Arsenal may not be one of the top teams in the land right now, but they’ve had periods of glory in their 133-year history.
Everyone knows how great they were under Arsene Wenger, particularly during the late ’90s and early ’00s, with one of the highlights seeing them go an entire league season unbeaten in 2003/04.
They weren’t half bad under George Graham either, winning two league titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a European Cup Winners’ Cup.
In the ’70s they were a useful outfit and going way back to the 1930s they were a force to be reckoned with – winning the league five times and the FA Cup twice.
The club couldn’t have had all that success without great players among their ranks, but who are the standout players to represent the Gunners?
David Seaman (Goalkeeper)
I thought about Bob Wilson for his bravery, Pat Jennings for his uniqueness, John Lukic for his consistency, Jens Lehmann for his eccentricities and Jack Kelsey deserves a mention too.
But Dave gets it just because he was the least flustered goalkeeper in the league at the time, he was in the world’s top three keepers in the ’90s.
When he came he replaced Lukic, George Graham said that Lukic was in the top four keepers in the country but Seaman was the best. We all thought ‘oh, that’s a big statement’. But straight away we saw he was just another level up because of his stature, his authority, his presence.
He was one of the few goalkeepers that didn’t do my head in! You see goalkeepers make a great save and then they get up and start pointing and shouting and screaming – Dave never did that. And if a goal went in he would look at himself first rather than blame anyone else.
Viv Anderson (Right-back)
There were other contenders – Pat Rice for his mental and physical strength, Lauren from the Invincibles, Lee Dixon who was top quality but Viv gets it because he was unbelievably athletic.
But he was the worst trainer I’ve ever seen! It didn’t interest him at all. He was always at 50-60 per cent because he wanted to save his energy for the Saturday. But George Graham told the coaches to leave him alone as he knew Viv would be at least an 8/10 on a Saturday.
Very vocal, a leader. He talked to the young players. If you were playing on right-wing, he’d be commentating you through the game.
In the modern day game, he would thrive. He would be one of the best wing-backs in the world without a shadow of a doubt.
Tony Adams (Centre-back)
He was captain when he was 21 and he was the archetypal tough centre-half. Tough physically and mentally, but people didn’t realise how good he was on the ball because under George Graham it was about defending, tackling and heading.
When Arsene Wenger came, Adams was allowed to express himself and then people realised just how good he was. But the players always knew. There was a little bit of Bobby Moore in him.
And as a captain, I think a football captain is judged by if you’re not playing well yourself, you make sure everyone around you is still at it and that’s what he was very good at.
Frank McLintock (Centre-back)
For a centre-half, he was 5ft 10ins which is incredible. He had all the respect of the players around him.
McLintock actually changed from a right midfielder to a centre-half and everyone said to Bertie Mee, who was manager at the time, ‘he can’t play centre-half because he’s 5ft 10ins’, but he read the game so well.
He again would be great in the modern day because you need to play out from the back now.
I should also give mentions to Sol Campbell, Steve Bould and Peter Simpson but Adams and McLintock are the ones I’ve picked.
Kenny Sansom (Left-back)
You could have had Nigel Winterburn, Bob McNab, maybe Ashley Cole, but he moved to Chelsea so I wouldn’t include him in a million years!
But Sansom gets it for me. I think he was the best left-back in the world at one point. He’s the second-most capped full-back ever for England, 86 caps.
His nickname was ‘Kenny White Shorts’ because he never had to do a slide tackle, he always stayed on his feet and again he’d be perfect in the modern game with full-backs bombing forward. He had that low centre of gravity on the ball like Diego Maradona had.
I made my full debut at Nottingham Forest on the left wing but I was a right winger – I had never played left-wing, I lied to George Graham!
But he told me not to worry about Franz Carr, who was their flying winger at the time, and that he’d talk me through the match. He commentated me through the game and made it very, very simple.
Robert Pires (Right midfield)
When he first started, Arsenal fans weren’t having him. He found the physicality of the Premier League very tough and he had a strange running style, it was flat-footed.
