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Being in Liège: the pitch side view

Being in Liège yesterday it was a great result for us.

By Walter Broeckx

The trip from the Benelux gooners took us the “hot city”. The stadium is situated next to the river Meuse and looks nice from the outside but the seats reserved for the visitors have never been cleaned since the Euro 2000 championship. So have to take my pants to the cleaners today.

We gave away the two goals Tony predicted in an awful way. Our passes wasn’t up to our usual standard. It took us a while before we could feel the running of the grass and most of our passes where to short or didn’t have the speed on the ball that we normally do.

The way we gave the goals away… was just like in a nightmare. Okay we don’t like to see the ball kicked in the Meuse to much over there but to try a back heal in a game like that in a position like that wasn’t the most clever thing Eduardo could do. The way Eboue miscontrolled and gave the ball to Jovanovic was also not very clever.

I can tell you that after 10 minutes all the England gooners around me knew every Flemish swearword you can find in a book. I tried to wake myself up out of this nightmare but every time I woke up we had the same score line.

The first half we played football which could make you sick at times. A poor young goonergirl had the same opinion and she threw up everything she had eaten since leaving England. It was a rather sour first 30 minutes. You could see the doubt in the players mind, after the two recent defeats, creeping in.

People over here, my colleagues at work that is, were impressed by Bendtner. He worked his socks off and my colleagues over here thought he was far more impressive then Mbokani the Standard centre forward.

And Super Nick, encouraged by the Denmark Gooners, did what he had to do by scoring our first goal and giving us a lifeline. Also Rosicky had a very good game and when you look at him in the stadium his running off the ball is superb but his teammates didn’t noticed him at times when he was in good positions.  If there is a God somewhere: please help to keep him fit.

Arsene Wenger had some work in the dressing room at half time and so did we by helping the father of the sick girl to talk to the stewards to clean up the mess so we all could resume play in a better way.

Meanwhile have to say that the home support really made it the ‘hell of sclessin” as it is known in Belgium. Because of the construction of the stadium it is difficult for the away fans to get there atmosphere going. You sit/stand in two separate levels and you don’t hear what the down level is signing so at times I think every level started a chant so it must have looked at times the fans were out of tune, like the players for most of the first half.

Came the second half and Standard parked the bus in front of their goal. We almost started the second half like the first by handing Standard the ball and a good opportunity to score again. Luckily they didn’t. Standard made it very difficult for us. But thanks to the Bendtner’s goal you could feel that we could pull something out of the hat.

The pressure mounted and Standard couldn’t get the ball in our half so Manone almost didn’t have to do anything for most of the game. The second goal was a very strange goal from where we sat. It looked like Song made a save on the line and then it took ages before Vermaelen put it in the net.

We couldn’t see who scored at the time but we really didn’t care for it. It was delirium in our part of the stadium. And you could feel that de Standard fans who had been very impressive until that moment began to wonder if there dream debut in the CL would turn into a nightmare.

From that moment on we gooners knew that if there was going to be a winner it would be Arsenal. And so Eduardo did what we had to do by scoring another strange goal by poaching the ball with his knee past the goalkeeper. I think he was the most relieved man in the ground because it was his mistake that could have cost us dearly.

Standard tried to pull one back but we got the best chances to score another goal.

Meanwhile the away gooners finally out sang the home fans and we dragged our team over the finish line. Actually they did it themselves but it felt we gave them a little hand.

The father of the girl, who was feeling better after the final whistle – what a result can do, gave us a good hug and thanked us for the assistance but being a fan is about team work, in fact we do the same like the players on the pitch: try to work together to get the result.

It was blood, sweat and tears during the game and luckily it was tears of joy at the end.

We all went home feeling happy with the win but we knew it was a narrow escape. Not because of Standard posing that threat going forward but because we made life difficult for ourselves.

According to our Benelux gooners the best player on the pitch was Rosicky, followed by Vermaelen, Gallas and Bendtner. According to my colleagues Rosicky and Bendtner caught the eye.

So a happy gooner coming home at 2 in the morning and still a very happy gooner when the alarm clock woke me up this morning.

