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30 Year Anniversary – Class of 91

Almost Invincible.

Thirty years ago, Arsenal, George Graham and his multi-talented but miniscule squad began a campaign that should be ranked amongst our finest achievements.

The end result was the First Division Championship – but the sheer scale and number of obstacles put in the path of this ‘Class of 91’ adds a deeper lustre to this particular achievement.

As it’s the 30th anniversary of this amazing side, my publisher and I thought it would be good to re-release the book – with some extra content and some new content and info from members of the team themselves – to commemorate it.

You can order this Special Anniversary Edition here.

True, football was vastly different to the sport as we know it today. From the contrasting levels of physicality within matches to fitness regimens, diets and everything in between, football back in 1990 presented different challenges to nowadays.

It doesn’t lessen what the Class of 91 managed though.

There were still 38 opportunities for failure – and for Arsenal to avoid this 37 times out of that 38 is on a level with The Invincibles team.

Does that sole loss really create a gulf between the two incarnations of Arsenal? Is the fact that the Class of 91 succumbed to a ridiculously unlucky loss a telltale sign that Wenger’s team of 2004 was markedly better? Because the rest of the numbers points to Graham’s men as the superior team.

More goals scored, less conceded. A far smaller squad to navigate the season with. These are big indicators regarding the merits of that side that came so close to achieving the immortality that The Invincibles now enjoy.

Thirty years is a long time, but it isn’t the length of time that has dimmed the spotlight that should always be focused on this side. It is that one little ‘l’ that stops the Class of 91 being talked about in the same vein as The Invincibles.

That loss was inflicted on a mire of a pitch, with our skipper incarcerated at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. It was given to us with a shockingly brutal tackle on Steve Bould, which then forced George Graham to call upon a fresh-faced David Hillier (a midfielder) to act as a band-aid in the centre of defence in the absence of the injured Bould. This loss was thrust upon Arsenal by an offside goal and a flood of fixtures beforehand that left this threadbare squad exhausted.

This side overcame a points deduction too, after the infamous Battle of Old Trafford.

It is tough to find another championship-winning side that has had to overcome more – and was victorious in such a comprehensive manner. You could even argue that the competition in 1990-91 was far more competitive than in 2003-04, when there were only two other contenders. Thirty years ago, Liverpool were the all-conquering champions and had dominated the last twenty years or so. The First Division also had an exciting Crystal Palace side with a forward line to send fear into any defence. Manchester United were assembling something that resembled a challenge and even Tottenham had true class in their side thanks to Gazza and Gary Lineker.

There were more thrills and spills on the way of course, but I don’t want to spoil the book for you.

So, Almost Invincible – the 30th Anniversary of the Class of 91 – is out now. New cover, new content – but the story will still tell you all about this amazing journey Arsenal had that year and how they overcame insurmountable odds to earn the title – and what should be a permanent place in footballing history.

http://bit.ly/ArsenalClassOf91

Martin Keown – The Rash and Much More

The famous Arsenal back 5 is renowned for being perhaps the finest exponent of defending hailing from these shores in the modern generation.

Spanning two decades, David Seaman, Nigel Winterburn, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Lee Dixon were assembled by then Arsenal boss in the late eighties, and were hewn into the offside-trap using, tough-tackling, impregnable unit we know, and Arsene Wenger then went on to prolong their careers with his modern dietary methods and free-thinking that was a breath of fresh air – and revitalised them.

They won league titles and cups, and the greatest strikers of that era cite them as the most difficult they faced in their time – and rightfully so.

Martin Keown is not mentioned in the same breath, although in terms of defensive merits, he more than held his own.

Keown is one of the club’s legends, after his two spells at the club and 332 appearances and being the last member of the ‘old guard’ to represent the club – and earning a place in the ‘Invincibles’ side in the process.

His first spell at the club only lasted two years and 22 matches, before going to Aston Villa and Everton. Keown returned to the club in 1993, and while Bould and Adams were still the first choice pairing, Keown’s instincts and backline nous were an important part of the squad.

Keown was one of the best examples of a specialist man-marker, earning him the nickname of ‘The Rash’ as strikers couldn’t get rid of him. In an interview with the Telegraph in the past, Keown admitted that he hated man-marking, but being so good at it meant he could never escape the task.

Because the Back 5 were a unit, Keown may not eat at the top table of Arsenal legends, but if anyone deserves to be there, it is the man who bullied Ruud Van Nistelrooy. That moment, one that the media chose to beat us with, is actually embraced within the club and our fanbase, we hold it up as an example of our fierce will to win and how our men never backed down. Keown may look back on that moment and cringe, but none of us Gooners feel that way.

