A shiny pot and an evening to remember for eternity thrown in

To Baku! Photograph: James Marsh/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock


Arsenal and Big Cup: they used to go together like a horse and carriage. Remember when they’d qualify for the competition season after season after season after season? Glory days, heady times. In a good year, they might manage to limit the opposition in the first knockout stage to 10 goals or so. In a great year, eight or nine. One time they even made the final, only to blow it late in a manner that makes you wonder where they get off describing things as Spursy. But times change, and for the last two years they’ve been flailing around, down on their luck, slumming it in Big Vase. Oh grand club of the establishment! How did it ever come to this!

But it’s swings and roundabouts, because they’ve now got a chance, a real live chance, of actually lifting a bit of European silverware. They haven’t managed that since the days of Ian Selley, Steve Morrow and Eddie McGoldrick, a quarter of a century ago. The long wait could finally be over after Wednesday’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan Benefit Match in Baku, and the excitement among the Arsenal ranks is palpable. “We have to be in [Big Cup],” jabbers the Morrow of tomorrow, Granit Xhaka. “We didn’t play there for two years and we have to be there next season.” Ah, the romance of securing guaranteed participation in the early stages of a competition to be held sometime in the future when several players might not even be at the club any more! It’s what he’ll have dreamt of every day as a little boy. Also, there’s the added bonus of a shiny pot, something indelible on the roll of honour, and an evening to remember for eternity thrown in. Let’s try not to forget any of that.

Arsenal’s chances of victory are decent, given opponents and crosstown pals Chelsea don’t appear to be in the best collective frame of mind. In training on Tuesday, Gonzalo Higuaín and David Luiz momentarily channelled the mood of their countrymen during the 1946 South American Championship decider*. It all calmed down quickly enough, but then Maurizio Sarri reprised the famous contemporary dance piece first performed at this year’s Milk Cup final, No Fags For 43 Minutes, and now all anyone can talk about is who’ll be in charge at Stamford Bridge next season, and whether Sarri is off to Juventus the nanosecond this distraction is over. Seems their minds aren’t 100% on Big Vase either, then. Poor Big Vase. Oh well, at least we’ll see some proper passion for the cup from the tens of thousands of Arsenal and Chelsea fans in the sta … eh? What’s that now? Oh Big Vase!

* So, then, the 1946 South American Championship decider between Argentina and Brazil. It all began when Brazil’s Jair Rosa Pinto went studs-up on José Salomón, breaking the Argentinian’s leg in two places. Salomón’s team-mate Juan Fonda squared up to Jair. Brazil striker Chico arrived on the scene to take Fonda by the lapels. Four of Fonda’s team-mates descended on Chico and kicked him around like an old sock. Cue pitch invasion by the crowd, the police wading in with batons, and the teams retreating to the changing rooms. Marvellous!


“Even people that we consider geniuses work with other people in order to develop their style. In Argentina, even though Messi is wonderful, they have problems winning the World Cup. My advice to young people is that we have to recognise very few people achieve great things on their own” – Barack Obama leaps two-footed into that Albiceleste debate.

Those live football podcast shows have certainly upped their game. Photograph: Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images

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