Category Archives: Legends

Flair Players and Flawed Genius

Have flair players always been undervalued?

When compared to the grafters, the midfielders who put in a shift at both ends of the pitch.

When in contrast to the strikers, the goal-getters, the ones who change a scoreline.

When in parallel to the defenders, those who resist in the face of opposition.

Have the players who really make a difference in tight games always been under-prioritised by those in charge?

Let’s go back a little.

Peter Marinello – the Scottish George Best, or so tagged by the media. A record move to Arsenal to the tune of £100k. He made an instant splash by scoring on his debut and also contributing to our run to the Fair Cup Final in 1970. However, MArinello was left out of the final matchday squad and a combination of a knee injury and a fondness of the glitz and glamour combined to take the focus away from football. However, when fit, Marinello could change a game with a swish of his boot. He lasted a little over three years at the club – despite the massive fanfare at the start and his own undoubtable talent.

Jon Sammels – Those that saw him could attest to the fact that the midfielder had a passing range that would eclipse many in the modern game. He was a pivotal part in our Fairs Cup triumph and made more than 200 appearances for the club. That number was stretched out over eight years though. Sammels was often derided by not only the fans at times – but he had to win over his managers Billy Wright and Bertie Mee to get into the team at regular intervals. Not known for his physicality, Sammels would sculpt games with his distribution and shooting range.

Charlie Nicholas – The Scot will forever remain in our hearts for his League Cup heroics in 1987. Lifting that cup is attributed by many to have been the birth of George Graham’s golden era, and the precursor to the Miracle at Anfield in 89 – and the Almost Invincibles of 1991. Yet Charlie struggled with being played out of position and couldn’t find the consistency, despite the brightest of flashes intermittently. When George Graham rejoined the club as manager in 1986, it signalled the end for Charlie, despite his league cup heroics the later year. Nicholas was quickly deemed surplus to requirements.

Anders Limpar – The Swede was the difference-maker for Arsenal in 1991. All too often, those tiny feet of his led defenders on a merry dance and he bewitched opponents with his dazzling footwork. Again though, George Graham was at odds with Limpar – and according to teammates at the time, the Swede was called out all too often for a perceived lack of effort in training. This led to the slow crumbling of Limpar’s time at Arsenal, ended with a transfer to Everton in 1994, just three years after joining Arsenal so explosively.

It isn’t just wide players with a penchant for the extravagant that were kicked to the kerb in favour of more industrial alternatives.

Bobbi Pires is a bona fide Arsenal icon. Part of the triumphant teams of 02 and 04, the Frenchman is anything but surplus. Yet in our Champions League Final loss to Barcelona, it was Pires who was sacrificed after Jens Lehmann was sent off, in order to bring Almunia on. It wasn’t a full-back. It wasn’t a striker – it was a wideman, a flair player.

Arsenal v Barcelona Champions Lge Final 17/5/06 Pic Andy Hooper…..Daily Mail Arsenals Pires on Bench

The players above – bar Pires – all had their own afflictions. Drink, glamour, even sheer laziness. Some perhaps thought talent alone would get them where they want to be but this wasn’t the case. However, when it came to changing the outcome of a game, these geniuses with the ball were the best equipped.

What I’m trying to illustrate is that this ability that is all too unique, is all too often cast into the shadows by gaffers, in favour of other roles. It is the one that is deemed the runt of the litter in terms of importance.

The decision to bring off Pires when down to ten men makes sense in plenty of ways. We needed the numbers in defence, we also still needed to maintain some semblance of attack – but retaining the ability to create something from nothing was omitted.

It is this magic-like skill that fans adore, but is not at the top of the list for managers when it comes to attributes. It now needs to come hand in hand with workrate, physicality. Look at Bukayo Saka. The kid has muscles where there shouldn’t be, he covers more ground than the majority and he also defends like his life depends on it. It is the reason why his meteoric rise has been so rapid.

But spare a thought for the flawed geniuses. The ones who carried the magic in their boots, the ones who carried fans hopes with them on their shoulders. The sight of them trudging the touchline was always an uplifting one. We may not have always got the best out of them – but WE prioritised their skills more than anything else.

They were top of the tree for fans.

Auba Signing Is Sign of things to come

The wait for star striker to sign a contract extension at our club was, well, excruciating.

We waited weeks and weeks for the official announcement. It felt far longer and indeed it was if you veer toward worrying incessantly. The fact that Auba’s contract term was winding down toward its final year and that milestone when negotiations with other clubs appeared closer than ever? That weighed heavy on a lot of our minds.

