The image of Mount Rushmore is one of the most iconic pieces of sculpture in history. It depicts the faces of four United States presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
Gutzon Borglum selected these four presidents because, from his perspective, they were representative of the most important events in the history of the United States. They also symbolised the values upon which the nation was founded.
The start of the new Premier League season has got Bleacher Report wondering: If Arsenal were to sculpt four faces into some British mountainside, who would make the cut?
We’re looking for figures who have played a crucial role in defining Arsenal’s story, shaping the culture of the club either on or off the football pitch. Read on to discover the men who would be immortalised in Arsenal’s hypothetical Rushmore.
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It won’t be any great surprise to see Arsene Wenger as the first name on this list. The current Arsenal boss is arguably the greatest manager in the club’s history.
His trophy haul speaks for itself. Wenger has led Arsenal to three Premier League titles, one of which was won without losing a single league game. He has also lifted the FA Cup a remarkable seven times. That particular feat makes him the most successful manager in the cup’s history.
However, what Wenger has brought to Arsenal goes well beyond silverware. He is the longest-serving manager in the club’s history, and his 21 years at the helm have seen the Gunners go through an incredible period of evolution. He has shifted the perception of the club dramatically, consigning the “Boring boring Arsenal” of George Graham to the past and establishing the Gunners as a team renowned for attractive, attacking football. The Invincibles team of 2003/04 might well have been the best team to watch that the club has ever produced.
It hasn’t all been easy for Wenger—and that makes his role all the more significant. When Arsenal decided upon the costly move to the Emirates Stadium, he stuck around to see the club through a period of enforced parsimony. That led to a nine-year trophy drought. However, he has since recaptured the winning habit, capturing the FA Cup in three out of the last four seasons.
Wenger is now synonymous with Arsenal, and it’s difficult to envisage life at the club without him. His latest contract runs until 2019—if indeed it is his last, he will leave an indelible mark on the football club.
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While many regard Wenger as the best manager Arsenal have ever had, there are those who would also lend their support to Herbert Chapman. Journalist Brian Glanville wrote in World Soccer Magazine:
“One frequently reads Wenger being extolled as the greatest manager in the Gunners history, but I would question that. That he has stayed in charge for a remarkable 21 years is beyond doubt or appreciation. But the greatest manager in the club’s history? As one who has written the official history of the club I would strongly question that claim and suggest that the accolade should be bestowed on Herbert Chapman.”
The case for Chapman is strong. The former Huddersfield Town boss joined the Gunners in 1925 and immediately transformed the team from relegation battlers to title chasers. By 1930, he had won his first FA Cup with Arsenal, beginning a period in which they would become the top team in English football.
Tragically, Chapman did not live to witness Arsenal’s dominance of the 1930s. He died suddenly in 1934, but the foundations had been laid and the team continued to grow and develop without him.
Like Wenger, Chapman was a great innovator. He introduced new tactical approaches to the game, as well as modern touches like floodlit stadiums and numbered shirts.
A statue of Chapman stands proudly outside the Emirates Stadium—a nod to his role in the birth of Arsenal as a major force in English football. It’s only right that he be reflected in Arsenal’s fantasy Mount Rushmore, too.
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Given that this is ultimately about celebrating the history of a football club, Arsenal really ought to have a player recognised in their Mount Rushmore. There are plenty of contenders: Thierry Henry is the greatest goalscorer in the club’s history and seemed to embody the swagger and style of Wenger’s best Arsenal teams. Then there’s Tony Adams—the man dubbed “Mr. Arsenal” such was his affinity with the club where he spent his entire career.
However, we’ve decided instead to choose a player who did not even join the Gunners until the age of 26.
The signing of Dennis Bergkamp in 1995 may well be the most important in the club’s history. His arrival left fans open-mouthed and re-established Highbury as a destination of choice for major European stars.
His influence on the field was enormous, too. It was Bergkamp who led the technical revolution at Arsenal, helping Wenger to cultivate a new style of play based on intricate passing and intelligent movement.
His attitude was also second to none. Wenger said of Bergkamp on the occasion of his testimonial (h/t arsenal.com):
“A lot has been said about Dennis over the years; about his class, about his intelligence – his remarkable intelligence – about his vision, basically you can never say enough about the player. But the one thing which is a real example for youngsters is that Dennis Bergkamp, and I have worked with him for ten years don’t forget, until the last minute of his final training session, he did not lose his concentration or dedication for one minute.”
Bergkamp set a new standard for Arsenal—both on the pitch and at the training ground.
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Our final choice may come as a surprise to some. However, Danny Fiszman is someone who played a vital part in forging the shape of the modern Arsenal.
Tony Adams credits Fiszman with helping to transform Arsenal into a continental force back in the 1990s. Speaking to The Independent, Adams said:
“I think that a significant factor, 90 per cent, in why we achieved so much is that Danny Fiszman invested £50m in the club and we were able to go to the next level.
“I got my first decent contract at the club, so did David Seaman, we were able to bring in Dennis Bergkamp – and that was before Arsene arrived – David Platt, Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka, and were able to pay them – top players from around the world.”
Fiszman was also one of the key drivers of Arsenal’s move to the Emirates Stadium. He shared Wenger’s belief that the new ground was necessary in order for the Gunners to match the huge revenue streams of their competitors. His vision and dedication was a major factor in Arsenal’s ability to pull off the audacious move, and that’s in part why one of the bridges to the stadium was named after Fiszman after his untimely death in 2011.
Fiszman also played a key role in determining the future of the club when he elected to sell his shares to Stan Kroenke. The wisdom of that decision will only become clear with a bit of distance, but what’s certain is that it once again shifted the course of the club forever.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and follows the club from a London base.