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Merci Arsène

August 15, 2004. A public holiday in India on lieu of the country’s 67th Independence Day, and the first time I watched an Arsenal game. Let’s be honest, I was a glory hunter, wasn’t I? Looking back to the time, I was in school, 9th grade to be precise, pretty impressionable and knew there were only two proper football teams in England – Arsenal and Manchester United, going by what the rest of the kids watched anyway. I had a soft spot for the French, given they had won the 1998 World Cup, and growing in a football-mad nation like Oman where French jerseys of Trezeguet and Zidane were the rage of the day, the choice for me was on the platter.

And Arsenal did not disappoint that day. They trounced Everton 4-1 at Goodison. I barely knew any of the players wearing red and white that evening, but Thierry Henry was running the show. And, so began my tryst with the club. It’s been nearly 14 years since that day and I’ve watched up over ~500 Arsenal games. All of them managed by one man, Arsene Wenger.

October 24, 2004. I developed a deep hatred for all things Manchester United, something I retain to this day. We lost both our league games to them that season, including the infamous Pizzagate, in what was to be the 50th game of our unbeaten run. I can still vividly remember the day, in the lead-up to the game, Arsenal had racked up some easy wins, 3-1 against Villa at home, 4-0 against Charlton with the Henry backheel and easy-peasy wins at Norwich and Fulham. For the first time, I could feel butterflies in my stomach over a game of football. We lost that night, 2-0 in a game where United kicked Jose Antonio Reyes out of the park even as a gutless Mike Riley ensured decision after decision went against us.

These are games I remembered watching. My life had slowly started revolving around the club, and I wasn’t even consciously realising it. I begged my sister to get me an Arsenal shirt, which she duly did, a blue one (a fake, but nonetheless). My desktop wallpaper was the Arsenal squad and the glistening Premier League trophy sitting in front of a wide-smiled Arsene Wenger. I would tune in to watch late night games, much to the vexation of my mother who couldn’t, or rather refused to understand my new-found obsession. I was still trying to figure out the different competitions Arsenal were competing in – the Champions League, the FA Cup and all of these were resulting in more couching in front of the idiot box. But, by then, I was hooked. I knew this was the team I wanted to support. I was born for this, perhaps? To support the mighty Arsenal.

May 21, 2005. We marched into the FA Cup final, by easily brushing aside Blackburn, courtesy two van Persie strikes. I can remember my first Cup Final day. It might not sound as authentic and mystical as stories of actual stadium-goers, but there I was, glued to my little BPL TV as we were taken apart by Manchester United over the course of 90 minutes. Several times, we were just hanging by a loose thread. Fredrik Ljungberg, on one occasion made a goal-line clearance from a van Nistelrooy header and barely knew about it. We held on with our depleted team and I screamed when Jens Lehmann stopped the penalty from Paul Scholes. Patrick Vieira plonked home the winner, and looking back who knew that this would be the start of a long barren run?

The following season, Thierry Henry was running riot, scoring 33 goals in all competitions, including 27 in the league. There were magical nights in Europe – 1-0 away win at Real Madrid with that scintillating Henry goal and the 0-0 home draw that followed where Lehmann was outstanding; 2-0 home win against Juventus when Cesc Fabregas stole the show with Patrick Vieira in the opposition, 0-0 away at Delle Alpi; the final European and floodlit game at Highbury where Kolo Toure of all poked home the winner against Villarreal, and the nerve wracking away leg at El Madrigal where a last minute Riquelme penalty was saved by Lehmann. And, at the end that outpouring of emotion when Pat Rice hugged Wenger. These are memories that just last!

Alas, we wouldn’t walk into our shiny new home as European champions as rain and tears poured on an emotional night in Paris when Barcelona required 77 minutes and some Henrik Larsson brilliance to break the deadlock against our 10 men.

By then, the footballing landscape was starting to change. Arsenal had finished second to Chelsea, who now under Jose Mourinho, were the glamour boys of the Premier League with their lineup of stars. Arsenal, on the other hand had to quickly decimate the Invincibles, as the implications of the £390 million move from our spiritual home to our shiny new stadium loomed large. After Vieira’s departure in 2005, 2006 saw the departures of Robert Pires to Villarreal, Sol Campbell and Lauren to Portsmouth, Ashley Cole to Chelsea, Jose Antonio Reyes to Real Madrid while Dennis Bergkamp called it a day on his career.

We had a new young squad, and while hugely talented, it was inevitable that they would struggle in new environs at such a precocious age. Youngsters like Gael Clichy, Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott, Denilson and the diamond of Arsene’s eye, Cesc Fabregas were all blooded in the first team. We won only half our league games that season, and yet finished 4th and Thierry Henry, the most magnificent Invincible who had extended his contract at the start of the season and Fredrik Ljungberg would leave in 2007. Within 3 years, Arsenal’s best squad in 119 years of existence was reduced to Jens Lehmann, Kolo Toure and Gilberto Silva, as Manchester United won their first title in 4 seasons, after 2 consecutive Chelsea wins.

