New stadium. New outlook. And a new whole beginning for Arsenal Football Club, as they entered the 2006-2007 season, as they made the switch down the road from their spiritual home, Highbury, their home for 93 years; to the new state-of-the-art 60,000 seater modern arena Ashburton Grove aka The Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal had narrowly missed out on being the first London club to lift the Champions League trophy by 13 men from Barcelona. Well, as if 13 weren’t enough, the Catalans had relentlessly pursued Arsenal’s demigod striker Thierry Henry, over a period of 2 seasons; and Arsenal’s incapability to beat Barcelona in the final had just heightened speculation over the transfer. However,finally came in the news that Thierry Henry had decided to stay at Arsenal as he signed a contract extension.
Meanwhile, Arsenal were in the thick of transfer activity, as Robert Pires, left for Villarreal; where he got what he wanted, a 2 year deal. And finally, Villarreal came to Arsenal’s rescue as they signed the legendary Pascal Cygan for a whopping £2 million. Jose Antonio Reyes, who had seen a decline in form, joined Real Madrid, in a straight loan swap with Julio Baptista. Sol Campbell, left on a free to Portsmouth after 195 appearances for Arsenal. And the summers longest transfer saga saw Cashley Cole, who under Arsenal had transformed to being the world’s best left-back, move to Roman Abrahamovich FC, for the sake of wads of money; in a deal that saw William Gallas joining the Gunners.
Arsenal’s first game at the Emirates was a testimonial game. A game, which was a tribute to one of the most talented footballers the Premier League has seen, i.e Dennis Bergkamp. Bergkamp had joined the Gunners for £7.5 million from Inter Milan, where he had an uninspiring time, and had turned out to be one of the greatest foreign players to grace the English game. More on that, in another blog post.
Anyways, Arsenal had won their first fixture 2-1, courtesy to goals from Henry and Kanu, in a match graced by legends of both his former clubs, Ajax and Arsenal, such as Cruyff, van Basten, Seaman, Dixon, Wright, Vieira etc.
Thanks to their last-minute grab of 4th place from cunty Spurs, Arsenal had the opportunity to play in the Champions League, and faced Dinamo Zagreb in the Qualifying Round. Arsenal ran out 3-1 winners in the away tie, in a game where new signing Tomas Rosicky, who had joined from Borussia Dortmund, made his debut. The first competitive game for Arsenal at their new stadium was a league game against Aston Villa. I still remember, waiting in eagerness for the fixture, to catch a glimpse of the stadium.
Arsenal seemed to be playing like an away side that afternoon, and clearly needed time to get adapted to new surroundings, even though the crowd were quite vocal that afternoon. Olof Mellberg, of all people, had the honor of scoring the first goal at the Emirates. Arsenal threw on 17 year old youngster Theo Walcott, in search of the equaliser, which eventually was scored by Gilberto.
Passage to the group stages of the Champions League was secured with a 2-1 win over Dinamo, in the first floodlit and European game at the Emirates. Arsenal were still stuttering in the league 2 weeks later, as a loss away to Manchester City and a home draw to Middlesbrough saw them pick up just 2 points from 3 games. A hard-fought 2-1 win in Hamburg, where Rosicky scored a screamer, was the perfect lift Arsenal needed ahead of a visit to Old Trafford.
An uphill task was in store, as Arsenal were without talisman Thierry Henry for the game. Undaunted, Arsenal took the game to United. I remember watching the game with a couple of United upstarts, Suraj Sathyanarayan and Jaidev. In an almost uneventful first half, Arsenal should’ve taken the lead when Gilberto slipped and his penalty was saved by Kusczak. Anyways, as both teams pressed for a winner in the second half, United almost had the lead, when Ronaldo’s fierce shot was smashed right bang into the face of Jens Lehmann. Ouch!!That must’ve hurt. And, finally in the 86th minute, Arsenal got their deserved winner when Fabregas played a killer pass to Emmanuel Adebayor, who poked his long leg to slot the ball past the keeper! I remember the glum faces of my fellow game-watchers, and it gives immense pleasure to a Gooner to watch sulking Manure fans.
