Ah yes, Igors Stepanovs

By Frank Lee

The oft-maligned Latvian played his part in the 2001-02 double season

I am uncertain how confident Gooners are about the team’s chances of a title challenge next season. I suspect the odds offered on Arsenal are longer than they have been for a few seasons after last season’s demotion to fifth place – see some betting predictions online if you want confirmation. One imagines that a necessity for a title challenge would be real strength in depth in defence, and quality to boot.

The camera doesn’t lie? Igors: Double hero?

Or maybe not. When Arsenal won the double in 2001-02, a certain Igors Stepanovs made six Premier League starts for Arsenal. In Gooner myth, Igors has joined the likes of Jeff Blockley and Gus Caesar in the ranks of dodgy centre-backs that the club probably regretted giving a chance to. I am too young to remember Ian Ure, but I believe him to be another. Older readers can confirm.

The story of Igors being signed in the summer of 2000 is relayed in Ray Parlour’s autobiography, the full relevant extract helpfully posted online in four parts here as follows – one - two - three and not forgetting four. In summary, the player was recruited as a consequence of Martin Keown’s team-mates praising a dire Stepanovs performance in a trial game to get at the centre back, and Arsene Wenger failing to realize the praise was not genuine. The manager may have been at Arsenal for almost four years by that point but he had not twigged the use of the wind-up in English humour. I’d be intrigued to know if the abridged version of Parlour’s book distributed in the members’ pack last season (the one with the red Arsenal neckwarmer) contains this anecdote.

So Igors played in the memorable 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford in his first season. He partnered Gilles Grimandi, and the Gunners were hammered in spite of a midfield pairing of Vieira and Ray Parlour in front on the defence. Mind you, Ray played his best football right of centre for the club. As for Stepanovs, he only made one further appearance that season.

Those who remember Igors will recall he was not blessed with great pace nor mobility. Then again, neither is Per Mertesacker, who can look back on a relatively successful career, not least at international level. Reading the game and positional intelligence is key in this respect, so that the lack of pace is not fully exposed.

I am reluctant to completely write-off Stepanovs in this respect for one reason. Language. I remember his being paired at centre back with Oleg Luzhny for a FA Cup home win v Chelsea in Stepanovs’ debut season. The pair performed impressively, I suspect because they were communicating in Russian, which both would have been fluent in. At international level, Stepanovs had an impressive Euro2004 finals with Latvia, only their lack of goals scored preventing them from progressing out of a group containing Germany, the Czech Republic and Holland.

Stepanovs had a four year contract at Arsenal, in hindsight an expensive joke, and was part of the first team squad for three of those before being loaned to Belgian club Beveren for his final season, which gave him more game time ahead of the Euros in Portugal. After that he bounced around minor European leagues before finishing his career in his native Latvia. Thinking about the pecking order of centre backs in 2001-02, you’d have Adams – Campbell – Keown – Upson – Grimandi - Stepanovs – Luzhny. In one sense, it’s amazing that Igors made six starts, although it does remind us that injury crises at the club are nothing new. Adams only made ten league starts that campaign, at the beginning and end of the season.

Currently, and remembering that three central defenders will be used, the pecking order at Arsenal for that trio of spots is probably something like: Koscielny – Mustafi – Monreal – Kolasinac – Gabriel – Holding – Mertesacker – Chambers. So eight players for three positions (although one of Monreal or Kolasinac will almost certainly occupy the left wing back spot, probably the latter). None is as bad as Stepanovs, although there are result-risking mistakes in all of them (one fairly knowledgeable acquaintance maintains that Koscielny costs the team 10-15 points a season, which is a debate for another time).

I think it’s fair to say that the best three are not at the level of Adams, Campbell and Keown but perhaps the strength in depth is greater. My own belief is that if the team are to challenge this season, then the purchase of a dominating ball winner in midfield would address what is lacking on the defensive side, but the options behind are probably good enough, if the cover is there. And if the club managed to win the title in a season where Igors made six starts, then maybe a Vieira-style purchase could turn them into contenders.

And of course if you don’t fancy a flutter on Arsenal, then you can always back one of the other teams, or get betting tips for different sports and invest in something with a better chance than a Wenger-inspired Arsenal title. We’ll know a lot more after the first five Premier League fixtures have taken place. Leicester, Stoke, Liverpool, Bournemouth and Chelsea. A racing start or riots in the stands? More new signings to bolster the squad? An August 31st trolley dash akin to 2011? We watch and wait.

