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2007-2008 Season Review – So close, yet so far again

23 June. I still remember the date. I had just returned home, and was logging on to BBC, to check the latest headlines, and was met with the worst headline, Gooners around the world could hear.The headline said, Arsenal star Thierry Henry joins Barcelona. It was a really sad moment for all Gooners, as Arsenal’s French talisman had left for Catalonia after 8 years stellar service for the club, scoring 226 goals and providing 92 assists. He was not only a spectacular goal-poacher, but his vast array of skills had made him the finest Premier League players of his time. More on him later.

Another player who left Arsenal, was the Swede Freddie Ljungberg, to West Ham, whose transfer was less talked about after the Henry saga. Ljungberg also had been a fine player, and had adorned the Arsenal crest on his chest for 9 years, scoring 73 goals.

LEGENDS

Anyways, now that the long protracted transfer saga of Thierry Henry had done, Arsenal had the 2007-2008 season to look forward to. Arsenal had come inches close to winning the Carling Cup, the previous campaign, and surely the young guns had loads to look forward to.

Arsene Wenger was,. characteristically quiet in the transfer market. His only major signings were Croatian striker, Eduardo da Silva; and the French duo of Bacary Sagna and Lassana Diarra. Eduardo had a big reputation in Croatia, where the Brazilian-born player had netted 73 goals in 104 appearances for Dinamo Zagreb. William Gallas was made Arsenal captain.

Post-Henry Arsenal had started their campaign against Fulham, at home. The game, as I remember was increasingly frustrating as Arsenal created bucketloads of chances, but trailed Fulham 1-0 for most part of the game, after David Healy’s goal. Hleb found himself free in the box, in the 93rd minute, and he scored, to hand Arsenal a winning start.

Arsenal had safely negotiated through the Champions League qualifiers against Czech outfit Sparta Prague, and only a 81st minute screamer from Cesc Fabregas gave the Gunners all points against Manchester City, after Schmeichel junior had saved a Robin van Persie spot kick. Arsenal then went on a rampage of wins, beating Portsmouth 3-1 at home. Next up, the North London Derby at Shit Fart Lane. A certain young Welshman, Gareth Bale, had scored an exquisite free kick to hand Spurs the lead and false hopes of getting the better of their more accomplished neighbors. Dimitar Gergatov, yes, that’s his stupid Bulgarian name; had the chance of his life, when he went clear, only for a brilliant Kolo Toure, with a last ditch tackle. Arsenal missed many chances, hitting the bar and skying their efforts or being saved by an in-form Paul Robinson. Emmanuel Adebayor equalised through a header, while Gergatov then had another attempt cleared off the line by Gael Clichy.  And minutes later, Fabregas got the ball from half a kilometre out, I guess; and let in a dynamite. Absolute dynamite.  The action was getting frantic, as Darren Bent missed a sitter, which Harry Redknapp’s missus would have scored.  And, in the 90th, the Gunners sealed all points as Adebayor scored a peach, to leave Shit Fart lane as silent as, yes, a fart.

Absolute Dynamite

Oozing with confidence, Arsenal brushed aside Derby County 5-0, and then beat Juande Ramos’ Seville 3-0, Newcastle 2-0 in the League Cup, West Ham and Steaua Bucharest; both away 1-0, thanks to solitary van Persie strikes, and finally Sunderland and Bolton 2-0 and 3-2 respectively.

That’s a netbuster

Fabregas was in brilliant form, contributing with 7 goals from midfield, and Arsenal were sitting pretty at the top, come October. And they were taking plaudits in Europe, after thrashing Slavia Prague 7-0 at the Emirates Stadium. The commentator’s exact words after Fabregas scored the 6th goal was “This is perfect football!! Arsenal are playing the heavenly game!!”

The scoreboard paints the picture

The brilliant run continued, as Fabregas scored a 80th minute equaliser at Anfield. Manchester United were next in the Premier League, and again I was watching the game with Suraj Sathyanarayan. Wayne Rooney scored again at the Emirates, just before half time. And Fabregas had equalised for Arsenal, before Ronaldo looked to have scored the winner in the 82nd minute. Arsenal made a barrage of attacks, before William Gallas’ chance goal, in the 94th minute or something, made it 2-2. I can still remember Fabregas screaming into Ferdinand’s ears after the equaliser!!

Gallas pokes the ball home

Arsenal’s incredible run of 28 games unbeaten in all competitions was finally halted in Spain, as Seville beat Arsenal 3-1. While Fabregas was clearly running the show, there was another unsung hero in the team, who goes by the name Matheiu Flamini. He was immense all season, and provided the perfect foil for Fabregas to go ahead and perform his playmaker role to perfection. After his near error-free season, Flamini inexplicably decided to leave for AC Milan.

Flamini and Fabregas

Another player to step up to the plate, was Emmanuel Adebayor. The Togolese striker, was turning out out be a goal machine. He contributed 30 goals in all competitions that season, and scored many spectacular ones in the process. He was later to change his surname from Adebayor to Greedybayor.

