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  1. The new Matt Busby? Matt Busby - The Kids and the glamour Ah, there was a great buzz around London in the swinging Sixties, but it didn’t buzz around Arsenal. It did around Matt Busby and Manchester United. It was our first dry decade since we burst on the scene in the 1930’s under Herbert Chapman. Manchester United and Liverpool had both won titles before us so we gave them a head start. We never managed to catch them up. Can we? Certainly not easily, but with both teams up for sale, maybe they can stay still for a while, while we jumpstart a great period under Mikel Arteta. Our great years came under extraordinarily innovative managers who transformed football, Chapman and Wenger. Few clubs worldwide, even the huge ones, have had managers that brought about the changes they did. George Graham, who achieved wonders on the football pitch, didn’t really have an overall vision about football or the club, other than achieving success. Nothing wrong with that, it is the same as the majority of managers, even the true greats. Arteta achieves success? So is Arteta in the innovative mould, like his two extraordinary predecessors, or potentially more of a great football man? Does he have the vision to transform football and Arsenal in a new, unique way? Of course the first question is, can he achieve success? That is a prerequisite. He needs fantastic years of winning for people to say, the Arteta way is the best way. That is yet to be seen. He has one big difference to Chapman and Wenger, they had top achievements before Arsenal. He has none as it is his first go. And so far, it is not obvious whether he has a vision for a new way of doing things. That may come. Herbert Chapman - the founder of modern football Chapman was a groundbreaker in football: physiotherapists, floodlights, European competition, numbered shirts, and, critically, the WM formation, which is still the basis of all subsequent patterns. are all down to him. Wenger cared about diet, training and a holistic approach to modern footballers whereby they always had to focus on their career, their health and their fitness. He introduced an enhanced level of training grounds and cared deeply about the surfaces on which top footballers play. He also believed they should enjoy their time on the pitch, and their talent. This was in sharp contrast to the hard drinking, make do attitude prevalent, particularly in English football, at the time. He was smart enough to do things slowly, yet was boosted by the instant success which allowed him to change things to his liking easily. A better playing career Neither Wenger or Chapman had distinguished playing careers, Chapman even appearing for a team in white and black from north London that no-one has ever heard of. Wenger had even less so, with the highlight at RC Strasbourg for a short few seasons at the end of his career where he was never first choice. Arteta, though, had a pretty successful time, and was on the fringes of what was the greatest Spanish national team of all time. He won trophies at PSG, Rangers and Arsenal. Wenger changed football Perhaps a better comparison is to Matt Busby, the legend who brought Manchester United to prominence in the 50’s and 60’s. It was also his first managerial job. Busby was a good player who played for Manchester City and Liverpool. Busby wasn’t a great innovator but he did believe in European competition at a time when English football was still insular. Where Arteta and he are similar is their belief in young players, and their seeming compatibility with youngsters. Busby created the Busby Babes, speckled with great talents such as Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Liam Whelan, Dennis Violet and many others, who won the league in 1955-56 and 1956-57 and looked set to dominate football for many years. The team had an average age of 21-22. 8 died in the Munich air disaster and 2 more never played again. It took a few years for Busby to fashion a new top side in the 60’s with George Best, Bobby Charlton and Dennis Law at the forefront. Can disaster fall? If Arteta does manage to win this year, then this group of players can only get better. They have many years of development left in them and it is clear that Arteta, like Busby, wants to get the best out of them, improving one improves all is his philosophy, and so he works with all players to make them better players, more tactically aware, and buying into the team system that is essential for success. The Munich air disaster stopped Busby’s team from dominating but, while it is unlikely a similar disaster could befall Arsenal, the modern day curse could derail all our hopes. Arteta could be poached, say to Barcelona, and so could our players to various major entities with large wallets. Now Arsenal are no Ajax, another recent team to have many young stars, who found their top players pinched. We have money and lots of it. If Arteta goes, though, maybe our players will follow suit. Success will be the key. The Munich disaster - a real tragedy for football There is another parallel with Busby. Busby, when he took on the job with Man Utd, insisted on a long term commitment and a five year contract plus total control of team affairs. He argued that 5 years was the time it would take him to bring Utd to the level required. There is evidence that Arteta argued the same and successfully managed to get the Kroenkes to back him longterm as he imposed his vision of how he wanted Arsenal to play, the type of players he needed and the ethos that will make Arsenal a true top team again. 13 league defeats last season and some bumpy patches never saw the Kroenke’s come out of the traps to criticize him. They believed in him, as did all of the Arsenal staff, it seems, even if that didn’t extend to all fans. A manager needs to be given a chance, even at a big club. The glamour and the glory Manchester United was the glamour club in England under Busby. They were the team players wanted to play for. There are signs that Arsenal are becoming the same with players from other teams such as Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Rio Ferdinand saying they love this new look Arsenal side. Does Arteta have the vision? We are young, we are strong, we play together and we could be immortal like all the greats of football that have flowed through our lives, making our time on this planet a brighter place. Arteta may not prove to be a big innovator like Chapman or Wenger but he could turn out to be an extraordinary manager like Busby. I would take that all day long. Bring us back to the future and the Swinging Sixties but this time Arteta and Arsenal.
  2. Arsenal v Man Utd part 2 Handbags, surely? A most serious war Fighting! That’s the key to Arsenal vs Manchester United. So many fights, and so spectacular. The thing is, though, it became the biggest derby in English football purely on football terms, which is unusual. Normally it is your local rivals who are your biggest opponents, not so these two. It was football, it was that mad scramble for superiority, to be better. Yes we had big games, the FA cup final of 1979 which I wrote about here being one. I also wrote about the brawl at Old Trafford in 1991 here. I was there in 1991 when Arsenal had a 20 man brawl with Man Utd at Old Trafford. As far as I am concerned, Man Utd were the instigators as any examination of the videos will confirm but Arsenal got the worst punishment. The beginning of the belief that Alex Ferguson always got better treatment from authorities. It was spectacular, with almost everyone involved although not really vicious except maybe for Brian McClair kicking Nigel Winterburn on the ground, for which Winterburn got booked! Arsene Wenger Vs Alex Ferguson But they were just tasters, little morsels to whet the appetite for the big battles first with George Graham and Alex Ferguson and then the supreme one, when Arsene Wenger arrived on the scene. He seemed straightaway to get under Ferguson’s skin and of course in his first full season he was 12 points behind and going nowhere when he did the impossible, reeled them in and essentially got the title with a Marc Overmars wondergoal at Old Trafford. From then on, they all knew, there was a new kid on the block and they were Arsenal. No wonder Ferguson was sickened and bitter. No more Mr Nice Guy Of course, Arsenal never quite managed domination under George Graham, but Man Utd, under Matt Busby, not that long past, were a great and dominant side just as Manchester United were becoming under Ferguson. They seemingly could just march to the title every season. Eh hello, Arsenal are here now. It was our first Premier League title. And the true start of what was to become the biggest rivalry in English football. They hated each other, hyped themselves up for every match as if their life depended on it and they were always feisty affairs. Both sets of players were desperate to win Now, Ferguson and Wenger seem friends. Ferguson, though, then, was far more responsible for the war. He liked to use any method to gain an advantage, mindgames, a sense of us against the world, firing players up, diving. Even the arrival of Arsenal he used to push his team to their first Champions league. They had to get better to beat Arsenal and that was also good enough to beat Bayern Munich. Wenger always wanted it to be about football, sporting competition, and doing things the right way. Thanks, Patrick, for the eye examination However his players didn’t see it that way. They also wanted to win in any way possible, Adams, Keown, Vieira and others would try to intimidate opponents, to fight as hard as they could for victory. Witness Patrick Vieira intimidating Gary Neville in the famous tunnel incident. This fired Roy Keane up so much that he wanted to fight Patrick Vieira before the match. I had never seen this before in football and kept expecting Keane to be sent off before the match had even started. Maybe that is not in the rules so he wasn’t and United went on to win 4-2. Keown was the hardest fighter of all Martin Keown’s most famous image is when he screws up his face at Ruud Van Nistleroy when he missed a penalty at Old Trafford after Diego Forlan had gone down soft. It ended 0-0 and all the Arsenal players celebrated wildly, so wildly that several of them got suspensions. Nothing for Man Utd. Ferguson, unbelievably said that Arsenal’s conduct was the worst he had ever seen in football. Ah, good old Fergie, always playing the mindgames. Get closer, Martin I have to mention Pizzagate as well. The next season, at Old Trafford, Utd ended our great unbeaten run with Van Nistleroy scoring a late penalty and Wayne Rooney scoring even later to give them a 2-0 win. Arsenal had played the better football, controlling the game to that point. It boiled over into the tunnel, and Mr Ferguson got pizza thrown over him by a young Cesc Fabregas, allegedly. This time, both teams kept shtum and no punishments were handed out. Surely not innocent Cesc Fabregas? So there were plenty of fights, red cards, yellow cards, wild tackles, squaring up, and sly grins when intimidation worked, as Wenger vs Ferguson, Keane vs Vieira, Keown vs everybody and lots of other battles raged all around us. It was a time of heightened emotions as the two great teams of English football battled throughout new players in a ten or so year yoyo war for supremacy. Every time a team got knocked down they got back up and knocked the other down. It was a fantastic football war as well But what about the football, I hear you ask? It was high class. Dennis Bergkamp had brought football to a new level as did Thierry Henry, Vieira and superb players for the Arsenal. Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, and others were world class for Utd. Ruud Van Nistleroy ramped up the rivalry by trying to keep up with Henry, but eventually conceded Henry was better as he skulked off to Real Madrid. They fought on football skills though, I never remember them getting physical with each other. Nistleroy was beaten by Thierry Henry During George Graham’s time, Ferguson famously said that Ian Wright was destroying us and he did acknowledge that Arsenal players could play. He also thought that Tony Adams should have been a Manchester United player. And Ferguson learned from Wenger. All the modern ideas he brought were swiftly introduced at Old Trafford, diets, training methods and grounds, pitch technology, large squads, rotation, he was always one of the best learners in football. One thing both managers believed in was attacking football, always trying to score. They were never good at holding on to a lead, always wanting to increase it by preference. Hence the high scoring matches as both sides, once they fell behind, kept trying to win, leaving gaps for the other to exploit. The infamous 8-2 to Man Utd was not as one-sided as the scoreline suggests, as Arsenal continued to press forward, looking for a miracle. Watch it again if you don’t believe me. Are there battles to come? There is no doubt in my mind that Utd had reached an easy pinnacle until Arsenal arrived to challenge, winning title after title, and that push helped Ferguson to get his players to perform better. Both sides had managers and players who only cared about winning, battling and fighting to the end for that top prize of not losing. For trophies, they have the edge and we would need a long great spell to catch them up. It is not impossible, though. Can we overtake them on money, however? Probably not, they are at the top level of fan support with an income to match. They can pay huge salaries even as they are struggling at the moment. A long period for us in the doldrums makes it harder to get the owners to spend money. Again we would need that long great spell to match them for money. They do go in with an advantage, a bigger fan base, a bigger ground, owners who spend more money, and, of course, a stronger modern tradition. What do plucky little Arsenal have to offer? A potentially exciting young manager, who, if he tackles his weaknesses in dealing with players, could become a true great. We also have an extraordinary range of young talent, which, with improvement and some of that battling ability which I have written about here, could bring us that dream spell of dominance. I believe in this team, do you?
  3. George Graham was integral to both teams Red Devils vs Red Angels I could very easily have been a Manchester United supporter if it hadn’t been for the famous Swindon Town defeat of Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup. Watching a team dominate, keep trying despite half of them recovering from flu, I felt sorry for them and wanted them to win. I became a Gooner that day. And I was on my own. Most people in Ireland were Man Utd and my older brother Joe certainly was. My dad was more of a GAA fan and brought us to many games but from that moment on Arsenal were my biggest sporting love. I was lucky for them as trophies followed in quick succession. As soon as I followed them, they became a big team again. A toothless Nobby Stiles celebrates The European Cup in 1968 Strangely enough Man Utd went into decline after their fabled win over Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final. It can only be put down to one factor in my opinion, Matt Busby, the extraordinary creator of the Manchester United legend retired shortly after the Benfica win, probably because the stress of doing everything there was very draining. He had to control everything, wages, transfers, finances, the ground, in those days managers had far more to do with far less staff. So Arsenal went up, United went down. We sent them down This was reflected on the pitch in our games with them as we drew and lost in 1969-70 but hammered them 4-0 and 3-1 in our magnificent double year 1970-71. The amazing thing was, virtually all of their superstars were still there, George Best, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and the rest but they were a mediocre team, finishing 8th both seasons. We went from 12th to 1st and I definitely believed I had handed Arsenal the lucky gene. We were back, we were Arsenal, and we were winners. Matt Busby - the genius behind Manchester United For United, relegation was the next step in 1973-74. And who started them off on that journey? You guessed it, we beat them 3-0 on their first game of the season. George Graham had switched to them but made no difference. Their huge stars had gone but they still had big names such as Willie Morgan, Sammy McIlroy, Martin Buchan and Lou Macari who helped them go down. They did manage a point off us in the return but that was the start of them being beaten by us in a significant fashion in my era. It seemed impossible for such a team to go down but they had finished 18th out of 22 the year before and then the Arsenal destroy them in their first match. It clobbered the belief out of them. The richest, most glamorous club in the world go down It was their last relegation and truly they were the biggest side I had ever seen relegated on the pitch, not by a ban like Juventus, for example. They were the richest club in the world, fans everywhere, glamour stars of which the greatest was the unbelievable Georgie Best, the best player I have ever seen, but he was unable to cope with fame. Watch the Youtubes to see things you have never seen before, he could do everything, all while getting kicked unmercifully. I believe that Matt Busby going meant the last chance for Bestie also went. He protected him. George best - the most exciting footballer I have ever seen Busby was their Herbert Chapman. He made them the greatest in England. He believed, as did Chapman, in European competition. Early connections between two greats They had 2 great managers in my era, Busby and Ferguson, and we had 2, Graham and Wenger. Later on we will get to them as they are integral to the story. But let us take a trip down memory lane first to give you an idea of the connections between 2 of the greatest clubs in England and certainly the biggest rivals in my time. Newton Heath and Woolwich Arsenal played out their rivalry in the 2nd division for many years. In 1898 we played an extraordinary 3 matches all finishing 5-1 with them winning only the middle one. In 1906 we both met in Division one for the first time and they won 1-0 with the wonderfully named Alexander Leek Brown Downie scoring the goal. They had become Manchester United and we were still Woolwich Arsenal. They have the edge They have the edge on us in wins, 100 to our 86 and 50 drawn. They have more trophies as you all know with only the FA cup being our lead. They are close though with 12 to our 13. Let’s hope a great spell is on the way for us with the Arteta young guns and we climb closer to them. Their 3 Champions league could be a target although it certainly doesn’t look possible from this viewpoint. We need to improve to catch up with them. A miraculous ten years would do nicely. Cup winners courtesy of Liam Brady I want to mention another time and a match that will always stick in my memory. Arsenal vs Man Utd in 1979, the FA cup final. It was yet another time when we proved their nemesis. We had all the Irish players with Liam Brady being the finest. He played superb, we were 2 goals up on 86 minutes and they were ready to go home crying. But Gordon McQueen lashed in a header and then Sammy McIlroy scored a peach and we were on the floor like Tyson Fury, eyes rolling back in our heads just like him, unconscious. Somehow Brady, Rix and Sunderland crawled up off the Wembley floor, decided we were Arsenal, we give nightmares to Man Utd, not the other way round, and scored a goal that gave me the highest level of delight I had up to the point as an Arsenal supporter. From strolling around the ring, giving Utd an odd clatter around the head to show our superiority, to being hit by a sucker punch that sent us down burst like a sack of spuds, to gathering all our pieces together and showing we were champions, it was the greatest single match I had experienced to that point. 10 years later I was to experience another fantastic moment against Liverpool but I have covered that before. This time we climbed the Wembley stairs as giants and Man Utd? It must have been sickening because if it had gone to extra time all the belief and momentum was with them. Brady gave us that little bit extra to make us win within that tiny crazy moment that was left of injury time. Alan Sunderland destroyed the ecstatic Man Utd fans Next week I will go up to the modern era, George Graham, Arsene Wenger, and the manager who was scheduled to come to us before George Graham, Alex Ferguson. The most unbelievable rivalry, the ups and downs, the earth shattering defeats, and the joyous wins.
