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  1. Walcott, Wilshire or Wright? On the surface this is an easy question, the answer is Wright, right? But today I will take a look at 2 players who almost became Arsenal legends and one who did. Jack Wilshire, Theo Walcott and Ian Wright and show up some surprises along the way, I hope. Wrightly so - A true legend I reckon most of you are saying there is no comparison. In the list of 50 top players voted by Arsenal fans, Wright was number 4, and Walcott and Wilshire are nowhere to be found. https://www.arsenal.com/history/gunners-greatest-50-players All suffered bad luck Strangely enough, though, one area where they correlate is bad luck. Injuries curtailed and derailed Wiltshire and Walcott’s careers and Wright’s difficult upbringing, his inability to attract a top team when young, and strikers considered better than him for England, all conspired to make his career a long battle. Walcott - exciting at his best Both Walcott and Wilshire had better achievements for England. They had more caps, Walcott 47 and Wilshire 34 to Wright’s 33. Wright never made it to a major championship, the others did. Wright rarely played competitive matches, the others did. Both played underage international football, Wright didn’t. Wright, even at his best, was the backup for England. Even after their injuries, England managers were trying to put Wilshire and Walcott back in. 2 wunderkids For Arsenal, Walcott and Wilshire were among the youngest players to make competitive debuts, Wright didn’t get there until he was almost 27. They were hailed as wunderkids, Wright was unknown as a teenager. Walcott still managed far more games for Arsenal than Wright, 397 to 288. Wilshire a respectable 197. Could Wilshire have been as good as Vieira? The one big difference, of course, between the legend and the nearly men, was injuries. We can all accept that both Wilshire and Walcott would have been Arsenal and England superstars without the injuries. They were truly superb, playing in big matches for the 2 sides and receiving huge acclaim. Walcott would surely have scored lots more goals and maybe even secured that striker role he so wanted. At 33, he could have surpassed Henry and still firing more in for Arsenal and England right now. Wilshire could have become the midfield maestro, dominating teams to this day while being accepted as a great in the Vieira mould. Both could be challenging Henry and Bergkamp for that top two position in the Arsenal great list. At their best they were supreme If you have watched these two at their best and most of you reading have, you know I am not talking nonsense. Injuries diminished their power, whether mentally or physically, or both, I am not sure. And so they are nearly men. It must be tragic for them to know that they were doing everything right, their careers progressing in an amazing way at a young age, making the step up to the big teams and having a huge impact, and then it all goes wrong through something they hadn’t got control of. Injuries can be the cruellest event in a footballer’s life. In fairness to both, they never stopped trying, and nor did Ian Wright. Poor Ian never got a real chance at England If Wilshire and Walcott’s hardest battles were with injuries, Wright’s were with life and football itself. He had to constantly pick himself off the floor to get his life back on track, from having a young baby as a teenager, to going to prison, to not making it at football trials, to being a black footballer when all they received was horrendous abuse, to being overlooked for England when he desperately wanted a real chance, to be used when it mattered. Yin and yang But perhaps his biggest piece of good fortune came, as in life it often does, in a mixture of good and bad luck. Bruce Rioch was appointed after George Graham’s meltdown with the bung scandal. He didn’t seem to like Wright and the feeling soon became mutual. He banished him to the wing and often didn’t play him. Now despite the perception that Rioch was a disaster, he actually improved Arsenal from 12th to 5th. In normal circumstances, he would never have been fired. But himself and David Dein (maybe deliberately so) didn’t get on, Arsene Wenger had already been lined up, and of course, David Dein was a big fan of Ian Wright. Arsene Wenger came in, Wright was restored, his career and trophies came back on track, and he even got 8 caps in 1997 and 4 goals, but again mostly in friendlies. 47 is a lot of caps for an injury prone footballer If Rioch hadn’t been fired, I reckon he would have sold Wright that summer of 1996. He was almost 31, and other than Man Utd, all teams were downward for him. He would not have become quite the Arsenal legend, finished anywhere near 4th in our all time list and, like Walcott and Wilshire, maybe not even make an appearance there at all. And that could so easily have happened. So the bad luck at having Bruce Rioch brought in was followed immediately by Wenger, and the extraordinary improvements he made to the careers of the old pros he inherited. Wenger was so important to all three Wenger was crucial to the careers of Walcott and Wilshire. Walcott was bought in at 16 for big money for such a young player but had to spend some time in the academy, being helped along by Liam Brady and Wenger. The same with Wilshire, who was already in the academy. He gave both their chance very young and they were teenage prodigies. Their career could have been stratospheric if they had just normal injuries to contend with. They still managed good careers, lots of England caps, crucial Champions league matches and playing at the very top of football. Ian Wright must look at such players breaking