He was pretty good too

Arsenal managed to hold on to top spot,even though they could only muster a point out of their travels to the North East, to face Newcastle and Middlesbrough. However, the Gunners bounced back as William Gallas’ solitary strike was enough to see of a largely dissapointing Chelsea.

Cech is bewildered as Gallas scores

A very young Arsenal side made the trip to Blackburn in the Carling Cup, with the oldest player being Eduardo, aged 24. The young guns, down to 10 men, emerged 3-2 winners on a chilly night, in extra time, thanks to the goal from their oldest player. And more plaudits were heaped upon the young team, as they won the North London derby, 3 days before Christmas 2-1, after Nicklas Bendtner’s goal, 2 fucking seconds after he came on as a sub!!

Bendtner beats Spuds and gravity to score!

1-0 down at half-time at Goodison, Eduardo turned the game on it’s head as his craft delivered two brilliant goals, before 3 points were sealed with a 4-1 triumph.

Spuds finally got a win over their North London rivals after nearly 9 years, as they beat a disjointed Arsenal 5-1 in the League Cup semifinals. Arsenal were really poor that night (You have to be, if you are losing to Spurs) and also there was an on-pitch scuffle between Adebayor and Bendtner, which was quickly quelled, but it was a worrying sign that the Gunners were self-destructing after a magnificent campaign, so far.

Soon, that was put aside, as Arsenal beat Newcastle 3-0 twice in 4 days, and then a brilliant Eduardo goal sealed points at Eastlands, before Arsenal took full advantage of their game in hand, as a late Adebayor goal against Blackburn put the North Londoners 5 points clear of nearest rivals Manchester United. I watched the last 10 minutes of the game, and the tension around the Emirates was palpable. When Adebayor scored, I had this feeling that the Premier League was coming to North London. How wrong was I?

A week later, Arsenal failed to turn up at Old Trafford. Injuries seemed to have mounted, as a significantly weak Arsenal side succumbed to a 4-0 loss, and down to 10 men as the ever-stupid Eboue was sent off for a cynical challenge. The season changing game a week later, after a goalless draw against Kaka’s AC Milan, at St. Andrews. In the 8th minute of the game, a certain fucking cunt, named Martin Taylor, who himself was an untalented twat, made a horrendous challenge on Arsenal’s immensely talented Brazilian-Croat, which broke the latters leg.It was an unreal moment. Watching on TV, I certainly didn’t know the extension of the injury. All I knew, was that,it was something horribly gone wrong,if Adebayor’s. Hleb’s and Fabregas’ expressions were anything to go by. Eduardo was stretchered off and that was that. Birmingham capitalized on Arsenal’s mental frailty, as a James McFadden free-kick put them ahead, before a Walcott brace pulled back the Gunners level in the second half. As it seemed that Arsenal would leave the Midlands with 3 vital points, came the decisive moment of Arsenal’s season. Gael Clichy made an inexplicable mistake as he allowed Stuart Parnaby to run into the penalty box, when he failed to clear the ball. He caught him on the run, and it was a penalty, duly crashed home by McFadden, the last kick of the game. William Gallas sat on the half-way circle, as a protest. It all seemed too rosy till now, but in fact it was all spiralling downwards.

Eduardo’s horrific injury

AC Milan was conquered at the San Siro, as Arsenal became the first English to beat Milan in their formidable backyard. A brilliant performance by the Gunners, against one of the best teams in the world, was rewarded in the 84th minute, as Fabregas’ brilliant long range effort, proving to be the icebreaker. Theo Walcott’s darting run was then tapped in by Emmanuel Adebayor, as Arsenal enjoyed a famous win under the lights in Italy.Joy was unparalleled and relief was long-coming.

Milan conquered

But, that signalled a downfall, as Arsenal could secure only 3 points in their next 4 games in the Premier League. A 94th minute equaliser from Bendtner, and a 86th minute one from Toure, rescued 2 points for Arsenal against Villa and Boro, at home, and then they were beaten 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. The moment, where I lost all hope was against Bolton at the Reebok. Arsenal simply had to win this one to stay in the hunt, and 2-0 down at Half-time, to a brace from Matthew Taylor, and down to 10 men, after Diaby got sent off, was hardly the script. I switched off the TV in disgust, and went to sleep. But, I regret that decision, to this day. Arsenal sparked a second half comeback mission. Gallas got one back, before van Persie equalised in deteriorating conditions at The Reebok, under the rain. And,an unprecedented winner came in the 90th minute, as the 10 men brilliantly battled, with all odds stacked up against them. Arsenal were still in the title race.

