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Arsenal, English? Really? My top 2 English teams for Arsenal (at least 100 appearances) David Seaman John Lukic Ashley Cole, Lee Dixon Kenny Sansom, Viv Anderson Tony Adams, Sol Campbell Martin Keown, Steve Bould Peter Storey, Michael Thomas David Platt, Ray Parlour Bukayo Saka, David Rocastle George Armstrong, Charlie George John Radford, Ian Wright Alan Smith, Malcolm Macdonald Arsenal are an English team. Arsenal are an English team? Really? So who is our best ever manager? The Englishman Herbert Chapman or the Frenchman Arsene Wenger? Not so easy to say but Wenger has far more trophies and upgraded Arsenal to the top of the pile when Manchester United, full with money, stars, and a huge fanbase, were in their prime. I think you have to put the Frenchman ahead, just. More trophies = Better? Our best ever player? Also French. The magical Thierry Henry. It is very hard to put a real English contender against him, especially in my time, which, as I find it too hard to judge players from the past, means I can only go on their records. So, Cliff Bastin (396 appearances, 178 goals) is behind Ian Wright (288 appearances, 185 goals). Not a true reflection as they are totally different eras. Ian Wright is a big favourite of mine, as he is to us all here in ASCB, but I have to concede he wasn’t as good as Henry or Bergkamp. The tall one is Ian Wright Our English defence were so good Our best goalkeeper? Well, certainly Seaman has some competition in Jennings, or Lehmann, with all three having their champions. I would go for Jennings. With fullbacks there is an argument for English dominance as indeed in defence generally. David O’Leary, Terry Neill, Frank McLintock, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson were super players but as you can see from my 2 teams up above, the English defenders could hold their own against the best of the outside brigade. In midfield not so much. Brady, Vieira, Fabregas, Cazorla, Pettit, Pires, Ljungberg, Rosicky, Ozil, Ramsey, and others would have to be just that bit stronger than the 4 I have nominated above. On the wing, I chose Saka and Rocastle with just behind them Charlie George and Geordie Armstrong, who often played in a 4-3-3 which was a bit different from today. But are they better than Brady, Pires and Ljungberg who often played on the wing and Marc Overmars, Sylvain Wiltord and others? I would say that again the outsiders were a bit stronger. Super, super foreign stars up front Up front, it is very hard to make a claim that the best English forwards are a match for the best foreigners. The four Englishmen I have chosen were super players but the contest is phenomenal. Henry, Bergamp, Kanu, Anelka, Sanchez, Aubameyang, Van Persie and others of the Wenger era were true superstars. In the end, I probably have to concede that only in defence, including goalkeepers, can Arsenal claim to be an English team and even then with strong competition. Anyway this week I decided to take a look at who would be our first and second best English team. One rule was at least a 100 competitive matches so it knocked out guys like Ramsdale, who is surely itching to make my list. Send me VIP tickets for every match, Aaron, and I will put you top . I chose Seaman over Lukic, mostly because that is probably the consensus choice but truly John Lukic was a superb keeper and only a shade weaker. Ashley Cole and Lee Dixon over Kenny Sansom and Viv Anderson, Very little difference. Superb players with lots of England caps. Adams and Campbell, wayhey! In central defence, I chose 2 legends, Adams and Campbell over Keown and Bould and probably most people would agree with that. Again I should say that I am choosing from 1969 onwards, the year of my conversion to the Arsenal cult, so the great defenders of the past are omitted. Surely a dream defence? In central midfield, I chose Peter Storey, who was true class. He could play across the defence and in midfield, always won the ball and made himself available for a pass. Alongside him the legend that is Michael Thomas, who scored what was for me our greatest ever goal against Liverpool at Anfield to win us the title. It’s only Ray Parlour and David Platt provide good backup but probably the first 2 have the edge here. Saka our future GOAT? On the wing, Saka is surely destined to be a world great and we all love David Rocastle but the competition is huge with Charlie George, a massive fan favourite in my time, and the sublime Geordie Armstrong, our top appearances up to David O’Leary. Very little difference here. Ramsdale next to make my list? I chose John Radford and Ian Wright up front against SuperMac and Alan Smith. Radford was my hero, scoring vital goals, always leading the line and scoring 149 times. Always someone ahead of him for England and he only got 2 caps. Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton, anyone? Ian Wright also lost out to Lineker and Shearer but battled his way to 33 caps all the same. In my time no Arsenal centre-forward claimed the top English spot for any length of time. Can Nketiah? He has managed to be the underage top scorer. Time will tell but at this juncture it seems unlikely. Does Englishness matter? And so there you have it. Would My top English team beat my second best? I guess so as in one or two areas they are stronger. But it is tight and could not be guaranteed. I don’t feel they could beat the best foreign 11 though. Spot the Englishmen! So, to answer my question, posed at the start – is Arsenal an English team? Sort of is my answer. The best players come from everywhere, including England. The fans also come from everywhere as anyone who has been at the Emirates can testify. The owners are American and lots of the staff are from everywhere. Is it important? I don’t know. I think it could be if Arsenal don’t get back to the top. You do need the locals to support and a strong English presence will always help in that regard. Now we have so many English guys playing and starring in all sectors that we probably have the strongest English team at the moment of the teams in the top five. I await the day the Irish make a comeback and we get a Bulgarian superstar for our English team. And c’mon the Arse! These Englishmen looked to be the future. It is hard to make it at Arsenal
Arteta vs the rest I love his smile Can he be the best? I think it is fair to say that Arteta has the support of most fans. Emery didn’t. Wenger did for most of the time and it is even difficult to say if he may have had the majority of fans at the end. George Graham had his doubters, too, and some indifferent seasons but came from a low base, we had won little in the years preceding him. Our glory days were under Herbert Chapman with a couple of nice cameos from Bertie Mee and others. Chapman: read the second line - Arteta did And so, today, I will attempt to see how we can place him against his Arsenal competition. I will start with Chapman. Chapman got nine years before succumbing to flu in 1934. He was a master tactician, credited with creating the famous W formation, which is still the basis of all line-ups today. He believed in coaching, innovation, counter-attacking football, and giving players the best facilities to increase their chances of success. He had a belief in how best to play and stuck to that, but was never afraid to refine it, to make it better. He had an emphasis on dwelling on the ball, dribbling, and possession. We were called lucky Arsenal, boring Arsenal by rivals but were the most successful team of the 1930’s. He was also unafraid to replace players he felt were past their best or no longer good for the side. Can he get nine years? As you can see from this, he has a definite counterpart in Arteta in playing beliefs. Now, will Arteta get nine years or more? It is hard to say. He needs to win matches and challenge for trophies, plus win some of them. He needs Champions League as well. That would get him the nine years plus. He does have a strong belief in what he wants and how to get it. So he could do it. Will he bring in similar big changes off the field championed by Chapman – floodlights, European footbalI, physiotherapy, marble halls for a sense of grandeur, the W formation? Probably not as I feel most big innovations are already here. But I will give him a sporting chance of being able to emulate Chapman as to me, this is the most exciting squad of youngsters Arsenal have ever had, and if we keep most, and they develop, they should be serious contenders. He seems to have their trust and he is credited by his players, not only at Arsenal, of being a great improver. If this squad improves, the sky is the limit. A mirror image of George And unto George Graham. In many ways, Arteta and he are most alike. He believes in strong coaching, in every player knowing their role, what to do if this happens, and what to do if that happens. Covering for each other, organizing each other, passing the ball only to your own players, and that strong belief in counterattacking that arose since the legendary Herbert Chapman. They all saw a clean sheet as a great goal. Graham saw his players as chessmen as, I believe does Arteta. He had an idea in his mind as to what type of player he needs for each position and will ditch a popular player in order to get it. Seaman for the hugely popular Lukic was an example. This is true of Arteta. You can see that in the type of player he gets as cover. Tavares is similar to Tierney, Lokonga to Partey. There's even a little bit of physical similarity Football as chess, highly coached players, and only having players around with full mutual trust. You can see George Graham in Arteta. I am certain he is well aware of what Graham achieved. Can he do the same? Again, if this youthful squad achieves its potential, why not? I don’t see him having the misjudgment that marred Graham’s career, though. But he does have to do what Graham did, topple a team or teams that have advantages over Arsenal. City, Liverpool, Chelsea and even Man Utd have advantages over Arsenal at the moment. Graham got nine years like Chapman. Arteta, if he manages 2 league titles like Graham and consistent Champions League could get longer. Certainly if he matches Graham with the other trophies, he should get longer. Graham might (he seems like a young 77) still be here if it wasn’t for his misjudgment of right and wrong. Yet different to Wenger And so I come to his part