Category Archives: History

Statue of Billy Wright (detail), Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton (Roger  Kidd) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Les Crang’s Rogues Gallery: Billy Wright

By Les Crang,

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

Annus Mirabilis By Philip Larkin

Billy Wright was Arsenal’s manager from 1962-1966 and is often the forgotten man of Arsenal history. Predominantly, Billy Wright is remembered for his time at Wolverhampton Wanderers and England captain as a elegant centre half. For Wolves he would make 541 appearances between 1939-59, as well as a world record (at the time) of 105 caps (90 as captain) for England between 1946-59.

Statue of Billy Wright (detail), Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton (Roger  Kidd) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Billy Wright’s international career was maybe best remembered for being the captain in 1953 in the 6-3 home defeat to Hungary. Of their third goal it was said:-

Their third was a goal of rare beauty and mesmerising skill, the ‘Galloping Major’ Puskas expertly dragging the ball away from Billy Wright “with the art of a bullfighter”, according to Sewell, before crashing a shot high into the roof of the net. “Wright rushed into that tackle like a man racing to the wrong fire,” surmised Geoffrey Green in the Times the next day.

Billy Wright, prior to joining Arsenal had been working with the England youth and under 23 team (a precursor to the under 21’s side) and had been strongly tipped to take over the full international team in due course from Walter Winterbottom. Unfortunately, the manager from small, provincial, Ipswich Town had won the title in 1961-2; he was called Alf Ramsey and was making waves for the England job.

Walter Winterbottom resigned after the 1962 World Cup, and the papers had Alf Ramsey as favourite for the job, with Billy Wright second favourite. In the end, obviously, Alf took the job, but Billy Wright was certainly held in high esteem by both the press and the F.A. His near appointment would also underline that Billy Wright had more of an affinity with the young players at the time.

After the 1961-2 season, the Arsenal manager and ex-player George Swindin resigned from the post finishing a disappointing 10th in the league and losing in the 4th round of F.A Cup, away to Manchester United. Worse, in 1960-1 Spurs had won the double and followed it up in the season of 1961-2 winning the F.A Cup.

Making Billy Wright the manager of Arsenal was a change from the previous four managers of Arsenal, George Allison, Tom Whittaker, Jack Crayston and George Swindin, in that they had worked in some form prior to taking over a manager. Billy Wright, although an Arsenal fan, would struggle at Arsenal. He started at Arsenal though with a fanfare, telling the Daily Express on joining Arsenal:-

I want to bring trophies back to Highbury and get people talking about Arsenal again for the right reasons.

Bob Wall said of Billy Wright’s appointment:-

Everyone spoke well of him. Not the least of the recommendations was that he was still an idol of the football-minded lads had all over the country and the Arsenal board believed he would attract young talent to Highbury.

Billy Wright started the pre-season by trying to improve the forward line, signing an ‘English’ striker from Italy (Spurs had done it the previous year with Jimmy Greaves). This would be the legendary Joe Baker, who was bought from Torino for £70,000. Joe Baker was a diminutive striker from Scotland, but born in Liverpool, becoming the first Scottish based player to play for England.

Jon Spurling in his excellent chapter on Billy Wright in Red Letter Day said:-

The Gunners began the 1962/63 campaign well, winning matches against Leyton Orient and Birmingham. Before game three, a Highbury contest with Manchester United, Wright walked down the tunnel, saw the expectant 62,308 crowd and returned to the dressing room, barely able to contain his excitement. Baker recalled, ‘Billy told us, “This is what Arsenal is about. Packed crowds, sunshine, playing teams like Manchester United, and (he leant over and rubbed my sleeve between his forefingers) these lovely red and white shirts. Beautiful. Now go and win boys.”’ His team went down 3-1, and didn’t win again for six matches.

The first season under Billy Wright would end with Arsenal finishing a commendable 7th in the league. They would lose in the fourth round of the F.A cup to Liverpool, at home. In many ways it was actually a fairly impressive first season with Arsenal getting into Europe for the first time in their history.

Going forward Arsenal looked impressive, scoring 86 goals. Unfortunately, at the back, Arsenal conceded 77 goals. Joe Baker would score an impressive 31 league and cup goals, scoring a hat trick in the final home game against Fulham. Baker had formed an impressive partnership with Geoff Strong, who had scored 21 league and cup goals. Although Wright had done ok in his first season, Spurs had won the European Cup Winners Cup.

