Our keeper as hero and villain? I don't think so.
1994-95 The Football
Stewart Houston had a tough task
Last time I covered the off field antics which led to George Graham being removed in February. He lost his credibility, his job, and his (future)statue. And the team were poor, understandably. I would judge a manager on how well they extract performances from their team. If they have the best team, they should win. If another team does it like Arsenal in the double without the best team under Bertie Mee, it is a great achievement. Like Leicester a few years ago. Now that success had come to Manchester United, Alex Ferguson made sure he had the best players available.
They were the richest and had that advantage, so he should have won the league every year. He didn’t win this year. Blackburn did. Yes, they spent cash, they had top players but not the squad of Man Utd. But Arsenal finished 12th on 51 points only 6 above relegation. With a team packed full of internationals and winners this was very poor and underlines the importance of having a good manager able to do their job. Graham obviously couldn’t this year and when Stewart Houston, his deputy took over he had a thankless task. We were a little better and avoided relegation.
A not so super team in a Super cup?
We played in the European Super Cup against A.C Milan drawing 0-0 at home and losing 2-0 away. This was in early February when the scandal was at its highest.
We did a little better in the League Cup, starting with a nice 7-0 over Hartlepool over 2 legs. Then Oldham 2-0 after a replay, then Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 before being beaten by Liverpool 1-0 in the fifth round.
And the FA Cup was worse, Millwall beat us 2-0 after a replay in the 3rd round. By January, then, our season was over. Or was it?
The Cup-winners Cup again
We had the Cup-winners cup again as champions. Could we retain it? With our off field problems it didn’t look likely but we had an easy start against Omonia of Cyprus. We won 3-1 away to make the second leg a formality with Paul Merson (2) and Ian Wright scoring. Wright scored 2 in the next, 3-0 at Highbury which meant we were set up for Brondby in the next round.
We duly won 4-3 over 2 legs 2-1 away with Alan Smith and Ian Wright scoring, then 2-2 at home with Ian Wright and Ian Selley scoring. But they scored after 2 minutes to make it a bit nervy. Arsenal make it hard for us supporters. And then the quarters against Auxerre where it was made hard again, 1-1 at home but Ian Wright got it for us then and in the next one away got it for us again, a penalty after 16 minutes being good enough. What would we have done without Ian Wright?
He always scored for us
We weren't Arsenal
The annoying thing was that this shouldn’t be happening, we had a top squad, Seaman, Dixon, Adams, Keown, Merson, Parlour and others were regulars for England and Jensen, Hartson, Schwartz and McGoldrick also had lots of caps in their career. Others like Winterburn and Smith also played for England. But Wright was scoring at a rate of around one every 2 games. He could score goals even when we weren’t playing well. In the Wenger years, Henry also scored at a similar rate but in a far more effective team.
Next up in the semis were Sampdoria, where Liam Brady had also played. They had Sven-Göran Eriksson in charge and current top Italian manager Robert Mancini playing among several top players. It was a bit crazy. We were 2-0 up at halftime, both goals scored by Steve Bould (!) then Vladimir Jugović scored, then Ian Wright put us 2 ahead again only for Jugović to score again making it 3-2. They had 2 away goals. It is very hard being an Arsenal supporter.
But they made it really difficult for us next match. Mancini scored after 13 minutes. We were now facing an Italian team away and they were effectively one goal ahead because of the away goals. You would expect them to see out the match. But Ian Wright had different ideas and in the 60th minute he scored to ensure that if we could hold out, we were through. But then Belluci sored twice in the 85th and 86th minutes to make certain they would go though. Except for a superb Stefan Schwartz free kick in the 89th minute to give us parity and a penalty shootout.
Seaman with a glorious save in the penalties against Sampdoria
David Seaman was unbelievable and we won 3-2. So all 3 contests were 3-2. First leg to us, second to them and shootout to us. We were through. Against Real Zaragoza who had Nayim who was a Spud before Zaragoza and Gus Poyet who was to become a Spud.
A Spud? Destroying us? A nightmare
In all fairness, we didn’t play well, they had far more chances but didn’t score until the 68th minute with
Juan Esnáider. There’s only one Johnny Hartson put us back level on 77 and it was extra time. We were heading for penalties and we had our ace in the hole David Seaman to put us through that. We weren’t the better team on the day but we would win that, surely? Except with virtually no time left, the Spud Nayim punted the ball from the halfway line, after spotting Seaman out of his goal. He sprinted haplessly, it was like slow motion for me watching, but slowly, slowly, he wasn’t going to catch it, and it was in. A Spud had done us!
John Hartson kept us in it.
David Seaman cried his eyes out after the match, a big six foot 4 Yorkshireman kept apologising to his teammates for letting them down. I have to confess at being a bit angry myself. But I was wrong. We all make mistakes and for most of you out there he is the best keeper Arsenal have had in your lifetime. For me he is second to Pat Jennings, but he was a great keeper. And also a true gentleman.
And so nothing for us. We were sent home crying as well.
Only really Ian Wright had a good season with 30 goals in all competitions. He had a perfect record in the League Cup with 3 goals in 3 games and 9 goals in 9 games in the Cup-winners Cup.
We had lost our leader in George Graham. We knew Stewart Houston wasn’t the answer. It was time to get a big manager. David Dein had the contacts. Surely we would get the best and next week I will write about a glorious season when we were back to being Arsenal? We will see.