Category Archives: Invincibles

30 Year Anniversary – Class of 91

Almost Invincible.

Thirty years ago, Arsenal, George Graham and his multi-talented but miniscule squad began a campaign that should be ranked amongst our finest achievements.

The end result was the First Division Championship – but the sheer scale and number of obstacles put in the path of this ‘Class of 91’ adds a deeper lustre to this particular achievement.

As it’s the 30th anniversary of this amazing side, my publisher and I thought it would be good to re-release the book – with some extra content and some new content and info from members of the team themselves – to commemorate it.

You can order this Special Anniversary Edition here.

True, football was vastly different to the sport as we know it today. From the contrasting levels of physicality within matches to fitness regimens, diets and everything in between, football back in 1990 presented different challenges to nowadays.

It doesn’t lessen what the Class of 91 managed though.

There were still 38 opportunities for failure – and for Arsenal to avoid this 37 times out of that 38 is on a level with The Invincibles team.

Does that sole loss really create a gulf between the two incarnations of Arsenal? Is the fact that the Class of 91 succumbed to a ridiculously unlucky loss a telltale sign that Wenger’s team of 2004 was markedly better? Because the rest of the numbers points to Graham’s men as the superior team.

More goals scored, less conceded. A far smaller squad to navigate the season with. These are big indicators regarding the merits of that side that came so close to achieving the immortality that The Invincibles now enjoy.

Thirty years is a long time, but it isn’t the length of time that has dimmed the spotlight that should always be focused on this side. It is that one little ‘l’ that stops the Class of 91 being talked about in the same vein as The Invincibles.

That loss was inflicted on a mire of a pitch, with our skipper incarcerated at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. It was given to us with a shockingly brutal tackle on Steve Bould, which then forced George Graham to call upon a fresh-faced David Hillier (a midfielder) to act as a band-aid in the centre of defence in the absence of the injured Bould. This loss was thrust upon Arsenal by an offside goal and a flood of fixtures beforehand that left this threadbare squad exhausted.

This side overcame a points deduction too, after the infamous Battle of Old Trafford.

It is tough to find another championship-winning side that has had to overcome more – and was victorious in such a comprehensive manner. You could even argue that the competition in 1990-91 was far more competitive than in 2003-04, when there were only two other contenders. Thirty years ago, Liverpool were the all-conquering champions and had dominated the last twenty years or so. The First Division also had an exciting Crystal Palace side with a forward line to send fear into any defence. Manchester United were assembling something that resembled a challenge and even Tottenham had true class in their side thanks to Gazza and Gary Lineker.

There were more thrills and spills on the way of course, but I don’t want to spoil the book for you.

So, Almost Invincible – the 30th Anniversary of the Class of 91 – is out now. New cover, new content – but the story will still tell you all about this amazing journey Arsenal had that year and how they overcame insurmountable odds to earn the title – and what should be a permanent place in footballing history.

http://bit.ly/ArsenalClassOf91

Is Your Trophy Gold?

Watford threw up a surprise with their 3-0 hammering of champions-elect Liverpool.

In the Reds’ list of remaining games of the season, the trip to Vicarage Road looked to be one of the most innocuous, but a Sarr-inspired performance earned a deserved win – one that meant two of our biggest achievements remain unsullied.

It was close but our record for most matches without loss – 49, 49 undefeated – and our Invincibles season remain intact and without equal.

Jurgen Klopp’s side came mightily close. We were left sweating, looking at every match, result, goal and feeling increasingly resigned to seeing Liverpool grab their own version of an undefeated season.

This is something we will have to get used to.

Just one look at the top five unbeaten sequences shows that both Liverpool and City have both gone on runs that have come close to reaching that magical mark of 49. Klopp’s side were just five games away from matching that number – and it shows that the Premier League is changing – and not for the better.

The disparity between the ‘have’s’ and ‘have not’s’ is growing. TV money may have inflated every single team’s budget, but the gap between Liverpool, City and the rest in the last three seasons is akin to seeing an iceberg break off and sail off into the sunset.

The quality and consistency is something that the next group of teams can only dream of – and that includes us.

