I’ve teamed up with Culann Davies – better known as CWD – to produce a collaboration on Alan Dzagoev after Euro 2012. He created the video, I wrote the article. Enjoy.
Russia may have crashed out of Euro 2012, but Alan Dzagoev will step off the plane with his reputation much enhanced. For a player with an already large list of admirers in football, it seemed surprising that he was still playing for CSKA Moscow in his native country, but that may not be the case soon.
Recently 22, he’s still very young, but he seems to have been around for a while. In 2008 he was linked with Real Madrid & Chelsea, but a move never materialised. A goal against Manchester United in the Champions League in 2009 also raised his stock, but he remained plying his trade at the Arena Khimki.
Closing Dzagoev’s Wikipedia page for a second and adding some opinion, Arsenal lack creativity in the current side. Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri both left, and the rather more direct Gervinho was brought in, among a few others. I’ve gone on about this plenty of times on the blog, so I shan’t elaborate.
Instead, I’ll look at what Dzagoev brings to Russia, and might be able to bring to Arsenal. The one thing that stood out the most was his excellent vision. He showed this through his intelligent movement and positioning, as well as well-timed passes, including several key passes (see 0:19; 0:52; 2:18). According to whoscored.com, he made 10 key passes at EURO 2012, in just 3 games.
Footballing intelligence and vision is one of the most important things for a creative player. Dzagoev demonstrated this in spades in Poland & Ukraine, and despite not anything fancy, everything he did was done effectively. No step-overs or tricks, but all of his contributions were important – he showed that he likes to play a simple game rather than over-complicating things.
In terms of his positioning and movement, he constantly showed tactical awareness by drifting inside to make way for the overlap of Aleksandr Anyukov (see 0:57 –> 1:03). Furthermore, as one of the playmakers in the Russia team, his roaming inwards put him in a better position to create for his side. He also occasionally swapped places with Andrey Arshavin and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, showing that he realises his job in the team, and also that he can act as a focal point (see 0:36).
Arsenal’s options out wide are all fairly direct – Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott and Gervinho are all players who like to either run with the ball or run onto it, rather than players who create by passing or just move the ball on effectively. A certain amount of balance is needed – if you have x amount of players wanting to run onto a ball, you’ll probably need the same amount who are able to supply the ball.
That was poorly worded, but Dzagoev would bring the playmaking abilities Arsenal have missed since Fabregas and Nasri left. Rosicky and Arteta were able to make up for the losses, but Arsenal still struggled creatively, in the first half of the season especially.
The Russian can play as a central playmaker or as a wide player, and this is the type of player positionally that Arsene Wenger has been looking for. Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla and Mario Goetze were all apparently on his wishlist last summer, with the former duo apparently being close to joining the Gunners.
The reason for this versatility being needed is the imminent emergence of Jack Wilshere and/or Aaron Ramsey as a central playmaker. One of the two was supposed to replace Cesc Fabregas when he left, but neither are ready yet, so Wenger will most likely be on the look-out for another stop-gap to back-up Rosicky.
Dzagoev fits the bill, as he would be able to move out wide once one of the British midfielders was ready, meaning neither of them was ‘killed’, as Wenger often puts it. The difficulty that his countryman and captain Andrey Arshavin faced in London may put the playmaker off, but their situations are different.
While Dzagoev has just enjoyed an eye-catching European Championship, like Arshavin before him, the more recent Russian starlet is younger, and has the rest of his career ahead of him. Arshavin was living off of the buzz of being brought in as Arsenal’s saviour in January, and once that wore off struggled for motivation.
I’m getting ahead of myself, but in his brief cameo role in Euro 2012 he was very impressive, despite Russia crashing out. With the injury problems of Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, Arsene Wenger must surely have Dzagoev in his thoughts.
“It is done.” So tweeted Andrey Arshavin on the eve which he completed his loan deal back to Zenit St Petersburg. While it is only a temporary move, most see it as an admission from Arsene Wenger that Arshavin is no longer wanted at the club. The ideal situation would be Arshavin recovering the form of his old self and returning to Arsenal on that “emotional high” which he spoke about having joined the Gunners, but with how Arshavin has been performing for Wenger’s side, that seems an unlikely scenario. It seems as if Arshavin is finished in London.