  4. Arsenal vs Leeds Rocky: Didn't want to leave us We Leed the way Leeds are our rollercoaster team, we either seem to go on long unbeaten spells or they do. Some of our greatest names have been involved with them as well, George Graham, David O’Leary, David Rocastle and John Lukic spring to mind. And I am going at the weekend to see them and I hope obviously, we win. It is particularly important as The Spuds have Liverpool away and they could easily drop points. We could be four or five points ahead come Sunday, making the showdown less of an ordeal on Thursday May 12th. He loved us both We first played Leeds on 20 December 1924 and we hammered them 6-1 in the old first division. It was their first season up and we showed them what Arsenal meant. They learned from that to beat us in the return in April 1-0. But we have had plenty of big wins since and they have put 3 and 4 past us a few times and paid us back for that 6-1 with one of their own in May 1973. Those early clashes were little dippers compared to the later ones. We won 3 and they won 3 of our first six. Between 1932 and 1938 we were unbeaten for 11 games. In 1959 to 1968 they were unbeaten for 10 games. We beat them 4-3 in May 1968 (I would take that this May even if it gave me a heart attack) but then they were unbeaten the next 6 until 1971. And for that win 1-0 in April, we thought we had handed them the league but we came back to win the double on the last match against, well you all know, the hapless Spuds. They like beating us in finals They beat us the next year in the FA cup final 1-0 for their only FA cup win. But we truly had a torrid time against them in the 60’s and 70’s, scarcely winning a match and they went on a another long unbeaten spell from their famous 6-1 in May 1973 to 1977, winning most. That time, in the late 60’s through a lot of the 70’s was Leeds golden spell, with 2 league titles, one FA cup and 2 Uefa cups plus challenging strongly all the time. They should have won more and Johnny Giles famously said years later the reason was that Don Revie, their manager, had a blind spot, playing Gary Sprake in goal instead of David Harvey. Most fans regarded them as the best team in England for many years until Liverpool finally emerged to dominate. 3 of these boys on the scoresheet for Arsenal - surely a record? But it all turned around in the 80’s. Just before that, in September 1979 we played them in the league cup winning 7-0 with 3 Irish getting on the scoresheet, Brady 2, Sammy Nelson 1 and Frank Stapleton 1, and that may be the only time 3 Irishmen scored for Arsenal in one game, I can’t remember another. After that match they must have hated us as we let them beat us 1-0 in the league in January 1980 because we just kept beating them like poor whipped puppies after that with a long unbeaten spell of 15 matches until March 1992. It was like little dippers on the rollercoaster after that with us winning some and them winning some until November 2003 when we won 4-1 at Elland Road in the Premier league. We haven’t been beaten since and I really want that to continue this Sunday. We are the Arsenal, let’s show it, team. Make it 12 undefeated, we are the undefeatables, after all. We smash them on trophies Of course when it comes to trophies we are well ahead, they have 3 league titles to our 13 and one FA cup to our 14 and they beat us for that one in 1972. They have one league cup to our 2 but they also beat us in 1968 for their one. They seem to like taking trophies off us. They have 2 Uefa trophies to our one and one European cup final appearance to our one Champions League. The other Alan Smith who liked playing for Leeds So on most metrics we are nicely ahead, with 50 wins to their 41 and 33 draws. They have been up and down divisions regularly whereas we never have. I have to say I always liked Leeds even when they were a dirty team in their heyday in the 60’s and 70’s. They had Johnny Giles, one of our greatest ever, and a team of superb players such as Billy Bremner, Alan Clarke, Terry Cooper, Jack Charlton and many others. They took our gorgeous great George George Graham took them over when his Arsenal greatness disappeared with the bung scandal and he set about making them a top team again but didn’t stay too long as Tottenham, then pretending to be a big team, poached him from them. David O’Leary, his assistant took over and brought on lots of teenagers such as Alan Smith (the other one), Jonathan Woodgate (now England manager), Ian Harte, and others who went on a great run reaching Champions league semi-finals in 2001. George and David - among our greatest And so we have had lots of interactions, a true rollercoaster of emotions as we start winning and keep winning, then they start winning and keep winning and then we start again. We need to keep it going. C’mon the Arsenal. Beat a team near the bottom and make us all happy. Mikel needs Champions league, or does he? I feel qualifying for Champions League will be the boost Mikel Arteta needs in his quest to gain respect from experienced professionals. My good friend Zdavko Talvi of this Arsenal parish ventured his opinion that maybe Europa League might be best in some ways next season as it will allow him to play the youngsters in that. I like the way he thinks longterm. This is a strong argument, for sure, but I believe a greater need is for Arteta to believe in himself and for the players also. When David O’Leary took over Leeds he may have had the same problems, experienced players giving him problems, and he preferred to play the youngsters. It mostly worked out for him but he was probably too nice to be a successful manager longterm. Arsenal are a far bigger team, expectations are far higher, and Arteta is not too nice to make hard decisions, we have seen that. But he must be able to have an experienced spine in the team and bring in big names if necessary, and not have them acting like prima donnas. A strong finish to the season, knocking over the Spuds on the way, will do that. It will do wonders for his confidence and the players attitudes. Let’s start with Leeds and continue our rollercoaster climb upwards. Keep smiling till the end of the season, Mikel
  5. Arsenal v Chelsea The Boys were Blue When I was a kid growing up, Chelsea were a good side with plenty of top players like Peter Osgood RIP, Peter Bonetti RIP, John Hollins, and they had George Graham before us plus the legendary Jimmy Greaves RIP graced Stamford Bridge. They had the Indian sign over us in the ‘60’s, beating us most times, a bit like when Mourinho was in charge. Their flair centreforward - he was good But Arsenal didn’t choose me until the late 60’s and by the 70’s our record against them was pretty good. That continued into the 80’s and 90’s. And so they didn’t haunt my nightmares and I didn’t worry too much about playing them. They didn’t win trophies as their only league title was in 1955, before my time. They won a league cup in 1965, but it was very much a minor trophy then. In short, they weren’t big boys at all and nor were any London teams other than ourselves. We were the only southern team to challenge the complete dominance of teams north of Watford but in the 60’s we were an average side, living on past glories, and unable to push for the top. George Graham played for Chelsea when he had hair The Blue Demon awakes And so it is shocking how Chelsea have risen. Since the millennium shifted they have been the best team in England, notching up trophy after trophy, leaving us, and most teams, trailing in their wake. By some metrics they could even claim to have surpassed us as the 3rd best team overall in England. I will get to the metrics later. Even at our height, under Wenger, we could not claim a long time as the best team in England as some Scottish guy’s team were often better than us. Chelsea better than us? It seems so hard to take as they were like the other London teams when I was growing up and indeed long after I became an adult. They would be beaten when necessary. Only Arsenal could take on the big boys as equals. We could sneer at the others, let you enjoy your little cup runs, or winning minor trophies. Arsenal were the kings of London, it was as simple as that. And now Chelsea are. The Blue Demon is worse than the Red Devil We were so far ahead of them it was unreal. But now? 13 league titles to 6, yes we are better. 14 FA cups to 8, again better. And then it all goes wrong. 2 League cups to their 5. 