Keown’s will to win, his fierce desire on the pitch was ill-at-odds with the man we see now in front of the camera, but it was this competitive spirit that drove him to become one of the best defenders we’ve seen.

GettyImages-2517323Image credit – Getty Images

Off the pitch, Keown is a well-spoken, educated man with a lexicon that is alien to most ex-pro’s. What isn’t well documented is that even in his spare time, Keown researched opponents and his own weaknesses, often with his son Niall, himself a pro footballer. The England international was never happy with his own game and pushed himself to be the best he could be, and Arsenal benefitted from his hunger.

Keown played for England for over a decade, but only amassed 43 caps. This shows the depth that England had in his position, but in his prime, Keown was among the best the country had, and he should have earned more during his career.

While our back 5 earned the right to be lauded and put on a pedestal, Keown should be remembered as fondly. He may be regarded as a legend amongst the club faithful, but Keown was one of our finest and can stand shoulder to shoulder with his peers.

Keown, in his erudite way mixed with his Arsenal experience and his unmatched desire, could have been the perfect coach to school our young Guns in what is ‘The Arsenal Way’ and what it means to play with the Cannon on your chest – not to mention how to defend stoutly.

Four FA Cup wins, three titles, a UEFA Cup Winners Cup, a League Cup was his haul of silverware in an Arsenal jersey, but perhaps his finest accolade was that he was kept by Wenger as part of the Invincibles squad, even in his latter years. He was not as fresh, as strong, or as quick as Toure and Campbell, but his positioning, his decision-making and his experience was enough to see him as part of the squad.

Martin Keown was much more than a specialist man-marker, but ask players of his generation about how tough to play against him it was. Ask Thierry Henry, Pires and Bergkamp how difficult it was training with him – that is a legacy.

Could a Different Assistant have Helped Wenger?

The announcement of Arsene Wenger departing the club has led to the inevitable thoughts of the many years the Frenchman has been at the helm of the club.
After twenty two years of ups and downs, the search for Wenger’s disappearing mojo has led us all down a variety of paths.
Some scenic – some desolate.
Was it the start of the financial restraints and the need to sell our star players year after year?
Perhaps it was down to the changing face of football tactics and Wenger’s taciturn approach to his methods under fire?
The influx of cash that flooded the game was always a weapon that Wenger liked to furiously brandish, waving it with enthusiasm as United, Chelsea and City began to spend money like Mario Balotelli in a fireworks factory.
Or was it simply Wenger’s recalcitrance?
It’s probably a combination of the above, but his choice of Assistant Manager could be a contributing factor.

Wenger and Rice.

Arsene Wenger inherited the services of Pat rice when he joined back in 1996. The Arsenal stalwart bleeds red and white and through his playing and coaching career, Rice accrued invaluable knowledge of the club.

Rice was a huge reason Wenger’s strange and new methods took so well at the club. It helped that the results soon started to flow, but the playing personnel had a familiar face and one that was convinced by Wengers actions. This would help convert the masses.
Rice was no manager though. He was the perfect Assistant, and it meant that when results started to go south and an objective voice was required, Rice was the perfect ally rather than the difficult words that needed to be said.
Rice left Arsenal in 2012, when our ship began what was a particularly rough patch of water. This stretch of choppy seas we are still navigating, and another former Gunner has taken the coveted seat next to Arsene.
Much has been speculated about the role of assistant to Wenger. Some have said his rule is absolute. His reluctance to scout opposing teams and instill rigorous defensive training is yet another piece in the Wenger falling star jigsaw, and you would think two of our finest defenders would be just the answer to our backline blues?
Maybe it’s true that Bould and Rice have not been allowed to impart their wisdom on proceedings, maybe it’s fallacy. What isn’t myth is that perhaps, these men weren’t the answer? Rice perhaps in his later years was not the right man, and is Bould the right hand man Wenger needs when the ground became rockier and the incline steeper?
Some of the greatest triumphs involved a Manager who realised his limitations and stuck to what he was good at, and relied on his Assistant Manager to plug the gaps. Brian Clough leaned on Peter Taylor and look what they achieved with Forest and Derby. Sir Alex Ferguson used a number of Robin’s to his Batman and his trophy cabinet bulged. Kidd, McClaren, Quieroz, Knox, Smith and Phelan were just some of the names that were allowed to have an impact on the training field.