Wenger, according to reports, had multiple offers on his table from the biggest clubs in the world, but he stuck to Arsenal, helping them rebuild in financially difficult years. With no sugar daddy and a huge stadium debt to take care of, Arsenal began the 2007-2008 season at a canter, playing some beautiful football orchestrated by a young Fabregas, supported ably by Flamini. By February, the club was in pole position, 5 points clear at the top with 12 games remaining, and had just drawn star-studded AC Milan 0-0 in the first leg of their Champions League knock-out. Then, disaster struck as Eduardo had his leg snapped in two by Martin Taylor on a gloomy afternoon in Birmingham. William Gallas staged a centre circle cryout, and t all went downhill from there. Arsenal never recovered, and the league challenge came crumbling down, ending with a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford to eventual champions Manchester United, who by then had successfully rebuilt their squad. A 2-0 win on a famous night in Milan bore no fruit, as we succumbed to a calamitous quarter-final 4-2 loss in Liverpool.

To be honest, these were hard times. Jens Lehmann, who barely played that season and Gilberto, both left Arsenal and Kolo Toure would leave next season, officially ending the Invincibles era. It was too soon and too quick for our liking. The next two seasons saw us finished 4th and 3rd respectively, even as we recouped £53 million from the sales of Alexander Hleb to Barcelona and Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure to Manchester City.

A clear marker of how much the Gunners had fallen was on display in the Champions League semi-final, as Cristiano Ronaldo starred in a 3-1 defeat at the Emirates Stadium to send United into their second successive Champions League final in 2009, 4-1 on aggregate, where they would lose to Barcelona. They had, however, won a hat-trick of league titles by then. The very weird 2009-2010 season saw a young Aaron Ramsey see his leg snapped in two at Stoke, as Arsenal title challenge again crumpled in the business end of the season with defeats to Spurs and Wigan. The Champions League saw a chastening 4-1 loss to a Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona.

The fan base had slowly started to crack, and it seems like the manager had lost his golden touch. Murmurs of discontent were wafting around the Emirates. Since David Dein’s departure in 2007 when he sold his majority stake to Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov, Arsene Wenger’s negotiating stock in Europe had fallen. Wenger was shackled in terms of finances, given the club’s position and by 2011, American billionaire Stan Kroenke, notorious for moving the NFL side St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles was the majority shareholder.

He was, for his part, the polar opposite of the other billionaire owners of mega-rich Premier League clubs Chelsea and Manchester City, owned by Roman Abrahamovic and an Emirati conglomerate led by Khaldoon el Mubarak respectively. Aloof from most of the club’s day-to-day functioning, he kept himself away from games, while spending his days in his luxury ranch in Texas, occasionally showing up for shareholders meetings, while the dignified Arsene Wenger was made to walk the plank and answer the toughest questions in front of a packed house and media.

The 2010-2011 season ended in an anti-climax. A mid-season slump saw Arsenal’s title chances fade away. The club had reached it’s first final in 5 years, as they marched into Wembley against Birmingham City with a strong starting 11. Tragedy struck in the 89th minute when miscommunication between Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny allowed Obafemi Martins to plod home the winner as Arsenal’s players slumped to the turf. 10 days later, an ominous harsh red card to Robin van Persie at the Camp Nou signalled a 4-3 aggregate loss. To Barcelona, again.

The 2011 transfer window was dramatic in the least. Cesc Fabregas had become one of the world’s most desired midfielders with his work ethic, and eye for a killer pass, and had captained the Gunners for 4 full seasons now. But, his Barcelona DNA came to bite and he departed for £35 million. That must’ve felt like a dagger through Arsene’s heart. Towards the close of the transfer window, Samir Nasri threw a hissy fit and forced his way to a £25 million move to Manchester City, by then in the midst of building their own team of superstars.

August 28, 2011. 6 months on from a famous European night when Arsenal beat Barcelona at their own brand of football in a pulsating 2-1 win, the Gunners were destroyed 8-2 at Old Trafford of all places. We could have conceded 15 goals that evening, we were that atrocious, as Wayne Rooney and co. tore our young side with multiple players in their debut season apart. It was just a horrible sinking feeling watching the game, compounded by the fact I watched it 4 United fans. I even had nightmares of us getting relegated. That called for a last minute trolley dash as the manager bought in experienced players like Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Yossi Benayoun to steady a rocking ship.

