Nearly a week on, and I’ve only just rediscovered my breath after those frantic last 7 minutes of added time at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Arriving at the Emirates after a weekend back at University with my beloved and irresponsible friends, I wasn’t feeling particularly fresh, but I still had those pre-match nerves and excitement that can’t quite be replicated anywhere else but at a football match.
One Hour Before Kick Off
I found my brother and we made our way over the bridge towards the stadium. There’s something so glowing and jaw dropping about these arenas, like the San Siro I visited just a month ago. It can’t really be explained, but we always feel the exact same when we see a stadium like it. Your mind almost wonders ‘is all this just for a football team?’. Well, yes it is I suppose.
The line up was confirmed and we discussed it in depth as Will (my brother) helped himself to a surprisingly good chicken burger and chips – Arsenal clearly don’t do things on the cheap (apart from transfers). Cech in goal, the same back four with Gabriel at right back despite the return of Bellerin to the bench, and Xhaka and Ramsey continued where they left off in midfield, looking to support Alexis, Ozil, Iwobi and Giroud – Arsenal’s form player who managed to shrug off last weeks ankle injury. We were happy with the side, especially with the incredible depth on the bench, but always worry about the lack of pace you suffer from with Giroud up top.
Whilst the Emirates isn’t known for being the loudest stadium, with fans generally considered timid compared to most, the atmosphere beforehand was electric. As the clock ticked in its final countdown towards kick off, with memories and highlights of old Arsenal legends and sides pulling off incredible moments down the years, the fans rose with one big applause for the players as they entered, led by their skipper, Laurent Koscielny. Burnley, as expected, were there to frustrate Arsenal, and the 4-4-2 seemed a bold move from Dyche. Eager to see how this would pan out, Will and I quickly inhaled his burger and chips, wiped down the crumbs and began to chant and cheer. The first half had now begun.
Arsenal started slowly, with Burnley keeping them fairly quiet. However, as the game went on Arsenal began to show their quality with their fullbacks getting high up the pitch, Giroud holding play up well and Alexis and Ozil combining brilliantly in most of their attacks. One moment of real excitement came through Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud and the Wales midfielder took the ball to the goal line, and performed a perfectly executed ‘rabona’ cross into Giroud, who attempted a spectacular overhead strike, only to have it pinched off him by the head of the Burnley defender. It was amusing to see two of Arsenal’s more criticised players attempt something so majestic, however, it didn’t come off – all a bit unnecessary in the end. Apart from a few other near misses, Arsenal weren’t troubling too much despite their domination. 0-0 Half Time.
Arsenal started quickly this time, as they tend to in all second halves. They were on the front foot from the off and Alexis was getting shots at goal, with Monreal providing great width down the left. Ozil was really running the game at this point. Just ten minutes into the second half, Mustafi was brought down in the area by the leg of Andre Gray, but the referee waved the protests away.
The crowd was getting louder and the atmosphere continued to build as Arsenal really turned up the heat on Burnley. It was an impressive pace and intensity for a club who’d seen all their rivals slip up the day before. As Iwobi wins the corner for the gunners, the players got ready to attack Ozil’s cross into the box, which Shkodran Mustafi met with purpose and power. The ball went across goal and into the empty corner of the net, out of the reach of Tom Heaton. 59 minutes gone, and 1-0 to the Arsenal was being chanted around the ground as Mustafi celebrated his first ever goal for the club.
From hero to zero, Xhaka got sent off for a poor tackle on Defour on the left side of the pitch. I felt for him as he’d probably been Arsenal’s man of the match so far. He was running the play, switching the ball with incredible accuracy, and giving us a real direct dimension to our play that others in the squad, bar perhaps Cazorla, can’t do. A silly scissor action on the tackle cost him ultimately, and Arsenal were down to ten men. Pressure on.
Arsenal looked fairly resilient and still like the side more likely to score the next goal. There was a real tension around the ground, and to make it worse, the fourth official allocated 7 minutes of added time. As time ticked away ever so slowly, the ball was thrown into a horribly packed group of players all defending the penalty area – as the ball was taken on by a Burnley player, Coquelin stuck a leg out and the player went down – a loud whistle blew, the ref pointed to the spot – PENALTY BURNLEY.
No one could believe it. Arsenal had been the better side, led magnificently by Mustafi and Koscielny at the back, but suddenly out of nowhere, Xhaka’s replacement gave Burnley the lifeline they needed, an opportunity for revenge after Arsenal’s controversial winner at Turf Moor just a few months ago. The anger at the decision was shared by fans who booed the officials, and Wenger as well, who even went as far as attempting a street-fight with the fourth official, which ultimately led to him being sent to the stands. For the time being at least, Wenger was out! Gray stepped up, and put it down the middle, where Cech got a helpless hand but couldn’t prevent it from going in.
Wenger’s protests continued down the tunnel, and Arsenal, a side so often accused of lacking leadership and thick skin, had a real fight here to prove the doubters wrong. One player really stood up to the fight, and it was Shkodran Mustafi. The defender played on the front foot all game, winning balls in areas using his pace and reading of the game, and was determined to get Arsenal that one last chance they needed to win the game. He carried the ball forwards, fouled in the process, and went to take the corner to Alexis Sanchez as they looked to create an opening. Alexis gets the ball, looks up, and swings a perfect ball to the back post. It was all down our end, I’ve seen Koscielny find some space, he’s got his head to the ball, and gone down holding his face after a collision with Ben Mee’s boot. The crowd roars in protest, they stare at the linesman and referee as the seconds slowly pass and then we hear a whistle blow, the referee sticks out a straight arm in the direction of Burnley’s goal – PENALTY ARSENAL.
A mad, mad, mad end to a game that should have been simple, and was anything but. Burnley who fought so hard, looked to have let it slip at the end. There were offside claims in the build up, and Arsenal can consider themselves lucky, but were denied a definite penalty earlier in the half. As the decision was given, Mustafi got down on one knee and fist pumped in celebration towards the crowd – they had a lifeline.
Alexis Sanchez, who’s record of scoring penalties for Arsenal is shocking, had a huge moment in his hands. He stepped up slowly, the keeper dived to his right, and Alexis cooly chipped the ball into the middle of the goal. Pandemonium. The Emirates erupted in celebration for what was one of the greatest finishes to a game in Premier League history. Fan’s jumped on each other, and the importance of the victory was felt by all – the players, the coaches, the fans. It brought me back to a thought I had earlier that day. I looked at the Emirates and thought ‘all this just for a football team?’ but it is more than just a football team. It’s a family, and it’s hard to experience moments like that anywhere else. The torture and agony of that game was felt by everyone, together.
Full Time – Post Match Reaction
We walked past Arsenal Fan TV, and Heavy D (look him up) performed his signature ‘BOOM’ celebration, with fans chanting along. Still in disbelief, and hungover from the weekend, I can’t say Arsenal did much to help my headache. 13 years since Arsenal won the Premier League, surely these last minute goals can’t all be for nothing, ey?
Man of the Match: Shkodran Mustafi
Led Arsenal through their toughest patch, and showed real quality and leadership when the side needed it.
Arsenal Player Ratings:
Cech – 6
Gabriel – 6
Mustafi – 9
Koscielny – 8
Monreal – 7
Ramsey – 6
Xhaka – 5 (would have been a 7 without the red card)
Iwobi – 7
Ozil – 8
Alexis – 6
Giroud – 5
Bellerin – N/A
Coquelin – 6
Welbeck – N/A