One of the finest examples of this involved our own Bertie Mee and Don Howe. Mee knew his own boundaries and so did Howe, but together they formed a formidable coaching unit.
It is increasingly difficult for just one man to play every part at a club, and with Wenger going from Arsenal, this is maybe one of the last Managerial postings where the manager has his fingers in a multitude of pies. Now is the time of the coach, and now we have Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi, we have the expertise to supplement a great coach on the training pitch.
Arsene Wenger at times could have really done with a partner to pull him to one side and make him realise where his errors were. Whether he would have listened or not is another matter entirely.
Wenger is still undeniably – along with Chapman – the greatest manager we’ve had. We’re lucky to have been able to witness what we have during his tenure. Even in his later years, we were still treated to some football from the gods.
Wenger’s legacy is where we stand right now, and our brand of football. With or without a change in Assistant Manager, we still have this to remember him by.
With a different Robin though? Batman could have really made Gotham a better place.

Published in the Gooner Fanzine.

Tips For Wenger

There has been much talk surrounding Arsene Wenger and his tenure, and whether he will leave Arsenal before his contract ends.

Possible managerial replacements have been bandied around the media and social media avenues, illustrious names hoped and wished for to take our club back to the zenith of the Premier League.

It’s clear that Arsene Wenger, while deserving of our respect, has reached the end of the road.

Whether the road ends at the end of this season or next is very much unknown.

So, what about if Arsene does see out his contract, like he has done every other one he has signed?

What about if he extends?

Is there anything that can be done that could remedy the malady that is Wenger’s weaknesses?

For the sake of conversation and nothing else, here’s a few options that could possibly add a salve and maybe even paper over what have tormented us over recent seasons:

A New Assistant

One thing is abundantly clear; Steve Bould is by far a better defender than he is an assistant. It is all hearsay regarding how much sway he has on proceedings in training, but on the sidelines, he is nothing more than a chewing statue. It pains me to say that as he is an Arsenal legend, but you have to separate the player from the role they are in now – just like our legends who dabble in punditry.

Arsene could really do with a sounding board to bounce his ideas off, or better still, have someone with enough nous and balls to let him know when he needs to address something. Who could fit that bill? Well, there’s a whole queue of former Arsenal players who are tooled up with modern day tactics, coaching badges and a voice that can reverse any dodgy potential decisions that Wenger makes. Keown, Parlour, Henry, Vieira, just a few that could give Wenger’s last year, or years, a boost they sorely need.

Listening to current staff

We went on a recruitment drive recently, and now we can boast some of the best in the business. Raul Sanllehi, Darren Burgess, Sven Mislintat, Huss Fahmy, Shad Forsythe and Jens Lehmann – all new blood with new ideas. Sven Mislintat especially could have a big impact on Wenger’s last moments at the club.

We are all painfully aware of the failure to be able to replace Gilberto, and that was over a decade ago. Since then we have had a succession of stand-ins, and none have come close. That is down in part to recruitment, and Sven is said to be an expert in talent spotting. Give the man a brief this summer and ask for a defensive bloody midfielder! Ask Steve Bould to teach our lads the basics of defending zonally! Use the skills we have to hand!

Monitor opponents

It has been said by more than one departed player, that Wenger fails to look at the opposition before we play them, preferring to concentrate on the merits of our own team instead. So convinced of our team’s attacking strength, Wenger feels that it doesn’t matter how the other team plays, because we can outscore them. He has often cited his lack of defensive work and his oversights in terms of scouting out opponents – this one is simple. Just look at our opponents! Just imagine what a difference it could make!

Of course, a tactical overhaul would be great too, but let’s not get our head stuck in the clouds…

The suggestions above are nothing more than ideas that would I think would go a fair way in redeeming what could be another painfully mediocre season for us under Wenger.

Can you think of any helpful tips should Wenger stay? Just leave a comment below!

​Arsenal Look to Change

Published Originally on Arsenal Review – and adapted.

Towards the end of the underwhelming 2016-17 season, Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis moved to placate the growing unrest amongst supporters, with comments touching upon the need for change if Arsenal were to move forward.

Gazidis touched upon how disappointing the campaign had been, and how there was a real ‘catalyst for change’ amongst everyone at the club. So fans could have been forgiven for thinking that there would be a freshening up of the staff, a changing of the guard if you will. Something that may give Arsene Wenger a differing view.

Well, the recent news coming from Arsenal definitely has a whiff of the Tories during the General Election.





Strong and stable seems to be the order of the day rather than the winds of change, as Arsenal have announced that Gerry Peyton, Boro Primorac, Neil Banfield, Tony Colbert and Steve Bould will all be offered contract extensions. This means that along with Arsene Wenger staying for another two years – exactly nothing will have changed despite Gazidis’ promises to the contrary – or so we thought initially.


