By Les Crang
Some people are born great some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. -Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
There’s a term ‘one season wonder’ and in Arsenal’s double winning season on 1997-98 it seemed Arsenal got three one season wonders. In goal we had Alex Manninger, whose penalty saving exploits in the FA Cup against Port Vale and West Ham United pushed us to the final. In midfield was England’s ‘next new thing’ in Stephen Hughes and then, up front, Christopher Wreh. I’m never sure if he remembered for being Liberia’s second best footballer or being being related to George Weah, the best Liberian player, but for one (very short) moment in time he was a world beater in the Arsenal attack.
Christopher Wreh had joined us from Arsene Wenger’s old team Monaco in the summer of 1997. Kevin Whticher wrote:-
A couple of months after the arrival of his team-mates, Liberian striker Christopher Wreh also made the journey from Monte Carlo to north London……Wreh’s move was held up because, like Nicolas Anelka there was some dispute over whether or not the 22 year old was free to move. To avoid a legal battle, Arsenal again stumped up £500,000 to get their man. One of the advantages of Wreh’s arrival was that, being able to speak both English (one of the main languages in Liberia) and French, he could act as an interpreter between the English and French players.
Whilst at Monaco he had played a mere 13 games scoring 3 goals and during a loan spell at French club Guingamp he scored 10 goals in 33 appearance, not bad figures, but nothing to write home about.
The first time we really got to see Wreh in a major match was the Manchester United game at Highbury. In a game in which David Platt scored a late winner, our memory of Wreh’s even later miss against them showed his ‘skill’ [see about 5 minute 16 seconds of video below].
Of the miss Wreh said:-
[I missed] an absolute sitter. The ball came in late to me, and I knew I had a good chance to beat Schmeichel, and to make a real name for myself. But I flapped at the ball, and somehow dragged it wide when it looked easier to score. The crowd wasn’t too happy with me, but luckily the final whistle went soon afterwards anyway. If we’d lost, we’d have been seven points behind United. As it was we only trailed them by a point. The confidence sides take from beating teams like United cannot be overestimated, although ironically, we didn’t really play consistently well until the New Year. But the win against United made all the difference at the end of the season. Games against them were turning into the proverbial six pointers.
Hardly an auspicious introduction to his Arsenal career.
Atkins said of the 1997-8 team :-
The core of the team was so strong that for a (brief) while even Christopher Wreh looked like a top-flight striker, so while Anelka’s nine goals certainly contributed to Arsenal’s double, he wasn’t yet the crucial figure he would become the following season.
As the season went on, Arsenal would lose Ian Wright to injury and Dennis Bergkamp through suspension and injury and as a result Wenger used Christopher Wreh. Wreh got his first Arsenal goal against Wimbledon. Soar wrote about Wreh against Wimbledon:-
For both the Wimbledon and United games, Wenger rotated his young strikers. Anelka, whose form had been fitful in the early part of 1998 was replaced by Christopher Wreh. The young Liberian bubbled with confidence as he lined up for his first start of the season, against the Dons. Wreh on 22 minutes gave Arsenal deserved a half-time lead.
A few weeks later we played against Bolton at the end of March, at the Reebok:-
Once more Christopher Wreh stepped into the breach, playing alongside fellow rookie Nicolas Anelka. A fourth consecutive premiership 1-0 duly arrived courtesy of a sharply taken 20 yarder from the young Liberian on 47 minutes. Then, 15 minutes after taking the lead, Martin Keown was dismissed for a second bookable offence and Steve Bould replaced Wreh, but Bolton rarely troubled the gunners rearguard.
Brian Glanville wrote of the period:-
Yet with or without Bergkamp, and Vieira somehow largely surviving, Arsenal embarked on an imperious run of 10 successive League victories. A mercurial little Liberian centre-forward, Christopher Wreh, he too was from the Monaco club, added thrust to the attack when called on, not least in a dire overall performance at Wimbledon where Arsenal won 1-0.
It was in this period where he got his own song ‘“Riding along on the Christ-oph-er Wreh” went the memorable anthem conceived in honour of the Liberian striker who arrived at Arsenal in 1997.’
In April, Ian Wright was still injured and Arsenal had a cup semi against championship team Wolves. Wreh was picked up front alongside Nicolas Anelka. Within 12 minutes, Anelka broke from the halfway line and went on one of his famous galloping runs. With the outside of his boot he moved the ball to Wreh coming into the box, and shot across the goalkeeper who buried it into the corner. Arsenal were on the way to Wembley with a double on the cards and our new manager had a striker that had scored 3 very important goals in 1-0 wins. 3 goals in five starts.
3 games later, Wreh would score his last league goal in a 5-0 victory over Wimbledon at Highbury.
Wreh did play in the famous 4-0 victory over Everton, which bought Arsenal the title:-
Wreh described it as ‘a beautiful match, a beautiful team performance, on a beautiful day, with the growing realisation that Arsenal were becoming a beautiful team.’
In the dressing room before the match, Arsène Wenger talked about the fact that we were on the threshold of a great achievement, and how wonderful it would be if we could win the title at Highbury. He was extremely calm, as ever, and urged us to go out and play our natural game; to relax. I looked around the room, and saw what this could mean to the others.
Wreh was then surprisingly chosen for the cup final against Newcastle with Bergkamp out injured and Ian Wright left on the bench. An Anelka goal helped us go on to a 2-0 win:-
Wreh was substituted off in the 62 minute for David Platt. Platt was a man making his last appearance for the club but more than a few fans were annoyed Wright didn’t get the farewell appearance he deserved.
By the following season Christopher Wreh, striker of vital goals in the double campaign, couldn’t rediscover his form, although the season did start well. When Arsenal played Manchester United in the charity shield, they beat them 3-0. After Overmars put us 1-0 up, Arsenal went all out, destroying Manchester United expensive center back purchase in Jaap Stam. The Mirror wrote:-
A first-half goal by dangerous Dutch winger Marc Overmars was the body punch to United’s ribs that sucked out all the breath after they dominated the opening skirmishes.
It was all done with the same sharpness of mind, fleetness of feet and strength of body which carried Arsene Wenger’s team to Double glory last season.
As the season of 1998-9 became a battle between the best team (Arsenal) against the best squad (Manchester United), Arsenal strengthened his team with Nwankwo Kanu from Inter and the extremely profligate Kaba Diawara chances became less and less for a team player like Wreh. By the following season Wenger had signed Davor Suker and Thierry Henry and Wreh moved on, becoming the typical journeyman.
By 2000, Wreh moved on to such clubs as Birmingham, Den Bosch in Holland and St.Mirren. By 2006 an overweight Wreh was playing in Indonesia for Perseman Manokwari. By 2007 Christopher Wreh retired. Last year he resurfaced when a fan went in search of him [video below]:-
He’s almost the size of Steve Bruce now.
When you think of the 1998 double winning team, it’s usually the Dutch skills of Overmar and Bergkamp, or Ian Wright’s goal against Bolton to get the goalscorer record:-
or even Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira busting up the midfield. But that team was often required to dig in with bit part players like Gilles Grimandi, Luis Boa Moarte, Alex Manninger and especially Christopher Wreh. Although some of them were not there for long, their contribution was invaluable. Its quite weird, I couldn’t see a journeyman player like that come in to a team and making a difference, but back then, Arsene Wenger seemed to have a golden touch for these unknown players.