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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.

Joel Campbell – Arsenal’s Forgotten Man

Did you know that Joel Campbell is now our fourth most capped player – ever?

He earned his 72nd cap as an Arsenal player in the 2-0 loss to England in a pre-Cup friendly which made him our 4th highest at the club, level with David Seaman.

Looking at it from a distance, this is quite some achievement. Yes, Costa Rica doesn’t have a plethora of competition for places like other nations, but a fine injury record and a maintenance of form has seen Campbell rack up the appearances for his home nation.

What really puts it in perspective though, is when you consider how little he has played for his club – and the lengths he has had to go to in order to get gametime.

Campbell has been with us for seven years. That’s a mighty long time, and yet his Arsenal appearances amount to just 23 – most of those during 2014-2016.

To get that crucial time on the pitch, Campbell has gone on loan spells to Ligue Un with Lorient, La Liga with Real Betis and the Greek SuperLeague with Olympiacos – in all of those seasons he earned more starts than in his combined and lengthy Arsenal career.

What has the Costa Rican done to be shunned like this? Is it a limitation on talent? Certainly not. He may not be a permanent starter, but in his time in an Arsenal jersey he showed exactly what he has to offer. He has incredible strength, he can adapt across the forward line, playing wide and cutting in, or ploughing a lone furrow up top. He has an assured touch and isn’t terrible in front of goal. Campbell is more than good enough to be an option in the squad.

Joel Campbell, the forgotten Gunner

And yet we will never see him wearing an Arsenal shirt again. After seven years as an Arsenal player in nothing but contract, Campbell will never play on our Emirates turf.

This will be his second World Cup at just 25 years old. He has amassed experience across many corners of Europe and still has potential, but Campbell has worn an Arsenal shirt for the last time.

If he did manage to assuage Unai Emery to grant him a squad place – a place on the bench would be tough enough to acquire.

As a wide forward, he faces competition from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

As a centre forward, Aubameyang, Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah are his opponents.

With our attack well stocked, it is likely we have seen the last of Joel Campbell, despite it being unconfirmed as I write. He can consider himself unlucky to not have been given a fairer crack of the whip, but the Costa Rican can hold his head up high when he did play for us.

Chances are that Campbell will join Galatasaray, and a lengthy Arsenal career that never truly threatened to take off, for whatever reason that is, draws its curtains.

Joel Campbell on Loan is a Mistake

Sending players on loan when they will struggle to get valuable minutes on the pitch, makes sense.

Instead of letting talent fester as they are stifled in their attempt to grow and flourish, the opportunity to gain valuable experience and more importantly, send a message to their Manager regarding their potential, is an excellent alternative.

Well, our Costa Rican attacker Joel Campbell looks to be heading to Sporting Lisbon for a spell – and his absence may resonate deeply during our campaign.

Last season, his breakthrough was overdue, and it looked as if his displays would have ensured progress at his parent club. 

Campbell made 19 appearances, with three goals bagged last season, but it wasn’t his numbers that impressed Gooners. His work rate, and his tireless efforts to track back were so refreshing after repeated torturous games watching our flanks left gaping open as our attackers left their posts.

He isn’t merely a workhorse though. What has surprised many who saw him in action last season and during the latest bout of pre-season friendlies is his vision and close control. Campbell possesses a pass that can be thread through the smallest of gaps, and it tells of his awarenessas he picks up runners from all angles.

Surely his efforts would be rewarded? Would his performances snare him a squad spot for this coming season? It seemed to all and sundry that it would.

He has certainly put in the work. Four loan spells since his purchase from Costa Rican club Deportivo Saprissa in 2011 – Lorient, Real Betis, Olympiacos and Villareal have all benefitted from his presence – have given him not only made him grow up, but playing amidst different styles means he can adapt his play.

Campbell is not a one-trick pony. Seeing him play on each flank and behind the striker showcase this element of him far better than any words can. So, with all these strengths, and his excellent displays on the pitch, why has he not been given a chance?

