Football: Wenger philosophy expanding Arsenal's rich potential

Despite the foreign influence, Ken Jones sees an Arsenal built on old-fashioned grit
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The Independent Online
WHEN asked recently to compare Arsenal's present team with their 1971 Double winners George Graham took refuge in a joke: "We had more class," he chuckled. Graham - "given time" he says - had class, so did Charlie George, whose goal in extra-time against Liverpool at Wembley added the FA Cup to the championship Arsenal secured with a victory at Tottenham six days earlier. But Arsenal's success in Graham's day resulted mainly from graft, good organisation and the spirit typified by Frank McLintock's inspirational leadership.

Overall comparison is pointless anyway. The "foreigners" (unavailable to England's national team) at Highbury in 1971 - Graham, McLintock, Pat Rice and Bob Wilson - were Scots and Irish. Now French is the dressing- room's second language and the two most gifted attackers are Dutch. Who among Arsenal's faithful 27 years ago could have imagined the appointment of a foreign coach and an infusion of talent from overseas made possible by television funding?

Despite England's success in the 1966 World Cup and club achievements in Europe, English football was thought to be technically bereft and backward tactically. Great European stars of the time scoffed at the idea of playing here. Thus two factors have combined to suggest that Arsenal can now consistently challenge Manchester United: Wenger's philosophy and his knowledge of Europe (especially in France) when seeking to expand Arsenal's potential.

In one important respect, conforming to a tradition laid down in the 1930s, Arsenal resemble the team (coached by Don Howe) with which Bertie Mee won the Double and those that won two championships under Graham: Adventure is all well and good but defence remains a priority. Arsenal's solid back line in 1971 was made up of Rice (now Wenger's assistant), McLintock, Peter Simpson and Bob McNab with Peter Storey in the first line of trenches.

Using experience gained when managing Millwall, recruiting Lee Dixon, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn from the game's lower reaches, Graham built a defence around Tony Adams that helped bring two further championships and the FA Cup to Highbury. With the addition of Martin Keown for Bould it is still in place, but the problem presented to Wenger by the aging of this unit has been eased by his French central midfield pairing of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit.

The victory at Old Trafford that turned things Arsenal's way saw Vieira and Petit at their most influential. "They can play it as you want," said Graham. "Excellent quick passers, strong in possession and mean when necessary."

After Arsenal drew with Leeds at Elland Road on the opening day, Graham tipped them to take the Premiership title from Manchester United: "Some people thought I was making a case for my own team, but I really did feel that Arsenal had all it took to be champions."

Not that everything worked entirely to the satisfaction of Arsenal's supporters. Dennis Bergkamp's classic scoring feats were interspersed with dilatory contributions, Marc Overmars was ineffective until halfway through the season and Nicolas Anelka looked out of his depth. Neither did the adventure Wenger encouraged in his defenders wash with everyone. "They'll win nothing unless those guys are told to concentrate on what they are best at," a rival manager said after Arsenal lost 3-1 at home to Blackburn Rovers. Eventually, Wenger's team came to have shape and consistent purpose, displaying qualities that had not previously been associated with the '97/98 Arsenal.

Two of the things remembered from 1971 are directness and the unflagging effort typified by George Armstrong's selfless industry on the wing. Attacks were often built on long forward passes to John Radford and Ray Kennedy with Graham and George moving in support. "A big thing was sticking at it, grinding out results when we played poorly," McLintock recalled.

If this was not quite the image people had of Graham as a player it stood as a cornerstone of his philosophy when appointed manager in 1986. Arsenal, as ever, would be hard to beat. Again a solid, intelligent defence, an outstanding goalkeeper (Graham set a record for the position when buying David Seaman) and no truck with players, however skilful, who did not put in a maximum effort. Who could argue with two championships, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup-Winners' Cup in eight seasons?

At first thought to be a risky appointment, Wenger has transformed Arsenal's reputation, adding flair to the qualities for which they are famous. Still difficult to score against, as their defensive record up to securing the title testifies, they now have enough style to help produce that rare event - an entertaining Cup final.

Doing the

double

LEAGUE AND FA CUP DOUBLE WINNERS

1888-89 Preston North End: Beat Wolves 3-0 in the final at Kennington Oval in front of a then record crowd of 22,000. Dewhurst, Ross and Thompson scored the goals.

1896-97 Aston Villa: Beat Everton 3-2 in the final at Crystal Palace in front of 65,891 - Davey, Campbell and Crabtree scored for Villa, Bell and Hartley for Everton.

1960-61 Tottenham Hotspur: Beat Leicester 2-0 in the final at Wembley in front of 100,000 - Smith and Dyson did the damage to secure London's first league and cup Double success.

1970-71 Arsenal: Beat Liverpool 2-1 in the final at Wembley to equal the achievement of their north London rivals Spurs 10 years earlier. Eddie Kelly and Charlie George scored for Arsenal, Heighway for Liverpool.

