Thursday, 6 October 2011

10 Of The Best Arsenal Defenders Over The Last 40 Years.

With the international break well and truly underway I thought it was time to take a look back at some of the players I have seen play for Arsenal over the past 40 years.

Arsenal have had a history of being very strong in defence at times, and were at one time famous for their 1-0 victories. When Arsenal scored the first goal in a game the chances were it was also the last goal of the game. That statistic was built on some very fine defenders who have played for the club during that time.

Tony Adams:

There isn't an awful lot I can say about Tony Adams that hasn't been said already. He was known as "Mr. Arsenal" and he is still held up as the ideal player for all new defensive signings to aspire to by Arsenal fans. He may have had his failings as a player, but he always played with pride and passion for his club and country.

He made his debut for Arsenal at the tender age of 17 in 1983, and almost 700 games later he retired in 2002 after Arsenal had secured their second double under his captaincy. He was the most successful captain in the club's history, and his praises are sung by the fans to this day.

George Graham built his defence around Adams, and when Arsene Wenger became Arsenal manager he continued with that policy. Adams and the rest of the Arsenal defence were seen as non ball-playing defenders for the most part until Wenger encouraged them to get more involved. The lasting memory of Adams for many Arsenal fans is the goal he scored in the final game of the 1998 season against Everton to clinch the league title.

He may have had problems in his personal life, and he even spent some time in jail in 1990 for crashing his car whilst drunk. It never affected how the Arsenal fans felt about him though, and his dream is to one day return as manager of his club.

Steve Bould:

Steve Bould may not have got as much recognition as Tony Adams, but he was still a vital part of the Arsenal team for 11 years from 1988 until 1999. He was signed from Stoke City for a very reasonable fee, and he went on to become a member of the famous Arsenal back four of that era.

Alongside Adams, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn he formed an almost impregnable barrier in front of goalkeeper David Seaman. He was a tough uncompromising defender who followed the rule of "if in doubt, put it out". Like Adams he gained a new lease of life when Wenger arrived, but he was sold to Sunderland in the summer of 1999 as his appearances at Arsenal had become limited.

He is currently working at Arsenal as coach for the under-18 team, and he has helped them to success over the last few seasons.

Martin Keown:

Martin Keown was once sold by George Graham in 1986 when he was Arsenal manager, but thankfully he saw the error of his ways and Keown rejoined the club in 1993. Arsenal had been his first club and it was where he eventually went on to play the best football of his career.

He was regarded as an excellent man-marker throughout his career, and many centre forwards will testify to how close he kept to them at times. When he rejoined the club he became part of the famous back four, as he fought for a central defensive berth with Adams, Bould and Andy Linighan.

Keown went on to win three league titles in his second spell at Arsenal, as he also shone under Wenger's direction. He left the club at the end of the 2003/4 season after what was probably their greatest achievement when they went a whole Premier League season unbeaten.

Lee Dixon:

Arsenal signed Lee Dixon from Stoke City in 1988 after he had spent a few years trawling the lower leagues of English football. He had made the right back role his own by the start of the next season, and he went on to keep it until he retired in 2002. He went out on a high when he retired right after he had won his second double and fourth league title with Arsenal.

Dixon was a tough tackling defender who knew how to get the better of any player he was marking. He had some very famous run-ins with David Ginola dating back to when they first played in a Cup Winners Cup game in the early 90s. When Ginola came to play in England the bad blood between both players continued, and Dixon got away with some tackles that would not be allowed in the game now.

When he retired it was almost the end of Arsenal's great defence, as only Keown and Seaman remained.

Nigel Winterburn:

Nigel Winterburn was signed from Wimbledon in 1987, and he went on to serve as the first choice left back for almost all of the next 13 years. Like the rest of the defenders signed by Graham he had never played for one of the big clubs before, but he had learned his trade in the lower leagues.

He scored a few spectacular goals during his time at Arsenal, but like the rest of the defence his first priority was defending. He also benefited from the arrival of Wenger in 1996 and was a member of the double winning side of 1998 before being sold to West Ham in 2000.

In 1990 he was at the centre of a controversial incident during a match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Old Trafford. As he lay on the ground after having made a bad tackle two United players proceeded to kick him which led to a 21 man brawl. Arsenal were deducted points for their part in the brawl, but they went on to win the league while only losing one game.

