Arsenal Legends: Ian Wright

Joe GSenior Writer IDecember 28, 2008

This is the second article in a series examining greats of Arsenal's past. We'll be traveling through Arsenal's rich history with one stipulation: the players have to be retired. Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira may well add to their footballing legend before their careers are over so you won't be seeing their profiles in this series.

Ah, Ian Wright.

He is perhaps one of the poorer football pundits of today, but was indisputably one of the greatest goal-scorers of his era. He is second to only one striker in Arsenal's history, the prolific Thierry Henry.

Wright began his footballing career later than most professionals. During his teen years, he had trials with Southend and Brighton, but didn't catch on with either team. Disappointed, he resigned himself to pursuing a career outside of football while still turning out for amateur and non-league teams.

His life changed forever when a Crystal Palace scout spotted him playing in a Sunday league match. His performance impressed the scout enough to get Wright a trial at the club. He signed a contract with Crystal Palace in the summer of 1985, just three months short of his 22nd birthday.

That's certainly a ripe old age for a footballer to begin a professional career, especially today, but Wright did not take long at all to adjust to the professional game.

In his first season at Palace, Wright finished as the club's second-leading goal-scorer, tallying nine strikes.

During his Palace career, Wright scored 117 goals and was named Palace's "Player of the Century." Impressive work for somebody who was only at the club from 1985 to 1991. But Wright's most impressive feats were still to come.

In September of 1991, Wright signed with Arsenal for a then-club record £2.5m (my, how times change!). He scored on his debut for the club, against Leicester in the League Cup. He also scored a hat trick in his League debut against Southampton.

His torrid scoring pace to start the season never relaxed and he won the Golden Boot with 31 goals in all competitions.

Arsenal enjoyed success in the early 1990s thanks in no small part to Wright's contributions. He led the team in scoring for six seasons in a row, and was a key part of the League Cup and FA Cup double-winning team of 1993.

He also helped Arsenal reach the finals of the 1994 Cup Winners' Cup, although he was suspended for the final, which Arsenal won by a score of 1-0.

The club went through some lean years with the dismissal of George Graham, the manager that brought Wright to north London. The Gunners struggled to a 12th place finish, but the club was revived once again with the arrival of Bruce Rioch (the same man who brought Bergkamp to Highbury.)

Wright and Rioch experienced some friction in their early days, with Wright even handing in a transfer request. The request was later rescinded, Bergkamp arrived, and the two helped Arsenal achieve a fifth place finish in the League and UEFA Cup appearance.

When Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal in 1996, Wright was 33 but still a dangerous goal-scorer. He was the second-leading scorer in the Premiership in 1996-1997 with 23 goals.

On September 13th, 1997, Wright achieved a milestone that made him a permanent part of club lore. He scored a hat trick against Bolton, which put him atop Arsenal's goal-scoring list, surpassing the great Cliff Bastin. That record has since been surpassed by Thierry Henry, but that has not lessened Wright's accomplishment in the slightest.

After his spell at Arsenal, Wright bounced around with several different clubs, including West Ham and Celtic. He retired in 2000, but returned to Arsenal to take part in Dennis Bergkamp's testimonial match. He lined up with some of the all-time greats of football to take part in one final game.

After his football career, Wright branched out into a career in media. He's been a pundit on the BBC's Match of the Day, appeared on the popular show Top Gear, and is currently the host of Gladiators, the UK's answer to the popular American show American Gladiators.

He has not completely stayed out of football though. In 2007, he purchased a stake in the Isthmian League club Ashford Town and was named as their Director of Football Strategy.

Regardless of his talents as a member of the media, no matter how many cars he nearly flips on Top Gear's test track, he'll always be most fondly remembered for his accomplishments in the Arsenal shirt.

Previous installments in the "Arsenal Legends" series

Dennis Bergkamp