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TO PARAPHRASE a well-known ad: a seven-hour drive to Liverpool 0-0 Arsenal after parts of the M6 were closed. A seven-hour drive back from Anfield after parts of the M1 were closed. The feeling you get from being there in person to witness Ben White’s Martin Keown-Ruud van Nistelrooy-esque reaction after Takumi Minamino blazed over the crossbar when faced with an open goal with Liverpool’s best chance of the match in the closing stages: Priceless.
I went to the first leg of the League Cup semi-final this week as a supporter.
I love going to Anfield, always have done, always will. A proper football city and a proper football club with strong links to its community and a keen sense of social justice – not least when Liverpool fans sang: “F*** the Tories.”
However, on the field, I love it even more when my team can put one over them.
While that hasn’t happened yet in the context of this tie, and may not happen at all, with the pivotal second leg to come, in the aftermath of such an important match in the Gunners season, I feel far more positive than I did the moment Gunners’ continued liability Granit Xhaka was sent off in the 24th minute.
Of course, I savour real pieces of skill from my team – as I do from any footballers as a journalist – and I love being entertained.
But as someone who grew up watching George Graham’s Arsenal week in week out in the 1980s and 1990s there is something inherently satisfying — and wonderfully rousing — to watch a genuine backs-to-the-wall rearguard action. Which is what Mikel Arteta’s 10-men side achieved in the Merseyside citadel of Anfield this week.
As someone who has attended titanic clashes in the history of this fixture over the last three decades – with searing highs and and crushing lows, most recently during the deflating 4-0 rout at the hands of Jurgen Klopp’s side as recently as late November, to see the fight, passion, discipline and uplifting defiance display by the visiting side was joyous to watch. And when Minamino fired over from close range late on, oh how we cheered.
I went with an old schoolmate, Sagey, whose last trip to Anfield was on May 26 1989. The night Graham’s side won the league title with the last kick of the season (think Sergio Aguero for Manchester City vs QPR, but better, far, far, better.)
As Sagey told me at the time and reminded me again on the drive up the motorway on Thursday, he knew in his heart after witnessing such a seminal game back in ‘89 that nothing would ever get close again. So he gradually stopped attending games and, fittingly, now writes for me at the Gooner Fanzine as View From The Armchair.
But, such was Arsenal’s sterling performance this week, I think he’s got the bug again. He’s already said he’s going to come to the second leg with me.
Because as much as I never take for granted working in the press box – and as much as I hugely enjoy it – I don’t want to be a “neutral” next week, so I’ve decided to attend the second leg as a supporter. I want to catch up with loads of old pals and have plenty of pre-match beers and shout and scream and cheer my side on – which is what I did this week.
Whatever will be, will be. Liverpool are a class act – even without my player of the season Mo Salah and Sadio Mane – and it will be a huge task to get beyond the Reds.
But my word, if Arsenal battle as strongly as they did this week, it will be one hell of a match. I simply can’t wait.
With plenty of focus on both heavyweight League Cup semi-final clashes this week, there is a crucial clash in the title race this weekend. I covered Manchester City’s 1-0 victory over Chelsea back in September, as Pep Guardiola’s side “did a number” over the Champions League holders. It was revenge of sorts after Thomas Tuchel’s Blues did something similar in the showpiece final last May to lift their second Champions League title in a decade.
It is fair to say that if City emerge victorious from the clash at the Etihad on Saturday lunchtime, they will be massive favourites for the title. I won’t be there because I’ll be catching up with old pals on Saturday and we may even take in Wealdstone’s National League game with Dover Athletic. But we’ll all be watching the big Premier League clash intently.
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