Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Each season has a seminal moment

It’s ten years since the Invincibles season. Yes, I’m slightly horrified by that thought too. It makes me feel a bit old and only reinforces the fact Arsenal have been in a ‘transitional period’ for an uncomfortably long time. However, despite not winning the league since 2004, being an Arsenal fan isn’t dull or unexciting. In every season since that incredible unbeaten campaign, there have been matches that have made the season feel worthwhile.
Even if it’s just one or two matches a season, there have always been games that make you want to continue supporting the club because the moments of euphoria and excitement they bring about are nigh on impossible to recreate in any other situation in society.
It might seem strange to be thinking quite as deeply about this before a Capital One Cup third round match away to West Bromwich Albion. However, this competition last year produced my seminal moment for the 2012/13 season. Given that away match tickets can be like gold dust, going to Madejski Stadium to see Arsenal play Reading in the fourth round seemed like a great idea. At least it did until Arsenal were 4-0 down before half time.
The first 40 minutes of that match were the worst I’ve ever seen live from an Arsenal team. Fans were still adapting to the loss of Robin van Persie, and had things got worse in that match, the atmosphere could have become really volatile. However Theo Walcott pulled a goal back just before half time to give the away fans the faintest glimmer of hope. The talk amongst supporters was that the Walcott goal could be crucial by the end of the game, before we all laughed it off. Someone was overheard saying, “I’ve never been to one of these big comeback games.” Again, we all dismissed it as a random burst of optimism just to keep spirits up.
Olivier Giroud and Thomas Eisfeld entered the fray in the second half and changed the game. Eisfeld gave Arsenal control and creativity in midfield, whilst Giroud showed signs that he could become the player he now is. His excellent header halved the deficit to make it 4-2.
With two minutes of normal time left, most fans were fairly content to at least have avoided the completely humiliating result that seemed likely at 4-0. Then Koscielny headed in Walcott’s corner. 4-3 with four minutes of added time. One chance, Arsenal just needed one chance.
Walcott got the ball on the left side of the area, flashed it across goal and agonisingly wide. That was it, the away fans assumed that was the chance gone. That was until Jason Roberts took the art of slow jogging to new levels when he was substituted to waste time. The referee correctly added on the time for the substitution, and there were just enough seconds for Coquelin to pump the ball in the box, Chamakh to head it down, Walcott to have a shot that just crossed the line before Jenkinson stuffed it home anyway to make sure.
I’ve not known celebrations like it. Did I care that I might miss the last train out of Reading because of extra time? Not a chance. In the excitement of it all, one man near me got a split lip such was the pandemonium that ensued.
Extra time was just as exciting, with Arsenal going 5-4 up before being pegged back to 5-5. Having gone through the elation of coming back and taking the lead, to concede late on and head towards penalties was tough to take.
Then Laurent Koscielny intercepted the ball and Andrey Arshavin found his first proper burst of energy in about two years to speed towards goal despite playing 120 minutes of football. His shot was cleared off the line, but Theo Walcott slammed in the rebound to spark more mental celebrations. Everyone had forgotten it was a Capital One Cup fourth round match. This game had turned into its own epic. Everyone was caught up in the moment.
Incredibly, the celebrations were elongated when Marouane Chamakh broke away and lobbed the goalkeeper to complete the craziest game of football I’ve ever been to. 120 minutes, 7-5 winners having been 4-0 down.
That match at the Madejski was proof that any match has the potential to become a seminal moment. A moment that, whilst it doesn’t always compensate for winning trophies, is a memory you’ll remember for as long as you support the club. For some fans, because of that game, they will be making the journey to the West Midlands on Wednesday evening to watch Arsenal at the Hawthorns against West Brom. It could be a boring game, and with the changes Arsenal will make, they could go out. But, it might not be. That’s what keeps us going and supporting the Arsenal.
One man that is set to appear on Wednesday is Nicklas Bendtner. For all the negativity surrounding his return to the first-team fold, it’s easy to forget that he has provided Arsenal fans with one of those seminal moments from a season. Think 2007/08, the North London Derby against Tottenham. Bendtner came off the bench with the scores at 1-1, ran straight into the box and scored with his first touch to win the game.
That alone shows that even the unlikeliest people can have a hero in them.
Honestly, I’m not expecting too much from the West Brom game because of the patchwork team that Arsene Wenger is likely to field. However we shouldn’t discount the game and we shouldn’t discount Bendtner. A Capital One Cup tie in one of the early rounds might seem innocuous enough, but seminal moments can appear from anywhere. You don’t want to miss them when they do.