In my previous blog post entitled Five matches in 12 days, three stadiums and not one drop of rain - Part 1, I began to detail my recent trip to London where I attended five matches in less than two weeks. I first saw Arsenal defeat Bate Borisov at Emirate Stadium on Thursday, February 21st and then got to see West Ham beat Fulham at the London Stadium the very next night. That match also included West Ham’s “World Famous” bubbles. Here’s what came next in my football odyssey.
Match number three was on Sunday, February 24th versus Southampton. This is the match that started my entire adventure. (I won a trip to London through the Arsenal NYC supporters club including roundtrip airfare and a ticket to this match).
The weather was very un-London like with bright blue skies and temperatures in the 60’s as I head out for this 2PM kickoff. I wanted to take in the full pre-match experience so my first stop was Piebury Corner where I ordered the Dennis Bergkamp.
Then it was off to the Emirates where it was buzzing with anticipation.
This one looked like it was going to be a blow out as Arsenal led 2-0 after just 17 minutes. Lacazette got the first on a rebound off a Henrikh Mkhitaryan shot. Mkhitaryan scored the second just 11 minutes later.
Arsenal continued to dominate the game and had the bulk of the possession. There was no additional scoring, but it was great to see Arsenal keep a clean sheet in a league match for a change.
Interestingly the two people sitting next to me were from Brooklyn. It turns out they are also Arsenal NYC members and were able to purchase tickets through the supporter’s club. As I’ve said before, it doesn’t matter where you go in the world, you’ll always run in to someone from NYC.
Three days later and the sun was still shining as I prepared to take in Arsenal’s third match in six days. Bournemouth were in town for a Wednesday 7:45PM kick off.
Before heading to the Emirates I decided to pay a visit to see what had become of Arsenal’s old home ground, Highbury. The stadium was turned in to a condominium community called Highbury Square in 2009. The front entrance to the old stadium still stands and the grass in the center of the community is part of the actual pitch that players such as Henry, Bergkamp, Adams, Seaman and more used to play on.
From there I paid a visit to my favorite Arsenal pub, the Tollington. It was starting to fill up with Gooners having a pint or two before the game. Then it was time to head off to the stadium.
This was the best match of them all as Arsenal ran riot. Once again Mesut Ozil was given a start and he quickly proved his doubters wrong. Ozil had the ball in the back of the Bournemouth net in the 4th minute. Goal number two was scored by Mkhitaryan in the 27th minute.
The only glaring error in this one was made by young Matteo Guendouzi who was caught in possession by Bournemouth’s Lys Mousset. Mousset easily pulled one back for the Cherries (yes, they are called the Cherries). In the end it didn’t matter but hopefully the 19-year-old will learn from his mistakes.
Koscielny, Aubameyang and Lacazette each scored in the second half to give Arsenal a comfortable 5-1 victory.
Four matches were now in the books after just one week in London. There was one more fixture on my wish list and that was the North London derby scheduled at Wembley just three days later. The problem now was how to get tickets.
Since this is an in-demand fixture there weren’t a lot of options. I couldn’t get any from the Tottenham ticket office so I turned to Twitter. There were folks selling tickets here, but to say the prices were inflated would be an understatement.
One of my friend’s in London happens to be know a Tottenham season ticket holder. My friend cleverly touched base with her and told her that she had a friend in town who really wanted to go to Wembley. (she conveniently left out the fact that this friend (me) supports Arsenal and cannot stand Tottenham). Well this Tottenham fan came through. As a season ticket holder, she was able to purchase two additional tickets for us. Problem solved. (Except for the fact that we would be sitting among the home fans.)
The match was scheduled for 12:30PM on Saturday. I met my friend outside the Wembley tube station and to my horror, I was surrounded by the enemy. Spurs fans were everywhere. Not wanting to find any trouble, I made sure to not wear any team colors and to try and keep my mouth shut.
The energy in the stadium was high as the match kicked off. When Aaron Ramsey ran free towards the Tottenham goal it felt like time stood still. He coolly slotted home and for a moment I started to celebrate. I caught myself as I didn’t want all the bummed out Spurs fans sitting around us to find out that I was a supporter of their hated rival. I did chuckle to myself though and enjoyed the moment.
Arsenal played great and everything seemed to be going well until Harry Kane did what Harry Kane always does and dropped to the ground at the slightest touch to win a penalty for his side. He scored from the spot and celebrated as if he had won the World Cup.
Late in the match Aubameyang was fouled and the ref pointed to the spot. I knew right then that Arsenal were going to win 2-1. I was ready to celebrate. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Aubameyang’s shot was saved and the match ended 1-1. It was one of those draws that felt like a loss, but Arsenal played really well and took 4 points out of 6 against Spurs for the season.
I’ve always heard these North London derby matches are dangerous with a lot of fighting among rival fans. While I did see some fans yelling at each other while surrounded by police, I didn’t see any hooliganism on display at all.
The worst part of the entire day was trying to get out of Wembley. 62,000 people poured out of the stadium at the same time and headed for the tube. We encountered nothing but human gridlock. Basically we were trapped and had to figure out how to “Escape From Wembley”. Two and a half hours later after two bus rides and a train, we finally made it home. Definitely a nightmare scenario.
The next day I was off to Heathrow for my flight back to New York. I had seen four Arsenal matches and five games in total in 12 days. It was definitely an amazing experience.