Today of all days

Arsenal’s history one day at a time

This series takes a look at what was happening to Arsenal and in the world around them on this day at one point in Arsenal’s past.

The series has articles for each day from 21 October onward – just scroll down the page to find the date you want

Sunday, 21 September 2003: The Battle of Old Trafford

Arsenal went into this game without Sol Campbell, Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord, while Manchester United brought out a very physical defensive midfield to hold Arsenal at bay.

The referee’s idea was to control the match by calling fouls whenever he could – usually once every two and a half minutes although he hardly touched the yellow card – until the last minute of the game.

But what really turned a rough match into one that we all particularly recall came with ten minutes to go and Van Nistelrooy jumped onto Patrick Vieira’s back. Vieira fell to the ground and as he did his foot moved towards Van Nistelrooy.  Van Nistelrooy made as much of it as he could by jumping backwards as if being attacked by an army of hooligans wielding horsewhips while returning from a night out in Millwall.

Although Patrick Vieira’s foot made no contact whatsoever with Van Nistelrooy, the Man U player reacted as if the aforementioned imaginary hooligans had actually manhandled him and the referee fell for it, inevitably sending Vieira off for a second yellow card offence.

Then to add insult to injury Diego Forlan fell over in the penalty area as Martin Keown moved in, and once more with the inevitably that seems to best certain officials at certain grounds, the referee gave a penalty.

Lehmann in goal did his usual think of jumping around from side to side and the penalty hit the bar.   Martin Keown approached Van Nistelrooy and gave him a few handy tips on honesty, integrity, decent behaviour, etiquette and how one should not cheat in a match in England.

Lauren, Parlour, Cole and Toure added a few other hints on what is expected on a football pitch in England, before Van Nistelrooy was taken away by Roy Keane.   Giggs, Ronaldo, Neville G, Silvestre, Fortune and Ferdinand all sought to defend the indefensible.

Arsenal however were unbeaten in the match – as indeed they were all season.

20 September 2002: Arsène Wenger said, “Arsenal can go unbeaten all season.”

He followed his comment with this thought: “It’s not impossible as Milan once did it but I can’t see why it’s so shocking to say it. Do you think Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea don’t dream that as well? They’re exactly the same. They just don’t say it because they’re scared to look ridiculous, but nobody is ridiculous in this job as we know anything can happen.” 

Not one journalist ever apologised for the derisory remarks they made after Wenger’s initial comment.

To see the context we might look back to New Years Day 2001 as Charlton Athletic gained their first victory over Arsenal in 44 years.  On 3 February 2001 Dennis Bergkamp scored the only goal at Coventry City to give Arsenal a win.  It was our first away win since November.  The times did not feel particularly wonderful, and yet that opening to 2001 marked (had we but known it) the moment when the world changed.

For there was within a year there was early talk of Arsenal going through a whole season unbeaten away from home.

In 2000/01 Arsenal were FA Cup finalists and second in the league to Manchester United. In 2001/2 Arsenal completed their second double in four years and also that season scored in every single league game – the first team ever to do so.

It was Sylvain Wiltord who scored the goal on 8 May 2002 away to Manchester United that gave Arsenal both the record of being unbeaten away from home while the four goals against Everton on the last day of the season (when it felt like the whole of the North Bank was about to collapse) gave Arsenal the record of being the first team to score in every league game through the season.  Bergkamp, Henry (2) and Jeffers scored.

Arsène Wenger however wanted more and made his “shift of power” speech, referring to the move of power away from Manchester United.  And on 20 September 2002 Mr Wenger suggested his team could remain the whole season undefeated. 

At first everything seemed fine and with the beating of Leeds away 4–1 on 26 September 2002 Arsenal then broke the record for scoring in 47 consecutive games, and the record for away league games without defeat (22).

But Arsenal lost to Everton on 19 October 2002, and then at home to Blackburn on 26 October 2002.  A 1-2 home defeat to Auxerre on 22 October 2002 sandwiched between these two meant three defeats in senior competitions in a row – the worst run in 19 years.

But as we know, Mr Wenger could do things, and Mr Wenger has a sense of humour.  In May 2004 he said…

“Somebody threw me a T-shirt after the trophy was presented which read ‘Comical Wenger says we can go the whole season unbeaten.’ I was just a season too early!”

