Category Archives: History

denilson v West Ham

Rogues Gallery: Denílson Pereira Neves

By Les Crang

“I have a project here that I started four years ago and I wanted to reach the end of it. I could not leave this team at this stage of their development.” - Arsene Wenger

In many ways Denilson is representative of all that is good about Arsene Wenger and all that is bad. Good, in that he’ll give players like Denilson a chance. Bad, in that he’ll give players like Denilson a chance.

To me, Denilson sums up where it all went wrong for Arsene Wenger after winning the F.A Cup in 2005. Denilson was part of what was termed Wenger’s ‘project youth’ from season 2006-2011 roughly. A time when Wenger got rid of older players like Robert Pires, Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva. He replaced them with the like of Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas [non legend] and  Denílson Pereira Neves. Oh why did you do it Wenger? Why?

Denilson came to Arsenal from Sao Paulo in July 2006 after making a mere 12 appearances for the club. He came at a fairly hefty price of £3,400,000. He had been the under-17 captain of Brazil in 2005, losing in the final 3-0 to Mexico. Ironically, the first scorer in the final, would be another ‘project youth’ player, Carlos Vela. Therefore, as he was Brazilian, what could possibly go wrong with a midfielder from there? I mean Wenger had picked up two fantastic midfielders previously in Gilberto Silva and Edu? Denilson would be a bit of the same. How wrong we were.

For those that cannot (or don’t want to) remember what project youth was, it was Wenger idea of overhauling his aging stars with kids. A midfield that would on occasions consist of Cesc, Denilson, Theo and Rosicky would have an average age of 22. The idea was two fold. Firstly, Wenger wanted to build a team around Cesc, with Wenger stating as early as 2006:-

I would like to make it clear that Cesc Fabregas is not for sale and we will not be listening to any offers for him,” he said.

Since making his first-team debut nearly three years ago, Cesc has progressed remarkably well, with his performances rightfully earning him a place in the Spain World Cup squad.

At 19 years old, Cesc represents the future of Arsenal Football Club and we are looking forward to him being a major part of our plans for many years to come.

But with Cesc being the attacking option in a midfielder, Denilson was used in the middle as a slightly less attacking midfielder, whilst a defensive midfielder like Mathieu Flamini, Lassana Diarra or Alex Song would act as cover. If Denilson was near to any player comparative it would be the often under rated Gilberto Silva. Silva was often called the Volante in Brazil. Or the invisible wall as we came to know him. In a Guardian interview Gilberto’s role was described thus :-

Arsenal midfield dominated by the surging brilliance of Patrick Vieira. As the leggy and eye-catching Vieira pushed ever forward, Gilberto steadied a free-flowing team.

Denilson though was an invisible wall on many occasions for Arsenal on many times. Invisible, as it was hard to know he was there, not that he did things people did not see.

It was not always that bad for Denilson though. I remember going to the Emirates for a league cup game against Newcastle United when Denilson scored his first goal for the club in 2007 (Bendtner scored the other in a 2-0 win):-

I was pretty impressed with Denilson and his power. Although he looked small in frame, he was busy in the middle, had nice short  touches and could hit the ball in front of goal. How mistaken was I?

Soon though, Denilson became the player we would ask ‘what is  this Denilson?’  He could score and hit a ball (see below) :-

Denilson, between 2006-11 would play 96 games, scoring six goals. He also got sent off against Blackburn in 2007, which the BBC described thus:-

Referee Mike Riley sent Denilson off in stoppage time for a dangerous two-footed challenge on David Dunn which triggered a melee between both teams.

Was he a defensive midfielder? Well, he hardly seemed to have the frame for tackling. Was he an attacking midfielder? Well, he didn’t have the speed of feet or mind of Cesc. Was he a wide midfielder? Again, he seemed too ponderous for that. But still Wenger choose him.

Its not that Denilson did not try in his time at Arsenal (unlike say, Bendtner?). When Alex Song went to the African cup of nations, Denilson offered to take up the defensive midfielder role saying:-

If the boss said, ‘Denilson, I want you to stay back’, I will stay back.

Its also not as if Denilson was not (reportedly) highly regarded by other teams, with Seville said to be offering £13 million for him in 2011.

But for many of us, Denilson just seemed a very poor version of Gilberto Silva. As Robert Exley said of Gilberto in comparison to Denilson:-

There was also the estrangement of ‘invincible’ season veteran Gilberto Silva, who had been sidelined all season and thus was moved on to Panathinaikos over the summer. At 32 years of age Gilberto would still have been able to do a job in the premiership, however Wenger opted to place (or rather misplaced) faith in his fellow young countryman Denilson, who as it turned out was woefully ill-equipped to turn out for a side hoping to challenge for honours.