through as kids and say, I had to do everything in football the hard way, they had their career mapped out for them, given help at every step, I just had to never give up on my dream or I would never have made it. Fight till you die Credit must be given to Walcott and Wilshire though, because they never gave up, Walcott is still playing, and if someone offered Wilshire a chance, he would probably take it, as he has that never say die spirit. Coaching the Arsenal kids is a great job for him, as he can see every scenario in front of them, from rejection to huge acclaim, and he knows that the most important thing, is, like Ian Wright, belief in your ability. You must never give up. Could Wilshire somehow conjure one last comeback for Arsenal? Ian Wright overcome his mental struggles. For Walcott and Wilshire, maybe it was the injuries themselves that took the edge off their football abilities. I don’t believe it was their attitude. They have never stopped believing in themselves. I would love to see them have a last fling at the top with Arsenal. Possible? I doubt it, but in football you never know. Wilshire is there and seemingly in training he is amazing still. An injury crisis to midfielders and strikers, Wilshire gets thrown in, Walcott is brought back on loan, they fire Arsenal to the top and the fairytale is complete. For me, I would be nearly as happy as they would be. Ian Wright, Jack Wilshire and Theo Walcott have brought me many ecstatic days. All will feel that they could have achieved more. Wright, if Arsenal had come when he was a teenager and England had seen his potential, and Walcott and Wilshire had not had their cruel injuries. But let’s celebrate 3 heroes of the Arsenal – the three W’s. They deserve a statue for their sheer grit and belief in themselves.
  2. Arsenal, English? Really? My top 2 English teams for Arsenal (at least 100 appearances) David Seaman John Lukic Ashley Cole, Lee Dixon Kenny Sansom, Viv Anderson Tony Adams, Sol Campbell Martin Keown, Steve Bould Peter Storey, Michael Thomas David Platt, Ray Parlour Bukayo Saka, David Rocastle George Armstrong, Charlie George John Radford, Ian Wright Alan Smith, Malcolm Macdonald Arsenal are an English team. Arsenal are an English team? Really? So who is our best ever manager? The Englishman Herbert Chapman or the Frenchman Arsene Wenger? Not so easy to say but Wenger has far more trophies and upgraded Arsenal to the top of the pile when Manchester United, full with money, stars, and a huge fanbase, were in their prime. I think you have to put the Frenchman ahead, just. More trophies = Better? Our best ever player? Also French. The magical Thierry Henry. It is very hard to put a real English contender against him, especially in my time, which, as I find it too hard to judge players from the past, means I can only go on their records. So, Cliff Bastin (396 appearances, 178 goals) is behind Ian Wright (288 appearances, 185 goals). Not a true reflection as they are totally different eras. Ian Wright is a big favourite of mine, as he is to us all here in ASCB, but I have to concede he wasn’t as good as Henry or Bergkamp. The tall one is Ian Wright Our English defence were so good Our best goalkeeper? Well, certainly Seaman has some competition in Jennings, or Lehmann, with all three having their champions. I would go for Jennings. With fullbacks there is an argument for English dominance as indeed in defence generally. David O’Leary, Terry Neill, Frank McLintock, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson were super players but as you can see from my 2 teams up above, the English defenders could hold their own against the best of the outside brigade. In midfield not so much. Brady, Vieira, Fabregas, Cazorla, Pettit, Pires, Ljungberg, Rosicky, Ozil, Ramsey, and others would have to be just that bit stronger than the 4 I have nominated above. On the wing, I chose Saka and Rocastle with just behind them Charlie George and Geordie Armstrong, who often played in a 4-3-3 which was a bit different from today. But are they better than Brady, Pires and Ljungberg who often played on the wing and Marc Overmars, Sylvain Wiltord and others? I would say that again the outsiders were a bit stronger. Super, super foreign stars up front Up front, it is very hard to make a claim that the best English forwards are a match for the best foreigners. The four Englishmen I have chosen were super players but the contest is phenomenal. Henry, Bergamp, Kanu, Anelka, Sanchez, Aubameyang, Van Persie and others of the Wenger era were true superstars. In the end, I probably have to concede that only in defence, including goalkeepers, can Arsenal claim to be an English team and even then with strong competition. Anyway this week I decided to take a look at who would be our first and second best English team. One rule was at least a 100 competitive matches so it knocked out guys like Ramsdale, who is surely itching to make my list. Send me VIP tickets for every match, Aaron, and I will put you top . I chose Seaman over Lukic, mostly because that is probably the consensus choice but truly John Lukic was a superb keeper and only a shade weaker. Ashley Cole and Lee Dixon over Kenny Sansom and Viv Anderson, Very little difference. Superb players with lots of England caps. Adams and Campbell, wayhey! In central defence, I chose 2 legends, Adams and Campbell over Keown and Bould and probably most people would agree with that. Again I should say that I am choosing from 1969 onwards, the year of my conversion to the Arsenal cult, so the great defenders of the past are omitted. Surely a dream defence? In central midfield, I chose Peter Storey, who was true class. He could play across the defence and in