We’ve made a substitution midway through our selection of the Arsenal Greatest XI. Lee Spencer has picked up a slight injury and is unavailable this week, so I’ve warmed up and been brought on in his place. Luckily for me, it is a position I like. The right of midfield, usually occupied by the guy in the number 7 shirt, especially before football went squad number crazy. Yes, that is my first reference to what it was like in the good old days.
The number 7 is a pivotal role in the traditional 442 that I now insist this Greatest XI will be playing. Let’s be honest, most of the best Arsenal sides lined up this way so we shall too. That right midfielder has to have the ability to get forward and cross, tuck in and create, track back and defend and basically do a lot of the donkey work whilst the others get the glory. So, I have chosen four of what I believe to be the finest right midfielders ever selected by an Arsenal manager. I’ve probably missed someone, forgive me, but I still think the greatest will be in the quartet below.
#1 David Rocastle
Or David Carlyle Rocastle to give him his full name. “Rocky” was one of Arsenal’s own, graduating from the youth set-up around the same time as Tony Adams, Martin Keown, and Michael Thomas. He was the kind of right midfielder mentioned above with the skill of a winger, the passing of a playmaker and an engine to provide the defensive cover. Rocastle made his first team debut in 1984 at Newcastle and was already part of the starting XI by the time George Graham arrived and turned potential into trophies. Sadly for Rocky and Arsenal fans, injuries got the better of him and he was moved on by Graham to Leeds United, a move that reportedly devastated Rocastle. Still, he played in every game of the finest title chase in history, culminating in that game at Anfield in 1989. Unfortunately, England never realised the true value of this man, as he was only capped 14 times and wasn’t selected for the 1990 World Cup or the doomed 1992 European Championships. As we all know, David Rocastle was taken from us far too early, in 2001. A true Arsenal legend.
#2 Ray Parlour
Suddenly this vote gets quite tough. The Romford Pele, as he was christened by Marc Overmars, made his debut in 1991 before going on to make 466 appearances for the Gunners. With his fun-loving nature and, er, love of the extra-curricular activities Parlour was a fan favourite throughout his 14 years at the club. A criminally underrated player by many, he displayed many of the attributes we have already discussed, and when you hold your own in a midfield including Overmars, Petit, and Viera, you have something about you as a player. Again, he was incredibly underused by England, failing to make the 1998 World Cup squad when he was part of the title-winning side. Parlour will always be loved by the Arsenal faithful.
#3 Freddie Ljungberg
Freddie joined Arsenal for £3m in 1998, back in the days where Arsene Wenger took decisive action. Actually, that is a bit of a fib. Wenger had Ljungberg monitored for over a year before finally taking the plunge when he took England apart, proving to the manager he could cope playing against English opponents. Freddie scored on his Arsenal debut, the 3-0 win over Manchester United. Ljungberg went on to play over 300 times for Arsenal, was part of the Invincibles and was certainly proven to be good value for money. Two Premier League medals, three FA Cups, Premier League Player of the Season for 2001/02 and making the Premier League Overseas Team of the Decade for the first decade of the competition suggests Freddie was a success.
#4 John Radford
One to keep the old-timers happy, and rightly so. Born in Yorkshire, Radford started his career at Highbury and quickly became a first team regular. He scored goals for fun in the reserves and for the youth sides and made his debut in 1964. He was a key part of the 1969 League Cup winning side and the team that won the 1969/70 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the precursor to the UEFA Cup. Admittedly, Radford was more of a striker than a right winger, but it is only right that the club’s 4th top scorer of all time is crowbarred into this discussion. 149 goals in 481 games is a fine return, and he created both goals in the famous 1971 FA Cup Final. Plus, let us be honest, when we get to the forwards it is unlikely this Arsenal great will get a mention, so we have done the right thing.