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Bergkamp, Bart-Williams and Big Ron: the last time Arsenal faced Nottingham Forest

It’s been a long time since the sides have met but they cross swords tonight in the League Cup.

Image: EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

IT WAS JANUARY 1999 and with Nottingham Forest rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table, the club needed a drastic change.

It had been a miserable return to the top flight. A large bulk of the campaign saw striker Pierre van Hooijdonk in self-imposed exile after he went on strike.

Dave Bassett was sacked at the turn of the year and Forest turned to Ron Atkinson to conjure some sort of miracle.

In true ‘Big Ron’ style, he was on holidays in Barbados when the board asked him to become coach until the end of the season.

He had been out of the game for eight months.

Atkinson’s first assignment upon arriving at the City Ground was a game with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal but home advantage couldn’t spur the side to victory.

Martin Keown scored the only goal and, despite the tight result, there was a huge gulf in class regarding the talent on show.

Wenger’s reigning double winners boasted the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Nicolas Anelka, Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit while they could rely on the famous back-four of Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Keown and Nigel Winterburn too.

In contrast, a desperate Forest – who did have van Hooijdonk back in the side by then – had the likes of Thierry Bonalair, Jean-Claude Darcheville, Jon-Olav Hjelde and Chris Bart-Williams in their side.

Ron

Atkinson, infamously, even stood in the wrong dugout before kick-off.

It just wasn’t a good fit. And it got worse, of course.

Despite winning their next game away to Everton, Forest were humiliated 8-1 by Manchester United.

Source: ff32ss/YouTube

“In a nutshell, we were murdered”, Atkinson said afterwards.

They were quality all over the field. We said beforehand that we’d be bright and attractive, and there you are: a nine-goal thriller.”

The quips didn’t help and relegation was confirmed after a 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa.

Ron retired from management and told reporters: ‘Everything must come to an end’.

Tonight, Forest face Arsenal for the first time in 17 years. They’ll be hoping that what follows isn’t as bad as what went before.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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