As Good As A-R-S-E-N-A-L!

By Iwara U. Iwara
By Iwara U. Iwara
I have never been afraid to say I support Arsenal Football Club of England to the bone. However, I may have, like in every indulgence, experienced some really painful years, supporting and hoping that what the players do on the pitch will match how Arsenal fans talk in every part of the planet;…you know Arsenal fans are boastful, loud and yanga-ish.

They win matches even before fixtures are made and you can now understand the level of their frustration when for nine whole years they did all the talking and different teams won laurels. I even remember that at some point, a guy told me and my Arsenal friends that our team cannot win a plastic cup. We waved him aside but we still sat for nine painful years enduring the taunts and butt kicking that came with the team not winning. I mean, most Arsenal fans could just not understand how a club that once had an invincible team which played 49 games, won 36 of those games, drew13 and lost none; an unbeaten league record between May 2003 and October 2004, could move to a new and more elegant stadium without silverware to match her awesomeness.

index(4)Team coach, Frenchman, Arsene Wenger endured a torrid time that saw us, fans, deride him; did we spare the players? No. Painfully, I ‘de-camped’ to Enyimba FC of Aba, took more interest in local league matches and still found no joy. This was me, an Arsenal fan, accustomed to the positive free-flowing soccer that the team delivers, confined now to watching overweight Nigerian footballers deliver rugby-like soccer. It didn’t solve my problem. Matters were made worse when Clichy, Nasri, Fabregas, Song and Van Persie were SOLD-O. We are talking about priceless first team players, sold to teams Arsenal would go up against in the search for domestic and European silverware. In local parlance, reclined and taking plangent sips of palm wine, we would say, “the matter shele”. It was that bad.

Gone in a jiffy was Arsenal’s grace and precision, players who looked like they didn’t belong on the pitch came along. I remember Pascal Cygan; he was clearly a constant source of amusement on the pitch…sketchy, sickly and clueless. We heard different versions of why things were so bad and every new season came with the promise of a better tomorrow; it never happened. So, between 2012 to the end of the 2014 football season, I watched Arsenal play only by chance because it made me feel better, even though it really did hurt. As the 2014 FA Cup went along, wins against Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton, told me something was about to happen. I DIDN’T BELIEVE;…you will not blame me because several times, there had been specks of something promising and then it all falls flat like a deck of cards.

When the team finally lined up against Hull City in the 2014 FA Cup final, I left to watch that final in an inauspicious place because I didn’t want to mourn a cup final loss in the midst of anti-Arsenalists. Here was Arsenal with 17 previous FA Cup Finals appearances, winning on 10 occasions, into her 18 appearance late that evening the 17 th of May, 2014. The game started and before a round of drinks could go round, Arsenal was two goals down in under eleven minutes. I took in a deep breath, followed that up with two greedy gulps of beer and took a walk outside to let it all sink in that my team was two goals down. Kai, bad belle people started calling my number, not to sympathize with me but to taunt me and I just took none of the calls.

By the 17 th minutes when the mercurial Spainard, Santi Cazorla floated in that pure artistic free kick to make it two goals to one, it was game on and I started returning calls and pings. Then the 71st minute came and the irrepressible Laurent Koscielny scrambled in a second, wow I began calling up anti-Arsenalists like my friend Eileen Inyang, telling them to stay glued to the Arsenal show. It was now tension soaked, breath-taking soccer and Arsenal’s edge was beginning to show. Arsene Wenger introduction of Yaya Sanogo, gave the team striking options with a more aggressive bent. With the game drawn at two goals apiece and 90 minutes played, extra time followed.

That extra time belonged to Aaron Ramsey because his instinctive play off a superb Giroud back heel, sent drinks crashing from our table to the ground as we jumped up to celebrate the goal that gave Arsenal her 11th FA Cup in 18 appearances. Forget about who else has this record, focus on the fact that the win restored the Arsenal fans’ bragging rights over and above every other thing. Those who have tried to make the 2014 FA Cup victory look ordinary are real bad ‘belle’ people, sworn to always see us Arsenal fans unhappy. I will just tell them that the noise will be louder now because the last time Arsenal won a trophy, Twitter was not in existence and so many people hadn’t mastered social media skills, the story is different now and for good too.

So far, Per Mertesacker and Alexis Sanchez were on target as Arsenal started their latest FA Cup quest as they ended their last – with a win over Hull City. If the Premiership title slips through our clutches, maybe we can just hold on to the 2015 FA Cup, it doesn’t hurt to take the next option. Let me wish the Gooners this one and a Happy New Year.

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