Nelson Vivas didn’t lose the title for Arsenal in 1999

If I say “Nelson Vivas” most of you will probably think “failure”. His name is one which is always near the top of the list on those “top ten worst Wenger signings” articles which are stamped out with increasing regularity these days. The root cause of all the Vivas hate is a match against Leeds in 1999 where he left Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink unmarked at the far post, JFH scored, and Arsenal were knocked out of the 1999 title race.

Further killing Vivas’ Arsenal career, after the match Wenger publicly blamed him for the goal saying “We made a huge tactical error, which is unusual for us to make a mistake like that. Nelson Vivas was in a very bad position at the far post.” Wenger also blamed the Leeds physicality in that match, “it was a battle rather than a technical match. We were not fresh enough. It was very difficult. It’s unbelievable, we created so many chances and didn’t score.”

And that battle left some scars. Vivas was an 81st minute sub in that match, coming on for Nigel Winterburn who had been kneed in the face by the notorious Alfie Haaland. Haaland broke Winterburn’s nose as he was lying on the ground suffering the effects of another tackle.

And so to recap that match.. Arsenal roughed up? An Arsenal defender forced to mark multiple players and getting the blame? An unchallenged cross? Arsenal conceding a headed goal? Arsenal collapsing in an important game? Arsenal missing a number of close chances which would have gone a long way to sealing the point and possibly a second consecutive League title but the defense getting the blame? All sound familiar?

I’ve looked at the tape of the goal and from the angle I have (which is admittedly incomplete) it looks like Vivas is covering two players, Hasselbaink and Alan Smith. And no one likes to mention the fact that Harry Kewell was allowed to put in a cross at his whimsey because Lee Dixon had slipped and seemed afraid to get touch tight because Lee Dixon is an Arsenal legend and as we know, legends never err.

But I think it’s harsh to blame Vivas for that title loss. Arsenal were in the midst of a 19 match unbeaten run in which they conceded just 6 goals and gathered 52 points. That season, Arsenal would concede just 17 goals total, so surely that one goal shouldn’t have killed their title hopes!

No, Arsenal’s 6 wins and 26 points in the first 17 matches were what killed that season. Arsenal earned 26 points from the first 17 and 52 points from the last 21 matches. That’s a point per game increase which resulted in an unbelievable title charge from Arsenal. The Gunners went from 7th place after matchday 17 and finished one point behind the winners, Manchester United.

If Arsenal had beaten Southampton, who finished 17th that season, even once or if they had beaten Charlton instead of a 0-0 draw in matchday 3, the story would have been different. But as it stood, Arsenal had to be perfect to win the title after matchday 17 and they weren’t. And as always with football fans we point to the one bad moment, a moment which almost no one saw, a small moment in what was an extraordinary run, a moment which we can’t even definitively say that Vivas was wrong, as the scapegoat for the entire season.

Wenger did what he now seems to do regularly with defenders who make a mistake in a big game: he dropped Vivas, then sent him on loan, and then sold him. Eventually, Vivas went back to Argentina where he played a few more seasons before retiring. After that he apprenticed under Diego Simeone as an assistant manager and this season has been named Argentina’s manager of the year in his very first season as a head coach. Along the way, Vivas has battled his demons with the same strident attitude he once battled opposition midfielders.

Four Four Two has a great interview if you want to know more about Nelson Vivas than just the tired old Arsenal fan story line that he was one of Wenger’s worst ever signings.

7amkickoff’s Ten Worst Wenger Signings

  1. Squillaci
  2. Silvestre
  3. William Gallas
  4. Gervinho
  5. Kim Kallstrom
  6. Lukas Podolski
  7. Andre Santos
  8. Thomas Vermaelen
  9. Lassana Diarra
  10. Elneny

Ten Best Wenger Signings

  1. Henry
  2. Sol Campbell
  3. Vieira
  4. Pires
  5. Fabregas
  6. van Persie
  7. Anelka
  8. Overmars
  9. Alexis
  10. Gilberto

Qq

77 Comments on Nelson Vivas didn’t lose the title for Arsenal in 1999

  1. Almunia [Shabaan]
    Jenks [Debuchy,Chambers]
    Santos [Slivestri]
    Squillaci [Gabriel,Cygan]
    Sendorous [Djouro,Upson]

    Denilson [Kallstrom,Vela]
    Diaby [Elneny]
    Bischoff [Benayoun,Reyes]
    Coquelin [van Bronckhorst]

    Chamakh [Batista,Diawara]
    Bendtner [Danilevicius,Caballero]
    Gervinho [Park Chu-Young,Campbell]

    • I don’t remember Kallstrom being a disaster when he played. He was just ok, I think. Perhaps Tim is referring to the bizarre nature of the signing itself (he was injured when we signed him, and we needed an upgrade rather than a stop-gap loanee from Spartak Moscow).

