Desert Island Gunners

Look up captain in the dictionary.

Mr Arsenal, Tony Adams led the legendarily stingy Arsenal back four through George Graham’s and early Arsene Wenger’s double-winning teams and ensured the influx of foreign stars understood what playing for ‘the Arsenal’ meant. Remember who you are and what you represent. Boozy battles, a spell behind bars and donkey chants (from opposition fans who would have him in their trenches in a second), made of leadership DNA. Defining moments? Scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup semi against Spurs 1992 and a sunny afternoon in 1998, Highbury, v Everton. Adams channelling his inner Beckenbauer busts the offside trap, chests down a chip from Steve Bould, and blasts it (left foot). And basked in complete fulfilment. A magical Highbury moment. I cried.

‘Sweet skills from Brady.’ Brian Moore

Liam ‘Chippy’ Brady. The best player I ever saw in the flesh, and I’ve seen Dennis Bergkamp. Birth of my Arsenal years, standing in the Clock End, 52,000 in Highbury, watching the Pirlo of his generation run the Arsenal midfield. Only Platini compared. The 1979 cup final was single-handedly created by his twinkle toes and sublime left foot. In classic cotton pre-sponsorship Umbro. Left for Italy when nobody went abroad, won 2 Serie A titles with Juve, as well as Sampdoria and Inter Milan. A superstar before we had superstars, defining moment? The no-look flick pass to Graham Rix to cross that cross for Alan Sunderland to win the ’79 cup final and no Gooner of a certain vintage forgets Christmas 1978. Spurs 0 v 5 Arsenal. In the words of Don Howe, ‘he picks it up, goes this way, goes that way and curls it into the corner’. £100m player today.

‘Ian Wright Wright Wright.’

Can he kick it, yes he can. The best goalscorer I’ve ever seen. Fast, clinical like a surgeon, big mouth, heart on sleeve. Came in from Palace and became a Highbury legend while always being that Peter Pan kid in the park who never grew up. £2.5 million buys you Cristiano Ronaldo’s lunch hour these days, in 1991 it bought 185 goals from 288 appearances, the European Cup Winners Cup (Wright scored in every round), the 1992 cup double, the golden boot and Wenger’s first league & cup double in 1998. He fell in love with Arsenal, Arsenal fell in love with him and he always knew what this meant as he was ‘one of us’. Defining moment? Breaking Cliff Bastin’s Arsenal goalscoring record in front of a packed, ecstatic Highbury and his run-ins with Peter Schmeichel.

‘Oh George… he can hit them, what a fabulous goal.’ Brian Moore

Remember the days when football clubs recruited round the corner or off their own terraces? Charlie George walked off the North Bank, handed his scarf to a mate and unleashed his thunderbolt shot (socks down) on Division One goalies. Without getting too Hornby, that’s every kids’ dream. Back when winning doubles was an epoch-making rarity, he won the FA Cup on a blisteringly hot Wembley day, Arsenal down, then level, in extra time, Arsenal in classic yellow away kit come forward, laid on by Radford, 25 yards out, Clemance doesn’t move, cue Charlie’s trademark lie down celebration. Don’t forget, back then the FA Cup Final was the absolute biggest game of the year and the only live game on TV. George’s goals stayed scored. Great hair.

Walking in a Bergkamp Wonderland.

Even in the Wenger glory years, there were dreary games. Yet Dennis Bergkamp would do something… a pass, turn, cushioned trap, beautiful finish… that made the ticket price and the schlepp up to North London worth it. Chelsea can talk about Zola but Bergkamp was one of the first big foreign stars who came at the apex of his powers (not a late career payday) and transformed our game. Had world-class vision, floated like a butterfly and stung like the Lamborghini of bees. The king of assists, Ian Wright, Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljundberg owe him loads of goals. Defining moment? Do you even have to ask? The sublime hat-trick v Leicester 23 August 1997. Third goal, long ball over his shoulder, takes it down with a gossamer touch, flick volleys it round an utterly hapless Matty Elliott and rolls it past Kasey Keller. A genuis at work.