After last season’s fifth placed finish, it showed that Arsenal had fallen behind the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea – and even worse, Tottenham –  by quite some distance. From the months of January through till April, the Gunners were battered from pillar to post and slumped down the league table. The now customary Champions League exit was delivered with aplomb by Bayern Munich, and things were looking bleak at The Emirates.


Ivan Gazidis’s comments were meant to apply a salve of sorts, to soothe irate Gooners who could see quite painfully our rivals driving off into the distance. The regime needed to adapt or to be replaced. Arsenal’s Chief Executive could recognise the bubbling undercurrent of dissatisfaction was rising to higher levels than ever seen before. We all thought his comments were hollow at first, but brick by brick, we are seeing that behind the scenes, Arsenal may be taking a different tack.


Did Gazidis and the Board actually have intent to push through changes, and that if Wenger wanted to continue in the job, he would have to adapt?


We will surely never know, but winning the FA Cup will have reminded the Board that Wenger continues to be able to do the job. 


What is now clear is that our whilst our rivals will look to improve their squads with the mountains of cash provided by the TV rights deal, our own squad must also be boosted.


Wenger has started early in that respect, bringing in highly rated Schalke left-back Sead Kolasinac and record signing Alexandre Lacazette, but there is still much work to do. The news will continue to dole out rumours and speculation about targets, but Arsenal need something new if they are to claw themselves back into contention – after being so far away from the top in the last campaign.


Worries in previous seasons about the fitness regime at London Colney, reports about Gerry Peyton clashing with our goalkeepers. All of this may or may not be true, but after twenty one years of this regimen – we can say that this setup now needs to be reworked.


There was a reshuffle of sorts a few seasons ago with the appointment of fitness guru Shad Forsythe who had previously worked with the German international team, but Tony Colbert still resides in his position. Whether this correlates to Arsenal’s annual injury woes is inconclusive, but it is yet another stick on the bonfire.


Gerry Peyton has been goalkeeping coach since Wenger joined the club, and Boro Primorac was rumoured to be taking a Head Coach role somewhere in Europe, but both will be at the club next season.


Much has been made of Steve Bould’s role as Assistant Manager. The former Gunners defensive stalwart has been credited by some players as the reason for more defensive solidarity – but his muted appearances in the Arsenal dugout have left some wondering whether his role is limited. Is Bould simply a scarecrow, designed only to stave off suggestion that Wenger’s power at Arsenal is not open to defiance? Or does Bould have more input than his silent appearances on the Arsenal bench suggest?


With the appointment of Darren Burgess freshening up the fitness side of things, former Gunner Jens Lehmann coming in to the fold as First Team Coach and now Per Mertesacker being given the role of overseeing the future of the Academy, it appears as though the penny has finally dropped. Arsenal have gone for a transfusion of sorts in a bid to meld the old with the new. 


The 12th of August is nearly upon us, and Ivan Gazidis’s words now appear to have been made tangible. 

The Famous Arsenal Back 5 – Will We See the Likes Again?

Published in the Gooner Fanzine – pick up yours outside The Emirates on matchdays!

It is a rare occurrence when rival teams and Managers acknowledge another teams strength. When it does happen, it sticks in the memory.

Think Henry being applauded by Pompey fans after destroying them single-handedly. Or Real Madrid fans begrudgingly clapping Ronaldinho after the Brazilian had taught their side a footballing lesson.

It doesn’t happen often, but it is a sign that true, unadulterated genius has touched proceedings.

Well, the amount of other teams managers, players and hierarchy that have held their hands up and given Arsenal’s famous ‘Back5’ as an example of the finest defensive unit to grace these shores, since the iconic Liverpool teams of the ’70’s and ’80’s is long and noteworthy.

Long coveting looks across the pitch and gushing comments of approval have rained down on the men who comprised the immovable object that was Arsenal’s Back 5 for over a decade – and for good reason.

Singularly, they were the zenith of defensive solidarity, giving each and every attacker the strictest of examinations. It was as a whole though, that they excelled. Much like the greatest groups that existed, each strength that was brought to the table was a segment that when put together, made an unbreakable shield.

Like the 300 which battled fiercely in Thermopylae, the shield formation which was the demise of many Persian enemies is a succinct example of Adams, Bould, Winterburn, Dixon and Seaman. 

If one shield drops, then the whole unit is compromised. It was each mans strength which gave the other man protection. It was a united effort. 

At the centre, the Captain. Born to be a leader, adored the club and led from the front. Every battalion needs a shining example to ready the troops before battle, and Adams stood on the parapet each and every time, sword raised, his battlecry inspiring his men. 

