Ever since Arsene Wenger took the reins at Arsenal, the North London club has been the place of choice for French transfers. Year after year, French players have graced the pitch for the Gunners. No other club scouted or pursued the fields of France like Arsenal until now.
In recent transfer markets, Newcastle United has attracted the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Mathieu Debuchy and others from French soil. This influx of French talent is being heavily counted on to put Newcastle in position to compete at the top of the EPL.
With Newcastle putting together a solid core of French talent, it seems a changing of the guard is upon us in the EPL. Newcastle is making a bid to replace Arsenal as the destination for French players who want to play in England.
Even with their current French force, Newcastle is still looking at France for future transfers. According to Sabotage Times, Saint-Etienne’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been a player who Newcastle has reportedly pursued and will continue to monitor, according to Metro.
On the pitch, the play of Newcastle’s French players has overshadowed the play of Arsenal’s French players. Much of this can be attributed to Cabaye, who had a sensational debut season for Newcastle, and the immediate impact of Newcastle’s January signings. Recent success does not tell the whole story though.
Over the last two decades, Arsene Wenger was the Pied Piper for French talent. Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Robert Pires were all significant factors in Arsenal’s greatest tenure of success.
Mathieu Flamini, Abou Diaby, Nicolas Anelka, Sylvian Wiltord, William Gallas and many other French talents have all touched down in London for varying lengths of time and success. The expectation became such that any French player of good skill was being linked to the Gunners.
The expectation was made worse by the success of some of Wenger’s early French signings, particularly Henry and Vieira. Any French player bought by Arsenal will be compared to the former Arsenal stars, a daunting task for a player of any caliber to take on.
With many players falling short of the promise that accompanied them, the focus turned from the players captured to those not captured.
With the trophy drought at Arsenal nearing eight years, the London club is viewed by many as having its best days behind it. The drop in status from being able to compete with the best in Europe to a team fighting to even get into Europe does no favors in attracting transfer targets.
This may be part of the reasoning Wenger has missed out on players from France who were reported targets. If Arsenal would have been able to close a deal for Raphael Varane, Karim Benzema or Franck Ribery, where would the club now stand? It is impossible to tell, but one has to think that any combination of two of those players would have significantly altered Arsenal's fortunes.
Despite missing out on the aforementioned players in recent times, Arsenal has still drawn very good French talent.
Giroud was a player with reported interest from Bayern Munich before coming to London. Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny are prime examples of typical Wenger purchases. Neither was a highly sought-after target by top clubs, but have proved to be valuable additions to the Gunners.
Though most Gunner fans would like to forget him, Samir Nasri was an extremely talented player who grew his game by miles in his time with Wenger. His move to Manchester City was a dagger to Arsenal, but his play there has continued the pattern of inconsistency he showed in London.
Recent French transfers undoubtedly favor Newcastle in quantity, but whether they pass Arsenal in long-term quality has yet to be determined. Arsenal's history of success in the French market still holds more weight than it is given credit for.
The thing to remember is that Giroud is perhaps the only french buy from Wenger that was entering his prime years. Wenger has always bought young talent to develop as opposed to seasoned veterans. Newcastle's French buys are on average older and more seasoned then Arsenal's buys over the years.
This debate will potentially sort itself out over the next season or two. If Newcastle United bring in players who are long-term difference-makers, then they will make their case. The long-term productivity of each side's French contingents will help determine the top destination.
Newcastle may be closing the gap in becoming the preferred destination for French players, but in this fan’s opinion Arsenal still wears the crown.