It means that the gold trophy and that famous chant we reverberate around our stadium regarding playing the Arsenal way? It will be something we cling to ever more feverishly as the Scousers and City continue to push the standards higher.

Gold trophy

The time will come when a side does take the season by storm and avoids defeat for the entirety. If Liverpool keep this form up they will earn far more points that our Invincibles did and so the claims will be made that Klopp’s team were far better.

Every conversation in the media about the greatest ever team to grace the Premier League involves talk of our greatest ever side. If Liverpool did do the unthinkable and match our achievement, it wouldn’t lessen what Arsene Wenger masterminded in 2004.

But, there will come a time when it happens again, and it won’t be the big gap between the first occurrence of an unbeaten season and ours – Preston in the 1800’s. It will be in the next ten to twenty years, perhaps sooner.

We need to get to grips with that. The panic involved when watching Liverpool systematically dismantle each challenger was real. The game before their loss to Liverpool saw West Ham take the lead but ultimately fall short as Liverpool kicked into gear. It was like they had woken up and then seemed to score at will. It was frightening, they have been that way for the majority of the season.

That is why we all worried. All records were in sight for the Reds, they had dropped points just ONCE.

They have got lucky of course. VAR and some comical defending/goalkeeping has gifted them points they shouldn’t have registered but there can be no argument about them not deserving the title.

Still, their defeat to Watford at least allows us to keep those records in our armoury for a little longer at least.

With City possibly being without European competition next season and Liverpool with a squad in rude health, next season could be tougher than ever for the rest of the league, never mind our intent to keep our records untarnished.

At the moment though, is their trophy gold?

 

The Crowning Of The Highbury King – Thierry Henry

Knee-high socks.

Knee slide.

Face of consternation.

Feet like the wind.

Thierry Henry signed for Arsenal from Juventus twenty years ago – and our club, the Premier League and every single Gooner have never been the same since.

Fresh from a victorious World Cup campaign with France, Henry was lured to join the Gunners after a chance flight that saw him share with none other than his former coach and the Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger.

The rest isn’t just history, it is ingrained on our consciousness and it leaves us all with the same thought;

Can’t we rewind time to the moment he signed, so I could truly appreciate him in our shirt?

Of course, we all adored him, and it was easy to see why. But hindsight is ever the powerful and redundant tool, and we hark back to when he was in his pomp, in the red and white. And when we do, we realise that we had a footballing immortal in our midst.

The argument over not only the greatest Premier League import, but the greatest Premier League era player rumbles on continuously and Thierry is rightfully mentioned in those verbal tussles. But if we look at the rivals for the crown, we see that they all possessed something special, but Henry had it all.

When Le King started out with us, sans crown, the leading lights of the competition were the likes of Zola, Andy Cole, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Vialli.

All incredible goalscorers. Some had the ability to ghost into the box and find the perfect spot, some had the ability to always know where the keeper was and thus have the advantage. Others had rapier speed. A few could boast an incredible touch, outwitting their marker with a swish of their boot.

Thierry Henry had all of that and then some.

Bronze Henry.jpg

There was a period between 2002-05 where Henry truly was the greatest player on this planet. Goals rained down in the Premiership, Champions League, FA Cup, internationals. All spewing forth from the brain of Thierry. Left foot, right foot, even the occasional headed goal (the sole weakness of the player), he rained terror upon defenders who simply couldn’t deal with the arsenal that Henry possessed.

He could burn them with pace. If he came up against a defender who could keep up with him, he would use movement to beguile him. If the opposing number was a good man-marker, then his physical strength could give him the edge to find half a yard.

It also helped that he could score from any area of the pitch.

During our Invincibles season, there were moments that took the breath from your lungs. He gave us instances that had no parallel. His four goals versus Leeds, at one point he outpaced the entire backline so convincingly but with what appeared to be very little effort – his run looked like it was on ice, such was the silkiness of his gate.

His goal that changed the game versus Liverpool – y’know the one, where Carragher was so badly confused with Henry’s movement that he twisted himself into a heap? – was done with a touch that had no equal – bar Bergkamp – and all processed while he was running faster than anyone on the pitch.

