For this week’s Highbury Hero I’m going back to the early 1990s to talk about our original Super Swede Anders Limpar.
When he trotted onto the pitch last Saturday, it brought back so many great memories of him. Hard to believe it’s over a quarter of a Century since he signed for The Arsenal and he was also the only one in the Arsenal Legend’s squad who didn’t play under Arsene Wenger. Anyway without further ado let’s step into my time machine and travel back to the summer of 1990, when Anders signed for us for a million pounds from the Italian outfit Cremonese.
Anders had instant control of the ball and had a more than decent shot on him with either foot, using very little backlift. He operated for us on the left wing, but played on the right for Sweden and had played in centre midfield for Cremonese.
He had quicker feet than Michael Flatley, along with rapid acceleration over the first five yards. Many a time he led a defender a merry dance with his quicksilver footwork, before bursting away from him, leaving the bamboozled defender in his wake.
To be honest I knew very little about Anders Limpar when he signed for Arsenal. So I was intrigued to get my first glimpse of him at Wembley in the Mikita tournament, against Aston Villa and he won the Arsenal fans over immediately, when he arrowed a ball into the net like a guided missile, past the despairing dive of the Aston Villa keeper.
My next look at him was on his league debut for Arsenal against Wimbledon, at Plough Lane in the first league game of the season, which was also David Seaman’s league debut as well. Again Anders looked the business in a 3-0 victory.
His first league goal for us came in a 4-1 win over Chelsea at Highbury. Anders also got the winner up at Old Trafford in the infamous match when Arsenal were docked two points and Manchester United 1 point, over the so called mass brawl, a description which was way over the top in my opinion.
Anders Limpar was simply sensational that first season. We won the Title losing only one game at Chelsea and Anders went on to score 13 goals in all competitions for us, assisting many times as well. We ended up winning the Title, finishing 7 points clear of Liverpool, despite being docked the two points by the FA. As we used to sing at the time “you can stick your f****** two points up your arse”.
Including glowing tributes from Michael Thomas and George Graham before he and Anders fell out
Everybody was glued to the TV screens in the pubs around Highbury, to watch Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest side beat Liverpool. That meant we’d won the Title before even playing Manchester United. This led to fans celebrating in a party atmosphere, in which we could all relax and watch us wallop Manchester United 3-0, with an Alan Smith hat-trick. United graciously gave the new champions Arsenal the traditional guard of honour as our boys stepped onto the pitch before the game.
It was then Limpar’s turn to be the hat-trick hero, in the final game of the season, at Highbury. In a 6-1 demolition of Coventry City, who had Kenny Sansom playing for them. Anders Limpar had made a massive contribution towards winning the Title in his first season at The Arsenal.
Featuring Limpar hat-trick and Title celebrations
The following season Anders didn’t play as many games, or score as many goals. But new signing Ian Wright found the net 26 times in his debut season and Limpar set him up countless times that season. Also anybody who was at Highbury the day Anders superbly chipped one in from 40 yards, against Liverpool will never forget it.
In 1992-93 Limpar only started 12 league games and made 11 substitute appearances. He didn’t play a part in either of the two finals, or the replay at Wembley either. George Graham was losing faith in Anders. Being released for internationals for Sweden had been a bone of contention between the two of them for a while as well.
I remember a mate of mine getting me and my brother seats for QPR away that season. He also managed to get us into the Jim Gregory Suite before the game. There I spotted a forlorn looking Anders Limpar standing in a suit and tie. He’d been dropped from the side and I asked him why he wasn’t playing. He just shrugged and said “The manager hasn’t selected me” I replied “if I was the manager you’d be in my side every game” he smiled and thanked me. The match was a dull 0-0. Crying out for a bit of Anders Magic to unlock the QPR defence, to break the deadlock.
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1993-94 was Anders last season at The Arsenal. He only started nine league games with one substitute appearance. The relationship between Anders and George had really deteriorated and broken down. His last game for Arsenal was a 5-1 away win at Ipswich Town where Wrighty got a hat-trick.
An explanation for Limpar being left out the side according to Tony Adams in his book Addicted is that “George started to play 4-4-3 in order to stretch the opposition. Which would convert into a 4-5-1 when we didn’t have the ball, so it was particularly hard work for the wide players, which was probably why George had fallen out by now with Anders Limpar”.
There can be no doubt that George was a hard taskmaster who demanded 100% from every player and if he considered he wasn’t getting that, a player’s days were numbered and it wasn’t long before they’d be out the club. Once George made up his mind there was no way back.
This is what Limpar said about his departure. Limpar revealed that he was deeply disappointed by Graham: “He sold me in April with my contract running out in May. No talk of extending the contract, just bye bye”. I said – “I would like to carry on playing for Arsenal and sign a new deal” to which he replied “No you are not”.
So i said – “But I’ve won so many titles in four years for you, is that not enough?” So we went to his office and I had my agent with me and Graham is talking and says “I have a really good offer from Manchester City so you are going there”.
“So I realised I was leaving the club, extended my hand to shake his hand and said – “Well thanks for four years then”. Then he just swivelled round on his chair and stared into the wall. So after four years he did not even shake my hand. We started driving towards Manchester but then we had a phone call from Everton, spoke to them and I joined Everton in the end”.
Limpar also said “George Graham’s regime was like living in Iraq under Saddam” I think there are two types of players, who need to be treated in very different ways. Some players need a good old fashioned bollocking to bring the best out of them. Then there are others that need the arm round the shoulder, with a few quiet words of encouragement. I’m guessing Anders was in the the latter category. But I don’t think George would ever take that approach. It just wasn’t in his nature.
Although Limpar says he left in April. He actually signed for Everton on 24th March 1994. Our loss was Everton’s gain, as he later went on to set up the winning goal for Paul Rideout against Manchester United in the 1995 FA Cup Final.
George was ruthless when it came to getting rid of players. I suppose there is no room for sentiment in top level management. But I thought George was far too hasty in freezing out Anders. It must have knocked his confidence and taken away some of his considerable panache. We became over reliant on Ian Wright and we missed the flair of Anders. Who could unlock a defence in a tight game with his magnificent skill.
I was really upset when George sold him. Although he was only with us for four years. I’m sure that he made a lasting impression on any Arsenal fan who watched him display his wonderful ability. He was one of the most exciting and entertaining players I’ve had the pleasure of watching at Arsenal and he’ll always remain a much loved Highbury Hero.