In the Premiership, Arsenal still maintained the 8-point gap over Chelsea. There
was no stopping Ranieri's boys as they tried to push us all the way. It wasn't
going to be easy to win the championship but my team was well prepared to take
on any team. I was actually quite perplexed at the fact that my solid back four
was leaking goals like never before. With another 10 games to go, we had conceded
31 goals. But the strike force was another matter altogether, goals were scored
in every direction, even defenders got on the score sheet!
March was quite an eventful month, we faced Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
In the end, a 5-1 result clearly showed, we were head and shoulders above them.
In the Champions League, Porto came close to an upset before my boys rallied on
and scored a 2-1 win on aggregate. Maine Road was the venue of a thrilling league encounter that ended in a 4-4 draw.
This match was the epitome of Arsenal's goal-scoring prowess and defensive vulnerability.
April started off with a bang! Arsenal's close season signings proved their worthiness
in a 3-1 win over Newcastle in the League Cup Final.
It was a bright and sunny afternoon when both teams trooped out on the field.
Arsenal started off offensively but couldn't break down Newcastle's defense. Newcastle
finally decided to attack and that was their undoing. Goma's pass was easily cut
out by Adams who sent it to Lauren, a neat one-two with Parlour found him in the
area. GOAL! The fans started to sing the Cup song. But Shearer silenced the crowd
with his equalizer 3 minutes later. Both sides played attractive football, which
earned some cheers from the crowd. The Magpies were soon silent 3 minutes before
halftime, when another of Arsenal's foreign signings, Pires scored with a low
drive. The second half continued where the first had left off. Neither side manage
to score until the 77th minute. Bergkamp's free kick was punched out well by Karelse
and he was quick to deflect the rebounding shot from Parlour. Unfortunately, the
ball fell at Wiltord's feet who tucked the ball into an empty net. GOAL! The fans
leapt to their feet and started singing out loud. We have never thrown away such
a lead before and the Cup was as good as ours.
In the league, Arsenal still held on to the slight advantage despite having a
game in hand. I was keeping my fingers crossed hoping that we would not go through
a rough patch again. Our prolonged participation in the domestic and European
front has taken a toll on the boys. Injuries began to appear which restricted
their playing time and resulting in me calling upon the Reserves to ease the injury
woes. A 5-2 win over Coventry City saw us qualify for the FA Cup Final. A few
more points dropped in the league through draws against Everton and Ipswich. Nevertheless,
I was quite pleased with the performances of the team.
Our fairy tale unbeaten run in Europe came to a halt at Nou Camp, where we faced
the mighty Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League. A solitary strike
from Kluivert separated both teams. I had a massive job on my hands in a week's
time when we will be facing them again. Petit proved to be a bargain for them
when he managed to thwart our attack a few times.
The penultimate month came soon after. My injury list was still full of players including Parlour, Vieira, Adams, Keown and Ferdinand. On the other hand, the future doesn't seem to be bleak. The current crop of youngsters has proven themselves worthy of a prolonged stay in the first team. I quickly wrapped up two 1-year extensions for Keown and Dixon. I told them that they might have to play a lesser role next season. The day of reckoning finally came and I paraded a much-depleted side missing a few key players against Barcelona. I hope that our home record would be enough to overcome the 1-0 deficit. Memories of the 4-2 thrashing at Wembley last season came to mind and I was determined not to let history repeat itself at Highbury.
Barcelona got off with a fiery start but Kluivert took it a step further and
got himself sent off after just 3 minutes of action. There was tough tackling
all around the pitch and fans were hoping that Arsenal could compose themselves
and start threatening 10-man Barca. A Henry cross found Vieira who unselfishly
picked out Wiltord with a cross. Wiltord dived head first at the ball. GOAL!
We have equalized and all we have to do is to score another and then defend
like mad. It was a pretty dull first half after the goal as Barcelona wanted
to play to a draw. The only highlight was Keown and De Boer limping off after
chasing for the same ball. The second half was also a dull affair. Despite having
most of the possession, we couldn't get past the stubborn Barca defense. 15
minutes before time, we were awarded a free kick. All eyes were on Bergkamp
as he placed he ball to the top corner. GOAL! The stadium erupted with cheers
as the Barcelona players looked dejectedly at the ground. They came so close
to stopping us.
Yes! Arsenal had managed to pull it off, we are now through to the Finals against
AC Milan. Tons of history was about to be made if we were to lift the title
and the FA Cup in the next few weeks.
Chelsea had managed to cut our lead to just 3 points, although they have only
a match to go and I still had 3 games in hand, including the final match. We
had to travel away to Bradford for the decisive match. 5,000 die-hard supporters
tagged along. The rest was catching it 'live' via the Jumbotron screens at Highbury
and at the surrounding pubs in the area.
Bradford came all out at us from the start, they were determined not to lie
down and let us steam-roll over them. I admire their brave attitude. Despite
having most of the possession, Bradford fail to threaten our goal, instead it
was my team taking pot shots from a distance to try and score the winning goal.
Then in the 24th minute, we got a corner. Bergkamp swung it into the box and
Adams rose high to head the ball. GOAL! Fans on the ground and around Highbury
cheered. Adams scored when we won the League back in 1998. The cheers must have
been the catalyst Arsenal needed. Within a minute, Vieira dribbled past 4 Bradford
players and took aim at the goal. GOAL! Chelsea fans are certainly contemplating
the fact that they have lost. 2 minutes before half time, Saunders rifled a
shot at goal and it came off Upson and into the net. OWN GOAL! There was still
a chance for Chelsea. In the second half, Greening who replaced Cole for this
match was on fire, he was masterminding most of the attacks and that paid off.
He spotted Wiltord and lobbed the ball to him, Bradford's offside trap failed
horribly and that left Wiltord with acres of space. GOAL! Greening capped his
spectacular performance with a goal and it's confirmed that the title is going
to Highbury. The resilient Bradford players gave up any hope of stopping us
and that showed when Kanu scored the 5th goal 15 minutes before time.
Hooray! We had won the championship with 2 games to spare. The club's office
was bombarded with congratulatory phone-calls and e-mails. Loyal fans could
be seen cheering in the streets around Highbury. I've finally won the elusive
title, which escaped us twice. Bottles of champagne were uncorked in the dressing
room and on the coach. Friendly banter was exchanged and everyone was happy
that it was over. Now we can start looking at the tie against Manchester City
in the FA Cup Final.