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Arsenal: before and after Arsène

By Tony Attwood

My feeling is that there are many people who claim to be Arsenal supporters who believe the mantra that “this is the worst Arsenal team ever”.  My personal remembrance, backed up by videos of the pre-Wengerian seasons is that what we see now is several million light years ahead of what we used to get.

When Arsène Wenger came to the club he came to a club in crisis and turmoil.  In the latter years under Graham the results had been poor.  Following the historic 1990/91 season in which we had won the league with just a single defeat and only 18 goals against our results were

Season Manager Position
1991/2 Graham 4th
1992/3 Graham 10th
1993/4 Graham 4th
1994/5 Graham (dismissed) 12th
1995/6 Rioch 5th
1996/7 Wenger

This then was not an all conquering club, and those of us who were there at the time well remember thinking that after the two Graham championships we could be in for another long wait.

George Graham spent much of the latter part of his era fending off criticism about his squad – just as Wenger has to do now.  In George’s case it was a question of midfielders.  The fans wanted a Brady II, and George couldn’t find one.  In fact he said in one interview that he was so fed up with being asked at every interview why he didn’t sign a midfielder, he had had a t-shirt made with the slogan “I am trying to sign a midfielder” on it, with the aim of wearing it at a press conference.  His view was the right player was not available.

But there is another issue that is often mentioned in relation to the changeover between Graham and Wenger: the back five.

The team that Pat Rice as caretaker manager put out for the first game of the 1996/7 season was

Seaman

Dixon Bould Linigham Winterburn

Jensen Morrow

Parlour Bergkamp Hartson Merson

and one can argue that was a hell of a team to have available – especially with Tony Adams recovering from injury and Ian Wright on the sidelines.

But in the 1994/5 season much of this team was also available – although hit by injuries.  True there was no Bergkamp but there was Alan Smith, and the fact is that before Wenger arrived the back four was looking as if their time had been and gone and that a new defence was needed.

Arsène Wenger arrived just after another appointment – Liam Brady as head of youth development.  Wenger even made  two signings before actually arriving in London: Partick Vieira (£3m) and Remi Garde (free).  It looked as if the new boss might be ready to change the team considerably.

Pat Rice announced (undoubtedly without talking to the new boss) in the programme that he was looking to get back to some 1-0 to the Arsenal type victories, which I must admit as a season ticket holder who had never heard of Arsène Wenger, did not fill me with much excitement.  Nor did the signing of Vieira and Garde since I had never heard of them.

Arsenal played seven league matches before Arsène Wenger arrived, under the guidance of Pat Rice and Stewart Houston – Houston resigning after the defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach in the Uefa Cup.

In that sequence we won four, drew two and lost one.  One will always stand out for me: Arsenal 4 Sheffield Wednesday 1, 16 September 1996.  Roger (my dear friend with whom I went to Arsenal for more years than I remember, and to whom the book “Making the Arsenal” is dedicated) and I sat in the North Bank watching the game, arguing for much of the time about the wiseness or otherwise of bringing in a non-English manager to run the club.   Adams had already famously said something along the lines of “what does he know about English football?” which did not bode well.

Neither of the first two Wenger signings had been seen, and we were watching the regular team have a rather nice win, when Pat sent on Patrick, and this guy with the long legs came on for Platt (whom Roger thought was a total Pratt).

Now Roger and I played this game with new players of trying to make instant judgements as to how good or bad they were going to be.   He never forgot my early judgement on Theirry Henry (along the lines of “what the fuck is he doing out on the left wing?”), but in retaliation I always reminded him of my opening comment about Vieira.

Of course I can’t be sure these were my exact words, but they were something like, “Vieria’s just taken control of the entire game”.

It is a very strong memory – Patrick took up a position in the middle of the pitch, and then just loped around taking the ball, running forward, passing, pointing, moving.   I remember it as an immediate event.  No warm up time, no getting used to the pitch or the players.  He just walked in and did it.  I don’t think he spoke any English at the time either.

Patrick played his first ever full match for Arsenal in Pat’s last game as manager – a 2-0 away win at Middlesbrough.  When Adams came on in that game as a sub we had the Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould and Adams back five playing (although to be fair Adams came on for Dixon, so they weren’t all there together.)

Now we could see what the new man would do with the old team.

Mr Wenger came in for the second leg game of the first round of the Uefa cup, and we were knocked out (2-3 on both legs).  Not a great start, but the league position looked healthy, although there was a feeling that Arsène was going to have to clean out a lot of the old timers to make a real challenge.

Untold Arsenal and Arsenal History on Twitter @UntoldArsenal

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Untold Arsenal Index

History of Arsenal with a new series on the Rioch year, comparing that with the current team.

