Wenger in 2001/2: the violence of Old Trafford and the start of the maiming era

by Tony Attwood

I have mentioned already that the start of the 21st century saw the start of serious doubts about referees where bizarre decisions started to cost us games – not least in the cup final of last season against Liverpool.

2001 continued the theme and again we looked at Liverpool as the team that seemed to be getting the benefits.  In the away league  game this season in December van Bronckhurst fell over in the penalty area.  He made no claim for a penalty, and indeed no one made a fuss.  Except the ref who sent him off for diving.  Despite this Arsenal won, and moved into second place not too far behind Man U who were on an 8 match winning sequence.

This, and victories over Chelsea and Middlesbrough had brought the year to a more promising end.

Of course if you know any Arsenal history you know what happened next.  From February onwards we won 13 games in a row, and that defeat against Newcastle proved to be the final defeat of the season.

We did not lose an away game all season in the league, the first time that happened since 1892, although you wouldn’t have known it from the media.

But if there is a memory that sticks in my mind, without going back and looking anything up, it is the match on 8 May away to Manchester United.

It is not just the victory, nor Wiltord’s goal.  It is not the banner in the away section proclaiming that it was the Champions Section of Old Trafford although all these will stay forever.  It was the sheer unadulterated violence of the match.  The tackling was not fierce, it was threatening, completely over the top and 99% unpunished.  It was as if the ref was saying, “you might be about to win the league, but this is a warning.  Don’t think you can do it again”.

Why did he let such awful tackles go?  Why did the commentary team on TV not pick up on the destruction of football by Man U, and their repeated attempt to maim Arsenal?

Man U of course were aggressive – we were taking away their crown and stopping them out-doing the three in a row that Arsenal had shown to be possible in the 1930s.  No one had or has beaten that.  But this went far beyond anything we had seen before which had gone unpunished.  It was the start of the maiming era in football – the era that led ultimately to Shawcross and the rest.

As for the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal (now being renamed on Untold as the “under 12s supporters club” on the grounds that want it all now, and no excuses) they were increasingly vociferous up to and including the Newcastle defeat at home on 18 December, but then vanished, pretending as always they had never been there.

So Arsenal won the league, seven points clear of Liverpool and ten clear of Man U.  Man U actually scored eight goals more than us.  Tottenham came ninth.

Ipswich, Derby and Leicester went down with Man City, WBA and Birmingham City coming up (the latter arriving after coming fifth in the league).  In the third division Brighton, Reading and  Stoke were promoted to the second, while Luton came up from the fourth to the third (again use a straight counting of 1 2 3 4 to number the leagues to avoid confusion as the names changed).  Halifax dropped out of the league.

For the battle of Old Trafford our team was…


Lauren Campbell Keown Cole

Parlour Vieira Edu Ljunberg

Kanu Wiltord

Henry and Adams were injured.  Dixon came on as a sub for Kanu near the end.

Henry ended the season with 24 goals from 33 games.  Vieira, Wiltord and Bergkamp also played over 30 league games.  Adams only made it 10 times – a sign of the end of the famous back five.

The much derided Stepanovs was still in the side with six appearances.  Jeffers came on six times and there was one youngster who made it into the team for the first time from whom much was expected: Aladiere.

Oh well, can’t win them all!

Next in the series: 2001/2 – the cups.

The whole “Wenger”  series, so far… (in reverse order!)

Wenger stands up to the journalists and the Anti-Arsenal campaign

Remember when we lost 6-1 to Manchester United

2000/1: Barca steal our players, and the passport fiasco

Of the 13 bottom clubs in the Premier League in 1999/2000 only 3 are still in the top division.

1999/2000 – Mr Henry arrives

After the double, the Sheffield affair

Mr Wenger’s second season – the closeness of failure and success

Mr Wenger’s second season – who played, and the comparison of results

Mr Wenger’s second season

Mr Wenger’s first season

Before and after Arsene

The season before Arsene: what happened on the pitch

The Bruce Rioch Year – the man, the myth

5 Replies to “Wenger in 2001/2: the violence of Old Trafford and the start of the maiming era”

  1. There was one incident in this match that left me astounded. In front of the referee, van Nistelrooy walked up to Ljungberg and punched him in the stomach. Ljungeberg doubled up and went down. The referee took no action and it was never mentioned again – probably because we won the league that night.

    Man Utd had a team at the time that was notorious for being nasty when things weren’t going their way but,for some unknown reason, they got away with it. Another example was the 1998/9 game at Highbury when the Man Utd players took turns at kicking Patrick Vieira. As each player got booked, the next one had a go. What made the headlines was when Vieira had had enough and clashed heads with Stam. He got kicked all over the park and was made to look the bad guy!

    And let’s not forget why Henry was missing that night. He was serving a 3 match ban for his actions after the Newcastle game when Graham Poll (once again) had both sets of fans chanting “you don’t know what you’re doing”. The FA took more than FOUR months of deliberating before slapping a ban on Henry which coincided with the Man Utd game.

  2. There was also the systemic kicking of Reyes by the Nevilles and Scholes a couple of years later in the cup semi. Jose was never the same player after that as he realised he would never get any protection in the English game when up against model professionals like the aforementioned trio.

  3. I’m sure Tony will get onto that soon. There is a video of the Reyes assassination on Youtube. If ever there was any evidence required for the downright corruption of refereeing then that was it.

  4. There is no such group called “Anti-Arsenal Arsenal” when you talk about Arsenal fans. It makes no sense. Arsenal fans cant be anti-Arsenal, hating Wenger doesnt make them anti-Arsenal, but anti-Wenger, don’t twist things up.

  5. I think you are right Armoury, and I am dropping the AAA name. I’ve started to call them the under 12s on Untold, since their logic and analytical ability is equivalent to that of an average 11 year old.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *