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Life Under Rioch: 18 November 1995

I have often made the point that if only those people who have complained about football under Wenger could remember our previous manager, Bruce Rioch, they would probably shut up.

Now others have argued that it wasn’t that bad as the club ended up fifth during Rioch’s year, qualified for Europe and brought in two big name signings.

True we spent over £12m on Platt and Bergkamp, and lost Campbell and Schwarz.  True we ended up 5th.  But even so…

Take for example 18 November 1995: Tottenham 2 Arsenal 1 – a game which came during a period in which Arsenal won just four games in 15.

That game left us third in the league – but we were already 11 (yes eleven) behind the leaders.  And things were about to get worse.  Here are the results for that sequence…

Date 1995/6 Home team Score Away team Result
30 October Bolton W 1-0 Arsenal L
4 November Arsenal 1-0 Man U W
18 November Tottenham H 2-1 Arsenal L
21 November Arsenal 4-2 Sheffield W W
26 November Arsenal 0-0 Blackburn R D
2 December Aston Villa 1-1 Arsenal D
9 December Southampton 0-0 Arsenal D
16 December Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea D
23 December Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal L
26 December Arsenal 3-0 QPR W
30 December Arsenal 1-3 Wimbledon L
2 January Newcastle U 2-0 Arsenal L
13 January Middlesbrough 2-3 Arsenal W
20 January Arsenal 1-2 Everton L
3 February Arsenal 1-1 Coventry D

By the evening of the match on 3 February with all the results counted the league table looked like this…

P W D L F A GD Pt
1 Newcastle United 24 18 3 3 47 19 +28 57
2 Manchester United 25 14 6 5 46 29 +17 48
3 Liverpool 25 13 7 5 48 21 +27 46
4 Aston Villa 24 12 6 6 32 18 +14 42
5 Tottenham Hotspur 25 11 9 5 33 24 +9 42
6 Blackburn Rovers 25 12 5 8 40 27 +13 41
7 Nottingham Forest 25 10 10 5 35 34 +1 40
8 Chelsea 25 10 9 6 30 25 +5 39
9 Arsenal 25 10 8 7 33 25 +8 38
10 Everton 25 10 7 8 37 28 +9 37

Arsenal were 9th and now 19 points off the top placed club.  True we had seen little signs of improvement, particularly from Bergkamp, but even so it was a tough time.

So was there an Anti-Arsenal movement within Highbury at the time, demanding the removal of Rioch?

As far as I recall no, there wasn’t.  Many of us were bemused by what he was doing, and Rioch himself did little to explain what was going on.  Watching this game the clear impression was that Tottenham were well-organised, Arsenal were not – which given the nature of our team was hard to accept.

We took the lead through a Bergkamp goal, – it was his 8th in nine games, and the thought was that we should from this point be powering ahead.  If not ahead to win the league, then at least to secure a top three finish.

But instead we allowed Sheringham to get Tottenham back into the game with an equaliser. Tottenham then changed tactics, Merson was marginalised, and there was in particular no one who looked able to deputise for Ian Wright who was suspended.  Dennis couldn’t do everything on his own.

Tottenham scored from an Arsenal corner, Dozzell clearing to Sheringham, who, knocked it on to Armstrong, on to Fox who flicked it in and Sheringham scored.  In the second half he went on to score the winner.   It was Rioch’s first derby, and when asked what he had learned from it he said, “Don’t lose”.  Not very inspiring.

So what was the team like at this time that was about to go rippling down the league?

Here are the key first team squad players with the appearances clocked up that season…

Age

Signed

Appearances

1

Seaman

31

1990

38

2

Dixon

31

1988

38

3

Winterburn

31

1987

36

5

Bould

32

1988

19

6

Adams

28

1983

21

7

Platt

29

1995

29

8

Wright

31

1991

31

9

Merson

27

1985

38

10

Bergkamp

26

1995

33

11

Helder

26

1995

24

12

Linighan

33

1990

18

13

Bartram

33

1994

1

14

Keown

29

1984

34

15

Parlour

22

1992

22

16

Hartson

20

1995

19

Now you can’t exactly say there were not some good names in there.  But the team struggled to be organised and that period including the defeat to Tottenham was not a good time to be supporting Arsenal.

It wasn’t that on 18 November 1995 we lost to Tottenham, it was the whole long run of poor results, the tumble down the table, and the lack of a coherent way out.   If you were there you may also remember that over time Ian Wright was moved onto the wing, and ultimately asked for a transfer.  It was not a solution that really worked in itself, although finally Arsenal did qualify for Europe on the last day of the season by ending up fifth.

 

The books…

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