On the sunny, blustery afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 30, 1919, tens of thousands of people swarmed Highbury in north London, featuring Newcastle at Arsenal, to rejoice in the return of a sport shelved by the Great War.
Mayhem ensued. When gates shuttered, throngs still battled their way in, over fences and through adjacent homes. Thieves trying to nick cash boxes from officials produced fisticuffs.
The following Monday, however, only one scallywag — 26-year-old French polisher Robert Edwards — had to face the music and stand before a magistrate, on a charge of “insulting behavior.”
Newcastle registered the match’s lone goal, by 28-year-old James Henderson in his League Division One début, before an announced crowd of 55,000. Thus began one of the world’s more impressive sporting streaks, as Arsenal has competed in England’s top soccer flight ever since. This is its 96th consecutive season— there was a World War II hiatus — among the nation’s élite clubs.
Everton’s stretch is 67 seasons, Liverpool 59, Manchester United 46 and Tottenham 43. The Gunners, however, have jeopardized that impressive skein with shoddy play, which includes eight red cards since the start of last season.
It started going pear-shaped when French boss Arsène Wenger stepped aside in May 2018. Over 22 seasons, he won three Premier League crowns. The zenith came in 2003-04 when, fueled by Thierry Henry’s 30 goals, Arsenal (26-0-12) became the only EPL side to not lose a match in a season. Not even French Ligue 1 titan Paris Saint-Germain, Wenger told FourFourTwo magazine, has zipped through a domestic campaign without suffering a single defeat.
ðŸ’™ | “Everton is a beautiful club. The place is a family, a real family – and passionate. The ultimate aim is to be fighting at the top of the table, fighting for titles, to be competitive in Europe.”
— Everton (@Everton) December 21, 2020
Those Gunners were lionized as The Invincibles. That success helped pave a summer 2006 move from Highbury, and crowds in the high 30,000s, to shiny new Emirates Stadium, and regular audiences of 60,000.
Mikel Arteta is the club’s third manager since Wenger left. Arteta’s days, and that impressive streak, might be numbered as the once-proud club flirts with relegation. Arsenal is 0-5-2 in its past seven league matches, getting outscored 11-3. With 14 points, it is 15th in the 20-team EPL. Burnley (13 points) and Brighton (12) are below Arsenal. With 10 points, Fulham is in 18th, the first of three spots to be dropped to the Championship next season.
Chelsea visits the Emirates on Saturday, then the Gunners go to Brighton and West Bromwich Albion. Atop Arteta’s long list of issues is 32-year-old German midfielder Mesut Ozil, who inked a three-year, $75-million contract extension, through 2020-21, a few months before Wenger left. Last season, Ozil scored only once in 18 EPL matches. He has not appeared for Arsenal this season. If healthy, why isn’t Arteta playing him? If he’s lost form or is injured, who’d want to add that salary burden in the January transfer window?
“The Ozil drama,” wrote the Daily Express on Saturday, “could very well be what sees Arteta sacked.”
Sunday, Dec. 13, didn’t help. The foe was Burnley, which usually bolsters a top team. Over the past two seasons, Burnley had gone 1-12-3 against England’s Big Six, getting outscored 42-8.
Instead, Burnley blanked Arsenal, 1-nil. Brief Tier-2 coronavirus status in London allowed 2,000 fans into the Emirates, but the ones who didn’t leave during the match soundly booed the Gunners off their pitch at the end.
Saturday, Arsenal defender Rob Holding punched in an own goal at Everton for a 1-0 deficit, and the Blues executed a splendid header off a corner that ultimately dealt the visitors a 2-1 defeat. If it keeps spiraling, longtime Gunners supporters would no doubt wish staff and players responsible for this disaster to be brought before a magistrate and charged with truly insulting behavior.
Manchester United +132 at Leicester City, Total 2.5 Ov -154: United has scored at least twice in 10 consecutive away matches, the longest such streak in England’s top flight since Tottenham, from 1959-60 into ’60-61. Spurs went 10-0 in that stretch, having outscored foes 32-11. United is 9-1 in its run, with a 28-12 goals advantage. MANCHESTER UNITED and OVER
Everton -127 at Sheffield United: The visitors travel to the worst side in Premier League, which is 0-13-2 in all competitions this season and has tallied only five goals in its past eight matches. Expect Dominic Calvert-Lewin to score for Everton. EVERTON
Preston at Derby County, Total 2.5 Un -159: Since former Man U star Wayne Rooney took over managing Championship-side Derby, only seven combined goals have been tallied in its past six matches. UNDER
Last week: 0-2-1