Simon Curtis returns with his look at how the past has shaped both Arsenal and Manchester City to become the clubs they are today.
Talk of an entwined history between Arsenal and City in recent years is a little like comparing the Daily Mail’s headlines when the UK joined the European Common Market in 1973 (“Here We Come!”) with the same newspaper’s headlines this week when the UK left it (“Freedom!”).
City and Arsenal have followed wildly different paths to get to where they stand today: it is a fixture between calm, grinding consistency and chaotic upheaval and renewal.
Casting our minds back to the 1995-96 season becomes particularly illustrative in underlining this point.
Arsenal, in finishing 5th that season, experienced the ignominy of falling out of the Top 4 for the last time. In the 21 years that have followed, the Gunners have never again faced such extreme discomfort.
In that same season City were relegated, beginning a trek that would leave them in the second tier for two short seasons before escaping again, to drop further down to the old 3rd division. It would take successive promotions, followed by further relegation and promotion before City and Arsenal were reunited.
By the time Arsenal turned up at Maine Road in early September 1995, City were at it again, embarking on a winless run that would last until a 1-0 win over Bolton in the first week of November.
“When things are going as they are for Manchester City these sad days,” wrote Derek Potter in the Independent, “the script almost writes itself…”
Indeed City fans were to feel the indignant sting of yet another miscarriage of justice. With just seconds to go, a hotly disputed free kick was awarded to the visitors, the referee pulling Niall Quinn back for an innocuous tackle on City fan and Arsenal right back Lee Dixon.
As the ball drifted over, Ian Wright got his foot to the cross from Dennis Bergkamp and, with 30 seconds left on the clock, City were sunk. Football’s sod’s law never seemed to take even the briefest of breaks during a season when the raw scent of disaster was always in the air.
By the time City shipped up at Highbury in March for the return, then as now facing two games at Arsenal and Chelsea in quick succession, desperation was setting in.
The home side, on an undefeated run of seven games, faced a desolate City side anchored in the bottom three with QPR and Bolton.
Arsenal, fielding a line-up that included the skills and drive of Bergkamp, David Platt, Ray Parlour and Paul Merson, were too strong for a City team relying on Gerry Creaney to fire them to glory upfront.
The 3-1 final scoreline underlined Arsenal’s superiority and pointed the way for relegation-bound City.
Arsenal were embarking on a run of success that would bring titles and cups aplenty, whilst City descended quietly through the leagues to begin an odyssey of pain and embarrassment.
As the tides turn and football ushers in new trends and fads, the top of the Premier League still features an Arsenal side that has become accustomed to its lofty position.
City, after years in the wilderness, have rejoined them and face Arsenal this weekend on equal terms.
With the Gunners facing the prospect of finishing outside the top 4 for the first time since 95-96, it is ironic to think that the team they humiliated twice that year – and on many an occasion since – could be one of the main barriers between them achieving what they have become accustomed to and embracing a “failure” that might see the departure of their long-serving coach. Arsene Wenger.
Wenger was in charge for the two games covered here and has seen 13 City managers come and go in that same period. This entwined history involves the polar opposites of managerial succession.