But where did it go wrong? He seemed to be doing so well! Goals against Blackburn and Wigan were backed up by an unprecendented four goals at Anfield against title-chasing Liverpool in a crazy 4-4 draw. The goals weren’t of bad quality either – against Blackburn he netted after some wizardry on the left-hand side of the area, at Wigan he ruthlessly pounced on a mistake to fire home, and his four against Anfield were all of high quality. A side-footed finish from close range off the bar. A sensational 20 yard drive with minimal back-lift. An opportunistic volley borne out of being in the right place at the right time. An emphatic left-footed strike having countered from a corner.
When you analyse Arshavin’s impact in terms of the statistics, which Arsene Wenger so loves to peddle, his goal-scoring record wasn’t so impressive in his first half-season at Arsenal. He only actually scored in 3 games, starting in 14 and coming off of the bench once. He did, however, get 11 assists, and his actual impact is less tangible than something that can be broken down in statistics. Arsenal were desperate for someone to ignite their season. Someone to give the fans a reason to cheer. Arshavin was that someone.
But it isn’t the Russian’s statistics that have worsened over time, but the quality of his all-round performances. While he was never a player who would dominate a game for 90 minutes, when he did drift into a game early in his Arsenal career, the impact would usually be devastating. Nowadays, though, you get misplaced passes preceding hands on hips and a disappointed look.
While many criticise Arshavin’s application, it is perhaps as Arsenal Column pointed out an ironically lazy comment to make. Nobody was more critical of his performances than himself, and he showed a willingness to turn things around. However, it just didn’t happen for the diminutive Russian.
Some suggest that Arshavin hasn’t been played in his preferred position, and perhaps he does thrive as a number 10. However, in Arsenal’s system the loose role in between midfield and attack is not a second striker, but more a third midfielder. So while Arshavin might not be playing in his favourite role, there isn’t currently that role in Arsenal’s formation, and it would require some tinkering of the set-up and even perhaps personnel to allow him his favourite position.
Secondly, who says that simply a different position would turn everything around for him? Arshavin has been getting the bread and butter passes wrong, and when even the basics are failing for you a change of position just might not cut it. On the wing, when he loses the ball it’s not as detrimental, but if we played him as our playmaker, he’d arguably still lose the ball a lot, and drift in and out of the game, because that’s just what he’s like. For us, the playmaker should be somebody who can keep the ball, move it around quickly, and dictate the game.
It’s not as if Arshavin is permanently stuck on the flank anyway. He frequently comes inside, sometimes to good effect, assisting and pre-assisting a few goals. But the playmaker in our team is one of the most important roles. Having a player like Arshavin, who ghosts though games (admittedly still contributing of course) in that position, might not be the best of ideas.
The situation of Arshavin is slightly parallel to that of Fernando Torres; it appears to all be in his mind, and not simply down to a decline as a football player. Arshavin’s performances have gone downhill far too rapidly for that, and he should still be playing at something close to his peak. While Torres’ stats have plummeted, it is to Arshavin’s credit that he has still managed to make telling contributions to Arsenal’s games, which is clearly why Arsene Wenger has kept him until now, as he incessantly pointed out the Russian’s statistics.
With Arshavin & Yossi Benayoun both featuring for the reserves, you could argue that he’s surplus to requirements, but then again with Arsenal an injury or seven is/are always just around the corner. Benayoun will probably be the impact substitute Arshavin was meant to be; while against Sunderland it worked well, at Manchester City Arshavin failed miserably, misplacing a few passes wildly and hitting a tame shot in a brilliant position. The erratic Arshavin was never reliable – the one thing Benayoun probably is. It’ll probably go some way to banishing the inconsistency of Arsenal’s play by swapping the most inconsistent player for a reliable one. And indeed, inconsistency has been, in general, Arsenal’s greatest problem.
