Category Archives: History


Welcome home Henry

Highbury was my garden.

Whenever I get a chance to go back to London, I invariably make a trip to the old Highbury. There, I stand at the entrance, looking in through the thin sliver of space onto the garden that was once the pitch. I look in with eyes closed, looking not onto the modernist glass garden as it is now but rather remembering the lush, simple green of Highbury in its last season.

I stand there and reminisce about the one time I got to see Arsenal at Highbury. The one time I got to see Thierry Henry at Highbury. The time I got to see Henry play in his garden.

If Highbury was Henry’s garden, Henry was the gardener and he sprinkled that garden with beautiful goals. Under his care the garden grew FA Cups and Premier League titles. That garden gave life to a team that would finish a whole season unbeaten, the Invincibles, a corner of Highbury with perfect rows of dahlias blooming forever in the spring sun. And that garden gave birth to a style of technically beautiful, powerful, rapier-like football which would be known as “playing football the Arsenal way”.

More than any other player, Henry’s careful tilling of the fertile soil in North London provided the bounty that is now the Emirates Stadium.


  Show me a great manager and I’ll show you a great goalscorer

There’s a maxim in football that a great forward and a great manager are symbiotic. A great forward carries his team through the hard times and a great manager sets up the team to get the most out of his great forward. Rodgers had Suarez, Mourinho had Drogba (and now Costa), Graham had Ian Wright, and Arsene Wenger had Thierry Henry.

I feel in love with Arsenal because of Thierry Henry. I’m not ashamed to admit it. He was simply the most beautiful footballer I had ever seen. His silky smooth touch on the ball belied his powerful and predatory nature. In a moment he could turn his man, be past him, bounce off two defenders and pass the ball around the outstretched arms of a hapless keeper as he did against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

Or like he did against Liverpool to lead the charge back from 2-1 down to 4-2 win. A goal of such astounding skill that it is widely hailed as the goal which saved Arsenal’s Invincible season.

Henry was powerful, precise, and pretty. Oh so pretty. If you don’t get chills watching that clip above, perhaps you should consider another sport. Whist, I hear is a real hoot.

It may be sacrilege to say this but as much credit as Wenger gets for the Arsenal side which won so much from 2000 to 2005 Henry deserves equal credit. And that goal above along with many more are credited with doing just that.

They are the club of my dreams and I would like to play there

As revealed in his book Lonely at the Top, Philippe Auclair points out that Henry was such a hot property in 1996 that Real Madrid offered him over £60,000 a week (after tax) plus a £800,000 signing on bonus to sign from Monaco. That attempt at tapping up (through Henry’s father Tony) of a 19 year old Henry failed. Henry was fined, Real Madrid was fined, and Henry signed a contract extension with ASM.

Henry fell out of favor, though, at ASM and after a few years of toiling actually made a surprise move to Juventus. It was a surprise move even for Wenger. Wenger had earmarked Henry to play with Anelka in the Arsenal attack and on 20 November 1998 Thierry Henry was quoted saying that “[Arsenal] are the club of my dreams and I would like to play there.”

But instead, Henry went to Juventus that January and spent a few agonizing months in the Serie A. Like Paul the apostle wandering the desert blind, Henry, I guess, needed time to find himself. Time to throw off the shackles of his father and find shelter from the personal and professional troubles he’d gotten into at Monaco.

Wenger, the man who handed Henry his debut at Monaco, then must be given credit for getting Henry to Highbury. People like to call Dein the architect of those transfers but it was certainly Wenger which prompted Henry’s “dream.”

Wenger deserves credit for assembling the team which would give Henry the platform for success. Without Vieira, Campbell, Toure, Lehman, Cole, Piers, Ljungberg, Edu, and Gilberto, Thierry Henry would have been just another great goal scorer on an under-performing team. Many people are harping on Alexis Sanchez’ passing rate but the Chilean is actually a better passer than Thierry Henry in his first season. The Frenchman was seen by many as a disaster because he could only complete 67% of his passes. Sanchez does give the ball away a bit but is snip better at 77% and well on his way to equaling Henry’s 17 goals in his first season at Highbury.

