A Tale of One City : Chapter 1 - Beginning at the End

Rex Banter

Got Swerved By Gallas
Trusted ✔️
4th May 2002, Millenium Stadium, Cardiff

At around 3pm two teams are led by their managers from the cramped Cardiff tunnel into glorious spring sunshine and loud cheers from all around. It’s the first all London FA Cup final for 20 years and features heavy favourites Arsenal against local rivals Chelsea.

This was an Arsenal side at their absolute peak, the league back then was a duopoly with the Gunners the only side in the country to take a sustained fight to Alex Ferguson’s Manchester Utd, the most dominant team of the PL era.
The Gunners had won the title already that season, sealing the deal at Old Trafford thanks to a Sylvain Wiltord goalproviding one of the most celebrated moments in club history. In fact, the league awards for that year were an Arsenal clean sweep as well.

Arsène Wenger had won Manager of the Year. Red haired and red hot Freddie Ljungberg won the PL player of the season, Robert Pires won the Football Writer’s player of the year, Thierry Henry had pipped Man Utd’s star striker Ruud van Nistelrooy to the PL Golden Boot by a single goal and even the Goal of the Season was won by an Arsenal player, an incredible bit of magic from Dennis Bergkamp against Newcastle deservedly won it.


An hour and a half later with his final act as an Arsenal player, legendary captain Tony Adams held the FA Cup aloft after two wonder goals from Ray Parlour and Ljungberg had completed a famous double.

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With the FA Cup win Arsenal were comfortably the best of the rest behind the historic big two of Manchester Utd and Liverpool in terms of trophies won. They’d been crowned Champions of England 12 times, had won 8 FA Cups and the League Cup twice.

Chelsea meanwhile had much slimmer pickings, they’d won the league twice, but you’d have to go back almost half a century for their last win. In terms of FA Cups, they’d won 3 to go with 2 League Cups but this wasn’t surprising. They’d never been one of English Football’s powerhouses.

7th March 2017, Emirates Stadium, London

Arsène Wenger hangs his head on the sideline, as Bayern Munich winger Douglas Costa runs clear of a shambolic offside trap before squaring it to Arturo Vidal for a tap in. The scoreboard flashes 5-1 on the night and 10-2 on aggregate. Around the ground, apart from the rapidly emptying seats and boos, banners and placards are held up by the Arsenal fans telling Wenger to go. These are the dying embers of Arsenal’s time in the Champions League. Their 19 seasons of consecutive is a record in English football isn’t close to being broken but they’ve failed to qualify in the four previous seasons and today seem further away than ever.


Do great people ever look back? Are they only capable of looking forward to their future achievements? As he fendedoff questions in the post-mortem following the Bayern hammering, was Wenger able to remember the good times? Could he still feel the sun’s warm glow from that balmy day in Cardiff? His opponents from that final now sat 10 points clear of the Premier League, on course to win their fifth title in the fifteen years since. Arsenal had won just once in that time.

Wenger was the sole survivor from both sides from that triumph. The players had long since moved on and apart from the odd hold out playing in disparate corners of the globe, most had hung up their boots. Only he had raged against the dying of the light, stranded on an island that was once a country he knew well.

One year later even he was gone, whether he jumped or was pushed wasn’t clear, in any case he’s never managed anywhere again since.

With his departure, his reign became an item of history like those of Graham and Chapman before him. It will be reminisced about by the people who were once there until as with all things it will slip from first to second-hand accounts.

It might seem arbitrary to pick these two dates to focus on but for me when I think about them, they stand out. They both signify ends. The end of Wenger and Arsenal’s time at the top table is obvious enough for the latter but the 2002 FA Cup Final also represents an end as well. One year later Chelsea would be under new ownership and football in England would be transformed forever, Arsenal one of the teams particularly affected by that change. If the theme of the first decade of the Premier League would be one of modernisation, the next decade would represent aggressive expansion.

