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Classic Encounters v. Aston Villa

Arsenal and Aston Villa are two of the top flight`s proudest, most established clubs. As such, there has been many a meeting down the years, at the dawn of the Premier League, under the guidance of Ron Atkinson, Villa were a hair`s breath from being the inaugural champions of the breakaway league. Indeed, Dalian Atkinson`s sixty yard run and chip over Hans Segers at Selhurst Park gave the league its first iconic moment. Of course, encounters between the clubs go back much further, Villa fans will well remember taking the league title at Highbury in the 1980s, despite losing the final game of the season to us. (They remain the only English side ever to win the league on our ground bar ourselves). A thrilling pendulous 2-2 draw in December 1996 was an absorbing match for the neutral, whilst Villa would again lose 1-0 at Highbury on the final match of the season in 1999, unfortunately it wasn`t enough to give Arsenal the title, though Highbury did experience the very surreal experience of a Tottenham goal at Old Trafford being celebrated wildly by Gooners. Villa were also the last fall guys in our 49 match unbeaten run, surrendering 3-1 at Highbury in October 2004 with Arsenal at their imperious best. The following season saw a crushing 5-0 victory for Arsenal, whilst Villa were the first competitive visitors to Ashburton Grove. (That is the name I will continue to use until a certain airline coughs up the readies and pays me some royalties).

But the game I am going to exert focus on was a pivotal one in our quest for the 2001-02 Premiership title. It was December 2001 and following a morale boosting 3-1 victory over Manchester United the previous month, the Gunners had begun to put some form together which suggested they may mount a serious tilt at title honours. The days leading up to the game were some of the most significant in the club`s history. On the Wednesday, they had coolly despatched Juventus 3-1 at Highbury in an enthralling encounter. The Thursday saw Arsene Wenger quell mischievous speculation and sign a new four year contract at the club, with his deal at the time running down into its final months. Friday, 7th December, 2001 dwarfed them all as one of the most significant days in the club`s history. Despite NINNY resistance from local residents, Arsenal had been given the go ahead by Islington Council to build a new 60,000 seater stadium next to Drayton Park tube station on Ashburton Grove. The buzz that surrounded the club at the time was palpable and all the talk inside the stadium pre kick off was of the three aforementioned events. However, Villa planned to urinate squarely on our bonfire.

After 18 minutes, a long ball from Villa keeper Peter Enckelman saw Matthew Upson, who had temporarily displaced Martin Keown from the starting line up, beaten in the air by Dion Dublin, Stuart Taylor came off his line and was caught out by a cute lob from ex Gunner Paul Merson. It got worse on 35 minutes; Julian Joachim easily beat Matthew Upson to the by-line and pulled the ball back for Steve Stone who whacked the ball past Stuart Taylor, who dived the wrong way for some reason. Both Upson and Taylor ostensibly curtailed their Arsenal careers that day. Both rarely played again and both would be gone within eighteen months. Upson was replaced at half time by Martin Keown; Wenger also threw on Sylvain Wiltord (I forget for whom) at the break in an attempt to reverse Arsenal`s first half decline.

Wiltord had an instant impact, forty seconds into the half, Ray Parlour burst forward in his typical, locomotive style, his attempted cross was deflected by Mellberg and Wiltord was in the right place to smash the loose ball home on the full toss with his left foot. Highbury, which had sagged in lugubrious reflection, was reinvigorated. The Gunners pressed and pressed until the 70th minute when Henry salaciously hunted down a loose ball in the box and calmly slotted past Enckelman. There was little sang froid in the aftermath though, Henry attempted to retrieve the ball from the net, but wily old pro Steve Staunton wrestled the ball from the net first and clung to it steadfastly. Henry punched the ball firmly from Staunton`s grasp, resulting in a brief melee. Both were booked. Arsenal pressed on but when the ball dropped safely to Enckelman in the 93rd minute, the game looked to be over and Arsenal had clawed back a creditable draw. But Enckelman screwed his kick high into the air but without the requisite distance to get it over the halfway line, which would probably have bought about the final whistle. The ball dropped perilously towards George Boateng, Robert Pires` vision went all slow motion as he saw a chance to force an error, snapping at the Dutchman`s heels as he deigned to control. The pressure paid off as Boateng`s nerves deserted him, Henry telepathically read Pires` intentions and made sure he was onside and in on goal, Pires duly delivered the pass putting Thierry clean through on goal. Highbury took a sharp intake of breath as Henry`s nerves would not betray him, slotting the ball past Enckelman with the last kick of the match. Henry skirted the West Stand in celebration, his celebration only stopping when Sol Campbell jumped on his prone body. What better display of gratitude than a 13 stone man falling on you? The bombastic comeback was complete and the Gunners` relentless march towards the title sauntered on unabated.LD.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Friday November 14 2008

