Bruce Rioch: The interregnum (1995–96)

Assistant manager Stewart Houston took charge until the end of the 1994–95 season. Arsenal finished 12th in the Premiership. Along the way, they staged a famous comeback against Liverpool in the Premier league: Arsenal were 0-0 and a man down after 74 minutes at Highbury, Arsenal then went on and scored with a brilliant strike from Dennis Bergkamp, sparking a terrific 10 man comeback. However, they did reach the Cup Winners’ Cup final again, after a titanic semi-final against UC Sampdoria, which they won on penalties after drawing 5–5 on aggregate. Arsenal faced Real Zaragoza in the final; Esnáiderscored for the Spaniards and John Hartson equalised for Arsenal. The game was heading to a 1–1 draw and penalties, before midfielder Nayim struck from 40 yards in the 120th minute, in virtually the last kick of the game. David Seaman, who had been Arsenal’s hero in the semi-final shootout, couldn’t backpedal fast enough and only got a hand to the ball as it went in.

In June 1995 Arsenal appointed Bruce Rioch, who had just guided Bolton Wanderers to the League Cup final and promotion to the top flight, as manager. He (briefly) broke the English transfer record by payingInternazionale £7.5million for Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp, and the new signing formed an impressive partnership with Ian Wright. Arsenal reached the League Cup semi-finals and finished fifth in the Premiership at the end of 1995–96, securing a place in the following season’s UEFA Cup and giving hope for an eventual title challenge. The Rioch era ended abruptly, however; in August 1996, just before the start of the new season, Rioch was sacked after a dispute over transfer funds with the board of directors, triggering a couple of months’ turmoil at the club. Stewart Houston was once again put in temporary charge; he remained at the helm for a month, before resigning to take over at QPR. Youth team coach Pat Rice held the fort for several games, before making way for the Frenchman Arsène Wenger at the end of September.

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