Friday, 19 December 2014
December 1996 ~ Arsenal v Aston Villa
The Master is in the host=seat for this one, as Villa travel to a “bone-chillingly cold” Highbury. He manages to get through the 3 seconds intro without having a go at Wenger for comin’ over ‘ere and taking good lads like Bruce Rioch & Stewart Houston’s jobs. I suppose the lack of recognition there’ll be for that reference shows the truth in what pretty much every political ‘round up’ of the year has agreed on: that Farage has “won” 2014 convincingly.
It was only 2013 that Des inaugurated the annual comedy song for the Ukips:
But I don’t remember there being any real fuss or attention at the time – only a year later, someone who I don’t even recognise (the Fake Mike Reed) had his go and the furore was much more. It could be just that the immense abymsality of the 2014 deserved commensurately more attention, but still does much to demonstrate the lamentable progress of Farage and his crew into “the mainstream”. And of course the 2015 slot is presumably still up for grabs – if there actually are any remaining white (obvs) male (obvs) TV/Radio ‘personalities’ (so well-off, establishment types) from England (obvs) from the 70s or 80s who haven’t been Yewtreed, then they are probably cutting some initial demos now.
This is from the season when Wenger had just taken over – I wonder what odds you’d have got on him still being manager 18 years later would have been then, being as he was “Arsenal’s 4th manager of 1996” - and you can see as much from this transitional line-up. What must the combined age of that GK + three centre-backs have been? Neither wing-back looks especially natural for the role (nor presumably it didn’t work brilliantly as I can’t recall it being used much for the rest of his time), the front three is an interesting set-up. Overall, this is a tiny bit like Utd are shaping up at the moment in ‘real life’.
Villa, on paper, or ‘on graphic’, have actually got the more stream-lined, organised looking line-up for me. All solid players and a formation that logically suits the players in it.
Good start to the highlights, the ‘first throw in of the game’ and nothing coming from it. I thoroughly understand why Match Of The Day gives more equal time to all games now, but I have a soft-spot for a big-game being given the space to develop.
The first effort comes from the home side as a nice move end with a lovely turn by Bergkamp and an attempted chip which Mark Bosnich and his prime-example of mid-90s floppy hair are able to deal with easily enough – as they do also with a firmer effort by Parlour just after.
GOAL!! 1-0 Arsenal Wright
But Bosnich – subject of one of those absolutely useless bits of trivia that remains entrenched in my mind, Mark Bright saying to Johnny Vaughan on The Big Breakfast sports round up that he would ‘probably end up at Chelsea’ about 2 or 3 years before it actually happened – can’t do anything here as the Gunners go ahead. Savo Milosevic initially seems to have held the ball up well, but is disposed by a fearsome tackle by Vieira and Bergkamp slides a gorgeous outside-of-the-foot ball through the Villa back three which Wright gets onto, onside and drills a low finish into the bottom corner.
Great action! A very similar sequence of play follows with a Villa import, this time Nelson, being caught in possession in midfield, fantastically silly play by Bergkamp, and another sweet through ball to Wright. This time he goes round the trackie-attired Aussie but is thwarted by a heroic block by Ricardo Sciemecca. Have to disagree with John Champion’s assertion that “you’d have put your last pound on Wright scoring the moment he went past Bosnich” – there simply wouldn’t have been time to complete such an audacious wager. If a stoppage had been called to allow the mechanics of a bet to be placed, the opportunity for the defenders to get back would have increased, the tension would have mounted....it would already have begun to look a foolish act of bravado before the shot was eventually taken. None of which is to say it isn’t an unexpectedly excellent bit of defending – which is what the commentator meant anyway, just dressed that sentiment up in a cliché that makes no sense when you think about it – as they are wont to do.
Another let off for Villa. Bergkamp, who looks a completely deluxe element in the game so far, gets in a shot which Bosnich sends spinning up in the air, before the unlikely combination of a Garde overhead to Bould’s head puts the ball onto the roof of the net. Arsenal could be miles ahead, buts only one as we go to HALF TIME.
Villa could equalise with the first action after the change-round. Staunton hits a long ball to Yorke who controls nicely and goes forward before putting in a low cross from which a combination of Ian Taylor and John Lukic send the ball rolling towards the net but Bould is there to get it away. Lukic, of course, is the subject of a “made up fact”, it being falsely believed in some circles that he was born on the plane that crashed at Munich. I read about another untrue “fact” this week in the media scrum to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the inventors of Trivial Pursuit having their brainstorm. Apparently in the early editions they included an answer which claimed Lt Columbo’s first name was Phillip. This isn’t the case and was included in a book of (otherwise real) facts by a researcher who placed it deliberately to see if people were ripping off his trivia, creating a high-stakes lawsuit.
End to end now: Yorke again looks classy as he goes past defenders but his cross ends up being blocked and Merson pings a ball over the top to Wright who skins Staunton but whips a left-foot shot wide across goal when he probably should have scored....
GOAL!! 1-1 Milosevic
...and they pay for it Arsenal, as Villa level. Twice Nelson does well getting forward down the right, and from his cross Arsenal defend pretty weakly, Mark Draper heads the ball across and, coming from a slightly odd angle, Milosevic controls the finish well with his left foot, the ball rasping very satisfyingly into the net.
We’re told that makes it three goals against this opposition already for the Serb and he nearly adds another straight away with a header which is too much in the middle of goal and easily tipped over by Lukic – who was amazingly, born amid the wreckage of the Munich air disaster.
GOAL!! 2-1 Merson
Ah, you’re sick here if you’re a Villa fan. Just as they were looking on top, they go back behind. Not a goal I personally enjoyed this, it comes on the break following a ‘surging run’ by sub Steve Morrow and Merson gets pace just outside the box and hits a fractionally dipping shot that bends away from the keeper and in – contrary to the previous goal, I didn’t feel this “went in very nicely” but others may disagree – Champion has it as “a goal of the highest order”
GOAL!! 2-2 Yorke
Not surprise given how Villa were looking, but poor defending again. A straightforward pass by Milosevic put Yorke in and, left-footed, he slots under the keeper. The Villa fans go mad and with 15 mins to go anything could happen here.
Within reason. And included in that realm of possibility would be “Bergkamp to go past the defenders easily, then put too much on his shot and send it wide when you’d expect him to tuck it away” as that’s exactly what occurs next. At the other end Milosevic volleys an ambitious left-footed effort from an angle which is easily saved.
And that’s that! A rather anti-climatic feel to the final whistle there, as it seemed set for a final twist
Not sure whether it’s the knowledge of how things developed in the next few years after this as they became two of the acknowledged star performers but everything Bergkamp and Yorke did in this game looked on a different level in its pace and sharpness. A really good wintry MOTD package as attested by both managers in notable fair and balanced interviews afterwards – followed up by this clangingly unfinessed, yet winsome, “explanation” by Merson on what Arsene Wenger’s approach is:
“unbelievable belief...always positive talking and always talking positive...football, football, football”