Exclusive: Arsenal Hero Paul Davis Looks Ahead To Man United Clash

The midfielder who played over 350 first-team games for the Gunners between 1977 and 1995 gives Goal.com an insight into the memorable events of 20 years ago, as well as some thoughts on the current Arsenal line-up.
Paul Davis was a talented left-sided midfielder for Arsenal during the 1980s, a first-team regular in an era when the Gunners, although often pipped to the title by Liverpool, enjoyed their fair share of on-field success.

One highlight of the period occurred at the end of the 1988/89 season, when Arsenal went to Anfield for the last game of the season, and beat Kenny Dalglish's Reds by the 2-0 scoreline needed to claim that campaign's Division One title. It was a game in which a dramatic last-minute goal from Michael Thomas clinched matters, in a season dominated by the Hillsborough disaster, and Davis reminisced about those events of 20 years ago when speaking to Goal.com earlier today.

"The whole occasion was fantastic," he said. "I remember traveling up on Friday morning from Highbury. On the team bus, we stopped off at a training ground north of London to pick up some more players, and headed up to Liverpool.

"We slept in the afternoon at the hotel, had a team meeting at 4:30, and the mood was one of relaxation and confidence. We thought we'd get a result.

"(Manager) George Graham talked to us, and he spoke very positively about how we could get a result. The players felt the same way, even though Liverpool were a good team with a great squad.

"There was Hansen, Barnes - Dalglish was in charge then - in fact, they were full of international players, so to think that we went out and won 2-0 was great. A lot of people wrote us off, so it was a fantastic part of the season. And there was a great night of celebration after - I didn't actually play myself due to injury, but to still be a part of it was amazing."

Davis retired from playing in 1996, after a short spell in Norwegian football and a few games for London side Brentford. He worked as a youth coach at Arsenal from 1998 to 2003, and is now involved with work for the Professional Footballers Association, the players' trade union.

"I'm involved with the PFA - the Professional Footballers Association - and my main role with them is with coaching," he explained.

"What we do is, we actually coach players to become coaches. We're called coach educators: we go into the clubs and work with professional players who want to do their coaching certificates. These coaches are both for current footballers and past footballers who want to do their badges.

"Also, I'm involved with the equity side of the PFA. We're trying to get more and more black and ethnic players interested in coaching onto the coaching and hopefully, ultimately, get more of them into the professional game."

With such an obvious interest in the coaching side of the game, Davis also cast his eye over the current Arsenal squad, and offered his assessment of just which of Wenger's talents might end up gracing the Emirates dug-out in the future.

"I know only a handful of those guys [at Arsenal today], having met them briefly, so I don't know their personalities too well," he added.

"But looking in from the outside, someone like Cesc Fabregas seems to me like the type of person who'd want to stay in the game and would want to become involved in the coaching and management side of it. He seems to be that type of person. He's got a leadership quality about him that suits him for coaching."

However, it was one of Arsenal's rivals for silverware that seemed to forge ahead when it came to preparing players for a coaching career, Davis felt, concluding, "It seems to me that Manchester United have been the ones who have led the way in players going into management."

Old Trafford Trip

That brought up the impending Champions League clash with Manchester United - one that Davis feels Arsenal can win.

"I think that after a difficult middle part to the season - they started well but went badly later on - they're coming back into really good form. When they're playing like this it's possible to beat any team at any time," he said.

"They're back in form, and players are returning to fitness, so I don't see any reason why they aren't capable of going on and winning the competition.

"They've got to beat a great team in Manchester United, and the final would be against Chelsea of Barcelona, but when they're playing as they are at the moment they really can beat anyone.

"If teams come to London and think that they can out-football Arsenal - and most teams at this level do think that they're better than anyone - that could work to Arsenal's advantage as they will not be so defensive. It makes for an open game, and when it's open Arsenal, I believe, are more often than not going to win, regardless of who they're playing."

This in turn reminds Paul of the 1994 Cup Winners Cup final win over Parma - the last time the Gunners lifted a European trophy.

"That was a game I was involved in, and it's one that we weren't tipped to win - we were the underdogs," he noted.

"They had some really good players: Zola, Tomas Brolin, Faustino Asprilla, the Colombian international. They had some really talented players.

"Meanwhile we had a side with some youngsters in it. Steven Morrow played, and one or two other young players. Ian Wright was injured or suspended, and he was our top scorer, too. So a lot of people wrote us off.

"But then Alan Smith scored the goal in the first half, and it was 1-0 to the Arsenal! Sure, they had a couple of chances before we scored, and they could have run away with it. But we weathered it, scored our goal, and they weren't going to get past us after that."

But then came the really important matter: who has a better free-kick, Davis or Robin Van Persie?

"I'll think about that," laughed Paul.

"Robin Van Persie's got a fantastic left foot. I think he'd win that one quite clearly. He's got a wonderful shot, so it's got to be him.

"But footballs are a lot lighter these days, and the players can swing them all over the place.

"But the players, what they can do these days is fantastic. I have so much respect for what they're doing in the game."

Zack Wilson, Goal.com

Paul Davis is an ambassador for Kick It Out, football's equality and inclusion campaign. Learn more at http://www.kickitout.org