This article concludes the series covering Arsenal’s visit to the U.S. Due to reasons that would take more than one article to explain, I was only able to attend Arsenal’s match vs. Chivas de Guadalajara. Here is the trip’s story.
After posting in the match preview (Arsenal vs the Goats) a beauty sleep of 5 hours got me just enough energy to drive to the parking and drop my car off. The shuttle driver was Ethiopian, and seeing my Arsenal tee he immediately asked about Gedion Zelalem. We struck it off straight away and never noticed when the 5 minutes passed, from the parking lot to the Seattle airport terminal.
Spirit airlines boarded me through without a fuss, so after less than three hours of flight, just before noon, I’d touch down in L.A. The plan was to grab the car from the rental, get a lunch in one of the myriad restaurants around, and make my way to the stadium in time to get a parking spot in the Arsenal supporters’ assigned lot, from where me and a few fellow Cascadia Gooners supporters were going to join the tailgate party and make our way to the playground. I thought 2 hours is enough for the trip, which on map showed it takes 30 minutes.
As Murphy says, if you anticipate four ways a plan can go wrong and avoid them, a fifth way will immediately show up. It’s not like I’ve never been to L.A., but this time something was different.
The traffic control kept the plane stranded on the runway for one full hour. That all but erased my lunch, and prompted me to take the car and drive straight to the stadium. I got there in time, as planned, and occupied one of the last few available spots in the lot. Late comers would have to drive in the neighboring lots, and it just wasn’t the same as being surrounded by Arsenal fans from all over the States.
Some of the areas had a great representation – not only California, which by default would be the largest, but also New York and Milwaukee. But within another hour, the lot got full of people pouring in, and the chants started and kept going. A few friendly Chivas supporters were there too. Personally, I had just enough time to sneak out, get a sandwich from a small place just across the street, to at least give my stomach the impression that I care about the lunch, and come back before the rest of the small Seattle group made it there too.
The media coverage of the match has been sub-average throughout the whole week. I couldn’t find much mentioned in the press, only ESPN and The Telegraph dedicated articles to the event. That might have been partly to blame for the rather slow turnout, as the stadium got filled only a few minutes before the match.
The Arsenal supporters section where I got seated was at the southern end, and that area got filled almost immediately, it was the other three that took a while (and of course there were the Chivas fans who occupied about a third of the opposite stand). We were there one hour before already, and oversaw Damian Martinez warming up, and David Ospina a bit later.
The tunnel exit was right on our side, so we had the pleasure to greet Arsène Wenger, the players and the staff every time they passed by. But eventually, the stadium got almost full, and it was the red and white (and yellow) that clearly dominated. The stadium has a capacity of 23 000, and by my reckoning at least 2/3 of the 18-20,000 occupied seats were Arsenal fans.
I must say the atmosphere was fantastic. Throughout the whole time I could only hear one “Spend the ****ing money” shout, and even that was tame enough so almost nobody else heard it. The crowd was in a party mood, and kept going all the time.
We had a few battles of the galleries, and Chivas were, unfortunately for them, outrun in the noise aspect, not only on the field. The live transmission didn’t really reflect that, the sound was way down, and the “Ooooospina” chants were barely audible (at least that’s what I could tell from watching the recording today), although we were crying our lungs out every time he touched the ball. The stadium all but erupted when Rob Holding scored at the other end, and we kept a good volume until the end of the half.
But that was nothing compared to the first 8 minutes of the second half. The action took place right in front of us, and the goals from Ox and Akpom were the catalyst for an eruption. We must have had some sort of effect (obviously) on the Chivas players, because their defending suffered, and they were shaky throughout most of the second half. They only picked up themselves towards the end, and even then we were able to create chances, so from a gallery perspective we did our job. There was a great moment after the match, when the players came out with a banner thanking for the fans’ support.
About Chivas, they really seemed to have a point to prove. They were competitive and got us under pressure, and it took our team some effort to turn the match around. Chivas seemed a side that tries to play good football for the most part, but also have a few kickers among them. Can’t remember the name of the defender that should have had three yellows (and I’m not a professional ref).
From that perspective it was the perfect preparation match – us looking to assess our form and build match fitness, them looking for some inspiration after a few less than ideal results. But apart from the spirits getting a bit out of hand in the final minutes, I can’t remember any serious incident.
And so we get to the ref. I had a strange sensation of déjà vu when he started booking our players for minor infringements, while doing only talks to the Mexican players. As I said, the match got a bit tense when Joel Campbell seemed to have been provoked and reacted a bit, and maybe that’s the one moment when the ref used a bit of judgement and only showed them yellow cards, when a PL ref would have certainly sent Joel off. But for most of the match he seemed happy to let the players be physical, and unfortunately quite a few times a bit over a reasonable limit. Luckily there were no major injuries.
After the match, there were of course parties near the beach, and that proved to be another Murphy moment, when one too many beers made me be five minutes late for a car rental shuttle to the airport.
Those must have been comparable to the “five minutes from Midway”, because from then on things went the wrong way. The LAX airport is notorious for bad traffic, but that night seemed to be special, as a 2 mile drive became a 30 minute crawl, which allowed me to miss my plane, and consequently have to spend the night in the airport, dressed with only the Arsenal tee, short pants and a Cascadia Gooners scarf.
And I’m sure the air con would have sent me to the hospital had it not been for the scarf, which I used to cover my arms and avoid a cold disaster. Finally, after booking the earliest return flight that I could find, I was flying out, and back in Seattle at 9 AM.
And still, after a night of cold and a missed day at the job, if anyone were to ask me whether all of this had been worth, I would say: “absolutely”. The joy of seeing our players score, and play their beautiful passing game in front of a cheering crowd was worth every second of it. We can only hope Arsenal will be back in America rather soon. In the meantime, the PL season is something to look forward to.
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