Instead of going to Blenheim palace, where Winston Churchill lived, Cassie, Adam, and I attended an Arsenal match at Emirates Stadium in Holloway, London. The stadium was incredible and HUGE! The architecture amazed me with the high waving seats along the top tier and the huge metal triangle beams above on the roof. The weather was rainy, and being in row two, right next to the pitch, I was concerned that we would get soaked. Luckily for us, the rain fell just in front of us and came straight down, unlike Iowa rain that usually blows around. If we would have been one row closer, we would have been soaked.
Arsenal controlled most of the first half, with Wigan Athletic barely getting a touch to the ball. Wigan made a couple attacks, but the Arsenal defense was able to put a stop to anything that came their way. It wasn’t until about halfway through the first half before the Arsenal goalkeeper touched the ball at all! At the midway through the first half, Arsenal won a corner kick. The ball was delivered in and Lukas Podolski headed one into the back of the net. The entire stadium, 60,068 people (minus the small section of Wigan fans) erupted into a roar of cheers. Being in the opposite corner of the stadium, it was difficult to see the action on the other end, but we had the second half to look forward to, when Arsenal’s offense would be close to us on our side. Theo Walcott made a quick breakaway and put the ball in the back of the net, but the goal was ruled offside, and therefore was not counted. The disappointment and jeers from the fans could be felt and heard throughout the Emirates. Wigan also had a goal ruled offside, preserving Arsenal’s lead for the time being.
Near the last minute of play in the second half, Wigan had a free kick just outside Arsenal’s penalty box. The stadium went dead silent as Wigan took the kick. The ball was deflected off of the leg of an Arsenal defender and was sent into the back of the net. Cheers from the Wigan supporters silenced us momentarily. It was a pivotal moment for Wigan to score, sending them in high hopes to the locker room at half.
Being at the end of the season, Wigan Athletic had to win this game to avoid being relegated to a lower division. This is similar to being demoted to the minor league from the majors in baseball. Arsenal had to win this game to increase their standings in the league to hopefully get into the top 3 teams. Sorry to make things sound complicated, unless you know how the how the league system works in England, it’s difficult to explain in a short blog post.
In short, both teams really needed to win this game, making an excellent contest for the fans.
In the second half, Wigan came out looking sharp. Arsenal barely held off a few of the attacks. Shots came too close for comfort in my opinion. Then, Arsenal’s careful attacking that I came to see stared to develop. We had the perfect seats to see all of the action, behind the net in the southeast corner of the stadium. The players ran right at us. The only thing that could have made it better would have been a ball shot wide and into the crowd! Santi Cazorla crossed to the ball, and Lukas Podolski netted his second goal of the night. Theo Walcott, my favorite football player, scored, and Aaron Ramsey dribbled the ball from midfield down on his own and scored. I could see that the Wigan goalkeeper had lost all of his confidence at 3-1 Arsenal. When Ramsey came down and shot the ball, the goalkeeper had no chance.
The game was a dream come true to attend for me. I had been looking forward to seeing my favorite team play for over 4 months and it was everything I had hoped it would be. We were able to see some of the fancy footwork on the ball that I typically miss while watching on television. Near the end of the game, we could even catch a couple whiffs of the smell of sweat from the players. Gross, I know, but part of the experience that I could never get at home. The chants and songs that I was able to join in on was one of my favorite parts. We cheered on Arsenal with yells of “Arsenal! Arsenal! Arsenal!” sung in unison throughout the stadium. This was an experience I will not ever forget. I hope that I will soon be able to go back and see my team play again.