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October 2016
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The worst Arsenal game ever 2 – after the event

In the last article Tim Charlesworth discussed the Birmingham v Arsenal game of 23 February 2008 – surely most fans’ nomination for the “worst Arsenal game ever”.

In this piece Tim continues by looking at the aftermath.

The devastation was total.  Arsenal’s title challenge unravelled over the next few weeks, and we finished third.  As the 2015/16 season dawned, Arsenal have still failed to better this performance.  Perhaps the saddest aspect of this tale, is that none of its protagonists (except perhaps Eduardo) are now held in any real affection by the Arsenal community.

What happened to them all?.

The mercurial 22 year old, Cesc Fabregas was well on the way to hero status at Arsenal on that day.  He was probably the most imaginative footballer we had seen up to that point (Ozil came later).  He had narrowly failed us to bring us the European Cup 18 months earlier and now it looked like he would bring us the league.  We were looking forward to 10 years of Fabregas inspired success.

Of all the players on the pitch, he looked the most disturbed by the Eduardo incident.  He never really recaptured the form that had lifted Arsenal to the top of the league.  He eventually left Arsenal to join his boyhood club, Barcelona in the summer of 2011.  Some of us felt that the violence of the English game, as epitomised by the Birmingham game, played a major part in his decision to leave.

However he didn’t prosper at Barcelona, who got rid of him in the summer of 2014.  Arsenal didn’t take up their option to re-sign him. He further tarnished his reputation with Arsenal fans by joining Chelsea in the summer of 2014 and then playing a part in the sending off of Gabriel in game 4 of the 2015-16 PL season.

Eduardo was lucky to avoid an amputation. It took nearly 18 months for him to return to the Arsenal first team, but he was clearly not the same player.  He played a handful of games for Arsenal and was sold to Shakhtar Donetsk in 2010.  It had been two days before his 25th birthday on the day Taylor broke his leg.

William Gallas never recovered his reputation.  The press were merciless, and he was finally removed as Arsenal captain in November 2008, when he gave an interview in which he criticised his younger teammates for lacking courage.  Fabregas replaced him as captain, but never looked comfortable in the role.  In August 2010, Gallas (by then in decline) joined Tottenham Hotspur, eventually becoming the team’s captain.  Any sympathy for him amongst Arsenal supporters went out of the window.

Martin Taylor didn’t prosper either.  His tackle was a symptom of the fact that he was out of his depth playing Arsenal that day.  He simply didn’t have the skill to deal with attackers like Eduardo, and made a clumsy mistake.  Taylor had never been able to establish himself as a regular player in the Premiership for Birmingham.  Manager Alex McLeish had already tried to sell Taylor earlier in the season.  He only played against Arsenal because of an injury crisis at Birmingham, and he was starting only his second game of the season.  His tackle caused such controversy that it was reviewed by FIFA, who cleared him of any intent.  Taylor only played two more Premiership games for Birmingham over two seasons.  They sold him in 2010 to Watford and he saw out the rest of his career playing a handful of games for lower league clubs.

Mike Dean was the referee that day.  He sent off Martin Taylor and awarded the controversial last minute penalty.  He remains a figure of hate for the Arsenal faithful to this day.  He went on to referee the infamous League Cup Final between the same two teams in 2011, as well as a string of other dubious matches involving Arsenal.  He finally capped his reputation in Premier League game 4 of 2015/16, with one of the worst (and most result-altering) refereeing performance seen in the Premiership, gifting Chelsea a blatantly unearned victory.  Arsenal fans gathered a petition with over 100,000 signatures after this game, asking that he never be allowed to referee another Arsenal game.

The rest of the Arsenal players:  When I researched this, I was genuinely shocked at what happened to the men who played for Arsenal that day.  Including the substitutes, all but two had left the club by the summer of 2011 (just over three years later). I list their ages on that day, to make the point that this was a young team.  In normal circumstances we would have expected many of them to have long careers at Arsenal. This is what happened to them