Arsenal, were nothing if not interesting during Billy Wright’s first season: at White Hart Lane, Arsenal played out a 4-4 draw, they also beat Wolves 5-4, and drew with Blackburn 5-5. Wright felt Arsenal needed a new defensive pair and captain the following season. So Billy Wright infamously went out and bought a new centre half. Ian Ure for a fee of £62,500 from from Dundee. At the time it seemed a great signing, as Dundee in the season of 1961-2 had won the Scottish title, and the following year made the Semi-final of the European Cup. Unfortunately, he wasn’t that good on the ground. Nick Hornby, in Fever Pitch, famously called Jeff Blockley ‘”an incompetent to rival Ian Ure”.

As for the Captain, in his first season, Terry Neill was made Captain as a mere 20 year old (taking over from Vic Groves). Terry Neill, in his biography Revelation of a Football Manager said:-

Billy Wright had made me club captain at the age of twenty the year before, and though I was honoured to be given the job, I knew I was too young and inexperienced. I think Billy Wright saw me as a reincarnation of himself, a centre-half who was destined to lead the side from an early age. With senior players like Joe Baker, George Eastham [who took over the captaincy in 1963-4] and Geoff Strong around, I did not find it easy.’

The following season, Arsenal had qualified for Europe for the first time. If anything can underline Billy Wright’s time at Arsenal, it could perhaps be the European expedition. Why? Well, it was short, the results showed a team that yo-yo’d, and was also a money loser (though that was hardly Wright’s fault).

In the first round of the European Fairs Cup, Arsenal faced Danish team Stævnet. Hardly a big tie. Arsenal went to Denmark and won 7-1, with Baker and Strong both scoring hat-tricks. In the next leg, Arsenal’s first tie at Highbury, it would attract just 13,569 fans. Arsenal 3-2 to Stævnet.

In the next round we faced RFC Liège. Hardly the biggest tie in the world. Arsenal then drew 1-1 at Highbury (an attendance of 22,003) but in the next tie, Arsenal would lose 3-1. The European expedition was turning financially disastrous, with Bob Wall stating:-

In January 1968, Mr.Denis Hill-Wood, our chairman, stated that, if Arsenal qualified for the Inter-Cities Fairs cup, he and his colleagues would have to think seriously whether to accept an invitation to play in Europe.

When Arsene Wenger talks about 4th place in the Premier League being like a trophy, many of us agree. As a revenue stream via television rights, advertising and tickets, one cannot doubt its importance. But back in the 1960’s things were different. There were no cheap flights or many travelling fans then. Bob Wall explained that the first time Arsenal had played in Europe in 1963 they had played Staevnet of Denmark and lost to R.F.C Liege, writing ‘when we came to work out all our expenses and income, we discovered we had lost money’.

Over the next 3 season, Arsenal would go into steady decline. In his last season of 1965-6, Arsenal would end a disappointing 14th and be knocked out the F.A Cup in the third round, 3-0 to Blackburn (who would finish bottom of the 1st division by the end of the season). Billy Wright struggled at Arsenal.

By the conclusion of 1965-6, the fans at  Arsenal had become disgruntled. Fan, Richard Stubbs said in Tom Watt’s The End: 80 Years of Life on the Terraces: 80 Years of Life on Arsenal’s North Bank:-

I remember the Wright must go season. It was bad enough going to Blackburn and losing 3-0 in the Cup. Then the friday I read in the paper : Baker and Eastham can go. I cried. They were my heroes, you know. Putting them on the transfer list! With Billy Wright, even though I was only 14 or whatever, I knew we wouldn’t win anything with him. I mean, 105 caps, he was a good player and a decent man. But we have to have him out: Wright must go. Saying that though, there was this incredible mixture. There was an intense loyalty that 65-66 season as well.. There was a big game against Liverpool and the chant stated: The Arsenal! The Arsenal! It was actually written about in the papers. We were having a terrible time. We lost 1-0. But I remember the crowd keeping the chant going. I mean, as supporters we don’t have the chance to say : Look we know you’re a decent bloke and we don’t want to do this to you. But we can see this team is crap and it’s getting worse. Our lives are at stake here. So Wright must go.

The season would conclude with the infamous game against Leeds United in may 1966, when Arsenal would lose 3-0 in front of a crowd of 4,554.

Spurling noted:-

Some of those present in the North Bank danced around a bonfire at the front of the terrace, and in the East Stand one bugle-carrying supporter played the ‘Last Post’.

Ironically, ten weeks later England won the World Cup and Billy Wright was sacked by Arsenal. One wonders, if Wright had been manager, would England have won the World Cup?

