JOE ranks Arsene Wenger's 10 best signings for Arsenal
With his 1,000th game in charge of the Gunners coming up, here's the 10 best bits of business that Arsene Wenger has done during his tenure. Mikael Silvestre doesn't feature.
On Saturday, Arsene Wenger will send Arsenal out to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It will be the Frenchman's 1,000th game in charge of the club and in that time he has scooped three Premier League titles and four FA Cups for the north Londoners.
And he has also bought and sold a lot of players in his near 18-year reign but we put our heads together to pick the 10 best signings of the Wenger era. This is far from an exact science, so by all means let us know how wrong we are below the line.
Right, let's get a few honorable mentions out of the way first. Some of Wenger's most recent signings could well turn out to be among his very best. Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Per Mertesacker, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mesut Ozil are all potentially superb bits of business but compared to some bona fide Arsenal legends he has brought to the club in his time, they will remain outside the Top 10.
Others like Sylvain Wiltord, Kanu and Marc Overmars can consider themselves very unlucky to miss out but the standard in the Top 10 is very high so they too fall just short.
Right, without further Edu (sorry, couldn't resist) here's the countdown.
10 Gilberto Silva
Signed in the summer of 2002, the Brazilian was a midfield lynchpin for six seasons. A virtual ever-present on the Invincibles team of 2003/'04, he only cost Wenger £4.5m and for that small outlay he got a super reliable player who never let the side down and was the epitome of tidy, complete, midfield play.
9 Kolo Toure
Disregard the slightly clumsy 2014 version and remember the gifted young defender who played for Arsenal for seven years from 2002 to 2009. Costing just £150,000, he might be Wenger's best ever signing in terms of value for money, as he played 326 games for Arsenal and took over from Tony Adams as the defensive leader of the team. Gets extra marks for being an Invincible too.
8. Freddie Ljungberg
Another absolute bargain. Bought for just £3m in 1998, the Swede's goals would power Arsenal during their most successful period under Wenger. With the likes of Pires and Bergkamp pulling the strings, Ljungberg was often the man who put the finishing touches to moves and he notched 72 goals in his five seasons at the club, a huge tally for a player who was not a striker.
7. Bacary Sagna
Yet more shrewd business as the French defender arrived in 2007 for just £6m. Has been a first team regular since the time he arrived and despite being not quite as attacking as most modern full backs, defensively he is top class. And while his goal tally for the club remains in single figures, a cracking header against Spurs will always boost your ranking.
6. Robin van Persie
Okay, his departure to Manchester United was not ideal but the numbers don't lie. Costing just £2.75m in 2004, RVP would play 278 games for Arsenal, scoring 132 goals in the process, the second highest tally of any player under Wenger. Injuries would mean he didn't play nearly as often as he should for much of his time at Arsenal but his final 17-month spell was phenomenal and he remains the best pure striker Wenger ever purchased.
5. Sol Campbell
Bringing in a Spurs icon was a bold move but the very acrimonious transfer was a hit for club and player. Campbell's first stint at the club, from 2001 to 2006, resulted in two league titles and he too was part of the Invincibles. Scoring in a Champions League final adds an extra sheen to his time at the Gunners but it was his overall defensive nous and strength that made him a great player for Wenger.
4. Cesc Fabregas
Nabbed on a free from Barcelona way back in 2003, the Spaniard made his first-team debut aged just 16. He would go on to play over 300 games and captain the side for three years until his sale back to the Catalan giants for £30m in 2011. Easily one of the classiest players to ever grace the Premier League, Fabregas was the ultimate dynamic midfielder, with superb distribution skills and an eye for goal to boot. He bagged 57 goals while playing for Arsenal.
3 Robert Pires
Another goalscoring midfielder of the very highest quality, Pires was prised from Marseille for just £6m in 2000. Already a World Cup and European Championship winner at that stage, he slotted perfectly into the well-oiled Arsenal machine. Superb on the ball, his balance and flair was first class and when combined with the likes of Bergkamp and Henry he was sensational.
Eighty-four goals in 284 games shows just how influential he was in his six years in London. The less said about THAT trick penalty the better though.
2. Patrick Vieira
A colossus in every sense, nobody has played more games for Arsene Wenger (402) than the French midfielder. His will to win was clear in every game and his jousts with Roy Keane remain the most interesting head-to-head duel of the Premier League era. That his last act for the club, scoring the winning penalty in the 2005 FA Cup final shootout, remains the last trophy won by Arsenal is somewhat fitting as no player embodied the grit of those winning Wenger teams more than Vieira.
1. Thierry Henry
While there was some agonising over most positions on this list, there was none regarding top spot. Salvaged from Juventus where his career had badly stalled in 1999, Arsene helped mould Henry into one of the top players in the world. For a sustained period around the mid-2000s he was truly world class and his goalscoring record at the club was sensational.
A staggering 228 goals in 377 games, over a few spells at this stage, is more than enough to merit his place at the top of the pile but his, for want of a better phrase, va-va-voom, lifted Arsenal into the realm of one of the most exciting teams to watch in the game.
Henry's combination of brilliance and consistency was stunning to watch and he is almost certainly the greatest player to ever play for Arsenal. Not bad for £10.5m