Much has been made recently of Arsenal’s record at Stoke.
We’ve faced them in the league eight times since they were promoted to the top flight back in 2008, and in that time we have only won at the Brittania once – a 3-1 win in 2010, which came at a rather nasty cost for a teenage Aaron Ramsey. Four losses, three draws, a solitary win plus an embarrassing FA Cup exit in 2010. Throw in an entirely unwarranted attitude of victimisation, and it’s of little wonder their fans love us.
By contrast, Stoke’s record at the Emirates over that same period reads: Played eight, Lost eight, Goals For three, Goals Against 19, Points zero. Clearly then, location plays a massive part.
In fact, as I write this we are slap bang in between the fixture at Stoke and the home tie against Chelsea, against whom we have another poor record (home or away this time!), and it begs the question: where are the worst places for Arsenal to play?
There are a couple of criteria I thought we’d look at for the purposes of this study: results, hostile atmosphere during the game, and safety around the ground. And in terms of the grounds assessed, we conducted a twitter poll giving the options of Chelsea, Man Utd, Spurs and Stoke. Despite hundreds of votes, no one told us we’d missed an obvious candidate (a record for twitter?) so that seems a fairly good sample.
The results were somewhat surprising.
1. The Britannia
Given that the poll went up shortly before the weekend’s game and my own distinct bias against Stoke, it was of no surprise to me whatsoever, however, that the orcs topped the poll. Our results there are shocking (for a top club against a mid-table opponent anyway).
Inside the ground, too, hostility is very much the name of the game, and some of the chants were particularly vile on Sunday. “Aaron Ramsey, he walks with a limp” just about shows the level of education within the Stoke fanbase. Savages. Arsene Wenger spoke before the game about how the abuse he gets from Stoke fans is by far the worst.
I’m told by those in the know (Hi Lewis!) that if you attend a game at the Britannia in reality though, the impact of these appalling efforts comes across in almost pantomime fashion. While annoying, you never feel physically in any kind of danger. It sort of reminds me of Derren Brown’s experiment on how people behave when part of a faceless crowd, only to be appalled at their own behaviour after the end. It’s a fascinating, if slightly scary, outcome!
Nonetheless, for the ninety minutes at least, Stoke is a very intimidating stadium. Perhaps the only shock, then, was the size of the victory, with the oatcakes polling a whopping 64% of the vote.
2. Stamford Bridge
This one did surprise me more. Granted our record there is even more abysmal than our efforts at Stoke, but Chelsea fans have always struck me as a bit plastic, so the atmosphere within the ground isn’t quite on the same level of intimidation. And let’s face it, although Chelsea is a bus-stop in Fulham, it’s also a fairly posh part of London, so from a safety point of view you’d expect there to be minimal trouble. The Shed Boys are firmly in the past, after all.
Yet the Blues picked up 22% of the overall votes, and more than four times our North London rivals Tottenham. So why was it voted the second worst ground?
Well, firstly they play that ridiculous “chicken song” before kick-off, the PA rips into the Arsenal fans with gay abandon, and then their own supporters are too obsessed with ours to actually watch the game, preferring to spend the time hurling abuse at ours. It’s your classic example of small club mentality from a club which claims to be “incredible” and “one of the world’s greatest football clubs” (I kid you not). You only have to see the output of their official website and Twitter account to know something is wrong.
More than anything, though, it’s hard to enjoy a trip to a ground where you hardly ever win, and just as Stoke is a difficult trip, so we struggle to get much from any game at the Bridge. At least they have light, fire and electricity there though.
3. Old Trafford
Manchester United’s Theatre of Dreams (literally this year, zzzzzzzzz!) is known for being something of a fortress, or at least it was under Alex Ferguson. For that reason alone it has always been one of the harder places for Arsenal sides to go, even for our most successful teams. In years gone by, it would certainly be higher on this list.
However, with its old-fashioned feel and the fans’ feeling of entitlement, it’s no longer the same intimidating venue that it used to be. Arsenal – Man Utd games will always have a certain thrill about them just because of the history between the two clubs, but it is now little more than another away game when we travel there.
I was there for the FA Cup game last season, and while you get some extra away fans at cup ties, it was noticeable that the fans were fairly quiet throughout, and seemed to be waiting for the team to jerk them into life. Hardly the hostile atmosphere to make you wet your pants, and they polled a corresponding 9% of the overall votes.
4. White Hart Lane
The biggest surprise of the lot came in Tottenham’s lowly last place in our survey. While we have won two titles at their ground (sorry*, couldn’t resist!) it’s not been the happiest of hunting grounds for us since they broke our unbeaten stretch from 1999 to 2008, if you count the League Cup, or 1999 to 2010 if you don’t. (sorry, couldn’t resist again!)
*Totally not sorry, on either occasion.
However, even if you put results to one side, for me Spurs will always be the hardest place to go. Since that game in 2010, and the consequent never-ending talk of power shifts, there’s a palpable sense of hope when you visit White Hart Lane that simply didn’t exist previously. It’s enough to make you feel sick. Throw in the various hideous chants about the manager, the ironic “The game is about glory” boards around their ground and the slight deterioration of results and it’s just a nasty place all round.
I’ve been to White Hart Lane on many occasions, unfortunately all too often in the home fans, and I can tell you the hostility is bad enough when they don’t know you are the enemy, let alone being in with the away fans and being a direct target for their abuse.
Ultimately, if you ask fans which one game they would want to win more than any other, then most Arsenal fans and all Tottenham supporters to a man would say the North London derby. The atmosphere both inside and outside the ground is cranked up a notch above that at any other destination, and as a result it’s astonishing to find White Hart Lane, if not top of the poll, then at least level with the Britannia. As it is, they picked up a miserly 5% of the total votes.
Call me astonished.**
**There’s still something vaguely amusing about the fact that they can’t even win an online poll designed for them.
A clear winner… Or is it loser?
So it is Stoke who wins the prize for the worst place for Arsenal to visit. However, some of the worst abuse the boss has suffered came at the hands of his own fans up there in the caves (They have a train station?!). In retrospect, perhaps we should have included The Emirates as an option on the poll!
This weekend we return to our own home turf as we welcome the Blues, so let’s hope we can make it our own fortress. We’ll need the whole stadium behind the team to ensure that we don’t fail to win against the worst Chelsea side to take to the field since their unofficial establishment in 2003.
After last weekend, apparently we have faced the worst.