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Wednesday
Mar072012

Cherishing The Moment 

BY CRAIG WESCOTT / @j4goalpostsblog

Like many Arsenal fans last summer, I too spent hours in depression coming to terms with the haze that had been the 2010-11 campaign.  It was a real roller coaster of a season. One minute we were beating Barcelona, the next I had to endure a birthday being taunted by a Birmingham City just hours after we’d lost in the Carling Cup final. By May there wasn’t much to treasure – it was another trophyless year.

Despite the low points what I did manage to cherish from a season which at times, had me in tears, was taking my younger brother to away games. They were actually his first matches and seeing his delight when we secured tickets for away games as unglamorous as those against Wigan brought back the innocence of my own early days supporting the club…a time when the club could do no wrong, when we had the best players, the best manager and were the best in the world.

I'd obviously been to games before but they’d been with my mates, seeing the game through Corona Extra-tinted glasses, sharing each other’s cynicism. There's something about seeing a game through the eyes of a younger lad which is refreshing and as I sit with an Arsenal FC branded mug of tea, I wanted to share with you my favourite trips from a crazy season.

Newcastle United 0-4 Arsenal

This was my younger brother's first ever Arsenal match in the flesh so for the both of us it was a very special evening. With it being his first ever game I wanted it to be a surprise, so buying the tickets a month or so beforehand, I somehow managed to keep quiet till the day before the game, where I revealed the tickets to him. It was at this point his eyes lit up, he jumped up and down, hugged me and then spent the next few hours watching the ‘Invincibles' on DVD. His excitement at going to see a game stirred something inside me I hadn't felt for years; a genuine buzz about seeing the greatest team in the world. Maybe years of disappointment had blunted me but I knew at that moment, I was as excited as he was.

Taking our seats, we were absolutely buzzing. Unlike previous matches, I had someone to share emotions with and furthermore, it was the start of a glorious relationship between a young boy and his heroes, something amazing to see. That night, Denilson partnered Eastmond in midfield, something which worried me to the core. It was a relatively mix-and-match Arsenal side, with Vela on the left, Bendtner through the middle and Walcott to his right-hand side. Normally, fielding a weakened team in the North of England is asking for trouble, but nothing could go wrong that night. Four Arsenal goals proved me right.

Both of Walcott's goals were well taken, his second in particular, but it was Bendtner's strike in particular which made the night. Fed in by Fabregas, the Dane found himself approaching the goal at an angle about eleven yards out from goal. He shaped up to hit it (I originally thought it would hit a fisherman in the Tyne) and sent it into the top left hand corner of Krul's goal. We've all seen much better goals but coming, as it did, in the 82nd minute, it sealed Newcastle’s fate on the night. It was the point at which I turned to my brother and saw that his face was ready to explode through happiness. He also looked as if he could burst into tears, or alternatively back-flip the perimeter of the stadium. He'd seen a great goal, Arsenal were going to win and he'd seen it with his own eyes; it was a magical moment. This prompted him into singing 'Only one Nicky Bendtner'. Never mind the fact he'd done nothing all game but he'd scored the third and for my brother, that was enough, 'sod the rest of his game, he just scored'. He even got to sing, "Joey Barton, what a wanker, what a wanker!" His ultimate dream made.

That night, after the final whistle, Eboue approached the crowd, (we were moved down a few tiers as Newcastle couldn't sell the game out) kissing his badge. Ultimately, this cheered my brother even more, checking Eboue into his 'Hero' list. (Until we played Liverpool at the Emirates, where he, like Barton, became a 'wanker' in the eyes of my brother)

Wigan Athletic 2-2 Arsenal

This was the night we nearly died for the cause. If you remember, this match was played on December 29th, when there was a horrible, thick fog causing havoc. Now, my car was in the garage, my mate's car was also having troubles, so by good grace of God, my dear old Mum took us to the game. Cutting through the Cat & Fiddle (also known as the A537, though the name of the pub gives the pass its name) we could barely see for the fog and had to travel as slowly as 15mph. There was even a nagging thought we'd have to turn back for our safety but plough on we did and dropping down into Macclesfield, we all allowed ourselves an involuntary sigh of relief as the fog lifted.

