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GCR Books

Pre-season 2006 and the opening of the Emirates

By Tony Attwood

The pre-season games for the 2006/7 season – the first at the Emirates Stadium, were different from the norm.  They started with a draw with Barnet, the first Emirates game for Bergkamp’s testimonial, a set of overseas friendlies, and then a Champions League qualified, all before the season started.  Here are the pre-season games

  • 15 July 2006: Barnet 0 Arsenal 0
  • 22 July 2006: Arsenal 2 Ajax 1 Dennis Bergkamp testimonial
  • 25 July 2006: SV Mattersburg 1 Arsenal 2
  • 31 July 2006: Schwadorf 1 Arsenal 8
  • 4 August 2006: AZ Alkmaar 0 Arsenal 3
  • 8 August 2006: Dinamo Zagreb 0 Arsenal 3

 

The players returned to pay tribute to Dennis Bergkamp for his testimonial – a fitting way to open the magnificent new ground.   Ian Wright, Emmanuel Petit, Lee Dixon, Patrick Vieira and Marc Overmars all turned out while 59-year-old Johan Cruyff and Netherlands manager Marco van Basten came on for Ajax in the last 10 minutes.

Ajax’s Klass-Jan Huntelaar scored the first ever Emirates Stadium goal in the first half which consisted mostly of youth and reserve players.  In the second half it was the older players and ex-players plus one most important player: Thierry Henry who turned out for Arsenal – having chartered a plane to fly him back from holiday for the game.  He turned in a cross from Dixon.  Ronald De Boer knocked a penalty over the bar, and then Kanu made it two.

Usually speeches by players who are retiring are too embarrassing to remember, but Dennis’ speech was simple, and meaningful.

“My mum and dad were always there from the beginning and have probably seen every game.    And my wife has been amazing over the years. You can’t do a career like this alone and if it wasn’t for her I would not be here.

“It’s difficult to say goodbye. I’ve had a fantastic time over the last 11 years and a big part were the fans and how they treated me – they have been fantastic.”

He had played 315 league games for Arsenal and scored one of the greatest, perhaps the great goals of all time for the club.

Bergkamp was carried shoulder high during a lap of honour by Vieira and Henry – Arsenal captains past and present.

  • 8 August 2006: Dinamo Zagreb 0 Arsenal 3

This was the first time Arsenal played a qualifier for the Champions League, and the noticeable point was that Jose Antonio Reyes was not playing – following suggestions that he was moving to Real Madrid.

Tomas Rosicky played in Reyes’ normal role as an attacking midfielder on the left with Justin Hoyte rather than Flamini behind him at left back.

Thierry Henry, Jens Lehmann, Ashley Cole and Theo Walcott, were not yet ready, after the world cup, and Freddie Ljungberg, Gael Clichy, Philippe Senderos , Abou Diaby and Lauren were all injured.

The atmosphere was intense in the extreme and the game played at the fastest possible pace with both sides missing chances.

In the 63rd minute, Hleb passed  to Van Persie who touched it on to Fabregas on the right he shot across goal to score. Two minutes later, Hleb’s again found Van Persie who ran through a scored the second.  On 79 minutes Arsenal got their third, and with the second leg still to come at the Emirates they were as good as through.

Almunia

Hoyte  Djourou   Toure  Eboue

Rosicky   Hleb   Fabregas   Gilberto Silva

Adebayor  Van Persie.

The transfers during the close season included Song, Rosicky, Julio Baptista on loan, Gallas and Denilson.

Besides the loss of Bergkamp, Arsenal also said farewell to Pires, Campbell, Reyes (who was loaned to Real Madrid in return for Baptista) and Cole in the summer window.

What happened next?

The first Arsenal league game at the Emirates was on 19 August 2006 against Aston Villa. As in the Testimonial, the visitors took the lead.  Gilberto Silva scored the first ever Arsenal goal at the Emirates in the 84th minute.  But unlike the first ever match at Highbury when Arsenal came from behind to win 2-1, there was no final goal to round it off.

It was not until the third home match that Arsenal finally won at the Emirates on 23 September 2006 – a 3-0 victory over Sheffield Utd.  Before that point they had won only one, drawn two and lost one, and there was talk of the curse of the stadium move (which had resulted in many clubs who moved grounds then getting relegated) might hit Arsenal.

But wins against Charlton, Watford and Reading, during which Arsenal knocked in nine goals, put paid to such talk.

However the last word for such a pre-season must be about Dennis, and should come from the manager who brought all his talents together.  Asked to describe Bergkamp Mr Wenger said…

“Intelligence and class. Class is of course, most of the time linked to what you can do with the ball, but the intelligence makes you use the technique in an efficient way. It’s like somebody who has a big vocabulary but he doesn’t say intelligent words, and somebody who has a big vocabulary but he can talk intelligently, and that’s what Dennis is all about. What he does, there’s always a head and always a brain. And his technique allows him to do what he sees, and what he decides to do.”

The pre-season series thus far

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