      • Didn’t he score his pen in the shoot out with Wigan in route for our first trophy in ages? That should count for something.

  2. Hi Tim, regular reader love the column and also what you do over on Arseblog. Just a comment on your 10 worst…Amoury Bischoff anyone!?

    • What did Park do or not do? Same with Bischoff? They were bit part players and never intended to be first team starters. Kallstrom on the other hand was brought in to start and didn’t even pass a physical.

      • Sure, but Kallstrom was bought about 5 years too late, well past his prime (this obviously is another reason that it was a bad signing, but the point is it wasn’t really Kallstrom who was the problem, it was the timing and circumstances). And it’s one thing to say Park wasn’t bought to be a guaranteed starter, it’s another thing to say he wasn’t bought to play. At all. Ever. Which is ALMOST what happened. I mean, the guy got like 2 or 3 short appearances in the League Cup. And he wasn’t a youngster and had been doing relatively well in France before he signed.
        Also, surely Andre Santos should be further up the list. That 2011 trolley dash after the Man United humiliation has to go down as the single greatest piece of incompetence (from the club hierarchy as well as Wenger, obviously) in 21 years of Wenger at the club.
        And I’d definitely have Koscielny in the top ten best ever, above Gilberto at least (whose reputation has grown in the ensuing years, mostly because he benefited from playing in the Invincibles era; he was a solid professional who played an important role within the team, but hardly a superlative footballer).

        Finally, I appreciate this article, and heartily agree with most of it, except the suggestion that that game was the reason Wenger sold Vivas. I suppose it could have been (only Arsene knows) but he had a perfectly good alternative reason: Vivas simply wasn’t a very good footballer (he really wasn’t, honest).

        PS Oh! And Senderos!

  3. I now feel very differently about Roy Keane’s infamous tackle on Haaland… Live by the sword, etc.

  4. I think the Kim Källström signing was the ultimate Wenger genius Arsenal signing. Get the guy in AFTER he’s already injured because we know he’s going to be crocked sooner or later anyway.

    It’s like buying pre-cooked, pre-digested and pre-excreted food. Just open up the package and flush the contents.

    Brilliant!

  5. Best:
    Take your pick of the top 6-7 Invincibles
    After that lot:
    Cazorla
    Fabregas
    Sanchez

    Worst:
    Källström (no fault of his own, he probably couldn’t believe his luck).
    Chamakh (forget whatever he did or more to the point, didn’t do on the pitch, he belongs on any worst list just for the hair alone).
    Gervinho (has anyone expended more energy for the least results in the Wenger era?)
    The Squillster. He wasn’t total s$%t before or after Arsenal so maybe Squillaci just wasn’t played properly, who knows?
    Sanogo. Who knows? Maybe Yaya knows…
    Santos. Because…Santos.

  6. I think Gallas was a pretty good signing for Arsenal. Obviously Cole would have been better but I think that one moment he had, which is a controversial moment for sure, has kind of overshadowed everything else he did.

    I didn’t get to see many game but he seemed to have a habit of scoring important goals in big games. Is the general consensus that he was a poor player?

  7. A bit harsh on Elneny. Instead of him i would put “fox in the box” Jeffers or Debuchy. Also Cazorla was a crucial signing at the time. He can replace Gilberto.

      • The fact that Ozil is closer to the flop list than the hit list, its sad. He sure hasn’t live up to the expectations.

        • I’m being aggressively outrageous but let me explain. Talent? One of Wenger’s most talented signings. I think he has more natural talent than Cesc Fabregas, by miles. Cost? He costs what a top talent should cost. Delivery? One six-month period of good service in three years is not even remotely close to delivering on his talent.

