Arsenal FC: 15 Greatest Transfers in Club History

Matthew CelentanoFeatured ColumnistJune 28, 2011

Arsenal FC: 15 Greatest Transfers in Club History

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    In the entire history of Arsenal Football Club, the Gunners have been famous for transforming footballers into world class players, usually from a young age.

    Keep in mind that this list is of the greatest, most influential transfers in Arsenal history, meaning that players like Ashley Cole, Liam Brady, and Tony Adams aren't included, as they were in the Arsenal youth academy and never actually transferred to the club. Another point to keep in mind is that the margin between each player on this list is extremely small, because it's hard to differentiate transfers that have all been highly beneficial to the club.

    So, without further ado, the 15 greatest transfers in Arsenal history.

Honourable Mentions

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    Robin van Persie: The Flying Dutchman certainly knows how to score goals for his club, but hasn't quite made the historical impact that the other players on this list have made. However, if he continues the same prolific form that he enjoyed at the end of the 2010-11 season, van Persie could easily find himself on this list in a couple years. 

    Marc Overmars: Gaining the nickname "Roadrunner," Marc Overmars was one of the fastest players to grace Arsenal Football Club, and his style and shot were simply incredible. The main reason why he's an honourable mention rather than on the list is because he achieved success with Ajax prior to his arrival at Arsenal, meaning that the Gunners didn't really transform him. Nonetheless, Overmars was a great player and Gooners will always remember him.

    Cesc Fabregas: If there was a number 16 on this list, it probably would've been Cesc, but sadly, top 16 lists aren't very popular. But the Spaniard still finds his place in the honourable mentions, respectively, because of all the things he's achieved with Arsenal. Although he may have been raised at the Nou Camp, he still went to North London as the young age of 16, meaning that the Gunners really did shape him as a professional player. He now stands to be one of the best playmakers in the world, because of his passing abilities and vision of the pitch. As the youngest player to ever play in an Arsenal shirt, Cesc is also a role model to the youngsters at Arsenal. If only top 16 lists were a trend...

    Pat Jennings: Jennings is another outstanding Arsenal player who didn't make the list simply because he had already achieved success before arriving at Arsenal, with 472 games played for Tottenham (which doesn't help either). Spurs actually sold him because they thought that his career was basically over, even though he went on to play eight more seasons with Arsenal, followed by one last season with Spurs (again). Overall, Jennings was a magnificent keeper, but his actual transfer was nothing out of the ordinary.

15. Nicolas Anelka

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    Just the fact that Anelka was bought for half a million pounds and sold for £22.3 million is enough to put him on this list.

    Yes, you read that right. Arsene Wenger bought Nicolas Anelka for £500,000, and a few seasons later sold him to Real Madrid for over £22 million, a Real Madrid transfer record at the time. That's called transforming a player.

    After his time at Arsenal, Anelka went on to play for some of the world's best clubs, including Real Madrid, Paris-Saint Germain, Liverpool, and Manchester City (as well as a few other clubs). He is now one of only three players who have won the Premier League with two different clubs (Arsenal and Chelsea).

    Anelka has also played internationally with France, but his international career is basically over after receiving an 18-match ban from the French Football Federation, following Anelka's disagreements (to say the least) with France head coach Raymond Domenech during the 2010 World Cup.

    However, a good transfer doesn't just mean the amount of money gained. Anelka was one of the best Gunners, and scored a number of vital goals for the club, including ones against Manchester United and in the FA Cup final against Newcastle.

    Overall, North London was where Anelka became a world class player, and his transfer was certainly one of the best in the club's history.

14. Sol Campbell

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    First of all, get the image of the failed Newcastle Sol Campbell out of your head. Replace it with the image to the left.

    That's the Sol Campbell I'm talking about. The Sol Campbell that was one of the best centre backs of his time. The Sol Campbell that won seven trophies with Arsenal, and scored their only goal in the 2-1 2006 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona (left image).

    But perhaps his best achievement with Arsenal was being a part of the Invincibles in the 2003-04 season; his defensive partnership with Kolo Toure was integral in Arsenal's undefeated Premier League campaign. 

    Campbell was the Arsenal hard man, and you can see it just by looking at him. He's big, fast, and certainly knows how to tackle. He was also said to be the hardest trainer at Arsenal, further showing this man's determination and drive in the game of football.

