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Visiting the Emirates: Arsenal vs. Doncaster Rovers

Thursday 28th September 2017
A rare evening out in North London, watching my beloved Arsenal football club. But how does the Emirates compare to the other stadia I've visited?

First of all, this article is somewhat different to other articles I've written of this nature. I've visited Arsenal before. Both of which I saw the Gooners score three goals. Once against West Ham in the league, and another time against Sunderland in the FA Cup. An odd fact about my prior trips to the Emirates, the opposing manager for each game was Sam Allardyce – where he shipped a total of six goals during our combined visits to the ground.

This time, however, Big Sam was not in sight. A game from the Carabao Cup, classically known as the Football League Cup. Anyone who's followed my articles before will appreciate my stance on the competition and its futility. However, with £10 tickets without a £40 membership required (general sale) and being in London that day anyway – I wasn't going to argue what the competition was.
The enormity of the ground hits you immediately. Getting off at Arsenal tube stop, you are greeted with streets and streets of hot food, not-so-official “official” merchandise and of course lots of fellow Gooners! Navigating the bend and you make out a large structure which at first glance must be the ground, yet… it's not. A walkway to it, a marker for just how grand the ground is. Across the bridge and you finally get a first glance at it, the Emirates. My first time visiting the ground will never be replicated, I remember seeing the characters of the club; etched onto the side of the stadium. Walking around and seeing the statue of Thierry Henry gives you a buzz; that feeling – that is a major club which celebrates its legends.

Entering the inside of the ground, you get that euphoria of a big game arena. Lots of fellow fans around the perimeter makes for an exceptional feeling of camaraderie. That fellowship falls short at the catering services. After a long day in London, I opted for a pie and a portion of chicken nuggets. The pie price was okay for London, yet I do resent paying £7.70 for 15 chicken nuggets. I have nothing else to say about the nuggets. It did come with a big BBQ dip – which thankfully was complimentary. On the pie review, however, a very good chicken Balti. Good deep fill and a good pie crust.
My seat was just a few rows back from the corner flag. I could actually make out the players faces. Much different from my prior experiences where I was essentially sitting on the M25, for just how far away I was from the pitch. This time, however, I was just metres from the heroes I've been following for years. That ties nicely into the team sheet… given the competition, the opposition and the ticket price, I was expecting to see Arsenal Reserves B team. So I couldn't have been more surprised when superstars like Alexis Sánchez, Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud all started the game for the Gunners.
My view for the game. I capture footage of the players warming up

The game started at a very good pace and Doncaster Rovers forced a save from David Ospina in the first few seconds. However, the early optimism for the Yorkshire-men soon died off as Arsenal dominated the ball there on in. Giroud showed a lot of his flair play and tried several audacious efforts, including a bicycle kick. Although it was Theo Walcott who collected an exceptional long ball from Sánchez and slotted it above and past Donny's keeper, Ian Lawlor.

After the goal, Arsenal continued to boss the game in terms of possession but lacked a desire to shoot. Every play seemed to fizzle out with a misplaced seventh pass or a mistimed through ball. It was frustrating as they completely owned the ball, but did little with it. Sánchez did show just how brilliant he is: at times outplaying all the opposition and driving the ball forward by himself. An absolute joy to watch in the flesh. The teams went in at the break with Arsenal just the one goal up.

At halftime, the size of the ground and Arsenal's large fan base becomes very apparent. Even with 44,000 in the Emirates (of a 60,000+ capacity), the stadium presents a lot of logistical challenges. Entertainment is provided in the form of a kid's penalty shootout and a former player taking to the pitch to give their opinion on the contemporary squad. The latter usually offers an insight into the professional world, although they probably won't ever say anything other than: “isn't it great” given the stage they are on and who is paying them to appear.

In terms of the game, the second half didn't offer much different from the first. Arsenal dominant, but still not putting their chances away. An unusual substitution from Wenger at the restart: Calum Chambers, who looked good, was taken off for 19-year old, Josh Dasilva. The youngster sat well at the back but wasn't asked too many questions.

It's worth noting that when Doncaster were in possession, everything ran through Rodney Kongolo. He was notably the best player in an away shirt. The Dutchman is on-loan from Manchester City and tried to get things going, but ultimately was let down by a lot of his colleagues.

As the game went on the chances started to dry up and this incarnation of the Arsenal squad realised they'd be better just seeing the game out, rather than getting too adventurous and potentially having to navigate extra time. After all, that would hinder their chances of playing Premier League football. The away side eventually took the gambit at the end and tried to change their fortunes – but couldn't break the Gunners defence. Come to the full-time whistle, Arsenal had done the job. A 1-0 win against League One opposition on a Wednesday night - marvellous.
Highlights from the game

The Emirates has been called a library for how quiet it is – and yes – it is quieter than most other football grounds I've been to. It's hard to detail why, without going into pseudo-political reasons. Do higher ticket prices decrease the working-class spirit of a club? I couldn't possibly comment. Just one theory - maybe the acoustics in the stadium don't do the fans justice. Where I was situated in the North Bank, it was rather… well… some of them were vocal. Maybe that was because I was in the cheap seats. Damn, I've suggested poor people are loud, sorry.

Regardless, I'm always going to say it's a great day out at the Emirates. It's my team. Would I pay £50+ for a ticket again? Probably. I'd budget for it though. Was the pie good? Yes. Was the game good? Yeah, certainly was nice to see us play well. Shame it was just one goal. Would I recommend visiting? Almost definitely, but with the caveat that you eat before you go – or at least, don't get the chicken nuggets. They're really not worth it.
Warren Smith

A British and J.League soccer enthusiast, now local to Yokohama, Japan. A keen Arsenal supporter. Has been known to play the game every once in awhile, once likened to Xherdan Shaqiri. 


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