Today feels like it should be a good day. I’ve woken up to the sun shining here in London, birds tweeting, as well as a bit more of a clearer indication as to when some normality returns to life again in England.
Yesterday the Prime Minister made his statement about when he thinks the country can return to normal and it seems like 21st June is that date and the first thing that came back in to my mind?
Football is back for next season.
Yep, ‘proper’ football as we know should hopefully have returned for us and that means fans in stadiums, atmosphere and proper excitement will soon come again. And as an Arsenal fan that has seen a juddering season in which we have lurched from one set of results to another, I for one cannot wait, because as I’ve said already I’m pretty much done with this season. I want the hope and optimism of next season to wash over me.
The last game of the season might even see me return to it and although I suspect the game itself will be pretty meaningless for us – we will probably be mid table with nothing to play for – I will still embrace it like an old friend you haven’t seen in years if I am one of the 10,000 that gets to be in the stadium for that last game of the season.
Now we wait to see how the next couple of months pan out and cross our fingers that the daily COVID-19 cases come down, deaths come down, vaccinations continue to be taken at an accelerated rate, so that the targets laid out by the UK Government can be met and we can all be hoping for that coming together to remember what proper football is like again.
There’s nothing like a bit of news like that to quickly expunge the disappointment of our limp attempt at getting anything against Man City at home last weekend. It’s Tuesday and normally I’d still be pretty upset after a loss like that but I feel rather more chipper than a recent Arsenal defeat would normally make me feel. I even allowed myself a split second of giddiness when somebody on one of the football WhatsApp groups I’m on told me that the international travel restrictions are supposedly lifted on 17th May, with the Europa League final on 26th May…
I’m not going to put two and two together and make 684 here though. With the teams still in the competition, our form as it has been, I don’t really feel like we are in a position to be looking that far ahead, but in football hope is such a big part of what keeps you going as a fan, so whilst that still remains then we have something to cling on to to hope that this season won’t peter out as the busted flush that I think most of us think it might be.
To ensure that though, Mikel and his side will need to navigate a Benfica team who whilst they hardly massively scared us in the first leg, will probably be emboldened by the result and will also have the advantage of the away goals rule on their side. That means Arsenal will have to approach Thursday’s match with a little more caution than they perhaps did the ‘away’ leg last week. It means they need to be mindful of scabby corners, penalties or free kicks on the edge of the box. It means attacking at will may not always be the best approach and it also means that any kind of advantage in terms of taking the lead will be vital.
Two-legged ties with away goals are always forms of chess games at times and it feels even more so at the moment with both games at neutral territories. The strategy and moves you make are as a direct response to how your opponent shapes up and if we see a high press Benfica I wonder if Mikel will adapt his strategy much because he knows a counter attack on us could have extra consequences than a ‘normal’ goal would have.
We’ll no doubt get more from the manager tomorrow but today feels like a day of celebration more than anything else, because we can see the return of normality in sight. For me that’s everything. Leaving the house hours before the game to get to the pub. The tube journey in to central London, the smell of fried onions as you walk along Holloway Road, the taste of that first pint in a plastic cup that you could squeeze out all of the beer if you aren’t careful enough. The banter with mates over glories past, or the collective pains you’ve all felt in big defeats that have cost us all dearly. I will relish all of them and for me that will be the most exciting thing about this season if I can be one of the lucky 10,000 who get to go to the game at home of Brighton at the end of the season.
Catch you all tomorrow.