Throughout the Arsene Wenger era, the numerous sides that he has built have always contained a player or two with lightening pace.
From Thierry Henry to Theo Walcott and Hector Bellerin, there have been a number of speed demons under Wenger but, I want to pay homage to the original Wenger era speed demon.
Marc Overmars joined Arsenal in June 1997, moving from Ajax for around £7 million. In the previous season, Arsenal had started strongly and looked like title contenders in Wenger’s first campaign as boss but, they buckled under the pressure and eventually finished third.
While being able to stay compact and win games away from home, form at Highbury was poor and cost the Gunners dear as they struggled to play expansive attacking football. The signing of Overmars was the intended solution for this.
His pace had taken teams apart in Holland, in Europe and on the international stage, making him the ideal man to give Arsenal much needed attacking impetus. This was something that Overmars stated upon his arrival, telling the media, “I like English football because there is more pace. With my speed and quality, I think it will be good for me here.”
However, Overmars had struggled with knee problems for a number of years and many doubted that he was the right man for the job but, Wenger was not of the same opinion, saying “His best years are ahead of him and he is used to the pressures of playing for a big club and everything that goes with it.”
It was a difficult start for the Dutchman and his new teammates though, with the club sitting fifth in early December. Overmars was criticised by fans and the press for a poor start to the season but, the turn of the year saw and new Arsenal, and a new Overmars.
From December 26th 1997 to March 13th 1998, Arsenal went unbeaten, winning six times and drawing three. This form made Arsenal contenders for the title when the travelled to table-topping Manchester United on March 14th. It was a must-win game, and it was Overmars who stepped up to the plate, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win.
That result left The Gunners trailing United by six points, but crucially, with three games in hand. A run of seven consecutive wins saw them overtake The Red Devils in April, needing only a win against Everton at Highbury to secure the title with three games left.
In a perfect demonstration of Wenger’s belief in Overmars’ ability, the winger scored twice in a 4-0 win to lift the Premier League trophy, the first under Wenger.
Overmars then went on to score the opening goal in the FA Cup final against Newcastle, with Arsenal winning the game 2-0, lifting the famous old trophy and securing a historic double.
The Dutchman finished the season with 13 goals, his best numbers for Arsenal. While these are good numbers for a winger, it was the importance of some of his goals that made his season a real standout.
The electrifying winger remained for two more seasons but, did not lift another trophy with Arsenal.
He moved to Barcelona along with teammate Emmanuel Petit in the summer of 2000, joining the Catalan’s for £25 million, making him the most expensive Dutch player of all time, while also representing a sizable profit for Arsenal.
In 142 appearances, he scored 41 times.
While Overmars only spent three seasons in North London, his impact upon the club and the Wenger era as a whole cannot be understated.
Crucial goals helped secure the first couple of trophies under Wenger and proved that the Frenchman was both tactically astute and a good businessman.
Overmars was one of the most exciting players to ever pull on an Arsenal shirt. His pace, technique and all round attacking quality made him a fan favourite, who is still fondly remembered today, being voted the 12th greatest Arsenal player of all time.
So, Overmars, the original Wenger pace merchant, we salute you!