mentor, the extraordinary Arsene Wenger. Surprisingly, though, I don’t feel that they have similar beliefs. Wenger believed in coaching players on skills, short passing, one twos, quick movement, etc., but all the books I have read emphasized that he was no great tactician and also that he believed in players expressing themselves, knowing themselves what to do on the pitch, and so instructions were kept to the minimum. If you ever get a chance to go to the Emirates or an away game, you can see Arteta constantly giving individual and group orders to his players. Not so Wenger. The master is different from the pupil Wenger believed in attacking football, with Arteta much more a throwback to Chapman and Graham with counter punching. Wenger never seemed to fall out with players and didn’t like confrontation, preferring players to work out themselves where they had gone wrong. As far as I can see, he never wanted Anelka, Henry, Vieira, Fabregas, Van Persie, or others to leave. Arteta has already shipped out top players and seemed to be unable to deal with them. Ozil was a big puzzle to me as no manager before Emery ever complained about him. Now maybe the damage was already done by the time Arteta arrived or maybe it was Ozil’s Chinese comments which caused a huge backlash from the Chinese, a large part of the Arsenal fanbase. Maybe we will never know. But for sure, Wenger never fell out with players like Arteta does. Niko, you should have listened to the man who knows Wenger, of course, brought in the modern Arsenal, the superb stadium, the extraordinary training and medical facilities, and his long tenure was due to his incredible talent at keeping Arsenal competitive every year, despite the quality of player going down. Plus Wenger seemed an ace at getting players to perform for him. Often, when they went elsewhere, they were not as good. Anelka, in particular, must rue the day he forced his move from Arsenal. Can he do it? I think we can take it for granted that Arteta will never match up to Wenger and Chapman for the off pitch innovations. Most things are already there. Can he match their’s, or Graham’s achievements? I, as an optimist, have a belief in him. We, potentially, have players that can match the glory days of Wenger, Martinelli for Henry, Smith Rowe for Bergkamp, Saka for Pires, Partey for Vieira, Odegaard for Pettit or Ozil, Gabriel for Adams, White for Campbell, Ramsdale for Seaman, and so on. Arteta needs to stay competitive, he needs to keep his best players, he needs not to fall out with them, he needs to bring in the right ones, he needs to win matches and trophies, he needs to keep the support of the fans, and he needs that little bit of luck to get him over the line. At this moment, I wouldn’t dream of changing him. He is young, if he does all I am saying, he could outlast Arsene Wenger and his 26 years. I would love that to happen as it would mean we are heading into a great period of success. But even to get Chapman and Graham’s nine years would mean some more good years and trophies. If this guy becomes the new Henry we can do it I love the way the fans are getting behind him and cheering and singing like crazy. That is unique to him as we were not called the Highbury Library for nothing. That could be the little factor that brings us the great years, my long term wish for ten years of dominance. C’mon Arsenal and c’mon Arteta and the exciting young guns!
DON’t go breaking my heart Why oh why, Don, did you do it? Without that famous league cup final, I doubt if I would have become an Arsenal fan. I started out up for Swindon as did nearly everyone. But Arsenal kept trying to win on a muddy pitch and somehow a dogged Swindon side got a goal by Roger Smart against the run of play. It was all Arsenal but no goals until Bobby Gould scored on 86. I now cheered for Arsenal and was sure, being a top team against a 3rd division one, that now they would win. Arsenal had flu problems though, and the massive effort to get themselves back in the game seemed to take its toll in extra time. The most famous Swindon player ever, Don Rogers, who forms part of their name, scored 2 and Arsenal were beaten. The fact that I was gutted told me something. This was my team. I was born to be a Gooner. But despite wrecking my dreams, I retained a soft spot for Swindon. And I was always going to choose them for this series. Because they made me Arsenal. From now on I would cry when we lose and add an az when we win.