It took Wenger two years to get the parts right around Henry but once he did, he built a team which could rival any in world football now. Thierry Henry led the front line on that Arsenal team. His job was to score goals and win games. He did that. And as much as Wenger, Thierry Henry was the nucleus of the greatest Arsenal team of my generation.

Maybe it’s just symbolic but Henry, more than any other player, bridged the gap between the old Highbury Arsenal and the new Emirates Arsenal.

Who do they think they are?

I feel like I’ve always been saying goodbye to Henry. I only saw him once in his garden, on a cold Spring day against Charlton. It was Arsenal’s final season at Highbury and I knew this would be my last ever chance to see the club at their old haunt. The day was perfect, the sun shone, the grass glinted deep green, Arsenal won, and even Alexandr Hleb scored a goal, but despite the joy of seeing Arsenal at Highbury for the first time it was a bittersweet match.

Arsenal would never be the same after that season, relocating the whole stadium a block away and modernizing their money-making capabilities in order to compete with the nouveau riche of Chelsea. Arsenal left her heart at Highbury.

Henry would also never be the same after that season. Failing at the final hurdle, losing 2-1 to Barcelona in the Champions League final in Paris, blocks from his boyhood home, changed the man. He stayed one more season at Arsenal as a symbolic link between Highbury and the Emirates. He had tilled the garden of Highbury and reaped the bounty of the Emirates and he needed to stay just one season to say hello and good bye.

I also saw Henry this Summer at the New York Red Bulls friendly against Arsenal in New Jersey. Henry was still Henry. He still had that swagger and silky smooth touch of his Highbury years but without his trademark speed, played more like a cagey old lion then the apex predator I remembered from when I first fell in love with Arsenal.

That match this summer had all the trappings of a testimonial. Fans came from all over the world to see Henry and Arsenal play one last time. There was even a discussion about having Henry play for Arsenal at half-time, which was apparently against some rule set down by history’s greatest monster. And as Henry left the field he received a two-minute standing ovation. He even took the field after the match and made sure to applaud every section of fans who had made the trip out to see him.

henryIt was as close to a testimonial as many of us Yanks will ever get for Thierry Henry. Giving as he always has been, Henry gave once more of himself. He gave us one final chance to say good bye.

Henry has always been like this with us Arsenal fans. He’s always loved us, loved Arsenal, and we have always loved him. In the final scene of Lonely at the Top, Henry had returned to Arsenal on loan and played a few minutes against Aston Villa in the FA Cup. He hadn’t scored or even played a significant part in the match but  Auclair describes how a bearded Thierry Henry sat in the locker room, still dripping with sweat, boots still full of grass, trying to savor the very last drop of his Arsenal career.

“Who do they think they are?” asks Emmanuel Petit. Speaking of Theirry’s teammates who all left long ago.

There has never been any doubt who Thierry Henry thinks he is. He is Arsenal’s all-time leading goalscorer. He is the man who helped to build Arsenal into the club it is today. He is part of Arsenal and Arsenal are part of him. And on the eve of his retirement from playing football, amid rumor that he might want to return to Arsenal as a coach or in some other capacity, let me be the first to say

“Welcome home Henry”




Anatomy of the Arsenal: Manchester United 6 Arsenal 1. Wenger’s defensive meltdown…A recurring theme?

They are all good players, but we had no leaders. At times, we were very naive and gave too much freedom to United. No one communicated. The first and second goals were jokes, like watching a youth team. Arsene Wenger after the 6-1 defeat to Manchester United

How relevant is the above statement after our recent draw with Anderlecht, defeat to Swansea, and loss to United, thirteen years on? It seems Arsenal fans seem to think heavy defeats are a new thing, but even two and half years before the 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford in 2001, we had lost 5-0 in the League Cup, at home to Chelsea.

Many had said that it was a weak team, but check below:-

Arsenal: Manninger; Grondin, Vivas, Grimandi, Upson; Garde, Hughes,
Ljungberg, Boa Morte; Bergkamp, Wreh
Subs: Mendez (Garde h-t), Caballero (Bergkamp 60),
Cole, Vernazza, Lukic

That is eight internationals or future internationals. Hardly a weak team.

After winning the double in 1997-8, Arsenal had seen Manchester United win the league the following two season (it would be three by season 2000-1). In 1998-9, Arsenal were on the verge of an unprecedented back to back double, narrowly losing by 1 point to Manchester United after losing to Leeds United in the penultimate game of the season.