midfield, always won the ball and made himself available for a pass. Alongside him the legend that is Michael Thomas, who scored what was for me our greatest ever goal against Liverpool at Anfield to win us the title. It’s only Ray Parlour and David Platt provide good backup but probably the first 2 have the edge here. Saka our future GOAT? On the wing, Saka is surely destined to be a world great and we all love David Rocastle but the competition is huge with Charlie George, a massive fan favourite in my time, and the sublime Geordie Armstrong, our top appearances up to David O’Leary. Very little difference here. Ramsdale next to make my list? I chose John Radford and Ian Wright up front against SuperMac and Alan Smith. Radford was my hero, scoring vital goals, always leading the line and scoring 149 times. Always someone ahead of him for England and he only got 2 caps. Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton, anyone? Ian Wright also lost out to Lineker and Shearer but battled his way to 33 caps all the same. In my time no Arsenal centre-forward claimed the top English spot for any length of time. Can Nketiah? He has managed to be the underage top scorer. Time will tell but at this juncture it seems unlikely. Does Englishness matter? And so there you have it. Would My top English team beat my second best? I guess so as in one or two areas they are stronger. But it is tight and could not be guaranteed. I don’t feel they could beat the best foreign 11 though. Spot the Englishmen! So, to answer my question, posed at the start – is Arsenal an English team? Sort of is my answer. The best players come from everywhere, including England. The fans also come from everywhere as anyone who has been at the Emirates can testify. The owners are American and lots of the staff are from everywhere. Is it important? I don’t know. I think it could be if Arsenal don’t get back to the top. You do need the locals to support and a strong English presence will always help in that regard. Now we have so many English guys playing and starring in all sectors that we probably have the strongest English team at the moment of the teams in the top five. I await the day the Irish make a comeback and we get a Bulgarian superstar for our English team. And c’mon the Arse! These Englishmen looked to be the future. It is hard to make it at Arsenal
  3. Santa Gus comes down your chimney with lots of presents Hey all you wonderful Arsenal fans out there, do you want ideas for Christmas presents and maybe warnings for stuff to avoid? You have come to the right place here on the most wonderful Arsenal fan site of all. https://arsenal-bulgaria.com Because today I will give out some recommendations for Arsenal books and some that you can miss unless you have a particular interest in the esoteric. Now, as you can probably guess, the team here at Arsenal Bulgaria.com are an erudite bunch. We have our own messenger space where deep philosophical brooding on the state of the Arsenal is the norm. Highly intelligent argumentation happens all the time. A poor simple guy like me gets lost, they are so smart. No spam ever comes from their lips. Seriously, though, they do an incredible job, writing, analysing, going through the history and staying up-to-date on what is happening at the Arsenal so you can read straightaway the latest news in Bulgarian. For those of you who don’t speak English, this is a great boon. My little sideshow, London Calling, tries to give a different perspective on what you can read anywhere else. And this is my take on some of the books I have read this year. Well worth reading I will start with Ian Wright, because we all love him. My Life in Football is his second one and has been translated for you by the team here. You all have a copy. So is it worth reading? Yes it is. It covers his later career mostly, and also his domestic life and his difficulties with relationships. Lots of great football stories, insights to the various managers in his career, Steve Coppell, George Graham, and Arsene Wenger, and his disastrous relationship with Bruce Rioch. There is an honesty about Ian Wright’s 2 books and I can strongly recommend both. And this is even better Which brings me to Mr Wright: The Explosive Autobiography of Ian Wright, his first one. Honestly, I enjoyed this more, it gave a real feel for how he struggled in his early life, the immense difficulties in trying to make it all intertwined with a lively writing style that has you turning page after page. He scores a lot with this one It’s Only Ray Parlour, however, is the second best of the Arsenal bunch. This is such an enjoyable read, lots of funny stories, pisstaking of so many incidents and people, even Arsene Wenger is a target. Check out his story about drinks on the plane. And his story about Martin Keown’s final match. Grab this one, you will enjoy it. Our leader, our winner Sober by Tony Adams is also strongly recommended. This is an epic story of a man who came to personify Arsenal. A deeply flawed human being who had to battle against his demons to succeed. Bizarrely ending up in jail at the peak of his career, but coming out of it stronger, he was a winner, an onfield and off-field coach while still playing, the inspiration behind the team, putting up with all sorts of insults in his early and even middle career but ending up Mr Arsenal and still today, the icon of the team. Again you will enjoy this, lots of great insights and anecdotes. A great read My favourite will surprise you, I reckon. True Storey by Peter Storey is an immense book that never got the recognition it deserved. Probably because he was dismissed as just a hardman and a bit of a villain. He ended up in big trouble when his