A couple of weeks ago I had finished reading a bedtime story to my 5 year old son and 4 year old daughter, I was saying my final goodnights until he played his usual game of dragging it out as long as he could. It is funny how as a child, going to bed is one of the worst things to happen but as an adult it is bliss. Anyway I think he knew how to push my buttons and started talking about Arsenal and our stadium. He didn't quite know how to differentiate between his father playing football on Tuesday evenings and watching Arsenal play. To give him a better understanding of this I put on A night at the Emirates it was for a good cause after all, I mean a few extra minutes for educational purposes is allowed right?
His face had lit up and out came all the inquisitive questions which I had to put on hold until the next day. Before I left the room he had asked me for the first time if he could go with me to a game. Proudly I agreed and I would let him know when, it would probably have to be a league cup fixture next season as it would be unlikely that I could afford to take him along this season.
The football gods had been listening to our conversation and had granted the Arsenal youngsters a fixture at the Emirates stadium against CSKA Moscow. This was the perfect opportunity to introduce the Arsenal to my son who is still very much trying to understand the game. It was a little too late in the evening for my youngest daughter who is still recovering from a cold so I bought tickets for my eldest daughter who is now 11 but is not interested in football. Don't get me wrong, I tried and she was a mean dribbler with the ball at 3 years old but these days, football is that annoying boys thing. Still, she was excited to go to a football stadium for the first time. The other two tickets were for my brother and good mate.
The countdown had begun last week, my son would remind me of the days remaining before we went to 'watch the match at night time' as he put it.
The missus drove the kids down to meet me at my mums in Islington after school. With time ticking we scoffed some cold and nasty McDonalds, wrapped up in a number of layers of clothing and head to Holloway on the 43 bus leaving my youngest two and missus at my family home.
We got to the stadium just in time and met my friend outside of our entrance, given the small crowd in comparison to the stadium capacity we were able to sit where ever we wanted, so we went as close to the pitch as we could so the kids could get a good view of the players in action.
I hadn't had time to check out the line up before we took to our seats so after a quick glance around the pitch I was pleased to see the quality that we had on show.
A few things that stood out to me was that Chuba Akpom is actually larger than I thought he was. On the television he had looked slight to me but while he was no Serge Gnabry, he looks strong. I expected Gnabry to be out wide with Eisfeld in a central area but in true Arsenal fashion it was flipped the other way.
I thought CSKA Moscow looked very organised at the start. Played simply but as a team, they could have caught us out a few times with some through balls that they couldn't make the most of.
Serge Gnabry is the big hope from the youth set up, he is powerful and pacey. Not particularly tricky but direct in his play and does not seem to lose the ball easily which is a good thing, especially for a younger player.
The one player that really stood out for me though was Isaac Hayden who played at center back but can also function as a deeper midfield player. He strode out and won tackles off the feet of CSKA forwards and passed the ball very well. I hadn't known very much of him but had watched the Twitter takeover snippet with him and Nico Yennaris. He didn't strike me as the type to bring out videos screaming 'Leave it' on them and advertising T-shirts and hats. He was asked to compare himself to another player and then explained that he wanted to be his own player and not really be compared to another. Eventually he chose Thiago Silva. Going on that performance alone, he could have a future at a good club. Too early to know if he can make the grade here though.
We started to dominate the game but did not have much in the way of end product in the final third of the pitch until our goal which Hector Bellerin played a large part, cutting inside and slipping in Gnabry who took the ball in his stride and steered his shot wide of the keeper.
We all jumped off our seats and cheered, my son having a sheepish grin on his face while my daughter looked a bit surprised at the reaction of everyone around her.
It was bitterly cold but my son still wanted to unzip his coat and cardigan to reveal his Arsenal shirt. That's the spirit.
I had to answer many a question from him, such as how do the people in the top tier get down and do I play on the pitch on Tuesday's. I complicated matters by telling him that I was lucky enough to play on the Emirates pitch last year. A moment I shall keep for the rest of my life I reckon.
We left five minutes from time, I know not setting the best example but he had school the next day and given that his usual bed time is 7pm I thought it would be a wise move. We heard a loud groan from the Arsenal crowd as we headed out of the stadium, I now know that it was Eisfeld's blockbuster free kick against the CSKA crossbar.
The misses and the younger Lean's were parked around the corner so we headed home and within seconds the clan were sound asleep.
This morning he brought his Arsenal ticket to school so I am hoping that the game has had a lasting impression on him at least. The Arsenal youngsters have made strides into the semi finals against Chelsea while I am hoping that my son has taken his first step towards being a life long Gooner.