With ten minutes remaining at the Emirates Stadium, my shoulders were beginning to sag as I slipped further down the back of my seat. The score was only 0-0 but my faith was beginning to wane. Not my faith in Arsenal and their players, but faith in myself.
My friend Mark often jokes that I am a bad luck charm at Arsenal. He has a point to be fair; we have only witnessed a single victory together, when a Santi Cazorla brace dispatched Aston Villa in 2013. Admittedly, my record at the Emirates with Mark has been mixed but on this day it began to grow decidedly negative. With time winding down and Arsenal still struggling for that crucial breakthrough goal, the familiar feeling of despair began to take hold. That cursed feeling.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though. Let’s start at the beginning.
Mark was my companion for this Saturday journey to see Arsenal take on Huddersfield Town. An Arsenal fan since his early years, with legitimate family links to north London (unlike myself), Mark had only recently been to see them in action, and was lucky enough to be present for that classic north London derby win last weekend.
The Gunners entered the day on an impressive 20 game unbeaten streak, whereas their visitors from Yorkshire were hovering just above the relegation zone. Understandably spirits were high as we boarded our train, London bound.
As we transferred onto the tube and negotiated the changes between Paddington and Arsenal, Mark and I spotted a variety of other fans making their way to their respective games. A group of Oxford United fans decked out in blue and yellow caught Mark’s eye, as he hails from that land, and they reminisced about The U’s before we bid them farewell on their journey to Peterborough. It’s a large part of the enjoyment I get from the football commute, exchanging pleasantries with fans from different clubs. “Good luck today lads, although we’ll need it more than you I expect!”
As we got closer to our destination we were met by other Gooners, including a father and son who had travelled down from Hull for their first game, and a young American chap taking his son to his first football experience. It’s amazing how something simple like football can bring people together from all over the world.
We soon emerged from Arsenal station and made the short walk to the ground. The wind was bitterly cold and whipped across our exposed ears, leading Mark towards the Armoury, in need of a new hat. We had arrived at the superstore pretty early and were lucky the crowds hadn’t filled up the aisles yet. Mark spent a few minutes picking out a knitted bobble beanie and new scarf, as well as a pair of the brilliant bruised banana socks I had also acquired a few weeks ago at the Wolves fixture. I showed remarkable restraint not to buy anything but the matchday programme.
By now it was getting close to lunchtime so we set a course for the Holloway Road and Piebury Corner. I thoroughly enjoyed my recent visit there with my Dad and Caleb, and had waxed lyrical to Mark about these wondrous pies. He opted for the Dennis Bergkamp (chicken, ham and leek) with mash and gravy, and felt like fate had played its part, with the naming of his favourite pie after his favourite Arsenal legend. I enjoyed my Sol Campbell (jerk chicken) with roast potatoes so much last time that I opted for the same again and was not disappointed. A trip to Piebury Corner will now be considered mandatory for every future Arsenal game I attend.
The guys at Eighteen86 London were in attendance for the day, and had a stall outside selling issue one of their new fanzine. Creators of some very stylish vintage Arsenal gear, their new mag Poison Lasagna appealed to me immediately so I stopped by and purchased a copy before we left for the ground.
Mark and I had planned to waste a bit more time around the stadium before heading through the turnstiles but the wind had really picked up, now with added rain. With the skies so grey the decision was made for us, so we ran for shelter and headed inside. We climbed our way up the Clock End steps and settled into our seats for the rest of the afternoon.
It was soon 3pm and the game got underway, Arsenal fielding five at the back with both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette up front. The firepower was there to put Huddersfield to the sword but the visitors set out to disrupt Arsenal’s rhythm, and constantly broke up the pace of play with little fouls here and there to slow things down.
Sadly the referee fell for it and the flow of the game suffered enormously. The frustration in the stands continued to grow with every cynical trip and refereeing mistake. Yellow cards were given out left and right. Things were made even worse when Arsenal wasted two glorious chances, as Aubameyang shot just wide from close range and Lacazette lost his footing when it appeared much easier to unleash a shot on target.
The struggles on the pitch began to be felt and reflected by the supporters. What I’m about to say might not be well received by the majority of Arsenal fans but I have to be honest: the atmosphere at the Emirates is regularly underwhelming.
I appreciate that doesn’t come as news to a lot of people, but having been to a variety of games this year across different levels and leagues, it pains me to admit that my team are sorely lacking in the noise and atmosphere department. Opposition fans sing Is this a library for a reason.
At half time, the woman sat beside Mark joyfully boasted she had just seen Jack from Love Island in the tunnel, and sadly that summed it all up.
Mark had only recently witnessed the demolition of Spurs six days prior, and was surprised at the difference between that raucous atmosphere and the lacklustre one that greeted us for the visit of Huddersfield. I suppose it is much easier to get hyped for the visit from your hated local rivals than a northern team with a relatively young Premier League pedigree.
Perhaps my biggest gripe belongs to the tired and monotonous Arsenal, Arrrsenal, Arrrrrrrrrsenal chant. I’ve never been the type to stand on his chair and bellow every single chant the club has ever sung, but I do like to join in when the songs are creative and worthwhile. That song does not belong in that category.
Nevertheless, Unai Emery’s men seemed appreciative of the support they did receive and pushed hard for a goal but could not find the breakthrough. Lacazette cruelly had a goal chalked off after rounding the keeper, for being offside apparently, despite the ball being played off a Huddersfield defender. It only helped incense the crowd even more.
In the second half Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were introduced but didn’t really have the desired impact, with Iwobi failing to impress in particular, his touch letting him down regularly.
The only shining light was the young Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira. The diminutive 22 year-old, riding a streak of man-of-the-match awards, was absolutely everywhere, snapping into tackles, breaking up Huddersfield attacks, always pushing his team forward. Torreira had a pile driver shot just turned wide by Huddersfield goalie Jonas Lossl in the first half that had me out my seat in premature celebration.
He saved his best until last thankfully. With seven minutes remaining on the clock, Torreira pushed further up the pitch, joining the attack as Aubameyang found himself with space in front of goal. The Gabon striker couldn’t unleash a shot but managed to contort his body just enough to send a chipped cross back into the centre of the six yard box.
And who should be there to meet it but Arsenal’s tenacious midfield general Torreira, who leapt like an acrobat to bicycle kick the ball past Lossl and send the home fans into rapture. It’s one of the best goals I’ve ever witnessed in person, and my view was perfectly unobstructed. I could not believe he had the audacity to even attempt such a shot.
Mark must have squeezed the breath out of me in celebration, as I released a sound with such a guttural joy that my vocal chords were shredded beyond recognition. The euphoria and relief that went around the ground was incredible, and finally the atmosphere came alive, as a chorus of the famous 1-0 to the Arsenal rang out from all of us. You only sing when you’re winning, right?
Despite an astounding seven minutes of injury time, Huddersfield had nothing left in the tank. They had travelled with a strategy of disruption and pressure, and fair play to them, it worked for the majority of the afternoon.
Ultimately though, Arsenal’s quality shone through and even when they weren’t at their best, they had enough in them to get the result. It’s often said that good teams win even when they aren’t at their best, so it’s a very positive sign from the Gunners that they can grind out a result when necessary. Under Emery’s stewardship this group are doing some remarkable things, and the future looks brighter by the day.
And, much to my relief, Arsenal won for me.
Now Mark can quit giving me so much shit about curses.