    Overall, Campbell will forever be known as one of the toughest centre backs of his day. The only reason why he's not higher on this list is because he'd already been an accomplished player at Tottenham before arriving at Arsenal. His move from the other side of North London was very controversial indeed, as it's no secret that Arsenal and Tottenham are bitter rivals. However, the transfer paid off, and Campbell became an Arsenal great. 

13. Emmanuel Petit

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    Emmanuel Petit didn't take any time to adjust from Ligue 1 to the Premier League, and that was the beauty of his transfer. You could say this was because he had been under Arsene Wenger's management for some time back at Monaco in France, but it's not every day a player moves to the Premier League without any kind of speed bump (just look at Torres, he couldn't even switch towns).

    Upon his arrival in North London, Petit and his compatriot, Patrick Vieira, formed a stellar partnership as defensive midfielders. With these two as the backbone of the team, the Gunners went on to win the Double in the first season after Petit's move to Arsenal.

    It was another intelligent transfer on Arsene Wenger's behalf, and Petit enjoyed great success in his stay at Highbury. The only thing that could've been better about his transfer was a five-year deal rather than a three-year one.

12. Gilberto Silva

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    Gilberto Silva is another player who took no time adjusting to English Football, scoring his first goal for Arsenal on his debut, which happened to be the winning strike against Liverpool in the FA Community Shield.

    He achieved a number of things in his first season at Arsenal, winning the FA Cup and setting the record for the fastest goal scored in the Champions League.

    However, these honours barely compare to what he did in his second season at Arsenal, as he played an integral role in the Gunners' undefeated Premier League campaign. 

    Gilberto had a stellar six years with Arsenal, winning five trophies as well as establishing himself as one of the best and most sportsmanlike defensive midfielders in the game.

    His transfer to Arsenal was mainly because of his success with Brazil in the 2002 World Cup, but also due to some excellent scouts. It's yet another great transfer from "the Professor."

11. Nwankwo Kanu

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    Of all the world class clubs Kanu played for, he was definitely most successful at Arsenal, winning the Double, an FA Cup, and of course, being a part of the Invincibles.

    Kanu's best performance was almost certainly his hat trick against Chelsea, turning a 2-0 deficit around for a 3-2 win in just 15 minutes. That is sheer awesomeness.

    Although he left Arsenal on a free transfer to West Brom, the £4.15 million that he was bought for was completely worth his five years for the Gunners. For some reason, Kanu was most effective when coming off of the bench as a substitute, but he was clearly doing something right as he scored 44 goals while playing for the North London outfit.

    Smart transfer, and an excellent player. A two-fingered salute to Kanu...

10. Kolo Toure

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    Kolo Toure has a remarkable transfer story, one that could only be possible by Arsenal's incredible scouting. He was bought from ASEC Mimosas, an Ivorian club, in 2002 for just £150,000.

    Since then, Toure has moved from strength to strength, establishing himself as one of the best centre backs in the world. His defensive partnership with Sol Campbell in Arsenal's undefeated Premier League season was instrumental to the Invincibles, both with defense and with his runs forward to help the attack.

    It was a sad day when Manchester City bought Toure for a whopping £16 million, but it really did show how Arsenal had transformed him into a world class player.

9. Jens Lehmann

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    Where to start with "Mad Jens"...

    His transfer brought immediate success to Highbury. Arsene Wenger needed a keeper to replace David Seaman, who is largely regarded as the best goalkeeper in Arsenal history. So Lehmann had a lot of pressure and high expectations when he arrived in North London in 2003.

    Well, the German international (whose insanity is questioned by many) lived up to his expectations, and kept the Gunners undefeated in the Premier League in his first season at Arsenal. Lehmann stood between the posts for every single league match that season, and he certainly did a good job, keeping 15 clean sheets and conceding a mere 26 goals. 

    That alone lands him a place on this list, but he went to further heights, being regarded as one of the best keepers in the world, as well as one of the best penalty-savers. His save of Paul Scholes penalty in the 2005 FA Cup penalty shootout won Arsenal the FA Cup, and confirmed his spot as first choice keeper.

    Jens Lehmann's season in 2005-06 was perhaps his best season yet, as he was named Champions League Goalkeeper of the Year as well as going 853 minutes without conceding a goal.

    Overall, Lehmann remains to be one of the best keepers in Arsenal history. Arsene Wenger was in a bit of a pickle having to replace David Seaman, but he took care of the situation superbly, creating an Arsenal legend.

8. Freddie Ljungberg

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    Freddie Ljungberg was signed from small Swedish club Halmstad for a small fee of £3 million. He instantly became an Arsenal legend, scoring on his debut against Manchester United. He also helped clinch Arsenal's Double in the 2001-02 season, scoring against Chelsea in the FA Cup final.

