It’s 5pm inside The Gunners and, already, the low hum of chatter rumbles away. It’s quiet now as the rain beats the concrete beyond the glass but give it a few hours and you won’t be able to move inside this famous old pub for Arsenal shirts, songs and stories.
For now, the early starters sit and chew the fat.
How could Mikel Arteta do that to Aaron Ramsdale? At least our hearts don’t skip a beat when David Raya touches the ball. Arsenal must sign Ivan Toney in January, we can’t rely on Eddie Nketiah to lead the line. What can Kai Havertz do that Emile Smith-Rowe can’t? What position does Havertz play? We knew exactly what we were going to get when we signed Declan Rice. If Bukayo Saka was carrying an injury, why didn’t Arteta rest him at the end of last season once the Premier League was done and dusted?
Hot takes fly back and forth but all with the buzz of excitement. Nothing can dampen the spirits on a night like this, not even the relentless showers that accompany the Arsenal fans on their heady pilgrimage to the Emirates Stadium. They’ve waited a long time for a night like this.
Six seasons, in fact. Six seasons since Arsenal’s last foray into the Champions League. Six seasons since an unbroken run of nearly two decades in Europe’s elite competition.
‘It’s been hard,’ says life-long supporter Valentine Sokoli. ‘But you don’t have a God-given right to play in the competition every year. It’s for the best. It’s great to be back, it feels good. I can’t wait, just to feel that atmosphere again, hear the anthem. It just feels right. It’s where we belong.’
Sokoli is 40 now. He’s supported Arsenal since he was six, when he first watched them play against Liverpool at Anfield in 1989 on his family’s black-and-white televisionRead on m.allfootballapp.com