For seasons now, Arsenal’s injury problems have been magnified by a lack of quality back-up – last season they were always just an ailment or two away from having to play the calamitous Sebastien Squillaci and the error-prone Manuel Almunia, and ended up having to do so on several occasions. This season it has been a similar story; the apparently disinterested Andrey Arshavin and the rather gormless Marouane Chamakh have flattered to deceive whenever called upon, which has led to an unhealthy reliance on the first choice players.
Now though, it is not injuries that might give the fringe players a chance, but poor form of the first choice team. Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott in particular had little positive effect on the game in Milan and might have given Tomas Rosicky and Andrey Arshavin another chance to earn a regular place in the team. What’s different in this situation is that if they impress they could earn a permanent berth on Arsene Wenger’s team, instead of a temporary one which lasts only until the player they’re replacing returns from injury.
Wenger is said to have launched a scathing attack on his players who failed so miserably at the San Siro, and the likes of Arshavin and the on-loan Yossi Benayoun will see this as a great opportunity to stake a claim for a first team spot if given the chance this weekend against Sunderland. Benayoun impressed on the wing earlier in the season for Arsenal, but has seen his chances limited with the form of Gervinho and at times Theo Walcott. He got an assist playing in the hole against Wolves, but Arsene Wenger has seemed reluctant to play him in midfield more often.
As for Arshavin, he has seen his appearances cut further this season, so that he now has to settle for late substitute appearances as Wenger’s final roll of the dice and sudden starts. In truth, he should thrive in Arsenal’s 4-3-3 – he has much less defensive responsibilities than in previous years, and with the flexibility of the formation (despite the need at times for more structure) he can drift inside and wreak havoc.
Wenger points to Arshavin’s statistics as a reason to ignore what most are seeing as poor performances, and indeed he did set up Thierry Henry’s fairy-tale winner at Sunderland last weekend. He might well give Arsenal something at the Stadium of Light in the FA Cup something that nobody else does; an unpredictability and the ability to be a match-winner for the Gunners; two things that Dennis Bergkamp criticised Arsenal for not having earlier in the week.
Arshavin has perhaps suffered from the absence of proper full backs of late – he’s had to keep the team’s width instead of being able to drift inside while the left back overlaps. However, Kieran Gibbs returned against Milan, which should help the Russian out.
Another player to come under fire for his performance against Milan was Alex Song. Kevin Prince-Boateng thrived in Max Allegri’s midfield, and this was partly down to the lax play of Song. Francis Coquelin has impressed when given a chance this season, and might be given another after Song’s poor display at the San Siro. The pitch is perhaps not suited to Coquelin’s style; but then the same probably goes for the entire Arsenal team.
In truth, Wojciech Szczesny hasn’t been performing to his best this season, and, should he be given a chance, Lukasz Fabianski will be able to turn the heat up on his compatriot. The number 2 at Arsenal has come under heavy criticism during his time at the Emirates Stadium, but last season performed well when given a run of games; he was one of Arsenal’s best players in the away games against Everton, Wolves and Manchester City.
It is slightly fitting that the previous post on this site was about Andre Villas-Boas, Jose Mourinho’s former protegé, with this post centring around another of Mourinho’s apprentices at Chelsea. Brendan Rodgers, like Villas-Boas (as mentioned in the last post), has seemed reluctant to entertain the idea of setting up like his one-time boss at Chelsea, preferring a continental tiki-taka style of football to Mourinho’s pragmatism.
Rodgers has come in for much praise for the free-flowing, attacking brand of football he’s had Swansea playing, especially seeing as they’re punching above their weight for a promoted team – indeed, one that only came up through the play-offs. After an uncertain start to the season in front of goal, Scott Sinclair and co. found their feet, and the Swans managed comfortable wins over the likes of Fulham, Aston Villa and Stoke, not to mention a draw with Liverpool at Anfield.
Instead of the defensive 4-5-1 which many promoted teams favour, Rodgers plays an open 4-3-3, with the emphasis on his three midfielders Joe Allen, Mark Gower and Leon Britton. Gower holds, while Britton and Allen roam around, exchanging passes freely. In fact, you could compare them to Barcelona’s midfield trio; Gower being Busquets, while Britton and Allen are Swansea’s Xavi and Iniesta.
