Like a scar on the heart

We supporters often tend to think of our last defeat, our last transfer window, or our last humiliating moment as “the worst thing that’s ever happened” to us as a supporter. But in my time supporting Arsenal (23 years now) there have been a number of things that have happened which I could legitimately call “the worst thing that’s ever happened to me as a supporter”. These are the embarrassing moments, the ridiculous moments, and the huge losses which are – as Arsene Wenger once said – “like a scar on my heart.” I love the Arsenal and there are certainly more good memories than bad but I thought it would be cathartic to just traipse through some of the most horrible moments I’ve endured as a fan. If for no other reason than to give a little context to the latest defeat to Man U.

Arsenal 2-3 Leeds (2003) – In the early days I didn’t get much coverage of the Arsenal. We got a few full games and a weekly match of the day style program which meant that we saw goals and big moments only. But by 2003 we were getting more full games, which is why Arsenal’s 2-3 loss at home to Leeds is the first “scar on my heart”. I don’t remember every detail from the game (Henry and Bergkamp scored) but I will never forget Viduka scoring the third goal, which ended Arsenal’s title race (in truth the title race had been essentially decided by the 2-2 draw the week earlier against Notlob). Even the name “Viduka” causes me to break out in a cold sweat.

Wayne Rooney Dives (2004) – This game was beyond a farce. Arsenal had gone 49 matches unbeaten and if you watch the refereeing in this game it looked to me like they didn’t want us to get to 50. Referee on the day was Mike Riley (now the former head of PGMOL) and he was happy to award a penalty to Wayne Rooney for a dive over Sol Campbell’s leg. Rooney would perfect this dive and parlay it into quite a successful career. This game is also called “pizzagate” because apparently Cesc Fabregas threw pizza at Alex Ferguson. Van Nistilrooy was retroactively banned for three matches for a challenge on Ashley Cole. I think this game helped solidify in many people’s minds that the approach to take with Arsenal is to kick them off the pitch because the officials will allow it.

Barcelona 2-1 Arsenal (2006) – By 2006 we had coverage of almost every Premier League and Champions League match here in the States so I was able to follow Arsenal much more closely than ever before. I had even been able to get to Highbury for my first ever game (Charlton), just 2 months before this final, so I felt incredibly close to the club. Leading up to this final, Arsenal had the best defense in the Champions League and had beaten Real Madrid in Madrid (Henry famous goal) and dismantled a Patrick Vieira-led Juventus at Highbury thanks to the performance of a beautiful young whelp named Cesc Fabregas. Which is why this final is so painful that I have kind of blocked it out a bit. Everything that could go wrong did. Jens Lehmann sent off. Robert Pires subbed off. Thierry Henry missing a golden chance. And a collapse in 4 minutes which sealed the game.

Martin Taylor Breaks Eduardo’s Leg (2008) – When Arsenal sold Thierry Henry to Barcelona there were a lot of worried fans wondering who we could bring in to replace his goals. Arsene Wenger was still in his pomp in these days and he brought in a Croatian Brazilian (crozilian) who had scored 47 goals in his last season for Dinamo Zagreb. As soon as we saw him play we knew he was something special: his technique and his pure footballing intelligence was a joy to watch. So, it was incredibly devastating to everyone at the club when Martin Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg. To this day I’m convinced that Alex McLeish (the Birmingham coach) told the players to go out there and rough Arsenal up. This was the time when coaches all over England would say stupid shit like “Arsenal don’t like it up ’em” and would tell their players to go after us. This was the closest Arsenal had been to a title race since 2004 and after the injury it would all fall apart.

Shawcross breaks Ramsey’s leg (2010) – Nearly two years after Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg, Ryan Shawcross broke Aaron Ramsey’s leg. Dave Kitson has since revealed that Tony Pulis was “out of control” and that he despised Arsene Wenger. Pulis told his boys in the buildup to the match to be aggressive in the tackle and geed them up to the point where something like this was bound to happen. The Stoke supporters booed Aaron Ramsey every time he played there after that. Because they are – every single one of them – classless pricks. Ramsey would go on to have the last laugh – winning three FA Cups and playing for Juventus. Ryan Shawcross was relegated and went on to play for Inter Miami.

League cup Final (2011) – I was at this game. I remember distinctly the Birmingham City supporters in the bar of my hotel, the night before the game, loudly saying that they were confident they would win this match. That Arsenal supporters wouldn’t take a £50 bet with him because they knew it and they were scared. During warmups, Arsenal players were all smiles and doing little rondos while Birmingham City players were aggressively contesting headers against each other. At 1-1 I remember feeling like we were going to win this in extra time. Birmingham City players were cramping up and it felt like we would have the fitness and talent to win in extra time. And then Martin Zigic won a header and Obafemi Martins took advantage of confusion between Szczesny and Koscielny and scored the winner. After the game, the Arsenal supporters were morose. “Can’t we buy someone who can win a header?” was a familiar refrain. I will never forget the walk back to the train at Wembley and the Arsenal supporters singing the Perry Groves song as if it were a funeral dirge.

Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal (2011)- I hate criticizing the referees because it brings out the conspiracy theorists but oh my god, this match. Referee Phil Dowd had himself a shocker. Arsenal took a 4-0 lead into half time but Joey Barton just ran around kicking Abou Diaby and at one point he did a knee slide into the Arsenal man while he was in possession and tried his best to break Diaby’s leg. When Diaby retaliated by grabbing Barton and shoving him, Dowd gave Diaby the red card, of course, because retaliation is always dealt with much harsher than the original transgression. Toward the end of the match, Dowd awarded a penalty when Thomas Rosicky touched a guy in the box. There was no foul but Dowd seemed to be itching to give away the pen. Still, Arsenal probably should have hung on for the win, but a wondergoal by the now deceased Cheick Tiote leveled the score 4-4.

Fabregas to Barcelona (2011) – We all knew it was going to happen one day but why did it have to happen this summer and why didn’t we get more money?? Well, probably because Fabregas downed tools. Don’t even bother arguing with me on this one. It’s set in my mind that his refusal to return to training, saying he was injured, was his way of downing tools to force the move. I’ve never forgiven him and I don’t actually care that he said some nice things and seems a likeable guy.

Man U 8-2 Arsenal (2011) – I’m not going to recap the game but losing Fabric Ass and Nasri in the same summer transfer window clearly left Arsenal with a huge hole. Wenger filled that hole with Francis Coquelin – handing him his first competitive debut – and Carl Jenkinson. The thing I remember most about this match were the announcers exasperatedly saying “this is Arsenal football club”. This loss did spark the so-called “trolly dash” where Wenger signed Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos, Chu-Young Park, Benayoun, and a guy you may have heard of, Mikel Arteta. Arteta was such an emergency signing that we waved his medical.

van Persie’s “guys” letter (2012) – The year after Cesc left, van Persie wanted out too. His public letter to the fans saying that he was not going to sign for Arsenal sort of forced our hands but the idea that we had to sell him and that we had to sell him to Man U? I think Wenger got this one insanely wrong. I would would have just not sold him. And the worst part of all this is that Arsenal coddled him for years as he kept getting injured on international duty. A great striker but a terrible deal for Arsenal.

40m and one (2013) – Summer of 2013, Arsene Wenger had spent the last few years being criticized for not spending money. So, I think Arsenal went into this summer wanting to spend £40m on a player. The first target for this was Gonzo Higuain. Arsenal dropped their interest in Higuain when Luis Suarez’ team of brain geniuses told Arsenal that he had “a release clause” for “anything over £40m.” So, Arsenal bid £40m and one. As it turns out.. Suarez DIDN’T have a release clause. He had some clause that if a Champions League team bids more than 40m Liverpool would have to inform the player or something. Suarez asked the player’s union to get involved and they sided with Liverpool. Arsenal did end up spending the £40m, on Mesut Ozil. All the other transfers that season were free (Sanogo and Flamini).

Joel, get out while you still can (2014) – after a 1-0 defeat on a cold night in Stoke, Arsenal supporters gathered on a platform and shouted abuse at Wenger, telling him to get out of the club. They also told Joel Campbell to “get out while you still can” and to this day I haven’t a clue what that’s supposed to mean.

Wenger’s 1000th game (2014) – I remember before the match pleading with Wenger through this blog to NOT approach this game with their usual high line tactic. This was Jose Mourinho. We all knew what Mourinho was going to do – low block counter. I wanted to see a plan B from Wenger, please for the love of god, don’t try to camp in their half.. and that’s exactly what we did. This match is also notable for referee Andre Marriner sending off Kieran Gibbs for an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hand ball. I think it was at this point where I think I started to say that I wanted Wenger to retire. He was being abused by his own fans after games and I felt like he didn’t deserve this treatment.

Fabregas to Chelsea (2014) – Look, I understand that Wenger felt betrayed by Cesc and that the manager has the right to work with the players he wants to work with but Arsenal had the right of first refusal for any transfer of Fabregas from Barcelona and Wenger chose not to take it. So Fabregas went to Chelsea, to play with Mourinho, and win the League. I’m still not over it. I blame everyone in this transfer. EVERYONE.

