History is often the thing that gets taken for granted, especially in an ever growing, fast-paced society with little time to remember the reasons things came to be in the first place. History, however, is ingrained within us all and, sometimes without us knowing, is what makes us who we are.
1886 was the year the Royal Arsenal Football Club was created by a group of workers providing armoury and ammunition for England in times of war and defence. From Woolwich Arsenal to Arsenal FC at Highbury, a legacy was truly born, something which has now carried through to 2011 at the 60,355 all-seated Emirates Stadium.
Through this time many great things have happened, many I could not possibly have seen but legend has held on to. Some of the strangest and sometimes impossible things have been achieved by this great club, past and present, and here are seven of my strangest moments in Arsenal team history.
In the '90s it was hard to put your finger on what Arsenal took themselves for. At times, a great team of professionals and, at other times, a shambles of unprofessional joy riders. After the demise of George Graham and the ineffectual period of Bruce Rioch, Arsenal were in need of a serious kick up the backside—there was talent and promise in abundance, but no direction.
Enter Arsene Wenger, a little known manager who had just come from a successful period as manager for Nagoya Grampus Eight of the Japanese J-League. He was little known in England but he already had a successful spell at AS Monaco winning the French league in 1988 and the French cup in 1991, whilst signing the likes of George Weah, Youri Djorkaeff, Glenn Hoddle and Jurgen Klinsmann.
Whilst at Arsenal he has perhaps been the Premier League’s greatest surprise with the players he purchased and the level of football he brought to England. Perhaps responsible in the progression of football in the domestic league over the last 15 years. His achievements speak for themselves, three Premier Leagues, four FA Cups, four Community Shields and the creator of the Invincibles, the first and only Premiership team to go a whole season undefeated.
His early success was a strange kind of miracle.
For me this was one of the most surprising and most pleasurable things that has ever happened in the history of Arsenal, that I was around to see. The signing of the great Dennis Bergkamp from Inter Milan for the price of £7.5 million can be seen as one of the turning points in Arsenal’s Premier League ascension into a true force.
Bergkamp was a world star, highly rated, playing for Ajax when they were a dominant force in European football, winning the UEFA Cup in 1992 and being named Dutch Footballer of the year two years running. He scored 103 times in 185 games which eventually earnt him a move to Inter Milan for £12 million, the second most expensive player in the world at that time.
His time there was ill fated in Seria A but with this cloud there was to be a silver lining. The Italian fans and media shunned him, forcing him to want an escape. David Dein saw the opportunity and persuaded Bergkamp to sign for Arsenal, under the stewardship of Bruce Rioch. The strange thing was he actually decided to join.
The rest is Arsenal and Premiership folk law as Bergkamp went on to win the FA Premier League three times, the FA Cup four times, the Charity Shield three times, as well as numerous personal accolades including both PFA and FWA player of the year. Needless to say, he was inducted onto the Premier League and Arsenal Hall of Fame as one of the greatest players to grace the game, a true pro.
This subject is one that can make even the hardest of veteran Arsenal fans weep like a new born baby. Though this was a surprise, where there is opportunity there is hope, where there is hope there is chance and where there is chance there is probability. This was still a strange moment in footballing history and only the gods could have made this happen.
Liverpool FC, in the period of the '70s and '80s, were world beaters, a pool of talent and they were often close to being unstoppable. At the time Arsenal had lost its way as a force in England, let alone Europe, and had not won the First Division since the 1970-71 season. However, George Graham had created a team of his own who were tough and were true competitors, though not always pretty.
After a tough season for both clubs, Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC faced each other for the title decider on the last day of the season at Anfield. This was only the third time in the league's 101-year history that a match of such importance was being played on the last day of the season. With Liverpool the favourites and in their own back yard, Arsenal had to win by two clear goals to lift the trophy.
The unthinkable happened as the great Alan Smith scored to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal. As the game wore on and time ran out, it looked as if Liverpool would hang on at home and lift the title for the second year in a row. However, in the 92nd minute, Michael Thomas latched on to a pass from Alan Smith, continued his run somewhat fortuitously into the box before lifting the ball over Bruce Grobbelaar and into the corner of the net. It was 2-0 to Arsenal in the 92nd minute at Anfield and the title is ours, an absolutely amazing story.
