Sansom, Winterburn or Cole. Who is Arsenal’s greatest modern left back? Definitive answer from the experts

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Artwork by @The_zama for 1ND2OU

I guess the occasion of Arsenal anti-hero Ashley Cole’s 100th cap got me thinking this week. Arsenal, in my time have been blessed in the left back position. I just missed double winner Bob McNab, but grew up watching Sammy Nelson and John Devine, before Kenny Samson arrived at the club in 1980. From 1980 until 2006 over a 26 year period, barring a season or so with Silvinho it has been my pleasure to watch arguably 3 of the greatest exponents of fullback play England has known. Clichy was not shabby but not in the same division as Kenny Sansom, Nigel Winterburn or Ashley Cole. These are 3 giants of the modern era sharing 188 England caps between them. So who was our greatest left back and how could one begin to measure it? I hope I have found a fairly conclusive and foolproof method but first a few words on each from my own perspective. Before you read on who is your money on? Sansom, Winterburn or Cole? (All best Arsenal betting odds as ever at BWIN Sportsbook)

Kenny Sansom was already England’s first choice whilst at Crystal Palace when he arrived at Arsenal in the late summer of 1980. He was to remain so for many years amassing 86 caps and starring at 2 major tournaments with his country. He became a fan favourite instantly, strong in the tackle, an amazing header of the ball for a short guy and soon became our skipper. Sadly for Kenny he captained Arsenal through a lean spell, (yes and 8 year one!!) but I was delighted along with thousand of us to see him left the Littlewoods Cup at Wembley, my own first live final. Kenny is Mr Arsenal and still works for the club today but in 1988 he was one of the senior pro casualties along with Anderson and Nicholas under George Graham. He is still one of my own all time favourite players and the moment he turned to the fans on the 5th April 1987 my moment. We had beaten Liverpool when Rush had scored first, something that have never happened and he had lead his young team to that final. 1 Nil down 2 one up!

Having played one season at right back after signing from Wimbledon Nigel ‘Nutty’ Winterburn took over from Kenny on the left. He was to retain the position incredibly for the next 12 years. Winterburn epitomised the grit and never say die attitude of the Graham era. He was a solid defender in his own right, whilst perhaps not world class. However for Nigel it was being part of a unit and perhaps the best back four in English top flight history. Along with Dixon, Adams and Bould, latterly Keown, Winterburn straddled the Graham and Wenger eras, the two most rewarding in the club’s history. Nutty by some mishap of time gained 2 England caps, scant reward for his ability, but like Leighton Baines misfortune today with Cole,  the 75 caps in Stuart Pearce’s closet provide the explanation. Although I will still struggle to this day to comprehend the 15 earned by Tony Dorigo over Nutty. Sentiment will have Nigel high on everyone’s list of Gooner legends and I include myself in that number and his winner at Stamford Bridge in Wenger’s first title on list, at 44 of the top 50 great Arsenal goals.

[youtube.com/watch?v=ZcJ-AGDofc0 100% 250]

 

Finally we of course come to the most popular of the 3 with the faithful, Ashley Cole. The only one we can boat to have produced ourselves. The first homegrown to make the first team in the Wenger era. Given the talent we had ion the team and our spending policy back in the early naughties that in itself informs us we had a very special talent in our ranks. Let’s get this right for those who do not remember the facts from 2001. Silvinho had been signed to replace Winterburn and his form in 1999/2000 and at the start of the following season had been so impressive it had earned him him a call up and 6 caps for the might Brazil. Yes the same side who went on to win the World Cup in 2002. Yet after an injury the Brazilian found he could not regain his place from a 21 year old English ex winger named Cole.

Cole in his last big game celebrates Campbell's header v Barca
Cole in his last big game celebrates Campbell’s header v Barca

We all know the facts surrounding Cole’s departure after 5 superb years and it is unlikely the fans will forgive him. He did win 2 league titles and 3 FA Cups in a Goldern era however and we should always be proud of the fact that Brady and our set up make him, so to speak. Ironically the circumstances around his salary and his leaving are not so unusual to us now. He has been described as the greatest left back in the world by many pundits but is he the best of our 3 greats? By definition he must be you might link but not necessarily because my question is who was our greatest? So was Cole the world’s betstbetween 2001 and 2006 whilst at Highbury where he of course played in the last match. After all Sansom himself was described in the 1980s as the best left back in the world and Winterburn stayed as Arsenal left back for 12 years.

