Whether the rest of the Arsenal team had overdone their intake of calories on Christmas Day or not, they didn’t look like the invincible force they had been showing so far that season. Passes were going astray, yellow cards were being waved at them far too frequently and tempers were getting frayed after going 2-0 down to West Ham after 30 minutes. The manager was going mad on the touchline and had already got a sore throat from all the shouting and swearing.
Even Bradley had an off day, missing a sitter from five yards out and hitting an air shot which raised a laugh amongst the home support. It was lucky that Barry and Jessie weren’t in attendance for this game, they would be so disappointed and he couldn’t see them even watching the highlights on Match of the Day that night.
The second half wasn’t much better and it was with a great deal of relief that the final whistle blew having been beaten 4-1 which moved West Ham to third in the table, but still some way off Arsenal’s points tally so far. Silvio made sure they knew what he thought about their performance. Every team was entitled to one bad game per season, two at the most, and he hoped that this was Arsenal’s. He demanded better for the forthcoming fixtures against Liverpool and their great local rivals, Tottenham over the next few days.
The team talk obviously worked as they did indeed improve immediately and beat both teams 3-0 which pleased the fans no end, especially against The Spurs. Bradley couldn’t understand how a team could collectively have a stinker one minute then get back to top form the next.
Arsenal’s season was going from strength to strength. They had a Champions League semi-final to look forward to against Barcelona, an FA Cup final against Manchester City next month and already had the League Cup in the bag after beating Stoke City 4-0 the previous month. In the Premier League, they only needed one more point to retain the trophy again and that point could be secured in the home game against Watford the following weekend.
Off the pitch, Brian and Lucy had decided to stick it out in LA after her close encounter with an armed robber, but she hardly ever left the house nowadays, preferring to have things delivered rather than go shopping, which she missed. Brian’s job was going too well to jack it all in and she knew if she returned to London it would be on her own.
Martine was still drinking heavily, more so after splitting up with Stuart who couldn’t stand watching her kill herself with alcohol. It wasn’t just wine any more, it was anything she could get her hands on and despite Stuart’s best efforts he couldn’t get her to stop. She was on a crash course to oblivion and nobody was there to help her. To fund her addiction, she had sold the house and bought a two-bedroomed apartment in Edinburgh for a £100,000 profit. That should keep her going, she thought. At least she was nearer to Sam, although she didn’t see that much of him and she knew he didn’t approve of her lifestyle.
Although Bradley hadn’t given up trying to help her, it was becoming increasingly difficult to do anything and he had only been to see her once since he found her with Stuart all those months ago. He had too many things to concentrate on with his football and tried to remain focused despite what was happening to her. He had lost a lot of respect for her over the last year or so anyway which eased his guilt slightly.
There had been a lot of rumours going around that AC Milan were preparing a huge bid for Bradley at the end of the season that would smash all previous transfer records. Barcelona were also interested now their transfer embargo had been lifted, so it was going to be a busy summer for Archie Burns, his agent. He wasn’t sure he wanted to leave Arsenal yet and he knew Jessie and her family would be devastated if he left. Would she follow him abroad? He wasn’t sure. She was close to her family and at such a young age it would be difficult for her to come to terms with living life in a foreign country constantly under the spotlight of the press.
He would forget it for now and wait to see what happened in May. For now, they had Watford to beat and there was no doubt the team were up for it. The dressing room was buzzing with excitement and anticipation as three o’clock approached. Silvio gave his side one last motivational message before the players emerged into the spring sunshine.
The crowd were as excited as the team and the Emirates was rocking when the players warmed up on the pitch. Bradley looked up to the corporate boxes and blew Jessie a kiss and waved at her dad before kicking off.
If anybody was under any illusions that Watford were there just to make up the numbers, that was dispelled in the sixth minute when the visitors unexpectedly took the lead. For a few moments the Emirates went silent bar the handful of away fans who couldn’t believe their luck and cheered loudly. Bradley rallied the troops to do better and within five minutes he had equalised from a well taken free kick.
The half time talk from Silvio was not aggressive or tactical. He just told them to keep going and the result would happen. They were not about to throw nine months of hard work and preparation away because some players were having an outbreak of nerves. They could do it and they should go out and tear their opponents apart in the second half. They had one hand on the trophy and he wanted to see both.
Silvio’s team talk worked a treat and with four second half goals going unanswered, Arsenal won 5-1 and had retained the Premier League once more with four games left to play.
The usual after match lap of honour was their chance to soak up the applause and cheers from the home fans whilst realising what an achievement they had accomplished. Bradley spotted Jessie and Barry hugging and jumping up and down in the boxes along with other delighted wives and girlfriends of the team. He would join them once he had changed and showered for a celebratory Ginger Beer.
There wouldn’t be much chance for celebration as they had their first leg against Barcelona on the Wednesday at the Nou Camp and they had to be ready for that. In many ways, the Champions League was the big one; it meant you were the best team in Europe, not just England and it carried a lot more respect. They were on a roll now and the thought of doing a grand slam of trophies this season was beginning to look like it could be a reality. No team in history had won all three domestic cups and the Champions League. If they succeeded, Arsenal would go down in history.
Barry was understandably all over Bradley when he entered the players’ lounge and gave him big tearful hug before he could get to Jessie for a more tender hug and kiss. He had also scored a hat trick that day and had been presented with the match ball, as is tradition, and he promptly signed ‘To Barry, thanks for everything, Brad!’ and handed it over to Barry whose face lit up like a Christmas tree. Apart from the monetary value this ball would have in years to come, it was a special moment for Barry. He knew Bradley’s apartment must be running alive with match balls after all the hat tricks he had scored, but this was a special one indeed. Bradley had also signed his shirt and given that to Barry as well. It was too much for him and he had to sit down and take it all in.
Some fans never grow up, thought Bradley as he and Jessie watched him with a smile on their faces. After half an hour, they all left the lounge and tried to leave the building and find their cars which wasn’t going to be easy as the players’ cars were being besieged by delighted supporters all wanting to get photos and tell the team how wonderful they were.
Barry and Jessie managed to get away relatively easily, but Bradley found himself with Jose and Alvarez still signing and posing after thirty minutes. They deserved it, they thought. These were the people who spent their hard-earned cash on supporting their team and this was the least the players could do to thank them for their support.
The three of them got in Bradley’s car and drove the short distance to his apartment, discussing the day’s events and reliving the game. Their thoughts soon turned to Barcelona and the plans they had to beat them on Wednesday. It was probably going to be their toughest match of the season so far, but they were well up for it.