I'm not talking about the game in detail as the image of Squillaci's own goal still angers me. That being said there were still moments to enjoy from a life threatening trip to Wigan, including the vision of my brother’s swearing getting progressively worse and him calling N'Zogbia all names under the sun after his headbutt on Jack Wilshere. We came away from that game with a 2-2 draw, a horrible anti-climax having beaten Chelsea two days previous, yet my brother still managed to pick out the positives. He maintained that if N’Zogbia hadn’t been sent off we’d have hammered them – the red card seemingly inspiring Wigan to get an equaliser. It was a somewhat outrageous claim since we were woeful that evening but still, he refused to believe Arsenal were at fault and he was still happy he'd again seen his heroes play.

Okay, so not the greatest night but he still claims it to be the night he risked his life on the Cat and Fiddle for Arsenal. We also bought my Mum a bottle of wine for her troubles.

Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal

We'd lost the Carling Cup Final, lost to Barcelona in the Champions League second-leg and then faced Manchester United in the FA Cup. It was a bad time to be an Arsenal fan, though everyone was still full of optimism.

That optimism was misplaced as we lost despite, as usual, dominating the game. We never looked like scoring, Rosicky rubber-stamping that with an air-shot from three yards out. The reason I loved this trip was down to one thing; the rest of the fans. I think we took around eight or nine thousand for the game, I’m not sure of the exact total, but it was rammed with Gooners and made Old Trafford feel like the Emirates. My favourite moment, an instant which sent chills down my spine, was when in around the 85th minute, Man United fans declared, "You're gonna win fuck all!" to which we responded with, “We won the league in Manchester!” I'm not going to carry on the song as you all know the lyrics, but it was absolutely beautiful signing it for so long

It was an incredible feeling, everybody singing a loud “fuck you” to Old Trafford and definitely something the players needed to happen at that stage for a little lift. Jack Wilshere in particular was grateful for such support, spending three of four minutes after the other players had gone down the tunnel to stand and applaud the Arsenal fans. Two days later, my brother used his hard earned paper round money to buy himself another Arsenal home shirt, just to put Wilshere on the back of his shirt. That one moment meant the world to my brother and though we lost, the feeling of everybody sticking their middle finger up to Old Trafford gave us a sense of satisfaction.

I find it also worth noting that Almunia's display in the midweek against Barcelona merited a standing ovation from the fans as he entered the pitch to start his warm-up.

I also got a sore throat from singing.

Bolton Wanderers 2-1 Arsenal

This was maybe the most frustrating day of the season, a day that summed up our season.

To start proceedings off, my sat-nav decided to croak it just outside of Stockport, (my own fault as I forgot to take the charger) meaning me previously unused Geography grades were going to be put to the test in the form of map-reading. Thankfully, Stockport is well sign-posted and I knew where I needed to be on the motorway and I knew that once I got on the ring road around Manchester, I just needed to remember my junctions.

Unfortunately for me, having Google-mapped Bolton's stadium, I thought it was Junction 5 I needed to exit for the stadium, though if I'd bothered to look properly, I'd have known that Bolton's ground is instead based in Horwich, not Bolton and I in fact needed Junction 6. Informing my brother we were about to turn the corner to see the Reebok stadium as I left the motorway, I passed under the motorway bridge to see myself looking at houses and a few garages. I had major egg on my face and so, using instinct, I took my first left, which I have since found out to be called Beaumont Road. We were lost and it wasn’t until quite some time later that we found ourselves in the centre of Bolton still not knowing how to get to Horwich.

It was here that I found the love of my life; a middle aged, ginger traffic warden who kindly directed me back onto New Chorley Road and towards our final destination. For what it's worth, I would have mounted her there and then if it wasn't for the minor in the car!

We went on to lose thanks to the forehead of Tamir Cohen and more slack defending from set pieces. It was also the day I felt sick to my stomach when at the final whistle, most of the travelling fans merely 'accepted' the defeat, while I was baying for blood so incensed by the defeat. It had been a strange atmosphere all game, with both sets of fans not really at their best.

Just to note, that Lehmann attempted a Rooney-esque overhead kick in the warm-up when testing Szczesny. It did anything but tested our tall Pole, instead, the German scythed the ball, sending it flying. It drew a round of applause and a lot of laughs from all fans who saw it, in both the Bolton and Arsenal ends. Amazing stuff from a man of his age.

Sorry for all the reading you've had to do, but I feel it important to reflect sometimes on the small details that form memories even when, in the grand scheme of things, nothing is going to plan. For me, last season provided magical moments which helped remind me why I love the club. I hope reading this gives you the same buzz as I felt when I saw my brother's face at Newcastle...

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