Arsenal Transfers: 6 Stars Gunners Fans Wish Had Never Left
Arsenal stars come and go and some are missed more than others.
There are those who left as bright, young prospects who just didn’t quite make the grade in north London.
There are others who went on to have illustrious trophy-laden careers with the Gunners.
Then there are the ones who got away.
Arsenal have lost stars who were in their pomp and looking for fresh challenges, as well as losing other players who didn’t realise their potential with Arsenal and went on to have glittering careers in the beautiful game.
At the risk of travelling through the annals of time at Arsenal, there are a few who have left who are, and will continue to be, sorely missed.
But there are other players who are not so obvious, but had they stayed would surely have flourished in their respective Arsenal sides.
Here are six sorely missed Arsenal stars who opted for new pastures.
This choice speaks for itself, really.
The all-time top goal scorer for the club, Henry was a leader amongst men, an inspiration to many and a hero to thousands.
Thierry Henry’s contribution to Arsenal’s history will never be forgotten.
Indelible in its legend and genius in its creation, Henry scored a total of 228 goals in a glorious eight year spell at Arsenal, plus a short loan spell in 2012.
During his time with the club, he helped them win two league titles (including the ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003/04) and three FA Cups, and led them to the 2006 Champions League final.
As Arsenal.com so succinctly put it, Henry left a memory with every fan:
“Everyone has their own Henry highlights but here's just a few to whet the appetite: that flick-up and lob over Fabien Barthez, the slaloming run against Liverpool, the 60-yard surge against Spurs, that cheeky clip against Charlton, that beauty in the Bernabeu. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”
The list goes on, but whilst he changed the face of Arsenal forever, it was that fateful night in Paris where Henry realised the European Cup might be a step too far for his beloved Gunners.
Henry soon departed for Barcelona in 2007, where his ambition was fulfilled and his legacy completed. In truth, there weren’t too many Arsenal fans who begrudged his departure, although they all wish it had never happened.
That was signified clearly on his majestic return to the club for a loan spell in 2012, in which they were able to re-live the glory days again—albeit briefly—before heading back to the MLS.
But what was sorely evident upon his return is that he had never been replaced.
A man of such footballing prowess, majesty on the ball, cool-headedness and prolific finishing, Henry, dare I say it, will never be replaced. You cannot improve upon perfection, and for Arsenal he was perfect.
Henry loved them and they loved him. That relationship still harbours feelings, and one day he may return in a coaching capacity, but his exploits on the field cannot be replicated.
To forever cement that feeling shared by all Gunners fans, a bronze statue was erected outside the Emirates in December 2011.
Henry’s legacy lives on, but Arsenal hasn’t found a source to deal with the blow of losing his impact.
If Arsenal had been able to hang on to Patrick Vieira for even one or two more seasons past when he left in 2005, the future might not have been so barren in terms of trophies for the next eight seasons.
His departure signified the end of an era, brought about the gradual dissipation of the great team of the early 2000s and, most crucially, removed Arsenal's general from the middle of the park.
Soon after that, both Lassana Diarra and Mathieu Flamini left the club. They may have thought they could progress their careers under Vieira's tutelage, but his departure meant Arsenal’s potential replacements for Vieira decided to leave as well.
His presence on the pitch instilled fear into opponents and drove the team on when their backs were to the wall.
His battles with Roy Keane have gone down in Premier League folklore, and when you consider the fact that he went on to play for another six years, winning eight major trophies, Arsenal fans must wish he had stayed that little bit longer.
The Gunners’ last triumph was the 2005 FA Cup, won with Vieira. Having not won anything since is probably indicative of the downward slope the club has ridden since the talisman left.
He wasn't replaced then and hasn’t been since, although if Abou Diaby might have a slim chance if he ever catches a break. But even then it’s doubtful Diaby will ever reach the heady heights of Patrick Vieira.
Vieira was a machine. He drove Arsenal to glory and, as a captain, had leadership qualities that only come around very rarely.
His energy was boundless.
His passing—both in range and execution—was virtually flawless.
He had an eye for goal, and of course his tackling ability was bone-crunching.
Vieira will go down in Arsenal history as one of the true greats, and greats are hard to find again.
Certainly the Arsenal hierarchy—like the fans—wish he could have stayed for a few years longer than he did.
Another clear candidate for a player Arsenal fans never wanted to see leave is former midfield maestro Cesc Fabregas.
Since arriving at the club as a raw, talented 16-year-old, Fabregas matured and grew into one of Arsenal’s finest exponents of the beautiful game. His technical ability on the ball turned him into one the games finest players, but he had a tenacious side, too.
That mean streak was added to his game through his development under Arsene Wenger, and once it arrived, it meant Cesc had everything.
Fabregas could shoot, dribble, pass, make lung-bursting runs through the middle and dictate the pace of a game.
Unfortunately for Gunners fans, though, Fabregas’ heart ruled his head when he decided to return to Barcelona in 2011. The club where he had grown up from a young boy to a precocious teenager before joining Arsenal came calling for his return, and he couldn’t resist.
This didn’t deter him from remaining the consummate professional right up until the end of his time at Arsenal, however, which only goes to highlight the measure of the man.
