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Our best of our crop The home grown team Martinez VS Jennings Rice Adams O’Leary Cole Dixon Toure Campbell Sansom Saka Fabregas Storey Brady Ljungberg Cazorla Vieira Pires Radford Smith Rowe Bergkamp Henry This week I turn my attention to our best home grown players. The rules being, like last week, that they have to be brought through from the younger age squads and also in my fan timeframe from 1969 onwards. Again it is incredibly hard but I have made my choices and this week, as promised, I will go head to head against the bought team I chose last week. Martinez was the only choice in goal It is hard to find a keeper from my period 1969 to today. We don’t bring them through homegrown. Graham Stack never made it and he was my second choice. Wilson, Rimmer, Jennings, Lukic, Seaman, Lehmann and the rest were bought. So step forward Emilio Martinez, a true Arsenal man who dedicated a great part of his career to us. He only had one great season but what a season. He never let us down. And he won’t let down this team. But on the head to head from last time I have to put him behind Pat Jennings. So one-nil to the buys. Defence was far harder to choose Pat Rice against Lee Dixon? Well, this is difficult. Rice was such a great servant for us and Northern Ireland, but Dixon probably had that touch of class above him so I am going to go 2-0 to the buys as they race into a big lead. Pat Rice -one of our greatest servants Ashley Cole vs Kenny Sansom and Cole has to be the choice. 107 England caps. Lots of trophies and surely an England all time great. He shades Kenny Sansom in a tight race as Sansom was superb. 2-1 to the buys. Cole: Not so popular because of his (bad)choices Martin Keown couldn’t get into this team as a centreback despite being a giant of a player but our 2 longest serving players, Tony Adams and David O’Leary did. And I am going to give it to evens with Sol Campbell and Tony Adams leaving Kolo Toure and O'Leary out. So now it is 3-2 to the buys. No, I am not going to tell you who these legends are Midfield even harder Saka vs Ljungberg, oh no, how can I make this choice? I am going to give it to Saka for one reason. He is our best player at the moment, causing danger all the time whilst getting kicked unmercifully. Ljungberg was never our best player because, well, we had extraordinary players like Bergkamp, Henry and Viera in his time. So now it is 3-3. I couldn't leave these two out Fabregas vs Cazorla? Gus, why did you start this? This is impossible. Looking at great players we have bought vs players we have brought through and they are all brilliant. But I think I will go Fabregas, he was a genius, he stepped into the boots of Vieira, despite being a different sort of player and we didn’t really feel the difference. And now the homegrowns have made a comeback, 4-3. We did bring through some great players, didn’t we? The genius Spaniard that was Fabregas But now Peter Storey vs Patrick Vieira and I am so tempted to go for Storey. He was truly tough, but he made himself available all the time and was incredibly under rated. Alf Ramsay didn’t pick him for England for a long time regarding him as a clogger. When he finally did towards the end of his career, he said he had made a mistake and should have been playing him all along. He was like Roy Keane, he drove the team on and was always available for the ball. We could do with such a player now. But still, Patrick Vieira is Patrick Vieira. I have to give it to him. Now it is 4-4 and it is looking tight going down to the wire. Probably the most underrated player we ever had - Peter Storey Robert Pires vs Liam Brady? I hope you now realise how difficult this is. Two legends, guys we will love forever. But I am going to give it to Brady for the same reason I gave it to Saka. He was our best player in the team winning 1st division player of the year. And so now the homegrowns have got in front late in the game – 5-4. Brady- our best player of his time Attack was also a hard choice I put Smith Rowe in that Bergkamp role as I feel that is where he can be killer for us. Scoring goals, creating assists, making a danger all the time around the box. He could turn out to be a world superstar. But John Radford, despite being a super forward, and always being a threat, was no Henry. Frank Stapleton and Ray Kennedy were my next choices. At least the front two are easy. Bergkamp and Henry. I need say no more. And so the buys wing it at the end 6-5. I would love to see this team playing against the other in real life assuming all players are at their best. I suspect the buys might just shade it again but you never know. John Radford - a seriously under rated striker Some of the decisions were so hard. But I had to choose 11 for both sides. For the home grown team in defence there were Sammy Nelson, Terry Neill, Martin Keown and others who didn’t make it. In midfield there was a huge choice, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas, Graham Rix, Jack Wilshire, Charlie George and lots of others were considered. In attack we aren’t so strong, though. Ray Kennedy, Kevin Campbell, Niall Quinn and Frank Stapleton spring to mind but none are like the legends up front of Bergkamp and Henry, one of the strongest partnerships ever at any club. Nketiah and Balogun, or Biereth could make it and displace the two I chose but I can’t see them being better than Henry/Bergkamp. Let's cheer for our own So there you have it. I have chosen my best bought team and compared it to the home grown. My conclusion? That the bought team is a little better than the home grown. That buying well is the key to a great side, but bringing on your own gives far more satisfaction and fun for the fans. The Arsenal chant of “He’s one of our own” reverberates throughout the decades. And for sure they will play football the Arsenal way. And hey, let’s raise a goalkeeper or two.
