Arsenal v Swansea City
Emirates Stadium / Premier League / 1st December 2012
When Swansea earned themselves promotion to the Premier League Promised Land, many people I spoke to pointed to the Emirates Stadium as probably the best stadium I would visit on my Premier League travels with the Swans. In Swansea’s maiden voyage into the big, scary world of Premier League football, the Emirates Stadium happened to follow the equally Persian sounding Etihad Stadium on our away day schedule for the season, so it was not long before I was sampling the supposed delights the relatively new stadium was going to offer me.
I have to say that my first visit to the Emirates was brilliant. The stadium was as stunning as many had described it, although the concourse was a tad small considering the size of the stadium. Swansea lost that early September fixture 1-0 to Arsenal, just 6 days after the Gunners had been torn to shreds by United in that infamous 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford. The 1-0 victory over Swansea did not really tell the true story, as Arsenal were lucky to get away with 1 point let alone 3. The sole goal of the game came from Andrei Arshavin firing into an open net (admittedly from a very tight angle) after Swansea’s goalie, Michel Vorm, threw the ball at the back of Angel Rangel’s ankles, which then rebounded into the path of the Russian winger to finish. If it wasn’t for this blunder and a misfiring Danny Graham, still lacking confidence in the nascent stages of his Premier League career, Swansea would surely have at least drawn.
As any true away fan knows, you do not sit down in the away end; however, at the Emirates this unwritten away fan rule would be to my downfall. After 90 minutes of standing, I collapsed into my seat in my usual post match loss strop only to realise I’d missed out on sitting in the most comfortable seats you will find in any football stadium’s standard, non-VIP, seating area in this country or, I imagine, in Europe or the world!
The facilities of the stadium were obviously great, but one of the highlights of my trip to the Emirates was the large selection of pubs available around the corner from the stadium. The Twelve Pins, near Finsbury Park train station, had been highly recommended to me before my journey down to North London, so I made my way there for my early afternoon drinks before the game. I regularly tell people about how on my travels I seem to meet a whole list of characters, from the very friendly to the absolutely barking mad (I’m looking at you Scunthorpe). It was in the Twelve Pins I met perhaps two of the friendliest fans I’ve met on my travels, father and son Nigel and Lee Stapley. Despite me refusing to accept drinks off them, the Stapleys repeatedly supplied me with beer throughout the afternoon. Top lads! I was even invited to join the Stapleys in the Arsenal Tavern after the game to get over the Swans’ cruel defeat. Unfortunately, the Stapleys could not join me for my second visit to the Emirates as Lee’s partner was due to give birth; I joked with them the day before the game (via Facebook) that if the baby was born on matchday and Swansea won, the newest addition to the Stapley family would have to be named Jack.
My transport to London on the 1st day of December would be provided by one of Richard Branson’s uber-fast Virgin trains, departing Manchester at 8.35am and getting me into London Euston for 10.45am. By coincidence the Williams, Medwyn and son Iestyn, would be arriving into London the same time as myself, so we arranged to meet at Euston station before making our way up to North London via the underground. Getting our underground tickets was an arduous task in itself, but eventually we navigated our way through the confusing ticket machine menu and we were soon on our way to Zone 2 of the London Underground – more specifically, Finsbury Park station. A word of advice, Finsbury Park is only ten minutes walk away from the Emirates Stadium, so following the game, I would recommend people going to this station instead of the Arsenal station – huge queues stem from here following a match!
We arrived at Finsbury Park shortly after 11am and we decided to go in search of the Faltering Fullback where we would be rendezvousing with some fellow Jacks and some of Medwyn’s Arsenal supporting pals. It was not long before we were standing outside the very unique looking Faltering Fullback, but unfortunately for us, the place was not opening until 12 o’ clock. “No worries”, we thought, we’d just find another place to go for a drink until it opened – this was London after all. Rather frustratingly the other two pubs we found in the area were not open either; it was 11.30am in an area only ten minutes away from a large football stadium on matchday and no pubs were open! Ludicrous!
After a wander around the streets of North London, we decided to head back to the Faltering Fullback and put on our best ‘pity me’ faces so that the landlord would spot us pathetically hanging around outside and let us in. The ploy did not work straight away, but the landlord did appear shortly after our return and opened the pub ten minutes early. We were soon on our first pints of the day. I have to say that the Faltering Fullback is a superb pub, even though I was disappointed to learn that the ‘fullback’ referenced in the name of the pub is of the egg-chasing variety and not a reference to the brilliantly clumsy Andre Santos of Arsenal. The pub had a variety of random things hanging from the ceiling including a guitar, a large model of a plane, a washing rack and two bicycles amongst many other beautifully wacky and random objects; interspersed amongst this mish mash of randomness were the scarves of several football clubs, but I decided, as much as I liked the place, the pub was not having my Swansea scarf. Despite appearing to be a small pub from the outside, the pub was actually fairly substantial with several rooms leading off into other rooms and there were several TVs scattered around, all displaying Sky Sports News of course.
