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Found 4 results

  1. 23 trophies over ten years We need an awful lot more trophies, Mikel, for me to be happy That’s what we need, Gooners, to become the best team in England. The best ten years ever in English football was achieved by Liverpool from 1975 to 1985 and if we equalled it we could certainly argue with Manchester United and Liverpool as to who is the greatest. We are unfortunately, well behind those 2 and we have strong rivals to overtake us in Chelsea and Manchester City. What did Liverpool achieve in those ten miraculous years? 4 European Cups (Champions League) 7 First division (Premier League), 1 FA Cup, 4 League Cups, 1 UEFA Cup, 1 UEFA Super Cup, and 5 Charity Shields. The quiet man, Bob Paisley did it Where would that leave us if we did the same? 20 Premier league - at the top with Man Utd 15 FA Cups – at the top 6 League cups – behind Liverpool and Man City on 8 21 Charity Shields – at the top as we have only one shared and Man Utd have 4 4 Champions League – behind Liverpool on 6 2 UEFA Cups – behind Liverpool on 3 Add the European Cup winners cup which we share on one with Man Utd and Liverpool have never won. So that is the benchmark, an astonishing standard to be fair. And we would need our kids all to become major superstars and stay with us for it to have a chance of happening. But dreams are the hallmark of fans and without them a fan’s life is not worth living, I think we all agree on that. And because this was actually achieved, we can say it is possible. Yes, these are different times, and many teams have incredible resources to ensure a dream like mine would never happen. But if Saka, Smith-Rowe, Tierney, Ramsdale, Martinelli, White, Gabriel, Odegaard, Tomiyasu, Lokonga all improve as they mature, and say Tavares, Balogun and Saliba also come into the reckoning, we potentially have a frightening team coming through. Amazing young players These two conjurors could become the world's best These are all young players with so much prospects, who could learn to play together as a dazzling unit exactly like the Lacazette wonder goal against Southampton at the weekend and could eclipse the giants that will oppose them. The 2 Manchesters, Liverpool and Chelsea, maybe newly rich Newcastle and even the hapless Spuds or West Ham with their fabulous grounds and extensive fan base are all hoping for their ten years, too. Leicester, Villa and Everton also. We will need saves like this Is this the real life, or is it just fantasy? I say my dream is possible, despite all these teams. Of course, those of you of a practical bent will say that Liverpool and Manchester United would also need a lean ten years for us to be able to make a strong argument that we are the best. That’s true. But if we win all those trophies, there aren’t all that many left for them, are there? Anyway, let’s say I am right and these players stay and become better, and let’s say that we also do well on transfers, what else do we need to make it happen? I will first go through what we have and not what we potentially have. We have a fine big stadium that gets filled regularly, comparable to the top teams. We have a large amount of corporate boxes to generate huge sums. We have a worldwide fanbase and are particularly strong in Africa. We have an attractive image well suited to kickass marketing campaigns. We have training and medical facilities equal to anyone. We have an academy system which is superb and surely as good as any worldwide. We have the tradition of winning trophies as our position in English football proves. We are 3rd but best in FA Cups and not hugely behind the 2 beasts of Liverpool and Man Utd in that my magical ten years would push us right up there. This noisy man also had ten great years Do we have a great manager? So, we have these things going for us, what do we potentially have? Is Arteta the right man to take us forward? We would need a top manager for sure and at this moment I am not sure Arteta is that man. I would like to believe he is. In fact, I would love to believe that he is, because I like him. He has undoubtedly got great football knowledge, he has won trophies at Arsenal and Man City, the players seem to like him and most play with a smile on their face. He has brought through superb young players and he has been a disciplinarian, which is necessary in a manager as players can never be bigger than the club. The exquisite ten years will only happen with a great manager, though, and the verdict on Arteta is unproven. The 2 teams which have had a great ten years in my lifetime, Liverpool and Man Utd, both had managers who had a lot of critics before going on their great runs, though. Bob Paisley was reckoned to be only a lieutenant and Alex Ferguson considered to be out of his depth after several years of failure. Without their trophy hauls, Arsenal would now be the greatest team in English football, let’s not forget that. Ah, but the owners, the Kroenke’s, they are the imponderables in my wonderful dream of a fantastic ten years. Could it happen with them? Hands up any Arsenal fans who think so? Please put up your hands, I can’t see any. Sorry, let me put on my glasses. Ok, my sight is good now. Can you put up your hands again? There must be something wrong with my glasses, I still can’t see any hands up. Make it real So is that it? My daydream, or it can become a reality? I will take you back to the Arsene Wenger magic years of 7 FA Cups, 3 Premier Leagues, and 7 Charity Shields and an Invincible year over more than 20 years. I was ecstatic with that and I truly never expected it when he took over. Still a long way short of Bob Paisley’s achievement, though. And if Chelsea or Man City have such a ten years I would have to listen to them shouting in my face. My face doesn’t want that. Wenger gave me reason to dream C’mon Arsenal. Give us the Liverpool 10 years from 2022 to 2032. Or even 2023 to 2033. But don’t leave it too long, I am not getting any younger and I would love to be able to argue that my team is truly the best, better than all the rest, better than anyone. And Arsenal are the greatest football team.