So where did it go wrong for Billy Wright? For many, it was that Wright was never ‘an Arsenal man’. In other words, he had never been a player at the club and aware of the club. It was said that Wright would come into Arsenal and see the Herbert Chapman bust and shake his fist at it. Ironically, the rumour with George Graham was that he wanted his own bust (and why has he not?) next to Herbert Chapman. Two different characters, two different approaches.

Billy was also not helped by the players at times with Ian Ure saying of his tenure as manager:-

Billy wasn’t a good manager. He wasn’t hard enough and he didn’t have the willpower to get the players to work together. Forwards played as forwards, and midfielders purely as midfielders. The groups didn’t help each other out. Some players simply played for themselves.

Peter Storey also says in his biography that Billy Wright struggled with the pressure and was often found passed out in the changing room and often sided with the more senior players (read Joe Baker and George Eastham), although he gave the youngsters opportunities to get experience.

To me, the reason for the Larkin quote at the top of the page, is (and it is only an opinion), I feel he was a man from a different era. Billy was a 1940’s and 1950’s man. A period when players were deferential to their peers, but by the 1960’s society plus football was changing. George Eastham, in pushing through his transfer to Arsenal from Newcastle in 1960 had seen that, when it came to wages, there was no glass ceiling. Players were now assets and not slave labour as previously. Also, football and management had become more ‘professional’ and certainly more aggressive. Don Revie’s team at Leeds a case in point. Ian Ure pointed out in the 1968 League Cup final, under Bertie Mee, Arsenal took exception to Leeds dirty tactics and hit back. Something Wright would not have done.

For all the criticism Wright did get though, he did do many great things. He bought Frank McLintock from Leicester. He made Jon Sammels, Peter Storey, Geordie Armstrong regulars in the Arsenal the side. As Jon Spurling indicates:-

Wright’s biographer Norman Giller claims that the former manager’s ‘fingerprints were all over Arsenal’s 1971 Double team’. Radford and Sammels both recount Wright’s decency and kindness to them personally as they began to make their way in the game. But it takes far more than the occasional kind word in a footballer’s ear to make a great manager.

Billy Wright’s family though are still avid supporters of Arsenal, with Billy’s son (Vince) and Granddaughter, Hayley Wright doing an excellent Vlog Diary of a Season. Well worth checking out.

*Big thanks, as ever to Andy Kelly for helping with this article.

Nigel Winterburn gives Brian McClair a piece of his mind after Man U penalty miss Arsenal

Les Crang’s Anatomy of Arsenal: Everton and Manchester United At Home in the Cup, 1988

By Les Crang, Sr. Bibliognost

At Arsenal we never, ever started any brawls we just finished them.

David Rocastle in Proud to say that name

If Terry Neill and Don Howe had shown us much at Arsenal it was how not to win games, whether in the League or Cups, disappointment would often follow. Under Terry Neill we had some horrendous defeats. Losing to semi-amateur team Winterslag in the UEFA Cup in 1981:-

Or the humiliating defeat at home to Walsall in 1983 which lead to his sacking:-

Under Don Howe we seemed to lose again in an embarrassing manner. The defeat to York away in 1985:-

Or, in the same year the 3-2 defeat away to Oxford United of the old Second Division (what would now be called the championship).

Although both defeats certainly showed how poor we often were, there was something bubbling under the surface. The young blood bursting through the team, especially in the Oxford game when Arsenal sent on a young substitute to shore up the defence.

The substitute? Tony Adams. Unfortunately, the game underlined how ineffective Don Howe could be when he chose Pat Jennings in goal over John Lukic, even though Pat had a bruised thumb. David O’leary in his biography was perplexed why Don did this.

Don Howe, the much maligned manager, had done something George Graham would profit from though. In a recent article I did on George Graham, Dave Seager made a very good point when I interviewed him, saying:-

When you consider GG reaped the benefits of the Howe regime bringing through some exceptional youngsters. Adams, Rocastle, Hayes and Quinn who became regulars immediately for Graham has all played 10 plus games in 85/86.

A very salient point indeed.

Anyhow, although George had started spectacularly well in his first season after taking over from Don Howe and Steve Burtenshaw in the 1986 close season. This culminated in the Milk Cup victory over Liverpool:-

George Graham though had spent a mere £50,000 in his first season on the cult favourite Perry Groves. Hardly the signing to get the fans excited in anticipation.

But George was building his team and instilling winning ways in the team, the club and even the supporters. George had said on joining the club ‘nobody’s been doing it around here [Arsenal] for years’. He’d also said ‘Eventually it will be my squad at Highbury but for the moment i’ll wait to see how things develop.’