Also, although Wenger had kept choosing Denilson (when not injured), he could obviously see a young lad by the name of Jack Wilshere who came to the forefront in season 2010-11. Denilson short passes which often went backwards or sideways, was overlooked for Jacks all action style of play.

So why did we buy Denilson? Honestly? It seems partly that Arsene Wenger had fallen into what Alex Bellos reported in his excellent book about Brazilian football,Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life:-

It’s easier to place a Brazilian footballer in any team than it is a footballer of any nation. There is a worldwide fad for Brazilians. It’s sad to say, but it is much easier selling a crap Brazilian than Brilliant Mexican.

Although Denilson has since moved back to Sao Paulo last year, after a years loan, he never did make the international team. Arsenal also got no money for him and were paying him allegedly £50,000 per week (which they had to cover whilst he was on loan in Brazil). Denilson was one expensive mistake. Luckily, Wenger has never returned to the Brazilian market after this poor buy? Damn, I forgot he went for worst in Andre Santos.


Rogues Gallery: Paul Davis

By Les Crang

It has been said that you should never meet your hero as you’ll be disappointed. In many instances that may be true, but when I met Paul Davis at the Paul Vaessen book event at the Emirates I couldn’t have been happier.

To me, Paul Davis (alongside Dennis Bergkamp) is probably my favourite player. Similar in some instances to Bergkamp, a player not with blistering pace, a player who looked cool as an iceberg on the pitch but who was willing to strike back at opponents, and most importantly, one of those players you want to play forever and never retire. To me that was Paul Davis.

Paul Davis was often regarded as the first black player at Arsenal, but this was untrue as Brendan Batson had played 9 games for us in the mid 1970’s. Also, the great winger, Laurie Cunningham had been an apprentice at Arsenal for a year before being moved on to Orient. Paul Davis though was perhaps our finest young prospect of the late 1970’s, alongside the late Paul Vaessen and Stewart Robson.

Paul Davis had made his debut for Arsenal debut on the 7th of April 1980 at the age of 17 years old. Arsenal were in the midst of going for two finals, playing one semi-final against Liverpool on the Saturday. Tottenham on the Easter Monday and Juventus in the Cup Winners Cup Semi-Final on the Wednesday. With two Cup semi-finals coming up, manager, Terry Neill decided to play 6 reserves, of which Davis was one. Spurs, not wanting to assist Arsenal in winning a European Cup Winners Cup, had made sure Arsenal fulfilled the game.

As is so often with Spurs, the plan backfired, as Arsenal won 2-1 at White Hart Lane, with The Times famously saying (license required):-

It was not surprising that they began with six reserves including a complete newcomer, Davis, a 17-year-old who strolled into the game with almost veteran assurance.

Spurs defeat would leave Arsenal fans to sing ‘we won the game with six reserves’ on the occasions we played them. Davis as a player was a left midfielder, that could also play in the middle. Tall, thin, with a range of passes and a suspective challenge. A rare scorer, but of the 37 goals he got in 447 games at Arsenal, many were gracious rather than scruffy.

The thing is, if you look at the late 1970’s early 1980’s, one can’t talk about Paul Davis without discussing racism. At West Bromwich Albion, Paul Rees has discussed this in his excellent book Three Degrees looking at the three black players Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis and Brendan Batson. Rees discussed how the barracking of fans was hardly mentioned until the year before Davis debut, when Gerald Sinstadt mentioned it when WBA beat Manchester United at Old Trafford 5-3 (2 minutes 58 seconds in)

Brendan Batson said of the Arsenal fans :-

I wasn’t aware of any form of racist abuse directed at me during my time at Arsenal. When I left and went to Cambridge, there was a bit. And then when I went to West Brom, me, Cyrille (Regis) and Laurie (Cunningham) used to get a lot of abuse at away games. I don’t think there are any straightforward reasons as to why the Arsenal crowd is more open-minded than others. Maybe it’s because there’s always been a tradition of Greeks, Italians and Cypriots at Highbury. Maybe it’s due to the club’s proximity to Hackney Marshes.

Other fans had seen the rise of the National Front outside Highbury. Jon Spurling when writing Highbury said :-

It would be a gross over-exaggeration to claim that racial harmony persisted in and around the ground. When I placed an advert in the Islington Gazette for information on aspects of Highbury history, I soon received three virtually identical testimonies, citing problems at the exit to Arsenal tube station, and in the maze of streets nearby. In the mid-1970s, National Front leader John Tyndall admitted: ‘We hope to swell our ranks by launching a recruitment campaign outside football grounds.’ The National Front clearly made its presence felt around Highbury at the time.