career ended with several criminal convictions and this was his attempt to give his side of the story. He was a good footballer and made a big difference to the Arsenal. Alf Ramsey famously dismissed him as a clogger for most of his career but when he finally picked him, chose him over several big names. He had a run of 15 straight games for England in his 19 caps. He never seemed to miss a penalty. But it is his after career that a lot of the book concentrates on. In those days footballers did not make big money and he set up several businesses which didn’t go well. Partnerships went wrong and there was a strong feeling of naivety in the real world waters he was now swimming in. Overall, a picture emerges of a good man struggling to get out, not having the nous to say no to a bad deal, but finally finding love and a sanctuary in the South of France. A story of redemption that would make a good film. It was mooted but never happened. It should. Everything is good about this one and its in Bulgarian Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby was also supplied by us for free and it is a great read for Arsenal and football fans. His god was Liam Brady and his description of the famous Liverpool Arsenal game is unmissable. Read it and enjoy. Interesting but not very exciting Arsene Wenger’s My Life in Red and White? Truly, it is not very exciting. A good insight to his early life and his football philosophy, his inner destruction when he lost, his man management, his attention to detail, his time in France and Japan and the glorious English years, it doesn’t really touch too much on the stories I wanted to read. The rivalries with Ferguson and Mourinho, the celebrated incidents, the sendings off to the stands, the insider personal football stories are at a minimum. Read it if you are interested in the minutiae of football. Oh and forget about Arsene Wenger - The Unauthorised Biography of Le Professeur by Tom Oldfield, it doesn’t bring much to the table. For the real fan, I suppose The same can be said of The Big Friendly German by Per Mertesacker. Great for those who want to find out about how German football is organised, how it was ahead of its time in training facilities, medical and physiotherapy and such treatments, but it is short on good football stories and insights. Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top by Phillippe Auclair did little for me. I don’t think I even finished it. Nothing new in it. A great laugh I want to mention one more which has little about Arsenal in it but is truly worth a read – How to be a Footballer by Peter Crouch. This is a collection of funny stories about his time in football. Really superb, laugh out loud and you just keep turning the pages until you are finished. Hey, have a great Christmas, I hope you and Arsenal have a wonderful time and if you want a copy of any of these books, even the ones I don’t recommend, send me a message at gus_worth@yahoo.co.uk and I can send you a digital edition.
  4. Ian Wright: Right Wright Even this achievement he managed to make funny 58 today. Is he our second GOAT? He must feel that the gods conspired against him to ensure he wasn’t our GOAT because he was 27 before he finally made the big time at Arsenal. He still managed to become our best goalscorer, scoring good goals, great goals, scruffy goals, important goals, not so important goals, left foot, right foot, headers, and in off any part of his body that was legal. He was a poacher, a guy who could feed off scraps, he could accelerate to make space, he could dribble and make a goal by himself. If he was a bit taller, top defenders would have been crying even harder when they had to face him. His lack of height never deterred him, though, he would spring up into the air as if on, well, springs. Alex Ferguson once famously said that this guy is destroying us as he took apart the Man Utd defence. He was consistently our top scorer but unlike Henry, the team had bad seasons under George Graham, and, of course, the personally disastrous one that Wright had under Bruce Rioch when he banished him to the wing. A great role model But kids, if you ever need a role model, take a good look at Ian Wright. He grew up poor, black, in a bad part of London where drugs and crime were prevalent. He had a father who left and then a stepfather who abused him. He had talent for football but was small and struggled with that bane of a young footballer’s life, he was born in November, which meant as he went through the years, he was always up against kids almost a year older than him, which also was affected by his height, making him even smaller. He overcame a humble beginning He found it hard to get noticed at pro clubs, having some trials but never making it. By 21 he was still playing amateur and such players rarely make the jump to the pro leagues. That dream was more or less dead. He had essentially got married young, had a child, and had to work as a plasterer on building sites to get by. He ended up in prison for not paying tax and insurance on his car. So he was 21 years old, with heavy marital responsibilities, in prison and the one thing he loved doing in his life, playing football, was not going to be his salvation. But he decided, no, this prison cell is not me. I have the talent, I will force the belief to come, I will make it as a footballer. He needed a chance And of course, he did. Crystal Palace gave him a trial, liked what they saw, and his foreman at the building site gave him his blessing, said, Ian, go for it, I will always give you your old job back. This chance was all he needed. He knew that there were many super players playing in the amateur leagues that will never make it. But with