On a personal note – I’ve still got mine.  Once a year I wear it on a sunny day.  Here’s how it all happened…

Here’s the chronology

  • 1 January 2001 Charlton Athletic beat Arsenal for first time in 44 years
  • 3 February 2001 Arsenal’s first away win since November
  • 8 May 2002 – the unbeaten away record is secured
  • 11 May 2002 – Arsenal first club to score in every game
  • 20 September 2002 – the “unbeaten all season” speech
  • 26 September 2002 – the record of scoring in 47 consecutive games achieved
  • 19 October 2002 – the run of three defeats begins
  • 7 May 2003 – the 49 starts
  • 15 May 2004 – Arsenal beat Leicester to go all season unbeaten
  • May 2004 – Mr Wenger is given a comical Wenger tee shirt

19 September 1937: Geoff Strong was born in Kirkheaton, Northumberland.

Being a talented schoolboy sprinter and top athlete he seemed destined from the start to make his living from sport.  He trained as a machine-tool fitter while playing for Stanley United, until he joined Arsenal in a £100 deal in November 1957 aged 20.

Having made a huge impact in the reserves and have undertaken his National Service he played his first match on 17 September 1960, against Newcastle.  Arsenal won 5-0.

His impact was instant, playing 19 league games in 1960/1 and scoring 10 goals.  By 1961/2 he was the first choice often playing alongside Joe Baker and George Eastham.  In 1963/64 Strong and Baker each scored 28 league and cup goals.  Indeed noting just that trio of players it is amazing to consider how Arsenal actually failed to get higher than 7th in the league during Strong’s period in the side.  His total was 69 goals in 125 games.

But this was the era of The Darkness (he was managed by Swindin and Wright) – that long period when Arsenal made no impact on the First Division, and Geoff Strong rebelled against the failure, demanding a transfer to a more successful club.

So in November 1964, Arsenal sold him for £40,000 to Liverpool.  But we had had the best of him – he played 155 games for Liverpool and scored 29 – a scoring rate of 19% compared with over 55% at Arsenal.

However he immediately won the FA Cup with Liverpool – their first win of the trophy, and Liverpool played him in almost every possible position on the pitch, ending up as left back!

Apart from the FA Cup he helped Liverpool reach the European Cup Winners Cup Final the following season, including scoring in the tie against Juventus.  He also gained a championship medal with the side.

When he was sold to Coventry City for £30,000 at the age of 32 Liverpool were said to have sold not one but 10 players, so diverse was his influence.  Strong played at Coventry alongside Jeff Blockley at centre half.  But after an injury he retired in the summer of 1972.

He later ran a hotel-furnishing company on Merseyside and co-owned a pub with Ian Callaghan.   He was voted in at No. 98 on the Official Liverpool FC website poll of players.  In later life he suffered from Alzheimers disease, but continued to be seen at Anfield, although he maintained no connection with Arsenal.

Geoff Strong died on the morning of 17 June 2013 in Southport.

18 September 1999: Thierry Henry came on as a sub scored his first goal for Arsenal

As a result Arsenal beat Southampton 1-0.

He received the ball from Adams, with his back to goal, 20 yards out, turned and shot.  Henry said, “My goal today was very important for me. I have missed at least 14 or 15 chances for Arsenal and my confidence was low.”  It was Arsenal’s last appearance at the Dell.  However Henry didn’t score again until 28 November when he got both goals in a 2-1 defeat of Derby.

The story is that while Henry was playing in Italy he spoke on the phone regularly to Mr Wenger when he was working in Japan, and that contact paid off for on 3 August 1999 he came to Arsenal.  £11m he cost.  What would the cost be today?

By 2002 he had won us the Double.  In 2002/3 he scored 32 goals in all competitions.   In October 2005 he broken Wright’s goal record – Ian Wright came onto the pitch before the game and stood in the centre circle to embrace Henry, but then had to wait there for several minutes because Arsenal weren’t ready to come out.  I think Wright ended up doing a dance.

It all seemed to have ended on 25 June 2007 when Thierry went to Barcelona for €24 million – but that was not the end of the story because of the process in which Arsenal sell top players to foreign teams for huge amounts of money, and the foreign team doesn’t get that much out of it while Arsenal re-invests the money in younger talent.  You’d think other teams would have learned by now, but apparently not.

Henry played 80 games in the two-team league that is Spanish football.   His salary was reported £4.6m per season.  He was there for 3 years and the total cost to Barca was £35.8m including transfer fees.  His goal account dropped to 0.43 per game from the 0.69 he had at Arsenal over a much higher number of games.  The cost to Barca was thus £447,000 per game, and considering that a number of these games were as sub, it doesn’t look like a great deal for them. Amazingly he was none the less their top scorer in one of those three seasons!

