Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Arsenal scrapbook 20 years on: Farewell Stefan Schwarz

I loved Stefan Schwarz and he was possibly the biggest plus of what, admittedly, was a pretty awful 1994/95 season. Although we didn't know it at the time, he was a poor man's Manu Petit but with a greater streak of malice.

Meanwhile, in reminding myself of Schwarz's career through a bit of light Googling, I came across this fantastic story about how he was banned from travelling into space when he signed for Sunderland in 1999.

It includes the comment from the chief executive that "one day it could become quite acceptable to put such clauses in various contracts".

Quite the Nostradamus.

The Sun (click to enlarge)

Friday, 10 July 2015

Arsenal scrapbook 20 years on: David Platt signs

The signing of David Platt couldn't match the capture of Dennis Bergkamp a few weeks earlier for jaw-droppingness but I remember thinking at the time it could turn out to be the cleverer bit of business. Here was an experienced former England captain returning home after a pretty successful stint in Italy who could offer some sage leadership in midfield.

Daily Telegraph (click to zoom)
I was wrong, largely, and I never really warmed to Platt. While he proved to be a reasonable goal threat his passing was lamentable and he didn't exceed 'steady pair of hands' status in his three seasons with us.

Having said that, it was probably worth the transfer fee alone for his incredible leap and headed winner against Man U in Arsene Wenger's first double season. That must have provided a terrific psychological boost and it is interesting to think how things would have panned out if we hadn't won that day.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Thoughts on Cech signing and Szczesny's future

If you pay £11m for a 33-year-old you are either very confident in his quality or have too much money to spend.

We should be very confident in Petr Cech.

Not only does he bring an impressive medal collection to the club, he adds another cool head at the back and can deliver the consistently good performances you need to challenge for the title.

Most people have drawn comparisons with Pat Jennings since he moved from a supposed rival who wrongly assumed he was past his prime.

But Jennings was 32 and 'only' won an FA Cup with Arsenal, something that would be considered a poor return for Cech.

A quick flick through the record books shows his age should not be a concern as there are some brilliant examples of great keepers being successful in the twilight years of the career.

David Seaman won two leagues and three FA Cups with Arsenal after turning 33. 

Jens Lehmann picked up a league and a cup after joining us at that age, while Gianluigi Buffon has won four leagues and a cup for Juventus.

But the best example has to be Edwin van der Sar at Man U. He was 35 when he moved to Old Trafford from Fulham and collected four league, two league cup, one Champions League and one World Club Cup title before retiring at 41.

Is it feasible that we could get nine years out of Cech? One person who will be hoping not is Wojciech Szczesny. 

He is now 25 and has failed to pin down the number one position that appeared to be his for the taking.

The hope is that enough of Cech’s good habits will rub off on Szczesny and he will mature into the first choice in a couple of seasons.

Sadly I have my doubts the story will follow that path given some of the traits he has shown on the pitch and surely he would much prefer to be learning on the job through a loan, but he can shape his own destiny.

Well, he can to an extent because Wenger has always taken quite an unusual approach to handling goalkeepers.

After inheriting Seaman, he dabbled in a bit of Richard Wright, Stuart Taylor, and Rami Shabaan before landing Lehmann. Throw in Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski and you have quite a hotpotch of keepers.

For about half of his time as manager, Wenger has never really fully committed to a keeper - there has been a sense that any of the two or three keepers in the squad could be given a run in the side. 

There might be a school of thought that the 10 outfield players are far, far more important in deciding the success or failure of a team compared to the one in goal but as far as I’m concerned all of the great teams have a clear number one in place.

Wenger’s judgement on which keepers to, er, keep and which to discard has also been questionable.

I never really saw what Wright and Taylor did to warrant being discarded without getting the chance to fully prove themselves, though admittedly neither of them have gone on to do much beyond warm the benches of various Premier League clubs (mainly Man City where didn’t Wright win a league title without playing a game?). 

On the other hand, I saw plenty of what Fabianski and, in particular, Almunia did wrong. Of course we aren’t privy to their training ground work and approach to life like Wenger is, but the loyalty shown to Fabianski and Almunia compared to those who previously tried their hand at the position was baffling. 

And there were alternatives available – I got very excited a few years back at the prospect of Mark Schwarzer joining us, as he was too I seem to remember, and he would have been a clear upgrade even if he might not have been world class.

