Arsene Wenger was already Arsenal’s manager when I started following Leicester City back in 1998. Because of this, I’ve always seen the football club and their taciturn manager as one and the same. Even more so than Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, Arsene Wenger IS Arsenal and vice-versa.
With the announcement of the Frenchman’s departure from the club at the end of this term, I’ve been thinking back on all of my happy memories of the Leicester/Arsenal matches over the last twenty years. It didn’t take very long, because there have been very, very few happy memories for Foxes fans.
In fact, if you want to be completely honest about it, there are no happy memories. Leicester’s league record against Wenger is 0 wins, 6 draws, and 14 defeats. That doesn’t give a Leicester fan a lot to celebrate. And, while I’m tempted to say my favorite moment was Walshie’s header that nullified a brilliant Bergkamp hat-trick, my favorite Leicester match against Arsenal was the 2000 FA Cup tie.
Leicester manager and all-around God, Martin O’Neill, had a selection problem going in to the tie. Midfielder Muzzy Izzet, goalkeeper Tim Flowers, and striker Ian Marshall were unavailable for the first leg on 9 January at Highbury. O’Neill chose to start defender Matt Elliott up top with Emile Heskey. This was indicative of the Ulsterman’s master plan: From the opening whistle, the Foxes were playing for a replay and penalties.
And wouldn’t you know it? O’Neill got it spot on. Even with Darren Eadie getting a second yellow for time wasting (something that Leicester were doing from the kickoff), Arsenal, loaded with stars like Patrick Vierra, Thierry Henry and, um, Davor Suker, were unable to pierce the City defense, forcing a replay ten days later at Filbert Street.
Tim Flowers was able to start the replay, but Neil Lennon was unavailable, leaving City thin in the midfield. Flowers was brilliant throughout regular time, and he had to be, as Arsenal threw wave after wave of attacks at the Foxes’ defense. Unfortunately, the keeper picked up a knock and had to be replaced by Pegguy Arphexad at the end of regular time.
Arphexad kept up the high standard of keeping throughout extra time and O’Neill was this close to seeing his negative tactics vindicated. Now it was down to Arphexad vs. David Seaman, and in the end, there could only be one winner: Pegguy Arphexad (I will never grow tired of typing his name, so allow me this indulgence). Arphexad saved penalties from Lee Dixon and Gilles Grimandi and Leicester advanced, 6-5.
The best part, for me, was Wenger’s post match press conference. I’ve never heard a manager complain so much about his opponents’ tactics. “That was not football,” was one of the phrases I remember (perhaps correctly) hearing the Arsenal manager repeating over and over. He was furious that only one side was playing what he thought of as proper football, but it was the other side who advanced.
In many ways, this typified the Leicester City I first fell in love with. We weren’t especially, you know, “good,” and much of our joy came from ruining the days of the bigger clubs. We never lost at Anfield under MON, and we gave all the other big clubs a much tougher time than they wanted. Seeing Wenger seethe in anger at having his side dumped out of the cup by a Leicester side that didn’t play the way he wanted us to play? Absolutely glorious, and a memory I’ll take to my grave.
So, I’ve said my bit. What’s YOUR favorite Leicester City memory involving Arsene Wenger?