We have a lot to thank Henry for, but the fact he played his best years in our shirt when he could have gone anywhere, that makes it all the more special. He loves the club, and the statue outside the ground is fitting tribute to what he achieved.

He missed out on the Ballon D’Or during his career, but twice finished inside the Top3. He would certainly have deserved it had he won during his best years, but looking back on his time at Arsenal, his legacy isn’t tarnished by not winning it.

His legacy is that he is the benchmark that all strikers are held up against now. Aguero’s goal ratio is incredible, but has he done it with the style of Henry, from all corners of the pitch? Kane is prolific, but has he scored 20+ goals for five consecutive seasons? Auba is fast, but is he ‘Henry’ fast?

The game is inexorably different to the one pre-Titi.

Much like former Sky man Andy Gray gasped during yet another Henry goal:

“I’ve seen most things in this league in the last twenty five years. I haven’t seen anything like him. I said at the beginning of the game that he is special. He’s more than that – he is irreplaceable.”

How right he was.

Twenty years has passed since Henry joined, and we now have the most incredible showreel in all of our minds.

Blistering run.

Henry.

Chance.

Goal.

 

Trademark knee slide.

Fan Favourite Freddie

Professional footballers have become even harder to reach.

The pedestal they stand upon has reached a heady height, craning your neck up to see this sporting icon and suffering dizzying vertigo as a result.

Social media, a tool that should shorten the gap between ground level and the clouds upon which they sit, instead drags them further away from your lowly position. A constant stream of images from far flung places gives you the initial experience of being ensconced in their world – but it is a different plane, sitting parallel to yours.

It of course used to be different, but the last two decades has seen an exponential rise in a footballer’s stock. Image is everything, but it isn’t as if we never had players who were iconic.

The hair, the clothes, the whole package screaming of the super-cool. From Charlie George in the 70s, Champagne Charlie in the 80s, Wrighty in the 90s – they were always the most popular amongst fan picks.

My personal favourite?

Freddie Ljungberg.

The super Swede immortalised himself with his red hair, bringing the fans adoration close simply with the right choice of hair colour (Danny Rose tried and failed).

He was a good looking fellow, no dispute, but it was his hair that made him an icon, coupled with one other asset.

His knack of scoring goals – important goals.

Was there another of his era who was better at ghosting into the box? His timing was perfection, his finishing unerring, his hair bright red.

Freddie with PL trophy

Goals flowed, and his debut against Man United in 1999 saw a lobbed finish over Peter Schmeichel that lives long in the memory.

I tried to recreate his hairstyle, only succeeding in making my hair pink and waiting days for it to wash out. It was my attempt to pay homage to a player who had become my idol. There was no social media then that allowed a window into their life. I simply had to read up on whatever titbit of info was available.

My hair travesty aside – I am now bald like the man himself and this style is much easier to manage – Ljungberg earned his way into our hearts because he gave his all on the pitch, and his goals were a huge reason why we won the title in 2002. His run of goals in the business end of the season kept us afloat. Bergkamp could find his incessant runs easily, and when in the box, Freddie always found a way.

He is often overlooked in terms of his importance to that great era, but the right side of midfield was always an option for whomever was on the ball, and he dutifully did his defensive duties effectively.

In short, Freddie had no discernible weakness, aside from his infernal wisdom teeth, which put him out of action for many games on separate occasions. Has there been a player who has possessed his particular set of skills since? Perhaps Rambo, but has the Welshman done it with such panache?

Did he do it with red hair?

Freddie will always hold a special spot in my memory, because he was the first player who I wanted to be. He was the first player I put on the pedestal and aimed to be like – and I got a neck ache in the process.

Freddie is now managing our kids, and we get to see him often. His red hair might be gone, and the barrier between player and fan is still high. Even sans-rouge locks, Freddie oozes cool, and I know that should the barrier come down and I get a chance to meet him?

I’d still be a mess meeting my hero.

The Best PL Side Ever?

A recent BBC poll – one of many – asked a question that many would think redundant. It wasn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last – to prove my point, a poll recently after this was to decide which pairing was best – Yorke and Cole or Bergkamp and Henry…

The poll in question however, mused on which team was the best in the PL era.

There have been a few.

