Arsenal: 12 Meanest Players in Gunners History
For many years now, Arsenal have earned the reputation for playing some of the most exciting, attacking, free-flowing football not only in the English Premier League, but on the planet.
Unfortunately, however, in recent years, a second reputation has emerged: that Arsenal are too mentally and physically weak to hang with the "big boys" of world football, like the Chelseas, Manchester Uniteds, Real Madrids, Barcelonas, or even the Manchester Citys.
However, this was not always the case for Arsenal. Indeed, Gunners history is filled with stories of players who were among the meanest, most physical and intimidating players of their day.
These players did not avoid confrontation, and were feared and respected whenever they stepped onto the pitch. They were not afraid to impose themselves on the game, and added a toughness to their team that few other teams could rival.
Here are the 12 best such players in Arsenal history.
Wilf Copping is known to many as "one of the original hard men of football." Born in 1909, Copping would start his career with Leeds United, moving to Arsenal for the 1934-35 season. In his first season with the club, Arsenal would win the 1934-35 Football League Championship.
Copping would remain with Arsenal until 1939, winning an additional Football League Championship in 1937-38 as well as a FA Cup in 1936. In 1939, with World War II looming ever closer, Copping would turn in a transfer request to return Leeds with his family.
During his playing days, Copping was well known for his quote that "the first man in a tackle never gets hurt." He also earned the nickname of "Iron Man" because of how physical and intimidating he was on the pitch.
To further intimidate his opponents, Copping never shaved prior to matchdays, as he believed that he looked much more fearsome with a beard. Despite his reputation and philosophy, Copping was never sent off or even booked in his career, though this is probably more indicative of how reckless the beautiful game was back then than the careful nature of Copping's tackling.
William Gallas is now a Tottenham Hotspur player, and can be found, at least now, spending more time in the infirmary than on the pitch. But in his best and brightest Arsenal years, William Gallas was one scary guy to face on the field.
William Gallas was not necessarily a great defender, although he certainly had his moments, but he is probably best remembered for his temper, which eventually resulted in his being dropped as the team's captain.
The first incident in which Gallas' temper appeared to be a major issue was in the Birmingham City game in which Eduardo broke his leg. After Clichy conceded a penalty, Gallas walked into the Birmingham City side of the field in protest, and eventually began to confront the crowd in anger. When the match was finished, Gallas sat down on the pitch while the rest of players walked off.
The second incident which caused him to lose his captaincy was when he blamed players within the squad for disrupting team morale, and criticized the younger players of the squad for not showing enough courage. Arsene Wenger did not appreciate Gallas' words to the media, and decided to make Cesc Fabregas the club's new captain.
In his time at Arsenal, Gallas was probably one of the few guys (if not the only guy) who could truly be physically intimidating and mean when he needed to. His intentions were always good, but often his actions were just too erratic or over-the-top for Arsenal fans and Wenger's liking.
In 2001, Sol Campbell made the switch from Tottenham Hotspur to Arsenal, breaking the hearts of Spurs' fans everywhere after having made over 300 appearances for the club. However, the move paid dividends for both the player and the club.
In only five years with the club, Sol Campbell earned seven times as much silverware as he had earned at Tottenham, winning two EPL titles, three FA Cups, and two Charity Shields with the Gunners.
On the field, Sol Campbell was a monster. He was a key member of the Invincibles side, but his own personal abilities were incredible as well. He was quick, imposing and powerful. His tackles were crunching and effective, and most of all, his leadership was unquestionable.
While some small minority of Gunners fans choose to get caught up in all the drama about his having been a Tottenham Hotspur player once upon a time, most Arsenal fans understand and appreciate just how incredibly good and important Sol Campbell was to Arsenal's success during his time with the club.
When Sol Campbell returned to Arsenal three-and-a-half seasons after leaving the club, his quality and leadership ability once again shone through as he was able to contribute excellently to Arsenal defense at the age of 35.
Unlike the previous three guys on this list, it's hard to say that Nigel Winterburn was really "physically imposing." In his Arsenal days, Winterburn stood about 5'8'' tall and weighed 72 kg—not exactly very frightening numbers.
But what made Nigel Winterburn a truly "mean" player was his tenaciousness. Like the guys before him on this list, Winterburn's challenges were strong and precise, and Winterburn was not afraid to engage in mind games with his opponents if he felt the desire to do so.
Unfortunately for Winterburn, he missed the golden years of 2001-05 (some would extend this to '06) under Arsene Wenger, but he managed to start in the 1997-98 "Double" winning side, which won both the EPL title and the FA Cup.
Introducing Pascal Cygan, one of the greatest defenders to ever put on an Arsenal t-shirr...wait what?
To be honest, Cygan is on this list because he is one scary looking dude. Just look at that face--is that someone you'd want to get into a fight with? Who knows what kind of stuff he could try?