Another strange upset against one of Europe’s top sides at the time. This time the stage was the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup and the opponents were the imperious Parma, who were already the holders. They had one of the best attacking sides in Europe and also a sound defence. Their main names were the likes of Sensini, Brolin, Zola and none other than Asprilla in his prime.
Arsenal were missing their talisman Ian Wright through suspension, and only had Alan Smith to lead the attack in what was an ultra-defensive formation. Odds were on Parma to retain their title with relative ease.
Arsenal, never a team in those days to go down without a fight, gave their all and absorbed wave after wave, with the exceptional defence of Bould, Adams, Dixon and Winterburn. The break came when the ball dropped to Alan Smith on the half volley on the edge of the box. The shot was class and went in off the post. It surprised everybody and Arsenal had to defend from Parma and the referee for the rest of the game.
A moment that felt strange and had a touch of irony was when in the last few minutes of the game, Parma had a goal ruled off-side, which comically now would have stood due to the man not interfering with play.
It was 1-0 to the Arsenal, and was a truly great game with some wonderful talent on show and Arsenal’s first European trophy for 24 years.
A true shock at the time as Arsenal were in the ascendancy in these years as George Graham was into his second season after winning this same cup a year before.
The defending champions were also rising in the league and opinion of them was changing after the lull of the '70s, Graham had ushered in a new era and the belief was back. Luton were also in the First Division but nobody had given them a chance, they were known as a bit of a yo-yo club.
Indeed Arsenal were 2-1 up with 10 minutes to go, and even survived a penalty in which their stand in Luton keeper Andy Dibble saved from Nigel Winterburn. Arsenal had also hit the woodwork twice in what was a weird game.
The surprise came when Luton equalised through Danny Wilson and then went on to win 2-3 with a winner from Brian Stein, the last kick of the match.
One time legend and prodigal son George Graham could do no wrong. Once a player for Arsenal for over 200 games, he left as a player in 1972 only to eventually come back as manager from 1986-1995. Arsenal had been going through a baron spell of no trophies since the FA Cup of 1978-79 and his period as manager was a successful one, giving birth to the famous Arsenal back four, and creating a team that went on to win two First Division Leagues (the premier league), two League Cups, the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup and the charity shield.
Amongst these were some of Arsenal’s greatest achievements with the 1988-89 League win and the FA Cup and League double, alongside the Cup Winner’s Cup win against the great Parma. He was truly a strong manager, but that became his last trophy after being surprisingly sacked for taking payments of £425,000 from Rune Hague, an agent, after purchasing both John Jensen and Pål Lydersen.
He admitted it, was sacked and then banned for a year only to come back as manager of Arsenal’s fiercest rivals and neighbours Tottenham Hotspurs. Some remember his achievements with Arsenal as a manager and as a player, but his legacy has been tarnished due to the latter stage of his career.
This was something I never thought I would see in my lifetime as a supporter of football, let alone Arsenal. Arsenal had shown signs of such greatness when they went on to win the league in 2001-02 and did not lose an away game all season, ending up winning the trophy with a 1-0 win on Old Trafford soil, a memorable occasion in itself.
The last time a team had gone through a season undefeated in the league was Preston North End in 1988-89, though by all accounts the quality in 2003 was in a league of its own—to have predicted such greatness was relative madness at the time.
With the first 11 consisting of Lehman, Cole, Campbell, Toure, Lauren, Viera, Ljunberg, Pires, Silva, Bergkamp and Henry, this could be described as the best all round team ever to play in an Arsenal shirt. Incidentally, this unbeaten run totalled to 49 games when on the 50th it was broken in a controversial loss to Manchester United. Also the last time Arsenal have won the Premier League.
All good things must come to an end.
Yes, there may be other surprisingly strange moments that I have left out including Nayim from the halfway line, or the moment when Arsenal's defence of the Cup Winner's Cup was shot down by a fluke or maybe an ex-Spurs player exacting revenge.
Others could point at the recent capitulation of a 4-0 lead at St. James Park or the 3-2 defeat at home to Spurs after being two goals up at half time.
Well, unfortunately, I only had space for seven. If anyone would like to discuss other moments we can debate or leave it for another article.