Chelsea’s title-winning team of 05/07 under Jose’s first spell was a beast of a team, and their defensive record still stands.

Our own Double-winning team of 97/98 were included, the perfect blend of rough with smooth.

Then there were the main contenders.

The United Treble-winning team of 99.

City’s winning outfit last season, the first to 100 points.

And The Invincibles.

United-v-Arsenal-main

Putting aside my fierce and indignant bias, let us look at the numbers.

Firstly, if we are deciding which club had the best Premier League side, then external achievements need to be cast aside. So, United’s famous CL win cannot affect this judgement.

Fergie’s winning team won the league by a solitary point from Arsenal that year. This doesn’t scream out unparallelled quality, it shows that they had a team that was its near equal.

What of City’s steamrollering team of last year?

The first to reach 100 points, 106 goals scored and 27 conceded, 32 wins from 38 – only six games where they failed to get the win.

Truly frightening statistics.

What of The Invincibles?

Well, 12 draws means 12 games where we failed to win – double that of Guardiola’s side.

Seventy three goals scored, 26 conceded, a goal difference of plus 47.

The only stat we can boast that is superior is our defence.

Aside from one small factor – the losses column.

What weight does that zero carry? Is it heavier than the avalanche of goals City scored? Is it worth more than that and the paltry six games they failed to win? We went 49 games without defeat – still a record.

To decide which team trumps the other is fiendishly difficult, but the Gunners are still the only side to go through a campaign unbeaten – and the only recipients of a gold League trophy.

When City were putting teams to the sword last season, the world and his dog were predicting that Guardiola would oversee an unbeaten season. The matches ticked down and no team looked likely to beat them, but beaten they were.

City achieving what they did was miraculous, and they did so in an arguably more difficult league, but they couldn’t manage a loss-less season.

Will this poll settle the argument? No. But ask yourself this;

If any other set of fans had an unbeaten season in their recent history, would they let us forget it? Would they admit that other teams were better? Not a chance.

Our Invincibles side, no matter what objective view is aired, will always be the barometer that all amazing sides need to match up to.

From back to front, we were packed with talent and did the unthinkable with a smaller squad than City, and with just as much swagger, if not more.

Yet it wasn’t our Invincibles side that won the poll, nor was it City’s squad of last season.

United’s Treble-winners won the poll.

Ignore the poll, we know the answer.

Martin Keown – The Rash and Much More

The famous Arsenal back 5 is renowned for being perhaps the finest exponent of defending hailing from these shores in the modern generation.

Spanning two decades, David Seaman, Nigel Winterburn, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Lee Dixon were assembled by then Arsenal boss in the late eighties, and were hewn into the offside-trap using, tough-tackling, impregnable unit we know, and Arsene Wenger then went on to prolong their careers with his modern dietary methods and free-thinking that was a breath of fresh air – and revitalised them.

They won league titles and cups, and the greatest strikers of that era cite them as the most difficult they faced in their time – and rightfully so.

Martin Keown is not mentioned in the same breath, although in terms of defensive merits, he more than held his own.

Keown is one of the club’s legends, after his two spells at the club and 332 appearances and being the last member of the ‘old guard’ to represent the club – and earning a place in the ‘Invincibles’ side in the process.

His first spell at the club only lasted two years and 22 matches, before going to Aston Villa and Everton. Keown returned to the club in 1993, and while Bould and Adams were still the first choice pairing, Keown’s instincts and backline nous were an important part of the squad.

Keown was one of the best examples of a specialist man-marker, earning him the nickname of ‘The Rash’ as strikers couldn’t get rid of him. In an interview with the Telegraph in the past, Keown admitted that he hated man-marking, but being so good at it meant he could never escape the task.

Because the Back 5 were a unit, Keown may not eat at the top table of Arsenal legends, but if anyone deserves to be there, it is the man who bullied Ruud Van Nistelrooy. That moment, one that the media chose to beat us with, is actually embraced within the club and our fanbase, we hold it up as an example of our fierce will to win and how our men never backed down. Keown may look back on that moment and cringe, but none of us Gooners feel that way.

