Category Archives: Legends

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?

The Crowning Of The Highbury King – Thierry Henry

Knee-high socks.

Knee slide.

Face of consternation.

Feet like the wind.

Thierry Henry signed for Arsenal from Juventus twenty years ago – and our club, the Premier League and every single Gooner have never been the same since.

Fresh from a victorious World Cup campaign with France, Henry was lured to join the Gunners after a chance flight that saw him share with none other than his former coach and the Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger.

The rest isn’t just history, it is ingrained on our consciousness and it leaves us all with the same thought;

Can’t we rewind time to the moment he signed, so I could truly appreciate him in our shirt?

Of course, we all adored him, and it was easy to see why. But hindsight is ever the powerful and redundant tool, and we hark back to when he was in his pomp, in the red and white. And when we do, we realise that we had a footballing immortal in our midst.

The argument over not only the greatest Premier League import, but the greatest Premier League era player rumbles on continuously and Thierry is rightfully mentioned in those verbal tussles. But if we look at the rivals for the crown, we see that they all possessed something special, but Henry had it all.

When Le King started out with us, sans crown, the leading lights of the competition were the likes of Zola, Andy Cole, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Vialli.

All incredible goalscorers. Some had the ability to ghost into the box and find the perfect spot, some had the ability to always know where the keeper was and thus have the advantage. Others had rapier speed. A few could boast an incredible touch, outwitting their marker with a swish of their boot.

Thierry Henry had all of that and then some.

Bronze Henry.jpg

There was a period between 2002-05 where Henry truly was the greatest player on this planet. Goals rained down in the Premiership, Champions League, FA Cup, internationals. All spewing forth from the brain of Thierry. Left foot, right foot, even the occasional headed goal (the sole weakness of the player), he rained terror upon defenders who simply couldn’t deal with the arsenal that Henry possessed.

He could burn them with pace. If he came up against a defender who could keep up with him, he would use movement to beguile him. If the opposing number was a good man-marker, then his physical strength could give him the edge to find half a yard.

It also helped that he could score from any area of the pitch.

During our Invincibles season, there were moments that took the breath from your lungs. He gave us instances that had no parallel. His four goals versus Leeds, at one point he outpaced the entire backline so convincingly but with what appeared to be very little effort – his run looked like it was on ice, such was the silkiness of his gate.

His goal that changed the game versus Liverpool – y’know the one, where Carragher was so badly confused with Henry’s movement that he twisted himself into a heap? – was done with a touch that had no equal – bar Bergkamp – and all processed while he was running faster than anyone on the pitch.

We have a lot to thank Henry for, but the fact he played his best years in our shirt when he could have gone anywhere, that makes it all the more special. He loves the club, and the statue outside the ground is fitting tribute to what he achieved.

He missed out on the Ballon D’Or during his career, but twice finished inside the Top3. He would certainly have deserved it had he won during his best years, but looking back on his time at Arsenal, his legacy isn’t tarnished by not winning it.

His legacy is that he is the benchmark that all strikers are held up against now. Aguero’s goal ratio is incredible, but has he done it with the style of Henry, from all corners of the pitch? Kane is prolific, but has he scored 20+ goals for five consecutive seasons? Auba is fast, but is he ‘Henry’ fast?

The game is inexorably different to the one pre-Titi.

Much like former Sky man Andy Gray gasped during yet another Henry goal:

“I’ve seen most things in this league in the last twenty five years. I haven’t seen anything like him. I said at the beginning of the game that he is special. He’s more than that – he is irreplaceable.”

How right he was.

Twenty years has passed since Henry joined, and we now have the most incredible showreel in all of our minds.

Blistering run.

Henry.

Chance.

Goal.

 

Trademark knee slide.

David Luiz – An Improvement?

A lot of conversation has taken place in the wake of our active transfer window – and most of that has surrounded our defence.

David Luiz, William Saliba and Kieran Tierney were the defensive additions this summer, but do they constitute what we needed to revitalise our last line of resistance?

Mark Lawrenson recently commented on our purchases and how our backline will cope this coming season. He proffered that while David Luiz is an excellent footballer, he is not an excellent defender.

