Their sense of history: When it comes to Arsenal, there’s a stench of history about them. From the marble entrance hall at Highbury to their famous wave before games from the center of the pitch, they’ve always done things slightly differently and have appreciated tradition more than most clubs. Like all stadiums nowadays there are statues and walls dedicated to former legends but Arsenal just do it a lot better than most. Their legends truly live on. We love that.
The Invincibles: Who can forget the Arsenal Invincibles from 2003-04? Arsene Wenger created one of the greatest teams in history as Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp scored the goals, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg created and the likes of Patrick Vieira, Sol Campbell and Jens Lehman held things together in defense and midfield. The only team to go through an entire English league season undefeated, the Invincibles will always be the first team you think of when you think of Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger and the French Connection: Mr Wenger transformed the English game when he arrived in 1996 with his tiny spectacles and baggy gray suits. The Frenchman also had plenty of compatriots around him too, as an invasion of French superstars took the Premier League, and England, by storm in the coming years. The drinking culture evaporated within the game and yoga, healthy eating and passing the ball became the norm. The thing we love most about Arsenal is that they, more than any other Premier League club, have had the biggest impact in designing the modern game we love today.
Passion of the ‘Gooner’ faithful: Now, there’s no doubt that your average Gooner is as passionate a fan as you will find. That passion often escalates to rage, especially in recent years. From fans getting together to start up their own post-game TV show to winning every online poll known to mankind, fans of Arsenal are incessantly devoted to their club. Are they the most forgiving set of fans on the planet? Absolutely not. In the good times and the bad they are willing to take a stand to show their displeasure and call for change if they think its necessary. How can you not admire that?
“I told them they have to enjoy defending. If you give the ball away you better run back. The team instead of splitting are coming together and the wide players are doing different things than before. It’s a big effort.”
Arteta seems to have a perfect storm going for him. He’s one manager removed from Arsene Wenger, somewhat clear of the looming legend but also connected to him by his status as a former player.
He’s also, of course, linked to Pep Guardiola, and there’s more than a hint of the Man City boss in Arteta’s press conferences.
Take his words on the match in Pireaus on Thursday.
“It’s tough to come to a stadium like this and come away with a win. There are some great things for our development as a team. The first 10 minutes we suffered and were completely poor.”
Soon he’s going to be saying they were “so, so good” and perhaps even rocking a bulky sweater. We doubt he’ll be shaving that jet black mane of hair any time soon, though.
Emery said “Arsenal was a club on a downward slope for two years” when he was hired and that the club took positive steps in reaching last season’s Europa League Final and finishing a point off the Top Four.
Arsenal “had Champions’ League qualification in our grasp and it went wrong in the end.”
“We lost our four captains: Koscielny, Cech, Ramsey and Monreal,” Emery told France Football. “They were personalities that we missed this season to stay on the right track. And some stars did not have a good attitude and asked for more than what they were giving back.”
Well, those words point in the direction of several well-worn targets for fan unrest, don’t they Mesut? This is where Lionel Messi will have wanted Emery to name names.
Emery seems to accept that he played his part in the failure but also name-dropped the club’s biggest summer signing in addressed the terrible first half of this Premier League season.
“We needed time to succeed with our transition to a new Arsenal which is what I wanted,” he said. “For example, Nicolas Pepe, who was the club’s choice, clearly needed time to adapt. But I accept the rule of thumb and that I am poorly placed to criticize because I also benefited from such judgement in the past.”
This where we feel required to point out that Pepe must have some sort of personality issue with both of his coaches, because advanced stats say he’s been one of, if not, the most effective Gunner.
There’s a comparison to be made between the long rebuilds after the tenures of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger at Manchester United and Arsenal. Certainly United was left in a better position, but Arsenal had the better replacement.
Either way, the ends of two eras have led to a pair of substandard new ones.
The Gunners move 10th as one of four teams with 31 points. Burnley is also one of those teams, 11th on goal differential.
Three things we learned
1. The Arsenal rebuild project is truly difficult: Perhaps, like with the end of the Sir Alex Ferguson era at Manchester United, the exit of Arsene Wenger has left super long-lasting reverberations throughout the Emirates Stadium. Mikel Arteta has a good mind and the Arsenal spirit. He’s solidified the Arsenal defense, and there’s talent in the squad. Not being able to break down Burnley for a league-best 13th draw.
