With a title at stake and the chance to cement themselves as Leicester’s main challenger this Saturday’s north London derby is, by any barometer, the most important in living memory.
What better time then to compile an all-time greatest combined XI, an Arsenal and Spurs hybrid side that would have sent Claudio Ranieri’s men cowering back to their fox-holes by Christmas and with the league championship and Capital One Cup already sewn up have one eye on yet another quadruple.
This eleven would quite simply be unbeatable and it’s worth remembering too that the subs bench isn’t too shabby either – Ted Ditchburn, Ledley King, Patrick Vieira, Liam Brady, Glenn Hoddle, Cliff Bastin, Dennis Bergkamp.
No Hoddle in the starting line-up I hear you cry. No Vieira! And no McLintock, Wright or Klinsmann anywhere to be seen! Yup this team is that good.
Goalkeeper – Pat Jennings
We begin with an absolute no-brainer. The quietly-spoken Irishman notched up over a thousand top-level appearances in north London playing thirteen seasons for Spurs before moving down the Seven Sisters Road to their arch rivals for a further eight. A bona fide legend for both clubs Jennings was famous for using any part of his body to make a block whether that be knee, ankle or elbow. It wasn’t about posing for Big Pat, it was about doing his a job and it was a job he did better than anyone.
Right-back – Pat Rice
A double-winner with over 500 appearances under his belt Rice then became Arsene Wenger’s right-hand man helping to guide the Gunners to a further two doubles before taking a well-earned retirement in 2012. The epitome of reliability and consistency the modest Northern Irishman spent 44 years at the club amassing enough silverware to trouble a factory of Pledge.
Left-back – Ashley Cole
Before he became ‘Cashley’ and the go-to example of all that is wrong with 21st century football the boy from Stepney established himself as the finest British left-back of many a generation with eight years of outstanding service to the Gunners.
Tenacious to the point of being unconquerable in defence and always a whippet-quick threat on the overlap Cole was the complete full-back who defined its modernised role.
Centre-back – Steve Perryman
A versatile mainstay who latterly dropped back into defence from midfield Perryman is a shoo-in for any greatest XIs involving Spurs by virtue of a staggering 854 first team appearances many of them as captain and leader.
Gazza may have later christened Gary Mabbutt as ‘Mr Tottenham’ but throughout seventeen years with the cockerel on his chest this accomplished stopper never let the club down once. They don’t make them like this guy anymore.
Centre-back – Tony Adams
The problem with compiling such a team is that it’s almost impossible to compare players from vastly differing eras in a sport that is always barely recognisable from each generation that preceded it. Which is why we’ve taken the contentious decision (when you consider the names that are to follow) of making Adams our skipper.
Whether it’s the pre-Premier League robust fist-pumping defender eternally insisting on offside or the refined renaissance man that flourished under Wenger the 66-cap legend spanned two distinct times and was a colossus in both.
Midfield – Danny Blanchflower
Captain of the ’61 double-winning team and as cultured a right-half there ever was Blanchflower’s driven elegance compelled The Times to name him Spurs’ greatest ever player in 2009.
Following his passing in 1993 a national newspaper began their obituary with these words, words we cannot come close to bettering – “If the 20th century is going to throw up a more original, eloquent, free-thinking football man than Danny Blanchflower then it has little time to lose”.
If he were around today the mega-rich clubs would require a bank loan to sign him.
Midfield – Dave Mackay
Considered the finest footballer of them all by no less a judge as Brian Clough and regarded as ‘the bravest man in the world’ by Sir Alex Ferguson the Edinburgh giant was ferociously hard as nails yet combined that with a rare stylish guile.
Arguably the most complete midfielder Scotland ever produced Mackay reinvented himself as a sweeper in his later years passing from the back with such authority it garnered him a Footballer of the Year award at the ripe age of 34.
Midfield – Paul Gascoigne
Tipping the triangle of a Tottenham midfield trio we’d sell our granny to bear witness to is a boy named Paul who half-grew up to become a creation called Gazza.
Blessed with extraordinary natural talent Gascoigne played with a schoolboy exuberance that had opposition fans half-hoping his mazy dribble would end with the ball nestled in the net. In 1990 at the World Cup he even had the temerity to Cruyff-spin the Dutch and it was such infectious joy of playing the game that was integral to football moving from the dark ages into the light.
Attacking midfielder – Alex James
Captain and visionary of the Arsenal side that romped to three consecutive titles in the 1930s James’ brilliance as an unorthodox inside-forward had a swagger about it that made everything seem effortless.
Many, many years later those old and wise enough to draw such comparisons remarked on similarities between the diminutive Scot and Dennis Bergkamp. Except that the non-flying Dutchman never wore long johns under his shorts to help with his rheumatism. Probably.
Centre-forward – Jimmy Greaves
Bought for a club record £99,999 from AC Milan the goal-machine who would later be referred to by housewives and pundits alike as ‘Greavsie’ rattled home 220 goals in 321 appearances for the Spurs. Prior to his Italian adventure he’s slotted away 124 for 157 for Chelsea.
Ah but this was a different age when scoring was easier? No, the ball was harder, the pitches were Somme-like, and these are truly astonishing figures no matter the era.
If the world was just he would have started the 1966 final and grabbed the famous hat-trick. Arise Sir Jimmy.
Centre-forward – Thierry Henry
Nothing gets our adrenaline flowing more in making this list than imagining this exceptional and sumptuous talent pairing up front with Greaves.
The undisputed Roi of the Emirates was searing quick, blessed with supernatural touch and awareness, and as likely to caress one home from 25 yards as he was spying a one-two to race clear. He was, in short, unplayable.
A leader in every possible way of the great Arsenal side that bewildered 2003/04 into unbeaten submission Henry was the Invincible’s Invincible.