When I was offered the opportunity to attend Arsenal vs Swansea City at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday I didn't think that, for the neutral, it would be any kind of significant match. This feeling soon dispersed as, after the purchase of my ticket, Swansea sacked Francesco Guidolin and hired Bob Bradley meaning that I would be able to witness the first match in charge for the American. A new era beckoned for Swansea and I would be there, sat in amongst the away fans too! Although it is not the type of sporting event that we will regularly review here at TSV, I thought the story of my attendance of a Premier League match for the first time in over ten years may be a good one to tell.
The first thing that surprised me, even before setting off on the four hour journey down to North London, was the ticket price. Sitting in the home end at the Emirates will set you back a small fortune but as I was travelling with Swansea fans and sitting in the away end, the ticket cost me just £26. I don't want to get into a debate about the cost of football (at least not in this piece anyway), but £26 to watch any Premier League game in this day and age is really good value for money. Of course any added extras do start to add to that initial outlay quite significantly. For your pre-match reading, a programme will set you back £3.50 whilst refreshments inside the Emirates will cost a further £3.70 for a pie and £4.60 for a pint.
For anyone who hasn't been, the Emirates Stadium almost creeps up on you. We parked close by and as we walked in the direction of the stadium I could sense we were close and yet there was still no sign of it. The crowds became more dense and people were selling programmes on the street but I still hadn't caught a glimpse of Arsenal's home. Then it appeared, almost out of nowhere, just neatly placed in the heart of a community that doesn't quite mirror the affluence that the Emirates boasts. The stadium is very impressive and that is matched by the club shop which I imagine is an Arsenal fans wet dream. Everything you can think of is sold in the shop with the Arsenal badge emblazoned somewhere on it.
As I took my seat the first thing I noticed, and my second surprise of the day, was how close we were to the action. On Match of the Day I always feel as though the gap between the advertising boards behind the goals and the first row of seats is really large, perhaps even large enough for a running track. When I sat down for the first time I realised that it is actually a much smaller gap than I had first imagined. We were sat on row 13 which put us at a nice height to take in the action as you can see from the title photo. Another thing I should mention is the seats...they are padded! Most of the football that I watch is often accompanied with a rather uncomfortable seat but at the Emirates they were luxurious and I would say wider than usual. I guess you expect luxury as a high paying Arsenal fan!
Onto the football and the match itself was well worth the £26 I paid. When attending a football match as a neutral all you are really hoping for is to be entertained. Arsenal and Swansea both play fashionable enough football that entertainment was almost guaranteed. The first half, although there were three goals, was not a showcase of great play. Arsenal took a two goal lead thanks to a Theo Walcott double, but it was the defensive errors of Swansea that he should have been thanking for what were two gifts. The Arsenal fans were jubilant and the previously loud following that Swansea had were now a little quiet, perhaps stunned. The game then turned as Granit Xhaka was complacent in possession and was tackled all too easily by Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Swansea star then struck sweetly from the outside of the box leaving Petr Cech rooted to the spot. A few Arsenal fans had their head in their hands, Swansea were signing once again. It was 2-1 at half time.
At the start of the second half, my hopes of seeing much action were not too high. Arsenal were playing towards the goal at the opposite end of the pitch and Swansea had hardly inspired me in the first half. 12 minutes into the second half and genius struck. Alexis Sanchez, who was at the heart of every Arsenal attack, played an inviting ball into the box for Mesut Ozil to run onto and finish emphatically with a volley that left Lukasz Fabianski to pick the ball out of the net for a third time that day. At this point I expected Arsenal to close the game out and perhaps even score another but it had been a far from confident performance from the boys in red so far and therefore I wasn't entirely shocked when there were five minutes of madness that totally changed the complexion of the contest.
First of all Borja Baston finished nicely from a Modou Barrow cross and then just four minutes later, Xhaka was, perhaps controversially, sent off for a challenge on Barrow that was never going to win the ball. At 3-2 with 20 minutes left, we had a real game on our hands. The Swansea fans were getting behind their team more and more whilst the Arsenal fans tensed up every time the ball went near their 18 yard box. Wenger decided to take Ozil off for Kieran Gibbs to sure up the left hand side as Barrow continued to probe the Arsenal defence. Barrow was putting balls into the box as often as he could and headers from himself, Leroy Fer and Federico Fernandez were all comfortably saved by Cech as we fast approached the final whistle. Swansea were susceptible to pacey counter attacks from Arsenal but the terrible finishing of Walcott (who could have scored five in all honesty) kept the difference at one goal.
When the referee called an end to the game it almost felt like relief for the Arsenal fans. A number of them reached over the separation to shake hands with Swansea fans and that relief was evident in their words as well as their body language. For the Swansea fans it was clear that their team had been presented with the chances to grab an equaliser but just could not get the result they wanted. Both sets of fans had been loud and proud to support their team with passion clear amongst many of them. As a neutral I did notice that the Arsenal fans seem to have a lot of songs that involve rivals, Tottenham Hotspur (I think I counted four, maybe five) which made me wonder at times if I was attending a North London derby. I am all for local rivalry but why not concentrate on supporting your own team rather than obsessively chanting about a team whose fans were 100 miles away playing West Brom?
Overall I got value for money and am pleased that I can say I was at Bob Bradley's first game in charge of Swansea City. The outlook for them is good as far as I can see. Fer is clearly leaps and bounds ahead of most of the other players they have in terms of talent and he will be a big part of their Premier League survival. Barrow was by far their most dangerous player and my man of the match as he was never afraid to run with the ball, beat a man and get the ball into the box. If he plays like he did against Arsenal every single week then not only will Swansea survive but they may also struggle to keep hold of him next Summer. Ashley Williams is clearly a loss for them as the defence looked shaky on more than one occasion, but as more games go by they should become more organised and no doubt that will be a priority for Bradley.
Arsenal for all their passing and movement didn't really dazzle and actually created more chances after Xhaka got sent off and they were able to counter attack. Walcott struggled to hit the target when he was further than three yards from goal but was clinical inside the six yard box. Sanchez was the real class act for the Gunners though, every time he received the ball there was an expectation from the fans and a positivity in his play. The Arsenal defence allowed too many free headers inside the box at 3-2 and were lucky that Swansea couldn't capitalise. Based on this performance alone it is difficult to see how Arsenal could win the league but that doesn't mean they can't. With the attacking options they have and the talent they can bring off the bench, any team will struggle to cope with them when they are going forward.
My first Premier League match in over ten years and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The atmosphere was fantastic, the match had goals, near misses and even a red card. The £26 that I spent can be considered money well spent and for anyone wondering if they should make the trip to the Emirates, I would definitely recommend it. A highly enjoyable day inside a highly impressive stadium.
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