On the morning of the game, I woke up at around 8am, buzzing with anticipation. 'Hopefully it'll be better than my last trip to Manchester', I thought. As my father, my friend and I drove to Euston station, I could feel a sense of excitement in the car-we were quietly confident of leaving Manchester with all three points. We agreed that 4 points from City and Villa would be very good, whilst 3 wouldn't be the end of the world. We parked the car and headed to the station, where we saw as many City fans as we did Arsenal. Walking along the train carriages, I saw many familiar faces- it seems each away game adds more nameless faces into the Arsenal album in my memory.
The journey up was easy, unlike my last trip to Manchester, where it seemed Virgin trains were conspiring against us to make our journey as complicated and stressful as possible. Upon arrival, everyone headed to the balcony bar in the station. All those who looked remotely under 21 and had no ID were kicked out, and it got a bit rowdy. Eventually the police came and the situation diffused.
The three of us had no real desire to stand around drinking for 3 hours and found ourselves walking around the city centre a bit aimlessly. We wanted to find somewhere that was showing the Villa vs Liverpool game and eventually just took a cab to the Etihad stadium. Once we arrived at the stadium, I bumped into Gary Neville, of all people! I said hello, to which his response was: "is that a yanited scarf?!" in his nasal Mancunian accent. I said no, it's Arsenal obviously, and he laughed and walked away, after accepting the irresistible offer of my hand shake. So that was an interesting start to proceedings! We headed round to the away block, only to be told we couldn't go in (something to do with the stewards/police not being ready). Consequently, we ambled along the outside of the stadium and had a quick look round the club store, mainly to escape the freezing weather! When inside, our red and white scarfs resulted in a few glaring looks from the locals, making us feel we'd overstayed our welcome. It wasn't too long before we left, and headed towards the away end again.
This time there were a fair few Gooners lingering outside, as kick off became increasingly near. Adding to our encounter with Mr Neville, a Sky Sports cameraman and reporter approached us and interviewed my father and I individually. We were both asked the same question, 'can Arsenal come here and win today?' After a quick adjustment of my hair, I replied with something along the lines of: 'of course, we can beat anyone, especially with van Persie on fire. City are certainly not unbeatable, so why not?' After realising that was all I was going to be asked, I was slightly underwhelmed. Guess my TV career won't be kicking off any time soon. However I was still pretty chuffed with my 20 seconds of fame on Sky Sports! With around an hour till kick off, choruses of Arsenal songs echoed from the concourse. I couldn't wait to get in there.
We entered the concourse to the crescendo of 'we love you Arsenal, we do', however it didn't take long for the anti-Nasri chants to start! When his name and picture were displayed on the TV screen in the concourse, carnage ensued! Dozens threw their beer and other objects towards the screen, with great accuracy may I add. Shame our finishing wasn't as accurate! Everyone was just going mental - it was pretty hilarious! I haven't seen a player hated by Gooners with such vociferousness since the charming Ashley Cole.
There were some hilarious songs, most notably one addressing City's Europa League adventure. It went by the tune of Jessie J's Price Tag: "You've got the money money money, you got the money money money, but you're playing on a thuuursday, you're playing on a thuuuursday!" Kudos to whoever made one that up!
During the game, we generated great vocal support, as per usual. I was feeling pretty nervous during the first 20 minutes or so, as we were looking defensively vulnerable against the pace and movement of City's attack. They could have been 3 up at half time, so with the score at 0-0 I was more than happy. Before the start of the 2nd half, Kolo Toure ran over to the away end and applauded us, which was a very nice gesture. What a contrast he is to Nasri. Kolo left for all the right reasons and is a gentleman. Don't need to say much about $amir. When City scored, I can't say I got that sinking feeling, as I, along with most, pretty much expected them to score sooner or later, it was just a matter of how many we'd score. After seeing several late challenges go unpunished and a clear penalty denied, we sung 'how much they paying you?' to Mr Dowd, who gave penalties against us for fun during the 4-4 in Newcastle. One thing I was delighted about was the volume of the 'one Arsene Wenger' chants. I’ve always had faith in him, but how fickle can some football fans be, eh?
At the final whistle I felt proud of the team - we narrowly lost to a club who have spent obscene amounts of money, and had it not been for the ref, would have got a more than deserved draw against the league leaders. Choruses of "we love you Arsenal" continued with passion and pride after the final whistle - showing it wasnt just me who appreciated the team's effort. We walked to the station in icy and slippery conditions. A bit of banter, edging on hostility, followed as Gooners pouring out the stadium sung 'Thursday nights, channel 5'. Some City fans took it with a pinch of salt, however some were less than happy. 'We're top of the league you mug' said one home fan. Fair enough. You'd hope so after £500m of investment! Speaking to a City fan on the way to the station, he said we were the first team this season to come to the Etihad and have a real go, adding it was one of the best games he'd seen in a long time. On the train home everyone seemed to be in good spirits, which was good to see. Despite the result, I had a lot of fun in Manchester, as the above shows, and hopefully Villa will provide the Christmas present we all want - 3 points.