George Graham: If Arsenal finish in the top four it will be Arsene Wenger¿s greatest achievement

02 October 2011 12:07
George Graham will be reunited with old friends from Arsenal at East Herts Golf Club on Monday to resume a rivalry with those who used to knock lumps out of his side in the name of Tottenham Hotspur. [LNB]Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn, from Graham's fabled back four who were renowned for their miserly defending, will be amongst those staging a more genteel duel against men like Martin Peters, Martin Chivers and Ossie Ardiles, representing Tottenham's former stars seeking to retain the upperhand they established when they last met. [LNB]As ever, there will be pride and prejudice at stake as memories of old battles are relived.[LNB] Dejected: World class Robin Van Persie (left), lines up with Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta[LNB] [LNB]'Our captain, Frank McLintock, graciously accepted defeat last year by telling the Tottenham boys that it was little wonder we lost because, clearly, while we were training hard and winning trophies, they had obviously spent much of their time on the golf course,' said Graham. [LNB]Yet behind the light-hearted reproach to the Spurs legends of yesteryear, Graham is genuinely fearful that the pendulum of power - on the pitch as well as the golf course - will be shown to have swung in Spurs' favour after the 167th North London derby at White Hart Lane on Sunday afternoon. [LNB]'For the first time I can remember, I think Tottenham have a better team than Arsenal,' said Graham. [LNB] Case for the defence: George Graham[LNB]The admission pains him. Graham may have managed Tottenham for two and a half years and ended the club's search for a major trophy when they won the League Cup in 1999, but the 66-year-old Scot's heart beats hardest for Arsenal. [LNB]There he won championship medals as a player and during his nine years as a manager when he built success on a solid defence. 'I am concerned by what's been happening, by the club's slide,' he said. [LNB]Just two days after Arsene Wenger celebrated his 15th anniversary as Arsenal manager, his latest team, stripped of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, will be exposed to the ambition of a team Spurs manager Harry Redknapp is determined to make the best team in the capital. [LNB]While Arsenal sold this summer, Spurs resisted a ?40million bid from Chelsea for playmaker Luka Modric, which again tilted the tectonic plates on which football shifts in north London in favour of Spurs. [LNB]And Graham's respect for Wenger's remarkable record cannot conceal his anxiety that Arsenal's time as a major force in the land is no longer guaranteed. 'I admire what Arsene has brought to the club, the beautiful football his team's have played, and the success he has brought to Arsenal,' said Graham. [LNB]'But it feels like Arsenal's position, as a club permanently in the top four of the Premier League, is slipping away.' [LNB]Graham is no longer confident that Arsenal's place in the Champions League, cemented by Wenger for the past 14 years, is a foregone conclusion. He argued: 'It's the first time in his life that Arsene has had to deal with a big blip and, through his record, he has rightly earned the time from the Arsenal board to rectify matters. Yet there do seem to be more answers than questions right now - and that's sad. [LNB] Main Man: Adebayor celebrates with Defoe[LNB]'Are Arsenal slipping because they cannot - will not - pay to buy really top class players? Or break their wage structure? Six years ago, Arsenal went through an entire season in the Premier League without losing a game as that team, The Invincibles, had not one, but many world class players: Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Gilberto, Robert Pires, Ashley Cole. [LNB]'Who's world class for Arsenal today? Robin van Persie, possibly; Jack Wilshere maybe in the future, but that's it. Are Arsene's hands tied in the transfer market? [LNB]'Why didn't Arsenal sign replacements for Fabregas, who was obviously looking to leave, and Nasri before they were sold? Instead, Arsene was reduced to signing Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ju-Young Park, Andre Santos and Yossi Benayoun all at the last minute. [LNB]'No one from the club has said we have enough money for Arsene to buy whoever he wants. I'm not talking about a ?10m player, I'm talking about players of real quality, those costing ?30m to make a big difference. Even though Arsenal haven't won a trophy for six years, they have still been close. Last season, they were in the hunt for four trophies until the last couple of months, but still came up with nothing. [LNB] No way through: Graham built his Arsenal success on the foundation of a solid defence, including the likes of Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn and Steve Bould.[LNB]'Was that a surprise? Not to me. Arsenal again declined to buy the kind of quality players in the January transfer window that could have given them the impetus to win something. [LNB]'Arsene's transfer record has been outstanding, but all eyes are on him now for the players he bought in at the last moment. If Arsenal can finish in the top four this season, it will be one of Arsene's finest achievements. But I think that's going to be tough, and the odds are lengthening after the squads that Tottenham and Liverpool have assembled.' [LNB]Eight goals were conceded by Arsenal at Manchester United and four more flew into their net at Blackburn. Wenger's pride has been hurt but he railed against suggestions he should hire a specialist defensive coach. [LNB]'I know Arsene's whole philosophy is geared towards playing positive, attacking football,' said Graham. 'Only he can answer why, over the years, he didn't buy an outstanding central defender before Thomas Vermaelen. I do like him but what he needs is a Tony Adams alongside him.' [LNB]Graham built a reputation, and filled a trophy cabinet, on his back four of Dixon, Steve Bould (or Martin Keown), Adams, Winterburn together with keeper David Seaman. 'The way we were set up, we'd never have conceded eight goals and I'm proud of that,' said Graham.[LNB] 'I was brought up to understand that everything you get has to be earned. I felt if you are going to build anything you have to have a good foundation. [LNB] Plenty at stake: Wenger addresses his players during training in the build up to the north London derby[LNB]'Some might argue I took that to the extreme! But I found Lee and Stevie at Stoke, Nigel at Wimbledon and brought Martin back to the club and didn't pay more than ?300,000 for any of them. They had a desire to win and to improve, something I wanted in my players.' [LNB]Tottenham's defence is far from watertight but Graham believes Redknapp's capture of ex-Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor on loan provides a critical outlet for the attacking instincts of Modric, Rafael van der Vaart and, critically, wide players Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.[LNB]'Tottenham's football, very exciting under Harry, now has an end product,' said Graham. 'Adebayor's a good signing, and he'll be hard to stop. Harry's the right man to manage him, but a loan deal is key because with his past, at Arsenal and City, it's valid to ask: how long will he be at Tottenham? [LNB]'As a manager playing Arsenal, you know they'll have a great deal of possession. The trick is not to worry about that. Just ensure that when you have the ball you hammer them.' [LNB]Graham expects plenty of banter on Monday, when the old boys from the Gunners and Spurs raise money for the Willow Foundation, former Arsenal keeper Bob Wilson's charity for seriously ill children. [LNB]'In football, we're all quick to judge,' added Graham. 'But if Tottenham win, as seems likely, then the questions for Arsene will get louder. It's going to be an interesting season for him.'[LNB] Kaboul: I have many friends at Arsenal but I will show them no mercy in the derbyIn-form Defoe relishing prospect of facing Arsenal in 'the big one'Derby day delight: Redknapp and Keown on capital chaos and Merseyside mayhem...Wenger's vision: Beat Spurs then be the world's bestAll the latest Tottenham news, features and opinionAll the latest Arsenal news, features and opinion[LNB] [LNB]

Source: Daily_Mail