I heard that Ashley Cole has now joined Frank Lampard at Derby County.
That started a train of thought and soon I wanted to find a Word file on Ashley Cole’s first great Big Game for Arsenal.
I couldn’t find it but started reading and then wondered whether this was the text of The Professor or a longer version.
It covers Ashley’s move to Chelsea, when he complained that the Arsenal team was run by a French clique, and describes a chunk of 2006-07. That was the first season in The Emirates Stadium
The Emirates Stadium took 123 weeks to build.
It cost £390 million and was completed on time and on budget by award-winning contractor Sir Robert McAlpine.The complex covered seventeen acres, the sightlines were fantastic, the specially-designed “Arsenal seat” was super-comfortable with generous legroom, and, since a football match is a social occasion as well as a sports event, the architects allowed fans to walk round inside the ground and meet up with friends.
There were 60,432 seats, compared to 38,500 at Highbury, with 1509 executive boxes holding 2,212 people, as well as 7,100 seats at Club Level, which cost from £2,500 to £4,750 a season. In the luxurious Diamond Club an elite 168 members had seats on the halfway line and the use of their own restaurant, bar, lounge and private balcony.
The corporate hospitality areas, between the lower and upper tiers, paid the bills, generating more income than the whole of Highbury, and allowed the club to repay the loans and give Thierry Henry a new four-year contract on £120,000 a week. Henry had known he was in a strong negotiating position before the Emirates opened.
On July 22, the club gave Dennis Bergkamp a splendid testimonial against Ajax where there was a festival atmosphere with the sell-out crowd saying, “Thanks, Dennis,” to a genuine guy who was, like Tony Adams, an irreplaceable team player.
Ian Wright owed him a lot and so did Anelka, Overmars, Vieira, Parlour and Ljungberg. For every footballer like Dennis Bergkamp there are 100 who move around for big signing-on fees and kiss different badges every two years.
Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky, 26, had signed from Borussia Dortmund on May 23 after activating a £6.8 million clause in his contract, replacing Robert Pires, 32, who left after six seasons to join Villarreal on a two-year deal. Jens Lehmann especially welcomed Rosicky, another German speaker, since he had been the sole translator for Alex Hleb up till then.
The first Premier League game was against Aston Villa and expectations were high, nerves were jangling., and when Lehmann made a mistake on a corner, Olof Mellberg headed the first league goal at the Emirates, but substitute Theo Walcott saved the day when he chipped to the far post for Gilberto to make it 1-1. On this evidence the wider pitch might work well for Eboue and Walcott, although the players needed time to get used to their new environment. “It will take about ten games, ” said Wenger.
In a Champions League qualifying game away to Dinamo Zagreb, Fabregas had scored twice in a 3-0 win. In the return leg Eduardo drilled a left-foot shot past Almunia and Arsenal scored after Henry replaced Adebayor. Ljungberg headed in a Robin van Persie free-kick before sub Walcott fizzed a ball across for Flamini to smash in for 2-1.
At Manchester City, Henry hit Nicky Weaver’s legs with his first chance, put his second wide, and had another effort saved by Weaver before a Robin van Persie shot hit the post. Four minutes into the second half, Hoyte’s clumsy turn flattened Trevor Sinclair, and Joey Barton converted the penalty. Toure headed against the bar and there were two wild free-kicks from Henry, who had eight goal attempts. “We should have won that game easy,” said Henry, before launching into a series of excuses and moans.
With Edelman controlling Arsenal’s business, David Dein was no longer involved in the day-to-day running of the club but he continued to work on transfers with Wenger. Ashley Cole was still one of the best footballers of his generation and Wenger wanted to keep him. On May 16, the Evening Standard had reported that Arsenal would tell the Premier League inquiry into the “tapping -up” affair that they had been negotiating a new contract with Cole, but that his agent Jonathan Barnett had wanted Arsenal to pay him £150,000 a year for each of the five years of Cole’s proposed new contract. Since “Colegate” was possibly the most flagrant breach of transfer regulations in English football history, the board were not inclined to pay Barnett £750,000 to re-sign a player who had been with Arsenal since he was nine.
On August 31, Dein and Wenger made two deadline-day deals, swapping Ashley Cole for William Gallas and £5 million, and exchanging Reyes for his pal Julio Baptista of Real Madrid, with both clubs having options to buy after one season.
Sol Campbell signed for Portsmouth, taking £80,000 a week off Wenger’s wage bill. The board allowed their prudent manager to control the entire playing budget, covering transfers and wages, so that what he saved in one way he could spend in another. In one summer he had lost five of the Invincibles: Pires, Campbell, Cole, Reyes, and Bergkamp.
