Arsenal win Xmas – but Chelsea will be tough

By Myles Palmer

Arsenal won the title and the FA Cup, and then they won


And Arsenal FC are top of their Champions League group after two games.You can’t ask for more than that.

Well, you can-I know Gooners.


I’ve just had my first email of 2003.

It’s from my Chelsea-supporting pal Ian Pollock in Thailand.

It’s 2003 over there while it’s 2002 in UK, so it’s an email from the future,almost.

Ian says Chelsea’s strongest team is :


Melchiot, Desailly, Gallas, Babayaro;

Zenden Lampard, Petit, Le Saux ;

Gudjohnsen, Hasselbaink (sub. Zola)

More on that later.

____________________________________________________________THE XMAS GAMES WERE PREDICTABLE, WEREN’T THEY?.

Middlesbrough came to defend and never had a shot on target and were beaten 2-0,

Boro had three shots, none on target, I think. Seaman was unemployed, as he likes it

First half was strange.Wiltord could not trap a bag of cement, and Arsenal created a few half-chances of which the best was a Sol header.

GILBERTO WAS AWESOME in that first half, maybe his best half so far.

He knocked off awkward balls to teammates with uncanny skill while he had two or three men on him.

Sol scored the winner with a power header from a Van Bronckhorst free-kick.

WEST BROM defenders made two cardinal errors to give Arsenal two goals after Danny Dichio headed in a right wing corner for 1-0.

With neither Pires nor Bergkamp starting the game, Arsenal struggled to create openings. Jeffers started but got little service.

Then just after halftime Henry’s cross was miskicked by Larus Sigurdsson to the poaching Jeffers, who clipped it into the net off the keeper’s body.

A real fox-in-the-box equaliser and only Franny’s third Prem goal in 13 appearances since signing 18 months ago.

VIEIRA WAS IMMENSE AT WEST BROM,so it was fitting that his initiative led to the winner.

He blocked Adam Chambers’s clearance and the ball rebounded for Henry to zip past advancing keeper Russell Hoult and knock into an empty net.

A few minutes earlier Henry has missed a gaping chance,shooting wide with his left foot.

Then the moment came for him to score his usual get-out-of-jail goal, and he took it sweetly and gratefully.

The explosive Jason Roberts gave Keown problems at Highbury in the 5-2 game, I remember, and here he burst beyond Keown and hit a shot against the post.

Replays showed that the shot was diverted slightly off Seaman’s studs onto the post.

Wenger and Houllier?

I don’t think they are close. Houllier knows what Arsene teaches and that is why Arsenal always struggle to beat them.

I’m pretty sure that Arsene hates the way Liverpool play because it is so defensive and old-fashioned.

Arsene is an attacking coach who, while he loves defensive efficiency in his own team, looks to score goals in every game,home and away.

But AW can’t come out and say that that Houllier’s Liverpool is everything he abhors.

The two Frenchmen are friends and they have to live together and express their rivalry within the acceptable norms of English sporting conduct.


First half,tight and boring, the kind of game that goes in one eyeball and out the other.

Ref Jeff Winter was correct to disallow Sol’s header for that push on Diao, as Sol sportingly admitted on TV.

0-0 at half-time, Diouf coming on for hamstring-tweaker Owen in 33, Kanu playing like a plank as usual, and only one moment of near-illuminaton, a tasty little Pires-Henry -Wiltord move on the left, foiled by Kirkland’s fast-advancing block at the expense of a corner.

That was on 32 minutes.

After that only three things happened.

Seaman embarrassed himself yet again by bottling a 50-50 as Baros closed in on him by his near post.

Quite amazing that a pro keeper, even one as feeble and elderly as Seaman, could allow a striker to walk right through him and shoot – against the post.

He dived out feet first and used his gloves to protect his face. No wonder he missed the ball !

But having watched Seaman’s antics at Spurs, when he tried to dribble round Robbie Keane, I now expect the worst.

If you saw that incident on TV, you will not forget it lightly.If you’re a Gooner and missed it, be glad.

Because watching Seaman panic and attempt to dribble round ROBBIE KEANE, one of the brightest improvisational strikers in the league, was just comical.

You watched in disbelief and thought : WHAT IS HE DOING?

I’ve been watching Seaman since 1988, when he was excellent at QPR, and the Keane farce was the most stupid thing I’ve ever seen him do on a football field.

