By Charles Belle
Hide the women and children; it’s High noon at the O.K. Corral. This Monday the Gunners take on Fergie’s gang in the North Country. These are the games that always mean something. These are the games that put even derby games in some perspective, because no matter what happens: silverware is silverware. To bring home the trophy is everything. This is a must win. All of that, plus I can’t stand “that club.”
We. Must. Win.
Make no mistake; this is a grudge match. Even though this game is being played up north in Jolly Old, games against “that club” mean something extra in the States. These are the foes of American Gooners. We are forced to face their fans, with their snide remarks on the street and in the pub. This is the battle we fight. This is the line Gooners draw.
Recently, while preparing for next Monday, I was talking to another Gooner about “them” and I realized something important: this game feels like a derby match here in the States. In England, the local derby is everything. But one thing about being an ocean away from London is that big games against big teams get more attention. No surprise, really, since one never actually meets a Tottenham fan on the street, at least I don’t. They are almost a curiosity. And, if you do meet one, it’s just one; there are so few you almost feel sad for them, almost. It’s like looking at a gerbil in a cage; you point and say, “Look at the gerbil, it’s all alone.” You kinda feel bad for the furry little creature, but wouldn’t trade places with it for anything. So you just shrug and say, “Well, it’s a gerbil.”
Not so with the fans of “them from up North.” Dealing with these fans is a trial of patience and fortitude, of pub arguments and street shouting matches. We face them on a daily basis. As human beings, we all strive for perfection and are all doomed to fail, nonetheless it's the effort that matters; but these fans choose to be imperfect and revel in it. And that’s about the nicest thing I can write.
That’s why this game is even more special. It’s not just a battle for the title. It’s not just a battle between two of the Big Four. This is a clash for the hearts and minds of what is good, decent and righteous. Arsenal must win. Our ascendency is now.
The rise of Arsenal in the USofA has been a long-time coming. Thankfully, America is becoming Arsenal Country. Yes, yes, “that club” still gets too much attention, but that’s finally beginning to slip away. We watched as some of their fair-weather fans abandoned them to the LA Galaxy, then AC Milan, then back to the Galaxy…now who knows where they are??? And those that thought Sir Fergie was related to Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas were grossly disappointed to find out otherwise.
The pubs and bars that legions of so-called fans from “that club” used to dominate are slowly changing. The Arsenal battalions in America are growing. Granted, when I say Arsenal country I don’t mean to overstate. It’s not like seeing the “Don’t Mess with Texas” bumper sticker everywhere. And, it doesn’t quite reach the epic proportions of California Love: “WESTSIDE!” But Arsenal America is growing fast and furious, while the sun is setting on the marketing scheme of the team owned by the Glazers.
You can see it all over Gooner nation. Not only is the official organization growing – we regularly receive emails to form more branches all over the country. But as a fan, as a Gooner, it warms my heart to walk the Streets of San Francisco and see people wearing the kit or jacket. No longer is the crest of our rivals ubiquitous as a fashion statement.
Indeed, at times the ladyfriend has been awed and confounded by my fellow Gooners. On the street, strangers walk up to me in my shirt and start talking like old friends about Fabregas, Nasri and the path to silverware and glory. Other times, when the chaotic motion of The City prevents a conversation, it’s a wink, a nod and a “Come on you Gunners!” as fellow Gooners pass each other; the ignorant watch us cautiously and grip their purses tightly.
Oh yes, back to the game
So turning to the actual game, the only question is who will be our gun-slinging hero? Who will march into the fragmented hostel that is Old Trafford and make the occupants curse in unintelligible words?
It seems El capitan, Cesc Fabregas, is too injured to play. But truthfully, I don’t want Fab to play if he isn’t ready. Although a 50% Fab is better than most, a 50% Fab is more likely to get hurt again. And that is something that would hurt the team’s depth in the second-half of the season, the Champions League, the FA Cup and the Carling Cup. We’re still playing for four pieces of silverware!
I don’t have a vote, but if I did, I would give it to the Marquis de Marseille, Samir Nasri. I’m a huge fan of Nasri and have been for a while. At 23 he’s begun to impose himself on the Premier league at every chance – regardless of how the team is playing. He’s the player the English press likes to underestimate. Just a starlet when he joined, Nasri is slowly becoming the engine of Arsenal. He’s world class: a French National Team player of sublime skill and supreme touch.
Even better? He loves the Club and he wants to be an Arsenal legend. As a fan, who can ask for more from a player?
Others might look to our own little Rasputin, Arshavin. The Russian is not the devil in disguise, but he can be a demon for opponents in these big games. This hasn’t been his best year, but he seems to be ready for a breakout game. At least he’s trying. It’s funny to write that actually, but that’s how good he is. When not trying, he’s still better than most. But on Monday he must be at his best.
Nostalgic Gooners will yearn for the return of RVP; and, the most optimistic will clamor for Walcott and Wilshere. But in the end, one cowboy must rise to the occasion. Regardless of that man though, he’ll have the global Gooner posse behind him at the O.K. Corral, from the streets of N5 to the shores of California. Because this game is a must win.
Come on you Gunners!
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