Harsh criticism? Perhaps, but a lot of experts have spoken about Luiz’s struggles with lining up in a back four and his decent showings in a back three.

The Brazilian is known for his superior technique and ball control, so much so that he has often been utilised in midfield as a sentry figure and one who can distribute the ball.

With William Saliba on loan for the season and very much a figure for the future, we currently have Rob Holding, Sokratis, Calum Chambers, Dinos Mavropanos and Zech Medley as our central defensive units. Do any of them have the missing attributes we have been searching for since Sol Campbell departed the club?

Being Arsenal, our defenders will always be held up to a higher level of scrutiny. We have the highest set of standards because we had what was probably the best defence ever seen in the modern generation. Dixon, Adams, Bould, Keown and Winterburn are part of the fabric of our club and the benchmark.

Since they retired, only Campbell and Toure for a short time have come close to that level. What is the level though?

What is it we need – and do our current crop have it?

The two characteristics we are perceived to lack are consistency and leadership. The consistency can be bred over time and can be achieved with a settled backline. So that is very much up in the air. Plus, we have defenders who have shown they can perform over a stretch of games. Sokratis last season hardly put a foot wrong. Rob Holding before his injury was a revelation.

Then there is the leadership quandary. A leader can be someone who leads by example. Laurent Koscielny was one of these. Then you have leaders who rangle their troops together vocally and by the way they deal with adversity. A stout heart and a puffed out chest.

Do we have that?

Sokratis seems an obvious choice on that front, but Luiz has always been a candidate at every club he has been at. Perhaps giving him the armband is a bit much, but can he show the younger players the right way? Can he bring the best out of his teammates? That would be a yes.

Luiz was a regular for the majority of his times at Chelsea and at PSG. That doesn’t happen by accident. While his best years may be behind him, the short term acquisition gives us a body that can cover us more than adequately.

David Luiz signs

Harking back to the titans of the past is a fruitless exercise, aside from the sweet pangs of nostalgia. A lot of our defence can be our approach to the game, and a more adaptable midfield who can track back and press attacks – so Guendouzi, Ceballos, Xhaka and Willock have a lot of pressure on their shoulders too.

For now, we can look upon our signings positively, and our squad seems well stocked in all regions. Players like Luiz will help us far more than the experts seem to think he will, and his struggles in a back four have been exacerbated a tad.

The bottom line is that will he improve on Mustafi? That is a definite yes!

Paul Davis – An Arsenal Warrior Bleeding Red and White

For fifteen years, Paul Vincent Davis was a Gunner.

From his debut in 1980 – in a derby no less – all the way to his injury hit last year in 1995, Davis embodied the drive, hunger and above all, class, that is synonymous with our club. The phrase, ‘The Arsenal Way’ could well be written within every DNA strand of the man.

Davis signed as an apprentice in 1977, and it didn’t take long for him to start pushing toward the first team. The central midfielder built a reputation for his patrolling of the centre of a pitch, and his Swiss Army Knife-like set of skills.

DavisP

You needed a pass? No problem. Tracking back? He’s got it covered. Tackling? Those telescopic legs were made for hooking the ball back. Davis had it all, and a player doesn’t become a mainstay of a top-flight club for such a long time without earning it.

No matter who he partnered, he moulded himself to fit the strengths of his other half in the centre. Most famously was perhaps his iconic duopoly with Mickey Thomas. Whereas Mickey had a great ability to ghost into the box to aid our attack, Davis knew when to stand sentry, and when to pivot. They dovetailed perfectly, and in 89, their partnership was the ideal platform for the most dramatic title triumph.

It was no coincidence that an injury to Davis coincided with a faltering of Arsenal’s title charge. Dropped points to QPR, Coventry, Millwall, Forest and Charlton saw Liverpool claw their way back, and upon Davis’ return – the draw versus the Addicks, we started to claw our way back from the brink.

Two title wins, four cups and earning more appearances than the majority of our past and current crops, Davis may have fought his fair share of injuries, but he was one of our own.