1993-94 Manchester United: Beat Chelsea 4-0 in the final, with Cantona (two penalties), Hughes and McClair on target. United also won the Premiership by eight points from Blackburn.

1995-96 Manchester United: Secured their second double in as many years with a single Eric Cantona goal against Liverpool in the final. Won the Premiership by four points from Newcastle.

North London's years of plenty: How Arsenal have enjoyed regular success since their 1971 Double triumph

1970-71

THE DOUBLE

TO win the Double is a marvellous feat in any circumstances but Arsenal's triumph in 1971 was all the more extraordinary, given that arch rivals Leeds led the First Division by seven points as late as the end of February. If that were not enough, only a hotly-disputed late penalty kept Arsenal in the FA Cup after Stoke had led their semi-final 2-0. But Bertie Mee's side ended the League season with a run of 11 wins in 13 matches, six of them 1-0, including the last game of the season when Ray Kennedy's 88th-minute header against Tottenham at White Hart Lane clinched the Championship. Five days later, Arsenal trailed Liverpool 1-0 in extra time at Wembley but fought back to equalise through Eddie Kelly before a searing shot by Charlie George (above) secured the Double eight minutes from time. The picture of George flat on his back on the Wembley turf became the symbol of Arsenal's season.

1978-79

A WEMBLEY EPIC

Arsenal's fourth FA Cup final in seven seasons - they had lost to Leeds in 1972 and Ipswich in 1978 - produced possibly the most amazing finish in the competition's history. Five minutes from time, Arsenal, managed by Terry Neill, led Manchester United 2-0. But then United scrambled not just one goal from Gordon McQueen but another by Sammy McIlroy from which they gained such momentum it seemed they could even snatch victory. Instead, a weary Liam Brady took the ball forward again for Arsenal, released Graham Rix on the left and Alan Sunderland found the energy to arrive on the blind side of United's defence to turn Rix's deep far post cross into an astonishing winning goal.

1986-87

`JUST THE START'

SO proclaimed George Graham, the man of the match from Arsenal's 1971 Wembley triumph, as his first season as manager brought another slice of Cup glory, this time in the Littlewoods Cup. Having achieved his first priority of establishing a formidable back four - Arsenal set a club record run of 22 matches unbeaten between September and January - Graham restored the side's spirit, celebrated by the fans in song. "One-nil down, two- one up, that's how Arsenal won the Cup" became an anthem after two goals by Charlie Nicholas cancelled out Ian Rush's opener for Liverpool at Wembley, the third time Graham's team had recovered from a goal down on the way to lifting the trophy.

1988-89

MICHAEL THOMAS AND `THAT' GOAL

IN the last week of a season remembered bleakly for the Hillsborough disaster, Liverpool were poised to better Arsenal's proudest achievement by becoming the first side to win the Double twice. To do so, they had to beat Everton at Wembley, win their penultimate League match against West Ham (at home) and not lose their final fixture against erstwhile leaders Arsenal - also at home - by two goals. Victors by 3-2 in the Cup final, they thrashed West Ham 5-1 and the idea that they would then slip up at Anfield seemed unthinkable, even after Alan Smith had stolen a 1- 0 lead seven minutes into the second half. The score remained unchanged with 90 minutes up - then Lee Dixon booted the ball upfield, Smith lobbed it into the path of Michael Thomas and (above) the Championship acquired the most dramatic of all its final twists.

1990-91

A BRAWL AND A JAIL SENTENCE

BUT VICTORY AGAIN

THE infamous Old Trafford brawl of 20 October - only David Seaman declined to join in - cost Arsenal a pounds 50,000 fine and, more significantly, two points. Then, in December, Tony Adams was jailed for nine months - five suspended - for drink driving. Yet Arsenal still won the title by seven points, having along the way established their best start to a season. They lost just once all term.

1992-93

A DOUBLE OF CUPS

AS Manchester United were ending their 26-year wait for the Championship, Arsenal had the not inconsiderable consolation of winning both domestic cups, defeating Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley twice. The Coca-Cola final was the one that tested Steve Morrow's friendship with Tony Adams. After the young full back's first goal for the club had proved enough to win the day, a delighted Adams hoisted Morrow in the air during the post-match celebrations... only to drop him. Morrow suffered a broken arm, which cost him a return to Wembley for the FA Cup final on 15 May. Arsenal won again, after a replay.

1993-94

ONE-NIL TO THE ARSENAL

GRAHAM'S first European trophy - and just in the nick of time, as it turned out, given the scandal that was to cost him his job the following season. His team delivered what could be seen as the perfect epitaph to the Graham era: a performance built around resolute defending and one goal, by Alan Smith, to defeat Parma to lift the European Cup-Winners' Cup in Copenhagen.

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