Arsenal's 25 Greatest Foreign Imports

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2014

Arsenal's 25 Greatest Foreign Imports

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    Arsenal are a club with a continental flavour. A foreign manager sits at the helm, and foreign players have long been a key component of his team. Even the stands contain visitors from afar. The Gunners have gone global.

    In this piece, we look at the 25 greatest foreign imports to have worn the Arsenal shirt. To qualify, they must have been born outside of the British Islesthat excludes Ireland, and several Gunners greats like Liam Brady.

    This isn't a list determined purely by playing ability. They're ranked in order of their impact at Arsenal. Did they change attitudes? Did they win trophies? How will they be remembered?

    Go to the next slide to begin the run-down of international stars.

25. Gerard Keyser

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    Gerard Keyser was a trailblazer. In 1930, he became Arsenal's first overseas player.

    Although he made just 13 appearances for the Arsenal first-team, he also won two caps for his native Holland, becoming the first foreign Arsenal international in the process.

    Keyser set a precedent. He was the first. For that reason, he will always be remembered.

24. Sylvain Wiltord

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    Sylvain Wiltord was occasionally a frustrating player to watch. At times, he seemed to dribble in such a circuitous manner that it sometimes felt as if he was trying to beat himself.

    However, he was also the scorer of several important goals in Arsenal's history. Notably, he grabbed the winning strike at Old Trafford that sealed the 2001-02 Premier League title.

    In his time in London, Wiltord won two Premier League titles and two FA cups. Not a bad tally for a man who ran around in circles.

23. Andrey Arshavin

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    Andrey Arshavin is the first and only Russian to represent Arsenal.

    His arrival in 2009 was hugely exciting for the Arsenal fans. He became the club's record signing, and his outrageous talent seemed to justify the price tag.

    Arshavin made a blistering start, with a four-goal haul at Anfield arguably the high-point. Unfortunately, he quickly fell away. Just a few years later, he was released on a free transfer and allowed to return to Russia.

    Nevertheless, that night at Anfield and his idiosyncratic style will ensure Arshavin lives long in the collective memory of the Arsenal fans.

22. John Jensen

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    Danish midfielder John Jensen became something of a joke figure at Arsenal.

    Jensen signed for Arsenal in 1992. He had just scored the opening goal in Denmark's 2-0 win over Germany in the European Championships Final. However, it took him 98 matches to score his first goal in Arsenal colours.

    Despite his struggles in front of goal, Jensen did win a League Cup, FA Cup and Cup Winners Cup with Arsenal. His trophy haul is not to be sniffed at.

21. Laurent Koscielny

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    Laurent Koscielny is a great example of Arsene Wenger's tremendous eye for talent.

    When he arrived at Arsenal, most of his football had been played in the second tier of French football. However, Koscielny has stepped up a gear since signing for Arsenal. There are now few better centre-backs in Europe. 

    Koscielny is every bit as tough as any English centre-half. Koscielny wears the hallowed No. 6 once worn by Arsenal legend Tony Adams. If he continues to progress, he could one day reach similar status.

20. Anders Limpar

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    Anders Limpar was the first Swede to represent Arsenal. He joined the club in 1990 from Cremonese, instantly injecting pace and skill in to the Arsenal side and helping propel them to the First Division title. On the final day of the season, he crowned a superb campaign with a memorable hat-trick.

    In four years with the Gunners, Limpar won all three major domestic trophies, as well as the Cup Winners' Cup.

    He was eventually sold to Everton in 1994, but he never hit the heights he managed at Highbury.

19. Mesut Ozil

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    One imagines that as time wears on, Mesut Ozil could climb this list.

    At the moment, he is in the infancy of his Arsenal career. Ozil has only been at the club for a matter of months.

    Nevertheless, his impact has been significant. Ozil has transformed perceptions of Arsenal, both on and off the field. His remarkable talent suggests that he will one day be remembered as a true Arsenal great.

18. Per Mertesacker

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    Per Mertesacker instigated Arsenal's German revolution. Since his arrival, he has been joined by Lukas Podolski, Mesut Ozil, Serge Gnabry and Gedion Zelalem in the first-team squad.

    However, of that quintet, Mertesacker's contribution has arguably been the most important. He has helped build the solid foundation upon Arsenal's recent success.

    The giant German looks like a future Arsenal captain in the making.

17. Mathieu Flamini

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    Mathieu Flamini is unusual in that he has had two separate spells with Arsenal.

    The Frenchman left on a Bosman transfer in 2008, but returned in 2013 to bring his all-action style back to the Arsenal midfield.

