Our first 3 matches were against Newcastle United, Manchester United and Watford.
Bergkamp scored the 200th goal of his career as Arsenal defeated Newcastle United
2-0. Then we came face-to-face with perennial archrivals, the Red Devils. It was
a highly charged match as both teams' reputations were at stake. United have had
a bad season last year according to their standards and they vow to challenge
for honours this season. United's Keane scored the opener in the 35th minute.
Arsenal needed a late strike from Joe Cole, after Ljungberg had equalised in the
58th minute. The final result clearly showed that United's glory years have passed
and it's Arsenal's turn now.
In the Champions League Phase 1 group matches, we were drawn against Olympiakos,
NK Dinamo and Valencia. A relatively easy group and that was proven when we beat
NK Dinamo (3-0), Valencia (5-2) and Olympiakos (5-0). Henry scored his 50th goal
in an Arsenal shirt during the match against Valencia.
With a quarter of the league gone, we went one-up over last season's achievement.
We still hold a 100% unbeaten record in the league after 10 games. Our winning
streak ended when we drew with Manchester City. We had to wait until the 87th
minute before Notman scored the equalizer after Marcus Benson had scored in the
Saviola and Joe Cole were playing the best football of their lives. Both of them
won the Young Player of the Month awards twice from September to December. I,
on the other hand, won the Manager of the Month award for September, October and
December. Henry won Player of the Month for October. In the European front, we
qualified from our group after beating Olympiakos (2-1), NK Dinamo (5-2) and Valencia
(3-1). Our Phase 2 group consisted of Celtic, Spartak Moscow and last season's
runners-up AC Milan. Surprisingly, our defensive record for this stage was quite
impressive. Both Celtic (2-0) and Milan (1-0) fired blanks in the matches.
News elsewhere, Kevin Keegan resigned as England coach after England failed to
qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Mr. Crozier drew up a list of potential candidates,
which includes me. A week later, I got the England Job. Balancing a club and a
national squad together was no walk in the park for me. More on my exploits with
England in another section.
Disaster struck my side halfway in the season. Our unbeaten run was broken by
a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Sunderland.
We were undone by 2 early goals from Ian McCulloch. Chelsea came to Highbury and battled to a 0-0 draw despite being
down to 10 men after Leslie Hughes saw red. The 1-0 win over Coventry came at
a heavy price, as Adams and Henry were stretched off. Club physiotherapist Gary
Lewin said that Adams and Henry would be out for 2 and 3 months respectively.
I lost both my influential skipper and top-scorer in just one match! Then, Tony
Adams decided to retire and take up a coaching offer at IFK Goteborg. In a career
spanning 17 years, which saw him represent Arsenal 552 times and scoring 35 goals,
the club and supporters were sad to see him leave. I wished him good luck in his
new position as a coach. On the other hand, intense media criticism despite my
efforts to defend Lee Dixon, led to his decision to retire at the end of the season
too. I wasn't expecting the 'Back Four' breaking up so soon, but with age catching
up and knowledge that they have won everything that can be won with Arsenal, I
respected their decision.
Good news elsewhere, my resilient Arsenal Reserves managed to reach the Semi-Finals
of the League Cup after a 2-0 win over Liverpool in the 3rd Round, followed by
Tranmere (1-0) and Birmingham (2-0). With the Reserve team taking care of the
matters at home, my first team was travelling to Japan for the World Club Cup
clash with Brazilian outfit, Flamengo. I'm not quite familiar with the Brazilian
style of play but information from Saviola and Silvinho helped a lot.
62,000 supporters mostly Japanese as only 5,000 die-hard Gunners made the journey
to Japan. Luck was not on Arsenal's side early on as we hit the woodwork thrice
before Bergkamp managed to dribble through and lay the ball to Pires for an easy
tap-in. GOAL! From then on, Flamengo controlled the midfield with their superb
distribution of the ball but failed to pierce the Arsenal defense. Then in the
41st minute, Ljungberg passed to Silvinho who showed off his Brazilian skills
to score Arsenal's second. Flamengo's resistance was snuffed out at the start
of the second half, when Bergkamp connected with Joe Cole's cross to score with
a rare header. 4 minutes before time, our South American imports combined well
when Silvinho's pass found Saviola with acres of space. GOAL! We are unofficially
the best team in the world! Well, for this year actually, since FIFA introduced
the official World Club Championships to be held in January.