Project Youth had failed, and the club’s fanbase by now, had divided itself. The Football Financial Fairplay, bought in by Michel Platini, by then had failed spectacularly, as clubs with the most money bags were wielding their power in the transfer market. Arsene Wenger, on the other hand had to keep his hands tied and manage finances astutely. This required him to sell off a few stars every summer, while bringing in cheaper alternatives or promoting younger players, which led to the common narrative of a mentally weak Arsenal.

It seemed like the same script was repeating itself every season. The Gunners’ would begin every season strongly, and come November would slowly start to crumble, get knocked out of Europe by a top side, and then rally to finish 4th. Words like ‘trophyless’ and a ‘lack of mental strength’ became synonymous with the club, even as the manager tried to reassure it’s fans that every bunch of players he worked with was mentally stronger than the list.

Thierry Henry returned to the club in a chequered 2011-2012 season for a short stint, even as Robin van Persie finally had an injury-free season scoring 37 goals in the process. He went on to win the PFA Player of the Year award, and deservedly so. A 3rd place finish followed thanks to a 3-2 win at West Brom on final day again, despite the disastrous start to the season. A defining image of the season was Wenger hugging Pat Rice in anguish as Kieran Gibbs made a last-ditch tackle in the dying minutes of the season, as it seemed West Brom were bound to score.

In a literal submission of sorts, Arsenal sold their star player van Persie to Manchester United for what most fans considered a paltry sum of £24 million. He would go on to win the league next season, scoring 26 goals in the league, as Arsene Wenger’s arch nemesis at the turn of the millenium, Sir Alex Ferguson called it a day on his managerial career.

The two men were at loggerheads right since 1996, when Arsene Wenger first arrived on English shores. As Arsene Wenger built 3 title-winning teams to counter Alex Ferguson’s all conquering Red Devils, the two men enjoyed some famous battles, which included flying tackles, two club captains who equally hated each other, famous goals, fistfights, tunnel spats and even flying slices of mozarella laden pizza. By 2009, when Ferguson realised Arsenal weren’t a threat anymore, given their financial status, the relationship between the two became friendly and amicable.

The sale of Robin van Persie caused a huge uproar amongst the Arsenal faithful, including me. It was unbelievable that we had sold someone who was literally our best player the previous season to United of all clubs, a club I had grown to hate given the fierce rivalry in the noughties. Calls to sack the manager were ringing out loud by then. To be bloody honest, I thought it was time for the great man to call it quits. The signings of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla should have ushered a new era as Wenger again got down to the task of rebuilding the squad.

It was another strange season though. We had been knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn Rovers at home, they were eventually relegated. We played an incredible game of football at The Madejski stadium, when we went 4-0 down to Reading, before mounting the most incredible of comebacks to win 7-5 in extra time in the League Cup. And then, we suffered a humiliating exit on a cold December night to League 2 strugglers Bradford City, despite the manager sporting a strong squad. The Gunners limped to 4th, following a narrow 1-0 final day win at St. James Park and despite a famous 2-0 away win at Bayern Munich, the Gunners were dumped out on away goals. By then, the club had finished 8 seasons without a trophy. The club, it’s fans and the manager were on tenterhooks.

2013 was a big year for me, personally. I was not only moving away from my hometown to pursue my Masters, I had also met the love of my life. On the Arsenal front, there were big changes too. That summer, we were nearing the end of their current kit sponsorship with Nike, and had signed a much more improved deal with Puma. The undervalued sponsorship deal with Emirates too was re-negotiated and for a while it seemed like the shackles had been broken. New revenue streams were pouring in and Arsenal had also signed their first superstars in years, when in the wee hours (for me), we put to paper a £42.5 million deal for Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid.

There was some renewed optimism. Could this have been a sign of changing times, and much more freedom in the transfer market for the manager? The league season was the same-old, same-old with the club securing another 4th placed finish they were so synonymous with, and ridiculed for, for liking it to a trophy. There were the fair share of thrashings too, 6-3 at the Etihad, 5-1 at Anfield and a shameful 6-0 at Stamford Bridge on the occasion of the managers 1000th game in charge.

What kept the fans going was the run in the FA Cup. The Gunners were lucky enough to have gotten to play all their games at home, but they also had to knock out Tottenham, who were slowly rebuilding into a formidable outfit and Liverpool. A close shave against Wigan in the semi-final when Mertesacker popped up with the equaliser helped us to take the game to penalties, as Lukasz Fabianski ensured we returned to Wembley for the club’s first FA Cup final against Hull City in 9 years.

