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Found 7 results

  1. 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
  2. Our best of our crop The home grown team Martinez VS Jennings Rice Adams O’Leary Cole Dixon Toure Campbell Sansom Saka Fabregas Storey Brady Ljungberg Cazorla Vieira Pires Radford Smith Rowe Bergkamp Henry This week I turn my attention to our best home grown players. The rules being, like last week, that they have to be brought through from the younger age squads and also in my fan timeframe from 1969 onwards. Again it is incredibly hard but I have made my choices and this week, as promised, I will go head to head against the bought team I chose last week. Martinez was the only choice in goal It is hard to find a keeper from my period 1969 to today. We don’t bring them through homegrown. Graham Stack never made it and he was my second choice. Wilson, Rimmer, Jennings, Lukic, Seaman, Lehmann and the rest were bought. So step forward Emilio Martinez, a true Arsenal man who dedicated a great part of his career to us. He only had one great season but what a season. He never let us down. And he won’t let down this team. But on the head to head from last time I have to put him behind Pat Jennings. So one-nil to the buys. Defence was far harder to choose Pat Rice against Lee Dixon? Well, this is difficult. Rice was such a great servant for us and Northern Ireland, but Dixon probably had that touch of class above him so I am going to go 2-0 to the buys as they race into a big lead. Pat Rice -one of our greatest servants Ashley Cole vs Kenny Sansom and Cole has to be the choice. 107 England caps. Lots of trophies and surely an England all time great. He shades Kenny Sansom in a tight race as Sansom was superb. 2-1 to the buys. Cole: Not so popular because of his (bad)choices Martin Keown couldn’t get into this team as a centreback despite being a giant of a player but our 2 longest serving players, Tony Adams and David O’Leary did. And I am going to give it to evens with Sol Campbell and Tony Adams leaving Kolo Toure and O'Leary out. So now it is 3-2 to the buys. No, I am not going to tell you who these legends are Midfield even harder Saka vs Ljungberg, oh no, how can I make this choice? I am going to give it to Saka for one reason. He is our best player at the moment, causing danger all the time whilst getting kicked unmercifully. Ljungberg was never our best player because, well, we had extraordinary players like Bergkamp, Henry and Viera in his time. So now it is 3-3. I couldn't leave these two out Fabregas vs Cazorla? Gus, why did you start this? This is impossible. Looking at great players we have bought vs players we have brought through and they are all brilliant. But I think I will go Fabregas, he was a genius, he stepped into the boots of Vieira, despite being a different sort of player and we didn’t really feel the difference. And now the homegrowns have made a comeback, 4-3. We did bring through some great players, didn’t we? The genius Spaniard that was Fabregas But now Peter Storey vs Patrick Vieira and I am so tempted to go for Storey. He was truly tough, but he made himself available all the time and was incredibly under rated. Alf Ramsay didn’t pick him for England for a long time regarding him as a clogger. When he finally did towards the end of his career, he said he had made a mistake and should have been playing him all along. He was like Roy Keane, he drove the team on and was always available for the ball. We could do with such a player now. But still, Patrick Vieira is Patrick Vieira. I have to give it to him. Now it is 4-4 and it is looking tight going down to the wire. Probably the most underrated player we ever had - Peter Storey Robert Pires vs Liam Brady? I hope you now realise how difficult this is. Two legends, guys we will love forever. But I am going to give it to Brady for the same reason I gave it to Saka. He was our best player in the team winning 1st division player of the year. And so now the homegrowns have got in front late in the game – 5-4. Brady- our best player of his time Attack was also a hard choice I put Smith Rowe in that Bergkamp role as I feel that is where he can be killer for us. Scoring goals, creating assists, making a danger all the time around the box. He could turn out to be a world superstar. But John Radford, despite being a super forward, and always being a threat, was no Henry. Frank Stapleton and Ray Kennedy were my next choices. At least the front two are easy. Bergkamp and Henry. I need say no more. And so the buys wing it at the end 6-5. I would love to see this team playing against the other in real life assuming all players are at their best. I suspect the buys might just shade it again but you never know. John Radford - a seriously under rated striker Some of the decisions were so hard. But I had to choose 11 for both sides. For the home grown team in defence there were Sammy Nelson, Terry Neill, Martin Keown and others who didn’t make it. In midfield there was a huge choice, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Graham Rix, Jack Wilshire, Charlie George and lots of others were considered. In attack we aren’t so strong, though. Ray Kennedy, Kevin Campbell, Niall Quinn and Frank Stapleton spring to mind but none are like the legends up front of Bergkamp and Henry, one of the strongest partnerships ever at any club. Nketiah and Balogun, or Biereth could make it and displace the two I chose but I can’t see them being better than Henry/Bergkamp. Let's cheer for our own So there you have it. I have chosen my best bought team and compared it to the home grown. My conclusion? That the bought team is a little better than the home grown. That buying well is the key to a great side, but bringing on your own gives far more satisfaction and fun for the fans. The Arsenal chant of “He’s one of our own” reverberates throughout the decades. And for sure they will play football the Arsenal way. And hey, let’s raise a goalkeeper or two.