As for his playing ability...yeah, that's not quite so fearsome. To be fair to Cygan, though, he's not as bad as he's often been made out to be, as this video shows.
Like Cygan, Keown's face can be quite scary when he needs or wants it to be. The difference between him and Cygan, however, is that Keown had plenty of skill and actual tenacity to go along with his looks.
Martin Keown is considered by many to be one of the best man-markers in English football history. He was never the paciest of defenders like Sol Campbell, but he frustrated many of the world's best center forwards at the time, like Ruud Van Nistelrooy or Francesco Totti.
Martin Keown also had a reputation for being somewhat crazy, a reputation which Giovanni van Bronckhorst would attest to. He expected the best out of his fellow defenders, and made sure to let them know if he thought their performance was below par.
Martin Keown is probably the winningest player on this list with 10 trophies: three FA Cups, three EPL titles, three Community Shields, and one UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.
Another oldie on this list, Peter Storey earned the reputation of being a true "hard man" by the end of his career. In fact, on The Times' list of the 50 greatest hardmen of all time, Peter Storey came in at 26th, meaning that he was a fairly scary player.
What earned Peter Storey his reputation was his hard tackling and very rough play. Arsenal fans used to joke that Peter Storey was "one Storey that belonged in the horror section."
Storey made over 500 appearances for Arsenal in his career, winning the FA Cup and First Division Double in 1971.
The only other Arsenal player to join Peter Storey on that list of hard men compiled by The Times was Patrick Vieira, and the French midfielder easily deserves his inclusion on that and this list.
Patrick Vieira's 10 red cards speak directly to the combative, aggressive midfielder that he was for Arsenal. But he was much more for Arsenal than just that.
Patrick Vieira was a fierce leader for Arsenal in the pre- and post-Tony Adams years, and was a strong constant in an ever-changing Arsenal team under Arsene Wenger. His skills were of course impeccable, and he remains one of the greatest players to ever put on an Arsenal shirt.
Robin Van Persie
Moving from an ex-captain of Arsenal to Arsenal's current captain, Robin Van Persie is also the only current Arsenal player on this list.
Robin Van Persie has always had a mean streak about him. His early career with Feyenoord was handicapped with disciplinary issues with his coach Bert van Marwijk, and these issues eventually resulted in his transfer to Arsenal.
At Arsenal, RVP's indiscipline was still an issue, as seen with his challenge on left back Graeme Le Saux of Southampton in 2004-05. However, under Wenger's guidance, RVP's decision making and discipline have both significantly improved.
Still, RVP is not afraid to get up in a referee or opponent's face to make his case on a foul or something in a game that he does not like. On a team of youngsters and players who lack true tenacity, Van Persie is the main and sometimes only source of leadership among the Gunners.
Like William Gallas, Ashley Cole is viewed by many Gunners fans as a traitor for turning his back on Arsenal and leaving for a rival club in North London. In fact, even though Tottenham are bigger rivals with Arsenal than Chelsea, Ashley Cole is arguably one of the most hated ex-Gunners to Arsenal fans today.
Nevertheless, Ashley Cole was one of the meanest defenders to ever play for Arsenal. His tackles were strong and assertive, and his contributions on the offensive end of the field have been matched by very few left backs in the world.
It is a testament to his immense ability that he is still regarded as the finest left back to have ever played for Arsenal despite his move away from the club for money.
Like Cygan, Lauren is one scary guy to look at. In fact, in a poll done back in 2004, Lauren beat out Jens Lehmann, Ashley Cole, and other to be voted the meanest Arsenal player at the time, and won mostly due to his looks.
Lauren isn't on here just for his looks, though. Lauren was a solid defender for Arsenal from 2001-05, before seeing his Arsenal career cut short by a long-term knee injury. He won two EPL titles and three FA Cups with Arsenal, and was a key member of the Invincibles of 2003-04.
Additionally, Lauren was a key member in the controversial Ruud Van Nistelrooy incident, and found himself banned for four games and fined for verbal abuse towards the Dutch striker.
Jens Lehmann was always going to be on this list. He wasn't necessarily the meanest Arsenal player ever, but he was undoubtedly the maddest, and that alone warrants inclusion.
Prior to arriving at Arsenal, Lehmann already had developed a reputation for erratic behavior. At Schalke, he is remembered for fleeing the stadium after a poor performance against Bayer Leverkusen, and at Borussia Dortmund, he is remembered for earning the record of most red cards ever given to any player—not goalkeeper—in the Bundesliga.
But above all his shenanigans, Jens Lehmann was a quality goalkeeper, and his performances in the 2003-04 Invincibles season or the 2005-06 Champions League run, in which he record 10 consecutive clean sheets, won't soon be forgotten.
What do you guys think? Are there any players on this list that shouldn't have been included? Or players who aren't on this list that you think should be included? I look forward to reading and responding to your feedback in the comments section below.