Losing the run...

Last updated : 25 October 2004 By Dr. Headgear
For 73½ and a half hours (thats more than three full days) of league football no-one could beat The Arsenal. My young son of 17 months, now running, climbing, playing with his ball, able to feed himself and chattering that strange prelingual gibberish of the toddler (he's close to saying his first real words) was still in his mothers womb the last time we lost a match in the league. Last time we lost in the league I didn't know if my child would be a boy or a girl, now he's trying to play football with his big brother. Seventeen months is a long time in infant development, but it's even longer in football.

Last time we lost a league game we lost the league with it. Our lead that season was eroded by injury and suspension, culminating in the depressing anticlimax of losing at home to Leeds Utd, with the Championship heading towards the red Northern scum. Since then Leeds have been relegated, we have reclaimed the title and a lot of football has flowed (I use the word advisedly, its precisely what our football does) over the pitches of England and Europe. Since then we have seen the second part of a back to back FA cup win, handbags at Old Trafford, winning the league at WHL and, moving away from domestic football for a moment, 5-1 in the San Siro. Last time we lost in the league David Beckham was still a ManUreist, Rooney, Saha and Smith weren't, no one had heard of Abramovich and Jose Mourinho, amazingly enough, hadn't ever won the Champions League. Meanwhile, in the real world, the passage of time has been spectacularly unkind to Saddam Hussein, the intelligence "community" and the now discredited dossiers on the now nonexistent WMDs.

Forty nine matches, a magnificent acheivement, crowned by winning the championship unbeaten. Don't ever forget it, we aren't likely to live to see it again.

So what did it take to end our run? How did ManUre succeed where 22 teams before them, themselves included, had failed? Why, in short, are we not celebrating our fiftieth unbeaten match in a row (and what a nice round figure that would have made, sigh).

It took the powerhouse of the nineties, playing at home in front of 60,000 loud (credit where its due) and obnoxious (similarly, criticism where it's deserved) fans.

It took a talented and committed team that weren't afraid to get physical (a euphemism for "kick lumps out of us" - though we weren't angels either).

It took a team that is reknowned for being able to produce a big performance when required, going into the match knowing a loss would end their season.

It took a team that cost Bergkamp knows how many hundreds of millions to build, with at least three players bought for around or over £20 million pounds each.

It took this team their best league performance (by a long way) of the season, it took them digging very deep and finally producing a display of hard work and commitment that they will do well to surpass this year.

It took the "Biggest Club In The World", stretched to their limit, their absolute maximum effort.

But it took more than this.

It took a MOM performance from a player that shouldn't have been on the pitch for more than about a quarter of the game.

It took a referee that turned a blind eye to the systematic and persistent targetting of key Arsenal players (especially Jose, who was "tackled" from behind so many time I thought FIFA must have changed their interpretation of the laws of football).

It took a referee that is famed for his weak performances and has an unbeleivable record of awarding penalties to ManUre to fully live up to his reputation.

It took a referee that consistently bottled out of big decisions, if they weren't in favour of the home team.

It took a referee that failed to spot (or completely bottled, who knows, incompetent or cowardly, make your own mind up) the most blatant case of a last defender bringing an attacker down when clear on goal since Willy Young singlehandedly caused FIFA to introduce a red card for the offence with his FA Cup Final foul in 1980.

It took a dive in the area by the Golden Future of British Football (aka Shrek the granny-shagger) to win a penalty from a referee that seemingly lives to award them to Manure.

It took a blatant and deliberate stamp on Cole's knee (a clear red card) from the the horsefaced shite that shouldn't have even been on the pitch to score his usual penalty later.

In short, it took Mike Riley, the scrawny chicken-headed streak of piss in black.

Now at this point I'm fully expecting some rejoinders. What about the the entirely valid second goal, or the denied (but nailed on) penalty claim from the fake ronaldo? These points I concede, though any talk of the denied penalty "evening things out" for the wrongly awarded earlier claim is patently bullshit. By that point in the match we should have been playing against nine men (not twelve). We wouldn't (in all likelihood) have been in a situation where we were throwing players forward and having to chase the game. The failure to send the boggle-eyed Ferdinand of in the first half was a turning point in the game. We were able to live with that, and during the second half were starting to crank up some very useful pressure on the ManUre defence. Rooney's dive changed all that, it was a second turning point, again in ManUre's favour, and turned out to be one big bad decision too many. We didn't collapse, we didn't give up, but we had to leave ourselves open at the back, annd we paid for it.

For those that think I'm taking something away from ManUre's performance: yes, I am. We were robbed blind. Am I bitter about this? No, not at all. I'm absolutely bloody livid. I'll leave bitterness to when I've clamed down.

But now we know we're not unbeatable (for those of you that might have actually beleived this to be the case). With the right ingredients it IS possible to beat The Arsenal. Not often, but possible nonetheless. Just make sure you've got the right ref.

For now I´'ll leave you with a parting thought: 49 matches in a row, an undefeated Championship, the best team in England bar none. Proud to be a Gooner.