Fab celebrates an amazing turnaround

Arsenal then had to face Liverpool thrice in a week, and it started off with a 1-1 draw at the Emirates in the first leg of the Champions League quarters. Arsenal had a clear penalty shout, when Dirk Kuyt bought down Alexander Hleb, but the referee waved play-on. It was a clear indicator as to how even luck had deserted us in the decisive moments of the season. Arsenal struggled to a 1-1 draw on the weekend in the Premier League, and the gap widened at the top of the table.Arsenal’s dreams were on the line at Anfield. In a pulsating game. Arsenal took the lead as Diaby poked one past Reina in the 13th. Sami Hyppia soon equalised, and a brilliant Fernando Torres goal in the 69th put the Reds ahead. All seemed over, before Theo Walcott came on. A corner was cleared, and Walcott made a pacy waltz through the Reds’ defence, running the length of the pitch, to give a perfect pass to Adebayor to drive home. It was 2-2, and Arsenal were in the drivers’ seat now, on away goals. Alas, it was not to be. After being denied a penalty a week earlier,Arsenal conceded one in the 86th. Ryan Babel dived for a nomination for the Oscars, after minimal contact from Toure. Steven Gerrard scored, and Babel sealed the win when Arsenal put everything forward, in search for an equaliser. Arsenal’s luck had run out, as their European dreams were ended by poor refereeing, on a hard night in Anfield.

How could this not be a penalty?

It’s all over in Europe

And the watershed moment, came at Old Trafford, few days later. Arsenal, by now were 6 points behind United, and only a win here would keep them on United’s back. A loss would signal an end to Premier League hopes, as a 9 point deficit would be impossible to overcome, with only 4 games to go. I was in delirium when Adebayor’s chance effort handed Arsenal the lead, but 6 minues later Gallas was adjudged to have handled the ball in the penalty area. Ronaldo stepped up and scored. Arsenal’s fate was sealed, as an Owen Hargreaves free kick meant 3 points to United. I vividly remember that moment. As United were lining it up, I knew this was it. It is one of the worst feelings in the world, for a football fan. Lehmann didn’t even move to save it, and was beaten completely. Just weeks earlier, we had beaten AC Milan at the San Siro, and were 5 points ahead in the Premier League. And now, we were out of both competitions, and we had no one to blame.

And in the league

12 points were derived from 4 dead-rubber Premier League games. There was a sense of failure in all Arsenal players in all of the games, even though they won. There were no animated celebrations, even after a 6-2 thumping of Derby. It had been a long hard season, and a much-deserved trophy had eluded them throughout.

Living through a teams ups and downs is part of a football fans’ life. The 2007-2008 season was an epic season for me, and for Gunners’ fans across the globe.The team had lit our lives and provided many heart-stopping moments, both joyous and sad. However, my unflinching loyalties towards them were only strengthened.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 3rd place

FA Cup – 5th Round

Carling Cup – Semi Finals

Champions League – Quarter Finals

Top Scorer – Emmanuel Adebayor (30 goals in all competitions)

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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2005-2006 Season Review – The Final Salute

The 2005-2006 season brings back some amazing memories to me. The final farewell to a legend of English league Football, i.e The Arsenal Stadium, Highbury; the red-currant kit, the final season of the Dutch master Dennis Bergkamp and some more of the usual nitty-gritty of the season, which I will take you through in this post.

Club captain, and a towering influence in Arsenal’s midfield for 9 years, Patrick Vieira left for The Old Lady of Turin, supposedly to win the Champions League. Well, no disrespect to the legend, but all he got there was relegation to Serie-B, after the great Italian match-fixing scandal of 2006. Patrick left some great memories, arriving as a raw 19 year old in 1996, to replace the erratic Eddie McGoldrick, forming a strong midfield with compatriot Emmanuel Petit, hence contributing the the double success of the 1997-1998 season. His constant tussles with Manchester United skipper Roy Keane, were legendary, and Vieira had the last laugh as he took the decisive penalty in the 2005 FA Cup Final.

His greatest and most significant contribution, however was captaining the Gunners in their unbeaten and non-blotted campaign of 2003-2004, where they ruled the league with an iron fist, and a swagger unmatched.”RESPECT“.

The Community Shield was lost 2-1 to the billionaires of West London and then Arsenal’s last season at Highbury began with the visit of Newcastle, Henry scoring and celebrating with the ‘T’ sign, signifying the name of his newborn daughter.

A loss to Chelsea followed, with Drogba’s shin scoring the unlikeliest of goals, after bullying Phillipe Senderos throughout the game. Stop-start season continued, with a win against Fulham, where the legendary Pascal Cygan scored a brace and then a 2-1 reverse to Middlesbrough.

Pascal Zinedine Cygan..A legend of football..

Speaking of Pascal Cygan, he was the most comical footballer I have seen. He was so weirdly built, like a blob of baldness over a clumsy body. He didnt have pace, no guile, no agility. He had height, which he used to good effect, against strikers, to usually score into his own net!! Boy, he was a calamity, and the one to press the self-destruct button on a usual basis; and without a shadow of doubt, one of the worst players to put on the Arsenal shirt!! Here’s to Pascal ‘Zinedine’ Cygan!

More dissapointments followed, with a 2-1 loss at West Bromwich Albion. Anyways things looked bright in Europe, as Arsenal seemed dominant in their group, as they beat FC Thun of Switzerland and Ajax Amsterdam, Dennis Bergkamp scoring a sublime winner against FC Thun!!