  3. A Spursy story Throw in the towel, Spuds White Hart Losers Historically, of course, we are far better then the poor old Spuds. Our trophy cabinet is far bigger and much more recent. They look back into the distance for their glory days, we don’t. We cannot deny, however that in recent years their league form has been better than us. Young Spuds, then, might feel they have bragging rights, they got to a recent Champions League Final to equal us in times we have got to that final. In fairness, we got much closer to winning it than them. And competed in it far more times. But what is it like to be a Spurs supporter? I have some friends who have this affliction and they seem very normal on the outside. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is their obsession with Arsenal because it is hard to make a strong case. On almost every metric, they are inferior. That must be galling. They have 2 ancient top flight titles (1951/1961) bestowed on them at White Hart Lane. Hey, we have two far more recent, in 1971 and 2004. We went there to win the title and they couldn’t stop us. Oh, the embarrassment! Red and White yobbos celebrating like crazy on their pitch. Liam Brady - one of our true greats I have my Spurs binoculars Anyway, I am going to try and look at things from a Spurs point of view and see what metrics are good for them. For trophies, they have 4 league cups to our 2 and 2 Uefa cups to our one (we might just turn that first one closer this season, I am always hopeful). As they are the minor cups, they is no joy for them in this area, we are way ahead in league, FA Cup and Charity Shields. They were the first English winners of a European trophy, The Cup-winners Cup in 1963, but few of their supporters can remember that. Ours, in Copenhagen in 1994, is etched in the memories of huge numbers of our fans. In terms of overall wins, we have 84 to their 66, we have beaten them 6-0 as against their 5-0. Even at White Hart Lane, we have 28 wins to their 36 as opposed to our 41 to their 19 at our home. We have 21 undefeated matches against them, miles ahead of their 5, and they have 4 wins in a row compared to our 6. It is all gloomy for the poor Spuds, the Spursies of all Spursies. Bergkamp - wow what a talent We had far better players But the purpose of this blog is to give you my take on things, not a history lesson. In truth, Tottenham didn’t impact that much on me when I started supporting Arsenal, we had a short spell of being great, we won the double to equal their top 1961 team and we were challengers for a time after the double until it all fell apart, and then Terry Neill came along to give us superb FA Cup runs. We had lots of Irish players and probably the best player in the league in Liam Brady. Since then, Bergkamp and Henry have also been the best players in England. I suppose the flawed Gascoigne might have been in the 90’s and maybe Gary Lineker was a contender for that distinction but he was so much of a poacher that I feel few would have regarded him as the best footballer. Ardiles and Glenn Hoddle were lovely players as well. Honestly, though, in my time, and particularly since Wenger and Graham, we are far ahead in quality of players. Gascoigne: Good but flawed - like his team We shared few but Pat Jennings was the most egregious steal of all. Terry Neill came from Tottenham and soon after took Pat from them. Both Northern Ireland, both deemed as gentlemen of the game, they are well regarded by both sides, particularly Pat, who went on to have the best period in his career with Arsenal and Northern Ireland from that time. Henry -our greatest? And even now? As I have said at the start, the only metric the Spuds have to talk about is recent years in the league and Champions league. We qualified, in total, 21 times for Champions league/ European cup and they 6. Since they first qualified in 2010/11 they managed 5 times, we got 8. We qualified twice for the old European Cup to their one in, you guessed it, 1961. And we could have had one more in 1989 except for the Heysel Stadium disaster. The League in recent times? Yes, they have an advantage, they have finished above us the past six seasons but we were in front for so long before that it is hard to count. I am hopeful this year will reverse the trend. Even Chelsea are now better Anyway, I could try here to search for a way to show, from a Spuds point of view, how their team is better, but each direction that I go in sends me down a blind alley. We are better, simple as that. If they won the double for the next 12 years they would be better than us, but that’s never going to happen. The most likely scenario is that for as long as any Spurs fan is alive today, even new born kids, brainwashed from the cradle, they will never catch up with us. If we had