2. McNeil shines again: Burnley’s 20-year-old wide midfielder was again tough and influential, and it seems only a matter of time before he either gets a chance with the England national team or has to angle to a move for a bigger club in order to do so. Let’s hope it’s the latter.
3. On the bright side for Mikel Arteta, he probably shouldn’t have gotten a point: After the first 15 minutes, almost all of the match’s bright chances were produced by Burnley. That includes Jay Rodriguez’s lash off the bottom of the bar.
Yes, this will cause controversy. Yes, you won’t agree with these 20 selections.
There is no right answer here because certain players may not have been the best technical player to play for a certain team over the last decade but they may have been the most important to their success.
Anyway, here it goes.
Arsenal: Alexis Sanchez – Yes, it didn’t end well for him at Arsenal. But for four seasons he led them to the FA Cup, top four finishes and scored superb goals along the way. His hunger to win drove Arsene Wenger‘s teams on and along with Jack Wilshere (when he was fit) and Aaron Ramsey, he was one of the few world-class quality players the Gunners possessed.
Aston Villa: Jack Grealish – A local lad who arrived from the academy with his low socks and slick Peaky Blinders-esque haircut, Grealish is Villa through and through and Villa’s hopes of staying in the Premier League this season revolve around the English playmaker. He stayed with them when they went down and brought them back up as skipper and his mercurial talents mean the big clubs are circling.
Bournemouth: Steve Cook – It is amazing to think he is just 29 years old. Cook has been with Bournemouth throughout their promotion from League One to the Premier League and is now at the heart of their defense. Some great players have been key to Bournemouth’s success but Cook has held it all together.
Brighton and Hove Albion: Lewis Dunk – Another local lad who has com through the ranks to be a star, Dunk is a towering, powerful center back who was with Brighton when they were at the Withdean and has been influential in their promotion and consolidation in the Premier League. He’s also played for England. His decade has been a Slam… Dunk.
Burnley: Ben Mee – A mainstay in Burnley’s defense after joining from Man City in 2011, initially on loan, Mee has been essential to their promotion campaigns and keeping them in the Premier League. A no-nonsense defender, Burnley can totally trust Mee. The unsung hero in a club of unsung heroes.
Chelsea: Eden Hazard – My favorite player of the decade in the Premier League because he could change the game on his own. Hazard led Chelsea to two Premier League titles, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Europa League and when he was at his best he was unstoppable. Ask players around the PL who was the best player they came up against and the vast majority will say Hazard.
Crystal Palace: WilfriedZaha – The academy product was a star in the Championship, left for Manchester United, came back and ripped it up. Zaha is loved by Palace’s fans and is probably the best player outside of the top six in the Premier League. His pace and power is just too much to handle for most teams. And even though he wants to leave for a team challenging for trophies, Zaha will go down as a Palace legend.
Everton: Leighton Baines – Okay, so it was a flip of a coin between Baines and Seamus Coleman, but I’m going for Baines. His quality from set piece situations was incredible and he was just wonderfully reliable. Everton’s two full backs will be etched into Toffees history but Baines’ extra quality in the final third gives him the nod.
Leicester City: Jamie Vardy – Okay, with N’Golo Kante, Wes Morgan, Kasper Schmeichel and Riyad Mahrez around, this wasn’t that easy but Vardy should get the nod. He scored the goals to lead Leicester to an incredible Premier League title win as his pace and clinical finishing capped off his unreal rise from non-league to the Premier League, and his resurgence over the past 12 months has been amazing. Vardy isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but when he’s at his best, nobody can stop him.
Liverpool: Virgil Van Dijk – This could be a controversial pick given the fact that he’s only played for Liverpool for two years, but there’s no doubt that no other player has been as important to the team as VVD. Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah have been attacking stars for the Reds over the last decade but Van Dijk’s arrival helped lead Liverpool to the Champions League and improved their entire defense which had been their Achilles heel under Jurgen Klopp. Van Dijk is a Rolls Royce and probably the most complete defender the Premier League has ever seen.
Manchester City: Vincent Kompany – A proper Man City legend, Kompany was the captain for all four of Man City’s Premier League title wins over the last decade. Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and David Silva have all been key parts of City’s glittering decade but Kompany was the glue who held it all together. Injuries hit him hard in the second half of the decade but he was no doubt one of the greatest center backs in the history of the game. His goal to clinch the 2018-19 title was the perfect way to go out.