If it’s unfair to say football had left Wenger behind by 2017, it had certainly changed. Unlike the stagnant wage growth for most ordinary people in 21st Century Britain, the Premier League had seen an explosion in employee earnings. In 2002 the average wage was £611,000 a year. Now it’s over £3M.

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The duopoly of the Wenger – Ferguson era was no more either. In a fitting reflection of the ever-widening wealth gap and increasing poverty numbers in contemporary Britain, there were soon to be 6 dominant clubs in English football with an ever-growing financial disparity between them and the rest of the league. Football clubs owned by states or hedge fund billionaires now spend the entire GDP of a small nation in a single summer and even that is no guarantee of success.

Three years after Wenger left Arsenal, on a mild summer’s night in Porto, Chelsea won their second Champions League trophy. Apart from the blue kit, this was a different club to the plucky underdogs Arsenal had beaten in that long distant cup final. Arsenal meanwhile finished 8th for the second year running. Their lowest in almost two decades. What happened?

We’re prisoners of the moment, as individuals we’re unable to experience the passing of time, only able to look back with ever dwindling memories in quiet moments of reflection at friends we once knew or places we once visited. I don’t remember those 15 years passing so quickly but I want to.

In this series I want to look at how we got here. The story of Arsenal and Chelsea since that game in Cardiff is one that deserves a closer look. Any story can be summed up in simple points, but the joy in any journey isn’t arriving at the destination, it’s the journey itself.
 

Andrew Cole Linighan

Well-Known Member
Yes, the Romford Pele took his goal well.
With regards Wenger, when he first came, he was revolutionary. Through a different dietary programme, he was able to prolong the careers of the Arsenal back four, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Adams etc. 🟥⬜2, 🟥⬜3, 🟥⬜5,
🟥⬜6, 🟥⬜14, 🟨⬛1.
As much as I liked and respected Arsène Wenger, perhaps he never freshened things up when needed. Sir Alex Ferguson would change his Backroom Staff from time to time. Then the Manchester United players would not have the same voices time after time. Changing coaching people would bring new ideas.
 

Makingtrax

Planes, Trains & Social Media Rants
Wengers best years weren't the 3 titles and the invincibles, they were in the years 2004 to 2015/16.

During most of that time he was hit by a treble whammy:
- the stadium build severely cutting off his funds
- the artival of the oligarchs pouring money into other clubs
- the increasing frustration of his fan base not understanding why he wasn't winning the league anymore.

Yet incredibly he bought and sold to raise cash, and constantly replenished players poached by other richer clubs. He still qualified for Champions League every year and he still mixed it up with clubs whose managers were given 10 times what he was allocated over that same period. He continued to play exciting football, to entertain and win a record breaking FA Cup haul.

And more, he held his dignity despite people saying he was a declining old man, and questioning his every decision. The vicious and humiliating campaign to remove him after he finished 2nd in 2015/16 is one of the worst, most shameful and undignified episodes in English football history. They dragged him out of the top 4 by producing a toxic atmosphere that paralysed the club, him and the team.

The current rocky state of this club is due to the ripples and poor decisions made since that campaign forced the club's hand. The naive and remote owners laid bare.
 

albakos

Arséne Wenger: "I will miss you"
Administrator
Great piece Rex, looking forward to the part 2.

A great memory from that game was as Freddie left Terry on his arse and curled a beautiful ball in the top right corner, Lee Dixon was wheeling away in celebration behind the goal, he knew it would end at back of the net even before it arrived. 😍

This was an Arsenal side at their absolute peak, the league back then was a duopoly with the Gunners the only side in the country to take a sustained fight to Alex Ferguson’s Manchester Utd, the most dominant team of the PL era.
.....
Arsène Wenger had won Manager of the Year. Red haired and red hot Freddie Ljungberg won the PL player of the season, Robert Pires won the Football Writer’s player of the year, Thierry Henry had pipped Man Utd’s star striker Ruud van Nistelrooy to the PL Golden Boot by a single goal and even the Goal of the Season was won by an Arsenal player, an incredible bit of magic from Dennis Bergkamp against Newcastle deservedly won it.

