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Arsenal vs Valencia Happy face, happy heart Broken, broken, broken hearts Ah, Valencia, I spent a memorable holiday there and loved it. But I can say one thing with something close to certainty, Unai Emery would probably still be manager now if the form we showed in beating Valencia in the semis of the Europa League had carried on to the Final. It didn’t and maybe it sometimes can be good to lose as I feel he didn’t fit Arsenal. He seemed a gentleman, very knowledgeable on football and his record in Spain was exemplary, as was his record in Europe. But Chelsea destroyed us, he never really recovered, and it paved the way for Arteta to take over, a manager that does fit Arsenal, even if he has his detractors. Unai Emery is part of this rivalry, though, and I will return to him in this blog. Emery's heart was taken out by Chelsea The thing is, Valencia are not a team we have played often. I will give you the bare statistics as they tell you almost nothing – 7 games, 3 wins, 3 losses and one draw. So, even stevens? Absolutely not. They have broken our hearts more than once and more than twice. And without the master from Spain, Mr Emery, maybe every tie would have gone their way. First Cut is the Deepest Let’s take the draw, the first match. We matched them, yes? Eh, no. It was the European Cupwinners Cup of 1980. It was our 70th match of the season, yes, you read that right, numerous cup replays against the great Liverpool and others meant Arsenal were tired, stretched and were beaten by West Ham in the FA cup final only 4 days before. Valencia had the exquisite Mario Kempes and the sublime Rainer Bonhof amongst others. But we had beaten the Masters Juventus on our way to the final. Liam Brady was our great and was now about to prove it on the big European stage. But their leader was the extraordinary Alfredo Di Stefano, often touted as the best player ever, as their manager. Despite his reputation, and his star names, they played it cagey, keeping a tight rein on Brady, giving away few chances. So yes, we got a draw 0-0 but they won on penalties, such a rare thing at the time that John Motson, for the BBC, kept explaining what was going to happen. Kempes missed the first and then we had Brady, very reliable from the spot. Except that night. The stars imploded. He missed. And then all the way to the 6th man and a very nervous Graham Rix needed to score. Pereira sensed his nervousness and saved quite easily. Valencia are our daddies from the start. Heart-breaking to lose 2 finals in a few days. Are you listening, Liverpool? Other teams have lost 2 trophies one after the other in heart-breaking fashion. Mario Kempes somehow missed And so the next time, Arsene Wenger had appeared. We probably had the best team in Europe yet were struggling to prove it in the Champions league. It was April 2001, the quarter finals and we had all our big stars except Bergkamp, Kanu substituting for him. They had a good team but not up to our class and so we beat them 2-1 at home after they went one up first half with Robert Ayala. Henry and it’s only Ray Parlour scored 2 in 2 minutes to give us a win. Ayala’s goal was the decider as they won the return 1-0 with a second half goal from John Carew. Again they are our daddies. We should have beaten them but somehow Wenger couldn’t do it in Europe most of the time. Heartbreak city. You have got to remember we had such a sublime side with players all clubs wanted. Liam Brady also missed Don’t go breaking my heart And so next season we got our chance for revenge. We had got through to the second group stage and played them first at home. We had Bergkamp back but we limped along to a 0-0. Then the return? John Carew scored on 34 to put them through. Eh, no, then Henry scored on 49 to put us through on away goals. Finally we will beat them? Nope, John Carew again on 57 to put them through. We learned to hate him, the big, lanky Norwegian. And so they did it again, stop sending us home crying, Valencia. Big John Carew -go away And so to our man, Emery. The poor guy suffered tremendous ad hominem attacks for us. Attacking his pronunciations, his strange English, his histrionics on the side of the pitch, in fact any personal attack that was possible. He quite rightly complained that Arteta was given far better treatment than he was despite similar results. And he was up against Valencia in the semi-finals of the Europa League in 2019, who each time before had beaten us like puppies. Owner of a lonely heart He was an expert on Valencia having managed them for several years and got them regularly into Champions league. He showed this expertise with Arsenal and a team we wouldn’t recognise today despite it only being 3 years. Cech, Kolasinic, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Koscielny, Mustafi, Aubameyang, Maitland Niles, Ozil, and Guendouzi played. But it all started out as normal – they scored after 11 minutes with Diakhaby and the curse of Valencia was still alive. Emery, despite his knowledge of the club couldn’t save us from another defeat. Except he could, Lacazette scored 2 shortly afterwards to give us a chance and then Aubameyang on 90 to give us a real chance of making the final of the trophy Emery was the master of. Not a total eclipse of my heart And so the second leg in Valencia. Surely we could finally beat them in a tie? Unbelievably they did it again on 11 minutes with Gameiro opening the scoring. I couldn’t take any more of Valencia, they always seemed to break our hearts. But this time Emery was too good for them as Aubameyang was on fire. A hat trick on 17, 69 and 88 meant it was one of his best matches. Lacazette got another on 50 so that another from Gameiro didn’t matter. We had finally got it, the win we wanted over Valencia. The bogeyman had been slain and it was Unai Emery, in his finest moment for us, who did it. To my mind, he was our most unpopular manager since Bruce Rioch but over those 2 matches he was good. Of course, Chelsea trashed us and he then tarnished that memory. Terry Neill couldn’t beat them nor Arsene Wenger, but Emery did. At least thank you for that memory. You didn’t deserve, nor does anyone, the personal attacks. 3 goals to break the Bats hearts And so, what next? I am sure we will meet them again. We have finally got on top. Let us hope that the Valencia curse has finally gone away.
