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Where can we finish 2023 part 1? Palace (a), Leicester (h) Bournemouth (a) Fulham (h) Aston Villa (h) Man Utd (a) Everton (h) Brentford (a) Ah, the bane of a sportswriters life, predicting results when anything can happen on the pitch. But it never stops me, I will keep on trying to enlighten or infuriate you with my take on the scores and position we will be in if we get those scores. This year I will start with the first 8 matches as the new part of the season is far more difficult. The transfer window is not over and Fulham might buy Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo throwing all predictions into the wind. I know that this feature is among my most popular judging by readership numbers and I will give it a go again. And, in fairness, I haven’t done badly, normally getting within 3 points of our eventual tally. My Crystal Ball says Arsenal First up, away to Crystal Patrick which is my new name for them as our boy seems to have put his own unique stamp on the Londoners. Truly I wish him well and would love to see them challenging for a European spot but we owe them. We owe them bigtime a true splattering for heaping indignity on us last year and I won’t even mention the score because I certainly didn’t predict it. So, I would love to beat them 3-0 (blast, I mentioned the score) but I doubt it. Their addition of defender Chris Roberts from Bayern Munich and midfielder Cheick Doucouré from Lens seem to indicate a tightening in defence so I am going for 2-1 in our favour after a hard fought match. 3 points to the Arsenal. Can these 2 give us a winning mentality? Leicester at home. In general we have a good record against them but sometimes in recent years they have caused us big problems. Schmeichel and particularly Jamie Vardy give us headaches but Schmeichel could be gone by then as he is going for a medical to Lens. Vardy is a hundred years old, still a big threat and we never seem to find an answer to him, but we are at home and we win with Tielemans scoring for us even if he isn’t our player by then. A tight, scruffy affair gives us 1-0 to the Arsenal with six points and we are starting to dream. Finally we play well Bournemouth away and this is last years Brentford who sent us home crying. Can they do the same? It is hard to see with their buys so far as nobody seems to be frightening. I see us hitting our stride after two hard matches and giving them a tonking of that fabled 3-0 that Crystal Patrick inflicted on us last year. 9 points, top of the league and all bets are off. We are the Champions of the world! Fulham didn't sign these guys Fulham at home. They don’t sign Messi, Neymar or Ronaldo but Solomon, Paulinha, Mbabu and Šekularac look like interesting buys. But we are the Arsenal, we blast away the Fulhams of this world…it all goes wrong! We start off spinning the ball all around them, watching them jumping around like demented puppets as they somehow keep the ball out of the net but they score from nowhere. A penalty from Xhaka and he argues so hard with the ref he gets sent off. They score and we go to pieces, blundering around shellshocked, only occasionally doing good things with the ball but we don’t score. 1-0 to the Cottagers and they do a Brentford on us. Still 9 points but now the whole atmosphere changes. Gerrards Gougers make us work And so to Villa again at home. Coutinho, Kamara and Carlos look the pick of their signings and they will surely be better than last year. Our team come out as nervous and tentative as rabbits, but Gerrard’s aggressive style (read dirty) wakens our boys up. We don’t allow them to bully us and a couple of our strong experienced boys show we know how to deal with a professional style. A bad tempered match ends 1-1 and we go, battle weary, to 10 points. The early season optimism now replaced with a dogged determination to at least always put up a fight. Ten Haag - I like this guy. A bit of a Guardiola look? Ah, Manchester United away. My favourite fixture and I will be there again this year. Ten Haag is good, he will get them playing well and with purpose. He can’t fix all their problems straightaway but I expect them to make a good start to the season. A lot of players have been cleared out and Martinez, Eriksen, and Malacia should be strong signings. This time Arsenal play well, as both teams stroke the ball about very nicely. We scramble a late goal for 2-2 after a very entertaining game. 11 points means we are not far off the top and this game seems to put us back on track. Thanks Frank Everton at home. I always liked Frank Lampard but I don’t think he has managed to solve his problems with Richarlison gone and Tarkowski and McNeil in from Burnley. They are good players and will certainly fight but unless he can make some strong signings he may still struggle. And Arsenal add to his problems with our best game so far. 4-1 brings back that winning feeling and the mindless enthusiasm of our fans. 14 points, pushing towards the top and Arteta is a genius. Yes, throw up your hands, Frank Brentford away. This match destroyed our team last season. They showed up our weakness against professional teams. We were bullied, we were outmuscled and Leno never recovered. This is not the same Arsenal. We go at them but they give as good as they get. They are tight, organised and get good breakaways. Chances are few and our supposed target