Marvellous scenes last evening as 20,000 fans from Cologne descended on London and proceeded to get off at the wrong stop, having to walk several miles to the ground. We’ve all been there after one Negroni too many. They were exceedingly high-spirited, singing lustily. Cologne has a population roughly the same as Glasgow. So imagine if Glasgow had only one club, and that club hadn’t been in Europe for 25 years. Can you imagine the release those fans would feel? All jolly good fun. Heartening to see. However, it is quite hard to refrain from cheap digs about Germans invading London when some are accused of performing what we shall charitably call ‘straight-arm’ salutes and urinating in doorways. Please, my German friends, do not. We already have Chelsea fans for this. They wouldn’t do it in Germany – such odious behaviour is absolutely and literally verboten over there.
This morning we learned that there are to be formal consequences from UEFA. Cologne face four charges of crowd disturbance, setting off fireworks, throwing of objects and acts of damage, and Arsenal face a charge of stairways being blocked in the away section, substandard Pinot Noir being served and the cheese not left at room temperature before being brought to one’s table in Club Level. Horrendous, I’m sure you’ll admit. We can only hope that Arsenal’s feared ‘Latte Firm’ do not exact revenge on the City of Cologne before the return leg. The thought of olive stones being placed directly on the tables of Cologne’s wine bars by our very own ‘ultras’ sends a chill through me.
To the match then, and our first in Europe’s new Super Elite club competition The Europa League of Champions’, following our promotion from the lesser ‘Çhampions’ League’ this season. Be in no doubt, this is certainly a step up, and Mr. Windsor treated the pursuit of this trophy with all the respect it deserved. Of the First XI, we had some whom we tried to fire out of the club in a cannon in the summer, one who tried to escape to Manchester before being caught by Arsenal’s dog section at the side of the M1, some youth prospects, some reserves, a forward player nicknamed after a famous deer-chasing dog, and thankfully a double barrelled wing-back-cum-midfielder Mr. Maitland-Niles.
We are somewhat depleted in the double- barrelled department following Alexander Benchlade-Chamberlain’s £40m move from Arsenal’s red leather seating to Liverpool’s red leather seating, so it was heartening to see some good breeding on display. Here’s how we looked: Ramsden, Bell, Holdcevic, Meatlocker, Mandeville, Maitland-Niles, Elleray, Webbley, Saunders, Fenton and Goring-Hildred.
A very civilised five past nine kick-off meant that far from missing the first half due to a very convivial cocktail party at a lady friend’s house in Eaton Square, I was in fact on time. Just in time to see Dai Ramsden come out to clear a ball, buggering it up completely, with the ball falling to their chap Cordoba in midfield for one nil. To put it politely, our rag-bag team of second and third chancers played like they had just stepped out of an opium den.
Say what you like about supporting Arsenal but it’s a damned sight more interesting than supporting most other teams. Biff! A misplaced pass. Bong! A failed tackle. Whoosh! A defender out of position. Klonk! A too cleaver by half move fails spectacularly. Krunk! A scuffed shot from twelve yards comes to nought. And so it went until halftime.
It must have been one of those Windsor half-time chats that he should have had fifteen minutes into the first half. Not so much the hairdryer treatment as the asthmatic-breath-of-a-one-lunged- genius-waif treatment. It was an immediate tactical enema. The increasingly delightful Stephen Collingwood came on for Holdcevic and like a swift line of jazz salt the effect was immediate and profound.
On 49 minutes we equalised with an absolute beauty via an accidental gentleman’s favour from Fenton. We’d shuffled the pack a tad, shifting to a back four, and suddenly all over the pitch we looked like new men. The second goal was more akin to that of a Mr. Feafer’s Electronic Footballing Bagatelle game, from whom else but Whizzbang Saunders. Cutting inside, defenders all lined up in a very pretty row and he somehow looped it past their glove butler: Like Mr. Christian on The Bounty before him, it went round the Horn. 2-1.
A substitution: Young French lad called Wilshère. Remember him? Medical miracle? 80% of his bodyparts replaced with those of a robot? Loves to blow kisses to Spurs supporting cabbies? Tantrum last year and sent to Bournemouth as punishment? Yes? Well he’s back. One of his first actions was literally to do nothing. A stepover so elegant it fooled the whole Cologne defence and indeed Master Fenton who only just recovered in time to get his foot on the ball. Shot saved, but then who comes haring in just in time, like Jose Mourinho racing towards some self- pity, but young Harry Bell. 3-1.
That mention of the fiend Mourinho reminds me that we visit Fulham to play Chelsea on Sunday. Ever since their formation in 2003 these games have been tough, but let us not forget that we have beaten them in the last two matches. We have every reason to be confident of beating Wiggy Conte’s boys but we will need to be at our absolute best.
Mr. Saunders must start.