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By one estimation, Arsene Wenger was silent for eight straight minutes during his first half-time team talk as Arsenal manager.
The legendary Frenchman rarely turned to the hairdryer to elicit a reaction from his players even when they were losing. Ray Parlour remembers a match at home to Aston Villa in 2001 when Arsenal were trailing 2-0 and the assistant manager Pat Rice began unloading on the squad. Wenger came in and actually raised his voice for once, but only to say: “Shut up, Pat.” Arsenal won 3-2.
Wenger and his calming half-time disposition may have left Arsenal but the habit of rectifying losing scenarios has remained ingrained in the club.
Here are some of the greatest Arsenal comebacks Wenger and his successors have overseen during the Premier League era.
Few matches offer a better lesson in the importance of punctuality and perseverance than Arsenal’s helter-skelter contest against Bournemouth. After falling behind to the second-fastest Premier League goal, Arsenal scored the second-latest winner in the club’s recorded top-flight history.
Arsenal had fallen behind to a clever kick-off routine Philip Billing finished off after 9.11 seconds but the Gunners rallied in the final half-hour as Reiss Nelson wheeled away with a coolness even Wenger would envy after lashing a match-winning, left-footed volley into the top corner as the clock ticker read 96 minutes, 57 seconds.
Bolton were two goals and one player better off at home to Arsenal with half an hour to play as the rain bucketed down at the Reebok Stadium.
Abou Diaby had emerged from the treatment room long enough to get sent off between Matthew Taylor’s first-half brace as Arsenal’s 2008 title tilt hung in tatters. Arsenal owed their recovery to a William Gallas volley and Robin van Persie’s penalty but also enjoyed a significant helping hand from the hosts.
Cesc Fabregas forced the 90th-minute winner with a weak shot which ricocheted off Bolton’s Andy O’Brien and then his teammate Jlloyd Samuel into Ali Al Habsi’s net, prompting manager Gary Megson to seeth: “That result today was a result which came from committing suicide.”
Manchester United, particularly the Sir Alex Ferguson vintage, are hailed as the Premier League’s comeback kings and rarely suffer the same fate themselves – especially against Arsenal.
However, a blustery January evening in 2007 was the setting for the unexpected.
Still trailing 1-0 to Wayne Rooney’s powerful header with seven minutes to play, Robin van Persie slid in to level the score before breaking his foot while celebrating. Thierry Henry managed to avoid injuring himself after netting a rare header in stoppage time to earn Arsenal’s second-ever Premier League victory against United after conceding the opening goal.
“I expected him to cross,” Wenger admitted after a breathless 3-2 victory at Stamford Bridge in 1999. Nwankwo Kanu had already found the net twice in the final 15 minutes, cancelling out the hosts’ advantage before rounding Chelsea’s wandering goalkeeper Ed de Goey on the byline in stoppage time.
“I was never going to cross,” Kanu countered. There wasn’t another red shirt in the box for that year’s African Player of the Year to pick out but the curled finish Kanu produced from an outrageously acute angle was hardly the next logical option. At least to mere mortals. “At 2-2, there was nothing else for it,” Kanu shrugged.
As the clock raced into the third minute of stoppage time at Villa Park, Arsenal were staring down the barrel of a fifth consecutive match without victory. The Gunners had lost to their chief title rivals Manchester City twice in that run, exiting the FA Cup at the Etihad before ceding top spot to Pep Guardiola’s side 63 hours before kicking off in the Midlands.
And then Jorginho tried his luck from range. The January arrival from Chelsea had scored exactly one top-flight goal from beyond 12 yards in his senior career when he let rip from beyond the D. The ball cannoned off the underside of the crossbar, hit the turf and then span off the head of Villa’s goalkeeper Emi Martinez.
The unflinchingly confident former Arsenal goalkeeper, whose time-wasting helped create the six minutes which were added on, made for a popular victim of this huge slice of misfortune among the travelling north Londoners. Arsenal returned to the Premier League summit and even ended the weekend top after Manchester City fell victim to a late Nottingham Forest goal later that day.
As the first half was winding to a close, Emmanuel Adebayor could be forgiven for conjuring images of headlines lauding yet another slice of revenge against his former employers. Wenger later admitted he was “a bit worried” about the morale of his current players considering Arsenal had lost 4-0 to AC Milan in their previous outing.
Yet, Adebayor, who created Louis Saha’s fourth-minute opener and scored a penalty to double Tottenham’s lead in 2012, had less than five minutes to savour the moment.
Bacary Sagna and Robin van Persie fired the Gunners level before the interval to quell their manager’s concerns. Tomas Rosicky had Arsenal in front after 51 minutes as Spurs imploded, shipping a Theo Walcott brace as the Gunners steered away from destruction to enjoy one of their most emphatic derby triumphs.
Arguably the most famous comeback in history took place 2,000 years ago over what would come to be known as Easter weekend. Fittingly, Arsenal played out their greatest comeback on Good Friday.
Three days prior to Liverpool’s visit in April 2004, Arsenal had been painfully knocked out of the Champions League quarter-finals by London rivals Chelsea. The week before, the Gunners had drawn with Manchester United, once again opening up the title race.
Thierry Henry admitted: “There was a question mark over our heads after two back-to-back defeats in big games.” The punctuation would have been deafening as the Gunners trotted into the interval trailing 2-1 at home to Liverpool.
However, Arsenal’s very own Messiah hauled his side back from the dead. Robert Pires levelled the score just seconds before Henry picked up the ball in front of Liverpool’s massed ranks. Accelerating with each elegant stride, Henry breezed between the billowing white shirts before stroking Arsenal ahead.
There was a slice of good fortune as Henry bundled in the game-sealing fourth but, with a hat-trick secured, Arsenal’s unbeaten league run was preserved and their stranglehold of first place strengthened.
On this edition of The Chronicles of a Gooner, part of the 90min podcast network, Harry Symeou reacts to Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Sporting CP in the Europa League.
If you can’t see this embed, click here to listen to the podcast!