I set off for The Twelve Pins yesterday afternoon feeling much more optimistic about an Arsenal match than I can remember for quite some time. I also set off quite late. By the time I arrived at The Twelve Pins, throwing a cheery 4-0 prediction over my shoulder to Jo as I left, birthday boy Chris Noble had decided to go for a wander. Which led to lots of confused wandering around the big Finsbury Park boozer. Anyway, I found Chris, we drank some beer and then decided, for once, to head off to the stadium with plenty of time to spare. Chris had his eye on the sweet stall opposite the north bridge.
Chocolate raisins for him, rhubarb and custard and some cherry cola bottles for me. I stopped to have a look at the Gooner stall, as a couple of t-shirts had caught my eye. I’m now wearing one of them, a red and black “Arshenal” one. The other, a yellow “Thomas, charging through the midfield!” one, is currently hanging up to dry after washing, having been pissed on by a cat who is either in need of a vet, or a Spurs fan. Or, come to that, a Liverpool one. As I was weighing up my purchases, I was happy to see the editor of the Gooner, Kevin Whitcher, and said hello. He reminded me that I had promised him a submission some weeks back. Kevin, if you’re reading, this week, I promise. He shot off and I picked up a copy of his newly revised book with Alex Fynn, Arsènal The Makings of a Modern Superclub. Having read the first edition of this, the new one promises to be essential reading.
We took our seats, right next to the West Brom fans at the south end of the East Stand and the players were soon out on the pitch. There were no real surprises in the Arsenal line up. Laurent Koscielny’s return to the side, alongside Vermaelen confirmed that the media chatter about him being dropped in midweek was nonsense. I did think Rosicky might have replaced an Aaron Ramsey who looked quite tired in midweek and, from a personal point of view, I was sad to see Arshavin on the bench for the third time in a week. On Thursday, I suggested that Arsenal should beat West Brom fairly comfortably, but also that the Baggies would be quite difficult to break down. Particularly without an early goal. If that sounds like two contradictory concepts, I think I read the game right.
With the visitors showing little ambition beyond defending deep and in numbers, despite Arsenal dominating possession they struggled to create any chances. Ramsey was struggling to get his passes away, whilst Walcott and, in front of us, Gervinho were making little headway. However, midway through the second half, the breakthrough came. Vermaelen nipped in around the halfway line and won a free kick. Quickly taken, the ball found its way to Ramsey, his Xavi like pass (Barca DNA, anyone?) inside the the West Brom left back put Walcott in on goal. His shot was parried by Foster, but RvP was first to the rebound and never going to miss from close range.
If I had thought that an Arsenal goal might draw the Baggies out a bit, well, I was wrong. Content to play, and defend as if if they were 1-0 up rather than down, they were further punished for their negativity five minutes before the break. A Song ball from left to right was lashed back across goal by van Perse, Gervinho missed or, depending how you feel about him, dummied it for the onrushing Thomas Vermaelen to lash the ball first time past Ben Foster. A very popular goal and one you could see meant a lot to him and his team mates. Actually, I think it’s safe to say that it meant a lot to everyone who was there. Except the West Brom fans, of course. Welcome back, Tommy, we’ve missed you!
2-0 at half time, the West Brom fans resorted to embarrassing themselves with songs about how we’ve won “fuck all” for six years. Haven’t they heard of the Emirates Cup? In fairness, they had to do something to entertain themselves, because their team was crap. There was always the thought that a goal for them could make life interesting, but seeing as they didn’t manage a shot on target till the 87th minute “One shot, you’ve only had one shot”, I think it’s safe to say we were always comfortable. Of course, we had the cigars out by then as Mikel Arteta’s first home goal, with fifteen minutes left, put the lid on a very tasty stew: RvP fed Rosicky to the right, drove into the box, took the return pass and then teed up Arteta to curl the ball past Foster into the corner.
If I was going to be critical, I’d linger on how we appeared to stop playing after that 3rd goal, or how it would have been better to get Park some minutes on the pitch instead of Benayoun. But as I think we could have stopped playing at the start of the second half and still won and this was the most relaxed, most positive Arsenal crowd I’ve seen for some time, I don’t feel like doing that. The back five was largely excellent and our midfield were always in control. Obviously, it was great to see Vermaelen back, he made a great block from Tchoyi towards the end, but special mention should go to Carl Jenkinson who was doing a passable impersonation of Lee Dixon at right back, bombing forward and slinging in excellent crosses (if only anyone would ever bother to try and get in on the end of them). Defensively too, I think he was rarely beaten, but when he was he was quick to get back and make a recovery tackle. There was one cracker right in front of us.
Chris and I headed back to where we began our day, where we watched QPR come so close to shocking Manchester City- a missed opportunity for the Super Hoops and drank far too much Guinness. I remember a West Brom fan trying to engage us in conversation, but we couldn’t understand a word he was saying- alcohol rendering the obvious language gap a canyon. But we did get chatting to an Irishman called Phillip as well as a Kiwi Gooner who, in addition to giving us a classic demonstration of Football Manager, looked far too much like Hank from Breaking Bad. Kiwi dude and Phillip think RvP will be gone by the summer, but I think a few more days like today will convince Robin that Marco van Basten is right, and he should stay at the most “beautiful” club in the Premier League. All in all, it was a highly satisfactory day, the poisonous atmosphere of the summer a fast fading memory, presumably MotD didn’t bother to analyse us as they had nothing critical to say…
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