Martin Smith column: Can Owls upset Arsenal?

Referee Paul Alcock falls to the floor as Paolo Di Canio walks off after being sent off
Referee Paul Alcock falls to the floor as Paolo Di Canio walks off after being sent off
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Arsenal in Sheffield tonight, not a place where they traditionally have many friends.

Both Sheffield clubs have previous with the Gunners. United had the replay incident in 1999 after Marc Overmars scored the ‘winning’ goal that almost started a riot after United had kicked the ball out of play so Lee Morris could get treatment.

There were some bad tempered clashes at Bramall Lane back in the day but with Wednesday the list is long, controversial and painful.

Two cup finals lost to Arsenal in 1993 with Wednesday at their Waddle-inspired best finishing seventh in the Premier League and the Geordie maestro named footballer of the year.

It doesn’t end there either.

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The day Paolo Di Canio sent referee tumbling in Sheffield Wednesday v Arsenal clash

No-one who was at the Owls v Arsenal game on September 26, 1998 will ever forget Paolo Di Canio’s push on referee Paul Alcock.

One of those mouth-open moments when everyone in the ground - all 27,949 of them - realises they are witnessing something of historic significance beyond a game of football.

Never has a referee take a tumble like that. Had Alcock been a player his pantomime fall might have earned him a yellow card for simulation.

Not that anyone would condone Di Canio’s actions, far from it, but so compelling was the Di Canio affair that the result hardly seemed to matter.

Wednesday actually won 1-0 with a goal from Lee ‘disco’ Briscoe - the last time Wednesday beat Arsenal.

The Owls’ fall from football’s elite was even more dramatic and drawn-out than Alcock’s and has been lamented and documented so many times as to be tedious now.

But looking back it’s easy to see that Di Canio incident as a symbolic moment in the downward spiral of Wednesday’s decline.

Their golden decade was fast unravelling.

When Di Canio told Wednesday fans: “I’ll be back” via The Star and a crackling mobile phone from his villa in Rome on the following Monday, many had their doubts.

Di Canio never played for Wednesday again and was sold to West Ham in January 1999 following his 11-match ban.

Arsenal have won doubles and appeared in European finals since, Wednesday have struggled. Tonight few expect the Owls to get anything but a good hiding from a fluent and thrilling Arsenal team. But perhaps it’s time for an upset, just for old-times sake.