The Gunners saw in 2008 in good spirits, top of the league and in fine fettle for the new year. The first challenge of January arrived in the shape of a home game versus West Ham. Inside two minutes Arsenal had taken the lead, a Cesc Fabregas cross was expertly chested down and volleyed into the bottom corner by Eduardo. Adebayor would benefit from the Catalonian's expert distribution, running onto his through ball, rounding Robert Green and squeezing the ball in from a seemingly impossible angle. The partnership between Eduardo and Adebayor was really beginning to bear fruit, the link up play between Adebayor and Fabregas was also a prominent theme of Arsenal's season.
The domestic cups were next on the radar and a chance to rest established first team stars. A day out at Burnley's Turf Moor and a grand day out for the travelling contingent, huddled together in a rusting, cobweb ridden stand (there were literally cobwebs) in rustic Lancashire conditions. An early goal from Eduardo settled any nerves before Burnely were reduced to ten men. Nicklas Bendtner secured Arsenal's passage to round four. Next up, Arsenal's youngsters faced the old enemy Tottenham Hotspur in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final. In truth, the young players were well below par and outplayed by a resurgent Spurs side. Jermaine Jenas gave Tottenham the lead, before Arsenal scored with their only real opportunity, Theo Walcott's initial finish was saved by Cerny, but the ball rebounded in via Walcott's arm. It was a goal fitting to secure a draw we scarsely deserved. The real business of the league challenge was up next, but far from looking rested the Gunners looked lethargic at home to Birmingham City. Stephen Kelly fouled Eduardo in the area and Emmanuel Adebayor converted the penalty. But a costly loss of concentration saw Gary O'Connor equalise from a corner. Two points dropped.
Next up the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final at White Hart Lane. Wenger decided to draft in established first team players, as Hleb, Fabregas and Adebayorwere on the bench, whilst Bacary Sagna and William Gallas started. I felt it very harsh on the younger players and quite openly question the manager's decision. Having been admittedly outplayed in the first leg, I felt the grit and class the youngsters have shown in previous League Cup ties away at Everton, Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers in preceding years gave them the right to another chance. Alas, he did not and the result was plain for all to see. Jermaine Jenas' early shot crept in off the post and Arsenal were always up against it. Berbatov ran through but hit the post, but Robbie Keane made it 2-0 going into the interval. Tottenham fans may laugh, but I honestly cannot remember who scored the third goal! Maybe trauma wiped it clean from the memory banks? Maybe I just didn't consider it that important! (Perhaps someone can lend me the DVD?) Tottenham had Arsenal where they wanted them, soaking up the pressure and hitting them on the counter attack. Aaron Lennon put the result beyond doubt with a fourth on the counter attack. Hundreds around me headed for the exit with twenty five minutes to play. Emmanuel Adebayor's turn and rasping shot had the Spurs fans hushed temporarily, before Bendtner and Adebayor decided on a pathetic and embarrassing on pitch squabble. (Gallas kicking an advertising hoarding damaged team spirit but this didn't apparently). When the board went up for injury time, I did something I've never done at an Arsenal game before, I left before the end. Having watched us take a tonking, I was in no mood to catch a fist on the Seven Sister's Road. I watched Steed Malbranque bag a fifth through a pub window. Tottenham had their first victory over Arsenal in nine years.
The serious stuff began again the proceeding Saturday at Fulham. Crosses from Hleb and Clichy were headed home by Adebayor to give Arsenal a comfortable two goal cushion. It also gave birth to the 'Give him the ball and Ade will score' chant, rumbling away in the Putney End for a good twenty minutes. Rosicky latched onto Eduardo's cross to put a more comfortable sheen on the scoreline. Lasagne Diarrohea whinged his way to the exit door and Arsenal's Portsmouth retirement village. A crying shame because Diarra is a quality player, but he simply doesn't have the mental facilities to get to the top of his profession. Plus, he's got a really weird shaped head. 24 hours after signing on at Pompey, he was already speaking of leaving.
Two matches against Newcastle, who had decided to go all 1996 on our asses and reappoint Kevin Keegan as manager. When asked if he was up for the challenge, Keegan replied he was 'mad fer it' whilst dancing to Pulp's Common People and watching Trainspotting. The Gunners would soon put paid to the deluded Geordies optimism. Firstly in the fourth round of the F.A. Cup, two goals from Adebayor, one a great solo effort following Eduardo's intelligent movement in the area. Nicky Butt headed a Fabregas free kick into his own net tomakeit 3-0. The amount of goals Arsenal have scored from Cesc's set pieces is quite remarkable. Four days later, Newcastle were back at Le Grove again. Adebayor continued his remarkable scoring run, heading in a Flamini cross just before half time. A thirty yard screamer from Flamini would follow, encapsulating his growing stock in the side. Bendtner set up Fabregas for a late third and the Gunners remained astride the Premiership table.
January saw the Gunners maintain their momentum in the league and Emmanuel Adebayor scoring in every game he played. Flamini and Hleb were contributing immeasurably and Cesc was, well, he was just Cesc Fabregas. The partnership between Eduardo and Adebayor was really beginning to blossom. The Crozilian required the expected adaption period, but despite not looking particularly acclimatised, he was scoring goals. In the New Year he really settled into van Persie's breach, looking equally comfortable on the left wing and upfront. No coincidence that Ade's goalscoring run curtailed when Eduardo was injured. Significantly, Rosicky hobbled out of the last game of the month, the manager's prognosis 'a matter of days not weeks.' He wouldn't play again all season. No coincidence that Hleb's form tailed off thereafter. The defeat at Spurs proved to be nothing more than a minor blip and one the squad obviously didn't take too hard given the results after the 5-1 thrashing. Everything was looking positive for Arsenal, little did we know that disaster was lurking around the next corner.LD.
Player of the Month: Mathieu Flamini.