Keown’s will to win, his fierce desire on the pitch was ill-at-odds with the man we see now in front of the camera, but it was this competitive spirit that drove him to become one of the best defenders we’ve seen.

GettyImages-2517323Image credit – Getty Images

Off the pitch, Keown is a well-spoken, educated man with a lexicon that is alien to most ex-pro’s. What isn’t well documented is that even in his spare time, Keown researched opponents and his own weaknesses, often with his son Niall, himself a pro footballer. The England international was never happy with his own game and pushed himself to be the best he could be, and Arsenal benefitted from his hunger.

Keown played for England for over a decade, but only amassed 43 caps. This shows the depth that England had in his position, but in his prime, Keown was among the best the country had, and he should have earned more during his career.

While our back 5 earned the right to be lauded and put on a pedestal, Keown should be remembered as fondly. He may be regarded as a legend amongst the club faithful, but Keown was one of our finest and can stand shoulder to shoulder with his peers.

Keown, in his erudite way mixed with his Arsenal experience and his unmatched desire, could have been the perfect coach to school our young Guns in what is ‘The Arsenal Way’ and what it means to play with the Cannon on your chest – not to mention how to defend stoutly.

Four FA Cup wins, three titles, a UEFA Cup Winners Cup, a League Cup was his haul of silverware in an Arsenal jersey, but perhaps his finest accolade was that he was kept by Wenger as part of the Invincibles squad, even in his latter years. He was not as fresh, as strong, or as quick as Toure and Campbell, but his positioning, his decision-making and his experience was enough to see him as part of the squad.

Martin Keown was much more than a specialist man-marker, but ask players of his generation about how tough to play against him it was. Ask Thierry Henry, Pires and Bergkamp how difficult it was training with him – that is a legacy.

Invincibles Vs Almost Invincibles

Featured in The Gooner Fanzine

Comparing things is pretty big business. It harnesses our compelling need to put different versions alongside each other and gauge each and every characteristic – despite the flaws in the method.

We can’t help but do it, but comparing things has far too many variables to reach a conclusive answer.

Especially when it comes to football – and yet we are all guilty of it.

Ronaldo and Messi compared to Maradona and Pele or any other titan of the game is one that is often bandied around, but the nuances of time and the different permutations surrounding each generation render any result reached a moot one.

We do it with different teams too – even ones that wore the same jersey.

As Gooners, we are pretty spoiled when we visit the annals of our past, as we have a multitude of teams, players and seasons when success was reached and memories were encased in a gold-tinted amber. We can hark back to these slices of time and wonder how they would have fared in today’s game – and if they would have emulated some of our more recent successes.

George Graham helped us achieve a few of our brightest moments, but will always be remembered for probably the most dramatic title win in history. The Miracle of Anfield 89 has been converted into film twice and is never far away from any self-respecting Gooner’s recollection – and for very good reason – but was that his finest team?

Probably not.

Two years later, his Arsenal side reclaimed the title ahead of rivals Liverpool, conceded just 18 goals in the process over 38 games, and scored a hatful of goals to dispel any notions that his men were mere defence merchants.

They won the title with games to spare too – and perhaps the most compelling argument to sway anyone who thought the 89 team was better? The team of 90/91 did all this even with their skipper being sent to prison, being deducted points for the infamous brawl at Old Trafford – still the only case before or since where a team has been deducted points – and having a squad that was light in terms of numbers.

They played every three days for over a third of the season, and lost just one game. One. That sole ‘L’ in the league table came at Stamford Bridge where an offside goal and a tackle that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an MMA Octagon took out our sole recognised centre-back combined to thieve points from GG’s team.

It is quite the story, and there was much more too. How did the squad keep the good ship Arsenal on a steady course despite missing such an inspirational figure in Tony Adams? How did the team cope despite being lambasted by the press for their part in the mass melee at Old Trafford? Above all, could they have gone ‘Invincible’ before Wenger’s fabulous side achieved it thirteen years after?

This amazing and inspirational side are one of the finest that Arsenal have ever had, but they get a paltry amount of limelight compared to the 03/04, 89 and even the 97/98 sides.

Never mind about were they as good as the hero’s of 89 – we should be asking whether they stand shoulder to shoulder with the Invincibles – arguably our greatest ever eleven.

