Alan Martin Smith earned his way into Gooner folklore in more ways than one.
You think of smudge, you inevitably think of the Miracle of 89, his goal at Anfield early in the second half that provided the platform for the most iconic moment in English football at the time.
However, the man who was the perfect foil for any striker was much more than this halcyon moment in Gunners history.
Smith won two Golden Boots in his time in an Arsenal shirt – the top scorer in the top league in England not once but twice. Some achievement.
Two titles. Three cups, including his wonderful goal against Parma in the Cup Winners Cup Final in 1994 won us a European title that we had no right to win.
Smith was an expert in the opposition box. He obviously knew where the goal was – he was our top scorer for four consecutive seasons – but he possessed an almost peerless ability in the air. Smith was tall but not so much that he towered above those who battled him. No, the reason Smith invariably won most aerial duels was down to intelligence – and a fantastic leap.
Smudge always jumped at the right time, and it meant he ousted his marker more often than not. How many times did the striker flick on a lofted ball from Lukic or Seaman and the ball found his striking partner or a late runner in midfield such as Rocky, Merson or Thomas?
That brings us to his real skill. One that is often overlooked. Smith created so much for his teammates with his aerial threat. He grabbed his fair share of headed goals, but Smith gave so much more, and that was thanks to his first touch.
On countless occasions, Smith received a ball launched long and high, and he immediately brought the ball to heel with his feet or chest. If the ball was destined for his head, the ball mystically found a teammate. This meant that not only did Smith’s ball control need to be faultless, but he also had to know where his team mates were at all times. His awareness bordered on telepathy at times.
We had a striker that gave us perfect service for eight years. He fitted us perfectly and even when his pace – or lack of – became evident later on – because his first touch and his awareness didn’t need a lightning burst toward goal – he was incredibly useful throughout his time with us, not just in the earlier years.
Smith learned and honed his trade at Leicester, with a certain Mr Lineker at the club too. There were certain similarities between the two – both possessed a knack at arriving at the right time in the box – but it was their playing personalities that matched up neatly. Both had a huge appetite, but didn’t let it consume them with red mist. Lineker and Smith both flew under the radar with referees – Smith was booked once in his entire career, Lineker escaped any bookings from the match official.
That’s quite an incredible statistic, but it may paint a picture of a placid player who cared little for the team. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Smith was instrumental in our team from the moment he arrived in 1987. He left everything on the pitch and his goals, assists and keeping defenders busy was a cornerstone of our trophy success in 89, 91, 93 and 94.
Smith is one of our finest strikers in our illustrious history. A player who was selfless and never once gave us less than his best.
A player who is encased in amber for helping to bring us the best memories.
Thank you Smudge.