By not retiring, David Seaman has tarnished his legend.

But I digress.

The other two incidents were the goals.

Gerarrd’s lovely long pass found Baros running into the box and he was looking for Sol’s outstretched foot to trip over.

Sol’s boot came and missed the ball by only five inches, down went the Czech, and Danny Murphy buried it from the spot in fine style.

Murphy is the Premiership’s most-improved player over the last 24 months, so I knew he would score.

A rash tackle by Sol. Baros could not have scored from that angle.

But maybe Sol thought he could.My usual verdict on these is that the last defender sometimes has to say: OK you’ve beaten me, now beat my keeper !

But Baros had just walked through Seaman. So that might have made Sol so desperate that he lunged for a ball he was unlikely to reach.

Jeffers came on for Wiltord in 77, joining Bergkamp, who had replaced Kanu, and within two minutes Jeffers had spun onto Bergkamp’s jabbed pass into the box.

Riise put his arm glancingly across the ribs of Jeffers, who took one more step and dived.That is what pro strikers do when their team is 1-0 down at home with ten minutes to go.

If Jeffers collapsed, the crowd would scream, and most refs who have already given a pen for the away team will give one for the home team.

HENRY smashed the penalty down the middle as Kirkland dived to his own left.

Replay? I looked at the slo-mo six times and still couldn’t decide whether Riise’s knee just caught Jeffers’s leg.

So,anyway, Arsenal finished 2002 on top of the table with a handsome seven points from their last three games.

Just what we expected from the champions at Xmas.

No surprise that Houllier should spend ten minutes squealing at the press confernce, able to talk about little else other than the Jeffers dive.

That moan is what Reds fans want to hear : that Franny Jeffers is a bad guy who used to play for Everton, so he would dive in the Liverpool penalty area, wouldn’t he?

CHELSEA will be another story.

The Blues play superior football to Liverpool.But Ranieri has changed his line-up too much in recent games, destabilising a solid side that was churning out good results.Seven changes at Leeds led to a 2-0 defeat.

Hasselbaink is a proper centre forward, my kind of No 9 and if he had been playing on two legs in the FA Cup Final it would have been a different game.

Indeed,if Jimmy had been match fit at the start of the season Chelsea might have been eight points clear when December started.

I love him. He is exciting, explosive, mean, an animal in training, so they say.And, away from football, a sweet guy, they say.

Jimmy has only run offside 14 times this season.

Thierry, playing more games, has been offside 32 times already.

JFH is more consistent than Van Nistelrooy, who can score three goals or miss six.

JFH is more skilful than RVN, more two-footed, more focused. And he has a harder shot.

A very dangerous player in a game against Arsenal, Hasselbaink has scored six in nine games against them for Leeds and Chelsea.

Gudjohnsen is dynamic but also cute, a striker with a brain. Like JFH, he can score from crosses.

He dummied that Frank Lampard cross last week because he knew it was gonna bounce in.Clever! I rate him. He would be the perfect replacemnt for Bergkamp

Cudicini has had a calf strain but should play, not De Gooey. A big factor.

Gallas is quicker than an antelope. He is so fast he makes Des Walker look like John Jensen.

And John Terry or Desailly will be the other centreback.

John Terry is a talker who can read the game, so I rate him highly as well.

Terry may not be as big a cowboy as the tabloids would have us believe. Dont have any inside info on that one.

He is not the quickest but he can’t half play.And he can score goals too.

Gallas was a forward when he was at the Clarefontaine academy with Thierry.

For me, this is a key game,a pivotal game, a game which will tell me whether Arsenal have the bottle and stamina to win back-to-back titles.

If they can beat Chelsea convincingly, I’m 100% sure Arsenal will be champions again.

But, as I hope I’ve made clear, beating Chelsea convincingly will be very,very difficult.

However, Vieira and Gilberto are much stronger than Petit and Lampard, so midfield is where the game should be won.

Thats it, folks.

Enjoy tonight, because 2003 will be an ugly year.

I hate war, hate W, Cheney,Rumsfeld, Rove, Bush senior,all of those scumbags. But don’t get me started on that.

What was the popular new catchphrase of 2002?

Don’t even go there.

The US government? Don’t even go there.

New Year’s Eve, 2002.