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Gilles Grimandi and two Arsenal/Palace games 16 years apart to the day

By Tony Attwood

On 21 February 1998 Arsenal made it seven consecutive games undefeated by beating Crystal Palace 1-0, at home.

It was Arsenal’s lowest crowd of the season, which is a shame because the match witnessed a stunning goal by one of Arsenal’s most underrated players of all time: Gilles Grimandi.

Quite why the match had the lowest crowd I can’t ascribe to anything other than chance, although the limited space at Highbury meant that the difference between biggest and smallest crowds was tiny.

For this match the attendance was 37,164.  The highest attendance of the season was 38,269 for the match against Everton on 3 May 1998.  A match which of course had a certain appeal.  Luckily for me, as a season ticket holder, I was at both.

16 years later to the day, Arsenal played Palace once again, only this time at Palace.

The key point about 1997/98 was that it was Mr Wenger’s first full season, (having joined some weeks into the previous season) and in it he won Arsenal their second Double.

But at the moment of the Palace game  of 1998 we were not thinking doubles, for the result left  Arsenal nine points behind Man U with two games in hand after 26 games. (I’ve put the league table after this match, at the end of this article).

In the 2014 version Arsenal won 2-1 leaving them third 12 points behind the leaders Chelsea, with Man U in fourth.  And of course on both occasions Arsenal were still in the FA Cup.

Mind you, since we had ended up 12th in 1995, and not won the league since 1991, winning the league was hardly an annual expectation in 1998.

 

Interestingly the headline maker of that day is still with us: Gilles Grimandi, and I’ll return to his post-playing career at the end of this piece.

But here’s a quick run down on his footballing career

Years Team Lg game Lge Goals
1991/7 Monaco 67 3
1997/02 Arsenal 113 10
2003 Colorado Rapids 0 0
Total 180 13

Gilles Grimandi started out with the French side Gap but his first professional experience was with AS Monaco – whom we play this week in the Champions League.

He played mostly at centre back, as Monaco reached the semi finals of the Champions League and the Uefa cup, and won the French league in 1996/7.

He joined Arsenal in the summer and played his first game in the opening day of that season: 9 August 1997.  It was a 1-1 draw.

Gilles played 113 times, covering midfield, centre back and right back and was part of both of Mr Wenger’s Double teams.

He went to Colorado Rapids but returned to France soon after because of family reasons, and did not play for the club.

His record above shows that he played 180 games at the top level – which is a fair old number.  But when we look at what he got in terms of honours, his achievement can be seen as utterly astounding…

  • Monaco: Ligue 1: 1996–97
  • Arsenal: Premier League: 1997–98, 2001–02
  • Arsenal: FA Cup: 1998, 2002
  • Arsenal: FA Community Shield: 1998, 1999, 2002

Eight trophies, seven at Arsenal, and yet he is never seen as one of Arsenal’s great players.   But really all we have to do is to turn back to this match against Palace in the second double season to see why we should re-appraise Grimandi.

For in this game Gilles Grimandi scored his first ever goal for Arsenal, and it was a sensation.

The team Arsene Wenger put out was lacking nine players who we might have expected to play in the game – the last addition to a list of injuries being Dennis Bergkamp who had the flu.

Among the other missing players were Tony Adams, Ian Wright, David Seaman and Marc Overmars.  Two youngsters helped fill the gaps: Paolo Vernazza for his league debut and Matthew Upson making his second start.

The build up to the game included the fact that Palace had just held Arsenal to a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup the previous saturday, and had also achieved the same result at Selhurst Park earlier in the season.

Gilles Grimandi was a doubt before the game, having to pass an extra-late fitness test, and he was the man of the match.

Four minutes after half time Vernazza, took a corner.  That was headed out by Palace’s Icelandic centre-back Hermann Hreidarsson (yes the press were already whipping up a storm about “all these foreigners spoiling the English game”), the ball came out to Grimandi who hooked it back into the top corner from the narrowest of angles.  It was a stunning goal.

Arsenal could and should have had more, with David Platt playing in the number 10 position missing two very good opportunities and Luis Boa Morte getting the ball stuck between his feet with an empty goal in front of him just five yards away.

Upson also came close heading against the inside of a post from another Vernazza corner and again we could have scored when the Palace keeper somehow stopped an Anelka shot with an outstretched leg.