* Their greatest day ever They gave us a harder time than the Spuds You might suspect that Arsenal are going to easily come out on top in this rivalry. You would be wrong. Yes we have far more trophies but not on the head to head. They win by virtue of going home with the League Cup and we got no trophy in our nine matches against them. 3 wins each and 3 draws. There is something likable about Swindon, though. They sport the Arsenal colours, Don Rogers, their iconic winger, has a stand named after him, always nice to see a player being recognised in this way. I could be wrong but I am not sure many clubs have stands named after players. The rest of the County Ground seen from the Don Rogers stand Now, I am guessing you would think that every metric I look for Arsenal would come out on top. And you would be wrong. Let’s talk about most league appearances by a player. We have David O’Leary on 558, they have John Trollope 1960 to 1980 with 770 and a total of 889 easily beating O’Leary on 772. More ways they are ahead Arsenal were always the innovators in English football? Eh, hello, Swindon beat us by 6 months in having floodlights in the 1950’s. They were founded in 1879, well ahead of us in 1886. And their first game against us was in 1911 in the FA Cup. They lay down a marker for what is to come with a 1-0. One nil to the Swindon would have been ringing out if it was the modern day. First blood to Swindon. Even Herbert Chapman found them hard The next came in the FA Cup again in 1929 in the 5th . Now this was the era of Herbert Chapman, with all the star names – Eddie Hapgood, Bob John, David Jack, Joe Hulme and others. We were the mighty Arsenal and they were in the 3rd division. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy? No are Arsenal and we make life hard for ourselves. 0-0 in the first game and then a little revenge in the 1-0 we got in the second with the fabulously named James Brain allowing the fans to sung our song if only they had known about it at the time. It took us 3 games to get a goal against them so they are ahead in that, too. All the rest came in my era. I remember them all. The first match was also my first blog and you can read about it here. Like I said at the start, they beat us so the first 2 trophies they played us they beat us. Swindon, you are breaking my heart. So did Bertie Mee and especially Terry Neill And so we got a chance to get revenge for ’69 in 1972, FA Cup 3rd round. On a muddy, muddy pitch, Geordie Armstrong of the double winning side, and Alan Ball, who wasn’t, got the 2 goals needed for us to progress. It was Alan Ball’s first goal for us and at least it was a bit more than a tap in like Geordie’s. So now we had 2 Fa Cup wins to their one. But they still had that trophy up on us so I put them ahead. Even the great Liam Brady couldn't stop them The next time was the League cup in 1979. We had a top side with all the Irish players. They were in the 3rd division. We were at Highbury. 1-1 and it went to replay and a classic cup game. Steve Walford scored an own goal and then gave them a deflection for their second. 2-0 to the Swindon at halftime. We had no Liam Brady for the first game and he came back for the second. Probably the best player in the league at the time, he would surely put manners on these upstarts? Eh, sort of, he played out of his skin, still referred to as the best display ever seen at Swindon’s County Ground, scored 2 goals and assisted Brian Talbot for the other but they scored one in the second half to take it to extra time. And Andy Rowlands got a late winner to mean that for the League Cup, Swindon are our daddies. A very small revenge in the Premiership You might be amazed but Swindon once got into the Premier League. In 1993-94, we played them twice. Now, they fell like a stone back down into the championship and we played our part in that a couple of days after Christmas at the County Ground. 4-0 to the Arsenal with Ian Wright and Kevin Campbell with a rare hat-trick. They conceded 100 goals, still the record. They got a little bit of revenge at Highbury in April with a 1-1 but for the Premier league, we can claim the win in the head to head. Or maybe this was their greatest day ever? But as you can see, I have to give them the lead overall. They beat us at Wembley, their most significant trophy. And they and QPR are the only 3rd division teams to win it. The FA Cup was never won by a 3rd division team. Swindon – better than us? So there you have it. A tiny team, with tiny attendances, trying to play in the mud at other tiny teams all their life, are laughing at us in the League Cup. We are a bit better than them in the FA Cup and they managed a draw against us in the Premier league, when we were packed full of top players and playing at Highbury. Be afraid, Gooners, be very afraid, if the name Swindon Town pops out of the spinning balls in any of the cups. They like beating us. Cry + az = crazy *
1993-94ish Expectations: a sideways view Today I want to take a different perspective, to take stock of where we were as Arsenal after the first year of the Premier League and through the second. Because Arsenal are different to all other English teams in many ways. How so? And was the Premier League likely to change that? Arsenal were innovators, led by the astonishing Herbert Chapman. Floodlights, physiotherapy, training techniques, the WM formation, European competition, an impressive stadium, and numbered shirts were all areas that he championed. Football always had its dodgy elements, but he believed in sporting values, the Arsenal way. He did have a reputation for subterfuge when it came to transfer dealings however, famously getting a rival board of directors drunk before finagling a deal in his favour. WM: Today's formations are just variants Arsenal equals class Footballers can always come back to Arsenal for medical treatment, for example and in general we have a good reputation regarding ex-players. Arsenal are classy, as was Mr