1 Uefa cup to their 2 including when they destroyed us a few years ago. 2 Champions leagues to our, well, none. 2 Cupwinners cups to our one. A Fifa club world cup and 2 Uefa Super cups to our none. And on the pitch? Our recent record is not too good since the millennium. A lot of losses and draws as the new Chelsea emerged. The only chink of light is Arteta’s record is pretty good including beating them at Wembley, 3 wins, a draw and 2 losses. I would love this trophy Chelsea have The Devil changed the ball game Roman Abramovich changed the way football works. He, almost by himself, raised the bar in so many ways that it is staggering. The extraordinary prices charged at the Emirates? Down to him. The unbelievable wages paid to top players and even average players? Down to him. The belief that buying a football club can transform your image worldwide? Down to him. The belief that using money wisely in terms of who you buy, but to extravagant levels that can never be paid back? Down to him. All those titles that are mentioned up above? Down to him. Arsenal and the others are like towns caught in the wake of a tornado, battered, and having to change they way they are built not to be destroyed. All the big teams do things the Abramovich way, or they go nowhere. He wanted to buy Arsenal, they wouldn’t let him. It is reasonable to assume that if he had, we could have won even more than Chelsea, coming from a stronger base. We would probably be vying with Real Madrid now in terms of international revenue. He changed football. But for the better? This is the background to our rivalry. A giant that has risen from the bowels of the earth, devouring all it can as it rises. Making us look small. We are the Arsenal, we should make you look small, not the other way around. And this is the position we need to get to. Back on top. One Man, One Team Probably, the end of the Abramovich era is going to help us. I have never seen an owner have such a direct effect on a club’s fortunes as Abramovich. Win or be sacked worked for him. Replacing managers if things dipped slightly. And yet there were other factors, the academy is superb, and the amount of players out on loan is staggering. The fact that only 11 players could play doesn’t seem to hinder them. But Roman is gone, presumably never to come back. And is this where Arsenal are now? Needing outside factors to impact our league position? At the top, one thing is certain, your rivals will not fall apart. If you don’t win matches, you will not win trophies. It is not about hoping rivals will lose, they rarely will. It is about you winning. When you are scrambling lower down the league, as we are, it is about your opponents losing. And so we know what we need to do to beat Chelsea. We need to win and keep on winning. Can we do that? I hope so. Because whether we like it or not, they are now the new kings of London. They are the first target to overcome and I would prefer to beat them on the pitch, become winners again, than hoping Abramovich being ousted is how we leapfrog them. Arsenal must go back to being Arsenal. We need those days again
  6. Arteta vs the rest I love his smile Can he be the best? I think it is fair to say that Arteta has the support of most fans. Emery didn’t. Wenger did for most of the time and it is even difficult to say if he may have had the majority of fans at the end. George Graham had his doubters, too, and some indifferent seasons but came from a low base, we had won little in the years preceding him. Our glory days were under Herbert Chapman with a couple of nice cameos from Bertie Mee and others. Chapman: read the second line - Arteta did And so, today, I will attempt to see how we can place him against his Arsenal competition. I will start with Chapman. Chapman got nine years before succumbing to flu in 1934. He was a master tactician, credited with creating the famous W formation, which is still the basis of all line-ups today. He believed in coaching, innovation, counter-attacking football, and giving players the best facilities to increase their chances of success. He had a belief in how best to play and stuck to that, but was never afraid to refine it, to make it better. He had an emphasis on dwelling on the ball, dribbling, and possession. We were called lucky Arsenal, boring Arsenal by rivals but were the most successful team of the 1930’s. He was also unafraid to replace players he felt were past their best or no longer good for the side. Can he get nine years? As you can see from this, he has a definite counterpart in Arteta in playing beliefs. Now, will Arteta get nine years or more? It is hard to say. He needs to win matches and challenge for trophies, plus win some of them. He needs Champions League as well. That would get him the nine years plus. He does have a strong belief in what he wants and how to get it. So he could do it. Will he bring in similar big changes off the field championed by Chapman – floodlights, European footbalI, physiotherapy, marble halls for a sense of grandeur, the W formation? Probably not as I feel most big innovations are already here. But I will give him a sporting chance of being able to emulate Chapman as to me, this is the most exciting squad of youngsters Arsenal have ever had, and if we keep most, and they develop, they should be serious contenders. He seems to have their trust and he is credited by his players, not only at Arsenal, of being a great improver. If this squad improves, the sky is the limit. A mirror image of George And unto George Graham. In many ways, Arteta and he are most alike. He believes in strong coaching, in every player knowing their role, what to do if this happens, and what to do if that happens. Covering for each other, organizing each other, passing the ball only to your own players, and that strong belief in counterattacking that arose since the legendary Herbert Chapman. They all saw a clean sheet as a great goal. Graham saw his players as chessmen as, I believe does Arteta. He had an idea in his mind as to what type of player he needs for each position and will ditch a popular player in order to get it. Seaman for the hugely popular Lukic was an example. This is true of Arteta. You can see that in the type of player he gets as cover. Tavares is similar to Tierney, Lokonga to Partey. There's even a little bit of physical similarity Football as chess, highly coached players, and only having players around with full mutual trust. You can see George Graham in Arteta. I am certain he is well aware of what Graham achieved. Can he do the same? Again, if this youthful squad achieves its potential, why not? I don’t see him having the misjudgment that marred Graham’s career, though. But he does have to do what Graham did, topple a team or teams that have advantages over Arsenal. City, Liverpool, Chelsea and even Man Utd have advantages over Arsenal at the moment. Graham got nine years like Chapman. Arteta, if he manages 2 league titles like Graham and consistent Champions League could get longer. Certainly if he matches Graham with the other trophies, he should get longer. Graham might (he seems like a young 77) still be here if it wasn’t for his misjudgment of right and wrong. Yet different to Wenger And so I come to his part mentor, the extraordinary Arsene Wenger. Surprisingly, though, I don’t feel that they have similar beliefs. Wenger believed in coaching players on skills, short passing, one twos, quick movement, etc., but all the books I have read emphasized that he was no great tactician and also that he believed in players expressing themselves, knowing themselves what to do on the pitch, and so instructions were kept to the minimum. If you ever get a chance to go to the Emirates or an away game, you can see Arteta constantly giving individual and group orders to his players. Not so Wenger. The master is different from the pupil Wenger believed in attacking football, with Arteta much more a throwback to Chapman and Graham with counter punching. Wenger never seemed to fall out with players and didn’t like confrontation, preferring players to work out themselves where they had gone wrong. As far as I can see, he never wanted Anelka, Henry, Vieira, Fabregas, Van Persie, or others to leave. Arteta has already shipped out top players and seemed to be unable to deal with them. Ozil was a big puzzle to me as no manager before Emery ever complained about him. Now maybe the damage was already done by the time Arteta arrived or maybe it was Ozil’s Chinese comments which caused a huge backlash from the Chinese, a large part of the Arsenal fanbase. Maybe we will never know. But for sure, Wenger never fell out with players like Arteta does. Niko, you should have listened to the man who knows Wenger, of course, brought in the modern Arsenal, the superb stadium, the extraordinary training and medical facilities, and his long tenure was due to his incredible talent at keeping Arsenal competitive every year, despite the quality of player going down. Plus Wenger seemed an ace at getting players to perform for him. Often, when they went elsewhere, they were not as good. Anelka, in particular, must rue the day he forced his move from Arsenal. Can he do it? I think we can take it for granted that Arteta will never match up to Wenger and Chapman for the off pitch innovations. Most things are already there. Can he match their’s, or Graham’s achievements? I, as an optimist, have a belief in him. We, potentially, have players that can match the glory days of Wenger, Martinelli for Henry, Smith Rowe for Bergkamp, Saka for Pires, Partey for Vieira, Odegaard for Pettit or Ozil, Gabriel for Adams, White for Campbell, Ramsdale for Seaman, and so on. Arteta needs to stay competitive, he needs to keep his best players, he needs not to fall out with them, he needs to bring in the right ones, he needs to win matches and trophies, he needs to keep the support of the fans, and he needs that little bit of luck to get him over the line. At this moment, I wouldn’t dream of changing him. He is young, if he does all I am saying, he could outlast Arsene Wenger and his 26 years. I would love that to happen as it would mean we are heading into a great period of success. But even to get Chapman and Graham’s nine years would mean some more good years and trophies. If this guy becomes the new Henry we can do it I love the way the fans are getting behind him and cheering and singing like crazy. That is unique to him as we were not called the Highbury Library for nothing. That could be the little factor that brings us the great years, my long term wish for ten years of dominance. C’mon Arsenal and c’mon Arteta and the exciting young guns!
