Tuesday 16 December 2008

Great players illuminate any stage

Morning all. With the transfer window looming in January, a topic doing the rounds on the blogs recently is who Arsenal should buy.

No great surprises there, but one point being made by a number of people is that we need to buy a better midfielder so that Cesc Fabregas will perform to his potential. The logic, I guess, is that the reason that Cesc is not playing at his best this season is because the rest of the midfield around him is not as good as it was last year. It is also suggested by some very high authorities that "great" players of recent years, such as Vieira and Henry, would not have developed into the world class stars they became at Arsenal, if they had to make do playing alongside talentless wasters like Alex Song, Denilson and Diaby.

I find this suggestion quite bewildering. Vieira was total class and could play alongside an old man with a wooden leg in midfield, and would still have still looked awesome. Same goes for Henry. Bergkamp did play with old men with wooden legs for the first couple of years. "World class" players should look the best player on the pitch. Frankly, if a player cannot look better than the alleged dross around him, then he is not "world class".

Lets start with some good old facts. Patrick Vieira joined Arsenal in the Summer of 1996, the year after Bergkamp and Platt arrived. However, the rest of the early Wenger signings (Marc Overmars, Petit, Grimandi etc) did not arrive until the next summer. The truth of the matter is that Patrick Veira joined a distinctly average Arsenal team, that had scraped to 5th place the season before and qualified for the UEFA cup on the least day of the season. Thats a bit of perspective for you.

Vieira made his debut on September 16 1996 against Sheffield Wednesday. He was on the subs bench and came on for an injured Ray Parlour after about 30 mins. The starting xi was Seaman, Dixon, Keown, Linighan, Bould, Winterburn, Platt, Parlour, Merson, Wright, Hartson. An experiment in 3-5-2 that did not last long. Now there are some great names there, some legends of Arsenal's past, and without wishing to do them a disservice, I don't think any of the outfield players apart from Keown and Ian Wright can claim to be real international class talents. Platt might have a shout on paper, but he was shite most of the time for us.

Now, the Sheffield Wednesday game still burns in the memory some 12 years later for the shock impact that Vieira made. I only listened to it on the radio, but the commentators were gobsmacked by the way Vieira played. There is a fantastic match report here from Arseweb - go and read it.

PV4 did things in midfield that I had never seen from an Arsenal player before. He galvanised the team, and the fans, and led Arsenal to the double in 1997/98 that was unthinkable to even dream about in September 1996.

Its a common misconception that Vieira was a defensive midfielder, I guess generated by the fact that he was 100% committed in every challenge he made. Vieira did not compete for the ball. He won it. But he was also the expansive player in Wenger's midfield (pre-Fabregas) and almost always had a more defensive partner playing alongside him.
The best of bunch was Petit, who occassionally even outshone Paddy, but Petit was not a big star before joining Arsenal and struggled at Barcelona and Chelsea when he left. Petit was a good player no doubt, but not a "true great" and being in Vieira's aura made Petit raise his game to its very best. Other than Petit, Vieira made do with Van Bronkhorst (who never really performed for us truth be told), Ray Parlour (awesome in 2001/02), Giles Grimandi for quite a bit (my hero but not objectively a great player) and then Gilberto, and Edu (who was probably the most creative player Paddy played alongside). I expect the highlight of all of those players careers will be their time at Arsenal alongside PV4.

Now, I could wax lyrical about Bergkamp as well, who made a massive contribution to the first double season. Overmars probably deserves a mention as well. But this is not the time. The point here is that I think Vieira would have have had no problems playing alongside Song or Denilson. Vieira would have made them look world beaters.
So having spouted on a bit, I return to the crucial question. Do we need to buy someone better in midfield so that Cesc Fabregas will play better? No, we don't. We need to be patient and give this group of players time to gel. The team is switching line-ups almost constantly at the moment and Cesc is struggling for a bit of form.
I think we also need to face up to the fact that as things stand, Cesc is having a poor season and thats not the fault of Alex Song or Denilson. Cesc is a mercurial player with very little in common with Paddy Vieira, and like all mercurial players, they will have a bad patch - Henry, Bergkamp and Pires all had them. But they come through smiling on the other side eventually.
But make no mistake, Arsenal will not be a force to be reckoned with until Cesc rediscovers his mojo. If he was at Barcelona, he would be warming the bench with his mate Alex Hleb. He might not even make the bench looking at Barca's squad. Wenger, however, will be 100% loyal to Cesc and will allow him to play through this bad spell. There are signs that the old Cesc is returning, but things may yet get worse before they get better. We, as fans, must not be blinded by our loyalty to Cesc and start blaming everyone else around him.


Jeff said...

I consider Petit a legend just based on his performance for France in 1998 World Cup. He was phenomenal.

Ted said...

I tend to agree about Petit. Its Vieira/Petit or Vieira/Edu as our best all time centre midfield partnership for me.

The 1998 world cup came at just the right time for Petit and he grew during the competition. But, would he have even been picked for the squad if not for the previous 12 months with Vieira? I doubt it.

1979gooner said...

great post ted,

I think petit/vieira was our best pairing, they complemented each other so well.

As you say PV4 was not a defensive player, but he could certainly defend.....and attack!

I completely agree on cesc, the logic behind the many excuses for his form is not clever, he simply has had a poor season by his standards, he's a young chap and he probably was bit knackered from the euros, then a bit of confidence drains out of you and your form suffers.

He just needs a couple of goals, a bit more confidence and he'll be back on form, he's very much a confidence player.

Anonymous said...

i think hiller and selley as our top midfeild pairing they could completely dominate a game on the playstation 1 , fifa 95 it was

blewlimbs said...

I agree with you Ted which is why I asked AW for some stability in my comment on "Spluttering Frustration". So come on Arsene please recognise the best position for each player (i.e. where he is most at ease and performs best) and stick with it and then for each match pick the best team from the players available in their best positions. Then after 2 or 3 months we will be entitled to form opinions on quality and opportunities for improvement.

Anonymous said...

Now what is this?

http : // www . arsenal. com /news/news-archive/arsenal-holdings-plc-board-restructuring

"Ivan Gazidis, the incoming Chief Executive, will join the Boards of the Company and the Club with effect from 1 January 2009.

Richard Carr has announced his resignation from the Board of the Company having served as a director for twenty seven years. Richard will, however, remain a director of the Club.

Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith will be leaving the Boards of the Company and the Club with immediate effect."

[please remove the space in the link before you enter it in your browser]