Henry, Wright and Bergkamp

Thierry Henry raced past Ian Wright’s club record of 185 as he scored a brace in a chilly night in Prague.

That’s No 186!

Arsenal were all rounded over the mercurial Frenchman’s exploits that season, as a seemingly underperforming Arsenal lost 3 games on the bounce, against Bolton, Newcastle and Chelsea, confirming the demise of Arsenal’s title challenge that season.

On the bright side, Arsenal mocked all penalty taking norms, as Robert Pires stepped up to take a penalty against Manchester City. His run-in looked decisive. However, he stopped and then looked to pass it to Henry. However, Henry wasn’t ready, and City cleared the ball only for an embarrassed Pires to give a wry smile to the cameras. It mattered little in the end, as Pires’ earlier spot-kick had landed the 3 points. Robin van Persie scored a stunning goal against Blackburn, beating 3 defenders in his wake to slot the ball past a hapless keeper. Was it the arrival of a new Dutch master?

The Pires-Henry penalty fiasco!!

Meanwhile, the Carling Cup seemed a kind of escape from the stuttering league campaign. Or was it??Drawn to Doncaster Rovers, Arsenal seemed on the verge of exit, as they trailed 2-1 after 120 minutes. Cometh the crunch, cometh the man, as Gilberto Silva snatched a late-late equalizer to take the game to penalties; where Manuel Almunia (yes, you heard right) proved to be the hero, as Arsenal narrowly avoided some really giant-killing!!

Gilberto saves the night!!

And Almunia saves the day!! 

Wigan was next up in the League Cup semi-finals. The Lactics had already proved to be somewhat of a force in the Premier League, as they had notched up some valiant performances in their first season in the top flight, starting the season with a 93rd minute loss to a Hernan Crespo goal in a game against the billionaires of West London. They beat Arsenal 1-0 at the JJB Stadium, a game best remembered for a lowly turnout and a power failure in the area.  Two weeks later, they completed the job at Highbury, even though Arsenal won 2-1, on away-goals rule.

I swear, this stupid power cut cost us the tie and the cup!! 

Middlesbough proved to be cannon fodder and were brushed by a rampant Arsenal 7-0 at Highbury, with Henry helping himself to a hat-trick. Well, then started a miserable run for Arsenal, as they lost to a physical Everton at the Goodison, got knocked out of the FA Cup to Bolton, a 2-3 humiliation at home to newly promoted West Ham, a late 1-1 draw again at Bolton, culminating in a heartbreaking 87th minute goal in a 1-0 loss at Anfield. The season looked to on a downward spiral, and Arsenal had to do something about it.

Arsenal were riddled with injuries, to the defensive team of Lauren, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy. The only lynchpin at the back was Ivorian Kolo Toure, who with Phillipe Senderos, had formed a formidable centre-back pairing in Europe. Sebastien Larsson and Pascal Cygan were both roped in as emergency left-backs, but the injury crisis mounted and Mathieu Flamini, a right-footed defensive midfielder, was played at left-back for most of the remainder of the season. Emmanuel Eboue had been a revelation at right-back with his marauding runs into the opposition’s penalty area.

The greatest defence ever!!

Next in line was a trip to the Santiago Bernabeu, to play the ‘Los Galacticos’, Real Madrid’s expensively assembled galaxy of stars; comprising of stalwarts such as Zidane, Ronaldo, Carlos, Casillas and Guti. Notice I have discounted a certain David Beckham here.

The Spanish media were already discussing by how many goals Real Madrid would plunder the Gunners. Were they wrong or what?Arsenal started with a flurry if chances. Jose Antonio Reyes, nearly scoring an opener upon his return to his homeland. Fabregas and Hleb were brillilantly spraying passes and keeping the game well in control. And then, in the 47th minute, Henry picked the ball from near the half-line, and left quite a few defenders in his wake, before calmly slotting the ball past Iker Casillas. The scoreboard had read Real Madrid 0-1 Arsenal (Reserves, literally) The stars huffed and puffed, but at the end , it was Arsenal’s young guns, who came away from the Spanish capital, with a vital 1-0 lead to carry to the second leg at Highbury.

Galacticos?? Really??

Arsenal started the second leg, with the same Madrid-conquering side, while Real drafted in local boy cum hero Raul, into the starting line-up to multiply firepower. Real came close on several occasions, only to be denied by the German superman Jens Lehmann. Arsenal’s resolve was testified by Kolo Toure, who took a blow to his body as he blocked a Roberto Carlos freekick from close range. Towards the end, Real were so desperate they threw everybody forward, including the keeper, and almost resulted in a second goal for Arsenal, as Robert Pires,  shot from half-way, only to be halted by a sprinting Roberto Carlos. All’s well that ends well, Arsenal secured passage to the next round, and now had to face Italian giants Juventus.

Galacticos up in flames!! 

The German Superman!!

Meanwhile, Arsenal slowly picked up on the domestic front, with wins over Liverpool(thanks to a brilliant backpass from Steven Gerrard), Charlton and a 5-0 drubbing of David O’Leary’s Aston Villa.