  7. Our very own ‘Nam In contemporary American folklore, Vietnam (The ‘Nam) has a unique place. Many soldiers came back traumatised or got attacked for having been there in the first place. It was an unpopular war and the ‘Nam has a grim place in American folk memory. But we here at Arsenal have our own ‘Nam – Totten-Nam! But as we will see here, In contrast to the American one, they have a happy place in our folk memory. And why? Because they were mostly crap and we flew high above them. I will take a look at the 90’s this time and our position versus London clubs and the ‘Nam. It is good reading. Even their badge is a cock on a ball. What were they thinking? What cocks! As I have mentioned before in these pages, most of the time I have been an Arsenal supporter, The ‘Nam were second best. The only real times The ‘Nam were better than us was when both were struggling. The ‘Nam have not won the league since I became an Arsenal supporter (1969) whereas we have won it six times. They have won the FA cup 3 times compared to our 10. The League cup is better for them at 4 times to our 2. They won the Uefa cup twice compared to our one and European cup-winners cup one apiece. Overall we are very clearly ahead up to the end of the 90’s. The same is true of the other London clubs, Chelsea, West Ham, Crystal Palace, QPR, Watford, Fulham, etc. 3 Immense managers Mr Chapman, you gave us so much class I think it is fair to say that Arsenal have had 3 great managers: the incomparable Herbert Chapman, who brought titles, innovations, marble halls, physiotherapy, training, and an Arsenal way of doing things that oozed class. You could be proud of Arsenal. George Graham took on the mighty Liverpool, then undisputedly the best team ever in English football, and cut them down to size. He won many trophies and brought a level of onfield organisation that has never been seen before or since. And of course the magnificent Arsene Wenger, who comes close to matching Chapman in how he organised the club off the pitch, with his superior stadium, training and medical facilities. And he, of course, surpassed the previous 2 in terms of trophies, although he did get a lot longer. Graham and Wenger coexisted in this decade, the 90’s, and that is unusual, to have 2 superlative managers in the same decade. So we were easily the kings of London in this decade as The ‘Nam were pretty good by their standards , as also were Chelsea, and other London teams were popping up and sometimes doing good things but we were well ahead. For the previous 2 decades I made a case that we were the best as we were the only team to win the league, which is the ultimate domestic trophy. But in the nineties, I do not have to make a case for Arsenal. We were the best. Not the best in England, as Man Utd had that distinction, but Kings of London for sure. A little stutter at the start 4, 1, 4, 10, 4, 12, 5, 3, 1, 2 was our final league standings giving us 2 league titles, one better than the previous decades. We had 2 Fa cups compared to The ‘Nam one. We both had one league cup but we had 3 Charity Shields to their one. The emerging Chelsea won the Fa cup once, League cup once, Cup-winners cup once and Uefa Super cup once. West Ham had 2 promotions from the second tier in this time. Promotion was the best for the others. But let’s take it year by year. 1989-90 we were 4th, the ‘Nam 3rd and Chelsea 5th with the rest down the table. Palace were 15th but got to the final of the FA cup to be beaten by Man Utd. So the ‘Nam in the lead but waiting for us to knock them down again as we always did. But then we took off Bye, bye, Spuds 1990-91 we were top, Palace were 3rd, the ‘Nam, Chelsea and QPR were 10th, 11th and 12th respectively. The ‘Nam won the cup but now us clearly in the lead. Can you even see us? We can sell you binoculars. 1991-92 we were 4th but Palace were next in 10th, QPR 11th, Wimbledon 13th, Chelsea 14th, The ‘Nam 15th and West Ham had come up but went straight back down. Further into the lead. We can offer you a telescope. 1992-93 10th but we did the double of both domestic cups. QPR 5th, The ‘Nam 8th, Chelsea 11th, Wimbledon 12th, and Palace relegated. I say further into the lead. A long range telescope might help. 1993-94 4th. Wimbledon 6th, QPR 9th, West Ham 13th, Chelsea 14th, Tottenham 15th. Chelsea got to the FA cup final but we won the Cup-Winners cup. Again further into the lead. A space telescope might be needed. 1994-95 12th. Tottenham 7th, QPR 8th, Wimbledon 9th, Chelsea 11th and Palace relegated. The ‘Nam got to FA cup semi and Palace got to both domestic semi’s. But we got to the Cup-Winners Final. Maybe we moved back a tiny bit. 1995-96 Again top London team at 5th. The ‘Nam 8th, West Ham 10th, Chelsea 11th, Wimbledon 14th and QPR relegated. A semi in the League Cup fpr us as well means back out in front. By now the ‘Nam need to start tracking us by satellite. We are that dot in the sky laughing down at you. 1996-97 We were 3rd, Chelsea were 6th, Wimbledon 8th, Tottenham 10th and West Ham 14th. Chelsea won the FA cup. Possibly a little bit back this year because of Chelsea but still well out on front over the ‘Nam. They need to get on to the Space Station telescope to see where we are. We put a rocket up our Arse 1997-98 Ah, but now Mr Wenger had properly come and we nearly did a domestic sweep winning League and Fa cup and being beaten by Chelsea in the semi of the League Cup which they won. Chelsea 4th, West Ham 8th, The ‘Nam 14th, Wimbledon 15th and Palace up and back down. We had flown so far ahead at this point no other London team was remotely close. The poor old ‘Nam now needed the Hubble telescope to find us. This could help you, Spuds 1998-99 Arsenal 2nd, Chelsea 3rd, West Ham 5th, the ‘Nam 11th and Wimbledon 16th. We got FA cup semi-final and Chelsea Cup-Winner cup semi. Further away from the pack for us. Oh, what fun we had as the ‘Nam went down to Greenwich observatory begging for advice to see where the stars of Arsenal were, and will they ever be able to get into our orbit again. Spuds scurried down to Greenwich to find where we were Ah, we had a great big laugh No London team got close to us in the 90’s as you can see. Chelsea had started the investment process and were moving closer. The ’Nam and the rest were nowhere near. I have to say that was the case for me regarding the ‘Nam, they were mostly well behind us. I never hated them as they were very rarely serious challengers when we were good. I think that is why they always seem to hate us more, because we were much better. And we had a habit of humiliating them on their own ground. And they couldn’t afford space telescopes. And we had got the magical Wenger. The guy we didn’t know we wanted was our saviour. He transformed Arsenal, we had great great players, he was to give us a magnificent stadium, unbelievable training and medical facilities, an exhilarating style of play, lots of trophies, 2 doubles, an unbeaten season, oh, the wonder of it all. We still needed to be better In fairness, though, yes, we were clearly kings of London but not of England as the Millennium approached. We had a good decade and in most other decades it would have been a great one but Manchester United had an unbelievable decade. They had to be our target. The ‘Nam were a joke by comparison and Chelsea were still well behind us. We needed to be Arsenal and we needed to send the Mancs scurrying home north crying all the way. We could not, and should not accept second best. Having a laugh at the ‘Nam was good fun but that was easy, getting on top of the Mancs was harder.
  8. 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.
  9. The Dark Side takes over 1994-95 Last week I wrote about how we won the European Cupwinners Cup on May the Fourth. I, and many other Gooners were hoping that we have disturbed the force that is Manchester United and are ready to be Arsenal again. George Graham could surely now come up with the tactics to hit us into warp drive. We had the players, we could put out an entire England team and it would be nearly as good as the actual one. We bought Stefan Schwarz, John Hartson, Chris Kimomya and Glenn Helder. Surely Darth Vader (Alex Ferguson) couldn’t stop us now? Certainly Man City couldn’t. 3-0 first match. Your Death Star is about to be demolished, Mr Ferguson, the Arsenal are back. Except we weren’t. Defeats to Liverpool, Leeds, and Newcastle along with draws to Norwich and Blackburn meant we were going to be confined to the farther reaches of the galaxy, more likely. What it is to be an Arsenal supporter. Finally on 25th September we beat West Ham 2-0. We never got going after that and didn’t play like contenders, let alone champions. Dark rivers of cash Ah, but there were rumours appearing, enquiries into irregularities, and something was going on behind the scene. Not with the Arsenal, surely? We were squeaky clean, not like many others, with Don Revie and Brian Clough regularly in the frame when such allegations appeared. All us football fans believed that there was a river of bungs, underhand payments, and brown envelopes streaming through clubs. Many articles and books speculated on this but it was George Graham who was caught, tried in an FA inquiry, and found guilty. The details were simple and undisputed. Graham had received £425,00 from Rune Hauge for services supplied. He claimed he helped him to operate in England, providing consultation and advice when required. He described them as gifts which he never asked for. It is perhaps best put in this extract from the Guardian here Rune Hauge: Did this smiling man really cause all the trouble? ”The "bung" details are complicated, but, in simple terms, George accepted two lumps of cash, totalling £425,000, from a Norwegian football agent with whom George, as manager of Arsenal, had been involved in various transfer deals. He had also helped this agent, giving him advice and contacts in British football in general. George, therefore, so he says, looked upon this money as an unsolicited gift. He didn't see it as having strings attached, either before or after. At the time, he didn't appear to see anything wrong at all. Arsenal, the club, didn't lose out. His "gifts" had come out of a middleman's pocket. No one, so he maintained, was cheated.” Hey, it's capitalism It is fair to say that in business, such arrangements are normal, you scratch my back and I scratch yours. Capitalism is built on such things. But sport is different, and should be. There are sporting rules that you shouldn’t break, both on and off the arena. In golf and snooker, the highest standards are maintained, and players are expected to call foul on themselves, but football is probably the dirtiest sport of all. Professional boxing? Maybe, but it is very much a minority sport in terms of participants. So George was banned for a year, he lost his job at Arsenal, his reputation was thrashed and he lost a lot of money as he handed it all back and had to pay high legal fees. Arsenal struggled on the pitch as players were in shock. Graham had always seemed so straight, he was tough, but they liked him, mostly. They understood what he wanted, what he valued, how he dealt with them in general. One has to understand that a football manager can only pick 11, and must piss off players every week and the skill is getting them to understand their role and value to the team, even if it is a peripheral role. But also helping them through difficult times, Tony Adams with alcohol and Paul Merson with gambling are examples of this. A long tough battle for Paul Merson Paul Merson, this season, came out about his severe gambling, alcohol and cocaine addiction. 