  2. 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.
  3. 1993-94ish Expectations: a sideways view Today I want to take a different perspective, to take stock of where we were as Arsenal after the first year of the Premier League and through the second. Because Arsenal are different to all other English teams in many ways. How so? And was the Premier League likely to change that? Arsenal were innovators, led by the astonishing Herbert Chapman. Floodlights, physiotherapy, training techniques, the WM formation, European competition, an impressive stadium, and numbered shirts were all areas that he championed. Football always had its dodgy elements, but he believed in sporting values, the Arsenal way. He did have a reputation for subterfuge when it came to transfer dealings however, famously getting a rival board of directors drunk before finagling a deal in his favour. WM: Today's formations are just variants Arsenal equals class Footballers can always come back to Arsenal for medical treatment, for example and in general we have a good reputation regarding ex-players. Arsenal are classy, as was Mr Chapman, reflected in the famed marble halls that adorned the inside of the ground. In the period I have been writing about, though, they were also known as mean, reluctant to pay high wages or big transfers. And, as I pointed out here, this was reflected in our trophy cabinet until George Graham arrived. We were mostly pretty average from 1953 until now. Now, we had 2 league titles, 2 league cups and one FA cup between 1989 and 1993. Better than anyone else, even though we still weren’t splashing cash like crazy, George Graham had assembled a top team who were better drilled than any other. But the backpass rule change made its difference. Now, he would have to figure out a way around it. I figured he would but he was soon to blow up his time at Arsenal with the infamous bung scandal, however I will leave the details of that to a future blog. We didn't allow bungs I will say that bungs were normal in English football, with many famous managers collecting underhand payments from the transfer market. Only Arsenal, though, would never forgive, and George Graham will probably never get the statue he deserves. He had finally made us the best team in the land and it had all gone wrong. He had gone against Arsenal values and paid the price. And so to the Premier league. What was the difference here? Far bigger money for the big clubs, for sure. Manchester United, Spurs, Chelsea, Man City, Newcastle, Leeds and other big clubs had been relegated, sometimes more than once, in the time I have been writing about. Since then not so much. It is getting harder to see that happening except for Newcastle style bad administration. The balance had been tilted in favour of clubs with money and Arsenal had money. Would they now spend it? At this point, it was hard to say. Up to now Graham had splashed the cash for Ian Wright at 2.5 million but in general between buying and selling not a lot was spent. He was like Wenger, he had an idea of the player he wanted and didn’t like wasting money. We didn't like spending Manchester United and Liverpool were never afraid of spending money. Blackburn had come up from the championship and would pay big money to become competitive. I, and other Arsenal fans, feared that we could get left behind. We were 10th and poor in the league. 2 cup wins gave us hope but Irishman Eddie McGoldrick from Palace was our major signing and we sold Anders Limpar, so again, overall our spend wasn’t big. Eddie McGoldrick: our mercurial Irishman One major change was the size of the squads. This was the weapon to ensure that the big clubs could stay big. The wage bill jumped as they endeavoured to squeeze out the little guys. To give an example, in season 1993-94 27 players played competitive games for us. We had won the double with far less than half that in 1971. Were we now a major club? But we were Arsenal, we were a big club, undisputedly, from our history. Could we now take the stage on this new trophy, which looked like the old First division, but had morphed into a money making machine for big clubs? Were we really a big club now? Could we kick ass and send teams home crying? I wasn’t so confident. The bizarre thing is that David Dein, our vice chairman at the time, is generally credited with being the main driver of the Premier League. So who was he? He was the revolutionary force trying to make Arsenal the best team in the world. He kept putting money into Arsenal from 1983 onwards until he had a large shareholding of 42%. He pushed against the conservative values of the Hill-Woods and other long term board members. Outside of Dein, they had all been there for generations. David Dein had huge knowledge and networks David Dein He was different. He was a football man. He understood the international game in a way few else did. He spoke to all the players and was always willing to help them, advise them, and give them a boost. But he did have a tough job modernising the attitudes of the board. The rivers of money that was starting to flow into the Premier League and top level football generally, needed to flow Arsenal’s way as well. He was heavily involved behind the scenes in transfer activity and in representing Arsenal at the higher levels of English and world football. He was obviously trusted at such levels as he held positions for long times. The Premier League was a new way to do football and he was a key man. So surely he could make sure that Arsenal benefitted? For that first season we certainly didn’t. This season we finished fourth. We had an extraordinary number of draws but we got 71 points. We still couldn’t really score in the league with only 53 goals out of 42 matches. This was the worst in the top nine. Ian Wright managed 23 of these so he wasn’t the problem. We just weren’t the smooth machine of the pre backpass change. Graham needed to step up and fix it. So we needed Graham to sort things out on the pitch and Dein to sort things out at the owner level to ensure the Premier League would work for us. Next blog I will analyse what happened this season, the good and the bad, and see if there was reasons for optimism. Could we be Arsenal in the shiny new Premier League? A team to be feared? The first 2 seasons didn’t look so good. We needed to be better.
  4. 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. 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.
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