Aaron Hickey who went there instead, plays very well as if he has a point to prove. But it ends as a dreary 0-0 and we have 17 points. Aaron Hickey - Could he have starred for us? Worldbeaters? That puts us joint third but we are ahead on goal difference courtesy of our two good wins. And so, we enter the next phase a bit more realistic. Champions League is within our grasp but only occasionally have we shown glimpses that we can maybe do better, be a real winning machine like Man City or Liverpool. The many hard matches are a testing ground for character, for improving our players self-belief. Last year some of our players wouldn’t dig deep when it mattered. Some are now gone. Are they replaced by battlers? I am optimistic that we will do better this year. Of course those astute fans out there will realise that the three monsters and the Spuds who finished in front of us last season are not on this list. They are the testers. We need some points on the board before we tackle them. Up the Arsenal! RIP To King Terry Neill of which I have written about extensively in these columns. A real Arsenal man, he could be found around the Emirates on match days reliving his glory days. And he did mastermind that amazing victory over Manchester United in the 1979 FA cup final which cemented Liam Brady as one of our greatest.
Arsenal v Man Utd part 2 Handbags, surely? A most serious war Fighting! That’s the key to Arsenal vs Manchester United. So many fights, and so spectacular. The thing is, though, it became the biggest derby in English football purely on football terms, which is unusual. Normally it is your local rivals who are your biggest opponents, not so these two. It was football, it was that mad scramble for superiority, to be better. Yes we had big games, the FA cup final of 1979 which I wrote about here being one. I also wrote about the brawl at Old Trafford in 1991 here. I was there in 1991 when Arsenal had a 20 man brawl with Man Utd at Old Trafford. As far as I am concerned, Man Utd were the instigators as any examination of the videos will confirm but Arsenal got the worst punishment. The beginning of the belief that Alex Ferguson always got better treatment from authorities. It was spectacular, with almost everyone involved although not really vicious except maybe for Brian McClair kicking Nigel Winterburn on the ground, for which Winterburn got booked! Arsene Wenger Vs Alex Ferguson But they were just tasters, little morsels to whet the appetite for the big battles first with George Graham and Alex Ferguson and then the supreme one, when Arsene Wenger arrived on the scene. He seemed straightaway to get under Ferguson’s skin and of course in his first full season he was 12 points behind and going nowhere when he did the impossible, reeled them in and essentially got the title with a Marc Overmars wondergoal at Old Trafford. From then on, they all knew, there was a new kid on the block and they were Arsenal. No wonder Ferguson was sickened and bitter. No more Mr Nice Guy Of course, Arsenal never quite managed domination under George Graham, but Man Utd, under Matt Busby, not that long past, were a great and dominant side just as Manchester United were becoming under Ferguson. They seemingly could just march to the title every season. Eh hello, Arsenal are here now. It was our first Premier League title. And the true start of what was to become the biggest rivalry in English football. They hated each other, hyped themselves up for every match as if their life depended on it and they were always feisty affairs. Both sets of players were desperate to win Now, Ferguson and Wenger seem friends. Ferguson, though, then, was far more responsible for the war. He liked to use any method to gain an advantage, mindgames, a sense of us against the world, firing players up, diving. Even the arrival of Arsenal he used to push his team to their first Champions league. They had to get better to beat Arsenal and that was also good enough to beat Bayern Munich. Wenger always wanted it to be about football, sporting competition, and doing things the right way. Thanks, Patrick, for the eye examination However his players didn’t see it that way. They also wanted to win in any way possible, Adams, Keown, Vieira and others would try to intimidate opponents, to fight as hard as they could for victory. Witness Patrick Vieira intimidating Gary Neville in the famous tunnel incident. This fired Roy Keane up so much that he wanted to fight Patrick Vieira before the match. I had never seen this before in football and kept expecting Keane to be sent off before the match had even started. Maybe that is not in the rules so he wasn’t and United went on to win 4-2. Keown was the hardest fighter of all Martin Keown’s most famous image is when he screws up his face at Ruud Van Nistleroy when he missed a penalty at Old Trafford after Diego Forlan had gone down soft. It ended 0-0 and all the Arsenal players celebrated wildly, so wildly that several of them got suspensions. Nothing for Man Utd. Ferguson, unbelievably said that Arsenal’s conduct was the worst he had ever seen in football. Ah, good old Fergie, always playing the mindgames. Get closer, Martin I have to mention Pizzagate as well. The next season, at Old Trafford, Utd ended our great unbeaten run with Van Nistleroy scoring a late penalty and Wayne Rooney scoring even later to give them a 2-0 win. Arsenal had played the