I think this game will do the players good. I can imagine that Arsene Wenger will not be to pleased with some things he saw yesterday but we showed character and never gave up and this is the attitude we want to see from our players on the days that we struggle in a game.

A last note to the fans who follow and travel our Gunners all over the world: It has been a great privilege for me to have been with you. Must say that the behaviour of you lot was great and no incidents took place

23 comments to Being in Liège: the pitch side view

  • dg09

    Hello Walter,

    An excellent post – made me almost feel as if I was actually at the game with you.

    One observation of the game:

    Why oh why can Arsenal players, who are so skillful with the ball, not cross it at the right height/pace/direction into the box? Almost every corner,freekick was miss/over/under hit by Cesc, Eduardo and Diaby.

  • walter

    As a note I would like to add that this article also appeared on the arsenalbenelux site (in dutch off course) and the title there was “An evening in hell ends in heaven”.
    The “hell of sclessin” is how the hot atmosphere in Liège is called and any Gooner who attented the game could testifie that the home support can make a hell of an atmosphere.
    But is was us who ended in heaven.

  • walter

    Just a small detail but it really could make a big difference for a team like Arsenal.
    Arsenal is a team that plays on the ground and we make our pitch very wet before the game and during the interval.
    At Standard they have a rather very dry underground and they don’t water the pitch before the games. The grass was green with a yellow shade in it and this is a sign of a dry field.
    So instead of the ball gliding on the pitch, like in the Emirates, the ball steem to get stuck in the grass. I have noticed several Arsenal players (also some Standard players) where the ball got stuck between feet and gras and they just fell over the ball.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if Standard had done this with intent to make sure that our fluent passing game would struggle.
    How further the game went on the better our passing became. Did we finally adopted or did by the atmospheric conditions the grass became wetter ? I don’t know but it is something I noticed.
    But that is no excuse for our poor start of the gam off course.

  • Walter that last bit about the pitch is an absolutely fundamental fact. I didn’t pick that up from the Sky pictures even in HD on my quite large screen (as one friend said on seeing it for the first time, “Tony did you know that someone has left a cinema in your sitting room?”). Also in the discussions on Sky it didn’t come across (no surprise there).

    That really does explain one hell of a lot about the passing and the performance.

    I was thinking this was Bolton in disguise, but I think it was probably Bournemouth in disguise (although that might be unfair, because I have not been to their ground since the last century). Maybe Southport in disguise.

  • Diaminedave

    Thanks for that Walter. On my relatively poor feed I thought the pitch did not look ‘slick’ (for want of a better word) and I could not understand why. I presume with it being a bit drier the bounce of the ball was a bit higher as well because apart from the passing not being its usual standard some of the first time controls seemed off as well!
    At least we won – sounded like quite an intimidating atmosphere! – good experience for the lads.
    Harking back to the first post today – In my opinion a lot of the problems (commentators, pundits and some fans ‘sic’) people have with the Arsenal are because the club dare to be different and at the cutting edge of innovation within the different fields of the football enterprise.
    This would include
    1. Sustainable finance – as you have documented so ably (no sugar daddy)
    2. New (and well financed) stadium – we have not dropped down the league since moving there (arguably :)) – Have any other clubs managed to sustain league position and gain a new ground (with their own finance of course – manCty were given theirs)
    3. Youth set up and development
    4. Ahead of the game regarding quotas for players
    5. Always entertaining games – (please a normal win and no controversy just one – no oh well!!)
    I am sure there are stacks of other reasons but these differences are taking people out of their comfort zones of being like everyone else.
    All I can say is “Vive la difference!” and long may it continue

  • walter

    I mentionned the grass part yesterday to my friends and they hadn’t thought of that either.
    Before the game we had a drink in the canteen of Standard Femina (the ladies team of Standard) who play on a pitch at the back of the stadium. So I was within centimeters of that pitch and it looked very very dry.
    When I came in the stadium later I immediatly saw the grass having the same colour and structure as the ladies pitch. It just is normal over there, dependable on the sort of soil there is in Liege.

    But my experience as a ref, I look at those things because it makes a difference on how you have to run as a ref. On a wet pitch you can see it rather faster when the ball goes out of play and sometimes on a very dry pitch the ball stays in play although at first sight you would have put money on it that the ball would go out.