You see? We can’t help but compare.

My book, Almost Invincible, does this extensively, and uses library newspaper records and the accounts of David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Bob Wilson, David Hillier and Alan Smith to illustrate how they did what they did. It also features expert opinion from Guardian journalist Amy Lawrence.

Undecided? Let my book show you how good the side of 90/91 truly were, the side that was ‘Almost Invincible.’

Just go to the ‘My Books’ section above, or go to my Twitter bio, my handle is @JokAFC.

2006-07 – A New Home, But Familiar Territory

First published in the Gooner Fanzine.

Arsenal had left Highbury. The 2006-07 season was the campaign that saw the Gunners move home from our beloved Marble Halls to the capacious Emirates stadium. Nothing could ever replace the memories forged and glory acquired at Highbury, but us packing our things and moving the short distance to our new home was necessary to keep up with our competitors – or so we were promised.

There were other changes too, and they too were sizeable. Our Iceman, the player who typified our club for ten years, Dennis Bergkamp, was no longer in our ranks. Other notable departures were fellow Invincibles Robert Pires, Lauren and Sol Campbell, as we attempted to move toward the future with a mix of youth and promise.

Another Invincible’s departure was not so warmly sent off. Ashley Cole’s acrimonious departure to Chelsea left an acrid taste and would do for years to come. We had bolstered the squad in order to fill the gaping apertures left by these players though, but could they come close to replicating the impact that these legends had made?

Tomas Rosicky, the diminutive Czech playmaker, was drafted in, as well as burly forward Julio Baptista, Chelsea defender William Gallas and Brazilian youngster Denilson. If we were going to enjoy an assault on the league, then these players would have to step up – and gel quickly.

The first match at The Emirates was versus a decent Aston Villa side, and they would take the honour of being the first team to score a competitive goal at our home – Olaf Mellberg being the player to take the plaudits. We scrabbled for an equaliser, and effervescent teen Theo Walcott crossed for Gilberto to smash home and take a share of the points.

Gilberto scores the first Arsenal goal at The Emirates
The only other match we had in August saw us take on Manchester City and lose to a Joey Barton penalty, and from two games we had just the one point.

After the international break, Arsenal returned home and ground out a dire draw against a Boro side that shouldn’t have been able to hold a candle to our side, but they still took a point and it left us with another slow start to a season, one that saw us playing catch-up at a ridiculously early stage.

We did start to fire though, and we enjoyed a rare win at Old Trafford in our next game, with Adebayor scoring the only goal. We defended stoutly and the result injected fresh optimism into the fanbase. We had the minerals to duke it out with our competitors.

It sparked a run for our boys, with wins earned against Sheffield United, Charlton (thanks to a Robin Van Persie volley that needs to be on loop), Watford and Reading. We had soared up the table after our less than palatable start, and we were looking dangerous – even without our talisman Thierry Henry, who was suffering with a succession of niggly injuries.

Thierry Henry 06-07

A slight slip in the form of a draw with Everton was compounded with a defeat to West Ham in the next game. The way in which we fell to defeat was to become all too familiar, as we peppered the goal of the Hammers, only for Robert Green to summon the spirit of Lev Yashin to deny us repeatedly. It would be a pattern that would haunt us for years to come.

We redeemed ourselves in the next match however, by hammering Liverpool 3-0 at our new abode. Mathieu Flamini opened the scoring, and further goals by Kolo Toure and new central defensive partner William Gallas bagged the points and sent the Scousers packing.

We weren’t out of the woods though, as a draw to Newcastle and damaging 3-1 defeats to Bolton and a 2-1 loss to Fulham left us with a haul of one win from five games in November. The loss to the Trotters was also another opportunity for journo’s to spread the old adage that this aesthetically pleasing Arsenal side ‘don’t like it up ‘em.’

What acts as the perfect recovery to a bad spell? That’s right, spanking our neighbours and reminding them of our superiority never gets tiresome, and a handsome 3-0 win over that lot down the road went down a real treat after the horror show that was November.

Another London derby didn’t quite go to plan next up, as Michael Essien’s rocket saved Chelsea a point at the Bridge.

