Arsenal History: The interesting and unforgettable Paul Merson

Paul Merson

In 1984 Paul Merson joined Arsenal where he would go onto secure two league titles, one European Cup Winners Cup, an FA and League Cup as well as a Charity Shield.

The midfielder is the 26th greatest Gunner in history out of their top 50 where he endured 425 games, scoring 99 times in his 12 year tenure at Highbury.

Merson struggled to reach the same heights at International level despite working his way up the ladder of World football for his country. he started off for England u21 four times between 1988 and1990 before being chosen for the B team four times scoring in three of those matches from 1991 to 1998. During this period he played for England senior side on 21 occasions netting three strikes. His name was on the list for two major tournaments for The Three Lions at Euro 1992 and the 1998 World Cup.

After his time at Highbury, Merson would go onto seal only more silverware claiming the UEFA Intertoto Cup for Aston Villa in 2001 where he felt his time at Villa Park was the greatest in his career. Within two years he grabbed the 2003 First Division (now Championship) whilst teaming up with Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth. He was also “The Magic Man” beforehand at Middlesbrough where with his firepower he assisted them back into the Premier League in 1998, during the same year he was on the losing end in the League Cup Final when Boro were dismantled 2-0 by Chelsea.

Returning to his Highbury years, his greatest solo feat came in 1993 when he scored in the League Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday. That year he also rose to the occasion in helping The Gunners become the first team in England to herald the League Cup and FA Cup double where The Wednesday were beaten in both finals with the latter won in the replay 2-1.

Merson was also an Anfield star on the final day of the 1988/89 league season when Arsenal had to beat Liverpool at the Kop to lift their first title in almost two decades, which was just what they did. After beating The Reds by the required two goals (2-0) the First Division title was handed over to the Gunners and their young striker.  On top of that Merson was quickly awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year trophy with ten goals to his name.

Within two years a second league winner’s medal was thrown around Merson’s neck in 1991 after George Graham’s Arsenal lost only one match all year which came at Stamford Bridge to Chelsea. Merson chipped in with the continued goods again wrapping up 13 strikes which was the most he scored in a season at The Gunners.

Merson faced a turbulent 1994 amidst being merited a European Cup Winners Cup medal after Arsenal beat Italian side Parma 1-0 in the final. Within months of that famous night in Copenhage Merson’s playing days came to a pause in November 1994 after announcing his alcohol addiction as well as his cocaine and gambling habits. The FA sorted out for Merson to participate in a three month rehab plan before returning to first team action come early 1995. Sooner than later Merson popped up to help The Gunners get to the Cup Winners Cup Final for the second consecutive season which they lost 2-1 to Real Zaragoza in Paris, despite making things level.

After leaving Arsenal in 1997 he tasted moderately successful patches with Middlesborough, Aston Villa and Portsmouth Merson opted in 2003 for League One Walsall, where he started off as a player before also occupying the role of manager which proved to be a tricky period of his career. After three years at The Saddlers they were relegated to League Two enough for Merson to stand down from Walsall. It was also tricky on a personal level, In February of 2004 his gambling addiction got the better of him again which saw him receive help for two months out in the states.

He then played a one off game for Conference side Tamworth in a 2-1 defeat to Halifax Town before declaring his time was up in the game in March 2006.

The bubbly and upbeat Merson regularly appears now on TV on Sky Sports as a vocal commentator and pundit and is still loved by Arsenal fans for his down to earth character despite his previous treatment to combat his tricky addictions.

Liam Harding

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