Ok, we lost. We lost because we played against a professional football team in mid-season form and Arsenal were in pre-preseason form. We also lost because we started and finished the game without a recognizable starting center half nor a starting center forward. And not only that but our collection of false nines looked rusty. Like a rusty old knife named Russ who had been left out by the seashore and was now covered in a second layer of rust. But despite the disappointment of losing, and losing in an ignominious fashion, it was still a top day with some great friends.
You already know that I don’t read the press. Well, with all these great people around me for the last two days I have read even less of the press and none of the twitter. So, when I read Arseblog this morning and heard that some people freaked out over the game on twitter the first thought I had was…. HA!
The second thought I had was.. Maybe I should stop reading twitter too. I don’t know what’s going on in any of your lives but I do know that no one in that stadium, no one I know, had a bad day yesterday. There were a few little moans about the starting lineup. A few people wondered why we had no strikers available. Some laughs about Monreal as the starting center back. But not a single melt-down or even really a long conversation about the makeup of the team and whether we were ready for the start of the season.
That’s not to say that we weren’t slightly depressed at the starting lineup or at the way the game played out. Rather, the folks I was with approached this game as a preseason friendly: you want to win, but you’re really here for the party.
And it was a party atmosphere throughout the day despite every possible roadblock. For example, we got to the game almost too late to get a beer, but not too late enough! Then the skies opened up and dumped buckets of rain. Supposedly there was a 30% chance of rain yesterday. What I think they meant was that for part of the day, the sky would be 30% rain. One minute I had a sweaty back, the next minute I was worried about trench foot.
And, of course, it didn’t stop raining until we got inside the stadium.
Inside the stadium, the first thing I noticed was that there were a lot of empty seats. We were told later that it was a sell out but why, then, were there so many empty seats? In short? StubHub. Take a small arena, take a big team, take lax scalping laws, and add in some opportunistic local fans and you get – people selling seats on StubHub for 20X face value. The good news is that few people bought the $500 tickets and as the event drew nearer there was a fire sale and I even had some touts trying to get me to retweet their “bargain” deals at $200 each.
My ticket was $25 and I think if the clubs had priced that ticket at $75, we would have seen fewer scalpers. At $25 each, a guy can buy 8 tickets, sell one on stubhub for $200 and break even with minimal exposure on his part. The simple math of that encourages otherwise normal people to get into the scalping game. I think something similar already happens with Arsenal matches (I know plenty of season ticket holders who don’t ever attend matches) and the grousing about lowering ticket prices “to fill the stands” would actually only exacerbate the problem at Arsenal.
But the stands were largely filled and the fans at the game were in good voice. I could give you a play by play but there is already a video up on Arsenal.com. So instead, here are some impressions.
I love watching Henry play, he is like a lion: languidly patrolling his territory, seemingly disinterested in the game, king of the pitch. Until the moment presents itself and then he pounces, shreds a defender, eats his guts, and then has a nap in the mid day sun.
Henry set up a couple of great chances and him an Bradley Wright-Phillps made a neat little team together. BWP slotted Henry in and the old Cat produced a trademark shot, left channel, open your body, curl it around the keeper. Szczesny was equal to the shot and got down quickly to parry away. It was a world class save.
For Arsenal, Cazorla was on the end of everything good and we sang his name after each of his brilliant moments.He responded to Henry’s shot with one of his own trademark shots from distance which whistled just past the post.
The goal happened in my end of the stadium and it was a disappointing goal. Barely believable except that on the first corner no one seemed to know who to mark. That’s exactly what happens when a team plays without their first, second, or third choice center backs. I think Ramsey was telling people who to mark at one point. With little organization from the defenders, it’s not really a surprise that Arsenal were beaten by an unmarked player at the far post.
Chris Toronyi and I sat together and he asked if I thought this was a test of Monreal as backup center back and I have to say that I hope not. Maybe if Mertesacker is there to organize, he would work in a pinch. I don’t know, I’ve never seen them play together.
Playing without a recognizable center forward Arsenal’s offensive frailties were exposed. Rosicky is a great player but he’s not a forward and you could tell he simply didn’t know where to run or even where to stand to give the defenders anything to think about. Without a forward I was hoping that Cazorla would step up and make some runs in behind like he did for his hat-trick against Reading. But for whatever reason, Cazorla just won’t make moves behind the defenders. Instead, he drops to receive the pass, like, every single time.
But like I said, that’s crying over spilled milk. Obviously, Arsenal are going to be better when we have Giroud, Sanchez, Walcott, Podolski, and the hopefuls (Sanogo and Campbell) back from their post match World Cup vacation.
There were a couple of bright moments from our murder of false nines. Wilshere and Zelalem tried to team up for a repeat of last year’s goal of the season but Red Bulls keeper Robles snuffed it out. I went back and watched the highlights on Arsenal.com and it looks like Jack simply fluffed the shot. Signs that the midfielder needs to shake off the rust.
As the second half kicked off Arsene put on a semi-recognizable forward type player in Chuba Akpom and almost immediately it paid benefits. Along with energy in midfield with Coquelin and Flamini running about, Arsenal effectively snuffed out the Red Bulls attack.
Akpom set up Diaby for what looked to me like the tying goal but it was hauled back for offside. It was such a well taken goal that I barely recognized it was Diaby who took it.
Diaby had the kind of game which you would expect from a player who has had his career stolen from him through injury. One moment you could see the flashes of brilliance, the next moment he looked like someone who couldn’t make a simple pass. I don’t know what the future holds for Diaby but watching him play yesterday was painful.
As the game wore down we all knew that there was no way back for the Arsenal. The players did a lap of appreciation after the final whistle and just like every moment in the game, the largest cheers were for Henry who made a point of walking over and clapping every fan in the stadium. I’ve heard nothing but good reports about Henry during this trip. He stayed extra to sign things for the fans at the fan event on Thursday and he did the same here again. It’s obvious that he loves Arsenal and the Arsenal fans.
After the game, we walked to a Portuguese restaurant and had a massive meal. There was paella, endless sangria, meats, and every possible side dish with shrimp and garlic. I think we even ate some salad. But the best part was that the dinner took all night. We were there exchanging stories about the Arsenal, planning trips to see them in Europe, and asking each other for advice about how to get to games in the future. We laughed at each other, drank wine, and ate until we couldn’t eat any more.
I have not felt more welcomed by any group than I have by my friends here in New York. Last night, just every moment, I felt like I was actually on vacation for the first time in a long time. I never even once got down about the final score. There will be plenty of time for that when the season really starts.