by Tony Attwood
It started at 3.45pm with a drive from Corby to the Sixfields Stadium (home of Northampton Town and one of only two grounds where a stand is named after an Arsenal player). There I picked up Drew, and we drove onto the M1…
To be greeted by signs announcing major delays on the motorway closer to London. A consultation with Smartnav and a confirmation; yup the motorway was screwed and Smartnav would take us off and around it.
In fact by the time we got there the problems had gone but the temperature which had been a warming minus 2 when we left Northampton was now minus 4.5.
For once the underground from Finchley was reassuringly warming, and the brisk walk from Archway down the Holloway Road to the pub was warming, as was the large Merlot in the plastic wine glass Drew kindly purchased.
A 7,30 kick off, presumably to meet the crazed schedule of some semi-demented TV exec, and we wondered – first whether anyone was going to shoot, and second just how many shots Arsenal would have when they finally got going. I counted 29, but then I could well be wrong.
Arsenal tried everything from smashes to lobs, headers to Henry-esque curling side footers, but nothing would work, until Jack popped up. He had played in a position which is a cross between Bergkamp and Cazorla, and is where he used to play when we saw him at Barnet in the reserves, and he made it happen.
Everyone now uses the same words about Jack: commitment, involvement, desire, workrate, invention, and a freedom to move. Francis Coquelin will probably never have a song at the Ems, but he is growing into a good player, and may soon be a great player when he plays in defensive midfield. Diaby was there again, and lasted longer this time. Oh if only he could stay free from injury.
Swansea were a surprise including in their line up the ex-chancellor of the exchequer Leon Britton looking fit for his advancing years. As Arsenal attacked they defended and defended over and over. God knows how Wojciech Szczesny kept warm (he refuses even in these temperatures to wear a track suit), but he was there for the two saves he had to make.
At the end Theo showed he was Henry in disguise by taking the ball out to the corner flag to waste the last two minutes. Even Stefan, who sits next to me and usually sneaks out with five minutes to go stayed to the whistle. Ah what memories are these.
As for the catering – I went for a cappuccino at half time but the young man who served me didn’t know what it was, so went to find a supervisor. Eventually he did manage to find the coffee machine too.
And so back to Jack. 21 years old. What other words to say about him? Drive, determination, up-for-it, you name it, he is it. And believe me I was desperate for no extra time – by the end the temperature had dropped considerably (it was minus 7 when we got back to the car) – and we needed a hero to warm everyone who bothered to make it to the ground.
Jack can, he has shown us in the second half of this match, run a game as Brady once did and how Liam must be thrilled with his prodigy. When he takes control everyone responds, and as a result we knocked up all those chances. Yes Swansea had a shot or two – one hit the post, as did one from Theo, but the second half was just totally ours.
58,359 tickets were sold for the match, although clearly some, on seeing the temperature gauge decided not to turn up.
Just to cap it all, after a little smirk at the Chelsea result, we found the M1 closed out of London for reasons that were not the slightest bit clear. Once we got onto the motorway – the newly enlarged motorway now with four lanes out of London and a refashioned hard shoulder up to Milton Keynes – was down to one lane. It seems someone lost a pencil case on the Luton sliproad so they decided to rebuild it. Again.
I got home a few minutes after midnight. It was minus nine in the village of Great Oakley. Sadly I had forgotten to adjust my home’s temperature controls and the heating had gone off earlier.
Everyone who texted me told me I was mad to go. But then so was Drew. So was everyone else. But being there to see the further emergence of our new, brilliant, amazing young number 10, is worth it every time.
I’ll write more when I come back from the frost-bight clinic.
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- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC: crowd behaviour at the early matches