our ten great years as I talked about in a previous blog here we would have an argument to being the best team in England. That is a dream denied the Spuds, as they would need an unprecedented long great spell to get that position. The problem they have now is that Chelsea have appeared and even historically have a strong claim to be the better team in London than them and are certainly currently the best team overall on recent form. Even blinkered Arsenal fans have to recognize that. They could even overtake Arsenal as the 3rd best team in England if they have a really strong spell. Abramovich has shown he has the winning touch time and again. Win or be fired is his motto. Should be on the crest, in fact. As for managers, the visionary and revolutionary Chapman, the supreme creator and undefeated Wenger, and the tactical and coaching genius that was George Graham. I can’t remember any Spurs managers, sorry. My magic solution So what can Spurs do? If West Ham get ten great years they could also overtake them. It is all looking dark for the boys in white. But luckily for all you Spuds out there, I have a solution. It is a magic one. Do a Wimbledon and go somewhere else. I would suggest Cambridge. Not so far away, just over 50 miles. A historic city and they will surely never be able to overtake you as the best team there. Do one, Mr Levy You see, Mr Levy, you were never really good enough to be our big rivals, we beat you everywhere I look, even when it matters in your own home. We have Chelsea to worry about now and they are really good. Unfortunately, you are not. Go to Cambridge, we have bigger fish to fry. Where can we finish update: Well, I got the score right 2-1 against Man City, although unfortunately the wrong way around. We played very well, but we cannot afford such silly moves by Xhaka and Gabriel. They did wrong things and I hope Arteta hauls them up over it. We are not going to win matches against top teams with ten men, particularly when they have 12. That level of performance gives us hope. Long may it continue, Champions league is still a live dream.
  4. 2005-2006 Champions of Europe? My biggest dream - Old Big Ears I will say here at the start that this is my last in this series, for now at least, of My Life as a Gooner. It is 49 and I will talk about when we were almost Invincibles again. Invincibles of Europe, that is. I will write about different things from now on but if there is any aspect of Arsenal that you would like me to write about, please request it and I will do it. Up The Arse! One of the defining matches of my life was the European Cup Final of 1968. I was 10 years old, my older brother was a Manchester United fan and we watched it together in black and white. It was magical. The quality of the football was superb, although played at a slower pace than we see now as grounds were heavier, as were balls and boots. Fitness technology had not really entered football so diets were also heavy. Everything was heavy. It’s no wonder heavy metal music had its origins in that period. The Joy was unprecedented for Man Utd It was 1-1 at full time. Then George Best and Man Utd upped their game against Benfica to score 3 times and it seemed like everyone in Ireland celebrated. Worldwide that must have brought in lots of new Man U fans. The European Cup was the glamour trophy to win in club football just like the World Cup was the one to win for a nation. The magic of Bestie trumps all When I chose Arsenal a year later, they didn’t make me wait too long to get our own crack at the European Cup. In 1971 we won the double and we also started our first attempt that year. We did well until March 1972 when we came up against the amazing Ajax side, who were champions, in the quarterfinals. Ray Kennedy scored an away goal for 2-1 in the first but they beat us 1-0 at Highbury. They went on to win it and we gave them a harder time than any other team. The great Ray Kennedy got to lift Old Big ears R.I.P. Not allowed to play But we didn’t win the league again until 1989 and we were barred from Europe then. That team, under George Graham would have had a chance. George was always good tactically and a strong defence was always important in Europe. And so it was 1991-1992 that we got our second chance but we didn’t even make it to 1992. We were knocked out by Benfica in the second round. So we had to wait for Arsene Wenger to weave his magic but he left it behind in Europe. We were constantly being beaten by teams that were lesser than us. It didn't look possible By then, though it was up to four teams getting through so no longer true champions. And 2005-2006 was one of those. We were not champions. And honestly, how many of you out there would agree with me that once we lost that Invincible tag, we had gone backwards and