He wasn’t half bad on the pitch either. His reading of the game was modelled on England hero Bobby Moore, and he excelled. His aerial ability was unrivalled at both ends of the pitch, and he was his managers perfect middle man, making sure the plan was perfectly pitched.

Alongside him was Steve Bould. The forever follically-challenged Bould was the perfect foil for Adams, and each complimented the other. When both were playing, the foundation that the rest of the team could fall back on must have been a welcome presence.

On the right, Lee Dixon had an incredible engine, and whilst his frame was never imposing, his desire and tackling ability more than made up for his lack of height. His crossing was always a valuable outlet, and he never left his post, unlike some modern fullbacks today.

Nigel Winterburn was on the left, and he provided the same outlet that Dixon did on the opposite side. He also played on the edge, sometimes boiling over when he felt injustice.

Then the gentle giant David Seaman was the man between the sticks. A huge man with a gargantuan wingspan, he commanded his area with no room for error. Whilst the midfield could feel relieved to have the stout defence behind them, the very same defenders could rest assured that ‘SafeHands’ was standing true if any enemy broke through.

These paragraphs aren’t meant to do justice to these players. Their legacy goes beyond words. The reason their tenure at the club stretched for so long is that the essential factor of any defence – reliability – existed every year. Their excellence at what they did ensured that every season, the club would at least have a solid footing to fall back on. 

The perfect example was in Copenhagen in 1994, when Arsenal won the European Cup Winners Cup after beating Parma 1-0. The Italians had the cream of attacking talent and were widely expected to roll over the Gunners, but Tomas Brolin, Gianfranco Zola and Faustino Asprilla grew more and more frustrated as the famous back 5 repelled each and every attempt they mustered. It was the perfect battle between attack and defence, and Arsenal’s backline won handsomely.

Arsene Wenger’s glittering start at the club would have been markedly different if he didn’t have this cadre of soldiers to fuse to his cosmopolitan flair. The mix in styles worked perfectly, and Wengers handling of the players training and fitness allowed these men to play on for more years than they ought to have with their previous regimen.

We have had defenders who have performed admirably for us since. Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Bacary Sagna and a few others provided top grade service to the shirt during their playing careers, but they never came close to recreating what the famous Back5 had.

The fact they are famous across footballing circles is because they were exactly what other managers wanted at their club – and still do.

Some factors in the sport are meant to be held up and admired through rose-tinted specs, and used as a prime example of what to aim for. Used as the ultimate achievement, but most will fail to attain such a standard. 

Will we ever witness such an amalgamation of titans again? A barrier so formidable that even the sharpest of attacks were blunted as they attempted to force their way through? 

As aforementioned, we have had elements of the equation before, but never as a whole. Could we now though, have all the parts to build the machine we require?

Petr Cech is still one of the finest exponents of goalkeeping in the Premiership. Hector Bellerin is already one of the best in his position, and at such a young age he will only get better. Koscielny had already forged a reputation as one of our greatest defenders, he just needed a partner. In Mustafi it appears he may have found one. On the left, Nacho Monreal has given us, and continues to, reliable service in defence and attack.

It is far too early to give a prognosis on the replication of such an immortal band of men, but the signs are good.

All they need now is a decade or more playing together, a truckload of trophies, and form that never dips below a certain level. 

Shouldn’t be too hard. 

No Room For Heroes At Arsenal?

During his playing career at Arsenal, Thierry Henry could do no wrong. Every deft touch from his divine feet was manna from heaven for Gooners, and the mark he left at the club cannot be underestimated.

The next inevitable step for a man cast in bronze outside the stadium is management, and it looked like the first rung on the managerial ladder was attained when Henry accepted a position at London Colney as the Under-18 coach.

His experience, his gravitas, his reputation at the club all melded together to create a potential that looked like it would sweep him to the top when Arsene Wenger finally decided to loosen his grip on the reins.

Instead, a hero without a blemish has left the club – and he is just another in a growing horde that have either been forgotten by Arsenal, or shunned altogether in regards to a place in the coaching staff under Arsene.

Continue reading No Room For Heroes At Arsenal?

The Unknown History of Steve Bould

Originally posted on Goonersphere

Born on the 16th of November 1962 in the balmy heat of El Flangio, Nicaragua; Stephen Muriel Bould was a hefty baby – weighing in at two stones and ten ounces. His mother Fangita tragically died giving birth to this gargantuan infant, leaving Steve’s father, Admiral Quentin Farquhar Askwith Bould III, to shoulder the burden of an infant whilst maintaining a Royal Navy Fleet.

Continue reading The Unknown History of Steve Bould