Friday, 12 October 2012

Nigel Winterburn - Arsenal's greatest left back.

Yet another member of the famous back five that was created by George Graham, Nigel Winterburn is clearly the public choice, as Arsenal's greatest ever left back, gaining 60% of the vote.

In 1987 Arsenal paid Wimbledon £350,000 and Winterburn went to Highbury, as Nigel was given a formidable task in replacing Kenny Samson. Samson was an Arsenal legend, and Nigel was still a young, inexperienced player. But Winterburn became part of the defence that transformed Arsenal from a club consigned to history, to a club capable of regularly winning titles.

In his first season, Winterburn deputised at an unfamiliar right back position, and put in a steady shift down the right hand side. Despite his solid start he was involved in perhaps one of the most embarrassing moments of Arsenal's history, where he missed a penalty as staunch favourites Arsenal lost 3-2 to Luton Town in the League Cup final.

Next season, Winterburn was able to slot back into his preferred left back position and he truly became one of the best defenders in the league. With Graham's hard-line training ground approach creating a solid defensive unit able to challenge for the league. Nigel's was able to draw on his time as a member of the Wimbledon "crazy gang", and used his excellent positioning and tough tackling throughout the season, as Arsenal won the 1989 league title, winning the final game against title rivals Liverpool at Anfield. Nigel highlighted his set-piece abilities too in that game, supplying the assist for Alan Smith's goal in the 2-0 victory.

Arsenal, and Winterburn, repeated this feat two year later, with one of the greatest defensive records in league title history. The side conceded 18 goals and only lost 1 match all season. Despite Graham's side losing its consistency to challenge for League success in the mid 90's, the side was still able to rise to the occasion in the cups. Nigel added to his already growing pile of silverware with two domestic cups in 1993, as well as the Cup Winners Cup in 1994.

Winterburn was consistently a member of Arsenal's defence throughout the 90's, spreading his winning mentality throughout the side. Yet when Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal in 1996, he was able to rejuvenate Nigel's career. He won his first League and Cup double in 1998, after forging a successful partnership on the left flank with Dutchman Marc Overmars. And even found himself on the score-sheet  a rare occurrence in the defender's career, in a key match against Chelsea.

In 2000, Winterburn joined West Ham, and Arsene Wenger hailed his impact on the club during his 13 years, saying: "Nigel is a consummate professional and to lose a player who has dedicated 13 years of outstanding service to this club is a great loss. Nigel has shown remarkable commitment to us, [he] is a special character and I have to say that I, and undoubtedly the fans, did not want him to leave."

Despite being a regular for on of the greatest side in the country, Nigel was consistently overlooked by England managers and his measly 2 caps should have definitely been added to. The unit created consisting of Adams, Bould, Dixon and Nigel, with Keown and O'Leary beforehand was as good a defence seen at the club, and saw it in one of its most successful periods. Speaking about the rest of this defence, Nigel noted their winning mentality and commitment to the club, saying "There is a tradition that comes with playing for Arsenal and that always drove me on to play my very best. The like of Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Lee Dixon were winners who knew what it meant to play for the club, knew what it took to be successful."

Winterburn made 584 appearances for Arsenal in his 13 years, winning 7 trophies during his time at the club. He was a consistent, devoted member of the club and never let us down. He was voted number 32, in Arsenal's poll of greatest ever players, and managed to get the left back position in the greatest XI. He is Arsenal's greatest left back.

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