it was difficult to be optimistic for this venture? And like I said last blog, the players we had got in were not of the calibre of the greats of the past and money was tight because we had staked all our cash on the Emirates stadium. But somehow in Europe, we looked like Invincibles again. We waltzed through the group stage like they didn’t exist. Thun, Sparta Prague and Ajax were thrown aside like the fodder they were. A final game draw with our reserves against Ajax the only dropped points. Yes, lesser teams, but teams like these had been our downfall in the past. Could we dream again? My biggest wish always was this trophy, ever since 1968 but I was afraid to dream at this point. Galacticos vs Invincibles And, of course, we got Real Madrid in the first knock-out round. The one club that never worry about money, never worry about buying the best, and never worry about Arsenal, either. We had them away in the first leg, so we needed to keep ourselves in it for Highbury as Real were never beaten at home. Except we were the Arsenal, we had our own royal in Thierry Henry and he popped in a goal to mean that Madrid had to come to Highbury to win. My eyes nearly jumped out of my head, we had beaten the magnificos at home! Our king beats the Royals Ok, it was 0-0 at home but that was good enough. If we could beat Real Madrid, surely we could beat anyone? Except we then got Juventus, the Fiat juggernaut of Italy who had our monster Vieira playing for them. Ok, I thought, the gods don’t want us to win. They don’t appreciate how much this trophy means to me. A nice monster beats a scary monster But we beat them 2-0 at Highbury. Fabregas scored to make a point to Vieira that we now had a nice monster who played pretty football to replace him. And our king Henry scored the other. They had no away goal to boost them and 0-0 in the second leg was good enough to send them back to their villas crying. We were Arsenal! And we were invincible in this Champions League! But then we got Villareal in the semi’s. They were very good at the time and even had a young Santi Cazorla in their squad although he didn’t feature. The first leg was at Highbury and it was the last European match played there. For some reason I can’t remember, we played in our change strip but it didn’t stop us playing well. Late in the first half, Henry took a corner that was headed back out to him, he fizzed it into Hleb who popped it across to Toure, who was still lurking in the goalmouth from the corner, and he stook out a leg to knock it in. 1-0 to the Arsenal rang out across the stadium and that was good enough. Another 0-0 away and we were through, for the first time, to my dream trophy. We can beat them all Heartbreak no.1 It was Barcelona, another giant of the game, with some of the best players ever lined up for them. They had Giovanni von Bronkhurst, one of our old boys, against us, as well as huge stars such as Ronaldhino, Eto’o, Puyol and the rest. We had a top side, most of the Invincibles were there and we were the Champions league Invincibles that year with 10 clean sheets and no defeats. I was allowing myself to dream big. We had already knocked over monsters and there was just one left. I watched it in Murphy’s in Sofia as I had an English visitor, Ian McMaster, a West Ham supporter over. I guess some of the Arsenal Supporter’s club in Bulgaria were there with me but I wasn’t aware of their existence at the time. Heartbreak no.2 Maybe it is petty of me but I have never fully forgiven Lehmann for dragging down Samuel Eto’o to get himself sent off. Almunia came on for a visibly distressed Pires, who was very angry with Wenger and left the club next season. I feel Wenger made the right choice as, with ten men, you can’t take off a defender or holding midfielder and it was between him and Llungberg and he probably felt Llungberg would run harder. It took him a long time to repair that rift. And then Belletti kills the dream And so it had all gone wrong. Barcelona had the wind in their sails and were looking the better team but somehow Campbell scored from a Henry free kick. Could we do it? Had the gods decided to reward me for my longstanding hope of lifting this immense trophy? But the loss of Lehmann and Pires was too much. Eto’o scored a probably offside goal on 76 minutes and it was hard to see how we could come back. I kept hoping for a miracle but Belletti, who had come on as a sub not long before, knocked in their second to sink us. Heartbreak no.3 The dream died that day. If Lehmann had done anything else bar foul Eto’o, I believe we would have won. And now, 15 years later, we are not even qualifying. Please Arsenal, understand that I am 63, qualify this year, and give it to me as a Beatles present for when I am 64! All you have to be is Arsenal again.