Arsenal v Liverpool We got the only League Cup final win over Liverpool in 1987 Our biggest rivals? The strange thing is, when I started this series, I began with Tottenham. However, they have not been our biggest rivals at all. In fact, unless I concentrated on the past few years in which we were poor but they still won nothing, they have rarely been true hard opponents. And finding interesting angles was a bit tricky as there wasn’t all that many. Tottenham are worse than us, it’s as simple as that. But that is not true of Liverpool. When you look at our joint history there are so many angles that you will never get them all in. And I speak as someone who can look at only 55 years or so. There are so many fascinating matches and scores in the past and I would have loved to live through them. What it means though, is that Liverpool will take me at least two blogs. And this is the first where I concentrate on the cups. Liverpool are probably our true biggest rivals overall. We have had so many epic games. Heartbreak in the Champions League The Champions League was a big misery for me. Regular readers know that is my number one prize. You all remember we were drawn against them in 2008 in the last 8. The annoying thing about this tie was that we were better than them and had been for many seasons. We had gone a bit backward from the Invincibles but still above Liverpool. The first leg was at home and honestly we were quite a bit better than them, lots more chances and Hleb was robbed of a penalty but there was two early goals , one a nice header from Adebayor on 23 and then a bit of a scramble from Dirk Kuyt on 26 to level it. We just couldn’t score even though Jamie Carragher pretended to be hurt in injury time to waste time. We played on rightly. He jumped up when he realized we were playing on. Yes, Jamie Carragher, cheaters do win Then the next match at Anfield where we had given ourselves a task. But we had form there and our greatest win ever as well. Diaby popped up on 13 to give us a chance. Could we hold on? 30 minutes and Hyppia scores. Torres on 69 to give them the advantage. Then on 84 we get the second away goal from Adebayor. I really thought we had done it. Surely we could hold on for a few minutes? As always, Liverpool get a dodgy penalty and Steven Gerrard, who I never liked, banged in the penalty. We laid siege but it was Ryan Babbel who got a late breakaway. We should have beaten them and I was sickened. Bad memories as we were so close and had played better than them over the 2 matches. But they ruined a good chance at the one trophy I wanted. The forgotten man Abou Diaby almost did it for us Blockbusters in the League Cup And so the League Cup? Our first time was in 1968 in the 4th round. We dispatched them 2-1 to lay down a marker. Ten years later we faced them in a 2 legged semi-final but they won 2-1. Even Stevens. In 1981 in the 4th round we drew 0-0 at Highbury but they beat us 3-0 at Anfield. But in 1987 we had them in the big one, the final and beat them 2-1. George Graham was laying down the foundations of his great side. Next season we got them again and they got their revenge 2-1 after 2 replays. But only in the 3rd round. In the next season we got them again in the 3rd round and beat them with our old favourite One nil to the Arsenal thanks to Alan Smith. It was to be 1995 and the quarterfinals for the next and Ian Rush popped up with a goal for 1-0 to Liverpool. Then 1996, 4th round and a game of 3 penalties, 2 for us, thanks Ian Wright, and one for them but 4-2 to them and we go home crying. We all loved this one especially the Beast Ah, but then we come to 2007 and one of our maddest games ever in the 5th round. You all remember this one, 6-3 and Julio Baptista knocked in 4. It was the highlight of his Arsenal career and all done at Anfield. Take that, Steven Gerrard! Don't turn your back on us, Gerrard 2009 and 2-1 to us 4th round. Then our first Spanish manager oversaw an equally crazy match as the 6-3 with 5-5. The tie swung crazily both ways but we thought we had done it on 70 with Joe Willock. But Origi scored on 90 and they won 5-4 on penalties. Most of the players are gone from that side but Martinelli is still here and he scored 2 that night. Our second Spanish manager Then 2020 and our second Spanish manager. 0-0 and penalties and a young guy called Joe Willock scored the decisive one under great pressure. Most of those players are still with us and I guess our second Spanish manager didn’t rate the players of the first Spanish manager. So proud to be at Arsenal Then, of course, this year and the semi-final. We did the hard work in the first leg at Anfield and 0-0 but they beat us 2-0 and Jota scored twice at the Emirates. In fairness, they are better than us at the moment but I do feel if this group stays together we have a real chance of the Premiership. I am going to claim the League Cup rivalry for us as we beat them in the only final. However they do have 9 trophies to our 2. I don’t think we will overhaul them in my lifetime. We do a lot for Charity The Charity Shield? We have 2 wins each but I am going to claim this as we have 16 to their 15 and we won the last as well. Another penalty shootout as seems to be the case nowadays and we won 5-4 after a 1-1 draw to give Arteta his second trophy. And so over 3 trophies we did pretty well. I do want to beat them on the way to a Champions league title. Their famous front three are coming to an end as are some of their big stars. If they don’t get top replacements they could be on a slide. But I would like to beat them while they are at the top. We are Arsenal, we beat the top teams. Next week I will look at the FA Cup and the league. Where can we finish update: We have a massive 83 points in our sights if we win all. Might even get us second. But I am not that big of an optimist. Leicester are a tricky side on form but we are so good at home. If we win this one we are ahead of my predictions but I think we will do it. And then today’s featured team Liverpool at home. It would be so nice to win that one. It would make the fabled 3rd spot a much better possibility and nauseate the chasing bunch.
