A player being unsettled by the media, by other clubs, and by players of other clubs is something that Arsene Wenger has had to contend with all the time at Arsenal. We are familiar with this as a daily issue over the comments from Barcelona players about Fabregas, and in 2011 from Manchester United players about Nasri, but perhaps forget that the same thing went on in 1999 over Anelka.
As one who has never spoken to the man, my opinion on Anelka comes totally from his body language, as I watched him during the 1998/9 season. He seemed to me time and again to have a problem deep inside himself. And the more he expressed it the worse it seemed to get.
Mr Wenger did his PR work, as he always does, saying that he was 95% certain that Anelka would stay at the club. And he made it clear that only crazy prices would ever get Anelka away. He has said since that his aim was to have a forward line of Anelka and Henry – but the crazies came in and disrupted that.
The transfers for the summer were
In: Oleg Luzhny for £1.8m and Silvinho for £4m, Suker £3m, Henry £11m.
Out: Stephen Hughes (loan), Jason Crowe (£600,000), Diawara (£2.5m), Bould (£500,000), Anelka (£25m).
Injured at start of season: Seaman, Adams, Overmars (on bench).
We played Leicester in the opening game with this line up
Dixon Keown Grmandi Winterburn
Parlour Vieira Petit Ljunbert
We won 2-1 and Henry came on as a sub. Luzhny and Suker did not appear. Bergkamp scored and the other was an own goal. Henry however was joint top in the appearance chart by the end of the season with 31 (along with Overmars, Kanu, Silvinho and Vieira, and he was top scored with 17. No one else made it into double figures.
Overall it looked promising – we had new players enough to be able to bring people in slowly, rather than rushing them in, and although Henry looked as if he might play in row Z of the East and West stands given the chance, rather than down the middle, as we expected, there was hope with two wins and a draw from the first three games.
Unfortunately, Manchester United beat us at home (ending nearly 2 years unbeaten at Highbury) and further defeats to Liverpool and West Ham meant that although the start was better than the year before, we had suffered three defeats in the first ten league games.
Worse in terms of players was that the FA started its long vengeful campaign against Vieira, which lead many of us to feel that the FA was going to try and get foreign players (or maybe just Arsenal foreign players) out of the league. After a two yellows and a spitting incident Patrick was banned for six games. Compare and contrast that with Shawcross getting three. That’s how it still goes.
Worse in terms of defeats was to come with a defeat to Tottenham in November and away to Coventry on Boxing Day.
Part of the trouble was that the team was not settled – there were injuries all the time, with Manninger, Luzhny, Grimandi, Adams, Upson, Silvinho and Kanu coming and going all the time. I don’t think we ever put out the same team two games running.
Henry did finally score in his eighth game (against Southampton – he came on as a sub) and Suker scored a couple in his first game, so there were a few bright sparks, but from the start Man U were ahead.
And there was one other thing we will remember all our lives… beating Chelsea 3-2 after being 2-0 down, with Kanu scoring all three in the last five seconds, or so it seemed. The final goal involved the ball travelling one way, turning at 180 degrees and coming back into the goal.
Again I may not be completely right there, but something like that.