Top 5s continued.........
Now I have suitably depressed you all further, I shall embark on the greatest games. Now their may be some glaring omissions. For example, Anfield 89 was the night of my fifth birthday so I am really a little young to reminisce. Anderlecht in 1970 was well before my time. But largely thanks to Arsene Wenger, I have been in on the ground floor as the club made unprecedented history. I had the privilege of being in attendance at every one of our 49 consecutive unbeaten matches, and my Grandkids will never hear the end of it. (Fast forward fifty years, me in my arm chair lecturing them that this dude from Venus isn't a patch on Bergkamp and that in my day, players only earned £100k a week if they were really lucky!!!)
5) Internazionale Milano 1 Arsenal 5
With minutes to go against Dynamo Kyiv, and Arsenal heading out of the European Cup, my mates and I were wondering whether the 2p return flights we had bagged to Bergomo were in fact a waste, until Ashley Cole popped up with a last gasp winner. Travelling to the San Siro only a win would suffice to keep us alive, and boy did we produce! With the Gunners 2-1 up, we were clinging on for dear life, Henry looked in one of his sulky moods as the ball pinballed around our area. Henry produced an unforgettable moment of genius which was the catalyst for three goals in four minutes. For the travelling ranks in the Giuseppe Meazza, the last four minutes was just one great big celebration. Lord Lowe literally, and I promise this is true, lost count of the score as three huge celebrations wracked with relief and disbelief amalgamated into one. The San Siro, the only Italian stadium I have ever visited with any sort of character witnessed a masterclass. I remember around twenty minutes after the final whistle surveying the faces around me and being awestruck at just how many people stood open mouthed in splendour. Sometimes in life, do you ever just take a mental photograph? Because I have this really vivid memory of our end looking like something out of 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.'
4) Real Madrid 0 Arsenal 1.
The Santiago Bernebeu was a stadium I longed to visit, so when this one was drawn out I was made up. Ticket demand was at an all time high as we were offered six figures for our seats high in the Arsenal end. The stadium tour the day before whetted our appetites and the enormity of the task hit us. The Gunners troubled season turned around as young Cesc Fabregas and Alex Hleb came to life, Gilberto proved himself to be genuinely world class and Henry provided yet another moment of genius. The celebrations at the end were little to do with a good first leg result and more to do with the prestige of the Arsenal winning at the Bernebeu. I had always been an enormous admirer of Zidane and think he will be considered in the same breath as Puskas, Beckenbeur and de Stefano one day. The chance to see him play in his swansong season was a true privilege. (Especially because he played sh*t).
3) Villarreal 0 Arsenal 0.
Horrible flight, awful game, terrible performance. Nerves were balanced tenuously on a knife edge as the Spaniards piled on the pressure and missed gilt edged chances. With one minute left, a very harsh penalty was awarded and the travelling Gooners shoehorned into the far east corner felt we had blown it. But Lehmann wrote himself into folklore with an improbable penalty save (which Riquelme has not recovered from). The ensuing scrum in our end was even more ferocious than the one which greeted Horseface's penalty miss, as I sent a guy of around six feet flying to the ground. The final whistle was greeted with the sight of tears and kisses, it was to be Paris in the Spring time. Dancing through the streets of Eastern Spain is a thought which still brings goosepimples to the back of my neck.
2) Manchester United 0 Arsenal 1.
Another horrible journey, riddled with flu and with my A Levels impending, I boarded the coach to Old Trafford more in hope than expectation. But the Gunners swept to victory (we only needed a draw), as one of my least favourite players ever, Sylvain Wiltord, gave me one of the happiest moments of my life. Unfortunately, I was seated next to a steel partition in the away end, which meant that the goal saw me hurled into it by an entire row of delirious Gooners. This was about more than rivalry, this was a statement of intent and in all fairness the United fans applauded the Arsenal players off the pitch. Our coach arrived back at Avenell Road to see the road littered with a sea of champagne bottles and pint glasses (all empty natch) as a party spilled out onto the streets.
1) Tottenham Hotspur 2 Arsenal 2.
This one was ALL to do with rivalry. All the ingredients were there, a beautiful Spring day, I was recovering from gastric flu (why do all of our great nights coincide with ill health? Excuse me while I stick my head in the fridge for a few hours). I am told it had nothing on 71 (repeatedly), but it was a day where everything went our way. Chelsea lost, meaning we only needed a draw to saunter to the title with four games left. We even let the Totts back in at 2-2. The amusement as they celebrated, thinking the draw had prevented us from winning the title. The tangible drop in atmosphere as they saw Thierry and co race over to the away end in glee was extremely amusing! Even more amusing, the travelling Gooners were given a police escort to Tottenham Hale, as the tube pulled in at Seven Sisters, hundreds of Tottenham fans stalked the platform, smashing bottles against the windows of our train. My heart dropped as I expected a real kicking (I'm talking a drinking your food from a straw kicking). The doors never opened and the tube pulled away in comedic slow motion, leaving the hoards of Spuds stranded, watching our train chuff away. It also presented all present to direct some choice hand signals, inches away from Tottenham's top boys. On that day, God wore red and white! LD.