The lively Sinclair and Nathan Dyer usually flank Danny Graham, a summer purchase from Watford, and ensure that Swansea retain width and guile. But Britton and Allen are the main men – they should both be commended for their appreciation of space and their excellent passing. Both have pass accuracies over 90%, and are the main reason behind Swansea topping the table for passes completed in the Premier League.
Despite this openness on the ball Swansea have managed to concede the joint-least amount of goals at home, maintaining a solidity to go with their fluidity. Rodgers deserves credit for sticking to his guns in the Premier League, and it appears that integrity is paying off. Swansea are a breath of fresh air compared to teams that just try to survive by packing men behind the ball. The adventurous style of Rodgers’ side is a joy to watch, and they’ve shown that it can be done to good effect when having just been promoted.
Hopefully this refreshing Swansea side will show future promoted sides that passing football is the way forward, as opposed to Stoke’s hoofball – also effective to an extent but not often entertaining. They will face a tough test against Arsenal though – this season, the Swans have arguably been Arsenal Lite, and when the student comes up against the master it’s usually the latter that comes out on top.
In the reverse fixture at the Emirates, the remarkable Michel Vorm made a rare error to gift Andrey Arshavin a goal – although it was a tidy finish from a difficult angle – but Danny Graham missed a glaring chance in the dying embers of the game and the Gunners were a bit fortunate to come away with all three points. In fairness it was quite a new-look Arsenal; Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta made their debuts, and Emmanuel Frimpong was still being integrated into the midfield.
It seems likely that matchwinner Arshavin will start at the Liberty Stadium. He showed signs of improvement against Leeds, and Arsene Wenger agreed that he needs consistent games to play at his full capacity. With Gervinho at the African Cup of Nations, Arsenal have little choice but to give Arshavin more game-time, so we may see improvement from Arshavin in the coming couple of months. Seeing as Swansea play an open game, it might be a match in which he thrives.
A player who has been in fine form lately is Mikel Arteta, who, like Swansea’s midfield dynamos, is trained in the art of tiki-taka. His time at Barcelona as a youth player saw him develop a superb reading of the game and his passing against Leeds was almost faultless. This impeccable passing is currently a big part of Arsenal’s game, and he’ll hope to put Swansea’s expansive passing in the shadows with his masterful poise and vision.
FEBRUARY 16th, 2011
3 hours to go
As I swung my left leg into my dad’s car and pulled the door shut, I had no idea what I would witness in the 90 minutes that I had been building up to for ages.
Dad, my brother and I were about to set off to London – the Emirates Stadium, to be precise – to watch the Arsenal against the best team in the world; FC Barcelona. Some had even called them the greatest side ever. Arguable, yes. But they’re definitely up there.
It was lucky that I was going in the first place. We have two season tickets (immensely lucky too) and normally I take turns with my older brother. However, he usually pulls rank over me when it comes to the big games. For example, last season’s Barcelona game was his as soon as the name was pulled out of the hat.
Dad had said I might be able to go this year, but I was fairly sure that Josh would insist he was the one at the Emirates. But as we approached the tie, the man who sits next to my dad told him he wouldn’t be able to make it, and was wondering if dad would be interested in his ticket. He said yes, and that meant that my brother and I could both go. Just like the old days at Highbury, when we both came to the Champions League games in that remarkable run in 05/06. The Juventus game still stands firmly in my memory as one of my favourite games.
Anyway, back to the events of “that night”. As we began the (almost) 2 hour journey to Arsenal, which consisted of getting the car to Richmond and getting various tube lines until we reached our destination, a million thoughts ran through my mind. Could we do it? Actually, that was pretty much my only thought. I put my earphones in to attempt to calm down and try to stop getting so excited. My mum always tells me to “prepare to be disappointed” whenever we’re about to play a big game, and it was no different this time. But I couldn’t help believing.
