Read Robert Exley's in-depth review of 2020: July
Arsenal started July in tenth place, eleven points off of top four, with seven league games left to play and awaiting a tough semi final against a Man City side who welcomed them back to post-lockdown action with an almighty thump.
Meanwhile Britain was slowly reopening again, with the receding of the first wave of Covid.
1st July: The month started with Arsenal’s first home game since early March, with a 6pm kick off against relegation threatened Norwich City, rearranged from almost exactly three months prior.
I originally had a ticket for this game, but had to make do with watching this live on BT Sport after a rush to finish work in time. Goals for Granit Xhaka, Cedric Soares and two for Pierre Emerick Aubameyang meant a comfortable 4-0 victory to overhaul Spurs in the table. A 2-3 defeat for Chelsea away to West Ham moved top four a little closer to Arsenal’s reach eight points away. The following day, Spurs suffered 1-3 loss away to Sheffield United, while champions Liverpool would be humbled by a 0-4 away defeat to second place Man City.
4th July 2020: It’s not yet the end of the season, and yet the fourth of July becomes “Super Saturday” – so called because the relaxation of lockdown laws saw the reopening of 18,000 pubs across the UK (apparently with table service instead of bar service), with the exception of Leicester which was excluded from the relaxations due to its high rate of Covid. The East Midlands city had more stringent regulations in force.
Despite receiving invitations to pubs from friends, whether to watch the football or not, the knowledge that pubs were no less likely a place to pick up the virus (where you’ll be unmasked in order to drink) than in shops (where you now can’t even enter unmasked), meant that I simply avoided them for the rest of the year and haven’t set foot in one since March (maybe it’s the first place I’ll head to after receiving the vaccine, but certainly no sooner).
Also, I felt getting pissed was somewhat counter to government advice to “stay alert” (surely, if you could stay alert after a few pints, then you wouldn’t be incapacitated from driving, would you?). This was somewhat borne out by the fact that within three days of Super Saturday, three pubs in Yorkshire, Hampshire and Somerset that reopened on 4th July were closed again after customers tested positive for Covid.
Anyway, those who did venture down the pub on Super Saturday to watch Arsenal were treated to a satisfying 2-0 away victory over Wolves, with goals from Bukayo Saka and Alex Lacazette.
7th July 2020: Next up at home for Arsenal would be locked down Leicester City, who were standing in third place having avidly been pursuing a Champions League place all season.
It's very much a must win for Arsenal if they’re looking to qualify for the Champions League. On 21 minutes Aubameyang gave Arsenal the lead, however Arsenal failed to build a secure enough footing for the rest of the game.
Fifteen minutes from the end, Eddie Nketia received a red card and with six minutes to go, Jamie Vardy secured a point for Leicester City with a 1-1 draw. Arsenal now needed to claw back nine points over four games and hope for the three sides above them to also drop points (basically, top four was effectively lost).
11th July 2020: Arsenal’s chances of reaching the Champions League remained mathematically possible, though their chances of Europa League qualification through the league made less probable after a 3-0 home victory for Sheffield United over Chelsea.
12th July 2020: Arsenal’s first visit to the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium occurs behind closed doors (who would have thought the men’s fixture would have attained a lower crowd than the women’s fixture the previous November which saw 38,262 turn out for the very first North London Derby in any form with a 2-0 win for Arsenal).
Arsenal took the lead with a goal from Alex Lacazette, however it was overturned within three minutes by a Son Heung-Min equaliser. A goal from Toby Alderweireld nine minutes from time inflicted a 1-2 defeat on Arsenal as the Gunners drop to ninth, with Spurs now one place above with a two-point lead, putting St. Totteringham’s Day at risk for the fourth season in a row.
13th July 2020: Norwich City are relegated to the Championship after a 0-4 home defeat to West Ham
15th July 2020: After just one point from six, the last team you probably want to face is Champions Liverpool, with their record of 30 wins from 35 games. Sadio Mane gives Liverpool the lead on twenty minutes, however goals for Alex Lacazette and Reiss Nelson put the Gunners ahead before half time. Arsenal held on for a 2-1 victory.
