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The Buy Well Team Jennings Dixon Toure Campbell Sansom Llungberg Cazorla Vieira Pires Henry Bergkamp Spend money, Arsenal Ok, our best ever buys put into a team. There is no way I can win with this one as everyone has their favourites and of course, I can go back further than a lot of you, but I am going to give it a go. I have a few rules as it is impossible to talk truly about players before your time as coverage was very restricted when I was growing up. You pretty much had to go to a live match to see it and 15 minutes on Match of the Day didn’t really give true pictures. So I am choosing players from 1969 onwards and also not choosing players who came to Arsenal very young, like Fabregas. Also not choosing players like Keown who started at Arsenal but was bought from Everton after not quite making it first time around. So if you wish to choose your own they are the rules. Also I am going 4 4 2 because it suits the team. Right from the start I am going to say that I have not chosen any current player simply because none have proven themselves to be Arsenal legends yet but feel free to choose one if think they are better than my choices. Big Pat Or big David or Big Jens? And so goalkeeper. In fact we have not brought through many goalkeepers so all the big names are available. I am going to say the top three are Lehmann, Seaman and my choice, Pat Jennings, possibly because he was foolishly discarded by Tottenham and went on to become a legend with Arsenal. So one Irishman makes the cut and he is the only one. He helped make Northern Ireland legends for their World cup exploits and played, it seemed, forever. But in truth, all 3 candidates are top class and it is difficult to say truly, which is the best. Huge hands Pat for Goalie I am going to go with Lee Dixon for right back as Pat Rice started at Arsenal and cannot appear on this list and truly it is hard to put someone in front of a guy who won 4 league championships, 2 FA cups and one European Cupwinners cup. Viv Anderson and Lauren were challengers but I would just about put Dixon in front. He set up the vital goal for Arsenal v Liverpool in 1989 as well so he deserves the nod. One of our best I feel Kenny Sansom for left back with Nigel Winterburn as runner up. 86 appearances for England over Winterburn’s one gives him the position I feel. He was classy and as a full back won player of the year in 1981. Full backs don’t win player of the year. So classy Centre backs and defensive midfielders are a bit tricky For centre backs I am going to go with Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure simply because they were superb together. Steve Bould is a possible but he never truly became first choice and only got 2 England caps. Frank McLintock also pulled up stumps for us as captain and was a strong choice. We brought through plenty of legends of our own in this position, Tony Adams, David O’Leary and Terry Neill spring to mind. Not available for this team, though. They never let us down The midfield 2 for me are Patrick Vieira and Santi Cazorla. Vieira will be everybody’s choice, of course, as one of Arsenal’s greatest ever. Santi, for me, was special. Emanuel Pettit was of course a contender but he didn’t stay too long at Arsenal. Alan Ball also but I feel his best days were behind him at Arsenal. Little - Cazorla And Large - Vieira Wingers are easier to pick Freddie Ljungberg as right winger/midfielder although he could play both sides. One of Wenger’s greatest buys, everyone loved Freddie. I feel the only real serious contender was Marc Overmars but he didn’t stay too long at Arsenal. Happy days Robert Pires as leftwinger/midfield. I think an easy choice. Voted Arsenal’s 6th best player of all time, he was everything you need in his position. He scored goals, got penalties, created assists and won lots of trophies. As are Strikers Dennis Bergkamp as striker. What can I say? He could do things nobody else could. All his teammates said he was an amazing footballer. Thierry Henry, when asked who was the best player he ever played with, said the Dutchman. That tells you everything when you think of the legends he played with for France and Barcelona. Better than Batman and Robin? And Thierry Henry alongside him. He invented the art of only scoring great goals. He could score a hat trick and all of them could be contenders for goal of the month. Widely regarded as probably the best player ever in the Premier league, he is the easiest pick of the day. And those left out? Ian Wright omitted? Yes, but what could I do? However, supposing he had come from Palace at 21 instead of 27? His goal record would be well in front of Henry’s and may have made my choice harder. Still, I doubt if I would have put him in front of Bergkamp or Henry. Ozil was another possible as, at his best, he was excellent, his ability to create was unsurpassed but he just didn’t do enough to get into the team. I feel modern young fans don’t appreciate how good he was. The heart of the Invincibles You may have noticed that this is also the essence of the Invincibles and that is inevitable. Any team that can keep their game to such a high consistent level have to be top class. And a lot were bought by Wenger who would, of course be manager of this team having been bought from Grampus 8. So buying is good, without them Arsenal would have been a far poorer team. Next week I am going to go for the best home grown side and see how they shape up against this team. Of course, few would regard this as Arsenal’s best ever side because some legends were home grown but it would give any team a hard game. So, what do people think? Have I got it right? Where can we finish update. Never predict football matches, it is the road to poverty. Now we have got to do it the Arsenal way, the hard way that turns Arsenal fans old before their time. I have a secret to confess, I am really only 21 years old, the grey hairs have been given to me by Arsenal. Of course we can still do it but we must go on a run, Chelsea and Man Utd are the right start in one sense as the pressure is less against top teams and they will give you chances. The problem is our weakened defence. I think we will concede in both games. We have to score and we don’t seem all that good at scoring. We are the lowest scorers in the top 7. However, I am going to add to my 21 year old grey hairs by saying 4 points to keep us in the hunt.