Sol Campbell:

In the summer of 2001 Sol Campbell was the captain of Arsenal's local rivals Tottenham Hotspur, but he had reached the end of his contract. He decided to join their fierce rivals on a free contract, and he has never been forgiven by the Spurs fans. He said at the time that he joined Arsenal to win trophies, and he got his wish in his very first season when Arsenal captured a domestic double.

He went on to become an important part of the Arsenal team that won the Premier League without losing a game in 2003/4. When Arsenal reached the Champions League final in 2006 Campbell scored their only goal in a 2-1 defeat to Barcelona. He hadn't had a good season though as a mixture of injuries and personal problems had affected his play at times.

He left the club that summer for a "fresh challenge", but almost four years later he found himself back at the club as Arsenal were suffering an injury crisis. He was a tough tackling defender who was very good in the air, and his choice of Arsenal over Spurs made him a big favourite with some Arsenal fans.

Frank McLintock:

Frank McLintock was the captain of Arsenal when they first won the double in 1971. He had been signed from Leicester City in 1964 for a club record at the time, and he was made Arsenal's captain in 1967. When Arsenal lost successive League Cup finals in 1968 and 1969 he handed in a transfer request, but Bertie Mee managed to persuade him to stay at the club.

The next season Arsenal won the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, and they followed that with their first domestic double in 1970/1. McLintock was a very important part of that Arsenal team, as they fought hard to win games regularly on a 1-0 scoreline. His defensive and leadership abilities were second to none, and he is still fondly remembered by Arsenal fans to this day.

It was a sad day for both the club and the player when he was sold to Queens Park Rangers in 1973.

Kenny Sansom:

Arsenal's signature of Kenny Sansom was a very strange affair, as Clive Allen was part of the deal which saw him leave Crystal Palace. Allen had only joined Arsenal a few weeks earlier, and he had never even played a game for them. During Sansom's eight year spell at Arsenal he only won one trophy which was the 1987 league cup defeat of Liverpool.

Sansom was the best left back in England for most of that time, but he never got the trophies he wanted with Arsenal. He did become the most capped left back for England at the time, but that record has since been broken by another former Arsenal player, Ashley Cole. After he was sold in 1988 Arsenal went on to win five trophies in the next six seasons, and it must have hurt him.

I had the pleasure of meeting him at Highbury at a Champions League game against Juventus in 2001 when Arsenal won 3-1.

Peter Storey:

Peter Storey didn't play as a defender for all of his career at Arsenal, but no matter what position he played in he was a hard man. He originally started as a right back in 1965, and later moved into midfield during an Arsenal career which spanned almost his entire career. He only left the club in 1977 when he lost his place in the team, but he retired just a year after leaving Arsenal.

He was an uncompromising old-fashioned hard man who took no prisoners, and made sure he got the better of the man he was marking by any means possible. He could play football as well, and the two goals he got in the 1971 FA Cup semi-final against Stoke City were very important to the club. They got Arsenal a 2-2 draw after being 2-0 down, and they helped the club to go on and win the first of their three domestic doubles.

There was a saying in football for any full back that your opponent would only beat you once in the game, and Storey was an advocate of that motto. He made sure that his opponent would not get past him a second time in any game, and he wasn't too worried about how he stopped him. The modern game doesn't tolerate such play on a consistent basis any more, but every team had a player like Storey in it during the 1970s.

David O'Leary:

Dave O'Leary holds the record for the most appearances by any player for Arsenal. He made his debut in 1975, and when he left 18 years later he had taken his place in the history of Arsenal.

He wasn't a tough tackling central defender, but he depended more on his excellent positional sense and his ability on the ball. He was never seen as a hard man which was in contrast to most of the other Arsenal defenders throughout his career, and he rarely found himself in trouble with referees. If O'Leary got involved with another player on the pitch it was for a very good reason, as he was always seen as a gentleman when he played.

All but one of the 10 players were voted into the top 50 Arsenal players of all time by Arsenal fans. The only exception is Sol Campbell, and that's probably because he once captained their local rivals Spurs which just cannot be forgiven by some fans.

As well as that seven of those 10 players are included in the list of the 20 players with the most appearances ever for Arsenal. Sol Campbell, Steve Bould and Kenny Sansom didn't make the list, but four of the defenders I've profiled were in the top five.

At the moment the Arsenal defence is struggling more than I can ever remember seeing it struggle, and a few players to those listed would be a welcome bonus at the club. 
That's it for today.

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Here's that famous goal from Tony Adams in 1998.

See You Tomorrow.

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