Saturday 25th August, 2007: Arsenal 1 (Fabregas) Manchester City 0
Jed (Ray Winstone) isn't a believer. Not in the religious sense at least, although he's not altogether without faith. How can you believe in The Man Upstairs, he asks, when you see those poor little kids who've never done anything worthy of punishment, stricken by illness, taken too soon? Jed has one of those permanent frowns. It could be because his father and his grandfather both died at the age of forty-nine. Dicky tickers. Jed is forty-five himself, so the next four seasons are going to be pretty critical ones for him, you'd imagine. Or maybe he's frowning ahead of the sin he's about to commit - the only truly cardinal one to be found among the articles of our particluar faith. He'll have to leave the game ten minutes before the end in order to get back home, head straight off to Gatwick and pick up his daughter from the airport. The last time he and Scott (John Turturo in Miller's Crossing) did that, we were (as they tell it) two-nil down to Birmingham City, in December 1975*. They headed off early to beat the rush to New Street Station and missed the two late Malcolm MacDonald goals that hauled us level. Miracles *do* happen, you see. They've never left early again since. Or perhaps Jed is frowning at the thought of today's opponent's Manchester City sat there proudly at the top of the league.
RVP11: "..come on then, you Belarussian softy - give it your best shot..." AH13: "...WHY-YIY-YOUDDA..."
City fans are a funny bunch, aren't they? If there was any logic in football fandom, we'd probably be their second team, so often have we pissed on the parade of their deadly Manchester rivals. But it doesn't work like that. We have our faith, they have theirs. "You've got the worse support we've ever seen", they sing from their sky blue lido beneath me to the tune of "He's got the whole world in His hands". That apart, the song selection is pretty spot on - a na-na-na-nana-na-naing "Hey Jude" as well as their soulful theme tune, "Blue Moon": it's a wonder that with all their newfound optimism they haven't jazzed it up to sound more like the Marcels' high octane doo-wop version than Presley's take on the same song. It's the desolate reverie of his prairie lament that their singing captures so well. After the game, three or four of them continue singing their jibes at the Arsenal faithful with what is either trademark Mancunian bottle or plain idiocy, surrounded as they are by several hundred gooners making their way home. Perhaps they feel they have to compensate for all those prawn cocktail munchers over at Old Trafford. Only a retaliatory rendition of "we won the league in Manchester" seems to score a point, but by then they've been guzzled by the funnel of bodies descending into Arsenal tube.
It is a baking hot day, warmer still within the confines of our Smeg-shiny oven of a stadium, so the team do well to finish the ninety as strongly as they do. City are well-drilled and with better finishing at the end of their occasional breakaways, might have pinched the first goal you felt they'd settle for and defend to the hilt. New boy Bacary Sagna (John Lee Hooker with a mop on his head) is injured putting in a crunching tackle and hobbles off to be replaced by Denilson. Flamini moves from central midfield to full back to accomodate him and you wonder if the young Brazilian and Fabregas will have the muscle to hold their own in the middle. Barring a ten minute period early in the second half when Man City finally perform like plausible league leaders, Denilson and Fabregas keep Arsenal pressing and around the 70 minute mark, Hleb runs purposefully into the City box and is brought down by Richards for a penalty.
Robert Swipe Charlie George Double-winning Wembley Goal Celebration Re-enactment Update: The dream becomes reality...
Kasper Schmeichel (a peroxide Prince Harry) looks tiddly in the goal but his ludicrous aping of father Peter's star jumping seem to do the trick. When it seems that a firmly-struck shot placed low inside the post is sure to elude his dive, Van Persie elects to blast the ball straight down the middle, where it strikes the young keeper's flailing boot. The evening highlights suggest that Schmeichel moved off his line too soon and that the spot kick should have been retaken. Even the assistant referee appeared to notice it, but the score remains nil-nil.
Then with ten minutes remaining, my man Hleb seems to pull himself together, as if for the previous hour and twenty minutes he's just been kidding around and now, finally, with the game almost up he'll play as if he means business. Another surge into the box, a deft forward ball rolled into the path of Fabregas who blasts the ball high into the top left-hand corner of the City goal. One-nil Arsenal; the sky blue choir's 'Hey Jude' na-na-na-naing silenced by our own Fab4.
AH13 sees a good low drive fizz wide of the post and City force a late corner for which the feisty 'keeper comes into the Arsenal goalmouth, only to see his header go straight to the gloves of his opposite number, Almunia. It ends one-nil to the Arsenal. Quite a few of us stay to watch the players do what seems to be becoming their traditional post-match huddle in the centre circle. Keep the faith; there's something tasty bubbling away nicely in that shiny Smeg of ours. I just hope Jed didn't leave before the goal.
* It was probably 18th January 1977. Arsenal drew 3-3 with Brum that day, 'SuperMac' scoring all three.
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