Simon Parker column
Arsene Wenger clocks up 1,000 games as Arsenal manager this afternoon. As the inevitable plaudits rain down on the grand old professor of the Emirates, it is worth remembering that Bradford City will always have their place in his CV.
Wenger himself has admitted that last season’s Capital One Cup embarrassment at Valley Parade ranked as one of his lowest points in the game.
Not a bad feather in the Bantams cap when you consider he is halfway through his 18th year at the Gunners helm.
As with Sir Alex Ferguson before him, there is a generation of young football fans who have never known Arsenal without Wenger. In this hire ’em, fire ’em era, his longevity will surely never be matched.
And to think, he has spent the last 500 appearances chasing another trophy to the one he last lifted in 2005.
Only five of Wenger’s 1,000 featured City and he won the two that were both played at Highbury.
That first visit, just a couple of weeks into City’s debut in the Premier League, threatened to get messy when Arsenal went two up inside 17 minutes. The fact that the final scoreline remained the same despite a night of one-way traffic was down to a Gary Walsh goalkeeping super show.
The following season, with City hurtling towards seemingly inevitable relegation, they turned up in north London in early January.
I was only a few months into my time at the T&A and took a newly-appointed photographer along for the ride. He had instructions to read the map – yes, it was long before SatNavs – and inspired great confidence when I glanced across from the steering wheel to see that he was engrossed in reading it upside down...
Ashley Ward showed a similar lack of direction when presented with City’s best scoring chance – their only chance – a couple of minutes into the game.
Put clear by Peter Atherton with a pass that any Arsenal playmaker would have been proud of, Ward bore down on goal with only David Seaman in his way.
He jabbed the shot wide after opting to go with his right foot – and when I questioned Jim Jefferies later that “surely a Premier League striker should have the ability to shoot with his weaker left”, you thought I’d asked the manager why Ward didn’t know how to split the atom.
The score, from that miss onwards, was inevitable. But that was as good as it got for Wenger – at least against the Bantams, anyway.
It’s a very different story when he has had to journey up to West Yorkshire.
Wenger has never liked Valley Parade for some reason. Could it be the cramped away changing room, the lack of a hairdryer plug for Emmanuel Petit or an icy, rock-hard pitch that made him appeal in vain for a late postponement before that fateful cup quarter-final?
Nope, it’s more likely down to the fact that he’s never won here. And we know that Arsene has never been the most gracious loser.
I’m sure he did not appreciate the moment of quick-thinking brilliance from Dean Windass to kick off the City victory in February 2000.
Fouled by Gilles Grimandi on the edge of the Arsenal box, Windass caught out Seaman from the free-kick as the England keeper tried to organise his wall.
Thierry Henry replied with his trademark brilliance within minutes but one of the most famous successes of City’s two seasons in the elite was secured by Dean Saunders’ second most memorable goal for the club.
Early in the following campaign, before the expensive rebuild from the “six weeks of madness” in the summer began to unravel, Arsenal again failed to take away three points from Wenger’s Amityville.
Stuart McCall’s goal incited the Gunners into another session of pounding the City rearguard. But they only managed to reply once through a teenage Ashley Cole.
If that draw furrowed the French brow, that was nothing on the frustration from 15 months ago.
We all know the script from that off by heart; safe to say the names Garry Thompson, Gervinho and Thomas Vermaelen.
Wenger, not for the first time in his prestigious career, looked crushed at the Valley Parade final whistle; revenge, once again, for trousering £1.25million of City’s cash in exchange for Isaiah Rankin all those years ago.
When Wenger marks his milestone against Chelsea at lunchtime today, he will hope to celebrate by doing something he has never managed before – beating a team led by Jose Mourinho.
But even if he pulls that off, there will be one trick that still continues to elude him.