Current Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has already become the greatest ever manager in the history of the North London club. Since his arrival in 1996, he helped Arsenal win many titles including 3 Premier League and 4 FA Cup titles. He also led the Gunners to reach the UEFA Champions League final in 2005-06 season for the first time in their history.
Besides bringing trophies to Arsenal showcase, Wenger has made many revolutionary changes at the club. He is well-known for unearthing young talents and transforming young and relatively unknown players into world class players. His ability in identifying young talents and getting the best out of them has benefited Arsenal financially too.
Here is a list of top ten signings by Wenger. While choosing the players, I not only considered their on-field contribution, but also the amount of profit Wenger made through their transfers. I regret I could not include a few other excellent players like Emmanuel Petit, Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie and Gael Clichy who could have made it to the list by their own rights. You can share your opinion about the list in the comment section. Now, let us go through the list:
Thierry Henry has not only been the smartest signing of Wenger era, but also is perhaps the most successful signing in the history of the North London club. Signed from Juventus for £10 in August 1999, Thierry Henry remained an integral part of Arsenal side for the next 8 years until his €24 million (£16m) move to Barcelona in Summer 2007.
Aside from the monetary profit, Henry’s signing proved to be the most significant because of his unprecedented on-field contribution to Arsenal. Henry is currently Arsenal’s all-time highest scorer with 226 goals to his credit in 380 matches in all competitions.
Upon his arrival, Wenger started to play him up front, often partnering with Dennis Bergkamp or as a lone striker, even though he was mostly used as a winger in his previous two clubs Monaco and Juventus. This change in playing position proved to be an immediate success as Henry started to perform at his best.
Henry rose from an average player to a world superstar while playing for Arsenal. His composure in front of goal, more specifically in one-on-one situation, his vision, his excellent pace helping him to get past the defenders every now and then; these all contributed to his game, making him one of the most dangerous strikers of his time.
He got his first success when Arsenal won their third ever domestic Double (second under Wenger) of Premier League and FA Cup in 2001-02, first of Henry’s four seasons where he finished at the top of the goal scorers’ list. His 24 goals in 33 league appearances helped Arsenal to score in each and every fixture of that season.
The Frenchman was also instrumental in Arsenal’s triumph in 2003-04 season where they did not lose any game with Henry again finishing as the leading scorer with 30 goals and went 49 league games unbeaten.
Overall, Henry won two Premier League, 3 FA Cup and 2 FA Community Shield titles during his Arsenal career. Besides, he also won many individual successes including 2 European Golden Boot and 4 Premier League Golden Boot awards. He was also named PFA Team of the Year in 6 consecutive seasons and UEFA Team of the Year 4 times.
The Frenchman is regarded as one of the all-time Arsenal greats because of his immense contribution to the Gunners during the first decade of Arsene Wenger’s managerial reign. Upon Wenger’s request, Patrick Vieira, who had been struggling at AC Milan, was signed by Arsenal for a fee of £3.5 million, even before the manager officially took charge of the club in September 1996.
Wenger’s first investment in charge of Arsenal proved to be bargain as Vieira’s commanding presence in the central midfield helped Arsenal to win two domestic Doubles in the next 9 years. Moreover, Wenger made a substantial financial profit through the selling of Vieira to Juventus in 2005.
Vieira (right) with Tony Adams (left)
A player with strong physique and excellent stamina, Vieira formed a lethal partnership with Emmanuel Petit at the heart of Arsenal midfield, and earned Arsenal their second ever Domestic Double in 1998. Though Petit left for Barcelona in Summer 2000, his French compatriot continued to serve for Arsenal until the end of 2004-05 season, and winning one more domestic Double in the process.
In total, Patrick Vieira played 406 games for Arsenal, scoring 33 goals, and won 3 Premier League, 3 FA Cup and 4 Community Shield titles during his 9-year stint at Arsenal. He was named in the PFA Team of the Year in six successive years- an achievement portraying his dominance as an Arsenal player. In 2008, Vieira was ranked 5th in the list of greatest 50 players of Arsenal by Arsenal fans.
Robert Pires is another highly successful midfielder signed in Wenger era. By the time Robert Pires joined Arsenal from Olympique Marseille for a transfer fee of £6 million in summer 2000, Arsene Wenger had already won his first Double with the Gunners in 1997-98 season. However, following the sudden departure of some of his key players including Emmanuel Petit, Nicolas Anelka and Marc Overmars, Wenger felt the necessity of rebuilding his team going into the new millennium.
Robert Pires was one of Wenger’s key players in his rebuilding process and ended up becoming one of the most decorated players in the history of Arsenal, winning 2 Premier League, 3 FA Cup and 2 Community Shield titles during his six-year stay at the club. The winger initially struggled to deal with the physical aspect of Premier League, but he started to show his talent from the second season onwards.