So how can we determine who was the best of these 3 modern greats and who are the experts I speak of in the title? Has 1ND2OU manged to interview the press or ex players? No I have not but I have done far better. I have canvased the view of the true experts in the case, the fans who have stood or sat at Highbury or the Emirate as I have watching all 3 close up. Yes readers I have the views of 35 Gooners of the ‘Senior’ variety. All 40 plus and in some cases 60 plus, Peter you know who you are! If you are on twitter you will know most of these guys. If you read blogs other than mine as I am sure you do you will notice some of the very best Arsenal bloggers as well as other Arsenal twitter dignatories  have assisted me to find the answer to this burning question.

I asked 35 of the ‘Senior Survey brigade’ as I have called them ( much to @LordHillwood’s amusement,) to mark all three left backs out of 10 for first defensive ability and secondly attacking ability to give each player a mark out of 20 so without further ado let;’f find out definitively who was ‘Arsenal’s Greatest Left Back?’

 

Kenny Sansom 1980-88

Senior Gooner Panel Defensive Ability out of 10 Attacking Ability out of 10 Total Score
@goonerdave66 9 8 17
@GeoffArsenal 8 8 16
@Arselona 8 7 15
@theN5er 10 7 17
@AngryofN5 10 8 18
@TrueStorey_No4 8 7 15
@Yogis_Warrior 9 7 16
@SheWore 9 7 16
@AFC_Glen 7 7 14
@Tootlesthetaxi 9 9 18
@sjc1951 7 7 14
@poznaninmypants 9 6 15
@GarytheGooner1956 10 8 18
@bertieB56 7 7 14
@YorkshireGooner 9 7.5 16.5
@Head_Stone 7 6 13
@SLGooner14 8 7.5 15.5
@LordHillwood 8 7 15
@Mick_Wilkinson 9 5 14
@Gooner1947 6 8 14
@HarlowGooner 8 8 16
@Dazzyd001 8 8 16
@JamrockRover 7 7 14
@DarrenArsenal1 8 7 15
@KeiththeGooner 9 6 15
@GaryPrince 9 9 18
@StevesBaldCo 7 6 13
@Cats_Arse 7 7 14
@1markconway 6 3 9
@jonathanwood 9 8 17
@AfcMark1 8 6 14
@mattRowntree 7 7 14
@Dabbott48 9 7 16
@The1971JB 9 7 16
@DavidAFC68 6 4 10
Total 284 244 528

Nigel Winterburn 1987 – 2000

Senior Gooner Panel Defensive Ability out of 10 Attacking Ability out of 10 Total Score
@goonerdave66 9.5 7.5 17
@GeoffArsenal 9 7 16
@Arselona 9 7 16
@theN5er 9 7 16
@AngryofN5 9 8 17
@TrueStorey_No4 9 8 17
@Yogis_Warrior 9 4 13
@SheWore 9 8 17
@AFC_Glen 8 8 16
@Tootlesthetaxi 7 7 14
@sjc1951 8 8 16
@poznaninmypants 8 6 14
@GarytheGooner1956 9 8 17
@bertieB56 8 6 14
@YorkshireGooner 8.5 7 15.5
@Head_Stone 8 7 15
@SLGooner14 8 7 15
@LordHillwood 7 6 13
@Mick_Wilkinson 8 5
@Gooner1947 9 5 14
@HarlowGooner 9 7 18
@Dazzyd001 9 6 15
@JamrockRover 8 5 13
@DarrenArsenal1 8 6 14
@KeiththeGooner 9 7 16
@GaryPrince 9 8 17
@StevesBaldCo 9 5 14
@Cats_Arse 8 7 15
@1markconway 7 4 11
@jonathanwood 9 6 15
@AfcMark1 8 6 14
@mattRowntree 6 8 14
@Dabbott48 9 8 17
@The1971JB 8 7 15
@DavidAFC68 8 6 14
Total 293 227.5 520.5