This reminded me of the breathtaking football we used to play. The Bergkamp goal is a clear illustration of it, I truly believe that the team we had and the football we've played in the 2001/02 title-winning season was better than even the Invincibles season. Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Pires, Sol, Cole had great seasons and then great contributions from Adams, Keown, Seaman, Wiltord, Parlour, Lauren too.

We had that fantastic run of 13 straight wins at the end of season; 48 out of 54 points on the second half of season.
Wenger was so confident that he predicted we can win the season without a single loss, which he eventually managed to do 2 years later.

You rightly point out that the fortunes of our club and Chelsea have changed so much since that final, some unpredictable circumstances and unforeseen developments.

We hope to go back to better times when we simply enjoyed football, appreciated our players and had our own style of play which was admired by fans beyond our club. I am sure a Wengerball (1998-2006) mk.2 is something every fan would pay for.
 

Makingtrax

Planes, Trains & Social Media Rants
We hope to go back to better times when we simply enjoyed football, appreciated our players and had our own style of play which was admired by fans beyond our club. I am sure a Wengerball (1998-2006) mk.2 is something every fan would pay for.
It seems a remote possibility right now but it can occur with the right circumstances. I read an interesting article about Bob Paisley who managed Liverpool to all those titles in the late 70s, early eighties. He was very much like an early Arsène. A father figure that the players loved. He even coaxed the feisty players like Souness to tow the line and perform at the top of their game. Other similarities include fast attacking football and his intelligent acquisition of players such as Hanson, Dalglish, Whelan etc.

Fast forward 40 years and they’re there again with Klopp, another fast attacking manager who together with Michael Edwards has purchased some outstanding players to compete with the richer clubs using clever sales.

Arsenal’s time will come round again and hopefully that combination of clever buying and selling, man management and superb tactics will enable us to compete with the money teams again. Unlike the lower clubs, the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Sp**s are not too far away in terms of investment if they work smart.
 

Rex Banter

Got Swerved By Gallas
Trusted ✔️
The fact our sponsor was Sega/Dreamcast, makes this season even better for me.

2002 is Arsène's best/most rounded ever team, but always seems to get sorta forgotten compared to 1998 and 2004.

Yeah looking at the respective squads that’s what blew me away about the 2001/02 squad. The depth.

We had two top quality players in almost every position and it was the meeting point between the 1998 double team and the Invincibles.

So had a mix of the likes of Adams, Dixon, Cole and Sol. I think Wenger made a deal with the devil because by 2003/04 our depth was a lot more paper thin but we avoided major injuries that whole season.

Got paid it back double in later years :lol:

Great piece Rex, looking forward to the part 2.

A great memory from that game was as Freddie left Terry on his arse and curled a beautiful ball in the top right corner, Lee Dixon was wheeling away in celebration behind the goal, he knew it would end at back of the net even before it arrived. 😍



This reminded me of the breathtaking football we used to play. The Bergkamp goal is a clear illustration of it, I truly believe that the team we had and the football we've played in the 2001/02 title-winning season was better than even the Invincibles season. Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Pires, Sol, Cole had great seasons and then great contributions from Adams, Keown, Seaman, Wiltord, Parlour, Lauren too.

We had that fantastic run of 13 straight wins at the end of season; 48 out of 54 points on the second half of season.
Wenger was so confident that he predicted we can win the season without a single loss, which he eventually managed to do 2 years later.

You rightly point out that the fortunes of our club and Chelsea have changed so much since that final, some unpredictable circumstances and unforeseen developments.

We hope to go back to better times when we simply enjoyed football, appreciated our players and had our own style of play which was admired by fans beyond our club. I am sure a Wengerball (1998-2006) mk.2 is something every fan would pay for.

