Martin Keown: An Old-Fashioned Centre Half

arsenal defender martin keown

Player Profile: Martin Keown

Date of Birth: 24/07/1966

Height: 1.85 m (6 ft 1)

Position: Centre Back

National Team: England

International Caps: 43

International Goals: 2

Club Career

Martin Keown’s career began at Arsenal, who he signed for as a schoolboy in 1980. However, he would not make his professional debut for the Gunners, as he was loaned out to Brighton and Hove Albion as a youngster. He played a season for the Seagulls before returning to Arsenal and making his full team debut during the ‘85/86 season. 

Keown had a combative nature as a player and could be described as an old-fashioned centre half. At the end of his first season, Keown was deemed surplus to requirements by the new manager George Graham and was sold to Aston Villa in the summer of 1986.

He arrived at a struggling Villa side that had narrowly avoided relegation from the topflight. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t be able to repeat that feat and were relegated in Keown’s first season at Villa Park. He became a vital part of their promotion push the following season and only missed two league games as the Birmingham side were successful in their promotion push. Keown stayed one more season with the club as they managed to secure their place in the top division, and he moved on to Everton for a £750,000 fee at the end of the ‘88/89 season.

Keown’s time at Everton was during a transition period for the Merseyside club. While they did not win anything in this period, it was a good time for the Blues. One of the clubs noted successes during the centre backs time at Goodison Park was an FA Cup victory over their fierce rivals, Liverpool, after a 4-4 draw against the Reds in their previous meeting. 

He continued to improve as a player while at Everton, and he received his first England call up while playing at the club. After 4 years with the Toffees, he returned to Arsenal in 1993, the first player to return for a second spell at Highbury since the Second World War.

Arsenal won the FA Cup and League Cup double upon his return, but he played no part as he was cup-tied from his time at Everton. However, he played frequently in the Premier League as Tony Adam’s partner in defence despite having strong competition from Steve Bould. 

Keown became a regular part of the Arsenal side over the following seasons and played an important role in their success. The defender, known for his strong tackling, was also occasionally played as a defensive midfielder during this period.

After missing out on the ’93 Cup double, Keown was still yet to claim a major trophy. But his first piece of silverware was not far away, and it was a good one. Arsenal lifted the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1993–94 and although he missed the final, Keown was awarded a winners medal for his role in the campaign.

Like many other players who were at the club before Arsène Wenger arrived in 1996, Keown continued to improve under the Frenchman’s system and showed he could be more than just a defensive stopper.

Keown would get his hands on his next piece of silverware in the ‘97/98 season, when the Gunners took the league and FA Cup double. While Keown made fewer appearances in the league that season, he was still a vital cog in the Arsenal defence. He played in nearly all the games in their cup run, including the cup final in which they kept a clean sheet against Newcastle United.

Despite his tough and not particularly pleasing to the eye style being different to the tactics typically associated with Arsène Wenger, Keown remained a regular in the first team for most of his Arsenal career. He was still a valuable player for them in their ‘01/02 double-winning season and would also play in the FA Cup Final win the following season. But he was beginning to age, and Kolo Toure gradually replaced him as a regular in Gunners defence.

During the Invincibles season, he made 10 appearances in the league, the minimum required for a winners medal, and he left on a free transfer at the end of the season. He made 395 appearances for the North London club across his two spells there.

Keown signed for Leicester City in 2004, but it would be a short spell as he left midway through the ‘04/05 season for Reading. He only made 5 appearances at Reading and would retire at the end of the season. 

Martin Keown finished his career as a three-time Premier League winner, three-time FA Cup winner, and one-time European Cup Winners’ Cup winners and he remains a popular figure with Arsenal supporters today.

International Career

Martin Keown’s debut for the Three Lions came against France in 1992. After an injury to Mark Wright, he was called up to the squad for Euro 1992, and he played all three games, filling in at right-back in the latter matches. 

He next played in one of England’s unsuccessful World Cup qualifiers in 1994. But when Terry Venables took over after England failed to reach the World Cup he was ignored completely.

His next England appearance wasn’t until 1997, and he was again a regular in the squad, often as a backup but still making the occasional appearance. 

However, when Kevin Keegan took over as boss, he was often preferred to the other centre backs at England’s disposal. Keown played in tournament qualifiers, as well as all of England’s games at Euro 2000. He continued to be selected until the 2002 World Cup, but, he didn’t get any playing time and retired from international duty afterwards.

Where is Martin Keown now?

Martin Keown’s post-football career has been mainly media-based. However, he did have a brief spell as a defensive coach at Arsenal after hanging up his boots but preferred a role in the media.

The former Gunner is a regular pundit on Match of the Day and has forged a successful commentary career covering domestic and international football matches. He also has a regular column for the Daily Mail’s sports section.