After two league games and no wins, Wenger needed to beat Middlesbrough in a game which Patrick Vieira and his wife Cheryl watched from Bergkamp’s box. When Djourou made a mistake, James Morrison scored. A sunny day, a sleepy move, a goal from nothing, another anti-climax beckoning. Luckily, Downing tripped Eboue and Henry equalised from the spot.
Disturbed by the first three league results, Wenger told the team he wanted them to train on Sunday, the following day, and Thierry Henry allegedly said, “I’m not coming in.” Apparently, the manager took Henry into a room that you don’t see on the stadium tour and spent almost an hour with him. He dropped Henry secretly for the next two games, citing injury, rather than publicly rebuffing his captain.
In Hamburg, Arsenal won 2-1 with eleven players from eleven different countries, the first time that had ever happened in a UEFA competition.
The second game without Henry was at Old Trafford in front of a crowd of 79,595, with Adebayor and Ljungberg paired up front.
Adebayor muffed two early flicks, keeper Kuszczak brought him down in the box, Adebayor took the penalty himself – and the Pole saved it. Arsenal played all the football in the first half and their only scare was when a Cristiano Ronaldo shot hit Lehmann in the face. Second half, Fabregas won the ball from Ronaldo and played a short pass into the run of Adebayor, who scored the only goal of the game.
Arsenal won their next four league games and after a thrilling 4-0 annihilation of Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Fabregas said, “If we play like that, I don’t think a lot of teams can do a lot.” A 3-0 win over Liverpool saw goals by Flamini, Toure and Gallas, but in a midweek game at Fulham, Wenger rested Fabregas, played Song, and lost 2-1.
That shock result made it important to beat Tottenham at the Emirates on Saturday, December 2. On the Friday, Wenger again told his star he would not be playing and Henry left the training ground in a huff. This time it was in the papers. Everyone knew that the diva had thrown a tantrum after being dropped. Next day, in a sickening pantomime of loyalty, Henry was smiling and hugging his teammates in the tunnel before the game. He watched the team thrash Spurs 3-0 without him.
Having failed to beat Everton (1-1) or CSKA Moscow (0-0), Arsenal went to Upton Park and when Marlon Harewood scored in 88 minutes, Alan Pardew jumped into Wenger’s technical area and raised a clenched fist in his face and the managers pushed each other and exchanged abusive remarks. Pardew’s behaviour was very provocative but Wenger’s reaction was unprecedented. A few weeks later there was a rumour that he had offered his resignation.
Arsenal had played 22 games between Aston Villa on August 19 and Spurs on December 2 but had won only 12 and it was clear why results were so variable. The players did not yet feel at home at the Emirates, which was still like a neutral ground, the atmosphere suffered because Club Level was half-empty for half the game, and Thierry Henry only came alive late in matches.
In the first half he walked about or stood still, waiting for the opposition to tire so that he could turn on a spurt, score a goal, sprint towards the cameras, strike a pose, and jog off down the tunnel to conduct a humble TV interview.
In their Champions League group they finished top with three wins and two draws. They beat Porto 2-0 but lost 1-0 to CSKA in Moscow when a late Henry goal was wrongly disallowed for handball. CSKA then drew 0-0 in London, Hamburg were beaten 3-1, and a 0-0 against Porto on Matchday 6 suited both clubs, who each earned 11 points.
Against Blackburn in December, when Arsenal won 6-2, Fabregas was exceptional, playing one-touch and two-touch. The month ended with away games against relegation candidates. They beat Watford 2-1 but, on a wintry night at Sheffield United they didn’t turn up and lost 1-0.
2007 kicked off with a 4-0 home victory over Charlton, when Henry scored after five weeks out injured, and they won 3-1 at Liverpool in the FA Cup Third Round. Returning to Anfield three days later in the Carling Cup, Almunia’s handling was good, Toure and Djourou were magnificent, Justin Hoyte had Craig Bellamy in his pocket all night, and the final score of a surreal game was 6-3, Liverpool’s heaviest home defeat since 1929-30. Baptista’s touch was poor but he scored four goals.
At Ewood Park, referee Rob Styles sent off Gilberto early on, Toure headed a goal, Nonda and Derbyshire missed chances, then Henry exchanged passes with Fabregas before bending his shot into the far corner for 2-0. Blackburn had been outclassed by ten men and Fabregas said, “I think after the Sheffield United game we realised we had to play a different way.”
