Should Rioch have been given a chance?
And so the end is near. The final instalment is here as we look at the Wenger years and after.
First though is Bruce Rioch. George Grahams bung year had coincided with a drop to 12th, a huge drop for a team that had won many trophies in the preceding years. Bruce had several good spells in his lone season and David Platt and Dennis Bergkamp had been recruited. One big difference was that David Dein had clashed with Rioch over recruitment, saying that the board (read Dein) would now be in charge of transfers. This was not usual at the time in English football. The truth, I believe, is that Dein had made up his mind to get Wenger and that for that to happen, Rioch had to fail. Rioch, made one fatal error, in my opinion, he had difficulties with Ian Wright, despite him being top scorer that season, with not wanting to play him and putting him on the wing. Wright put in a transfer request.
Rioch would never have led us to greatness
That was the one big mistake he made. Arsenal fans loved Wright. Put it in context, Rioch moved us up 7 places to fifth, he finished the season strongly and we got to the semi-finals of the League Cup and entry to the UEFA cup. Add to that Arsenal were not known for firing managers. Dein, though, could capitalize on the Ian Wright situation and his bad personal relationship with Rioch. He could now bring in his man, Wenger.
Accidents allowed Arsene Wenger to save us
By rights, though, he should have been given more time. A pretty good second season would surely have seen him stay on, the Wenger years would never have happened just as with the George Graham bung fiasco. If Graham had not been involved in scandal he surely would never have been fired. These were very significant events in the history of Arsenal. George Graham’s bung and Ian Wright eventually paved the way for the Arsene years.
It is easy to say that Wenger’s time was the most important in Arsenal’s time, the titles, the FA cups, the long qualification for Champions league, the mad battles with Man Utd, the Champion’s league heartbreak of 2006, the exciting football, the amazing training ground at Colney, the holistic approach which transformed not just Arsenal but all English teams. Diet, physio, medical, squad sizes, player rotation and so on. Wenger also had incredible man management which meant virtually no former player had a bad word to say about him. Most of you reading out there know all about the Wenger years so I won’t go too far into them. I reckon most of you will also say that there is no doubt that it was the most crucial time in our annals. But we will see as I give my verdict at the end.
I have tons of money, I am king
So Wenger came in, we could attract the best players in the world. We won 2 doubles and had an Invincible season. But Dein and Wenger had a problem. Roman Abramovich heralded the start of huge money coming into the Premier league. Arsenal could not compete particularly as Chelsea were rapidly becoming the best team in England. We never won the league after Chelsea got into their stride in 2005, instantly after we were Invincible. Dein and Wenger had seen the writing on the wall for Highbury years before that and were planning a move to a shiny new stadium which was necessary for us to stay among the big boys. We were also looking at billionaire investors to try and keep up.
The money king of football
It is amazing that at the same time we were so strong, with lots of honours in the bag, was also one of the most challenging. Dein and Wenger worked tirelessly to get the Emirates project going. Dein sold his shares eventually after coming under extreme pressure from the board, and the fans who felt Arsenal should keep winning even after putting together a massive new development in the most expensive part of the country, London. By 2007, he was out of Arsenal and by 2008 out of Red and White, the company who actually ran Arsenal.
Anyone want to buy a player?
We were still producing top players, but they were being bought up by clubs with seemingly unlimited resources, mostly Sheik Mansour's Man City but Henry and others went to Barcelona and Vieira to Juventus. We were like Hitler towards the end of the second World War, we were fighting on too many fronts, and were in danger of collapse. With Dein gone, Wenger was left alone to fight on. It was a dark era but somehow Wenger kept us up there, even with the fans believing he should be able to bring us back to the top and screaming abuse at him.
The magic pair - Dein and Wenger
And so the Kroenkes appeared in 2007, quietly building up their stock until in 2011 they were in charge. Now, as I see it, they were happy with Wenger and willing to invest heavily but they had their own beliefs on how a major sporting club should be run. They wanted a team of experts to help the manager/ coaches concentrate on what they had to, winning trophies. This, though, unnerved Wenger, who was used to making all decisions regarding the team, including what extra positions should be filled. He felt that the Kroenkes were trying to undermine him. He was now almost alone although still capable of delivering a trophy.
Did Arsene, at the end, not know?
I believe, however, judging by Kroenke and Arteta, that Wenger was wrong. Stan Kroenke only wanted to help by bringing his ideas to Arsenal. Wenger, who was the true embodiment of Arsenal was up against the man who owned Arsenal, both with strong yet different ideas. There could only be one winner and that was Kroenke. I feel that if Wenger had accepted Kroenke’s help and adapted to his vision he would still be there. After all, he would now have had a top team of experts to help him.
The clue that Kroenke wanted to work with Arsene
Arteta embraced that support, accepting that the modern football manager cannot control everything as Wenger had in the past.
And so the great man was gone, unable to adapt to new realities. David Dein also, who bled Red and White, and so Arsene Wenger, who had given us our most successful period ever, had to endure the indignity of fans screaming horrendous abuse as he was forced out.
And we now have this new era under Arteta which could yet eclipse everything.
So let’s, finally, spell out the most significant events:
1. Dial Square
2. Quickly changing our name to Royal Arsenal
3. Becoming professional
4. Appointing Harry Bradshaw
5. The dark dealings of Henry Norris
6. The appointment of Herbert Chapman
7. George Allison takes over
8. 1953 we become the top team ever in England
9. The Mee Howe era, crowned with the Double
10. Terry Neill pushing us back near the top
11. David Dein in 1983 becoming vice-chairman
12. George Graham giving us our first sustained spell at the top since the Chapman/Allison era
13. The George Graham bung which meant he got fired
14. Bruce Rioch falling out with David Dein and Ian Wright
15. Arsene Wenger takes over
16. The emergence of big money in football
17. The Emirates Stadium
18. Dein forced out
19. Kroenke in, which led to Wenger being forced out
20. This new era with Arteta
The unveiling of the top three
And so I will whittle down 20 to 3. Remember it is not our most successful time which I am trying to discern, which is easy, Wenger, Chapman, George – but the most crucial events in our history, which made us what we are. I will say in 3rd place was David Dein effectively taking over in 1983 as he presided over 2 of those names above. 2nd to me was the emergence of big money which almost wiped us out as a major team. And first is the dark dealings of Henry Norris, with his egregious cheating which gave a team placed in 6th place in the second division a place in the first division. That wickedness is embarrassing to me and to Arsenal's record as a fair club but that enabled him to eventually hire Herbert Chapman, who I don’t believe would have come to a second division team, and started us on our first road to greatness, from which all our subsequent rich history derived.
1. The Dark dealings of Henry Norris
2. The emergence of big money in football
3. David Dein taking over as vice-chairman in 1983
Henry Norris - the dark man who put us on the road to greatness
I also promised I would say which event was the most crucial time for me and regular readers will guess it was the Double of 1971. Without that ridiculous achievement, I might, as a kid in Ireland supporting a team flirting with relegation, have switched to Liverpool or Manchester United to be like my peers.
Feel free to disagree with me on any of these, I guess there are lots of different opinions, certainly as to the most important event in your history with Arsenal, something drew you in, and something kept you there to sing out “One nil to the Arsenal”.