A trip to Newcastle’s St James’s Park means more to Gooners than to most other sets of fans in the Premier League. On Saturday afternoon, Arsenal coach Unai Emery takes his charges to the scene of the crime, the ground on which they tripped and received a lasting chip in the tooth.
In February 2011, Arsenal were on the wrong end of arguably the greatest comeback in the competition’s history. There’s the significance of Manchester City’s title-winning fightback against Queens Park Rangers; the sheer power of Sir Alex Ferguson’s “Lads, it’s Tottenham” 5-3 win; but this stands on its own vault in the memory bank. For shock, awe and trauma value, this match has no equal.
Fear gripped the faces of all Geordies as they went to go get a half-time cup of tea. At 4-0 and no structure in sight, it was at Arsène Wenger’s prerogative how inflated the embarrassment would become.
Then Abou Diaby got himself sent off — Joey Barton at the centre of it to the surprise of nobody. Instead of seeing out what still should have been a routine 40 minutes, Arsenal reacted to the red as though it were a bolt to the Achilles tendon. “Crumble” is too generous a word to describe the following performance.
After Barton converted his second penalty, Alan Pardew’s men had seven minutes of normal time to improve what had become a 4-3 scoreline.
As the ball floated towards Cheick Tioté, having been limply headed out of the box on the 87th minute, you knew something extraordinary was about to happen. One of those rare moments in football where you could envision the strike before it landed, when inescapable destiny had gained control of the situation.
That half-volley was the greatest goal the late Ivorian would ever score. While Newcastle fans still celebrate his life, it’s the Gunners that we can rely on to unwittingly hold that moment for years to come.