Player Age, 

23 Feb 2008 

Subsequent career
Manuel Almunia 30 Played 109 games for Arsenal, and was first choice for much of 2007 to 2010.  He was never loved by the fans and lost his place in the team in September 2010. Arsenal allowed his contract to run out (the ultimate insult for a modern footballer) and released him in the summer of 2012. In 2014 Almunia retired after being diagnosed with a rare heart condition, while playing for Cagliari in Serie A.
Bacary Sagna 25 Of the players who played that day, Sagna arguably prospered best.  He was a stalwart of Arsenal during the lean years which followed.  He never quite received recognition for his contribution, largely because he never won anything in 7 seasons at Arsenal (who won the FA Cup the season after he left).  He joined Manchester City for a higher salary in the summer of 2014, but as he was past his best, Arsenal fans didn’t begrudge his decision.
Phillipe Senderos 23 Along with Fabregas, who he roomed with as an Arsenal youth, Senderos was seen as the core of the Arsenal team of the next decade.  He was part of the legendary 2006 back four who still hold the record (919 minutes) for not conceding a goal in champions league play.  However, he never quite made the grade and left Arsenal at the end of the 2007-8 season on loan.  He never re-established himself in the Arsenal team and left permanently in the summer of 2010.  He is now at Villa but was omitted from the club’s “25” for this season.
Gael Clichy 22 Clichy’s mistake that day turned out to be the first in a series of mental errors which have held back the career of this otherwise highly talented full back.  He left to join Manchester City for a higher wage in July 2011.  We were not really sad to see him go.
Theo Walcott 19 His career is another story of unfulfilled talent.  He has been massively blighted by injury.  There is hope that his talent may be finally coming to light in the 2015/16 season.
Matthieu Flamini 23 Flamini left to join Milan on a free contract at the end of that season.  His career was plagued by injury and he made 97 appearances for Milan over five seasons.  He returned to Arsenal as a free agent and became an occasional squad player in the summer of 2013.
Alexander Hleb 26 Hleb also left at the end of the season, to join Barcelona.  His career nosedived and he made only 36 appearances for Barcelona.  He then played for a series of ever-lesser teams, including a loan spell with Birmingham City.
Emmanuel Addebayor 23 Left Arsenal for a higher wage at Manchester City fifteen months after this match.  He became a hate figure for Arsenal fans after exuberantly celebrating a goal he scored against Arsenal.  He suffered numerous personal problems and his career went inexorably downhill after he left Arsenal as he descended into a tragi-comic figure.  He sealed his infamy by joining Tottenham in 2011.
Denilson 20 Another youngster who never lived up to his potential.  He left Arsenal in the summer of 2011 for a journeyman career in his native Brazil.
Gilberto Silva 31 A popular figure at Arsenal, and integral member of the Invincibles, he was in the twilight of his Arsenal career. He lost his place at the start of the 07/08 season and left at the end of it.
Nicklas Bendtner 20 He left Arsenal in the summer of 2011, after missing a gilt-edged chance to knock Barcelona out of the Champions League, on a series of semi-successful loans.  He actually returned to Arsenal briefly as a squad player in the 2013/14 season before being permanently sold in the summer of 2014.  A confident lad, he rather unwisely expressed his expectation that he would become the best player in the world.  He never lived up to his own expectations and the Arsenal fans never let him forget the comment.
Jens Lehmann 38 Lehman was a great character who was an ever-present invincible.  By 2008 he was in the twilight of his career and left the club returning briefly in 2011 while working for his coaching badges.
Justin Hoyte 23 Hoyte was a promising youngster who never really made the grade at Arsenal.  He left Arsenal in the summer of 2008 to pursue a journeyman career.

Christmas Eve anniversaries

24 December 1955:  Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0.   This was the last league game Arsenal played on Christmas eve.  43,022 turned up.

24 December 1958: Stan Charlton sold back to Leyton O from whence he had come.  It was Arsenal’s only ever transfer on Xmas Eve!   He became the captain and was still there when they made their one and only appearance in the first division.  Orient’s first match was at home to Arsenal.

The index to the anniversary files now contains nearly 5000 entries.

23 comments to The worst Arsenal game ever 2 – after the event

  • WalterBroeckx

    One thing you missed about Dean is the fact that in extra time Dean should have given a penalty to Arsenal when Adebayor was pulled back by a Birmingham defender in the most blatant way. His short almost was ripped from his body when he tried to run for a loose ball in the Birmingham penalty area. Dean stood 10 meters away with nothing in between him and the foul and he… did nothing.
    Had he give that penalty we would have been 1-3 in front on that moment in extra time and would have won the match.

    Let me spell it out again: DEAN HAS COST US THE TITLE THAT DAY!

    A win would have kept our believe and maybe would have been a help to recover from the Eduardo tragedy. But Dean decided otherwise.

  • Max

    Well written article.

    For me, a bit of the joy in footballl died that day.

  • Horsham Gooner

    I was listening to the radio that day and I can remember the “expert” said it was too early in the game to send Taylor off. The commentator replied that looking at the replay there was no doubt the decision was correct. It was that evening that I realised the level of violence directed towards Arsenal and the acceptability of it: “Get into their faces” etc, a popular Shearer mantra.
    I also recall a late breakaway by Adebayor, he looked up and saw Bendtner running into a far better position to receive a pass and, hopefully, score, but ignored it and lost the chance. Was that the catalyst for the acrimony that existed between those two players, resulting in their altercation during the League Cup humiliation by Tottenham?

  • Brickfields Gunners

    After the sackings of Blatter , Platini and the rest of the crooks in FIFA and UEFA , I hope that investigators ‘have a look ‘ at the European referees and dig deep into suspicious betting pattens and soon arrive the EPL and PIGMOB doorstep and haul some of our ‘finest’ away.
    Ahhh …the songs they would sing !

