Keown leaves stage with pride and glory

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The Independent Football

An unlikely cult hero takes his leave from Highbury tonight, proud of what he has achieved with the club but confident Arsenal will go on to greater things without him.

After 15 seasons at Arsenal, in two spells, Martin Keown bows out with a sell-out testimonial against an England XI. He leaves after a weekend in which the club have celebrated the remarkable feat of an unbeaten Premiership campaign, but said: "This is just the beginning. It might be the end for me but it's the beginning of something special for Arsenal. This team is capable of a lot of great things.

"What's happened here is incredible. The manager [Arsène Wenger] is getting the credit he deserves. We're very fortunate to have him at the club. He has a tremendous vision. He's taken what we all thought was a big club and made it into a really big club. Once the plans are in place and the new stadium is built the sky's the limit for this club.

"The manager talked last year about going through the season unbeaten. He had that vision and we didn't have it. But we do now. The players all know what we've done. Nobody's done it before and there's been a lot of football played. It would be a massive achievement for anybody to match us.

"I won't make massive predictions but if this team wants to become a great one it has to conquer Europe. But first they have to dominate the domestic league.

"Manchester United did that, although Chelsea will have a lot to say about it as well. It's going to be difficult but the next couple of years are vital for the club. If they can keep winning and doing it on the pitch before they go into the new stadium, Arsenal can go on and dominate.

"United will be wounded. We've taken their championship. Chelsea are growing. I'm very impressed with them. There's a nice balance there. I feel Liverpool can get themselves together under Gérard Houllier and that they can challenge as well."

Sylvain Wiltord is also leaving Highbury, his destination uncertain, and Nwankwo Kanu may follow, but Wenger said he did not anticipate any more signings. "Robin van Persie is coming in, I am not looking to buy anyone else," he said.

The player he is not looking forward to trying to replace is Dennis Bergkamp. The Dutchman recently signed for another year but it is expected to be his last. "Most of the team are young but we have seen again against Leicester this weekend how big Dennis is," said Wenger. "Dennis getting older will be a big task to cope with. You do not find every day a Dennis Bergkamp."

Thierry Henry added: "For Dennis to play the way he does at 35 is incredible. He fights for every ball and you just had to see the pass for Patrick [Vieira]'s goal.

"You see him like that on the pitch but he's like that in training as well. You might think he's 35, he's Dennis Bergkamp and he could just come in and chill. But he always trains like crazy and shows that he can play football.

"All the time he does his best. He's a great professional off the pitch as well as on it. He's an example for everybody who comes along at Arsenal.

"We all have this passion for Arsenal. That's something I can't explain. It's inexplicable. It's the passion of the club and the fans. I can't just walk away from people who helped me that much. I'm not playing in a bad team either. Why should I leave?

"You get some players who spend two or three years at a club and then leave, then have two or three at another club and a third but all the time I see them kissing the badge when they score. It's fair enough if you've had something bad happen to you somewhere. Then you have to leave. But sometimes you have players who look like they're happy and still leave.

"That's not the way I see things. If something bad happens it's another thing. But I'm happy and I don't see why I should leave. I think it's the same for Patrick and Arsène."

Keown has no choice. He added: "It's the end of my Arsenal career and it's a fantastic way to finish. I'm so glad we won the league in my last season. I've come away with three championship medals and three FA Cups. I came back here for the second time because I had unfinished business. They say you shouldn't go back but I proved that you can. Now I can walk away quite proud of what I've achieved here."

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