As Gooners, we are no strangers to players leaving us in the lurch. When we needed them most, they shunned the opportunity to forge their legacy at the club and instead went where the money and instant success was prevalent. So waiting each day for our Number14 to sign with us was pretty painful.

The official announcement saw club legend Wrighty, speak with Auba on The Emirates pitch and as ever, the former club record goalscorer was eloquent and raised some salient points. None more so than when he mentioned the fact that players have come and gone but when we needed him the most, Aubameyang has chosen to stay and continue his career at Arsenal, rather than take the bait and go elsewhere.

Put yourself in Aubameyang’s shoes. You are negotiating what will be the biggest contract of your life before your career inevitably winds down. You are aware that big clubs are circling around you and they could well offer you much more than you will get at Arsenal.

But you could forever etch your name into the annals of the club’s history.

It’s a tantalising prospect- at least for a fan it is anyway.

The Gabon frontman already has 55 goals from 87 appearances in the Premier League. Injury permitting, Auba should get another 20 goals this season, taking his PL tally to 75 goals, with two seasons left in his contract. That means he could make the 100 club in his time at the club, which would make him one of the fastest – if not THE fastest – to get there.

There are a lot of ‘ifs’ in the above sentence, but that concerns just his goalscoring exploits.

What about the chance to actually make history with the club?

Auba himself says he wants to go down with the Bergkamps, Wrighty’s and Henry’s of the club. It’s a pretty bold statement and to do so – he knows he needs to help the club win the title.

Without the Championship, Auba will never quite make the top step, unlike the above names – but cup wins could help enormously.

His double’s in our FA Cup semi-final and final will live long in the memory – we will be savouring his second goal against Chelsea for decades to come – and it is these moments that help daub names forever into the marble halls of our history.

Auba’s goalscoring was chief among the reasons we didn’t fall into midtable in the last two seasons. He is also the pinnacle of what Mikel Arteta is trying to build at the club. An outift that contends for the biggest trophies – the Spaniard is trying to get us back where we were.

Standing in the way are clubs with limitless spending power and teams that have had years of preparation to concoct the winning formula. Jurgen Klopp was given time at Liverpool to get where he is now – and it will be his team that stand in the way of any challengers to the crown.

With Aubameyang up front though, we will always stand a chance – and that is why him signing his contract is such a pivotal moment.

It is a surefire sign we are progressing and creating something that could very well be special.

Our Number14 is fired to make us great again and create history.

Who Next For An Arsenal Statue?

Tony Adams.

Thierry Henry.

Dennis Bergkamp.

Three heroes, a trio of icons, reputation forged in red and white – immortalised forever in bronze.

Found around the concourse of The Emirates, our home, these three statues are not only highlights of any fan’s trip to our ground – they are tributes to legendary feats of footballing – and all achieved in aid of Arsenal, the cannon – and for us.

What these three did outweigh pretty much every single other player who has ever pulled on the jersey – the question of if they deserve it has never needed to be asked.

One question that is pertinent though – who will be next for immortalisation?

 

Henry statue

There are plenty who could be worthy – and ask every single Gooner and they will have a different answer.

Here are five that could certainly warrant the bronzed treatment – what is your verdict?

 

Arsene Wenger

arsene-wenger-exit-arsenal

The man who dragged Arsenal to success from a period of malaise in the 90’s, to a European contender. The Frenchman won three titles, seven Cups and earned his own slice of immortality by masterminding the only unbeaten season in modern English football. Perhaps his biggest feat? Managing to keep his side at the top table of football despite having a budget that bordered on penniless at times. Defences with clowns, Midfields that had a miniscule amount of defensive presence – fighting teams that dwarved our budget. Wenger may have sullied his reputation in some circles in his last years, but can anyone overlook what he achieved? The distance he took our club? A more deserving name is hard to find.

 

David Rocastle

Rocky

The player known affectionately as Rocky to everyone was tragically taken from us far too early – but the super-talented Rocky had already left his indelible mark on our memories.

To this day, you will struggle to find another player who petrified a full-back like Rocastle. With a drop of a shoulder, or a faint touch on the outside of his boot, he had slipped his marker and was free to wreak more havoc. A scorer of extraordinary goals and beloved by teammates, we remember Rocky every year not just because we miss him – it’s because he was truly special.

