Fabregas failed, Van Perse failed: So who is next to succeed Henry and Bergkamp as a ‘Legend’
By Joshua Smith Pim
How does a player become a football legend? Who will be the first player from the Emirates Stadium era to become a true Arsenal legend?
Who, of our current crop of players, is closest to having a statue of themselves placed outside the stadium? Let’s see if we can find out who it will be.
Besides Robin Van Persie, who wouldn’t want a timeless statue of themselves outside the Emirates? Had Robin Van Persie strung together one or two more seasons like he did in 2011-2012 and picked up some silverware, any silverware, then he would have certainly earned the right to be called a legend. Alas, that ship has sailed.
I think it’s safe to say that we haven’t had a true Arsenal legend since Thierry Henry left. Cesc Fabregas had the potential to become a legend. He was an excellent player but his best years are ahead of him. Simply put, he didn’t finish the race for us. In fact, he ran right off the track and went home.
I have been looking at the stats of former Arsenal legends throughout our long and storied history. I wanted to know if there was a common theme amongst them and, if so, could I use that knowledge to predict who would become the next legend of AFC.
In order to become an Arsenal legend, you must play the majority of your football career at the club. Loads of great players have come and gone but to make it to Arsenal legend status you have to put the time in (and not on the bench). If you look at all the players who have had 500 appearances or more, they are all unquestionable legends.
In order from most to least we have David O’Leary (722), Tony Adams (669), George Armstrong (621), Lee Dixon (619), Nigel Winterburn (584), David Seaman (564) and Pat Rice (528). Simply put, the longer you stay at the club, the closer you are to the supporter’s hearts.
Currently, the top four players in terms of appearances are Theo Walcott (223), Bacary Sagna (205), Abou Diaby (166) and Tomas Rosicky (166). When we talk about turnover being an issue, we can see it very clearly in the above stats as our next tenured starter is Aaron Ramsey (106). We simply don’t have any old veterans at the club anymore.
There are signs that this may be changing. Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny have just signed new contracts with no fuss. Vermaelen stated in May of this year that ‘I will stay at Arsenal forever’. Similarly, Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong have been very vocal about their allegiance to the club.
Based on current appearances and those who I think will make their career at Arsenal, my top four in this category are Theo Walcott (if he re-signs), Bacary Sagna, Jack Wilshere and Thomas Vermaelen.
The next step in becoming an Arsenal legend is winning. You just can’t be a legend if you haven’t delivered the goods. From the data I have gathered you can make it in this category one of two ways. You can either win lots of trophies like Cliff Bastin who racked up 5 First Division Titles and 2 FA Cups or you could take the Charlie George route. George sealed the first ever double for the Gunners in 1971 by scoring against Liverpool at the death in the FA Cup final. His celebration of that goal alone is worth him being a legend.
In this day and age, I don’t think one trophy is enough to satisfy supporters. Football is also a team sport so, if we are to make a
sustained run, it’s going to take the whole team. So, for this category, I’m going to throw everyone into the pot and hope for the best.
The next glaring fact that stood out for me was that a high percentage of Arsenal legends also served, at some point, as team captain. This puts Thomas Vermaelen at the top of this list. I’ll add one more for prediction’s sake and that’s Jack Wilshere. Arsene Wenger stated just this week that he’s looking to build the team around a core of British players. For me, this puts Jack front and center as the player most likely to take the armband after Vermaelen’s playing days are through.
We are also entering a new age in terms of communication. I feel like, with social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter, players are now able to reach their fans in ways former legends could not. The most active players on twitter are Bacary Sagna, Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Andre Santos.
Last but not least, it still doesn’t hurt to be English (this is the English Premier League after all). Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs get an edge over everyone else in this category. So what has my research shown? Based on my category ranking, Thomas Vermaelen and Theo Walcott (again, if he re-signs) tie for second topping four of the five categories. The only player to check all five boxes, and my pick for the next Arsenal legend, is Jack Wilshere. But please, don’t let me be the sole voice in this discussion. I want to know who your all-time favorite legend is and who you think, 15 years from now, will have a statue of themselves outside Emirates Stadium.