3 months rehab was offered and George Graham welcomed him back into his role, but shortly after was fired. Merson recovered his career and Graham played his part. He obviously understood human frailty. The good and the bad of George Graham Graham had been the best manager of my time with Arsenal till now. For a shortish period we were the best team in England. He had a distinct belief in how football should be played and the type of footballer he wanted in every position. He ran Arsenal as a tight ship and must have been a dream for the directors, always being canny in his dealings, keeping plenty of money at home for them. He believed he had a deal with them that he could return but the Arsenal board, being representative of the higher echelons of British society, decided that they did not wish to be tainted with the unsavoury aspects highlighted by the FA, and threw him to the wolves. Graham, doing what he does best So, what is my view on the matter? George Graham was caught, he did wrong and got a fair enough punishment in my opinion. Put in context, though, I feel he was a small fish in a murky pond, and countless others participated in a lot more dirty dealings. It is still going on, probably a lot worse now as there is a lot more money floating around. Football seems to be irredeemably corrupt, from FIFA downwards and nothing really happens despite periodic exposes. Qatar, anyone? The squeaky clean home of the next World Cup? Yeah, sure. Can it be fixed? What can be done? I would start on the pitch. Make it an offence not to admit to a foul. In other words, no arguing with the ref, the cameras can see what happened. No claiming anything, from throw ins to penalties, the cameras and the officials can see what happened. Players forced to be honest, on penalty of far worse punishment if they are not, would be a start. No deliberate kicking or pulling of a player to stop them moving. No diving, falling down holding your face when you weren’t even touched on the face and such things like that to be replaced with being punished severely for it. Cleaning up on the pitch, I believe, would be the first step necessary to cleaning things up off it. Would fans be happy with my proposals? I have a feeling no is the answer. Often fans are blind to their own teams failings and over sensitive to the oppositions. What next for Arsenal? For George Graham, he had succumbed to the dark side of the force. Arsenal were knocked back in their attempt to tackle the Man Utd empire and the Premier league trophy was turning out to be in a far distant galaxy which Arsenal had no hope of reaching. But as always with Arsenal, there are grounds for hope and next week I will talk about matters on the pitch in this season. Could we rescue it at all? And who would come after George Graham?
  10. 1992-93 part 1 The Invention of football 2 big things happened. One was the invention of football by Sky. The new Premier League was launched amidst the razzamatazz of a world event. Now there would be lots of live football, strange time slots such as Sunday football, Monday football, even Friday football. There would be long football analysis shows, teams of pundits at the ready to spout partisan views dressed up as commentary. All sorts of camera angles and intrusions into the world of professional football. Sky would eventually make a packet selling these rights to every round of the globe. English football got a massive boost in popularity and other countries advanced on their coattails. I had never heard of football before this year I am certain Spain, Italy, France and Germany regret that they didn’t do it first but would it have achieved the same level of success or would England have passed them out anyway? We will never know but it is certain that the Premier League is more competitive than those leagues. Plus football got a massive boost as an armchair sport, and, and I am not clear why, ground attendance jumped dramatically also, as did sales of sports accessories, becoming the biggest component of many clubs income. The Backpass rule change No more tapping it around at the back Ah, but I said 2 big things happened. The other one was the backpass rule. This did not suit George Graham. The backpass to the goalkeeper was an essential aspect of his strategy. Now, you could not kick it back to the goalie. Defence became more difficult and strikers gained an advantage. It was brought in as recent major tournaments were perceived to be boring. It worked, in my opinion, as football got sharper, quicker and defenders got more nervous without the instant relief of banging it back to the netminder. Sometimes it would be pass it back, then pass it around defenders, then back to the keeper ad infinitum if a team were defending a slender advantage. Now, attackers could chase them down, force a mistake, and rattle in a goal. It suited those managers who liked to attack. George Graham wasn’t one of those. Counter attacking was his way. Now don’t get me wrong, he was a clever man, he probably would have figured out a way to be as effective under the new rule but circumstances, which I will get to in a later blog, were to overtake him and although we didn’t have any inkling at the time, his reign as a top manager was not too far away from an effective end. But, in the short term, this new rule did not suit his extremely well drilled team. Howard Wilkinson, who had just won the championship with Leeds, was another wayfaller as was Jack Charlton with the Republic of Ireland. Wilkinson’s Leeds tumbled mightily from champions to 17th surely one of the worst crashes ever. And it cannot be attributed to Eric Cantona going to Manchester United. Alex Ferguson brought back from the dead Why not? Because Cantona had only joined in February and obviously Wilkinson felt he was trouble and allowed Ferguson to snap him up in the summer. This season was a godsend for Ferguson. Now you could attack and attack, close down keepers, make them nervous and Manchester United won the league. Ferguson was no dud after all, just needed the conditions to be right. The ironic thing is that surely this season would have been his last, how long could they let him go without winning the league? The Premier league was made for his brand of football, never let a team settle, keep them on the backfoot, attack all the time, as goals may win in the end as they had done for Arsenal a few seasons before against Liverpool. Their only real weakness, under Ferguson, was that they sometimes couldn’t close out games as he had them searching for the clinching goal, and they could get caught on the break. And for Arsenal? Ah, but this blog is about Arsenal, and like I said, the backpass rule didn’t suit a counterattacking team like us. It was easy enough to knock the steam out of an attacking team before, but not now. Once the keeper had it in his hands the opposition couldn’t score, now the difficulty was getting it there. We had good players, lots of England internationals, plenty of attacking players, superb defenders, but there is no doubt we were discommoded. There was plenty to cheer about that season all the same and next week I will delve into how we did. Of course Preston never existed. The only Invincibles were Arsenal I must emphasise one thing, though, Arsenal, under George Graham, scored lots of goals. As I have shown in my previous blogs we had plenty of big wins every season. To give the idea, we had a goal difference of +57 when we last won the league 2 years before, Man Utd had +36 this year. We scored 74 and they scored 77. They conceded a lot more. That was the difference between Graham’s style and Ferguson’s. Did we like it? And so to the Premier League. Most fans, myself included, didn’t like it. It smacked of elitism, of a power grab by the big clubs and it was for sure. Not as egregious as the Super League this year but it had Sky backing it. A lot of press coverage was positive. It only affected English football initially not like the Super League which would have changed football forever. The teams had done their due diligence, they had prepared the ground beforehand, fans wanted more live football and better conditions at the grounds. Stands were being introduced everywhere, making football far more attractive to families, women and kids. Corporate boxes became an essential element of football culture, now the rich were as cosseted as they were at Royal Ascot for the horseracing. Strong policing, better grounds and seating made hooliganism, the biggest turnoff in football, a far smaller phenomenon. Lots of camera angles for the fans Football had moved away from its working class, cloth cap days, it was brighter, shinier and generated a lot more money. Sky became, de facto, the biggest player in world football, changing times and days to suit themselves. Fans could no longer say for certain when matches would be played as the initial schedules would have little bearing on the final ones. History could be rewritten and it was. Statistics often apply only to the Premier League era now. Great players of the past are ignored because they never played Premier League. Far better for the greed merchants Was it better? Maybe, but it has built football up into a greed machine that is unprecedented. Billionaires and corporations jostle to grab a slice of the cash. Footballers can earn more than virtually any other type of celebrity. Young kids are buying Ferraris in their teens, and all the while the dead hand of tv executives and grotesque football team owners suck the life out of sporting ideals, fair competition and any compassionate thought for the fans, the money machine that keeps it all going. The greedy's icon The Premier League has changed football irrevocably, that’s for certain, but is it forever? Can it keep growing, keep dipping its fingers into the pockets of gullible fans who dash to buy the latest merchandise, keep buying more subscriptions, and clamouring to pay crazy money to get into grounds? For me, no, I don’t think so. I feel that it can crash, crash badly. If it does, it may allow for the chance of a reboot, for fans to take over and sanity to prevail. I have hope.