In July 2010, Thierry went to New York and on 6 January 2012 he signed for Arsenal to cover for forwards who were playing in Africa.  He came on against Leeds as a sub, and scored a typical perfect Henry goal.  It was one of those “I was there!” moments that stays forever.  And ever.

In his last game he came on and scored the winner against Sunderland on 17 Feb 2012.

Quite a guy.

17 September 1934: Arsenal lost to Blackburn who had only won one game and scored just five goals all season.

Before the game Arsenal were fourth in the league with a game in hand.  A win was highly expected which would take Arsenal level on points with Sunderland at the top.

In their last game Arsenal had played West Brom who in the previous five games had gained three wins, one draw and one defeat.  The result was a 4-3 win to Arsenal, and with Sheffield Wednesday losing and Preston and Sunderland both drawing the win helped Arsenal edge up the table.

For the third league match running the team was the same and for the fifth match running (which is to say, in all five league games played thus far) Drake scored.  Bowden, James and Bastin got the other goals.

Next came the match on 17 September away to Blackburn, the only league game played on this day.   Blackburn had won just one match up to this point, and scored just five goals (while Arsenal had 20) and Arsenal had already beaten them 4-0 in the third match of the season.  It looked like an away banker but Arsenal lost 0-2.

Such a defeat today would have the media howling that Arsenal were in chaos, and that the fact of having had three managers in the past nine months (following the death of Chapman, his temporary replacement by Joe Shaw, and now with Allison in charge) meant the club was set for a fall.

But it was different in the 1930s and the reason for the defeat was acknowledged: following the previous match just two days before Arsenal had to reshuffle the team to cope with injuries sustained in that match.  Sidey came in at centre half and John was left half while Marshall replaced Alex James at inside left.  It was a reshuffling that simply couldn’t cope with what the papers called the home teams “rumbustious” approach.

Then on 22 September, Arsenal travelled to Sheffield for their match against Wednesday who were currently lying eighth in the league.

Amazingly, the team that had earlier in the month been unable to stop scoring goals, now failed to score for the second match running – the result was a goalless draw.  There was a bit of muttering, but wisely not much, since Arsenal went on to win the league by four points.

16 September: Lazio 2 Arsenal 2. After, the teams were to have a meal together but a fight broke out.

The game had followed a series of Arsenal wins in the league the latest of which being on 12 September 1970 saw another win: Burnley 1 Arsenal 2 in front of just 12,675, the lowest league crowd to see Arsenal during the season.  Kennedy and Radford scored to make it four wins, three draws and one defeat thus far.

Then, as holders as the Fairs Cup, Arsenal began their defence of the trophy on 16 September.  As noted above this first leg of round 1 ended Lazio 2 Arsenal 2 with Radford scoring both goals, but it was not so much the game that was remembered but rather the fact that after the match the two teams went to have a meal together and a fight broke out, with most of the players joining in.  The newspapers went berserk on the issue.  

As a result on 19 September the talk was still about events in Italy and the club was not at all impressed.  Indeed in a move that is very unlikely to be seen again, the Arsenal programme published a letter seriously and directly criticising the Evening Standard’s reporting of the club.  Oh for a return to the days when the club spoke out!

Overall however it didn’t do Arsenal any harm, for Arsenal won the game on this day against West Brom 6-2 – the highest score of the season.   Arsenal were third.

On 23 September Arsenal played the second leg of the 1st round of the Uefa Cup against Lazio, and Arsenal won 2-0 with goals from Radford and Armstrong.  There was no collective meal afterwards.

And then, just as things seemed to be going rather satisfactorily (if not reaching title winning standards), everything fell apart on 26 September with a totally unexpected score of Stoke City 5 Arsenal 0.  

But perhaps we’ll leave that for another day.

15 September 1953: Chelsea 0 Arsenal 2.

Having won the league the previous season Arsenal had to wait until this, the 9th match of the campaign for their first win, by which time they were bottom of the league.  Both goals came from Lishman.

Indeed Arsenal were not only bottom but two points adrift from the clubs above, having suffered the sort of defeat (1-7 to Sunderland) that Arsenal become more used to dishing out to others than receiving.

Thereafter four changes were made, and away to Chelsea on September 15 we finally got a victory, 2-0, in front of 60,652 fans.  The win started the improvement and we won four and drew one of those next five games.

But even so there were still problems such as on October 17 with the 2-5 home defeat to Burnley and January 23 a 1-4 home defeat to Sunderland.

Although Arsenal climbed up the table and ended the season in 12th position, there was still more bad news, for on 30 January 1954 we took on Norwich City of the Third Division South in front of 55767 at Highbury in the fourth round of the cup.  And we lost 1-2.