grim determination, he vowed he would not be one of them. At Palace he showed he deserved his place at the top table I loved him when he was at Palace, and saw him playing against the Arsenal in the 80’s when I lived in London. The partnership he formed with Mark Bright was one of the best I have ever seen. The 2 of them were quick, could win the ball like midfielders, could hold the ball up, and terrorise any defence. They enabled Palace to play almost with 2 banks of four, and rarely give away goals. I was thrilled when he came to Arsenal, and I would have been delighted if we took both of them, although Alan Smith may not have been too happy. He soon settled in to become our top goalscorer. The hunger came from his life As I have said, though, he is a great role model. He had a hunger to develop, born of his years in the wilderness, he stayed on at the grounds to practice, working on his skills and probably felt a little of the imposter syndrome, that if he didn’t work hard, keep getting better, they might discover he was that little kid who was nearly a year younger than the rest, and not able to cut it at the highest level. At Arsenal, he became a great And so he learned from all the top players, as he got into the England squad, his own teammates and his opponents but he credits the arrival of Dennis Bergkamp as being the transformation in improving his skills. Bergkamp trained hard, but smart, all about becoming a better player, even though he already had sublime skills. Ian realised that the harder he practised, the luckier he would get. People would say, did he mean that, or was he just lucky? Clever training means that you develop the ability to do things that others can’t, and so they say that was lucky. Eh, yes, maybe a little, but it is born of all the practice. Time for regrets? He also had, in common with all great sportsmen, that overwhelming, crushing desire to win that made defeat unbearable. He wanted everything that football could give him, trophies, goals, respect and he got it all. Regrets? He probably has a few. More England caps and goals for sure. Lineker and then Shearer blocked his way. Going to Arsenal as a kid, like his great buddy, David Rocastle, would probably be another. Then he could have been our GOAT and the 185 goals he got from 27 years old would have been a dwarf figure, maybe 350 or 400. Henry would never have been able to leave us as he chased that record. Didn't really get the chance he deserved at England But perhaps that was never the plan of the cosmos. He had to suffer, he had to be humiliated in jail, to have had his difficult upbringing, to overcome it all on the way to becoming Wrighty, known by his nickname to all as if he is their best friend, a guy who has a joy for life, who loves laughing and smiling most of all. Have the greatest birthday ever We at Arsenal Supporters Club in Bulgaria have had many encounters with this extraordinary ambassador for Arsenal football club. My regret is that I wasn’t aware of their existence until a couple of years ago and I have never met him. I hope, one day, to rectify that. Happy, happy birthday to the right man, Ian Wright, Wrighty, keep smiling and always remember, you are our true GOAT for all the things you bring to the club. Some members of ASCB at a great day in their lives in Athens getting to meet the birthday boy. Our own Georgi Stoyanov meeting with Lee Dixon and Ian Wright in Sofia
  5. We could win things with these two 1997/98 again We weren't all that happy Last week, I explored the changes Arsene Wenger had made or he was putting in place. But what actually happened on the pitch? Honestly, most of the season we weren’t very happy. Yes, we had a nice spell from game 8 to game 12 when we were top, including a 4-0 thrashing of West Ham and a 5-0 of Barnsley, but after that we were back to the old Arsenal and down the table to 5th. We didn’t look like winning anything nor qualifying for Champions League. So it was same old same old. His £2M salary looked bad value in many ways. Lots of players playing meant some of our old favourites like Ian Wright weren’t playing every week. We were in the UEFA Cup and were dumped out in our first round in September by PAOK Salonika despite playing the top squad, only without Bergkamp in the away match because he wouldn’t fly. That didn’t help Wenger’s cause. Beaten by Pensioners in the League Cup We did better in the League Cup, beating Birmingham and their neighbours Coventry in our first two rounds, although we made hard work of it as we had to go to extra time in both matches. Here Wenger did play many squad members but he got away with it. Then we played some Pensioners in the semi’s. That wasn’t so good. We were beaten 4-3 over 2 legs. Chelsea were turning into a top team and had lots of fancy foreigners such as Ruud Gullit and Dan Petrescu, plus De Matteo, Vialli and Zola from Italy. Wenger played a strong team for both matches only giving starts to a small number of squad players. He kept saying his priority was the league but we weren’t lighting any fires in that. It was frustrating for fans not to see our absolute top team playing in a semi against our true biggest London rivals at the time. In fairness, Vieira got sent off on 48 and on 51 and 53, Chelsea made it 3-0 and the tie looked over after we won 2-1 in the first. Ill discipline was costing us again and Vieira was making it a habit. Wonderful player but loved red and yellow. Bergkamp scored a late consolation penalty but we were out. The FA Cup? Our trophy? We had Port Vale to start and bizarrely, Wenger put out a strong team only to draw 0-0 and go to a replay where he once again put out a strong team and they took us to penalties after 1-1 