Ashley Cole 1999 – 2006

Senior Gooner Panel Defensive Ability out of 10 Attacking Ability out of 10 Total Score
@goonerdave66 8 9 17
@GeoffArsenal 9 9 18
@Arselona 9 9 18
@theN5er 9 9 18
@AngryofN5 10 9 19
@TrueStorey_No4 9 9 18
@Yogis_Warrior 8 8 16
@SheWore 8 8 16
@AFC_Glen 8 8 16
@Tootlesthetaxi 8 7 15
@sjc1951 7 9 16
@poznaninmypants 7 9 16
@GarytheGooner1956 9 10 19
@bertieB56 9 8 17
@YorkshireGooner 8.5 10 18.5
@Head_Stone 9 8 17
@SLGooner14 8.5 8.5 17
@LordHillwood 8 8 16
@Mick_Wilkinson 8 8 16
@Gooner1947 8 5 13
@HarlowGooner 8 8 16
@Dazzyd001 9 9 18
@JamrockRover 8 7 15
@DarrenArsenal1 7 8 15
@KeiththeGooner 10 10 20
@GaryPrince 9 10 19
@StevesBaldCo 8 7 15
@Cats_Arse 8 8 16
@1markconway 6 7 15
@jonathanwood 9 7 16
@AfcMark1 7 9 16
@mattRowntree 8 7 15
@Dabbott48 9 8 17
@The1971JB 7 8 15
@DavidAFC68 9 7 16
Total 290 288.5 578.5

Conclusion:

So there you have it Ashley Cole according to an expert panel was the greatest of our 3 legend left backs. He played for us the least number of years but he packed a lot of success into that time and was integral to it. Most will never have the affection for him that we have for Sansom and Winterburn but we should still be proud that when all is said and done it is Arsenal FC that made Ashley Cole the players he is and no one else. So if we cannot be proud of the man we should be proud of the player. Bit lets make no mistake all 3 were among their best in their own time. Nigel ‘Nutty’ Winterburn, my personal favourite would have played 50 ties for his country in any other time period when he was at his peak. Indeed the temptation to pick Arsenal back four in front of Seaman for England must have plated on the minds of at least 3 England mangers in Taylor, Venables and Hoddle. You might also note that my expert panel have Nigel as marginally the best defender of the 3 and it was the attacking dimension in Cole’s game that gave him the edge.

Special thanks to all 34 of my superb panel who set aside personal feelings and displayed high professionalism, despite a few spicy comments, in giving a true evaluation and selecting Ashley Cole. I was genuinely intrigued and thought it might have been a tad closer than it was but can you really argue with 35 seasoned supporters who have witnessed all 3 at their peak? The panel will be reading this at the same time as you so please join me in thanking them all for their contribution and making this a special blog with a difference. If you are not on twitter the names will mean little to you but trust me these guys all know their Arsenal and if you are on twitter and are a younger fan I recommend you follow them all today.

Thanks again and well done Cashley he says through gritted teeth…. I will be back to you all in in 2018 I hope with Mr K Gibbs in the survey!

You win the 1ND2OU Arsenal Greats Left Back Trophy
You win the 1ND2OU Arsenal Greats Left Back Trophy

Like what you read? Agree/disagree? Leave a comment below or follow me or comment on this blog on Twitter – http://twitter.com/goonerdave66

 

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18 comments

  1. While reading the blog, I was hoping next up should be Gibbs in the survey and saw your final words much to my delight!
    Nicely done Dave, so much of time and effort spent, you are a real (bugger 😛 ) blogger.
    As much as I hate to mention it, but it has to be Cashley. But would’ve loved Flamini to play in that left back position versus Barcelona in 2006 final. Just to show no players are bigger than a club itself!

  2. Good one. Arsenal have always had a knack for producing quality LB. Barring injuries, I see Gibbs in that fold in no-too-distant future.
    Nigel, who wouldn’t love him eh? I was secretly wishing he won the survey. He is still my all time favourite, I don’t really mind what the elders voted.
    Kenny on the other hand, played way before my time. I truly don’t know much about him – even if he’d won the survey, I’d not be mad coz I’d thought those who saw him play would know better.
    Cashley, the much loved Cole… Hmmm! So much so that he is aware that of all England greats (that hit the 100caps), he’s the least loved. How will he not be disliked when he goes around shooting people and supporting those accused of racism eh? But, keeping anger and dislike in check, you’ve got to give it to him, the dude knows his onions. He can transmute from defence to attack in matter of seconds and knows how well to put the ball in the box. Sadly enough, most full backs nowadays find that a very difficult task.
    On the whole, another meritorious post by the very creative, one-and-only Dave. Thanks mate.

