But then it all went Wright?
The transfer market was crazy, players were flying in from all over. Players who had shown a bit of promise were shipped out and also Paul Merson was sent on to Middlesbrough, seemingly not rated by Wenger. And so we didn’t know who the team were going to be, and also who most of these new players were. A young Matthew Upson was brought in from Luton who never quite made it at Arsenal but went on to have a pretty good career elsewhere. He was the only Brit brought in and he was cover for the fabled back four.
Now, Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars are well famous. Gilles Grimandi, Christopher Wreh and Luis Boa Morte were good players but turned out to be more squad players than certs. Alex Manninger was signed as cover for David Seaman. Only Alberto Mendez from Germany never really featured much and he moved on with scarcely any games.
A scary side
Wenger showed early on that he was good in the transfer market. Petit and Overmars soon showed that they were among the best in the Premier League. How about this for a side?
Frighten the life out of you? For sure. But Bould could come in at the back without a hint of weakness. David Platt was an unbelievable midfielder and could come in to change a game. And so could Nicolas Anelka up front who was showing signs of an immense talent. He looked like he would become a world superstar, yes raw and sometimes ungainly, but frighteningly good at times. Give him a chance to develop his game and his nous over the next few seasons and we have got a player. I think most fans agreed with me on this point. Over our next few blogs we will see what happened to him.
A Dark December
Emmanuel Petit was an immense midfielder and formed a superb partnership with Patrick Vieira. They were big, they were strong but they could play. They were potentially the best midfield pairing in the world except that Vieira was still raw, still struggled with heavy, greasy pitches and this was reflected in our dour November/December were we lost 4 league matches in a row to seemingly drop out of the title race. We were 5th on the 31st January, having occupied a similar position since November. The newcomers, in general, struggled with the weather and the pitches, Overmars, Petit and Anelka also flailing and sliding with abandon.
Discipline was also a problem with Vieira and Petit picking up 3 red cards and 16 bookings between them, a lot of it due to being unable to play at the intensity and speed they desired and keep their balance. The famous Wenger ill discipline was in full force, and, despite not being a dirty side by any means, managed to clock up unimpressive disciplinary stats.
And what about Ian Wright?
I posed a question at the start “But then it all went Wright?” because I guess all you Gooners know what happened at the end this season, but for Ian Wright it was a mixed season, never shown better than when he pulled up his jersey against Bolton in September to show that he had broken the Arsenal scoring record. Eh, no, you didn’t, Ian but at least he did later on in the game and he had to pull it up again. Cue much ribbing in the dressing-room and the newspapers.
However, he only got 11 goals in all competitions, a bad year for him and only 26 appearances in those, 2 as sub. Anelka had 2 more although 12 were as sub and he got 9 goals. Bergkamp played 40 and scored 22 and this was a new experience for Wright with only half the scores of the top striker. Competition was tough and getting tougher and there were rumours of famous strikers being lined up but that is a story for next week.
The Wenger way was the only way
Again lots of players got games, a massive 29 and the pattern was truly set, the cups were for the fringe, as were games against weaker sides and there was no ever present. Nigel Winterburn, again got the most with 35 in the league and 48 in total. Ray Parlour was next on 34 and 47, again, as I suggested last week with Winterburn, probably reflecting that Glenn Hoddle wasn’t playing him for England. Overmars, Petitt and Vieira had strong figures too and the latter 2 picked up suspensions so their figures would have been higher. I think we can all agree that playing these two would have been an easy choice for us.
But the extraordinary Englishness of the side had been transformed, midfield and attack now reliant on Johnny foreigner, and only the legendary defence was sacrosanct. Wenger had made his mark, and we were hearing that the changes to Englishness were happening everywhere. The fondness for pints was out as it was for fish and chips and Mars bars. In were steamed vegetables and healthy portions.
The best of everything
Wenger believed in state of the art in every area, from the grass on the pitch, to the medical facilities, the training ground, and diet and focus. The old English ways were gone, despite the fact that they had dominated European football in the 70’s and 80’s. European football had moved on and it was time for English football to do so also. Alex Ferguson at Man Utd had his ear to the ground, he was aware that a new challenger had arrived, with new ways. He would never let his team fall behind for long.
So how did we get on on the pitch in Arsene Wenger’s first full season? I guess you all know the answer but I will take a look next week at how it went, and were we really happy that season.