Off the bounce of the inspiring victory against Fergusmoan’s men, Arsenal picked up victories against Sheffield United;which incidentally was their first league win at the Emirates; Porto, Charlton; where van Persie showed his ‘Robin’ instincts with an airbourne screamer; and Watford.
A disappointing loss in Moscow was followed by a class display at Reading, in a 4-0 win. However, league form dipped, and Arsenal fell 10 points off the pace after drawing 1-1 at Everton and losing to West Ham, to a solitary goal by Marlon Harewood, which sparked a sideline battle between Arsene Wenger and Alan Pardew.
Arsenal’s topsy-turvy form continued as another late Adebayor strike, this time at Goodison, ensured passage to the next round of the Carling Cup, while a 3-0 beating of Liverpool, pushed us to the third spot. Liverpool failed to turn up in the game, which was won by the defensive pairing of Gallas and Toure.
Further 1-1 frustration against Newcastle at home, was compounded by losses, away to Bolton and Fulham. Reebok was one of the worst grounds in the Premier League, to play in the evening. The lighting was so dull, and the crowd was crap. Even Glossop FC have a more vocal home support. And moreover, Bolton was aided by Mike Dean, who simply refused to acknowledge Bolton’s physicality. There were loads of elbows, high tackles, dives from Bolton, and Arsenal had to suffer at the ends of a partial referee. To add to it, ‘The Incredible Sulk’ Nicolas Anelka, who had left behind a promising career at Arsenal, to virtually become an European nomad, scored and celebrated with his stupid butterfly celebration.
The first North London derby at the Emirates was a perfect way to peg back some form, as Gilberto’s twin penalties propelled Arsenal to a 3-0 win over a dismal Spurs side. (When were they good anyways? ) And a trip down London, was nearly fruitful, when Mathieu Flamini had scored in the 79th to hand Arsenal the lead, only for Michael Essien’s shot from planet Mars, to steal it away in stoppage time.
A 6-2 thumping of Blackburn and a 2-1 win away at Watford kept Arsenal at 3rd spot, before Cristian Nade’s goal (this time from planet Jupiter )at Sheffield United, in a 1-0 loss, meant Arsenal dropped to 5th.
Then came a resurgent run from the Gunners. Post a 4-0 win over Charlton in the league, Arsenal faced a domestic cup double header against Liverpool, both at Anfield. The FA Cup tie was first up, and thanks to the stupid broadcasters preferred showing Manure play Aston Villa (everyone knew the result beforehand); I had to wait till next morning to know the result. But, at the end of it, the wait was worth it. Tomas Rosicky’s brace, both goals top-notch, secured a 3-1 win.
3 days later, a young very Gunners side, comprising of 6 teenagers, inflicted further humiliation on Liverpool, as they ran out 6-3 winners. Again, I missed this game, thanks to the cable operator, who refused to put the channel. ‘The Beast’ Julio Baptista, scored 4, and interestingly, could have scored 5, had he not missed a penalty! Jeremie Aliadiere, was brilliant that evening, and in the mix in all the goals!!
Aliadiere was kind of a strange footballer. He had spent a good part of the 8 years playing for the reserves, since joining when he was a 16 year old. When he did play, he was very unpredictable. At times, he would play like a seasoned centre-forward, like in the game against Liverpool; or would cut a lonely figure, totally out of place. He soon would leave for Middlesbrough, and I haven’t followed his career since.
The amazing run of form continued with a 2-0 win at Ewood Park, Henry scoring a brilliant goal, after sprinting half the length of the ground. Manchester United, up next, at the Emirates; and the Red Devils were supremely sitting at the top of the table; 6 points clear of second placed Chelsea, and 15 ahead of Arsenal. Wayne Rooney gave United the lead, and they looked to be coasting for victory, before van Persie equalised with a shot to the far-post from a narrow angle. Pandemonium erupted in the stands, as Arsenal pressed for a winner. And, they did get it as Henry rose above the United defence, to head home a perfect Eboue cross.