Manchester United: David De Gea – He routinely won United’s Player of the Season over the last decade and without him Red Devils fans shudder to think where they would be. He has had a few big errors over the last 12 months but DDG has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League over the last decade. Amid all of United’s struggles to get back to the top, De Gea has been their one true star.
Newcastle United: Yohan Cabaye – Had the quality on the ball to rip teams apart and led the Magpies to a fifth-place finish under Alan Pardew. Papiss Cisse, Chieck Tiote, Moussa Sissoko and Demba Ba all had exceptional stints at Newcastle, but Cabaye had the extra class required to sew it together. The way he left for PSG wasn’t ideal but when all is said and done the former Lille midfielder was a game-changer at St James’ Park.
Norwich City: Wes Hoolahan – A yo-yo decade for the Canaries who went all the way down to League One and worked their way back to the Premier League via back-to-back promotions. Republic of Ireland midfielder Hoolahan was their main attacking threat throughout the promotion years and he was capable of the sublime.
Sheffield United: Billy Sharp – A local lad who has spent three spells at his beloved Blades and most recently signed for them in 2015 in League One, he scored the goals to take them back to the Premier League. Sharp has spent his entire career scoring boatloads of goals in the lower leagues and his dream was to play for Sheffield United in the Premier League. He’s achieved that, even though he hasn’t played a big role in their incredible season back in the top-flight. Sharp, 33, will forever be a Sheffield United legend.
Southampton: Rickie Lambert – Another star forward who led his team from League One to the Premier League. Lambert signed for Saints from Bristol Rovers for $1.3 million in 2010, just after they had come out of administration, and then led them to back-to-back promotions as they returned to the PL. He then established himself as one of the top strikers in the league, got a call-up to the England team, play at the 2014 World Cup and eventually sealed his dream move to hometown club Liverpool. Known as “Sir Rickie” at St Mary’s, there will be a statue of him at the club one day as he led them back to the top-flight and did it was pure style befitting of the legendary No. 7 shirt he wore. He did Matt Le Tissier proud. Sadio Mane, Morgan Schneiderlin, Van Dijk, Adam Lallana, Jose Fonte and others were stars for Saints in the last decade but Lambert was the reason they were even in the PL in the first place.
Tottenham Hotspur: Harry Kane – Has any other player in the Premier League burst onto the scene more than Kane in 2010? The London lad has come through Spurs’ academy to become a global star and is a goalscoring machine. In 2013-14 he was struggling to break through after several loan spells and now Kane is one of the best center forwards in the world. Kane scores every type of goal imaginable for club and country and is the captain of England and Tottenham’s talisman. The only thing left for him to tick off is winning a trophy. Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Hugo Lloris and Jan Vertonghen have all been mainstays but without Kane’s goals, Spurs would not have turned into genuine title contenders and regulars in the Champions League.
Watford: Troy Deeney – Mr. Watford, Deeney led them to promotion to the PL in 2015 and they’ve been there ever since. Deeney’s goals (126 in 380 games in all competitions) and bulldozing displays have kept Watford in the top-flight and they’ve reached FA Cup semifinals and finals as they continue to punch above their weight. Deeney is Watford’s captain and sets the tone for the entire club.
West Ham United: Dmitri Payet – Yes, West Ham fans will not like to admit this, but Payet was otherworldly at Upton Park and the London Stadium. The way he left for Marseille wasn’t great, at all, and the current owners have pretty much removed him from their history. But his amazing goals, free kicks and general outrageousness turned him into a club legend. Payet was box office as Slaven Bilic‘s side qualified for Europe.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Conor Coady – A mainstay in central defense for Wolves, Coady has led the charge since Fosun bought the club and Nuno Espirito Santo took over. A produce of Liverpool’s academy, he is a true professional who sets the standards day in, day out. Coady joined Wolves when they were struggling in the Championship and they are now in the Europa League knockout rounds and are challenging for the top four four after taking the PL by storm over the last two seasons. All of the recent impressive signings in attack and midfield have been important, so too has Matt Doherty who has been with Wolves since their days in the third tier, but Coady is the heart of Wolves and has been since 2015.