1995 and today…..some key parallels.
1995 was the last truly “bad” year for Arsenal.
Things weren’t good. Maybe it’s being spoilt by Wenger, I don’t know. But good or bad are relative terms. Compared to pre-Graham even, it was in some ways our worst season since the mid-1970s. Namely:
- We finished 12th place
- Bar Seaman, the defence, Merson, and Wright, We still had very few top players
- Endured Nayim from the halfway line in Paris
- Lost in the FA Cup to Millwall
- Lost Graham due to the bung scandal
- Signed “legends” such as Helder and Kiwomya
- Were truly boring, boring Arsenal
It wasn’t all bad, however. Beating Sampdoria over two-legs, or a decent Auxerre team, were pleasing. Wrighty was his usual prolific self, and Hartson proved a decent striker.
However, the club was at a crossroads. Graham left in less than ideal circumstances. The team’s style of play was static. The club, whilst not poor, was not signing players to compete with Fergie’s United, or Blackburn (yes, they were actually very good at this time). And even Spurs were trying to get top players or play decently. The club, despite a recent period of major successes, had stagnated and needed reform.
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Then and NOW
Now, does this period remind of you current events?
If it does, then we can learn how we solved the issues back then, and see how they apply to now. Yes, times change and situations have their own contexts. However, lessons are apparent in most things, no matter the period.
We got out of this hole by realising the Premier League had changed. Or moreover, English football had changed. Our successes under Graham were not built on big money. Not even Liverpool was to a large degree, since Rush, Nicol, Aldridge, Hansen, and most of the Anfield ’89 team opposing us were bought for small money even for that time. Barnes was a notable exception, as was Beardsley.
However, Manchester United had reinforced its status as the biggest club in England, not just on the pitch, but off it too. Due to Sir Alex’s victories, it was maximising its commercial revenues, and with the biggest stadium had the most match-day income. Blackburn, who were league champions in 1995, were a proto-oil club (or steel in this case), as their owner the late Jack Walker, placed much of his money into the club. Newcastle, under Sir John Hall, had a similar model, buying many top players and almost winning the league with Keegan.
So as the picture changed, Arsenal couldn’t stand still. Graham was able to mould a unit that in the late 1980s could win a League Cup, win a league in dramatic and unprecedented circumstances, and win another league by only losing one game.
But by 1995, this shifted. Times always change, and can change without our control. Look at Brexit, or President Trump’s election. Even Wenger’s tenure is telling. Wenger was appointed with a purpose, to change the culture and adapt. He did this without question. But nobody could have seen he would win a Double, or another one in 2002, or win the league with Invincibility. We have to roll with the times, or risk being left behind.
What is the lesson then?
David Dein, our vice-Chairman in 1995, and for years the main player at Arsenal, realised that we had to keep up. He had helped conceive the Premier League, but then his own club, despite the first domestic cup double in history and Cup-Winners’ Cup, was pretty average in league performances.
Bergkamp was perhaps a un-Arsenal like signing, but so what? We needed to do it, and to get him.
And whilst Rioch to his credit did change the playing style, he ultimately fell out with the players (but with Wright the most, possibly, as he handed in a transfer request) and got the sack in September 1996. Dein had been scouting Wenger for years before that, and he had been keeping tabs on his managerial style. There was no guarantee of success, however, when Wenger came, but then he epitomised the direction that Dein and Hill-Wood wanted to club to pursue.
Essentially Dein saw which way the wind was blowing, and drifted accordingly.
We need to do the same, now.
Yes, Wenger is a legend, for us, for English football, and for French football. But for me, at least, now it is for change.
The “wind” is blowing in a different way now, and Wenger’s successes, like Graham’s, were attained in a different era with different parameters. We had the pace, power, mentality and technique to boss Fergie. But now we cannot use the same to boss Mourinho. Pep, Klopp, Conte and Pochettino. Nor Ancelotti, or whoever is managing the team who demolishes us in the Champions League annually.
Dein recognised that the board had to change too, as well as Peter Hill-Wood and Ken Friar. The club needed renewal, in order to compete effectively at the highest level.
Again, does this remind you of our current situation? It does to me, at the least…..
So what can be done? For me, it’s:
- Change Wenger for one of Simeone, Ancelotti, Allegri, or Sampaoli. Somebody with the nous and tactical skill to change to suit differing scenarios.
- We have spent money of late, and presumably will again in the summer. But we need to identify at least one world class player a season, as certainly our competitors will.
- Go for a new direction, even possibly bringing in Usmanov for greater input. Maybe even getting him to invest a yearly transfer kitty. This is a controversial point, as we may not like being another City or Chelsea. However, sometimes it is better to lie with the devil, than play the nice guy. And if the “devil” has won leagues in recent years, even a Champions League, and are both two of your principal competitors, then why not?
- Acknowledge our competitive environment. In 1995, Man United, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Blackburn were our chief rivals. Arsenal were and are bigger overall than the Toon and Blackburn, and naturally outlasted them as top competitors. But then now, we have five other teams of similar quality, and three clubs of bigger resource (United, City and Chelsea). We have strengths others don’t though, such as a global brand (Spurs don’t have this), and more money (Liverpool), so we can utilise these to our proper advantage.
So again we’re at a crossroads and have to change.
We did it successfully before, when we released we weren’t well aligned to do well, or as good as can. But now, can we do it again? It remains to be seen. Let’s hope the board have the foresight and insight to do it.
MarbleHallsTV is an Arsenal social media account on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. Been a Gooner since the 90s, inspired by Ian Wright, then Bergkamp, Vieira, Henry, Pires, Campbell, Rosicky, Koscielny, Ozil and Sanchez. A digital marketer/entrpreneur by profession, born in UK living in the Americas now.