The high scoring defeats were not done either as Arsenal lost 2-5 away to Newcastle on April 17.

Although now forgotten the defeat was, at the time, considered to the biggest upset of the era and of the magnitude of Chapman’s Cup defeat against Walsall.  Worse the match was also notable for Alex Forbes being sent off along with Norwich’s Brennan for serious misconduct.  And that in an era when sending’s off were very rare indeed.

There was not even an excuse in terms of Arsenal having sent out a reserve team.  Every player bar the left back (Lionel Smith) played over 15 games in the league for the club that season – and Smith himself had played over 170 games for the club by that time.

Over the next few seasons Tom Whittaker did start to rebuild the team but in 1956 he died in office of a heart attack before he could complete the task.  It would be another 14 years before the club won its next trophy (that being in 1970 of course).

September 14 1974: Chelsea 0 Arsenal 0.

It was perhaps salutary to remember that the first match between Chelsea and Woolwich Arsenal in 1907 brought in a crowd of 65,000 – which was just about all that Stamford Bridge could hold at the time. This time 34,596 turned up.

The game was billed as a “bottom of the table clash” (Arsenal were actually 16th out of 22, it was Tottenham who were at the foot of  the table, but these things are of course but mere detail to journalists).

Indeed having created the name the gentlemen of the press hardly bothered to turn up and instead continued their current focus on the ills of the game, which in addition to hooliganism was now deemed to include the upcoming battle between players and clubs over freedom on contract.  Somehow it was felt that unlike journalists, these footballing men should not be allowed to negotiate their own salaries, for the sake of their own well-being. 

The end of football as we know it was predicted, especially by those not watching the game, although what we were actually witnessing was the end of coherent football journalism.

But for Arsenal these were indeed dark days.  And it got worse as for the second year running, we were knocked out of the league cup in the second round, the replay on September 18 ending Leicester City 2 Arsenal 1, in front of a mere 17,303.

By the second half of this poor game Arsenal appeared to be working to a plan of holding the game at 1-1 and then nicking something in extra time.  Unfortunately, with five minutes left Leicester got a second, and thus there was no chance to relieve the doom and gloom.

Kidd (who else?) must have thought he had scored heading in a cross from Armstrong but the Leicester keeper performed the sort of save he was known for.  Then Brady got a goal, but after that instead of making the game safe, Arsenal slowed the tempo down so much that for a while it looked like no one on the pitch was interested on playing, let alone scoring.

Seeing their chance Leicester picked up their own tempo, and it was clear that Arsenal’s attempt to copy Ipswich’s awful tactics of a few weeks earlier was dangerous beyond measure.   The small group of Arsenal fans who made it to the game were appalled.  And quite rightly so.

We imagined perhaps that some end to the gloom must come from a home game with Luton on September 21, but no.  It ended Arsenal 2 Luton Town 2 with 21,629 hard core fans making it to the game.

The Daily Express headline was “Arsenal are confused” and Bobby Campbell said as much, suggesting that this Arsenal team defended when they should attack and attacked when they should defend.  

 What Campbell was talking about was his attempt to change the entire style and approach of Arsenal, and the fact that it was taking him longer than he anticipated to get the message home.  He spoke of the need for a “consistently aggressive mood”,  and from this match it looked like all three attributes were missing.  No consistency, no aggression, and with just 21,000 at Highbury, no mood.

Luton, without a win all season, looked like they fancied a draw against a team that hadn’t won in their last six.  Kidd, naturally, got both Arsenal’s goals, but with the defenders all looking to attack at the wrong time, it was only the poverty of Luton that kept goals against column down.

Kidd spoke after the match of having a target of 25 goals for the season, which looked like it meant Arsenal might have to try and survive with an all time low league goal tally of around 30 – given that no one else looked much like scoring.

Would we win a game in September?  The answer was no, for on September 28 the last game of the month ended Birmingham City 3 Arsenal 1, 25,584 in the Birmingham ground.

Another defeat  – but at least someone other than Kidd scored.   And Arsenal at last had Ball back in the lineup, although in truth it didn’t really make that much difference.

13 September 1997: Ian Wright broke Cliff Bastin’s goalscoring record with a hattrick against Bolton

Ian Wright signed for Arsenal in September 1991 for £2.50m which at the time was a club record.  I’m not sure any of us thought at the time that Wright was worth the club record fee for – but of course we were wrong, as always.