better football, controlling the game to that point. It boiled over into the tunnel, and Mr Ferguson got pizza thrown over him by a young Cesc Fabregas, allegedly. This time, both teams kept shtum and no punishments were handed out. Surely not innocent Cesc Fabregas? So there were plenty of fights, red cards, yellow cards, wild tackles, squaring up, and sly grins when intimidation worked, as Wenger vs Ferguson, Keane vs Vieira, Keown vs everybody and lots of other battles raged all around us. It was a time of heightened emotions as the two great teams of English football battled throughout new players in a ten or so year yoyo war for supremacy. Every time a team got knocked down they got back up and knocked the other down. It was a fantastic football war as well But what about the football, I hear you ask? It was high class. Dennis Bergkamp had brought football to a new level as did Thierry Henry, Vieira and superb players for the Arsenal. Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, and others were world class for Utd. Ruud Van Nistleroy ramped up the rivalry by trying to keep up with Henry, but eventually conceded Henry was better as he skulked off to Real Madrid. They fought on football skills though, I never remember them getting physical with each other. Nistleroy was beaten by Thierry Henry During George Graham’s time, Ferguson famously said that Ian Wright was destroying us and he did acknowledge that Arsenal players could play. He also thought that Tony Adams should have been a Manchester United player. And Ferguson learned from Wenger. All the modern ideas he brought were swiftly introduced at Old Trafford, diets, training methods and grounds, pitch technology, large squads, rotation, he was always one of the best learners in football. One thing both managers believed in was attacking football, always trying to score. They were never good at holding on to a lead, always wanting to increase it by preference. Hence the high scoring matches as both sides, once they fell behind, kept trying to win, leaving gaps for the other to exploit. The infamous 8-2 to Man Utd was not as one-sided as the scoreline suggests, as Arsenal continued to press forward, looking for a miracle. Watch it again if you don’t believe me. Are there battles to come? There is no doubt in my mind that Utd had reached an easy pinnacle until Arsenal arrived to challenge, winning title after title, and that push helped Ferguson to get his players to perform better. Both sides had managers and players who only cared about winning, battling and fighting to the end for that top prize of not losing. For trophies, they have the edge and we would need a long great spell to catch them up. It is not impossible, though. Can we overtake them on money, however? Probably not, they are at the top level of fan support with an income to match. They can pay huge salaries even as they are struggling at the moment. A long period for us in the doldrums makes it harder to get the owners to spend money. Again we would need that long great spell to match them for money. They do go in with an advantage, a bigger fan base, a bigger ground, owners who spend more money, and, of course, a stronger modern tradition. What do plucky little Arsenal have to offer? A potentially exciting young manager, who, if he tackles his weaknesses in dealing with players, could become a true great. We also have an extraordinary range of young talent, which, with improvement and some of that battling ability which I have written about here, could bring us that dream spell of dominance. I believe in this team, do you?
2005-2006 We won trophies at this stadium The end of Highbury. Highbury was a great ground. I loved it and I cannot say I get the same buzz from the Emirates. To go on to the terrace and mingle with the real fans, listen to the banter, get shoved around whenever something exciting happened, sometimes struggling to see what happened when being shoved, all added to the fizz in my belly as I watched my team becoming close to being a great one in the late 80’s under George Graham. We were finally able to go toe to toe with the giants of English football, Liverpool and I was able to go to Highbury to watch them climb that mountain. People accused it of being the Highbury Library but it never seemed that way to me, there was always a noise, lots of singing, and sometimes some very witty comments. And, something that might surprise people who only watch on tv is the negativity of a lot of the crowd. Cries similar to “The team is fucking useless and always have been”, “the manager is an idiot” and many others came out of the lips of fans regularly from the terrace. That has died out dramatically since we changed over to the stands. There is still a little banter now but nowhere near the same. Football is worse for that, although I have to say I do like being able to sit and have a bit of comfort watching Arsenal, I miss the connectness of the terraces. But not at this one And I miss Highbury. The financial argument was inescapable. Roman Abramovich had altered the landscape of football as he transformed Chelsea into a contender for the best team in Europe. A seemingly bottomless supply of money and an aggressive attitude towards managers not achieving it meant that even Mourinho got sacked after toppling the 2 giants of English football, Manchester United and Arsenal, both with far greater resources at the