Former Arsenal star questions whether Gunners still have winning mentality

Michael Thomas, Arsenal

Michael Thomas, Arsenal - Credit: EMPICS Sport

Exclusive: Arsenal hero Michael Thomas has questioned whether the current Gunners side have the right mentality to end their eight-year trophy drought.

Thomas, whose unforgettable last-gasp goal snatched the title at Anfield in 1989, is unconvinced that the present crop of players possess the kind of steely approach required to win silverware.

“Every time I watch Arsenal, they seem a bit brittle,” said Thomas. “I think it’s a mindset – they don’t seem to have the confidence that they can do anything.

“Once they find that hardness, sort the defence out and keep clean sheets and make it harder for teams to break them down, they can win things – until then, it’s going to be tough.

“They’re always going to score goals and finish in the top four or five because of that, but to go that extra mile and win a trophy, you need to be mentally strong.

“Manchester United always had that attitude in all the time that [Sir Alex] Ferguson was there and it’s been bred into them as young kids, from an early age and all the way up.”

Thomas, now 45, broke into the Arsenal midfield as a teenager during the 1986-87 season and went on to feature as a substitute in their Littlewoods Cup final victory over Liverpool two months later.

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Their 2-1 Wembley win not only ended the Gunners’ wait for a trophy after eight years – it also represented their first success under the guidance of new manager George Graham.

That first piece of silverware proved to be the catalyst for greater glories, with Thomas cast as the leading actor in a night of drama at Anfield two years later.

It meant that the League Championship trophy returned to Highbury for the first time in almost two decades – and again in 1991 after a season in which Graham’s side lost just once in the league.

“It does feel like yesterday,” Thomas recalled. “That was the start of things to come and we won a lot of championships – even more after Arsene Wenger took over.

“Once you win your first trophy, you get more confidence from it, and you can kick on. But that’s what Arsenal have failed to do for a number of years.

“There was the year when they seemed to be going in the right direction and could have won the league. Then Eduardo broke his leg and things went wrong.

“And they had it in their hands to win a trophy against Birmingham in the League Cup final a couple of years ago. But apart from our young starlet, Jack Wilshere, nobody else stood out on the day.”

Although that Anfield strike remained the most famous goal of his career, Thomas, who eventually signed for Liverpool in December 1991, was a fairly consistent scorer from midfield.

He averaged just under a goal every seven games in an Arsenal shirt but, during his time at Highbury, was by no means the only non-forward to find the net with some regularity.

The likes of Brian Marwood and David Rocastle were frequent contributors from midfield, while centre-backs Tony Adams and Steve Bould also tended to chip in with a few goals each season.

“It’s a big thing and that’s why Manchester United keep winning the title,” added Thomas. “People may say they’re not the best United team, but they score from every angle and keep clean sheets as well.

“You have to share the goals around if you want to be successful. In my era everybody used to score – even Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn!”