Juventus visited North London on 28th March, and Patrick Vieira got a standing ovation from the Arsenal faithful. It seemed for large amounts of the game, Juventus had taken the game very lightly, with press remarks from Lilian Thuram stating that they would destroy Arsenal. And they had every reason to think so. They had the world’s best goalkeeper; and the costliest one as well, Gianluigi Buffon, a towering defence comprising the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta, an experienced midfield of Vieira and Emerson; and a devastating strike force of Mutu, Trezeguet and Ibrahimovic. Unfazed in no sense, Arsenal dominated the game, with Fabregas playing like a seasoned professional, as he went about the task of going up against his mentor, Vieira. He scored with a sublime shot past Buffon in the 40th, truely announcing his arrival on the European stage, before Thierry Henry scored a brilliant winner in the 69th. The Old Ladies were down 2-0. So much for destroying us, Juve fell to pieces, and Camaronesi and Zebina were sent off, as the 9 men prevented further damage.

Vieira, who?

And that’s how it’s done, my Old Lady!!

The return leg was more of a formality for Arsenal, as they comfortable eked out a 0-0 draw, against Juve, who had drafted in the Czech playmaker Pavel Nedved. Arsenal’s dismal home campaign had continued with a 2-0 loss at Old Trafford and a disspointing draw away to Portsmouth. However, Dennis Bergkamp scored a delicios flick in a 3-1 win over West Brom, on Dennis Bergkamp day, a day dedicated to the Dutchman, whose class had lit up the English game, for a decade.

Dennis Bergkamp scores on Dennis Bergkamp day!! 

The Champions League semi-finals beckoned, and surprisingly the opposition was no Milan, Inter or Bayern, but a small provincial club from Spain, Villarreal. The club had seen a phenomenal rise in Spanish football, and were now in the semi’s after ousting Inter. ‘The Yellow Submarines’ had some fine players in their ranks, including Argentina captain Juan Pablo Sorin; former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan, who had transformed his career in Spain, and become the top scorer in the Spanish League;Juan Roman Riquelme, the Argentine midfield schemer, at the moment, considered the world’s best; Brazilian born Marcos Senna, who represented Spain, and was known for his long range goalscoring skills; and Juventus veteran Alessio Tacchinardi.

They are a good yellow lot, they are!!

The last game under floodlights, and the last European fixture at Highbury, and it couldn’t get bigger than a Champions League semi-final. Arsenal had fielded nearly the same side that had ousted the giants of Madrid and Turin. The game was mostly end-to-end stuff, with both teams creating opportunities. Chants of  ‘Squirrel is a Gunner’ and ‘There’s only one squirrel’ to the tune of ‘There’s only one Dennis Bergkamp’ filled the historic stadium, as a little lost squirrel ambled on to the Highbury pitch, for its only Arsenal appearance. Kolo Toure scored the only goal in the game as he poked in a Hleb low cross for Arsenal to take a 1-0 advantage to the yellow-drenched part of Spain.

There’s only one squirrel and he’s a Gooner!! 

He’s a fine little Ivorian, isn’t he?

Arsenal were 4 points behind Tottenham, and uncomfortably in 5th place, as the two sides geared up for the last North London derby at Highbury. A win here, would put the Gunners within 1 point off a Champions League playoff place, and a game in hand, but a loss would all but end all of Arsenal’s hopes of a top 4 finish.On a bright afternoon, the Scum scored one of the most unsportsmanlike goal, ever witnessed at Highbury. Eboue collided with Gilberto, the former requiring treatment. Michael Carrick, who was scum then, and still is now, got hold of the ball, and passed it to Edgar Davids, who then provided a simple tap-in for Robbie Keane. Arsenal were furious at this point, but the game had to go in. Adebayor and Henry combined to set up Arsenal’s equaliser on a frustrating afternoon. Arsenal were still 4 points behind, and required Spurs to slip up against either Bolton or West Ham, to finish 4th.

Keane celebrating his scumdom!! 

And Henry saves the day yet again!!

Meanwhile, Arsenal knew that winning the Champions League would also seal a place for next years competition, and a name in the history books. The return league at Villarreal, would be no simple task, as the Spanish team had a formidable record at home. And they did dominate most of the game, and probably deserved the win. But there was no denying Arsenal that night. Or was there?Substitute, Gael Clichy, who came on after Flamini suffered a knock, was softly adjudged to have bought down Jose Mari. Riquelme stepped up to take the penalty. And all  the time, I knew he would miss it. He was sweating profusely, the game having taken a mental as well as a physical toll on one of the most astute minds of the game. He was spitting constantly, trying to be calm. But his weak shot was brilliantly parried by the German giant Jens Lehmann. And that’s that. Arsenal became the first club from London to play a Champions League Final.

German Superman saves a shot from the Argentine master!!

Everyone wants a slice of Superman!!

