I don't think you would've known which team had the Premiership crown and which one was playing Grimsby two years ago. And to be honest, that's just about the greatest credit you can play to the lads - despite the big names representing the visitors, they were made to look as plain ordinary as can be. Thierry Henry, for a start. Was he even playing? Patrick Vieira - did he even get a kick? I remember him ballooning a shot into the Fratton End, but that's hardly a good day's work for a French international.
I could repeat the process for practically every member of the Arsenal squad. Not a single one lived up to their star billing as they were hassled, harried and forced into errors. What's more, we had chances. Not just little half chances which kind of make you get up out of your seat more out of hope than expectation, but the sort of chances you'd bet your house on. Fuller eight yards out after a perfect Berger pass, with no-one to beat but the lamentable Almunia? LuaLua closing in from a narrow angle having beaten the last defender? O'Neil tricking the defender onto his arse leaving the goal at his mercy? To get even one clear cut chance against a team like Arsenal is a gift, to get three and not take any of them is a recipe for disaster.
When playing a team like Arsenal, you always have to think to yourself, "Just how long can we go on missing chances like this?" Even so, I wasn't too concerned. I was just thinking to myself that they hadn't looked like scoring, when up pops Sol Campbell. Perfect way to ruin my weekend - thanks a lot! Admittedly no-one expected him to crack one in from 25 yards, but the sort of space he was given was somewhat disturbing to say the least. Unfortunately for us it was a rare lapse of concentration, but a costly one. I guess in the end it was all a case of bad luck; the midfield seemed to switch off for a second, Yak was recovering from a knock so couldn't chase back, and the defence couldn't really rush forwards to Campbell as it would've left the strikers unmarked; to top it off it just so happens that Sol started his career as a striker and so knows how to hit a good shot.
And that was the difference between the sides in the end. We had a lot of possession and chances, but couldn't take them. They absorbed everything we could throw at them, hanging on more by virtue of luck than skill at times, and yet when their chance came stuck it away. Such is the Premier League; games turn on clinical accuracy. Sigh.
I feel a bit mixed up if I'm honest. On the one hand, disappointed to have lost a when our performance really deserved something. Then, I feel heartened we at least played incredibly well, even if we didn't get what we deserved. But then I find myself thinking, what right did I have to ever think we could beat a team of Arsenal's quality in the first place! That just goes to show how far we've come these days; where playing Arsenal is actually seen as a genuine chance of getting points. Three years ago this month we lost 4-2 at home to Crewe; if you told a fan leaving that game that by 2004 we'd be leaving the ground annoyed at having lost 1-0 to Arsenal, no doubt they would've laughed in your face. Oh, the mighty weight of expectation!
Nice to see the Yak back, even if he did go down somewhat heavily and worryingly towards the end. Special mentions to Griffin, Taylor and LuaLua; whilst the entire team were excellent, I thought they were just a cut above. I must admit to being slightly concerned about Taylor's abilities as a left-back before the match, but he certainly adapted well. All in all, a good exciting game of football, and we more-than-contributed to that. Shame we just didn't have the touch in front of goal that could've given us a famous win.
Bring on Palace.