Steve Bould talks about Cantona and his four toughest opponents

This revealing interview from November 1995 was accidentally deleted (by me) from ANR last week.

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On Saturday November 4th, Arsenal showed they are once again title contenders by beating Manchester United 1-0 at Highbury.

It was their first victory against United in seven games since 1991.

The Gunners were utterly mediocre last season, unable to beat any of the teams above them in the league , except for a 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest in February on the day George Graham was sacked. And even that was a false result because Stan Collymore and Bryan Roy did not play.

Now Arsenal are performing consistently under new manager Bruce Rioch, and passing the ball better than ever. They’ve kept seven clean sheets in their first 12 Premiership games, but centreback Steve Bould thought they should have defended more professionally against United.

“To be honest, I didn’t think the back four played that well. It was one of our poorest performances , as a collective unit.

“But, saying that, United’s movement was excellent, the best we’ve seen all season, and could turn out to be the best in the Premier League. The movement of their front five people was tremendous, and not the sort of thing you face every week.They got behind us a few more times than we would have liked, and we had to make a couple of important tackles. It was end-to-end stuff, and must have been a good game to watch, even though there weren’t many goals. We kept another clean sheet, and that’s what we’re paid for. So we’re very pleased with the way things have gone so far, I must admit.”

Steve reckons Cantona, since his comeback, is playing a deeper role. “I think Giggs, Scholes and Butt have pushed much further on, and he’s playing a slightly different role now. It makes him a bit more difficult to pick up.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Bouldy says there is a lot of goodwill towards Cantona at Arsenal, even though the French ace was red carded after a collision with Tony Adams at Highbury in March ’94. “We all find him fine. We’ve never had a problem with him. I know he was sent off against us, but he was very unlucky. It wasn’t a booking, let alone a sending off, in my opinion. We’ve got great respect for Eric.”

The early goal, a razor-sharp finish by Dennis Bergkamp after a miskicked backpass by United left back Dennis Irwin, opened the game up and made it an exciting contest.

“When David Platt’s pass went forward, I didn’t think Irwin would give that away. I thought Dennis Bergkamp showed what a great player he is, that he’s on another plane.  He’s got everything, and he can do all sorts. He made two last-ditch tackles himself. He was giving away corners! His work-rate was phenomenal. He was really wound up for Saturday, and he was fantastic.”

The Stoke-born defender says the Dutch star isn’t shy, just reserved. “He’s actually got a very, very dry sense of humour. He’s a real nice fella, and he’s fitted in very well.”

Bouldy admits that before Arsenal signed Dave Seaman in 1990 he did not realise just how brilliant the big Yorkshireman was.

“He’s far and away the best keeper in this country, and maybe the best in the world. I’ve always been surprised no Italian club has come in and bought him, or tried to buy him.”

Seaman has, of course, played many blinders in Arsenal’s colours, but when pressed to name one particularly sensational show by the England’s No 1, Bould recalls a derby clash in January ’91.

“The one that sticks out is Tottenham away – he was outstanding. We drew 0-0 but we could have lost six or seven. Dave doesn’t really catch the eye because he doesn’t usually make spectacular saves . He’s always in a position to make the save look straightforward . He just calms everybody down, that’s the main thing I like about him. You know that he will never panic.”

Steve scored recently in a 3-0 Coca Cola win at Barnsley, and twice in the Cup Winners Cup semi against Sampdoria last season,but he gets his biggest kicks from keeping clean sheets.

“It’s lovely to score, but it’s not one of my biggest buzzes. If we play well, and we don’t let goals in , that’s the biggest thing for a defender.”

In the Monday Sky game three weeks ago, Arsenal went to Bolton expecting to win but found themselves involved in a mini-Cup Final atmosphere created by Rioch’s return to his former club.

With Dutch winger Glenn Helder in fine form they created numerous openings, but lost 1-0 after a superb display by keeper Keith Branagan.

Bould, who gave Martin Keown a rollicking for failing to mark Bolton’s  John McGinlay at the decisive moment, remains philosophical : ” We did everything but score. We had enough chances to win four or five games that night.”