At Arsenal though the booing, was often aimed at his poor early form in the team. Away from home Davis was often barracked, especially at Chelsea, West Ham United and Millwall amongst others. Out of London, Davis would also be abused. For example, in January 1981 Arsenal played at Everton. One author said of the game:-

It was a match made memorable for the vile taunting of Paul Davis by the racist scum element in the Everton crowd. What incensed them even more was Davis’ measured display symbolising grace and culture, not qualities which those moronic fans would comprehend.

But let us not forget that Everton were still throwing bananas at John Barnes whilst at Liverpool in the late 1980’s. What a great bunch of humans they were.

In a recent interview Davis said of the racial abuse:-

During my 20-year playing career, I was racially abused by other players around 10 times. That’s not even taking into account the racial abuse I got from fans.

To be honest, as ridiculous as it sounds, I don’t think 10 times is that bad given the period I played in. I’ve been called ‘monkey’, ‘n*****’ and ‘w**’ – you name it, I’ve been called it. In those days you just learned to deal with it.

But there’s no running away from the fact it is deeply upsetting. It makes you feel sick. I just had to find a way to be strong mentally on the pitch; to make sure the abuse did not affect my game.

The barracking at home in his early years was usually down to poor form on occasions and Terry Neill. Under Neill and Don Howe Paul Davis, from what Andy Kelly told me was booed because his play was often to give a good thirty yard ball to some very poor players. He was frustrating, but in a team with few artiste, Davis would often shine in comparison to ‘honest pro’s’ like Ian Allinson and Tommy Caton.

Tony Woodcock in his biography Inside Soccer spoke of Paul Davis lighter (or shall we say, lack of sharpness?) For example, the time he bought a new car (an XR3) and was told by the garage to not go over 30 mph. Davis took this to mean he could not go over 30 miles per day, therefore making sure he was close to both training ground and stadium. You can imagine the ribbing he received for this.

If Davis had showed glimpses with Terry Neill and Don Howe (plus Dave Sexton in the England under-21 side in which he played 11 games and scored twice). Davis really began to shine under George Graham’s arrival to Highbury in 1986. He said of his old boss’ arrival and impact on the team :-

Under Terry Neill and Don Howe training wasn’t serious enough because no one was taking any responsibility. The players weren’t conducting themselves in the right way. It was like a casual jog. George Graham had real clout though, and was mentally strong, right from the training ground to players’ contract negotiations. He made it clear that the joking was over.

George Graham would be parsimonious as ever in the transfer stakes buying a ginger haired winger from Colchester in Perry Groves for a laughable £50,000. Funnily enough, up to early new year though, George had us playing effectively and on 4th January 1987 we went 4 points clear, when the North London derby was televised live and Arsenal won 2-1 at White Hart Lane, with Tony Adams and Paul Davis scoring (a low free-kick into the bottom corner).

George had got not just Davis playing well but the whole team had started working well together. Graham Weaver wrote:-

Davis and Steve Williams. After his promising debut at White Hart Lane in 1980 Davis had initially struggled to live up to expectations, but by now he was, in his own calm and unassuming way, playing some of the best football of his career and his simple passing and calming influence was at the heart of much of the team’s play. Alongside him was Steve Williams who had been signed from Southampton for £600,000 in December 1984. Due to injury the England international had yet to make a significant impact on the team, but now he was able to form an effective partnership with Davis at the heart of the side.

Although Arsenal’s championship form petered out quicker than Paul Gascoigne quitting drink, our march to Wembley was still on. Unfortunately, in the semi-final we would meet Spurs in which Paul Davis was mainly remembered for his pass to Ian Allinson in the replay with Tottenham in which we equalised (30 seconds in) with a long diagonal ball over the top (read ‘punt’).

Davis later said of the impact of the goal on Spurs confidence:-

I looked at experienced players like Gough and Waddle. In a split second, their heads were gone. They had nothing left.

David Rocastle’ goal two minutes from time put Davis and the team through to their first final. It also provided us with another song to goad the unhappy spuds:-

‘One nil down, two one up we knocked Tottenham out the cup’.

