Premier League legends lament defensive changes


The rivalry between Manchester United and Arsenal is undoubtedly one of the bitterest there has been during the history of the Premier League.

United were the undisputed top dogs in English football during the early 1990s, but Arsene Wenger’s appointment as Arsenal manager in 1996 shook things up.

The two clubs subsequently enjoyed some epic tussles over the next few years as they repeatedly battled for major honours.

Gary Pallister and Nigel Winterburn were key components of their respective teams for a significant portion of that period, with both ending their careers with a stack of winners’ medals.

While United and Arsenal rarely saw eye-to-eye back then, Pallister and Winterburn are now very much on the same page when it comes to defending in the modern era.

In a recent interview with Betway Insider, the pair argued that the traditional skills of defending such as putting your body on the line or sticking your head where it hurts have been lost.

Pallister highlighted the challenges he faced during the initial stages of his career as he went head-to-head with some of the most fearsome strikers.

“In the early part of my career you’d get a lot of centre forwards who were pretty robust,” said Pallister.

“You think about some of them – Mick Harford and John Fashanu, for example. It was the job of these guys to mess with the centre-half and intimidate them.

“Physically, you’d have to be up to that kind of challenge, and it was something that I found hard when I first started in football because I was very slight.

“You got pushed around by some of these bigger guys and it’s something that I had to try and learn to deal with.

“That included weights and a maybe a few glasses of Guinness to try and beef myself up.”

Pallister’s point was supported by Winterburn, with the former Arsenal star highlighting how the teams he played in were coached in defending.

He spent eight years under George Graham, a manager renowned for demanding defensive discipline, before featuring for another four years under Wenger.

Winterburn helped Arsenal win seven major trophies during his time with the club, before finishing off his top flight career with West Ham United.

He says that modern defenders and full-backs must be very comfortable on the ball because they are often in advanced areas, something that was an alien concept when he was a player.

“We were always judged by what we did defensively under George,” Winterburn said.

“Down my side I could go and play, but you knew that Lee [Dixon] would have to tuck round alongside the other two centre halves and vice versa if Lee went.

“Yes, we did play it out from the back at times when Arsene Wenger took over, but as soon as the goalkeeper got the ball, it’s up to the halfway line and you’d play from the knockdowns.

“I think the whole ethos of the game, particularly how quick it is, has changed.”

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