As a distraction from the travails of the current squad, let’s flick through the pages of the Arsenal history book and find a few memories. Granted, not all of these will be pleasant distractions – some may even be pretty painful – but with the passage of time, and trophies, they all become fairly nostalgic. Don’t they? They do. I think.
Twenty years ago today, the Gunners lost at home to Liverpool, 2-1. I told you that not all of these would be good results…but the single most memorable act in this match came after Robbie Fowler, put through by Mark Wright, touched the ball past the onrushing David Seaman and went to ground. Nobody in the stands really protested the referee’s decision to award a penalty – it looked, in real time, as if the keeper had clipped the ‘pool striker – but, astonishingly, Fowler immediately got to his feet and tried to change the mind of Gerald Ashby.
That the ref was unmoved shouldn’t detract from the impressive honesty of Fowler, nor the fact that the Liverpudlian still tried to score from the subsequent spotkick. However, the penalty was a tepid one – perhaps Fowler’s sense of fair play on some level inhibited his usually precise finishing? – and Seaman pushed the ball out…only for Jason McAteer to react quickest, burying the chance.
Afterwards, Fowler was unambiguous about the incident: “He never touched me. I mean, I sort of knocked the ball away from him and tried to jump over him, and as I jumped over him I lost my balance… I got up straight away and went to walk away, but the ref pointed to the spot. I tried to say, ‘It wasn’t a penalty’ but he [seemed] temporarily deaf”.
Over a decade later, Andrei Arshavin did exactly the same against Portsmouth at Fratton Park when Sean Davis made an excellent last-ditch tackle in the area. The match officials, yet again, refused to budge from their initial call. Whether Arshavin would have attempted to score from the spot, as Fowler did, quickly became a moot point, as on this occasion it was Nicklas Bendtner who chose to dispatch the ball from twelve yards.
Back to the 24th of March 1997. McAteer’s close-range strike doubled Liverpool’s lead after the Merseysiders had been put ahead by Stan Collymore. Seaman had fumbled a tame effort from distance by Stig Inge Bjornebye, and Collymore gleefully gobbled up the rebound. Playing catch-up after two instances of less-than-stellar goalkeeping, Arsenal did manage to hit back with a lovely lobbed finish in the box from – who else? – Ian Wright…but it was all for nought, and we came away with nothing.
Damn, this is a bit of a downer, isn’t it? Back to the present it is, so…