    The decision has worked out brilliantly. Flamini has been a key figure in the Arsenal squad throughout 2013-14. He'll hope he can end the season by adding to his existing medal collection with the Gunners.

16. Marc Overmars

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    LONDON - JULY 22:  Thierry Henry (L) of Arsenal, is congratulated by teammates Dennis Bergkamp (C) and Marc Overmars (R), after scoring a goal during the Dennis Bergkamp testimonial match between Arsenal and Ajax at the Emirates Stadium on July 22, 2006 i
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    Dennis Bergkamp's fear of flying famously made him Arsenal's "non-flying Dutchman". Marc Overmars, on the other hand, regularly flew down the Highbury left-wing.

    Overmars' sheer pace made him almost unique in the Premier League. His phenomenal understanding with Bergkamp also demonstrated the benefit of acquiring players with the same nationality and background.

    Prior to being sold to Barcelona, Overmars helped fire Arsenal to their memorable 1997-98 double. He is now in an executive role with Ajax Amsterdam.

15. Robin Van Persie

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    Robin van Persie is not remembered particularly fondly by the Arsenal fans. His departure for Manchester United left a very sour taste in the mouth.

    However, it's important to remember that without his goals, Arsenal might have fallen out of the top four. At times, he single-handedly kept the Gunners in contention for a Champions League place.

    Van Persie subsequently burnt his bridges. However, his achievements at the club are not in doubt. Were it not for a succession of serious injuries, his impact could have been even greater.

14. Tomas Rosicky

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    Tomas Rosicky has become something of a folk hero at Arsenal.

    He is the man who overcame a career-threatening knee injury to become a mainstay of the Gunners squad. What's more, he also has a useful habit of scoring against Tottenham. Few foreign players have had such an obvious connection with the Arsenal fans.

    The Czech midfielder has never won a trophy with Arsenal. Few players deserve to crown their Arsenal career with a title more than Rosicky.

13. Bacary Sagna

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    Bacary Sagna might just be the best Arsenal player to have never won a major trophy with the club.

    Sagna has twice been voted in to the PFA Team of the Year. His calibre is undoubted. This season, he has shown that two leg breaks are not enough to slow him down. There is not a better right-back on show in English football.

    However, his time at Arsenal could be drawing to a close. His contract expires at the end of this season, and a renewal does not appear forthcoming.

    If he is to leave, a Premier League medal would a fitting end to his time in north London.

12. Nwankwo Kanu

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    Kanu was a truly unique talent.

    He did things on the ball that Arsenal fans had never seen before. He frequently scored goals that seemed to defy the laws of physics, back-flicking the ball into the net from the most improbable of angles.

    He won trophies, too. He ended his time at Arsenal with two Premier League titles and two FA Cup wins under his belt.

    This majestic Nigerian striker was both a winner and an entertainer.

11. Lauren

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    Any defender who goes through a Premier League season without being defeated deserves to make this list. Lauren is one such man.

    The former Cameroon international is a great example of a foreign player who embraced the English game. He arrived from La Liga as an attacking wing-back, and he transformed in to one of the toughest full-backs in Britain.

    Lauren was adept on the ball, but it was his resolute attitude that made him such a favourite at Highbury.

10. Kolo Toure

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    Kolo Toure represents everything that is good about the foreign imports at Arsenal.

    Toure was known for carrying his English dictionary with him at all times. He was determined to embrace the culture of the club and the country.

    On the field, he looked perfectly at home. Toure's first games for the club were as an attacking midfielder, but he eventually developed into a superb centre-half. Toure was a cornerstone of Arsenal's Invincibles team in 2004, and he is still held in high regard in north London.

9. Jens Lehmann

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    It was always going to take an outstanding goalkeeper to replace Arsenal legend David Seaman. Jens Lehmann managed it.

    In his first season with the club, he finished undefeated and a Premier League champion. The achievement was a testament to both his ability and his tremendous strength of character.

    In 2006, he was a key part of Arsenal's run to the Champions League final. Unfortunately, he was sent off in Paris. It must remain the greatest regret of Lehmann's career.

    Like Mathieu Flamini, Jens Lehmann has actually enjoyed two spells at the club. In March 2011, he answered a call from Arsene Wenger to come out of retirement and provide cover. Lehmann played one game in his second spell for the club, turning in an impressive performance in a 3-1 win at Blackpool.

8. Emmanuel Petit

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    Emmanuel Petit's time with Arsenal was short but incredibly productive.