We also lost the semi-final to Manchester United at Villa Park:-

Obviously, United went on to win the treble that season. It was said (but I can’t remember by whom) that Arsenal had the best team but United the best squad). To me, this is something that has rarely changed 15 years on except perhaps between 2002-5 period. But more of that later.

Unfortunately, by season 1999-2000 Arsenal again came second to Manchester United. This time by 18 points. The season of 2000-1 saw us lose Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit to Barcelona for £30,000.000 combined fee, plus Davor Suker and Nigel Winterburn to West Ham on free transfers. We had replaced Overmars with Robert Pires whilst Edu and Grimandi were seen as adequate replacements for the departing Emmanuel Petit. Again, a repeated feature of Arsene Wengers tenure is he is too slow replace areas everyone else seems to see, like a defensive midfielder.

Also, Arsenal had been suffering at the back as usual. Wenger had been fortunate to inherit the famous back four. By 2001, Winterburn and Steve Bould had left, with Lee Dixon regularly on the bench as Silvinho and then Ashley Cole took his place. In central defence, Tony Adams from 1999-2002, out of a possible 114 games  played 57 (exactly half). The fulcrum at centre of the defence was Martin Keown, who was already in his mid 30’s. Here again is the problem. Wenger spending money on defenders. The defenders he had bought up to Old Trafford in 2001? Nelson Vivas? An Argentine full-back remembered for losing us the title at Leeds in 1999, when he lost Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at the back post:-

Centre of defence? Oleg Luzhny was bought from Dynamo Kiev and known as ‘the horse’. A trier, but more a Boxer from Animal Farm rather than a Red Rum. Our other centre half was Igor Stepanovs, a £1,300,000 signing from Latvia. Tall and gangly, my first game I saw of Arsenal was his debut against Ipswich Town (which I only  just realised was a couple days after Geordie Armstrong passed away at London Colney). On his debut in the League Cup match against Ipswich in November 2000, Stepanov scored with a thumping header. We still lost 2-1 and you could see he was not fast of feet or mind. But with Keown and Adams, when would we ever need these two in the defence? All too soon, unfortunately.

As ever, since Arsenal had last won the League in 1998, Wenger seems to like spending his money on on attacking players most of all. Although we had lost Nicolas Anelka, Davor Suker and Marc Overmars. But look who he had signed? Fredrik Ljungberg, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, Nwankwo Kanu, Sylvain Wiltord and a young Jermaine Pennant. We had also retained the services of Dennis Bergkamp. A superb attacking outfit.

It almost felt that Wenger just wanted to sign attacking players. Well. Nothing unusual there then.

The season had some real highlights, no more so than Thierry Henry’s most famous goal which came in our 1-0 win over United at Highbury:-

Layth Yousif said of the game:-

The North Londoners owed their triumph to the traditionally labelled virtues of snatching a goal against the run of play and defending stoutly for the remainder of the game. It was the ethos that brought silverware under George Graham, yet 1-0 to Arsenal seems like a galaxy away when contrasted with the sublime football they invariably play under their French alchemist Wenger.

There was also the 5-0 win over Newcastle that season, in which Ray Parlour scored a hat trick:-

Unfortunately, by the time we played Manchester United, Arsenal were 13 points behind them. The team had also suffered a major defeat at Anfield prior to Christmas. We did not look good.

The team for the Manchester United game for Arsenal was :-

Arsenal: Seaman, Luzhny, Cole, Grimandi, Stepanovs, Pires, Vieira, Parlour, Silvinho, Wiltord, Henry. Subs: Ljungberg, Bergkamp, Manninger, Vivas, Kanu.

Therefore, the team back four was lacking Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Lee Dixon. Ashley Cole and Oleg Luzhny played full-back, with Gilles Grimandi and Igor Stepanovs in the middle of the defence. Therefore, Arsenal were playing an international defender out of position. Bit like Nacho Monreal then?

As for the midfield? Well, Patrick Vieira and Ray Parlour played in the middle with Silvinho (a full-back) on the wing. It was a team that had never played together. Edu had problems with his passport and was unavailable to play. It was a team that looked ready for a thrashing. If you have defenders in the wrong position, either centre halves as full-backs and fullbacks as wingers you are looking for trouble.

