This is the first article in a series examining greats of Arsenal's past. We'll be travelling in reverse chronological order through Arsenal's rich history with one stipulation: the players have to be retired. Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira may well add to their footballing legend before their careers are over so you won't be seeing their profiles in this series.
Dennis Bergkamp, to put it simply, is one of the most talented players to ever take the pitch wearing an Arsenal kit. Fans and teammates alike were generous with their praise, with former strike partner Thierry Henry saying, "I have always said Dennis Bergkamp will remain the best partner I have ever had. He is a dream for a striker."
The non-Flying Dutchman (named so after his well-publicized fear of flying) first began to make a name for himself at Ajax. In 185 appearances for the Eredivisie giants, Bergkamp scored 105 goals. His strike rate peaked during the 1992-1993 season, in which he scored a very impressive .93 goals per game.
He was already well-established in both the Ajax and Netherlands side by that time. He was already well on his way to scoring 100 goals in an Ajax uniform, having registered 77 goals since his first appearance in the 1986-1987 season.
Bergkamp had also played well in Euro 92 and World Cup 94, shining brightly as part of an ultimately disappointing Dutch team in both tournaments.
For Arsenal fans, the love affair with Bergkamp began in earnest when manager Bruce Rioch bought him for £7.5m prior to the start of the 1995-1996 season. After initially struggling to adapt to the English game, he began to form an excellent partnership with fellow Arsenal legend Ian Wright.
During his first season in the Premier League, Bergkamp managed 17 goals across all competitions and 12 assists.
Bergkamp truly began to flourish in North London with the arrival of Le Boss, Arsene Wenger. Wenger's open style of play allowed Bergkamp to thrive as a scorer and a playmaker. He was a crucial part of Arsenal's return to glory, especially during their League and FA Cup double campaign of 1997-1998. For his part during that season, Bergkamp was named the PFA Player of the Year.
Arsenal would continue to have success under Wenger thanks in large part to Bergkamp's contributions. The Gunners would win the double again in 2002, and the Premiership after the Invincibles' unbeaten season in 2003-2004. Bergkamp's passing and scoring prowess were crucial to Arsenal's success in those years.
While he wasn't as prolific a goalscorer as longtime partner Thierry Henry, Henry wouldn't have been as dangerous without Bergkamp. And Bergkamp could score every now and then, too.
Just take a look at this spectacular goal against Newcastle United. Or this great strike against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, to give the Netherlands the victory. Actually, just go ahead and give this compilation a look.
As his career began to wind down, his production dropped off but not the adoration that fans and players felt for him. On April 15th, 2006 against West Brom, the supporters decided to change the match theme from "Supporters Day" to "Dennis Bergkamp Day." He came on as a substitute and scored his final competitive goal.
At the end of his final season, Bergkamp was treated to a testimonal match, the first ever match to be played in the new Emirates Stadium.
Thierry Henry, Ian Wright, Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira, Marc Overmars, Johan Cruyff and Marco Van Basten all turned out as Ajax and Arsenal met to end Bergkamp's career. 60,000 fans crowded into the stadium to say their farewells as Bergkamp played his final match.
After his retirement and emotional testimonial match, Bergkamp became the first and so far only Dutchman to ever be inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame. This speaks volumes about how well-respected he was in the Premier League. He is consistently mentioned in discussions about the greatest foreign players to ever play in the Premier League, and Guus Hiddink believes him to be among the best Dutchmen to play anywhere.
Bergkamp was truly a great player and an integral part of Arsenal's revival in the late 1990s. His legend will remain a permanent part of club lore.
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