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.