Visiting Arsenal: The Emirates as an away fan is way down list below Spurs

Andy Jennings
Emirates view from a Bournemouth fan
Emirates view from a Bournemouth fan

I don’t like Arsenal. Never have, never will. But prejudice is a terrible thing so this year I thought I’d set out to try and get across what going to a game at the Emirates is actually like.

I also don’t much like Jurgen Klopp. But he is absolutely right about 12.30 kick-offs. This week included what Bournemouth fans call ‘Atdhe Nuhiu Day’, the final game of the 2014/15 Championship season being named thus to mark the occasion when his late goal for Sheffield Wednesday at Vicarage Road made us champions at Watford’s expense. That final round of Championship games always provides high drama, and as fellow Dean Court Block 2 stalwart Guy points out, this lunchtime start for us means we can’t watch any of it.

For those of us travelling from the south coast it also means a very early start. The first part of every away trip is the same, crossing the New Forest then the M27 past Southampton. Many Cherries fans want the Saints to stay in the Championship; I don’t really mind as at least from St. Mary’s you can get home in time for tea.

The day starts properly, as is so often the case, at Fleet Services on the M3. Always a good location to chat to fans of other clubs and people watch, today’s entertainment comes from the large groups of military types on their way to Twickenham for the Army-Navy rugby game. Two Roman legionaries walk by drinking cider and shouting in broad West Country accents at a group of sailors dressed as sharks. It is 8.43am.

The roads around London aren’t too busy and we are soon pretty close to the ground. And that’s one of the odd things about this stadium. It is huge, but apart from a glimpse from the top of Highgate Hill as you come down from the North Circular, you wouldn’t really know it was there; so well hidden is it amongst the nearby buildings. The other thing that catches you out is quite how close to the centre of town the ground is; less than ten minutes down the Caledonian Road from the ground and you are at King’s Cross. Compare this with Tottenham, quite a long way further east and north and a lot less easy to get to.

Today we are parking on a drive about ten minutes’ walk from the ground; the parking websites which offer this sort of thing are an essential part of away-day planning. It is one of those curious north London streets where substantial villas are next door to slightly run-down low-rise council estates. We are the wrong side to go and have a walk past the old Highbury stadium today, but it is worth a visit even though you can’t do much more than squint through a fence. You can get some great Portuguese tarts on the nearby Highbury Park though.

Walking to the ground it is obvious how cosmopolitan the area is. Our walk to home games is through a leafy park so coming to London always feels a bit more exciting, a bit more edgy. The Arsenal fans outside the Islington Sports Bar are confident but wary of our good recent form. Like so many places in the PL, that pub and most of the other pubs near the ground are Home Fans Only. The one ‘Away’ pub doesn’t open until later, so unless you fancy the undoubted charms of a Wetherspooons on a Saturday morning, the pre-match beer has to be found further away. Away-day regular Robbie commutes to London from Buckinghamshire; today he is once again braving the lottery that is Saturday train services but finds a decent pub near Euston.

Arsenal are clearly an outstanding community club and the demographics of the crowd reflect this. Lots of families, very few Stone Island sleeves being angled provocatively towards the away fans.

The stadium is elevated above the nearby streets, but hemmed in by railways on two sides. It’s easy to walk round but lacks a bit of the character of QPR, West Brom, Everton or Palace where people’s windows look right onto the back of the stands. The plaza outside is pleasant enough, the banners include Lotte Wubben-Moy and Frida Maanum as well as the more predictable Kenny Sansom and Ian Wright. There are a lot of football tourists. A part of the game now, but the ignorance of some is remarkable. “What time do Brighton arrive?” I hear one group ask.

The overall effect is pretty sleepy, there is none of the febrile tension you get at other grounds. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but when compared to the atmosphere at Villa Park recently the Emirates definitely doesn’t feel intimidating.

Inside, the Bournemouth concourse is buoyant. At Wolves ten days ago Guy described the away end as ‘like an AFCB crowd from the past – old and sparse’. Today is different. We have taken our full allocation and for once it seems very few home fans have infiltrated the ticketing system.

We aren’t great at songs but Iraola’s affection for paella and Estrella gets a solid airing. He doesn’t actually like either, apparently. The concourse is pretty well organised and the Camden beer stalls are brilliant as it means there are no queues at the main food hatches. Other grounds take note! I’m with my wife and mother-in-law today, they report that the ladies’ are ‘pretty good, way better than Palace’. This is not a high bar, but is an important aspect of the away-day experience.

Outside, we are as usual low down in a corner at the Clock End. No safe standing here yet; the places I have seen this, I think it works well. The seats here are the best in the league; every one is wide and padded. And of course being away fans we won’t be sitting in them, except for five minutes at half-time maybe.

