Ahead of the Champions League match between Arsenal and Galatasary read an exclusive extract for the Daisy Cutter from Layth’s best-selling book Arsene Wenger 50 Defining Fixtures as he looks back on a dramatic and violent fixture between the two sides.
The crushing 4-2 Champions League defeat by Barcelona at Wembley on Matchday Four saw their hopes of finishing top of Group B ended by the comprehensive reverse. But it was the 1-0 home loss to a Gabriel Batistuta stunner in the next round of matches that effectively put paid to the Gunners realistic chance of qualifying from the group at all.
An entertaining 3-2 victory away to AIK Solna in the Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm on Matchday Six may have cheered the 500 travelling fans to Sweden’s capital, but despite the three points Arsenal finished third a point behind the Italians. The placing would result in staying in Europe – but to compete in the far less prestigious (and far less financially rewarding) UEFA Cup.
Nevertheless Wenger approached their task with a seriousness that belied their disappointment at exiting Europe’s premier trophy by picking a full strength side in their first UEFA Cup tie. In the event they comfortably beat Nantes 3-0 at Highbury with Bergkamp netting, Overmars scoring with a penalty, and Nigel Winterburn hitting a rare goal for the club to render the second leg a formality.
The lack of pressure resulted in an open game that ended 3-3 on France’s Atlantic coast as Overmars struck again, along with Henry and Giles Grimandi. The 6-3 aggregate victory propelling Wenger’s men into a trip to Northern Spain to play Deportivo La Coruna. A memorable 5-1 victory in North London saw Henry hit two, with Bergkamp, Kanu and Lee Dixon supplementing the score rending the second leg in Galicia a formality, even if it ended in a 2-1 defeat (Henry). However the result would not deter manager Javier Irureta’s men from claiming their first league title since they were founded in 1906.
A fact which made Arsenal’s evisceration of La Coruna at Highbury even more impressive.
The Germans of Werder Bremen were beaten 2-0 (Henry, Ljungberg) at fortress Highbury, with the move back after their Wembley sojourn agreeing with the North Londoners. An improbable Ray Parlour hat-trick at the Weserstadion in Northwest Germany along with another Henry strike saw the Londoners move effortlessly into the last four.
A tense first leg semi final at Highbury saw Arsenal edge the match 1-0 (Bergkamp) against the Les Sang et Or (Blood and Gold) from Northern France. A 2-1 win at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis with Henry and Kanu strikes ensured Arsenal’s 1999-2000 European adventure would result in reaching the final of a tournament that hadn’t even been entered into at the start of a long season. But now they had reached the UEFA Cup final in Copenhagen – the scene of their unforgettable backs to the wall victory over a star studded Parma team six years previously – they were determined to win it. Only Galatasaray stood between them and glory.
Arsenal: Seaman, Dixon, Keown, Adams (c) ,Sylvinho, Parlour, Petit, Vieira, Overmars, Bergkamp, Henry. Substitutes: Kanu for Bergkamp, Suker for Overmars. Not used: Lukic, Winterburn, Luzhny, Grimandi, Malz
Galatasaray: Taffarel, Capone, Korkmaz (c), Popescu,Penbe, Davala, Kaya, Hagi, Buruk, Erdem, Şükür. Substitutes: Unsal for Buruk, Yildirim for Kaya, Sas for Erdem. Not used: Akyel, Yozgatlı, Márcio
0-0 aet, Galatsaray won 4-1 on penalties.
Unfortunately Copenhagen in 2000 for Arsenal fans would be remembered far less fondly than the last time they played in a European Final in the Danish capital. The match would be forever remembered for off field events which saw the day labelled as the Battle of Copenhagen. City Hall Square in the centre of the city, a place where over twenty thousand Gooners partied peaceably before and after the Cup Winners Cup Final was now the setting for a series of violent clashes between supporters of Arsenal and Turkish fans of Galatasaray.
Four people were stabbed, 19 injured with 60 arrested as firms of hooligans from other British clubs joined together in the trouble which was in direct response to the murder of two Leeds United fans in Istanbul ahead of their semi final against the Turkish side. Despite local police deploying 2,000 officers to the square and surrounding environs, as well as being warned of potential trouble in the lead up to the match by British Football Intelligence, violence, tear gas and an all pervading ugly atmosphere marred what should have been a showcase final.
The game itself was full of missed chances with Thierry Henry having a number of terrific strikes saved by Gala’s Brazilian keeper Claudio Taffarel, along with Overmars who saw a shot fly narrowly wide. In the second period of extra time, Henry was prevented a winner when Taffarel stopped his powerful header as Arsenal dominated but agonisingly failed to score – which itself was a continuation of the first 90 minutes. However it wasn’t all one way traffic as midfielder Arif Erdem beat the offside trap yet pulled his strike wide during a one-on-one with Seaman. But perhaps the easiest chance fell to Martin Keown when, with only minutes left, he ballooned his close range strike well over the bar from a matter of yards when it appeared easier to score.
And so it was to penalties. Wenger complained that the sudden death shoot out was deemed to be at the Gala end even though no coin toss was made. The intimidating noise may have played a part in Vieira and Suker failing to score with only Ray Parlour successfully converting. Penbe, Sükür, Davala all scored with ease. To add insult to injury ex-Spurs misfit Gica Popescu hit the winning spot kick to end a miserable day and night for Arsenal Football Club.
At end the Wenger said: “We had a not very good first half and in the end lost to a good Galatasaray side. We improved in the second half but really we could not find our true game today. It is very disappointing because this is the third cup we have missed this season through penalty shoot-outs. We lost in the FA Cup and the Worthington Cup in that way, too, and it is very difficult to take.” Wenger did concede however that the Gunners under-achieved in not managing to break through a stubborn Gala team who had the’ Maradona of the Carpathians’ Gheorghe Hagi ordered off four minutes into extra-time.
“It was not a huge advantage for us to have Hagi sent off,” said Wenger. “Sometimes you defend better with 10 men because everybody is focused. We could not take advantage because at that stage we had tired legs and could not afford to go on all-out attack for fear that we could concede a golden goal and the match would be over.”
However, the day after the game off field violence was back on the front pages as fighting broke out at Copenhagen Airport and bottles were thrown between fans from England and Turkey whilst both sets of supporters waited to board their planes. It was a sorry but all too predictable end to a depressing couple of days for the club and Arsene Wenger. When all was said and done the club finished without a trophy for the second successive year.
Yet there was some good news for Arsenal fans when the Frenchman revealed to the publication France Football: “When I sign a contract, it is not yes one day and no the next day. I have a contract with Arsenal until the end of the 2002 season, and I will respect it.”
Was his refusal to leave the club a tacit admission that Wenger realised new signings would have to be made to freshen the side? His ongoing passion and commitment – certainly after their defeat in a final of a tournament they hadn’t envisaged competing in and off field events they wanted to forget – proved his determination to put silverware back in the trophy cabinet at Highbury.
The events of the next few seasons would reward his desire and dedication to the club.
Layth’s book Arsene Wenger: 50 Defining Fixtures is out now. Click here to buy it.
Layth’s next Waterstones book signing is on Saturday October 4 11am – 3pm at Waterstones Hemel Hempstead (01442) 270680 – B4, The Riverside, HP1 1BT, Hemel Hempstead
Daisy Cutter regular Layth is a journalist and author. Follow him on twitter @laythy29