time in terms of fans worldwide and ability to coin money from that fanbase. The big teams of Europe, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, the Italian giants, and several within England had much bigger grounds. And so the plan that had started several years before had come to fruition and Arsenal would spend their last year at the hallowed and exquisite turf of Highbury. Arsene Wenger and David Dein, along with the board, set it all in place. A new ground, close beside Highbury so fans are not discommoded, with around 60,000 fans, a huge increase on what was there before, and a far greater amount of corporate boxes to cater for the sexy image football had garnered for itself. Arsenal needed that money to be able to take on the big boys. The banks insisted on Arsene Wenger The banks got that call right Perhaps not so well known is that the banks insisted that Arsene Wenger had to remain at the helm to guarantee the loans.This was certainly prescient as, although attendances have not been hit too badly since Wenger moved on, they have certainly taken a hit now that we are no longer challenging for honours. The shiny new stadium did come at a price on the pitch though. Although lots of new players came that year, none had the impact of Bergkamp (believed to have been a Wenger choice), Vieira, Henry, Petit, Overmars, Campbell, Pires, Llungberg and others that became legends. Adebayer, Walcott, Diaby, Song, and Hleb did come on board and made various types of impressions but none are contenders for greatest player in their position for Arsenal as those previous players I mentioned are. It looked like Wenger could get us good but not great players now. Our greatest midfielder gone This guy frightened players And so we lost one of our greatest this season. Patrick Vieira finally left for Juventus after grumbling for a few seasons about a move. Cesc Fabregas came through from the academy finally as first choice but he was no like for like replacement. He did not have the aggression or the physique of Vieira but he did bring a superb skillset to the team so that Vieira’s loss was not so keenly felt. Fabregas almost bridged the gap Lots of teams sent us home crying Still, on the pitch, we weren’t so good, 11 defeats in the league meant we finished a distant fourth to Chelsea. We fielded understrength teams in the FA cup and the League cup because Wenger concentrated all efforts on winning the Champions league which meant we went out to Bolton in the 4th round of the FA cup and Wigan in the semi-final of the League cup. We played lower teams in the league cup and got away with it until the semi’s where Wigan drew 2-2 over 2 legs but went through on the away goals rule as they scored a goal at Highbury in extra time of the second leg. We were beaten at Highbury by Chelsea and West Ham in the league, our only 2 defeats there that season although Wigan got a sort of a victory in the League cup. Highbury was always a difficult place to come to and the Emirates has never quite managed to achieve that. At least I got to feel it throughout my whole body And so we got our send off. Every match had a theme like players day, European night, 49-er’s day, Wenger day etc. and there was a party type atmosphere all season. Highbury was no more and I could never recreate my days of younger as we moved into our new giant stadium with its dizzying heights. Impressive, yes, and lots of interesting parts around it but without that buzz which so many of you will never experience. I am so glad that I got to feel it all through my body as I looked around at all the fans, strangers yet family, buzzing and fizzing and erupting as the goals went in. Next week I will talk about our Champions league campaign that season. It will be the final, for now, of this series My life as a gooner. The 49 has significance. The Champions league is the title I have always wanted and we came so close. List of themed matchdays at Highbury Matchday Date Players Day 14 August 2005 Goal Celebrations Day 24 August 2005 European Night 14 September 2005 2 November 2005 Doubles Day 19 September 2005 Internationals Day 2 October 2005 Wenger Day 22 October 2005 Memorial Day 5 November 2005 49-ers Day 26 November 2005 League Cup Night 29 November 2005 24 January 2006 Boxers v Jockeys Day 7 December 2005 Great Saves Day 18 December 2005 Hat-trick Heroes Day 28 December 2005 Back Four Day 3 January 2006 FA Cup Day 7 January 2006 1913 Day 14 January 2006 London Derbies Day 1 February 2006 Home Grown Players Day 11 February 2006 Managers Day 8 March 2006 Captains Day 12 March 2006 Junior Gunners Day 18 March 2006 Decades Day 28 March 2006 David Rocastle Day 1 April 2006 Dennis Bergkamp Day 15 April 2006 Records Day 19 April 2006 Kits Day 22 April 2006 Goals Day 7 May 2006
