Arsenal’s Greatest Defenders Day 6

Continuing our Summer series of articles in search of Arsenal’s greatest ever team, this week we continue to highlight the defenders.  Don’t forget to take the opportunity to choose your personal favourite defender by voting in the poll at the end of the week

17. Nigel Winterburn: 1987-2000

Nigel played in 584 games over a 13 year period.

He was born in Arley, Warwickshire and began his career with Birmingham City gaining his first youth caps for England while with the club. He left to join Oxford United and then in 1983 he was signed on a free transfer by Wimbledon who gained promotion to the First Division in 1986, at the same time Nigel won England under-21 honours. Nigel was the Wimbledon supporters, Player of the Year, for each of the four seasons he spent at Plough Lane.

RackMultipart.5031.0_display_imageArsenal, who was looking for a long-term replacement for Captain Kenny Sansom, paid Wimbledon £350,000 in the summer of 1987 and Nigel became an Arsenal player. He began his Arsenal career at right-back even though he was heavily left-footed. When Sansom left Arsenal Nigel moved to his more familiar left back role and stayed there for more for more than a decade.

He and fellow full back Lee Dixon flanked central defenders Tony Adams and David O’Leary later being joined by Steve Bould, George Graham would often play all five of them as his defensive unit. They played together. as Arsenal beat holders Liverpool to a last-game showdown at Anfield for the First Division title, he made his England debut later that same year.

Arsenal ended 1990 trophy less, but went on to win the league title again the next year, with only one loss. Two years later he was in the Arsenal team which won both cup competitions and thus completed his domestic set of medals. Arsenal defeated Sheffield Wednesday 2–1 in both the League Cup and FA Cup finals. In 1994, Arsenal beat Italian side Parma’s 1–0, to win the European Cup Winners Cup, Arsenal’s first success continentally for a quarter of a century.

Arsène Wenger arrived at Arsenal at the end of 1996 and instilled new self-awareness and dietary habits into the Arsenal squad, allowing the ageing defence to thrive in their latter years and prolong their football careers. Arsenal won the “double” of Premiership and FA Cup in 1998 and in 2000 they reached the UEFA Cup final.

He left Arsenal and joined West Ham United in 2000 for a fee of £250,000, playing in 94 games in all competitions for West Ham and retired in 2003

He played in 429 matches for Arsenal placing him the fourth on the all time list.

18. Tony Adams: 1983-2002

Tony played in 669 games over a 19 year period.

Born in Romford, London, Tony grew up in Dagenham before signing for Arsenal as a schoolboy in 1980. He made his Arsenal first team debut in November 1983 just four weeks after his 17th birthday and became a regular player in the 1985–86 season, winning the Football League Cup Final, his first major trophy, in 1987.

gun__1357644158_adams_tottenham1993Alongside Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn and Steve Bould, he was part of the “famous back four” that lined up in Arsenal’s defence – they became renowned for the use of their well-disciplined offside trap. On 1 January 1988, he became Arsenal captain at the age of 21 and remained as such until his retirement 14 years later.

Their, strong and disciplined defence was  a major a factor in Arsenal winning the League Cup in 1986–87 followed by two First Division championship titles; the first in 1988–89 and the second in 1990–91 after losing only one game all season. In 1992–93 he became captain of the first English side to win the League Cup and FA Cup double, and he lifted the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following year.

All along Tony had a ghost in his closet, namely his battle with alcoholism, which started in the mid-1980s and became increasingly worse; reportedly he was often being involved in fights in nightclubs. On 6 May 1990, he crashed his car and when  breathalysed his blood alcohol level was found to be more than four times the legal drink-drive limit, in December of that year, he was found guilty and he was imprisoned for four months. Unfortunately his alcoholism continued and he was involved in further alcohol-related incidents. In September of 1996, he went public admitting that he was an alcoholic and was receiving treatment. Since his recovery he has become one of the most high-profile recovering alcoholics in the UK and his battle with alcohol is detailed in his autobiography, “Addicted”.

