It seems strange to think that David Platt once played for Arsenal.
Platt spent three seasons at the club which is almost a blink and you miss it moment. For a player who had played for Aston Villa, Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria, as well as being an England international, you wonder why Platt is not held in higher esteem with the Arsenal faithful.
When Platt was signed by the club in 1995 by then Arsenal manager Bruce Rioch, for £4.75m, there was a buzz around the club. Platt was joined by another big name signing in Dennis Bergkamp and the feeling from the supporters were that the club may start again challenging for trophies. For Platt, he had welcomed the move back to England. His career in Italy had been a successful one and Sampdoria had offered him a two-year contract to stay in Genoa but after Platt had met with manager Rioch, his mind was made up. He had been very impressed with Rioch and his exciting ideas on tactics and how Platt would fit into these plans.
In his first season with the club, he played in 29 games and scored six goals as Arsenal finished fifth and qualified for the UEFA Cup. This was a marked improvement from the previous season which involved a flirt with relegation, Cup Winners Cup final last minute loss, illegal payments and a sacked manager.
However, at the end of the season, Rioch was sacked and eventually replaced by Arsene Wenger. Platt had got on exceptionally well with Rioch.
The following season Platt remained a regular in the side, partnering in the centre of midfield a young Patrick Vieira, who Wenger had advised the club to bring in just before his arrival. Platt made 28 league appearances and scored four goals as Arsenal finished third and qualified for the UEFA cup in the process.
The 97/98 season, Wenger had brought in Emmanuel Petit to play alongside Vieira in midfield, which proved an extremely effective partnership in that double winning year. Platt was limited to just 11 starts while appearing 20 times off the bench. He scored 3 goals that year but his winning header against Manchester United is one goal most fans do remember of Platt.
It was David Platt’s last season at the club.
But why is it, we only remember Platt for his one header. Here was an England international who would score goals with regularity at clubs previously. His last two seasons at Aston Villa had seen Platt score over 20 goals each season.
Platt’s main asset was bursting into the penalty area creating or scoring chances that came his way and supporting the main strikers, playing just in the hole. For Villa, he prospered in this position, as the ball was played up to the front men who would then bring Platt into play or create enough space for him to burst through and more often than not, score.
On arriving at Arsenal, Rioch was changing how the club played. Having played a more direct game in previous years, Arsenal would now get the ball down and pass the ball through the midfield. This would limit Platt’s attacking ability, as instead of arriving on the end of these balls, he was now involved in the build-up play instead. Platt was also played in centre midfield rather than just behind the forwards, with Paul Merson being preferred there. It meant Platt had more of a holding role, which reduced his goal scoring impact.
A knee injury didn’t help his first season either as he struggled initially with the pace of the English game. Even on Wenger’s arrival, Platt was preferred in central midfield alongside Vieira. The team were playing a more controlled passing game, with Platt playing safer passes in his role.
Once Petit was signed in 1997, Platt’s starts were limited. He continued to come off the bench and played his part in Arsenal winning the double, but Platt would always play the safe pass, ensuring that the team’s mistakes were reduced. It was almost the true professional in Platt coming through, as he was bringing the team home for the title. The problem was, this didn’t make him stand out from the team. Platt did exactly what he needed to do and what was expected of him.
You have to feel Platt was one of our unsung heroes, in a side boasting Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit.
If we must only remember Platt for that header, then so be it. One thing’s for sure, if we had not won that match against Manchester United then chances are, we would not have gone on to win the league. His goal gave the club belief that they could beat our rivals and make a challenge for the title.
For that alone David Platt, I thank you.