          I actually wonder which teams in the world would take Ozil? I don’t see a top club taking him, nor any club fighting for a Champions league trophy.

    • Totally agree. Elneny isn’t even close to being a top 10 worst signing. He’s been a solid player purchased for a good price.

  8. It’s interesting how most of the top ten worst signings are defenders and the opposite when it’s the top ten best signings. It’s almost as if…Wenger doesn’t understand defense.

    And even though I agree with most of the names on the list (even though I could’ve easily compiled a top twenty list for the first category), there was this very telling interview with Squillaci where he basically admits he knows he is considered a very bad defender during his time at the club, but goes on to add that he tried talking some sense into Wenger about leaving the centrebacks so isolated and that Wenger wouldn’t listen, saying that was the way he wanted his team to play.

    In the end, he says that no matter who signs as a defender for Arsenal, they will almost certainly have a bad time there because the strategy is completely flawed.

    And I for one believed him.

    • I read that interview and he came across as been sincere about that, not bitter at all. Ultimately time has proven he was right.

      • Everyone knows what Arsene’s philosophy is and how he plays. I’ve been calling it a 244 for about 10 years now. And I’ve written dozens of articles about how I wouldn’t want to play in the Arsenal systems as a center back because it’s so crazy exposed. But still, some defenders have done well under the Wenger system and some haven’t. Squillaci gets bonus points for that interview but he was still the worst center back in a terrible system. And worse than his lack of ability is the fact that Wenger signed him and played him there. These are Wenger’s 10 worst signings, not the 10 worst players. So Squillaci was easily his worst signing because of the money he cost combined with the fact that he wasn’t that talented and the fact that he totally couldn’t do the job we signed him for.

        The 10 worst players I’ve seen at Arsenal?

        1. Frimpong
        2. Eastmond
        3. Park
        4. Bentley
        5. Silvestre
        6. Bischoff
        7. Thomas Cruise
        8. Carl Jenkinson
        9. Yaya Sanogo
        10. Gavin Hoyte

        Ten most talented players:

        1. Henry
        2. Vieira
        3. Ozil
        4. Fabregas
        5. Alexis
        6. van Persie
        7. Eduardo
        8. Pires
        9. Bellerin
        10. Anelka

        • Helpful distinction between worst players and worst signings (though, to make it more of a challenge, it would be better to limit the former list to players who actually played a number of games and/or weren’t youth team products, so as to rule out the Hoytes of the world).

          As for the most talented players, FWIW I’d have Cazorla and Rosicky (and probably Nasri and Overmars) over Eduardo and Bellerin any day of the week. And I’d also have to agree with the person above who lists Cazorla for 16m as one of Wenger’s top ten signings. An absolute steal.

          • Rosicky wasn’t that talented. He was the most one-footed player I’ve ever seen at Arsenal. Eduardo.. well. That man was pure talent.

            He just happened to score big goals against Spurs.

          • Whatever dude. Now you’re just being silly. One footed? How about Alexis? Gibbs? Wilshere? Joel Campbell? Lucas Perez? This is just from the current squad!

          • I know that there is a cult of Rosicky among Arsenal supporters and that they inflate his talents, probably because they only saw him in fits and starts. He’s not even close to Alexis’ level. He never was. Wilshere is even above Rosicky. He was a third choice CM even when healthy which was not very often.

          • Ah! How could I forget Giroud! Has he used his right foot for anything but standing in his entire career?

          • 1. My post was in response to your outlandish assertion that he was the most one-footed player you’ve ever seen at Arsenal. I think the ones I listed are at least as one footed. I never claimed he was as good as Alexis.
            2. I rate Wilshere highly but Rosicky was definitely on his level, even when Jack was at his best.
            3. Third choice CM? He wasn’t usually a CM at all, rather a wide midfielder or no 10. And he was a starter at various times in his Arsenal career, but had his peak years destroyed by injury. Even when he came back and was in his 30’s he was influential in several key season run-ins that got us top 4, and I know I’m not the only Arsenal fan who thought he was puzzlingly underused in that time. So the fact that he was down the pecking order is no proof that he wasn’t as good or better than some younger players that AW preferred (though given that he kept struggling for with injuries maybe Wenger was just protecting his body).
            4. Calling a viewpoint you disagree with a cult is a nifty ad hominem way of dismissing the view without argument.

