There is never a shortage of items to write about re Arsenal FC. It could be the significance of a last second winner v Burnley; the switch from Plumstead to Highbury and the pain it still causes some fans of THFC; Alex James, Jimmy Logie and George Eastham; comparing the turnaround skills of Chapman and Wenger; Title wins in different eras and the big one – can we win something big this season?
Resisting the above or holding them for another day, I wanted to mention the switches that have been made in players’ positions. Two come to mind – McClintock and Graham. Lauren was another and Thierry Henry as well. The trigger for these streams of consciousness comes from flicking through Arsenal On This Day by Paul Donnelly. He records that two days ago in 1964 Frank signed for Arsenal for £80,000. He had already appeared with Leicester in two unsuccessful Cup Finals in 1961 v THFC and in 1963 v Man U. He wanted a bigger stage and Billy Wright persuaded him to come to Highbury.
He was an attacking wing half – a right half to be precise and he stirred the team and made his presence felt but it was not until Billy W had moved on and Bertie Mee and Dave Sexton were in harness that the change was made to centre half. Others will know more clearly the trigger for the change and it was one that was resisted initially by Frank. He was not a six footer – not a Ron Yeats even an Ian Ure. And it meant sacrificing the feisty midfield for the solidity of centre half but it added years to his career and enabled him to display his leadership skills for which he is so remembered. Frank was the spirit of the 1971 Double Winning Team. He was the boss, the leader, the man who stirred the passions. He summoned the extra 5% out of everyone in his team in his dressing room. Left to midfield he would have faded but put into the back four and given the responsibility of Captain was a masterstroke.
One example; 1970 and we had lost 3-1 to Anderlecht in the first leg of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup – a much bigger tournament than its name suggests. We had beaten Ajax in the semi-final and now our first title since 1953 came into view. But hopes were dashed by the defeat in the first leg even though Ray Kennedy’s goal opened the door. The team were down; the dressing room was quiet; the opportunity had gone. Cometh the hour – cometh the man. Frank goes to work – he goes through the Anderlecht team one by one pointing out the weaknesses. He went up to each player and looked them in the eye and said We Can Do It. Bob Wilson says the second leg was won in that dressing room. Every player emerged onto the bus sure they had it within their hands to turn the tables. And they did and for many of that night at Highbury; that first goal by Eddie Kelly, that corner pass by Mc Nab to Raddy for the headed second goal and then Jon Sammels smash into the left hand corner of the net gave us the win. Being at the Lane in May 1971 was very big but being at Highbury wuth the Trophy held aloft in April 1970 ranks as the very best of moments. We had Won. We were Back
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It was so important and always as we recall that evening and that victiory we have to remember the masterstroke in saying to Frank – prolong your career, become our Number Five.
George Graham arrived as a centre forward – remember the term? He always scored on his debut – had done at Villa and Chelsea and he did again against Leicester City. But George, despite his formidable record and goal scoring powers was better suited to midfield. I do not know whether this was Don Howe at his best or George offering to make the change but he became so important to our winning years with Bertie Mee. I mentioned Raddys goal v Anderlecht and the pass from Mc Nab on the corner flag but it was George’s wall pass return to Mc Nab that created the opportunity. Stroller was so loved at AFC – he had to be dropped every eight games to get the best out of him. But he had skill and vision and touch – remember his goal of the year volley v Crystal Palace. He engineered it with another wall pass, took the return and scored. If George was still a Number 9 he would never have scored with a header from outside the penalty area v Stoke in 1971 Cup semi-final replay. If you ever have the chance look at the timing of the run and the power and positioning of the header. What skill. What class.
Lauren came to us as a midfielder. Wenger converted him into a full back and when you think Invincibles think Ralph, as he came to be known. He became a supreme No 2. Never flustered. Never gesticulating. Never flummoxed. Always calm and cool and in control. Lauren was the quiet man of the team but indispensible. He had to be the right back. Others will know who he displaced but once in position the No 2 shirt was his. Full marks to Arsene for making the change and full marks for Ralph for making the position his own. The run into the Invincibles title saw us through some nervy challenges – even a penalty or two. Lauren was equal to the challenge.
Thierry’s switch from outside left to centre forward is well known. Again Arsene saw the chance. Many other left wingers down the years remained on the left – Billy Liddell. Peter McParland, Denis Compton and others. They were wingers and they remained wingers. Not Henry whose switch to the middle was perhaps the most significant of all Arsene’s changes. His fluent movement and vision and anticipation made him the top player of his era. Of course he was assisted by Bergkamp who spatial imagination harmonised so effectively with Henry’s scoring skills. We were luck to witness it it – lucky to view that quality of football. I need to meet our Editor’s deadline so more another time but it leaves us with the thought of the foresight and perception of coaches and managers who make these significant changes in position.
Until nest time – Thank you all