We were son joined by Andy and John, two Arsenal fans and friends of Medwyn, who did not sound too confident about their side’s chances against the Swans today. Their confidence was not helped by the fact that the main topic of conversation, amongst the more Swansea-orientated people in the room, was Swansea’s immense first half performance against West Brom on the Wednesday before today’s match; many had dubbed it possibly the best Swansea performance (or at least the best first 45 minute performance) in the club’s recent history, some even claiming ever – it was certainly the best I’ve ever seen them play anyway.
Shortly after, we were joined by Calvin, Dai and the Cox family including his brother Stuart. Our Jack numbers were boosted further by the arrival of the ‘Treharris Caravan’ (Lynsey and Kelly – the name they give to themselves on their away day sojourns) which today also included the girls’ mother, Anita. Conveniently, Anita would not be attending the game – so she claimed – adding to our myth that Anita is in fact Cyril the Swan. We’ll never know! After several rounds of drinks, we departed the pub and began to make the 10 minute walk to the Emirates Stadium. With ten minutes to spare until kick off, we arrived outside the huge structure that is The Emirates Stadium.
I have to say, The Emirates Stadium is one of the finest looking stadiums in the country. Arsenal’s home is still a relatively new abode with the Gooners only moving to the 60,000 seater stadium in 2006, after years of construction at an estimated cost of £390 million. Many wanted the the club to maintain the name of the original site, Ashburton Grove, as the stadium’s moniker, but a £100 million deal with Fly Emirates led to them obtaining the naming rights and the stadium became the Emirates Stadium. The club’s old ground, Highbury, stood just down the road from the Emirates with the old ground being redeveloped into Highbury Square: a large block of flats; apparently one flat is owned by former Arsenal favourite Robert Pires. In fact, the West and East Stands of Highbury still stand as part of the complex. The famous clock from Highbury is now part of the Emirates with another newer, larger version also fitted into the new stadium.
Since the move from Arsenal’s famous old home, the club have also tried to “Arsenal-ise” the Emirates to celebrate the club’s history and heritage; the exterior of the stadium has eight large murals emblazoned with the image of four Arsenal legends’ shirts on each one; the bridges near the ground are named after former directors Ken Friar and Danny Fiszman; there is “The Spirit of Highbury’ shrine with the name of every player to have ever played for Arsenal at their old ground; the Emirates’ stands are now named the same as Highbury’s four stands and finally, as part of the club’s 125th anniversary celebrations, the club unveiled statues of legends, Thierry Henry, Tony Adams and their legendary manager, Herbert Chapman.
On entering the stadium, the queues for beer were rather large, as was the £4.20 price tag for a bottle of Carlsberg, so I decided to give the beer a swerve and head straight for my beautifully cushioned seat in the Clock End. When I arrived at my seat in the 15th row I just could not sit down and break the away day fan code; comfortable or not, another 90 minutes of standing awaited me.
As mentioned previously, the Swans had been superb in their previous game against WBA and a large part of this was thanks to the brilliant performance of Pablo Hernandez, a player who has been in superb form over the past month or so. However,Pablo was ruled out of today’s fixture with a thigh injury – a big blow. The blow was doubled before kick off with news that Routledge, possibly Swansea’s player of the season so far, was also ruled out with illness. Strangely, Arsenal had dropped Oliver Giroud, who was coming into form, for the unpredictable Gervinho.
The game began to unfold as expected with both sides playing their trademark passing games, but with Swansea getting the larger sum of possession. Swansea’s early possession was definitely unnerving the home fans and there was a huge sense of unease in the stands. The Jack Army were in excellent voice once again, embarrassing the quiet groans of the 55,000 plus Arsenal fans surrounding them.
The first good chance of the game fell to the marauding Angel Rangel, who found himself latching on to a good pass from Itay Shechter and shooting at Wojciech Szczesny, before getting a second stab at a shot which was also blocked by the Polish keeper. The next chance fell to the Gunners, with Santi Cazorla heading straight at Gerhard Tremmel. The best chance of the half would fall to Nathan Dyer; a long ball was headed on by Michu, putting Nathan Dyer clean through on goal; just as Dyer was going to pull the trigger, Thomas Vermaelen made an excellent last ditch tackle to block his left footed shot, which would have surely been a goal. The game was 0-0 at half time with Swansea having the better of the half.
I decided I was going to treat myself to a £4.20 bottle of beer at half time, only to witness long winding queues once again. Instead I spent half time beer-less, chatting to fellow Jacks about our impressive first half. I also finally got to meet the man Medwyn described as ‘a character’ before the game: Swansea fan, ‘Dai the Spy’ (I don’t know why he’s called this) – a character indeed. I won’t publish what he said to me in the brief conversation we had, but safe to say he was very entertaining during our brief chat.
