It finally happened. The Premier League has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, and rightly public health has trumped our commonly-loved past time.
But there are other points to ponder – such as below.
The Premier League announced that they would have a hall of fame, and will announce two initial figures in March 2020 (whether the suspension of football affects this is moot).
This will, supposedly, run concurrently with the English Football Hall of Fame, which includes many Arsenal figures of course.
But which Arsenal figure (manager or player) should be part of the initial two?
We, amongst other clubs, of course, have shaped the PL to what it is today. It is this footprint, amongst others, which certain other clubs in the North London area and beyond cannot match.
These are some people who could have either one of the initial two spots:
Manager – Arsene Wenger
This goes without saying.
Yes, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, etc. have all had great impacts on the league. Even those like Ancelloti, Ranieri, Conte, Mancini, and Sir Kenny Dalglish all managed memorable league title-winning sides.
But Wenger not only had success with us – he changed the technical and fitness facets of the game.
Much was said of the hard-drinking culture at Arsenal, but this was common at most clubs. Players in the period before Wenger often used to eat unhealthy foods such as chips, burgers, chocolates, etc. and it was deemed normal.
Wenger however, perhaps motivated by the “Tuesday Club” culture at the club, changed both the training routines and dietary plans, which have persisted in English football since then.
He also was the first sustained major rival to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. He wasn’t the only title rival in Fergie’s time – but perhaps the most iconic one. Fergie signified this via his rant over Wenger’s comments on extending the season “that he should keep his mouth shut…and firmly shut!”
And Wenger, of course, won the Double in his first full season, beating Man United twice in the league in two classic wins.
Let’s also recall the 2002 Double, 2004 Invincibles league win, and a managerial record seven FA Cups.
And the characteristic sexy football, and getting the best from Henry, Bergkamp, Overmars, Pires, Vieira, Ljungberg, etc.
His tenure didn’t end in the best manner – but then I believe he warrants a place in the initial slots.
We’ve had few managers compared to other clubs in PL history. So the choice is pretty slim.
George Graham has to feature here – though his side’s league form dipped from 1992 to his sacking in 1995. We did win the domestic cup double (the first side ever to do so such) and our latest European trophy to date (1994 Cup-Winners Cup).
Bruce Rioch did well to attain 5th place amidst a superior Man United and Newcastle, though his issues in player man-management and board relations cost him.
And Unai Emery, despite some initial promise, blew the chance of top four/Europa League, and didn’t solve the club’s defensive/structural issues.
Mikel Arteta, thus far, has done well to sustain our league position and get some good wins here and there. We’ve also looked more structured defensively, despite some individual errors costing us. Time will tell how good he is though.
But surely, Wenger has to win it, based on the level and nature of his successes.
We’ve had many top players in our PL history. Bergkamp, Wright, Adams, Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg, Seaman, Fabregas, etc. all must rank here.
There is though one player, in my view at the least, who should feature the most.
It’s Thierry Henry.
Henry was known before he joined Arsenal, as he was with Juventus and Monaco, and had won the World Cup with France in 1998.
But after struggling initially with us, he came into the fore a few months into the 1999/2000 season, and the rest was history.
He continued again in the 2000/01 term, and he eventually became our record goalscorer (surmounting Ian Wright no less) and to date has won the most PL Golden Boots, and attained the most assists in a season.
What Henry also brought was a near-complete game to us, and the PL generally. His pace, control, strength, movement, and technical ability were way above other strikers – even those such as Alan Shearer who is still the all-time record scorer since 1992.
I recall in a game vs. Leeds – where Henry scored four of five goals – Sky commentator Andy Gray said that he’d never seen anything like Henry before. And he was right – Henry was a technical level above any striker before or since.
Aguero, Kane, Rooney, Vardy, and even our own Auba in recent years have been amongst the goals. As have Mo Salah and Sadio Mane. But none of these players have reached the technical brilliance of Henry. Neither did van Nistelrooy, van Persie, Didier Drogba, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Chris Sutton, Kevin Phillips, Diego Costa, Michael Owen, or other top strikers in the history of the Premier League.
Henry was the king – Le Roi Henry in his own native tongue.
Dennis Bergkamp was a giant – and proved he was world-class in spite of his weak Internazionale form.
Even the likes of Alexis Sanchez can feature here. Yes, he left under a cloud, though his wonder strike in the 2015 FA Cup final win vs. Aston Villa and his overall technicality and tenacity made him arguably our finest Emirates era player.
We’ve been blessed with many top players in PL history – though Henry for me shades it.
This is very subjective though – so I’d welcome views, opinions or insights as to which Arsenal figures should be the first to make the PL’s Inaugural Hall of Fame.