I’m the luckiest girl in the world

We went back to our neighborhood before the match and had dinner at Bodeans, an establishment we walked by several times in our jaunts around the neighborhood. I had the Famous Burnt Ends (you could choose wet or dry; I had wet, which means with sauce) and my husband had the pulled pork sandwich. The Burnt Ends were marvelous. For dessert I had homemade honeycomb ice cream and my husband had apple crumble. I can’t speak for the apple crumble, but the honeycomb ice cream was amazing. The honeycomb in the ice cream was crispy and gave off just a hint of honey. Delicious.

It was time to head to the match. And all I could think, all the way there, was this: “I am the luckiest girl in the world.” Yeah, it hasn’t been the greatest season (you could say it’s been lousy) and I haven’t been able to attend as many matches this year as last year, but every time I get on the Piccadilly line to go to the Emirates, I have a feeling of complete excitement. It builds and builds as we go from the Arsenal stop along Gillespie Avenue, up Drayton Park, up the stairs, and across the Ken Friar Bridge. We feel it through the turnstile and as we approach our seats, watching the warmup. Anything can happen that day, and everyone there knows it. I’ve been able to know it multiple times this year again.

20170405_191603There was supposed to be a big protest in advance of the West Ham match by the Wenger Out crowd. They were planning to stay out of the stadium for the first 13 minutes of the match, one minute for each year we haven’t had a Premier League trophy. I have no idea if they did it or not. The stadium was packed as of kickoff, and there was no notable change at 13 minutes. The crowd was in fine voice throughout. On my right, in the seats that contain new people each time, was an American who required much explanation of what was happening in the match, which his also-American associate delivered with reasonable accuracy and far less impatience than I could have mustered.

West Ham has also had a rough patch of late so the match could easily had been quite the Bumble Bowl. With the exception of a few shaky moments early in the match, Arsenal dominated this one. Our goalkeeper this day was Emi Martinez, our backup goalkeeper’s backup. (Arseblog had noted before the match that at least he is goalkeeper sized.) He had a fine match and made a few key saves. Laurent Koscielny was not back in the lineup after his injury before halftime during Sunday’s match, but Gabriel had a decent match in his place. Andy Carroll, the meaty-headed West Ham forward who has had much joy against us in the past couldn’t do much of anything against our guys.

20170405_192803(0)The refereeing in this match was far worse than in the Man City match (itself pretty poor). It boggles the mind that Martin Atkinson continues to get Arsenal matches. Three obvious penalty calls waved away. Meanwhile, he didn’t see much contact from Arsenal on West Ham players that he failed to judge a foul.

Overall, Arsenal’s passing was better, and by the time the second half was underway we were looking more and more dangerous. The Arsenal fans had started an epic rendition of the previously-mysterious “Red Army” chant that carried us though our first goal via a shot from Mesut Ozil where it seemed Alexis Sanchez proved enough distraction for the keeper to let a relatively tame shot in. Even the American next to me, who recently had seemed more interested in his phone, celebrated. The fans began chanting the famous One Nil to the Arsenal that was established many years ago when Arsenal was famous for grinding out 1-0 victories.

The next goal was a quintessentially Arsenal goal that included fabulous movement, an Alexis Sanchez back flick to Ozil, and a killer pass to Theo who slotted it home. And the third came in the form of a nice dribble and pass from Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain to Olivier Giroud, who made a curling, long-range shot.

The fans made some quick alterations to the One Nil to the Arsenal chant: “Three Nil to the Arsenal,” we sang with one voice.

The final whistle blew and my husband and I ran down the stairs, out of the Emirates, over the Ken Friar Bridge, down Drayton Park and  Gillespie Avenue, and through the Arsenal tube station, the entrance to which had been constrained to funnel the crowds toward the trains arriving to whisk us away.

20170405_165842A West Ham fan had managed to make his way onto the train with us and he said loudly that Arsenal was no longer Arsenal, we used to be a good team but no more. He protested that he was not just being an asshole, just stating facts. He acknowledged that he might be making people mad.

I didn’t feel mad (although I internally disagreed with his assessment that he was not an asshole.) What I felt was that Arsenal is my team, bad and good. Arsene Wenger is my manager, bad and good. I couldn’t change those things if I wanted to.

But I don’t want to.

