Over the course of nine seasons with Arsenal, Bob McNab was a fixture in the back-four, primarily at left-back. He won trophies, played with some of the legends of the game, and in a familiar theme with the current squad, endured several long-term injuries. In all, he played in 362 matches for the Gunners, including 62 in Arsenal’s double-winning 1970-71 season. Following his time at Arsenal, McNab played and coached in two different soccer leagues in the U.S. and Canada.
In part one of an interview with USA.Arsenal.com’s Kevin Mooney, McNab gave his thoughts on this year’s team, the style of play, and the injury bug.
USA.Arsenal.com: Before the season started, what were your impressions of the squad?
Bob McNab: “Quite honestly, I wasn’t convinced that we were strong enough before the kick-off, so obviously no with the injuries – injuries kill you. I’ve often said that when your best players are sitting beside you when you’re watching a game, you may get away with it once or twice, but over the long term, they are your best players and you need them on the field. You can scratch and fight and battle with the lads who come in but the problem we’ve got is the lads that are coming in are lightweights. We’re a little bit short physically, I think.”
“I said before the season started, I thought we needed a big man up front. I know we’ve got Bendtner. I can’t say I’m over excited about Nicklas, and he’s injured as well, so I still think we needed a target-man. I’m old-fashioned in that sense. I don’t think we hold the ball up off the front men very well. We pass the ball beautifully around about the front, but I thought we needed a replacement for Adebayor. Obviously Arsène didn’t, or he couldn’t get one to the standard he wanted.”
USA.Arsenal.com: As a player who endured several long-term injuries throughout your career, how do players deal with being injured?
McNab: “It depends what it is. I carried an injury and I couldn’t really train – I had separated my stomach. So that was difficult for me, just getting through games. I always used to try to make an impact, and obviously when you’re struggling just to get out on the field and you’re not training, it’s pretty difficult.”
“One of the problems I had with that stomach injury is that I didn’t bleed. I showed no bruising, I was just telling them. And they think, “It’s just in his mind.” I was really struggling. Every time I sprinted, it was like someone knifed me in the stomach. I couldn’t tackle with my left side, and I couldn’t kick with my left foot if it wasn’t set for me. I couldn’t bring my left foot across my body in the game. It was difficult to say the least.”
“In my day when you had a cut or a bruise or a minor strain, if you went out on the field and you played 60 games that season, I’ll guarantee that for at least 35 or 40 of them, before you go the field you’re wondering whether you can last. But then the adrenaline hits you and you manage to get through. But nowadays, the insurance problems and the physical therapists could get sued, and the clubs could get sued so it’s changed. They don’t risk players like they used to.”
USA.Arsenal.com: Do you think Arsenal’s style of play contributes to the number of injuries in the squad?
McNab: “I don’t know. I wouldn’t have thought so really. When you think about it, Van Persie has been injured playing for Holland. He was out months and months and months last season after going out with the Dutch national team. He’s not been injured playing for Arsenal. Somebody told me that on average it’s about 15 games a season that he’s been there, I don’t know whether that’s true.
USA.Arsenal.com: What do you think of Arsenal’s 4-3-3 formation?
McNab: “Quite honestly, there’s a bit too much made of systems of play. I’ve always been a real student of the game intellectually. There’s not really any mystery. They always talk about putting five in midfield, but if you squeeze up back to front, front to back, you almost need two systems. You need a system to get the ball, the correct amount of people in the front-areas to get the second ball, the 50-50, from a goal kick or anything like that. You need to flood the area with enough bodies that you can get your number of knockdowns. Because often the ball is up for grabs, the team doesn’t have control or possession. So you need to flood the areas to get the ball back.”
“Then, you need another system of how you are going to play when you’ve got the ball. You need width on that side. And when the ball is in the middle, you need width on both sides. So that might be a 4-4-2. I would like one wide-man. I have always been a fan of somebody who can go wide and get some crosses in. But for Arsenal, without any height in the forward line, it’s a bit redundant to have crosses.”
USA.Arsenal.com: How would this squad fare against your 1971 double-winning team?
McNab: “I think we’d beat the team today because we’d be too physical for them. They’ve got some lovely footballers, but Ray Kennedy and John Radford were two power forwards, six foot, quick, and big. Little George Armstrong would cause them problems with his crosses and his ability to beat people. And defensively, I think we’d be a little too smart for them. But then again, you never know.”
USA.Arsenal.com: What do you think of Arsenal’s youth policy?
McNab: “I’ve seen some great kids at Arsenal over the years, we’ve always had great kids, but not one in fifty comes through [to the first team.] Ashley Cole is the only one in about ten years. One of the things I remember vividly is that when I joined Arsenal in ’66, they won the Youth Cup, which is a terrific thing to win. You’re the best Under-18 team in Britain. And then they won it again in ’71 when we won the double. From the ’71 team, I think Dave Price got 50 or 60 appearances And John Matthews played a few times, but prior to that in the ’66 team, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson came through and that was it.”
“And then we saw the England Under-20s in Malaysia [in 1997], and the only player I thought would make it was Michael Owen, and that was just because of his blistering pace. His pace was unbelievable. They got to the quarter-finals of that trophy and Michael was the only one who came through.”