The original Super Swede
Today was a sad day in our house twenty-one years ago. My brother's absolute hero in an Arsenal shirt was Anders Limpar. We had a framed picture of Limpar on our living room wall. But on transfer deadline day in 1994 George Graham sold him to Everton for a song at £1.6m. Anders had been with us for less than four years, but what a time we'd had watching him, even if George didn't trust him enough in the end.
Anders had arrived from Cremonese for £1m in the Summer of 1990 after playing for Sweden at the World Cup. Obviously we hadn't really heard of him - these were the days of the European suspension and any player brought in from abroad was fairly mystical. Having seen Brian Marwood's Arsenal career quickly taper off George had identified a need for a new left-winger who might create the chances Alan Smith had gobbled up in 1988-89 but had been sorely missed in the campaign after that. Marwood had also provided goals, of course, though by George's admission Anders wasn't a man for scoring goals himself. How would it play out for George's expensive gamble? He had also spent £1m and more on each of Andy Linighan and David Seaman that same pre-season - I wonder what became of those two...
Anders decided to announce himself at Wembley in the Makita Tournament against an Aston Villa side that had just missed out on the Division One Championship to Liverpool in May. He picked up the ball on the left edge of the area and, from absolutely nowhere, unleashed a ferocious left-foot shot across Nigel Spink and in to the side of the Wembley net. It was a stunning goal. Pre-season or not it laid a marker. Along with a second-half goal from a young Kevin Campbell it would serve notice of two of Arsenal's most crucial players in the season that lay ahead.
Limpar was simply on fire for most of that season. His skill on the ball was something we hadn't seen from a player at Arsenal pretty much throughout the 1980's. David Rocastle was a different type of player who could beat a man with a trick, but also his power was important. For the slight framed Swede it was all about the quickness of his feet and incredible sense of balance. He was simply unplayable and left defenders trailing in his wake all over the country. He was laying goals on for Merson and Smith, and also weighing in with his own. At Leeds United he scored two (and again in the FA Cup later in the season) with goals that showed his talent and pace at its very best.
He was also a tough and willing fighter. When it all kicked off at Old Trafford (having already scored the only goal) Limpar was to the fore, laying a tremendous right-hook on the jaw of Brian McClair in revenge for him sticking the boot in to a prone Nigel Winterburn. Limpar wasn't a player that could be kicked out of a game like a lot of small wingers might have been. Against Liverpool at Highbury in December he ran the show and won the penalty that put us 2-0 up. In short he was leading us to the Title despite the two point deduction from the FA.
After Christmas he maybe tailed off slightly, but he had done a Marwood-esque job in the first half of the season. He would finish it in the grand manner with a fantastic hat-trick in the 6-1 final day demolition of Coventry City by the newly crowned Champions of England. Alan Smith and Kevin Campbell had scored most of the goals (Campbell effectively replacing the influence Limpar had before Christmas in the run-in) as Arsenal lost just one game. But Anders was the hero, the new darling of Arsenal's North Bank. He was quite simply the Super Swede.
Anders with his League Championship
It never quite got so good again on a consistent basis for Limpar, largely because George lost trust in him. George was also seriously wounded by the way we lost to Benfica in the European Cup and things were to change beyond recognition after the end of 1991-92. But that wasn't before Anders had set up a new partnership with Ian Wright. In a game against Everton just four days before Christmas Wrighty got four goals, and each one was set up by Anders. Ian Wright has gone out of his way at times to talk about how good Limpar was for him at Arsenal. Towards the end of that season Arsenal went on an incredible run and came just a few points short of stopping Leeds from winning the League ahead of Man Utd. We played great football and scored great goals. A front four of Limpar, Wright, Campbell and Merson were unstoppable, with David Rocastle and David Hillier formidable in the midfield. Who could possibly forget his goals against Sheffield Wednesday and, particularly, from the halfway line against Liverpool? We were installed as favourites for the first Premier League. But, as I said above, George had been spooked by the loss to Benfica and the times were changing. Rocastle was sold to Leeds and John Jensen arrived. Trophies would follow, but the style changed and people like Limpar didn't fit in.
This cretin replaced Anders Limpar?!
The season 1992-93 was a disappointing one for Anders. He scored in the early season win at Liverpool, but lack of playing time and injury saw him become a peripheral figure and he missed all the trips to Wembley that season as Arsenal won both domestic cups. In the close season George inexplicably splashed the cash to bring in Eddie McGoldrick from Crystal Palace. He could, in theory, play a number of positions but was really a winger (in reality he couldn't play in any position because, to put it nicely, he was f***ing rubbish). There are very few Arsenal players I actively dislike, but Eddie McGoldrick is one of them. To me he is by far the worst signing we ever made and the worst player I've ever seen get a consistent run in the Arsenal team. The worst Arsenal player ever is some title to have. Limpar started the 1993 Charity Shield game against Man Utd, but that was about as good as it got in the early season. By the time we beat Spurs at White Hart Lane a few weeks later McGoldrick was in the side (one of his very few good games for Arsenal). But he wasn't quite finished yet. In late February and early March 1994 Arsenal went on a short run of form, scoring a few goals in to the bargain. At the heart of all that creativity was the Super Swede. At Southampton, the week before he was sold, he was instrumental in a great four-goal win, linking brilliantly with Wright. For the first time in ages he looked like he was in the team and playing as we knew he could.
For him to then be sold on that Thursday afternoon was a massive shock. Suddenly all the creativity had gone from the side. Of course we went on to win the Cup Winners Cup that season with an unbelievable display against Parma, but the next season was a terrible low point. It ended up with George sacked and Arsenal in a relegation battle. We would lose in the final of the Cup Winners Cup in Paris, while Limpar delighted us all by winning the FA Cup with Everton, having missed out on it at Arsenal.
As I said at the top, this was a sad day in our house twenty-one years ago. But the memories of watching Anders Limpar play for Arsenal will live forever. Have a look at this short video to see what all the fuss was about.
As a short aside, this post will see the website reach 1,000,000 hits since I started it coming up for five years ago. Thank you so much for reading it.