The arrival of an Arsenal legend

It won’t have passed you by that today is a significant anniversary.

That’s right, it’s eighteen years and three days since Gilles Grimandi joined Arsenal, a signing that heralded in mops of curly hair and, erm, mops of curly hair. As someone with a mop of curly hair, I mark this seminal moment every year by wearing my Grimandi 18 shirt – possibly the only one ever sold – bouffanting my hair up à la Gilles, then heading outside and needlessly getting in someone’s face with a ‘bof’ and a shrug of the shoulders.

It’s also 20 years since a bloke called Dennis joined. I’ve got used to the years zipping by, but twenty years! Oh Dennis, you beauty. You glorious, joy-bringing bugger. You silky-footed tease.

I wrote this about him for the Arsenal Magazine in 2014, just as his statue was unveiled:

“I was driving across London when I heard on the radio that Arsenal had signed Dennis Bergkamp. Dennis Bergkamp! At Arsenal! I pulled over at the nearest shop and bought every single newspaper I could get my hands on. I was at Highbury later that summer to see him score his first two goals against Southampton, and can remember the ecstasy like it was yesterday. Such calmness, power, precision and skill. Wow. That was the effect Bergkamp had on the club and the fans – he brought some much-needed stardust to a team that had grown tired. He was a world class player who was signed in his prime for a huge fee and his arrival took Arsenal off in a different direction. We didn’t know it at the time, but Bergkamp’s arrival was to herald a new era in which the football Arsenal had been synonymous with for years (sometimes a little unfairly) was swept away by a more technical, stylish approach. We’re still playing that way today, and while Bergkamp can’t take all the credit, he has written himself – effortlessly, of course – into Arsenal folklore.”

The word legend is bandied around fairly carelessly these days, but Bergkamp is a bona fide, card-carrying legend.

World class brilliance.

Twenty years!

Come back, Dennis!

(By train, obviously.)

Per-shaped, points plundered

Fulham 0-1 Arsenal

What will posterity tell us about this game? Not, I suspect, that it was a curiously below-par performance despite an 80-minute numerical advantage. History will record it as a win. Three potentially crucial points for supremacy among the title unchallengers.

I do not deny that it would be preferable, having accelerated into some promising form, for us to be playing with a bit more swagger than we are. We looked sapped yesterday, as if the pressure was getting to us a bit. I wish there was a handy catch-all phrase that Wenger could come up with to describe playing in this way. Something that refers to us playing within ourselves. Perhaps something automotive. Anyway, here’s what he said:

We played a bit with the nerves, a little bit with the handbrake in the second half

The bottom line is that we won. What is a bit of a concern is that the goals have dried up a bit since thumping Reading. A 3-1 win against Norwich that could so easily have been a 1-1 draw. No goals against Everton and the solitary one yesterday. But 7 points from 9 – I call that efficient…

Red cards? Sidwell (Slidwell? Slidbadly) can have no complaints and I suspect Arteta will have a sore ankle this morning. And Giroud’s, while I think less dangerous, was still over the top of the ball. I can’t really envisage Arsenal challenging it but as someone asked on Twitter (and I forget who, sorry), is there anything to lose in giving it a go? Can the FA extend a ban if it considers the challenge to be spurious? I think it might be able to but I can’t remember.

Of course, Giroud’s card has a knock-on effect, banned for three games as he is. I guess in simple terms it opens the door for one of Walcott, Gervinho or Podolski to lead the line for a bit. Walcott’s form is such that I wouldn’t even go there. Gervinho simply doesn’t need the opprobrium that would inevitably be heaped upon him and Arsenal could do with someone more reliable in front of goal anyway. It’s Podolski all the way for me. Plus, he ought to be the freshest of the lot as he’s made his home in recent weeks on the bench. He’s probably the best striker of a ball at the club.

There are some huge games today but whichever way they go, next Sunday’s visit of the champions elect is shaping up to be a humdinger. They have a bit of a hoodoo on us right now. We’ll need to douse some WD-40 on the old handbrake if we’re to undo the hoodoo.

If I could sum up the reality of the last few games of the season, it would be ‘points first, performance second’. If we can end the season well – by which of course I mean *weeps silently at the thought of bygone eras* coming in one of the holy grail places – then we can worry about our deficiencies a little more calmly at a later date.

Glorious day here in London – go on, off you go the lot of you.

PS – This blog was brought to you in a 2002 gold Grimandi 18 shirt. Possibly my favourite shirt.