by Tony Attwood
I have mentioned already that the start of the 21st century saw the start of serious doubts about referees where bizarre decisions started to cost us games – not least in the cup final of last season against Liverpool.
2001 continued the theme and again we looked at Liverpool as the team that seemed to be getting the benefits. In the away league game this season in December van Bronckhurst fell over in the penalty area. He made no claim for a penalty, and indeed no one made a fuss. Except the ref who sent him off for diving. Despite this Arsenal won, and moved into second place not too far behind Man U who were on an 8 match winning sequence.
This, and victories over Chelsea and Middlesbrough had brought the year to a more promising end.
Of course if you know any Arsenal history you know what happened next. From February onwards we won 13 games in a row, and that defeat against Newcastle proved to be the final defeat of the season.
We did not lose an away game all season in the league, the first time that happened since 1892, although you wouldn’t have known it from the media.
But if there is a memory that sticks in my mind, without going back and looking anything up, it is the match on 8 May away to Manchester United.
It is not just the victory, nor Wiltord’s goal. It is not the banner in the away section proclaiming that it was the Champions Section of Old Trafford although all these will stay forever. It was the sheer unadulterated violence of the match. The tackling was not fierce, it was threatening, completely over the top and 99% unpunished. It was as if the ref was saying, “you might be about to win the league, but this is a warning. Don’t think you can do it again”.
Why did he let such awful tackles go? Why did the commentary team on TV not pick up on the destruction of football by Man U, and their repeated attempt to maim Arsenal?
Man U of course were aggressive – we were taking away their crown and stopping them out-doing the three in a row that Arsenal had shown to be possible in the 1930s. No one had or has beaten that. But this went far beyond anything we had seen before which had gone unpunished. It was the start of the maiming era in football – the era that led ultimately to Shawcross and the rest.
As for the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal (now being renamed on Untold as the “under 12s supporters club” on the grounds that want it all now, and no excuses) they were increasingly vociferous up to and including the Newcastle defeat at home on 18 December, but then vanished, pretending as always they had never been there.
So Arsenal won the league, seven points clear of Liverpool and ten clear of Man U. Man U actually scored eight goals more than us. Tottenham came ninth.
Ipswich, Derby and Leicester went down with Man City, WBA and Birmingham City coming up (the latter arriving after coming fifth in the league). In the third division Brighton, Reading and Stoke were promoted to the second, while Luton came up from the fourth to the third (again use a straight counting of 1 2 3 4 to number the leagues to avoid confusion as the names changed). Halifax dropped out of the league.
For the battle of Old Trafford our team was…
Lauren Campbell Keown Cole
Parlour Vieira Edu Ljunberg
Henry and Adams were injured. Dixon came on as a sub for Kanu near the end.
Henry ended the season with 24 goals from 33 games. Vieira, Wiltord and Bergkamp also played over 30 league games. Adams only made it 10 times – a sign of the end of the famous back five.
The much derided Stepanovs was still in the side with six appearances. Jeffers came on six times and there was one youngster who made it into the team for the first time from whom much was expected: Aladiere.
Oh well, can’t win them all!
Next in the series: 2001/2 – the cups.
The whole “Wenger” series, so far… (in reverse order!)