    The top of the trick would have been if Standard would have watered the pitch the day before the game and Arsenal would have trained on a normal pitch and then not to water the pitch on the matchday. (It was dry yesterday during the day in that part of the country) So they suddenly would have to play on a different pitch. As we know Standard in Belgium, this wouldn’t surprise me at all.
    I know in training before the game they could have noticed but then you do your passing in a relaxed way and there is nothing at stake. Later in the game when you play under pressure it is a different story.

    But then again, this is just my opinion and the thing I noticed.

  • walter

    And to give you a rather funny story of how teams in Belgium “prepare” the pitch on some occasions. It happened some years ago at Sint Truiden, who now is 1st in Belgium league, who had to play Anderlecht.
    Anderlecht was in those days a team that played a technical game and needed a wet and smooth surface.
    So Anderlecht went to Sint Truiden and the manager from Sint Truiden had found a plan to prevent Anderlecht their normal game. They asked some farmers to some to the ground with there tractors and they drove over the pitch so it was very bumpy, almost unplayable. If I remember Anderlecht suffered and couldn’t win the match.
    It is some time ago but over here you can expect anything.

  • notlager

    Walter,

    great match report. Must have been an awesome match day experience for you and the travelling Gooners.

    What a game, what a comeback. “From hell to heaven” sums up what the team and the supporters went through last night. But Arsenal really showed character. Because every player was able to make amends for their mistakes made in the early stages of the game. Eduardo scored. Diaby made an assists. Eboue made a crucial interception in front of Mannone to deny Liege a goal. And what about Clichy’s two great end of the game saves? That’s what I want to see from our players. To not let yourself get dragged down by your mistakes, but raise your game. I hope Arsenal supporters take a leaf out of the way the team fought back and keep giving those young players the encouragement they need to believe in themselves.

    Up the Gunners!

  • Where shall I begin? I will not dwell on the bad play we began our game with but let me tell you what made me happy most. I was pleased to see Rossicky back doing beautiful runs which flamox opponents and create openings for colleagues. We have missed him immensely. Now we gonna benefit from creativity of Cesc, Rossicky and Ashavin. Add on Nassri and you have a few creativity than we gave had in the klast few years. When its Fabregas alone, the traffic is shut from him and our game is throtled. I think we gonna play better if we avoid injuries.

  • notlager

    Walter,

    this tactic of “preparing” the pitch is also applied by several PL clubs like ManU and Wigan. The pitch at the JJB Stadium for example which AW described as a ‘disaster’ and ‘disrespectful to fans who pay money to watch football here’ is also used by their local Rugby team. Arsenal couldn’t complete a string of passes during that match against Wigan just three days after our historical victory over AC Milan in the 07/08 season. Strange, isn’t it?

  • Jonny

    Nice post Walter.
    Agree entirely about Bendtner and Rosicky being the best players on the park.

    Fabregas was woeful last night – his passing (especially from a dead ball) was very poor indeed but worse than that he seemed to show no passion or appetite for the challenge – that is a very bad trait for a captain to have.

    We may have got away with it but when we were at 6 & 7s in the first half I felt we needed a proper captain and he was nowhere to be found.

    If I wasn’t concerned at how Fab might take it, I’d make Vermaelen captain in a heartbeat.

    Not that I am writing him off, but in all honesty I am struggling to remember the last time Fabregas had a really commanding game for Arsenal…

  • Christianjimmy

    Great article walter.
    And yes, I too was very impressed with Bendtner and Rosicky. And as for Vermaelen, awesome stuff, dare i say it looks like he could be the new Sol?!

  • jbh

    Fabregas: 89 passes (84% accurate) best in game, 3 shots on goal, 2 assists. 4th game in 10 days post his injury. No pleasing some people (or are they trolls?).
    Rosicky made some good passes 65 (83% accurate), no shots, no assists.
    Diaby 1 brilliant dribble, and assist for the Bendtner goal (and thats what he’s there for) can be inconsistent but you need match winners.

    Arsenal 70% possession
    Fabregas is still the heartbeat of the team.