Many can see that our manager Arsene Wenger has never been fully convinced by the Costa Rican. Despite Oxlade-Chamberlain being far less efficient with possession, and that Campbell has been far more astute than the young England man, more often than not, The Ox has been given the nod.

Then there is the fact that Wenger loves to fit Aaron Ramsey into his plans. The Welshman is pretty much considered an attacker, but where he is considered most dangerous – Number 10 – is usually filled by the mercurial Mesut Ozil. Throw into the pot that when Ramsey plays on the right he links up brilliantly with Olivier Giroud – and you have a recipe that means Campbell is left in the wilderness.

Campbell could potentially be the answer to our lack of depth in striking options though. He played as a lone striker for his country in World Cup2014, and it saw them reach the knockout stage. 

Playing as a single striker requires strength to hold the ball up, mental strength and spacial awareness. Campbell has these in spades, but even though he has these facets to his play, and he is adaptable, and is dedicated – he still looks in on the Arsenal team from the outside.

There will be a time when Campbell will be needed, just as we did last season – but Campbell wil not be there to rescue us this time. He will be busy plying his trade in Lisbon, and when the injuries mount up and we are crying out for a player to shore up our porous team – Campbell won’t be there.

Wenger may just be clearing room in the squad for another purchase, or he might just be making a huge mistake. 

Viking Stavanger 0-8 Arsenal – 5 Things We Learned

Our pre-season brought another tour, this time to the shores of Norway. Two matches will be played in this part of Scandinavia, and first up was Viking Stavanger.

The calibre of opponent matters to a degree in a friendly game, but more pertinent at this stage is each players level of fitness and match sharpness. Viking provided a decent test in the first half, but fell away like a chocolate fireguard in the second half in the face of soem impressive movement from the Gunners attack.

So what can we take away from this match? Here is five things that arose from our mauling of the Vikings….

Santi Cazorla isn’t fit, but we need him to be.

Some fans are of the opinion that our title challenge began to falter the moment our talented Spaniard was crocked midway through our season. They’d be right. Santi has been battling back to fitness ever since, and he managed ninety minutes for the first time this summer versus Viking. It was primarily down to Cazorla’s vision and impetus that Arsenal managed to ravage Stavanger, and the whole teams transition speed was so far removed from last seasons showings. We NEED Santi in our side, our style of play demands it.

Stavanger were NOT a test, but who cares.

The first half saw Viking provide an examination of sorts. Well, they made life difficult for our attack by stifling our forward line. Only one goal was plundered, and it was thanks to a great header from Mohamed Elneny met by an onrushing Joel Campbell who diverted it into the net. The second half though, was either a massive disparity between the class in sides – or just Stavanger committing footballing Hari-Kiri. Huge pockets of space opened up – manna from heaven for our side – and the Norwegians dropped ever deeper. We profited hugely from these niave tactics, but the value of victory was lessened somewhat. Consolation? It was massive fun to watch.

Bielik is growing in stature

The young Pole is a midfield convert, but his imperious displays in the centre of defence – even with Gabriel alongside him – are beginning to gain attention from Gooners. He has covered himself in glory in all of his friendly appearances thus far, and his calmness belies his teenage years. That is the scary thing though – he is still 18. If he continues along this projected improvement, then he may just make the jump to the first team. If he plays versus Manchester City on Sunday, it may just be a signal that Bielik can look forward to a Premier League debut this season.

Alex Iwobi is here to stay

The young Nigerian only appeared for the second half, but his impact was immediate. Yes, Stavanger invited pressure onto themselves, but despite their tactics, their are certain aspects of play that can be looked into. Iwobi’s touch was flawless, his decison making was also brilliant. It is this latter variable that usually improves with age, but Iwobi seems to have this down rather well. With each transfer that prospectively comes through the door, the chance for a player such as Iwobi to make a breakthrough becomes ever smaller. This is by no measure a defence of the nadir of our signing aspirations, just a healthy dose of realism. Iwobi beat the odds, and he is here to stay.

