Continuing the review of Arsène Wenger’s time at Arsenal. This is the third part of the consideration of 2000/1
by Tony Attwood
One of the great things about this series on Arsène Wenger and his time at the club is that each article draws out the correspondents who while pushing the old line that the club is about to sink, actually help me make the point I want to argue: that it was ever thus.
By the summer of 2001 the fans were mumbling furiously (if one can mumble furiously). We had come second three times running – by 1 point, by 18 points and by 10 points. Worse we had lost to Man U each time. Worse still, the story was doing the rounds: the Arsenal was now just a selling club.
The class acts had gone: Overmars and Petit to Barcelona for £30m (rings a certain bell doesn’t it), Anelka to Real Mad for about £25m… and in reply we had got in players who during 2000/1 were not hacking it.
Stepanovs really got it from the fans for the 6-1 defeat to Man U, Garde and Grimandi were seen as just pals of Wenger from France who should not be at the club, Kanu shone and then frustrated and looked lazy, Luzhny was not the player he had been before coming to us.
Arsenal was a selling club, and the money gained from the sales was used to buy players who were rubbish, that was the story. True Arsène Wenger had actually won us the double, kept us in Europe year after year, and in fact given us a run of league form not seen for 70 years, but none of that was good enough. We were the Arsenal, and we deserved better) although quite how and why this was so was never made clear.
And so it was that the misery of the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal began. Even Pires (yes Pires!) was coming in for criticism, and the fact that three of our players in the top four (in terms of number of games in the EPL) were French suggested dastardly things were afoot. Worse, after the early sendings off in the league there was talk that Vieira was on the way out, and while the AAA hated Arsène Wenger they did at least love Patrick.
2000/1 was also a turning point for the club and Mr Wenger in terms of the Cups. Up to the previous season the League Cup side had always been made up of most of the first team players, although one or two might have a rest. But this season the manager was accused of “disrespecting the club” (it was the first time I ever heard that word “disrespecting”) for the League Cup game against Ipswich in round three – our first game in the competition that season.
Ipswich were a Premier League team this season – they actually finished fifth in 2001, and so were no walkover, but Arsène Wenger chose to play this side against them…
Weston Stepanovs Upson Cole
Vivas Pennant Vernazza Barrell
Not a team of wholly unknowns, at least now, but they were mostly unknown then. Ashley Cole was having his first season getting some first team games, Pennant had not and in fact did not play in the league that year, Vernazza came on twice in the league, Taylor had never played a league match, and was in fact the fourth keeper behind Likic, Manninger and Seaman. Only Wiltord was a full blown first teamer.
As for Rhys Weston, hands up if you remember him. The Arsenal official web site doesn’t – they can’t even find a picture of him, and have no details of the lad at all despite the fact that this was all just 11 years ago.
This was his first and last first team game at home and even here he was taken off to be replaced by Lee Conoville. He went on to Cardiff in 2000 before going to Walsall, and now is (or last season was) at Dundee.
To say there was outrage at the team played would be overdoing it, but there were severe mutterings, and the AAA was probably born at this moment. Disrespect was the new motto. The manager didn’t understand.
We lost 1-2 at home to Ipswich, but this was forgotten as we made the FA Cup Final – (but lost to Liverpool), including on the way a 2-1 win over the Tinies in the semi. The first teamers got games in the FA Cup most of the time, but even here, notably in the sixth round, the tendency to drop players appeared. Henry and Vieira did not play against Blackburn, and there were dark mutterings in the press. The Anti-Arsenal Arsenal who were turning up the volume against the manager were aided by endless press stories of how Mr Wenger, being foreign and all that stuff, would not actually understand the importance of the FA Cup in World History (it was apparently one of the reasons why we won the second world war) but someone should tell him…. You do not drop players for a sixth round tie.
Mr Wenger gave a Gallic shrug and moved on.
There was also another element in the AAA armoury appearing now – that we just couldn’t score. This rose to the fore with the semi against Tottenham where they had about six kicks of the ball, scoring with one of them, and Arsenal looked like they might never score. The wasted chances were more of a talking point than the fact that
a) we had got to the final
b) we had beaten the Tinies
As for the final, this was probably the moment when a few of us thought, perhaps for the first time, “is this ref actually straight?” Henry went round the keeper, shot for goal, dead on target, and Henchoz stuck out an arm to block the shot. The ref seemingly didn’t see it. The story is the linesman said it was “accidental”. Liverpool won. The press hardly noticed the event and ran out the old story about Arsenal missing chances, but somewhere in the background there was a worry. Maybe it was a one off, but maybe there was something wrong at that game.
As for the Champions League we were back at Highbury, which was a relief, having proven to the bankers that we could fill a stadium more than twice the size. This fact didn’t make much in the way of publicity, but it was the final point that gave us the Emirates. The Ems would be full, even if we were not winning trophies.
We played in two group series – and got through the second group only because Lyon didn’t win after we lost 1-0 away to Bayern. We lost in the quarters to Valencia. It was not convincing.
So the season came to an end with runners up medals in the FA Cup, a quarter in the Euro and second in the league. By the standards of all of the preceding century save that amazing spell in the 1930s this was sensational, but there was a new mood about town.
The new century, and this new group of people. People who wallowed in their own misery, who beat themselves up by telling us Arsenal were useless, the manager was useless, everything was useless because we didn’t win every match and every trophy.
At the time I thought that this was rather silly, but was just a temporary blip, although I had a slight worry that Mr Wenger might leave in the light of this criticism and the dreadful, awful chanting against him that was now being heard at every ground. Yet he was made of sterner stuff, and of course the AAA shut up shortly after, but they had found their voice, and would not go away.
Arsenal were a selling club – well we damn well ought to sell most of this team and start again, so the AAA said. Henry was ok, as was Vieira. Parlour had come good under Wenger, and Adams could still do it, although there were questions after the last goal in the cup final. But even Bergkamp was now open to criticism, and as for most of the rest, well, time to throw them out and start again.
And as for that business with the league cup, that had better have been a one-off!