Making the Arsenal – the book of Arsenal death and rebirth

22 comments to Arsenal: before and after Arsène

  • vretou

    @Tony, Wenger’s real problem is he has no idea how to get a team to defend. Lets think about it when he came into power at Arsenal, he inherited the golden 5 of Seaman, Keown, Adams, Dixon and Winterburn and he started teaching and bringing in players to simply go forward and pass the into the net. Yeh this worked because when we won the league in 98′ we only conceded something like 20 goals. Then came the invincibles who played such fast, quick football that we were 3-0 up against teams in 30mins. But even with this team Wenger did get EXTREMELY lucky; y? well Cole came thru the ranks, K.Toure actually started playing left wing at Arsenal till Wenger saw he could play a CB, Lauren was brought in as a RM and then tried as RB, Lehmann was cheap and extremely lucky and as for Campbell well campbell was the only World Class defender Wenger ever signed and even then he was for FREE!! yes he did try R.Wright, Cygan, Luzhny, Stepanovs, Senderos etc etc but he was sooooooo fixed on passing the ball and going forward that he forgot and neglected the BACKDOOR!! in my opinion hire Adams and Keown as defence coaches

  • Simon

    Well I don’t agree with that opening line ; Finishing fifth and getting into Europe in Rioch’s first season were probably the limit of our ambitions.

    Rioch was of course reportedly sacked for being too reluctant to spend in the transfer market and improve the team. Sound familiar? I’m sure you have all heard of the French International who was about to sign with the red n white pen from Bordeaux, until Rioch got cold feet, and he went off to Juventus instead!

    I don’t know anyone who has called this the ‘worst Arsenal team ever’ but rather the frustrations of being so close, seeing the same old failings season after season, and it being so bloody expensive to go and watch.

    You can’t compare the early 80’s shite we had to watch to the current team, as it’s a completely different ball game now, for both the club and fans.

  • h

    I think I have said thousands of times now – the football in the late 70s and early 80s when I was following Arsenal was mostly shite. Far far worse than now. But…..and please read this carefully…..the club wasn’t mismanaging our expectations. It wasn’t destoying decades of history in a bid to compete with Europe’s elite, it didn’t claim to be 1-2% away from the then perennial champions Liverpool, it didn’t charge its supporters with the most expensive ticket prices in history, it didn’t claim to have £40m to spend on players, it didn’t exploit its supporters at every opportunity with loyalty schemes and 3 kits a season. Basically it was an honest club run by honest people, as opposed to a faceless football franchise bolted on to the side of a property company.

    Dear me….do some people actually understand why supporters are frustrated at all ?

  • OpenUrEyes

    Your conveniently leaving out the cup success in that timeframe.

    Also just because someone has been successful before it doesn’t it is an excuse for not performing in more recent history.

    All that has to be said.

  • Samuel

    It,s not Arsene,s fault if his two useless wingbacks
    Sagna and Clichy doze off time and again during a match
    or Gibbs won,t get forward or Song having to cover for two inept wingbacks who are way past their sell by dates?

  • Samuel

    It,s not Arsene,s fault if inept linesmen can,t see an
    onsides goal scored but can see an offsides one scored ?

  • Sharad

    jesus christ the NB went ballistic went bergkamp scored the winner against bolton . Finishing 5th after GG left was a massive success ; looking back we had a young DB10 in the side so weren’t exactly filled with dread about the future. I think a lot of fans were filled with optimism .

    I think this is a sensationalist pile of monkey excretion quit frankly mate

  • ArsenalDNA

    Arsene’ players don’t know how to defend? (@ 1st comment)

    Wenger won the league unbeaten with HIS defence!

  • Muppet

    This article is a little unfair. I do agree that Wenger has taken us to the next level, but on the other hand, the table above understates the achievements of GG somewhat. Two league titles, 1 FA Cup, 2 league cups, European Cup Winners Cup, and finalist of the European Cup Winners Cup – not to be sniffed at.

    But I agree with the overall thrust of the article. The overall quality of Wenger’s arsenal is such that people look to us and are comparing us to the european elite – Barcelona/Inter Milan/Manchester United/Chelsea. The expectation level is that we should now be winning the PL and reaching the latter stages of the CL – every year. No arsenal team before Wenger were expected to win the european cup/CL.

    Before the moaners come on and lament the Stoke and Birmingham games – let me remind them that the supposed barren 6 years have yielded 1 appearance in the CL final, one semi final appearance, and 2 quarter final appearances in the CL. Never happened before Wenger. Not even close.

    And finishing 2nd, twice third, and twice 4th – all eclipses GG from 1992.

  • Muppet

    Why am I constantly in moderation ?

  • Tony Attwood

    The notion about not managing expectations is interesting. I certainly remember reading comments in the 60s in which the club were openly acknowledging that the way to keep Arsenal fans on the terraces was to buy a big name striker every two years. That was not just management it was cynical.

