Hello Gooners, it’s been a while since our last post, so i hope this is worth the wait. It has been 18 years since the boss took over as manager of our club and Sir Gunner gave us the opportunity to write a review of those 18 years. While we were very excited about doing a piece like this, we thought we would wait a little while as their were thousands of blogs about the same subject.
So where to begin. I remember 18 years ago the situation we were in. George Graham had been our manager for the best part of a decade and had been very successful on the whole, however he had to go due to financial irregularities, and that left the club in a very uncertain situation. We flirted with Bruce Rioch who had generally done very well with Bolton and he brought one of the best players of the modern game in Dennis Bergkamp to the club. However he was never going to be the man to take us back to the top, so in the summer of 1996 he left after guiding us to 5th in the league.
So we started the season with Pat Rice in charge, which was nice to see, but the situation was far from ideal. The bookies favourite to take over was Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, however David Dein had other ideas. I remember the looking forward to the game against Sheffield Wednesday and it was announced that Arsene Wenger was the man. Now i’m sure we weren’t alone in being completely confused by this, mainly due to the fact we had never heard of him. All we knew was what we heard in reports that he had done well in Japan with Grampus Eight.
“At first, I thought: What does this frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks like a schools more like a schoolteacher. He’s going to be as good George (Graham). Does he even speak English properly?“
Arsenal Captain, Tony Adams
Behind the scenes Wenger had already been getting stuck in, instructing the signings of French duo Patrick Vieira and Remi Garde. Straight away with signings like that it was clear that Wenger did things differently as both were relatively unheard of. That season showed progress in itself as Wenger guided us to finish 3rd in the league, our highest position for 6 years. It wasn’t so much the position we finished but the style of football we were playing was changing. Suddenly after 20 odd years of being labelled boring, we were starting to play exciting football.
In his second season, Arsenal won the Premier League and FA Cup to complete the second league and cup double in the club’s history.The team made up a 12-point deficit on league leaders Manchester United in the final few weeks of the season. Arsenal’s success was built on an already stalwart defence, assembled by former manager George Graham and consisted of Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon and Martin Keown. The defenders contributed to a run of eight consecutive clean sheets between January and March 1998. Wenger regarded striker Dennis Bergkamp as the “catalyst” for the team’s good form towards the end of the season. New signings, Petit as a partner for Vieira, winger Marc Overmars and striker Nicolas Anelka also profited from the manager’s attack-minded principles.
The following three seasons weren’t as successful as we were hoping as we were learning to balance european football with domestic success.There were a series of near misses. In 1998–99 the club failed to retain the league title as they finished second behind Manchester United. United also eliminated Arsenal in a FA Cup semi-final replay, with the winning goal scored by Ryan Giggs; Wenger rued after the match that “it was not our night and we were unlucky”. A year later, Arsenal lost the 2000 UEFA Cup Final to Galatasaray on penalties and in 2001, were beaten by Liverpool in the 2001 FA Cup Final, even though we dominated the majority of the match.
Back in those days I think it was Wenger’s methodical signings that defined him as a manager. Probably his biggest success was in 99 when he put his faith in a clearly talented Thierry Henry who had been in danger of being ruined in Italy. The rest of that story is history. Wenger flexed his muscles in the transfer market in the summer of 2001 going on a spending spree. That summer he brought in Van Bronckhorst, Inamoto, Richard Wright, Francis Jeffers…….. actually forget Francis Jeffers. Most notably he persuaded Spurs’s only decent player Sol Campbell to join the club, which angered a lot of Spurs fans. Wenger knew that the likes of Tony Adams and Lee Dixon weren’t able to go on much longer so he had to strengthen at the back, and Campbell was probably the best there was at the time. Now the rest of the players he signed that summer weren’t world beaters but what it gave us was a decent squad to cover injuries and to give the first teamer’s a reminder that there were plenty of players raring to go should their form drop. That season we won the double.
We had set a standard that was at times difficult to live up to, particularly as Alex Ferguson was facing the toughest test of their dominance in his reign to date. 2002/2003 season we missed out on the league however we won the FA Cup for the 2nd year running beating Southampton 1-0 in Cardiff.
Missing out on the league in 2003 hurt Arsene as winning 2 back to back titles is what really proves your worth as a manager. So in 2003/2004 we were more fired up than ever, Wenger had a point to prove to Alex Ferguson. How could outdo the man? What could he do that Fergie hadn’t already done? There was only really one thing, build an invincible team. Fergie had won it all but there was always the odd slip up on the way. Wenger had to retain the league in a way that had never been done before and that is what he did. He had built a team that had such strength in character that the went the whole season without losing a single game. To make that sweeter they clinched the title at White Hart Lane. Absolutely belting, beat that United. Whatever happened now, Wenger had cemented his place in Arsenal’s history, in British football history, it will take an exceptional man to beat what Arsenal achieved that year. Was that the point that Wenger reached his summit?
When you get to the very top like that, in that fashion, unfortunately the only way more often than not is down. Football changed after the 2004 invincible season. Suddenly money became the main catalyst in the English game, with the takeover that season of Chelsea by Russian Billionaire Roman Abramovich. With the kind of money being pumped into that club, they could just go out and buy whoever they wanted, effectively new boss Jose Mourinho was playing real life Football Manager. In turn, players and agents alike all over Europe became mercenaries.
Yes we mustered up one more trophy (the FA cup win in 2005, that realistically we were lucky to take) but things were about to go dark for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. Slowly but surely we started to lose keys players rather than add key players, starting with captain Patrick Vieira leaving for Italy shortly after winning the cup for us. Reports said that he was becoming a bad influence in the dressing room urging other players to look elsewhere for the money. This was a player that Wenger found out of nowhere really, turned him into arguably the best player of his kind in the world and ultimately let him walk for the money, a trend that would rear its ugly head time and time again.
Concerns started to raise for me when Wenger let Vieira go but failed to replace him. We were not the same without him and that showed in our final season at Highbury that ended with no silverware, something that Gooner’s were not used to now. Wengers man management and tactical decision’s were also starting to come into question for the first time in his reign. Take the champions league campaign, with Ashley Cole injured for a large part and Flamini doing a great job deputising out of position, only to be dropped for the final as Cole was fit again. For me that was completely the wrong way to manage the situation, particularly as Cole screwed us over that summer to push through a move to Chelsea of all clubs, apparently all over 5k a week. The decision resulted in an unhappy Flamini who the following season walked on a free to Milan.
It had become apparent that the club was getting left behind financially and mentally aswell. What followed was sickening, our club seemed to get itself in numerous embarrassing situations on and off the pitch. In each close season we lost all of our key players. We let Pires go because of policy! Henry left to further his career (fair enough). Bergkamp had retired. Sol Campbell left for no apparent reason at all, along with Gilberto Silva, Lauren and Lehmann. Fabregas, Nasri, Van Persie, Toure and Adebayor all allowed to leave mostly to our rivals. The replacements brought in? – Arshavin, Chamakh, Squillachi, Fabianski, Arteta, Andre Santos, Giroud with a Cameo role from Julio Baptista. I have summarised about transfer windows there but my point is the huge gap in class in who went out and who came in.
Question’s have been asked how this was allowed to happen, and there have been mixed answers from no money due to the stadium debt to player power and the lure of ‘bigger’ clubs. My question has always been how can sides with less money go out and sign players like Luis Suarez, Jan Vertonghen, Van Der Vaart, even abroad like Huntelaar and Raul for relatively low price tags and we end up with the above.
I don’t want to labour any more on the past 8 or 9 years as its been at times just farcical but there are many situations that shouldn’t have happened. I can’t believe that it is all Wengers fault which many would have you believe.
The biggest loss of all? DAVID DEIN. I’m not one to believe in coincidences, things started to slide the day that man left. He was Wenger’s partner in crime, he did the business while Wenger ran the team – brilliantly I may add. Essentially Arsene has been doing the job of two men for the last 8 years, in the middle of football’s own financial crisis, in the middle of a funds sapping but essential stadium move. It’s hardly surprising things have slipped with that amount of weight on his shoulders, this is a man under ridiculous pressure. When you think of those circumstances you have to commend the man for keeping us in the top half of the table let alone in the champions league. Just look how it worked out for United and Liverpool in recent years. Also Wenger has had many chances to leave but has stayed to finish the job, when others would have jumped ship for an easier life.
Is it time for a change? I don’t know any more . In my opinion though if you want the Great Arsene Wenger back – get the Great David Dein back!
until next time…………….