The North London derby was a one-sided affair. A chorus of boos greeted my team
as I made my way to the bench. It was a cold November day and I was hoping for
a win here. Little did I know that my team had other plans. The game started of
well with Spurs doing most of the attacking. But from a resulting goal kick, Bergkamp
controlled the ball with precision before sending a cross to Henry on the far
post. GOAL! Bergkamp was on fire 6 minutes later when he dribbled past 2 defenders
before setting up Pires with a simple tap-in. GOAL! Tottenham retaliated with
a series of attacks but was either denied by stout defending or by Seaman's goal-keeping
skills. Just to show how fiery this derby was, at the end of half time, 4 players
had been booked, 2 on each side. Tottenham started the second half positively
and kept up with their attack. George Graham must have realized that offense is
the best defense. Then, within the space of 2 minutes, Arsenal scored through
Parlour and Henry, both from Bergkamp's passes. In the 70th minute, Parlour turned
from goal-scorer to provider as he sets up Henry. GOAL! 2 minutes later, Parlour
got on the score-sheet with a long-ranged effort. Before Tottenham could muster
up a defense, Bergkamp dribbled his way through and flicked the ball to Parlour.
GOAL! 7-0 to Arsenal! Tottenham's defense was ripped apart by man-of-the-match
Bergkamp's pinpoint passes and some well-taken chances by hattrick heroes, Parlour
My unbeaten run came to 15 matches in the league and 24 matches overall. This
included an 11-game winning streak in the league. During this time, I won 3 consecutive
Manager of the Month awards (Aug - Sept). As for the Champions' League, I easily
vanquished Monaco and Inter Milan by 3-0 before handing out an easy draw with
Herfolge (1-1). I kept my end of the promise as Arsenal took a step further in
the European stage.
My amazing achievement came to a sudden halt when I underestimated newly promoted
Ipswich. A below par performance from my lads led to a shock 2-0 defeat.
The period between 2nd Dec till 20 Jan became bleak as Arsenal's form took a dip. We promptly
drew 3-3 at The Dell and then came the Boxing Day encounter with Manchester United.
We drew 2-2 against them, which saw Chelsea cutting away our lead at the top of
the table. The only bright spark during this period came when the young Gunners
team managed to win the Cup ties. Barrett stunned everyone with his goal-scoring
Just when I thought Arsenal was beginning to come out from their slump, Leeds
United blew those thought away with a numbing 4-1 thrashing.
It was a wet January afternoon. Leeds came at us right after the whistle. The
soggy pitch at Elland Road wasn't to our advantage. Leeds even had a goal early
on but it was flagged offside. Then on the 21st minute, Leeds persistent play
paid off, Radebe passed to the unmarked Viduka. GOAL! Minutes later, Kewell sent
in a low cross and Kelly scored with a deft touch. Parlour pulled one back when
he dribbled past Poyet and blasted the ball towards the top corner. Leeds kept
up the pressure and scored again, 5 minutes before halftime through Kewell. In
the second half, our defense was caught flat-footed on the hour mark, as Smith
dribbled through our leaky defense. GOAL! I was hoping that it would end sooner
as I saw my players missing chances here and there.
Comforting news elsewhere, we had Leverkuersen, Olympiakos and Real Madrid in
our Phase 2 group. From my judgement, I knew that we could easily qualify along
with Real Madrid and that was proven when we defeated the defending champions
3-1 at Highbury.
The New Year could be a dawn of a new era for Arsenal as we chase for glory on
all fronts. I rested a few first team players and gave a number of promising Reserve
team youngsters a place in the squad. Although Arsenal never managed to regain
their early season form, our performances were very much appreciated. With more
than half of the season gone, Arsenal still held a slender 5-point lead in the
Second-placed Chelsea came visiting and I knew that the outcome of the match would
decide who could sustain a championship-winning run. The Blues had managed to
close the gap and we need to win and gain some room to breathe.
The clash of the titans that I've been waiting for. Chelsea started defensively
but was caught out by a 4th minute Joe Cole free kick. Arsenal kept pressing and
was soon rewarded when Cole set up Bergkamp for another of his mazy runs. GOAL!
Chelsea's defense finally woke up after that and managed to thwart our attacks.
In the 34th minute, Chelsea decided to snooze again and Ljungberg delicately finished
Parlour's lob. GOAL! 3-0 at half time and it looks like we have won. Chelsea came
out of the second half a changed side. They kept attacking in waves and Arsenal
was forced to fall back and defend. Their twin strike-force of Flo and Hasselbaink
made a succession of short passes that left our defense in knots. Flo took his
chance perfectly. GOAL! Our defense took a setback when Silvinho had to limp off.
Bergkamp however had other ideas when he coolly lobbed the ball to Henry who couldn't
miss from 6-yards out. GOAL! Our 3-goal advantage remained. In the 74th minute,
the Chelsea duo repeated the move again and Hasselbaink scored with a powerful
shot. But Arsenal rebounded equally well and Parlour scored Arsenal's 5th in the
79th minute. Unfortunately for Chelsea, it was too little too late.
In the end, the 5-2 win goes to show that they will have to strive much more harder
to knock us off the top spot. I told the lads that it was time to buck up and
give their all. Chelsea was blown to smithereens and the title is nearly in our
In the draw for the 4th round of the FA Cup, our name came first and guess who
was drawn out next? Lo and behold, our closest rivals Tottenham! The Spurs faithful
have gone on and on about winning the FA Cup since 5 of their previous cup victories
came in the year that ends with 1. Our scalp was theirs to take as they thought
their past glory would help them this time around. With all due respect, I had
my mind set on winning and whether the year ends in 1 or not, is none of my concern.
A potential fiery affair started off with a bang. Pires found the net after only
2 minutes of play. From then on, it was a see-saw midfield battle with neither
side having an advantage. 8 minutes before the end, Pires was on target after
chasing down Luzhny's long clearance. GOAL! Tottenham was dead and buried 2 minutes
before halftime when Parlour scored via Lauren's free kick. Tottenham's cup run
was up in smoke! 3 Spurs players were booked. A defensive error by Perry gifted
Pires his chance to score a hat-trick and he duly did. Tottenham was now playing
defensively to prevent another whitewash. Kanu took advantage of that 6 minutes
before time as confusion broke out in the Spurs defense. GOAL! I was laughing
all the way to the dressing room.
The Highbury faithful gave a deafening roar at the blow of the final whistle.
Tottenham fans were left awestruck and at a loss for words when the Press interviewed
them after the match. Arsenal's stunning display in the early season 7-0 win at
White Hart Lane was on show again and although the final score was only 5-0, I
had managed to rub salt in their wounds. Where was their pre-destined victory?
I commented to the Press afterwards.
Arsenal's domestic cup run was better than I had imagined. The Reserve squad managed
to win their respective matches that saw us heading closer and closer to Cup glory.
Manchester City put up a brave front in the League Cup semi-finals before succumbing
to a 3-1 defeat on aggregate. The Champions League recommenced and we were up
against Leverkuersen. A 3-1 win at home and a 3-2 win away saw us qualifying for
the quarter-finals with 2 matches left to play. Our erratic form for the past
2 months was soon forgotten as I looked towards the future. We handed Real Madrid
a 3-0 hammering at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium but I was already focusing on
our quarter-final opponent, Porto. Spanish sides still dominated the last 8 with
Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia. Juventus and AC Milan represented Italy.
Porto, Bayern Munich and us made up the rest.