One life, one game, one team, one invincibles

One life, one game, one team, one Invincibles (So far)

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Lost for Words

Given the ignominy of last Saturday’s 20 minute defeat and the gnashing of teeth that followed, mainly mine, I set about the masochistic task of compiling the Dirty Dozen of games/losses (with 2 draws sneakily thrown in) that have hurt the most since the last time losing a game made me cry. For the record, this was as a 13 year old, when a team comprising Jennings, O’Leary, Brady, Hudson, MacDonald, Stapleton & Sunderland contrived to lose to an up and coming Ipswich Town.

I’m sure some Gooners will agree with certain games below and some will disagree completely with certain choices, but I will explain why I have picked them. There may be some that I have forgotten, possibly even so painful that they have been erased from the memory banks, but these are the ones that have hurt me the most.

#1 2006 Champions League Final Paris

I have seen my team win every trophy available during my lifetime (I’m counting the 70 ICF Cup though I wasn’t present) bar 1. The Holy Grail itself and what will always be the European Cup to me. Forest have won it twice, Villa once. Utd 3 times, once when a goal down with only injury time left! Liverpool even managed to win on pens having been 3 down at HT to Milan. Is it so much to ask that we could manage it? 

Why couldn’t that twat of a ref have let Barca have the goal and left Jens on the pitch? Anyway, my abiding memory, apart from getting wetter than ever before (bar a league cup game at Barnsley in 95) is that at 1-0 up and 20 minutes left, the greatest striker to ever play for us bears down on goal, 1 on 1 with Valdes. The rest is history. Unfortunately.

#2 2004 Champions League Quarter Final  H to Chelsea

The greatest Arsenal team I have ever seen should have added the European Cup to our roll of honour 2 years before falling at the final hurdle. A creditable 1-1 draw at the Bates Motel left us in the box seat, but then we had to play Man Utd in the FA Cup Semi Final just 3 days before the 2nd leg. Arsene rested Cole, Henry & Reyes, although he was forced to bring the latter 2 on as we were chasing the game. With Sunderland or Millwall in the other semi I guess it was seen as the winner of the semi would win the final.

A tight game ensued, with Reyes giving us the lead only for FFL to equalise and make the tie all square shortly after. Main memory was of Paddy, who looked like he was running through treacle as the game went on; he simply had nothing left in the tank. With 3 minutes left, John Terry’s best mate scored and the team and fans were drained of all hope and energy. Such a missed opportunity.

#3 1999 FA Cup Semi v Man Utd

What can you say? The game from hell for Gooners. We are challenging them for the title; 6 games left. They are mid way through their Champions League semi with Juve. Newcastle await once more in the FA Cup Final. A turgid 0-0 was played and now the replay. Beckham gave them an early goal, Anelka had one chalked off for offside and then Bergkamp equalised. Shortly after, Keane’s favourite ref Ellerey sent him off for 2 yellows and he had to come off right by the Gooners, which was hilarious.

Injury time at the end of 90 and Phil Chuckle brings down Parlour for a pen! This is it surely. Dennis steps up. Schmeichel saved it. I think it took Dennis a long time to get over it. As the mancs never tire or reminding us, in extra time Paddy played a loose ball across midfield and it was picked up by Giggs. He beat about 9 of our players. Twice. Found a cure for the common cold. Ended world famine and oh yeah, scored. The sight of him running back waving his shirt round his head, baring Snowdonia National Park on his chest will haunt me forever. Twat.

#4 2004 Game 50 Away to Man Utd 

What can I say? For this brilliant team to have gone an entire season unbeaten was a modern miracle of sport. There were dodgy moments along the way, but to have that glorious run ended in such fashion was hard to take. An incorrect offside call, the thickness of a post, an individual error, any of these could have contributed to the run ending. What did we get? Mike Fucking Riley! To go to Old Trafford and play our greatest rivals for the 50th game was written in the stars. What weasel Mike decided to add was a free pass for the mancs to kick the fuck out of us. 

Freddie gets taken out by Rio, who as last man had to go, but apparently it wasn’t even a foul! The Chuckle Bros took it in turns to disembowel Reyes and Horse Face studded Cole’s knee, yet Riley deemed all this to be within the laws of the game.  The final insult was that Rooney dived during a Sol tackle to win a penalty and the gig was over. An insult for that team to lose that record in such a manner.

#5 1991 FA Cup Semi Final v Spurs

I’m not old enough to remember the 69 LC Semi, where over 2 legs we beat the scum, Raddy getting a goal in each game to see us through 2-1. I was at all 3 semi games in 87, still one of my best AFC memories to this day & offering to buy Rocky and Adams a drink in the Camden Palace after the replay win was quite a laugh, which they politely declined. So to the 91 semi and Wembley beckoned. In my humble opinion, the semi was lost 5 days previously at The Dell, where Jimmy Case, obviously embittered at his career coming to an inglorious end put David Hillier out of the game and the ensuing semi-final; scouse twat. Hillier had been playing a holding midfield role in as much as anyone did back in those days and had been performing well.