after extra time, both of which were scored in extra time. Pretty much our top team couldn’t score in 2 matches in normal time against Port Vale? I hope you are getting the idea that Wenger wasn’t really feeling the love from the fans. Next time against Middlesbrough we scored 3 goals, Overmars and Parlour put us 2-0 after 19 minutes and Merson got another on 62 to make it 3-0. Just joking, he had been sold to them by Wenger so I am sure he was delighted to show he wasn’t finished. It ended 2-1. Paul Merson happy to prove Wenger wrong Then Palace in the next and a scattering of second choice players gave us no goals and a replay which, again a bit understrength, we won 2-1. Considering Palace finished last that year, it wasn’t good. The glory days of George Graham looked to be far back in the distance. We couldn't really understand Wenger's logic with Alex Manninger West Ham up next with a young Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard in their line-up. Except for Manninger in goal, a strong line-up. But we couldn’t understand Wenger’s logic of resting a goalkeeper. They rarely have physically demanding matches, particularly with our defence, and we felt that he was messing up the understanding by playing him in cup matches. And we struggled again but came through after a replay with a restored David Seaman. We were making it hard Championship Wolves in the semi, and again a bit of a struggle to win. An understrength side got an early goal via a squad player. Christopher Wreh, after 12 minutes and that was enough. Now I am going to switch to the league. We were frustrated, Arsenal were playing attacking, fast football, scoring lots of goals but also many poor displays. Suddenly, though, on March 11 we beat Wimbledon 1-0 to the Arsenal and couldn’t stop winning, Wenger must have put premium petrol in our tank because we won 10 in a row culminating in sending Everton back home to Scouseland crying after we lashed 4 goals against them. We were back, we were Arsenal and we had won the league with 2 games to go. We were the best, Wenger was the best and the players were glorious. We weren't scared of Shearer On to Newcastle in the final. We had done the double over them in the league and duly won 2-0 from Overmars and Anelka. But it went wrong for Wright. He didn’t play, Christopher Wreh being preferred. No sub for him either. He was to be shipped out to West Ham in the summer and a bit of a sad end to a legend. I guess records like that are only going to be broken at the end of your career anyway. Anelka was seen as increasingly first choice, and raw or no, he looked explosive and set to be a world great. Wright was top class but not a world great. But he did get a league title and another FA cup medal courtesy of Arsene Wenger. Surely he would turn out to be an Arsenal great? But we, now, were surely world greats? Who was better than Bergkamp, Overmars, Petit, Vieira and Anelka? Our defence was still super and we had 5 one nils to the Arsenal in the league, Wenger’s nod to George Graham. And his nod to Bertie Mee with a magical double. Enchantment was performed before our very eyes by a wizard Frenchman. The Brightest star in the sky I can’t really convey the emotion we had. A season that had stuttered and spluttered like a firework gone out, unexpectedly exploded into a lightshow unlike any we had ever seen. We were Arsenal, we were fast, bright and shone throughout the sky. And hey, Mr Ferguson, that is us, the Arsenal, that you can see as a new star in the sky.
  6. 1995-96 Bruce Rioch showed us a dark side to Arsenal The Dark season Bruce Rioch came in as manager. I can’t remember any fans being happy. He had done reasonably well in the lower divisions but nothing about him suggested he was a top flight manager. Ian Wright famously wrote in his autobiography that they didn’t get on. He didn’t like his dictatorial ways and Rioch also didn’t exactly play Wright too much and he only got 23 goals on all competitions, which was poor by his standards. But he did bring in David Platt who was superb and could score goals as an attacking midfielder. He added to Arsenal’s England regulars as well. He game had improved in Italy where he had come from Sampdoria, Juventus and Bari. Honestly, at the time, it seemed a great buy as he was at the top of his game. The brightness at the start All good here for Bruce Rioch But the real coup was Dennis Bergkamp, who in my opinion was the best ball player I have ever seen at Arsenal, eclipsing Liam Brady and Thierry Henry in pure footballing ability. He was a genius. You may never see goals like his again. The ball would stick to his foot like glue and he could do everything, left foot, right foot and his head. He was unbelievable for free kicks and brought a huge touch of class to the premiership. David Dein was instrumental in both buys and it seems Arsene Wenger was consulted about both. This was the strange part of the situation. David Dein had wanted Wenger, but foreign managers had never worked before in English football, all had failed to a greater or lesser extent, and the board prevailed this time. Soon turns dark I would love to know whether many fans were happy with the appointment of Rioch as I never heard or spoke to any. It seems it didn’t take long for dissent to show in the dressing room as Wright was consigned to the wing and was very unhappy. Dein was close to all the players and always knew what was going on behind the scenes. Rioch was following George Graham, our best manager in my lifetime up to then. No easy act to follow. But he had a team full of eminent internationals, a leading stadium, and was heavily supported in the transfer market. Platt and Bergkamp were top notch, a