In July we bade an emotional farewell to the legendary Dennis Bergkamp, whilst simultaneously throwing open the doors on the resplendant Ashburton Grove for the very first time. But with salutations sincerely obliged, it was time for the serious business. Just four weeks after the World Cup Final, Arsenal opened their campaign with a life or death Champions' League qualifier in the beautiful city of Zagreb. But Arsenal's consummate 3-0 victory and a brilliant two goal cameo from Cesc Fabregas, who would surely break the ten goals mark for the season, was overshadowed by an ongoing transfer saga. With Ashley Cole's pitiful literary effort custom designed to disrupt the club and trouble the headlines, the exclusion of Jose Antonio Reyes from the side in Zagreb sparked rumours of the diminutive Spaniard's exit.
The rumours surrounding Cole would morph from an irritating fly that wouldn't stop buzzing around our ears, into a bloody great wilderbeast attempting to maul our collective testicles. With Cole demanding pity for only being offered a paltry £55,000 a week and pretty much castigating our club from top to bottom (interestingly, Wenger was not directly referenced, but questions over our youth policy and French cliques were cowardly and somewhat bitchy remarks one would associate with a worldwide WAG conference), his position at the club was untennable. Chelsea offered interest in a rather more legal manner on this occasion, but were playing hard ball over the price. (Or rather, they wanted to cause as much disruption as possible until deadline day). But Dein and Wenger are hardly submissive negotiators and Wenger revealed his interest in the unsettled William Gallas. Meanwhile, Real Madrid continued to unsettle our Spanish starlet Reyes, but weren't in the mood for paying the going rate. The situation saw Wenger variously at his witty best and his most biting. Madrid's antics drew Wenger into an uncharacteristic outburst, 'It's always the same with Madrid, they talk and talk but always come up with nothing.' Clearly, their constant dalliances with our star players was beginning to grate. But Wenger would also offer a Wildean gem immortalised in our forum with regards to Reyes pedantic whining for a transfer, 'It's the same as if you want to marry Miss World. If she doesn't want to marry you, I can't help you.'
The start of the domestic season came as something of a relief (a bit like the end of it really), as it offered temporary respite from the ongoing Cole and Reyes sagas. Yet another soul draining international tournament promised a lot more than it delivered, leaving us all with the appetite for the genuine article. The Gunners' opened their campaign at home to Villa with a disappointing 1-1 draw. Olof Mellberg had the honour of scoring the first competitve goal at the ground, with a late Gilberto equaliser foreshadowing the prominent role the Brazilian would play in making our season a little bit more palatable. But the lively cameo from the much maligned Theo Walcott (much maligned before he'd played a game, don't you just love the British Press?) had Gooner tongues vibrating and salivating in equal measure on the way home. The Cole and Reyes sagas continued to rumble on, still Madrid and Chelsea pleaded poverty, still Wenger and Dein told them to talk to the hand, still the press speculated with a myriad of fabricated conclusions (including Vital Chelsea's rather amusing attempt at an exclusive which was parroted by the press, talk about the blind leading the blind). But a rather interesting twist began to emerge, with Chelsea apparently offering a straight swap between Gallas and Cole, which was flatly turned down, it seemed Chelsea were finally willing to pimp out their disgruntled Willy (couldn't resist). Meanwhile, a swap between Baptista and Reyes had been mooted.
Back to on the pitch matters, Arsenal completed the formality of knocking out Dinamo Zagreb in an excrutiating match and qualified for the Champions' League proper. The Gunners' were drawn against Hamburger SV, CSKA Moskva and F.C Porto, as your writer began the job of seeking out cheap flights. (Well, actually, Lord Lowe handled all that, the truth is I sat on my arse, waited for a phonecall and wrote a cheque). Ashley Cole played a reserve fixture for Arsenal at Underhill, in which he was roundly booed. With his transfer to Chelsea seeming dead in the water, and Newcastle reportedly interested, it seemed we would have the indignity of an Arsenal player beeing jeered on his own turf. (Unfortunately, this has now become a stock feature of home games). Arsenal travelled to Manchester City in a squad yet again bereft of Cole and Reyes, suggesting negotiations were still ongoing. The Gallas rumours began to grow. Meanwhile, Arsenal went down 1-0 to a terrible Citeh side, in a game notable for Arsenal's infuriating profligacy and for City creating only one chance (a penalty) of their own. Why does that sound familiar? Also, Cities steak and kidney pies earned my consternation for being the worst in the country. (Well I've got to tell you the important stuff as well haven't I?)
With yet another entirely pointless/infuriating/downright stupid international break, full attentions were turned to the transfer window and the Cole Reyes transfers were reignited at the 11th hour on deadline day. Your writer sat glued to Sky Sports News with every Arsenal blog going being inundated with the refresh button. Midnight passed with no news other than that William Gallas and Julio Baptista had undergone their medicals at Arsenal, while Cole and Reyes were nursed through their medicals, presumably by their mummies. I remember as 1am passed with no news, battling the sandman, desperate to stay awake like a kid at Christmas eager for a forbidden peek at St. Nick. At 2am teletext left me the proverbial mince pie, William Gallas and Julio Baptista had arrived at Arsenal, Jose Antonio Reyes and Ashley Cole had departed in t'other direction. David Dein resisted the opportunity to literally feed Cashley to the sharks and settled for William Gallas, while Reyes got his dummy back in the shape of a loan move to Madrid. The relief coarsed through me, now Arsenal could get on with their season. Chelsea had no centre backs, Arsenal were throwing away chances and points against rubbish opposition, Arsenal fans were booing their own players, Gilberto was saving our bacon. It may only have been August, but the pattern for 2006/07 was well and truly set. LD.