. . . for by the time the whistle blew, there was approximately one Tottenham fan remaining in the stands.
What. A. Day.
We left the Somerset house and made our way over to the Covent Garden tube station. We had a bit of time so we walked through Covent Garden, enjoying the sun and the market. Not much was going on by this time, it was far too early, but it was still fun to look at the shops and restaurants and market.
Normally, we take the Piccadilly line all the way to the Arsenal stop. The other option, sometimes, is Holloway Road, which allows you to enter the stadium complex from the opposite side. We always think of the Arsenal Tube stop as part of the required game day experience, but in reality, the Holloway Road stop is often closed on match days and not really an option. It was an option yesterday, maybe because we arrived with more than 90 minutes to spare. There were plenty of people who had the same idea.
We used part of our time to stop into the Armoury and look at the merch. In the interim since our last visit I had decided that the pink jersey was not for me; rather, the black one was. However, the lingering Pandemic/Russia invasion supply chain crisis had a few things to say about that; there were actually no jerseys available in any color but red, anywhere near my size. Probably for the best. We departed merch-less.
We left the shop and wandered over to Highbury, which is just a few blocks away. The old Arsenal stadium has been turned into townhomes and the pitch is a park in the middle. The entrances were well guarded on Saturday. There have been times when we were able to sneak in, but that was not going to happen without a fight this time.
We took a few pictures and went over to Gillespie Road to pick up some barbecue for lunch. Then we went back and circled the stadium, picking up as much good luck as possible. By the time we went inside, I had chased down Gunnersaurus, the ridiculous Arsenal mascot, and got a photo bomb-like picture with “him,” posed with Statue Tony Adams, rubbed Statue Thierry Henry’s head, and touched Statue Dennis Bergkamp’s right knee before entering the stadium.
The fans were up for the match; it was a party atmosphere, even more than what we experienced for the past few matches. I suppose this was not surprising considering we were playing our arch rivals, Tottenham. I’ve never been to a match against Tottenham. It happens to be the favorite match of the person who shares the season tickets that allows us to attend. When we were here for the last set of matches, we asked him why he wasn’t attending the Tottenham game this year. He admitted that we had his daughter to thank. She was getting married in Greece right at about kickoff. He told us it was a hard match to miss; whatever the atmosphere was normally like, for the North London Derby, it was 20% more.
I’d say that was about so.
There have been a few beer-related changes at the Emirates recently. One of the changes: Arsenal no longer has a contract with Carlsberg for beer. Instead, it’s with the much preferred Camden Town brewery. Second: there is a beer-only concession line to more quickly serve the fans who want only that. (Many.) And finally, the beer is served in “London is Red” themed reusable glasses. Signs all over the Emirates, including in the restrooms, remind us that these cups can be reused up to 100 times if deposited in the correct bins.
We learned this week from this article that the Emirates has the Premier League’s most expensive beer. We didn’t think twice about it and had the Camden Hells Lager in the upper concourse while watching fans arrive across the Ken Friar bridge and listening to a live brass band of fans, with the other fans joining in to sing. There were so many people crammed into the area I could only reliably see the top of the tuba. But it was gloriously loud.
At last we piled into Block 98, for the newly obligatory and much-loved singing of “North London Forever” and kickoff. Although Tottenham is near the top of the league, Arsenal looked great from the time the whistle blew. Dynamic, tricky, beautiful and fast. Meanwhile, Tottenham had parked a big bus in front of its goal, waiting for a counterattack. They did get a few balls off to a waiting Tottenham player and there were some nervy moments, but the first goal was to the Arsenal. Thomas Partey took a beautiful shot from distance. I’ve seen him take a lot shots far from the goal before, but never have I see him take a shot from distance that I knew was going in from the moment he struck it. It curved perfectly to the top right corner where Hugo Loris, Spur’s keeper, was never going to save it. “One nil to the Arsenal” was ringing out all over the stadium.
Before the half was over, Spurs managed to move the ball into the box and our Gabriel fouled Spur’s newly-acquired player, Richarlison. I was so sure Harry Kane’s penalty kick was going in that I considered making better use of my time by visiting the ladies’ room. However, there were so few women in the stands, I had no doubt I would be the first one in after half time. I visited in nearly complete privacy only a bit later with things level at 1 apiece.
Arsenal continued dominating after half time and Jesus scored a scrappy, ugly goal that nonetheless put us at 2-1, when Loris spilled a shot from Saka. Shortly after that, Spur’s Emerson Royal put in a bad foul on our Gabi Martinelli. Referee Anthony Taylor took his time walking over to the site of the crime, and when he arrived, reached for his back pocket. The red card he produced stood up to VAR scrutiny, and Tottenham was down to 10 players for the remaining 30 minutes. Now I know Tottenham is probably capable of producing a moment to make us sweat and you probably know that, too, but apparently no one ever told Tottenham’s manager, Antonio Conte. He pretty much capitulated by replacing 4 starting players. Only Harry Kane remained among players likely to score. And yes, he probably could still have done some damage.
Except he did not.
Instead, our Granit Xhaka was fed a ball inside the box and he put up a beauty of a shot away from anywhere Loris was going to be able to get. 3-1 with 20 minutes to go and very little to worry about. In the stadium we enjoyed the last few minutes with songs, which if I am being honest were more focused on taunting Tottenham than celebrating our win. We sang “You’ll always be shit” to the team that has finished above us for at least the past five years. The Tottenham section became a ghost town as their fans dribbled out of the stadium.
We remain at the top of the league.
After hanging around cheering our boys, we spilled out of the stadium into the beautiful Fall day and marched with our compatriots, singing and chanting, to Holloway Road. My husband and I got on a bus and headed toward Hampstead Heath, the beautiful, big park not far from Islington.
We enjoyed walking past ponds and through fields and groves of trees, and taking in the famous, beautiful sight of the city from the highest point.
On our way to the tube station on the other side of the park we passed a lovely pub with outdoor seating called The Garden Gate, where we made an impromptu visit for beer and dinner while enjoying being outside. A lovely ending to a successful North London Derby.
My first, but hopefully not my only.
In the airport this morning I read an article on ESPN.com that provided updated statistics from FiveThirtyEight about the chances of any one team winning the Premier League. According to them, Arsenal’s chances to win the Premier League are only 10%. Manchester City, last year’s winner and, let’s face it, the winner for at least half of the last 10 years is credited with a 71% chance.
These are not the kind of statistics that make you feel confident of a big, happy ending to come. And, statistics or no, I can see with my own eyes that we have a ways to go to catch a team as good as Manchester City. Except for a couple of tied matches, they are destroying everything in their path.
However, that hasn’t stopped me from signing on for the last match of the season. No matter how unlikely the chances, if we get the trophy on the final day, I will be there.