By Sivaram Sukumar (@ssukumar84)
August 18th, the start of Arsenal’s new season, only this time I’m in New York and not London. Myself, a London transplant uprooting to NY but yet carrying the love and emotions for the Gooners across the pond. Boy has pre-season been an emotional roller-coaster.
Waking up at 7.30am to a dark dreary wet summers morning in the city, thunderstorms ahoy, I was still thoroughly excited about how Arsenal’s campaign was about to unfold. The Blind Pig was the destination, situated on 14th and 2nd. It is home to a dichotomy of fans from nations all across the globe; English, Spanish, Italian, American living in NYC coming together to celebrate their love, support and allegiance to the mighty Arsenal.
Kick off was 10:00am (3:00 GMT) and from experience arrival before 9am was going to be imperative to allow myself to attain a seat to watch the game in the optimal viewing area (I have to admit, there is nowhere in the pub that you would not be able to see at least 3 screens at one time). I arrive at 8.30am sharp after a hearty breakfast and am shocked to see fans eagerly waiting outside to get in well before the 9am opening.
Fans slowly flocked through the door and you could see the excitement building, a new season – a new hope…could we finally bring back the Premier League after 8 years of expectation? The picture below encapsulated everything perfectly for me; it was a new season and a new generation. Ian Wright – a magnificent striker in the 90s, Patrick Vieira – captaining a team to go unbeaten all season and building blocks of Wenger’s reign and Jack Wilshere – the hope for the future generation, our new number 10.
By 9:00am the Blind Pig could have shut up shop, already nearing max capacity. Arsenal anthems and songs reverberate through the masses. There was a sense of togetherness. The astonishing news a few days before that RvP had agreed to join Man United and Song confirming his departure to Barcelona had brought all Arsenal fans together. It felt that RvP had betrayed every single one of these fans and hatred for RvP had created a new bond between Gooners alike.
As kickoff closed, Arsenal fans started with pre-match predictions, 3-0, 2-0, 2-1. Optimism was rife among Blind Pig fans. Was it a sign of delusion or a sign of encouragement to a team in need of support from real fans?
The team name announced – Cazorla and Podolski in the starting lineup. The place was cracking; it was as close to the atmosphere as you’d get to being actually there at the Emirates. Phenomenal. The game started and the noise instantaneously dropped. Everyone could not believe the season had finally arrived; 2012/2013 was here and we were watching our beloved Arsenal again!
Within the first five minutes, Sunderland created the first chance of the game – a mistake by Mertesacker and Vermaelen let in McClean and Wojciech saves with his legs. Fans already sensing the reality – Sunderland aren’t here to rollover. Cazorla gets hold of the ball in the final third, jinx past a defender and strikers a sweet left footed shot at goal only for Mingolet to tip over. The crowd gasps, as Wenger again shows his crude dealings in the marketplace, has he brought in another star player? Half-time approached, Cazorla was beginning to slowly get a grip on the game, Podolski and Walcott both linked well to create a few chances and Gervinho being as frustrating as he was last season. The atmosphere had died down a little and you could sense the tension in the air…another mistake and Sunderland would certainly take advantage.
Mutters at half-time regarding the lethargic nature of our play, but there was much anticipation about Cazorla’s growing influence in the game. The crowd knew the second half was not going to be easy.
The second half began and continued at a lethargic pace. No clear cut chances as Walcott and Gervinho could not use their directness to threaten an opening. Diaby with a wild shot from outside the box provided one of few gasps from the fans in the second half. Groans got louder and frustrations from fans became apparent. New signing, Giroud, was to come on in the 60th minute to help rejuvenate the team and provide much needed impetuous in a lack luster performance. Diaby and Walcott both then replaced for Ramsey and Arshavin, respectively. It seems as if Sunderland were content with sitting deep and letting Arsenal pass it around knowing we could not pierce their solidity – until the 80th minute. Cazorla receives the ball within 25 yards of the goal, provides a quite magnificent slide-rule pass to Giroud (a beautifully timed run into the box), the crowd on their feet…Giroud strikes with the goal gaping in front of him…some already celebrating, Mingolet was beaten on his left side and so was the post. Everyone shocked as if they’d lost the Champions League final; it was a horrible miss.
The next 10 minutes were poor; fans were dismayed by the earlier chance and the game ended 0-0. It wasn’t a great result; especially with the news RvP and Song had left. It was a triple blow. However pleasant noises among the fans about the star of the day – Cazorla – we have a special, special player on our hands. Fans slowly dispersed from the Blind Pig, and the streets outside saw a hoard of Arsenal fans discussing the disappointment of the performance on the day, yet many seemed curiously optimistic for the season. Wenger hasn’t finished doing business in this window. Cazorla looks like he will be the buy of the season. Plenty of positives…
To join the NYC Arsenal Supporters on matchdays, check them out on facebook (NYC Arsenal Supporters) and twitter (@ArsenalNYC) !