This article was amended (by one word!) on 5 December 2013)
By Tony Attwood
On Untold Arsenal today 22 November 2010, a very irate fan (following the defeat to Tottenham) posted a whole series of comments which basically said that he had been supporting Arsenal for a very long time and this was the worst he had ever seen, and anyone who can’t see that Wenger was to blame was a cretin of the first order.
And as I walked away from the stadium last saturday, I wondered… Is this the worst in a long time?
This is the History Site, and so of course I am going to look back in history – but not very far. Consider this set of results in consecutive matches.
- 18 Oct, Crystal Palace, Away. Drew, 0-0
- 26 Oct, Aston Villa, Home. Drew, 0-0
- 1 Nov, Derby County, Away. Lost, 0-3
- 9 Nov, Manchester U, Home. Won 3-2
- 22 Nov, Sheffield W, Away. Lost 0-2
- 30 Nov, Liverpool, Home. Lost 0-1
- 6 Dec, Newcastle U, Away. Won 1-0
- 13 Dec. Blackburn R, Home. Lost 1-3
Just in case that stretch of results is a bit numbing here’s the summary. We won 2, drew 2, lost four.
You might already know when this was, but in case not, here’s another hint. In the third round of the FA Cup we got Port Vale. Our full first team was playing, and we drew 0-0. In the replay we went through on penalties after extra time.
Have you got it yet?
The season was 1997/98, and if you know your history you will know that that was a year in which we really didn’t do much, except that we… well… won the double.
That season we played 38, won 23, lost six and drew nine. We won the league by five points. An in case you don’t believe me about the Port Vale thing, our team in the 0-0 draw was Seaman, Grimandi, Keown, Bould, Winterburn, Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Anelka, Bergkamp.
Shall I just do a bit of that again? Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Anelka, Bergkamp.
I have to admit that team took me by surprise. I idolise those players, their genius, their ability, the joys they gave me, their everything. And they drew 0-0 with Port Vale, and just managed to win the replay on penalties.
Now there is a point in this, apart from trying to point out the silliness of the comments on Untold today. If you are calling for the evaporation of the manager it is not a bad idea to have some real live facts ready.
In fact if we go back to 2000-1 Man U won the league losing 8 games. Go back to the 1950s and 1960s (significant as the last era in which Tottenham won the league) and losing up to 11 games a season was not unusual for the winning team.
My point here is twofold. One is that just because we have lived through an era of a small number of defeats (an era that started with George Graham’s 1990/1 team losing just one game in a season – and of course getting no special recognition for the media) it doesn’t mean that it is always like this. Indeed after the one-defeat season (“you’ll never see that again” said the media “that was a fluke”), we went back to the norm.
The other is that to claim that one is a long term supporter but this is the worst team ever, is either to suffer from terminal amnesia or to be a complete moron.
Consider if you will, 1994/5 in which we played 42, won 13, drew 12 and lost 17, letting in 49 goals en route to coming 12th. A fairly awful defence you might say. Yup – a team that regularly lined up at the back as Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Keown.
Now I will be fair and say that Adams and Campbell who might have been expected to play a lot were injured for some of the season, but they knocked up 27 and 23 appearances between them, so it wasn’t all useless – and those fellows Bould and Keown could play a bit too.
And we came 12th.
So when people now start writing that Wenger is lucky to have had such a wonderful defence given to him, and that the only reason he won the early trophies was because of this don’t believe a word of it.
The following season we came fifth, under Rioch, and that was another dreadful year – not because we clawed our way up the league but rather because of the style of play and the fact that players like Ian Wright were demanding a transfer. If you don’t believe me, go and watch the videos of that year. It was TERRIBLE.
Oh and in case you were thinking that I am being unreasonable in my analysis I will do the FA Cup for those two years too.
1994/5 Millwall, 3rd round, lost 0-2 at home
1995/6 Sheffield United, 3rd round, lost 0-1 away after a draw at home.
And let me tell you something else, if you think it is bad news to lose once in something like 17 home games to the Tiny Totts, try losing at home to Millwall.
My point therefore is simple – we readily forget the past, and make up all sorts of excuses and reasons to explain something we don’t like in the present. What is happening in 2010/11 is not (at least so far) very different from what has happened much of the time in the not too distant past.
For Tottenham, the win in November 2010 however was a matter of great excitement. They have not won the league in 50 years, while we have been winning it again and again. They have, during the Wengarian era, played Arsenal 35 times. We have won 16, there have been 15 draws and 4 defeats. It is the best era ever for this fixture.
Let’s try another comparison. On 3 January 1933 Arsenal went to Walsall of the Third Division North in the 3rd round of the cup. Arsenal lost 0-2, which was something of a surprise, because Arsenal were top of the league at the time and went on to win the title under Herbert Chapman. The previous season we had come second and lost in the final of the FA Cup. The season before that in 1930/31 we had won the league.
The reason for the defeat was simple – the team selection was all wrong. Black, Warnes and Walsh are not names that survive as part of the 30s mythology – but they all played in that game.
I have no idea if there were idiots around calling for the head of Herbert Chapman at the time. If there were then tragically the following season they got their way as Herbert Chapman died midseason – but Arsenal still went on to retain the league.
So to those screaming on Untold Arsenal’s comments section today – a quick word. Try checking history first.