2000-2001 – Only Time Football Made Me Cry by Dan
Arsenal’s chances of closing an 18-point gap on Man United were undermined by losing both Overmars and Petit to Barcelona (neither of them would find their same level at the Nou Camp).
While Arsene Wenger’s knowledge of the world game was trusted in terms of quantity, it was still a case of ‘two in, two out’ when Lauren and Pires were brought in as their replacements. Vieira was also linked with a move away as he believed he was being targeted by officials. This only increased when the midfielder was sent off in our first two games of the season.
Mr Wenger clearly saw something in Pires (or didn’t), feeling he physically was not ready for the English game. Especially away from home our manager wanted his new signing to observe how aggressive things could be compared to France. Given the player he ended up it was worth the short-term sacrifice, but we didn’t think it at the time as we dropped silly points on our travels.
As well as heavy defeats at Old Trafford and Anfield we failed to win at the likes of Sunderland, Derby, Ipswich, Everton, Coventry, Bradford, Southampton, Charlton, Newcastle, etc. In fact, we won twice in the road all season in the Prem, compared to just the one defeat at Highbury. That record included Henry’s famous volley against Man United which proved that on our day we could still beat anyone.
It became a mentality problem as it meant we could never put a run together to be title contenders. It was another year where we made a decent end to a campaign (boosted by a run to the FA Cup Final), but we were reminded in Manchester just how big the gap had grown between us and them. Igor Stepanovs produced one of the worst defensive performances in my lifetime as Dwight Yorke got a hat trick in a 6-1 rout. I remember watching him once at Highbury. He’s the only player I know who fans would gasp at every time he took a first touch.
Stepanovs started as an inside joke on the training pitch which would backfire. The Latvian was on trial and seeing how he was out of his depth Ray Parlour got everyone to say how great he looked to wind Martin Keown up, making the defender think his place could be under threat by someone so limited?
The only problem being that Arsene Wenger overheard, and not in on the joke thought that if Keown was so worried, clearly his players saw something in the centre back convincing him to buy him. (Read the full story here…)
I’m not afraid to admit that at that years FA Cup Final I cried. It had been a few years of being the bridesmaid and I was worried it was hurting our mentality. I saw us lose finals but there’s nothing like having regret. We won other finals playing a lot worse than how we did that day in Cardiff. The media wanted Liverpool to win, making out that their success in the cups was a sign of the glory days coming back. In reality it had been another season that we finished miles ahead of them. We showed our dominance throughout to make mockery of the suggestion that they were now the closest challengers to Man United. Even Thierry Henry missed a couple of sitters , leading some to suggest he went missing in big games, while we should have had a penalty when Henchoz handled on the line which would have been a red card (the press seemed to shrug this off). Henry used this comparison when made to feel guilty for his handball against Ireland.
When we finally scored, it forced Liverpool to attack and it felt like Owen scored with their only two chances. Years later we beat Man United on penalties having been outplayed but it felt great because of this memory. Sometimes you need the negative moments to savour the good.
It was hard not to be proud to be a gooner that day at the Millenium Stadium. It summed us up, even in defeat we did things the right way. The players were so hurt, in many ways it inspired them and motivated them in terms of things to come…
We ended up second in the League again, although only 10 points behind Man United this time, and we reached the Quarter Final of the Champions League.
Check out Dan’s previous season reviews…
Dan’s Arsenal memories #3: 1999/2000 – Sir Alex gives Wenger a reality check