September 2007, Arsenal had just completed their first season at the new ground. Thierry Henry had just left for Barcelona. Freddie Ljungberg to West Ham. A year earlier Dennis Bergkamp had retired, Robert Pires was released, Sol Campbell, Lauren and Ashley Cole sold. The invincible’s were no more.
Stan Kroenke was seizing full control, but Arsenal were struggling financially.
Alisher Usmanov had bought out David Dein a month earlier. He came with a promise of Roman Abramovich style spending.
With the transfer window slamming shut, with Arsenal having signed Lukas Fabianski, Eduardo, Bacary Sagna and Lassana Diarra, Arsene Wenger uttered the immortal words:
“We don’t sign superstars, we make them”.
That season, a team was being built around a 20-year-old Cesc Fabregas. Alongside him in midfield was 23 year-old-Frenchman Mathieu Flamini. The squad was filled with players under the age of 25.
Robin van Persie (24), Gael Clichy (22), Sagna (24), Emmanuel Adebayor (23), Nicklas Bendtner (19), Theo Walcott (18), Emmanuel Eboue (24), Alex Song (20), Denilson (19), Eduardo (24), Diarra (22), Philippe Senderos (22) & Abou Diaby (21) represented one of the best young squads in England.
They were supplemented with the experience of William Gallas, Kolo Toure, Gilberto Silva, Alex Hleb and Tomas Rosicky.
The plan was obvious.
Bringing through so many young players at the same time would bread success in the future. It might not be in the first year, but as time went on, they would progress and improve as a team until they became champions – a bit like Manchester United’s class of ’92.
With Henry gone, we saw the greater good of the collective as 16 different goal scorers and togetherness made Arsenal contenders.
A strong start to the season saw Arsenal top the league table by September. It was not until December did the team lose in the league for the first time, away at Middlesbrough.
It was at the turn of the year that things went down hill.
Thrashed by Spurs 5-1 in the League Cup semi-final in January and knocked out of the FA Cup in mid-February 4-0 clearly rattled the emotionally inexperienced side.
7 days after that defeat against Manchester United, Arsenal travelled to Birmingham. A trip that would begin our downfall.
A career-threatening injury to Eduardo against Birmingham City followed up by Birmingham equalising from the penalty spot in the 95th minute – which was never a penalty coincided with the team going on a run of four draws in the Premier League.
Club captain William Gallas sat sulking in the centre circle whilst the penalty was taken, a show of petulance from the senior professional that was supposed to guide his young team mates.
Just 1 win in the next 8 games saw Manchester United soon overtook them Arsenal. Defeat to Chelsea in March moved Arsenal down in third place, where they remained at the end of the season. The spell also saw Arsenal go out of the Champions League at the quarter final stage to Liverpool.
Arsenal finished just 4 points behind eventual winners Manchester United. It was probably the last time we truly challenged for the league title,
Despite the disappointment of finishing the season without a trophy, there was plenty of be excited.
Here was a team of young players challenging for the title before their time. The project was clear and obvious. If we could keep this talented group of youths together, it was only a matter of time before they became champions.
Sadly the 2007/08 season would be this squads high point and Arsenal would not finish the next 7 seasons above 3rd.
First Flamini then Hleb, followed by Adebayor and Toure to the nouveau riche Manchester City. They were followed by Senderos, Gallas and Eduardo.
The dagger was put through the heart of the talented squad in 2011 when Samir Nasri (who signed in 2008) & Clichy joined Manchester City. Cesc went to Barcelona and Eboue to Galatasaray. That season Arsenal would be defeated by Birmingham City in the League Cup.
The departure of Robin van Persie and Alex Song within 3 days during the summer of 2012 left just Tomas Rosicky from what should have been a golden generation of Arsenal players.
And it is the Czech Mozart that sees many of the squad reunited on the 9th June for his testimonial at Prague’s Letna Stadium.
Fabregas and Kieran Gibbs, Flamini and Hleb, and Robin van Persie have already been named in a Czech Legends v Rest of the World match. Petr Cech is set to play for the Czech’s.
More players are still to be announced, and I imagine more will be from that underachieving squad that came together in 2008.
We were so close to create a team of stars. Up against the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea who were buying stars. Rosicky never quite stayed fit enough to be a big enough influence within the squad.
Who knows what we would have achieved had he been able to stay fit?