    The Frenchman played for the Gunners between 1997 and 2000. In that time, he forged one of the greatest central midfield partnerships in Premier League history. His double-act with Patrick Vieira dominated English football, and saw Arsenal win the double in 1997-98.

7. Gilberto Silva

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    Gilberto Silva arrived at Arsenal as a World Cup-winner. He left as an Invincible.

    Like Emmanuel Petit, Gilberto was perfectly suited to playing alongside Patrick Vieira. The Brazilian's immaculate defensive game earned him the nickname "The Invisible Wall". You simply couldn't get past him.

    In his latter years with the club, Gilberto emerged as a prominent figure in the dressing room. When Vieira departed, Gilberto showed that he could do more than just defend. In 2006-07, the inaugural season at the Emirates Stadium, Gilberto scored 10 Premier League goals to help keep Arsenal in the top four.

6. Freddie Ljungberg

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    Freddie Ljungberg is adored by Arsenal fans everywhere.

    Ljungberg was the definition of a goalscoring midfielder. In his nine years with the club, Ljungberg scored 72 times. His intelligent runs and calm finishing made him the perfect foil for the incisive passing of Dennis Bergkamp.

    His 328 Arsenal appearances brought five major trophies and many more memories. His legendary status is reflected in the fact that he is now an official ambassador for the club.

5. Cesc Fabregas

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    Cesc Fabregas is Arsenal's prodigal son. The Arsenal fans still regularly pray for his return.

    After arriving from Barcelona in his mid-teens, Fabregas wasted little time before breaking in to the Arsenal first-team set-up. Even as a teenager, his audacious talent allowed him to dominate the midfield.

    Eventually, his talent outgrew the Gunners. A move back to Barcelona became inevitable. However, Arsenal fans still hold out hope that the lure of London will bring him back again.

4. Robert Pires

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    Robert Pires played his football with a real swagger. Like Freddie Ljungberg, he seemed to provide goals from midfield at will. He ended his time in London with 84 strikes in Arsenal colours.

    In 2002, Pires was named the Footballer of the Year. In the same year, he became a Premier League champion. In 2004, he repeated the feat. Few foreigners have had such an awesome impact upon the English game.

    Unfortunately, Pires' Arsenal career ended on something of a sour note. He was withdrawn for Manuel Almunia early on in the 2006 Champions League Final. Pires departed for Villarreal shortly afterwards, upset at what he considered a significant snub.

    Neverthless, relations with Arsene Wenger have since been repaired. Pires can still occasionally be spotted training with the Arsenal first-team, passing on his experience to a new generation.

3. Patrick Vieira

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    Patrick Vieira was Arsenal's first foreign captain. Truly, it is impossible to imagine anyone more befitting of the honour.

    He was a born leader. He wasn't hugely vocal, but his performances on the pitch were nothing short of inspirational.

    Vieira straddled the great Arsenal teams of the late-90s and early part of this century. The sight of the Frenchman storming through the midfield became the trademark of Arsene Wenger's greatest teams.

    Tellingly, the last time Vieira kicked a ball for Arsenal was also the last time they won a major trophy. He struck the winning penalty in Arsenal's FA Cup Final victory over Manchester United in 2005.

2. Thierry Henry

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    Thierry Henry is the greatest footballer in Arsenal's history.

    There may be an element of subjectivity at play but a recent poll agreed with that assertion. Objectively, he is Arsenal's greatest goalscorer. However, his game was about so much more than goals.

    Henry helped forge Arsenal's reputation for free-flowing attacking football. He helped Arsenal raise the bar for aesthetic excellence, and he created the Gunners' global appeal.

    Henry, like Mathieu Flamini and Jens Lehmann, also came back to the club for a second spell. He even had the perfect fairytale ending, scoring a vital winner on his last Premier League appearance away to Sunderland.

1. Dennis Bergkamp

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    Dennis Bergkamp is the greatest foreign import in Arsenal's history. The reason? He redefined the club.

    Before Bergkamp, Arsenal were widely known as "boring, boring Arsenal". Bergkamp's arrival changed everything. Suddenly, Arsenal were seen as stylish and sophisticated.

    On the pitch, his impact was equally immense. Bergkamp will surely be remembered as one of the greatest talents to ever grace English football. There were trophies, goals and ever so many glorious assists.

    Bringing Bergkamp to England changed Arsenal and English football irrevocably.

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    What do you think? Who has been missed out? Would you have opted for Thierry Henry over Dennis Bergkamp? Let us know below.