Blogger and the92.net co-founder Pete reviews his trip to the Capital to tick ground number 72 off his 92. Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium was the destination as Hull City revitalised under Marco Silva were the visitors.
Ground: The Emirates Stadium (72/92)
Game: Arsenal 2-0 Hull City
I set off on my journey south just after 8 in the morning. With the threat of poor weather conditions and a 12:30 kick off I wanted to make sure I got into London in time to soak up the pre-match atmosphere. Being an early kick off I think this worked in my favour as the roads were clear and I made the trip from the East Midlands down to Barnet in just under 2 hours. I parked at Cockfosters station (£2 all day on a Saturday) and jumped on the tube. Just 25 minutes later on the Piccadilly line I arrived at Arsenal station. All in all, a remarkably smooth journey.
This was the third time I had ventured into London doing the 92 over the past 18 months having not been to the capital for a number of years before. During that time, the ease of getting around has drastically improved. I remember in the past being puzzled on the Underground about fares and zones etc, but with contactless payment now you just scan your bank card when you go through a gate and off you go. The journey on the tube came in at £3, which meant my travel into the city and parking totalled a fiver; very reasonable indeed.
A glance back at the past
Outside the tube station there was a real buzz around the place with a number of merchandise and food stalls lining the streets. Before heading towards the Emirates though I had to go back to get a glimpse of the old Highbury Stadium. Instead of demolishing it to the ground, the Gunner’s former home has been redeveloped and converted into flats, now known as Highbury Square. The complex has been well crafted and includes the exteriors of the East and West stand. Unfortunately, there was maintenance work taking place on the listed exterior that restricted the view of the old girl, but it was good to see it nonetheless.
From Highbury to Piebury
As customary with ventures to pastures new, I seek recommendations from fellow ground hoppers/regulars on where to stop for some pre-match food/drink. When I put the question out there for the Emirates there was one clear favourite amongst the replies; Piebury Corner. Situated on Holloway Road, the award-winning Pie Deli has over 20 variations of pastry filled goodness to choose from, all displayed on an Arsenal themed ‘Pie Legend Menu’ (pictured below).
The witty menu includes everything from classic combinations like the ‘Tony Adams’ (steak and ale) to more unusual flavours like the ‘Ox’ (ox cheek, venison and mushroom). Spoilt for choice, I finally settled on The ‘Aaron Lambsey’ (lamb and veg with a hint of mint) with mash and gravy. At £8 it was more expensive than usual for pre-match grub, but this was far from the usual and well worth it. Nicely warmed from the meal and with the light flurry of snow continuing in the air I made my way to the ground.
The Emirates Stadium
I’d caught a glimpse of the stadium whilst en route for my pre-match snackage, but as I turned off Holloway Road and made my way up Hornsey Road it became clear what a fantastic facility the Emirates is. Although still considering the Emirates a ‘new build’ the club are now in the middle of their 10th season there. Comparisons to Highbury in terms of character and charm are a no-contest, but seeing the ground up close you realise just how big the step up was to a world class facility. I believe this goes someway to explaining why for overall rating the Emirates is always near the top of the92.net stats table, but is largely towards the bottom end in most other areas.
Honouring club legends
Around the perimeter of the ground are 4 statues in tribute to Arsenal legends which are a nice touch. Very popular for fan photos Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Tony Adams and Herbert Chapman are honoured in Bronze. Inside the bowl it’s what you would expect from a ground of this magnitude really; 2 large tiers of seats for punters either side of a band of ‘posh seats’ comprising of executive boxes and ‘club level’. Taking my usual anorak snaps of the place I was in awe of what a stunning piece of architecture the Emirates is.
A different Hull
Having previously looked doomed under Mike ‘more than a’ Phelan, Hull City were looking revitalised under Marco Silva. The appointment of the Portuguese was much maligned in the British press, particularly from certain corners of the Soccer Saturday studio. However, it was looking to be a shrewd move as the former Olympiacos stalwart had got his side playing much better and picking up some valuable points.
Arsenal on the other hand were starting to wobble. Their previous 3 league games had yielded just 3 points and that came courtesy of a very late penalty at home to Burnley. Following on from that was a surprise 2-1 reverse at home to Watford and a rather predictable 3-1 away defeat at Stamford Bridge. With the ‘Wenger out’ brigade starting to get more vocal, as tends to happen around this time of year, the Frenchman had 90 minutes to get his side back on form before the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie in Munich.
To my surprise both sides came out of the blocks quickly in what became a very open first half. The visitors new found confidence was clear to see as they looked to break with pace at every opportunity and run at the Arsenal back line. Alex Sanchez was in the thick of things and had 2 great chances to break the deadlock in the first quarter of an hour. First after being put through he didn’t get enough on his attempt to lob Jakupović. Then after cutting back inside the box he uncharacteristically fired wide with the goal at his mercy.
Either side of those openings though the Gunners were indebted to Petr Cech. Grosicki with a great cross with the outside of the boot to pick out Niasse, but the Czech did well to save the Everton loanee’s powerful header.