Ozil, it’s time you made a name for yourself

So shouted the anonymous Arsenal fan behind us to one of the most famous footballers on the planet. It is entirely conceivable that he was not being ironic, but I sincerely doubt it.

We arrived early for the match and left our bags behind at the hotel as the club had told us we should. Getting through Security was quite straightforward and fast, leaving us plenty of time to go up and have a beer on the concourse. Before entering the stadium, we had passed by a truck bearing a massive sign protesting beleaguered manager Arsene Wenger on Drayton Park Road and an actual protest around the stadium, a couple hundred fans demanding his ouster.

20170402_152613One of them was holding a “Wenger Out” sign in front of the statue of Tony Adams. The statue looked to me quite uncomfortable being used in that way. The real Tony Adams may well believe that Wenger should move on, but Statue Tony Adams believes no such thing. I’m sure of it. After the protesters left, I snapped a picture of Statue Tony. He was looking modestly relieved, both to see the protesters leave and to see me return to the Emirates. Yes, I’m sure of that, too.

20170402_154523After our beer, we found our way to our seats in Block 98 and watched the lads warm up. Elneny took a shot above the goal in warm up that found its way not that far below Block 98, a bad sign. He didn’t even play on Sunday, so that was his biggest contribution to the match.

The match was largely an up and down affair. Mostly down at first, since Manchester City scored an early goal when Arsenal defender Mustafi went down field leaving an opening for a quick Man City counterattack via Sane. It took a long time for Arsenal to go level, a goal from Theo Walcott that was produced when Man City failed to adequately clear an Arsenal corner. Only a few minutes later, Arsenal left an opening for Sergio Aguerro to score.

20170402_174953Arsenal finally got another goal, this time directly from a corner kick. Defender Mustafi got his head to Ozil’s ball and put it in.

It felt like there could easily be another goal scored, but not clear that it would be an Arsenal goal. Although everyone knew that a draw and one point wasn’t enough, I think the entire stadium made some kind of peace with the draw by the time the whistle blew.

It was a lovely day and instead of running out at the whistle as is our normal practice, my husband and I walked around the stadium. We walked over to Highbury complex, and then found our way over to the Bank of Friendship, an Arsenal pub that I first heard about from the Positivistas of the blog Positively Arsenal. My husband declared it to be a proper pub after visiting the restroom. It must have been pretty scary.

20170402_203318When we finally got back to our neighborhood in Tower Hill it was too late to engage in our Sunday Roast tradition. We were lucky to find anyone still serving food, let alone roast. We found the Horniman pub open on the other side of the Thames after crossing over the Tower Bridge. A large boat was crossing under the bridge and the drawbridge was up when we got there. Pretty cool.

I had beef pie and my husband had fish and chips and we shared a sticky toffee pudding. A good end to a not-bad day of football.

Man spread and the guerilla girls

It was a long flight. I was situated between two men, both engaging in Man Spread, where they both helped themselves to their left and right armrests (translation: no arm rest for me, plus both have their elbows in my small space). They were also both spread down below, knees in my space. I didn’t sleep much, even resorted to writing a rare post during the flight. I think my typing woke them both up. (Good!) I topped it off with an epic nosebleed, during which I noticed they kept to themselves.

The Border at Heathrow was packed, and it took a long time to clear it. My husband was coming in from Rome where he had spent the week conducting research for a novel he’s working on while our son was on a Spring Break trip to Memphis and Nashville with his high school orchestra. My husband’s flight must have arrived 15 minutes before mine and I could see him three rows in advance of me at the Border.

Naturally, he was engaged in animated conversation with the person in front of him. My husband isn’t exactly an extrovert, but he does always seem to be able to strike up a conversation wherever he is. It makes traveling with him much more interesting than traveling alone; he gets us into situations. After we got through the Border, I briefly met his acquaintance, who happened to be a 21-year old rabid Arsenal fan from Perth Australia, in for the Man City match. They met on the flight from Rome. The Australian is now my Facebook friend. My husband, who has no problem friending everyone in real life, is not on Facebook.

It was nearly 6 p.m. when we got to our hotel, Citizen M Tower Hill. It is a hotel that would come in handy in the rain showers that often greet us in London, so close to the Tower tube stop is it. The requisite rain showers have not occurred so far. I do not complain.