1996-97 No, he didn't look like a football man. Arsene who? Bruce Rioch was a disaster and his career never recovered. But there was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that we knew nothing about. Stewart Houston was appointed temporary manager and again, it seemed like the typical cheap Arsenal way of doing things. As fans, we couldn’t understand why. Why not get a proven winner, with a team that had won many trophies in the recent past and was packed full of England regulars and Dennis Bergkamp? Even Alex Ferguson might have been possible if they were willing to splash the cash. But Houston was told he would not get the job despite a pretty good start to the season, even hitting top. He resigned, presumably feeling he deserved his chance. He became manager of QPR and had a reasonable career as a manager without ever hitting the heights. Pat Rice then took over but even in those largely pre-internet days we knew he wasn’t going to be the man. Johan Cruyff was mentioned and even a return for George Graham but it instead went to Arsene Wenger and, as he revealed in his autobiography, he was keeping in touch from Japan and Grampus 8. And so we had 4 managers in 2 seasons, astonishing for Arsenal. At least his name fitted He was David Dein’s man for sure. But we didn’t have Google search and instant access to information and we didn’t really know what was going on until he turned up. My reaction was no, I hadn’t heard of him and foreign managers had done little in British football up to then. The players reaction, I have learned since reading several biographies, was similar. He didn’t look like a football man, tall and skinny and with a schoolmaster feel. Of course he had managed England stalwarts Mark Hately and Glenn Hoddle at Monaco and they had got to a Euro final, so they couldn’t have been too ignorant of him as most seemed to claim. But I didn’t know of him and few English journalists seemed to know much either. It seemed another Arsenal stupidity but I was intrigued at his name, it fitted so well with Arsenal and I was always of the mindset that managers should be given a chance. Vieira: Always falling into bookings Favourites out, new ones in The transfer market was busy, Remi Garde and Patrick Vieira was brought in, our old favourite John Lukic was brought back as cover but Irishman Eddie McGoldrick was out as was Bulgarian Paul Dickov both to Man City. There’s only one Johnny Hartson, David Hillier, Steve Morrow and Andy Linighan also moved on, all players who had different types of significance for Arsenal fans. But a young kid came in from Paris Saint Germain called Nicolas Anelka who we will never forget for both good and bad reasons. He didn’t get many chances that year but I will return to him in later blogs. He has a good story. Anelka should have been an Arsenal great Remi Garde didn’t play much but let me give you my impressions of Vieira. He was good, we could see that, but as soon as the pitches got muddy and heavy in the autumn and winter, he kept slipping and sliding all over the place, he got 12 bookings mostly by slipping into players. Somehow, he avoided a red card, but I despaired that he would ever be useful for us as he couldn’t keep his balance. Grass was not for smoking Grass technology was improving all the time and Wenger paid particular attention to this area with Highbury becoming the benchmark for all other teams on the planet. But it took time for others to catch up and unfortunately Vieira could not do it on a wet night in Stoke as the saying goes. He looked ungainly and awkward but as soon as spring started shining, he was back to himself. It was very hard for me to see the great superstar that he would become. Pitches now look like video games As for Wenger, it was hard to say, really, results improved when he came in, but not to a huge extent, although we went top in October and were still top until 7th December, but other teams had games in hand on us. It was a rare position for us in the Premier League so the fans were happy. It was mixed, though, overall, Man Utd beat us twice, although we took 4 points off the Spuds. We were beaten at home by Liverpool and Newcastle, who we ended up level on points at the end with 68, 7 points behind Man Utd. Joint second on points, 3rd in the table and our best Premier league. Bergkamp, Wright and yes, Vieira were showing signs that we could be good, that we could challenge. What would Bertie Mee have done with 28 players? We didn’t do much in the cups but it was the start of a pattern that we were soon to become familiar with, fringe players would play in them. We played 28 players that season and 12 scored. Considering that Arsenal won the double in 1971 with little more than 12 players you can see the difference, the one player who couldn’t guarantee his place was Charlie George and he was fighting all the time with Bertie Mee. Even George Graham’s last champions in 1991 only used 19 players in all competitions. Wenger saw the league as priority and never liked using any player in all matches. Only Nigel Winterburn could claim that distinction that season but he was never an England regular and that might have played a part in Wenger’s decision. Most other regulars were also first choice internationals. Yo-yo Wenger? Up My verdict was a bit yo-yo. We were challenging, up near the top all season. We struggled against the top teams but we conceded less than them. The football was more adventurous, the flair players were given their chance, but we were picking up lots of bookings and some red cards, mostly through petulance, arguing with the ref and shoving other players, presumably as retaliation. Ill discipline was a byword for the Wenger era and this season presaged that. and down Was I optimistic? Yes, sort of, but Man Utd and Ferguson looked scary. He was building his second great team around the ‘92 youngsters and they fought and dragged results out even when not playing so well. Probably we needed more players. Were we going to get them? Read on next week and you will see.