 

Frank McLintock

Frank McLintock

The Scotsman is touted by a few to be on a par with Tony Adams when it comes to Skipper material – that is testament enough that McLintock is justified in this selection process. Our Captain for the epic Fairs Cup win in 1970 – our first cup in Europe – which included our famous win over an illustrious Ajax side in the semi-finals – while also leading us to our famous double win in 1971. McLintock has the respect of all and was a pretty fine defender too.

Ray Parlour

Romford Pele

The Romford Pele amassed more Premier League appearances for Arsenal than any other. Not only that, but he also adapted and played intrinsic roles in both the Graham and Wenger eras. Parlour was a fan favourite and his talent is often overlooked in favour of his loyalty. But a player who was utilised in both the central midfield and out wide under the watchful eye of Wenger couldn’t be an average player. Parlour in bronze, arms aloft after scoring his famous Cup final goal versus Chelsea? Wouldn’t that be fitting?

 

Pat Rice

Pat Rice

The Northern Ireland international was an Arsenal player for 13 years and earned nearly 400 appearances in that time. He was part of the team that won the Fairs Cup and the 1971 Double, and the unforgettable Cup win over United in 1979.

That wasn’t the end of his time with the Arsenal though. A youth team coach, Assistant Manager – even Caretaker manager for a short spell – all spanning 28 years. So 41 years in total for Rice as an Arsenal representative – and all done in a classy manner that embodied the Arsenal Way.

There could be plenty more who wouldn’t look out of place encased in bronze – who’s your shout?

Waxing Lyrical About Wrighty

Can words do justice?

When a search for fitting superlatives leaves you exhausted, does that mean that a tribute would be a bad idea?

In terms of an Arsenal figurative Hall of Fame, any who deservedly roam this imaginary building – bedecked with marble of course – can transform a blogger into a gibbering wreck. How on earth can you surmise a player’s career when it affected so many people’s lives in a positive way?

Any attempt would be foolish – but isn’t it important to remind ourselves (even if it doesn’t do them justice) how good they really were?

Some names instantly conjure up memories. Such was their impact, a mere mention of their moniker and fans begin to wax lyrical about a specific moment or goal.

Ian Wright  is one of those players.

So good we named him thrice, Wrighty joined Arsenal after forming a destructive partnership with Mark Bright at Crystal Palace. The Eagles were not expected to pull up any trees, but their attacking might – aided by Geoff Thomas in midfield – ripped up the rulebook and made clubs take notice.

Luckily enough, Arsenal was to be Wrighty’s destination – and he started how he finished as a Gunner.

With a goal.

The occasion was pretty low-profile; a 2nd round Rumbelows Cup game against Leicester City. Wrighty wasn’t even expected to start the game, but Alan Smith’s ankle didn’t pass a fitness test. Our new striker had only signed that very week and he was instantly thrust into the eleven.

No pressure then. Well, it never showed on our star striker anyway. He grabbed the goal that gave us the initiative for the second leg and Graham cooed about his latest acquisition in the papers. The Scot mentioned Wrighty’s pace and his ability to make something from nothing. These talents were always on display in our red and white, and they made him a nightmare to defend against.

Wrighty has spoke about his energy levels as a youth and how they never really dipped as he got older. It meant that not only was he a delight to interview – as well as magnificently candid – but it required opposing defenders to maintain their concentration for the whole of the ninety minutes.

One slip, one lackadaisical jog back to hold the line?

Wrighty will get you.

His pace has been mentioned, but the reason that Wrighty was able to ensure his name amongst the pantheon of greats not only at Arsenal, but of the Premier League, was because his talents were the perfect storm.

His energy levels, his pace. They meant that defenders had to keep an eye on him constantly. But his positioning was chief among reasons why he was always in place to capitalise on a sublime pass or a fault by an opposing man.

Once he got these opportunities though, he still had to finish.

Wrighty has spoken about his inherent ability to put one in the onion bag. I distinctly remember a comment about his finishing, where he declared that the secret was to shoot when the keeper isn’t expecting it. He regularly fired a shot towards goal far earlier than convention would dictate. Most would carry nearer to the goal, but Wrighty’s belief in his talents meant he would try his luck quickly.

It’s fair to say it worked.

He was much more than a predator though. His finishing deserves its place among the best, but in his own personal highlight reel we can see that he is no one-trick pony. If variety is the spice of life, then Wrighty’s collection of goals is like Scotch Bonnet chili.