He then got used to the physicality of the Premier League and then his technical ability took over and it was like watching an artist.
He got double figures in goals in every season apart from his first one, which is incredible for a wide player.
David Rocastle, who I played with, and Geordie Armstrong, who was the winger in the double-winning team in 1971, were in my thoughts but Pires clinches it.
Patrick Vieira (Centre midfield)
Arsenal fans will argue about who should go in an all-time XI but Vieira is one of those players that none would argue about.
People talk about his physicality but he could play too. He could turn Arsenal’s counter-attack from the edge of our box to the edge of the opponent’s box in about four strides!
He had the leadership qualities too and when he was around you’d think ‘no one is bullying us today’. He had his showdowns with Roy Keane too and even though they hated each other, there was a respect there.
After his first two years, he was in the PFA Team of the Year for six straight seasons, that says it all that he had the respect of his fellow players.
Liam Brady (Centre midfield)
Left-footed players tend to be more graceful but his gracefulness and balance really stood out. He could see a pass, he had the great knack of opening up his body and letting the ball run across him – he’d beat players even without touching the ball.
He came back from Juventus under George Graham but he didn’t suit the playing style of high energy and pressing.
He trained with us for a week and I played in little small-sided games. He was one of my boyhood heroes and then all of a sudden I was training with him. He always had time on the ball and all the top quality players have that.
He said ‘well played’ to me twice in five-a-sides so I was made up! At that moment I thought ‘I’ve arrived, I’m going to tell my dad!’
I’ll also mention Emmanuel Petit, Gilberto Silva and Michael Thomas, they were in my thoughts too.
Marc Overmars (Left midfield)
He was one of the few players I’ve seen who was as quick with the ball as he was without it. Normally when you’re lightning quick like him, you’re end product is erratic but his was always quality. His brain was as quick as his legs.
Mentally he’s strong because Arsenal fans weren’t having him at the start but at the end of his first season (1997/98), we won the double.
If you look at his goalscoring record, it works out to just over one in four which is really good for a winger.
I’ll also mention my former teammate Anders Limpar – he was world-class at Arsenal for one season. Graham Rix had a good partnership with Kenny Sansom on that left hand side. I heard Alex James, who played in the 1930s, was also very good.
Thierry Henry (Striker)
He’s one of the other players that all Arsenal fans would agree should go in the team.
People forget that for someone so graceful, he was 6ft 2ins. He wasn’t a skinny player either and most players who are that graceful aren’t that big.
Henry and Wenger changed the role of the goalscoring centre forward because he drifted more out to the left and if you’re the right-back or right sided centre-back, stopping him was like trying to stop a rhino!
Every full season was 20+ goals which is incredible and the one season where he didn’t get it he still got 12 in 27.
When he came back in 2012, I was lucky enough to see him score against Leeds in the FA Cup. He cut in from the left and bent it into the far left-hand side of the post, which is trademark Henry. Everybody knew what he was going to do but it left that indelible ‘oh, that was Thierry Henry’.
Dennis Bergkamp (Striker)
The thing about Dennis was although he was so graceful and balanced, he was over 6ft. He had that unbelievable touch.
I describe him as someone who played football like he was in a helicopter. When he had the ball, he could see everything around him. The game is going at 120mph but he was able to detach himself from that and know what’s going on around him. He saw the whole picture.
He had a nasty streak about him too, he could look after himself.
I know Merse [Paul Merson] had a great quote about Bergkamp after he arrived from Inter Milan in 1995. It hadn’t worked out well for him in Italy and after the first training session with Arsenal, they all came off and he said ‘f*** me, Inter Milan must’ve been good to let someone like him go’. Straight away he was a step above and the players could tell even then.
Wrighty [Ian Wright] obviously deserves a mention too. Alan Smith and John Radford were two of the most underrated centre forwards Arsenal have had and there’s also Cliff Bastin, who was Arsenal’s all-time goalscorer before Wrighty and Henry.