  5. 2002-2003 No, they were laughing at you, Arsene The year when we won everything! In the previous year we had won the double. Now we were ready to win all. Champions league, League Cup as well as league and FA cup. And our first trophy was the Charity Shield. By rights we should have played against ourselves as we were the holders of both qualifying trophies but we played Liverpool who were enjoying a resurgence under Gerard Houllier and had finished second the last season. We played super, were all over them but only won 1-0. Gilberto, making his debut, came on as a sub and scored. I always liked Gilberto. He acted as a sort of sweeper midfielder/defender but could play and sometimes score. He gave a stability to the team. This is the famous year that Arsene Wenger said we could go the whole season unbeaten and was laughed at. In fairness, what he also said was that no manager ever sets out to lose, and that for every match he planned for a win. I am sure Alex Ferguson and the rest agreed with that. He rarely, even for the league cup, played a totally raw team, with always some experienced players to back up the youngsters. I would argue that by playing weakened teams, though, he was giving a lie to his argument that he always planned to win. He would often play a weakened team either side of a European match, if they were from low in the table, as well. I do accept his argument, though, that no manager sets out to lose. I cannot imagine a manager saying “Lads, I know it’s only Tottenham but you are going to lose”. But he averaged 30 or more players getting matches in his period and, in all honesty, all of us Gooners knew what he thought of as his top team, (Seaman, Cole, Lauren, Keown, Campbell, Gilberto, Vieira, Pires, Llungberg, Henry, Wiltord, with Bergkamp kept fresh for the important matches) so he had to believe that the fringe players could also get a win for him. He did have a good record against lower teams in cup competitions, in truth. Always nice to beat this team An undefeated season? So could we? Go undefeated for a season? I am not sure any team has ever done it anywhere but maybe a statistician could enlighten me? It is not fully clear, from what Wenger said, if he meant all competitions or just the league but anyway, if we could do it this season, we would finally win the Champions League, the prize I wanted above all else. Anyway, despite a good start to the season, October arrived and we had back to back defeats against Everton and Blackburn to disabuse us of any notions of being undefeated. Also back to back defeats in October in the Champions League against Auxerre and Borussia Dortmund. Strangely enough, all defeats were 2-1. We went out soon after in the League Cup to Sunderland on November 6th in our first round. The joke was on us. Undefeated? Could we even win anything? In my time as an Arsenal fan, we had never retained a title but in fairness, we were doing well to this point. A bad spell always knocked me back and every season we had them. Often October/November was the catalyst for the bad spells. Wet, muddy grounds conspired against our artists. Other teams were catching up but grass technology was expensive as was undersoil heating. Too many defeats left us a bit deflated We were to have 2 more defeats before Christmas against Southampton and Manchester United to leave us chasing retention. In the Champions league we finished top although level with Dortmund. This was an improvement. We at least finished top. But still the calibre of the teams were below us. We couldn’t seem to transfer our league form to Europe and this was borne out in the next round. We were drawn against Valencia, Ajax and Roma, all teams that we should have been better than but we went out in 3rd place, only Roma below us. There was no transfer to Uefa cup at the second stage so we were out of Europe. But we had bounced back in the league and were top all over Christmas and looking like retention would happen, finally. Some nice results on the way, 3-0 Tottenham, 5-2 West Brom, 3-0 Charlton, 4-1 Leeds, and 3-1 Villa and Sunderland. It was a time when we played lovely football, the neutrals came to love us, we scored almost every match, and Henry seemed to only score magic goals. But then the double came back on How did Giggs miss? So we were looking good when the Fa Cup came around. The first 2 were Oxford and non league Farnborough, we despatched them easily enough only to draw the biggie – Manchester United away. I had a strange feeling of confidence going into this match but Ryan Giggs did everything right early on as he skipped through Arsenal, but somehow managed to miss the easiest goal chance he ever had in his life. It sticks in everyone’s head and I am sure he still has nightmares about it. Watch it on Youtube, you will not believe that he missed. But then Edu (yes that Edu) whacked in a free kick, it took a wicked deflection from the Man U wall and left Barthez in goal no chance. Later the same Edu went on a nice run, slipped the ball cleverly to Wiltord and he jinked past the Utd defence to put our second past Barthez. 