He’s sleeping on the couch now

Although I’ve visited the Emirates on many occasions and often stopped into the Armoury shop, I have rarely purchased anything. The Armoury is a huge retail space at the west end of the stadium nearest Holloway road. On a match day, it is bustling with people looking to buy jerseys, jackets, key chains, dish towels, pencils, hats, golf balls, oven mitts branded with the Arsenal logo. If you want to see a model of efficiency in printing money, you need only watch the system of queuing to pay for merchandise at the Armoury.

The reason I am so familiar with this model is that I decided I need a jersey. Adidas is again Arsenal’s shirt maker, and I happen to love the new home jersey. I’ve also never owned the home jersey, so this is the year! After we got off the Tube at Arsenal station, we walked to the other end of the station and parted with some cash. Then we walked all around the stadium, taking in the new art, the fans, and the sunny day. 

By the time we got to our gate I was getting quite nervous about getting to our seats, because getting through Security at the Emirates is not nearly as efficient as buying a jersey at the Armoury. We had seen droves of people backed up at every entrance as we walked around. Because I had a bag from shopping, I had to get it tagged, but the tagging area is very close to the “Ladies search” area. I separated from my husband to be tagged and searched. I should know better than to worry because the lines for ladies to get through Security are always much, much shorter than for the guys. So much shorter that I noticed a few guys trying to get through the ladies line by pretending they were with ladies whom they were chivalrously escorting through Ladies’ Search. A bearded gentleman to my left kept chatting me up as we got closer to the Ladies Search area, I think to appear to be with me.

After I was searched, the Security guard turned to him and asked, “Why are you here, sir?” “Oh! I used to be a bloke,” he explained good naturedly. She looked like the kind of woman who would never succumb to a line like that. But looks are deceiving: She let him through.

20191027_162754I got to my seat just before kickoff. The fans seemed well-engaged and were in good voice. It was a good thing I got to my seat before kickoff because we scored quickly. Arsenal got a quick corner kick. On Pepe’s first try, he didn’t even pass the first defender, but it got kicked out so he was able to give it another shot. This time, Crystal Palace made such a hash of the clearance that Sokratis was able to bounce it crazily off the ground and into the net. 1-0. Only a few minutes later, David Luiz scored in a similar situation. 2-0.

I don’t think anyone in the stadium felt the game was won at that point. We toiled more than we should have and it felt like Aubameyang couldn’t get any service at all. Lacazette got better service but, honestly, it looked like he’d been prematurely rushed back from injury. He didn’t look sharp, or at least he didn’t look like he could successfully evade the kind of attention he was getting from Crystal Palace’s defenders. At some point, Crystal Palace got the ball to Zaha, who carried it into the box, where any moron would say he’d been fouled by our boy, Calum Chambers, and earned a penalty. Every moron except the special moron that is Martin Atkinson, that is. He gave Zaha a yellow card for simulation. All of this was correctly overturned, after a long wait, by VAR, and Crystal Palace got the penalty kick they deserved. They did not miss. 2-1.

The second half didn’t look very promising, and before long, some poor defensive play by Arsenal allowed Crystal Palace to score again. Granit Xhaka allowed a ball to be crossed and David Luiz wasn’t close to the player who received it. He made no mistake and it was 2-2. 

What happened next was hard to see. You heard me say a few days ago that I don’t understand why Xhaka is untouchable as a starter. Although you can see that he has some utility, he’s not a guy a team should be built around and yet, that is what seems to have happened. He is also the team captain, nominated by his fellow players. So they must clearly see him in a light that is different from the light we fans see him in. He does appear to be a confident figure, tall and commanding. But he is extremely fallible: Commits a lot of costly and pointless fouls, chases the ball, misses his mark. 

After he was nominated captain, I found it interesting that when other players commented on the decision, they highlighted his propensity for handing out team fines. I find that weird, but I recall the same kind of commentary about Per Mertesacker when he was captain. A soccer leader is someone who notices the faults in others and holds them accountable. Ok, then!