As usual the flags of supporters’ clubs from all over the world are spread around the hoardings. I do wonder if representatives from Australia, Texas, Hungary and Rwanda are here at every game or if the flags are just a gimmick. Our view isn’t bad but it is hard to get real perspective of the far end because of how shallow the slope is.

In the first half, this doesn’t really matter as we are attacking that end. Arsenal start very fast, although you wouldn’t know it from the noise in the stadium. Obviously when amongst the away songs you always think you are the loudest group in the stadium, here at Arsenal more than anywhere else. Any noise the North Bank does make is lost; this may be because they really are quite a long way from us, or it may be because of the stadium design.

Tottenham’s ground really does keep the noise in, this place doesn’t seem to do that. What this means is we can play all the hits: ‘Football in a Library’ and ‘We Support Our Local team’ featuring prominently. Ironic cheers from the nearby Arsenal fans greet these.

In the 14th minute both sets of fans unite in applause for Daniel Anjorin. It’s beautifully observed.

On the pitch, Arsenal are excellent. Mark Travers makes a couple of early stops, our defenders have some really timely blocks. Excellent though our season has been, it is hard to take any one of our XI over the Arsenal starters. Saka against Ouattara on the right wing looks like a mismatch, but in fairness to converted winger ‘Dango’ he is excellent and most of their more promising attacks are on our side.

Given my prejudices elsewhere I feel I should dislike Trossard but I actually quite like him. He’s really good here, and his interchanges and rotations with Tomiyasu cause us a lot of problems. Further back the best players on the pitch are Partey and Rice. Physically dominant, they outclass Ryan Christie and Lewis Cook and we just can’t keep the ball. Solanke has one half-chance to run but is crowded out; otherwise it is one-way traffic.

That being said, it’s getting close to half-time. If we can get in level then maybe AI can change some things, the crowd gets edgy and we start to have a go at them.

Enter the officiating team. Apparently by this point Ryan Christie should already have been sent off. You would think either the Arsenal players or supporters might have made a fuss out of this. We didn’t even know it had happened until we saw the TV later. Havertz runs onto an excellent through ball, Travers inexplicably tries to make a save, Havertz steps on him, penalty. I’ll be honest, it was right in front of me and in real time I thought it was a foul.

Both sets of players’ reaction suggested otherwise and when the VAR check took so long we gained some hope. Narrative won, however and Saka rolled the penalty home. So slowly I thought Travers must save it, but the replay shows how committed to his left foot his weight was. 1-0 at the break doesn’t seem too bad; the circumstances mean we are all pretty bitter though.

Quick pint at half-time and with TNT on the concourse TVs we get to watch it back. Is it on the big screens in the ground too? Of course not, the slightest hint of controversy favouring the home side never appears on these. Instead the big screens show Gunnersaurus doing what he does best, also not saving penalties. Laudably though this half-time broadcast features a BSL interpreter which is the first time I have seen this.

My family went to the food kiosk and I asked for a balti pie. The best in the league this year have been at Liverpool; this one turns out a) to be steak as they were out of balti and b) only a pastry case with a bit of gravy in by the time everyone has had a bite. Thanks for that.

We start the second half really well and not for the first time this season miss some presentable chances. Predictably when Arsenal do get out they score, and it is a brilliant goal. Christie attempts to win the ball back high up the pitch and when he doesn’t we are exposed. An absolutely clinical attack and it is now 2-0.

The rest of the game is processional, the last goal is again nicely worked and doesn’t really flatter Arsenal. Before that we are right behind Gabriel’s volley, it is great technique and got the loudest response of the day from Arsenal fans. We continue to heckle them and there is a little bit of unpleasantness right at the end.

With the contest done I’m surprised to see so many Arsenal fans stay right to the end, no empty seats at all. Their team were brilliant, had almost all the best players and fully deserved to win. They would be worthy champions but we still leave with the simmering resentment that once again VAR has favoured ‘the big team’.

Final thoughts on the ground. I’ve been here every season that Bournemouth have and our record is now P7 L7 F4 A20. It isn’t pretty and for 75% of this game we didn’t lay a glove on them. While still a fine place to watch football, the decade of extra age it has relative to the Tottenham stadium really does show. Everything at Spurs is just that little bit better: the food, the noise, the view. Even the much smaller GTech is better in a lot of areas. Arsenal is far from the worst away day in the league (hello, West Ham!) but it certainly doesn’t crack the top five.

Afterwards we get a bus down to Camden Market. We like to make these trips a full day and this place doesn’t disappoint. Loads of food options and well worth a visit.

On the journey home we drive past Grenfell Tower, still wrapped in scaffolding and a haunting reminder that whatever our resentment might be today, at least we have a tomorrow. Football is important but there are a lot of things far more important. Don’t lose sight of those.