The outpouring of emotions at the end, Arsene Wenger doing a fist celebration, with Pat Rice, still brings tears to my eyes. Thierry Henry was simply ecstatic, as the Arsenal players mobbed Jens Lehmann, who had kept 10 fucking clean sheets, and broke Milan’s previous measly record of 7, and couple that with a defence crippled with injuries, against opposition the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal. It was an amazing night.

Wenger’s greatest night!!

Next up??FC Barcelona. Ronaldinho. Samuel Eto’o. Xavi. Iniesta. Deco. Giuly. Henrik Larrsson. Referee. Linesman. etc. Anyways, that apart Arsenal had a job in hand in the league, and that was to qualify for the Champions League, by finishing 4th.

Arsenal secured 3-0 and 3-1 wins away to Sunderland and Manchester City respectively, and last day of the season, and last game at Highbury, they needed 3 points against Wigan Athletic, and hoped that Spurs lost to West Ham United. Mind games had already started, Arsene Wenger stating that West Ham Couldn’t win the final, if they didn’t beat Spurs, as it would cause a psychological effect, and all that stuuff that goes with it.

The day was perfect. The sun was shining brightly on the Highbury pitch. And, I had missed the first 30 minutes of the game, thanks to my stupid PUC tuitions. Anyways, it was Arsenal 1-2 Wigan. Man, why did Wigan have to come and spoil the party??Oh bother, onto the game stepped messrs Thierry Henry, as he equalised in the 35th minute, and Arsenal went in to half-time at 2-2. Meanwhile, in another part of London, some portly dude called Carl Fletcher had given West Ham the lead against cunty Spuds.Talk of injustice, Spurs had half their team down due to food poisoning , and had asked the Premier League to delay the game. However, this plea was rejected, becasue of West Ham’s upcoming FA Cup Final and the game went ahead as was scheduled.Surely, the chef was a Gooner, wasn’t he??

Meanwhile, the final 45 minutes of football at Highbury began, with Arsenal still needing 3 points. Henry duly obliged, as he rounded keeper Pollitt to calmly slot the goal to make it 3-2. Meanwhile, over at The Boleyn, Defoe had equalised for Spurs, and former Spud and cunt Teddy Sheringham had missed a penalty to put West Ham ahead.(Everyone knew he was going to miss it.) Anyways, in North London, it seemed like a fairytale ending was in the script as Andreas Johansson bought down fellow Swede Freddie Ljungberg, in the box and Arsenal had a penalty. Fittingly, Arsenal’s greatest ever player, Thierry Henry, takes it and scores, and celebrates by kissing the penalty spot in front of the North End. And, its St. Totteringham’s day, as an Israeli of all people, Yossi Shai Benayoun, scores the winner for West Ham. Highbury erupts, well knowing that Arsenal have got the better of Spuds yet again.

Henry kisses the pitch after scoring the final goal at Highbury!!

Benayoun..gotta love that Israeli!!

Celebrating St. Totteringham’s Day!! 

10 days ahead, Paris was the centre of the world, as Arsenal and Barcelona faithful converged in on the showpiece event of European football, the final of the Champions League. This was Barcelona’s 4th time in the final, winning once against Sampdoria at Wembley in 91/92. And, this was the first time Arsenal had won the right to be in a Champions League final.I myself remember, waiting in anticipation for the final. I knew Barcelona were the favourites, as they had two world superstars, in the peak of their careers. But, Arsenal had the meanest defence in Europe, now fortified with the return of England duo Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole.It was ‘The Irresistible Force’ against ‘The Immovable Object’.

As the two teams, walked out side by side, with the trophy they were playing for in the centre, I remember praying for an Arsenal win. I knew every Gunner in the world,was too, in silent prayer. The game began, with Barcelona employing smart tactics and playing Ronaldinho in the centre and Eto’o on the left. Arsenal nearly scored with Thierry Henry clear, only for Valdes to pull off a diving save. Jens Lehmann, Arsenal’s hero through the European campaign turned from hero to villain in the 18th minute, as he bought down Samuel Eto’o. Barcelona’s 12th man, namely the referee Terje Hauge, rendered a massive blow by sending off the German, even though Arsenal insisted him to let off the German with a yellow and award a penalty to Barca.Off went Lehmann, though; and so did Robert Pires, who was sacrificed for Manuel Almunia.

Barcelona’s 12th man sends off the German Superman!!

Barca went on a rampage of attacks, capitalizing on their numbers advantage, but were kept in check by Arsenal’s defence. And in the 37th minute, the unlikeliest of goals from the unlikeliest of players, as Sol Campbell’s thumping header of a Henry free kick gave Arsenal the lead. I was delirious, jumping around the house at 1 AM!!

And the 10 men from North London take the lead against the 13 from Catalonia!! 

Arsenal seemed all set for victory as they controlled the game exceptionally, before Barca sent on Henrik Larsson, who first teed up Samuel Eto’o, who was clearly offside; but Barcelona’s 13th player, the linesman, said he wasn’t. And so, ended the over-900 minutes of football without conceding. And Larsson drew the final nail in the coffin, as he set up Juliano Belleti to score 5 minutes from time. I remember myself, nearly in tears at that point of time, as I knew there was no back. Barcelona knew it. Arsenal knew it. So, did the fans know it. And, so did Wenger. He bought on Reyes, for one final roll of the dice, but Arsenal were too deflated at that point. And so it ended Barcelona’s 13 2-1 Arsenal’s 10.