May 17, 2014. I still remember the day vividly. I was a bag of nerves, as I watched the game in a pub packed with hopeful Gooners in Delhi, 6693kms from where the action was. The tension was palpable, as Hull took the lead and then doubled it. It was all turning into yet another anti-climax as Hull almost made it 3-0, but for a goal-line clearance from that man Gibbs again. That would have been game over. Santi made it 2-1 on the stroke of half-time and the place was buzzing when Laurent Koscielny bundled home the equaliser. The place went beserk when Aaron Ramsey netted home the winner in extra time. The place was full of grown men and women, literally in tears. The first year of my relationship couldn’t have ended in a better fashion.

It had been a long and arduous wait for everyone involved, the players, the fans and surely, Arsene Wenger who had been waiting for this moment probably more than anyone else. It was a magnificent evening for everyone involved with the club, and majority of the fanbase felt this was the right time for the manager to call it quits, and pave the way for someone else to rebuild the club. Arsene stood by his stance that he was the best man for the job, and we were back in the market spending a whopping £83 million on transfers for players such as Danny Welbeck, Callum Chambers, David Ospina, Mathieu Debuchy, Gabriel Paulista, and obviously, Alexis Sanchez. Another 3rd place finish followed, as Alexis made his mark on the Premier League, scoring 25 goals in his debut season. A flourish of wins between February and March helped the Gunners to this league position, while the cup run kept going strong.

March 9, 2015. I still remember the date, my first day in India’s financial capital, Mumbai. I was starting a new life in a big-ass, busy, brutal city. However, all I was bothered about was whether I will be able to catch the big game that night between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in the 4th Round of the FA Cup. I managed to get an internet dongle in the evening, and had it activated in time for the match. Arsenal did not disappoint as Angel di Maria was sent off for pushing the ref and Danny Welbeck scored and celebrated the winning goal. Arsenal kept the cup at the Emirates for a second season running, with a 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa, when Sanchez bust the net with his powerful strike. Good times rolling back, perhaps?

The 2015-2016 season was another strange strange season. Leicester City smashed all odds and won the Premier League, and showed that moneybags isn’t the only route to winning titles. This was a great chance to strengthen the squad, but the only incoming player was goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea. Arsenal, for their part finished in their best position (2nd) in over 10 years, when it seemed highly likely that Tottenham would finally pip the Gunners. Their 5-1 trouncing by Newcastle ensured a 21st consecutive St. Totteringham’s day, 20th under Arsene Wenger. It was a case of what-if’s. Even as the usual contenders like Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea faded away, Arsenal just failed to get grips of their season.

A late Welbeck header ensured the Gunners inflicted Leicester’s second and last defeat of the season. Consecutive losses to Manchester United, when Marcus Rashford marked his league debut with a brace and a haunting 2-1 loss at home to Swansea, before a 2-2 reverse at White Hart Lane meant that the Gunners had thrown away another chance. To Leicester City of all teams. By then, it was heavily mooted that the manager would call it quits after his final season as per his contract ended in 2017.

Things did not change much in 2016-2017. The league form was wayward, as Arsenal finished 5th after nearly 21 years in the top 4. £82 million was spent in Granit Xhaka, Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, but none convinced. Tottenham finished above Arsenal, for the first time in so long, and that too by a margin of 11 points. To make matters worse, Arsenal were humiliated on the European stage by Bayern Munich. Drawing 1-1 at half-time in the first leg of the Round of 16 tie at the Allianz Arena, a second half flourish saw Bayern win 5-1. The return leg was supposed to be a dead rubber, and a chance to regain some pride. And, we were. Going into half-time leading 1-0 thanks to a 20th minute goal from Theo Walcott, Arsenal were sent to the cleaners with 5 goals. A shocking 10-2 scoreline was too much for fans to take.

Protest marches against the manager and the way the board were handling the affairs of the club became commonplace. There was demand for more transparency in the inner workings of the finances of the club. Ivan Gazidis who had promised that the Gunners would be competing at the level of Bayern, was made to bite his own words as the season seemed to be heading towards disaster. Luckily for the manager, Arsenal put together another run in the cup, beating lower league opposition like Preston North End, Sutton United and Lincoln City. The toughest test was yet to come in the form of Manchester City, and in a thrilling contest, Arsenal spirited their way back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 thanks to an extra-time winner by Alexis.

27th May, 2017. I have a superstition, and it was vindicated on this date. Having watched all of our last 3 FA Cup finals in 3 different cities, I decided to watch the 2017 FA Cup final in Navi Mumbai, technically a different district. Arsenal had an early controversial lead, thanks to that man Sanchez again. Diego Costa, who has been a thorn in Arsenal’s flesh for so long, much like his predecessor Didier Drogba, made it 1-1, 3 minutes before Aaron Ramsey bought the roof and the electricity down. As I celebrated in darkness, Arsenal had won their 3rd FA Cup in 4 years.

