I was sure something special was brewing on the night that Arsenal played Aston Villa.
So sure, in fact, that I organised a host of Gooners and Gooners-to-be around to my house for dinner and drinks before heading off to the pub to watch the game. I was so convinced we would win the game, so convinced that it would be a great night that I wanted to share it with the people that matter, that understood what it meant to the team and the manager to win.
I wasn’t wrong.
After plenty of crackers, mini-pies, beer, scotch and champagne and an argument about the difference between using ‘five star’ versus ‘out of ten’ movie rating scales, it was time for the guys and girls to get decked out in our Arsenal gear. There were six shirts in all featuring the names of Walcott, Sagna, Djourou, Nasri and Bergkamp and a vintage ’93 home shirt worn by the lovely Kate as well as a lovely Arsenal scarf that did the rounds as the night wore on. Needless to say when you see the photo below, we looked bloody good.
With excitement in the air we headed to the ever-reliable Pig ‘n’ Whistle in town to set up base before the 11.30pm local time kick-off. There were a host of other Gooners at the pub when we arrived and with a Rangers game only halfway through we were asked to sit around one of the smaller monitors for the first-half. I felt a little disappointed, I must say, but we made the most of it anyway.
It was an explosive opening 15 minutes by our boys.
With Cesc Fabregas not risked from the start it was imperative that Abou Diaby made a good start and he did just that, turning wonderfully to set up Eduardo with a simple finish after just a minute. Alas, almost predictably given his current form, Eduardo scuffed his shot and Friedel saved.
Diaby appeared almost possessed in the opening part of the game and his performance prompted me to make a prophecy to Le Panda Bear.
“This is going to be the game,” I said, “Where Diaby turns the corner. Where he does something that will get everybody off his back. He is going to make a statement tonight.”
In truth in my slightly inebriated state it probably came out more like: “Diaby’s #$#@ing awesome and he’s gaaanna score like… a hat-trick man. Wanna beer? He’ll make a statement. Look at that fro and goatee combo maaan.”
Aside from talking up the awesomeness of Diaby, Song and Arshavin regular reader Darragh and I also spent much of the first half trying to point out everything good that Thomas Vermaelen did in the hope of convincing our friend Kate that Arsenal was worth watching because his manliness was enough of a drawcard. The aftermath suggests it worked: she has since asked me the best way to get hold of a Vermaelen shirt.
As the first half blew to and end I was feeling good. I thought the boys had put in a controlled display and made some good chances while restricting Aston Villa to not much. I also got the feeling that first goal was going to be crucial and would probably be scored by Diaby. He had seriously been that dominant.
Half-time meant a change in rooms as the Arsenal contingent shifted to the main area and enormous screen that came with it. There was a definite increase in atmosphere and enjoyment and quite wonderfully, with it came an increase in the general quality of Arsenal’s performance. Andrey Arshavin and Samir Nasri sparked into life – long before Cesc Fabregas came into the fray, mind you – while Vermaelen and Armand Traore in particular looked unbeatable at the back.
Fabregas then joined the party to cheers of hope from both the Emirates crowd and the pub folk at the Pig. His introduction just added to the intensity as Arshavin was denied by a fantastic save by Friedel and Eduardo had shot blocked off the line. There was also a bizarre moment when the ball seemed to have crossed the line from an Arsenal corner, only for replays to show that despite the best efforts of goal-sneak William Gallas, it was still a yard away.
Then the goal came when little Cesc won a free-kick on the area and nonchalantly slammed home a superb curling shot.
The pub went crazy. I went on a little run of solitude and slammed heads with another supporter running the other way before we both fell in a heap. I swear I had knocked his teeth out but he stressed that he was feeling OK and walked away with a slightly painful jaw for his troubles. The bartender nearby said that it was one of the funniest things he had ever seen.
At 1-0 I secretly felt that the game was over. Aston Villa had been comprehensively outplayed up to this point and our lead meant the counter-attacking style that the usually employ so effectively became useless. The ball was in our court, Cesc and Diaby were running the show and our defence continued to look as watertight as it has all season.
After a couple of more good chances Cesc scored a second goal to well and truly put the game to bed. Traore won the ball, floated a beautiful long ball to speedy substitute Walcott and he put it on a plate for the onrushing Cesc to fire home. I once again sought solitude in my celebrations by running to the back of the pub only return to hear from another of my friends that Cesc was injured.
“Damn,” I thought, “but a price worth paying.” In retrospect, my opinion has not changed.
Aaron Ramsey replaced our unhappy captain as cheers of “2-nil to the Arsenal!” rang out loud and clear from the pub.
We continued to look the better team and added the third and final goal when Diaby brought my prophecy to life. Villa should have got closer to the big man but his awkward legs took him past a couple of players and he curled home a beauty past an unsighted Friedel. Keep up that sort of form kid and you might just have a future around here.
At the ungodly hour of 1.30am the final whistle went, the game was over and the Pig was a sea of Gooners sharing delightful hugs. It didn’t surprise me to see the majority of the people race home soon after. It was a Monday morning after all and despite the public holiday a number of had to go to work later on.
Not Panda and I though.
Thrilled with the win and performance of our boys, we decided to end the night at the only place that was still open – McDonalds – eating cheeseburgers and marveling out our great captain, heralding the arrival of Diaby and wondering where it all went right.
We love you Arsenal, we do.
Have your say on Arsenal’s fantastic 3-0 win over Aston Villa by leaving a comment.