He comes from Senegal, he plays for Arsenal.

Before Chelsea started buying titles and oil-rich states started international branding exercises at Manchester City, Arsenal United was the clash of the season as we shared the title in a golden era of Premiership rivalry. Wenger’s first buy as an unknown gangly kid £3.5m from Milan, became the literal heart and soul of the Wenger years and as Tony Adams retired, the only choice as captain. Hard, serious cojones but with an indomitable spirit, a love for Arsenal and playmaker abilities beyond his enforcement duties. The absolute epitome of the modern midfielder whose run-ins with United’s psycho-killer midfield enforcer Roy Keane are legendary. Defining moment? Sweeping in against Spurs when we won the league at White Hart Lane after a beautiful poetic dismembering of the Lilywhite’s defence. We loved Patrick.

‘It’s up for grabs now.’ Brian Moore

The greatest moment ever. The defining moment. Last minute of the last game of the season, Arsenal defy every odd to beat the supposedly unbeatable Liverpool 2-0. Which in those days was impossible. A largely home-grown squad with a crop of black London kids including Dave ‘Rocky’ Rocastle (RIP) and Michael Thomas. he had blown a chance minutes earlier and the Kop was already celebrating, Steve McMahon holding up 1 finger. Long ball from Dixon, flicked on by Smith, bounces off Steve Nichol and, out of nowhere, Thomas is in on Grobbelaar. Time stands still, Nichol and Hansen converging and Micky slips it past him to win the League. Absolutely amazing moment. I love the total ecstacy, he just wriggles and spasms. Not the greatest Arsenal player, but the greatest Arsenal moment, ever, soundtracked so famously by Brian Moore.

A musketeer, a gallic nobleman, we didn’t know quite what we were getting with Robert Pires. What we got was a scimitar, a sculptor, a surgeon with twinkle toes (and great hair). An Unbeatable, when Arsenal played football that had never been seen before and won’t be seen again. A No.10 meets winger meets false 9, he ghosted past players, scored (great) goals and rivalled Bergkamp for priceless moments. Defining moments? Two. Leaving Gerrard for dead at Anfield before crossing for Ljundberg’s winner and ‘that goal’ at Villa Park. Hail Mary long ball from defence, Pires chips it over a defender trying a 3 point turn like he doesnt deserve to be there, looks up at Schmeichal and then arrogantly and daintily chips it over him (standing up). Like a painter at work.

Part defender, part Neolithic man, Martin Keown was made from granite. Y’know those stages of evolution pics that start with an ape and end up at human? Keown was the last one before human. Along with Adams, and later Sol Campbell, he defined defender, letting you score was just not going to happen. Surprisingly erudite as a pundit, in his glory years he was a snarling obelisk with opposing strikers in his pocket. An enforcer, Keown and Adams invented the offside trap. Defining moment? 21 September 2003, ‘The Battle of Old Trafford’. Vieira sent off after Van Nistelroy stamped on him, the sinning Dutchman buys a penalty and gets ready to take it. He hits the bar and then basically Keown beats him up, leaving the pitch practically in his pants. Sometimes you have to stand up for what is right and Martin Keown never backed down.

In an era we will never see again, with Arsenal the best and most beautiful team in the country, Thierry Henry was a king, a Rolls Royce and as close to unplayable as I have ever seen. Faster than Bolt, ballet like Nureyev, the effortless finishing of a sniper. Turned from £11m world cup winning winger to the most prolific striker ever to play for Arsenal. Dribbled like Merlin, when he was past you it was so over and, cutting in from the left onto his right foot, there was little point having a goalie. The memories are incredible… the goal at the Bernabau, the demolition of Inter Milan, beating the whole of Liverpool all by himself (leaving Carragher on the floor before scoring) and the flick and once-in-a-lifetime-volley past an utterly bemused Bartez, he was the perfect physical animal and arguably the best striker in the world. Defining moment? Picks up defensive header on edge of own box, turns and afterburns through the entire Spurs team, twists the defence inside and out (en masse), buries it in front of the North Bank and charges right back to the Clock End in front of the Spurs fans. Total genius.

 

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