Wind Of Change

Last updated : 28 May 2002 By Phil Holford
When I think back to Arsenal in the mid-nineties and the years before, I think of them now as the dark days, even depressing days. Yet we had success, the unforgettable and even now, unsurpassable Michael Thomas moment at Anfield in '89.

The Championship in '91 when we only lost one game all season (and I went!). The ‘Two cups to the Arsenal' season of '93 (when I happened to be living in Sheffield, so enjoyed it even more than most Gooners). ‘One nil to the Arsenal' in The Cup Winners Cup final victory over the much fancied Parma and the delirium in Copenhagen after the match. There are a lot of premiership teams who can only dream of such success in their recent history and poor old Spurs would love to have celebrated just one championship in the past 40 years, shame.

But these successes came at a price, it seemed at the time that whatever Arsenal achieved, it was not quite good enough, not up to scratch, inferior in some way. WE WERE BORING! LUCKY! BORING BORING LUCKY ARSENAL!

Our '91 championship campaign was one of the most impressive in the history of the top division with, as I mentioned earlier, just one defeat all season and conceding just 18 goals. This, however, seemed to count for nothing when Man Utd eventually managed to win the league, you'd have thought they'd won the World cup, European cup and domestic treble in the same season for all the over the top media coverage and hype surrounding not only that first premiership title of the ‘90's, but every one since and did it get on my tits, it certainly did. It seemed to me that the whole summer following a successful year for Man Utd involved the tabloid press printing as much crap about the team, the players and the manager that we would probably end up losing another area the size of Wales from our rain forests.

I was now only too aware of what every subsequent Man Utd championship triumph would incur and too make matters even worse, the bastards just kept on winning it.

Another really annoying thing was that Man Utd were entertaining, they had the charismatic and brilliant (but completely barking) Eric Cantona pulling the strings and even though I would never admit it in public, they were playing brilliant attacking football.

My beloved Arsenal were now in turmoil, we were now just boring boring Arsenal (we had to win something to be considered lucky as well!), George Graham and his infamous bungs were booted out of the marble halls and Bruce Rioch….well, enough said.

The board announced that the new Arsenal manager would be Arsene Wenger, Arsene who? was my first reaction, but then I read he'd been managing a team for while in Japan, great. But at least his name seemed appropriate my ‘friends' would reassure me, before giggling amongst themselves, the fact that he also looked like a University lecturer or worse, just helped to deepen my despair and increase my mates piss-taking.

I was now working in France for eight months of the year and living in Leeds the rest of the time, so watching the boys in red & white was (and still is) a once or twice yearly event. So in December of '97, I took a rare opportunity and went to Arsenal v Sheffield Weds with a couple of mates, we were in the away end and seemed to be standing in the only place in the ground that was uncovered which meant in the event of rain, we'd get soaked. Arsenal were awful, Wednesday just as bad and we lost 2-0 and yes, it rained for the whole of the second half. I think the following week we lost at home to Blackburn and our season was looking over and it was'nt even Christmas yet! So much for Arsene ‘bloody' Wenger I thought, as I packed up my stuff and headed out to France for my eight month stint, half expecting the ‘Le Boss' not to still be in charge by the time I got back.

Yes I was wrong, miles out, in fact so wide of the mark I could have been a John Jensen shot on goal.

Arsenal in fact produced a stunning second half to the season, playing quality attacking football, not only beating teams but destroying them, even picking up the ‘Awesome Arsenal' tag from Sky pundits who were left drooling over this ‘new improved' Arsenal who seemed more likely to win 5-0 than the good old ‘one nil to Arsenal'. The double was completed with the FA Cup stroll against Newcastle (which I managed to watch in some dodgy French bar) and a new era was dawning at Highbury.

Fair enough we did'nt deliver a trophy for the next three years and it was frustrating finishing second to Man Utd everytime but Arsene was still rebuilding, we can't win the double every year (or can we!) and after heartache in the UEFA Cup final and downright scouse theft in last years FA Cup final, we've reached the promised land once again and the second double for Mr Wenger.

What Arsene Wenger has achieved at Arsenal should not merely be put down to the trophy's he has won, he has changed the way are perceived not only by the media but also by rival fans. Arsenal are no longer the boring team that will grind out a lucky 1-0, we play the most attacking, exiting football in the premiership but with that touch of class that from the likes of Pires, Bergkamp, Henry and Ljungberg which has made us the best team in England (sorry Alex) this year. The only time we seem to grind out a 1-0 win these days is at Old Trafford and that's OK by me. I think Arsenal fans everywhere should be eternally grateful for what ‘Le Boss' has achieved but especially those away from London and up North in particular, for whom supporting Arsenal has been hard work at times, mixed in with high levels of piss-take from the better supported Northern clubs (not huge amounts of Gooners in Leeds).

But we can now hold our heads up high as Champions but with style, thank you Arsene for making my office job so much sweeter.