That heartbreaking moment

Would this be his last appearance as a Gunner??

As Barcelona lifted the trophy, it had me wondering me if Thierry Henry would be tempted by that and soon leave for Barca, as he had been courted wildly by them. In gazillions of interviews, and newspaper reports, ‘Henry to leave Arsenal for Barca’ was the constant. How I had wished, for Arsenal to enter their new home as European champions. Sigh, it was not to be.

That sinking feeling

This season, of so many highs and so many lows, with so many heart-stopping moments, fuelled my love for the Gunners. To be part of unparalleled joy at 3 points, and to be heartbroken at the end of an epic European campaign, was an amazing Arsenal experience.

Jai Arsenal 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 4th place

FA Cup – Fourth Round

Carling Cup – Semi Finals

Champions League – Runners Up

Top Scorer – Thierry Henry (33 goals in all competitions)

 
3 Comments

Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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2004-2005 Season Review – My first as a Gunner

Yeah, this seems like a century ago, the 2004-2005 season, the last (but not the least) time we won a piece of footballing silverware, to adorn our trophy-room.

For me, it was just the start of my incredible journey as an Arsenal fan!!

I didn’t get to watch just a handful games that season, cos’ of reasons I don’t really remember now. However, what I did watch was the Invincibles of 03-04, continuing in full flow and swagger, their defence of the title.

The Community Shield against Manchester United, won 3-1 at the Millenium, the first league game of the season was at the Goodison, a game I remember watching, as I remember some Spanish goon with long hair, called Fabregas or something, was marshalling the midfield, with players double his size, Carsley and Gravesen, trying to get a hold of him!!! Well, we did run out comfortable 4-1 winners that afternoon!!

Who’s this guy anyways?? Thinks he can run Arsenal’s midfield!!

Next up was Middlesbrough, with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and the quick Joseph Desire-Job manning the attack. I didn’t watch the game, but I did watch the game later in Final Score, and a hell of a game it was!This was the record-equalling game, and Arsenal were 3-1 down at HT. On came the sun, and on came Jose Antonio Reyes. His pace turned the game on its head, as he scored Arsenal’s 4th, with the commentator screaming “REEYYYEEEESS!!”

REEEEYYYYEESSS!!!!Stand up for the champions!!!

Record-equalled, and record-broken, against Blackburn at home, Arsenal chalked up wins against lowly sides of the league, namely Norwich, Fulham, Man.City(In those days, lowest of the low), Charlton (Remember the backheel?) and Aston Villa, and a draw with Bolton. We had reached 49 games unbeaten. And, as they say “Irony strikes hard”, the game we needed a result to reach the magical 50, was against Manchester United at OT!!

“Henry in the near post position here!!! (after a pause..)HOW did he get that in??”

Years on, I still remember the date, October 24, 2004, probably the first time I watched a game from start to finish, and it was to be one of the most painful games I ever saw. To be fair, it was United who did much of the attacking. However, Ferdinand deserved a red, when he pushed down Ljungberg off his feet,as he was the last man. As Old Trafford and referees go, the first talking point of the game ended in a free kick to ManU. 73 minutes gone, it looked like Arsenal would go through, taking a vital point. And then, disaster!! Wayne Rooney, United’s new upstart, just signed for a record £27million, after his exploits at the European Championships, showed his diving skills, at the slightest of Sol Campbell’s touches. The crowd beamed, and the referee obliged and up came the f***ing Dutch cunt van Nistelrooy, to score!!United made it 2-0 before FT, and to an end came the modern game’s most brilliant feat. The next few days, I remember , were spent in depression, for me, as I just couldn’t stop thinking “What if we had made it to 50?”!!

This is how you cheat, and end runs of magnificent teams!!! Follow closely kids!!!

For a team with the habit of not losing, one defeat would signal a major physiological effect, two would be a devastating blow. Southampton nearly dealt that. The only part of the match I saw, was Robin van Persie announcing his arrival in the league, with an amazing stoppage-time goal at Highbury, to salvage a 2-2 draw. He danced past 2 defenders before smashing a left-footer past Antti Niemi. The celebration was amazing!! van Persie slid down, with the entire team pouncing upon him!

That’s how the Flying Dutchman announced his arrival!!

A major factor to most of Arsenal’s success was the understanding and the cohesiveness of the team. Every player would go and hug every other player in the team, a tradition which continues to this present day.

I still vividly remember my first North London Derby, as it was a day before my 15th birthday, Arsenal emerging 5-4 winners at White Hart Lane, in a pulstaing game, with 9 different scorers, and ofcourse Robert Pires scored. Boy, he had a masters degree of scoring against Spuds!!

Liverpool inflicted Arsenal’s second defeat of the season, as Neil Mellor, scored a 92nd minute screamer. That was the only highlight of his career, I guess!!

