20,000 fans greeted me as I made my way to the podium. After weeks of speculations,
Arsene Wenger has finally decided to take up the reins as England manager and
leaving the vacancy at Highbury to me, his outstanding protégé.
I had a massive hurdle to overcome and that is to go a step further than the recent
tradition of finishing as runners-up. I promised the Highbury faithful that I
will strive to fill up the trophy cabinet in 2 years' time. Roars from the crowd
reverberated through the stadium. Arsene Wenger has left me with a capable team
and all I have to do was to have a few trophies to prove it.
I had arranged a tour to the land down under where I can gauge the potential of
my team. 3 matches were lined up and I had all the time I need to differentiate
the match-winners from the dead weights. 3 victories later over Northern Spirit
(2-0), South Melbourne (3-0) and Sydney Olympic (3-0), the team headed back to
England. I sold off Alberto Mendez, Greg Lincoln and Graham Stack who weren't
suitable for my tactics. Armed with the knowledge that future talents are needed,
I assigned the club scouts to search high and low for these 'uncut gems'. Moreover,
I decided to test out the current Arsenal youth squad with 2 games against Div
3 opponents Torquay and Leyton Orient. They did not disappoint me and came back
triumphant, 4-1 and 4-0 respectively. I singled out Ashley Cole, Lee Canoville,
Rhys Weston, Paolo Vernazza, Jermaine Pennant and Graham Barrett as potential
1st team candidates.
After a few training sessions with the team, Arsenal was well prepared to take
on the Premiership challenge, which is another 2 weeks away. I arranged another 2 friendlies
against Fulham and Tottenham Hotspurs. The choices were made due to the fact that
Fulham looked like potential promotion chasers under Jean Tigana and it was quite
obvious for me to pick our North London rivals.
Just as I expected, Tigana's Fulham was no match for my lads. Arsenal totally
crushed Fulham with 7 goals, scored by Bergkamp (2), Henry (2), Ljungberg (2)
and Parlour. We overran their defences with crisp shooting and pinpoint passes.
Superb defending kept their strikeforce of Louis Saha and Barry Hayles at bay.
My first North London derby turned out to be a closely contested match. Vieira
had an early chance to score but was fouled by Vega. He redeemed himself when
he executed an overhead kick right from Lauren's cross. GOAL! Henry made it 2-0
a few minutes later. Sullivan failed to held on to Bergkamp's shot in the 14th
minute allowing Henry to score his second. Brazilian flair was at its peak when
Silvinho dribbled his way into the Spurs defense to score on the half-hour. 9
minutes before halftime, Rebrov scored a consolation goal. Tottenham played better
in the second half and during a 4-minute blitz on the hour, Les Ferdinand puts
the ball into the back of the net twice while Wiltord scored his first goal for
Arsenal. Final whistle, 5-3 to Arsenal.
Little did I know that this season would be the start of many more exciting encounters
with our North London rivals. This match highlighted to me that it's time I took
care of Arsenal's aging back four. 3 goals conceded in a match are of a disastrous
magnitude. I immediately submitted a bid for Rio Ferdinand who was itching to
get into a better side.
Pre-season statistics : Played 7 Won 7 Scored 28 Conceded 4