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Wednesday
Sep122012

Restoring Belief

BY GUDNI GUDJONSSON / @gudnigudjons

A new season may have started, but memories of last year's highs and lows still linger fresh in the memory. 

As we all know, it didn't start well. After the sale of Fabregas and Nasri and the massacre at Old Trafford, it's fair to say I, like many Gooners, just wanted to shut my eyes and never open them again. I was repeatedly taunted by my mates, most of whom were United supporters.

It got to a point where my passion for football was so drained that when I sat down to watch a match the glorious sense of anticipation, which I usually enjoyed, had gone. It was a dark time in my life as an Arsenal fan. I can’t even imagine how you guys that live in England and have season tickets must have felt.

Anyways, enough of this, we all know that Arséne Wenger acted on the final day of the transfer window and the matches that followed clearly showed that we had a team after all.

After the final game of the season at against West Brom, and with a place in the Champions League secured, I began reminiscing about the best moments of the season. I narrowed it down to five, although at least ten sprung to mind…

29 October, 2011 – Van’s the Man at Stamford Bridge

Robin van Persie, what a player he is. Last season there were moments when I simply thought “How on earth did he do that?!?” He was simply amazing. His brace against Stoke at the Emirates, the free-kick against Sunderland, that marvelous goal against Everton on our 125th Anniversary and the goals against Liverpool at Anfield.

There is though one match where he really stood out for me…Chelsea vs Arsenal. I was in Norway visiting my sister-in-law at the time and not particularly optimistic ahead of kick-off. Our recent form at Stamford Bridge had not been good and I thought we had little chance of a draw, let alone three points.

When Frank Lampard put them one up I was even more pessimistic – thoughts of Old Trafford came flooding back. But then Aaron Ramsey put Gervinho through with a perfectly weighted pass. The Ivorian found himself one-on-one against Petr Cech and instead of scoring himself he found Robin van Persie on his left hand side for a simple tap in. It was a lovely goal and the pass from Ramsey was pure class.

Like the season as a whole, the match was a rollercoaster and just before half-time John Terry restored Chelsea’s advantage. We responded well, André Santos equalised soon after the break. He was the unlikeliest of scorers, he shouldn’t have been on the pitch after a terrible opening 45 minutes! Soon after, a fine goal from Theo Walcott saw us take the lead for the first time in the match. How he scored, I still don’t know.

It all seemed too good to be true. Of course, as the minutes ticked down Juan Mata stunned us with a great long-range goal to level the game again. I felt angry. Why couldn’t we hold onto a lead? Thankfully, there was a happy ending...

Watching John Terry fall on his arse as he went to control Florent Malouda’s back pass was hilarious, that it allowed Robin van Persie to skip through and score to put us 4-3 was even better! I screamed so loud, jumping around the living room as the ball went in. We’d done it, we were going to win…but there was more to come.

A good pass from Mikel Arteta to his left and a thunderous drive from Robin van Persie sealed the Dutchman’s hattrick. We'd scored five goals and had three points. This match showed the team’s desire and at the end you could see just what it meant to the boys. It was a great day and I never get tired of thinking about that match…especially the fourth goal.

9 January, 2012 – The Return of the King

In January we were treated to the return of a legend. Speculation had been rife for weeks before the club confirmed on 6 January that Thierry Henry had signed on a month long loan from New York Red Bulls. When I read the news I was so happy; my boyhood hero had returned! To see Thierry in Arsenal colours again was just amazing. We had seen Sol Campbell and Jens Lehmann return but this was something else. It was Thierry Henry, our record goalscorer and the best player to ever play in the Premier League.

His ‘debut’ was to be in the FA Cup against Leeds United at the Emirates. He started on the bench, but as the game wore on and we struggled to break down our stubborn visitors it became obvious we were going to need Henry’s help. 

He got his chance in the 68th minute. Marouane Chamakh, who’d been invisible, came off and our new No.12 came on. The Emirates rubbed its collective eyes in disbelief. The atmosphere was rocking. I watched this game at a pub here in Iceland and I had a funny feeling he’d score the moment he took to the field.

Within ten minutes the dream became a reality. Spotting an Henry run made behind the Leeds defence, Alex Song slipped a perfect pass into the box. In that moment everything stopped. Thierry took two touches, opened up his body and coolly slotted the ball into the far corner with his right foot. It was his trademark finish. The crowd exploded with joy. The King had announced his return.

I wish I could’ve been there that night. His celebration showed how much it meant to him and at the final whistle when he held his arms up in the air. He was at home. He was with the club that he loves so much. As he said afterwards: “It was my first goal as a supporter.”

4 February, 2012 – Seventh heaven against Rovers

Every season I try to make it to Arsenal at least once. I had been thinking about going to the North London derby in late February but when I discovered that Thierry Henry wouldn’t play that game, I decided that Arsenal’s match against Blackburn Rovers might be a better option. The next challenge was getting tickets.

I contacted one of my followers on Twitter, @Catsarse_, and asked him if he knew of any spares going. A few days later he reported that he’d got me two; one for me, one for my girlfriend. We decided to meet at The Arsenal Tavern two hours before kick off.

It was a great day. We arrived early at the stadium around 10am and I treated myself to an away shirt at the Armoury. After that it was off to The Tavern to meet this good lad. He handed over the tickets, we had a few drinks, chatted Arsenal and then it was time to take our seats in the North Bank upper. 

