drink after the Champions League match in 1991 was in the brothels around the Prater Stadion. Drinking in a brothel is not at all romantic, particularly with a backdrop of riot police and snarling dogs outside the ground.
Portugal’s preening peacock left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth following their draw with Plucky Little Iceland. Two well-taken goals it must be said but there was no surprise that once again, Ronaldo didn’t show up in a big match. I honestly cannot remember him doing so? None of the Champions League finals I’ve seen him in have been memorable for his contribution and certainly, I don’t recall him setting an international tournament alight.
I shouldn’t, as an Englishman, laugh too hard with the match against Plucky Little Wales tomorrow night, I suppose, but the football supporter in me can’t help it…