Some footballers are great goalscorers. Others are scorers of great goals. Ian Wright was both.
The Arsenal legend always found a way to find the net, whether it required a sumptuous 30-yard chip or a toe-poke from two yards. Wright's repertoire of goals made him one of the finest - and most explosive - strikers to grace the English game.
|Arsenal Career||1991 - 1998|
|Appearances||288 (279 starts, 9 as a sub)|
And, of course, he was a showman. Wright was a force of nature on and off the pitch, assuming the mantle of practical joker in the dressing room and choreographing a string of theatrical goal celebrations. No wonder Arsenal fans loved 'Ian Wright Wright Wright'.
The man himself was late on the scene in football terms - he signed professional terms for Crystal Palace in August 1985, just three months short of his 22nd birthday. It seems strange now but, when he moved to Arsenal in September 1991 for a club record £2.5 million, some questioned the wisdom of the transfer.
At the time, Arsenal were reigning champions, Alan Smith had won two Golden Boots in three seasons and Kevin Campbell had emerged from the youth ranks to bring muscle to a forward line which already boasted the flair and imagination of Anders Limpar and Paul Merson. Did Arsenal really need Wright?
George Graham knew better and was vindicated immediately. Wright scored on his Arsenal debut in the League Cup at Leicester, bagged a hat-trick on his League debut at Southampton and soon had the Highbury faithful eating out of his hand. It seemed Wright wrote his own scripts - on the final day of the season, he completed a hat-trick to snatch the Golden Boot from Tottenham's Gary Lineker and give the North Bank a rousing send-off before it was torn down that summer.
Despite Wright's metronomic scoring touch, Arsenal's title ambitions faltered in the mid-Nineties as Graham offloaded Limpar and David Rocastle and packed his midfield with grafters rather than crafters. Instead the Gunners became a top-class Cup side with the meannest defence in the land. It was the era of 'One-Nil to the Arsenal' and you can guess which part of that scoreline Wright was so often responsible for.
A domestic Cup Double in 1993 (Wright netted in the first game and the replay against Sheffield Wednesday) and a European Cup Winners' Cup triumph in 1994 brought Wright his first medals, although he missed the famous win against Parma after a misjudged sliding tackle in the Semi-Final second leg earned him a suspension. It was probably the best example of how Wright's volatile temper occasionally got him into trouble.
When he was available, the goals kept flowing. Wright scored in every round of the 1995 Cup Winners' Cup campaign except the Final - although he would probably have scored if John Hartson hadn't been in the right place at the same time - and he eventually racked up six successive seasons as Arsenal's top scorer.
Dennis Bergkamp's arrival that summer reignited Wright. The Dutch master was the perfect foil for his prolific partner, occupying opponents and picking out Wright's intelligent runs with inch-perfect passes. But after two campaigns alongside Bergkamp, it was clear that Wright was finally starting to slow down.
The 1997/98 campaign - his last in an Arsenal shirt - was a rollercoaster ride. Wright was sidelined for much of the season by injuries and the emergence of Nicolas Anelka. But he ended the season with a long-awaited championship medal and, of course, the mantle of Arsenal's all-time record goalscorer after eclipsing Cliff Bastin on September 13, 1997.
Wright needed two goals against Bolton on that day to set a new mark of 179. He netted a low drive after 20 minutes and, carried away in the moment, ripped off his shirt to reveal a T-shirt sporting the message '179 - Just Done It!'. In fact he had equalled Bastin's mark of 178 but, typically, only had to wait five more minutes before giving the T-shirt a more appropriate airing. A two-yard tap-in in front of an empty net was all it took.
If his record breaker was Wright's easiest goal for Arsenal, so many others were easier on the eye. An audacious lob at Swindon, a breathtaking juggle and chip against Everton, a left-foot stunner at Auxerre... the list goes on and on. In total, Wright conjured up 185 goals in 288 appearances for Arsenal. It took someone special to beat that - Thierry Henry.
By the time he had his hands on that Premiership medal, Wright was 34. His seven years at the Club were akin to a whirlwind passing through Highbury but he had finally blown himself out. The memories Wright left will take far longer to fade.