George had already got rid of the expensive players of Paul Mariner and Tony Woodcock before his first season started plus Martin Keown. By the beginning of the 1987, Viv Anderson and Stewart Robson had also departed. By the beginning of the 1988/9 season captain Kenny Sansom, Steve Williams, Graham Rix,  and Charlie Nicholas would have departed too.

The beginning of the 1987/8 season had brought refreshed hope to Highbury. In the previous year (1986/7), in the dour 0-0 draw with Oxford, the fans sang ‘spend some f***ing money.’ I’m sure I heard that at the Emirates?

Anyhow, George had spent and spent very well. His first signing had been one of my all time favourite strikers Alan Smith for a mere £750,000 from relegated Leicester City, who would replace the tall but unprolific and slow Niall Quinn. Kevin Richardson would come from Watford as a midfielder with an engine for £250,000. Plus George then signed Nigel Winterburn for £350,000 from Wimbledon and then Lee Dixon from Stoke City for £375,000 later in the 1987/8 season. Five players for less than £2,000,000. He’d made nearly all that money back on the sale of Anderson, Williams, Keown, Sansom, Robson and Nicholas alone.

The new side, cut of the old cliques that Jon Spurling had described in All Guns Blazing – Arsenal in the 1980s had slowly been dismantled. George was making the club the way he wanted. A strong defence, with two fast, young and (importantly) uncapped full backs that could press forward or defend from deep. Two centre-backs, one young, strong and vocal in Tony Adams and a elegant partner in David O’leary with tonnes of experience. A midfield that could choose Michael Thomas, David Rocastle, Steve Williams, Kevin Richardson and Paul Davis in the middle (with Rocky and Richardson also able to play wide). Out wide you could have Perry Groves or Martin Hayes with Paul Merson and/or Alan Smith down the middle. Back up players would be Gus Caesar in defence, Niall Quinn as a back up ‘striker’. The spine was there, but a few pieces were still missing, but more of that later.

George had said in 1987:-

When I buy, the player must be right for Arsenal, not just in terms of ability, but in attitude….I intend to sign players who’ll fit into that pattern – not disrupt it.

This mantra, of buying into the team and not the player would work to great effect in his first five years for George Graham.

Anyhow, although the league season of 1987/8 ended with us finishing a disappointing 6th position, George had got the team playing. Especially in the Cup games. In defense of the Milk Cup we had made our way through to the Semi-final, where we would meet the previous years League Champions, Everton. The first game was televised live on a Sunday. Arsenal had travelled to Everton. In a rather timid affair Arsenal won 1-0, with Perry Groves smashing home a nod down from an Alan Smith knock down:-

It was hardly a classic. But it was ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’.

The second leg home tie would be Wednesday the 24th of February, but prior to that Arsenal had another game, a 5th round FA cup game. Against Manchester United on Saturday the 20th of February. This would be a game in which all the old antagonism of Frank Stapleton’s departure in 1981 and the two semi-final defeats in 1982/3 against Manchester United had already started to create bad blood between the sides. With George Graham and Alex Ferguson, both aggressive winners in their management careers, this would only intensify the rivalry over the years. In George Graham’s first season at Arsenal, Manchester United had made sure Norman Whiteside to played dirty, kicking Rocastle until he retaliated and got sent off. Viv Anderson had to be restrained at the sending off*. Manchester United went on to win 2-0, with The Guardian recently saying of the game:-

Big Norman Whiteside kicked everybody up and down the pitch for 90 minutes and didn’t even get booked!” chuckled Fergie years later. David O’Leary said Whiteside was “like a wild nutter throughout the match”.

The fifth round tie at Highbury was described by Jon Spurling thus :-

This match was watched by a monstrous, blood boiling 55,000 crowd with the 8,000 strong travelling Manchester army helping to create a vicious atmosphere.

The game can be seen below:-

Arsenal came out all guns blazing, taking a lead from Alan Smith and then Mike Duxbury putting through his own net to double Arsenal’s lead before half time. Duxbury was mocked mercilessly by the home fans shouting ‘take your mask off’. In the second half, Arsenal pressed with chances spurned by Hayes (not uncommon after his very successful first season the year before) and Alan Smith. Then, Brian McClair got a goal and Arsenal started to defend very deep.

With 89 minutes on the clock and Arsenal fans asking the ref to blow his whistle, public enemy number one, Norman Whiteside ran into Michael Thomas’ legs. Never a penalty, but given. Manchester United looked like they’d cheated a replay to a last minute goal (sounds familiar!) Up stepped Brian McClair, who prior to this had not missed a penalty. After an age, with the North Bank behind Lukic’s name screaming and shouting. Up he stepped. Lukic looked up. The ball goes sailing ten foot over the right post. Pandemonium in the North Bank. Plus a fair torrent of abuse too.

