Groveward bound

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First game at the Grove this season for me tonight – molto excitemento on my behalf.

Watching the Arsenal live on the telly is always a joy (and how most Arsenal fans around the globe watch the world’s finest team every week), and watching highlights shows is not bad either, seeing that they handily chop out the dull bits, but there’s still nothing quite like a live game to set the pulse racing. The little pre-match routines, meeting mates, the crackle of the atmosphere (sometimes less crackly, sometimes more), and the unbridled joy of scoring a goal. Yes, it’s a nice habit to have. A hard habit to break. An expensive habit to maintain.

Tonight’s atmosphere should be in the top 10% of Grovean atmospheres – it’s no secret that Celtic are marvellously vocal wherever they go. They’ve only got 3,000 seats to themselves, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more hoops dotted about the place and soaking the evening in outside the ground.

Pretty much all the blogs have echoed Wenger’s warning that complacency could be the death of us. Yes, we are in a good position, but all it takes is a moment of distraction for a goal to go in, and that could change the dynamic of the game. It’s not an insurmountable lead on paper, even if it really should be on grass.

We’ve had such a promising start to the season, but it could be unravelled in one fell swoop should we not approach the game in the right way. Quite why any professional footballer would ever approach a game other than in the right way is a mystery to me – and I don’t expect Arsenal to tonight.

I’m also interested in the results of the self-styled ‘Arsenalisation’ of the ground. Many of you are a step ahead of me on that front, having been to the Portsmouth game, and by and large the comments I’ve seen have been positive.

The fact is, it’s impossible to distill the essence of Highbury and spray it under the armpits at the Grove. As Wenger himself said, Highbury had an aura that had built up over 80-odd years. Horses had fallen down pits. Art deco stands had been erected. Titles and cups won. Highbury was impossibly grand, a bit rough round the edges in its latter days but one of England’s finest old grounds.

That’s not to say I don’t support what Arsenal are doing, because I do absolutely. When the ground opened it had more grey concrete than a car park, but it’s slowly been getting better and these latest moves are a step further in the right direction. When the clock is re-hung (inside the ground – whose idea was it not to do that in the first place?), and the ends are renamed accordingly, things will be better still.

One massive thing in Arsenal’s advantage is that we’re just a few hundred yards from the alma mater – so we’re still wandering down the same streets to get to the ground, still going to the same pubs. We’re still in Highbury.

But I can’t help but think that for a real aura, we might need to wait a while. It might take 10 years before it oozes history. It might take longer. We could do with winning a trophy – its first. But we’re getting there.


Arsenal since about 1979. Thick, thin and all that.