Wenger chooses to only sign Petr Cech (2015) – After spending the fucking money for two years and getting in a team of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, Wenger harkened back to his invincibles season and chose to only buy a keeper. Cech was a good buy but Arsenal were in dire need of midfield and forward reinforcements. Wenger choose not to buy anyone other than Cech. Arsenal probably should have won the League that season too. Imagine if we’d have had a good backup for Cazorla (who picked up a devastating injury this season) or another forward who could put away all the chances Ozil and Alexis created? Arsenal had the money too, at least £200m in cash reserves at the time. In January, Wenger bought Mo Elneny.

Bayern Munich 10-2 aggregate (2017) – The last three times we’ve played Bayern Munchen we have lost 5-1. Prior to that, Arsenal had actually beaten Bayern a few times and twice I was there in Munich when Arsenal very nearly overcame a first-leg deficit and advanced. All that changed after 2016. Wenger’s teams were routinely destroyed by Bayern. To the point where I wondered what was the point of Arsenal being in the Champions League? We had no chance of winning.

I’m sure that you all have your own memories of these things plus some more. If you’re older you might remember the Nayim goal for example. I’m aware of those things, I’ve read about them, but I didn’t experience them the way I did the stuff above. Feel free, however, to share your worst memories as an Arsenal supporter in the comments below.



  1. Wow! I’ve really been through it as an Arsenal fan. I’m really grateful for this comprehensive list of almost nostalgic pain. Nostalgic because Arsenal were higher up the food chain to make these events really painful. If half of them had happened in the last 4 to 5 years, they’d have just been par for the course

  2. May, 2006. Dan Smith on Abou Diaby was no less traumatic than Martin Taylor on Eduardo or Ryan Shawcross on Ramsey, Tim. And I still cringe at the shabby treatment of Wenger by Arsenal supporters towards the end.

  3. Thanks for this thoroughly depressing yet somehow cathartic read. My youngest starts school tomorrow, first time she’ll be out of the house (COVID baby) and this really helps pit into perspective how little Arsenal matters.

    I’d add one more to your list, but it’s less clear. Last season, when we let it slip from our hands. I don’t remember which game it was – take your pick of the three on trot, or even the Spurs game.

  4. Wow, so many familiar scars! Didn’t know Chiek Tiote had passed on, that strike was like a dagger to the heart. And Henry’s miss in that Champions League final….

    I also recall a Champions League defeat to Man U, I think it finished 3-0, and we were abject. Really dispiriting.

    But better times lie ahead. COYG!

  5. Man. You had to do this? 🙂

    In the game in which Rooney dived, not only did the ref miss RvN raking Ashley Cole with his studs (a sly one), he did not red card Rio Ferdinand wiping out Freddie clean through on goal and as the last man a blatant one). No card, actually, and that was a big tell that Mike Riley went cowardly. Any card shown HAD to be red. There was so much refereeing injustice in that game, that it hurts even today. Rooney’s was not a foul/pen, but what on earth was Sol Campbell doing?

    The 4-4 at Newcastle, and Clichy dozing off and allowing Birmingham a late penalty in the Eduardo leg break game were the worst I’ve felt as an Arsenal fan.

    More than RvP’s unjust red, or even the 8-2. The 8-2 we were bad, and that was on us. In that Birmingham game, I was in rural west Africa and had to leave commentary on the game early, with Arsenal coasting. Coming back at the end to hear about everything that transpired was a shock.

    As for Arteta… smart purchase, trolley dash or not. He took a significant pay cut to join us, and was an underrated signing. He was marvelous for us for 2 years, and then basically warmed the bench.

    1. Per and Arteta both were excellent signings – maybe not the sexiesst players, but both did what they needed to do very well (and are still doing great work at the club). The rest, not so much sadly. Benayoun, in fairness, was okay, but the other two ranged from bafflingly invisible to actively awful.

      1. We’ve been talking a lot about 6s and 8s, but Arteta showed that playing in the back of midfield was mostly a cerebral thing. His play was based on anticipation and reading of the game. I think he opened a few eyes eyes about how the position could be played by someone who had more brains than brawn. Because, for a while, we thought he’d play as an attacking mid.

        For Everton, he played further forward, sort of in the Odegaard role (no coincidence that his tactics flow through Ode). For Arsenal, he played in deep midfield, and he was bloody good there. Behind him was Mertesacker, who was also a superb reader of the game and anticipator of danger. Neither was a speed demon athlete. Both played their roles very well.

        I loved Arteta the player. He was also one of our best penalty takers, and strikers of the dead ball.

        Wenger made him captain pretty quickly. I read somewhere sometime ago that Arsene said he liked his forthright honesty, and that he wasnt afraid to tell him — Arsene — exactly what he thought.

        Wenger made some smart redeployments round that time. Mikel was one. Santi was another.

