By Phil Gregory
Unfortunately it was not “that” kind of Arsenal Champions League debut, but I was lucky enough to be at the Emirates for my first Champions League game on Wednesday night. Having only been living in London for a matter of weeks, my previous experience of live Arsenal games was either weekend games at the Emirates or more commonly, the rowdy away days.
It’s Friday now, so all the blogs have had their say on the match and the like, so I won’t dwell on that side of things. I will point out however, in true Catering Report style, that the service at the Emirates continues to be mind-boggingly terrible. It takes forever to get served, the queues block the concourse and when you are lucky enough to reach the counter the poor staff are so inadequately trained that everything takes forever to get done. In general, Arsenal do things right but the half time bevvies are a trauma not worth having if you consider the prices they charge.
Coming pretty much straight from work with just a brief stop home to get changed, I picked up some food on the way in to the ground. Patience is a virtue and that holds doubly true when you are referring to burger vans on the way to the ground from Finsbury Park tube station. The first van I came to had a massive queue and was demanding £3.50 for a burger. Ten yards down the road however, the queue was miles less and £3 was the order of the day, with cheese included for free! Phenomenal. Only a pound to upgrade to a double burger, you can’t ask fairer than that. £1.10 for half a litre of coke at the station newsagent too – that’d cost the earth inside the ground.
Fed and watered, I got a pleasant surprise when I checked my tickets – while I was as far back as you can be, my seat was right on the half way line! You don’t get a better view than that, not bad considering I had convinced myself I was in one of the corners. On the way to my seat I bumped into Dan, a mate from uni. We had planned to get a drink after the game but arrangements had fallen by the wayside as I was on a stand-in phone and Dan doesn’t do organisation. The odds of two people being in the same small area of a 60,000 seater ground must be ridiculously slim, but it worked out for us that time.
Trekking right the way to the back, I was impressed at how good the view is, even s0 far up. In fact, being that high up is actually an advantage: you can see the team really well and notice the things you don’t see on the TV. The big one for me was Cazorla’s positioning: the little wizard was playing like a second striker as opposed to an advanced midfielder, which is an interesting development. Oh, and I could see Olympiakos’ fans going absolutely mental in the corner. No wonder the Greek economy is going down the pan if 3000 of them can slip away for a trek to the opposite corner of Europe. Their fans were absolutely barmy, and even started chanting at each other by the end of it. The North Bank got dogs abuse when the Greeks scored, an opportunity was missed when Eurozone crisis banter was passed up for the old staple “who are you?” Aaron Ramsey ended that particular debate, with the Greek fans actually celebrating the goal. No, I don’t have a clue why either.
Olympiakos was another game where we say Gervinho in that centre forward position. This change came as a surprise to everyone but he did play as a second striker for Lille so the skill set is similar. I’ve maintained since I first saw him play for us versus Newcastle where I was in the stands at St James’ Park that he is a cracking player. Sure, his finishing isn’t the best but he gets pilloried a little unfairly: he is great at beating a man, and often misses chances only because he gets himself into fantastic positions in the first place. Sure, it would be better if he scored said chances, but as it stands he gets criticised for missing them when nothing negative would be said if he didn’t get in those positions in the first place. Great player, with scope to improve – brilliant.
After the game a couple of us went for a pint to the Auld Triangle, a watering hole I’d never visited but I’ve heard Tony and Walter blog favourably about it many a time. I offered to get the round in (we were only staying for one) but alas this pub wasn’t quite in the 21st century and didn’t have a card machine! I mean, really, I know sometimes the banks rip businesses off and charge a fortune for the privilege of taking card payment, but why not get the machine and pass the cost on to the customer? It’s not like card payments these days take any longer than counting out change, if you get the right machine! My contribution to that round ended up being a sterling 90p thanks to the lack of technology! The pub seemed nice though, worth a visit another time when I have paper currency…
Coming up at the weekend the scope of the West Ham threat will surely centre around the possibility of the recently injured Carroll starting. The trick to stopping him will be our high line: even if he wins the headers, he can’t do much damage if he is winning them nearer the centre circle than our penalty area. That approach leaves space in behind so we will need to be careful of the likes of Vaz Te, Jarvis et al but I don’t doubt we will win the midfield battle. It’s probable that we will concede, given West Ham’s efficacity going forwards but we have it in us to score a couple
So there we have it. Always go for the second burger van, avoid the half time grub if you are of a short-tempered disposition and always carry cash in these parts of North London.