McClair penalty miss

Better still, Kenny Sansom future replacement, Nigel Winterburn (he was playing right back, although naturally a left back at the time) ‘consoled’ McClair with a few choice words in his ear. A rivalry had been ignited. It also showed this team stood up to any perceived bullies (real or imaginary). The game showed the spirit of Mee’s Double Side of 1970/1. No surrender and give as good as you get if not better. Watch Nutty boy in all his glory here:-

Arsenal won the match and would play Nottingham Forest at Highbury in the 6th round. Life was looking good for George Graham’s red and white army.

The following Wednesday, Arsenal faced Everton at Highbury with attendance for the game 51,148. Lets not forget, only 3 seasons previous, Arsenal’s opening game of the 1985/6 against Southampton had a mere 21,623 attendance. Attendance were up and Arsenal looked a winning team. The Everton game can be seen below:-

Arsenal were the better team in the first half with David Rocastle, rounding the keeper and missing an open goal. In the last minute, an often overlooked event occurred. Arsenal earned a penalty as Martin Hayes ran onto a through ball. Southall chops him down and is not even booked. Our designated penalty taker was Hayes, who the previous season had scored 24 goals, 12 of which were penalties. Unfortunately, even prior to this game he had missed a few (including against Norwich in our last home game the previous season). Up he stepped and blasted over the bar. Hayes then stood down as designated penalty.

The second half, Arsenal streamed forward with Michael Thomas bursting through the middle of a scouse defence (something to be repeated just over a year later) to score. Then Smith had a header cleared off the line from a corner. Everton then equalised via Adrian  Heath after Lukic pushed out a goalbound shot. Hardly great goalkeeping.

Arsenal pressed forward for the last half hour, with Perry Groves passing the ball to Rocastle, who stroked the ball into the far corner. 2-1. With Everton camping in our half, Winterburn broke down the right, hitting the ball straight into the centre-halfs face. The ball falls to Alan Smith who stroked the ball home. 3-1. Final score. A 4-1 aggregate win. The youngsters were looking good, and better still, another trip to Wembley against unfancied Luton Town.

So. Why these games? They end in agonising defeat in the next rounds. In the F.A Cup we would lose at home to Nottingham Forest 2-1:-

Whilst even more painfully, we would lose the Littlewoods Cup to Luton, after leading 2-1 and having a penalty in the last 10 minutes (one that Winterburn subsequently had saved).

To me, these games showed what we had and what we were missing. What we had was a young side, with hunger and talent. The defensive and midfield spine was strong. Alan Smith was beginning to find the net (his first season he would score a respectable 16 league and cup goals). George had also started taking charge, selling players that spoke their mind or didn’t perform and replace them with players that would both work and not argue.

George Graham also showed us something we had not seen in ages. Fight. Winterburn reaction to McClair showed a side that wanted to win, by fair means or foul. George Graham instilled a winning mentality at Arsenal. He would often quote American coach Vince Lombardi sayings, especially:-

Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.

But what were we missing then? Well, it was pretty easy to see. We needed a right back, so Winterburn could play left back. We needed a new centre back, after the Luton Town debacle when Gus Caesar was the only cover we had for the injured David O’leary. We also needed a winger better than Groves and Hayes, that Smith could get on the end of. Plus, we needed to upgrade John Lukic. We did three out of four after these defeats. In January 1988 Lee Dixon came from Stoke City for £375,000, causing Kenny Sansom to have words with George, which the meant he lost his captaincy to Tony Adams and eventually his place (perhaps his best tactical decision in 1987/8 season and one that would pay dividends for Arsenal was giving Tony the captaincy). In the summer of 1988, George went back to Stoke and bought big, bad Steve Bould for £390,000. Defence sorted. We had 3 excellent centre-halfs and two young and aggressive full-backs from small clubs. These 5 players combined, would stay for a minimum of 11 years (Bould) to a maximum of 20 years (O’Leary).

But maybe one of George Graham’ unsung signings was Brian Marwood. Marwood was bought for £650,000 in 1988 from Sheffield Wednesday. A winger that could whip in crosses for our target man, Alan Smith. Smudge said of Marwood’s arrival:-

On his day Anders Limpar was out of this world while David Rocastle took some beating in his prime. The person that probably provided more goals for me than anyone thought was Brian Marwood.

Marwood was our game changer. A great example of Marwood at his best is most likely in the title season when we thrashed Nottingham Forest 4-1 (and Marwood had a penalty saved):-

It was not rocket science to see we needed a proper winger (what was the 1970-1 team without Geordie Armstrong?) Brian Marwood was replacing Perry Groves and Martin Hayes. Honest professionals, but not the greatest crossers, lets be honest.

