Those of you out there who have read Nick Hornby’s magnificent autobiography and Arsenal book Fever Pitch will know of the parallel the he draws between his own emotional state and the fortunes of the club. As things got worse for us and we went 18 long years without winning the league, indeed, without even looking like we’d ever win the league ever again, Hornby’s own fortunes in life were equally as bleak leading him into a period of clinical depression that was overcome at the same time as we went on to lift the league in ’89.
The reason for that precis of a great book (if you haven’t read it, do) is that at half-time on Sunday, I felt like my life was becoming more and more like Hornby’s by the minute. The end of a long-term relationship on Friday night had compounded the general malaise that I was feeling after the 3 league defeats and some pretty poor general life situations (debt, joblessnes etc.) and at 4.45 on Sunday, I sat staring at my computer screen about as blue as I have been for four or so years. Everything in life seemed a little bit pointless. I (we) couldn’t get a win from anywhere. We were going to get dumped out of the cup by a team whose sole attacking threat is a filthy Spurs cast off.
I don’t believe in fate or higher powers. But there’s something in me that likes to think that in that dressing room at half time, those players were thinking of me. Robin was stood giving his inspirational team talk and pulled up a photo of me and said to the assembled team: “This guy has supported the club for the best part of twenty years. His girlfriend left him on Friday night. He’s generally pretty upset with his life. Let’s give him some hope.’
Of course, the above didn’t happen but the turn-around did feel like it had been planned for me. The team were playing with my emotions and I was very near breaking point. The first half was so very typical of our recent form. We were fairly dominant, we were knocking it about nicely, Rosicky, who had a generally good game, was running things in midfield but there was no end product. We weren’t getting the ball to RVP, Theo was having a shocker, Oxo-Cube hadn’t got into the game and then we concede basically against the run of play. Aaron Ramsey was left two against one from a short corner, Robbie Keane lifted up a decent cross and Richard Dunne, a man who we have punished more than any other player apart from Paul Robinson, got on the end of to head past a despairing Fabianski. My head hit the desk.
Their opener was followed by a decent bit of possession for us, then in the 41st minute, they broke and scored the kind of goal we used to score. They moved it quickly up the pitch, got it Darren ‘Sp*rs Reject’ Bent and his first effort was blocked by Fabianski, but he made no mistake of the second from a tight angle. I sighed. I went to make a cup of tea.
I’ve already hypothesised as to what was said at half-time and, whatever was said, we were a different team. Mertesacker had a header that went straight to Given, Ramsey had a decent chance on his weaker foot, Vermaelen cracked a shot in from distance a little wide. We looked like we were playing with purpose.
When it came, the penalty, like most penalties, was merely a result of the dominance we were showing. Ramsey was put through nicely, Richard Dunne went through him and never looked like getting the ball and we got the spot kick. Quite how Dunne stayed on the pitch is beyond me, as he was already on a yellow for a nasty challenge on Rosicky in the first half. Neil Warnock called the decision to keep him on by the referee as a ‘good one’. Or it’s not a proper enforcement of the rules. But now is not the time for complaining. Robin stepped up, Given went the wrong way and suddenly there was hope.
The second came just two minutes later and was probably the most satisfying, not only because it was from open play but also because of the quite frankly hilarious circumstances. Theo, who in the first half had looked like a contestant on Jim’ll Fix It who’d won the chance to play for Arsenal and who Arsene had bizzarely picked in a competitive game, waltzed into the box, beat what appeared to be half their team, tried to knick it round Given who palmed it up for former Sp*rs player and general antagonistic prick Alan Hutton to smash against Theo’s shoulder and into the back of his own net. Ha. 2-2.
Redemption and my own slow rise out of a depressive funk was completed five minutes later. Koscielny was fouled by Darren Bent in their box. Quite what they were both doing there, I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter now. Robin took his second penalty of the game, Given went the wrong way again and our Number 10 smashed it high into the top corner to give us the lead and equal Dennis Bergkamp’s scoring record of 120 Arsenal goals. Well done Robin.
What happened in the rest of the match is, quite frankly, pointless. They went close once but apart from that we saw it out. From a personal point of view, it was exactly what I needed. We’re through to the next round of the cup and I felt a burden being lifted from my shoulders. It wasn’t perfect but somehow it was just what I needed. They dragged me down the the depths of despair and then took me to the heights of ecstasy. It’s moments like this that make all of the pain worthwhile.
Til next time.
If you want another good way of getting over the end of a relationship or any other lifetime malaise, may I recommend watching all 49 games of the unbeaten run. You can find it here.