2 hours to go
Something like 45 minutes later, we arrived at Richmond. We had left a little early so we could grab some McDonalds. Surprisingly long story short, one McChicken Sandwich and large fries later and we were back on our way. We headed to the tube station, took a newspaper each and got on.
As I read the preview for that night’s game, my heart began to pump with anticipation once more. How good would it be if we did it, I thought to myself. At the school where I go to, there are barely any Arsenal fans, and every time we lose, I’m absolutely ripped by my friends, so it would be brilliant if we could beat the best team in the world. But then again, given my optimism pre-match, they’d ridicule me for my glass-half-full prediction prior to the game if we lost. Especially if we got thrashed.
But I didn’t want to think about that. We were going to win.
1 hour and 15 minutes to go
After one quick tube journey and another very lengthy one, we pulled into Arsenal tube station. I can still picture the Arsenal fans in the streets, singing songs, buying merchandise, taking pictures. If that atmosphere was good, the one that would greet the players as they came out was unbelievable.
But that was an hour away. We strolled towards the stadium in high spirits, smiling and nodding at any Arsenal fans that glanced towards us. Up the two flights of stairs, and onto what is now known as the “Ken Friar bridge”. We crossed it with a swarm of Gooners, all equally optimistic about our chances of conquering the three-time European champions.
We saw some Barca fans chanting outside the stadium, in confident moods. We walked past them, shaking our heads, but secretly a little impressed with their passion. Of course, we could match it, and then some.
We entered the stadium through the turnstiles, having exchanged some quick greetings with the usual steward. Dad purchased a programme, as Josh and I rushed to the TV screens to check out the team news.
“BREAKING NEWS:” read the Sky Sports News scrolling banner along the bottom of the television, “SAMIR NASRI STARTS FOR ARSENAL”. We clenched our fists in joy, knowing that the side was pretty much full-strength, except for the absence of Thomas Vermaelen. Still, Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou had formed a superb duo at the heart of our defence, and we’d coped without Vermaelen the entire season – we could do it again.
We trotted down the steps to our seats, shaking hands with the usual match-goers who were already in theirs. “Seen the team?” said one. We confirmed that we had, and agreed how good it was that Nasri was starting. After a conversation about our French winger, and the players he’d be facing, someone pointed out the flags on our chairs. “Last time we had these, we got thumped by Man U.”
He was right, but I didn’t see it as a bad omen. I was excited to wave my flag, and couldn’t wait to contribute to the immense atmosphere, just like in the Champions League semi final of a few years ago against United. I hadn’t been at that game, so I was thrilled to be here and to be a part of it.
We continued to discuss a number of topics, from the referee to the Barcelona manager. As we spoke, Messi and co. were flooding out of the tunnel, to cheering from the Barca fans, and jeers from us. As our boys came out of the tunnel, they were greeted by huge applause from the home fans, which overcame any booing from the away fans – despite their numbers compared to ours. It was a little strange how they were already all in their seats an hour before, but they probably wanted to witness as much of Arsenal as they could.
The time had come. The rest of the regulars had found their seats, ready to cheer the players on to what would hopefully be an historic victory. The now-traditional pre-match song of The Wonder of You was boomed out of all the speakers, and as usual I joined in, holding my scarf proudly up in the air, just like thousands of others were. This was an atmosphere.
Then came the fairly-new video as the players lined up in the tunnel. As usual, I softly whispered each commentary as it came; “Brady… oh look at that! Look at that! What a goal by Brady!”, “And it’s Tony Adams, put through by Steve Bould, would you believe it?! That… sums it all up!” and of course “Thomas, charging through midfield, it’s up for grabs now! Thomas, right at the end!”
As the clock on the video ticked towards one, the players were about to enter the stage. The announcer told us to “Get our flags ready,” and then at last, to “Welcome Barcelona, aaaaand the Arsenal!”. And what a welcome we gave them.
Flags in the air, 60,000 all singing in harmony – it was enough to make every hair on your body stand up.
The players got into their positions, and the referee blew his whistle. This was greeted by another roar, then another rendition of “And it’s Arsenal, Arsenal FC, we’re by far the greatest team, the world had ever seen”. And we wanted to prove it.
