With the matches coming thick and fast as always during the year end and the new year signalling the end of a decade, I will take this oppourtunity to reflect back on the past 10 years of Arsenal Football Club. Over the next 15 days, in between Arsenal games, it’s as good a time as any to look back on the highs and lows of our beloved club.
In the 2000/01 season, Arsenal finished 2nd to Man United for the 3rd consecutive year, finishing with a record of 20W10D8L. The pre season saw Oleg Luznhy, Robert Pires, Edu, Lauren and Sylvain Wiltord,joining the team. All were internationals with their respective countries but struggled initially to cope with the rigours of the English game early on in their Arsenal careers. That season also saw the departure of the ever loyal dependable Nigel Winterburn, Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars. This was a season that also oversaw the emergence of Ashley Cole. Thierry Henry was the top scorer in the club with 22 goals in all competitions.
We had scored 63 goals while leaking 38 goals at our end. Arsenal started badly as we lost the opener at Sunderland but bounced back to remain unbeaten in the next 12 games including home wins against Liverpool and Man United (where Henry looped the ball over Barthez’s head at Highbury). That sequence also saw Arsenal routing Man City 5-0 in an away game with goals from Cole, Bergkamp, Wiltord and a Henry double.
The good run came to an end in the middle of Nov when we lost 2 consecutive away games at Goodison Park (0-2) and Elland Road (0-1). In the following home game against Southampton, Patrick Vieira got a late winner before another 5-0 thrashing was handed out, this time to Newcastle (Parlour’s hattrick was of course the highlight of the big win). The year ended with Arsenal suffering only one more defeat away to Anfield, we got hammered 4 goals to nothing. At the start of the 2001 year, Arsenal lost another match, this time away to Charlton with Alex Manninger standing for the injured David Seaman.
The next 5 games saw a spate of draws and wins for Arsenal before ultimately what was the biggest disappointment of the season. We left Old Trafford with our heads firmly between our legs as we got a real beating from Man United. 6-1 was the final score and Luznhy and Stepanovs were the centerback pairing that day. It was big task for Wenger to improve the morale of his squad, such was the loss that Arsenal had, but credit to the Frenchman that we bounced back immediately in the next game to beat West Ham at home courtesy of the only Wiltord hattrick in Arsenal colours.
By then, the title challenge was already beyond us. Arsenal finished the rest of the league campaign with mixed results. Man United were just too strong that season but the most important thing for Arsenal was the fact that Pires, Henry and Cole was starting to click as a unit and will pose a great threat to the opposition on the left hand side of Arsenal’s attack.
In the Champions League, Arsenal managed to get past 2 round of groups to qualify for the quarterfinals. However, Valencia proved to be too tough a wall for Arsenal to bridge and we ended up losing via the away goals rule. The defeat showed that Arsenal still lack behind in comparison to other continental teams that weren’t even champions of their own league. The Worthington Cup (Carling Cup as it is known now) was a very short competition for Arsenal as we lost in the opening 3rd round game to Ipswich Town. Even back then, Wenger has been selecting his reserves and new players for the League Cup.
Inspite of the inconsistencies shown by the team, Wenger did managed to maneuver his team all the way to the FA Cup final, the first to be held in the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. Along the way we knocked out Chelsea (then still a weak and poor side) and also our archrival, Spurs, the semifinal. Robert Pires scoring the winner in the semifinal at Old Trafford and thus kicking of his wonderful scoring record against Spurs. We lost the final to Liverpool although we did take the lead via Ljungberg with Michael Owen scoring 2 late goals to seal the cup for his team. However this will forever be remembered by Arsenal fans for the poor refereeing rather than the final outcome. Twice Henchoz handled the ball on the line but not once did the referee blew for a penalty.
It was not a spectacular year for Arsenal, more than anything, it showed that in order to challenge for all fronts, we needed a bigger squad. But for the inadequacy of the official, Wenger could’ve lifted his first trophy of the decade.