1997-98 But then it all went Wright? The transfer market was crazy, players were flying in from all over. Players who had shown a bit of promise were shipped out and also Paul Merson was sent on to Middlesbrough, seemingly not rated by Wenger. And so we didn’t know who the team were going to be, and also who most of these new players were. A young Matthew Upson was brought in from Luton who never quite made it at Arsenal but went on to have a pretty good career elsewhere. He was the only Brit brought in and he was cover for the fabled back four. Matthew Upson: one Brit and many foreign in Now, Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars are well famous. Gilles Grimandi, Christopher Wreh and Luis Boa Morte were good players but turned out to be more squad players than certs. Alex Manninger was signed as cover for David Seaman. Only Alberto Mendez from Germany never really featured much and he moved on with scarcely any games. A scary side Wenger showed early on that he was good in the transfer market. Petit and Overmars soon showed that they were among the best in the Premier League. How about this for a side? Seaman Dixon Adams Keown Winterburn Vieira Petit Parlour Wright Bergkamp Overmars Frighten the life out of you? For sure. But Bould could come in at the back without a hint of weakness. David Platt was an unbelievable midfielder and could come in to change a game. And so could Nicolas Anelka up front who was showing signs of an immense talent. He looked like he would become a world superstar, yes raw and sometimes ungainly, but frighteningly good at times. Give him a chance to develop his game and his nous over the next few seasons and we have got a player. I think most fans agreed with me on this point. Over our next few blogs we will see what happened to him. A Dark December Emmanuel Petit was an immense midfielder and formed a superb partnership with Patrick Vieira. They were big, they were strong but they could play. They were potentially the best midfield pairing in the world except that Vieira was still raw, still struggled with heavy, greasy pitches and this was reflected in our dour November/December were we lost 4 league matches in a row to seemingly drop out of the title race. We were 5th on the 31st January, having occupied a similar position since November. The newcomers, in general, struggled with the weather and the pitches, Overmars, Petit and Anelka also flailing and sliding with abandon. Petit: one of the best Discipline was also a problem with Vieira and Petit picking up 3 red cards and 16 bookings between them, a lot of it due to being unable to play at the intensity and speed they desired and keep their balance. The famous Wenger ill discipline was in full force, and, despite not being a dirty side by any means, managed to clock up unimpressive disciplinary stats. And what about Ian Wright? I posed a question at the start “But then it all went Wright?” because I guess all you Gooners know what happened at the end this season, but for Ian Wright it was a mixed season, never shown better than when he pulled up his jersey against Bolton in September to show that he had broken the Arsenal scoring record. Eh, no, you didn’t, Ian but at least he did later on in the game and he had to pull it up again. Cue much ribbing in the dressing-room and the newspapers. Wright good fun However, he only got 11 goals in all competitions, a bad year for him and only 26 appearances in those, 2 as sub. Anelka had 2 more although 12 were as sub and he got 9 goals. Bergkamp played 40 and scored 22 and this was a new experience for Wright with only half the scores of the top striker. Competition was tough and getting tougher and there were rumours of famous strikers being lined up but that is a story for next week. The Wenger way was the only way Again lots of players got games, a massive 29 and the pattern was truly set, the cups were for the fringe, as were games against weaker sides and there was no ever present. Nigel Winterburn, again got the most with 35 in the league and 48 in total. Ray Parlour was next on 34 and 47, again, as I suggested last week with Winterburn, probably reflecting that Glenn Hoddle wasn’t playing him for England. Overmars, Petitt and Vieira had strong figures too and the latter 2 picked up suspensions so their figures would have been higher. I think we can all agree that playing these two would have been an easy choice for us. But the extraordinary Englishness of the side had been transformed, midfield and attack now reliant on Johnny foreigner, and only the legendary defence was sacrosanct. Wenger had made his mark, and we were hearing that the changes to Englishness were happening everywhere. The fondness for pints was out as it was for fish and chips and Mars bars. In were steamed vegetables and healthy portions. The best of everything Wenger believed in state of the art in every area, from the grass on the pitch, to the medical facilities, the training ground, and diet and focus. The old English ways were gone, despite the fact that they had dominated European football in the 70’s and 80’s. European football had moved on and it was time for English football to do so also. Alex Ferguson at Man Utd had his ear to the ground, he was aware that a new challenger had arrived, with new ways. He would never let his team fall behind for long. London Colney: it wasn't too long before this appeared So how did we get on on the pitch in Arsene Wenger’s first full season? I guess you all know the answer but I will take a look next week at how it went, and were we really happy that season.
