Let me start with the honourable mentions. I could name at least twenty players here, such is the expertise that Wenger has displayed in his career at Arsenal, but I’ve narrowed it down to five:
This leggy Nigerian was bought in to Arsenal in 1999 from Inter Milan, after a disappointing spell in Italy. While he was never prolific at Arsenal, because of his build, his attitude, and his ball-on-a-string control, he developed a cult following. “KANUUUU” could often be heard cascading from the terraces of Highbury. He will forever be remembered for his hat trick against Chelsea, which turned a 2-0 loss into a 3-2 lead. The final goal, from an almost impossible angle, is one that if you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to. His time at Arsenal also paved the way for other West Africans to join the club, most obviously Emmanuel Adebayor, who Arsenal were able to make a huge profit from.
Signed from Bastia in 2006 for £1 million, Alex Song is very stereotypical of an Arsene Wenger signing. While he has taken a few years to become accustomed to the speed and strength of the Premiership, he is now a crucial cog in the Arsenal midfield. He has the presence of mind to be able to drop back and help in defence, and he shows maturity beyond his years.
Before Alex Song, the dominant force in defensive midfield was Gilberto Silva. He became the captain of the Brazilian national team while played at Arsenal, for his “invisible wall” style of play, modelled on Claude Makelele but with a far stronger attacking potency that you can only expect from a Brazilian. But what endeared him to the fans was his lack of Latino fiery spirit. Instead he played with a calm, almost Zen-like approach. With Gilberto in midfield, Arsenal became the Invincibles. He left Arsenal in 2008 to join Panathanaikos, I was personally very sad to see him go.
Robin Van Persie
So far, it would be fair to say that “RVP” has not reached his potential, because of repeated injuries. But when he is fully fit, there are not many strikers with the dangerous capacity that Van Persie has. He can shoot from distance, or in a one-on-one situation, he has quick feet, is intelligent and is quick. He may not be the next Dennis Bergkamp, but if Shunsuke Nakamura’s left foot can open a tin of beans, Van Persie’s can make breakfast. If he avoids any more injuries this season, he will score 20 goals. And all for £2.75 million.
While the pressure of emulating the success that Bergkamp had at Arsenal might keep Van Persie awake at night, following in the foot steps of one of the world’s best left backs was made to look easy by Gael Clichy. Wenger signed him as a teenager, playing in the lower divisions of French football, and confidently traded away the ever popular Ashley Cole, knowing he had a ready made replacement waiting in the wings. If it weren’t for the form of Patrice Evra, Clichy would be France’s number one left back – not that Arsenal fans mind.