Chips? He had more than a Glaswegian street on a Saturday night. Outside of the box? So many efforts filled with venom ripped into the net from distance. Then there were the little indicators that genius was at work. The improvisations, the flicks that left a defender looking around for the ball and the player.

wright_record_0
Image credit – Arsenal FC

 

Wrighty’s career is impossible to really visualise into words. His relationship with Gooners is infatuation on both sides and if the next statue outside The Emirates was of Wrighty, arms aloft with his trademark grin, would anyone object?

Not a chance. My words might not do him justice, but his legacy will live on through us and the club.

 

Thank you Wrighty.

Arshavin – Wasted Genius Who Made Memories

Players define eras.

Trophies make memories of course, but a player normally surmises that memory.

Sunderland in 79.

Champagne Charlie in 87.

Mickey in 89.

Smith in 94.

Bergkamp in 98, Freddie in 02, Thierry in 04. Santi when we lifted the cup in 2014. Alexis in 2015. Rambo in 2017.

It is a player who acts as anchor in your mind, ensuring that special memory doesn’t get cut adrift in amongst the plethora in your banks.

When you think of The Emirates, of course it doesn’t hold as many fond memories as Highbury, but we have had some goosebump-inducing goals and games in the 14 years we have called it home.

We may often bemoan the lack of atmosphere in the ground, but those who go often will also attest to the fact that we also create a cacophony when we want to. It often just needs a spark, something to get us off our seat – and then the wildfire of noise erupts and engulfs the stands.

Remember our 5-2 wins over the enemy? Two consecutive triumphs that served as timely reminders to our neghbours of their rightful place under the heel of our boot?

Then there was Danny Welbeck’s emotional return from injury – a late, late winner over Champions-elect Leicester City. The England striker’s 93rd minute header earned victory over the previously indomitable Foxes, and the dramatic nature of the goal coupled with the fondness for the now fit-again Welbeck created a noise that has rarely been matched since.

But when it comes to halcyon moments, can anything touch Andrei Arshavin Vs that Barcelona team?

The Russian, free from the laziness that would blight his Gunners career. His confidence to nonchalantly sidefoot home a first time finish that would vanquish a Barca team that would go on to win the competition. A Barca team that would only lose once in the entire competition – this very game?

We think of that game, we think of Andrei, we think of the commentator scream his name as he finishes the Catalan’s with aplomb.

He did a fair amount more in his time in our red and white of course. His goal vs Blackburn was pretty special – and then there was his four goal haul against Liverpool in an unhinged match at Anfield.

Arshavin

Tongue out, just enjoying the moment as he single-handedly tore Liverpool apart. Holding four fingers aloft when he smashed in his fourth goal.

Arshavin joined on the back of a virtuoso Euro’s for his country. We saw him twist defenders apart, lead from the front and give an industrial Russia divine inspiration. It led to us forking our a decent sum and he initially showed what he was capable of.

His was a career of peaks and troughs. He fizzled out nearly as quickly as he soared into our hearts, unable to wrestle his way back into the first team and gaining weight, he left Arsenal and seemingly never recaptured the magic that laced his boots when he was with us and in the first team.

Arshavin definitely didn’t make the most of what he could do. The Russian’s talent had no ceiling, yet we only saw it hit the heights in probably five or six games.

Yet it was so brilliant, so bright, that it seared its impression into our memories.

We remember Arshavin well, even if he didn’t meet the expectations that we had for him.

That shows what a player he was.

We can be thankful he played for us though, as he created some of our best moments in recent years.

The Ozil Environment

A victory over Manchester United is always something noteworthy.

We can disregard both sides’ relatively low positions in contrast to where we resided in loftier times.

For us fans, a win over one of our biggest rivals always matters.

One win in fifteen, our worst run at home since the 50s, our new head coach Mikel Arteta had his work cut out to not only get us back into some form of contention – but just to get us back up from our haunches.

And the manner in which he did that in this win was perhaps overshadowed the result.

We harried, we hustled, we gave no inch. Players like Rashford, Martial, they would have caused no end of torment to our ragged defence if they were allowed to.

But those two and their cohorts were superbly marshalled.

We had David Luiz rejuvenated, stopping everything in his path.

We had the much-maligned Granit Xhaka intercepting and distributing constantly, always in the right spot when needed.

We had Lucas Torreira in his natural position and he was a whirling dervish of action, putting himself where others fear to tread and winning the ball like it was going out of fashion.

Hell, we even had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang tracking back, covering his full-back and covering plenty of ground.

Then there was Ozil.

The stereotype of Mesut Ozil should have evaporated by now. Stat upon stat of the German’s penchant for activity is all too often overlooked, but he yet again covered plenty of ground, bettered only by Torreira and Xhaka.