Arsene Wenger must have clearly got at his players at half time as the home team came flying out of the traps and began attacking Swansea incessantly. Santi Cazorla had two good shots at goal, only for both to go straight at Tremmel again. Swans then took off Itay Shechter for Luke Moore, moments after the Israeli striker had had a decent shot at goal. Then Angel Rangel had another forceful run which took him past Vermaelen and led to a powerful right-footed shot at goal that was saved by Szczesny. Arsenal brought on Giroud for Gervinho and Alex Oxade-Chamberlain for Podolski – the two departing players had been ineffective for the whole game; Gervinho even hit a header so far wide it went out for a throw in. Giroud’s introduction would lead to a crucial point in the game. A misplaced pass by Ki saw the ball roll into the path of Giroud, who would have been clean through on goal. However, the Frenchman’s path to goal would be denied by the excellent Chico Flores getting the smallest of flicks on the ball, rolling it back to Tremmel, but also bringing down Giroud in the box. “Penalty!” cried the home fans, finally waking up, but referee Mark Clattenburg rightly let play continue, indicating with his thumb and finger that Chico had got the slightest touches on the ball. I should also add that Clattenburg was brilliant for the whole game.
Dwight Tiendali came on for Jonathan De Guzman for some rare game time. It took a minute or two to work out where Tiendali was going to play, but it soon became clear that he was to slot in at right back and Rangel was to play further upfield (in all fairness he had spent more time attacking than defending anyway). This now meant Swansea’s attacking three behind Michu up front consisted of Dyer, Moore and Rangel – not exactly our first choice attackers, but it seemed to improve the team. A clever through ball by Moore put in Tiendali who’s shot was blocked by Szczesny again. I thought that was our chance gone and that it was just not going to be our day in front of goal. Then with 2 minutes left of normal time, Chico Flores chipped a pass into Michu, who miscontrolled and deflected the ball into Vermaelen. Fortunately for Swansea, the ball ricocheted to Luke Moore who played a well judged, first time through ball to Michu who was put clean through on goal. Michu opened up his body and curled the ball past Szczesny. 1-0 to Swansea and cue scenes of ecstasy in the away end. It really did go mental as Michu joyously slid in front of the Jack Army. Now just to hold on for the remaining few minutes.
As Arsenal began to ‘kitchen sink’ it, Carl Jenkinson failed to find space to put a cross in the box and instead began running back towards the halfway line. Like a terrier. Dyer chased him down and made a very good tackle to send the ball loose and onto Michu. Once again, he was through on goal with only Tomas Rosicky chasing him. Michu calmly rolled the ball past Szczesny to make it 2-0 and once again he was sliding across the turf in front of a jubilant Jack Army. 2-0 to Swansea and game over. Despite a chorus of boos filling the North London air, many Arsenal fans hung back to applaud the Swansea players off the pitch – the second time I’ve seen this happen with the first occasion being the Liverpool fans applauding the Swans off the Anfield pitch last season.
Many Swansea fans hung back to watch the highlights of the game being repeated on a loop on the large screen above the away end, with each showing of Michu’s goals being greeted by cheers. Having watched the goals several times I said my goodbyes to the Emirates and made my way out into the December night.
My train back to Manchester was not until 19:40 so I had a couple of hours to blow. I made my way to my old favourite, the Twelve Pins, to watch the game between Reading and Manchester United on ESPN (and what a first half – 4-3 to United after 45 minutes!) Having witnessed the silliness of that first half, I made my way back to Euston station via the underground. My plan was to go to the Doric Arch, a pub conveniently situated next door to Euston station which I had frequented on several previous visits to London, to enjoy a couple of drinks before catching the train back up north. I even got to regale a group of Fulham fans with how well Swansea had played today, whilst they bemoaned their side’s 3-0 home drubbing to Spurs that very same day.
Another superb away day! The Emirates is a brilliant stadium and I can’t decide whether I now prefer it to my other favourite new-build stadium, Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. If you do get a chance to visit the North London club’s home, I highly recommend a visit, along with taking in the Faltering Fullback pub before heading along to the ground.
It’s also just dawned on me that I haven’t seen Swansea lose away from home in their past three away games, a personal best away day record for myself with the Swans. Long may it continue.
Highlights: The Faltering Fullback, The Twelve Pins, brilliant new stadium, good facilities, cheap ticket (for away end at least), another Swansea away win, plenty of bars/pubs/takeaways near the ground, my drinking session with the Stapleys.
Low Points: Expensive food/drink at the ground, poor atmosphere from home fans, struggling to find a pub open at 11am.