2-0 to the Arsenal and a sign that we could retain both trophies and leave the Mancs to cry for the rest of the season. Edu could play, you know Chelsea next and 3-1 after a replay. Then Sheffield Utd in the semi’s and 1-0 to the Arsenal. On to Southampton in the final. Robert Pires scored the only goal and again 1-0 to the Arsenal. Always nice to sing that one, particularly when we win the Fa cup and become the only team to retain it in a long time. And our first time for me as a fan for us to retain a trophy. Wenger was breaking all records. One half of a double – is that such a thing? But a stuttering end to the season in the league including 2 defeats to Blackburn Rovers 2-0 and Leeds 3-2 meant Man Utd had made a comeback and finally finished 5 points above us in 1st. We were second again as we had been many times before to them, on 78. We scored 85 goals in the league, easily the most, 10 above Man Utd, and finished well ahead in London. So no undefeated season for us. Not a bad season but not great. My dream of Champions League seemed to be just a dream and I reckon Wenger’s dream of going undefeated was also just a dream, but I was still going into 2003-2004 with a lot of confidence. We had pushed Man Utd hard, been a little better in Europe and had finally retained a trophy. We were Arsenal, c’mon boys, prove it.
  6. I still feel selling Petit and Overmars was a mistake 2000-2001 Why are we selling? Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars were two of our very best players and would have been on a lot of fans choices for a world squad. They went to Barcelona for 30m. To say I was shocked was an understatement. Top teams don’t sell their best players, but we did. We got Pires, Wiltord, Edu (yes, him) and Lauren as a direct replacement for Nigel Winterburn (37), who was one of the most stalwart players we ever had. We didn’t get a direct replacement for Petit at all. It was baffling. Vieira was still a bit raw, rash, and could get sent off. But he was on his way to being maybe the best in his position in the world. Could he be next? All the early promise of Wenger was disappearing in me. I said last time that maybe we had a better squad of players, if you compared them man to man, than Man Utd but they were achieving more. With those two gone, I could not say that anymore. Pires and Wiltord were not well known to me and I was hoping that Wenger’s knowledge of the French scene would come up trumps. But that was what we were back to, hoping that Henry was better than Anelka, and there was little indication of that in his first season. And now this season, we were hoping that these new players could match up to Petit and Overmars. It was all looking bad and disheartening. We were a long way second to Man Utd for 2 seasons in a row and it seemed that Wenger was settling for second best. Wenger's spies had given us Pires and Wiltord and we were hoping I was annoyed It was annoying as, if our players were better, then we should be in Utd’s position. It seemed that Ferguson’s drive was better than Wenger. I am not sure how many people would have agreed with me that our players were fractionally better at the time but for sure that belief could not hold with Petit and Overmars gone. Arsenal’s, and now Wenger’s dislike of spending money had been the one constant in all the time I had been supporting them. So how did we get on, on the pitch? We started badly with a 1-0 to Sunderland, Niall Quinn heading in a goal. Then we beat Liverpool 2-0 and Charlton 5-3 before going on an average run. Then things picked up, we beat Man Utd and others to finish October level on points with them. Maybe we could do it this time. Henry was starting to score spectacular goals and there was an excitement in the team. We always bounced back But, under Wenger, November always seemed bad and we lost 2 more against Leeds and Everton. It was a real up and down season with big wins and big losses. Man Utd thumped us 6-1 and it was a bit of a pattern under Wenger, we could get destroyed as if we were relegation fodder. The one sure good thing about Wenger was his ability to bounce back from defeat though, and that is a great tribute to his man management skills. Every time we went down he bounced us back up again. This guy always helped us to bounce back Beaten 4-0 by Liverpool on 23rd December? Beat Leicester 6-1 26th December. After that 6-1 v Utd? 3-0 win over the Hammers. Beaten 3-0 by Middlesbrough? Next match, 4-1 v Everton. That is in stark contrast to Emery and Arteta where a slump seems to last. And so we finished second again, 3 seasons in a row. We had seemed to cement our place as second best. Head to head winners And the Champions league? We had struggled in this under Wenger but this season saw a turnaround. We topped