        • Bentley was a bit of an idiot but there is no way he makes it into the top ten worst players. That guy’s biggest problem was a lack of sufficient application to match his natural gift for the game

        • how is dennis bergkamp not in the ten most talented players you’ve seen at arsenal? that’s got to be a mistake.

          • Bergkamp was my favourite player of all time, so I’m biased, but Bergkamp ranks about Henry. #1 most talented player to ever play for Arsenal. But I get the distinction that you’re listing players Wenger has signed.

  9. Shalke playing Ajax right now. A chance to watch some players that are link with Arsenal (Kolasinac, Goretzka, Meyer).

    • Two assists for Kolasinac (looks great in attack, a bit suspect in defense, total Arsenal player) and a goal for Gorezka who got injured (also total Arsenal player). Still Shalke couldn’t go through to the next round.

  10. Surely Cazorla has to go down as one of Wenger’s best signings especially given the price and the free kick in the FA cup final that began the end of our trophy drought. We are sh*t without him.

  11. I find it really strange that Eleneny is on the top 10 worst list especially considering price and the fact he was brought to improve the depth of midfield. Surely Francis Jeffers, Reyes ( huge waste of potential) and Cygan are better placed. Elneny has just been distinctly average. Otherwise agree 100% with the lists. It’s a shame Podolski never worked out.If he was mobile and clever with his runs he could have been the perfect RVP replacement.

    • Maybe. But Elneny is currently infuriating and I didn’t feel like saying the same tired names over and over again. I put Elneny up there with Aliadiere, Gervinho, Jeffers, Reyes, Cygan. Just a bad player.

      • I think the issue with Elneny is that he doesn’t excel at anything in particular. He is just competent in a lot of departments which makes him kind of boring i guess.

        • Yeah, he’s a strange player for me. I can’t objectively say he’s a bad player player as he is competent in most things.I think something that has always bothered me about him is his physicality. He looks like a player who physically should be strong but in actuality is quite weak. I also feel he always goes for the easy pass and doesn’t try to be expansive enough with his passes. If he could bulk up and try to be more expansive, I think he could be really good.

          • very subjective assessment but you’re entitled to that. i had a similar opinion with vermaelen when i declared that he’s only good next to gallas. i was adamant and many believed my stance was unfair. well, gallas left and we got to see just how good vermaelen was. perhaps we’ll see the same with elneny. while he may not be world class, i certainly don’t believe he’s an awful signing. like i said, we’ll see.

  12. By far my favourite player since The Invincibles is Santi Cazorla. Fabregas had more years here and is equally talented. Neither can quite do what the other can but I have mad love for Cazorla.

    On his day with everything going through him his creativity and the way he dictates play are by far the most entertaining things on the pitch regardless of the opponent.

    • I love Cazorla. I don’t think he’s as talented or as big of a signing as Cesc. I don’t think, for example, you can build a whole team around him like with Cesc. He’s a niche player: incredible dribbling, great passing, hard to get the ball off, but not at the Fabregas level. Sorry!

      • I would take Santi over Cesc every time. Cesc is probably better going forward but I much prefer Santi’s intelligence and all-around game. Cesc is not even a regular starter at Chelsea but I bet Santi would be.

      • i’d take santi over cesc, too. cesc is the niche player in that he’s by far the better passer. santi’s a better dribbler, has a good shot with both feet, he’s a better defender, and he manages the game better.

        btw, arsenal did build a team around cesc for years and they didn’t win a single trophy. at least cazorla helped win a couple of fa cups. lastly, look at the impact. with cesc out of the team, arsenal suffered a little but were okay. with cazorla out of the team, arsenal’s struggles are major; it’s tough to beat teams like middlesboro and crystal palace.

        • Cazorla would be in the first XI of many of the great teams. He has lost some speed due to injuries and fitness which, I think hinders him playing the more attacking role now but a fit again Cazorla, playing further up could still score some good goals.

          There is still time for Cesc though. Easy to forget how young he is.

      • Fab never won us a cup. Otherwise, yeah, CESC all day every day. I’m also biased about he left.

        • I am biased about that too but I think taking Santi would be the pragmatic approach because he gives us more tactical flexibility. I think Santi could even fit into a team like Barca and play the Xavi/Rakitic role well.

