It was a beautiful day yesterday, wasn’t it? It was so beautiful that sitting outside the the Twelve Pins yesterday afternoon, Kopparberg Strawberry and Lime ciders on the go (yes, James and I are a right pair of tarts, I know), we actually considered staying where we were and forgetting about the football. Such is the life of an Arsenal supporter these days. But around 2.30pm, just after the police had escorted a group of fans across the street to Finsbury Park tube station, we decided to head north. It was a weird experience being at the Pins yesterday afternoon, which was busy but, compared to the usual sea of red and white, was almost… well, colourless. There were also far more police about than I was used to seeing in the area.
Anyway, we went and got on the Victoria Line and arrived at Seven Sisters right behind a group of police escorted supporters, presumably the ones we had watched go about ten minutes earlier. James was keen not to get caught up with them as they marched down Tottenham High Road singing “Tottenham’s a shithole, I wanna go home!”, so we hung back until a chance came to get around them and we left them behind. It may be a quintessential part of being an away fan, but I couldn’t help feeling, even after a couple of Guiness and ciders each, football fans don’t really help themselves. What the avergae resident must make of this, I can only imagine. Although, after the riots a couple of months back, perhaps this was tame in comparison. I wondered, on the way, what had been boarded up because of the riots and what had been boarded up, because, well, it was boarded up.
After walking for what in the sun, seemed like hours, we arrived at the ground and, despite the stewards apparently needing to search me (t-shirt, shorts and no bag) twice, got in to the ground quickly. A quick visit to the toilet and then more cider. Eventually. One thing I will say about Arsenal is that at least our catering staff look the part (as much as they can) and have more than two brain cells between them. I got to the counter and asked for two ciders. The open mouthed zombie behind the counter acknowledged this and was then apparently spellbound by the sight of the colossus next to him pouring a can of Carlsberg into a plastic glass. I waited. And waited. And then this zombie asked me what I wanted again. Two ciders, I repeated. We drank. We sang. We went to our seats.
If you’re reading this, the chances are you know now that, for all the good they did, Gervinho and Walcott did indeed return to the starting line up. Incredibly, despite his midweek heroics, there was no space for Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench. Having witnessed Walcott’s pitiful impersonation of a professional footballer yesterday afternoon, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Ox might just have been better value.
That said, we had quite a decent first half, Walcott seeing his low shot touched past the post by the ageless Friedel, before curling one just over the top. Off the other flank, I’m left with the gnawing suspicion that Gervinho really should have scored after van Persie tricked his way past Kaboul(?) before cutting the ball back. The scuffed shot wrong footed Friedel but rolled just wide. Coquelin had replaced Frimpong as our “holding” player, no surprise after Frimpong’s shaky Champions League encounter and was, generally, having a stormer. Winning the ball and giving it. Unfortunately, both Arteta and, in particular, Ramsey were not having stormers and so we kept giving the ball away. Szczesny had already made a couple of very good saves, low down on his near post, first from Parker and then Van Der Vaart. Just as it looked like we would get to half time all square, he was beaten by the Dutchman. It started when Walcott miscontrolled a ball out on the right, which went for a throw. In no time at all, already booked, Van Der Vaart was played in down the right, he took the ball on his chest (was there a hand? I couldn’t tell) and sent a low, angled drive, across Szczesny into the far corner. The Lane erupted, I thought Szczesny might have down a little better with his footwork.
So, 1-0 at half time, how were Arsenal going to get back into this? I didn’t know. But before we got a chance to find out, we had Roger Lloyd-Pack, known to the world as “Trigger” from Only Fools and Horses on the pitch, saying that he’d rather Spurs won the league than he won an Oscar. Well, neither are likely in my opinion and we let him have it,
“Trigger, you’re a cunt, Trigger Trigger, you’re a cunt!”
It wasn’t too long into the second half that Arsenal did indeed get back into it. Song came marauding down the left and fired a cross in, it was smashed into the roof of the net. Joy unconfined, sheer fucking ecstasy. Amazingly, despite the fact that it had happened down our end, we didn’t know who had scored. Both James and I assumed it was van Persie, such was the nature of the finish and we couldn’t hear the stadium announcer as it was pretty mental in our little corner of the Lane. Imagine our surprise, when safely back in the Pins a couple of hours later, we discovered that was in fact Aaron Ramsey with his first goal of the season.
It felt like ours to win now. But Spurs put us on notice that they weren’t just going to fold away into the evening. Some lovely looking football saw Bale find Adebayor, for all the world it looked a certain goal, but Szczesny made a quite brilliant save. Things took a further turn for the worse when Bacary Sagna jumped for the ball with Assou-Ekotto and was dumped into the advertising hoardings. As he bounced off the hoardings, I saw him immediately make the substitution gesture with his hands and as he lay on the track being tended to by our medical staff, it was clear his afternoon was over. Which meant Carl Jenkinson. Which means that we are fucked. Although, frankly, there aren’t many right backs I’d take over the Frenchman. To lose him for three months, with Wilshere and Vermaelen already out, feels like a bitter, bitter pill to swallow.
The coup de grace came when Arsenal, for the umpteenth time this season, failed to deal with a corner adequately. Though there didn’t seem like much danger when a shot came in from about thirty yards, it flew into the far corner of our goal. Having seen the goal since, it’s difficult to understand how a keeper as accomplished as Szczesny clearly is, let this one through his grasp. Watching the player celebrate on the big screen, I didn’t even recognise him and so it is that Kyle Walker joins Tom Huddlestone, Danny Rose and David Bentley, Jermain Defoe and Jamie Redknapp in the North London Derby “Never again” Hall of Fame. To dare is to… oh, fuck off! Incidentally, I can’t include Jermaine Jenas in that as he did it to us twice. Bastard. Bastards.
The game was up, I think we all knew it then. I don’t remember Friedel having to make a save thereafter. Probably because, rather than have a shot, our players would rather try and work the perfect opening. In fact, it was the only the athleticism of Szczesny that prevented another, certain, goal. And that’s why I won’t be too critical of Szczesny for his part in the winning goal, he will save us many more times than he will let us down. Which is perhaps more than can be said for his teammates. Having left the ground with Spurs fans regaling us with “We beat the scum 2-1”, it was only back in the Pins that James and I revisited a conversation we had in February regarding Cesc Fabregas. This time the subject of discussion was Mr van Persie. Can you see him sticking around for more of this? And would you blame him if he didn’t?