1995-96 Bruce Rioch showed us a dark side to Arsenal The Dark season Bruce Rioch came in as manager. I can’t remember any fans being happy. He had done reasonably well in the lower divisions but nothing about him suggested he was a top flight manager. Ian Wright famously wrote in his autobiography that they didn’t get on. He didn’t like his dictatorial ways and Rioch also didn’t exactly play Wright too much and he only got 23 goals on all competitions, which was poor by his standards. But he did bring in David Platt who was superb and could score goals as an attacking midfielder. He added to Arsenal’s England regulars as well. He game had improved in Italy where he had come from Sampdoria, Juventus and Bari. Honestly, at the time, it seemed a great buy as he was at the top of his game. The brightness at the start All good here for Bruce Rioch But the real coup was Dennis Bergkamp, who in my opinion was the best ball player I have ever seen at Arsenal, eclipsing Liam Brady and Thierry Henry in pure footballing ability. He was a genius. You may never see goals like his again. The ball would stick to his foot like glue and he could do everything, left foot, right foot and his head. He was unbelievable for free kicks and brought a huge touch of class to the premiership. David Dein was instrumental in both buys and it seems Arsene Wenger was consulted about both. This was the strange part of the situation. David Dein had wanted Wenger, but foreign managers had never worked before in English football, all had failed to a greater or lesser extent, and the board prevailed this time. Soon turns dark I would love to know whether many fans were happy with the appointment of Rioch as I never heard or spoke to any. It seems it didn’t take long for dissent to show in the dressing room as Wright was consigned to the wing and was very unhappy. Dein was close to all the players and always knew what was going on behind the scenes. Rioch was following George Graham, our best manager in my lifetime up to then. No easy act to follow. But he had a team full of eminent internationals, a leading stadium, and was heavily supported in the transfer market. Platt and Bergkamp were top notch, a real joy for a manager to be given. The light kept going on and off So what happened on the pitch? We had 3 draws and 4 wins in our first 7 so not too bad. Then a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea. We were ok but not really challenging and this was reflected in our mid season position of 7th. We improved a bit to 5th at the end but almost 20 points behind Manchester United on top. We were definitely underachieving since the Premier League appeared. We should never have been out of the top 3 with the team we had, but Graham struggled with the backpass rule and couldn’t get the players to perform at their best, and neither could Rioch despite the obvious strengthening with top players. Rioch was strict and had intensive training sessions which the players didn’t seem to like. Brian Clough, in contrast, believed that he wanted players to run on the pitch, not on the training ground and he believed the ball was an integral part of training. Clough’s achievements are legendary with small teams, Rioch would never come close to anything like it. Wright, and others believed in practicing with the ball, improving their skills at all times. Wright often stayed there all day, practicing free kicks, scoring, left foot, right foot, head. Bergkamp improved all the players The most magical of footballers He credits Dennis Bergkamp, however, for showing him a better way to train, in improving his skills, aiming always for improvement. Wright came late to top class football and always wanted to get up to the level of those around him. I guess he had a little of the imposter syndrome about him, that he would need to get better in case they realise he shouldn’t really be there. And this was the crux with Rioch, he didn’t seem to rate Ian Wright and he put in a transfer request. Wright needed the manager to believe in him and while he did have the skillset to play on the wing, it was never his best position and effected his belief system. Rioch had only one chance, really. The team needed to win. They didn’t. Not enough. A defeat and a draw to the Spuds didn’t help. Going out in the 3rd round of the cup to our old friends Sheffield Utd after a replay didn’t help and we didn’t have a Euro trophy to compete in. The League Cup was better but we were beaten by Aston Villa over 2 legs in the semis. By February, the only thing we had to play for was a spot in the Uefa Cup. He did get that in 5th although it was because Liverpool qualified for the Cupwinners cup and gave up their spot in the Uefa cup to Arsenal. There wasn’t lots of spots in European trophies in those days. Thrown into darkness So he had a transfer row with the board at the end of the season and was pushed out. He was probably the most unpopular manager in my time. One year for an Arsenal manager is unusual and those who have read all my columns up to now will know that I like that about Arsenal, we don’t fire managers quickly. We give them a chance. Rioch didn’t do all that badly, but a combination of Dein wanting Arsene Wenger in and the players revolting against Rioch meant Dein had his chance to get his man. Was Rioch given a fair chance? I guess not. But he didn’t achieve much in his later career and it was hard to see that he could achieve anything with Arsenal. Probably too big of a job for him but we will never know for sure. His legacy is Bergkamp, though, and that signing alone propelled us into a higher sphere. But he joins the ranks of managers who were given their one big chance but couldn’t take it. Sam Allardyce knows all about that with England and one day I might do a blog about managers that self-destructed. My final word is that Bruce Rioch would have felt that Arsenal would have given him enough time. He was wrong. Rioch got this one Wrong, not Wright Were Arsenal wrong? They had a new man waiting in the wings and next week I will talk about that new man and try to reflect how I felt at the time. Talk next week so.