The arrival of Arsène Wenger as Arsenal manager in October 1996 was also played a significant part in his recovery as Wenger reformed the club’s dietary practices and the players’ lifestyles. Wenger showed his faith in Tony by sticking by him and keeping him as the club’s captain, the improvements in the regime probably helped to extend his career by several years. Arsene’s trust was rewarded with Tony captaining the club to two Premiership and FA Cup Doubles, in 1997–98 and 2001–02 – he is the only player in English football history to have captained a title-winning team in three different decades.

In August 2002, just before the start of the 2002–03 season, he announced his retirement from professional football after a career spanning almost 20 years in which he played 668 matches for Arsenal making him second on the all time appearance list, he is also the most successful captain in the club’s history.

He made his debut for England against Spain in 1987, and played in Euro 88, scoring one of England’s two goals. He was the first player to represent England who had been born after the 1966 World Cup win. In total he appeared 66 times for England.

Nicknamed “Mr Arsenal”, he was honoured by Arsenal with a testimonial game against Celtic in May 2002 with many Arsenal legends playing, including Ian Wright, John Lukic and Adams’s fellow back four stalwarts, Dixon, Winterburn and Bould. The game finished 1–1 with Lee Dixon, in his final appearance for the Gunners, getting their goal.

In 2004, Tony was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in recognition of his impact on the English game. A statue of Adams was placed outside Emirates Stadium in celebration of the club’s 125th anniversary on 9 December, 2011. He has also been honoured with the MBE for his contribution to football.

19. Lee Dixon: 1988-2002

Lee played in 619 games over a 14 year period.

Born in Manchester, he was a boyhood Manchester City supporter. He began his professional playing career in the lower divisions joining Burnley as an apprentice in 1980, turning professional in 1982 after which he played for Chester City and Bury before joining Stoke City in 1986.

His performances attracted the attention of Arsenal and he was signed by Arsenal boss George Graham in 1988 following the departure of England right back, Viv Anderson, to Manchester United. This was the first time that he had played in the First Division and it took a while for him to be given a first team role at Highbury. Nigel Winterburn had been a guarded success in the unfamiliar role of right back, though Lee did make his debut against Luton Town in February 1988 and played six times in total before the season ended. In the new season, Winterburn moved across to left back, allowing Dixon to take over the No.2 shirt, which he duly did for well over ten years.

7511f332b29ae01378552e5be565a39cHe and Winterburn made the full back positions their own for the next decade or so, while Captain Tony Adams and the long-serving David O’Leary operated in the middle. Later in 1988 they were joined by Steve Bould who, like Dixon before him, had been spotted by Graham playing for Stoke City. These five defenders, often playing as a back five together and were the foundation stones of much of Arsenal’s success.

He wrote in his column in The Independent of the defence that he played in at Arsenal.

“I was fortunate to play in an Arsenal back line that earned itself a reputation as being OK. I’m not trying to be overly modest in saying that, as individuals, we weren’t the best players in the world. But certainly all my weaknesses were compensated for by Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Martin Keown and Steve Bould, and vice versa. If one of us wasn’t playing well, the others picked up the slack”

His career at Arsenal saw him collect four league champion’s medals, three FA Cup winner’s medals and a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup medal. He was named in the PFA Team of the Year twice, for the seasons 1989–90 and 1990–91.

His retirement came at the end of Arsenal’s domestic double-winning 2001–02 season, their second in his time at the club.

He made his England début in April 1990 in a World Cup warm-up game against Czechoslovakia, ending up with a total of 22 caps.

His 619 appearances for Arsenal place him third on the all time list.

20. Martin Keown: 1981-2004

Martin played in 449 games over a 23 year period.

