Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday May 18 2007
September saw Gooners everywhere awash with optimism. The cataclysmic Cole and Reyes sagas had been confined to the crapper and messrs Gallas and the Beast swelled our ranks. The perpetual nuisance that is international football was to rob us of the first weekend of September, so we would have to wait ten whole days to see William Gallas make his Aresnal debut at left back. Middlesbrough arrived at the Grove, but despite the brand new era ushered in by the offloading of some very heavy baggage, the same old problems would clutter the Arsenal broom cupboard. In a theme that was to become staltifyingly familiar, 'Boro evaporated our renewed sense of vigour by scoring an early goal and defending it like mad. With Henry still carrying severe lactic acid, and van Persie in one of his petulant moods, culminating in him cynically scything down Jonathan Woodgate, it looked not to be our day until George Boateng was sent off. When Emmanuel Pogatetz upended Emmanuel Eboue in the area, Thierry Henry levelled from the spot. But the Gunners' could not press home their advantage as the Gunners'decorated surroundings appeared to be suffocating them.
There was precious little time to dwell on that though, as the Gunners' Champions' League campaign began in Hamburg. The German town might just be one of the strangest places I have ever visited. By that, I mean it was so mind numbingly devoid of any culture that it is no wonder that the Rieperbahn does such a roaring trade! In fact, it is rather surreal to walk around the corner and be accosted by flocks of young women begging for you to do the deed (such things are, tragically, not a regular feature of my life). The Gunners' were in fine fettle though and a Gilberto penalty, courtesy of a blatant van Persie dive set us on our way (on our waaaaaaaaaaaay), while Rosicky, showing a prophetic comfort in a city famed for its sex trade, smashed home a delightful shot. A 2-1 away win shorn of Henry seemed a satisfactory way to kick off our campaign. It was back to league matters at Old Trafford, with the daunting prospect of taking on a United side who had won their first four games, whilst Arsenal began the game in the relegation zone. The 4-5-1 came back into the reckoning and an Emmanuel Adebayor winner gave us all three points in a sparkling display. It was a goal that was celebrated so vocifierously by myself that I very nearly tumbled a good twelve feet downwards into the Old Trafford disabled section. It was shades of last season's ephinous night in the Bernebeu. We hoped it would likewise be the catalyst for our season.
A routine 3-0 home win over Sheffield United, the floodgates being officially opened by William Gallas's first goal for Arsenal, gave us our first victory in our plush new surroundings. A game in which a strange metamorphosis transpired, Emmanuel Eboue's crossing, the butt of many a Gooner joke, suddenly became world class, allowing all in attendance to view a rare specimen, a Thierry Henry headed goal. So there was a touch of twilight zone in the air when Manu and Thierry repeated the trick three days later in a consummate 2-0 victory over Porto, a low Alex Hleb shot completing proceedings. A marvellous September was completed in a scorching day at the Valley as a boisterous Arsenal crowd saw the Gunners' go one behind to Ian Dowie's strugglers Charlton. The goal proved contentious and earned the non flagging linesman a torrent of abuse from Gooners' gathered in the South Stand. A quickfire van Persie equaliser followed. John Lennon once sang 'Instant Karma's gonna get you,' and sure enough it did. Robin van Persie's kick out at Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink should have earned him a red card. The referee did not comply and van Persie, lining up on the left wing in our newly favoured 4-5-1 formation, smashed home Emmanuel Eboue's cross with an absolutely stunning flying volley from outside the box. Ironically enough on this occasion, Eboue's delivery had been less than perfect as the ball arrived at the Dutchman at about waist height. It is the only time in living memory that I refused to believe my eyes at a football ground (alas, when Bergkamp produced his masterpiece at St. James' Park, I was sat so far away from the action that I had literally no idea what genius had transpired), I simply could not absorb that such an awkward cross arriving at such a distance from goal could end up in the back of the net first time. It was not until the three thousand around enveloped around me in the late summer sunshine began to cavort that I could believe it had gone in. Having already been booked, Henry reminded van Persie not to celebrate in a manner which might get him a second yellow. van Persie met his captain with a fierce riposte. It seems our Dutch genius has a little of the devil about him.
As September paid deference to the arrival of October, spring gave way to autumn and the leaves began to tinge hazelnut brown, the Gunners' looked in sparkling form and ready to mount a title charge. The result in Manchester had given us the kick in the posterior we needed, but of course, international football reared its ugly head again and our moentum was suspended in inertia for a further two weeks. Arsenal began to adopt the Madrid and Manchester slaying 4-5-1 on a permanent basis and the upshot was our most consistent run since the tail end of 2004/05. We appeared to have carved out our niche in the 4-5-1, the season lay sparkling ahead, and we thought we would know each other forever. LD.
Date:Friday May 18 2007
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