Arsenal entertained Manchester United right after the Christmas break. United
was going through a bad patch at the moment and there has been rumours that Sir
Alex will be replaced with someone new. Arsenal was on a high after the World
Club Cup win. 4 minutes was all it took to score, Joe Cole swung a cross towards
the unmarked Silvinho. GOAL! Vieira had to retire after 10 minutes of play when
he pulled his hamstring. 8 minutes later, Saviola squared the ball to Bergkamp
who unleashed a piledriver. GOAL! Deep inside first half injury time, Saviola
dribbled past the fragile United defense to score. United was dead and buried
by half time. Arsenal were in cruise mode in the second half, and on the hour,
Stam fouled Joe Cole in the area. Penalty! Bergkamp stepped up and nestled the
ball into the back of the net. Victory over Manchester United cemented our position
at the top of the table while plunging United to just a spot above the relegation
January 2002 was a hectic month for us. We had the league and the FIFA World Club
Championships to contemplate with. With such a busy schedule, injuries were bound
to happen and they did. My squad was crippled with news that Vieira, Stepanovs,
Parlour, Vernazza, Wiltord and Lauren joined Henry on the injury list. Lucky for
me, my youth policy worked and several players from the Reserves got an extended
run in the first team.
Arsenal came up against unfamiliar teams and different styles of play in the form
of Mamelodi Sundown (South Africa), Kashima Antlers (Japan) and Vasco da Gama
(Brazil). The Brazilian heat took a toll on the players too. I was wondering whether
I made the wrong decision to take part but fortunately it turned out to be one
of my best decision. Arsenal qualified for the Final against Real Madrid after
seeing off Sundown (2-0), Antlers (2-0) and Vasco (1-0).
115,000 spectators jammed into the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro for the
Final. Even though we're not one of their local teams, the Brazilians sang and
cheered for us. And we repaid them with one of our best performances ever. Arsenal
started very positively and Saviola, who had become a crowd favourite, passed
to Bergkamp in the area. GOAL! It was his 100th goal for Arsenal. In the 14th
minute, fluid passing allowed Greening space in the 6-yard box. GOAL! The Brazilians
started a Mexican wave of red and white at one corner. I just couldn't imagine
that I was standing at the dugout of one of the most famous stadium in the world.
Greening repeated his move again in the 25th minute with the help of Joe Cole.
GOAL! Real Madrid didn't know what hit them. They have been playing well but found
themselves 3 goals behind now. A mistake by Casillas gifted Joe Cole with the
ball; man of the match Cole unselfishly passed it to Bergkamp. GOAL! I told the
lads to ease off since we are so far ahead of them. Greening obviously didn't
hear my advice when he got himself sent off in the 42nd minute. Real Madrid scored
a consolation goal through another crowd favourite, Ronaldinho in the 56th minute.
Final score Arsenal 4 Real Madrid 1. We are now officially the world's best football
I made a few bargain buys in the transfer market to strengthen my ailing defense.
John O'Shea (Manchester United) and Paul Robinson (Leeds) joined for £325k
and £675k respectively. Future England custodian Richard Wright (Ipswich)
will be joining for free next season. Elsewhere, Sir Alex Ferguson resigned as
United's manager after seeing his side languishing above the relegation zone.
My Reserve team managed to eliminate Sunderland 3-1 on aggregate in the League
Cup semi-final match. It was a hard fought battle over 2 legs. We rejoined the
FA Cup in the 5th Round facing Grimsby. A win later saw us taking on Brentford
in the quarterfinals. Henry rejoined the team after his lengthy injury layoff
and scored a brace against Blackburn. Looks like I won't have to worry about his
form after all.
The Champions League resumed and Arsenal were held to a goalless away draw against
Spartak Moscow. But we regained the upper hand when we defeated them 4-2 a week
later. A win over Celtic (2-0) and we were up against Milan. The match wasn't
short of any excitement despite the 0-0 score line. The Quarterfinal draw saw
us facing FC Porto again.
The only highlight for March was the League Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium,
which saw us taking on Watford in what could be the most one-sided final ever
in the Worthington Cup. Earlier in the season, we thrashed them 7-3 and that was
followed by a 3-1 win later in the season.
The difference between the 2 clubs showed up immediately when Pires found the
net after just 2 minutes of play. Arsenal was cruising from then on as Watford
tried hard to get back possession but couldn't. In the 23rd minute, Pires passed
the ball toward Henry who got lose of his marker and found himself plenty of room.
GOAL! It was all over in the 35th minute when Joe Cole found Henry unmarked in
the area. GOAL! Lucas Neill scored a consolation in the 45th minute. The second
half was a drab affair as I ordered the players to take it easy and not to over-exert
themselves. The Cup was in our hands in the 84th minute when Schnoor deflected
Joe Cole's free kick into the net. Own goal! A 4-1 victory and we crowned Cup
champions for the second year running.
In the league, Chelsea broke our unbeaten record of 24 matches when they stretched
theirs to 26 matches. Despite the fact that they looked virtually unbeatable,
we still held an 11-point advantage over them. Lucky for me, we haven't had a
rough patch. Our performances were quite consistent despite having a few injuries
to contend with. With 10 more matches to go, we were ahead with 22 wins, 5 draws
and 1 defeat as compared to Chelsea's 17 wins, 9 draws and 2 defeats.
One of the highlights during the month of April was our Champions League Quarterfinal
match against FC Porto. We had a tough encounter last season at the same stage
and there was no difference this time around. We beat them 1-0 away before holding
out to a 1-1 draw at Highbury. Liverpool was our FA Cup Semi-Final opponent but
despite Heskey's 11th minute opener, they were soon 3-1 down at half time with
goals by Bergkamp, Greening and Quinn. Their comeback was further hampered when
Henchoz was sent off. Arsenal scored once more through Lauren and we were cruising
into the Final.