  6. Whew, dark times and dark places. What about the moments that gave us joy down the years? Plenty of those too, although inevitably there will be more bad memories that stick in our minds. Only one team can win any given competition, so only one team per year is “allowed” to be happy with their season, and maybe a couple of others with their cup. Everyone else has to be disappointed. That’s just the nature of sport.

    1. Arshavin’s 4th vs Liverpool. Scoring, going berserk and holding up 4 fingers. Nothing beats that moment in my time supporting Arsenal. Not even Vieira’s kick to win the FA Cup against the old enemy… a match in which we were second best for most of it. Not clinching a title, or winning an FA Cup. Arshavin running most of the length of the pitch in the 90th minute and thumping it past the keeper. 4-3, we were to concede very, very late to make it 4-4, but that was a thrilling act in a crazy play. Fun fact… we led 1-0 at halftime. Neither Benitez or Wenger will have enjoyed the second half. Both sets of fans did, though.

      That’s one in a long list, Doc.

      1. I may have to agree about Arshavin, that was monumental.

        Everything about Arshavin was. Even the rumors we signed him. I was part of some Facebook group at the time, and someone posted the phone number of Arshavin’s agent and claimed he had confirmed it to them via text. Skeptical, I texted him, asking what Arshavin’s number would be. Amazingly, he replied, and a day or two later it was proven correct.

        Another great memory is when we won the FA cup in 2014. Wenger was already on the rocks at the time, and this seemed like such a vindication, a thank you, and a fitting farewell. He did not leave them, and I still maintain he should have. But that memory in isolation is one of the few times – maybe the only time – Arsenal have brought me to tears of happiness.

        1. That brought tears to my eyes too. The players soaked him in champagne (in his elegant suit and crisp white shirt), and threw him in the air. It was a long time in coming. I couldn’t be happier for Arsene. They too seemed happiest for him, most of all.

      1. My first match, club level behind the goal, on a junket from a bookmakers I played poker with, I wasn’t terribly interested in football before that night. Been obsessed since 🙂

    2. When Henry scored against Leeds on his first game back. That brought me to tears. Even the goal was atypical Henry. I think I felt overwhelmed because suddenly the memories of what we once were came flooding in. A temporary relief at a time when things were pretty dark (this was just a few months after the 8-2).

  7. My single most painful memory was among the first experiences of Arsenal. the FA Cup Semi final loss in 99. We had that game in the bag, Bergkamp missed a penalty (and would never take one again) and Giggs ran through the midfield and defense and shot past Seaman.

    the thing is I didn’t even watch that game live. We didn’t get the FA cup matches at the time, and so like the 98 final, I found a bootleg copy of it. It was much easier to avoid knowing the results then as well. So a few weeks later didn’t matter to how I felt about it.

    It was devastating, and I think because of it, none of these matches, not even the 8-2 is traumatic to me (I thought the 6-1 to ManU was a worse performance anyway), though the Birmingham loss comes close (I had a premonition we’d lose though)

    But yeah, Game 50 even now gets me fuming. It was ridiculous beyond belief, and I know you don’t like conspiracies but I’m convinced that ManU saw our young team in our new stadium, along with Chelsea’s success and seemingly endless money and took matters up behind the scenes. (I hate that club and I’m annoyed we didn’t beat them this Sunday)

  8. Great Post Tim and some great replies. I am a young man in late 50’s but my God have seen alot. 1st game circa 68 played utd at Highbury, holy trinity and all. Utd wore yellow we won 3 0. I was hooked. 71 Charlie G winner for the double. Terry Niel team in Europe spartak Moscow. 1 1 1st leg at home 1 1 at ht.Terry who was more Conservative than JM decides to play 5 attacker’s 2nd half. Still to this day Spartak scored the best team goal I’ve ever seen and we lose 2 5 but our fans gave Spartak a standing ovation at the end. Jimmy Rimmer (afc goalie) monumental cock up v wba at home. Lad was in tears but us fans sang his name throughout even thou we lost 1 2 (ally brown for wba) Alan Sunderland on his debut v Coventry teaming with rain. Belts in from 25 yrds given for offside game ends 0 0 .David O Kicking off in a brutal match v Norwich. He scores 2 we win 4 3 and much much more. The 0 5 v speerz Sunderland 3. I’ve witnessed a lot. But this is why I love football and Arsenal in particular. Its in the blood. Maybe Tim et all I should start a blog reminiscing about the good and bad ol days. Lol

  9. I share all these scars but here are some additional traumatic mentions:

    Ashley’s meeting in a hotel with Moron

    The Michael Owen Final

    The Giggs hairy chest goal

    Wayne Bridge winner CL QF

    Nelson Vivas not tracking Hasselbank in ‘99

    The multiple occasions Drogba brutalised Senderos

    And because this is so depressing and I’m putting in a personal request for you to post a “positive/euphoric Arsenal moment” post please lol.

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