Wright scored on his Arsenal debut v Leicester in the League Cup, and scored a hat trick in his first League match.  He won the Golden Boot in the first season at Highbury and scored the last ever goal in the first division.   I can remember watching from the West stand near the North Bank as Wright, laying on the ground having fallen in a tackle, propped himself up on one arm, swung his leg and got a goal.

Fortunately I don’t recall 28 August 1993 when his single, “Do the Wright Thing” entered the charts!  And thankfully it was only there for two weeks.

Concerning 13 September 1997, Wright scored with a hattrick  against Bolton.  He’d been waiting for that final goal for a couple of weeks, and in this match, if my memory is right, Bolton scored first.  Then in the 21st minute he scored in front of the Clock End and took off his shirt to reveal the “179” record on his tee-shirt – which was unfortunate because he hadn’t broken the record yet.   But then Vieira shot, the ball trickled to Wright and he scored from a yard out. 

He was always passionate as the incident on 13 December 1997 stays in mind.  Arsenal had been defeated by Blackburn at home, and were chanting in the streets outside the ground after the game.  Ian Wright leaned out of a window after the game and shouted abuse at the fans who were protesting.  He  was warned by the police as to his future conduct.

Moving on there was the May 1998 cup final in which Christopher Wreh played, rather than Wright.  Sounds strange doesn’t it?     But later that month Wright did play for England, which makes the cup final decision all the more interesting.

By 10 July 1998 as Arsenal (by then of course double winners) went to Boreham Wood for one of the traditional openers, it was suggested that Wright was going and he left three days later for… West Ham.  

He was our top scorer for six years running, and was part of the Cup Double under Graham in 1993 and was a part of the team that beat Parma in the CWC – although he didn’t play in the final.

He was 32 when Arsène Wenger turned up but Mr Wenger still used him, and he got 23 goals that season, but the injuries associated with advancing years in football slowed him – hence the non-appearance in the cup final.

In July 1998 he went to West Ham but never found his form again.  Later at Sheffield Wednesday he trashed a ref’s dressing room after being sent off, but he could still get goals – he scored in his first game at Forest and first at Celtic, although there are reports that the Celtic fans turned on him.

He was a resident fool on Match of the Day for a while, but on 17 April 2008, he left the showing saying that he was used as a “comedy jester”.   And although he may be applauded for showing up the nonsense of that programme, he has made himself a regular critic of Arsenal, and of course Mr Wenger.  It’s sad that it’s ended like this, because in his prime at Arsenal he was superb.

12 September 1953: Bottom of the league and a game against Norwich

This having been not the best of starts to a season it is perhaps worth looking again at the start of the 1953/4 season – when the club lost six and drew two of its first eight games (including on this day with a 7-1 defeat away to Sunderland).

For what made this terrible start to the season so unexpected was the fact that Arsenal had finished the previous season in 1952/3 as champions.

So what happened?

Our ex-player Tom Whittaker who had taken over from George Allison after the second world war, was still at the helm, and his record from 1947/8 onwards was of the highest order with two championships, two FA Cup final appearances (winning one) and never finishing lower than 6th in the league. Equal to Allison and Chapman.

But that summer Tom was unable to stop the departure of one significant player: Ray Daniel.  Daniel had played 41 games at centre half in 1952/3  and yet was sold to Sunderland for a club record fee £30,000.   Why (everyone asked) would a player leave the league champions where he was first choice number 5, to join a team that had finished 9th  and which was not in the process of any serious rebuilding? (In fact they finished 18th in 1953-54).

It is now known that Sunderland offered Daniel payments far in excess of the maximum wage that was allowed.  Sadly Ray Daniel was tempted by a better (although illegal) offer.

The squad also had some other problems.  Cliff Holton at centre forward simply lost his touch scoring only 2 goals in the first 6 games he played.  It was not until late October when he scored 8 goals in 6 league games that things started to improve.

And so, by 12th September 1953 Arsenal were bottom of the league, two points adrift from the clubs above, having suffered the sort of defeat (that 1-7 to Sunderland) that Arsenal become more used to dishing out to others than receiving.

Thereafter four changes were made, and away to Chelsea on September 15 we finally got a victory, 2-0, in front of 60,652 fans.  The win started the improvement and we won four and drew one of those next five games.

But even so there were still problems such as on October 17 with the 2-5 home defeat to Burnley and January 23 a 1-4 home defeat to Sunderland.

Although Arsenal climbed up the table and ended the season in 12th position, there was still more bad news, which is where the Norwich connection comes in. For on 30 January 1954 we took on Norwich City of the Third Division South in front of 55767 at Highbury in the fourth round of the cup.  And we lost 1-2.

At least this time around we beat Norwich to secure our first points.