Mickey Thomas, who had basically lost his place to Hillier late on in the season came back into the side. His natural instinct was more attacking so therefore any defensive work was slightly harder for him, especially after several games out of the team. His main opponent that day was Gazza and so it was that Gazza beat us up badly that day. The free kick? I’ve always thought Seaman could have done better, but it was a brilliant strike. End of the day, we didn’t play well at all first half, better 2nd, but had left ourselves too much to do and whilst attacking they caught us on the break and the JEC made it 3-1. At least we only had to wait 2 seasons for revenge.

#6 1995 European Cup Winners Cup Final v Real Zaragoza    
Who, I hear you ask. Not exactly a powerhouse of Spanish football, but they did boast the Higuain of his day in Juan Esnaider, plus a youthful Gus Poyet and some fella whose name escapes me for the moment. Our run to the final had been steady, the highlight being a 1-0 win in Auxerre where my mate got his arse bitten by a police dog. Then the semis, where Zaragoza edged out Chelsea (Bet Paris breathed a sigh of relief over them not being our opponents) and we played Sampdoria. A tight 3-2 win at Highbury was followed by the return leg in Genoa and what a game! 

30 mins left and 1-0 down Wrighty equalises and we are going through. On 82 and 85 Monica Bellucci scored and we were heartbroken, only for Stefan Schwarz to score on 88 with a long range free kick. So to penalties! Seaman was the hero, saving 3 spot kicks, the last a brilliant save from shiny headed to be Crystal Palace player Lombardo. What a night.

That I have enthused over the semi is an indication of how poor the final was. We lost our midfield anchor Martin Keown (yes I know!) after he clashed heads with Ray Parlour (only Arsenal) and then Nutty went off injured. They took the lead, we scrappily equalised through Ginger John Hartson. The game was heading for penalties and of course we all remembered what a hero Big Dave had been so were confident. Then in the last minute, some nasty little ex scummer took a speculative punt from 50 yards having seen Seaman off his line. Boy did we get some stick off the scum for that!

#7 1999 Leeds Away Premier League

After the disappointment of losing that semi replay to the mancs, we won 4 straight games on the bounce to keep our title hopes alive and for the last but one game we travelled to Leeds, who were seeing out a disappointing season and had not a lot to play for and were managed by O’Leary, our one time hero. A tight scrappy game was heading to HT when Leeds won a penalty, which they duly missed! Second half saw Kanu and Kaba Diawara come on as we looked for the goal we needed to keep our challenge alive, Martyn made some saves, Woodgate headed one off the line from Diawara who was possibly the unluckiest striker we have ever had.

Then disaster struck. Nutty took a Leeds boot to the face and with plenty of claret on display he left the pitch, to be replaced by Nelson Vivas. With 5 minutes left, Kewell crossed from the right and Vivas seemed out of position and JFH sneaked in to head in at the far post. They celebrated like they’d won the league. We cried like we’d lost it. Utd drew the following day, a result which left them a point ahead and both teams won on the last day, Utd beating the scum, to win the league by 1 point.

#8 2003 Bolton Away Premier League

OK, not a defeat, but to be honest it felt like one and as far as I’m concerned finished off our chances of winning the league that season let alone a double having already reached the FA Cup Final. We have never retained a title since the 1930’s and this was one of our best chances, also of adding the unbeaten season as a hat trick. We never enjoyed playing at Bolton as Fat Sam managed to raise his shower of orcs into playing at 100% above their normal levels when we rocked up in town. 

This time looked different, we played solidly and by 55 minutes had taken a 2-0 lead courtesy of Wiltord and Bobby. Then the wheels fell off with injuries; first Freddie was taken out by a nasty Okocha foul and then Cygan (Yes, I know) pulled a hammy. On came Keown. It was backs to the wall stuff and Bolton pulled one back. With 7 minutes left, a long free kick into the box took a nick off Keown’s bonce and Bolton were level. It left us 2 points behind Utd with just 3 games left. We’d blown it!

#9 2008 Birmingham Away Premier League

Where to start? We were challenging properly for the title for the first time in several seasons and had a team that looked like it could maintain a challenge. Then we went to Birmingham. In the 3rd minute of the game, on TV what looked like an innocuous challenge turned out to be a horrific one, so much so that Sky would not show it. Eduardo had his leg snapped by a journeyman thug and it has seemed to have prevented him ever reaching the heights he should have. We were rocked and went in at HT 1 down.