“I’ve read in one of the papers that the Cup Winners Cup isn’t such a prestigious competition,  but I shan’t mention the reporter’s name. To reach two consecutive finals was a massive achievement, and perhaps we didn’t get the credit we deserved. The year we did win it I thought it was as strong as any competition.

We beat a very good Paris St Germain ream, and two Italian clubs – Torino, and Parma in the final. Last season we defended well in Europe, and we got to the final again against Zaragoza , but we didn’t play, perhaps, as well that year. I missed the final through suspension.”

After Arsenal beat Sampdoria 3-2 at Highbury they struggled in Genoa.

“In the last minutes of the game we were 3-1 down. I thought we’d lost the game. The referee gave a decision against Tony Adams, and I just went off my head a little bit. But then we got a goal back, went into extra time and won the penalty shoot-out. My other booking was against AC Milan in a different competition, the Super Cup, so it seemed a bit unfair.”

Bould, 33 this month, still looks in good nick.

“I feel a little bit fitter this year because I had a good pre-season. I’ve been injured and missed four of the last eight pre-seasons here, and that makes a helluva difference. This year we worked extra hard in pre-season – and it paid dividends. I think I’m feeling the benefit of that now. There’s a lot of talk about our back four, but we really do defend as a team.”

Before the Man United game, what was Arsenal’s best win of the season?

“Probably Leeds. To go there and win, at any time, is a very good result. But the manner in which we played, and the 3-0 win, were outstanding. I think Glenn Helder and Dennis Bergkamp have helped us get rid of the boring tag.”

Bouldy has said that his three most difficult opponents were Mark Hughes, Duncan Ferguson and Sergei Yuran, the former Benfica striker who is now starring for Spartak Moscow. But another name has recently been added to the list.

“I think Les Ferdinand, at this moment in time, is up there, and maybe a bit beyond them. He really is quite frightening. I’ve never seen any centre forward with his power, his pace and his spring. Last year he came down here with Kevin Gallen, and QPR murdered us, actually. I don’t know whether he’s improved at Newcastle, or just playing in a better team. ”

He said the squad like to socialise when they can.

“We’ve got a great team spirit and we do go out together but it’s difficult to do that these days. You can’t do anything without being written about, with the press in London. But we’ve got a great spirit at Arsenal, and everybody gets on.”

Are the press really welcome at Arsenal?

“To be honest, he speaks to them himself, and it hasn’t affected us too much. It’s better to be more open, because you just can’t win. If you don’t talk to them, they’ll write what they want to write anyway.”

Steve, signed by George Graham in 1988, played 183 league games for Stoke, some of them against Millwall, then managed by George Graham.

Did you know that Graham rated you highly enough to sign you ?

“No. I had no idea. In fact, I was sent off for the only time in my career at Millwall, and George remembered that. I had a choice of going to Arsenal, or to Everton. I went up and talked to Colin Harvey – I think I made the right decision !”

Bouldy played last week in Alan Smith’s testimonial against Sampdoria, and can recall inflicting major dental damage on one of his best pals. It was Stoke  v Leicester in September 1983, a 2-2 draw .

“If you ask Alan, he’ll say my foot was too high, and if you ask me I’d say he put his head too low. I kicked four of his front teeth out. But we have remained friends! He’s never held it against me.

“Esnaider is a great striker, and that was a fantastic goal. He gave a tremendous display that night. I’m surprised we haven’t heard more about him since he went to Real Madrid. But I think we’ve got players in this country who can rival him or anybody in Europe.

“I’ve recently signed a two-year contract, so I’ve got another season after this . We’ll have to see how it goes.”

After such a glittering career with London’s most successful club, would dropping down to a smaller club be too much of an anti-climax?

“I’d never rule that out. It’s very difficult to say. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. You never know what’s round the corner, but it would be lovely to end my career at Arsenal.  I’m trying to play golf. I wouldn’t say I’m playing it well at the minute, but I’m giving it a go. I’ve been playing on and off for years but this year I’m actually trying to get my game together. The best golfers at Arsenal are Scott Marshall, our reserve centre half, Lee Dixon and Dave Seaman.”

If Arsenal really do sign Paul Ince, as is rumoured, and win the league, the legendary Dixon-Bould-Adams-Winterburn back four will have claimed an astonishing third championship. Has any back four ever won three league titles?”


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