December started with Barcelona signing Zidane, Cannavaro and Nesta for
£9.75 million, £11 million and £9.25 million respectively.
I was wondering how on earth do they have so much money in their hands?
This made them hot favourites to win the European Cup from us. News elsewhere,
Bergkamp announces his decision to retire at the end of the season and go
into management. Scout Andy Watson decided to retire too. Both Wiltord and
Lauren decide to search for a new challenge and will be leaving via Bosman
at the end of the season.
Arsenal's run of 17 consecutive league wins and 24 overall was broken when
we were held to a 1-1 draw against Ipswich. George Burley's side nicked
a point from us when Simon Davies scored in the 89th minute to cancel out
Ljungberg's opener in the 62nd minute. This was due to the fact that I rested
a few first team players for the match against River Plate in the World
The World Club Cup reunited Saviola with his former club, River Plate. As
usual, it was held at the National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan. 62,000 supporters
thronged the stadium hours before the match started. River will be seeking
to repeat their previous success that was way back in 1986, whereas we will
be looking forward to record 3 consecutive wins and join AC Milan, Real
Madrid, Penarol and Nacional who have won it 3 times. Arsenal started strongly
and were soon ahead when Silvinho found Ljungberg in the area. GOAL! 10
minutes later, excellent work from Pablo Aimar saw him opening up our defense
at Sara unleashed a 25-yard rocket that found the net. A minute later, we
were back in front when Bergkamp released Henry in the area. GOAL! A superb
team move in the 26th minute saw Ljungberg scoring again. We were getting
closer to the title. The second half saw both teams playing entertaining
football, which saw the crowd cheering both teams on. Unfortunately, no
goals were produced until the 87th minute when Saviola was brought down
in the area. Saviola stepped up confidently and sent his former teammate,
Bonano the wrong way. GOAL! We have won! [ScreenShot]
Back in England, Saviola scored another penalty as we beat Manchester United
2-0 at Ashburton Grove. Our first defeat of the season came at the hands
of unfancied Leicester. We led at half-time with a goal from Saviola but
was let down in the second half due to poor defending which allow Akinbinyi
and Earnshaw to score. Arsenal bounced back in the next match against Liverpool.
Keith O'Neill scored on his debut to put Liverpool on front but that was
soon equalized by Wiltord. In the 15th minute, Wiltord was tackled in the
area and Bergkamp comfortably scored his 100th Arsenal goal from the penalty
spot. Despite announcing his plans to retire, Bergkamp was playing some
of the best football of his life. He capped his fine performance with another
mazy dribble in the 28th minute. But, Alan Pouton reduced the deficit 4
minutes later. The start of the second half saw Barrett coming on as a substitute.
Within 10 minutes, he had his name on the scoresheet, when Notman sent in
a cross. GOAL! In the 72nd minute, Barrett passed to Wiltord who dribbled
past 2 defenders before sending a shot in. GOAL! 10 minutes later, Rigobert
Song scored to bring Liverpool back from the dead. But it was too little
too late and Arsenal won the match 5-3. We were halfway through the season
and lying at the top of the table with an 11-point cushion and a game in
hand over Chelsea.[ScreenShot]
Back to the awards, I was voted Manager of the Month for both September
and December. Bergkamp, Lauren and Saviola were voted Player of the Month
for September, October and December respectively. I signed Emanuele Calaio
from Torino for £3.5 million to bolster my Reserve team strike force.
January saw us taking part in the biennial World Club Championships. We
were drawn into a group together with River Plate (ARG), Mamelodi Sundown
(RSA) and Kashima Antlers (JPN). The other group saw Barcelona (SPA) with
Boca Juniors (ARG), DC United (USA) and Perth Glory (AUS). The group stage
was easy for us as we recorded identical 2-0 wins over all 3 teams. Leaving
us at the top of the group and we came face-to-face with Barcelona again.
The Final took place at the Antonio Vespucio Liberti Stadium in Buenos Aires.
58,000 spectators gathered there, most of them were Argentinians and for
the River fans, they were supporting us as Saviola is playing for us and
as for Boca fans, they were supporting Barcelona. Despite all the previous
games we had against Barcelona, this was by far the easiest one. Crowd favourite
Saviola got us off immediately in the 4th minute, scoring from long range.
Goalscorer soon turned provider as Saviola steadied himself before passing
the ball to Joe Cole. GOAL! Then it went back to a seesaw battle in midfield.
Chances came and went before Arsenal got on the score sheet again. This
time around, Man-of-the-Match Saviola, passed the ball into the feet of
Henry right inside the area. GOAL! 2 minutes later, some defensive error
allowed Rivaldo to sneak in and score a goal. Barcelona started attacking
and were soon awarded right before halftime, when Alfonso was set free by
Petit and his shot ended up in the back of the net. Halftime score Arsenal
3 Barcelona 2. The second half started exactly where the first half ended,
both sides still stick to their offensive tactics. In the 57th minute, Saviola
threaded a through pass to Henry. Henry steadies himself before unleashing
a 25-yard volley. GOAL! Barcelona finally caved-in and we shifted gears
by just keeping possession of the ball. 3 minutes before the end, Joe Cole
scored his second goal of the match after dribbling past the Barcelona porous
defence. We have won the World Club Championship again! What a thrashing
we dealt to Barcelona. Final score 5-2 for Arsenal. [ScreenShot]
Back in the Premier League, we gained revenge over Leicester's earlier win
over us by beating them 3-0. That was followed by a 4-2 win over Newcastle
and a 3-1 win over Manchester City. In the League Cup first-leg Semi Final
match against West Bromwich Albion. Goals by Spicer and Notman gave us a
2-1 lead after WBA finished the match with just 10 men. The return leg saw
4 players on the score sheet as we ran riot over WBA, thrashing them 4-1
to qualify for the League Cup Final against Bristol City. The FA Cup 5th
Round draw saw us taking on QPR. In the end, a solitary goal from Noble
in the 10th minute gave us a win.