    Like most other players on this list, Ljungberg was one of the pieces of the puzzle in the Gunners' undefeated Premier League campaign. His superb finishing and fantastic runs led him to be one of the greatest Arsenal players of all time, as well as captaining Sweden internationally.

    Although Freddie Ljungberg was especially prone to injury, he still had a knack for scoring goals while he was on the pitch, hitting the net 72 times in his 328 appearances for Arsenal. He scored some exceptionally beautiful goals for the North London outfit, making it look easy with his cool finishing.

    Ljungberg was simply an outstanding player, the only way to understand it is by watching him at work. In fact, Arsene Wenger decided to bring him to Arsenal without even watching him in person, he made his decision by watching him play internationally on television. Clearly, Wenger didn't need to travel to Sweden, as Ljungberg's transfer was followed by nine very successful years in North London.

7. David Seaman

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    What genius could've been behind buying who is now regarded as the greatest keeper to ever play for Arsenal, for only £1.3 million? Surprisingly, not Arsene Wenger.

    It was a fellow Arsenal great who welcomed David Seaman to Highbury, none other than George Graham. The transfer policies were different and a bit more complicated back then, but the move came through, and in 1990, Seaman was a Gunner.

    If you thought it was outstanding that Jens Lehmann conceded only 26 goals in the 2003-04 season, your jaw might hit your desk when I tell you that David Seaman conceded only 18 goals in his first season at Arsenal (in the 1998-99 season he only conceded 17). He became known as one of the best keepers in the world, and his specialty was saving penalties.

    One of his most famous saves (not of a penalty) was against Sheffield United in the FA Cup semi-finals, a save so incredible that Peter Schmeichel called it "the best save I've ever seen." Enough said.

6. Cliff Bastin

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    Cliff who?

    Cliff Bastin, the third highest scorer in Arsenal history. Although not many people know of him because most people alive now weren't around in the 1930s, this guy played a massive part in Arsenal history. 

    In his 18 seasons with Arsenal, Bastin scored a whopping 178 goals, being the Gunners' top scorer until 1997. Arsenal was the powerhouse of English football in the 1930s, winning five titles, two FA Cups, and five FA Charity Shields. Bastin was an integral part of this success, thanks to his calm and accurate finishing.

    Bastin has an extremely unique transfer story. Herbert Chapman scouted Bastin himself, but it was actually by accident. Chapman went to an Exeter City vs. Watford match to check up on a Watford player that Arsenal was scouting, but 17-year-old Cliff Bastin impressed the Arsenal manager so much that Chapman brought Bastin to North London at the end of the season.

    It's an interesting transfer, as well as an extremely intelligent and influential one. Without Cliff Bastin, Arsenal's trophy cabinet might be half as full as it is now. 

5. Robert Pires

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    Robert Pires came from Marseille for £6 million, as a replacement for Marc Overmars. With tons of pressure on his shoulders, Pires not only lived up to the expectations, but he surpassed them.

    Although Pires took a bit of time getting used to the physicality of the English game, once he adjusted to it he controlled the pitch.

    The Frenchman was a master of scoring beautiful, skillful goals, hitting the net with lobs, chips, and curved shots. He was also a midfield maestro, spotting passes and getting it to his teammate with pinpoint precision. It's not every day that you get a player with both the ability to score beautiful goals and to create them. 

    Pires' instrumental role in Arsenal's undefeated Premier League season goes without mention, as he had a number of crucial goals and assists that kept Arsenal undefeated.

    Robert Pires will forever be remembered as an Arsenal legend, and this can only come from yet another genius transfer by Arsene Wenger.

4. Patrick Vieira

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    Of all the players on this list honoured for their integral part of Arsenal's undefeated Premier League campaign, Vieira is undoubtedly the player who deserves the most credit for that season.

    Sure, Thierry Henry scored 30 goals, and Bergkamp and Pires had loads of assists, but Vieira was the captain. He led his side through 38 matches without losing a single one, controlling the defensive midfield with his passes and tackles.

    In 2005, Vieira led Arsenal to the FA Cup final against Manchester United, and scored the winning penalty kick in what turned out to be his last game for Arsenal. Not a bad way to end, considering his last professional touch on the ball for Arsenal won them the FA Cup.

    Vieira was arguably the best Arsenal captain of all time, and in his day was largely considered to be one of the best leaders in the football world. 