real joy for a manager to be given. The light kept going on and off So what happened on the pitch? We had 3 draws and 4 wins in our first 7 so not too bad. Then a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea. We were ok but not really challenging and this was reflected in our mid season position of 7th. We improved a bit to 5th at the end but almost 20 points behind Manchester United on top. We were definitely underachieving since the Premier League appeared. We should never have been out of the top 3 with the team we had, but Graham struggled with the backpass rule and couldn’t get the players to perform at their best, and neither could Rioch despite the obvious strengthening with top players. Rioch was strict and had intensive training sessions which the players didn’t seem to like. Brian Clough, in contrast, believed that he wanted players to run on the pitch, not on the training ground and he believed the ball was an integral part of training. Clough’s achievements are legendary with small teams, Rioch would never come close to anything like it. Wright, and others believed in practicing with the ball, improving their skills at all times. Wright often stayed there all day, practicing free kicks, scoring, left foot, right foot, head. Bergkamp improved all the players The most magical of footballers He credits Dennis Bergkamp, however, for showing him a better way to train, in improving his skills, aiming always for improvement. Wright came late to top class football and always wanted to get up to the level of those around him. I guess he had a little of the imposter syndrome about him, that he would need to get better in case they realise he shouldn’t really be there. And this was the crux with Rioch, he didn’t seem to rate Ian Wright and he put in a transfer request. Wright needed the manager to believe in him and while he did have the skillset to play on the wing, it was never his best position and effected his belief system. Rioch had only one chance, really. The team needed to win. They didn’t. Not enough. A defeat and a draw to the Spuds didn’t help. Going out in the 3rd round of the cup to our old friends Sheffield Utd after a replay didn’t help and we didn’t have a Euro trophy to compete in. The League Cup was better but we were beaten by Aston Villa over 2 legs in the semis. By February, the only thing we had to play for was a spot in the Uefa Cup. He did get that in 5th although it was because Liverpool qualified for the Cupwinners cup and gave up their spot in the Uefa cup to Arsenal. There wasn’t lots of spots in European trophies in those days. Thrown into darkness So he had a transfer row with the board at the end of the season and was pushed out. He was probably the most unpopular manager in my time. One year for an Arsenal manager is unusual and those who have read all my columns up to now will know that I like that about Arsenal, we don’t fire managers quickly. We give them a chance. Rioch didn’t do all that badly, but a combination of Dein wanting Arsene Wenger in and the players revolting against Rioch meant Dein had his chance to get his man. Was Rioch given a fair chance? I guess not. But he didn’t achieve much in his later career and it was hard to see that he could achieve anything with Arsenal. Probably too big of a job for him but we will never know for sure. His legacy is Bergkamp, though, and that signing alone propelled us into a higher sphere. But he joins the ranks of managers who were given their one big chance but couldn’t take it. Sam Allardyce knows all about that with England and one day I might do a blog about managers that self-destructed. My final word is that Bruce Rioch would have felt that Arsenal would have given him enough time. He was wrong. Rioch got this one Wrong, not Wright Were Arsenal wrong? They had a new man waiting in the wings and next week I will talk about that new man and try to reflect how I felt at the time. Talk next week so.
  7. 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.
  8. They stopped Arsenal from scoring 1992/93 part 2 As I said last time, this was the first time that football had ever been played. All the previous years of my life was a mirage, a dusty cloth-capped vision in which I imagined all the trips to the grounds, peering at black and white screens, and horsing down the drink as I cheered on the Arsenal. But Sky had given us the new improved version with greed at its core and we lapped it up, eventually. But that was the story of last week, this week I will delve into Arsenal’s first year in the glittering Sky invention. It was not good. We finished 10th with 56 points and couldn’t score goals. 40! That’s all we could manage! In 42 games. Ian Wright scored 15 of them despite the addition of John Jensen. Maybe he was missing his good buddy David Rocastle who was sold on to Leeds for reasons that I was never sure about. The backpass rule had its impact for sure. What to do when your tried and trusted method lets you down? When the football authorities decide you are boring boring Arsenal and stop the way you play? John Jensen linked well with Mr Wright But they couldn't stop Ian Wright Well, what we did was play well in the cups. Wrighty did better there as well. He also got 15 in far less matches to bring him up to a respectable 30. Wrighty was never our problem. And so to the League Cup. First up was Millwall and we struggled both legs at 1-1 with the underrated Kevin Campbell scoring both times. It meant penalties after extra time and Lee Dixon stood up for the first. He was our penalty taker and very reliable so he should have frightened them. Maybe the fact that he had scored an own goal earlier gave them heart and meant that he didn’t! Kasey Keller produced a great save and my heart sank. I find penalty shootouts hard to watch but missing the first is even worse. But David Seaman was unstoppable almost that day. He saved the first to level things up and Ian Dawes knocked one past him for the second but that was it. We won 3-1 and it ended up one of our easiest shootouts. My heart could beat again. Until Derby in the next round. They seemed to be all over us with our defence kicking them all the time and Seaman producing save after save but we fashioned a replay 1-1. We beat them 2-1 at Highbury this time and we were 2-0 up very quickly. They got one back with a penalty but we had done enough. Did it end at Scarborough? 