That said, the truth was there for everyone to see. The club just weren’t performing well on a regular basis, and their form in the league and in Europe had much to be desired. The manager came out with a statement that he was renewing his contract for a further 2 seasons, and this was met with a mixed response from the Arsenal faithful. WOB’s or the Wenger Out Brigade had seen enough, and threatened to bring banners to every game and boycott home games en masse, while AKB’s rallied behind the manager.

Another fantastic opportunity to strengthen the squad with some defensive reinforcements was lost, as the only signings were Alexandre Lacazette for £46 million from Lyon, and left-back Sead Kolasinac from Schalke on a Bosman. Alexis Sanchez, by now, like Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie, all those years back, was yearning for a move away from the club, knowing well that he was to play in Europe’s second tier, a no-no for a top player. Late bids from Manchester City failed, and even Chelsea were in the market for the Chilean. In the meanwhile, the club were failing to negotiate contracts for Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere whilst heading into the season with liabilities like Per Mertesacker and Santi Cazorla.

The start of the season was a disaster. Despite a narrow 4-3 win over Leicester at home, the Gunners lost 1-0 away to Stoke and then were played out of the park by Liverpool in a 4-0 loss, thanks to inspiring performances from their newly formed attacking trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. The failed English project was there for everyone to see. Carl Jenkinson was sent out on loan again, this time to Birmingham, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs would depart for a combined £47 million to Liverpool and West Brom respectively, while Theo Walcott, the perennial underachiever left to Everton for £20 million in January. That month also saw a mass exodus as Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud departed for a combined £30 million, while Mathieu Debuchy was let go on a free.

The most shocking deal happened on 22nd January when Manchester City pulled the plug on their pursuit of Sanchez, and Manchester United offered beleaguered Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan as a swap. The club accepted, and the best performer from the past 3 season was again sold to United, of all clubs. Sanchez had a mixed season till that point, but was obviously in two minds over his transfer. We did bring in Pierre Emerick Aubameyang though, from Borussia Dortmund for £60 million. This season so far has been far from good. We’ve been shocking away from home, were trounced in the league cup final by City 3-0 and knocked out of the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest 4-2.

The only saving light was the run in the Europa League. When Arsene Wenger announced that he would be calling it a day at the club, after 22 long years, Arsenal were already in the semi-final against Atletico Madrid, having knocked out Ostersunds, AC Milan and CSKA Moscow. There couldn’t have been a more fitting departure for the manager, than with a Europa League win. Unfortunately, a timid Arsenal performance saw them being knocked out by a Diego Costa goal. There, indeed is little place for emotion in football. Wenger called it a ‘sad, sad, sad night’, and it really was.

6 May, 2018. Arsene Wenger’s final home game against nearest rival, ‘Burnley’. The team produced a 5 star performance, that has been so lacking this season. There were flashes of brilliance, Wengerball they call it, as some slick football confirmed 6th spot and qualification for next season’s Europa League. It was followed by a, lets be honest, emotional farewell. The greatest achievement of the club, the gold Invincibles trophy was awarded to the man who won it. I would be lying if I said I did not shed a tear.

I’ve experienced some of my worst and best days with him at the helm. 8-2 at Old Trafford, 6-0 at Stamford Bridge, 5-1 losses to Bayern, the 2-1 loss to Birmingham in the cup final, 3-1 at Camp Nou right onto 1-0 at the Bernabeu, 2-0 against Juventus in 2005 and Bayern in 2015 stand out as do the 3 cup wins, each of them special and emotional in their own way.

From a nobody to one of the most influential persons in the game we all love, he has been a fantastic servant to the club, and one we should always be thankful for. His initial methods, fitness regimes were heavily questioned but he extended the careers of several stalwarts at the club, winning titles in 1998 and 2002. He bought in some of our favourite players – Marc Overmars, Nicolas Anelka, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Robert Pires, Fredrik Ljungberg, Cesc Fabregas – the lot.

He’s left an indelible mark on the club, there’s absolutely no second thought about it. There are few managers these days who have a profound impact on the club, beyond trophies. Right from overhauling the club’s training ground to building and strategising the stadium move, ensuring a smooth transition whilst on limited financial resources, building the scouting and recruitment network of the club, to bringing continental flair into the English game.

Arsene Wenger’s story will be remembered in two parts unfortunately. The first part of the story was a fairytale. Beautiful, swashbuckling football with some of the most talented players on the planet, and laden with trophies too. The second part of the story has been a struggle. Injuries, bad luck, younger players failing to make the mark, buckling under pressure; albeit 3 FA Cups.

