Friday, August 25, 2006

A trip to the Emirates

A trip to the Emirates
Baab Sullivan
The News/Sanford's Soccer Net Chicago Correspondent

We cabbed up to Islington and got out at Highbury to have a look at the old ground, en route being treated to a lecture by our cabbie about how Sven had no understanding of the English game or players. We were impressed at how integrated the old place is with the surrounding buildings; you'd have no idea it was there if you were a block away. It was still ringed with vendors selling shirts, burgers and the like, and there were a good number of people loitering outside. A quick peek through a crack in the fence revealed a lower deck short of seats and heavy machinery everywhere. We ducked into the Bank of Friendship for a few pints and a game of "Spot Nick Hornby"; by the time we left the bar we'd spotted at least 15 different Hornby's including 5 of them sitting in a row along the wall.

Emirates stadium really couldn't be any more different; it dominates the skyline and approaching it from any direction requires a trip across one of several foot bridges which span what looks like a wasteland of construction slag. Most of the exterior of the place is glass and a good number of the structural beams are visible. Apparently tickets are a thing of the past; there was security at every gate but entry is granted through a card reader which scans your club card and allows you to pass through a massive turnstile. This is probably meant to deter scalping, and it's true that there were no tickets for sale outside the stadium anywhere. It didn't stop us though; the tout we used delivered the membership cards (Mr & Mrs Joe Carson) with an addressed & stamped envelope so that we could return them to him.

Just inside the gate is the Arsenal bookie where you can place any number of wagers on the day's match. We decided Arsenal 3-0 at 6-1 was the right bet. Pure genius, 10 pounds down the toilet. Next stop was at the concession stand where we picked up a couple of pies; solid but not amazing. Finally we proceeded to the seats. We were close to the front of the top tier at a corner and frankly the view was amazing. Despite the size the stadium manages to be very intimate and the roof covering the seating (50% clear so hopefully the pitch doesn't turn into an abomination like the San Siro) makes for a ton of fan noise. We were seated directly above the traveling Croatian fans who provided incredible support. Their range of chants and songs filled the stadium throughout the match and the home fans never really got on voice (the exception being a rousing version of "why aren't you singing" after Arsenal's first goal).

The match itself was somewhat uninspiring; Wenger sent out a fairly young lineup and Zagreb did a great job of keeping possession. Notable inclusions were Flamini in the middle (didn't look bad but he's no Gilberto and Fabregas had to do a lot more defensive work), Justin Hoyte (ok in defense, dire in possession) and Adebyour (no first touch, wasted a number of fine chances). Captain Freddie was inspirational, he and Hleb covered a ton of ground. The Wenger system has the wide players cut into the middle and swap flanks a great deal, but to work properly it requires very active backs and Justin Hoyte just wasn't up to the task so the left flank was largely unutilized.

Zagreb deservedly scored early on and the Gunners were left to chase the match, largely toothlessly. With about 30 minutes to go Wenger decided to go for the win, first bringing on Gilberto and pairing him with Flamini in the middle, then Henry and finally Theo, who got the loudest ovation of the evening. With the stars on the field the ship was quickly righted, Freddie bringing things level with a nice header and Flamini tapping in a Walcott cross at the death to seal the win.

The home fans left happy, especially warmed by the scoreboard announcement of Chelski's loss to Middlesbrough. On the way out we were treated to the site of a very drunk and skanky young woman dressed like Madonna circa 1986 who was doing her best to show the crowd her lacy pink thong. She lurched into my path as we were leaving the footbridge and I looked in her direction just long enough to see her nipple pop out of her shirt. Yuck.


Anonymous said...

Get pissed. Madonna in the eighties was a nutter.

Anonymous said...

That, along with 'Allo, guv!', is the extent of my english impressions.

the idiot said...

Great report - funny, informative and some late nudity.