On the Ball with Mark Wheat: Emirates Emissary

by Mark Wheat

A couple of photos from the Arsenal v Manchester City match on Saturday, March 29, 2014. The teams played to a 1-1 draw.
A couple of photos from the Arsenal v Manchester City match on Saturday, March 29, 2014. The teams played to a 1-1 draw. (MPR photo/Dave Kansas)

On the Ball with Mark Wheat is a Monday feature (Note: we're publishing on Tuesday this week) on The Current that celebrates the connections between music and soccer, with an eye to the past weekend's results. Listen Mondays at 7 p.m. as Mark plays the music selection of the week.

Sitting inside all weekend watching the telly probably wasn't on many itineraries here in Minnesota as the weather promised to be the best of the year so far. But I was eagerly anticipating the slate of games in the BPL, and it didn't disappoint: so much drama, intrigue and heaps of good footie, again!

And I did get out for a walk by the river on Sunday afternoon; wasn't it glorious?! The footie feast was set up for me on Saturday morning by an extraordinary sight. We live in an apartment overlooking St. Anthony Falls and regularly see eagles fly by, but never have I seen one taking a bath! It stood on the parapet between the falls and the lock channel and jumped into the water four or five times, acting like a duck for a few seconds, flapping its wings to get as wet as possible, then jumping out again and fluttering and preening itself in the sun. I took it as a good omen for me and for anyone else who holds the bird in high esteem … more on that later.

But let's start at the end. The final game of the pulsating weekend saw Liverpool rise to the top of the league for the first time since Xmas. There's a cliché that often holds true that the team at the top at Christmastime often wins the league, but few thought that would pan out for The Reds, myself included. In fact, I still thought that they'd lose out on a top 4 spot to Spurs. I don't believe that anymore; I lost faith in Tottenham after their dismal display, losing 4-0 at Anfield. But the Kop were singing that song of belief ("We're going to win the league") even more robustly, and as The Guardian puts it, hopes are turning into expectations on Merseyside...

There's another team that might finish higher than Spurs, too: Everton, who took care of bottom team Fulham comprehensively (winning 3-1). Several comments have been made on the blog and through email that suggest I haven't been fair to The Toffees, as Everton are affectionately known, but this display convinced me that they deserve much credit for they are now putting the willies up some of the doubting Arsenal fans! (Our London correspondent below said so himself as he left last week!)

Back to the start of the weekend and my good omen: United went down 1-0 against Villa and their confidence could have evaporated, but it didn't, and they finished easily winning 4-1. It will be fascinating to see how well they do against the European Champions Bayern Munich today in the Champions League.

Then the Eagles, as Crystal Palace are known, performed the most astonishing feat of the week, taking 3 points from league leaders Chelsea for the first time in their history! What a thrill for their fans, even if they needed a rare own goal from England's veteran defender John Terry!

Complete Premier League weekend highlights, via NBC Sports:

It was a nail-biting finale that left me drained but at the final whistle, NBC deftly cut to the end of the WBA vs Cardiff game which saw two goals in injury time! The first put WBA in the lead, sending their fans into delirium, but seconds later they were stunned by an equalizer! It was great to see the managers of both teams under relegation threat, hug at the end and shrug, as if they were saying; "Wow, wasn't that great"?!?! You can't write drama like that. Then I thought can I stand to watch another game right away, it might be too much for this old ticker to take! But it was the biggest of the weekend at The Emirates: the make or break for The Arsenal. It didn't disappoint in quality, but then let's go to our intrepid man on the spot Dave Kansas, who traveled to the Emirates Stadium and files this report:

Bright sun, warm weather and a crowd of red-shirted Arsenal fans drinking one last beer before heading to the Emirates for the showdown with Manchester City. A little slice of heaven after our brutal Minnesota winter.

My friends and I had gathered at El Comandante, a pub just a couple blocks from the imposing North London stadium. Pictures of Che Guevara hung above bankers, writers, soccer fanatics and a crowded row of beer taps.



Formerly the Lord Palmerston, the El Comandante pub now has a South American theme. It's popular with Arsenal supporters. (MPR photos/Dave Kansas)

Perfect day for a big game. We strolled over to the stadium. Big crowd, mostly in traditional Arsenal red, mostly with the "Fly Emirates" logo splashed across the fronts of their shirts. But old shirts poked out from time to time, featuring past kit sponsors JVC, O2, even the odd Dreamcast. In we went with the other Gunners faithful, into the stadium, up the stairs and into our seats situated perfectly on the second deck above midfield. The ideal place to watch a soccer match. Too low, it's hard to see the full tactical picture. Corners are the same. Behind the goal (which happens to be my favorite spot to watch hockey) can also be a good spot.



Scenes from the Arsenal v Manchester City match on Saturday, March 29, 2014. (MPR photos/Dave Kansas)

Atmosphere was terrific. Packed house, singing all the old songs. And Arsenal, after a brutal week — a 6-0 pasting at Chelsea, a 2-2 draw with Swansea City after a depressingly late own goal — the lads looked tentative. An all-star squad sat on the injury list: Ozil, Wilshere, Walcott, Ramsey, etc. Being an Arsenal fan, at least the past several years, has been akin to being a Red Sox fan in the 1970s. Never really terrible, but the team can't win the big games and plays as though cursed with horrific luck. Punishment, perhaps, for leaving the old ground at Highbury. Who knows?

So, when Manchester City scored 18 minutes into the game (David Silva after a defensive bungle) everyone started bracing for another possible meltdown. The home crowd, however, tried to rally the side with full-throated singing and cheering. Man City, undeterred, came rolling forward. But the Abu Dhabi-backed money pit couldn't find a breakthrough.

Our patience — and hope — were rewarded in the second half when Mathieu Flamini — a chippy Frenchman known more for knocking people down than knocking the ball in — scored off a nifty cross from Lukas Podolski.

From that point, it seemed the Gunners might be able to nick the full three points. As the time grew late, I didn't want it to end — terrific, free-flowing football on a warm Saturday evening. Doesn't get much better. At the final whistle, we had to settle for the 1-1 draw. Arsenal are still nominally in the title hunt, but most of us are counting on the FA Cup, where we sit as favorites heading into the semi-finals.

Looking forward to next year's trip the Emirates.

Thank you, David! Sounds like you had a great time and enjoyed a very exciting game.

Me, I'm still thinking about that eagle by the river and how it prefigured Palace's result versus Chelsea. As the Crystal Palace fans love to sing, I imagine they're still "Glad All Over":

Which games did you watch this past weekend? Who do you think will finish at the top of the Premier League table? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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  • John Terry (R) of Chelsea is pressurised by Joe Ledley of Crystal Palace and heads the ball over his goalkeeperPetr Cech to open the scoring with an own goal.
    John Terry (R) of Chelsea is pressurised by Joe Ledley of Crystal Palace and heads the ball over his goalkeeperPetr Cech to open the scoring with an own goal. (Scott Heavey/Getty Images via BBC Sport Facebook page)

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