Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday May 28 2007
April began with the team's ears' ringing with a stern warning from Arsene Wenger that the insipid display at Anfield was a cancer that threatened to derail our Champions' League prospects. With Everton and Bolton finding some timely form, we could not afford to let the corpse of our season decay any further. And so relegation threatened West Ham United came to the Grove to find Arsenal in defiant mood, applying their customary swagger to their passing, Fabregas looking revitalised and determined to redouble his efforts. Arsenal racked up an anormous thirty shots on West Ham's goal. But with their solitary attack of an embarassingly one sided first half, Bobby Zamora hopefully looped a long Robert Green kick over Jens Lehmann and into the net. Arsenal beat at the door even harder in the second period, but an inspired goalkeeper, bad finishing and good old bad luck saw the Gunners' incredibly succumb to a one goal defeat. So it was to pass that the last side ever to beat Arsenal at Highbury were the first ever side to beat Arsenal at Ashburton Grove and Arsenal's profligacy was elucidated for the world to pour over. You just wondered what Arsenal were actually doing about it, the lessons of Manchester City and CSKA MOskva were not being learned.
Two days later, we undertook the long trip North to Newcastle to take our seats up in the Gods' of St. James' Park. It was a rare sell out at Magpie Park, but we need not have bothered in one of the most uninspiring games in the history of the Premiership. Neither side looked prepared to try and win the game, whilst Julio Baptista found himself behind Abou Diaby in the pecking order upfront. Nobby Solano made a brilliant double clearance from his goal line in the dying minutes, but all in all, the Gunners' looked like they wanted to limp over the finishing line. But the season finale was to take on new resonance as Bolton Wanderers arrived at the Grove hot on our tails for fourth place. Nicolas Anelka headed Bolton into an early lead as the hand of fate rested ernestly on the flush chain. But smart work on the left by Adebayor saw Tomas Rosicky burst in to meet his cross on the backpost to equalsie. It was precisely the type of goal we hadn't scored enough of. Arsenal puffed out their chests in the second half and assumed the lead in the opening seconds when Cesc Fabregas collected Gilberto's through ball, shimmied past Meite and calmly blasted past Jaaskelainen. The composure in his finish belied the fact that this was his first goal of the season, there was nothing composed about his celebration though! Again the Gunners' squandered a myriad of chances, with Diaby and Baptista going so far as to try and wrestle each other off the ball to race through on goal. Arsenal held on and it was a result that would truly knock the stuffing out of Fat Sam's troops.
The midweek visit of Manchester City saw Arsenal needing a win to effectively wrap up fourth place, and things got off to a good start when Rosicky scored a carbon copy of his weekend strike against Bolton. You guessed it, the Reds' would then go on to dominate proceedings before being pegged back by a soft goal. Lehmann's poor kick landing at the feet of Joey Barton, who shifted the ball to DaMarcus Beasley via Vassell for the wing footed American to bring the scores level. The crowd grew restless from then on, barracking the team with misplaced frustration, the off form Alex Hleb baring the brunt of spoiled insults. Arsenal wasting chances and Arsenal fans' wasting my patience? It was a template that had informed our season. But Cesc Fabregas's brilliant volley with 17 minutes left assuaged the sharpened tongues. Before Alex Hleb delightfully beat three City defenders in the box to tee up Julio Baptista for 3-1. No apologies were offered. That evening, Arsene Wenger and David Dein went to an Italian restaurant together, the contents of their discussion will forever boggle minds. On the Thursday, David Dein left Arsenal amidst untenable disagreements with the Arsenal board. With American tycoon Stan Kroenke gradually increasing his stake in the club, it was not difficult to identify the source of the conflict. The situation remains very much unresolved, but despite Peter Hill-Wood's diabtrite against silent Stan, the prospect of Arsenal being taken over became increasingly real. I still stand in opposition, but it doesn't really matter what we think does it?
The gauntlet was upon us again with a trip to the Lane to face yet more moronic policing/ violence (again, the Spanish police were nowhere to be seen). Tongues rattled pre match with talk of takeover, but it was down to the serious business on the pitch. Spurs again roared out and assumed a first half lead through Robbie Keane's header. Eboue struck a post in first half injury time, it was to foreshadow the pattern of the second half, as Toure hit the post and Adebayor crashed a header onto the crossbar. But undeterred, the Gunners' surged on and Toure converted a Fabregas free kick to level the scores. Emmanuel Adebayor motioned his elasticated neck towards another Fabregas fee kick to impossibly head Arsenal into a deserved lead. Julio Baptista missed a sitter, and Jermaine Jenas's low shot salvaged a scarsely deserved injury time equaliser. Despite the delirious celebrations, the draw was enough to seal St. Totteringham's Day and Champions' League qualification for Arsenal.
As late Spring began to surrender to the gentle throb of early summer, Arsenal took on relegation threatened Fulham at home. Julio Baptista's early header from Adebayor's cross gave Arsenal an early lead. By this point, it was obvious that Baptista's stay in North London would not be extended, but his impressive goal ratio is a source of some frustration because you just know he'll go somewhere else and be a star. I am reminded of a lyric from an old Del Amitri song, 'Wrong time, right guy, wrong situation.' But as slopiness began to pervade Arsenal's play, Fulham smelled blood and Simon Davies's expert lob gave the Cottagers a late equaliser. But where they should perhaps have shut up shop, the away side went for the jugular and were punished when Adebayor sauntered through the Fulham rearguard to curl Arsenal back into the lead. A late Gilberto penalty would restore greater respectability to the scoreline, but in truth we just could not wait for the season to end.LD. For Yvonne.
Date:Monday May 28 2007
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