George also did two other important things, often overlooked by some. He got a regular penalty taker to take penalties, first in Brian Marwood and then Lee Dixon. As we had players such as Rocastle, Merson and Smith bursting into the box, Arsenal regularly got 3-5 penalties a season. Hayes had missed three alone I believe in 1987/8 season. A penalty taker was a must in the squad.

Secondly, Arsenal and George had lost a final. A final they should have won. That defeat was a wake up call. If Arsenal had to win, they would play to the last minute until it was guaranteed. George would not allow his team to leave it to chance. George was never that kind of manager. Evidence of this is pretty clear. George Graham would have a further four Cup finals (3 for Arsenal and one for Spurs). He would win them all.

*Information via Davy Boyd interview.


Rogues Gallery: Cesc Fabregas

By Les Crang, Sr. Cescarian

If some day I leave Arsenal it will never be to sign for another English team. I’m very sure….How it happened [that Fernando Torres joined Chelsea from Liverpool], in so few hours, I didn’t expect it. I didn’t imagine Torres leaving the Premiership, but neither that he would leave in the middle of the season.

20th April,2011 Daily Telegraph

How the lies fall so easily from Cesc’s mouth. In writing this, I will say first off, I will try to be fair to him and look at his career with us with an open mind. But be aware, I can write his name, but I always refer to him as ‘the Spanish player’. So, if I seen to be dismissive of his career, that’s only because of him being dismissive to us in 2011 when Barcelona finally turned his head. What a shame. He could have been a legend, but to me he joins Frank Stapleton, Robin Van Persie and Samir Nasri. A turncoat. That is why I could not put a picture up of him in Arsenal colours. Petty? Certainly.

How different it all seemed to be when he first joined us from Barcelona youth set up, the La Masia. Cesc had been seen by two of Arsenal’s scouts at the U17 world cup tournament, where he was player of the tournament, ending shared top scorer with 5 goals. They eventually lost the final to Brazil, 1-0:-

Cesc would be one of three signings that Wenger made in the close season in 2003, costing £500,000. The other two signings would be Gael Clichy from Cannes as an 18 year old and Jens Lehmann from Borussia Dortmund. An outlay of less than £3,000,000 for all three players. By the time all three had left, Arsenal would bank almost £45,000,000. But i’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyhow, Cesc would make his debut in the League Cup game against Rotherham aged 16 years and 177 days old. On learning of his debut Cesc said:-

Getting involved with the Carling Cup was a big surprise to me…Normally the coach gives the team out the day before but he didn’t do it so I thought I’d be on the bench.

Vic Akers came the day before and asked what name I wanted on my shirt, how am I called, you know, because nobody knows me. I am very shocked to be in the squad and could never imagine being part of the starting line-up.

I then found out after the game that my parents already knew I’d be involved because one of the club’s staff had called them so say, he’s going to play tomorrow so come and watch him in his first game at Highbury. They enjoyed it so much.

Cesc would play a mere two more games. The next would be against Wolves, whom Cesc would score against them in a 5-1 win:-

This would make Cesc, Arsenal’s youngest ever scorer. It would also be the first game alongside Patrick Vieira, who said of him after the game:-

He has a brilliant future. He is fantastic. He can read the game really quickly. Nobody can say he is too young. I played first-team football with Cannes when I was seventeen.

The following season of 2004/5 Cesc would start to be a regular in the team, starting 24 games and 9 appearances as a substitute. Cesc would score his first league goal against Blackburn Rovers, the game that would create a record of 43 games undefeated over taking Nottingham Forest record of 42. The fans had started singing ‘He’s only 17, he’s better than Roy Keane’ (even though he was only 16). Wenger said afterwards:-

A boy of that age can have one good game but he is consistent, it is not stupid to say that he could be in the full Spain squad. They have a lot of midfielders but they shouldn’t be scared to bring him in.

If Cesc was impressing on the pitch with his feet, he was impressing with the fans, especially after ‘game 50’ at Old Trafford:-

After the match, rumours came out Cesc had confronted Sir Alex Ferguson, throwing a slice of pizza at the ‘great man’. This was later described by Ashley Cole, who said of ‘Battle of Buffet’ or Pizzagate afterwards in his biography:-

This slice of pizza came flying over my head and hit Fergie straight in the mush … all mouths gawped to see this pizza slip off this famous, puce face and roll down his nice black suit.

In his first full season, Cesc would be part of the FA Cup winning team of 2004/5 over Manchester United, when Patrick Vieira scored the winning penalty in the penalty shoot out.