Off to Wembley and only Liverpool to beat. Lets be honest, this was some Liverpool team. Steve ‘one minute’ McMahon, Ian Rush and England international Paul Walsh  and Jan Molby as well. On the bench? Kenny Dalglish. Arsenal had Perry Groves on the bench. On paper we looked to be making up the numbers. But nothings is won on paper.

Note on the video, 2 minutes 24 seconds Davis nearly gets an equaliser with a stinging shot outside the area, hitting the post. Davis also took the free kick for the equalising goal (though hardly the best one he took). Although Liverpool had the first twenty five minutes Williams and Davis won the battle in the middle against Whelan, Molby and McMahon. Arsenal had won their first trophy since in 8 years. Davis had won his first trophy too.

With George Graham winning his first trophy in 1987, it would allow him to mould it into the team he wanted. From the team he inherited in 1986, by 1988-9 Davis would be one of six players left from that squad (the others being David O’Leary, John Lukic, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas and Tony Adams). The season of 1988-9, to most Arsenal fans is a thing of joy, culminating in Arsenal winning the title in dramatic circumstances:-

For Davis, it would be one of ultimate frustration for Davis within the Arsenal team and more especially internationally. In recent weeks, there has been much mention of Arsenal having 5 players playing against San Marino. Unprecedented. Not really, In September 1988 England manager Bobby Robson had chosen a preliminary squad of 6 with Alan Smith, Tony Adams, Michael Thomas, David Rocastle , Brian Marwood and Paul Davis for a game against Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, circumstances would conspire against him on playing for England.

The event would be a 2-2 with Southampton:-

In many ways, Davis is remembered for this game rather than the other 446 games he played. In a situation which was totally out of character. In a game in which Southampton midfielder Glenn Cockerell constantly barracked Davis, informing him of the intimate relations with Davis mum the previous evening, he took offence, turned around and punched him in the jaw, breaking it. Davis was unceremoniously dropped from the England team. The media outrage can be seen here on the ITN news.

Davis went to the F.A. Pleaded guilty as charged. The F.A said that due to his impeccable disciplinary record (14 bookings in 8 year), they would be lenient with him. They gave him, at the time, the longest ban of 9 games. Paul Davis was never played for England. As Dave Seager wrote:-

In 1991/92 Paul Davis got no caps and Geoff Thomas got 9 – I leave you with that horrific thought.

Davis would play a mere 12 games in the championship team of 1988/9, scoring one goal (a rare diving header against Charlton Athletic). With the appearances he made, Davis would still receive a title medal. Although still injured for Anfield, Davis still went up with the team, and was behind the goal when Michael Thomas got the winner and celebrated with the fans in the away end with Gus Caesar. Now, would that happen now? Not sure if I mean winning the title or having a player with the groundlings?

The following season he would make just 11 league games. The season of 1990-1 would see perhaps Davis at his finest. It is often remembered for Anders Limpar on the wing, Alan Smith scoring and Steve Bould at the back. For me it was Paul Davis. The displays I remember? Maybe the double strike against Norwich at Highbury? What about the second goal against Aston Villa in a 5-0 thumping (goal is 1 minute 27 seconds in)

Or perhaps the display against Chester City with 3 assists in a 5 goal haul. The back heel to set up the third? The putted chip for Adams scoring the fourth.

In a season were adversity was Arsenal’s middle name, with the FA taking two points from us for the brawl at Old Trafford and then Arsenal captain Tony Adams sent to jail for drink driving, Arsenal and Davis rose to the top. With the captain out, George Graham had to choose a captain. The natural choice might have been Steve Bould or David O’Leary. Paul Davis was in fact made captain.

Davis would play all but 1 league games that season. Davis had an amazing season, winning a title medal. Just watch the passing. Its just concise if a ground ball and floated if a ball in the air. Watching our number 8 was just a pure joy. But no England caps.

With Arsenal in the European Cup for the first time in 20 years, George Graham had high hopes for the team saying:-

Paul Davis could well be the player who makes the crucial difference for us in Europe this season.’ George Graham, speaking prior to Arsenal’s European Cup campaign.

Playing against Benfica away, George was effusive again of Davis saying:-

Paul sacrificed his attacking urge for the team. He understands what you need to be successful in Europe. One ill-thought-out move can prove disastrous and give your enemy the advantage.

Unfortunately, in the home game Arsenal would lose 3-1 and be out of the Europe. For Davis, this would spell a period of him in the wilderness. After the defeat to Benfica to early March 1993 (15 months) Davis would play 2 games. Davis had previously mentioned George Graham could be like this with players, saying after being dropped the previous season against QPR:-

When it comes to the crunch, there is only one boss – and at Highbury it is definitely George Graham. Go storming in, and there can only be one loser. It won’t be the manager.

