Another invincible season?
I am guessing a lot of you readers remember this season and how you felt. We seemed better than the rest. We were unbeaten and we started the season as if we had forgotten how to be beaten. Man Utd in the Charity Shield? 0-0 and we beat them on penalties. And then we just started throwing the ball into the net in the league. 4 against Everton away, 5 against Middlesbrough at home, 3 against Blackburn at home, 4 against Norwich away, we couldn’t stop scoring and winning.
Finally, Bolton got a draw 2-2 on game 6 and this, combined with beating Arsenal in the return fixture allowed the fantasist Sam Allardyce to claim he had the beating of Wenger. Had he heck as like! Check his record against Wenger, Wenger is clearly on top but he did take 4 points that season. In fairness to Allardyce, he always had a weaker team so any good result deserved merit.
At least Fabregas didn't miss
But that didn’t slow us down. 4-0 against Charlton and 3-1 against Villa and we were ready to consign Manchester United and old Red nose to the bin in our next. But that game is etched indelibly in all our minds. We were looking for 50 undefeated, they wanted to get back to being the champs. They were dirty, and the ref seemed not to notice as he turned a blind eye. Then Campbell made an attempted challenge on Rooney, the referee said penalty and Van Nistleroy converted. Then Rooney scored again and we had the famous pizzagate in the tunnel at the end when Cesc Fabregas was alleged to have thrown a pizza at Alex Ferguson. And we were beaten by our biggest rivals and it was like a dagger through the heart and a stiletto in the back. They really did send us home crying.
I was so down
I guess you all remember how you felt. Of all teams, Man Utd! Would have been nicer, really, if it was Charlton or someone like that who got a fluky goal, defended for their lives and somehow managed a win against the odds. Those type of results happen every season to the top teams.
It hit us hard. 2 draws next against Southampton and Palace and we were consigned to 2nd place. We had been top all the way. Oh, Arsenal, you break our hearts. Every time I feel we are going to dominate, it seems to go wrong.
Our new nightmare
And did I mention that a Blue Demon had arrived? Roman Abramovich had taken over in the previous season. He had only one target, to be the best team in Europe. He brought in Jose Mourinho, who had accomplished miracles at Porto. At his first press conference he said he was special. He certainly hit the Premier League like a special express train. He brought in Didier Drogba to terrorise defences, Ricardo Carvalho at the back, Arjen Robben on the wing and Petr Cech in goal among others to take them up a notch. They were second under Claudio Ranieri last season but that meant nothing to Abramovich. He knew where he wanted to be and he saw Mourinho as the guy to get it for him. Shortly after we were beaten on our 50th game, they went top and they stayed there to show that the dynamics in London had changed, the dynamics in the Premier League had changed, with a dynamic, arrogant manager in charge.
No, I don't like you, Jose
I never liked him. I disliked how he dismissed other managers and players, plus he seemed to have a particular hatred for Arsene Wenger. He had a defensive style of play and everything seemed to be allowed on the pitch, with winning at all costs and any methods acceptable. It would be impossible to imagine Mourinho offering a replay to Sheffield United as Wenger had done a few years previously when Kanu picked up the throw in from Parlour who had thrown it towards Sheffield Utd and Overmars scored. Mourinho probably thought it showed that Wenger wasn’t a real winner like him who would take a win in any circumstances. He never missed an opportunity to get under his skin and it seems like it worked as Wenger had a bad record against him. Ferguson’s mindgames never seemed to work but Mourinho’s did.
Drogba epitomised Mourinho's Chelsea - dirty but brilliant
It is often said that we fell apart after the loss against Man Utd but that was not really true. We had some draws and defeats , yes but we hovered around second and third for the rest of the season. We picked up 83 points for second, enough to win in many seasons, and we scored 87 goals, well more than the winners Chelsea on 72. Chelsea, though, were really really good, with 95 points and only one defeat, at Man City, who were a mid table team at the time. Mourinho had arrived, Abramovich had arrived and we had a new challenge. We had too often been second best to Alex Ferguson, now were we about to be second best to Mourinho?
I hated being second to Ferguson and I detested being second to Mourinho. He is the one guy in football I have the strongest dislike for. But he seemed to have the winning touch and access to as much money as he wanted for the best players. We needed Wenger to bring his own special qualities to bear, bringing through gifted youngsters and finding gems at good prices like he had done with Henry, Vieira, Overmars, Petit and others. He had brought through Fabregas this season from the youths but his buys didn’t inspire too much. Manuel Almunia as backup to Lehman, Mathieu Flamini in midfield and the guy I felt more sorry for than any other Arsenal player, Emmanuel Eboue, who never deserved, and nor does any player, the abuse he got in his career. In comparison to the monsters Chelsea had got, it didn’t inspire hope.
This is not Adams and Keown
We had finally got in front of Man Utd 2 seasons in a row, only for Blue ogres to emerge. We conceded 36 goals with the end of the fabled Arsenal defence and players like Senderos, Djourou and Cygan were not going to be our new Adams and Keown. Chelsea had conceded 15 with Mourinho’s park the bus method. We needed a stronger defence but Wenger had embarked on his new policy of trying to score more than the opposition. Was it going to work? Honestly it was hard to see. My normal optimism was being tested. There were some grounds for optimism, though, in our other tournaments that season and I will get to them next time. But there was one ground for hope in that we did have ten one nils to the Arsenal that season, better than George Graham could do. Maybe we did have a chance.