We sneaked a 1-0 away win against Wigan in the next game, but clumsily dropped more points against Pompey thereafter.

December’s games were coming thick and fast, and we destroyed Blackburn Rovers 6-2 next up, although Rovers would have the last laugh that season, as they unceremoniously dumped us out of the FA Cup in the Quarter-Finals.

On Boxing Day, we scraped a 2-1 win over Watford thanks to a late RVP goal, but in the last game of 2006, we lost 1-0 at Bramall Lane to the Blades.

Just past the halfway stage in the season, and we had already accrued five losses, hardly title-winning form. In truth, the Championship was never really in our sights from a very early stage, and Chelsea and United were both battling it out in a two horse race. We were once again fighting for a Champions League place – a narrative that would run for the better part of a decade as the lucrative European money was too tasty for our club to resist.

We kicked off 2007 with a spanking of Charlton to the tune of 4-0, and followed it up with a 2-0 win over Blackburn Rovers, although we did so with ten men for the near entirety of the match, with Gilberto getting his marching orders on the 13th minute.

One of the highlights of this season was doing the double over United, and we completed this by winning 2-1 at The Emirates, with King Henry playing the part of our hero once again.

We then dropped points at Boro, before beating Wigan and Reading by the same scoreline, 2-1. A fourth win on the bounce was a 1-0 away win over Villa, with the lesser-spotted Abou Diaby providing the winner. Our run ended in the next game, as Andy Johnson scored a late winner for Everton, to wake us up to our limitations once again.

We had reached the League Cup Final with a team full of talented youths, but the final versus Chelsea saw Wenger use some more of our established stars, but the Champions edged us out 2-1 to take the cup, and deny us our best chance of a trophy that season.

We were still potent in attack, and we showed in fits and bursts that we could roll our sleeves up and fight for a result, but we seemed brittle at times and after the Invincibles, this nightmare would be a recurring one for Gooners. To underline this perfectly, we then completed an undesirable double by losing to the other half of Merseyside, this time the score was 4-1 and Peter Crouch bagged a treble, making him the happiest telegraph pole in all the land.

The telescopic-legged Crouch is an obvious aerial threat, and our failure to keep him quiet was excellent evidence of how our defensive woes would be our undoing. We then earned ANOTHER double in the season, as West Ham became the first away team to win at our new home, with a 1-0 win that saw the Hammers beat us home and away, and also give us our third straight loss.

We fought for a 0-0 draw in Newcastle next up, but our confidence was sapped. We needed a win quickly if we were to achieve a decent position, and a 2-1 win over Bolton showed we were prepared to give it our best. It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be.

Another home game, another win – this time versus City – was followed by a 2-2 draw at the hovel down the Seven Sisters road, and we ended the season with a win over Fulham, and draws against Chelsea and Pompey. We finished in fourth spot, mere goal difference below Liverpool in 3rd.

A Cup final defeat to Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers dumping us out of the FA Cup and a weak PSV side victorious in the Last16 of the Champions League was not the best return for us all, but there were highlights, particularly the wins over United, Liverpool and tottenham. As a whole though? It was distinctly underwhelming, and getting used to this after dining out on the finest teams in the last ten years would be hard to swallow.

Book Signing Event!

By now, the majority of you are well aware that my book, Almost Invincible, is being released.

 

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It has been a labour of love for me. Writing my first book about a subject I feel so passionately about was a fantastic and frustrating experience. Fantastic because I got to relive every facet of the fantastic 1990/91 title winning side and share in the experiences of those that achieved it – and frustrating as I tried to make every single word as excellent as the displays on the pitch during that amazing campaign.

Now, the book will have a launch event.

 

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On the 12th of August, the day of our first game of the season against Man City, at 7pm, come along to The Gunners Pub, 204 Blackstock Rd. David Hillier, a member of the 90/91 squad, will be there to sign your books – as well as some special guests…

So, it’d be great to see you there. I speak to so many of you regularly through social media, so please come along so I can thank you in person for the support!

It is a dual event, with another Arsenal book – Royal Arsenal, Champions of the South – being launched too.  This is a fascinating window into Arsenal’s origins in the South of London, and well worth a read for any discerning Gooner.

