Adventures in Football #60: Emirates Stadium (The Arsenal)
July 30, 2022
ARSENAL vs. SEVILLA (Emirates Cup)
Arsenal is one of the most prestigious clubs in English football history. They have the longest top division streak of any team dating back to 1913. They’ve won 13 top flight titles, a record setting 14 FA Cups and three famous doubles. 1971, 1998 and 2002. They’ve won two league cups, a UEFA Cup Winners Cup, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and were runners up in the Champion’s League final in 2006. Despite such a lofty history the Gunners have been a bit of an afterthought of late. They’ve trailed city rivals Chelsea in a distant second and last year finished below Antonio Conte’s Tottenham.
The Emirates was one of the more exciting and ambitious new builds when it came into life in 2006. At a cost of £390M Arsenal built themselves a new home, after spending the majority of their footballing life at Highbury. Initially the stadium was met with less than thrilled supporters (some frustrated the money had been spent on the stadium rather than the squad) but since 2009 Arsenal have been working at turning the stadium into their home. In particular a mural that goes around the outside of the ground showing 32 Arsenal legends in a team huddle. They’ve also brought back the Clock End and added statues of Tony Adams, Thierry Henry and Herbert Chapman.
Arsenal is a tough ground to get into. With capacity at 60,000 you’d think it would be easy but there’s a 40,000 strong waiting list for season tickets. Your best bet at getting into the ground is either for pre-season, European football, Carabao Cup or one of the Internationals that the Emirates hosts. Most recently a 1-0 win for Brazil over Uruguay in 2018.
Mike wakes me up around 9am. I was up at 6am but managed to fall asleep fully clothed waiting for Mike to get up. I have a very sore neck because of this and mobility is an issue. We’re a day on from my Northampton pub crawl/AFC Rushden & Diamonds experience. As a result, I am somewhat mouldy. Not hungover or anything but sluggish. We head into London and switch from rail to tube at St Pancras. A veritable top tip here is to ignore Google’s directions and not get the Piccadilly line, or as my phone has autocorrected to “puccaduoky”, and instead get on the Victoria line to Finsbury Park. The Piccadilly line was heaving. You couldn’t get on the platform. The Victoria line was empty.
We take a pleasant stroll down towards the ground passing an assortment of vendors. They love “big fat chunky chips” around these parts. There’s also a bloke selling “TODAY’S PROGRAMME” out of his garden shed. It leaves me wondering if he’s got other programmes in there. Collectibles and whatnot. Mike asks if I want to go and check out the old bits of Highbury that are still visible. Well, of course.
Phwoar! Look at that! Imagine living in that bastard. We looked around the side and you can just about see the roof of the stand where it stretches over the back. It’s brilliant that they’ve retained this piece of history. That’s something I get from the Arsenal experience in quantity and quality; the history of the place. The respect Arsenal have for their past is a benchmark in the modern game.
This is the kind pettiness I can get behind too. There were a lot of people selling merch. Normally you get the odd one but Arsenal had loads. Plus the queue for their club shop was down the road and eventually across it. Plus you could buy artwork, although I think you’d struggle to get it into the ground. Arsenal have a dedicated fanbase but some of them have made bad choices. There’s a guy with an Arsenal shirt that has number 710 on the back and above…”Saka and Emile”. Good lord man. I know it’s tough to pick a favourite player sometimes but that’s not the way.
As you walk around the area the ground is visible from everywhere. Every gap in the buildings and there it is. Looming large. The place is buzzing, considering we’re still in pre-season. The stadium today is going to be packed out, with no away fans.
We stop off at the Highbury Library, which I legitimately thought was a book store until Mike leaned in the window and said “they’ve got beer in there”. It’s right opposite this piece of modern art. It’s not too busy until after we get in there and suddenly it’s rammed. The walls have cages to protect vinyl collections and they sell some tremendous beer for a pub this close to the ground. We enjoy a beverage, admire the Ray Parlour inspired art work, and take a stroll past the big Arsenal sign and across the Danny Fiszman bridge, which takes us over the train tracks and into the complex where the Emirates sits.
We’re coming in via the Clock End, so this is the view that awaits us. The queues are somewhat startling. There are queues for literally everything. We have to go through a queue just to get to where our queue starts.
On our way to the queue we bump into this absolute unit. Herbert Chapman, revolutionary manager of Arsenal in the 1920s and 1930s. Responsible for changes in tactics, training techniques, physiotherapy, floodlighting, European competitions and numbered shirts. He changed the game and caused a quantum leap in the sport during his time before suddenly dying of pneumonia in 1934, while still at the peak of his powers, aged only 55. If he’d been allowed, by god, to continue this would probably be the benchmark by which we compare all managers rather than Sir Alex Ferguson.
Mike cuts between a few people and I’ve lost him. Good lord. I take a picture of the crowd to see if I can see him. He’s actually in this picture! The queueing system is a bit of a disaster. I eventually catch up to Mike and we slowly crawl along for ten-fifteen minutes before getting to the area where the bags and such are checked. Things rapidly speed up and we’re in! When going to Arsenal, and I can’t stress this enough, get there early.
Anyway, we get in and the concourse is swimming with people. Literally every vendor has a massive queue. Most of it is a big disorganised mess. It did allow us some time to mooch around and check out the Arsenalisation work and it’s brilliant.
On this wall, you can see every Arsenal player who’s ever scored a hattrick for the club. That’s sensational. We spend five minutes just looking through the names. Then it’s off to navigate the stairwells. There are so many stairwells. It’s like the designer had been crushed in a stairwell as a child and was like NEVER AGAIN. Eventually we find out block and walk out into the Emirates. It’s a whopper.