Joel Campbell is vital

Last season during our annual injury crisis, all hands were on the pump. One of them was Joel Campbell, and with every match, he showed how good he truly is. Exemplary vision, great stamina and a good touch, the Costa Rican was at it again against Viking. He scored two and was a constant menace. What a player we have to fall back on. In fact, at this current time, only Aaron Ramsey stands ahead of him in the current pecking order for the right hand side. We would be mad to oust Campbell, but if he isn’t playing, he will have many a suitor that would jump at the chance to give him the stage he deserves. 
There were many other candidates that impressed. Mathieu Debuchy seems fully intent on impressing a potential new club, Gibbs looked good in the first half before being replaced, and Ospina did himself no harm. 

Theo though, still has a massive amount of critics, and after the last couple of years, he cannot be surprised by the vitriol. He again had moments where he fumbled possession, but he also made intelligent runs and never hid from the ball. His goal showed great control, but it will hardly convert the doubters. A full season, without injury, and I remain confident that he can prove his worth. Cue the fury….

Two goals for Joel Campbell, two for Iwobi, with Cazorla, Akpom, Walcott and an own goal were the beneficiaries of the Norwegian team’s generosity, and the diluted obstacle that was Stavanger may attract detractors. 

This match was not the sternest of tests, but our players touch, awareness and fitness are ever closer to the levels required for Premier League combat. So by that regard, this match was a big success. 

Next up, we have Manchester City on Sunday the 7th, to conclude our tour in Norway.  That will be the litmus test for our side, with our domestic opener against Liverpool seven days later. 

So far, so good though. Thank you Viking Stavanger for giving us a game, and some extra confidence. 

MLS All-Stars 1-2 Arsenal – 5 Things We Learned

Upon first inspection, Arsenal’s friendly versus the creme of the top flight in the USA on Friday morning (or Thursday night, dependent on location), could be overlooked as a money-spinning exercise, or as an elaborate parade to garner more fans across the globe. 

At the very least, it was a vital warm-up for our players as they slowly ascend the gears and shake off summer excesses, in a bid to fine tune their bodies for another slog of a season. For the competition this coming campaign will be fiercer than ever, so every measure must be taken to ensure optimisation of every asset.

This match represented a notch up from the previous friendly game – the 1-1 draw versus RC Lens last week – so our squad, or at least the men selected to travel across the pond, could see where they needed to work a little harder before ceremonies begin on the 14th August against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

It may be quite difficult to take anything of note from the game, other than our players are being put through their paces – but with a keen eye, there is plenty for us Gooners to suckle upon until we again take to the pitch on Monday the 1st August versus Chivas de Guadalajara. 

So, here at The Hot Stepanovs, we thought we would provide you with a bite-size, handy article which points out what will give Arsene Wenger food for thought, and what us fans can use to soothe us during the traumatic transfer window….

Theo still has low confidence – but there are signs of life.

Theo once again was given the benefit of the doubt –  that heaving, dark doubt that shrouds the majority of fans thinking – and given the sole striker slot. He had three opportunities, and two were off target, with the other drawing a smart save from All-Stars keeper Andre Blake. 

Theo may have failed to register a goal, but he was in the right place to take the chance. His positioning is improving. His runs are being found – and all this without the King of Assists in the team. This isn’t a declaration that Walcott must start, or that he is the striker we need – far from it. 

Just that he shouldn’t be written off. Not at full fitness, in a team that was far removed from what we will field for our season opener, this display was a subtle signal that he has something to offer.

Don’t get carried away with Rob Holding

The boy only completed his move last week, and before he knows what is happening, he is jetted away to San Jose, California, to play the best that Major League Soccer has to offer. 

For such a whirlwind week, Holding did well – and that is the problem. He will either be the next Martin Keown, or consigned to the scrapheap as soon as the smallest mistake rears its ugly head. It is never grey, only black or white.

