The 2007/08 campaign will be remembered as a season in which Arsène Wenger’s exceeded expectations but fell just short of silverware.
Arsenal were written off in many quarters last summer with some predicting that Tottenham would replace them in the top four of the Premier League.
In the event, they set the pace in the title race for much of the season, opening up a five-point lead in February before a run of five games without a win allowed Manchester United and Chelsea to overtake.
There was much to admire in Europe too. Arsenal cruised through the Champions League group stage thanks to crushing wins over Sevilla and Slavia Prague at the Emirates, and then dismantled the European champions Milan in their own backyard.
The Gunners suffered a cruel exit at Anfield in the last eight but had already enhanced their reputation on the continent.
As Season Review Week continues on the club’s official website, Arsenal.com’s Chris Harris examines the key moments of 2007/08 and picks out his personal highs and lows.
It has to be Fabregas. He was untouchable in the first half of the season, orchestrating Arsenal’s attacking play as Arsène Wenger’s side confounded their critics to set the pace in the Premier League and cruise through the group stage of the Champions League. Fabregas has never been shy of shooting but this season he has added accuracy – and therefore goals – to his game, netting eight times in his first 10 appearances and scoring 14 in total, including that famous effort in the San Siro. Fabregas is still only 20 but dictates the tempo of Arsenal’s play, picks the right pass almost every time, rarely squanders possession and has the skill and strength to take on and hold off opponents. No wonder he was named PFA Young Player of the Year last month. Adebayor, Clichy, Sagna, Hleb and Flamini all deserve honourable mentions for their performances this season but, if Henry was Arsenal’s focal point a couple of years ago, Fabregas is very much the focal point now.
AC Milan 0-2 Arsenal. March 4, 2008
Arsenal showed different qualities to secure different victories all season. They passed Slavia Prague to pieces, netting seven goals in the process, mixed up their attacking play to thrash Everton 4-1 at Goodison Park and showed immense character to snatch a 3-2 extra-time victory at Blackburn in the Carling Cup despite a youthful line-up and a red card to Denilson. The first-half display at Aston Villa and the second-half performance at Tottenham (in the Premier League of course) were both exceptional but it’s hard to look beyond the 2-0 victory in Milan. Many thought Arsenal had missed their chance after a 0-0 first-leg draw at the Emirates but Kaka, Maldini and company were played off the park in the second leg. The European champions could not live with Arsenal’s panache, passion and passing ability as goals from Fabregas and Adebayor helped Wenger’s side become the first English team to beat Milan at the San Siro.
GOAL OF THE SEASON
Emmanuel Adebayor at Tottenham. September 15, 2007
The appearance of a ‘goals of the season’ clip on Arsenal TV Online in November sums up how many spectacular strikes Wenger’s squad conjured up early in the campaign. They maintained those high standards, making this a very tough call to make. As ever with Arsenal there are goals which sum up their ethos – slick passing moves finished with precision, such as Adebayor’s at Reading or Walcott and Fabregas’ strikes against Slavia Prague. Then they are the explosive long-range efforts – Diaby against Derby, Eduardo against Sheffield United, Denilson against Newcastle and Flamini against the same opponents. But Adebayor gets the nod. His chest down and volley at St. James’ Park highlighted a man at the peak of his powers but the flick-up and flashing volley at White Hart Lane just pips it. Not only did it put the icing on the cake of a highly-enjoyable comeback, it confirmed Arsenal’s superiority over a team which was meant to usurp them in the top four. Adebayor’s effort pretty much confirmed that as long ago as September..
ASSIST OF THE SEASON
Theo Walcott – Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal. April 8, 2008
Assist of the century, more like. The winner of this category picks itself with Walcott’s wonderful run at Anfield the outstanding contender. Six minutes remained in the second leg of the Champions League Quarter-Final when the 19-year-old, on as a substitute, collected possession just outside the Arsenal penalty and sprinted 80 yards, leaving five Liverpool players in his wake before squaring for Adebayor to roll in what looked like being a decisive second away goal. In a flash Walcott had showcased his immense potential – not to mention his blinding pace – and Arsenal just had to hold on for six minutes to take their place in the Semi-Final. The story had an unhappy ending of course, Liverpool benefiting from a contentious penalty decision to regain the lead and then clinch the tie, but Walcott’s run will live long in the memory.
Manuel Almunia – Arsenal 2-1 Tottenham. December 22, 2007
How do you endear yourself to Arsenal’s fans? Simple – just save a crucial penalty in a North London derby. That’s exactly what Almunia did in December to cement his reputation among the Emirates faithful having usurped Lehmann early in the season. Adebayor’s goal looked like setting up a regulation home win against Tottenham but Spurs, rejuvenated under Ramos, hit back through Berbatov and earned a penalty with 18 minutes left. The prospect of losing our unbeaten home record to our local rivals was a ghastly one but Almunia flew to his right to push away Keane’s firm spot-kick. Bendtner’s header earned victory but, when the final whistle blew, Almunia was mobbed by his team-mates while his name reverberated around the stadium. He won’t forget that in a hurry.
Bolton 2-3 Arsenal. March 29, 2008
You can’t accuse Arsenal of lacking character last season. They had to dig deep on numerous occasions, not least when two goals in the last seven minutes snatched a opening-day victory against Fulham. Arsène Wenger’s side also bounced back to beat Tottenham and draw with Manchester United and Liverpool, but by far their most impressive comeback came at Bolton. Trailing 2-0 and a man down after Diaby’s red card, Arsenal had less than half-an-hour to salvage their title hopes. Almunia’s vital stop kept them in the game before Gallas’ volley and Van Persie’s penalty restored parity. A draw looked inevitable as stoppage time ticked away but Fabregas’ shot took two deflections and found its way into the net. Arsenal’s celebrations in the pouring rain were a sight to behold.
Emmanuel Adebayor – 30 goals in all competitions
Van Persie was tipped to fill Henry’s shoes last summer but, after a flying start to the season, his wings were clipped by an injury on international duty. Step forward Adebayor. The Togolese shouldered an enormous burden as Van Persie and then Eduardo nursed serious injuries, while Walcott and Bendtner were still finding their feet at the top level. Adebayor netted 30 times in all competitions and led the line brilliantly, causing havoc for defences all over the country. His goals tally was impressive enough but Adebayor’s style of play – getting between the two centre backs and running in behind – provided space for ball-players like Fabregas and Hleb to weave their magic. And let’s not forget Adebayor’s aerial ability. Headed goals were a rarity when Henry was in his pomp. Not any more.
Birmingham 2-2 Arsenal. February 23, 2008
A tricky one. Crushing Cup defeats at White Hart Lane and Old Trafford were tolerable because Arsenal had bigger fish to fry while those Premier League losses at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge came when the title was a diminishing prospect. The Champions League exit at Anfield was agonising, not least because Arsenal were the victims of two bad penalty decisions, but the draw at Birmingham in February really hurt. Eduardo’s horrific injury visibly stunned the players but their character – and Walcott’s coming of age – turned a deficit into a lead. Then one lapse in concentration from the usually impeccable Clichy and another poor decision allowed 10-man Birmingham to snatch a last-gasp point. Manchester United duly thumped Newcastle at St. James’ Park to turn what could have been an eight-point gulf into a three-point gap. By the time Arsenal recovered their poise, they were virtually out of the title race.