I watched the first half of the game, I couldn’t watch the second half. In the first two minutes Arsenal were one down and Stepanovs didn’t follow or watch his man, with Dwight Yorke ghosting in at the back post.

Henry quickly equalised but by 17 minutes Yorke has run on to a thirty yard ball. He was played onside by a slow Grimandi. On the 26 minute a long 40 yard ball was picked up by Yorke, as Stepanovs gazed upwards  as the ball sailed over her head. Yorke had a hat-trick in 24 minutes. Then Arsenal went on the attack, it was broken down outside the box, A break to the wing and Yorke goes up the wing. Roy Keane bursts in the middle between Luzhny and Grimandi and rammed the ball in. 4-1. Just before half time Giggs down the wing, with an ever ineffectual Grimandi falling over Giggs feet. Giggs pulls it back for Ole Gunnar Solskjær to make it 5-1.

In the second half Arsenal kept it down to one. With a long ball again over the top, again. The man on the end of the ball was Teddy Sheringham, who turned Grimandi inside out. 6-1. It just had to be Teddy.

Of the display, what can be said? Well, only Ashley Cole was any good there. The other three were too slow and never worked as a unit. At least 3 of the goals were balls pinged over the top, to take advantage of Stepanovs and Luzhny’s slowness. Totally basic errors that Sir Alex Ferguson used to his advantage.

Also, the cover from the midfield was poor. Vieira, without Petit, was ineffectual. In the double season of 1997, after a 3-1 home defeat to Blackburn, the back four had said they needed more cover from Vieira and Petit. After this, both played more defensive (especially Petit) and went on a 12 match unbeaten run. This was certainly lacking in this game. Vieira is too often called a defensive midfielder and regarded as the pinnacle of it. To me that is untrue. Petit was the the defensive midfielder (of which I have never seen bettered at Arsenal). His loss in 2000 was perhaps one of the worst players we would lose to a competitor.

Arsenal gave up the ghost on the league by February (better than November then?). So what did Wenger do after the game? He redoubled his efforts to win the F.A Cup and looked to the next season to sort out his problems. Arsenal made it to the final against Liverpool, where after leading the game Michael Owen scored two late goals. Defeated again. But Arsenal were also robbed early on, when Thierry Henry goal bound effort was stopped by Stephane Henchoz hand on the line. Red card and penalty. But the referee missed it.

Martin Keown said of the game afterwards:-

I remember standing on that pitch in 2001 and saying this ain’t gonna happen again, because Ltiverpool were so lucky that day.

Wenger, after such a heavy defeat, losing the title by 10 points and F.A Cup Final did what he should have done previously. He spent in the areas he needed cover. He famously bought in Sol Campbell from Spurs for an aging Tony Adams (who would play a mere 10 league games in 2001-2 season). He bought in a defensive midfielder in Gio Van Bronckhorst from Rangers, as well as utilising the often under rated Edu. He also brought in cover for an aging David Seaman in goal, by signing Richard Wright from Ipswich Town. Wenger had gone out and bought in areas we needed improving and not on the cheap.

So, to me, my point is that often Wenger is a reactive manager, rather than a pro-active manager. At present he has bought players that can attack but not a defensive midfielder or centre half. Just like in season 2000-1. Could he change? Well, he did in the pre season of 2001-2 by signing big. He could do it in January or the close season by signing Mats Hummel and/or William Carvalho. But, as ever with Wenger, it seems a season too late. Also, who is to guarantee he will even go for these players?


Book review: Geordie Armstrong – on the wings

By Les Crang

The recent release Geordie Armstrong On The Wing by Dave Seager (in collaboration with Geordie Armstrong’s daughter Jill Armstrong) was unveiled at The Tollington Arms prior to the Hull game, I wrote about the event previously here, and now have had a chance to write a review of the book.

I had heard about Dave Seager previously by his personal blog 1 nil down two one up and also his twitter account. Just after February Dave had indicated that he was nearing completion of his book on Arsenal’s 3rd highest appearance maker Geordie Armstrong, who tragically passed away at the Arsenal training ground in October 2000, whilst training the Arsenal reserves. Geordie played between 1962 to 1977 and was an ever present in part of the Arsenal double team of 1970-1, playing as a hard working winger for the team.