  11. The 80’s Were we Better? My first full decade as an Arsenal supporter was the 70’s. It was an amazing time but a rollercoaster. We flirted with relegation, we got to many cup finals and won the impossible double. We had an astonishing Irish presence that is unlikely ever to be achieved again at any English club, and so many legends were of this time. Charlie George, John Radford, Frank Mclintock, Bob Wilson, Terry Neill, Don Howe, Alan Ball, our longest serving player, David O’Leary (why is there no statue?) and our sublime magician, Liam Brady were among the names and in fact almost every player we had could fit into that frame. We had no sponsors at the start But the 80’s belonged, more than anyone else to a player also from that era, Stroller himself, George Graham. He took over in 1986 from Don Howe, who had taken over from Terry Neill. George was different. I am not sure that I have ever seen a manager who decided that things had to be done his way as much as he did. Possibly Jack Charlton also was similar. He imposed discipline and did away with any weak links. John Lukic was his goalkeeper and there were few better but he was replaced by one who was, David Seaman. Kenny Sansom was a superb fullback but it seemed that Nigel Winterburn better fitted Graham’s ideas. Niall Quinn was working hard on his game, was always a handful but was deemed, probably fairly, to be a bit short of greatness and had to go elsewhere. He often elected to play David O’Leary as a sweeper as he had a good touch and could find the midfielders. We had good players in every position He played a solid spine of black players, Thomas, Davis and Rocastle were the right blend of strength and finesse to provide goals and attacking flair. Alan Smith, in another era, might have been an England regular but the England front three of Lineker, Barnes and Beardsley picked itself and players such as Mark Hateley were also pushing strongly. But for Arsenal, he caused huge problems for the opposition, he scored with his head, he had a deft touch, right foot, left foot goals, and he held the ball up very well. Graham always played him and never seemed to consider selling him. So what did we do in the 80’s? We started well. Got into 2 finals but lost both. The Fa cup to West Ham and the European Cup Winners Cup to Valencia in 1980. After that we were waiting for George Graham to arrive to make us challenge again. In 1987 he delivered a League Cup, our first. In 1989 he gave us the League at Liverpool in the most dramatic game ever and we also won the Centenary Trophy that season. Not so good in the rankings Where did that leave us in the 80’s? Quite a bit down the rankings it has to be said. A long way behind Liverpool as I would need a calculator to tot up their trophies. Well behind Everton who had a purple patch in the middle of the decade with League wins in 1985 and 1987, FA Cup in 1984, Cup Winners Cup 1985, but they contested many finals and were runners up in the league as well. Aston Villa won the league and charity shield in 1981, the European Cup in 1982 and the UEFA Super Cup also. Forest won the European Cup in 1980, the League Cup and the Full Members Cup in 1989. Manchester United won the FA Cup twice in 1983 and 1985 winning the Charity Shield in 1983. Tottenham won the FA Cup in 1981 and 1982, Charity shield shared twice following those, and a Uefa Cup in 1984. I am going to argue that the League trumps both of the last 2 but Spurs and United fans probably wouldn’t agree. As I always wanted Arsenal to win the European Cup/Champions league I am going to give Forest a marginal nod over us. Feel free to disagree. The Fifth team in England? That puts us as the fifth team in England in the 80’s and only barely above Man U and Spurs. We were the last champions though so the best at the end. That is reflected in our league positions as well. 4,3,5,10,6,7,7,4,6,1 which would put us around fifth as well. The 80’s weren’t so good for us but a definite improvement when Mr Graham took over. He would have kicked out Tony Adams? As he was at least 3rd choice behind Terry Venables and Alex Ferguson could we have done better with those two? I never wanted Venables but Ferguson? I think with the players that were coming through at the time and the fact that he reckoned Tony Adams was a Manchester United player maybe he could have come through quicker with the league at Arsenal than Man U. But despite his admiration for Adams he hated a heavy drinking culture so would he have booted him out? And Niall Quinn, his drinking buddy? And others who liked a drink? George Graham, though known as a tough disciplinarian, obviously tolerated that aspect of players lives. I never heard of players being kicked out for that reason. I would say that we got the right man. Mr Arsenal liked to win The Kings of London I think we can say we were kings of London though. Spurs really were the only challengers to us. They had a good decade for them and still we beat them. Their league positions – 14,10,4,4,8,3,10,3,13,and 6, I feel gives us the edge. West Ham and Wimbledon won the Fa Cup once and Chelsea the Full Members Cup. Watford, QPR and Palace had some good seasons but a long way behind us. Kings of London for sure. The difference for me was palpable as we headed towards the end of the 80’s, though. We had a team that was hard to beat, well organized and packed with top players, although we didn’t have many England regulars, even though virtually all the team were English. It was an exciting time as I felt we were on the verge of greatness. I must point out that 2 FA cups and a League title plus a UEFA cup in the 70's meant we went backwards in trophies but I felt that finally we were going forward. The board took a gamble with George Graham. Typically Arsenal, they took the cheap route, and appointed an unproven manager at the top level. It worked. In boxing, it is where you are at the end of the fight that matters. At the end of the 80’s we were Champions, we were Arsenal and ready to send all teams home crying to whatever footballing dungeon they operate from. Not a Stroller as a manager Still 61 points total to play for. For a change we won easily at Newcastle and it should have been easier. They rarely mounted an attack and made us look good. I hope it is great for our confidence as our next match is our biggest so far. We must win. And play a striker Arteta! We have Aubamayang, Lacazette, Martinelli, Pepe, Nketiah and Balogun but none are considered good enough to play as a striker? Nonsense! However, if you said at the start of the season that we needed to beat Villareal 1-0 or better at home to reach the final, we would have said that sounds doable. It is. Let’s do it, Arsenal.