What did not change is the managers belief in his own players to go out there, express themselves and do their jobs. His values, his belief in his system and his style remained the same. He carried himself with dignity, and at times too much class. As John Cross described during the farewell speech as a representative of the media ‘There is no escaping there has been some criticism along the way but the fact you never hold a grudge or never dodge a question and are always respectful shows what a class act you are as both a human being and a football manager.’

Arsene Wenger has been an enigma, during his entire 22 year tenure and there has been no one more influential on the club. We haven’t met ever, and may never even do so. I may even never get to see him in person, yet there is a lot of emotion there. In his own words ‘It is sad, but all the love stories come to an end. They do not always finish well. Most of the time they don’t finish well. I feel sad because I love this club and what the club represents. 22 years of your life and to walk away is not easy.’

I have supported the Gunners for 14 seasons now (that’s half my life), watched countless games at odd hours with red eyes, celebrated every goal like it was the first, have had nightmares of us losing games, sunk my head into my palms every time we conceded, seen players right from Pascal Cygan to Thierry Henry to Manuel Almunia to Mesut Ozil, grown from a gawky kid to a man, completed my graduation, and post-graduation, gotten engaged and a few months away from marriage, changed jobs and yet amongst all these constant changes, Arsene Wenger has been the one constant. It’s going to be very strange on the first day of the new season when a new manager sits in the Arsenal dugout.

Thanks for everything, thanks for bringing Arsenal into my life and thanks for all the memories, the good, the bad and the ugly! Merci Arsène, merci indeed.

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Posted by on May 13, 2018 in General, Personal

 

Bangalore Gunners Screening Pics – Arsenal vs Aston Villa, 23/2/2013

So, as promised are the pictures of the Aston Villa game, organized by Bangalore Gunners. It was another nerve-wracking encounter, as Arsenal snatched a win thanks to a late goal from Santi Cazorla.
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Anyways, no casualties. We made sure the bodies were well conceal…oh well. Shouldn’t reveal too much here.

I finally met Varun, a big Arsenal fan, who used to live in the middle of nowhere until recently, and his life was staring into the abyss, before he was rescued and bought to civilization. He is a brilliant writer, and do keep a dictionary handy.

And there were the other Gooners as well. Prajwal, a long lost Arsenalite from college, Vivek (Hitler Admin), Calvin, Nishanth (Tippasandra Warrior), another Nishanth (1st Phase Shantha), Dheeraj (JP Nagar Dheera), Calvin, Aditya (Guerilla Admin), Vinay etc etc. Sorry if I missed out anyone!

And how can I forget Jijo! 😛 Thanks again for the ride and the pics man! 😀

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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Go ahead you lazy bum, that’s all I ask of you!

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2013 in General, Personal

 

Bangalore Gunners Screening Pics – Chelsea vs Arsenal, 20/1/2013

I am lucky to be a part of an awesome bunch of Arsenal supporters, who sleep, breath and drink Arsenal. An exceptionally fanatic fan club, known as Bangalore Gunners.

If their Facebook page is anything to go by, Bangalore has an estimated base of about 21,000 Arsenal fans. They organize screenings almost every weekend for Arsenal games.

I managed to get a break from my work, and make a trip down to Bangalore, to watch the game with the gang at Dugout, a sports pub. To add to the atmosphere, there were about 60-70 fans from the Chelsea Bangalore Fans Club who had descended down.

We may have lost, but it was an epic evening of continuous chanting, taunts and the usual banter. Here are the pictures!
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^^That’s me! 😛

166572_10151295804068585_358204602_n 550006_10151295804628585_135987640_n 555304_10151295809108585_1389543815_n 601084_10151295808503585_437130208_n 150597_10151295809553585_3091056_n 150926_10151295810408585_762678837_n 155084_10151295809948585_1301012416_n 184605_10151295806483585_754675746_n 428042_10151295807158585_361274723_n 528948_10151295807753585_1299204858_n 530796_10151295810608585_144737472_nIf you are wondering who the extremely pumped up guy in last season’s away kit is, let me introduce you to Sachin, the ‘self-proclaimed’ hooligan of Bangalore Gunners. Boy, he does have loads of chants up his sleeve! 😀

Coming soon, pics of the Aston Villa screening! Hang around!

P.S – Special thanks to Jijo, the in-house photographer of the group, proud owner of a KTM Duke bike (Thanks for the drops buddy :P) and of course, a big Arsenal fan!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in General, Personal

 

3 Years On – At the Emirates Stadium – Photos

Ok! This was long overdue, I suppose. It’s been 3 years to this day, since I visited the holiest of all places for an Arsenal fan, the Emirates Stadium.

The first site of the magnificent stadium is quite humbling, and I am going to tell you about the entire story. So, here goes.