We were straight out of the blocks, attacking Barcelona with a thrilling “no-fear” attitude. This could, of course, go spectacularly wrong if they caught us on the break, but we seemed willing to take that risk.
Barca nearly caught us out, when Lionel Messi found himself clean through on goal. He waited, and waited… and waited some more… before clipping a shot over the despairing Wojiech Szczesny (on his Champions League debut, mind you). It looked destined for goal… but it rolled inches wide.
Counter-attack seemed to be our best option, and we nearly made a breakthrough using that particular method. Fabregas was set free down the right handside, and clipped a cross towards Robin van Persie, waiting at the back post… and as he was about to nod it home, Abidal got a nick on it – cleared. Just.
It was our best chance so far, but instead of spurring us on, it motivated Barca. Messi weaved his magic in the hole, and played it in for Villa. Surely it was offside? Apparently not, as the linesman’s flag was not raised, and David Villa took advantage, slotting through the ‘keeper’s legs to make it 1-0.
We tried to respond, but Barca came back at us, with wave after wave of attack. Then suddenly, we broke away with Jack Wilshere. Into the other half… towards the goal… Walcott’s free on the right! No, he gave it to van Persie… we rose in expectation of our in-form striker… I clutched the shoulder of my brother’s coat… is it in?! Nope, side netting. It was a good chance, and it had gone begging. No fear – we’d score, we just knew we would. We had to…
But it looked like Barca were the ones who had scored, again, when Messi bundled in a header from a rebound. To our relief, the linesman called this one for offside. Only when the replay was dissected at super-slo-mo on ITV afterwards could they finally conclude that the assistant had indeed got it correct.
We went in at half-time behind by one goal to nil, but it could have been more, so we were in a way lucky. I nervously tucked into my half-time snack, surprised I could eat with the butterflies in my stomach.
Before we knew it, it was time for the second half. As the players struggled to impose themselves, Andrey Arshavin replaced Alex Song. We went close several times before that, but nothing particularly clear cut.
We still couldn’t get past Barcelona’s rearguard though. Wenger took a risk, throwing on Bendtner for Walcott.
Minutes later, we did it.
Gael Clichy dinked a ball perfectly into Robin van Persie, who had a tight angle for a cross inside the area. He went to pull back the trigger, and it looked like he was going for fire it across goal, hoping it got a touch and went in.
But instead, he went for the outrageous. Many players wouldn’t even think of doing what he did. But I’m glad van Persie did. He fired the ball at Valdes’ near post, and the goalkeeper had shifted away from his goal instinctively, thinking to block the cross. He was caught out, and the ball flew in at the far post from an immensely acute angle.
Goal! With twelve minutes left, we had grabbed a goal! We went crazy, absolutely over the moon. High fives were shared, hugs with random people, the usual stuff. Van Persie celebrated jubilantly, embracing Arsene on the touchline as the rest of the players celebrated amongst themselves. After the incredible celebrations, I rapidly texted all my friends who had texted me at half-time rubbing in the scoreline. Still, more than ten minutes left.
But if we thought van Persie’s goal was an amazing moment, we would have an even better one five minutes later. My head was already pounding from the immense noise, and Barca laid siege at our goal. “Clear it!” we yelled.
Laurent Koscielny, absolutely marvellous all night, picked Lionel Messi’s pocket once more. He looked for options, and concluded that Bendtner was his best bet. He slid the ball into the Dane, who came infield into a swarm of players. As Xavi ambled away from goal, a gap opened up, and Bendtner managed to find Wilshere. Encouraging applause and cheers. Wilshere found Fabregas first time. More encouragement. In one fluid movement, Fabregas pirouetted and spotted Nasri in space. He sent a ball spinning into the Frenchman’s path.
Nasri hared down the right, in the empty space left by Barcelona as they pressed for a winner. Only a few Barca players were back, but we didn’t have many players forward. Van Persie jogged into a good position, but Nasri seemed to be going for goal. He cut back, assessed his options for a millisecond. Van Persie was being marked too tightly, what could Nasri do?