      • Both wonderful players, obviously, but I’m in the Santi camp, easy. I think he’s been one of the most underrated players in Europe for years, going back to his days at Villarreal. He’s had the misfortune of a) breaking through at an unfashionable club, and b) playing for Spain in an era when they possessed arguably the greatest assortment of midfield talent in football history. His second year for us he was a bit below par, but otherwise he’s been a glorious addition to our team.

    • He proved to be very versatile as well. He has played with success on the wing, as a number 10 and finally as a deep cretive midfielder. Can’t think of another Arsenal player been shifted so much all over the pitch and doing a very good job in each position. I really want him to have one more good season with us.

  13. gotta come to the defense of william gallas. i thought that was a brilliant signing, especially under the circumstances. with sol campbell melting down, senderos and djourou being mistake prone, and kolo toure being a spaz, there needed to be a calm senior presence in the back that knew how to win. that was gallas. when henry left, gallas assumed the captaincy and nearly led the team to a championship.

    he had the notorious episode in the birmingham city game but that frustration is understandable. first, he just saw a team mate suffer a gruesome leg break. next, he watched his team mate get baited into making a silly challenge. then, he watched the official award a penalty when there was no foul. failing to beat birmingham city when they’re down to ten men is the kind of stuff that causes you to lose titles. gallas knew that and we witnessed an emotional response from a guy who was desperate to win with arsenal.

    • Me too. I think Gallas signing was very much logical and necessary. Basically we swapped one trouble maker with another (Cole for Gallas). Both were important to their teams but bad for the dressing room.

      Unfortunately Galla’s leadership style was too abrasive and alienated Toure and Adebayor. Too be fair those two ain’t angels.

      Car salesman Toure, lol.

    • i liked arshavin. he wasn’t a bad player, simply mis-managed. that’s got to fall on wenger. arsene get’s big credit for paying a marked down price for arshavin but everyone knew what arshavin was and wenger tried to turn lead into gold. if wenger had played arshavin as a #10, he would have given arsenal fans a lot more joy because he was absolute magic in and around the 18-yard box. instead, wenger persisted with fabregas in that spot and put arshavin out wide.

      cesc has won quite a few trophies in his career but i don’t think he’s ever won silverware playing as a #10. likewise, the idea of putting a short, fat, slow, lazy player on the wing was straight up stupid. do you remember the cup game against reading when arsenal were down 4-0 but came back and scored 7 to win the tie? remember who lead that comeback from the #10 spot that day? do you remember how you felt when arshavin scored his 4th goal of the game at anfield! he wasn’t a bad signing but he could have been a better signing.

      • I have always defended Arshavin. He was a mercurial talent custom built for the No. 10 role. He could run at defenders, score, create. Wenger wanted to give Cesc more freedom instead of teaching him how to properly play the no. 4 role and shunted Arshavin to the side which began his decline. He did himself, Cesc and Arshavin a disservice by doing that.

  14. It’s stotytelling like Vivas’ that has made 7am my go-to blog on Arsenal. Top, top stuff. You don’t get this kind of nugget anywhere else in football bloggery. There are a handful of other gooner blogs, but this is the best by a mile.

    Having said that, Tim, I it was a blog of two halves. Sublime in the first, not so watchable in the second. I though your listing of Arsenal’s 10 worst players was way off. The Lassana Diarra choice is just plain nuts to anyone who ever saw the kid play. At a time we had an overstock there (him, Flamini and an ageing Gilberto — along with Denilson, who I don’t count as a DM), he was by far the best in the position.

    Gallas had his flaws, but playing football well wasn’t one of them. Gervinho? Crimes against haitstyles, yes. Top 10 worst? You must be joking. Podolski? Didnt fit. 10 worst? You’re having a laugh. Easily a better and more effective player than Francis Jeffers.

    Santos wasn’t even the worst player bought in the post 8-2 sweepstakes. Park was. What about Stepanovs? Inamoto? Wreh? And why did he go for Jeffers instead of the teenaged Wayne Rooney?

    I confess to jumping in before reading all of the inevitable blowback, but man, I had to react to that list.

    I’d put kanu in a best of all time list.

    I think you 10 worst list is actually “The 10 Arsenal players I like the least for various reasons.”