Born in Oxford, Martin first played for local sides and his local Gaelic football team, before joining Arsenal on a schoolboy contract in 1980; he made his professional debut while on loan at Brighton & Hove Albion in 1984. His debut for Arsenal came in November 1985, when Don Howe was still manager. He played 22 league games that season but when George Graham became manager in 1986, he decided that Martin was not part of his plans and sold him to Aston Villa for £200,000.

Villa was relegated after finishing bottom of the First division on 1986-87. After Graham Taylor was appointed manager Villa won promotion back to the First Division, Martin helped them secure their top flight status the following season, but was sold to Everton in 1989, following which Everton sold Martin back to Arsenal in 1993.

_39363750_keown_forlanThis move created intense competition for the central defensive positions between himself, Andy Linighan, Steve Bould and Captain Tony Adams, for places in the centre of one of the best English defences of the 1990s. He rarely missed a game in his first four full seasons back at Highbury, though he was used sparingly by Arsene Wenger in the 1997–98 double winning campaign, playing just 18 times. But Martin still claimed the first two major trophies of his career, after well over a decade of waiting. He went on to became a key player in Arsène Wenger’s double winning sides of 1998 and 2002, he remained as a first team regular until the end of the 2002–03 season, when the Gunners won their ninth FA Cup.

Martin remained at Arsenal until 2004, winning another Premier League title, before being released on a free transfer. His final season he made 10 league appearances – the minimum to qualify for a title winner’s medal. On his release he signed for Leicester City, but left after less than six months and signed for Reading in January 2005, he played until the end of the season and then he retired.

He made his England debut in 1992 against France, earning a total of 43 caps.

His 449 appearances for Arsenal place him ninth on the all time list.

Written by GunnerN5 and compiled by Gooner in Exile

66 Responses to Arsenal’s Greatest Defenders Day 6

  1. RockyLives says:

    Bloody hell Gn5
    How do we choose between these fellas?
    This is so, so tough. It’ll feel like a betrayal to not vote for any single one of this group.

  2. RockyLives says:

    Of Tony Adams: “he is the only player in English football history to have captained a title-winning team in three different decades.”

    I hadn’t realised that. Brilliant factoid!

  3. kelsey says:

    I agree with Rocky as to how do you chose.

    Purely on activities on the pitch I would go as far as to say that Tony Adams was the last true captain in every sense of the word, that we have had .

  4. charybdis1966 says:

    Mornig all, more good work from our summer scribes, N5 and GiE, and in relation ot TA06 Mr Rock, he is the player I can most identify with, not just because he was born the same year as me but as we are both products of 1970’s Essex.

    I like to think during some of the few games I played for my school I may have indavertantly encountered a young Adams during one of those schools tournaments.

  5. kelsey says:

    I answered the tax question earlier,by the way

  6. Gooner In Exile says:

    Can we have 6 voting options on this weeks poll?

    For all the find memories we may hold of McNab, Nelson etc I’m not sure anyone gets past these 4 plus Bould as the best defence we ever had. Not just because of what they brought in defensive qualities under Graham but they all showed in latter years under Wenger that they were all good footballers too, they just hadn’t been asked to play that way before.

  7. Big Raddy says:

    Great stuff and a trip down memory lane

    “One Tony Adams, There’s only One Tony Adams”. More’s the pity.

    As to the FBs – their records speak for themselves

  8. LB says:

    Thanks for that Kelsey.

    And thanks for today’s great read.

    The song, One Tony Adams, there’s only One Tony Adams says it all.

    Oh, and by the way that goal he scored up there is my second favourite Arsenal goal of all time.

    I loved that goal.

  9. LB says:


    I didn’t see your comment. Great minds……..

  10. GunnerN5 says:

    Good morning to you all.

    I’ve been very busy for the past few weeks in the sale of my home, the sale is now 99% complete with just a few standard conditions left to be met. There were far too many stairs in our present home and my poor old football knees were shouting at me every day – hence we have not staircases in our next home.

    I agree with the views expressed, personally I’m going to find it nigh on impossible to vote for only 3 of this weeks defenders. But on the other hand it will ensure that only the very best players end up in our A squad, and that our B team will also look pretty awesome. After all that is what voting is all about.

