Having missed out on the WHU allocation I’ve acquired a Gooner pal’s ticket. Interestingly there’s a lot of empty seats around me indicating those 60,000 gates are not what they seem. Taking a library book from my pocket, I do my best to disguise myself as a Gooner. No white van men here, it’s more like an editorial board meeting of Granta.
It’s a strange team with no Diame (are we preparing to sell him?), Jarvis or Joe Cole and Chamakh ineligible. Arsenal are playing three up front in Podolski, Giroud and Walcott but have no fit holding midfielder.
It’s a decent start from the Hammers with Taylor having a shot deflected wide and a couple of corners. Then on 18 minutes a corner is deflected out to Jack Collison who scores with a crisp finish into the net. He runs towards the bench celebrating his first Premier League goal in two years. I have to keep quiet, but wonder if it is going to be another 1-0 to the Emirates? Four minutes later the answer arrives. Podolski cuts in from the left and arrows a fantastic shot into the corner.
It’s a decent first half performance though, with the Irons stringing some passes together and O’Brien clearing off the line. Many of the Gooners leave their seats a full ten minutes before half time. Carlton Cole also has an effort cleared from the Arsenal line and then Jaaskelainen produces a great save from Cazorla’s free kick.
A text arrives revealing that DC, Matt, Lisa and Nigel are in the only section of lairy Gunners, who are standing up and singing in the Library.
ONE-NIL AND WE EFFED IT UP
Arsenal start the second half looking like they’ve been consulting the Lance Armstrong beverage manual. Giroud loses his man with some clever movement and flicks home a corner on 47 minutes. Then good work by Podolski allows Cazorla to score with an impudent back heel from close in.
Our defence falls apart as Arsenal play some brilliant stuff, getting in behind our full-backs on the counter-attack. More good work from Podolski sees his cross swept home by Walcott and then Giroud scores a fifth by which time I’m past caring. Four goals in ten minutes. At this stage I’d settle for a point.
Thankfully Arsenal make a few substitutions and treat the rest of the game as a little rest and relaxation rather than scoring seven or eight. Diarra comes on for Reid and improves the defence slightly while Diame adds steel to the midfield. We sensible opt for damage limitation, as a cricket score defeat really would affect confidence.
In the second half Cole and Vaz Te don’t look good enough up front, failing to hold up the ball, admittedly with little support, while at the back Demel is exposed for pace and Reid is subbed by Sam. Substitute Dan Potts falls to the ground after a clash of heads and is on the floor for ten minutes, before being stretchered off unconscious, He’s in hospital and is hopefully recovering from concussion.
We endure 12 minutes of added time with ten men as the home fans sing “Rocky Rocastle” and “Oh Santa Carzorla!” to the tune of White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. Oh, and "One-nil and you f***ed it up!"
OLD GOLDEN HEN REQUIRED
The final whistle is a blessed relief. After the game it’s back round to my gaff with Nigel and Lisa. DC is moving on to a party of Guardianistas in Muswell Hill and Matt’s gone to work the night shift as if he’s a character in a Dr Feelgood song. “Well, that all went to plan” I suggest. Nigel, in Panglossian mood, suggests it doesn’t matter because it was only our game in hand and they were unstoppable, as we sup tea and Old Golden Hen. I also have to explain to my daughters how we lost 5-1. In mitigation when Arsenal are good they're very good, having scored seven against Reading and Newcastle, six against Southampton and five against Spurs and West Ham.
The only consolation is the spine of our side was missing. Put Collins, Diame, Carroll, Jarvis and Joe Cole back in the team and surely we’d be a tougher side to beat. But lose to Fulham and Swansea and we are definitely in a relegation struggle. On the positive side though, at least none of our players kicked a ballboy.