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Highbury cult hero starts with the famous back five


When it comes to successful careers, Arsenal favourite Perry Groves can look back on his with a great deal of pride.

Becoming the first signing of the George Graham era at Highbury, the left-sided midfielder — who become a cult favourite at the club with his own chant ('We all live in a Perry Groves world' to the tune of 'Yellow Submarine') — Groves won a League Cup in 1987 and then Division One titles in both 1989 and 1991.

Having started his career at Colchester United, Groves would go on to make a handful of appearances at Southampton and Dagenham & Redbridge before retiring from the game as injuries took their toll.

Understandably, considering all the above, Gunners' legends feature heavily when Groves reveals to UK his all-time best XI team-mates.

Goalkeeper: David Seaman

David SeamanDave Seaman was the best goalkeeper I ever played with and against to be fair. At the time I think he was probably one of the best in the world, along with Neville Southall.

Right-back: Lee Dixon

The start of the best back four unit around at the time. Viv Anderson maybe arguably a better player individually than Dixon, but as a back-four unit, it doesn't come any better than the following four.

Centre-half: Steve Bould

Steve Bould was unbelievably underrated as a centre half anyway, and he and the rest of his unit got a lot of protection from the midfield in front of them. But if you look at all their games, all of them played over 500 games for Arsenal, and that’s because the wingers did all their tracking back for them!

If you played wide, you had to run up and down the line and protect your full-back. If you played in midfield you had to protect your centre halfs. So if you ask the four of them, they’d all say they got decent protection from the people in front of them, but they were still fantastic players.

Centre-half: Tony Adams

When it comes to picking the captain of the side, it would have to be ‘Rodders’. To be fair to him he does lead by example, that’s what he did when he was on the pitch, he wouldn’t expect you to do something that he wouldn’t be prepared to do himself.

He always made me laugh, he made me chuckle. He was always like a caged lion or tiger: "Let’s go out there and kill ‘em."

I used to love seeing him kicking and head-butting the walls, but I wouldn’t leave him to sort out the bonuses and contract negotiations — because every time he went to see the gaffer he’d come back and say, "Sorry guys, I couldn’t get more money but I’ve just signed a new four-year contract"!

Left-back: Nigel Winterburn

As a back four and as a unit I haven’t seen anything better in domestic football, and to be honest, as a unit I haven’t seen anything better in world football.

Individually you’d probably have better players, at centre half or at left back, but Winterburn was a great part of a quality group.

Right midfielder: Matthew le Tissier

On the right wing is was a choice between David Rocastle and Le Tissier. The thing with ‘Tis’ is that everyone else would do the work, he was lazy. He was born in the wrong era, if he’d have been born in the 70s he’d have been a massive star because people didn’t run around that much in the 70s, the gifted players dozed on the ball.

But when it got to the 80s and 90s you were expected to do a shift, If you played anywhere in the midfield areas. That was his game, he couldn’t run, he was overweight, but it terms of ability he was probably one of the best players I’ve played alongside.

He’d take the penalties, I think missed just one. He’d take everything — penalties, free-kicks, corners — he had great delivery. It was like he had a horseshoe in his boot. The balls today, people can ping them 50,60,70 yards – that isn't a problem – but back then you used to have to give it everything you had to hit a cross-field ball, but ‘Tis’ could do it with little back-lift, like an anvil in his boot or something. It was unreal.

If you look at some of his goals, he could have 20 goals in a list of world goals. He was someone who underachieved actually. He wanted to be a big player at Southampton, whereas if I’d have had his ability I’d have wanted to test myself and play at one of the big clubs, but it never really appealed to him.
He had no pace but he used to go past people, and you think ‘How’d you do that?’. He had a change of pace, and a deceptive body swerve, but he used to look like he was playing in slow-motion, he looked like he had a yard more time than anyone else. And that’s the sign or a top, top player. Whereas people like me used to have to run around like a chicken with no head!

Central midfielder: Michael Thomas

George Graham changed him from a right-back into a centre-midfield player, and now, he’d be the modern equivalent of a Frank Lampard, bombing into the box, but ‘Tomo’ was like as strong as a horse.

He’d do the tackling of the players, the running from box-to-box, he wasn't necessarily bothered about getting the ball off the back four, but he looked for it in the middle of the midfield and get himself driving forwards. He was unbelievable.