It didn’t take long before we were celebrating. Robin van Persie opened the scoring inside two minutes after a good run by Theo Walcott. We were all over Blackburn, but just past the half hour mark Morten Gamst Pedersen leveled with a great free-kick. This was not happening I said to myself.

We promptly took it up a gear. Another Theo assist saw Van Persie score his second of the game. Then Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was impressive from the start, bagged his first Premier League goal. Running onto a pass from his captain, he rounded the keeper and tucked the ball home to put the Gunners 3-1 up at half-time.

We didn’t let up in the second 45 minutes. Arteta converted after a Van Persie corner was cleared, then Oxlade-Chamberlain bagged his second. There was more. Robin van Persie completed his hattrick from a Coquelin assist to take the score to 6-1. Surely we weren’t the same team who days before had missed a hatful of chances at Bolton? 

Then in the last home game of his return Henry, on as a sub, got his chance to get on the scoresheet. There was barely seconds left in injury-time when Van Persie rolled the ball to the Frenchman inside the box. Via a deflection off Scott Dann the ball nestled in the back of the net. It has since been deemed an own goal, but at the time I didn’t care. In my mind it will always be Thierry’s. A 7-1 win and a wonderful day at the Emirates.

After the match I walked around the stadium to see the statues of Tony Adams, Herbert Chapman and Thierry Henry. The statue of Adams is my favourite. I was at Highbury when he scored that goal 14 years ago. You can read all about it in my previous entry. I don’t know what it is but every time I visit The Emirates Stadium...I get this feeling as if it is my first time. There’s something in the water or the beer, I don’t know. There’s a feeling that I can’t describe when I take my seat and see the pitch and watch the players warming up. The chants from the home crowd, the joy when we score and the happiness when we take all three points. It is just amazing.

26 February, 2012 – Sagna starts the comeback against Spurs

The sun was shining and there was everything to play for when Tottenham visited the Emirates for the second North London derby of the season. Our neighbours were 10 points ahead of us in the League and were happy to taunt us  with their “Mind the Gap” chants – you almost couldn’t blame them, for the first time since 1995 it looked like they might finish above us in the table.

Even though I was only watching on TV I could tell the Emirates was rocking and the boys were up for the challenge. Suddenly that all changed as Louis Saha put Spurs in the lead after five minutes. Having just lost to AC Milan and Sunderland away, it looked like it might be one of those days…all the more so when the referee awarded a penalty after the Saha was felled in the box. Adebayor (I hate saying his name) tucked the ball home to double the advantage. The Arsenal side looked like they were still in the dressing-room.

But then something happened. Robin’s equaliser was great, Rosicky’s effort clinical and Theo’s brace amazing. However, none of the above would have happened had Bacary “Mr. Consistent” Sagna not said, “enough is enough” and headed the home to start the comeback.

The team grew in confidence and took the bull by the horns – each player fighting for the other. Spurs couldn’t deal with Arsenal that afternoon. The midfield was ours, the defence that looked shaky at the start became rock solid, while the forwards were ruthless. We scored five! It was probably our best game since Chelsea away. What could’ve been a 13 points gap was instead just seven.

Sagna’s goal was not the best goal of the match but it was great to see how his efforts sparked life into the rest of the team. It was a great match on a great day and as Sagna himself later stated:“In our own stadium, against the enemy, we could not lose.”

8 April, 2012 – Arteta sinks City

Coming at a vital stage of the season this match was of great significance to both teams. Arsenal needed three points to widen the gap on Tottenham while Man City needed a win to maintain their title challenge. Pre-game, the focus was on Samir Nasri...hardly surprising.

From what I can remember we were largely in control in the first half, although chances were few and far between. Our best effort was a Van Persie header which was accidently blocked on the line by Thomas Vermaelen.

Mario Balotelli was wreaking havoc, but not up front. The Italian studded Alex Song on the knee in a challenge which was more akin to assault. The linesman was in a good position and the fourth official as well but somehow Mario wasn’t red carded. It was a disgrace. 

In the second half it was the same story. We continued to dominate proceedings, but still couldn’t break the deadlock. Robin had a goal disallowed for offside and it felt like we may have to settle for a point. It felt like ‘typical Arsenal’ – long periods of possession, but no penetration. Then, with only a few minutes left, Mikel Arteta pounced on a loose ball by David Pizarro. The Spaniard strolled forward ten yards and then struck a thunderous shot. It was past Joe Hart in the blink of an eye and was, in my mind, a candidate for goal of the season.

The stadium erupted with joy and I celebrated the goal like Iceland had won the World Cup or something. In injury-time things got worse for City with Balotelli finally getting his marching orders for another nasty challenge, this time on Sagna. When the whistle went, it was nice to reflect that in football, money isn't always everything!

______________

As I mentioned earlier this is my second entry for The Arsenal Collective. Last year when Arsenal hit a hard patch it was always nice to check in and read stories from fellow Gooners all around the world revelling in the glory days. Don’t worry I'm sure they will come again. In Arséne we trust, after all! I want to end this entry of mine with words that is so descriptive about our club. “Form is temporary class is permanent.”

Up the Gooners! Greetings from Iceland

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