A tall and speedy winger, Pires is equally skilled in playmaking and scoring. His technical skill, vision and excellent finishing often proved to be decisive for Arsenal. He may not have scored as many goals as Henry did, but Gunners fans would always remember him for some of his stunning goals.
Pires was instrumental in Arsenal’s Double (Premier League and FA Cup) in 2001-02 season as he made highest number of assists in Premier League that season and scored 9 goals in the league. Eventually, he was named the FWA Footballer of the Year and became Arsenal’s player of the year that season.
In 2003, Arsenal won just one title- the FA Cup- and that so not without Pires’ contribution as the Frenchman scored the winning goal against Southampton in the tournament final. He played another crucial role during Arsenal’s unbeaten triumph in 2003-04 Premier League season where Pires along with his French compatriot Henry scored 44 out of Arsenal’s 73 total league goals.
Wenger could not make any monetary profit through Pires’ transfer to Villarreal in 2006 as he moved to the Spanish club on a free transfer, but his contribution as a player was more than enough to consider him as one of the best signings by Wenger. Robert Pires scored 84 goals and made many assists in his 284 appearances for Arsenal in all competitions and he made it to the PFA Team of the Year on three occasions.
Signed from Barcelona youth academy as a 16-year-old boy in summer 2003, Cesc Fabregas has gradually grown into one of the best midfielders in the world. Specially, since Arsenal’s move from Highbury to the newly built Emirates Stadium in 2006, Fabregas has been a dominant force for the North London club till date.
Given his current market price around £40 to £50 million, the Spaniard could well be Wenger’s most successful signing in terms of financial profit. In fact, Barcelona had a €35 million offer for the player rejected by Arsenal during Summer 2010. However, his current market price is well-justified by his superb on-field performances over the last four seasons.
Cesc Fabregas may not have won as many titles at Arsenal as some other players of this list did, but the Spaniard’s influence in Arsenal’s performance over the last few years was so immense that he could already be considered as an Arsenal legend. As of 16 October 2010, Fabregas has scored 51 goals and made 88 assists in 272 appearances for Arsenal in all competitions. Despite his consistent display, he could so far win only 2 titles- FA Cup and League Cup in 2005.
The main reason behind his lack of silverware is that by the time Fabregas started to become a dominant force, the club had already entered into a transitional period. When Patrick Vieira left Arsenal in 2005, Fabregas, an 18-year-old, was tipped to take his place and he has gradually done so; but the Gunners then lost a few more key players including Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry and Fredrik Ljungberg in the next two years (2006 and 2008), and thus, forcing manager Arsene Wenger to rely mostly on young players as the club, facing a high annual interest rate related to stadium debt, could not arrange a huge transfer budget to rebuild the team.
Despite these shortcomings, Arsenal has remained one of the top European clubs as well as a title contender in Premier League, and continued to appear in Champions League group stage mainly because of Fabregas’ dominant form. He was named PFA Team of the Year in 2008 and 2010, alongside making it to the UEFA Team of the Year on two occasions (2006 and 2008) too.
Initially criticized for his less-attacking intention, Fabregas has over the years proved to be one of the best playmakers in the world as he started to become one of the top assist makers in Premier League from 2006-07 season onwards. His excellent vision, superb passing skill, tremendous sense of timing and finding space have all completed to Arsenal’s attacking style orchestrated by short-passing football.
Having spent nine successful seasons at Arsenal’s arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur, Sol Campbell joined the Gunners in the summer 2001, and thus, becoming the first high-profile transfer as per Bosman ruling. At that time, the England international was at the top of his career and took no time to make his presence felt at his new club.
Sol Campbell joined Arsenal to win silverware and participate in Champions League, while Wenger signed Campbell looking to add major reinforcement at the central defense as the ageing duo, Tony Adams and Martin Keown, were approaching towards the end of their Arsenal career. Campbell’s transfer, later on, proved to be a win-win deal for both the manager and the player because they got what they were looking for- silverware and Champions League football for Campbell, and a reliable central defender for Wenger.
Campbell’s strong physique, superb athleticism, quick movement, calm and composed nature on the field, these all along with his vast experience helped him settle down in his new challenge at Highbury pretty quickly. He became a regular player right from the beginning of his Arsenal career. In his debut season (2001-02), Campbell, being the mainstay of the defense, helped Arsenal to win a prestigious Double of Premier League and FA Cup, playing total 48 games that season.