Bellerin, Ozil and Walcott all had chances to break the deadlock before the home side eventually took the lead in fortunate circumstances. A Sanchez low cross was cleared only as far at Gibbs. The left back’s low drive was stopped on the line by a Hull defender but as Sanchez and Jakupović went for the rebound the ball cannoned off the Hull stopper and off the Arsenal striker’s arm and in. It was clear to see it struck the hand, but was it deliberate? Probably not. Was the arm in an unnatural position? Maybe. Could he have got it out of the way? I doubt it. Those questions show what a grey area the rule is and how subjective a decision like that can be.
Breaking from normal protocol, ref Mark Clattenburg went in and apologised to the Hull players at half time. That would be no consolation to the away side though who despite playing well were behind at the break. For me with the current legislation, I’d say it was the right call from the man in the middle.
Another big call for Clatts
Eager to get back in the game Hull maintained their eagerness to get forward in the second half. Playing on the right, Liverpool loanee Markovic looked like a man on a mission. His surging run and centre set up Niasse, but again Cech denied the striker. And the Serbian’s directness led to the second big decision of the game.
Capitalising on a mistake in the Arsenal defence he looked to be clear on goal, only to be brought down by Gibbs running across the back of him. In the post-match analysis I’ve heard it argued Markovic may not have had the ball under control, but I don’t buy it. He was clean through and Gibbs knew exactly what he was doing. The decision from Clattenberg… yellow. This time I think he got it wrong.
Game, set, match
As the visitors went in search of an equaliser, the gaps in their defence grew larger. A header narrowly over from a corner was the closest they came, until the game was put out of reach from the spot. A swift counter attack from another Hull corner saw Sam Clucas block a Perez shot on the line with his arm. Cue a straight red, a Sanchez penalty, 2-0 goodnight.
A brave performance from the Tigers’
It was far from the one-sided encounter I had expected at the Emirates. The way Hull City looked to move the ball quickly, run at the Arsenal defence and keep the ball was great to watch. I doubt there will be many teams to go to the Emirates and have 51% possession this season. They were unlucky, on another day the 2-0 decision may have gone their way. Since this game, the Tigers have gone on to win one, draw one and lose two, but if they play like they did today they’ll have a great chance of staying up.
More questions than answers for Arsene?
The home side will be disappointed with the overall performance but of course pleased with the result. In fairness, they did have a number of chances but will have wanted to be more clinical and have taken control of the game in the midfield area. Although he should have had more goals, Sanchez ended the day with a brace and it was a real pleasure to watch a world class player like him take the field in the flesh.
Over the years of ground hopping I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve only been to a handful of home games at the very top 4-6 teams in the country, but at the Emirates I found the atmosphere extremely odd. As I experienced in my solitary visit to Old Trafford there were loads of touts on the streets trying to buy/sell tickets, and the visit of Hull must have been a tough sell for some.
We all know Arsenal is always a sell-out, the attendance is always around the 59k mark, but being in the ground I was surprised at the number of empty seats in the home end, particularly in the top tier. Maybe this is the norm at most home games? Was it because I was in the ground that I noticed it? Could the cold weather and the early kick off persuaded more regulars to stay at home and watch from the sofa?
More intriguing still was that in the away end I’d say 20-25% of people were away fans or tourists there to see Arsenal (plus 1 neutral in me!). Following the Football Supporters Federation’s Twenty’s Plenty campaign, away tickets in the Premier League are capped at £30 this season. Gunner’s fans must have noticed these tickets in the away end went for general sale and at the bargain price of just £26!
This made for a very strange atmosphere in the away end with a good proportion of the fans ‘sitting on their hands’ and Hull chants struggling to get going. My suspicions were confirmed after the full-time whistle as numerous supporters unveiled Arsenal shirts and scarfs to have their photos taken.
Ticketing is one issue, but as stunning as it may be, for football there is something missing. I heard Arsenal fan and Guardian journalist Amy Lawrence on Football Weekly recently and she got it spot on; a ground like this it hasn’t been designed with ‘ends’, it all flows into one. Aesthetically this is great, but it isn’t conducive in generating a good atmosphere. For a football stadium, this has to be taken into account.
It sounds like clubs are starting to wake up to this. Arsenal fans won’t like me saying this but if you look at the plans for the new look White Hart Lane you can see this. There has been an end designed especially for the ‘hardcore’ fans. A Kop style stand if you will, that is a steeper single tiered stand with no corporate thrills. This is the one thing missing from the Emirates.
Location 4.5/5: Easy travel to and from the game plus good atmosphere in the surrounding area with various street stalls selling various foods, sweets and memorabilia.
Programme 4/5: A premium publication.
Pint and pie rating n/a: Didn’t sample inside the ground. If you’re planning a visit to the Emirates you have to go to Piebury Corner.
Value for Money 4.5/5: £26 for a ticket to one of the biggest teams in the country is fantastic value for money. I’ve paid £2 less for League 1 and 2 games this season.