Tag Archives: invincibles

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.

Invincibles Vs Almost Invincibles

Featured in The Gooner Fanzine

Comparing things is pretty big business. It harnesses our compelling need to put different versions alongside each other and gauge each and every characteristic – despite the flaws in the method.

We can’t help but do it, but comparing things has far too many variables to reach a conclusive answer.

Especially when it comes to football – and yet we are all guilty of it.

Ronaldo and Messi compared to Maradona and Pele or any other titan of the game is one that is often bandied around, but the nuances of time and the different permutations surrounding each generation render any result reached a moot one.

We do it with different teams too – even ones that wore the same jersey.

As Gooners, we are pretty spoiled when we visit the annals of our past, as we have a multitude of teams, players and seasons when success was reached and memories were encased in a gold-tinted amber. We can hark back to these slices of time and wonder how they would have fared in today’s game – and if they would have emulated some of our more recent successes.

George Graham helped us achieve a few of our brightest moments, but will always be remembered for probably the most dramatic title win in history. The Miracle of Anfield 89 has been converted into film twice and is never far away from any self-respecting Gooner’s recollection – and for very good reason – but was that his finest team?

Probably not.

Two years later, his Arsenal side reclaimed the title ahead of rivals Liverpool, conceded just 18 goals in the process over 38 games, and scored a hatful of goals to dispel any notions that his men were mere defence merchants.

They won the title with games to spare too – and perhaps the most compelling argument to sway anyone who thought the 89 team was better? The team of 90/91 did all this even with their skipper being sent to prison, being deducted points for the infamous brawl at Old Trafford – still the only case before or since where a team has been deducted points – and having a squad that was light in terms of numbers.

They played every three days for over a third of the season, and lost just one game. One. That sole ‘L’ in the league table came at Stamford Bridge where an offside goal and a tackle that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an MMA Octagon took out our sole recognised centre-back combined to thieve points from GG’s team.

It is quite the story, and there was much more too. How did the squad keep the good ship Arsenal on a steady course despite missing such an inspirational figure in Tony Adams? How did the team cope despite being lambasted by the press for their part in the mass melee at Old Trafford? Above all, could they have gone ‘Invincible’ before Wenger’s fabulous side achieved it thirteen years after?

This amazing and inspirational side are one of the finest that Arsenal have ever had, but they get a paltry amount of limelight compared to the 03/04, 89 and even the 97/98 sides.

Never mind about were they as good as the hero’s of 89 – we should be asking whether they stand shoulder to shoulder with the Invincibles – arguably our greatest ever eleven.

You see? We can’t help but compare.

My book, Almost Invincible, does this extensively, and uses library newspaper records and the accounts of David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Bob Wilson, David Hillier and Alan Smith to illustrate how they did what they did. It also features expert opinion from Guardian journalist Amy Lawrence.

Undecided? Let my book show you how good the side of 90/91 truly were, the side that was ‘Almost Invincible.’

Just go to the ‘My Books’ section above, or go to my Twitter bio, my handle is @JokAFC.

The Invincibles, The ’99 Treble and 2 Missed Penalties….

Many recent films have touched upon the hypothesis regarding choice and the huge ramifications it can have on not only a life – but all across the globe.

In dystopian epic The Matrix Reloaded, Keanu Reeves’s mono-syllabic character Neo summed it up perfectly when in his signature monotone delivery, he uttered, “the problem is choice.”

Choice changes every path we take. The choice you made to grab some cereal before rushing to work changes your whole day, from the train you take to the people you meet. Choice is a chaotic animal that lords above every facet of your life. 

In amongst the unruly though, certain phenomenon occur. These anomalies crop up in the form of parallels and correlations, and most of these fly past our vision with nary a batted eyelid. Perhaps this is because the minutiae of day to day routine isn’t enough to shake us from our reverie, but I think it is due to the occasion not being grand enough. If it were to happen on a scale so large that millions were affected, then we would all see it and gasp with wonder, no?

The place? Villa Park, April 1999, and Old Trafford in September of 2003. 

Both games featured the same teams – Arsenal and Manchester United. 

Both games saw red cards.

Both games hinged dramatically on a penalty.

