I am a 21-year-old Arsenal Fan. I try to watch every game, I follow the team excessively, follow all transfers and rumors and support them no matter who comes and goes. Yeah, I know poor me right? But there is always a reason behind such a commitment. My love for the club started on a famous Champions League Wednesday night in 2011. ARSHHAVVVIIIIIIN… You know what I´m talking about if you saw the game. Arsenal drew the famous Barcelona for the round of 16 in the Champions League. Now for some context, that Barcelona team was and probably still is the greatest team of all time. Managed by the greatest tactical mastermind in football Pep Guardiola and led by the greatest midfield trio consisting of a prime Iniesta, Xavi, and Busquets. Oh, and someone called Messi was also on the team if I remember correctly. Just the best, most gifted, and out-of-this-world talent to ever grace the footballing world BY FAR. I’m a Ronaldo fan…lol
Arsenal also had some great players like Fabregas and Van Persie, but that Arsenal team was worlds behind that Barcelona team. We had the likes of Djourou in defense that night. Does anyone remember him? No, did anybody besides me and other Arsenal fans ever even heard of him? I sure hope not. I have nothing against him but he is everything but a gifted footballer. Just picture Messi running at Arsenal's defense and you see Djourou trying to stop him... We had a very young goalkeeper called Wojcech Szczęsny in goal making his first-ever European start because our other keeper Almunia was the worst-ever, most incompetent-ever goalkeeper to ever wear the Arsenal shirt and I still have nightmares of him up to this day. A 19-year-old midfielder called Wilshere was starting the game as well to compete against the greatest midfield trio. Although he was talented he was far from the finished product, especially compared to who he was coming up against. Everything was speaking against Arsenal that night.
However, Arsenal had one of the bravest performances I ever witnessed. Instead of just parking the bus, Arsenal played some genuine football. Arsenal’s defenders defended as their lives depended on it and when Villa and Messi still played through Arsenal’s defense with lovely touches a 20-year-old Szczęsny stretched his arms and legs like Luffy´s gear four to prevent anything that comes his way. Barcelona nevertheless scored in the 26th minute and I thought it was over as it was such a mental blow for Arsenal who was desperately trying to keep up. But no, Arsenal kept going. The 19-year-old Wilshere dominated physically in midfield dominating all three of Barcelona’s midfielders, winning tackles, and played lights out. He was just everywhere on the pitch. And Arsenal genuinely kept up with that Barcelona team on a footballing level. It was attacking, free-flowing Wenger-Ball at its best.
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager at the time, was famous for playing one-touch football which was always the flair of Arsenal but he was so stubborn. He never really coached defense and only concentrated on offense. He never bothered buying a defensive midfielder for so long although we so desperately needed one, and when he had a good enough team it didn’t matter but at that time Arsenal wasn’t part of the European elite anymore but he still insisted on keep playing that way. So many defensive errors and counter-attacking goals we conceded… But it was nights like these where you forgive all of it those errors. That Arsenal that night came out inspired, motivated, and brave to genuinely compete.
Arsenal played out chances but could not score and the same for Barcelona. Until the 78th minute, when a chipped ball over Barcelona’s defense sent Van Persie and he just shot it with his left foot from an almost impossible angle and hammered it into the near post and Arsenal were suddenly level. All of Emirates Stadium were on its feet. Five minutes later… the 82nd minute is ticking, Wilshere receives a ball in the middle of the park and plays it directly to Fabregas, Fabregas turns sees Nasri running down the right flank, plays an inch-perfect through ball, Nasri takes the ball, and keeps running, he cuts back, no Arsenal player has arrived in the box, Nasri can’t seem to find a pass and hesitates, suddenly Arshavin makes a run and points to the edge of the penalty box, Nasri passes the ball with perfect timing and Arshavin takes it one touch with a beautiful curve shot to the far post… And just one word remains… ARSHAAVIIIIIIIINNN!!!!!!!!
Martin Tyler’s commentary of that moment is probably engraved on every Arsenal fan's heart by now. Arsenal came back and was winning against the greatest team in the knockout stages of the Champions League. I have never experienced the Emirates Stadium that loud even through the TV. The excitement, the buzz, the passion, all of Emirates Stadium were screaming their lungs out, the whole football world was stunned. I still vividly remember Pep’s face after they conceded. He was shell-shocked and couldn´t believe it. Wenger himself doesn’t smile a lot during games or celebrate excessively. But Wenger was genuinely smiling and was so excited. All Arsenal players were celebrating. I cannot even describe the feeling. Arsenal won 2–1 and it was just incredible. It’s not just that we won, it’s how we won. Winning while believing in the philosophy of Arsenal playing good football was just so inspiring for an 11-year-old me. Yes, you are Barcelona, yes you have the greatest players, yes you are massive favorites but if you think we will go down just defending, you are dead wrong. Because we are THE ARSENAL. Something sparked and inspired me that day and hence I am an Arsenal Fan up to this day and will forever be one. Arsenal lost the tie as the away game ended 3–1 to Barcelona, where van Persie received the most ridiculous red card I have ever seen and with 10 men, it was impossible to overcome. Although disappointed it did not change my feelings for Arsenal.
We are currently in difficult times, with the pandemic also having hit the footballing world and Arsenal aren’t what they used to be, as they currently aren’t even in the Champions League and are barely even qualifying for the Europa League. I guess being a football fan also means having to go through times like these. But I believe we will rise again and compete at the top just like on that day. Because we are THE ARSENAL and our DNA still exists somewhere we just need that spark again. And when that day comes, and I am sure it will, I will be there to witness it once again.
COME ON YOU GUNNERS.