But back to Cech and Szczesny. And David Ospina, who I suspect will become a footnote in Arsenal history pretty quickly, despite not doing a huge amount wrong apart from being just mediocre.

Does the fact that Wenger has brought Cech in show us that he has sharpened his ability to assess goalkeepers? 

Maybe, but I think it is more likely to show that he doesn't believe in Szczesny. 

Wenger's usual MO when presented with goalkeepers of a similar ilk would suggest the Pole would have regained his place from Ospina after a few games of this season, then lost it again, and then regained it, then lost it… and so on. 

If Cech hadn't arrived on the scene, Szczesny could realistically have battled past Ospina over time. 

But given the amount spent on Cech and the fact he is so clearly the more talented keeper, the chances of Szczesny seriously challenging for a place in the team are remote, and Wenger must know it.

Cech is our number one and could be for a good few years. Everyone associated with Arsenal should be thankful we have him. Apart from Szczesny. Without wanting to sound cruel, we have to hope that the new recruit performs so well that the Pole is forced to look elsewhere to gain the playing time he needs to fulfil his potential. 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

My Arsenal scrapbook 20 years on. Part 2: we’ve got Dennis Bergkamp

The Sun, June 21, 1995 (click to enlarge)
It still feels a bit weird seeing Dennis Bergkamp in our beloved red and white for the first time, even knowing full well that he turned into an Arsenal legend.  Imagine then, if you need to, or cast your mind back if you can remember that far, what it was like when it actually happened.

Truly astonishing would be my verdict.

The two signings made prior to Dennis, in the winter of 94/95, typified the calibre of player we had been buying: John Hartson from Luton Town and Chris Kiwomya from Ipswich Town. No offence to them but hardly inspiring. Beyond that, the most recent exotic purchases had been John Jensen and Stefan Schwarz: full internationals but the sort of classic midfield workhorses adored by George Graham.

Enter Dennis Bergkamp. A bona fide world superstar. Someone who every football fan knew about after scoring of ludicrous goals like thisagainst England at Wembley. And crucial ones like this in the return fixture. Or in a World Cup quarter-final just a year earlier.

The rumour mill started relatively late to signing day, with confident whispers only appearing on June 19, the day before the deal was done.

As we all know, tabloid rumours are not always the most reliable. And like the true pessimist that I am, I refused to build my hopes up that it could be true, even though there were quotes from both Dennis and Bruce Rioch.

Daily Mirror, June 19, 1995 (click to enlarge)

The Daily Mirror, June 19, 1995 (click to enlarge)
The difference between Arsenal and the neighbours up the road was made clear in this story, with the capture of Chris Armstrong and Dennis highlighting our different ambitions.

Evening Standard, June 19, 1995

The following day’s papers contained even more reports it was happening, and this time even from a broadsheet. Cue just a smidgen of optimism.

Daily Telegraph, June 20, 1995 (click to enlarge)
Meanwhile, he might not always be remembered for his clarity of thought but George Best showed some pretty sound judgement in suggesting Dennis would be worth every penny (also note how we were also getting linked with a certain Dutch teenager by the name of Clarence ‘Seedors’).

Daily Mirror, June 20, 1995 (click to enlarge)

And then later that day, it finally happened. We’ve all read about how Dennis himself was amazed to see him appearing as the top story onCeefax. Well it was nothing compared to how amazed I was, Dennis, as my scrapbook entry proves:
 
My scrapbook
The thrust of most coverage is around how mental the money had become, with Peter Hill Wood describing it as ‘madness’ but, in fairness, acknowledging that now was the time to cough up or miss the boat completely.

The Sun, June 21, 1995 (click to enlarge)

Daily Mail, June 21, 1995 (click to enlarge)
Sunday Times, June 25, 1995 (click to enlarge)

The other main angle was whether DB10 would be another one season wonder like a certain German who had plied his trade up the Seven Sisters the previous year. The short answer: no chance.

The Sun, June 21, 1995 (click to enlarge)
And showing an uncharacteristically strong grip on reality, this Spurs fan admitted they were coming second best in the transfer market.
The Sun, June 21, 1995 (click to enlarge)

Finally, Louis Van Gaal had his say on DB10 arriving on our shores and confidently predicted he would enjoy his time here if he was played in the right system.

Daily Mail, June 21, 1995
An incredible few days that would turn out to be some of the most important in the Club’s history. As we’ll see in the next post, there was another big name signing to come in the shape of David Platt but nothing could ever match the jaw dropping nature of Dennis joining.