One thing’s for sure. After the Stepanovs experience, Arsene won’t be taking too much heed of any of his players' opinions if anyone is trialing for the club.

28th July 2017 13:39:55


Comments and Reaction

User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.

TonyEvans  15:08pm 28th Jul 2017

We probably could just about get by at centre back with what we have, but our soft centre is the real problem, as has been mentioned many times before. Xhaka may come good, but a pairing of him and Ramsey, with Elneny and Coquelin as back up does not bode well for me. Wenger won't see it that way though of course, and the only likely further purchase we may see might be Lemar for Sanchez. Wenger hasn't got the balance of the side right virtually since the breakup of the Invincibles and there is no reason to believe he is about to start getting it right now. - Post No. 108614

mbg  15:16pm 28th Jul 2017

TOF believing a piss take unable to see and tell for himself, judging by the last thirteen years he must be very easy to take the piss out off, says it all. wenger out - Post No. 108615

jwe1981  15:26pm 28th Jul 2017

yet another ad for a gambling site dressed up as a normal article then! - Post No. 108616

mbg  17:43pm 28th Jul 2017

The camera doesn't lie alright he can barely keep from bursting out laughing himself. - Post No. 108617

gooner.ed  19:22pm 28th Jul 2017

jwe1981 - gotta pay the bills occasionally to keep the site going. - Post No. 108618

RobG  11:10am 29th Jul 2017

I liked Ivor's and he was better than he was given credit for. - Post No. 108621

Paulward  13:29pm 29th Jul 2017

Stepanovs, one in a long line of hopeless defenders and goalkeepers signed by Wenger. Cygan, Sylvestre and Almunua immediately springing to mind. - Post No. 108622

Alsace  14:38pm 29th Jul 2017

My recollection of this player is more friendly. I remember him certainly as a second line central defender, bot not a hopeless one or a liability. Compared to some of our so called players he was a massive superstar. - Post No. 108623

Petergooner  16:03pm 29th Jul 2017

Just heard the team to play Benfica. WHY IS LACAZETTE NOT STARTING???? Typical Wenger not letting the fans have what they want. It is obvious Wenger that we all want to see Lacazette and you leave him on the bench!!!! Also Wenger you better sort out Alexis. If he is ill hope it is a true illness and not him now wanting not to play for us all this year as Wenger has said we are not selling him, which is correct. - Post No. 108624

CBee  19:39pm 30th Jul 2017

Great competition this emirates cup. Seville played 2 won 2, Arsenal played 2 won 1 lost 1. Winners of the cup, err.. Arsenal. - Post No. 108625

Yes its Ron  9:57am 31st Jul 2017

ooooh. Remember being at the 6-1 hammering at OT when i see his name. We ve had worse than him at CB though under Wenger. Senderos, Djourou etc. - Post No. 108626

Bard  11:02am 31st Jul 2017

Oh dear Wenger having a senior moment. Its ideal that we run down the contracts of the 8 players out of contract apparently. We are so wealthy that we can spunk £150m down the drain. Good luck with Stan on that one. Massive own goal for the all knowing one. - Post No. 108627

The Man From UNCLE  11:06am 31st Jul 2017

Kolasinac looks a decent player. If we're going to concede two goals at home every match, because the back three push up too far upfield and leave gaps exposed, this season is going to be a long one. - Post No. 108628

markymark  14:27pm 31st Jul 2017

I'm struggling at the moment with our Professor, a Briliant business man and an Economist of high renown is somehow facing a £125 million write off. Can TOOAW ( surely he's not hiding already? ) respond with a Wengo is brilliant article. I'm sure after you've sat down on the loo you should have all the material to hand. - Post No. 108634

Bard  15:49pm 31st Jul 2017

marky, it was either a stupid or deluded comment. If you were trying to split the fan base further than thats exactly what you would say. its frankly nonsense. What it covers up is the chaos of our transfer policy and the mess over contracts. How you manage to have 7/8 players of the squad coming into the last year of their contracts beggars belief. To dress it up as a deliberate ( ideal ) policy is rubbish. - Post No. 108637

Graham71  15:07pm 3rd Aug 2017

Touch and go who was the worst Stephanovs Ceasar or Squillaci.Followed by Senderdross and Silvestre - Post No. 108704

Issue #269 - Out Now!

Gooner Editorial

15th January 2018

Being muscled off the ball by Bournemouth is like being mugged by your grandma

Online Ed: Another poor Arsenal display on the road just another signpost as we near the end of the Wenger era