By Sam Limbert
Maybe it was because of watching so much international football during the summer with the World Cup, but during the first international break of this season, I haven’t watched any of it. This is one of the most likeable England regimes for many a year but I still couldn’t be bothered to watch either the Nations League or friendly matches.
The first international break of the season always feels like a particularly long one. There’s lots of excitement and anticipation for the new season, then there’s suddenly a week off after three or four games. It makes it difficult to get some momentum into the season, and from the point of view of going to home matches, with away games either side of the internationals, the lull can be an annoying one.
While I think it’s a good thing that there weren’t many Arsenal players involved in the international matches during the last week, that also killed any interest I might have had. It has however given Unai Emery the chance to work with most of his defenders and goalkeepers, along with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette, with those players then getting a rest with a weekend off.
This time around, two things have kept me going during the international break. One was the final cricket test match between England and India, and as much as I’d like to write some gushing praise for Alastair Cook, you probably haven’t come to this blog to read about cricket! The other thing that kept me going during the international break was football related as I went to the Arsenal vs Real Madrid Legends match at the Emirates Stadium.
Debates can be had about if some members of the two squads could be classified as ‘legends’, and I’m sure more tickets would have been sold had the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira been able to play, but it shouldn’t detract from what was a fun occasion and one that raised money for fantastic causes and initiatives that the Arsenal Foundation supports.
How the club or players that take part and freely give up their own time can be criticised for putting on a charity match like this is beyond me. The work that Arsenal does in the local community in Islington and in larger projects overseas is
something that makes me proud to support the club. Per Mertesacker recently visited one of these projects in Jordan with the Arsenal Foundation and Save the Children helping traumatised child refugees with their physical and mental health through football pitches and projects. Such a situation seems a long way from the life of a lot of Arsenal supporters as it is easy to get caught up in some of the most trivial things in football.
It makes charity occasions like the Legends match more important and worth supporting because a club the size of Arsenal’s can make a huge difference in the people’s lives in more ways than just winning football matches. The message from the game against Real Madrid should be the incredible positive effect Arsenal and football is having on vulnerable children through giving them opportunities in life, and how the Legends match helps this work to continue, not about whether certain players were legendary enough to be playing.
Of course, once on the pitch, former players don’t lose some of the competitive edge, and while the money raised was the most important part of the day, it was always going to be topped off if Arsenal could win. In those circumstances, having someone like Jens Lehmann in your team always helps. He is a goalkeeper who doesn’t really understand the concept of a friendly. He is a goalkeeper who saved a penalty from Tomas Rosicky in the Czech’s own testimonial match before it was retaken. He is a goalkeeper who’d not let the mascots score when they were shooting at him before a match.
The Arsenal Legends had to defend for much of the game on Saturday and were reliant on Lehmann to make some very good saves to keep the score at 0-0, although honourable mentions must go to Jeremie Aliadiere for playing at right-back, Nigel Winterburn for still being in great shape to play 90 minutes and Gilberto, whose reading of the game and positioning was still exemplary.
In the eventual shoot-out, Robert Pires, Gilles Grimandi, Matthew Upson and Aliadiere took good penalties, while it was clear that Lehmann was enjoying the chance to be the hero having played the full 90 minutes as David Seaman’s calf went in the warm-up. It wasn’t really a surprise that having saved one of the penalties, Jens stepped up and slammed in the winning spot-kick. Charity game or not, Jens gonna Jens.
Seeing the likes of Pires and Rosicky in red and white again, along with Lehmann’s heroics, made for a very fun afternoon. While the international break has been long, it was great to get a reminder of the good that Arsenal and football can do for people’s lives.
For more information on the Arsenal Foundation, visit www.arsenal.com/thearsenalfoundation