    Also it is true that finishing 5th after the previous years was success – but that merely reflects on the fact that we had fallen from the height of winning the league after losing only one match.

  • Tony Attwood

    Explanations for moderation are given regularly and permanently on the Untold site, but I suspect not here – I will check and see.

    EVeryone commenting for the first time on this site, and separately on Untold, is held in moderation. After that anyone who includes a link in a comment is held in moderation.

    Further, Untold and History try to avoid publishing comments that are off topic or which include abuse either of people in the club or the author/s of articles. We also try to avoid publishing comments copied elsewhere, and we try to avoid comments from writers who use multiple email addresses, or different names writing from one email address.

    Where we find this happens writers are put permanently in moderation.

    The system is certainly not foolproof and can be annoying I know, but the aim is to avoid issues which annoy me, and others involved in the site, and quite a few readers. Also please do remember this site is written and run by volunteers who spend time trying to put across their ideas and put them up for discussion, and none of us is much impressed with those who dismiss a 1000 word article that may have taken several hours to write, with four lines and a spot of abuse.

    Tony Attwood, editor of Untold Arsenal, and Arsenal History

  • Sharad

    I remember that final game of the season. One of Bergkamps greatest goals and at the time it felt like it really meant something.

    We also missed out on a trip to Wembley that season courtesy of the away goals rule and compared to the previous season things were on the up. Would hardly have called us a club in turmoil at the time? In fact the only thing I can remember grumbling too much about was the chopping and changing of the managers and spending the best part of 6months either side of Riochs reign with caretaker coachs.

  • Sharad

    Under Graham we became a cup side, but with George we always looked like winning something every year.

    Nobody doubts Wenger’s impact, but lets be honest, since the last of GG team left, we’ve only won the FA Cup.

  • vretou

    After Blackburn John Cross even wrtote a report about the unrest within arsenal supporters and the growing frustrations aimed at wenger./
    Its not just forums where people hate Wenger its many parts of the ground.

    It has been getting like that all season and regular arguments are all over the block where I am situated every single game.

  • Muppet

    Sharad – that is false. The invicibles was built from the bottom up by Wenger. Don’t discount our champions league runs either.

    Vretou – John Cross makes his living out of pilloring Arsenal and writing negative articles.

  • Andy Kelly

    vretou, we conceded 33 goals in 97-98. 6 years later we conceded only 26 goals without any of Graham’s defence.

    Comparing Graham’s first 8 years with Wenger’s last 8 isn’t fair. Graham’s teams went stale from 92-93. It was hard work watching them and Graham admitted he was struggling to motivate the players.

  • Wegin van Wegsie

    So what happened after Graham got into that bad run of league positions? Was he given a multi-million dollar deal to stay with the club for the next four years, on the basis of having won the league and some cups in his first few seasons?

    Actually, would anyone care to speculate how long the board would’ve stuck with Graham if it wasn’t for the tapping-up?

  • Yusuf

    Guyz simple question tell me
    1. How Arsenal became 3rd most richest club of the world?
    2. Moved to Emirates Stadium?
    3. With such low budget Wenger managed 2 qualify for UCL every year ?
    IN AW I TRUST

  • Andy Kelly

    @ Wegin Van Wegsie

    The board & Graham had agreed that he would step down at the end of 94-95 and take a place on the board.

    Talk about having the rug pulled from beneath you!

  • Amr

    @h – 9/10.

  • lordhillwood

    @ Andy

    Whilst the board may have agreed that with George his being caught being paid by agents for buying their players put an end to that dub sharp quick. As a gooner of 46 yrs one poster put it right Arsenal went from being a club to a business that ruthlessly shakes down its consumers, changed its demographic target audience to a more wealthy one and is busy pricing the loyal element of many decades out of the game.

    the ticket price increase netted 4 million pounds, in a recession madness, do they really need that 4 million ? if so sell Denilson save 4 mill on his wages and recoup 8 million in selling +hold prices down.

    Whilst team are mentally on holiday after throwing away carling cup and the league increasing prices laps of dishonour were pointless someone in communication dept needs firing

    The board need to wrest control of their company back from Wenger. He must not be buying selling doing contracts or wages when he is so close to the players, that isnt objective neither is the money to be spent his.

    He should be requested to give Gazidis a want list and a leaving list, Ivan to sell, judge value and buy and deal with contracts, Wenger to concentrate on the pitch and nothing else, no more 5 hour meetings about catering

    If wenger wont accept this then he has to go, no man is bigger than the club. It’s obscene fans paying the highest prices in football are forced to sit and watch their manager waste 111million in wages, not focus that on 1st team yet pay inarticulate youth a fortune who then do little to deserve this level on income, Eastmond JET etc.

    We have Harrods ticket prices but Lidl transfer policy, the board will sit up and take notice when we dont qualify for the champions league and 40 million of TV money is lost but thats too late

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