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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Recognising Tom Whittaker

We are blessed to support Arsenal.

Not many clubs can boast such a rich history as ours. This doesn’t just mean trophies and titles. It can mean the players we had, the difference we made to the game itself, and proud records that stand the test of time.

When you think of our rich tapestry, most recall Herbert Chapman, and rightly so. The visionary that joined from Huddersfield Town dragged Arsenal – and the game – up from its haunches and the amends he suggested are still part of the fabric of the game we know now.

Chapman deservedly dominates thought, but I am here to say that there is another who deserves the same level of adulation – and that while I was aware of his name previously, I had no scope of the measure of the man until I was told about it.

So here I am trying to make sure as many Gooners are aware of this extraordinary man, his feats and above all – how he put Arsenal above all. Just like I was made aware.

We may be blessed to be Gooners, but it is people like Tom Whittaker that have made it so.

Mr Whittaker devoted his entire working life to Arsenal, giving an entirely new definition to a ‘one-club man.’ From his playing days he moved into a physio role, then moving up to become a coach and finally, the manager. Such is the strength of his presence that Arsenal didn’t win a single trophy without him in some capacity until 1970. Seeing as he played for the club in the ‘20’s, that’s quite the stretch.

Whittaker began his coaching career under Chapman, while still younger than some of the players. His broken kneecap suffered during his playing career had forced his hand and Whittaker wanted to continue in the sport in some capacity, so studied to become a physio, and went on to make major changes in the way the club maintained the fitness of the squad.

He was at a forward thinking club under Chapman, and his methods were recognised by England, who appointed him to become one of their trainers. After George Allison – Chapman’s successor – retired in 1947, it would be Whittaker who would take the reins, completing a remarkable career transformation – all under the umbrella of one club.

Whittaker was overseeing the slow demise of Arsenal as the powerhouse of English football, so his title-winning triumphs of 1947/48 and 1952/53, as well as the FA Cup in 1950, were all the more remarkable and added to the lustre of Whittaker’s reputation.

Herbert Chapman’s reverence isn’t just down to the fact he made the club what it is today. He sacrificed his life for Arsenal – something that Tom Whittaker also gave us. Whittaker even referenced Chapman’s ultimate sacrifice when he took over as manager, saying “Herbert Chapman worked himself to death for this club and if that is my fate, then I am happy to accept it.

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Image credit – Arsenal History

He passed away in 1956 while still in the role of Manager. He had worked for Arsenal for nearly four decades. This is not referenced enough. Before finding this info out (thanks to Tim Stillman), I had known of Whittaker, but not of the magnitude of his heroics.

Whittaker IS Arsenal, just as much as Herbert Chapman is Arsenal. It is  criminal how underappreciated he is, and I feel almost guilty for not recognising him for the cornerstone of Arsenal that he is.

This is why I hope even one person reads this and it sticks in their mind. I want Gooners to know that while the present day is pressing, the reason we can enjoy supporting Arsenal is down to Chapman AND Whittaker.

We were blessed to have two men who went above and beyond, and word needs to be spread.

Thank You, Vic Akers

It isn’t just Arsene Wenger that deserves a fitting send-off.

How’s about an Islington born boy who has been at the club in numerous capacities since 1986, making the newly formed Arsenal Ladies side the most successful English ladies side in history, winning thirty two honours, being awarded an OBE and now is the man responsible for ensuring our club are kitted out?

Step forward, Vic Akers, the true definition of an Arsenal hero.

Vic Akers, Arsenal icon

Vic is the embodiment of what us fans want from a player. True dedication, nothing but love for the cannon and puts everything into his work. Akers has not only served Arsenal well – he shone a light on the Women’s game that wasn’t illuminated previously.

His Arsenal Ladies team’s – and it is plural as he reinvented the side regularly in his tenure as Manager – highlighted the skills on show in the female game. His all-conquering Gunners side were also the first English team to lift the European Cup.

Thanks to his work, the WSL is now growing at an exponential rate, but from a humble seed do mighty oaks grow, and the bedrock for the success in today’s incarnation of the English Women’s game lies at the feet of Vic Aker’s Arsenal teams.

The man famous for sparking the ‘Postman’ fashion trend – perennially in shorts, no matter the weather – Akers has been a mainstay during the reins of both Graham and Wenger, and this season will be his last at the club.

His work will be continued by his son, but not much is known about Akers prior to joining Arsenal as part of the Community scheme the Gunners were running at the time and continue to do.

Vic, much like other successful managers, was a journeyman professional football player, playing as a full-back during the 70’s for the likes of Cambridge United and Watford. Upon hanging up his boots, he took the chance to join his boyhood club working behind the scenes and strengthening the link between the club and the locals. A job very much close to his heart being a local boy himself.

It will be his efforts as Arsenal Ladies Manager from 1987 through to 2009 that set him apart however. 22 years and 32 trophies is a record that sees him in illustrious company, and even in the last decade when competition for trophies became fiercer than ever, his tactical nous and training ground work saw his Gunners girls stay ahead of the competition, even winning the European Cup in 2007 – something the currently cash-rich Chelsea and Man City Ladies team’s have failed to do.

Vic Akers will no doubt say goodbye to the club with well-wishes from everyone at the club, but fan recognition for his service will be lower than he deserves, simply because he flew below the radar, letting his work do the talking rather than take the plaudits he so richly warrants.

Arsenal have been lucky to have had some bona fide legends in their time, but Vic Akers is without doubt one of the biggest. We owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for what he has achieved and also – how much he loved the club when he did it.

Thank you Vic Akers.

Meeting Smudge

The annals of Arsenal’s goalscorers requires sunglasses. Absolutely bursting at the seams with eye-scorching gold, the history the Gunners have with lethal finishers is famous. Some of the English game’s finest strikers have plied their trade in the red and white and we have more often than not had an accomplished frontman at the vanguard of our team.

Charlie Buchan, Cliff Bastin, Ted Drake, Ronnie Rooke, Derek Tapscott, David Herd, Doug Lishman, John Radford, Frank Stapleton, Ray Kennedy, Frank Stapleton, Ian Wright, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp. This is just a sample of the delights we have been able to savour and who have given so much in terms of goals.

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Robert Pires – True Artistry

A true icon of the modern day game officially retired on the twenty fifth of February 2016 at the age of forty two.

A glittering career full of impressive numbers and shiny trophies, but his professional path contains one blot, and it happened on the day when his talent was on one of the biggest stages.

Robert Pires effectively saw the most glorious period of his career end on the 17th of May 2006, in Paris, in the 18th minute of the Champions League Final.

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Continue reading Robert Pires – True Artistry