The Emergence of Great Players 2001-2002 Top players, top goals and a double! We have had some great seasons in my time as an Arsenal fan. The greatest, I suspect, will always be the double of 1971. And why, because it was so miraculous. As a child, all the Irish around me supported Man Utd, Liverpool and Leeds, Arsenal were second rate and I was made fun of. But suddenly, we were the best, we had accomplished the miracle of the double. Since then, this allure has dropped as Liverpool, Manchester United and us in 1998 had all achieved it. It was no longer miraculous as it had seemed throughout the majority of the 20th century. It was getting easier, helped by the huge money flowing through the Premier League, the enormous squads, the creation of elite teams. I will make a prediction here and now, I don’t believe we will see in my lifetime another Leicester winning the league, or a non-elite squad winning a double. At the moment, this season, I would confine that to Man City and Liverpool, with a lesser chance of Chelsea and Man Utd. And I doubt if few would seriously argue with me. Arsenal 1971 was easily the equivalent of Leicester winning the league as it was equally unexpected to me. An unexpected season But 2001-2002 had its similarities. As I said last time, we had 3 seasons in second. Man Utd were winning better than us. We were letting go some of our best players, only if Ferguson had a fight with one would that happen there. The feeling was that we had settled for second best and in fact were second best. However, one significant transfer happened this season. Sol Campbell came from Spurs. Our defence was aging, Tony Adams was finally coming to an end as was Lee Dixon. David Seaman also and Richard Wright was brought in to take over. Ashley Cole had appeared and Gilles Grimandi, both good players. But Campbell was hugely important. I was a big admirer despite the Spud background. He was consistently England’s best defender at big tournaments. He linked with Keown, Adams or Grimandi to form a solid partnership that conceded little. A beast of a defender Sol Campbell was the star From the time he arrived, he formed part of our elite trinity, he in defence, Vieira in midfield and Henry in attack. I reckon most fans rated Henry as the most vital of those but I didn’t. It was Sol Campbell, he snuffed out danger, allowing Vieira and Henry to accomplish their miracles. The under-rated Sylvain Wiltord Pires and Llungberg came alive this year, terrorising the opposition and got 30 goals between them in all competitions. Sylvain Wiltord never quite got the acclaim of the other two but honestly I don’t remember him missing a match. He also scored 17. I have just checked, he played a massive 54 times equal to Vieira and well above the rest. This shows the importance Wenger attached to him. Sol Campbell played 48 times, more than any other defender. We were getting teeth. But so were Pires, Llungberg and Wiltord Our superstars had arrived Giovanni Van Bronkhurst was brought in from Rangers as was Francis Jeffers from Everton. Two blues but whereas Van Bronkhurst did well, Jeffers didn’t. An Everton friend at the time, an actual Scouser, Jim Woolridge, believed he would be a great signing for us but it wasn’t to be. So what happened on the pitch? We thrashed Middlesbrough 4-0 in our first match, then beaten by Leeds 1-2, and were unbeaten until November 4th when, improbably, Charlton beat us 4-2. We were playing well, hard to beat, and scoring every match it seemed. Those 2 defeats, plus a few draws, meant we were challenging for the top but rarely getting there. Liverpool had popped up as challengers under Gerard Houllier, a close friend of Wenger’s, as had Newcastle under Bobby Robson with Alan Shearer as his spearhead. It was all close up to Christmas. We struggled in Europe and the League Cup In the league cup we went out to Blackburn in the 5th round 4-0 on 11th December. Wenger consistently used this trophy for the reserves and he never won it. I reckon he did far better in the FA cup because it started in January and our options were narrower by then. The Champions League wasn’t so great either but we got through the first qualifying round with Panathinaikos topping the group on 12 points and us scraping through in second on 9, level with Mallorca. Then we fell out at the next group with only 7 points for 3rd. Bayer Leverkusen and Deportivo La Coruna qualifying. These were the type of teams we should have been capable of beating but for some reason we were mostly poor in Europe under Wenger. He could not seem to find the magic formula against even lowly European teams. Unbeaten in the second half of the season But in the league, we were performing. On 18th December we were beaten 3-1 at Highbury by Bobby Robson’s Newcastle but that was our last defeat. We went on a long unbeaten run including our final 13 matches in which we won all. Man Utd, astonishingly, it seemed, could only finish 3rd on 77 points. Liverpool were second on 80 and we were top on 87. Back on top, and the Northerners left to scurry on home crying all the way. We were Arsenal. And the FA cup? Mostly tough matches but we kept winning. Watford 4-2, Liverpool 1-0, Gillingham 5-2, Newcastle 3-0 after a replay, Middlesbrough 1-0 in the semi to set up a final with Chelsea. We won all the awards We won 2-0. It’s only Ray Parlour and Freddie Llungberg scoring to send them home to collect their pension down the King’s Road. We were the best. We were clearly Kings of London with Chelsea the next best at 6th and with 4 northern teams between us and them, also Kings of England. The great days had returned. What had seemed improbable at the start of the season had become reality. We had managed to overcome Alex Ferguson. We had won the double twice now under Wenger. Robert Pires won the Football writers player of the year. How did Bergkamp do it? Freddie Llungberg won Barclaycard player of the year. Dennis Bergkamp won goal of the season for his astonishing goal vs Newcastle. I never get tired of watching that and still don’t believe it. Arsene Wenger won manager of the year twice and Henry won the Golden Boot. Even Paul Burgess won groundsman of the year because of the amazing surface at Highbury, generally believed to be the finest in the world. Paul Burgess, we sold him for a million to Real Madrid Ah Arsenal, my Arsenal, you are the best in so many ways. But I wanted more. I wanted, so badly, the Champions League. I wanted, I needed, us to be the best in Europe. Next year, surely, we can do it?