Oh how easy it is to forget!
Take for example the second double season: 1997/98. It was all going very well until mid-October. We were undefeated and had beaten Barnsley (yes Barnsley, in the Premier League) 5-0 and there we sat, top of the table. Anyone who had had doubts on Arsenal signing a Frenchman as manager (“He’s French, what does he know about English football?” in Tony Adams immortal words) were long since pushed aside. Arsenal were back.
OK it was true we hadn’t actually done anything yet, in terms of winning stuff, but that first Wenger season had looked good and that Patrick Vieira could play a bit – not bad for £3.5m!
But then, as can happen, it all went wrong, and the next eight games, after that top of the table appearance in October, were awful. We won two of those games, drew two of them 0-0, and lost to Derby, and then 2-0 to Sheffield Wednesday, on 22 November.
So why pick a defeat as my moment to highlight for 22 November. Aren’t there better 22 November moment to remember?
Yes of course there are, and if you would like to see a list of the anniversaries of this day, with some details of each event that is published on the AISA Arsenal History Society site along with a rather jolly video taken from today in history, which I think you might enjoy.
But what made that loss to a very ordinary but immensely physical Sheffield Wednesday on this day, and what made me choose it, was that Arsenal had played Manchester United on 9 November and despite the media expecting an easy Man U victory, Nicolas Anelka standing in for the suspended Dennis Bergkamp scored his first goal for Arsenal while Patrick Vieira added a second. Cue mumblings about “all these foreigners in the game not being good for the English league,” in the newspapers. Sheringham then scored twice for Man U to prove the mumblers were right, before David Platt got the winner with seven minutes left. See, if only Arsenal had more Englishmen…
Sir Alex Ferguson, who if not actually disgruntled was not exactly gruntled either, announced that he didn’t mind too much because a one horse race was not good for the game.
But that result did not set up an Arsenal revival. True, it ended a run of three without a win against modest opposition (Palace, Villa and Derby) but in terms of the league all that seemed to count for nought as the defeat to Sheffield Wednesday on this day left Arsenal four points behind Man U.
But there was worse to come, for this match on 22 November was the start of a run of just two wins in the next seven Premier League matches. By 28 December after a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane, Arsenal were sixth in the league, 12 points behind Man U who were still sitting pretty at the top and who had already been crowned champions by the media, now kow-towing fully to the all conquering Sir Alex.
And worse was to come as on 3 January we even failed to beat Port Vale at home in the FA Cup, and subsequently only managed to win the replay on penalties.
Of course what no one knew then was that a 2-1 win on Boxing Day in the League was the start of a 27 match unbeaten run in the League and FA Cup which gave us the title, rounded off on 16 May with a win over Newcastle at Wembley to give us the double.
12 points behind the leaders, half way through the season? That’s nothing.