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Do we need a new centre forward?

By Tony Attwood

Throughout much of 2013/14, the year in which Arsenal won the FA Cup, there was muttering from those opposed to Wenger, that we needed to score more goals and for this we needed a new centre forward. As the Daily Mirror said in the summer of 2014:

After FA Cup success, Arsene Wenger will be looking to build on his squad to contend for the Premier League next season. Top of priorities could be a world-class striker,

It is interesting therefore to look back to an occasion when Mr Wenger himself said we needed more goals.

One case in point was 23 December 2000.  The result was Liverpool 4 Arsenal 0.  After the game Mr Wenger commented that the lack of goals for Arsenal was problematic.  “It has been our problem all season.  We so very rarely score two in a match…”

Yet Arsenal’s team included Parlour, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, Henry, with Pires, Wiltord and Kanu on the bench.  So what happened?  And come to that what would have happened if Arsenal had got rid of its current front line players like Henry and Bergkamp and brought in new players?

After the Liverpool match the table looked like this

    Pld W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester United 19 13 4 2 46 14 +32 43
2 Arsenal 19 10 5 4 30 18 +12 35
3 Leicester City 19 10 5 4 22 15 +7 35
4 Liverpool 19 10 3 6 37 24 +13 33
5 Ipswich Town 19 10 3 6 27 20 +7 33
6 Sunderland 19 9 5 5 19 18 +1 32
7 Aston Villa 18 7 8 3 23 17 +6 29
8 Newcastle United 19 8 3 8 20 24 -4 27
9 Chelsea 19 7 5 7 35 25 +10 26
10 West Ham United 19 6 8 5 25 21 +4 26
11 Tottenham Hotspur 19 7 5 7 26 27 -1 26
12 Leeds United 18 7 4 7 25 25 0 25
13 Charlton Athletic 19 7 4 8 26 30 -4 25
14 Everton 19 6 4 9 20 30 -10 22
15 Southampton 19 5 6 8 24 32 -8 21
16 Derby County 19 4 7 8 23 35 -12 19
17 Manchester City 19 5 3 11 25 33 -8 18
18 Coventry City 19 4 4 11 17 34 -17 16
19 Middlesbrough 19 3 6 10 20 28 -8 15
20 Bradford City 19 2 6 11 13 33 -20 12

So Arsenal had scored 30, and were the third highest scorers, had the second best goal difference, and were in second position in the league.

But for Man U and Liverpool this looked like the perfect moment to shake off their pesky southern rivals.  Man U were set for their third successive championship, and  Liverpool had just beaten both Man U and Arsenal.  For Arsenal (at least from the newspapers) it was all doom and gloom with Liverpool breathing down their necks and this useless forward line.

Worse, Arsenal had not won at Anfield in eight years and hadn’t scored in the last three visits.  For this game Steven Gerrard was in his pomp and glory, and Liverpool must have been dreaming that their long wait for a first division championship would soon be over.  Little did they know that come 2014 they would still be waiting.

So in this game they just kept control of the flow of the match, even though Arsenal kept possession for long spells.

True Adams and Seaman were missing, but even so, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp were up front on the sand, which is what Liverpool made do with for a pitch, there being no grass available.

Jamie Carragher, the man who was found guilty of throwing a coin into the crowd at Highbury, was only booked for a wild wild attack on Bergkamp on 41 minutes.  He should have been sent off.   Babbel, seeing that this ref would send off no one in red, did the same on Henry, who was lucky to escape with two legs still attached to his body.  Babbel’s judgement however was true.  He also got just a booking.  .

Arsenal replaced Oleg Luzhny with Robert Pires at half time, to add to the attacking options, but it didn’t help.

So as we have noted, Liverpool won this game, but ultimately Man U won the league for the third time in a row.  But Liverpool despite all their bravado and big boy talk still only managed to come in third at the end of the season.  Man City at the other end were relegated.

And then what?

Well Liverpool’s great challenge to Man U (Arsenal being considered an irrelevance because of their useless attack of Henry, Pires and Bergkamp) didn’t come to fruition.  In 2001/2 they came third.  By 2002/3 they were fifth.  A fourth in 2004 was a slight reprieve but 5th in 2005 was a new low… until by 2010 they were in 7th and way outside the Champions League promised land.

Arsenal on the other hand did the absolutely impossible.  Winning the Double for a third time (a second under Wenger) in 2002, coming second in 2003, and then going the whole season unbeaten in 2004.  All with a useless attack.

Here’s one other fact that the media liked to ignore in 2004.  Liverpool came fourth that year, but they were so far behind Arsenal that they were closer to relegation than the top of the league.

So quite a turn around, and not bad for a team that simply couldn’t score goals.  Perhaps it is something to remember in all the negativity against the Arsenal forward line that seems to be part and parcel of the club.

 

The Books

 

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