But at the other end Palace caused little trouble, and although it was one of those games where we feared a breakaway, in truth Alex Manninger had little to do beyond making one save in the last 15 minutes.

So Arsenal had control.  Martin Keown and captain Lee Dixon kept everyone calm (Martin could do that as much as he could encourage and rage!), Gilles Grimandi held the centre and Arsenal got the three points and prepared themselves for the third game against Palace in the FA Cup replay in midweek.  Seven players were booked, and the press noted this, as always, but there was no need for such over-activity from the referee.

Manninger

Dixon, Vieira, Keown, Grimandi

Upson, Hughes

Platt, Vernazza (McGowan 80).

Anelka, Boa Morte

Just how deep Arsenal were digging to find players for the game is shown with the rest of the bench:   Lukic, Rankin, Crowe, Day.  John Lukic you’ll remember, but the others never really made their mark.

  • Booked: Platt, Anelka, Dixon.
  • Goal: Grimandi 49.
  • Ref: J T Winter

After leaving Arsenal, Gilles Grimandi took a job as football director at ASOA Valence in the 3rd division in France – but when they became bankrupt he then returned to Arsenal as the scout for the club in France.  There was newspaper talk of him becoming the director of football at the club in 2007, but the position was never advertised as such.

I imagine Gilles Grimandi will be at the Monaco game – I do hope we get a chance to say hello and thank you to him.

Here’s the league table after the Palace game…

Pld W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester United 27 17 5 5 56 19 +37 56
2 Arsenal 25 13 8 4 45 26 +19 47
3 Liverpool 26 13 7 6 44 25 +19 46
4 Chelsea 26 14 3 9 52 29 +23 45
5 Blackburn Rovers 26 12 9 5 44 30 +14 45
6 Derby County 27 12 6 9 41 34 +7 42
7 Leicester City 27 10 10 7 31 23 +8 40
8 West Ham United 26 12 3 11 38 36 +2 39
9 Leeds United 25 11 5 9 34 28 +6 38
10 Coventry City 27 9 9 9 32 35 -3 36
11 Southampton 27 10 4 13 33 37 -4 34
12 Sheffield Wednesday 27 9 7 11 41 51 -10 34
13 Wimbledon 25 8 8 9 27 28 -1 32
14 Newcastle United 25 9 5 11 25 30 -5 32
15 Aston Villa 27 8 6 13 28 38 -10 30
16 Everton 26 7 7 12 31 39 -8 28
17 Tottenham Hotspur 27 7 6 14 25 43 -18 27
18 Bolton Wanderers 26 4 12 10 23 42 -19 24
19 Crystal Palace 26 5 8 13 21 38 -17 23
20 Barnsley 26 6 4 16 22 62 -40 22

Arsenal beat Palace in the Premier League on 21 February 2015, 2-1, to go third in the league.  The team was

Ospina
Chambers Mertesacker (C)  Koscielny  Monreal
Coquelin
Ozil  Cazorla  
Welbeck  Giroud, Alexis

The second double: part 1, part 2, part 3.

6 comments to Gilles Grimandi and two Arsenal/Palace games 16 years apart to the day

  • OlegYch

    very interesting, thanks!
    why did we have two games in hand?

  • OlegYch While these days games are very rarely postponed for the weather, that was not the case then. Likewise it was common for league games to be organised on champions league days and then have to be postponed.

    Indeed until just about four years ago a league match was organised in the midweek when the team playing in the final qualifying round of the Champions League would need to play one of their home/away ties to qualify for the Champions League proper – so that league game was set up, and then automatically postponed.

    The league has taken a long while to catch up – as have some of the pitches. Highbury rarely had games called off but many other teams like Wimbledon, Luton, Watford etc could have problems with their grounds after very heavy rain.

  • OlegYch

    thanks, Tony

  • Josif

    Lovely article, Mr Attwood.

    I must say it’s really nice to see Spuds in their natural environment.

  • GoonerEd25

    One of the games in hand was due to a half-time floodlight failure at Selhurst Park (v. Wimbledon) just before Christmas ’97; when the match was finally played in March, it was about 40mins late getting under way due to a bomb scare!

    2 of the more surreal nights of watching Football i’ve experienced…

  • GoonerEd – of course you are right. I remember that floodlight failure – I think it was the one where the lights went out 20 seconds into the second half, which made it look very much like a betting scam. Thanks for that.

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