The next season (2002-03) looked to be equally fruitful as Arsenal was on the right track to defend both the titles. Though they clinched the FA Cup, the Gunners ended up finishing second in Premier League mainly because of Campbell’s injury and a sudden loss of form towards the end of the season. However, Campbell’s performance was strong enough to earn him a place in the PFA Team of the Year.
The season 2003-04 was another highly successful campaign for the English defender who along with young Kolo Toure formed a solid partnership at the back of the defense and ensured Arsenal’s unbeaten triumph in the league. Campbell once again was named in the PFA Team of the Year.
Campbell’s last season of his first spell with Arsenal was not as successful as the previous three because he was struggling with injuries and lack of form, but still the player remained an integral part of the North London side until his departure for Portsmouth in 2006. He scored Arsenal’s solitary goal in their 2-1 loss to Barcelona in the Champions League final in 2006.
Campbell made a comeback to Arsenal in January 2010 after signing on a six-month contract and made some good contribution when first choice center backs like William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen were injured out during the last few months of the 2009-2010 season. After the end of the season, Wenger offered him a one-year contract extension, but he demanded a two-year deal and eventually joined Newcastle United.
In his first stint with the Gunners, Sol Campbell played 197 games and scored 11 goals in all competitions. He appeared in 14 games and scored just once during his short second term at Arsenal.
The Dutch left winger was one of the three major signings by Arsene Wenger in 1997 besides Emmanuel Petit and Nicolas Anelka. By the time he was signed from Ajax for a transfer fee of £5.5 million in summer 1997, Marc Overmars had already proven his talent and skill as a flying winger while playing for Ajax with whom he won Champions League in 1995 and three Dutch league titles. Still, there were many who were doubtful about the success of Overmars’ signing, citing the player’s recent knee injury which kept him out of Euro 1996.
However, Overmars quickly justified Wenger’s decision by his on-field performances. The Dutchman, like Wenger’s other signings: Vieira, Petit and Anelka, started to dominate English football and helped Arsenal win their second ever Double (first under Wenger) in 1997-98 season. With his remarkable pace, he appeared as a constant threat for the opponent fullbacks. Though he was deployed on the left wing most of the time, Overmars is equally strong on both feet.
During his 3-year stint with the Gunners, Overmars scored many crucial goals which proved to be title deciding goals in the end. He scored 12 vital goals in his 32 league appearances during Arsenal’s Double winning 1997-98 season. His winner in Arsenal’s 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford and his dominating performance in their victory against Everton ensured Arsenal’s Premier League title. Overmars then helped Arsenal to win the FA Cup titles too as he scored the first goal of Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Newcastle United in the final.
Overmars’ final two seasons with Arsenal was hampered by injuries, but still he remained one of the key players for Arsenal until his departure for Barcelona in summer 2000 for a transfer fee of £25 million which is still a record transfer fee for a Dutch player. Overall, Marc Overmars scored 41 goals in 142 appearances for Arsenal in all competitions.
The Swedish winger is another astute signing of Wenger era. Arsenal manager had to compete with the European clubs like Barcelona, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Parma to secure the service of Fredrik Ljungberg, who was then playing for Halmstad. Wenger finally had to spend £3 million to complete Ljungberg’s signing in 1998. This was a record transfer fee for a Swedish player at that time.
Wenger could not make any monetary profit through Fredrik Ljungberg who left the Gunners to join West Ham United for a fee around £3 million in summer 2007. However, the success of Ljungberg’s signing could only be found in his excellent contribution to the club’s success during his 9-year stint with the North London side.
A player capable of playing in either wing or as a playmaker, Ljungberg is well-known for his great pace which helps him get past the full backs and set up goals for the center forwards. Arsenal started to get the best of Ljungberg after Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars had left the club in summer 2000. Soon after their departure, he became an integral part of Arsenal attack which also featured Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires.
Injury was a constant threat for Ljungberg throughout his Arsenal career and it only became severe towards the later years of his Arsenal stint. Still, he could successfully prove his talent and skill, scoring 72 goals and making many assists in his 328 appearances for Arsenal.
The highlight of his Arsenal career is his decisive performances during Arsenal’s Double winning 2001-02 season. During the second half of the season, when Robert Pires was out of action through injury, Ljungberg scored 6 goals in 5 league matches, and thus, earning Arsenal some vital points towards the end of the season.
Fredrik Ljungberg later on also played a crucial role in Arsenal’s FA Cup success that season, scoring in their 2-0 victory over Chelsea in the final. He had scored in the previous year’s FA Cup final too, though that was in losing cause, and became the first ever player to score in consecutive FA Cup finals. Fredrik Ljungberg also played a key role in Arsenal’s unbeaten success in Premier League 2003-04.