Not only that, but he was one of the flagbearers for racial equality within football – a battle that is still being fought. He, with a select few others, showed that Arsenal saw no colour, only talent, and Davis never let the bias get him down, as he steamrollered opponents no matter where or when.

He was a soldier for race and for Arsenal, and it was absolutely criminal that Davis never established himself on the England scene. Davis made 11 England Under-21 appearances, but not one cap for the full side. Davis would no doubt have added to England’s cause during his time at the top, and his pedigree of passing was difficult to match in the top-flight.

Davis continues to fight racism as an ambassador for ‘Give racism the red card’ and ‘Kick it out’ but it is his displays in our title winning teams of 89 and 91 that we will always hold dear and ensure Davis is and always will be, considered one of our Greatest Gunners.

Davis was a Gunner for fifteen years, helped bring glory to the club through silverware, and never let his standards drop throughout that time. He was a fine example to those younger than him of what it takes to make it. Tenacity, a thirst for betterment and a will to win that is never dampened throughout the years.

Can we say that Davis is one of our finest? Of course, there aren’t many in the modern era that can hold a candle, Vieira aside. Davis ticked all boxes.

Davis in non-Arsenal circles will always be remembered for punching Glenn Cockerill, but we will remember him for much more than that.

A bona-fide Arsenal legend, who bleeds red and white.

Fan Favourite Freddie

Professional footballers have become even harder to reach.

The pedestal they stand upon has reached a heady height, craning your neck up to see this sporting icon and suffering dizzying vertigo as a result.

Social media, a tool that should shorten the gap between ground level and the clouds upon which they sit, instead drags them further away from your lowly position. A constant stream of images from far flung places gives you the initial experience of being ensconced in their world – but it is a different plane, sitting parallel to yours.

It of course used to be different, but the last two decades has seen an exponential rise in a footballer’s stock. Image is everything, but it isn’t as if we never had players who were iconic.

The hair, the clothes, the whole package screaming of the super-cool. From Charlie George in the 70s, Champagne Charlie in the 80s, Wrighty in the 90s – they were always the most popular amongst fan picks.

My personal favourite?

Freddie Ljungberg.

The super Swede immortalised himself with his red hair, bringing the fans adoration close simply with the right choice of hair colour (Danny Rose tried and failed).

He was a good looking fellow, no dispute, but it was his hair that made him an icon, coupled with one other asset.

His knack of scoring goals – important goals.

Was there another of his era who was better at ghosting into the box? His timing was perfection, his finishing unerring, his hair bright red.

Freddie with PL trophy

Goals flowed, and his debut against Man United in 1999 saw a lobbed finish over Peter Schmeichel that lives long in the memory.

I tried to recreate his hairstyle, only succeeding in making my hair pink and waiting days for it to wash out. It was my attempt to pay homage to a player who had become my idol. There was no social media then that allowed a window into their life. I simply had to read up on whatever titbit of info was available.

My hair travesty aside – I am now bald like the man himself and this style is much easier to manage – Ljungberg earned his way into our hearts because he gave his all on the pitch, and his goals were a huge reason why we won the title in 2002. His run of goals in the business end of the season kept us afloat. Bergkamp could find his incessant runs easily, and when in the box, Freddie always found a way.

He is often overlooked in terms of his importance to that great era, but the right side of midfield was always an option for whomever was on the ball, and he dutifully did his defensive duties effectively.

In short, Freddie had no discernible weakness, aside from his infernal wisdom teeth, which put him out of action for many games on separate occasions. Has there been a player who has possessed his particular set of skills since? Perhaps Rambo, but has the Welshman done it with such panache?

Did he do it with red hair?

Freddie will always hold a special spot in my memory, because he was the first player who I wanted to be. He was the first player I put on the pedestal and aimed to be like – and I got a neck ache in the process.

Freddie is now managing our kids, and we get to see him often. His red hair might be gone, and the barrier between player and fan is still high. Even sans-rouge locks, Freddie oozes cool, and I know that should the barrier come down and I get a chance to meet him?

I’d still be a mess meeting my hero.