We looked  more like ourselves after the break and 2 goals from Theo gave us the lead. We had a chance for 3-1 but either Bendtner didn’t square a simple finish to Adebayor or vice versa. Then in the last minute, Flamini hoiked a ball up in the air near our box, when it came down Clichy made an error of judgement and although he nicked the ball first, he made it easy for Mike fucking Dean to give them a pen. They equalised. Gallas held a sit down protest in the box, the big tart. We took 7 out of the next 21 points and lost the European Cup SF to Liverpool.

#10 2000 UEFA Cup Final v Galatasaray

We seem to make a habit of finding somewhere to have a happy memory of in a European game and then going back there so we can completely wipe that out with a clusterfuck of a performance. The joy of Copenhagen in 94 was definitely counterpointed with the visit in 2000. I only arrived in Denmark on the day of the game, due to Brussels airport fire crews going on strike, which really is a story for another day, but if anyone remembers Dmitri the Brussels Gooner it involves him! What this did mean was that when I arrived at 7am on match day at the hotel my mates were in I had no idea of how much fun I had missed as the Gooners and the Turks had sang songs, bought each other beers and swapped tales of their grandfathers heroics during the First World War.

So a pretty shitty time was had by all and resentment quite rightly lingers today and so to the match. Yet again, an Arsenal team which had shone en route to the final, demolishing Deportivo and Werder Bremen (Romford Pele away hat trick!) and playing some lovely football, failed to turn up to for the final. Gala had Hagi and Hakan Sukur, with Taffarel in goal. Not much happened in the 90 mins other than Keown skying a shot from 6 yards out. Early in ET Adams wound Hagi up, who retaliated and got a red. We played v 10 for 30 mins and had chances, but either missed them or found the Brasilian in great form. So to pens and Suker and Paddy both missed. In another European final an ex scummer came back to haunt us by scoring the winning pen. I swear we could get to the Champions League final this year against Barcelona, to find they have re-signed Dos Santos who will score with his arse from the changing room with 12 seconds on the clock! This was the last game for Petit and Overmars at Arsenal.

#11 2011 League Cup Final v Birmingham

What started off so well ended so badly. I took my son to his first NLD as we beat Spurs 4-1; my how we laughed. A semi 1st leg shock defeat 1-0 at Ipswich was a blip but in the 2nd leg, in what I believe is the coldest game of football I have ever attended, 3 late-ish goals saw us through and another chance to end the “x number of years since Arsenal won a trophy” bollocks. Then came the snow & a home game v Stoke was postponed. It was rescheduled to just 4 days before the final. In that game we lost both Fabregas and Theo to injury and also the final in my opinion.

I could not get my son a ticket for the final, so told him I had and we went up to Wembley with my mates & I gave him my ticket and said I would watch from the bar opposite the Arena. We were pony, again in a big game. They went 1 up then some cutch dunt equalised and we should have scored more but Foster decided to have the game of his life and saved them several times. Extra time loomed as we got to 89 minutes. A header in to the box looked meat & drink for Chesney until Koscielny intervened and the pair fucked it all up. The ball rolled to 53 year old Obafemi Martins to tap into an empty net. For fuck sake Arsenal, why do you do this to us? Repeatedly.

#12 2012 Man Utd Away Premier League

Not much to say about this. We’d been beaten heavily by them a few times before. 4-1 on the opening day of 90 season when we went there as the new champions, the 6-1 in 2001, the 6-2 at home in the LC in 91. None of those come close to this.

I don’t care about our injuries. I do care about our lack of transfer activity. But one thing I know is that no team that considers itself a top 4 side with pretensions to challenge for the title should ever, and I mean never ever in a million years ship 8 goals. No excuses. This was the team that won the Battle of Old Trafford at the cost of 2 points, that threw pizza at SAF, that had been cheated out of a 50th unbeaten game. You do not go to Old Trafford and let in 8 goals. Scandalous!

There were of course others I could have included: 0-5 at the lane in 83, 1-5 there in 08, 0-5 at home to Chelsea in 99 LC SF, 2-4 at home to Mancs in LC SF 83 with Stapleton scoring, the 1980 cup final. Losing 2 LC Finals in a row after so many years without a trophy, the 2nd one to Swindon! The semi in 73 to Sunderland, the LC Final to Luton in 88, the 1980 ECWC final loss on pens. Losing 3-2 to Spurs after leading 2-0 at HT, doing the same at Wigan! I’m getting depressed now!

Anyway, I sincerely hope you have enjoyed this trip down Nightmare Lane. I hope that these few reminders will make you realise how sweet it will be when Per lifts 3 trophies in May, although when you recall the above you have to think we will somehow conspire to shoot ourselves in both feet if we get to the business end of the competitions we are left in. Let’s hope not eh?

By the way, someone write something about us snatching victory from the jaws of defeat please and be quick about it!

Mark King

Sorry folks no time for any photo research today - will add to some pictures to this later

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