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TO consider my all-time Arsenal XI is a difficult task, no question.
But to be asked to first produce a British XI makes that feat a little easier.
My all-time, all-British Arsenal XI, including Adams and Rocastle
In my 45 years of watching Arsenal live, I have been privileged to watch some of the finest exponents of the game I love.
And now I am going to select my best-ever, British-only Arsenal XI – including only players I have personally watched live.
Firstly, what formation to choose? It has to be a 4-4-2 or variant of it because until recent times that was the go-to formation for most top sides.
It was also the set-up used by the Gunners in arguably their most successful era.
So here we go with an Arsenal XI of my time as a match-going fan, featuring only players from the home nations…
GOALKEEPER – David Seaman
David Seaman gets the nod between the sticks in my XI
IN goal, I would opt for Seaman – a fabulous, dominant keeper, who replaced another title-winning shot-stopper in John Lukic.
I grew up watching Pat Jennings who was simply majestic, but he loses out ultimately because Big Pat will always be Tottenham first.
I also think you have to select players who were playing their best football while at Arsenal…
RIGHT-BACK – Lee Dixon
Lee Dixon is the best British right-back of my lifetime
ON that note, while I do believe Viv Anderson, at his peak, was a better right back, my No2 shirt goes to Dixon.
Dicko was the ultimate professional and warrior spanning three decades – only three players have played more times for our great club.
CENTRE-BACKS – Tony Adams & Sol Campbell
Campbell and Adams deserved more than a year together
THE central defence is straight forward, but only because I did not see Frank McLintock in the red and white.
The captain and first name on the team sheet can only be Tony Adams.
Simply a giant of the modern game, captaining Arsenal to league titles across three separate decades, what Adams did can never be replicated.
Alongside Big Tony, it would be Sol Campbell, edging out Steve Bould and Martin Keown.
I only wish Adams and Campbell had longer than one season together.
LEFT-BACK – Ashley Cole
Ashley Cole gets the nod at left-back in this team
AT left-back, it is an extremely difficult decision
Kenny Sansom, an England great, and Nigel Winterburn, a multi-trophy winning member of the infamous Graham back four were both in the running.
But I simply believe that despite the way he left the club, Ashley Cole is the best left-back I have seen.
RIGHT-MID – David Rocastle
Rocky simply has to be picked in this best of British XI
IT has to be “Rocky” – Arsenal’s Brazil-like talent, as David Dein, described him.
One of a fabulous crop of homegrown talents, brought through by Don Howe and who blossomed under Graham, he helped end an eight-year trophy drought in 1987.
I sometimes think younger Arsenal fans think we look back so fondly on Rocky because we tragically lost him at such a young age, but they are wrong.
Having such charismatic flair is rare but to have a player combine those sublime skills and with work rate and tenacity, is rarer still.
CENTRE-MIDS – Paul Davis & Aaron Ramsey
Aaron Ramsey takes one of the centre-mid spots in this team
THE central midfield partnership is a tricky one for me.
I sadly just missed out on Peter Storey as the midfield enforcer and Kevin Richardson, while playing the deeper role in the 1989 Division One triumph had his best years away from Highbury.
Of course, Michael Thomas, and Brian Talbot were fan favourites for differing reasons.
But for pure longevity and a wand of a left foot, I will pick Paul Davis in a deep-lying playmaker role.
And to partner him, I will slot in my only British player from the Emirates era in Aaron Ramsey.
I feel the Welshman was in some ways more suited to the 4-4-2 of yesteryear, as a goal-getting, box-to-box player. He fits this team well.
LEFT-MID – George Armstrong
Armstrong edges out Merson into this Gunners XI
ON the left flank, it is between “Geordie” Armstrong – who could land a cross with either foot on a sixpence – or Paul Merson, a converted striker who had a mercurial talent I loved.
While I adored Merse, I think I have to give it to Geordie, who I was lucky enough to see playing in his final season at the club, in 1976-77.
As his biographer, I am undoubtedly biased – but having chatted to all his team-mates from the late 60s and early 70s – as well as many full-backs who despised facing him – Armstrong nicks it as left winger.
STRIKERS – Ian Wright & Alan Smith
Wright and Smith up top, it’s an easy decision for me
MY strike-partnership is easy…
Ian Wright picks himself, as Arsenal’s second top goalscorer, breaking Cliff Bastin’s longstanding record in 1997.
Wrighty was simply one of the most natural finishers I have ever had the joy to watch week in, week out.
I just missed the John Radford era so along with Wright, I would play “Smudger” – the double Golden Boot winner in the title-winning sides of 1989 and 1991.
He was the goal-scoring hero of the 1994 Cup Winners Cup, too.
In truth, these two did not shine as a pairing – but as individuals, they make it here, for me.
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