We’re in the heavens. The literally outside wall of the stadium is right behind us. These are the cheapest of cheap seats and you know what? They’re still great. They’re padded and the leg room is sensational. It looks far away on that shot but I’m fully zoomed out.
If I zoom in on the camera you get a better idea of my view and here’s a shot of today’s mascot, the legendary Gunnersaurus. Sadly, he was too far away for us to sing the “Gunnersaurus paedophile” song at him.
While we’re waiting for kick off I’ve got time to take in my surroundings. The various banners that have been draped over the sides show the scope of Arsenal’s global support. Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Slovenia…and a little bit further along is a banner with “Daventry” on, which makes us both laugh. All the fanciest locations. They’ve also got the gimmick where you’ve got trophies and the years they were won spreading around the building. 1931? That was Herbert Chapman. The warm up music is predictable but “London Calling” only really works when you “live by the river” like Fulham do. The Emirates is 3.6 miles from the Thames. Knock it off lads.
Anyway, the game kicks off and after twenty minutes it’s 4-0 Arsenal. Sevilla have not really turned up for this. The only player who looks motivated is former Tottenham winger Erik Lamela. A bunch of lads who turned up late are asking why he keeps getting booed. “Ohhhh, it’s Lamela”. The game kicked off 9 minutes late and yet still people turned up after the game started. It’s that queueing system! Arsenal’s first goal was a dodgy penalty with minimal contact. Bukayo Saka steps up to put that one away. Gabriel Jesus legitimises the lead by getting a poacher’s finish for 2-0 and then quickly adds a third with a sliding finish. Then Sevilla’s keeper passes it straight to Saka on the edge of the box and he drills in number four. It’s not been the best of starts by Sevilla.
I stand up at half-time and literally take this picture over the wall behind me. You can see the bridge we walked over to the ground and the railway tracks under it. The buzz of people now fully contained within the stadium. Although we’re up against the wall, you can be sat further away from the action because the back of the stadium goes up at the sides at the ends.
This picture shows it. We’re further back than that little row of six seats but further along it goes up again. It’s a very cool design. They could have just made this into a featureless bowl and got more people in. Instead, it has a bit of character about it. The fans help. Although it’s barely a competitive game they’re loud and raucous and I happily join in when they’re chanting “stand up if you hate Tottenham”. Arsenal could be 8-0 up at half-time, it’s been that one-sided. I decide to go and explore, and take a leak, at half-time. I end up stood in a queue to get into the toilets. Really? When I get there…there’s only two toilets. One of which has a broken lock. After queueing for five minutes, I go to wash my hands and discover there’s fucking loads of toilets the other side. They’re everywhere. I just joined this queue like some sort of mug. Bizarre choices made by the fans.
The second half is less eventful but Jesus completes his hattrick and Sevilla are well beaten. Eddie Nketiah comes off the bench to add a sixth goal and the drubbing is complete. Arsenal looked great but a lot of that was due to Sevilla giving the likes of Xhaka and Partey an eternity on the ball in midfield to pick passes at will. They won’t get time like that in the Premier League. Although Jesus looks like a near perfect signing for them and Martinelli and Saka both played well, as did Odegaard and Saliba. Arsenal should be challenging for top four this season but it’ll be tough with all the teams around them improving their squads.
On the way out we have a look around the concourses and find more Arsenalisation. The wall of managers is a nice touch. The vibrancy of the club’s history is apparent at every turn. It’s outstanding, honestly. This is what you want from a proper big club. I saw stuff like this at Old Trafford but not to the same degree. We head outside and go statue hunting but there’s a queue to take pictures with Dennis Bergkamp. There’s always a queue!
Instead, I present these plaques on the floor around the stadium. Sammy Brandon forever loves David Seaman. The real divine ponytail. With that business done with let’s get to the scoring.
Final Score: Arsenal 6 Sevilla 0
Considering it was pre-season the atmosphere was great. The crowd were fairly loud and not localised to one spot where the ‘ultras’ are. When a chant started it enveloped the entire ground. Impressive. ****
I can only judge on what we paid for the game but it was £25 to watch a cracking game of football in a world class stadium. I can’t really fault that. ****
If Sevilla had turned up and made a game of it, I could have been inclined to go heavy on the numbers here but Arsenal just pissed this. It was a walk in the park. Nice to see Artetaball in action though. ***½
EASE OF ACCESS:
Ah. You can’t drive to the ground. Most of the nearby roads were closed with parking restrictions. The tube was heaving, unless you switched to the Victoria line like a sensible person. Getting into the ground took longer than any ground I’ve ever been to. When we were leaving it was congested, even though we waited for ten minutes and leaving the area was nigh on impossible. *
We didn’t get any food, mainly because of the queues, but I was fascinated by the way Arsenal have taken ownership of this ground and turned it from a soulless new build into a stunning museum to Arsenal’s history. The statues, murals and assorted nods and winks to history are everywhere you go at the Emirates. Also, the ground looks stunning from a distance and even more so inside. It’s close to full marks. ****½
It’s hard to get a massive score as a big club because of the access issues that will plague any club with a lot of fans. Scoring big in just about every other category gives us the second highest score of the season so far. Only just pipped by Brentford. It’s easily the best stadium of this size I’ve been to (compared to Man Utd, West Ham, Goodison, Anfield, etc). I can see why so many people feel the lure to North London to support the Arsenal. It’s interwoven into the history of North London and the history of the country and the game of football, in ways most clubs could only dream of. No wonder people feel the need to come from Singapore to watch.