Tony Adams: I’ve not been this excited about Arsenal in 20 years – Partey is Vieira and Petit rolled into one
IT takes a lot to impress Tony Adams these days.
The Arsenal idol has seen too many false dawns at the Emirates to allow himself to get carried away by a few positive results.
So when he admits that he has not felt this electrified by his former club since he retired, you know that something special must be happening.
Because the man who captained the Gunners for 14 years and won ten major trophies, including four top-flight titles, is convinced Mikel Arteta is creating a team to compete with anyone in the game.
And ahead of Sunday’s North London derby, he predicts a very different outcome to the last time these bitter rivals met at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
It is now almost 21 years since Adams made the last of his 669 appearances for the club and he said: “This is the most excited I’ve been by an Arsenal team since I retired.
“There’s a group of guys who look like they have a chance of actually winning the title and now they’ve come this far they can’t settle for second place.
“I absolutely love what I’m seeing this season and defensively they’ve gone to another level.
“The manager has stopped rotating his team and we’re not being so stupid at the back.
“For the previous two years under Arteta and even before him when Unai Emery was in charge, there was a constant desire to play out from the back at all costs. It was suicidal football and their success rate in getting the ball out of their own half was only ten per cent.
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“Now Aaron Ramsdale is happy to put his foot through the ball when it’s needed and I really like the confidence and swagger he’s brought to the team after 20 years of Arsenal keepers being too respectful.
“Having Ben White at right-back has also made a huge difference because, hallelujah, we finally have full-backs that can defend.
“When you have an out-and-out winger like Bukayo Saka, you don’t need an attacking full-back and White has been able to fit in next to William Saliba and fill the gaping hole that we used to leave in that channel.
“White is comfortable at full-back and though Saliba and Gabriel still have an occasional mistake in them, as a unit they’re really solid.
“The Dixon, Bould, Adams and Winterburn combination at Arsenal was so successful because we worked as a unit and knew each others’ games inside out.
“You need consistency and familiarity from playing together on a regular basis and that’s what is happening with this Arsenal back four.
“But any defence is only as good as the protection from in front and my player of the season so far is Thomas Partey, because he’s been out of this world.
“He’s Patrick Vieira and Manu Petit rolled into one and I’m loath to bring attention to how well he’s playing because I feel Arsenal have been getting away with it.
“If you don’t put someone on him, he will dictate the game because he breaks things up for fun and gets the whole team playing.
“Having Partey playing every week after all his injury problems has released Martin Odegaard and means we don’t have that crazy thing with Granit Xhaka trying to drop in at left-back to provide cover any more.”
But it is not only in defence where Adams has seen this young Arsenal team come on in leaps and bounds.
He said: “Saka is a wonderkid. He makes goals and scores goals. He should already be the PFA Player of the Year.
“I’ve been waiting for the last three years for him and Gabriel Martinelli to get tired but they just keep going.
“And that’s a good job for Arteta, because without those two kids dragging the team for the last two seasons, he wouldn’t still be in a job.”
Despite Arsenal holding a five-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table, 56-year-old Adams is still not convinced they are heading for their first title since 2004.
He recalled: “In February 1989, we were 19 points ahead of Liverpool but we still went to Anfield needing to win on the final day to win the title.
“Absolutely the nerves creep in when you find yourself out in front and suddenly thinking, ‘Oh my God, we’re top of the table and we might actually win the league’.
“What worries me now is that, when push comes to shove, Manchester City have too many options in their squad.
“There’s not a lot on the Arsenal bench and, as well as he’s doing at the moment, I don’t think you win the league with Eddie Nketiah as your striker.
“They need reinforcements and they need Gabriel Jesus back from injury to get them over the line. That could be the title decider.”
All of which makes tomorrow’s trip to Tottenham all the more important.
No one at the Emirates has forgotten how Spurs were awarded a soft early penalty last May before Rob Holding was sent off and the team lost 3-0 to effectively wreck their hopes of Champions League qualification.
But Adams points out: “Last time we had Cedric, Holding and Tomiyasu in defence and Elneny in midfield. This will be an entirely different Arsenal team.
“Tottenham played a very simple game up to Harry Kane and we didn’t cover it. But this time we’ll have Partey cutting off his supply line.
“Kane’s approaching his thirties and Arsene Wenger would tell you he’s not going to be the same player physically for much longer. But that’s Tottenham all over.
“This current group of players are miles away from challenging the top teams.
“The annoying neighbours are there for the taking but it’s also their cup final — and all they’ve got to play for on Sunday is the chance to stop Arsenal from winning the league.
“Tottenham had a great team when I started playing against them. We were the underdogs and we just went out and kicked them off the pitch.
“But that completely changed once we’d won our first title and they were always in our shadow after that. And that’s how it is shaping up again now.”
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