My husband and I are divided on the Citizen M. It has a very cute lobby, but the rooms are very, very small, especially as I compare them with others we’ve had in this price point. My husband really likes the layout, especially in the bathroom. Although it is tiny, it has a fair amount of storage, notably a giant drawer under the King bed. It is similar to the Z Shoreditch we stayed in for our very first visit last season, in that the bed fills an entire alcove so the person on the interior side has to crawl over the person on the exterior side to use the restroom at night, but can’t turn on only the restroom light to be able to see where that toilet might be.  It does have more fancy amenities than the Z, such as an electronic “mood” board, which can be used to raise the shades, request a wake up call, and report one’s mood. My mood is good, albeit a bit cramped.

20170401_183122We headed out into the evening across the Tower Bridge to get a bite to eat, settling on Cote Brasserie on St. Katherine Docks. It is right across from a chain called The Slug and Lettuce. Although I’ve walked by this chain many times, somehow I’ve never chosen to eat there. At the Brasserie Cote I had roasted chicken with wild mushroom sauce and my husband had the Beef Bourguignon. Both delicious. We topped it off with profiteroles.

The Tower Bridge was lovely at night. The Shard also was looking beautiful on our walk home.

The next day, we woke up to a lovely, sunny morning. We had received many warnings from Arsenal by email that we needed to be at the stadium an hour early to clear Security given the recent terror attack in London. Since we got a late start in the morning, we decided to head over to the Tate Modern. Hard to beat a free museum when you don’t have much time to spend. I don’t know that much about art, and even less about Modern Art.  The only artists I recognized at the Tate Modern were Picasso and Andy Warhol.

In the same room with Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe study was some protest art from a collective called the Guerilla Girls, a group of female artists of the mid-80s addressing the paucity of female artists whose work was being displayed by the major galleries.

The Guerilla Girls must have been successful, because the Tate Modern is teeming with the work of female artists. I found it to be quite interesting, and I show some of it below.

If only the Guerilla Girls could take on Man Spread.

The tough get going?

It’s been a dismal Arsenal time these past few weeks and months. We’ve crashed out of the Champions League in catastrophic fashion (10-2 on aggregate against Bayern Munich) and haven’t been able to put together a decent performance in the Premier League for quite some time. In the last match, we lost against West Brom, done in mostly by dodgy defending on corner kicks. The FA Cup competition is our only bright light, and that is 100% attributable to the kindest draws anyone could ever hope for. We’ll play our first tough match of the completion in the semi final, against Manchester City.

Meanwhile, our stars, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez haven’t signed the contracts that have been in front of them for many months, and it doesn’t look like they will. I love these guys, but neither one has covered himself in glory in this dismal run of games. Arsene Wenger’s contract is up this summer, and a large population of fans have been calling for his head. Vociferously.

I haven’t read Arseblog or Football 365 for at least a month because I can’t stand to see the commentary. Political news has seemed more palatable of late, and you know that can’t be a good thing.

20170331_181340
Pet “relief station” at the airport. All the comforts of home! This also seemed to sum up the Arsenal season of late.

On this backdrop I find myself on a plane to London to see two matches. The first one is, on paper, the toughest. Manchester City has had an up and down season as well, but on a good day, they are very good indeed.

The second match is against West Ham. West Ham is often able to put together a solid plan against Arsenal, and they are just the sort of team to take one off us, especially in this dismal period.

It must be said that just about any team is able to “take one off us” right now.

At the point in late summer that my husband and I drew matches with the others who share tickets, getting two matches in a single trip seemed like the luckiest thing in the world. Financially better for sure, and I was hoping with a longer trip to bring my mother along to experience London. For a variety of reasons that I’ll explain before the trip is over, that didn’t quite work out.

The West Ham match on Wednesday will be the last match We’ll attend live this season. At the time of the draw, I had hoped to be able to nab tickets for the last home match of the season, which is in May. As you know, it is always my goal to BE PRESENT for the award ceremony when Arsenal win the Premier League.

It works out to be no loss to not have that match this year.

This trip demanded little of my thought in advance, and it’s a good thing because thought is not something I’ve had time for. I was terribly busy with work things before I departed. My husband organized air tickets, and I selected a hotel, belatedly, with little of my usual joy. I waited so late that it was hard to find something new in my budget and search criteria. There was really only one choice. We’ve done little planning in advance of what we’d like to do while in London. We’ve only put in place a plan to get together with friends at the Angel on Tuesday.

In short, the trip is going to have to dig deep and produce its own moments.

Arsenal will, too. No time like the present.