Arsenal’s Classic XI

Every club has its heroes. But equally, there are players who you might have forgotten about. These are the players that we love at Forgot About Him, and this feature is dedicated to them. Arsenal kick things off.

First up, is Arsenal – one of the Premier League’s most consistently successful sides. The likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Emmanuel Petit and Tony Adams will still be fresh in your memory from their time with the Gunners, but here is a team of players who we’ve dubbed as Arsenal’s Classic XI – a group of players who, when you see their name, you will say, “Oh yeah. Forgot about him.”

Kaba Diawara in action for AC Arles-Avignon. Photo: la Ville d

GK: Rami Shaaban

The Swedish stopper arrived as somewhat of an unknown in 2002, seen by Arsene Wenger as a potential heir to the goalposts David Seaman had occupied for so long. However he broke his leg in his first season at Highbury. When he returned to fitness, Wenger had already signed Jens Lehmann as Seaman’s replacement and Shaaban fell down the pecking order, eventually signing non-contract terms with Brighton in 2004. Shaaban returned to Sweden in 2006 and managed to force his way into the national team, keeping a clean sheet in the 2-0 win over Spain in the Euro 2008 qualifers.

CB: Stathis Tavlaridis

Nicknamed ‘The Bull’ at Lille and Saint-Etienne in the middle and late part of the noughties, Tavlaridis’ time at Arsenal was much less rampaging. He made just seven starts in his three year stint in north London, all of which were in the League Cup – meaning the £1million Greek defender cost around £150,000 per appearance. Now 31, Tavlaridis is back in Greece with Larissa where he lines up alongside fellow Forgot About Him candidate Nikos Dabizas.

CB: Pascal Cygan

Some may see Cygan’s inclusion in the Arsenal Forgot About Him XI as slightly harsh. The Frenchman was trusted by Wenger to perform the backup centre half role for four years, during which he started 80 times and scored on three occasions, including a brace against Fulham in 2005. He filled in ably, when required, for the likes of the ageing Martin Keown but eventually fell down the pecking order as the young heads of Johan Djourou and Phillipe Senderos came through the ranks. He joined Villarreal with Robert Pires in 2006.

CB: Igors Stepanovs

Stepanovs had forged a name for himself in his native Latvia with the country’s biggest club side Skonto Riga in the nineties. His competency caught Wenger’s eye, and he signed for Arsenal in 2000 at the age of 24. He made 31 appearances in three seasons but was never seen as having the potential to hold down a first team place at Highbury. He moved on in 2004 where he began a voyage around Europe to the likes of Beveren, Grasshopper and FC Shinnik, ending his international career on 99 caps in the process. He currently plays back in his homeland for FK Jurmala.

RWB: Nelson Vivas

When Vivas crossed the Atlantic to sign for Arsenal it was as cover for the veteran full backs Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. However his first season saw him start 18 games for the club, while he appeared the same amount of times a s a full back. His future looked promising, but the Argentinean defender was shipped out on loan to Celta Vigo in the new millennium. His contract ran out in 2001 – and the marauding defender was curiously snapped up by Inter Milan. After it didn’t work out in Italy, he returned to South America, first with River Plate and then Quilmes, scoring goals like this, until he retired in 2005.

LWB: Juan

After arriving with a bucket-load of potential in 2001, the Brazilian soon impressed in cup ties with Grimsby and Gillingham. In the latter, he provided the cross which gave Ray Parlour Arsenal’s fifth of the day – it seemed his future was promising. However he didn’t make another appearance for the Gunners. The unfortunate timing of Juan’s breakthrough meant that he had to compete with Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy in the left back position – an unenviable task. He returned to Brazil two years after joining Arsenal and managed to forge a career for himself, breaking into the national team in 2008. Juan signed for Brazilian giants Sao Paulo at the beginning of 2011.

CM: Ian Selley

One of Arsenal’s brightest young prospects of the early ’90s, 36-year-old Selley now plies his trade at Conference South outfit Havant & Waterlooville. After making his Gunners’ debut in 1992, aged just 18, the Surrey-born midfielder went on to make 62 appearances for them under George Graham. However, after breaking his leg in 1995, he was sold to Fulham and subsequently Wimbledon, before forging a relatively successful career in non-league football.

CM: Remi Garde

Just days after Bruce Rioch left his post as Arsenal boss in 1996, Frenchman Garde was signed, along with Patrick Vieira, under the recommendation of incoming manager Arsene Wenger. The two countrymen, although brought in on the same day, had differing degrees of success at Arsenal, with Garde, who was 30 when he came to England, seen as more of a back-up player. After turning out for the Gunners 45 times in three seasons, he retired, aged 33, in 1999, before becoming a coach at former club Lyon, where he is now director of the club’s training centre.

CM: Paolo Vernazza

Local boy Vernazza signed professional terms with Arsenal in 1997, but was limited to just 11 first-team games, including matches against Panathanikos and Deportivo in the Champions League. The youngster found it difficult to compete with the likes of Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Ray Parlour for Arsenal’s central midfield berth, and left the club for Championship side Watford in 2000. Vernazza spent three-and-a-half years at Vicarage Road, making 96 appearances, before dropping down the league ladder. He now turns out for Bishop’s Stortford in the Conference South, whilst running Pro Impact Football, a training camp for 5 to 15 year olds.

ST: Kaba Diawara

Signed from Bordeaux for £2.5million in the same month as Nwankwo Kanu, Guinea international Diawara failed to make an impact at Arsenal during his short stay at the club. Unlike Kanu, who soon developed into a fans’ favourite at Highbury, Diawara faded into obscurity after just 15 first-team outings in 1999, and was sold to Bordeaux’s rivals Marseille for an increased fee of £3million. After a brief, yet equally unsuccessful return to the Premier League in 2001 with West Ham and Blackburn, 35-year-old Diawara had spells in Qatar, Turkey and Cyprus, before signing for French Ligue 1 newcomers, AC Arles-Avignon in 2009.

ST: Christopher Wreh

After signing for Arsenal in 1997, complete with the label of being former World Player of the Year George Weah’s cousin, Wreh showed glimpses, including this strike against Bolton, that he could cut it in the Premier League. His good form towards the end of the 1997/98 season, coupled with an injury to Dennis Bergkamp, even earned him a starting place in the 1998 FA Cup Final, which Arsenal went on to win 2-0. However, his attitude and fitness were consistently in question, and after leaving Highbury in 2000 for an unsuccessful spell at Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal, Wreh lost interest in the beautiful game, and in 2005, after failing to earn a deal at Buckingham Town, decided to pursue other ventures – setting up a band called the Soul Rebels, which he writes about in his blog.

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