1-0 to the Arsenal at Scarborough next time with the pitch a quagmire and Scarborough’s jersey is very like Arsenal’s so it was a bit confusing to watch particularly with the heavy fog. But Nigel Winterburn scored and we were through. Forest next with a young Roy Keane playing under Brian Clough. But he couldn’t stop Ian Wright scoring 2 magnificent goals and we won 2-0. Then Palace in the 2 legged semi-final. We had a good season against Palace beating them twice in the league and twice here. 3-1 in the first leg at Palace with Ian Wright and Alan Smith (2). Then 2-0 in the second with Ian Wright again and Andy Linighan. On to Sheffield Wednesday in the final. They were good then with plenty of top players like Mark Bright, David Hirst and Chris Waddle. But the match is synonymous with Steve Morrow. We won 2-1 and he scored but Tony Adams lifted him up at the end and he fell, broke his arm and that was the end of his season. It sparked umpteen newspaper hardlines but was truly dreadful for Steve Morrow. He never really seemed to get his place back after that. But a difficult season so far had given us a cup. Getting into cup finals has always been a strong suit for the Arsenal. Our Trophy? Of course it's ours And the FA Cup? Our trophy? We had Yeovil to start, the famed giantkillers. But they didn’t kill us giants. Ian Wright whacked in a hattrick including a delightful lobbed goal that sticks in my memory as we won 3-1. Ian Wright could score a goal by himself, similar to Henry and Bergkamp, he didn’t always need assists like a lot of strikers. As I have said in a previous blog, Lineker and Shearer blocked his path to many more England caps but I truly believe he was better than either of those. They needed providers. I liked him long before he became an Arsenal player and a compilation of his best goals will always include that one. Next up was Leeds at Highbury, the champions but struggling this season. We were without Ian Wright who was enjoying the cups but was suspended for this one. Gary Speed did a cheeky dink past Seaman to score the first for Leeds and then Lee Chapman scrambled another in. It looked bleak but it’s only Ray Parlour slotted one home and then Paul Merson hit a screamer to give us the draw. On to Elland Road for the replay but Ian Wright returned to score 2 and set up the other for Alan Smith. John Lukic for Leeds probably should have done better but we weren’t complaining. Why did we sell David Rocastle? On to Ipswich and Ian Wright was bang in form again creating and scoring a penalty, then scoring another that was credited as an own goal but he really made it happen. Tony Adams and Kevin Campbell got the others for 4-2. A Sweet 1-0 Hello, the Spuds next and it was time to show them who was boss. Paul Merson chipped in a free kick, Tony Adams stole in and headed it in to send the Spuds home crying and we once again proved we were the Arsenal. 1-0 to the Arsenal is always sweet on the Seven Sisters road. Sheffield Wednesday again in the final. I doubt if that has happened before or since but as I have said, they were good then. They were probably the better team on the day as David Seaman produced some great saves but Ian Wright our talisman scored first before David Hirst, their talisman, finally managed to beat Dave Seaman and a replay was next. They shouldn't have given us a second chance This was much better with both sides creating chances until Ian Wright scored. Then Chris Waddle got one in from a deflection by Lee Dixon. It went to extra time and was just about to go to penalties when Paul Merson whacked in a corner. Andy Linighan, who was carrying an injury from earlier in the match rose high to knock it in and we were the winners again, a rare double of both cups and even rarer against the same team with the same score 2-1. Honestly, I felt a bit sorry for Wednesday, they had a good side and they don’t get many chances at such things. But we had done it again. Poor Mark Bright. His good friend Ian Wright broke his heart twice The league was poor though as I have said. Highlights were few. We beat Palace and Coventry 3-0 and Southampton 4-3. I guess we could argue that we were kings of London despite finishing below QPR and the Spuds. David O’Leary finished up that season with a record number of appearances, 722, which will probably never be beaten. He scarcely featured and moved on to Leeds. Why is there no statue? And Ian Wright notched up 50 goals in 68 appearances this season as well. A testimonial but no statue A strange season, all the same. The 2 cup wins were fantastic and showed great resilience but the league form was poor. I put it down to the backpass rule as the team looked discommoded in the league whereas, as you have to win a cup match, they played with more freedom. The cups wins gave me hope, that eternal emotion of a football fan. Next season we would be back to winning the league. I was sure of it. A freak accident for Steve Morrow epitomised our season!
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