Arsene Wenger’s ability in identifying unearthed talent is perhaps best proven by the signing of Kolo Toure from ASEC Mimosas, a club in Ivory Coast, for just £150,000 in February 2002. Not many people outside Ivory Coast knew Kolo Toure when he joined the North London club, but the player went on to become one of the best central defenders of Premier League in the following years and earned Wenger around £16 million through his move to Manchester City in summer 2009.
So, Kolo Toure has undoubtedly become a success story for Wenger, both in terms of financial profit and the player’s on-field contribution to the club. During his seven-year stay at the club, he appeared in 326 matches for Arsenal in all competitions, scoring 14 goals and making 12 assists in the process. He won a Premier League, two FA Cup and two Community Shield titles with the Gunners. Toure, though a defender, was well-known for his attacking intent and scoring goals occasionally and assisting others.
Initially experimented as a midfielder and right back by Wenger, Kolo Toure started to settle into the Arsenal defense as a central defender from the 2003-04 season onwards. His rock-solid partnership with Sol Campbell at the heart of the defense was instrumental behind Arsenal’s Premier League win without losing any game throughout the season. He appeared in 37 league matches that season.
Next season, he faced a stiff competition from the likes of Phillipe Senderos and Pascal Cygan for a place in the first eleven, but still he managed 50 appearances in all competitions and won the FA Cup title that season. However, it was in 2005-06 season, Kolo Toure made himself an Arsenal regular and remained so until his departure in 2009.
Aside from his strong performance in 2003-04 Premier League win, another highlight of Kolo Toure’s Arsenal career is his performance during the UEFA Champions League 2005-06 campaign where he partnering with Phillipe Senderos kept a record 10 successive clean sheets and helped Arsenal to reach the tournament final for the first time, though they lost 2-1 to Barcelona in the final in Paris.
Kolo Toure’s excellent consistency could be well-proven by the fact that he did never play less than 40 games in any of his 7 seasons with Arsenal.
When Arsene Wenger signed a 17-year-old boy, Nicolas Anelka, from Paris Saint-Germain for a fee of £500,000 (0.5 million) in February 1997, little did he know that the French striker would help his side to win a prestigious Double of Premier League and FA Cup in 1998, and his transfer to Real Madrid in summer 1999 would earn the club a huge £23.5 million (but some say £22, 900, 000), making Anelka one of the most astute signings by Arsene Wenger.
A tall, strong-built striker, Anelka started to flourish his potential as a goalscorer upon joining Arsenal where he developed into a world class striker. Though he struggled to break into the first team during the second half of 1996-97 season, Anelka started to show his goalscoring prowess from 1997-98 season, his first full season with the Gunners.
Striker Ian Wright’s long term injury allowed Anelka to play alongside Dennis Bergkamp, another Arsenal great, in Arsenal’s attacking line up. During that Double winning season, Anelka scored 6 goals in 26 league appearances. He also scored Arsenal’s second goal in their 2-0 FA Cup final victory over Newcastle United. The next season (1998-1999) saw him scoring 17 goals in 35 league appearances, for which he was awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.
Nicolas Anelka’s excellent pace and superb shooting skill have always given him an edge in the opponent box throughout his career, but it was at Arsenal where he started to make his lethal presence felt by the opponent defenders inside the area. After scoring 28 goals in 90 appearances during his two-and-half-year stint with the North London club, Anelka left for Real Madrid in 1999, ending his short but highly significant Arsenal career. Arsenal fans, in 2008, placed him in 29th position in a list of 50 greatest players of Arsenal.
Despite coming from a poor family, the Brazilian midfielder made his name in the football world with strong determination and working hard mentality. Having been impressed by Gilberto Silva’s dominating performance as a defensive midfielder during Brazil’s successful World Cup campaign in 2002, Wenger invested £4.5 million to sign him from Atlético Mineiro the same year.
The investment proved to a bargain as Gilberto Silva went on to win a Premier League, 2 FA Cup and 2 Community Shield titles at Arsenal in the next 6 years before joining Greek club Panathinaikos in 2008. Though his footballing tablet was well documented even before joining Arsenal, it was at the North London club where he developed into one of the best holding midfielders in the World.
Gilberto Silva found it hard to break into the Arsenal first eleven in his debut season, but he was instrumental in Arsenal’s historic triumph in Premier League 2003-04 as they won the title without losing any game throughout the season. Silva appeared in 32 out of 38 league matches that season, playing alongside either Ray Parlour or Patrick Vieira in the midfield.
Silva’s strong defending skill complimented very well to Arsenal’s attacking style. During his six-year stint with Arsenal, he covered for the attacking minded wingbacks like Clichy and Sagna and center backs like Gallas and Kolo Toure.