This will be the last look at the decade that has past. Finding all these past histories and searching to my mental memories of each season has been a arduous journey for my mind. This time it’s the 2007/08 season. A season which is best remembered as the first one where the great Thierry Henry finally left Arsenal.
Forever remembered as the greatest player ever to grace the Premiership, his departure left a big gap to be filled but it also allowed to team to flourished. There will not be another player quite like him. For years, his grace, passion and commitment has allowed the trophy cabinet at Highbury to be filled to the brim. By letting him go, Wenger has removed a heavy burden on the shoulders of his young team. With their play no longer inhibited by the style of Henry, we were found mounting a serious title challenge, that the critics never thought this team could manage with Henry.
Eventually we would finish 3rd in the league with 24 wins, 11 draws and 3 defeats. A total of 74 goals scored in the league alone, although we conceded nearly half of that as well. In the end, it was those draws which meant that we lost out on the title as we only finished 4 points behind Man United but has drawn 5 games more than them. Even 2 of those 3 defeats have been ones which we’ve taken the lead only to allow the opposition to come back with a victory of their own.
The fact that we were able to challenge for the title is down to only one reason, the perfect midfield. Gilberto’s enforced absence for the start of the season due to his Copa America commitments combined with the injury suffered by Abou Diaby, meant that Matthieu Flamini was given the defensive role in midfield. Together with Fabregas, Rosicky and Hleb, they formed a dynamic quartet that had all the ingredients for success. Speed, technical ability and desire. The last of those attributes is mainly contributed by Flamini, rightfully dubbed the French Gattuso by many of the team mates. He would easily clocked 12 – 15 km per game, going from box to box and challenging just about any opposition that is holding the ball.
The wide players, Rosicky and Hleb were fleet-footed players who can easily swap flanks and performed with equal measures. Their almost perfect technique and movement gave Fabregas, the orchestrator of the team, the choice to go either side of the pitch. The fluency and understanding of the quartet was built upon even close ties off the pitch. The four of them were the best of friends on and off the pitch. Their attacking play allowed even the worst of attackers to score 30 goals that season. No doubt, majority of those were coming from Fabregas’ assists.
We had lead the league right up to February, when the turning point of the season happened. Theo Walcott may have opened his Premier League accounts with a double but the biggest news of the day was the double fracture suffered by Eduardo. The striker was setting the league alight with his accuracy and prominence in front of goal when the unfortunate incident cause him to miss 12 months of football and ultimately caused the downfall of the team in the league context. William Gallas’ action after the game was inexcusable.
07/08 also saw the changing of guard from one custodian to another. Manuel Almunia was finally given the step up and replaced Jens Lehman as the first choice keeper for Arsenal. While the Spaniard was remarkably consistent throughout the campaign, he does not possess the match-winner quality that the German No.1 has. Robin Van Persie’s annual long term injury also did not help the squad. So prolific early on and striking up a very good partnership with the 30-goal man, his injury prevented Wenger from using a player that not only scores but contributes a lot in terms of assists as well.
Arsenal got to the quaterfinals of the Champions League that season. Losing out to Liverpool 4-2 in the second leg and 5-3 in aggregate. The final score was a bit flattering for the Merseysiders as we were only 5 minutes away from the semifinal. When Walcott raced up-field and slalom his way past at least 5 Liverpool players to set up the 30-goal-man for the equaliser, I was already ready for the semifinal draw. Cruel irony followed, Babel got a penalty decision against Toure that allowed Liverpool to score the winner. Had the same decision been given for a even more blatant penalty at the Grove for the foul against Hleb, we might have won the tie.
The game of the season also came from the Champions League. No English team have ever beaten AC Milan at San Siro. Arsenal would be the first. An absolutely marvellous and top notch performance from the entire team, from Almunia all the way to the 30-goal-man. Not only have Arsenal beaten AC, we absolutely hammered them. The score may not reflect this but the possession were all Arsenal, so was the number of attempts on goal. Fabregas produced a virtuoso goal, going past a tired Gattuso to score from 40-50 yards out. You would rarely find Gattuso and the words tired in the same sentence, but with the way we were playing, he was virtually chasing shadows all night.
Arsenal would also lose out in the 2 domestic cup competitions. In the fourth round of the FA Cup away at Old Trafford, we lost. Wenger with one eye on the first leg against AC and thus sent out a mixed team which were no match for what turned out to be that season’s league champions. Arsenal also lost out on the chance of glory in the Carling Cup. Losing an aggregate of 6-2 to Spurs which included a 5-1 drubbing at White Hart Lane, the first defeat of any kind to Spurs since Wenger took over. The match perhaps is more famous for the clash between the 30-goal-man and Bendtner, than the final outcome.
The season started without any high expectations. Yet, with every passing game, we grew in confidence. In the end, it was not to be our year but it showed that there is life without King Henry. Sadly, Flamini and Hleb’s departure broke up the perfect midfield and Wenger had to rebuild again in 2008.