He also won the ball back more than any other team mate. Ten times all in all.

Those are numbers that any self-respecting box-to-box midfielder would be proud of, but this was our number ten.

Where was this Ozil when Emery needed him?

Arteta-Ozil

 

Was this simply a switch of tactics and instructions set out by a new boss?

No, it is down to man-management.

Unai Emery often left out Ozil entirely, not even in the matchday squad. It was a case of the Spanish coach drawing a line, letting Ozil know that it was his way or the highway. Play the way I want you to or you won’t play at all.

Eventually, with results withering, he had no alternative but to play Ozil, but with confidence low and the bond between coach and player at an all time low, Ozil had little to no impact on proceedings.

David Luiz was interviewed after our win against United, and his comments gave us all a peek behind the veil of times under Emery. Luiz spoke of the happiness returning to the squad since Arteta took over, which by means of common sense, speaks of a malaise under Emery.

The manner in which Arteta hugged his playmaker after the victory on the pitch speaks volumes, and Ozil is now trusted, he feels that he is valued. That means the world to the player it seems, and his efforts on the pitch may not have reaped an assist, but his efforts meant so much more.

All he needed was a coach who valued him.

Team of the Decade Part Two

So, our team of the decade is well underway, with Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal comprising our backline.

Now onto our midfield and our attack. Despite our much-vaunted woes during this decade, and our slide away from constant contention, we have still been blessed with many talented players. So picking our best midfield and attack will be no easy task. If you disagree with any choices, let me know – this is very much down to opinion!

 

So, first up, our wingers.

Here’s the pool to choose from:

Theo Walcott

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Tomas Rosicky

Samir Nasri

Andriy Arshavin

Gervinho

Alex Iwobi

Reiss Nelson

Bukayo Saka

Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Yossi Benayoun

 

The winners? Theo and Rosicky.

Rosicky

Theo

 

The reason this list isn’t longer? It comes down to the adaptation of the players in the squad. So many times we’ve had midfielders and strikers playing the wide roles, and with the use of 4-2-3-1, the conventional wideman has been replaced by wide forwards.

But the two above are more than deserving. If it weren’t for injury. Both would have an even higher standing amongst the fanbase.

Still, some will point to Walcott’s profligate finishing and lack of end product. Some will point to the meagre amount of games Rosicky played thanks to aforementioned injuries.

The stats don’t lie though. Theo amassed one game shy of 400 games for us, and scored 108 times, with 78 assists. That is nearly a goal involvement every two games – not bad for an inconsistent, one-dimensional player. He was much more than a speed merchant.

Then we come to Tomas. We all adored the little Czech, and for good reason. When free from injury, he would grace the pitch with beautiful touches and instinctive play that added to attacks effortlessly. He still made 248 appearances for the Gunners, scoring 29 times and making 22 assists, but it was the way his style embodied the way we aspired to play that we will remember.

 

Now for the engine room. It has been a bit ropey at times in the centre of the pitch, as the majority of the decade was taken up by a search for an effective defensive presence. Here’s what we have to choose from:

Santi Cazorla

Granit Xhaka

Aaron Ramsey

Jack Wilshere

Mohamed Elneny

Jo Willock

Lucas Torreira

Mesut Ozil

Mikel Arteta

Francis Coquelin

Lassana Diarra

Denilson

Alex Song

Mathieu Flamini

Cesc Fabregas

 

The judges choices? Santi and Aaron.

Cazorla and Ramsey

There were a few here who could have justified their place in the team of the decade. Jack Wilshere’s injuries left his impact far smaller than it should have been, but when fit, he was one of our best. Then there is the enigmatic Ozil, who can go from sublime to ectoplasmic in seconds.

But the chosen two were the most impactful. Ramsey scored 65 goals and registered 65 assists in his 371 games in our colours, and his specialty was scoring in big games. We’ll never forget his FA Cup final winners of 2014 and 2017, and while his midfield play was occasionally errant due to roving forward, he contributed far more than the others on the list – and is a missed player in our current ranks.

Santi is beloved for good reason. His first full season saw him pick up our player of the year award and wreak havoc in the Premier League. With Ozil’s introduction, he had to find another position but such is Santi’s talent, he repurposed himself as a box to box man, and he excelled. Truly two-footed and always played with a smile on his face, Cazorla made 180 appearances, scoring 29 times and making 45 assists.