  3. Great blog , I must say what a great read.
    I have been a season ticket holder for 24 years,I have seen all three of the left backs play. I hate to say it but in my opinion you got it spot on,cashley was a Complete prick but what a great player. Produced by the AFC and then bought by Chelski,great write up I really enjoyed it.
    I must say to win nowadays you have to spend money something we have found hard to come by recently,you have all the idiots wanting Wenger out ?
    A manager that would walk into almost any job in the world? I find it difficult why we have not yet brought Usmanov to the table along with bringing back David Dien? Then getting rid of Gazidas,anyway sorry to move away from the leftback discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed and agreed with your write up ( blog), tank you

  4. Haha.. I thought it was an excellent idea with the senior survey brigade (some good names / people on that list) Only saw Nigel and Cole, and despite all, I agree we have things to be proud of regarding the latter.

    This was a good idea/read, Dave, cheers.

  5. You need new batteries for your calculator

    Sansom – 528
    Winterburn – 525.5
    Cole – 578.5

    Same outcome though.

    1. I need the subtotals if I am to quickly change. I don’t have a calculator and did in my head. Thanks

  6. Great blog.Agree Cole tbe best.We have always had great eft backs.I have seen Bob McNab,Wally Barnes and Lionel Smith,all great left backs and before my time Eddie Hapgood

  7. Agree 100% that Winterburn should have had far more caps. Dorigo was fucking awful. Much the same situation as Des Walker stopping Tony Adams getting over 100caps. For some reason England managers seemed to have a downer on Arsenal defenders despite them being part of greatest defensive unit this Country has ever seen.

  8. Have to agree that AC3 was the best LB from the 3 and that is based on having seen all 3 play live over the period mentioned. Think Sansom could have been higher, but he played in a team that struggled for many years, whereas the other 2 played in successful teams more often than not. Also, I think Kenny was not quite as ‘professional’ as he could have been in terms of lifestyle and fitness, if you know what I mean!

  9. Had to be Ashley – close run with Winterburn, one of my fav players growing up with that highlight goal against Chelsea. Take bias and club legend status out of it and we all know the greatest is Cole. Made in Arsenal.

  10. As much as I hate him, I thought Cole immediately. As for Gibbs, he is light years away from being as good as Kenny and Nutty. For a start, the guy should try harder to play more than 5% of a season. Sorry, I’m sick to the back teeth seeing Sick notes effecting our season so negatively year after year. Before Nacho arrived, Gibbs was always a tackle away from disrupting our defence for most of the season.

  11. Great post Dave, was sweating on my marks but delighted now. Very pleasing to see that so many AFC supporters agree on something

  12. Being a Wenger era fan I cant really comment on Sansom or Winterburn. In fact I really liked Sylvinho when I first started watching Arsenal. But when people who have been watching Arsenal for well over 30+ years rate a player with kind of rep that AC with us, has higher than the other 2 you got to believe them. For me he is the best Left back I’ve ever seen, end of story. He may be %#$@* but you cannot fault his quality & talent.

  13. Well I’m gutted. Was I away? Didn’t you think think of me? Those young whelps on the panel, what do they know?

    Well actually, I would have picked him as well, even without the photos of him in his underpants.

    The one person you mentioned that was fantastic in defense, if not so good in attack was McNab. Now he did have to defend with the team he had in front of him. And then they went on to get amongst other things, the Double!!!

    Excellent article once again Dave. Keep up the good work.

    1. Pat you are right and I apologise. I did put a tweet out. I went from my era but yes McNab club legend and no doubt of that

  14. Excellent article. I love the way you asked popular Arsenal twitter users what they thought of each player. I’d agree, as much as I hate him, Cole was our best LB ever.

    Can Gibbs change that?

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