the first group on head to head with Lazio with 13 points each. Shaktar Donetsk, and Sparta Prague were the other 2. Then on to another group stage with Bayern Munich, Lyon, Spartak Moscow against us. This time we got through on head to head against Lyon in second place after Bayern topped the group. And so a quarter final against Valencia but they beat us on away goals after 2-1 at Highbury and 1-0 there. Still better than previous years, maybe Wenger was learning how to compete in Europe. He had a fixed belief that players could only play x amounts of matches a season and was always looking to rest players, playing an astounding total of 34 players in all matches. Often once he qualified, he would play reserves and not care about first or second and that often rebounded on him, getting a top team in the knockouts. Not such glory years As you can see, Wenger also came under criticism in his top years, which might surprise some of my younger readers, particularly during this period when we weren’t winning trophies. I loved his style of football, his honesty when answering questions, his devotion to his players, not criticizing them in public and not having the spectacular fallouts that Alex Ferguson regularly conjured up. Wenger didn’t really shout at players, preferring for them to figure out where they had gone wrong themselves. He believed very strongly in giving them belief, and maintaining that belief so that even a bad defeat didn’t overly dent their confidence so we bounced back quickly as I have said earlier. All of this made me believe in him and a consistent second place was better than we had got before, even under George Graham. But I never got used to playing a weakened team and often my heart would sink when I saw the lineout. Irishman Graham Barrett got one game against Ipswich The were 2 trophies still left for us but Ipswich knocked us out 2-1 in the League cup in our first round despite us dominating the match. We played a total second string despite Ipswich being premier league with Graham Barrett getting a very rare game. He was the son of a friend of mine, Gary Barrett, who was also a professional footballer. We never won the league cup under Wenger and he really just used it to try out players. Nearly men? And the Fa Cup? Our trophy? We beat Carlisle 1-0 in the 3rd round and then QPR 6-0. Then Chelsea 3-1 and Blackburn 3-0. That set us up for the Spuds in the semis but despite dominating, Gary Doherty scored in the 14th minute and somehow they hung on until finally Vieira and Pires knocked in goals to set up a final vs Liverpool. We dominated again but somehow they won 2-1 with Michael Owen scoring twice, the second nearing the end to escape with a robbery And so, not a bad season, and we came close to bagging a trophy but I kept hoping for more, particularly as Liverpool, Leeds and Chelsea were starting to push us. We needed to be Arsenal, and we needed to kick the Arse off Man Utd, so could next season be the one? I was always hopeful. Michael Owen broke our hearts
  7. 1999 -2000 All change Yes, he knew This was a defining year for Arsenal, Arsene Wenger and David Dein. This set the pattern for every year afterwards. Arsene Wenger revealed his philosophy and his vision – that running a football club the right way was paramount to all else. Of course, he meant the right way as he saw it. It was exactly parallel to the vision to be unveiled by Roman Abramovich 3 years later. Stability was the order. A state of the art training ground at Colney, paid for by the sale of our new wunderkind, Nicolas Anelka to Real Madrid. Now, Anelka’s family were pushing for this move although it was debatable whether Anelka was. Wenger did want him to stay and develop into an Arsenal icon. Anyone who saw him at Arsenal in those days recognized that an exceptional talent was being formed. But it was in this whole episode that we saw the genius of Wenger. Because he sold Anelka for £23.5 million and paid for the then astonishing Colney training ground, easily the best in the country at the time with £10m and Thierry Henry £11m with Davor Suker coming the other way from Real Madrid for £3.5m. A big mistake? I will take an in depth look at these decisions later but first let me give my impressions of the time. Man Utd, our only serious rival, never worried about spending money. They had given us a lesson in comebackability the previous season. 2 years before, we had won the double of league and cup. Then they won league, cup and the mighty Champions league to put us in our place as second best. But we decided to sell potentially our best player and top scorer in Anelka to pay for a training ground? We got Davor Suker, a Real Madrid castoff and Thierry Henry, a Juventus castoff as compensation? The message was we should forget about competing with Man Utd, who don’t sell their best players, but we put financial security first? I am not sure many of us were happy. Now there is a general belief that Wenger was a genius in the transfer market and he probably was but that was not so evident at the time. Lots of players were coming and going without any impact. 