  11. Rasp says:

    Hi GN5, good luck with the move and thanks yet again for another feast of Arsenal history.

    I was at the game when Adams scored against Everton (there was a hint of handball when he controlled the pass 😆 ) I took my eldest son and sang outside the dressing room whilst the likes of Ian Wright waved out of the window …. fantastic day …… he’s a bit of a fruitloop in the Glen Hoddle mode but there will only ever be ‘One Tony Adams’


    Thank you GN5 and GIE

    What can i say, i love these guys. I love Steve Bould so much i once refused sex on the basis that we had a corner and was convinced Bouldie would head it in.

    I always viewed Dixon and Winterburn as men that despite all there medals, always played as though they had something to prove. Talk about commitment, they were incredible. Motivation personafied.

    Keown is a legend. I find it titilating that he left us because GG wouldnt pay him £10 per week extra and then came back and was brilliant. And what looks? he would make a superb Mr Hyde.

    Tony Adams is simply my favourite Arsenal player of all time. Obviously not the most talented but for me the best. Even now, when he spouts some bollox about French philosphers or classical music i know its an act. One day the mask will crack.

    “yes, yes, i am a big advocate of the works of Sartre, ‘exsistence preceeds essence’,…and then i got Sheringham in a head lock and beat the crap out of him” hahaha

  13. Gooner In Exile says:

    Obviously it is far easier to get a myriad of pictures of more recent players, my only real contribution to GN5s posts have been picture finding, today’s pics for me epitomise these players.

    Adams winning the Semi Final with a glorious far stick header which we see him celebrate, Winterburn in all his fist pumping best, Dixon providing the I don’t know what he is complaining about whilst firmly sitting on Ginola and Keown in typical body on line action. As Terry says…..committed players…to the club and to the game.

    I know GN5 wanted a picture of Adams standing over a stricken Alan Smith (the blonde one) I couldn’t find it can anyone oblige

  14. GunnerN5 says:


    You have done a great job, your pictures have both enhanced the profiles and added a human touch – and a big thank you for all of your contribution.

    I also looked for the Adams picture but like yourself I struck out.
    To me it epitomised him as a player and particularly as a “stopper”. The incident occurred in a game against Leeds when Smith was, I believe, 18 years old and just starting out in his career. Early on in the game he went for Adams ankles in a tackle and knocked him over, you just knew that it would not end there!! Sure enough later in the game Adams brought Smith down with a crunching tackle and then stood above the spread-eagled Smith like a lion over his prey.

    Just loved the picture……..

  15. charybdis1966 says:

    Ha ha, that Argentinian dwarf who plays for Barca-cheats has been summoned to court by a spanish Judge for tax evasion charges – hope he spends time inside !!! 🙂

  16. Gooner In Exile says:

    After the Dolce & Gabbanna imprisonment yesterday it appears governments are taking a sterner view of individuals…..I guess they are slightly easier to target than companies and the imprisonment looks like strong action whereas most of the common man would just like to see PLCs pay their way like we all have to.

  17. kelsey says:

    now i know you don’t read my replies, chary 🙂

  18. charybdis1966 says:

    Oops, in my haste to slag off Barca I may have overlooked something Kelsey. 😦

    Of course Messi won’t go to jail, but let me dream a little !

  19. kelsey says:

    The BBC are a bit late on this, they need to catchup. Anyway you know my theory on this.

  20. Big Raddy says:

    Excellent picture with Lee sitting on the French Hairdresser

  21. GunnerN5 says:

    Does anybody detect a bad smell?

  22. kelsey says:

    dealt with GN

  23. chas says:

    Lovely jubbly, GN5.
    What a page of Arsenal greats!

  24. chas says:


  25. chas says:


  26. chas says:

    There’s only one Keown..