Arsenal’s cup fixtures were piling up as they had drawn the Bolton Wrestling team in the FA Cup, and Spuds in the Carling semi’s. Arsenal snatched draws in both, Toure scoring in the 83rd against Bolton; and Baptista making up for his earlier own goal, to snatch a brace, at Shit Fart Lane. Both second legs ended positively for Arsenal, who needed extra time in both games to progress.
Meanwhile, Arsenal required a late Henry equaliser at The Riverside. Who would have thought it would be his last in an Arsenal shirt? Wigan proved to be frustrating opposition, as they scored a screamer through Dutch international Denny Landzaat, and wasted nearly the rest of the match wasting time, thanks to their keeper Chris Kirkland. Arsenal showed desperation, and were rewarded with two late goals, to steal a 2-1 win under Kirkland’s nose.
February 25, 2007. Millennium Stadium. Chelsea vs Arsenal. League Cup Final. Let me correct you. It was Chelsea’s team of handsomely paid (and paid for) stars vs Arsenal’s Youth team. The Gunners had started with 5 teenagers, including a 17 year old Theo Walcott, destined for great things. Add to that, Fabregas, Aliadiere and Senderos, Arsenal were literally playing a very very young team. Chelshit, on the other hand, had the ‘£30 million flop in the box’ Andriy Shevchenko and German captain Michael Ballack, their summer signings. Plus, vastly experienced internationals such as Lampard, Carvalho,Terry, Drogba, Makelele, Cech and Essien. There was certainly no stage fright, as the Gunners got on to a rocking start, finding their passing feet in the early minutes. Soon, Abou Diaby played a through-ball to Theo Walcott, and BAM!! The youngster from the South Coast announced his arrival on the big stage as he placed the ball into the top corner to fire Arsenal into the lead. However, the billionaires soon equalised through Drogba. Overall, Arsenal were brilliant throughout the game and looked to be most likely to score, in comparison to their accomplished opposition. And soon, inexperience told as Drogba snatched a 2nd goal in the 84th minute, to leave the Gunners heartbroken. I was as proud of Arsenal that evening, as proud can one be, after a gallant display of guts and talent from Arsenal.
Next few games were tough for Arsenal, as they were knocked out of the FA Cup to a 87th minute winner from Benni McCarthy. A week later, they were out of the Champions League as well, as Alex, who would later join Chavski, scored a 83rd minute equaliser at the Emirates, to earn PSV Eindhoven a 2-1 aggregate victory. More last minute heartbreak at Merseyside followed as Everton dealt a 91st minute blow, with Andy Johnson the culprit. And Liverpool completed Merseyside formalities with a 4-1 crushing at Anfield, Peter Crouch scoring a perfect strikers hat-trick. West Ham heaped frustration as they scraped a 1-0 win at the Emirates. Rob Green was made of concrete, that particular afternoon, as he emerged with a clean sheet, despite 29 shots on target from Arsenal.
Pride and a 4th place finish was all Arsenal had to play for, and they rounded the job, with 3 wins and 4 draws in the last 7 games of the season, comprising of more late drama; this time at Shit Hart Lane, as Jermaine Jenas equalised in the 95th minute. Gulp! Also, Arsenal denied Chelsea a hat-trick of Premier League titles, as they held the Blues to a 1-1 draw, and sending the trophy to Old Trafford, after 4 years.
Thus ended Arsenal’s eventful first season at the Emirates. It was a season where Arsenal’s young guns heralded the dawn of a new era in the club’s history, by providing some memorable moments. All that eluded was a trophy.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
Premier League – 4th place
FA Cup – 5th Round
Carling Cup – Runners Up
Champions League – Round of 16
Top Scorer – Robin van Persie (13 goals in all competitions)