Anyway, a few weeks ago, when Xhaka was removed from a home game before the end, the fans cheered. Normal fan behavior when a player comes off is applause from the fans, a polite, “thanks for your work.” Cheering is not done. On that day, he’d been having a real stinker and I think fans were still smarting from the nomination to Captaincy. In yesterday’s match, I didn’t think he played too badly. Anyway, Unai Emery substituted him at about the normal 60 minutes for a first sub and the fans cheered. Xhaka repaid the fans by leaving the pitch, with his team tied 2-2 in a clearly winnable game, as slowly as he possibly could. By the time he got to the sidelines he was being actively booed and jeered by the section closest to the player’s seats, and he was milking it as negatively as possible by putting his hand to his ear. He took off his shirt and went right down the tunnel. Total damper and downer. 

He was replaced by a youngster, Saka, and things did go a bit better after that. Martin Atkinson made a special point of calling every flop by Crystal Palace a foul. We still had at least one sub that could be made when the fans began singing useful information for Unai Emery:

We’ve got Özil

Mesut Özil

I just don’t think you understand

He’s Arsene Wenger’s man

Better than Zidane

We’ve got Mesut Özil

Everybody knew that Özil was not going to be substituted no matter how nicely we sang and suggested because, once again, he didn’t even make the bench. But, yes, we all wonder, “Why?” How is it possible that someone with that level of skill, our most highly compensated player, is not able to start or even make the bench, especially when you see our forwards starved of service? It is confounding.

Sokratis ended up scoring again, but for no reason we can understand, it was ruled not a goal by VAR. At the field, you don’t get any information about why a goal was disallowed and you don’t get to see any replays. Like many people, after the match was over, I’ve watched replay after replay of the build up to that goal. There is simply no reason that anyone could rule it disallowed. None. But it happened anyway.

20191027_152517The game ended to boos, I think by that time, mostly directed at the officiating. The crowd walking back to the Tube was deeply philosophical, judging who was at fault for the various events of the day. There was much to discuss, from the ineffectual coaching, to why other teams are having no problem sorting us out, to the Xhaka moment and the various parties to blame (Xhaka, Emery, the fans), to what value VAR can/cannot offer.

We headed over to Shoreditch again, because you know Sunday means roast, my favorite British tradition. Leaving nothing to chance, I booked dinner at the Princess of Shoreditch as soon as we had our tickets to the match. I had the beef loin roll and my husband had hake. For dessert, trifle and some chocolatey thing. It was delicious, as always.

Because we’d failed in our quest to get London Pride beer on Saturday night, my husband felt we really needed to top off our dinner at the Astronomer, a pub near our hotel. We settled in with our beer and were befriended by a guy who claimed he was from Cypress and an Arsenal fan. I found he did not seem to know much about the team or the match that had just been played. However, he did have an interest in our buying him beer.

Now some of you who know me or have read my blog for a while know that I had kids late in life and prematurely had gray hair. I started dyeing it after learning that my young kids were embarrassed when people assumed I was their grandmother instead of their mother. But after I moved to California with my new job, I decided I was done with all that. I let it grow out and now have a head of salt and pepper. It’s a great color, but it does make me look older. I can take it, or so I thought.

In the course of our conversation with the guy from Cypress, he gestured at me and asked my husband, “Is this your mum?” 

Now what would you say, guys, if you were put into this impossible situation? 

My husband didn’t skip a beat. “She’s my grandmum!” 

“Ah, you’re a good bloke, taking your grandmum to the match,” said my new mate. He seemed very pleased that he had complimented me in this way. I smiled nicely at him while noting internally that he would never, ever see a beer from me.

My husband and I had a pretty good laugh about that after our friend left. 

He’s sleeping on the couch from now on. 🙂

I can only hope the significant others of Martin Atkinson, the VAR genius, Xhaka, and Unai Emery follow my lead.

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.