It’ll be a blast, I hope you can all make what will be a memorable evening!

12 August, 7pm, The Gunners Pub.

Be there!

Almost Invincible – My Book, My Words

Previously seen on The Arsenal Review.

This is the story of how my Arsenal book – Almost Invincible – began.
The explosion of social media has had a large impact on everyone – and every facet of life. Everything has a completely different landscape now, from the way we communicate, to the daily trip to the shops, and our 9-5’s.

There are other ways that social media has left its mark too. It has given everyone a voice – for good or bad – and we can see that there are a multitude of writers who can charm or bewilder us, inform us or infuriate us. The keyboard is thy weapon.

I started blogging about five years ago. I was pigeonholed in a well-paid but mundane job that required no lateral – or any thinking – whatsoever. I was completely autonomous, lacking any real requirement to stretch my grey matter. It was pretty hellish to be honest, and I was trapped.

I needed an outlet. I couldn’t leave as my bills needed paying and I couldn’t find alternative employment with matching numbers. So, I started to blog. There was only one thing I found I could wax lyrical about, and it was The Arsenal.

A friend of mine on Twitter asked me to write for his website and I agreed, and slowly but surely, my follower count grew as I aimed to write everything BUT transfer clickbait. I wanted to show that a decent story and research works wonders.

I branched out and created my own site, where I put out regular content, and thankfully, demand grew for my words. I started to write sporadically for other sites and about football in general, rather than on a singular club.

I started to freelance, writing about everything from charity events to pipe-laying and civil engineering. I had the outlet, the catharsis, that my job demanded. Unfortunately, every day at work was a sure reminder that the dream I had when I was at school was still a fair distance away.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, in any capacity. The problem is with full-time work in this sector, is it doesn’t exactly pay well, so with a mortgage and child, this was just a pipe-dream.

Plus, I’m not well known for my patience, so writing a book seemed daunting. How could I dedicate myself for nine months to a year on one project?

This was different though. I wanted this more than anything, to see my words, my name on a book – for people to actually want to read it? It was my target.

So, I started my research. The first part was figuring out the subject. It was always going to be about Arsenal – it is the only subject I know anything about – but there are many Gunners books out there. What could I write about that hasn’t been covered before?

Well, the 1990/91 season jumped out at me. When people think Arsenal, they think of the Doubles in 98 and 02, they think of the Miracle of Anfield in 89, they think of Herbert Chapman’s innovations.

The title win in 91 seemed to fade into the background, and the more I found out, the more I wondered why this campaign wasn’t lauded as much as perhaps our greatest triumph – The Invincibles.

My Arsenal Book - Almost Invincible

I got to work and fleshed out a framework of the book, what the chapters would consist of, and I reached out to some of my friends on Twitter that were well versed, and they filled in some blanks – especially for the pre-season of 1990.

Then, I purchased the entire set of programme’s for that season, which was a pretty penny. The info proved to be invaluable though. I also became a member of the British Library, and paid a few visits to its extensive store of newspaper excerpts. The media even back then weren’t exactly hot on our club…

What was missing though, was a point of view from those who were actually involved in this great year. I again used social media and some useful contacts, and I managed to interview David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, David Hillier, Bob Wilson and Alan Smith. The Guardian and The Observer journalist Amy Lawrence also gave up her time to offer her knowledge.

It has really made the book extra special, and there isn’t a facet of this season that isn’t covered by every angle. It also means that if you read it, you’ll be left in no doubt why this team is perhaps one of our finest.

Now the book has been printed, and seeing it in the flesh has made my dream come true. It may not sell well, it might not be well received, but I’ve overcome my own lack of conviction, and achieved a dream. Not many can say that.

I’m so proud of the finished article, and I must thank Dave at Legends Publishing. I sent him the first three chapters and he liked what he read, and thanks to him I can call myself an author.

There will be launches of my book – titled ‘Almost Invincible’ – at locations around The Emirates, plus you can purchase it at – https://www.legendspublishing.net/product/almost-invincible-arsenal-the-class-of-1991/

I really hope you like what you read. Please let me know what you think via Twitter, my handle is @JokAFC.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.