Thierry Henry scored one of the cheekiest goals ever, as he took a quick free kick against Chelsea. Petr Cech was still organizing his defence, as the ref gave Henry the opportunity to shoot. However, it was to no avail, as the game ended 2-2.

Over the next few games, Arsenal picked up vital wins, before crashing against the mighty Bolton Wanderers.Mighty, cos they were our bogey team. They had these huge, physical, ox-like players namely Kevin Davies, Kevin Nolan, El-Hadji Diouf,Bruno N’Gotty, Jay-Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo. It always used to rile me, the way the played, with their  ‘into your face’ kinda approach. They played so many long balls, which was so frustrating to watch, more like a rugby team in footballing disguise. I used to especially despise this short bald Greek Stelios Giannakapouolous (hope I got that right), not just for his name, but for the fact he had a knack of scoring, every time he played us!

Got to hate those big mean guys, from the north!!!

Manchester United did the double over us, as Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira flared up in the cramped tunnel of Highbury. It was an eternally frustrating game, as Arsenal succumbed to 10-man United, who did rise up to the occasion. Ronaldo and Rooney, were particularly effective that evening, as the former bagged a brace. The tension in the game was as thick as garlic, as both sides looked to prove its superiority over the other, after the tunnel bust-up.

“I’ll see you out there!!!”

That season, I din’t follow the Champions League much, cos the games were so late in the night, and I would have to sleep through my last year in school, if I were to watch them. Arsenal got knocked out 3-2 by Bayern Munich that season!!

Arsenal, by then had much behind in the race for the Premiership title, as Abrahamovich sponsored Chelsea, seemed to be frontrunners in the race, looking to win the title after a wait of 50 years. Yes, 50 years and it had taken gazillions of Russian money, for the Blues, to be termed as champions. The ‘so-called pride of London’ (I still laugh at this!! ) had made expensive acquisitions. A plethora of superstars, goalkeeper Petr Cech, midfielders Claude Makelele and Tiago, defenders Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho, strikers Kezman and Drogba, and a pacy, young Dutch winger Arjen Robben. And yes, Champions League-winning manager, the flamboyant Jose Mourinho, who had taken his Porto side to the pinnacle of European football glory. Chelsea had splashed nearly £100 million on their squad revamp. Compare this to the Gunners, whose only acquisitions were Robin van Persie, Mathieu Flamini and Manuel Flamini; for a combined fee of £5 million. Seems laughable, doesn’t it!!

It took us 50 years, billions of Russian oil money to win the league!! Chelsea FC-Pride of London!!Carefree wherever we may be!! 

The last home game of the season, was one game I had watched in totality, while on vacation in Muscat. It was not only the last match Arsenal played in their red and white jerseys at Highbury, but also Brazilian Edu’s last game. Dennis Bergkamp was magnificent that night, as Arsenal routed the Everton boys 7-0, with Edu saying bye with a penalty. Arsenal finished second, but the last shot at silverware that season was just 10 days away, and all that stood in the was was, yes, Manchester United.

The board says it all!

Well, the results that season against United were pretty mixed, with 3 wins for United and 1 for Arsenal.

Man. U 1-3 Arsenal – Community Shield
Man. U 2-0 Arsenal – Premiership
Man.U 1-0 Arsenal – Carling Cup
Arsenal 2-4 Man. U – Premiership

An even contest expected, United took the game to Arsenal and parked themselves at Arsenal’s goalmouth, as they maintained attack after attack. The battle between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lauren was entertaining in the least. Arsenal were living off the skins of their teeth, as Ashley Cole, bough down Wayne Rooney, only for Rooney, to fly high, and the referee ruling it out as a dive. Rio Ferdinand had a goal disallowed for offside and Ruud van Nistelrooy’s header was cleared off the line, by the Super Swede, Freddie Ljungberg. United could have scored a bucket load of goals that afternoon!! Mind you, we were missing Sol Campbell and Thierry Henry for the final! Jose Antonio Reyes also became the second man to be sent off in a FA Cup Final! And for the first time, the FA Cup Final had to be decided on penalties. If you were to go by the run of play, United thoroughly deserved a win, but there was no denying the Gunners that afternoon, as Paul Scholes’ penalty was halted by a brilliant Jens Lehmann, and the FA Cup announced its arrival to Highbury!! Fittingly enough, Patrick Vieira took the decisive penalty, which also turned out to be his last kick for Arsenal!!

Pat lifts the FA Cup!

Thus ended my first season as a Gooner, Arsenal lifting the trophy at the Millenium!!!The 2005-2006 season promised a lot, and it being the last season at Arsenal’s famous old Highbury ground, I had lots to look forward to!!

So, till I post my next review, Jai Arsenal !!! 🙂

Summary:

Premier League – 2nd place

FA Cup – Winners

Carling Cup – Quarter Finals

Champions League – Round of 16

Top Scorer – Thierry Henry (30 goals in all competitions)

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 19, 2011 in Season Reviews

 

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