Central midfielder: Steve Williams

The reason for his selection being he was one of the two players, in the season we won the League Cup, he was of the only players I’d seen who could walk through games, it was unbelievable.

He’d get it off the back four, do little pirouettes, beat people. He was the playmaker. He wasn’t particularly interested in getting forward around the box, but he always passed the ball forward – he had great vision – he wanted to get the ball off the back four and be the playmaker.

He was a moaner, he’s one of my good friends actually, but a pain in the ass to play with because he’d moan at his own players, moan at the opposition, wind people up, but ability wise I think he was a wasted talent – he should have won more England caps [he finished his career with six].

Left midfield: Anders Limpar

For a season, when we won the title in 1991 and only lost one game, Anders changed us from a very good team to a great team.

We were well organised, structured, disciplined, we knew all our jobs, but he was that maverick player who gave us that little bit of flair and creativity and fantasy.

But the next season he was pants, because we were struggling as a team and Anders was one of those players who wouldn’t graft. If you’re playing well you can carry a player like that because he’s producing, he used to score from the half-way line, and beat five or six players and smash it in the bottom corner and turn draws into wins.

No one knew who he was when he came to the club, and I was gutted because the season before I’d played quite regularly with them, either up front or on the left, and when a new player comes in you ask where he plays, they say ‘Left wing’ and you think ‘Oh bollocks’, because someone else has come in to take your place. But then when you see him play you actually think, ‘Well, if he’s keeping me out of the team, then fair enough.’

Flipping hell, he was that good, mad as a bucket of frogs though. He shaved all of his body hair off one day because he thought it would make him quicker, more aerodynamic – he looked like an alien. It was a bit unnerving for the rest of the lads, he looked like a pre-pubescent teenager. I said, "You ain't a beaver, Anders, it’s not gonna make you slipstream!"

Forward: Alan Smith

He’s one of the most underrated Arsenal players of all time, by Arsenal fans and opposition fans. Until you mention Alan Smith to Arsenal fans, they wouldn’t say him as an all-time Arsenal great, and you say, "Well, hold on a minute, you won the title in 89 and he was our top goalscorer and golden boot winner," with 24 goals I think, and when we won it in '91 he was then our top scorer with I think 26 — and he didn’t take penalties.

In this day and age he would be worth, a big striker who scored 20 plus goals a season, you’re looking at what, £50 million. The thing with ‘Smudge’, it wasn’t just his goals, his team play and hold-up play and his movement and his willingness to work for the side was top quality. So you’d give him seven out of ten for everything, for touch, heading ability, hold-up play, technique - he’d be a seven all the way through.

Forward: Tony Adcock

I played with Ian Wright, and he was a great finisher; Paul Merson should really be upfront with him, but I’m going to put a lad called Tony Adcock, who I played with at Colchester.

Partly putting him in because I need a ginger in, and I’ve been quite good not to put myself in to be fair, because it’s my team so I should be in it really! But Tony was the best natural finisher that I’ve played with in football, at any level.

Not only did he have a natural ability to score little poacher's goals in the six-yard box, but one season he had something like 28 goals before Christmas, he’d bend them in from outside the box into the top corner, he’d chip goalkeepers, he’d hit it right footed, left footed, but he had great touch and technique.

Again, a player who should have played at a higher level but the thing he didn’t really have was desire to go and prove it at a higher level. He went to Manchester City and did really well, I think he scored nine in 18, but was bullied into a move and they swapped him with Trevor Morley, and he went to Northampton.

If he’d have played in a top side he’d have scored 30, 40 goals a season. He was a top, top player.

Manager: George Graham

If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have achieved half as much in my career as I did. Two league titles, Littlewoods Cup at Wembley, playing for my boyhood club, but he was tactically and coaching wise probably five, ten years ahead of his time.

His big thing was all about desire. You had to have a burning desire within yourself to make yourself better to play for Arsenal. If you look at the players he bought from the lower leagues, like Lee Dixon, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn, myself, Alan Smith – we all had desire, and he used to say that you can’t make a player unless they have desire in them.

The 12th man

Paul Merson
He’ll get the hump because I haven’t put him in the team, he always slaughters me if I don’t put him in a team! But I'd have a great laugh with him sitting on the bench.

Perry Groves is a regular guest on BBC 5Live Sport's 'Kicking Off With Colin Murray', every Friday night from 7pm.

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