 

Lastly, we have our strikers.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Eddie Nketiah

Alexandre Lacazette

Lucas Perez

Olivier Giroud

Lukas Podolski

Marouane Chamakh

Chuba Akpom

Yaya Sanogo

Danny Welbeck

 

This is a toughie. Aubameyang is in with a shout as his goal ratio since joining in 2018 is extraordinary. LAcazette’s goal involvement too is pretty impressive and was last season’s POTY. I’ve always had a soft spot for Welbeck and he always put in a shift whenever he played, but the two strikers for our team of the decade are;

Olivier Giroud and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Giroud

Just imagine these two as a pairing. Giroud excelled at incorporating others into our attack and Auba would thrive from the little flick-ons that Giroud specialised in.

Giroud may have sullied his name with his post-Europa League Final exploits, but let’s not forget what he did. 105 goals and 41 assists in 253 Arsenal games – that’s a ratio of a goal involvement every 1.73 games.  His highlight reel is a glorious one too, he scored so many beauties for us.

 

Auba

Auba is the man keeping us afloat right now. 43 goals in just 67 PL games, with 10 assists. That is perilously close to a goal involvement in EVERY game. 18 goals in 33 Europa League games. His goal threat cannot be underestimated and if it weren’t for Auba right now, we would be much further down the table. His instincts are sharp, his contributions are huge, Auba has to be in the team.

 

So, our team of the decade is:

 

Wojciech Szczesny

Bacary Sagna

Per Mertesacker

Laurent Koscielny

Nacho Monreal

Aaron Ramsey

Santi Cazorla

Tomas Rosicky

Theo Walcott

Olivier Giroud

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

 

Not bad.

What do you think? Drop me your shout in the comments below!

#UTA

Team of 2010-2020 Part One

How do you rate an entire decade’s worth of football?

Is it simply the silverware that adorns your shelves that judgment should adhere to?

Or do memorable victories, skilful feats on the pitch that stubbornly cling to your brain, or heroic near-misses also deserve to affect the needle that point toward success?

Now we stand in 2020, how do we look back on 2010-20?

The first overriding thought is transition and the weakening grip of Wenger.

Arsene led the club through some difficult times, but his last years’ were saved by the FA Cup wins that were our sole success during the decade. Poor purchases, an obstinacy when it came to tactics and taking into account our opposition and his own failings led to Arsenal eventually falling out of the habitual top four spot we had grown accustomed to.

That led to Unai Emery, Freddie Ljungberg and our current malaise.

It hasn’t all been a slow slide into mediocrity though.

Can we look back on the players that pulled on the jersey during these years and decide who best represented us during this time?

Let’s try.

So, who makes Up The Arsenal’s Team of the Decade?

First up is our goalkeeper.

The nominations are:

Lukasz Fabianski

David Ospina

Manuel Almunia

Wojciech Szczesny

Petr Cech

Bernd Leno

 

The winner of the gloves is Szczesny.

Szczesny

The Pole played more games during that time than the majority above, and made less high-profile errors. Does his celebrations during one of our NLD wins count toward this decision? You bet.

Of course, his antics off the field were silly at times and lacked professionalism, but Szczesny came through the ranks and was proud to wear the shirt. His talent was beyond question, and the now Juventus Number One is showing what we all knew we had on board, including Wenger.

Still, Leno is looking rather tidy at the moment, it is just his short length of time at the club that is holding him back. Cech was solid but unspectacular and both Ospina and Fabianski were both stuck with high-profile errors that led to a weakening in the structural integrity of the confidence in them.

So Szczesny takes the gloves.

 

What about right-back? We’ve certainly had a few:

Emmanuel Eboue

Bacary Sagna

Mathieu Debuchy

Hector Bellerin

Calum Chambers

The winner? Sagna, and by quite some distance.

Sagna

The reason why this list isn’t longer is because of Sagna. Signed in 2007, the Frenchman was the epitome of reliable and had the novelty value of actually being able to both attack AND defend. He was named in the PFA team of the season in 2010-11 and his consistency was the reason why we never really bought a right-back.

Bellerin has been wonderful for us, but is still maturing. We got the best years from Sagna and if his final ball was just a little better, he would have gone down as one of our Premier League greats. Still he very much deserves a mention. His last season saw him lift his one trophy with us, the FA Cup – and it was a fitting reward for his faithful service.

 

Now comes the centre-backs. This should be a laugh:

 

Laurent Koscielny

Per Mertesacker

Sokratis

Shkodran Mustafi

Rob Holding

Konstandinos Mavropanos

David Luiz

Johan Djourou

Thomas Vermaelen

The winners?

Per and Laurent.