The Ray and Freddie goals are probably my earliest memories of supporting Arsenal. I was actually at that final as my dad was an FAW member so he could get tickets quite easily.

Don’t really remember much because I was too young but going to see us in those Cardiff FA Cup finals were great memories.

I found the symmetry quite interesting between the 2002 final and the 2020 final against Chelsea. Both Arsenal wins but two clubs in wildly different situations.

I’ve done some research and there’s some really interesting stories to tell between then and now beyond the obvious. A lot of it works as a wider analogy of modern football.
 

AberGooner

Well-Known Member
Trusted ✔️
Great piece Rex, looking forward to the part 2.

A great memory from that game was as Freddie left Terry on his arse and curled a beautiful ball in the top right corner, Lee Dixon was wheeling away in celebration behind the goal, he knew it would end at back of the net even before it arrived. 😍



This reminded me of the breathtaking football we used to play. The Bergkamp goal is a clear illustration of it, I truly believe that the team we had and the football we've played in the 2001/02 title-winning season was better than even the Invincibles season. Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Pires, Sol, Cole had great seasons and then great contributions from Adams, Keown, Seaman, Wiltord, Parlour, Lauren too.

We had that fantastic run of 13 straight wins at the end of season; 48 out of 54 points on the second half of season.
Wenger was so confident that he predicted we can win the season without a single loss, which he eventually managed to do 2 years later.

You rightly point out that the fortunes of our club and Chelsea have changed so much since that final, some unpredictable circumstances and unforeseen developments.

We hope to go back to better times when we simply enjoyed football, appreciated our players and had our own style of play which was admired by fans beyond our club. I am sure a Wengerball (1998-2006) mk.2 is something every fan would pay for.

Completely agree. For me that 01/02 season was our best side under Wenger. If I remember correctly I think we went unbeaten away from home that season which is an amazing feat in itself.

So many amazing memories, it's only Ray Parlour one of the first that comes to mind and obviously Ljungberg as well in the final. The Bergkamp goal, Pires skinning Gerrard at Anfield, Wiltord at OT. Even some of the defeats took Claus Jensen having the game of his life at Highbury!

I think Pires' goal at Villa Park is probably the best goal I've ever seen from an Arsenal side. Andy Gray applauding on commentary says it all. Those were the days.
 

Riou

Gatekeeper Of Mediocrity
I like that 3 of our goalkeepers, somehow got league medals in 2002...wonder how many times that has happened in football.
 

Riou

Gatekeeper Of Mediocrity
I think the kits in 2001/2002, were the best home and away shirts in one season we have ever had too, imo.

You could argue we had had a better home shirt this year, or a better away shirt that year...but you won't get another season, that matches up in both.
 

Andrew Cole Linighan

Well-Known Member
I think the kits in 2001/2002, were the best home and away shirts in one season we have ever had too, imo.

You could argue we had had a better home shirt this year, or a better away shirt that year...but you won't get another season, that matches up in both.
I agree about the Home/Away Kits being the best that we had in 2001/02. This was the shirt sponsorship deal with Sega Dreamcast? Thought it looked great on the shirts. We had the Gold away shirt at the time, thought that looked brilliant. I did hear that when Arsenal played an away European game and they were wearing the away shirt, the word 'Sega' is a rude word in some countries.
 

SA Gunner

Hates Tierney And Wants Him Sold Immediately
Trusted ✔️
Beautiful piece of writing @Rex Banter , well done man.

Like Barca were reimagined with Cruyff and their style ingrained into their DNA (not the words I'd want to bring up without a reason), so too has Wenger reimagined and redesigned what it means when Arsenal play football. We are having our worst period in decades, but all is not lost. There is just too much love and respect for the club worldwide, for this club to just disappear into the night. That I believe wholeheartedly.

Looking forward to the follow on pieces, there will be much to discuss.
 

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