Defeated and out of everything? From Zero After that abject defeat by Liverpool, 66 points are available to us over 8 matches. Can we win them all? At various times in our past that would not have been a dream for us but now it is, a very big dream with few Gooners expecting it. We are way too inconsistent and rarely seem to play the same team twice, meaning that understanding is lost. Last time I said that without Leno, Tierney, Saka and Smith Rowe we look vulnerable. Hello, we were without them bar Leno when Liverpool fired in 3 goals against us and we didn’t compete at all. Odegaard, although he looks very good, is not better than Smith Rowe. Smith Rowe gets into more dangerous positions. Saka and Tierney have no rivals. Leno now has Ryan to push him a bit but it is obvious that Arteta regards him only as backup. Big players that don’t perform What is our reality? We have players that cost fortunes, Aubamayang, Lacazette, Pepe and Partey with Odegaard, if we buy him, also in that category. None have sparkled as consistently as our greats from the past. Henry, Vieira, Pires, Llungberg and many others turned it on every week. But, with our superb young players and these big cost superstars, we should have a team that is pushing Man City. Instead, we are asking can we beat Slavia Prague and Sheffield United in our next 2 matches. So can we? Prague at home is a worry for me. We seem worse at home. I predict a 1-1 and a performance where we mostly are better but don’t convert chances. Sheffield United are our bogey team lately but without Chris Wilder they seem lost. We probably should win and I am going to say 2-0 but an unconvincing performance. 45 points. Prague away. This could be better for us. They will park the bus but I feel we will find a way. We seem freer away from home. 2-0 to the Arsenal. Fulham? In all honesty, we have to put them away, send them home crying. 2-1 to the Arsenal. 48 points. A Blue heartache Then Everton, a hard one, but we can win this if we have done what I said previously, as our confidence should be restored. But I will say 2-2. 49 points. Newcastle? Without Willock? I think of Alex Ferguson and his "Lads, This is Tottenham”. Beat them or forget about being any use. 3-0 and our confidence comes back. 52 points. West Brom. Without Maitland Niles? I always like beating Sam Allardyce and I say 2 3-0’s in a row. Bye bye Sam and hello to your first relegation. 55 points. We are starting to think we can do it. A good run. Can we scrape into Europa League? Then Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Tuchel wishes to make a statement. I am afraid he will. A good performance by us leads us to a sickening defeat and 1-2, and still 55 points. Palace and we have a horrible game against them, up and down, up and down, but somehow we get through it and a nightmare last ten minutes to win 2-1. 58 points. Brighton. Another bogeyish team for us. But they produce a lackluster performance and we suddenly look like world beaters and send them back to the seaside with 4 goals against them. 61 points. Not enough for Europa League but enough for Arteta to say things are improving as better than last year’s 58. Fans unhappy with the mediocre finish, though. We are no longer Arsenal at all. The Magician Pulls a Rabbit out of the Hat Good Ebening and Goodnight So, can we win the Europa League and Arteta, with one bound, becomes a mighty hero and all the rubbish performances are forgotten about? Let’s say Villareal in the semi’s with Emery anxious to show that he should never have been sacked and he uses all his Europa League knowledge against us? Arteta is also wily and seems pretty good in these head to head type matches. He gets us through by winning 2-0 in Spain before a nerve wracked 0-1 at the Emirates. The Yellow Submarine is sunk. We are in the final. Against Roma. Like us they haven’t qualified for anything. This is their defining match. But we don’t lose to Roma. And we don’t start now. We polish up the trophy in Poland 3-1, we look good, we look bad, but 2 goals in the last ten minutes mean we are Arsenal and it is a long, sad journey home for Roma. Paolo Fonseca has to find his way back to Rome In an alternate universe? Maybe. But I have hope. For all you readers out there, put 1 euro on an accumulator for all those scores and you will be able to say, Gus Worth made me a millionaire. You can buy a home in the old Highbury stadium along with a season ticket. Don’t thank me, I am happy to help. Our Hero, how did we doubt him?