  • nicky

    A good report on the aftermath of a sad day for Arsenal and for football.
    I think it’s a trifle harsh to say that Fabregas “tarnished his reputation with Arsenal fans by joining Chelsea”.
    For personal reasons he wanted to return to London. We didn’t want him. Football was his trade.
    At least, Tim, he didn’t join Spurs! 😉

  • Deben

    Dean has been doing it all what he always does while refereeing an Arsenal game but till now has gone unscathed. The match against Chelsea epitomized the cruel destiny of Arsenal matches while Dean was there.

  • blacksheep63

    really excellent pair of articles Tim, I was watching the game on the big screen in the Cambridge United clubhouse (as you do) and it was sickening. If Dean ever referees another match at the Emirates I would like the crowd to greet his entrance by turning their backs and doing a Sammy Nelson
    Merry Christmas Untolders!

  • proudkev


    RIP Don Howe.

    Thought that should be said.

  • Josif

    Excellent piece with one factual error: Sagna was part of the team that put an end on a trophy drought. He left afterwards.

  • colario

    ‘past his best’ a bit harsh on Sagna as he had suffered a broken leg twice.

    In my opinion Sagna always gave his best.

  • Tai

    Which Arsenal fan would ever forget that day?

    Yeah, it was so painful to lose that game after the Eduardo horror…but my biggest sorrow of it all was the Croat’s leg break. By then Eduardo was the best finisher in Europe. It took him nearly half a season but he’d eventually adapted to the English League…he was what Ozil is today to assists to finishing.

    Eduardo was the final jigsaw in Wenger’s puzzle of creating chances upon chances without converting. That day the football world was robbed of a goal machine that wasn’t even yet near his prime. We never saw him again.

    As if the English press treatment of that leg break wasn’t extremely annoying to genuine Gunners, the ‘diving’ screams during a match with Celtic on Eduardo’s return revolted me to the seams. And I believe that was the day Eduardo psychologically gave up on football.

    Like it caught up with Mourinho, karma will certainly deal with those individuals in the English press who gleefully rejoiced Eduardo’s misfortune just because it happened while the well-behaved lad was wearing Arsenal colours.

    Great write-up Tim.

  • colario

    Condolences to Don’s family. RIP Don.

    Thank you for all you did for Arsenal.

    You made us proud to Arsenal supporters.

  • proudkev

    Great article and some really good infirmation in there.

    That game and the Eduardo leg break was just another example of the way teams go out to stop us playing. It also proves my point about our backwards attitude to football because in no other European league would Taylor have been playing. Sunday league player in other Countries. He didnt mnean to break his leg but he was sent out to get stuck in and stop us having time on the ball because players like him don’t have the ability to stop players better than them. This is encouraged in British football, why else are all te leg breaks being committed by Brits? Taylor on Eduardo, Shawcross on Ramsey, Smiths shocker that ended Diabkys career (not sent off). Don’t forget the Mcnair ankle breaker on Wilshere (not even booked) and Cahills attempt to put Sanchez in hospital (see below).

    Referees have a role to play in the fact we have had so many of these leg breakers. And of course, there are certain referees, like Dean, who have a higher likelihood of negatively affecting a game a ball playing team like Arsenal.

    As you know from my previous articles, our referees do not interpret the rules of the game the same as they do on the continent. This has been confirmed. The interpretation we use is not even consistent throughout the UK. So we allow a more physical robust game because we are English, our referees are from the North and we are ‘hard’, not like the fancy continentals. More importantly, there are certain referees that extend this interpretation and allow an even more physical game. We know all of this because it has been confirmed, as I have previously written (just before I get accused of paranoia – evidence based reporting).

    So a team like Arsenal, that plays fast, possession football is going to get much more robust challenges playing in England and under certain referees. Fact. Depending on the referee you get, the more leniant they will be to the physical way of playing.

    So I am not surprised our results with Mike Dean are way below the average.

    You only have to look at his pathetic handling of Costas thuggery in the game at Stamford Bridge, where he seemed to apply the rules of American Football crossed with MMA.

    So Mike Dean was the perfect appointment for the game with Birmingham – if you wanted to find a way of affecting the Arsenal result. And so it proved.

    Gary Neville himself has explained how clubs have dossiers on referees too, so they adapted the way they played according to that. He is not the only one to claim coaches and managers adapt their approach to a game based on the referee and his leniancy towards strong tackles.

    In fact, Sanchez was lucky not to have a broken leg last season at Stamford Bridge, when Gary Cahill went over the top of the ball in front of the dug outs. Cue Wenger and Mourinho pushing each other and Martin Atkinson deciding to just book Cahill – despite the clear rules on reckless tackles endangering an opponent meaning a red card.

