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
23 Feb 2008
|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.