It is quite outlandish to say that The Arsenal never had an out-an-out legend, whose jersey they could find worthy of ‘retiring’. The closest it came to retiring an Arsenal jersey was when Tony Adams hung up his boots after 22 years of service to the club, the longest by an Arsenal player. But, that was not to be! The jersey was given to Phillipe Senderos , who did temporary justice to the number during the ‘clean’ run to the 2006 UEFA Champions League Final at Paris. As it stands now, the jersey is worn by Laurent Koscielny, who has a long way to go if he ever dares to emulate Adams’ legacy.
This piece is not about that number 6, it is a tribute to the ‘greats’ who have worn the Number Four and made the Gunners fraternity proud.
Brian Talbot, during his 6 successful years at the club, and Steve Williams, in his small injury-plagued career at Arsenal , had previously worn the famous Number Four. The latter gave the jersey away to Michael Thomas during the George Graham reign at the club. That name was to create a little bit of unforgettable history!
Though Thomas had played an equal number of years at Liverpool, his ‘chapter’ in Arsenal folklore is profound, based on that night in 26 May, 1989 at Anfield. Failing to win the league for 18 years was painful for an Arsenal team with the ‘Chapman’ legacy. That was to be overturned, and the man to do it would be Micky Thomas, the Gunner Number Four. The team headed toward Anfield, clearly realizing the gargantuan task ahead of them. They had to beat the league leaders with a goal difference of two – easier said than done in front of English football’s most passionate fans for years. A second-half header from Alan Smith gave George Graham’s men some belief that perhaps, a magical night was around the corner. It was not until the dying minutes of the game that Michael Thomas would race towards the Liverpool goal and shoot low past Bruce Grobbelaar, to write his name eternally into Arsenal history books.
Thomas was just 21, when he enjoyed that moment in his Arsenal career. He started off his business at Right-Back for the Gunners, before he was slotted into the middle of the park on Lee Dixon’s arrival at the club. Thomas and Paul Davis formed a formidable combination in the Arsenal midfield, as they gave Graham his first league title. The lanky Englishman was never prolific with passing or goal-scoring, but his astute presence and smart forward runs brought a lot of reward to his team-mates. He enjoyed another title with Arsenal in 1990-91 before being dropped from the squad during the end of that year. In a strange slice of irony, he was sold to the club whose ‘memorable night’ he had stolen away, Graeme Souness picking him from Arsenal in December 1991 with hopes of him writing a little bit for Liverpool history books too.
When Patrick scored the winning penalty for the Gunners in the FA Cup Final 2005, no one had the slightest inkling that he had touched the ball for the last time in Arsenal colors. The Gunner legend lifted the FA Cup, and the greatest irony of it all lies in the fact that Arsenal neither won a trophy after that nor did they successfully replace the towering Gunner Number Four.
Arsene secured the services of Patrick from Milan in 1996, a signing that would change Arsenal’s global perception. Patrick at Arsenal was the paradigm of solidarity; he instilled a new found verve into the team, and took craftsmanship to an all new level, forming a deadly partnership with fellow Frenchman Emmanuel Petit. The incredible thing about Patrick was his composure, the immaculate ball control with which he eased past midfielders, and his tackling – probably the ‘cleanest’ in football history. The former Arsenal captain could make an attack as well as break an opponent counter-attack with consummate smoothness. Patrick was one man opponents would fear; his legendary mini-battles with United counterpart Roy Keane is unrivaled in English Football narration.
Le Grand Saucisse, as the great man was called in the Arsenal dressing room, would go on to win top honors for his team, helping them to three League Titles and 4 FA Cups, the last being won by his own spot-kick, and also his final kick in the famous Red and White.
Thierry on the legend –
“Patrick will always remain one of the best players I ever played with and one of the best players in the middle of the park.”
Arsenal’s current captain and talisman Francesc Fabregas started with a strange number ’57’, which is incidentally the highest number worn by an Arsenal player. A prodigy brought from the prestigious La Masia, Cesc was given the chance to cover for the great Patrick when the latter was injured in the 2004 season. He eventually took over the ‘Big Man’s’ jersey and became the new Gunner Number Four, when Patrick left for Juventus in the 2005-06 season.
Cesc, Arsenal’s chief driving force for the past few seasons, has a vision for a pass which is beyond compare. His ball control, first touch, movement with the ball and the classic 180 cushion turn are the premier components of his elegant game play. Cesc has been the ubiquitous figure of inspiration for the Gunners after the departure of the great Thierry Henry. He has led the team from the front with his never-say-die attitude, ‘giving his all’ for the team’s cause. He has even played with a damaged hamstring against Barcelona, not to forget the incredible cameo against Aston Villa last season, where he single-handedly turned the match on its head in Arsenal’s favor and left the field with an injury and amplified levels of veneration from the Arsenal fans.
In the summer of 2010, when calls from Barcelona were relentless and Cesc had won the World Cup with his Spanish team-mates, it looked almost inevitable that the Arsenal skipper will return home. But that was not to be! Arsene Wenger had an intervention with the man, in which he was explained how imperative he was to the manager’s scheme of things at the club in years to come. Cesc stayed back, and has once again proved to be one of Arsenal’s top performers, saving them from many dodgy situations like the FA Cup encounters against Leeds and Huddersfield. It remains to be seen how long will the master stay at his ‘second home’, how long will the pro-DNA calls remain unrequited, and how long he can carry the mantle of “Arsenal’s favorite son”.