Date : July 23rd, 2009

Venue : Emirates Stadium, Islington, North London

Purpose : Pilgrimage 😛

Approx 10:30 AM –  As I stepped out of the tube train at the Arsenal tube station at Gillespie Road, I was obviously quite excited. This was going to be the most memorable day in my life. After 5 years of supporting Arsenal through thick and thin, I was finally going to visit the magnificent Emirates Stadium. Arsenal Tube Station is a moderate sized tube station, and you can just imagine the buzz during matchdays. There were a couple of kids on the platform donning the Arsenal jersey, and I was well into Gunnerland. As I walked out of the station, there lay a very small sign on a pole, right outside the tube station. And by small, I mean very small. The words on it were ‘Arsenal Football Club’.

Approx 10:35 AM – Out of the tube station, we move right, and there was some construction work going on that day on the pavement, and I was looking around in exasperation for the stadium. You know, there was this huge cardboard wall they had set up, so the facade of the Emirates was covered. Luckily, my brother in law did tell me to calm down, and a few 20 yards later, I finally had a glimpse of the Emirates, and it took my breath away. We walked further ahead, and there was a little counter, with the words “Box Office” written over it, and the lady there told us to take the steps, into the stadium. And so we did.

Approx 10:40 AM – Finally, I get the full view of the Emirates, and my heart is racing. It’s like I am going to meet a supermodel on a date. I fumble around with the camera, and then snap the gigantic Arsenal crest on the outside  of the Emirates.

10:45 AM – At this point, my sister can clearly see I am overwhelmed by the occasion, and promptly takes hold of her precious camera, which she fears I would drop. C’mon, who am I? Manuel Almunia? Anyways, she has the camera, and she tells me to give some poses, and I do, turns out I look stupid. Anyways..

10:50 AM – Sis and bro-in-law take some photographs around as I continue being in the mesmerised state. I wouldn’t blame them either. It was their 2nd anniversary the previous day, and I was just being a ‘Kabab mein haddi’ (My fellow Indian Gooners will know what that means!) Anyways, we were on time for our scheduled 11 AM stadium tour, and there were a lot of people there. Around 30 I suppose.

11:00 AM – Our tour guide introduces himself, a nice old fella, around 50, suited up. He asks us to form a queue as he takes a look at our bookings. And he also gives all of us a copy of Perry Groves’ authored “We all Live in a Perry Groves World” (One of the best books I have read!) as well as a copy of the Brazil vs Italy match programme. What a nice guy. Plus, he also gives each one of us an Arsenal sticker, not for decorative purposes, but for having it on out shirts. And while the rest wait for their turn, I have my own moment with the legendary Herbert Chapman and Arsene Wenger. Atleast their busts 😛

11:10 AM – Everyone’s done, so we are set to go. Well not yet, Jerry makes a short speech. He asks almost all of us where we are from. There was a family from Spain and they said they are Real Madrid fans, and then there was a Mexican family. And, me of course, from India. So, it was a very multicultural crowd. Jerry cautions us though “Do not share the secrets that I will be divulging to you guys to either of Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool or those idiots down the road!” (If you know what he means) 😀

11:15 AM – We make our way up a flight of stairs, and into the director’s box, and on the way I push a woman, in excitement! (Sorry Maám). The first view of the pitch is simple breathtaking. I can still remember that moment vividly. The director’s box is pretty huge, seats I forgot how many, but they literally are the best seats in the house. The best view and most comfy. Jerry tells us opposition directors come often and they sit here alongside the Arsenal directors of course. Plus celebrities and former legends too. He points to a couple of flower pots at the entrance of the director’s box and tells that the colors are changed according to the home colors of the opposition.

He also tells that conferences, events and even weddings can be hosted at the Emirates. And I murmur into my sister’s ears “I am getting married here, no matter what”, and she responds with a facepalm. And here are a few photo’s of course.

I must’ve cracked a joke or something 😀

11:35 AM – I take more pics, and more pics, while Jerry goes beserk with Arsenal facts and traditions. His voice is getting kind of compounded with vaccum cleaners. (The stadium was undergoing cleanup, ahead of the Emirates Cup). I hear some things about the tea lady, and stuff. And then he tells about all the years marked around the stadium. He talks fondly about the 1971 and 1989 teams, and then points out to the numbers ‘2005’, and tells “That’s the last trophy we won, and definitely not the least!”

You guessed right, that’s Jerry!

11:40 AM – The tour of the director’s box is done, and right outside it, is the last league title we won, encased. I take a photo with that beautiful piece of silverware.

11:42 AM – Now we are taken to the basement, where the players enter before games in their flashy cars, of course. There are photos all around of famous title wins, among others. The photos are self-explanatory I suppose.