For Davis, this was an all time low. In a recent Podcast, Davis discussed this period, saying George Graham never told him why he had been dropped and was pretty upset at being dropped for such a long period. For me, this was perhaps one of George Graham biggest mistakes. Davis, although thirty, still had plenty more to give (and certainly more than Jimmy Carter could).

He would be back though for the Cup Double in 1993 and Davis would also play in the European Cup Winners Final, where along with with Alan Smith he would have a magnificent game with George telling ‘Davis was told to track Thomas Brolin’. Arsenal would stick out a hard fought One-Nil win:-

After this game, Davis would play 7 further games, with a brief period at Brentford and Norway before retiring. Davis is now a senior coach/coach educator for the organisation and he is also an ambassador for the ‘Kick It Out‘ and ‘Show Racism the Red Card organisations’.

It seems funny really, looking over Davis career. It is often forgotten that Paul Davis, along with Tony Adams, was the only player to win all 6 trophies George Graham he won at Arsenal. He was a subtle player, often overlooked (certainly by England managers). But to many an Arsenal fan he could mix it, he could pass and he could shoot. Under Graham he also developed his repertoire. To me, the finest Arsenal player never to play for England. Though i’m sure a few people will disagree.


Observations on Henry’s first 26 Arsenal goals

As I said in my piece yesterday, I sat down with a video of Thierry Henry’s first 26 Arsenal goals and took some notes. Now, these are just observations and some of you will disagree with them but that’s why I’m posting here: if you want to take 15-20 minutes of your life, watch this video, and give us YOUR observations, then please do. I will gladly amend my database with your notes (or you can do it, see the link below). Maybe if we do this once a week for two months we will have his complete record?

Anyway, here’s a snapshot of the data:



I already want to add venue and opposition! But I’ll leave that to one of my enterprising young readers. Here’s a link to the database, feel free to add what you want on your lunch break.

Here’s my take away from what I observed.

All totaled 18 of Henry’s 26 first season goals were assisted by teammates. That’s my count of assists. Notably, for example, I don’t count Bergkamp’s pass to Henry to score on Desailly in the Chelsea match (goal 25) because Henry still had a ton of work to do on his own before scoring.

There were also two long balls in the match against Sunderland (where Henry beats Bouldy, TWICE!) and I didn’t count them as assists. The first is absolutely not an assist in my book. I won’t even countenance an argument: Henry collects a hopeful punt and dribbles Bould into the corner, then take him inside, and beats him with a long rage shot. The second was Lee Dixon punting the ball up. Henry lets the ball bounce in front of him and instead of collecting the ball off the bounce, uses the bounce to beat Bouldy again. You might disagree with me on those two!

That means, by my tally, Overmars and Kanu had 4 assists each. Parlor had 3 assists. Petit, Silvinho and Vieira both had 2 assists each. And Tony Adams gets one assist, the first assist, for Henry’s first ever Arsenal goal.

Symbolically, I like that Adams was the man passing the ball to Henry for his first goal. One legend to another, passing the ball, passing the armband, passing on the traditions, and passing on the club. It really has to be an Adams assist, doesn’t it?

The other thing that amazes me about Henry’s first season is the number of goals he scored from outside the box, 4. That doesn’t seem like a lot but when you remember that these are very low percentage shots for a normal human (>3% across all shots) then it seems like a lot to me. Henry had 2 pens and 7 goals from Prime positions (inside the 6 yard box or just outside the 6 yard box, extending to the elf meter mark). The remaining goals were all scored from inside the 18 yard box.

I looked at the breakdown of Suarez’ goals for last season with Liverpool: 4 in the 6 yard box, 20 in the 18 yard box, 7 from downtown. Similar to Henry. Maybe that’s the measure of a great striker? How well they score from distance? I don’t know but I do know that it’s something I would love to look at for subsequent Henry seasons.

And finally, I have a “Y” whenever Henry took a pass and dribbled past someone to score. All totaled he had nine of those. He scored twice that season turning a man on his back. A move he would make famous with his goal against Manchester United. The fact that he did it three times in a year seems like evidence that it was something he practiced. Did he do that again after that season? I don’t remember (I should!).

Anyway, there is more there for you to look at, for example, the type of assists and whatnot but I have to run off to work.

Later today I’ll post a second article which is a follow-up on all the players Arsenal fans and the media wanted us to buy this summer. And tomorrow, we will publish Naveen’s Liverpool preview!

Look forward to your comments!