The day started with a trip to the Grove to see the Arsenalisation of the stadium. One quick turn around the stadium and I saw the whole of the Arsenal pantheon: Thierry Henry’s statue, photos of and fan stories about the famous old players, the tea lady, Herbert Chapman, and finally Tony Adam’s statue with his arms unfurled as if to say “climb on boys, I’ll carry you”. I scampered up the statue and placed 5p in Tony’s upturned right palm. An offering to the gods ahead of the match.
By 4:30 I was in the Famous Cock with Dee, chatting about the day ahead. What we expected, what we fantasized, and what we hoped didn’t come true. He told me he’d put £5 on 6-1 to the Arsenal rationalizing the 200-1 bet thus “they have to concede, eh?” I agreed and after a few pints went to Ladbrokes and put a fiver on 6-1, Ox for a hat-trick, Robin first goal, and half-time/full time to the Arsenal.
I was supposed to meet up with Chary (from the blog) and sure enough he tracked me down right after I finished the bet. I downed what was left of my pint and we took this Japanese guy who barely spoke English with us, I thought, in order to show him the way to the stadium. As it turned out Chary bought us both dinner, because he’s that kind of guy, and we showed the Japanese guy to the Emirates. Here was this guy from Japan who doesn’t speak hardly any English talking to a man from America through broken Japanese about how to get to the Emirates. He’d never even been to London before.
We split up with Chary and I going to his usual where we met the fine folks from Arsenal Arsenal (and I even had a word with Tim Stillman) and got in a few pints before kickoff. Everyone was ebullient from the weeks results, 5-2, 2-1, and “I love your blog, I saw the photos from Anfield!” and yet, expectations were low. It would be enough to see the Arsenal play well was the consensus.
Every time I’ve been to see an Arsenal match, there’s the normal pre-match jitters and people are somewhat excited but this was different. There was excitement all around, voices were quicker, smiles broader, and everyone didn’t just have a twinkle, we all had diamonds in our eyes.
Dee had offered me my choice of seats and I took the one directly behind the bench. If I can get them off my laptop you will see exactly how close I was. I could have reached out and stroked Aaron Ramsey’s hair, that’s how close I was. Kickoff came and the crowd was buzzing. The Ox™ was getting stuck in all over and chants of “Arsenal, Arsenal, Arsenal” rained down on the Milanistas. They looked scared, to be frank, and Arsenal’s first corner of the game showed how scared as they simply played the ball behind.
That would be their undoing. A wonderfully crafted set play which saw Vermaelen and Song draw the Milan defense coupled with a wicked delivery from The Ox left Koz all alone in the box and he towered over the ball, powering it into the bottom of the net.
If the crowd were up for the game before kickoff, they were absolutely rocking now. With six minutes gone and Arsenal up one-nil, there was reason to go with the irrational belief that this tie could swing Arsenal’s way.
ONE NIL TO THE ARSENAL!
The Arsenal midfield was absolutely in control of this game almost entirely because they were given width down the lanes. You’ll have to remember that luxury wasn’t afforded them when AC Milan intentionally ruined the pitch at the San Siro in order to force the game into the narrow shape that benefit their cheating scumbags formation.* The interplay between Sagna and Gibbs with the forward midfielders was magnificent – every pass was one-touch, every play was anticipated, fluid, and broke Milan down time and again.
Which is how Rosicky scored and which is where Oxlade-Chamberlain’s driving run came from which earned the penalty.
And now at 3-0 there was something special in the air at the Emirates. You could hear the Italian buttholes tighten across the stadium as the Arsenal faithful went through their cannon of songs finally landing on:
HE SCORES WHEN HE WANTS, HE SCORES WHEN HE WAAAAANTS!
At half-time Arsenal were up 3-0, people were smiling and everyone shaking fists and saying “get in!” The team had left it all on the pitch for us in that first half. Koz had worked so hard that he had his hands on his knees before half-time. I didn’t have time, though, to even worry for what might happen in the second half. The bench was threadbare and we needed this first team to simply come out and put the game away.
Which they nearly did. Gervinho picked the ball up, drove at the Milan defense, and struck a crisp shot at the keeper who parried nicely. The ball fell to Robin van Persie who tried to chip the keeper but it wasn’t high enough. Who am I to second guess the greatest goal scorer that Arsenal have had since Thierry Henry? No one. If he wants to chip then he can chip all day.
From there, Milan sussed out how to kill the game; slow down, waste time, and most importantly, dive all over the place. The referee was so fully conned by this cynical bullshit that Ibrahimovich even once looked to have tripped by kicking the ground himself and the ref called Arsenal for a foul. Consensus after the match was that the ref wasn’t crooked, just well out of his depth. Whatever the reason, he had Arsene Wenger up and down constantly throughout the match.
By the time that last 10 minutes or so came around, you could see that Arsenal were out of steam. Wenger had to remove Ox because he had a little niggle, but in doing so he had taken off Arsenal’s most creative midfielder and player who put in a real shift with Chamakh, who, to be fair, is not very good. And when Park came on, the old guy next to me got up and left. He was right, you could tell that it was over, but not because they hadn’t tried. They had given absolutely everything.
After the match we all went back to the Bailey for more pints, more singing, and the mood was actually kind of incredible. There were people singing, smiling, laughing, hugging. It was a win that felt like a loss that felt like a win. If that makes any sense.
No one knew whether to feel gutted, glib, or gleeful but we all knew that we loved the Arsenal.
We all follow the Arsenal,
Over land and sea, (and Leicester!)
We all follow the Arsenal,
I just want to thank everyone who helped to make this trip possible. First the people who donated money. Each and every one of you is owned a deep debt of gratitude for what you have given me. I won’t name you because I don’t want to embarrass anyone but I will simply say thank you all so very much. Second to the Gooners over here that I have just met or have known for years, your hospitality is what makes this love for Arsenal more than mere fandom. We are a family and I feel that thanks to you. And finally, to the club, the players, and the boss: in all my years coming to see the Arsenal I’ve watched the good, the bad, and the ugly side of the team but for the first time I saw a team on the field that looked like they wanted to play for the Arsenal.
They did us all proud.
*Cheating scumbag is a diamond in the middle with cunts diving all around and the ground freshly tilled.