Statue For Dennis Bergkamp Is Long Overdue For Arsenal's Greatest Ever Player

on February 28 2013 8:40 AM

 

It's taken them too long, but Arsenal will finally unveil a statue dedicated to Dutch master Dennis Bergkamp. His statue should have been the first to go up outside Arsenal's new stadium.

Instead this is a long overdue homage to the club's greatest ever player. During the barren years at the Emirates Stadium, fans and journalists have speculated about who Arsenal miss the most.

Indeed, they have lost so many great assets since last lifting a trophy in May, 2005. Many would argue that talisman Patrick Vieira is missed the most. Others will claim they have never replaced the prolific class of Thierry Henry, or the elegant grace of Robert Pires.

Arsenal's consistent defensive frailties during the Emirates years, would prompt some to conclude that Sol Campbell was the biggest loss. However, the truth is so much more simple. Arsenal's biggest loss from the glory days of Arsene's Wenger's reign is Bergkamp.

He is the most important player in Arsenal's history for one reason. Although he arrived a season before Wenger, Bergkamp played the biggest role in transforming the personality of the team.

Once the cerebral Dutch forward donned an Arsenal shirt, the days of "boring, boring Arsenal" were over. The defensive rigidity that defined George Graham's teams and even the double-winning side of 1971, soon made way for flair and ingenuity.

Bergkamp was the chief architect of this sea-change. With this ideal No. 10 as the hub, Arsenal's play almost instantly became stylish and enterprising. Wenger's significance was that his ideas and principles accelerated this shift.

The French boss surrounded Bergkamp with players cut from a similar mould, players he would help flourish. Yet the entire basis for the attractive, intelligent football Arsenal became known for since Wenger's arrival, was dependant on Bergkamp.

The essence of Wenger's football is the fluid and varied movement of players off the ball. That demands that the man in position sees those runs and threads accurate passes in front of the right run.

Few players who have ever played the game were better at this than Bergkamp. He had a natural awareness for the positions of every one of his attacking teammates. He also had a knack for finding and exploiting space.

Whether he threaded through passes for strikers from the edge of the box, or dropped deep to launch long salvos for late-running midfielders, Bergkamp was the perfect creator.

As much as he transformed Arsenal's style Bergkamp, was also the catalyst for their greatest successes. Of the seven trophies Wenger has captured, all were won with Bergkamp playing a decisive role.

His 22 goals and peerless influence secured the 1997/98 double. The 2001/02 double is often remembered for Freddie Ljungberg's heroics during the run-in. However, Bergkamp made Ljungberg.

It was his clever passing that set Ljungberg up to score against Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United at Highbury. When Arsenal travelled to Bolton Wanderers in late-April, it was Bergkamp who proved decisive.

He provided two exquisite through-passes, setting up goals for both Ljungberg and Sylvain Wiltord in a crucial 2-0 win. Even when his role was reduced, too early by Wenger, Bergkamp was no less significant.

During the unbeaten season of 2003/04, Bergkamp provided some telling contributions. None was more valuable than setting up an equaliser at Chelsea in mid-February, 2004.

The Gunners were trailing 1-0 and needed to capitalise on Manchester United dropping points. Chelsea were also hot on their heels, in their first year reaping the benefits of Roman Abramovich's billions.

The push for the Premier League title was on a knife-edge. Then Bergkamp dropped into midfield and flicked a smooth through-pass straight through the heart of the Chelsea defense for the en-rushing Vieira.

All Vieira had to do was apply a side-foot finish and Arsenal were level. They would ultimately leave Stamford Bridge 2-1 winners and from that day the league was won.

Those examples serve as just a brief microcosm of Bergkamp's influence and class. The closest Wenger came to replacing the man who made his team's work was Cesc Fabregas. Without this kind of player, the standard of Arsenal's play has dropped during the last two seasons.

Wenger's brand of football is based on exploiting the gaps in between the lines. Bergkamp was his pass master. He ensured Arsenal would never again have to bear labels like "spoilers," "negative" or "defensive."

Bergkamp proved that the English game can be conquered with more than just grit, that flair can win through against even the most dogged opponents. He was worth the price of admission all by himself and changed the identity of a club for the better.

A statue is great, but it's the least Arsenal owe Bergkamp.