  27. chas says:

    By the way the Adams video has at 1.37, a tackle on a young Alan Smith but sadly no aftermath,

  28. chas says:

    Big Tone comes down to knee height to have words with Durky the Turkey.

  29. chas says:

    Dicko scoring a variety, (how majestic was Vieira when he was running with the ball at full tilt?)

  30. My favourite AFC player of all time ….take a bow Nigel Winterburn.

    All time is 63 years of supporting Arsenal. Favourite does not necessarily mean best.

  31. Martin i understand why you pick him, he was quiet and unassuming but he was a great servant to us.

  32. Lee Dixon’s best finish…..unfortunately vs Seaman

  33. Big Raddy says:

    Two Arsenal players in the Spain team tonight.

  34. Gooner In Exile says:

    Caught the Japan v Italy game last night Japan were unlucky but their football would embarrass England….been watching the Spain game but its a bit of a walkover.

    Can never understand what happens to England when we play international football, we take all the pace out of our football, knock it around aimlessly at the back and then knock it forward, Japan played with so much intelligence and subtlety round the box last night.

  35. Tahiti were unlucky there 😀

  36. GunnerN5 says:

    Yep, unlucky 10 times.

  37. GunnerN5 says:


    He was so young looking and not a sign of his later punk style but the 1:36 could well have been a dark haired Alan Smith. But beside that, Adams was a hunt em down warrior.

    His level of intensity was like no other Arsenal player that I have watched in all of my years of supporting. What a Captain – who would dare to ignore him on the field?, if they did I think they must have shuddered during his dressing room debriefing!

  38. chas says:

    Yep, GN5, fearsome to say the least.

    I had a closer look at that tackle and it is Smith. His squad number that season was 17.

  39. chas says:

    Micky is on manoeuvres, so just me then (unless BR is going to Norway for a massage).

    Last defenders day. Only four left? Cole, Toure, Campbell, Clichy ???
    Or have none of them played enough games to qualify and the series has finished?

  40. chas says:

    This is one of Ant’s favourites.

  41. chas says:

    Haha, just found this.
    I’ve not watched it all but there’s a fantastic Dicko tackle on Ginola at 1.30. Apparently Ginola gets sent off for an elbow on Dixon in the 2nd half. 🙂

  42. chas says:


  43. Big Raddy says:

    5.44 Great way to start the day.

    6.02 What a player Ian Wright was.

  44. Have I missed Frank McLintock ?… the only REAL captain, other than Adams, in my 52 years of supporting the club?

    Surely Gunner N5 hasn’t overlooked him?

    Nah… impossible!

  45. Gooner In Exile says:

    I have a distinct memory of Keegan ranting after that game about the treatment Ginola had got from Dixon all afternoon and how if it was allowed to continue Ginola wouldn’t stay in the English game blah blah namby pamby rubbish……….obviously that was before we started playing the beautiful football. 😀

  46. Gooner In Exile says:

    Big Al depends if you remember Frank as a defender or midfielder…….

  47. Hi GIE,

    I remember him as both. When he was signed as a midfielder, and as a centre-back. He was what we would nowadays describe as a ‘Defensive Midfielder’, or at the very least as a ‘Holding Midfielder’.

    The same applies to Peter Storey, as regards the DM position.
    And Storey featured in the ‘defender’s section (because he played full-back until 1970 ?… or as a DM?)

    I realise it’s a tricky one, but if DM is actually applicable, then Frank fits the bill either way.

    Where Gunner N5 when we need him?

  48. Unrest in Brazil continues.
    In the last four years there were 322 cases of “foreign objects” left inside patients, and 214 had surgery on the wrong body part.
    Man reported seeing an UFO stealing his tent.

    With all those unbelievable stories, why wouldn’t we believe that Rooney, Higuain and Lewandowski are coming our way?

  49. I am reading the Defenders epic every day, but have to admit that I knew whom I am going to vote for, before the series began. Best looking defender of course

  50. Hi GIE again…

    Here’s another tricky one for you, et al… and especially the “Main Man” namely GIE.

