Writing for A Cultured Left Foot, @GeezyPeas looks back at Arsenal's 3-2 win against Aston Villa in December 2001.
Sometimes you just know.
I’ve always struggled when tasked with writing about a game from the past. It’s not that I don’t have fond memories, I probably have more than most but I’m not sure most are ones people would want to read about. Finals, league deciders - obvious choices but that’s why they’ve been covered over and again, from Catford to Kathmandu by more natural and accomplished writers than me, so I’ve always avoided them.
This article first appeared on A Cultured Left Foot in June 2013
When I’ve tried to write about more obscure or less memorable matches in the past, I’ve ended up deviating so much that I’ve forgotten what game I was writing about.
Despite being the type who’s always got something to say, I’m don’t like writing about particular games, something maybe to do with my relationship with the club. The Arsenal are supported by almost everyone in my family, it’s something I’ve always done and will probably always do. I’m not obsessed with winning trophies nor am I the type to measure the positive emotional return I think I’m getting for the time and money I’ve invested. I’m just obsessed with Arsenal so for the most part, each game kinda means everything and nothing to me in equal measure.
Of course I love to see us win, I still struggle with nerves before and during games – singlehandedly keeping Polo in business for the last few seasons. I feel **** when we lose, on top of the world when circumstance dictates that a particular victory leads to winning the league, lifting a cup, finishing in the top four or simply above the lilywhites at the other end of Seven Sisters (18 years…) but I’m not going burn ants with a magnifying glass if we don’t win as many games as I’ve decided we should in a season.
I’ve gone off track, haven’t I? Well, I did warn you so if you’ve got this far, you might as well carry on as a match report is coming, though it is likely to be a bit Aaron Lennon; short and, well, you get drift.
The match I’ve chosen to relive in my head and write about is one I think about fairly regularly actually; Highbury against Aston Villa, in the 2001/02 season. Some of you will know the game I’m talking about immediately but I guess the most won’t.
I don’t have vivid memories of the entire match and while I remembered who’d got them, I did have to run through a two-minute video on YouTube to remember all the goals themselves.
One goal I definitely couldn’t forget was scored by a boyhood hero of mine in front of the North Bank. Sadly, it wasn’t for Arsenal but the returning Paul Merson putting Villa into an early lead. A long kick downfield was knocked on by Dublin to Merse who was clean through, with both the ball on the bounce and Taylor well off his line. He simply clipped the ball over the top of the keeper and into an empty net, it was an awful goal to concede and Route One football at its purest (sound familiar?)
"One goal I definitely couldn’t forget was scored by a boyhood hero of mine in front of the North Bank"
Seeing one of my heroes score against us wasn’t something I was used to and sentiment obviously got the better of me because I went absolutely mental at him. To this day, I remember him milking the celebration far more than video suggests he actually did. I think I’m even doubting the footage right now.
Villa’s second came pretty soon after. Poor defending of a wide free kick, swung deep to our far post. Lauren’s poor header flashed across the six-yard area to Campbell, who could only clear it as far the edge of the box. The ball was turned straight back in, bounced off a couple of bodies, eventually falling to Steve Stone to control and finish from around the penalty spot to double the lead. It was a bit smash and grab but Villa were a decent side and we’d played midweek, so I don’t think many saw us coming back from being two down at the interval.
Wenger, the man who according to some has never made a substitution before the 70th minute, made two at half-time. Wiltord for Ljungberg - who I thought was unlucky to be replaced - and Keown for Upson. I was disappointed to see Freddie go off; I was in love with him at the time and thought Parlour, who’d had a bad half should’ve made way... but never mind that, keep reading.
Wiltord made an immediate impact, scoring after just a minute or so. It gave us real hope that we could get something out of the game. Pires set Parlour free down the right - after me slating him at half time - who did brilliantly to cut back inside before crossing in for Wiltord to volley home left-footed.
We made a couple of chances straight after the goal but the momentum really dropped. Hope of winning the game had all but gone, thoughts now focused on just grabbing an equaliser.
Villa knocked the ball around in their own half, trying to waste time, perhaps even kill the game on the break. We were wise to these tactics. Leading by example, captain Patrick Vieira set the tone by closing everything down and this would eventually pay dividends. With 20 minutess to go, he made up an incredible amount of ground, reading the play before the ball was even switched from the far left over to the Villa right back, Samuel, from whom he snatched the ball. Quick as a flash, the perfect cross found an on-running Henry. With one touch, he managed to lose his marker and sit Enkelman on his ****, before stroking the ball home. It was one of those difficult chances that Henry was able to make look so easy.
After that there was only going to be one winner, though we had to wait until injury time for it to arrive. It felt as if it wasn’t going to come as Villa continued to frustrate us but poor play from them led to our equaliser and the same could be said for our winner. An unchallenged Ashley Cole was able to knock Enkelman’s clearance back into central midfield where Pires won a 50:50 against a half-hearted challenge from Boateng, before sliding a perfect pass through the middle of Villa’s static high defensive line to Henry. In trademark fashion, Thierry ran slightly off the natural line, onto the ball at an angle before opening his body up, passing the ball low and hard to keeper’s left. Cue rapture.
"Every hair on my body stood up, the atmosphere was electric, carried through from an amazing win against Juve just a few days earlier"
Every hair on my body stood up, the atmosphere was electric, carried through from an amazing win against Juve just a few days earlier. Despite each win having no tangible effect at the time beyond the 3 points in each competition, I’d say it was probably my favourite week at Highbury ever.
Until reading the match report today, I couldn’t even remember the literal implications of the win. There weren’t any really; we were still three points off Liverpool who sat top. There was a bloody long way to go from December but sometimes, well, you just know, it’s a feeling I can’t describe. Immediately after Henry scored the winner, I distinctly remember turning to my old man and with no hesitation saying “we’re going to win the league now, you watch“. In truth, there was probably a lot of cheering and swearing prior to my declaration but that’s the bit that stands out.
I know ‘sometimes you just know’ is a bit weak but its hard to look back and properly articulate the feelings I had at that moment beyond that. I wish I’d written about it at the time so I could, but I didn’t so that’ll have to do.
I guess it’s the silver lining of the drunken cloud that most daily and matchday bloggers get to enjoy. Their immediate memories and emotions from the time are documented, meaning they can relive them in a way most of us couldn’t before taking to Arsenal online forums and more recently Twitter.
Anyway, that’s me done. Cheers for reading, if you enjoyed it and ancy buying me a drink sometime, mine’s a spiced rum and coke!