  12. Why couldn’t we win all our matches? 1990-91 Invincible? It was considered unachievable in the modern game, because English football was so competitive. Every year low teams beat top teams, not to mention that you had to beat the top teams as well. Of course you could draw, but if you drew every match you are flirting with relegation. Once 3 points for a win came in in 1981, they became they only real currency to trade in. George Graham never made any bold prediction like Arsene Wenger did, but if you examine what Wenger actually said was that no top manager ever plans to draw and no manager ever plans to lose. He said he aims to win every match. I am sure Ferguson, Dalglish, Clough and others felt the same. I have no doubt George Graham was the same. So I left you last time with us unbeaten in October with a fairly lucky win at Old Trafford. 6 wins and 3 draws and behind Liverpool. At that stage Liverpool had one of their best spells ever, winning match after match. It was hard to see us being champions. Last season we were 4th, a distant 17 points away from Liverpool. It is hard to imagine nowadays what you had to do to beat them. These days so many fans are dreaming of billionaire owners coming in to the clubs and buying them success. Chelsea were the first such, in England. Man City popped up later, Leicester now as well. The traditional big clubs, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal, who had hoovered up in their existence a huge chunk of all trophies ever won in England, also succumbed to the allure of the billionaires. Everton and Spurs also, who were the next layer of top level clubs, are now part of the rich clubs and can believe they can compete. It was better for the smaller teams Tradition at that time meant you could attract the top players, yes, but unlike nowadays, once the first 11 was set, it was hard to get a game. So top players went elsewhere meaning that late developers, or players who found a nice groove at a new club, or those who kept improving with age and experience, could strengthen lower clubs and they could challenge. Aston Villa, Notts Forest, Derby and others were proof of this. But it is undeniable that Liverpool, Man U and Arsenal had an advantage in terms of attracting players, revenue and expectations. Liverpool the more so as succeeding there guaranteed trophies. But still they could only put 11 on the pitch and all supporters could rattle off the starting 11’s of most teams. Try doing that now? George Graham only thought of winning George Graham, I believe, wanted to win all matches and that is pretty much what we did after beating Man Utd on Oct 20th. 6 wins and a draw ending with a win 3-0 over Liverpool at Highbury to end their unbeaten run on Dec 2nd. Merson, Dixon and Smith rattled in the 3 goals to announce that we are Arsenal, we send even the greatest home to Liverpool crying all the way. Kenny Dalglish was feeling the pressure and wasn’t looking very happy but they were still the target and ahead. It took us until well into January to go top with a win over Everton on Jan 19th. We were still unbeaten. A Car Crash to crash our Season? But there was a huge dark cloud hanging over us. Our talisman, our leader, Tony Adams, was a man who loved to drink. He got banged up in jail on December 19th not long after beating Liverpool. Excessive drink driving and a car crash left him behind bars for 2 months. He was disgraced and our club was thrown into shock. We still had top centrebacks in O’Leary and Bould, and Andy Linighan had been signed. But we were beaten 2-1 by Chelsea on 2nd February to end our invincible run. Of course we didn’t know it then but we were not to be beaten again in the league that season. Oh My God, Tony! What have you done? We would go on to be out of sight, the 2 points deducted at Man Utd sunk into irrelevance as we showed the world that we could do it again. Twice champions in 3 seasons. Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish seemed mesmerized by us. We beat them again 1-0 at Anfield on 3rd March to emphasise our superiority. Dalglish had just quit a few days before that match and it really did feel like Liverpool were no longer the team of old. The end of a Red Empire signals the start of a different Red era? We didn’t know it then, but the Ancien Régime had crumbled. The empire was led into darkness by Graeme Souness and it was a long time before they troubled the top of the table again. But as I say, we didn’t know that then. They had tradition, finances, expectations, and the ability to attract the top players. Certainly in those days, that did not mean guaranteed success. You needed that extra spark and we had it in George Graham. Now we were ready, now we were Arsenal. We were the boys to beat. Even the great Kenny Dalglish walked away from the fight. Looking at the table, Palace were 3rd and Leeds were 4th but a long way back from our 83 points. I really felt now we could dominate. I looked at the rest and said, we can beat them. I had never felt that before. None frightened me. Not like when we had won the double and I definitely felt Liverpool and Leeds were better. Now, there was no one better. We were the champs. We just needed to bite down on the others and show them who was boss. Graham showed Wenger the way One defeat by Chelsea. One time our concentration had slipped. Arsene Wenger would have been saying I want to emulate George Graham instead of being laughed at. It was a great season, though, and maybe the only time as an Arsenal fan that I truly felt we were better than the rest, because even in the superb Wenger days, Ferguson kept coming back off the floor to knock us out. We never quite managed to dominate them. But back then we had Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Adams, O’Leary, Bould, Linighan, Rocastle, Thomas, Davis, Merson, Smith and Limpar and others who could walk into most teams. I couldn’t see anyone to frighten us. We were the best and almost the invincibles. Win all our matches? Surely that was the aim of George Graham? Oh, and by the way, we knocked 6 past Man U in the League Cup, 6 against Coventry in the League, 5 against Villa, and 4 against Palace and Chelsea alongside several 3 goal matches. Boring, boring Arsenal, I don’t think so. And only six 1-0 to the Arsenal all season in all competitions. Next season was to be looked forward to. Back in the European Cup, could we win that as well? We were good, very good. The Invincible`49 !!! Our 1990-91 team were almost Invincible before this great team !!! And maybe this team was better !? 61 Max points total Well, Everton did it to us. Our last real hope of qualifying for Europe via the league is most likely gone. It is all or nothing in the Europa league. Can we do it? Yes, we can. C’mon Arsenal.
  13. 1989-90 Never the Big Boss? Overachievement was the overriding characteristic of every team we had while I was a younger supporter. When we won trophies, few people regarded us as the best in the land. But there was a feeling about the George Graham time, that we were very close to this dream. I knew we had been the greatest back in the day, but now we had to overachieve to win something. I wanted a spell of dominance, a sniff of power, the feeling that we could look at the rest and say, we can beat them, send them home crying because we were the Arsenal. But now we had come to Goliath, and we had left the enormous Liverpool giant lying on the ground, shattered and broken. If they wanted to come back at us now, we would be the colossus, and they would be David. We would take our space at the top, win, and keep on winning. Our Ball was taken away. But it wasn’t to be. 1989-90 was a leveller, a reminder that Liverpool were still the big boys, who would take your ball away and let you know that they were the boss. The Charity Shield was our first reminder of this as they won 1-0. Peter Beardsley scored the goal and both teams lined up much the same as the decider of the previous season. Then Manchester United destroyed us 4-1 at Old Trafford in the first match of the league. We never truly got going that season, with 15 defeats throughout all competitions and we finished up 4th, behind, yes, you guessed it, Tottenham in 3rd. Liverpool took back over the top spot, 17 points ahead of us and we went back to our natural position as underdogs, hoping that on our day, we could overachieve. This was not what I wanted, not what beating Liverpool when they had all the advantages was about? Back down the table you go. Suck it up, suckers. We beat them 1-0 in the League Cup but they won and drew in the League to give them back their superiority. I am certain George Graham felt like I did. It is now our turn, I know how to beat you, I will come back. I will find a way to put us back on top where we belong. Dining on Crumbs So, I looked at the crumbs that we did manage that season. Some nice crumbs all the same. We beat Rangers 2-1 at Ibrox in the Zenith Challenge Cup played between the champions of England and Scotland to at least secure a trophy of sorts. We beat quite a few teams 1-0 and maybe that was when we got the chant, 1-0 to the Arsenal, seven times that season. We were beaten 6 times by the same margin, though. 1-0 against the Arsenal doesn’t have the same ring does it? We had an early 5-0 against Sheffield Wednesday with five of our boys getting goals, Merson, Marwood, Smith, Michael Thomas and Tony Adams, who was always a threat at set-pieces. We did have goals from everywhere in those days. A nice little 6-1 against Plymouth in the League Cup with Michael Thomas getting a very rare hat-trick. Then immediately, 4-0 against Man City, with Perry Groves scoring 2, Michael Thomas again, and Paul Merson showing that we had goals, and were never boring, boring Arsenal. Soon after we had a 4-3 win over Norwich, proving we could have 7 goal thrillers, David O’Leary, Niall Quinn and believe it or not, 2 from Lee Dixon, truly showing that all our players could score goals. A Cold Time for Siggi Jonssen We had a 3-0 against QPR with Dixon again, Smith and Sigurder (Siggi) Jonssen came on to score from defence. It was his only goal and he never got much of a chance with us. We had Adams, Bould, O’Leary and Caesar in front of him. I think he was the only Icelander to play for us up to the current side and I doubt if Rúnarsson will play as many as he did. Jonssen probably played around 10 times for us, mostly as sub, if I remember rightly. We had a 3-2 against Luton with Smith, Merson and Marwood scoring, another thriller. Then 4-1 against Palace with Adams, Dixon and Alan Smith scoring 2. The second half of the season wasn’t so great for good scores but we did have a 3-0 against Forest with Kevin Campbell, the wonderful Perry Groves and Tony Adams scoring again. Mr Arsenal really was a big nuisance in the opposing penalty box. Campbell was very popular among the fans for his wholehearted approach. He always found that one or two were deemed better than him by George Graham, though, and as Mr Wright was soon to appear, his chances became more limited. I always felt that Graham had a vision of who he wanted in every role and tried to put that type of player in. He was much more of a buyer than a bringer through of talent. Campbell had a good career with Everton, though, and always put in a shift. We always liked Kevin Campbell Could we come back or was it another blip? We had a 3-1 away to Derby with Martin Hayes ratcheting up 2 and Kevin Campbell getting the other. Kwame Ampadu of Ireland made his debut as a sub but he never made it at Arsenal. He came on once more as a sub. He had a good career in the lower divisions but never became a full Ireland international. We had very good midfielders at the time, Houghton, Whelan, Townsend, Keane and many others were above him. Kwame Ampadu. Another forgotten man at Arsenal So, it was all very disappointing, those crumbs aside. We were beaten by QPR in the 4th round of the FA Cup and 3-1 by Oldham in the 4th round of the League Cup. The heroics of the last season meant nothing. Was it really the case that we whenever we won, we were overachieving? We couldn’t ever get up there and stay up there? Liverpool would always be better than us? Tune in next week and we will see what happened? And why was there a load of handbags on the pitch at Old Trafford? Me and my brothers were there on a VIP trip. I can give you a bird’s eye view. Maybe this should have been our jersey? Max points total 66 With seven matches to go we must beat Fulham to stand a chance of Europa league. Probably anything less than 66 will not be good enough. One game at a time is a cliché but we need to start living the cliché. Beat Slavia Prague but irrespective beat Fulham.
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