BFG and Kos

They both played more than any other during the decade, they also formed a formidable partnership, with their winning ratio far and above the best since Toure and Campbell.

They both had their own personal highlights – Mertesackier’s swansong in the 2017 FA Cup will always be known as the ‘BFG Final’ and Koscielny becoming our talismanic defender will always be remembered – but together they formed the last strong defence we have seen.

True, Per had the turning circle speed of a glacier and Koscielny was impetuous at the best of times, but their strengths combined to create a wall that always gave us more security.

Well, far more than we currently have…

 

Next, and lastly for this chapter, is left-backs. Who do we have to choose from?

Gael Clichy

Kieran Gibbs

Nacho Monreal

Sead Kolasinac

Kieran Tierney

 

The winner? La Cabra himself.

Premier League - Cardiff City v Arsenal

Monreal truly endeared himself to the Gooner faithful with his high level of display, week in and week out. He filled in at centre-back on many occasions, showing his defensive nous, and Spanish caps well into his 30’s were indicative of his pedigree.

Stamina, expert timing on his many raids down the left flank, Monreal makes us wish that he was five years younger. Now at Real Sociedad, but we have much to thank him for.

An honourable mention to Gibbs too. The youngster pushed through the ranks, was part of the side that won our first cup in nine years with the 2014 FA Cup, and was the dedicated professional, even when on the bench for prolonged periods.

 

Next up is our midfield, but that will be for next week’s blog.

Disagree with my choices? Let me know why!

Keep them peeled for next week!

Until then, #UTA

 

The Nearly Men XI

It’s sometimes better to not have experienced something, if all you are ever going to get is a tantalising glimpse.

We have had players at Arsenal that have burned brightly, but their light was extinguished all too quickly. It leaves us with that frustrating feeling of ‘what could have been.’

That feeling is bittersweet, as we latch onto those moments where these players showed us that they were capable of lifting entire teams on their shoulders, or being a beacon of excellence in their position. It is juxtaposed with longing, as we wish that the unfortunate circumstances that winked their light out was a little more forgiving.

Now that we have entered a new decade, nostalgia is stronger than ever, as we look back at the events of ten years. But how about we look back on the players that we wish were still in our colours, and had the opportunity to unfurl their potential a little more than their last attempt?

Here is the team of ‘What Could Have Been.’ An entire eleven who we saw soar high, but far too briefly.

 

GK – Wojciech Szczesny

The Pole showed us exactly what he could do in his time here, but ill-discipline cost him the number one jersey for consecutive seasons. He loved the club and his celebrations post NLD victory only served to endear him to us more. So when he was sold to Juventus, and then went on to become number one at the famous Turin club, it only exacerbated those feelings of ‘what could have been.’ He should be putting those performances in for us – but alas.

 

RB – Mathieu Debuchy

The Frenchman arrived from Newcastle after putting in consistently excellent seasons on Tyneside. A French international, he began on the front foot with us and showed us all that the purchase was an astute one, but a shoulder injury in his first season was the start of his downfall, and when he returned from his lengthy layoff, he had Hector Bellerin in his way. When he did find his way back into the team, he exhibited again why he was such a great player, only in a different manner as he filled in at centreback. Injuries would again hamper him though, and Debuchy eventually limped out of the club to join St Etienne. He made only 13 appearances for us in four years.

 

CB – Thomas Vermaelen

The Belgian got off to a wondrous start as an Arsenal man, scoring plenty and leading from the front. He was a cultured defender and could play out from the back, so much so that he was touted by many to be a fine alternative to our defensive midfield problems at the time. Vermaelen was a great example to younger players, but again, injuries bit hard. His performances dropped as he struggled to reach the heights of his first two seasons, and he eventually left for, incredibly, Barca.

 

CB – Chris Whyte

There will be a few unfamiliar with Whyte, but the Arsenal schoolboy had plenty of rave reviews as he broke into the Arsenal first team in 1981. He earned caps at U-21 level for England and under the wing of David O’Leary, he seemed destined to make a big name for himself.

A change in manager and a new signing left Whyte out in the cold though, and Tony Adams emergence only further dropped Whyte down the pecking order.

He left on a free transfer, but with no takers for his services, he left for the USA indoor league. After two years, West Brom offered him a deal and in his first season, he was their Player of the Year. A transfer to Leeds Utd followed, and he was a constant presence for the next three seasons, and a top-flight title winner. If we had kept hold of him, it was evident that Whyte had the talent. Right man, wrong time.