Both penalties were taken by Dutchmen.

Both spot-kicks were missed. 

Both incidents occurred in the dying embers of the games.

In 1999, it was injury time in the FA Cup Semi-Final replay between the Gunners and United. The first leg saw both sides unable to break the deadlock, but the replay saw David Beckham crack the resolute Arsenal defence with a 25yrd curler that left the outstretched Seaman with no chance. Not to be undone, Dennis Bergkamp restored parity with a long range shot that nicked a deflection and saw its way past Schmeichel. Plenty of chances later, but both outfits were so evenly matched that it was always going to go the wire.

No one told Phill Neville though. Ray Parlour received the ball just outside the box and took on Neville, and as Parlour darted past him, a swinging leg took down the Romford Pele, to win a penalty that would surely see Arsenal into a second final in two years.

In 1999, Bergkamp was one of the finest players in the stratosphere, never mind the Premier League. As he stepped up to the spot, confidence was high that this would make the net bulge and give Wenger’s men the victory that both teams had fought so valiantly for.

Peter Schmeichel, bedecked in brilliant green, stood between Arsenal and progress. Little did he know though, that the save he was about to make would also be the foundation from which United would go on to achieve an unrivalled set of silverware.

Bergkamp hit it to Schmeichel’s left, and that was the direction that the Dane had guessed. Minutes later and Arsenal had been left with the bill as Ryan Giggs, chest rug and all, rewrote the match – and history.

To Old Trafford in September 2003. 

Arsenal had finished runners up cruelly the previous season, and the team had started the season convincingly. No matter how well they had been playing though, a visit to the home of United was always the toughest venue – and the game both sets of players looked forward to.

This game had chances as did the cup game in ’99, but there was no goals scored. Where there was a dearth of goals, there was ample aggro. United’s goal-getting frontman Ruud Van Nistelrooy was no stranger to histrionics, and his playacting and gamesmanship was irking the Gunners. 

It all came to the boil when Van Nistelrooy clambered all over Patrick Vieira for a header, and ended up rolling off of the Frenchmans shoulders, sending Vieira tumbling. No free-kick from the referee, but Vieira wanted to dish out his own brand of justice, and a petulant flick of the leg went in the direction of the Dutchman.

The leg was at least a metre away from touching him, but Van Nistelrooy’s reaction provoked the referee to send of Vieira. A tumultuous gathering of players venting aggression and a few minutes later, order resumed.

The game went on and in the last minutes of the match, a ball came into the box. Martin Keown was marking Diego Forlan tightly, and both men went down to the floor. The referee instantly blew for a penalty, and it was panto villain Van Nistelrooy who stepped up.

The tension was palpable, and the Dutchman must’ve felt it too, as he smacked the ball hard against the crossbar. Some say the woodwork still wobbles to this day…..

Take a second to think about what was at stake for a single kick of the ball. 

The Treble of ’99, and the Invincible season. 

Both would never have occurred if it was a different penalty taker, if the chosen men had instead aimed for a different area of the goal. What about if the referee had refused to point to the spot in each game?

From such little decisions, massive consequences happen. 

It beggars belief how many tangents can be visualised with every alternate choice, and if string theory is indeed true – then in each parallel universe we would have both Dutchmen celebrating, taking, not taking, and missing the penalties. That in turn leads to different winners of each trophy and the lustrous gold Premiership trophy never being made.

All because Dennis Bergkamp chose to kick his penalty to the right, and Van Nistelrooy high in the goal.

You see? 

The problem is choice……

Invincible by Amy Lawrence – A Review

Football fans need no invitation to wrap themselves in the comforting blanket of nostalgia. Every last-minute winner, every derby triumph, every accolade, is another opportunity to pass down treasured memories to the next generation. The details of the day may become hazy, but only due to the swirling mix of emotions from such an occasion.

The players who were responsible for luring out such fervour become titans, larger, more god-like, with each recollection. Time only adds to this sensation and the men that reaped such riches will always have a pedestal to be placed upon.

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With Invincible: Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season by Amy Lawrence – this is the reason I initially felt jealousy upon poring over the pages.

Continue reading Invincible by Amy Lawrence – A Review