Why the first friendly of the season doesn’t really tell us much about what is to come

On 22 September 1996, Arsene Wenger was appointed manager of Arsenal, but although there were many rumours concerning his appointment before that, for a lot of the summer there was uncertainty as to what was going on at the club.

Bruce Rioch was sacked on 12 August, and at the time no one knew who the new Arsenal manager was going to be.   But a look at the pre-season results show us why the board had had enough…

A 0-6 away win to St Albans City on 19 July, with a team including many of the first team regulars like Dixon, Merson, Stephen Hughes etc, told us little, but the defeats that followed revealed a lot:

  • 27 July 1996: Birmingham 1 Arsenal 0
  • 31 July 1995: Celtic 2 Arsenal 1
  • 3 August 1996: Rangers 3 Arsenal 0
  • 7 August 1996: Fiorentina 2 Arsenal 0; Benfica 3 Arsenal 1 (two 45 minute games)
  • 10 August 1996: Ipswich Town 1 Arsenal 1

It was a pre-season run that spelled disaster, but actually preceded a season of significant success as Mr Wenger came in and quickly sorted things out.   After a victory over West Ham on the opening day of the season and a defeat to Liverpool, with Mr Wenger guiding matters on the phone from Japan, and negotiations afoot to bring in his men (Patrick Vieira was one of the most notable) Arsenal went on a ten match unbeaten run, and eventually ended third in the league, missing out on a Champions League spot only on goal difference.   It was the start of a glorious era.

Here are the anniversaries

19 July 1915:  The FA and Football League held their AGMs. The League voted in favour of paying footballers during wartime, the FA against it, resulting in chaos.  Eventually the League conceded. The FA then met the League and the Southern League and agreed there would be no FA Cup, but there could be regional leagues in the north and midlands.  This left the south and the north east without any football. Scotland had already voted to continue with professional football.

19 July 1954: Joe Haverty signed from St Patrick’s Athletic, and although only 18 immediately made his debut for Arsenal.  He stayed until 1961 when he moved to Blackburn.

19 July 1995: Alan Smith announced his retirement.  Between 1987 and 1995 he played 264 league games for Arsenal, scoring 86 goals.  He went on to have a career as a commentator and reporter.

19 July 1996: A 0-6 away win to St Albans City on this day, with a team including much of the first team regulars like Dixon, Merson, Stephen Hughes etc, did not prepare supporters for four subsequent defeats and a draw in the rest of the pre-season.  Fortunately a new manager was ready to step in.

19 July 2003: Arsenal drew with Barnet 0-0 after losing to Peterborough.  Yaya Toure played as a trialist but Arsène Wenger saw him as “completely average” and did not follow up the option of signing the player.  

19 July 2007: Gençlerbirliği 0 Arsenal 3 (Van Persie 2, Walcott).  The seven match pre-season run saw the introduction of Bacary Sagna and Eduardo into the squad.

19 July 2008: Barnet 1 Arsenal 2 (Simpson, Barazite) The start of a 9 match preseason run in which Arsenal were unbeaten, including a 1-0 win over Real Madrid 

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