Just a random post in this pandemic-initiated lockdown…..
If looking at British players (from the four UK FIFA-registered associations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), which players would feature?
We’ve had many top foreigners. Some of the best ever non-British players to grace the country’s league at any period have been at Arsenal. As for managers, Wenger’s success speaks for itself. He was the first non-British manager to win the English league, and won the FA Cup more than any other manager in history.
And going back further, David O’Leary and Liam Brady were prominent non-British stars, as was Frank Stapleton and more recently, Anders Limpar.
But of UK-origin players, who would make the best XI. As a British club, there naturally is a wide pool to choose from, but then let’s see who would get in here. I’ve tried as much for balance and fit as much as big names or influential figures:
Dixon Adams Bould Winterburn
James Storey Rocastle
Wright Smith Drake
Manager – Herbert Chapman
Pat Jennings is a legend, really, of Arsenal and Spurs. But for me, Seaman edges it as he was consistent over a long period, and was by far the best British keeper of his generation. I guess it’s recency and essentially lifetime bias – Seaman was in his peak in my recollection whilst Jennings wasn’t. This isn’t at all to knock Jennings though – he is a goalkeeping legend in many ways.
The back four for me picks itself – it was not just four individually-top defenders. But as a unit, they were the best for many years. Kenny Sansom was top-class too, though he never (and not to his fault) played with a top unit like the famous back four did.
Alex James was a midfield mainstay in the great 1930s sides under both Chapman and Allison. He was short, though technically strong and a lynchpin in our then revolutionary WM formation.
Peter Storey has had numerous off the pitch issues after he retired – but nobody can dispute his value in the 1971 Double side. He was our enforcer and every side in that period had a hard man or tough SOB. He was our “Chopper” Harris or Norman Hunter, and would provide great balance with the creativity of James, and also the poise of David “Rocky” Rocastle.
Rocky was, of course, a prime youth product, who formed part of our 1989/1991 title sides. He was like James of great technical quality, and had immense energy and grace on the ball.
Ian Wright, despite Henry breaking his record, is our best ever British striker. Wrighty had an edge, no doubt. But his technical ability, tenacity, pace, and intelligence on and off the ball were second to none. He also scored from many different angles – wonder goals, tap-ins, penalties, and long-range strikes, and made certainly the “Wright, Wright, Wright” impression.
Alan “Smudger” Smith won the Golden Boot twice in 1989 and 1991, and scored the winner vs. Parma in the Cup-Winners Cup final. In some senses, he was like Olivier Giroud in his style. He wasn’t just a lump, but could hold up the ball and be nimble as much as head well.
Drake was a mainstay in the great 1930s side, and along with Bastin propelled our side to many leagues in that decade with his prolific goal-scoring.
The subs represent many eras, though the manager (despite Graham’s triumphs) has to be Herbert Chapman. Let’s not forget Allison, Whittaker, and Bertie Mee of course. Terry Neill too had some noted successes, and if the side turned up in the 1978 and 1980 Cup finals, it could have been a rare hat-trick of FA Cup wins.
Chapman though launched Arsenal in its current guise, and laid down the class, culture, expectations, and traditions of our club. Being a great manager isn’t just about trophies, I feel also it’s about legacy. His WM formation changed the landscape, and to paraphrase a quote on great politicians “made the weather“.
This is just my opinion though – what do you think?
Coming up soon as a non-British XI.