16th July 2020: While English football still toiled away in front of empty stadiums, over on the other side of the earth, in Aussie Rules’s AFL, Geelong v Collingwood saw a crowd of 22,007 permitted in the Australian state of Victoria.
Three days later, over in Western Australia a crowd of 25,000 attended a game between Fremantle and the West Coast Eagles as the country eased lockdown restrictions (the Perth and Fremantle area however does have the benefit of being 1,305 miles away from the nearest conurbation with a population in excess of 100,000 in Adelaide).
17th July 2020: With the number of daily Covid-19 deaths falling to single figures for the first time since 13th March, the PM reveals plans for fans to return to grounds in October. Meanwhile, Leeds United finally win promotion back to the Premiership after a 16-year absence, confirmed by promotion chasing West Brom’s 1-2 defeat to Huddersfield
18th July 2020: Arsenal head to an empty Wembley Stadium to face Man City (who again failed to sell out their Wembley allocation...).
The fixture is believed to Arsenal’s first ever competitive Saturday evening fixture. I even tweeted the Arsenal History Website’s Andy Kelly for confirmation of this and he couldn’t recall any other instance either...
Two goals for Pierre Emerick Aubameyang put Arsenal through to their sixth final in seven years (not bad for a club in the midst of a relative decline). One day later, Arsenal were joined in the final by Chelsea with a 3-1 victory over Man United secured by goals from former Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud, Mason Mount and a Harry Maguire own goal.
19th July 2020: Away from football, Concerns are raised about the effectiveness of England’s contact-tracing system, as it was revealed that at least 50 per cent of the people identified as having had close contact with someone in Blackburn who had tested positive for Covid have not been contacted. The Blackburn and Darwen area had began to overtake Leicester as the UK’s premier Covid hotspot, with a growing Covid problem also beginning to emerge in Luton.
21st July 2020: A goal for Trézéguet for Aston Villa inflicted a 0-1 defeat on Arsenal. Earlier in the day, fellow strugglers Watford suffered a 0-4 home defeat to Man City meaning that Villa overhauled them in seventeenth place with just one game left to play. Arsenal meanwhile dropped to tenth place behind Burnley, with qualification for the Europa League through the Premiership and overhauling Spurs now impossible.
22nd July 2020: West Brom return to the Premiership, after a 2-2 draw against QPR confirmed their spot as runners up in the Championship.
24th July 2020: regulations come into force, requiring members of the public to wear a face covering in most indoor shops, shopping centres, banks, post offices and public transport hubs. They must also be worn by anyone buying takeaway food or drink from an outlet, but may be removed by those eating in. Children under 11, and people with disabilities or certain health conditions that would make the wearing of a face covering difficult are exempt. In Scotland this rule had already been in place since 10/07/2020.
26th July 2020: It’s Super Sunday and Arsenal face relegation threatened Watford at home. The Hornets stood in the relegation zone on equal points with seventeenth place Aston Villa, separated by just one goal. Arsenal raced into a three-goal lead by 33 minutes, with goals from Keiron Tierney and two for Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. Troy Deeney pulled one back for Watford two minutes before half time and former Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck pulled it back to 3-2, which is what it remained until full time.
Over at the London Stadium, Villa managed a 1-1 draw meaning that Watford were down, as well as Bournemouth. Arsenal meanwhile finished the Premiership season in eighth place – their lowest finish since 1994/95 – meaning that the Gunners needed to win the FA Cup to qualify for the Europa League in 2020/21.
Meanwhile, as English sport remained behind closed doors, over in New Zealand, a crowd of 33,000 turned out at Auckland’s Eden Park to see the Auckland Blues take on Hamilton side The Chiefs in New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa, with a 21-17 victory for the Blues.
As July became the month when the UK attempted to claw back some form of normality, as the month came to a close alarm had been raised at a growing number of cases arising in Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and Yorkshire, which saw restrictions placed in those regions prohibiting separate households from meeting indoors from July 30th as well as the pausing of trailing spectator sporting events.
Meanwhile, Arsenal awaited their part in a unique spectator-less FA Cup Final on the first day of August.