Top Guns – Arsenal in the 1990s 4-4-2 Review


Jon Spurling (Aureus £9.99)

*** (out of a possible 5)

Jon spurling certainly doesn’t hang around. Just a mere nine months after his excellent All Guns Blazing: Arsenal in the 1980’s hit the shelves, comes the follow-up – an impassioned retelling of a decade where Arsenal relentlessly ricocheted between triumph and trauma.

As much as the 1990s will be remembered as the decade of Manchester United’s almost inexorable imperialism, in their shadow, the Gunners managed to rack up six major trophies (it seems that only Liverpool count Charity Shields as major trophies), reaching two more European finals along the way. The second most fruitful decade in their history.

But it’s the tales of drugs, booze, bungs, prison bars, and baggage theft that makes for such a riveting soap opera. Complete with idols of Herculean stature (Tony Adams, Ian Wright), heroes who came from zero (Andy Linighan, Steve Morrow) and messiahs-come-pariahs (George Graham) it’s a wonder no-one’s snapped up the rights to Arsenal: The Movie.

Told by a fan who was on the terraces through all the highs and the lows, Spurling mixes well-detailed and colourful journalism with moments of emotional partisanship. For instance, an Adams red card is described as “a cretinously over-the-top reaction by a cretinous ref'”.

Fan recollections combine well with carefully-mined autobiographies and interviews with leading stars if the era including Paul Davis, Alan Smith, Anders Limpar and Bruce Rioch. The latter is the most insightful, as the dour Scot confesses he knew the board were talking to Arsene Wenger during his tenure.

Though Top Guns is a very worthy guide to a volatile decade, the book is out-jumped by its predecessor. Access to players from a more recent era, many of whom are still connected to the club, was obviously a problem and compared to twelve interviews in All Guns Blazing it’s a far thinner story. It’s still as good a version of events as you’ll get at the moment, but it feels rushed and you sense there’s more to come out in the wash. Damian Hall