Three iconic contributors to the Gunners' cause throughout their history are honoured in bronze at the new stadium, with Arsene Wenger paying tribute to the legends
Herbert Chapman, the first manager to guide the club to a major trophy; Tony Adams, the first man to captain them to league titles in three different decades; and Thierry Henry, the first player to score more than 200 goals in an Arsenal shirt, are now immortalised in bronze sculptures around the perimeter of their current home – and Wenger feels a special connection with all three men.
The Frenchman is Arsenal’s most successful manager, but unveiling the new statue of Chapman was swift to acknowledge his predecessor as “the greatest manager in the club’s history.”
For what Chapman achieved was not only unprecedented but can never be emulated. Literally and figuratively he put Arsenal on the map in the 1930s, transforming them from undistinguished also-rans into the most successful and glamorous club in the land.
In the context of his era, Chapman was a football genius. Having made Huddersfield Town the dominant force in England, he moved to London in 1925 to do the same for Arsenal, and exceeded his brief in spectacular style.
Bold enough to sign big-name players when necessary, with the strength of character to command their loyalty and respect, and the tactical nous to mould them into an all-conquering unit, Chapman redefined football management.
Arsenal hadn’t come close to winning honours before he arrived, but in his first season at Highbury they were league runners-up, a year later reached their first FA Cup final, won the trophy in 1930 and the following season stormed to the League championship with a then record haul of 66 points.
Narrowly missing out on the Double in 1931-32, they reclaimed the league title in 1932-33 and were well on their way to retaining it when Chapman died suddenly from pneumonia in January 1934. His team duly won the league that season, and the next, cementing his remarkable legacy.
But it was not just his team’s playing record, or style, that earned Chapman his place in Arsenal’s history. It was also his vision. Ahead of his time, Chapman grasped the marketing possibilities of persuading London Underground to change the name of Gillespie Road tube station to Arsenal; invented the WM formation to exploit changes in the offside law; pioneered the use of numbered shirts, stadium clocks, floodlit football and white balls on muddy pitches – all despite resistance from reactionary football authorities.
Chapman’s creation of a new image and identity for Arsenal – even down to the introduction of the trademark white sleeves on their red shirts – moved the club to commemorate his contribution with an imposing bust of the manager that for many years stood in Highbury’s famous marble halls.
That bust is now prominently displayed in the entrance to the exclusive Diamond Club at the Emirates Stadium – appropriately enough opposite one of Wenger. Eighty years after the club’s first title, the new statue highlights Chapman’s legacy to many more fans.
The one of Tony Adams, meanwhile, is a fitting tribute to a more modern hero whom many of those fans saw play. The statue captures his iconic celebration after lashing a pass from Steve Bould into Everton’s net for the fourth goal in a 4-0 Highbury win that clinched the Premier League title in 1997-98, Wenger’s first full season in charge.
Unveiling the statue, Wenger recalled that when club skipper Adams had greeted him on his arrival from Japan in October 1996, the England defender was going through a particularly difficult time.
Having admitted he was an alcoholic he was determined to shake off his demons. Wenger, who hailed Adams as a “professor of defence,” told fans attending the unveiling that the player was “a symbol of the ups and downs in the club’s history and of the bravery to come out on top.”
The downs had included being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure in Chelmsford Prison in December 1990 after a drink-driving conviction. But the highs certainly outnumbered the lows. Adams, a lion-hearted competitor and inspirational leader, captained Arsenal to League titles in 1988-89, 1990-91, 1997-98 and 2001-02.
He led Wenger’s side to two Premier League/FA Cup Doubles, and in total won nine major trophies - eight of them as skipper, making him by a distance the most successful captain in the club’s history.
Having been handed his first-team debut as a raw 17-year-old in November 1983, Adams became George Graham’s “colossus” before refining his game under Wenger. Despite nagging injuries towards the end of his career, he made 669 appearances for the club. Only David O’Leary made more. And Adams was a one-club man. His loyalty, commitment and determination to beat the odds endeared him to all Gooners, who christened him “Mr Arsenal”.
Thierry Henry may have played for other clubs – Wenger first recognised his potential when they were both at Monaco – but fans voted him the Greatest Gunner in an official poll. No wonder. Few have worn the Arsenal shirt with as much panache and distinction as Henry; nobody scored more goals.
Between joining from Juventus in 1999 and leaving for Barcelona in 2007, Henry netted a club record 226 times in 370 appearances. Many of those goals were breathtaking. And there were also 92 assists from a consummate team player.
His irresistible pace, power and technique; his sheer goalscoring invention marked Henry out as special – some would argue the best player to have graced the Premier League. His manager Wenger also praised Henry’s dedication.
The statue captures Henry on his knees in celebration after scoring a typically flamboyant goal against Tottenham in 2002, and the man himself noted emotionally that it was ”special to be kneeling in front of the Emirates with Highbury just behind”.
Wenger sums the striker up in a quote on the outer wall of the Emirates Stadium: “Thierry Henry could take the ball in the middle of the park and score a goal that no-one else in the world could score.”
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