The Emirates Stadium. You can smell the trophies, the success, and the optimism. Just over 60,000 red leather seats and the finest grass in world football are present at the recently built North London stadium. When the stadium is empty, it’s just seats and a pitch. However, the expectation from everyone connected with the club still roams the air inside the stadium.
London is Red. London is Arsenal. Red like human blood. With the Emirates costing the owners in excess of 400 million pounds to manufacture; the board expects only the world’s finest footballers to wear the Arsenal crest.
22nd September 2014. 7:42pm.
Before, the game the fans rumble with animosity and excitement as the players ready themselves for battle in the tunnel. I take my seat and peer eagerly onto the remarkably cut pitch. The players prepare themselves with different mindsets. Some opt to approach the game with a no-nonsense attitude; Francis Coquelin looks out ahead onto the pitch. Similar to a Lion as it stares at its prey. He didn’t shed a smile towards his enemy; fully focused on the war he is about to fight. Intimidation fills the hearts off the opponents as they see the concentration and determination in the eyes of the french warrior. You will never see the soldier wounded; he does everything on the pitch for Arsenal Football Club.
The opponents Southampton are very tricky opposition. Arsenal had to be at the peak of their powers to progress to the next round of the League Cup. As both sets of players stride onto the surface, all fans rise in buoyancy. The crowd jeer the players on as they are only minutes away from starting this fierce encounter. The exuberant feeling that runs through my veins washes away the damp conditions on a chilly evening in Islington.
The excitement gradually simmers down as the game kicks off. Early in the game, Theo Walcott uses his electrical pace to gallop past Ryan Bertrand with the ball. The Southampton defender cynically trips Walcott. As Walcott tumbles under the contact the fans explode in anger. The referee races to the spot where the incident occurred and signals for a foul in favour of Arsenal. In addition, he brandishes a yellow card towards Bertrand. He expresses a cheeky grin but you could detect the guilt in his eyes. The fans angry faces quickly turn to delight as they realise justice has been served.
Alexis Sanchez; one of the world’s most unique attacking forces; proven by his form in the latest World Cup. His dazzling feet leave some of most highly rated defenders chasing his shadows. The hunger in his eyes throughout every game shows that he is not daunted by any player. Alexis stands directly behind the ball with Lukas Podolski on his right. He takes two controlled breaths. The Emirates is at silence. A screech from a rat would have been heard from all four corners of the stadium. He gallops towards the ball and takes a stab at the bottom of the ball. It swirls and dips around the 4-man Southampton barricade like a boomerang and nestled in the top left corner of the goal, leaving highly rated Fraser Forster flabbergasted to say the least. Sanchez runs towards the corner flag in delight while his team-mates chase after him. The fans erupt into delight as the Chilean puts Arsenal ahead. However there are fans that express nothing more than an audacious smirk as they have seen him produce magical moments like that previously.
As the game wares on and reaches the final ten minutes, you can sense the anxiety within the stadium. Southampton have stamped their authority on the game. A two goal deposit will ease the blood pressure of the fans. Arsenal are fluffing their lines as they waste key chances to ensure progression to the next round. Couqelin goes through on goal but lashes the ball over the bar and the Southampton crowd gobble the ball up. He lies motionless on the floor in disbelief. Moans and groans leek from the mouths of supporters.
Arsene Wenger looks bemused on the touchline as the players begin to get frustrated. He wears his long turquoise coat on the touchline and it reaches down all the way to his lean French knees. Wenger brings on Arsenal legend Theirry Henry in a decision based more on hope compared to optimism. This is second spell in North London. He gets a standing ovation from every one enclosed in the stadium, even Southampton supporters. Almost instantly the forward receives the ball on the edge of the box. The fans behind the goal, edge up off their seats. Their mouths open in optimism. The Frenchman gently but with genuine accuracy uses his right boot to stroke the ball into the bottom corner of the net. The Emirates goes ballistic. The floor beneath me feels like it is near to shattering point. Fans grab each other in delight and jump for joy. Henry glides on his knees knocking the corner flag over in triumph.