Back in May I posted My Arsenal Legends list. I’ve been meaning ever since to review and update it. I’ve had quite a few suggestions of who should be added – I don’t think anyone suggested I should take anyone off!
As I said before, this only includes those who’ve played for Arsenal, so no Wenger or Chapman. My criteria for legend status are either a huge contribution over an extended period and/or being responsible for at least one defining moment in Arsenal history. Thus not all the Invincibles get in, nor all members of Double teams. I have to admit that my knowledge of the 80-odd years of Arsenal history before I was born is not perfect, but I’ve tried not to load the more recent years too heavily at the expense of earlier glory – this is certainly not the ridiculous ‘official top 50’ from Arsenal.com, that includes people likes Kanu and Wiltord far above more worthy names.
Talking of Wiltord, he did get a vote or two to be included as a legend for his winning goal at Old Trafford in 2002, but I’m sorry, that’s not enough for me. It was a mis-hit shot against a useless goalkeeper, and in general Wiltord was average on a good day.
There were other suggestions to add such as Willie Young, Freddie Ljungberg, Paul Merson and Jens Lehmann, who I would label as Cult Heroes rather than legends. They are remembered as much for their character and other attributes as for what they achieved on the pitch – though I’d say Merson is close purely on the playing side. But they belong in a list with Perry Groves and John Jensen, not with Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Ljungberg had one great season but was a limited player; Lehmann was one of the Invincibles, but we’ve had many better and more reliable keepers over the years.
Ray Parlour is also a little in the Cult Hero class, but he had longevity to back up his legend status.
Here are a few others I considered and rejected for various reasons:
Marc Overmars, Gilberto, John Lukic, Emmanuel Petit – all contributors to great sides, but not enough to be granted legend status in their own right.
Frank Stapleton – not enough contribution for long enough, even leaving aside his tarnished reputation after leaving.
Kenny Sansom – great contribution for several years, but not in a great side. Close, though.
Cesc Fabregas – nah. Excellent player, of course, but handled himself poorly in his desire to leave and in any case his best years are only just starting. Not an Arsenal legend.
Joe Baker – gifted centre-forward, condemned to perform in a poor 1960s side. Four years at Arsenal and 100 goals in 156 appearances – that’s a great strike record, but he needed to stay longer to count as a legend in my book.
Pat Jennings – I loved Pat, but he didn’t win a lot with Arsenal and is perhaps too much of a Tottenham legend to be an Arsenal legend as well.
Peter Storey and Eddie Kelly – two more who were very close to inclusion on the list, but just didn’t stand out quite enough for me compared to their colleagues in a great team.
Sol Campbell – the only great defender signed by Arsène Wenger. Only made 135 appearances for Arsenal though (plus 11 in his short-lived comeback in 2010), which I’m not sure is enough to be considered a legend. The whole ‘moving from Tottenham’ thing puts him more in Cult Hero territory than legend.
Jock Rutherford – Arsenal’s oldest ever player and great-grandfather of new Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford. Lost a chunk of his career to WW1, or would have made the list.
Those are some I left out. Included now are Joe Shaw, Joe Hulme, John Radford and Alan Smith. I know Smith is not universally popular, but then neither is Ian Wright, for example – but objectively I think he probably deserves a place.
There’s some subjectivity here of course, both in who is included and what level I judge them at. Should Cliff Bastin and Patrick Vieira be Gold status? Maybe, but did they do anything as iconic as Charlie George or consistently perform for the same length of time as Tony Adams? Someone had a go because I only rank Michael Thomas as Silver, but can one moment of being in the right place at the right time (and executing a neat finish of course) be considered as legendary as winning the League in three different decades or being record goalscorer and regularly getting a standing ovation from away fans just for coming over to take a corner? Charlie George, like Thomas, is most famous for one moment, but it was a bigger moment (the Double in those days was considered almost impossible) and is Arsenal through and through, so gets the top honour.
Further update 26 Aug: Based on comments received, I’ve upgraded Cliff Bastin to Gold and included Don Howe.
|Joe Shaw||Fifteen years a player; 49 years at Arsenal; title-winning caretaker manager||Bronze|
|Cliff Bastin||Boy wonder and goalscoring record holder for decades||Gold|
|Alex James||Star of the best club side in the world in the 1930s; the Messi of his day||Gold|
|Joe Hulme||Four titles, 333 appearances; only man to play in Arsenal’s first four FA Cup finals||Bronze|
|Ted Drake||Still holds the record for top flight goals in one game (7); 136 goals in 182 games||Bronze|
|Charlie Buchan||Herbert Chapman’s first captain and tactical sounding board, the early version of Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff inventing total football||Bronze|
|David Jack||’30s superstar; first Arsenal player to captain England||Bronze|
|Eddie Hapgood||Almost ever present in a decade of ’30s triumphs||Silver|
|George Male||With Hapgood, the Dixon and Winterburn of their day; scouted Charlie George and stayed at Arsenal till 1975||Silver|
|Jack Kelsey||World class when the rest of the team weren’t||Silver|
|Joe Mercer||A great at Everton before WW2, led Arsenal through their second period of dominance, 1947-53||Silver|
|John Radford||Senior striker for several years and a big hand in early ’70s success||Bronze|
|Don Howe||Player, coach and manager; coached the ’71 Double winners||Bronze|
|George Graham||Played his part in a Double and managed Arsenal to two more titles, European glory and an unprecedented cup double||Silver|
|Frank McLintock||Inspirational captain of ’71 Double side||Gold|
|Charlie George||Iconic goal and celebration to seal the first Double||Gold|
|Ray Kennedy||Towering goal to win the league at WHL; mature beyond his years and sold too early||Silver|
|Bob Wilson||A hand in all three Doubles as player and coach; perfect gentleman||Silver|
|George Armstrong||Record appearance holder for years; served Arsenal for decades||Bronze|
|Pat Rice||Five FA Cup finals in 10 years; even more success as managerial No 2||Silver|
|Ray Parlour||Knew he wasn’t the greatest player, but delighted in the team’s triumphs all the more because of it||Bronze|
|Liam Brady||The King of Highbury; probably in Arsenal’s top three best ever||Gold|
|David O’Leary||Still the appearance record holder||Bronze|
|Tony Adams||Arsenal’s greatest captain? Probably. Titles in three decades||Gold|
|Anders Limpar||Saved us from terminal boredom in the later Graham era||Bronze|
|Michael Thomas||Anfield ’89: say no more||Silver|
|David Rocastle||Amazing talent; life tragically cut short||Silver|
|Ian Wright||One man goalscoring machine||Silver|
|David Seaman||The man behind the legendary back four; Arsenal’s best ’keeper?||Silver|
|Alan Smith||Top scorer in two title sides and Cup Winners’ Cup winning goal||Bronze|
|Nigel Winterburn||Member of the greatest back four ever assembled||Bronze|
|Lee Dixon||Member of the greatest back four ever assembled||Bronze|
|Steve Bould||Member of the greatest back four ever assembled||Bronze|
|Martin Keown||Fifth member of the greatest back four ever assembled||Bronze|
|Patrick Vieira||Great captain; foundation stone of the great Wenger teams||Silver|
|Robert Pires||Flat footed, ran like a duck, but easily transcended those minor issues||Silver|
|Dennis Bergkamp||Unbelievably skilful; possibly the most unbelievable Arsenal signing||Gold|
|Thierry Henry||The best Arsenal player ever? Well, if it wasn’t Dennis . . .||Gold|
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