PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY was going to take a very different path until news broke from Arsenal shortly before 10am this morning.
Arsene Wenger is going to leave after nearly 22 years in charge, ending one of the longest managerial reigns in the history of English football.
In tribute to the impact Wenger has made on Arsenal and English football in general, here is this author’s Arsene Wenger XI, complete with five very special goals.
SAFE HANDS himself. Wenger arrived to a team with the England No.1 already in situ and Seaman remained a strong last line of defence for the best part of seven seasons.
LAUREN was a midfielder when he joined Arsenal from Mallorca. But such were Wenger’s talents as a manager that he converted the Cameroonian into an excellent right-back. As such, he edges out Lee Dixon, who was probably more effective under George Graham.
The image of Martin Keown goading Ruud van Nistelrooy after that penalty miss at Old Trafford in 2003 almost defines a Premier League era of classic matches between Arsenal and Manchester United. Keown provided that old-school English grit to go along with Wenger’s continental flair further forward.
WAS there ever a bigger statement of dominance than the Tottenham captain leaving White Hart Lane to join their bitter rivals on a free transfer? Campbell gave five years of great service to Arsenal and was an integral feature of the Invincibles side.
ASHLEY COLE emerged from the youth ranks at Highbury and went on to become the best left-back in world football. He was that good, brilliant in both defence and attack. His decision to join Chelsea in 2006 was a sign of how power shifted from North to West London.
NOBODY had heard of this young Swede when he arrived in England for £3 million in 1998 from Halmstads. After years of brilliant service and so many important goals, everyone knew who ‘Super Freddie Ljungberg’ was.
WENGER’s first signing and he probably never bought better. For £3.5 million, Arsenal recruited a 20-year-old French midfielder, who would go on to dominate Premier League football. A tremendous physical specimen and an equally gifted footballer, Vieira was the epitome of a new way to succeed in England – the perfect mix of brains and brawn.
PETIT just edges out Gilberto Silva and Edu for this spot. The French World Cup winner was only at Arsenal for three seasons but his impact was huge. Petit and Vieira. The double act rolls off the tongue and gave Arsenal a great platform on which to play.
PIRES was already a World Cup winner and European Champion with France before he arrived at Arsenal, but he established his credentials as a true great in North London with his twinkle toes and eye for a goal.
WHAT luck Wenger had to find Dennis Bergkamp already at the club when he arrived from Japan. Schooled at Ajax, Bergkamp had the touch and technique of a master and he scored and made goals beyond the reach of mere mortal players. His influence was so great that Wenger never had a problem with the Dutchman’s refusal to fly to away games.
A flying winger when he joined the club in 1999, Theirry Henry is now Arsenal’s leading goalscorer with 226 from 369 games and is a bona fide club legend who defined an era of football. Blistering pace with a powerful shot and a wonderful finisher, strikers like this don’t come along very often.
JENS LEHMANN (Gk): You don’t go through a league season unbeaten with a dodgy goalkeeper.
TONY ADAMS: Hard to overlook Mr Arsenal, especially when you think of the half volley against Everton when the title was won in 1998.
GILBERTO SILVA: World Cup winning Brazilian was another to encompass the silk and steel which made Arsenal so formidable.
MARC OVERMARS: Electric Dutch winger was only there for three seasons, but who can forget that title-changing goal at Old Trafford in 1998?
CESC FABREGAS: Wenger gave him his chance at 17 and how he responded. The gifted Spaniard should have won more than one FA Cup at Arsenal.
IAN WRIGHT: Possibly past his absolute best when Wenger came to the club, but he was Arsenal’s record scorer until Thierry Henry came along.
ALEXIS SANCHEZ: People watching the Manchester United version may laugh, but Sanchez is a special player. Wenger’s problem was that he didn’t have enough others on Sanchez’s level to create a great team.
Five great Arsenal goals
ARSENE WENGER’s Arsenal teams have played beautiful football and scored some unforgettable goals. Premier League Weekly has gone through the memory banks and picked five of the very, very best. So pick your favourite.
Dennis Bergkamp (v Leicester, 27/8/97)
Bergkamp brings down David Platt’s chipped pass and after intricate close control, the Dutchman beats Kasey Keller to complete his hat trick.
Thierry Henry (v Manchester United, 1/10/00)
Henry receives a pass from Gilles Grimandi with his back to goal. The Frenchman flicks the ball up and on the turn volleys the ball over Fabien Barthez in the United goal from outside the area.
Dennis Bergkamp (v Newcastle, 2/3/02)
Bergkamp takes Robert Pires’ drilled pass and in one touch, flicks it past Nikos Dabizas and spins the other way before beating Shay Given with his next touch. Absolute class.
Patrick Vieira (v Tottenham, 25/04/04)
A goal scored on the day the Invincibles won the Premier League title. Arsenal won the ball from a Tottenham corner and the attack went through Henry and Bergkamp with Vieira sliding home to complete a devastating move.
Robin van Persie (v Charlton, 30/9/06)
Van Persie is first to Emmanuel Eboue’s cross and meets it with a spectacular mid-air volley that flies into the roof of the net from 20 yards out.
Stat of the Day
0 – AS we are paying tribute to Arsene Wenger and his time at Arsenal, let’s acknowledge his greatest statistic. ZERO defeats in 2003/04. Unbowed. Unbeaten. Invincible.
Adam’s Saturday Scores
West Brom 1 Liverpool 1
Watford 1 Crystal Palace 2
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