As Arsenal captains go, few have managed to completely fulfill the criteria and gain the respect and adoration of supporters. I have had the pleasure to see two of the best and only Frank McLintock and Tony Adams can be considered for the accolade of Arsenal’s best captain ever.
Before we start making a case for either, I’m aware that there were others before them but it’s all about my own experience in my life as a Gooner, so I apologise if you feel cheated by the absence of your own favourite. So why did I go for these two rather than Vieira or Henry?
Patrick Vieira was included in Alan Shearer’s list of top ten Premier League captains but that list also included himself at number ten and can’t be viewed as completely impartial. Yes, Vieira was good, but he was a volatile character on occasion seeing a red mist that merited in-turn would earn him a red card.
Captains can’t afford these momentary lapses, they have to be a breed apart. Captains have to show leadership, passion, commitment, presence, influence and be able to take charge as an extension of the manager. They are the enforcer, the organiser in a crisis and the commander that others look up to when the chips are down.
You have to be on the field to be able to do that and in Henry’s case, he influential but you can’t lead a team from the front and dictate the game. Defenders will always make the best captains for me and Frank McLintock and Tony Adams were two of the best of what is now becoming a dying breed.
Quality Central defenders are hard to come by and the value of those perceived to be in the elite few have risen dramatically. Start at £50m and work your way up to find what you need from the list of attributes above.
Let’s look at my candidates for Arsenal’s best captain and why they are worthy contenders.
Played for Arsenal from 1964-73 with a total of 314 appearances. His club career took off after being moved from right half to center half, after which he became known for his calm and assured performances. Frank McLintock recalled, it wasn’t an instant fit “For the first two and a half years or so”, but the Scot eventually cemented himself in the side and became invaluable.
He led by example and wasn’t averse to encouraging or influencing players by fair means or foul. He once told a young and temperamental Charlie George that the opposition manager didn’t think much of him.
George put on a show and after the match went to give the opponent’s manager a piece of his mind. The manager looked blankly at George. He hadn’t said anything about him or his capability, it was McLintock’s way of getting the best out of the midfielder.
Frank McLintock was at the helm as Arsenal clinched their first European trophy the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1970 and the following season, he achieved the league and the FA Cup double in the 1970/71 season. Massively underrated but hugely influential, McLintock pushed his team forward whilst ensuring the defensive gates were firmly shut.
It’s interesting that under Unai Emery, Arsenal had 5 captains which have damaged and devalued the honour and on occasion, the captain’s armband would change in three consecutive matches and others, twice in a game.
“It seems anybody can take it — like it’s a present. For me, the great teams always had great captains. I don’t know if that was just a British thing. Bobby Moore, Bryan Robson, Danny Blanchflower… not all the same style but all leaders.”
“We’ll probably never see these types again. Virgil van Dijk doesn’t shout like Tommy Smith but he’s a good player.”
He is probably most people’s choice as Arsenal’s best skipper ever. Tony Adams spent his entire 22-year football career at the club and is fondly remembered by fans for his leadership and partnerships with George Graham and Arsene Wenger. These partnerships were hugely successful periods for the club, managers, and players.
Mr. Arsenal, as he is referred to, came to Arsenal as a schoolboy in 1980 and made his first-team debut 1983 at the age of 17. He became a first-team regular from 1986/87 and won the league cup that year against Liverpool but there was much more to come.
Tony Adams became part of the legendary back four which included Dixon, Bould, and Winterburn and was promoted to Captain in 1988. He also came close to being part of an Invincible side in 1990/91 but Arsenal lost once that season.
He took up his position as England Captain in 1988 at the age of 21 and despite being referred to as a “Donkey”, Tony Adams always rose above this type of criticism and performed consistently for club and country with pride and passion. He once said of his job under George Graham was to “give George what he wanted on the pitch !”
In itself, that oversimplified what his contribution was, Adams could offer a rebuke with a look, a shake of the head or offer encouragement by tapping a player on the back or the bum whilst offering the words “You can do better !”
Tony Adams scooped four top-flight division titles, captaining a title-winning team in three different decades. He also won three FA Cups, two Football league cups, a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, and two FA Community Shields.
So who is my Captain Fantastic? It has to be Tony Adams, but McLintock will always be someone that I associate with the club as I moved from my childhood into adulthood. A dependable and determined leader, who’s contribution allowed others to shine by doing his job and by keeping it simple.
He could organise, shout and point, something that defenders don’t do too much today. Koscielny was probably one of the worst examples of the Captain’s armband because of his lack of dominance and leadership, something that Arsenal have suffered from for years.
As for Tony Adams, despite his problems and battle with alcoholism, he delivered at the highest level and his immortalisation outside the Emirates is recognition for his achievements and loyalty. The statue has him in his iconic arms aloft pose after drilling the ball into the Everton net.
Those of you that don’t recall the goal, Adams received the ball from Steve Bould’s chipped, defense-splitting pass. The Captain chested the ball as he pressed forward hitting the ball like a striker which sealed the 4-0 home win over Everton, earning Arsenal’s first Premier League title in 1988.