  • walter

    And no one noticed but our forwards are beginning to score goals as most of us expected them to do.
    And then to think that Rosicky is still saying he is far from his best…. Okay we all could see that after an hour he ran out of steam which is normal after all, but his running in space was really great. But he and the team have to adopt still a little bit to each other.
    You have to take notice that we now play a different midfield compared with when he got injured

  • LRV

    Walter! I tip my hat to you sir. That’s an excellent match report up there. And your addenda in the comments clarify quite a lot. Most excellent sir.

    The state of the field is something that we couldn’t have seen from our television screens. I doubt that the chair-dildo pundits from sky and talksit radio station could have seen it either.

    Kudos to the boys for getting themselves out of tight corner. And Kudos to you travelling fans for enduring it first hand. Excellent 3 points anywhich way it comes.

  • shotta-gunna

    Walter – you are a star!
    A true gooner.

  • walter

    Well LRV the greater the suffer on the way, the bigger the joy when the end is a happy end.

    Must say the father I mentionned in the article knows how to swear now in Flemish. 😉 blush…

    Well how can you not enjoy the comming together of fans from England, Belgium and Holland, Danmark. I met German fans, other Flemish fans who are no members of our Benelux fanclub, French speeking gooners, all together in our moments of dispair and feeling the same pain.
    And then you try to raise the spirit of the lot and you scream and sing the chants and hope and pray for that miracle to arrive.
    And then to see and feel the joy from all those gooners when the miracle has happened.

    That is a feeling money cant buy. A can run on this feeling untill 26 december. Then have to do a refill in the Emirates. 😉 I’m already counting the days…

  • Adam Smith

    walter,

    another good but different insight in watching a match live.The point you made about the pitch,explains a lot, though of course it wasn’t mentioned by the commentators,who as per usual were willing us to lose.

    Do you remember a few seasons back when Chelsea played when there wasn’t a blade of grass on their pitch.it was for a particular game,which alas I can’t remember,but I believe it was important.Next home match they had a brand new pitch.

  • don't believe the hype

    “this tactic of “preparing” the pitch is also applied by several PL clubs like ManU and Wigan. The pitch at the JJB Stadium for example which AW described as a ‘disaster’ and ‘disrespectful to fans who pay money to watch football here’ is also used by their local Rugby team. Arsenal couldn’t complete a string of passes during that match against Wigan just three days after our historical victory over AC Milan in the 07/08 season. Strange, isn’t it?”

    Good point Notlager – I think Arsene compared it to a ‘potato patch’ but it was re-laid in time for man u’s visit later, which they duly won. I also remember man u watering different ends of their pitch dependent upon, which direction Arsenal were attacking and also using sand on the penalty spot. To me that is ‘un-gentlemanly conduct’. It’s one thing to prepare the pitch to suit your particular style of play, but quite another to deliberately sabotage the pitch to undermine the opposition. Especially for a team as big as man u – you would expect them to be confident enough to win without such cowardly tactics.

    Great article Walter – I look forward to reading more of your pieces.

  • tim

    excellent post and comments, walter, especially your insight into the conditions of the pitch. doctoring the pitch is cowardly and dishonest, for sure, but is there anything Arsene can do? maybe by having the team practice on god-awful surfaces before away matches?

  • diceman1984

    A great win (for the circumstance) and a great insider post!

    Now 5 more wins in the row….

  • Gerald

    I think the Lord Wenger is on the verge of another great team. Not yet ‘invincible’ but definitely great. I did not watch most of the match, prefering to follow it on ESPN gamecast, but from what i have read here and elsewhere I think Vermaelen and Gallas are a pair we can count on to deliver solid performance consistently. I think Cesc will benefit a lot from playing with Tomas, yes, even improve! I do not yet see anything in the form of a dreaded forward line but i get the feeling that Rasputin will be the maverick that gives us the edge when nothing seems to work.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    A good post Walter ,pitch tampering has been goin on for quite sometim now-
    I remember a story of how G. Souness had the lines redrawn to make the pitch narrower after the visiting team had trained on the usual sized pitch the day before.I believe the opposing team were livid when all their
    passes went astray.I can’t remember which team he was managing at that time.