1999-2000 part 2
And on the pitch, we were also the best?
Last time, I spoke about the seismic changes wrought by Arsene Wenger and David Dein. Selling Nicolas Anelka for the money to buy London Colney and Thierry Henry. We now had the best training and medical facilities in the world but Manchester United had won an unprecedented treble of Champions League, Premier league and FA Cup. Were we now to scrounge around for any scraps that Utd failed to pick up?
Roy Keane: Pushed the players to victory
To put it in perspective, we probably had marginally better players but they were hard scrappers, always pushing forwards, with Roy Keane, in particular, always wanting to get the ball to the forwards as quickly as possible. He hated when they went sideways or backwards and they daren’t argue with him so they were always pushing teams, waiting for errors, and mostly managing to beat lesser teams, which is key to winning the league. In this period we would often beat them on the head to head but they would win the league.
Everything that glisters is not gold
So we had a shiny new training ground and a shiny new striker but we didn’t have such a good time on the pitch. Henry couldn’t score and was feeling the pressure of being a converted winger. I don’t remember us massively getting on his back because we could see he was talented, but certainly results were not at the level we were hoping for. We started with 2 wins against Leicester and Derby but not too well and Manchester United soon won their first head to head at Highbury 2-1 to put us in our place. We were to have 5 defeats in the league by the end of December, well short of Man U. Again, I must emphasise that I felt we had marginally better players so Ferguson was squeezing better performances out of his.
A dazzling hat-trick from Overmars
We were bundled out of the Champions league, very much second best to Barcelona and Fiorentina only managing one point from each of them. And also knocked out of the League Cup in our second round by Middlesbrough 2-2 and then a pathetic penalty shoot out 3-1. We had thrashed them in the league 5-1 not long before that with a Dutch masterclass from Overmars (3) and Bergkamp (2) but played a total second string in this match. How could we even get the scraps from Manchester United if we didn’t take these cups seriously? It was an area in where Wenger and I disagreed, not that he knew that, of course.
The Spuds and the Irons beat us
Lowlights in the league in that first half were those defeats including 2-1 to the Spuds at White Hart Lane. They were well below us in quality at the time so that always rankled. Also 2-1 at Upton Park, and they were also well behind us in quality. Liverpool and Coventry were the other 2.
And then the Fa Cup, our trophy, and starting to look like our only hope for this year. Blackpool from the lowest division in the 3rd round and we dispatched them 3-1. Then Leicester in the next. 0-0 after extra time but they took us 6-5 on penalties. So by 19th of January, we were out of everything without really putting up a good fight. If only the training ground could play and win games for us. So, losers again?
Except that we had got into the UEFA cup because we beat AIK of Sweden twice in the Champions league and came 3rd. We had a lifeline, could we take it?
Arsenal pounces at the last or is that a bad omen I see?
First up was Nantes and we beat them 3-0 at Highbury making the second leg a formality. 6-3 over 2 matches and on we marched. Then 5-1 against Deportivo La Coruna at Highbury to make that second leg a formality and again 6-3 in total. Then Werder Bremen and 2-0 at Highbury but we beat them 4-2 in the next match to make it 6-2. So we had 6 6 6 in our first 3 rounds. A bad omen? Well, lets see.
We played Lens in the semis. Again we won the first leg at Highbury 1-0 and then 2-1 away for 3-1 overall. This was another area of contention. We were playing our home matches in the Champions League at Wembley and doing badly but hurting the admittedly lesser teams of the Uefa cup at Highbury. This was done for money and as always with me, I was annoyed how we prioritised money over success time and again in all the time I was a supporter. Wenger believed, more than any other manager, I feel, that the club should balance its books, rather than buy success. Roman Abramovich has consistently underlined the folly of this with Chelsea as they have far outshone Arsenal in his era. But he was yet to arrive.
A fading Gheorghe Hagi was their best player
Easy against Galatasaray?
So we had Galatasaray in the final at Copenhagen. Truly we were better than them, they hadn’t got the calibre of Bergkamp, Henry, Petit, Overmars, Kanu, Vieira and others. A fading Gheorghi Hagi, yes, but a mostly Turkish team, and very well organised. I watched it that night in the Submarine pub in Crumlin on a very large screen with my brothers but it was a poor match and with no goals, went to penalties. Once again we were pathetic and beaten 4-1 on penalties. All our top class players and it’s only Ray Parlour could score. The Turks won their only ever European trophy and we were sent home crying from Denmark.
Galatarasay celebrated as our superstars couldn't hit a penalty
So were we Arsenal at all? We did go on a run in the second half of the season to finish second on 73, far distant to United on 91 points. We were dining at the top table but not eating too well, getting indigestion every so often but crucially, not winning things.
Second best is our best
Alex Ferguson seemed to have won his match-up with Wenger with the league his 2 seasons in a row. As always with Arsenal, it is the hope of next year that keeps us going. Henry had arrived, he became top scorer for us but we definitely were not sure how good he was. Consistency was a problem, he started 38 matches in total with another 10 as sub and scored 26. Good but not great.
We played 32 players, another area I was unhappy with. I totally believed a settled side was key to winning matches. The early promise of the Wenger era had faded. Maybe, that was it, Wenger was good but not great, the same as his team and Henry. Ah, but we had next year and I was always an optimist.
C’mon the Arse!