    If the object of the “competition” is to arrive at the “Best Arsenal XI” of all time (as voted by AA), and maybe even the Best Ever 2nd-string” also, we may not end up with any full-backs.

    Consider : 3 votes for defender…
    “erm, Big Tony… err um, O’Leary… um uh, um, Bould”.

    If the full-backs and central defenders had been separated, however, problem solved. I did want to comment earlier about this but didn’t want to upset anyone (GIE especially), so left it ’til now for a braver soul to come forward.

    S’pose it’s down to me then…

  51. Big Raddy
    I’ve been looking for you.

    You obviously noted my ‘deliberate’ error the other day, re : Viv Anderson FROM Man Utd… ???

  52. Gooner In Exile says:

    Big Al, originally my plan was 4/5 players for each position, unfortunately as GN5 pointed out it is very hard to obtain true 4-4-2 positions for a lot of our early players… we decided instead to vote in categories. If HC had won the managers poll we could have gone for the WM formation. We intend to have 3-4 players from each era to make a squad rather than a 1st XI, the fun will be for you lot to create teams from that squad 😉

  53. GIE
    Okay. I understand. Not.

  54. I actually vote for one player only, each time, not two or three.

    I used to back horses (rather too regularly), and never, ever backed “each-way”.

    I only backed a horse to win. I use the same mentality for this “game/competition/whatever”. It’s man thing. Only wimps and girls back each-way.

    🙂 🙂 🙂

    So, on the theme of “each-way” there’s one smiley above for a wimp, one smiley face for a girl, and one smiley face for anyone who can’t decide if he/she is a wimp or a girl.

  55. kelsey says:


    On a side note Channel 4 have a documentary next Monday “The man with the ten stone testicles ” I wonder who that might be 🙂
    fat sam, Pullis,Redknapp who knows.

  56. Friendly Troll

    If David Essex had played in defence for Arsenal c.1973, would he get your vote?
    I ask because I was only nineteen years old back then, and even better looking than him at the time.

    Still am.

  57. If the programme was about anyone on this website, and I were to have a girly-wimp’s bet “each-way”, I’d have a fiver on RockyLives, THMT, and you, Kelsey. As Harry Worth would say “I don’t know why, but there it is”.

    ps… any more news on Torres 🙂

    pps… do you eat your mushrooms, fried, boiled or raw?

  58. kelsey says:


    I think we can assume that the intent is to buy Higuan, stress the word intent. No more news on Torres just that a bid has been made.

  59. Big Al 🙂 In 73? Maybe he would, but not in 83 and onwards. The best looking dude ever joined the AFC, not even David Beckham could compete for looks 🙂

    I used to wear my lucky Arsenal shirt to bed when I was young, but my almost-ex always complained that it felt like going to bed with Tony Adams 🙂 We both had long blond hair and caught on a bad day I looked just like him 🙂

  60. Hi Kelsey

    Agreed. My mushroom joke was referring to “Torres to Arsenal”. Don’t take this the wrong way (I’m not saying you’re wrong) but I haven’t seen this story anywhere, other than on AA from your good self. Where did you hear/read this?

    Hi Friendly Troll
    I didn’t even know you were referring to Tony Adams. I’m not sure you actually named your defensive dreamboat.

  61. Well Big Al, you have to admit that he was gorgeous

  62. Friendly Troll

    I’ll admit no such thing. You can’t catch me out as easy as that 🙂

    Anyway, isn’t Tony was a bit on the mousey side, rather than blonde. I will admit has a hunk, though.
    What about Emmanuel Petit. Now there’s a true blonde boy… pony tail, too.


  63. Rasp says:

    Morning all …….

    ….. New post …….

  64. Agree all on Adams, but Mclintock matched up with Tony all the way.

  65. peter galich says:

    great site, i found everything i was looking for and easy to navigate.
    thanks guys

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