11 players went and 6 came in but most of them were not notable other than the ones mentioned above. The aging Steve Bould was moved on to Sunderland with Oleg Luzhny brought in and Remi Garde retired. Anelka our GOAT? Could have been our greatest? Bergkamp was sublime but never the quickest although he might have had the quickest brain. Anelka seemed to have the world at his feet. He was quick, he was talented, he was scoring goals and surely the perfect foil for Bergkamp or Kanu. But we got rid. And we got Davor Suker who was good, yes, but started out injured and really was mostly used as a sub or in the less important matches. Honestly he wasn’t better than the 3 I have just mentioned. Was he better than Thierry Henry? At that stage it was hard to say. Henry may have won a world cup but he couldn’t score for us and he kept missing chances. Sukor, when he got a chance, seemed to score. Now, I know what you are all saying at this moment. Gus, you are talking nonsense. Henry is probably Arsenal’s best ever player. Anelka ended up playing at the likes of Bolton. Wenger was a genius. I agree, but I didn’t quite know that then, and nor did all that many fans. What we saw was a team that had been weakened by the loss of Anelka and we had got a winger trying to play as a striker who didn’t know how to score. Man Utd were the best team in Europe and Juventus had dumped Henry. Real Madrid had snatched potentially our best player to try and become the best in Europe. And us? We got a winger who couldn’t score and the best training ground in the world. We wondered could the training ground get out on the pitch instead and knock in a few goals? London Colney - the best on the planet It is a magnificent facility, to be fair,and still among the best on the planet although teams with bottomless pockets have come after us. To give you an idea the training centre covers an area of 143 acres, it houses ten full-size pitches, an indoor facility and a medical and rehabilitation centre. Inside the complex there is training and rehabilitation areas, physiotherapy and massage rooms and remedial and hydrotherapy pools. This was when a lot of teams trained on their home pitch. It has undersoil heating, and the grass is designed to mimic Highbury which was generally regarded as being the best kept ground in England if not the world. The landscapers were experts and given the best resources. So with the medical facilities and players were to be given a level of treatment unprecedented as they strived to have players perform at their very best. Ian Wright had moved to West Ham and thought he was being sent back to the dark ages with their facilities and that was before London Colney had opened. Could you imagine what he would have thought if he had been inside it? Easy to be good at such places There are tricks that can be performed at such training grounds, you can make easily it a replica of your home ground or you can make it the same size as your next opponents which helps with your passing and spatial awareness. Your next opponent has a very tight ground and size? Just change your markings and you are ready to train. Ah, but the legend was emerging Henry was slow to score and slow to impress but in September he scored. He was our top scorer that season with 17 in the league and 26 in all competitions. The legend had arrived. Still a bit raw, but he was learning from the intelligence of the players around him, Bergkamp, Kanu, Overmars, Petit, Vieira but don’t underestimate that stubbornness, will to win and ferocity of the back four, particularly Adams and Keown. He was taking from everyone, adding a bit to his game from all, becoming the most feared striker in the Premier League. Henry learned from everyone So was it good business? Getting Anelka and what were regarded as his greedy family to take the money and go so they could pay for stratospheric training and medical facilities plus Thierry Henry? You betcha! No wonder the phrase “Arsene knows” became a byword. But spare a little thought for Nicolas Anelka. At Arsenal maybe he could have been like Thierry Henry, a legend, overtake Ian Wright by far as he was 2 years younger than Henry, developed his game with Wenger looking after him, and learning, like Henry did, from all the stars around him. Instead he was pitched up, still raw, with the galacticos of Madrid where he was gobbled up like Pacman and bounced around football until he ended up with the likes of Sam Allardyce. We might now be talking about him with awe as we do about Henry as the GOAT. Sometimes in life you have got to make the right decisions and instant money isn’t the right answer. You have got to do what is right for you. Ask Arsene Wenger, he knows.
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