26 October 2004

Record scratched but unbroken

Arsenal crestOn Sunday, Arsenal's unbeaten run came to an end at 49 games, and I am in mild mourning. Logically, it couldn't go on forever, and it's the greatest domestic success by an English team since the beginning of English league football in 1863. The previous longest unbeaten run was a mere 42 by Brian Clough's great Notts Forest side of the 1970s. The only other team ever to go through a season unbeaten was Preston North End in 1888/89, when the season was only 22 games, rather than the 38 we have today.

To put this into global perspective, no German Bun­desliga team has ever been unbeaten for a season, nor any team in Holland or France. Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid did it in Spain more than 70 years ago when it was a less formidable challenge. In modern football, only AC Milan have achieved a comparable feat when they went unbeaten in the 1991 season, and you could argue that English football today is much more physical and competitive than Italian football back then.

By anyone's reckoning, this is a remarkable achievement in the history of sport. What a pity, then, that the run ended under such ignominious circumstances. In a characteristically (and mutually, I grant) petulant encounter against arch-rivals Manchester United, in which Arsenal were clearly the better team in the balance, the game was decided by a penalty awarded for a blatant dive by ManU wunderkind Wayne Rooney. A player of his standard shouldn't really have to cheat, and it will almost certainly come back to bite him. Refs will be watching him more closely in the future, and his team-mates in the England dressing room will be unimpressed, especially the highly regarded Sol Campbell whose leg Rooney flew over.

Aside from that the referee should have arguably have sent off ManU defender Ferdinand, and penalised Ruud Van Nistlerooy for a blatant stamp on the knee and shin of Arsenal defender Ashley Cole.

So cheating and bad refereeing decided the match, rather than football. That's increasingly common in the modern game, unfortunately, and the introduction of some degree of video adjudication is way overdue. But that's another conversation. For this one, we may have come to the end of the record, but you can rest assured it won't be broken anytime soon, and we gooners will be playing it over and over!Go to eebahgum!

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