Holding played well, but it is far too early to gauge where he stands in regard to being able to fill in where necessary in the heart of our defence. Holding must be treated like a goldfish you have just won from the fair – keep it in the bag as you gradually intorduce him to the new water in the shiny tank you’ve bought him. Patience is key, but he did his no prospects no harm.

Holding surprised most of us with his display, especially as he was tasked with some contrasting styles to combat. The guile of David Villa, the trickery of Sebastian Giovinco, and……

Didier Drogba continues to haunt our consciousness

The Ivorian ruined our defence repeatedly whilst plying his trade for Chelsea. He even ruined a few careers too (we remember a Philippe Senderos before Drogba was unleashed upon him). 

The facts spell it out quite clearly. Prior to kickoff in this game, Drogba had plundered fifteen goals in fifteen games against us.

Provided a chance thanks to Sacha Kljestan of NY Red Bulls, he took a few attempts to put it past Petr Cech and Holding, but he did just that. 

That makes it 16 in 16. If Didier Drogba runs a business into his fifties, there can be no guarantee that they will be the ruination of our football club. Everyone needs a nemesis, and Drogba’s campaign to elect himself ours is quite frightening.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is hungry

Against Lens last week, and during the seventy minutes he played in this game, The Ox and his direct manner stood out against the large sedate sections of the game. He took people on, as is his wont, but his end product and composure looked a little more fine tuned. 

Whether it is practice drills, just a flash in the pan, or a little experience seeping through? Who knows. When in full flow though, The Ox provides entertainment. Just enjoy it while it lasts.

Krystian Bielik has been schooled well, it seems.

Much like Dr Dre accuses us of, we forgot about him. Not the good Doctor, no, but Bielik. His time for the reserves has sauteed his talents though, added the spices and taste that he needed. He was alongside Rob Holding at the start of the game, and Bielik looked like he had been playing for many a year. 

Will he even gain a place on the bench? Surely a loan beckons for this young man though, as it is now time where the only thing that can aid his career further is gametime. One thing is for sure, it looks like whatever club is the recipient, they stand to receive a very promising player. 

There were many more pointers that warrant mentioning. The MLS talent pool is quite clearly burgeoning, and the healthy flow of cash can only help attract more to the league. It was a very competitive fixture, and thanks to a few MLS defenders and Francis Coquelin, it meant that the winning mentality was on show from both sides. 

This MLS All-Star team played tottenham this time last year – and won 2-1. Our victory can be written off, but seeing our backup players given a chance to shine – which they duly accepted – and a confidence boosting win in the bag, can only be taken as a positive. 

Joel was again impressive. Akpom scored the winner and Jack managed forty five minutes. All plusses. 

A big thank you to Jeanne. You kept me in the loop until I could get home and glean as much as I could. I doff my cap to you madam!

Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal – Don’t Stop, Attacking. Hold Onto That Winning Feeling. Match Review

Wow. Previous matches between these two top-flight stalwarts have resulted in a plethora of goals. So fans everywhere hesitantly hoped for an entertaining fixture.

Well, it is safe to say the tradition lives on after this six goal thriller.

Liverpool, the home side, snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat with a late Joe Allen goal. Can Arsenal feel hard done by with a solitary point after looking to be on course for a massive away victory? On the face of things, maybe so, but this match had so many different facets.

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Arsenal 3-1 Sunderland – The Defence of The F.A Cup Has Started.

Arsenal, winners of the F.A Cup in the last two years, began the defence of their silverware and also an attempt to be the first team to win this historic competition three times in a row, with a well fought victory over Sunderland.

The 3-1 scoreline matched the outcome when these two sides met last month, and to add an even eerier note, the same three goalscorers featured in both games. Joel Campbell, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud were the men in question and their exploits mean that once again, Arsenal are in the bag for the Fourth Round Draw.

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Continue reading Arsenal 3-1 Sunderland – The Defence of The F.A Cup Has Started.