As I had started supporting Arsenal since 1980, like many fans, I had little knowledge of Geordie Armstrong. Over the years though, having extensively read about Geordie, one notes the importance of him in the Arsenal team that won the European Fairs Cup in 1970 (having written about his importance here previously) and the League and Cup double in 1971.

I had spoken to Dave briefly at the Piebury Corner Art Event in June. Dave and Jill had also been extensively using twitter to inform fans how the book was coming on and releasing many unseen photo’s from Geordie’s Arsenal days and with the family. Dave also recently discussed why he had got involved with the book in a recent blog here.

First things first. This book is a testament to an Arsenal legend. From 1962 for his debut until his final game in 1977, Geordie Armstrong made a total of 621 game. The appearance record until David O’leary and Tony Adams surpassed it. In those days, Arsenal’s pitch was usually played on a quagmire from October until April, with grass more scarce than trophies. As a winger that often tracked back, Geordie had to be one of the fittest and hardest working players on the pitch.

A striking part about the book is that Geordie was held within very high esteem. I had previously read Seventy-One Guns: The Year of the First Arsenal Double, written just after Geordie’s passing. All the team came for his funeral (including Bob McNab from Los Angeles) and all said of his importance as man and player. This is underlined again by not only his ex team-mates at Arsenal, but also those he coached at Arsenal (and Norway and Kuwait) as well as his family.

A nice story from the book came from two of my personal favourite players at Arsenal in the early and late 1990’s Stephen Hughes and Kevin Campbell. Hughes and Campbell had both been playing for Everton, when news came through that Geordie had passed away. Both were incredibly affected by his passing and seeked solace in each others memories of Geordie. As both had played in the reserves with Geordie in charge, they had a deep affection for the man, who would often ring them to check on how his former charges were. Throughout the book, Geordie comes over as very much a mentor figure to his young charges, with a kind heart in a cut throat world of modern day football.

Video: Geordie Armstrong providing cross for Ray Kennedy winner at Spurs in 1971

One must say some of the photos provided by the family, fans and Arsenal are pretty extensive throughout Geordie’s career. Its also interesting the extensive amount of people who admired Geordie, from his former team mate Alan Skirton to Dennis Bergkamp, you could not think of a more divergent group of people.

A couple items in the book that I enjoyed was a recurring theme, of why Geordie never played for England. Most seem quite saddened by this, but one person (I think it might be Peter Simpson) points out that under Sir Alf Ramsey, England rarely used wingers. He points out that at Liverpool even the excellent Ian Callaghan and Peter Thompson rarely played for England, so it was not an anti-Arsenal reason Geordie gained full international recognition.

Another great thing of the book, as a supporter, is that Geordie seems an Arsenal man and fan through and through. Jill and Dave point out that Geordie, was widely recognised at the club by staff, always willing to sign autographs and remember the fans. He is ultimately ‘old school’. Approachable, unlike modern stars who leave the Emirates via an Underground car park, not by walking to there car like Geordie and others would in the day. There is a feeling of loss of a generation, in which the players had time for ‘us’ without the need of a media officer on hand.

To underline the above point, one is struck, as many fans are, that young players in the Arsenal reserves are rarely getting a chance to play full team football. It seems interesting that Jason Crowe, a man remembered for one game and the quickest sending off at Arsenal was a mute point for Geordie. Crowe is thankful to the confidence that Geordie instilled in him and helping him (and others) stay within the game. It seems sad that all the work Geordie puts into coaching the reserves few players make it (although Ashley Cole seems very thankful for Geordie’s assistance in getting into the Arsenal team).

In conclusion, it is a great biography. Dave and Jill have provided an insight into what it was like to know Geordie (which is what any biography should do). They have also provided an insight into team building, either as a player or a manager. It is also the professionalism of the man. Although Geordie would have disappointments as a player and manager at Arsenal, if things went wrong, he would redouble his efforts to do better for himself and the team. I would certainly recommend the book Geordie Armstrong On The Wing for this alone.


Buy the book directly from the publisher: £19
Buy from £17.
Buy from $19
Not available from, yet