We started the season with at Highbury due to the fact that Ashburton Grove
was still undergoing some final touches. The opening matches saw us struggling
to score, which is rarely seen in recent seasons. Despite registering 4
wins, we could only manage to score 6 goals. That came against Watford (1-0),
Middlesbrough (1-0), Liverpool (2-0) and Newcastle (2-1). There was nothing
I could do, the strikers were missing chances that came their way and teams
are beginning to show their defensive side when we take on them.
The Champions League Phase 1 draw saw us in a group together with Feyenoord,
Club Brugge and Besiktas. We were in uncharted waters, as we never faced
these teams before. But our qualification was never in doubt when we took
on Feyenoord for Arsenal's last game at Highbury. 3 goals in the opening
20 minutes from Parlour (2) and a Bergkamp penalty saw us overcoming the
Dutch team by a 4-1 scoreline. We even had to play an hour with just 10
men after Canoville was sent off in the 24th minute for a rough challenge.
Parlour scored his 50th Arsenal goal in the match. A win against Club Brugge
(2-0) soon followed and we entertained Turkish side Besiktas at Ashburton
A capacity crowd of 70,000 fans turned up at Ashburton Grove for the match.
61,750 were on hand to see us play Southampton early in the week for the
first ever match at Ashburton Grove. Besiktas were overwhelmed by the crowd
at it showed when Vieira scored in the 2nd minute via a corner. GOAL! 10
minutes later, Joe Cole headed the ball towards Henry who sprinted into
the area. GOAL! Before Besiktas could react, Saviola dribbled his way as
though it was an exhibition match through the Besiktas defense and put Arsenal
3-0 up. In the 20th minute, Saviola turned provider when his through pass
found Pires unmarked in the area. GOAL! Just when Besiktas thought that
halftime was coming, Pires connected with Vieira's pass in the penalty box.
GOAL! 5-0 at halftime and we were high and dry in this match. The second
half produced a goal scored by Durmus but that was all Besiktas could muster
up. Final score, 5-1 to Arsenal.[ScreenShot]
We continued our run of wins over Manchester City (3-2), Derby (4-2) and
title-hopefuls Aston Villa (3-0). That put us firmly in the driving seat
at the top of the table. We completed our Phase 1 group matches as a mere
formality when we finished off Besiktas (3-1), Feyenoord (3-1) and Club
Brugge (4-1). We have never had such an easy time before in the Champions
League. The Phase 2 draw saw Porto, Lokomotiv Moscow and Leverkusen being
drawn against us. It was a tough group in my opinion and that was proven
when we beat Porto (2-0) but then could only draw 2-2 away in Moscow.
The young talents I bought for my Reserves played amazingly well in the
League Cup beating Portsmouth (1-0), Leeds United (3-0) and Wigan (2-1)
to reach the Semi-Finals against West Bromwich Albion. David Noble was playing
his heart out as the new designated captain of the team. He scored in every
match. Prior to this I bought Gabriel Westin from Middlesbrough to beef
up my goalkeeping department. This heralded the departure of Manninger to
Inter Milan for a whopping £7.5 million.
Then came the top-of-the-table clash with archrivals Chelsea. Stamford Bridge
was the venue and Chelsea had to win to bridge the gap. Arsenal started
out defensively as I knew that Ranieri would definitely play all his strikers.
The move turned out to be true and we were under constant attacks but thanks
to the heroics of Frey, Chelsea were kept at bay. Just before half time,
Pires dribbled his way through and centered a ball for Henry. GOAL! 5 minutes
after the break, Chelsea scored the equalizer when Hasselbaink thundered
a shot past Frey. Both teams were happy with the result but I was still
urging my team to finish them off. Joe Cole responded well and he scored
in the 65th minute to give us a one-goal lead. The lead lasted for the whole
match and we won. Ranieri later conceded the title chase to us at the post-match
interview. What made it more interesting was that this was our 11th match
and Chelsea's 13th.