Editor’s Note: Arsenal America is proud to publish articles by Gooners sharing their experiences at games as part of our efforts to increase content on the website and build the Arsenal community in America. In this piece, Martin Szostak attended not one, but TWO games -one EPL and one Champions League. If you have a story you want to share, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Martin Szostak
I was fortunate enough to attend the Arsenal matches against Birmingham City and against Shakhtar Donetsk at the Emirates. Both matches were completely different experiences from one another both in terms of the soccer played and atmosphere in the stadium.
There was bright sunshine in London for the 3pm kickoff against Birmingham City. By contrast, I was nervous before the match with many questions in my mind. Would we play as poorly as we did against W.B.A.? Who would be the leader with Cesc out?
At the outset, Arsenal controlled possession but were tentative in the final third. Against the run of play Nikola Zigic from Birmingham City, scored a header from a tight angle at close range. There was a collective groan from the 60,000 in attendance and lots of frustration from myself included. “You have to mark the giant at the backpost!” I screamed out loud. With Zigic’s goal, an air of doubt and quiet crept into the Emirates especially, with the memory of the loss the week before.
Four minutes before half-time, Arsenal caught their break and was correctly awarded a penalty for foul against Marouane Chamakh. Samir Nasri confidently blasted the penalty past Birmingham’s Ben Foster right in front of us. Hope was restored. The penalty seemed to breathe new life into the Gunners and the Emirates. Cheers such as this, echoed the stadium.
Right after half time, Marouane Chamakh danced away from two defenders before deftly slotting past Ben Foster. From my vantage, he seemed to create the opportunity literally out of nothing and the Gunners faithful seemed equally surprised and elated he converted.
After the Chamakh goal, the hesitance in the final third continued and another goal seemed unlikely for the Gunners. Many times, fans were screaming “Shoot!” However, Arsenal controlled the tempo and possession with Jack Wilshere organizing the play and Arsenal held on for the 2-1 win. For me, Wilshere was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch. The English Arsenal Fan next to me cooed,”Yeah, and we got him for England, too!”
The nighttime Champions League Match against Shakhtar Donetsk had more of a big match feel to it than the Birmingham City match. As the Champions League Anthem rang through the stadium, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air. Adding to this was the return of Cesc Fabregas, our Capitan and Eduardo, the former Gunners striker.
It was a vintage Arsenal performance. They dominated possession and played with far more purpose and conviction than against Birmingham City. With the cohesion of Cesc, Song, and Wilshere in the central midfield, and finesse of Nasri and Rosicky on the flanks the Gunners put five goals past a completely outclassed Shakhtar. They finished their scoring in the 69th minute and quite honestly they could have had several more goals.
The Nasri goal was outstanding. He controlled the cross, brought it across his body away from the defender and blasted it past the keeper almost in one motion. The Wilshere goal was even better and was right in front of me. After a through pass from Chamakh, Wilshere played a neat one-two with Rosicky and then deftly dinked the shell shocked keeper.
At the 63rd minute, the atmosphere was brought to even more feverish pitch, when Eduardo substituted into the match. Chants of “Eduardo, Eduardo” echoed throughout the Emirates. It was bittersweet seeing him play again. He had started brightly at Arsenal until the broken leg against Birmingham in 2008 curtailed his form and his opportunities.
With the match done and dusted, in the 82nd minute Eduardo, the former Arsenal hero put one past his old team. As he promised leading up to the match, he did not celebrate the goal. Eduardo was deservedly greeted with a standing ovation and raucous chants of “Eduardo, Eduardo.” It was an amazing spectacle of respect and sportsmanship. For the rest of the match, the Eduardo chants continued until the final whistle. Both were great nights to be a Gooner.