This would be Patrick Vieira last piece of action for Arsenal, before being sold to Juventus for £13,750,000, for Cesc to take over his mantle in the centre midfield.

The season of 2005/6 would certainly indicate that Cesc had taken the mantle of Paddy. This can obviously be seen in the march to the Champions League Final. Jon Spurling, wrote about Paddy’s return to Arsenal the following season with Juventus in the champions league game at Highbury. It was a match which featured Vieira, the former Arsenal midfield Genral, facing Fabregas, Arsenal’s fresh-faced midfield lieutenant:-

Robert Pires early tackle on Vieira, which set up Cesc Fabregas’s strike, but the symbolism was clear; it simply wasn’t to be Vieira’s or Juve’s night. Arsenal fan John Lowry recalls: ‘It was lovely to sit behind the North Bank goal, and just enjoy the fact that Arsenal were demolishing Juventus. The match was largely about Vieira,.’

Ironically, in the Champions League Final, with Arsenal down to 10 men, Barcelona started to see how good Cesc was when Barcelona, trying to put some ‘bite’ into the midfield had started with Mark Van Bommel, rather than the returning Iniesta. Ironically, it was not until Cesc was substituted and Iniesta came on for Barcelona that the Catalians took advantage of Arsenal being a player down to equalise and then win the game.

Over the next five years, Arsenal would get to see the best of Cesc, with him becoming a full international and appearing in the 2006 World Cup.

So where does one start with his great games? The season of 2007/8 was probably one of Cesc’s finest, with so many goals and great performances. Cesc had felt shackled by Thierry Henry whilst he was at the club saying:-

Henry intimidated us. He is a great player, but it was not easy to play alongside him.

Henry’s departure in 2007, meant Arsenal had a new team and certainly a new focal point in Cesc. Kevin Whitcher wrote ‘With Flamini and Fàbregas prepared to contest the midfield, the team actually contained a more robust spine from defence to attack’. How true.

The other day, I sat down to watch Arsenal – Season Review 2007/2008 (I’m sad like that). I forgot how many goals Cesc scored. Like The first equaliser against United at home:-

Or the equaliser against Liverpool:-

Maybe the goal away to Spurs:-

What about the goal against the European champions, AC Milan in the San Siro:-

AC Milan vs Arsenal (Classic Match 2008) by Arsenal2011Season

So many great goals in a season which he would score 13 league and cup goals. It was not to hard to see that Wenger saw him as are most important player.

Cesc would have other great games for Arsenal. Perhap my two personal favourites being two 3-0 home wins. The first against Spurs in 2009, when Cesc scored a second goal from a Spurs kick-off, after RVP had put us 1-0 up (Sky was still showing RVP’s first when Cesc scored):-

Or maybe a couple months later when Cesc, with a thigh strain, was a substitute, came on for less than an hour, and scored two goals before being substituted. The Guardian headlined the game as ‘Cesc Fábregas’s brief masterclass keeps Arsenal upwardly mobile’.

By now, Cesc had taken over the captaincy at Arsenal from William Gallas, who had gone out late one night and been caught smoking. Many felt it was Gallas disintegration at Birmingham, after the Eduardo leg break that had made Arsene consider changing his captain.

On gaining the captaincy Cesc said:-

It is a great honour for me to captain one of the biggest clubs in the world.

It is a proud moment. I know it’s a big responsibility but together with my team-mates, I know we have the spirit and commitment to get back to winning ways and fulfill our potential.

Was Wenger right in building his team around him? Was Cesc really that great? To me no and no.

On Wenger building the team around him, actually, at the time (the season of 2004/5) it was tactically not. Matthew Whitehouse in his interesting book Universality – The Blueprint for Soccer’s New Era: How Germany and Pep Guardiola Are Showing Us the Future Football Game wrote :-

Cesc Fàbregas, Mathieu Flamini, and Alexander Hleb into the side. If this was Wenger’s belief – that the Spanish type of player was the future – then he was both right and wrong. The Spanish model of development, notably being put in place by Barcelona more so than others, was already over a decade old, having been set up around 1990 by Johan Cruyff. For Arsenal to overhaul their previous French/African type of player and style was risky, dangerous, and ultimately flawed.

What Wenger needed was some strength and height in the team (like Chelsea had done with Geremi, Essien and even the short but strong Claude Makélélé). As Gilberto Silva said in an interview:-

Patrick’s departure was a huge loss. It did give Cesc [Fàbregas] the chance to break through, but I don’t think I’m being too controversial by saying that Arsenal have never replaced Patrick’s leadership since then.’