Chapman, reflected in the famed marble halls that adorned the inside of the ground. In the period I have been writing about, though, they were also known as mean, reluctant to pay high wages or big transfers. And, as I pointed out here, this was reflected in our trophy cabinet until George Graham arrived. We were mostly pretty average from 1953 until now. Now, we had 2 league titles, 2 league cups and one FA cup between 1989 and 1993. Better than anyone else, even though we still weren’t splashing cash like crazy, George Graham had assembled a top team who were better drilled than any other. But the backpass rule change made its difference. Now, he would have to figure out a way around it. I figured he would but he was soon to blow up his time at Arsenal with the infamous bung scandal, however I will leave the details of that to a future blog. We didn't allow bungs I will say that bungs were normal in English football, with many famous managers collecting underhand payments from the transfer market. Only Arsenal, though, would never forgive, and George Graham will probably never get the statue he deserves. He had finally made us the best team in the land and it had all gone wrong. He had gone against Arsenal values and paid the price. And so to the Premier league. What was the difference here? Far bigger money for the big clubs, for sure. Manchester United, Spurs, Chelsea, Man City, Newcastle, Leeds and other big clubs had been relegated, sometimes more than once, in the time I have been writing about. Since then not so much. It is getting harder to see that happening except for Newcastle style bad administration. The balance had been tilted in favour of clubs with money and Arsenal had money. Would they now spend it? At this point, it was hard to say. Up to now Graham had splashed the cash for Ian Wright at 2.5 million but in general between buying and selling not a lot was spent. He was like Wenger, he had an idea of the player he wanted and didn’t like wasting money. We didn't like spending Manchester United and Liverpool were never afraid of spending money. Blackburn had come up from the championship and would pay big money to become competitive. I, and other Arsenal fans, feared that we could get left behind. We were 10th and poor in the league. 2 cup wins gave us hope but Irishman Eddie McGoldrick from Palace was our major signing and we sold Anders Limpar, so again, overall our spend wasn’t big. Eddie McGoldrick: our mercurial Irishman One major change was the size of the squads. This was the weapon to ensure that the big clubs could stay big. The wage bill jumped as they endeavoured to squeeze out the little guys. To give an example, in season 1993-94 27 players played competitive games for us. We had won the double with far less than half that in 1971. Were we now a major club? But we were Arsenal, we were a big club, undisputedly, from our history. Could we now take the stage on this new trophy, which looked like the old First division, but had morphed into a money making machine for big clubs? Were we really a big club now? Could we kick ass and send teams home crying? I wasn’t so confident. The bizarre thing is that David Dein, our vice chairman at the time, is generally credited with being the main driver of the Premier League. So who was he? He was the revolutionary force trying to make Arsenal the best team in the world. He kept putting money into Arsenal from 1983 onwards until he had a large shareholding of 42%. He pushed against the conservative values of the Hill-Woods and other long term board members. Outside of Dein, they had all been there for generations. David Dein had huge knowledge and networks David Dein He was different. He was a football man. He understood the international game in a way few else did. He spoke to all the players and was always willing to help them, advise them, and give them a boost. But he did have a tough job modernising the attitudes of the board. The rivers of money that was starting to flow into the Premier League and top level football generally, needed to flow Arsenal’s way as well. He was heavily involved behind the scenes in transfer activity and in representing Arsenal at the higher levels of English and world football. He was obviously trusted at such levels as he held positions for long times. The Premier League was a new way to do football and he was a key man. So surely he could make sure that Arsenal benefitted? For that first season we certainly didn’t. This season we finished fourth. We had an extraordinary number of draws but we got 71 points. We still couldn’t really score in the league with only 53 goals out of 42 matches. This was the worst in the top nine. Ian Wright managed 23 of these so he wasn’t the problem. We just weren’t the smooth machine of the pre backpass change. Graham needed to step up and fix it. So we needed Graham to sort things out on the pitch and Dein to sort things out at the owner level to ensure the Premier League would work for us. Next blog I will analyse what happened this season, the good and the bad, and see if there was reasons for optimism. Could we be Arsenal in the shiny new Premier League? A team to be feared? The first 2 seasons didn’t look so good. We needed to be better.