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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.
Santa Gus comes down your chimney with lots of presents Hey all you wonderful Arsenal fans out there, do you want ideas for Christmas presents and maybe warnings for stuff to avoid? You have come to the right place here on the most wonderful Arsenal fan site of all. https://arsenal-bulgaria.com Because today I will give out some recommendations for Arsenal books and some that you can miss unless you have a particular interest in the esoteric. Now, as you can probably guess, the team here at Arsenal Bulgaria.com are an erudite bunch. We have our own messenger space where deep philosophical brooding on the state of the Arsenal is the norm. Highly intelligent argumentation happens all the time. A poor simple guy like me gets lost, they are so smart. No spam ever comes from their lips. Seriously, though, they do an incredible job, writing, analysing, going through the history and staying up-to-date on what is happening at the Arsenal so you can read straightaway the latest news in Bulgarian. For those of you who don’t speak English, this is a great boon. My little sideshow, London Calling, tries to give a different perspective on what you can read anywhere else. And this is my take on some of the books I have read this year. Well worth reading I will start with Ian Wright, because we all love him. My Life in Football is his second one and has been translated for you by the team here. You all have a copy. So is it worth reading? Yes it is. It covers his later career mostly, and also his domestic life and his difficulties with relationships. Lots of great football stories, insights to the various managers in his career, Steve Coppell, George Graham, and Arsene Wenger, and his disastrous relationship with Bruce Rioch. There is an honesty about Ian Wright’s 2 books and I can strongly recommend both. And this is even better Which brings me to Mr Wright: The Explosive Autobiography of Ian Wright, his first one. Honestly, I enjoyed this more, it gave a real feel for how he struggled in his early life, the immense difficulties in trying to make it all intertwined with a lively writing style that has you turning page after page. He scores a lot with this one It’s Only Ray Parlour, however, is the second best of the Arsenal bunch. This is such an enjoyable read, lots of funny stories, pisstaking of so many incidents and people, even Arsene Wenger is a target. Check out his story about drinks on the plane. And his story about Martin Keown’s final match. Grab this one, you will enjoy it. Our leader, our winner Sober by Tony Adams is also strongly recommended. This is an epic story of a man who came to personify Arsenal. A deeply flawed human being who had to battle against his demons to succeed. Bizarrely ending up in jail at the peak of his career, but coming out of it stronger, he was a winner, an onfield and off-field coach while still playing, the inspiration behind the team, putting up with all sorts of insults in his early and even middle career but ending up Mr Arsenal and still today, the icon of the team. Again you will enjoy this, lots of great insights and anecdotes. A great read My favourite will surprise you, I reckon. True Storey by Peter Storey is an immense book that never got the recognition it deserved. Probably because he was dismissed as just a hardman and a bit of a villain. He ended up in big trouble when his career ended with several criminal convictions and this was his attempt to give his side of the story. He was a good footballer and made a big difference to the Arsenal. Alf Ramsey famously dismissed him as a clogger for most of his career but when he finally picked him, chose him over several big names. He had a run of 15 straight games for England in his 19 caps. He never seemed to miss a penalty. But it is his after career that a lot of the book concentrates on. In those days footballers did not make big money and he set up several businesses which didn’t go well. Partnerships went wrong and there was a strong feeling of naivety in the real world waters he was now swimming in. Overall, a picture emerges of a good man struggling to get out, not having the nous to say no to a bad deal, but finally finding love and a sanctuary in the South of France. A story of redemption that would make a good film. It was mooted but never happened. It should. Everything is good about this one and its in Bulgarian Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby was also supplied by us for free and it is a great read for Arsenal and football fans. His god was Liam Brady and his description of the famous Liverpool Arsenal game is unmissable. Read it and enjoy. Interesting but not very exciting Arsene Wenger’s My Life in Red and White? Truly, it is not very exciting. A good insight to his early life and his football philosophy, his inner destruction when he lost, his man management, his attention to detail, his time in France and Japan and the glorious English years, it doesn’t really touch too much on the stories I wanted to read. The rivalries with Ferguson and Mourinho, the celebrated incidents, the sendings off to the stands, the insider personal football stories are at a minimum. Read it if you are interested in the minutiae of football. Oh and forget about Arsene Wenger - The Unauthorised Biography of Le Professeur by Tom Oldfield, it doesn’t bring much to the table. For the real fan, I suppose The same can be said of The Big Friendly German by Per Mertesacker. Great for those who want to find out about how German football is organised, how it was ahead of its time in training facilities, medical and physiotherapy and such treatments, but it is short on good football stories and insights. Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top by Phillippe Auclair did little for me. I don’t think I even finished it. Nothing new in it. A great laugh I want to mention one more which has little about Arsenal in it but is truly worth a read – How to be a Footballer by Peter Crouch. This is a collection of funny stories about his time in football. Really superb, laugh out loud and you just keep turning the pages until you are finished. Hey, have a great Christmas, I hope you and Arsenal have a wonderful time and if you want a copy of any of these books, even the ones I don’t recommend, send me a message at email@example.com and I can send you a digital edition.
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?