Cesc was constantly under rumor that he would return to Barcelona. This seemed a repeat of another former Captain constantly rumored to be going to Real Madrid, Patrick Vieira less than 10 years before. The incessant tapping up of Fabregas by Barcelona players, who would say things like ‘Cesc has Barca DNA’, became sickening. Then, Spain won the World Cup and on the return flight, out came the picture of Pepe Reina and Puyol putting a Barcelona shirt on Cesc. In fun and jest they said. It hardly enamoured him anymore to Arsenal and had made it abundantly clear he would only return to Barcelona if sold.

As for his greatness as a player, i’m not really that sure. Often, Cesc would have an outstanding opening four months and then just disappear for the rest of the season. Fallacy? check his goal scoring stats for 2007/8. Most of his goals were scored at the beginning of the season. Though it would be unfair to say he totally faded at the end of the season, as he won a World Cup (2010) and European (2008) for Spain. Always nice that he put that extra effort in.

I also feel Cesc’s departure from Arsenal was poorly handled. As summer 2011 approached, Cesc, Captain of Arsenal, flew off to attend the Spanish Grand Prix as his teammates fought for fourth place against Fulham, hardly “captaining” the team. His refusal to entertain moving to any other club, plus a refusal to train with and play for Arsenal in the summer, meant we lost Cesc to Barcelona for the pittance of £35,000,000.

Worse, his leaving meant the end of Wenger’s project youth and essentially dismantled an established Arsenal team. Gael Clichy had left earlier in the close season and Nasri left soon after Cesc. As Kevin Whitcher said:-

If it came to pass that three of his young stars, who were supposed to stay in north London for their most productive years summarily departed, then ‘Project Wenger’ would be dealt a fatal blow.

It certainly was a blow to Arsenal as a team bereft of their entire core lost 8-2 to Manchester United in our third game of the 2011/12 season.

But I was quite glad that Pep Guardiola finally did get Cesc at Barcelona. Their annihilation in 2011 of Manchester United in the Champions League final (before Cesc joined) was an outstanding spectacle of tiki-taka football.

Then Cesc joined. A player they did not need and could not fit into the team. They needed a new striker to replace David Villa and a centre half to replace an aging Carles Puyol really. What team drops Iniesta or Xavi for Cesc? No team and certainly not Barcelona. So what to do? Pep, in his recent book said :-

Look at my last year with Barça. We changed everything and started using a 3-4-3 system so that we could accommodate Cesc Fàbregas.

They played Cesc as a false 10 and it worked with limited effect. In fact with Messi now the main striker, in Cesc first season Messi scored 73 goals in all competitions. But with no Eto’o, Henry, Villa (often injured) or Zlatan to help with the scoring, Real Madrid won the title by 9 points. Cesc added a mere 16 goals.

By April 2014, with Pep gone and Cesc not a regular in the Barcelona team he was booed in a home game with Atletico Bilbao. This followed strong speculation during the January window that Cesc was going to join Robin van Persie at Man U. 50% of Barcelona fans wanted him sold. It seems they checked and Cesc was only 50% Catalan DNA.

Although many Arsenal fans (I was one of them – Tim) wanted him back in the summer, I was certainly not one of them. He had made his bed. He had gone to a team that didn’t need him and couldn’t use him. He was an extra in a cowboy film dressed as Robocop. He then hinted he wanted to come back to Arsenal, but in the end joined Chelsea. We had signed Mesut Ozil (a better player than Cesc in my mind), and although Chelsea look likely to win the 2014/5 title i’m not worried Cesc didn’t join us. Since the beginning of 2015 he has been anonymous until he scored against QPR recently.

Cesc certainly did give us some wonderful years and goals (see below for his 57 goals). But he also left us with a ‘fait accompli’ on his departure to Barcelona in 2011. Thankfully we replaced him with an excellent stop gap in the much maligned Mikel Arteta. And since the stadium and corporate sponsorship deals have started flowing in, Arsenal have started signing some great players in Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, David Ospina, Gabriel Paulista, Olivier Giroud, Nacho Monreal and Alexis Sanchez. Cesc, at Chelsea, seems part of a machine. No longer the central point of a team. He is Eden Hazard’s water carrier. What a waste. Thankfully, we are moving in the right direction. I also do not think I am the only one who feels this. In So Paddy Got Up, Sian Ranscombe wrote of Cesc departure to Barcelona:-

I still think Dad summed up the feeling of the sad football fan the best with this comment: “I just get annoyed when people don’t love my club as much as me.” And isn’t that exactly it? Players can come and go, but we can’t. Or won’t.