    Arsenal bought the Frenchman for a mere £3.5 million, which is nothing considering what he ended up doing for the club. For players as influential as Vieira, it's tough to give credit to the transfer, but that's where it all came from.

3. Dennis Bergkamp

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    Similarly to the case with David Seaman, Bergkamp's transfer was actually not the product of Arsene Wenger's transfer market genius, nor was he signed by the famous George Graham. Bruce Rioch, the Arsenal boss for one season, gets the credit for this one, signing Bergkamp from Inter for £7.5 million in 1995. (Ironically, Rioch was sacked in 1996 after an argument with the board over transfer funds.)

    Bergkamp actually took quite a bit of time before adjusting to English football. But after seven scoreless matches, the Dutchman finally managed to hit the net against Southampton. From that point on, he became an Arsenal legend.

    Once he settled in and formed an excellent partnership with Ian Wright, Bergkamp started scoring more and more often, before winning both club and individual honours.

    Bergkamp is regarded by many to be the Arsenal player with the most beautiful style of football in the history of the club. His goal against Newcastle is considered to be the best goal ever scored by Arsenal, where he received a pass from Pires by popping it up around the defender, and then calmly finishing it past the keeper. His superb close control as well as his jaw-dropping dribbling abilities led him to score a number of outstanding goals like this one.

    As well as being one of the all time Arsenal top scorers, with 120 goals in 423 appearances. Bergkamp also had a knack for assists. Much like his goals, his assists were incredible, and often involved chipping the ball over a defender, if not some skillful dribbling to get around a defender before sending a precise through ball to a teammate.

    For a player as exceptional as Dennis Bergkamp, £7.5 million is a complete bargain. Once again, Arsenal transformed a player into both a club and Premier League legend.

2. Ian Wright

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    Ian Wright was signed by Arsenal for just £2.5 million. Trust me, it's not a typo.

    Because he came from another English team, he took absolutely no time adjusting to the Premier League physicality. He scored on his debut in the League Cup, and then got a hat trick on his league debut. He scored 29 goals for Arsenal that season, winning the Golden Boot in his first season at the club.

    As well as seemingly scoring for fun, Wright scored some crucial goals for Arsenal, hitting the net in the FA Cup final, as well as in every single stage in Arsenal's 1995 Cup Winner's Cup campaign.

    He remains the second-highest all time top scorer for the Gunners, with a whopping 185 goals in all competitions. It seems as if all of his goals were jaw-dropping ones, as he had the ability to score from just about any distance, and could spot a keeper off his line from a mile away. He also had a knack for getting the ball around defenders, whether it was with a dribble on the ground or popping the ball over them.

    Ian Wright will forever be an Arsenal legend, not only from his goal scoring statistics, but from his sheer style of hitting the net in every possible way. 185 goals and a club legend are worth much more than £2.5 million.

1. Thierry Henry

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    Who else?

    Although the Frenchman came to Arsenal for £11 million, which isn't quite as cheap as Wright or Bergkamp's transfers, it still seems to be a complete bargain.

    Henry is not only the all time Arsenal top scorer with 226 goals, but he is also considered to be the best player to ever play for the club. However, he did pull a bit of a Fernando Torres...

    After Henry's transfer from Juventus, the Frenchman failed to score for his first eight matches, and many fans doubted that he could adjust to the physicality of English football. But once he broke this barrier, there was no looking back.

    After his eight-match goal drought, Henry compensated with 26 goals in his first season, and he was only getting started. He won his first trophies with Arsenal in the 2001-02 season, when the Gunners won the Double. Henry played a large part in this success, scoring 42 goals in all competitions that season.

    The 2002-03 season was just as fruitful for Henry, as he was voted Man of the Match in Arsenal's FA Cup final victory over Southampton, as well as being both PFA Player of the Year and the Football Writers' Association Player of the Year.

    In the 2003-04 season, Henry netted both of those individual awards again, but achieved even greater heights with Arsenal. He played an instrumental role in the Gunners' undefeated Premier League campaign, scoring 30 goals in the league along with eight assists.

    For a striker, Henry was surprisingly unselfish, and could give an assist just as easily as he could score a goal. His goals were incredible, and his most notable was a late long range effort against Manchester United, when he popped the ball over the defender and volleyed it into the goal from outside of the 18-yard box.

    Overall, this transfer was certainly the best in the club's history. Although  £11 million is expensive, it is still a bargain for a man who would go on to be the best player to ever wear an Arsenal shirt.