    • Ok I can see that you made a distinction between worst signings and worst players, but the two are pretty much the same by any reasonable reading. Roma brought more out of Gervinho. It doesn’t make him a calamitous signing for Arsenal because we didn’t.

      And the rationale Park being off your list makes no sense to me. You may as well have said that you forgot. Squillachi was mentioned. Cygan was far worse. Had the turning circle of a Mack truck. Made Mertesacker look fleet footed.

      There were so many duds during Wenger’s early years, that I’ve forgotten most of them. We tend mainly only to remember the Anelkas, though.

    • Lass was a great player, however, this is a list of Worst Wenger signings.

      Signing Lass and then playing Flamini over him, then selling him in January, then letting Flamini and Gilberto go in Summer 08 puts Lass easily top 10 among the worst signings Wenger has made. Yeah, he banked a tiny amount of money for the sale to Pompey but Pompey went on to sell Lass that Summer to RM for his true worth which was 4x what Wenger paid. Absolutely stupid signing.

      • Wasn’t that an absolutely stupid sale, rather? I don’t think AW should be criticized for signing him or even with playing Flam ahead of him, as Flam’s surprising form made him virtually undroppable early on in that season. What was crazy was not giving Diarra more minutes (Wenger’s always struggled with rotating well), then agreeing to give him to Pompey when he threw a fit, rather than just play hardball (I remember at the time thinking no way if this were Fergie would he let the kid go mid-season). One of Arsene’s most shocking mistakes, and one that rarely gets a mention.

  15. how are both henry and sol campbell ahead of vieira for best signings? vieira by a short distance. wenger has said that he’s not sure he would have had the success he has at arsenal if he hadn’t signed vieira. although sol and thierry were great signings, wenger’s never afforded that type of vieira-reverence to them. patrick was a part of every team that ever won a championship under arsene wenger.

    thierry was the best player but vieira was the best and most important signing.

  16. rosicky was one-footed because his left got blended onto the outside of his right anyway. Loved him!

    I also loved arshavin before he became shit, even sadder story than poldi..

  17. squillaci and silvestre weren’t bad players but were awful signings. the silvestre that ripped the left flank for inter milan back in the late 90’s was amazing. that’s not the silvestre arsenal signed. the squillaci that was the bedrock for the lyon side that won like 8 straight championships was fantastic. that’s not the squillaci that arsenal signed. like kim kallstrom, these guys were signed way too late in their careers. they came to arsenal with obvious limitations that wenger simply ignored. if you know they have limitations and you’re unwilling to respect their limitations, do you have a reasonable expectation? why sign them?

  18. I echo 1Nil’s “mad love” for Santi. The greatest 2 footed player in the Premier League. The most fun to watch. The man who kicked our trophy drought into oblivion. Whhaat? Santa is The Man.

  19. Nelson Vivas did not lose the title for Arsenal but he wasn’t the best defender ever.

    Perhaps it is just a Wenger thing but every time he makes a defensive sub, it is always memorable by how it back fires.

    I still have bad memories of Nelson Vivas and Grimandi.

    As for the worst list, it has to be Richard Wright and Francis Jeffers.

    Both were bought at high prices, made numerous appearances and were both absolutely ineffective. If Tim can be bothered to put Gervinho in there…..I mean look at Gerv’s stats vs Jeffers.

  20. Why do people have beef with Kim Kallstrom’s signing?

    He simply failed his medical and it was either him or nothing.

    Guy didn’t even knew he was injured.

    I mean if you ask me to make a choice between nothing and a few weeks of availability from someone of Kim’s quality, I know what decision I will make.

  21. Gallas became the pantomime villain for our failed title challenge in the 07-08 season. He wasn’t a bad signing. A bad captain perhaps, but not a bad defender. He didn’t combine well with Toure (who was becoming increasingly jittery and overweight) – but the two small CB combination has never worked under Wenger. Gallas and Toure didn’t work. Koscielny and Vermaelen didn’t work. Koscielny and Mustafi hasn’t worked so far. Our defense functions better when we pair a small CB with a big one (Campbell-Toure, Koscielny – Per). You have to have effective partnerships all over the pitch but the CB and the MF pairings are the two most important ones.

    • Koscielny isn’t really “small” per se… but his style of defending (i.e. charging after the ball early) is what a lot of the smaller, quicker defenders do.

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