I went to Members Day at the stadium yesterday with my wife and two boys. Overall it was an enjoyable day out for everyone, but not without faults. Given that Arsenal have been holding the event off and on at Emirates for the last 11 years (and a couple at Highbury before that if I remember right) you would think they'd have things right by now. The biggest annoyance on the day? The FA Cup was behind Block 7 in the North Bank for photos - these were being done for free, so an excellent initiative from the club. Of course the queues were long so it was a case of watch the training session or get a photo with the FA Cup for those of us who live far enough away that arriving at 1030 was out of the question. No matter, a steward told us we had until 1245. At 1225 I went to Block 7 (I was actually sitting just there in the stand) to find young children being turned away by one of Arsenal's many jobsworth employees as the queue they had was going to take them past 1245 and "I've got to get the Cup upstairs." I saw later on the official Facebook site that the FA Cup made its may to the "adults" Q&A player session in the hands of Aaron Ramsey. Now given that Members Day is essentially a family event I have to question why the FA Cup was taken away from the kids like that. Frankly it should have sat where it was until every child/family that wanted to had had their photo taken with it. Not just that, but the arrogance and attitude of the senior steward was unnecessary.
The training session itself was, I am sure, slightly more relaxed than a normal day at Shenley. The players did a light warm-up, and a few passing drills, followed by a series of small sided games across, and then in one half, of the pitch. This meant we all got to see some action rather than just the players actually being coached. Ozil, Jenkinson, Chambers and Gabriel were working only with the fitness coach while Debuchy joined in the main group until it was time to play the "matches" at which point he appeared to be not allowed to be part of things. He cut a forlorn site standing next to one of the goals and watching on. Given Debuchy's quality as a footballer, and a man who has done well for the most part when playing for us, I found that hard to watch. Why ostracise a bloke who can genuinely do a job for us at either right-back or centre-back? Francis Coquelin was missing completely from training having got hurt on Saturday against Benfica, though I was also told later by a member of the staff that he wasn't at the training ground the day before either. Aaron Ramsey didn't train but, as I mentioned above, was actually at the stadium.
The open day, on the pitch at least, ended with the quite brilliant prize for 20+ Junior Gunners of playing against the 1st team on the Emirates pitch. The youngsters were given a day out at Highbury, arrived on the 1st team coach, used the away dressing-room, and also were given a full PUMA Arsenal away kit and trainers etc. It has to be the prize to end all prizes.
After all that we went to the Junior Gunners Q&A in one of the Club Level lounges. At that event we were joined by Theo Walcott, Shkodran Mustafi, Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers, Olivier Giroud, Gabriel, Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez. The adults, well me at least, were as excited as the youngsters when the players came in to the room. My eldest won the chance to go on to the stage and play a small game with Calum Chambers which was great for him. There were some questions asked to the different players, none of which would be described as probing given that they came from the children. Walcott, Mustafi, Chambers and Wilshere were excellent, Kolasinac seemed a bit lost as he told us his English isn't great yet so Mustafi was translating everything in German for him, while Giroud, Sanchez and Gabriel acted like naughty schoolboys on the far end of the stage clearly not that interested in being there. Annoyingly when the event came to an end the players were rushed out of the room to stop the kids getting photos and autographs with them. This winds me up intensely for a number of reasons. Theo, Calum and Jack all seemed keen to stay and sign for everyone but they were virtually manhandled out by the Arsenal staff. Theo Walcott seemed genuinley embarrassed by the whole thing and I guess that tells you what a decent lad he really is. Quite why the young fans couldn't get the moment with their heroes I really can't fathom. When put in context with the fan events in China and Australia a couple of weeks back, and the access those fans got to the players, you have to wonder why it's only those of us who live here that seem to miss out at our fan events.
So now we move on to Sunday and the Charity Shield at Wembley. It's a strange kind of hybrid of a fixture, somewhere between a pre-season friendly and a competitive game. I read yesterday that Laurent Koscielny is free to play on Sunday but banned now from the first two Premier League games instead. I guess that means the FA are saying Sunday is a nothing game. Perhaps we can tell Sky that too and go back to not needing a penalty shootout if the game ends in a draw. Having been thrashed by Chelsea in China it will be a test for Arsenal and I think we will see something approaching a first-team at least at the start of the game. I will try and do a post following the game, depending on how time treats me on Sunday or Monday night.