Then he, and the 60,000 fans in the ground, saw him.
He sped into the box, screaming for the ball. We all screamed for Nasri to give it to him, and give it to him Nasri did.
Would he shank it miles over like he did recently vs Leeds? Would the goalkeeper save it? Would he miss it completely?
Within a second, we had our answer. And we had our hero.
As Arshavin curled the ball perfectly into the corner of the net, the Emirates Stadium exploded. It was a feeling of pure euphoria, and disbelief. Had we really just gone 2-1 up against Barcelona? The announcer confirmed that we had, as Arshavin, Bendtner and the rest of the team raced into the opposite corner to celebrate. I wasn’t paying much attention to what was happening on the pitch, instead celebrating with those around me. Somehow, I found myself and my brother switching places as we jumped around like crazy.
In my ecstatic state, I managed to notice that the guy next to me wasn’t celebrating. He wasn’t, but I was, and for 5 full seconds I went crazy in his face, not caring what his reaction was.
After a while we settled down, my heart still beating furiously, and my head pounding even more. I took a moment to rest, with my brain going crazy. The pain in my head was easily bearable thanks to the enormous supplies of adrenaline pumping through my veins. As I tried to relax, I checked my phone. Something like 4 new messages, saying things like “Fair play” and so on. I replied to all of them, telling them what a feeling it was, and how buzzing I was. To others, who weren’t aware, I bragged that I was there. They were jealous, and I felt so lucky.
The seven minutes remaining, plus the four of added time, seemed to take forever. As we urged the referee to blow up, regardless of how long should still be played, the players were equally nervous, but managed to clear every attack that came our way. Barcelona threw everything at us that they had, but they’d tired. A late scare in the form of Dani Alves was rejected by Szczesny, who had celebrated the second goal as vigorously as any of us. Clichy booted the ball into touch, and it seemed like the storm we were weathering wasn’t over. But apparently it had taken a nick off a Barcelona player, and we had the throw in. Taking as long as he could, Clichy launched it into the centre circle. It fell to a Barcelona player, and they tried piling forward again.
The referee had looked at his watch. The whistle was in his mouth. You could barely hear him blow, but I could tell from the reactions of the players and the fans alike that it was over – for now. There was the second leg to come, but for the time being I just wanted to bask in the incredible glory of the victory.
Overcome with joy, all of the Arsenal fans exited the stadium in good voice. Singing many songs about van Persie, Arshavin and of course the Arsenal, I joined in with each one. I got a frown from my dad when I joined in with the “We’ve got Arshavin” song, but at the time I wasn’t too concerned.
On the journey back, we saw many other Gooners, including on the tube. Already in our seats, some lads a little older than me settled into theirs, huge grins on their faces, just like us. My dad said “I guess your team won then?” and they nodded, still grinning like mad.
The events that had just gone on made the journey completely bearable – in fact, as I reminisced the night’s goings-on, I was nudged by my dad; we were already at our stop. Once we got on the next tube, which was outdoors for most of the journey, I checked my phone again. I replied to all my messages, and went about updating my Facebook status. I couldn’t respond to the comments, but I was aware of them, and showed my dad some.
We got into the car, and turned the radio on. For once, we decided to brave listening to TalkSport – even they were complimentary of our side’s efforts. We grinned as they gushed over that moment when Arshavin curled in the winner, picturing the moment in our minds’ eyes.
We got home at something like 12, but I wasn’t going to bed. Instead, I watched Sky Sports News with dad, to see what they said. After they exhausted the topic, we went onto the recording of the game to experience that amazing moment once again. We watched van Persie’s goal first, then waited until Arshavin’s goal came on. Having watched until the end of the game, we rewound, and watched the goals again. And again.
I must have got to bed at about 1am, and I decided to wear my Arsenal shirt as I slept – so immensely proud of my team. I soon drifted off to dreams of Arsenal, satisfied with the night’s events.
I know I’ll never forget that night. Since I wasn’t around when Micky Thomas slotted home the winner at Anfield, the Arshavin winner is currently the greatest moment of my Arsenal supporting life. It’s my Anfield ’89.