Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday May 16 2008
November is legendary amongst Gooners for being the month from hell, so when the fixtures were released in June, nobody wanted to see Manchester United at home first up. Having spent the season so far laying waste to teams from the lower echelons of the top flight, like Tottenham and Derby, the Gunners title winning aspirations were under the microscope. The match began in a typically cagey manner until injury time at the end of the first half, when Ronaldo's low cross was scuffed goalwards by Rooney and deflected in off the unfortunate William Gallas.
Far from being downhearted, Arsenal came out for the second half fighting. Within aminute of the restart they restored parity, Bacary Sagna refused to give up on a lost cause on the right hand side, hooked the ball back to Cesc Fabregas, who calmly slotted past van der Sar. The match continued as an even joust, the sides slugging it out like heavyweight boxers, though looking likely to cancel one another out. That is until Patrice Evra's foray forward saw Cristiano Ronaldo connect with his cross to give United the lead with ten minutes remaining. A deflated Ashburton Grove looked resigned to defeat. But cometh the hour, cometh the captain, Walcott fluffed two strikes at goal, before Billy G forced the ball over the line in stoppage time to rescue a point. 'I told the players if we die, we die on the pitch together,' Gallas' beautifully melodramatic post match musing.
Next up were Slavia Praha, with the Gunners only needing a point to ensure qualification to the knock out stages, Wenger focused on the title race by fielding a reserve side. They duly got the point they required with a drab 0-0 draw in a rainswept Prague. Next up were Reading on a Monday night at the Madejski. An enjoyable few jars before the game with Mr. 'Holic set the scene for a performance of aesthetic beauty. (That's right FatOldDave, I mentioned you and aesthetic beauty in the same sentence, I'm assuming that's never happened before?) Tired of Reading fans moronic Eng-er-land chanting, the Gunners fans would exact a telling riposte, 'YOU NEED MORE FOREIGNERS!' boomed out from the away end to the dismay of the local yokels. Arsenal took the lead in first half stoppage time, a sweeping counter attack saw the Flanimal latch onto Hleb's cutback to make it 1-0. Ibrahima Sonko had pledged to kick Adebayor out of the game pre match, but he didn't get close enough to the Togonator to throw a dart at him, let alone kick him. A flowing move, with a sweet interchange between Rosicky and Fabregas saw Ade deftly stroke home a sweet first time finish. The Gooners were in full spiteful mockery now, 'have you ever seen England play like this?' they enquired as the Reds ran rings around the Royals. Alex Hleb sealed the points when he dribbled past Hahnemann, trotted to the goal line, before deciding to walk back to the stranded keeper yelling, 'get up bitch!' dribbling around him again and putting the ball in the net. Nicky Shorey added a semblance of respectability to the scoreline with a late consolation. 'Are you England in disguise?' we asked. Nine days later, England's legion of supposedly world class stars would limp to an embarrassing defeat to Croatia, which meant they didn't qualify for Euro 2008.
Following on from the international break, it was a troubled Wigan side at home. With Cesc, 'Bert, the Flamster and Demolition Diaby all unavailable, Arsenalstruggled for fluency. But once again, William Gallas cameto the fore. With ten minutes left, he roared forward and threw himself at Sagna's cross to give his side the lead. The gamble to make him skipper was paying rich dividends. Tomas Rosicky sealed the result from Bendtner's pass. The month ended with the Gunners first defeat of the season,as a shadow side took on Sevilla in Andalusia. Eduardo gave Arsenal an early lead from Bendtner's cross. But a stunner from Keita and further goals from Kanoute, one from the spot following a Kolo foul, consigned the Gunners to the prospect of finishing second in their group and facing one of European football's giants in the knock out rounds.
The Reading match apart, Arsenal were not as gorgeously fluent as they had been in the Autumn, but spurred on by their skipper, they were grinding out the points and still leading the Premiership table. But injuries would start to bite, with van Persie already out, Arsenal lost Fabregas and Flamini at the end of November and Rosicky had played five consecutive matches, which meant injury was just around the corner for him. We came through a test with United intact and qualified for the knock out stages of the Champions League. The likes of Bendtner and Walcott were becoming gradually more involved. But one felt the crest of the wave had ridden its peak, expectation was setting in as Arsenal made good on their pre season promises whilst all around were doubting. Christmas was coming, and the golden goose was getting closer.LD.
Player of the Month: William Gallas.
Date:Friday May 16 2008
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