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By Tony Attwood
Continuing the story of the 2000/2001 season in the series that reviews Mr Wenger’s time at Arsenal.
By the end of 2000 we had lost four matches including a horrible 4-0 at Liverpool and were looking nothing like the team that had been top of the table early in the season. Man U started the new year eight points clear, and Arsenal didn’t win any of their opening three league games of 2001.
Then came the almighty collapse: a 6-1 defeat to Manchester United in the game where reputedly Mr Wenger for once went utterly mad at half time. It was a game where most of us can still remember where we were when it happened, and what we said afterwards.
And even after that it wasn’t all over. In April we even lost at home 0-3 to Middlesbrough. In hindsight it seems we waited with dread for any score for a match we weren’t at (although these days we can pick up the latest football scores any time).
The team for that awful Man U match was
Luzhny Stepanovs Grimandi Cole
Silvinho Parlour Vieira Pires
Viva and Ljungberg came on for Cole and Parlour.
Looking back it was a fairly horrible defence – and I still don’t think it was all Stepanovs’ fault, although most disagree. Everyone was being pulled out of position. Cole was in his first season, Grimandi had a very poor game where he was normally solid if not spectacular, Luzhny never showed the form that had been with him before Arsenal, and a central midfield of Parlour and Vieira didn’t work at all, any more than Silvinho in midfield. Having Pires, Henry and Wiltord attacking could have been wonderful against a lesser team but with no solid midfield behind them it left them all in no-man’s-land.
So the talk turned to Wenger’s ineptitude in the transfer market – forgetting the delivery of Pires and Henry the focus was on the lack of enough defenders of quality. Why had we let Petit go? He had played 24 times for us in the previous season – how we needed him, or someone like him in this match. (Of course it should have been Edu in there, but that passport matter was still a problem). When the Edu situation developed why not try someone else? Had he really thought Stepanovs could make it?
Of course these were reserve players and we were digging deep into the depths of the reserves, but such arguments never cut it with the emerging negativists.
There’s no doubt that Keown and Adams were a great pair, but it was clear by the end of the season there was no real replacement for them of quality. Grimandi could hack it solidly, and would often do well, with one of them by his side. And the full backs – everyone could see the talent Cole had, but he was still in his first full season, and Luzhny was never looking a full-time replacement for Dixon. Lauren was taking his time.
Looking at some of these results towards the end of the season it is amazing that we actually managed to come second in the league although ten points behind Man U. The league table printed in Arsenal the illustrated history looks curiously wrong to me – but I have not laboured through everyone’s records to check. Certainly the league details printed there are quite different from that in English Football League tables, and that book tends to get it right, so if you are tempted to get out your Illustrated, beware. Something is wrong somewhere.
But still, Liverpool who had given us the other thrashing of the season were only one point behind us, and Leeds only one behind them. Tottenham finished in the bottom half of the table, which was a relief, and Manchester City, Coventry City and Bradford City all went down. Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton came up.
Elsewhere in and near London (and numbering the top for leagues as 1 2 3 4, since they were not numbered as they are today), QPR sank from Division 2 to Division 3, while Millwall went the other way. Luton went down to Division 4 and Barnet dropped out of the league into the Conference.
Finally, looking at the appearances in the league there was only partial hope that we were finding that many gems for the future. Lauren played 18 games, mostly as a sub, and was looking possible, Cole 17 and did look good, while Manninger had 11 games.
Beyond that it didn’t look too smart. Vivas (11), Stepanovs (9), Venazza (2), Upson (2), Danilevicus (2) and Maltz (1) didn’t really impress. I know Upson went on to greater things, but at that moment, I certainly didn’t see it. Edu did get his passport and played five times so that was a greater hope, but that was just about it.
We had come runners up three times running. Good in comparison with anything since the 1930s, but after the double, more was being expected.
In the next article I’ll take a look at the cup matches for the season, and at least we got close to a trophy – but not close enough.
Elsewhere: The Untold Tactical Review