There are rumours of his return to the Premier League, although ESPN's Miguel Delaney claims Old Trafford is a more likely destination than the Emirates.
The only bonus for Gunners fans stemming from his departure to Barca was that he couldn’t inflict too much direct impact upon Arsenal.
Should he join United, he will be a constant thorn in their side.
But like many of his predecessors, Fabregas grew attached to Arsenal. He has a strong affinity towards the club, and I can’t imagine he would ever join another club in England. A prospective midfield partnership with Jack Wilshere would make most Arsenal fans salivate.
Fabregas really is a player that all fans want back and would welcome with open arms. His time at the club seems unfulfilled and maybe one day Gunners fans will see him playing in Arsenal’s colours again.
When you talk about stars who Gunners fans may regret losing, none can rank as highly as Ashley Cole.
For a lot of Arsenal fans, his acrimonious flee across London was a bitter pill to swallow.
Cole didn’t grace himself with decorum in leaving for Chelsea, stating that he had to swerve his car to the side of the road for fear of being sick at hearing of the low wage raise Arsenal were offering.
This lack of monetary appreciation proved to be his reason for leaving Arsenal.
But no matter how hard it is to admit through gritted teeth, even for the most ardent and partisan of Arsenal supporters, Cole is one that got away; particularly when you see how Arsenal got a waning William Gallas and a paltry £5 million in return.
Tuesday night Cole wore the captain’s armband for England for the first time in honour of his 100th cap when they faced Republic of Ireland in a friendly at Wembley. No other left-back comes close to that amount of England appearances.
His trophy haul is also something to behold, and trophies don’t turn up on your doorstep—you earn them. Cole is the only player in English history to win the FA Cup seven times. When you consider the roll call of talent that has appeared in the illustrious tournament, it’s an astonishing achievement.
On the surface of it, many Arsenal fans might say they don’t regret losing Cole. His transgressions away from the pitch are always in the headlines, and there is a bit of a negative reputation surrounding his personal life.
On the pitch, however, Cole has been the finest left-back in world football for the best part of a decade—he’s won everything he can in club football and has often been noted for his performances against the likes of Arjen Robben, Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi when he has nullified their threats.
Cole left in 2005. Since then, a raft of players have been brought in to replace him.
Young Kieran Gibbs is doing as good a job as any at the moment to fill Cole's boots, but if Arsenal fans are honest with themselves, keeping Cole would have only been beneficial for the strength of the back four.
This choice may come as a surprise to some, but yes, this is the Andy Cole—the man who went on to win an abundance of trophies with Arsenal’s rivals Manchester United.
At the very start of what turned out to be a prosperous career, he was on the books at Arsenal, only making one first team appearance in three years as a professional and getting sent out on loan for a season.
Admittedly, a great degree of hindsight and retrospect is needed for this one.
Whilst he might not be a star that Gunners fans wish had never left at the time, there can’t be many who could honestly turn around and say they wouldn’t have wanted him during the pomp of his career.
Cole was prolific in front of goal. What’s more, the Premier League was his playground. He spent nigh on the entire of his 19-year career terrorising Premier League defenders and is still second in the all-time top scorers chart in top flight history.
And to play devil’s advocate for just a minute, imagine a striking partnership between Cole and Ian Wright.
That would have been a duo that could have set the league alight. The guile and tenacity displayed by both, married with that innate sense of where the goal was, could really have been successful for the Gunners.
The fact that he was never given his chance to fully realise his potential with Arsenal is the main reason for fans to rue his departure.
If you look at Arsene Wenger’s career, you can split it almost down the middle of its 16 years and call the first eight years the David Dein era and the ensuing eight years the post-Dein era.
That’s how influential and shrewd a business man Dein was for Arsenal.
Wenger never finished outside the top two with Dein at his side, and not one of Wenger’s sides have been close to getting back into the top two since he left.
Coincidence? I think not.
Dein was part of a rare, hungry breed of football club chairman (or vice-chairman in Arsenal’s case) that galvanised the Premier League. In fact, he was one of a pioneering band of chairmen responsible for the Premier League’s inception, creating revenue streams the likes of which football hadn’t seen before.
When thinking of "stars," we mostly associate this moniker with players. Maybe a successful and long-serving manager gets a nod, but rarely, if ever, members of the board.
Dein was not only responsible for bringing Wenger to Highbury back in 1996—and players like Henry, Pires and Vieira as a bi-product—he was also responsible for helping to execute Wenger’s vision that brought success back to that corner of north London.
His relationship with Wenger was intrinsically successful. They brought trophies back to Arsenal and did it with a style and a swagger.
As Goal.com reports, Wenger wants Dein back if he commits to a new contract in the summer.
Dein was also at the forefront of the Gunners’ relocation to the Emirates.
However, he left under a shroud of controversy shortly after they moved home, citing “irreconcilable differences” as the main reason for his departure.
Thierry Henry ascribed Dein’s sacking as a major influence on his decision to leave Arsenal. The impact Dein had with the club was vast, and he should be high up on the list of stars Gunners fans should want back.