    Mike Riley
    The worst result/day for me was watching Mike Riley prove that all is not right with the game. As much as I think liverpool fan Mike Dean is an absolute disgrace, Manchester Utd fan Riley is worse. Our 50th game at Old Trafford was the day I decided referees were influencing games. You cannot possibly watch the hi-lights of that game at Old Trafford and not thing something was up – it was that obvious. The hilights are below:-

    The fact he was promoted and is now appointing referees for games, is disgraceful. A different scale to FIFA maybe, but there is either deliberate or subliminal favouritism going on in our game.

    If you want to increase the chances of Arsenal losing a game, Mike Riley knows what to do.

  • Pete

    Regarding Dean, the period since the Chelsea game keeps growing – and we haven’t had him since then. Still a way to go until we get to the 1 year+ some of Fergie’s “thumbs down” refs were kept away from Man U but starting to become significant.

    I can’t believe this is because PIGMOB have realised that Dean is not impartial when it comes to Arsenal – they should have realised that many years ago – so can only assume it is the enormous humiliation to them (and Dean) of the 100,000+ signature petition and that this could not be ignored by the normally subservient media.

    Let’s see how long this continues. The longer it goes on the more significant. If/when we do get him again I think it is imperative that the Arsenal fans present really get after him verbally otherwise it will be assumed we have forgiven/forgotten. If the bedlam is impossible to ignore then PIGMOB might be forced to pull him off Arsenal games for good.

  • Pete

    Our ghostly disliker appears to have left on his/her holidays – but not before disliking Walter…!

  • proudkev


    The notorious disliker just demonstrates we have an opposing view to idiots!



  • Tim,

    I know Josif and others already corrected you but I still can’t believe that you got the fact that Sagna won the FA Cup with us 19 months ago wrong.

    You also did a sleight of hand by flippantly saying Adebayor missed a chance to get us 3-1 up in the first part of these articles when his shorts were nearly ripped from his body as he tried to score.

    It infuriates me when the idiotic media pull stuff like these but it is saddening when coming from a Gooner on a site like this.

    Great effort to put this together and we’ll done.

  • Bootoomee, I have to take some of the blame, since I proofed the article, and didn’t spot either issue. Sorry: new year’s resolution to try harder.

  • Tim Charlesworth

    Apologies all fior the Bacary Sagna error. A great player. Bootoomee – I didn’t mention the Addebayor incident though – I think you are confusing me with one of the commenters.

    Happy Christmas all and RIP Don Howe – a true arsenal great.

  • Dec

    Nice article Tim, but felt it a bit hard on Theo and Flamini.
    Theo is one of the most highly rated strikers in the modern game and would command a huge fee if we were ever to sell him (hope that never happens, a future legend in the making perhaps?)
    Mathieu Flamini has proved (and still is) a valuable asset to Arsenal over 2 contracts. As far as I know he has completed every contract throughout his career and then found a new one (an honourable trait in my book).
    Happy Christmas to Gooners everywhere and especially to all at Untold, thanks so much for the huge effort you all put in.
    Look forward to reading the article about the 2015/16 treble winning team next May.
    Ho Ho Ho!

  • Jambug


    Have to agree with you on Theo and Matty.

    If Theo played for any other Club than Arsenal they would be in raptures.

    He has been a massively effective player for us, even with an injury ravaged career.

    I wouldn’t swap Theo for Stirling or any other of his contempories, and what did Stirling go for?

    And as for Matty. Well he’s never going to be the type of player to set the world on fire but conversely I find it very tough to find a game where he’s let us down, though I’m sure like most players there are games, but they will be few and far between.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Great couple of articles, poignant, and sensitively written.
    Those players that day deserve a level of understanding as we learn more about the effects of PTSD on normal people. I am sure some of that team , and those who witnessed other horrors inflicted on our players suffered.
    Interesting points about Cesc. I have judged him more harshly than others who have left, partly because of the esteem I held him in, and partly because….well, not so much that he left, but from what I had heard , the way he left. I had heard tales of strikes, threats, his actions ensuring Barca got a very good deal, and we got a very bad deal. But that is all hearsay, and not evidence based, and especially after reading this, I can no longer wish him anything but happiness, unless it is our expense ou course. On the proviso that he doesn’t jump around a ref like mike Dean trying to get our players sent off for nothing like he did recently…….but that’s what mourinho , and others do to players.
    Can only wish all of these players mentioned well, they had to deal with this, and other extremely upsetting incidents, knowing teams were out to do them, and refs would do nothing to protect them.
    Should not condone violence, but there have been a number of times where I wished someone would do what Paul Davis once did.

  • Pat

    Hleb regretted leaving Arsenal and said so many times. He would have loved to to come back, I think. But mostly there is no return – our stalwart Flamini being the exception. He is certainly doing a good job for us at the moment.