Time: 1:32PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
13 stone man? I remember the days I was 13 stone lol That was an amazing game I actually had to refuse tickets that day in return for a fun filled afternoon spent around the inlaws house............oh the joy!
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 13:40:00

The very conundrum you speak of LG is the very reason I don't have in laws!
Little Dutch
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 13:46:00

Twas a classic encounter indeed. Just one of those that always sticks in your memory. I miss Bobby :(
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 14:49:00

LD - Twas a moment of weakness and it snowballed uncontrollably, what's a bloke to do eh? Atleast one of us has our priorities in order ----clue, it ain't me---- lol
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 14:59:00

I had to go to Scotland for Christmas the other year and my mother in law ordered Sky Sports for me especially so I could watch the Watford vs Arsenal game. Needless to say the only reason I've stayed with my wife is for the mother in law!!! lol ..... just kidding dear, if you're spying on me!!
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 15:05:00

LOL Oh how I wish my "outlaws" were that accomodating!!! You lucky sod, all's i get is a poke in the eye and a badly knitted jumper! --sigh--
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 15:07:00

Great memories indeed, and I miss Bobby too (sorry for repeating)...
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 15:14:00

That poke in the eye sounds quite nice actually. Left or right?
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 15:18:00

I'm not at liberty to say, just incase I to am being "monitored"........
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 15:24:00

Although, coincidentally enough, I am partaking in the support of tomorrows match at The Grove with one of the afore mentioned "outlaws". The last game I attended was the spu*s match, so I feel like i am owed some sort of pay back from the players!
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 15:38:00

I lay down the law nice and early, me and the Gunners come as a package, deal with it or do one! Afterall, how would the missus react if you asked her to give up her favourite hobby? I can just see how accomodating she'd be if you turn off Strictly Come Dancing on a Saturday night and say, "oh, you never pay any attention to me. You're always watching that show." Does it sound like I've had this argument before?
Little Dutch
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 15:40:00

If you're dating women you watch strictly come dancing may I suggest talent spotting at the local night club rather than at the Bingo Hall on Wednesday afternoons!! You might get better results :)
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 15:45:00

LD - What you mean you haven't the urge to sit down in front of the telly with a cuppa and watch the omni-bus edition of strictly come dancing with the lady instead of match of the day? For shame sir, for shame.........
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 15:52:00

If it's good enough for Rooney, it's good enough for me!
Little Dutch
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14/11/2008 16:08:00

lol wrong'un!
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 16:12:00

Seriously have you seen any Strictly Come Dancing-watching woman who's attractive?
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 16:12:00

Oops Rocky you beat me to that lol.. And guys, whatever you say, that's nothing compared to the kind of problems your female counterparts face as football fans.
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 16:17:00

My wife knew about my Arsenal obsession before she married me. Indeed on our wedding day she wore an Arsenal garter, and instead of giving the tables for the meals numbers she gave them Arsenal legends names. Of course the head table was the Wenger table and I took great pleasuring in sitting my Spurs supporting bud at the Henry table :)
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 17:59:00

Lovely that one! Have to copy the trick when I get married (hopefully to a Gooner or a non-football fan lol)
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 18:11:00

I think WHL on the forums is available lou ;)
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 20:09:00

Ah! Who got to sit at the Willy Young table? lol
Report Abuse
14/11/2008 22:13:00

that same goal in stoppage time. lol campbell crushing henry
Youngest in Charge
Report Abuse
15/11/2008 01:01:00

lets hope the same invigorating spirit appears this weekend!!
Report Abuse
15/11/2008 01:26:00

Thanks YiC, nice video! Ooohh I miss Bobby!!
Report Abuse
15/11/2008 02:25:00


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