11:45 AM – Close by, Jerry takes us to the very foundation of Emirates Stadium, where the first brick was layed, and there is an inspiring quote on the wall, with the backdrop of the crest. “The Deeper the Foundations, the stronger the fortress!” Also, there is a time capsule next to it. The stuff that’s there inside it are, the 2003/2004 home shirt signed by Patrick Vieira, the 1989 away shirt, some Highbury grass, commentary from the 1989 game, a complete video of Arsenal’s history, another signed shirt by Tony Adams, Charlie George’s hair (really, yes 😀 ), among others. It was something remarkably unique.

11:50 AM – The tour of the basement done, we are then taken to the player’s dressing rooms. The way to the dressing rooms is a narrow passage way, and on both sides of the walls are images of Arsenal’s glorious past. The room is pretty dark, to really give the players that vibe I suppose. And right before the entrance, there is a huge cannon entrenched on the wall.

11:55 AM – We are in the dressing room, and it really is sinking in now. Jerry makes all sit like players, as he takes a manager’s stance like we are facing Manchester United in 20 minutes, and all of us look knackered. Anyways, Jerry tells us that the home dressing room is specially designed using feng-shui crystals, to give the players positive vibes. It was Arsene Wenger’s idea. He tells us that the flooring and the lighting are all designed in a special way, so as to really send across the energy to the players. And, the funny part is the away dressing room is exactly the opposite. The flooring is purposely slippery, and the room is designed to give negative vibes. I hope Wayne Rooney, Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor slip soon and break their metatarsals or something. He then asks us a question “Apart from that what is special about the way the shirts are kept?” And, me being the Arsenal genius that I am, correctly answer, “They are placed in order of goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, forwards, and then subs.” “Bang on, son” comes the reply. At this point, I am really hoping he gifts me a jersey or something, but alas. He is not so nice afterall 😛

There is also a tactics board, and in the centre of the dressing room is a desk of towels, specially scented or something, for vibes again. There is also Arsene’s office, nearby, out of bounds, though. Now, for some pics, of course.

He was my favorite! 😦

Ugh! I hate myself for this 😛

12:00 PM – Right outside the dressing room, is the physio’s room as well as the bath, where players can shimmer down after games. The medical facilities are top notch.

12: 15 PM – And finally, the moment to go on to the pitch has arrived. Supreet Kini takes his place in the tunnel, alongside the rest of the Arsenal team.

Surreal!

12:17 PM – And then as I am about to enter the pitch, that cruel tour guide Jerry blurts out “The playing surface is out of bounds”. “Fuck!” I think! I get to sit on Arsene’s seat, and then take a pic with a young fellow, who looks like the next Niklas Bendtner. Jerry tells us about the seats, specially designed for comfort, and that the Emirates provides the best leg space in the Premier League, and all that. The pitch is also great it seems, awarded numerous times. I really forgot the rest of it.

Arsene’s next big signing! 😀

12:25 PM –  Pitchside done, the next destintation is the press room. The Emirates has the press room in the league (Fuck yeah!) with 350 seats, and the journalists absolutely love it! Jerry then takes a dig at the Sp*rs! He tells us “Now I am going to show you all a video of Sp*rs glorious past!” Everyone is like “What?” And he turns off the light for a second and he’s like “Oops, did you miss it?” 😀 Good old British humor. Never dies. And then of course, the pics.

Ze team played well, zis team is good! I believe in the players, that they will deliver!

12: 40 PM – And, with that, the stadium tour almost ends. Jerry takes us to the club store, Armoury, and also tips us off saying that we can take the self-guided tour of the Arsenal Museum after that. I buy myself a nice book for 16 bucks, the “A to Z of Arsenal – The Arsenal Encyclopedia”. The club store is massive, and here are more pics for you.

1:05 PM – The stadium tour is finally done. Well almost. I insist on visiting the Arsenal museum, but clearly we all are hungry, so we head off to the nearest KFC.

2:30 PM – At the Arsenal museum. This is a fantastic place. All of Arsenal’s trophies are here, as well as a lifelike statue of Charlie George’s famous FA Cup 1971 sliding celebration. There’s the piece of the centre-pitch from the last game at Highbury against Wigan (My sis claims she is a Wigan fan), and millions of famous Arsenal quotes. It is just extraordinary. It took us an hour to negotiate this, though I have featured very few pics below.

15:20 – It is finally over. The greatest day of my life, surely! I will be back soon, and hopefully I will get to watch the team in action.

15: 30 – Adios, Islington, till next time! At the Arsenal tube station.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my experience at the Emirates, as well as the pictures! Do tell me what you think below.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

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While you are about it, follow Blazing Cannons on twitter. @blazingcannons

And do like, the Facebook page as well.

Go ahead you lazy bum, that’s all I ask of you!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 23, 2012 in General, Personal

 
 
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