 

LB – Silvinho

The Brazilian joined Arsene Wenger’s revolution in 1999 and spent only two seasons at the club, but the unearthing of Ashley Cole served to put him in the backup role. He didn’t put a foot wrong as a player, and scored a wonderful goal against Chelsea that will live long in the memory. He became a full international with Brazil in his time at our club and was also in the PFA team of the year. He went on to join Celta Vigo and then Barcelona, where he twice won the Champions League.

 

LM – Tomas Rosicky

Little Mozart. Arsene Wenger once said “If you love football, then you love Rosicky.” Everyone who saw him play for us could see what he gave us. Truly blessed with a velvet touch, a howitzer of a shot and an astute footballing brain, injuries curtailed the amount of times he played for us, but in a decade at the club, he gave us memories to cherish. Trouble is, it should have been more. What a special player.

 

CM – Abou Diaby

Diaby1

He could’ve been a world-class box-to-box midfielder, but a dirty tackle by no-mark Dan Smith of Sunderland, crumpled his ankle and he was never the same again. His time on the injury books was ridiculous, but Arsenal were loath to give up on such a special talent. In the end, it was clear he would never come back, and Diaby is perhaps the one player who we missed the most of. He could have been our dynamic force for years.

 

CM – Giovanni Van Bronckhorst

The Dutch man was used as a wing-back and a winger in his short time at Arsenal and did nothing really spectacular in his time with us. He then left and joined Barca, won a Champions League and captained his country to a World Cup Final. We missed a trick here.

RW – Santi Cazorla

The Spanish magician is still revered by those who saw him. Truly two-footed, his talent meant he could have played anywhere on the pitch, but it was his first – and his last season where we saw him shine brightest. In his debut season he was utilised as a number ten and he was our Player of the Season. In his last full season he was paired with Francis Coquelin in the centre and showed tenacity as well as exceptional ball-carrying to give us new life. A horror injury threatened his very career but at the ripe age of 35 he is still doing it at the top level. We never got to say goodbye though.

 

CF – Eduardo

Only 41 appearances, and only 8 goals, but there was a short spell, just before that unforgettably nightmarish injury he suffered, where everything he touched turned to gold. An expert marksmen, he scored goals wherever he went and no one can be in any doubt that if it weren’t for the injury, he would have racked up the goals for many seasons.

 

CF – Nicolas Anelka

If only this young man wasn’t so badly advised, we would have had a goal machine for years. Anelka was the reason why Wrighty left, cutting the icon’s appearances down so that he felt he must leave to get more games. The youngster went on to bang them in with alacrity, being awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year in the process. Real Madrid came calling for big money and we cashed in as Anelka wanted to leave and while he achieved success elsewhere, if he had stayed he could have become a legend. Still, maybe it’s a good thing he left as a certain French compatriot joined soon after to fill the void…

 

Am I missing anyone? Was there a player you think is missing?

 

Give me a shout!

Emery Sacked! Why Now And What Now?

The club could endure no more it seems.

After another defeat and the seventh consecutive failure to win a game, it seems that the loss to Eintracht Frankfurt was the last straw for the now departed Arsenal Head Coach, Unai Emery.

His tenure ended in strangely eerie circumstances. Ticket restrictions for home fans and a ban on away fans gave The Emirates a suitably soulless atmosphere, for what was yet another abject performance.

A failure to inhibit our opposition whether home or away, constant erroneous performances and our inability to recreate even a portion of the style we are branded for, accumulated on Emery’s shoulders and with every dropped point, his knees buckled further.

The club were rumoured to want to give Emery until the end of the season, but it became abundantly clear to all that Emery would have been incapable of turning around our season, so Raul Sanllehi, Edu Gaspar and Vinai Venkatesham were left with a dilemma.

Either sever ties with Unai and bring in Freddie Ljungberg on an interim basis, or stay with Unai and see how bad things could get.

Luckily, they saw sense and Emery is now a former employee of Arsenal, just 18 months after signing for the Gunners.

It seems to have been a rapidly made decision, as players were unaware that the decision had been made this morning – and so was Emery who headed training this morning as usual. The squad were called for a meeting after training to announce the decision, and the only way is up in terms of results.

Image result for emery sacked

Arsenal and Freddie now face the task of resurrecting our season, but the first step for the Super Swede will be to find our character that has made us a global brand. Coming from possibly the best team we have ever had, it should hopefully come naturally to bring back the good football that the Gunners are accustomed to.

 

 

So Emery is no more.

 

Who next for Arsenal?