Premiership game 24 was Manchester United at the Emirates on January 21 and United bossed the first half. Henry was peripheral, Clichy did well against Ronaldo, Rooney scored with a header. The turning point was a scuffle when Fabregas tackled Scholes, won the ball, lost it to Evra, won it back, and released Rosicky, whose cross into the goalmouth bounced twice and flew beyond the far post, where Robin van Persie raced in at full stretch and blasted the ball high inside the post.
Sir Alex, apparently accepting a draw, took off Ronaldo in stoppage time, whereupon Henry headed in an Eboue cross to give the Emirates its first memorable, dramatic victory. Would this defeat galvanise the Red Devils into a title-clinching sequence? Sir Alex certainly thought so. He said, “The experience of losing so late will be good for us.” Van Persie had cracked his fifth metatarsal as he scored and his season was over.
By now, six months into the season, Cesc Fabregas was clearly Arsenal’s main man. His vision, skill and determination dictated their style of play, a technical game of pass-and-move which allowed them to dominate most opposition. Fabregas sees a lot and makes killer passes, as Bergkamp used to do.
The big question was: If it’s Cesc’s team now, where does Thierry fit in? Answer: right at the end of a game, where he nicks a ball off a defender, or pinches a yard, and scores. That was all Thierry did against United and that seemed to be how he wanted to play in Cesc’s team. Now that Vieira and Bergkamp had gone, Henry had free rein to throw his arms about, to sulk and sniff and moan. There was nobody there to tell him to stop him being a baby, because the manager who had spoiled him rotten had made it even worse by making him captain.
The English press gave him an easy ride, Sky loved him, everyone told him how wonderful he was, the TV adverts helped to trap him in a fame bubble, so he lost touch with reality and became very self-conscious, even in the way he related to other players. If somebody else had a shot, he turned round and clapped them in an obvious way. It was never subtle, never private, always for the crowd and the cameras: I’m giving you my seal of approval, I’m showing everyone that I think that was a decent effort.
His own performance was mostly shots now, not runs. The spectacular dribbler had become a strolling predator. He took vanity to a level we had never seen before in football. Would his mentor ever sell this narcissistic ballerina, buy a proper striker, and give everyone equal billing?
In the FA Cup Third Round, they had won 3-1 at Liverpool, but were abysmal at home to Bolton, for whom Kevin Nolan scored, and they needed a late header by Toure to earn another chance. Amazingly, Adebayor did not play at Wigan, suggesting that Wenger was saving him for the FA Cup replay. Henry, Walcott and Baptista were pitiful in the first 35 minutes, Danny Landzaat rifled in a shot from 25 yards, Wigan wasted time, and Lehmann got a finger to a Heskey shot that was going in for 2-0, a world-class save. Luckily, an own-goal and a Rosicky header made it 2-1.
They started brightly in the replay at Bolton and scored early when Adebayor’s shot was deflected in by Stelios but Meite equalised in stoppage time. Arsenal won 3-1 in extra time to reach the Fifth Round but they could not open up a nine-man Blackburn defence which came to the Emirates for a 0-0. Flamini was taking five touches while Henry just flounced around and fell over a lot. The line-up, with nine changes from Bolton, did not gel. The way to win that tie was to start Rosicky and Adebayor, score two goals, and then bring on some subs. Instead, Wenger went into it thinking about the next game against PSV Eindhoven, because winning his first European Cup meant more to him than winning his fifth FA Cup.
The first knock-out round started in Holland, where the game began as a sparring session between two possession teams. Rosicky had a couple of shots, Henry had several, PSV keeper Gomes made two saves, Kone scuffed a chance wide. Then, in 61 minutes, Peruvian Edison Mendez started a move of six passes and finished it with a scorching shot from 25 yards.
Rosicky was Arsenal’s best player, Senderos their next best. Everyone else under-performed. Fabregas looked tired, Gilberto was poor, Hleb was not really back into his rhythm yet, Gallas seemed far from match fit, and Henry gave the ball away too much.
So Arsenal were teamless, really, with Adebayor looking raw and naiïve, not knowing where to run in such a tactical game. A 1-0 defeat was not an irretrievable disaster but it looked as if Wenger was rotating his team out of its fluency. Partnerships were broken up all the time as players came in and out, and the side lost movement, accuracy and tidiness.
Clearly, the manager had to rotate because of injuries, fatigue, and a thin young squad, but his style was based on speed and rhythm. If you rest players because they’re not lively enough, then bring them back, they may be physically fresher but they’ve lost fluency. Even the goalkeeper suffered. Lehmann played, got dropped, played, got dropped again, and became less commanding.
From the cheapest Arsenal e-book of the 21st century: