Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday May 19 2008
With the fallout from Eduardo's injury still ringing in our ears thanks to Birmingham's relentless attacks, their city rivals Aston Villa came to the Grove. But Arsenal were well below par and an unfortunate Senderos own goal gave Villa a deserved lead. Agbonlohor's speculative cross bounced off of Phil's leg at an awkward angle and cannonned into the net. It was a sign of our changing fortune. Shaun Maloney and Marlon Harewood had chances to make it 2-0. But in the third minute of injury time (seventh minute if you believe Ferguson's scenile ravings), Gael Clichy pumped in a cross which Adebayor nodded back into the six yard box for his good pal Nicky Bendtner tograb an equaliser with the last kick of the game. Had Ade been as forthcoming seven days earlier at Birmingham, I might be reviewing a Championship winning season.
Three days later, Arsenal travelled to Milan forthe second leg of the Champions League game with A.C. I arrived in Italy on the Monday, partying the night away with a few drinks at a Milanese student night.The scenery was devastating. Ahem. I didn't get a chance to enjoy the ice cream though, I've heard its good enough to leave home for. We were seated high up in the upper enclaves of the third tier, our seats caked in bird shit and with one toilet for fourt thousand travelling fans. Arsenal controlled the game, Cesc Fabregas in particular outshining the little genius that is Kaka. Cesc hit the bar at the end of the first half. But with six minutes remaining, Cesc Fabregas picked up the ball on the halfway line, moved past Gattuso and Ambrosini and arrowed a low shot in off the post from thirty yards. With Milan needing two goals, they were caught on the break, substitute Theo Walcott racing past Nesta and cutting back for Adebayor to wrap up a glorious 2-0 aggregate win. The Milanese took the defeat with grace and style, applauding the visiting team and fans, the stewards also applauded us on our way out of the stadium as my mates and I made our way toa pretty expensive nightclub. Usually, the prospect of paying eight euros for a bottle of beer would have me enraged. On this particular night, it didn't seem to irk me quite as much. It was to be the height of our season.
The JJB Stadium on a quagmire of a pitch on a chilly Sunday afternoon was always going to be an enormous anti climax. So it prved, Adebayor missed a one on one after ninety seconds, Bendtner went through on goal, only for a massive bobble like a molein the ground to rob the ball from him as he shaped to shoot. Fabregas was thwarted by Kirkland in the dying minutes and the Gunners dropped yet more precious points. Arsenal had a chance to get back on track with a home match against struggling Boro. Adebayor latched onto Pogatetz's backpass to put Arsenal in front, only for a linesman's flag to incorrectly deny him. Mark Halsey would explain that van Persie had intended to play the ball before being dispossessed by Pogatetz, hence the flag- he literally invented a non existent addendum to the offside law. He is still in employment despite flaunting his ignorance of the rules. To rub salt into the wounds, Aliadiere put Boro in front from a Tuncay cross, despite the fact that Tuncay was offside from Schwarzer's long punt. Kolo Toure rescued a point heading in a Fabregas corner before Mido's high foot on Clichy saw him sent off. Mark Halsey blew his whistle a minute early as Arsenal lined up a corner. Ferguson's missive about Arsenal's injury time had achieved its desired effect. I repeat, Mark Halsey is still in employment, despite being more easily swayed than an infant chimpanzee.
A huge must win match at Stamford Bridge awaited us on Grand Slam Sunday. After a dull first half, the travelling contingent were afforded a good laugh at Chelsea's expense, as the PA compere (who had encouraged the Chavs to boo Gallas louder) was forced to sheepishly admit that Chelsea's next three home games were on general sale. 'You buy one, you get one free' rang through a blushing Bodge at half time. Yet another Cesc Fabregas corner yielded a goalwhen Bacary Sagna headed home his first goal for the club. Minutes later, he was injured, Arsenal's season would never recover from his loss. Emmanuel Eboue put the ball out of play for an 'injured' Joe Cole as Arsenal attacked. John Terry showed his immense sportsmanship by returning the ball next to Arsenal's corner flag and urging his 'men' forward. Eboue had reason to feel an aggrieved victim of gamesmanship- there is no worse indictment of a footballer than that. Fromthe resulting throw, with Sagna being treated off the pitch, Anelka flicked on a long balland Drogba smashed home the knockdown. Arsenal crumbled and Drogba hit a late winner to confine us to third place- just three weeks after going six points clear.
A trip to a torrential rainswept Reebok Stadium was the last thing we needed. Matty Taylor headed the troubled Trotters into the lead, before Diaby's appalling challnge on Steinsson saw the Gunners reduced to ten men. Taylor's deflected shot just before the break all but consigned Arsenal to another defeat as the capitulation gathered a downhill momentum. But William Gallas stepped up, side footing Cesc Fabregas' corner home just after the hour. Billy G would go onto enjoy Gerrardesque headlines for his act of heroism. Oh no, that's right, everyone just whinged about him. (No I won't let it go). Two minutes later, Hleb was fouled in the box and the returning Robin van Persie smashed home the penalty. Bolton did a better impression of a side crumbling under pressue than us and our luck turned in injury time, when Fabregas miscued Hleb's cutback from six yards out, but his effort deflected off McCann and then JLloyd Samuel to give Arsenal a monumetal win. It seemed having our backs to the wall suited us to a tee.
March gave us probably our two finest moments of the season, the emphatic and awe inspiring victory in Milan indicated that this side has something special. In particular Cesc Fabregas stamped his nameall over the big occasion. Having netted at Anfield, White Hart Lane and at home to Manchester United, young Cesc was showing an appetite to dominate the big games. Fabregas either scored or assisted all but two of our goals in the month of March. A series of disappointing draws followed by a crushing defeat at the Bodge had pretty much curtailed our title challenge as we trailed Chelsea and Manchester United. But the month ended with a glorious comeback at the Reebok, which suggested that, with the weight of expectation now off, Arsenal would not surrender any further ground. Unfortunately for us, Chelsea and United were in no mood for capitulation.LD.
Player of the Month: Cesc Fabregas.
Date:Monday May 19 2008
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