Dennis Bergkamp scores his first Arsenal goals

Dennis Bergkamp scores against Southampton in 1995

The signing of Dennis Bergkamp in 1995 arguably revolutionised Arsenal as much as the arrival of Arsene Wenger the following year. Arsenal had signed overseas players before, but with mixed results; for every Anders Limpar or Stefan Schwartz, there was at least one Glenn Helder or Pal Lydersen.

Bergkamp was the first already established foreign star to join the club and signed for a record fee of £7.5 million. Although he arrived on the back of a disappointing spell at Inter Milan, memories of his achievements at Ajax and for The Netherlands at the 1994 World Cup were still relatively fresh and his signing was greeted with much excitement at Highbury and beyond.

Bergkamp was aware of the importance of managing expectations, after his difficult time in Italy. His message to fans in the first match day programme of the season was: “I will not be setting myself a goals target because I did that in Italy and it didn’t work out. I will obviously be looking for goals but if one of my colleagues is in a better position it will be my aim to help them score.”
By the time Southampton visited Highbury on a beautiful, warm September day, Bergkamp had played in all six of Arsenal’s Premier League games. While he had performed reasonably well and Arsenal remained unbeaten under Bruce Rioch (their new manager) the Dutchman had failed to score and the media were beginning to sharpen their knives. Four days before the Southampton match, Arsenal had easily beaten Hartlepool United in the League Cup, but Bergkamp’s failure to score prompted more negative headlines.

Arsenal match day programme dated 23 September 1995

The match day programme saw Arsenal mount a robust defence of their new signing. Ian Wright had started the season on good form, with four goals in six league games, while fellow new signing David Platt had scored Arsenal’s other two - increasing the spotlight on Bergkamp’s lack of success in front of goal. Wright attributed his good start to Bergkamp: "I am playing the way I am because of Dennis Bergkamp. I've admired him as a player for years, I used to watch his games with Ajax, Inter Milan and Holland and I feel I have to prove to the guy that I am worthy of being in the same team."

Tony Adams meanwhile criticised the media for their harsh treatment of Bergkamp, writing in the Southampton programme: "Talk to anyone in European football and they'll tell you how good he is. Look at Dennis's record at the end of the season and I think you'll see."

Adams was right; Bergkamp would finish the season as second top scorer to Wright and be widely praised for a successful first season. But against Southampton, the pressure was on to produce. Bergkamp duly delivered, opening his Arsenal account with two beautifully taken goals.

The game was a cracker, and Bergkamp took just seventeen minutes to open the scoring. Glenn Helder, having his best game for Arsenal, found his compatriot with a fine left-footed cross. Bergkamp - unmarked - steered a controlled right-footed volley into the opposite corner of the net, past a static Dave Beasant. Sometimes when a player scores, you can hear the extra joy in the roar of the crowd. It comes not from the significance of the goal to the game itself, but to the player. On this occasion the goal was greeted with added vigour and happiness, as if those present sensed this might be the start of something special.

Tony Adams soon put Arsenal 2-0 up with a classic Bould-Adams near post corner routine, but the Saints scored two unlikely goals of their own, to make it 2-2 at half-time.

Then, on 68 minutes, Bergkamp received a short pass from Adams near the halfway line with his back to goal. He turned, drifted past two defenders, and hit a superb shot from 25 yards which crashed off the post and in. Arsenal fans had witnessed the first of what would become a fine collection of sublime goals from the Dutchmen over the coming years.

Wright sealed the win five minutes later, following another assist from Helder, and Bergkamp had silenced his critics. As The Independent so eloquently put it the following day: “Dennis Finds His Menace.”

See also
Top ten books about Arsenal in the 80s and 90s

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