Arsenal FC: Ranking Arsene Wenger's 10 Biggest Flop Signings

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2011

Arsenal FC: Ranking Arsene Wenger's 10 Biggest Flop Signings

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    One of the strange contradictions of Arsene Wenger's illustrious reign as Arsenal manager is that he is often implored to spend big, despite an extremely shaky track record.

    Even a manager with as keen an eye for talent as Wenger is inevitably going to get it wrong on occasion in the transfer market.

    But Wenger's biggest mistakes have coincided with the biggest prices paid.  Usually if a team spends big on a player, they do so secure in the knowledge that they are getting a guaranteed performer.

    No such guarantees have ever come the way of the Gunners' boss.  His most expensive acquisitions have badly out shined his bargain basement finds.

    Even youngsters who arrived with big reputations have sometimes failed to make the grade during their time at Arsenal.

    Here is a list of the 10 biggest flop signings under Arsene Wenger.

Sylvain Wiltord and Others Who Escaped the List

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    It may come as a surprise that Sylvain Wiltord managed to dodge this roll call of shame.  The rotund French striker was one of the most coveted talents in Europe when Arsenal snaffled him from Bordeaux in 2001.

    Wiltord actually arrived with a larger price tag and better reputation than legend in the making Thierry Henry.  But Wiltord never managed even to approach the standards set by his compatriot and was nothing more than a squad player.

    But Wiltord had his moments for Arsenal.  Any man who scores the goal that wins the league title at Old Trafford, commands respect and fond remembrance from Gunners fans.

    Similarly, Nigerian forward Nwankwo Kanu does not appear on this list.  Kanu was maddeningly inconsistent during his Arsenal career, after arriving from Serie A giants Inter Milan.

    But THAT hat-trick at Stamford Bridge has to prevent his inclusion in this infamous company.  The same can also be said of flash in the pan striker Christoper Wreh.

    The Liberian hitman may have disappeared from view as quickly as he appeared, but Wreh scored crucial goals which catapulted Arsenal to the double in 1997/98.

10. Phillipe Senderos

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    He may not have commanded a large fee, but central defender Phillipe Senderos arrived at Arsenal with a big reputation. Many actually saw the combative youngster as the natural successor to Tony Adams.

    The problem was that despite his appearance as an imposing, physical defender, Senderos could not handle big and bullish center forwards.

    He was routinely tossed aside by Didier Drogba and was even manhandled by Emile Heskey.  Once this weakness was exposed, Senderos became a major liability.

    His calamitous performance in the second leg of Arsenal's ill-fated Champions League quarter-final against Liverpool in 2008, sealed the fate of the ponderous Swiss stopper.

9. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst

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    Dutch utility man Giovanni van Bronckhorst was considered an excellent purchase by Arsene Wenger, when the Gunners boss signed him from Glasgow Rangers in the summer of 2001.

    The problem was that van Bronckhorst had no definite position.  The Dutchman failed to provide a cultured, left-footed complement to Patrick Vieira in central midfield.

    Any modest success he achieved came in wide areas.  He operated briefly on the left wing but his delivery was inconsistent and his all-round game failed to match the rest of the Gunners forward line.

    Van Bronckhorst ended his time in North London as a deputy to left back Ashley Cole.  He was horribly exposed during Arsenal's collapse in the final months of the 2002/03 season.

    Van Bronckhorst did eventually find success as an attacking full back and featured for Spanish giants Barcelona, in the team that toppled Arsenal in the 2005/06 Champions League final.

8. Andrey Arshavin

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    As painful as it is for this author to admit, Andrey Arshavin has to have a place on this list.  The club's record signing has floundered badly for most of his time in North London.

    This is not a critique of Arshavin's talent, which is considerable.  But the moody forward has been inconsistent and languid for far too long now.

    If anything, Arshavin's form continues to deteriorate.  Basic delivery and elementary control are regularly presenting a challenge for a player whose moments of brilliance are fast becoming distant memories.

    Arsenal acquired Arshavin in January 2009 after a protracted transfer saga.  The mercurial attacker had wowed audiences with his stunning performances for Russia at Euro 2008.

    Arshavin became an overnight cult hero to many Arsenal fans thanks to his stunning four-goal barrage at Anfield.

    The Gunners expected big things from a player blessed with stunning speed of thought and a natural instinct to cause damage in attacking areas.

    But Arshavin flattered to deceive for the next two seasons and has begun this campaign in typically sluggish fashion.

    If he is offloaded in January, Arshavin could top a similar list in the future.

7. Junichi Inamoto

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    Wenger signed midfielder Junichi Inamoto in the summer of 2001, but the Japanese international struggled badly and soon fell out of favour.

    But Inamoto quickly revealed that he possessed neither the speed of thought or the physical skill for the game at the highest level.

    The pace of the game would pass him by and he was often clueless on the ball.  He failed to make any impact for Arsenal and was famously removed halfway through a League Cup match, without injury.

    Inamoto was quickly shown the exit door by Wenger.  He played for Premier League minnows Fulham and West Brom and enjoyed some decent moments.

6. Julio Baptista

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    Julio Baptista arrived on loan in the summer of 2006 and only remained with Arsenal for a brief period.  But his considerable reputation, along with Arsenal's long pursuit of the player, grants Baptista a place on the list.

    Baptista shot to fame as a free-scoring, deep-lying forward for Spanish side Sevilla.  Arsenal were very keen on acquiring his services, but work permit issues and the large fee scuppered a move.

    Baptista went to Real Madrid, but failed to make a significant impact.  Arsenal seized the opportunity and sent Jose Antonio Reyes to the Spanish capital in exchange for Baptista.

    The loan move was seen as a mere formality, at the end of which the Gunners would finally pay the fee to land their man permanently.

    The bizarre thing about Baptista is that he could easily go from looking unstoppable, to resembling a man who had never kicked a ball in his life.

    These frustrating transformations would take place several times during the same game.  Baptista was struggling badly in the league, but he was about to receive his breakthrough in the Carling Cup.

    Arsenal traveled to Anfield to take on Liverpool in the quarterfinal in January 2007.  A Gunners team full of youngsters destroyed Liverpool.

    Arsenal won 6-3 and Baptista scored four.  He tore through Liverpool with pace, power and technique.  Baptista followed this up with a two-goal salvo at White Hart Lane against Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-final first leg.

    But just as quickly, Baptista fell from grace.  He strangely chose the hottest heat wave to engulf the country in years, to complain about the English weather.

    What made this oddly timed gripe all the more bizarre, was that Baptista had produced by far his best performances in the winter months.

    At the end of the season Baptista was dispatched back to Madrid, he has drifted around Europe ever since and currently plays when he feels like it for Malaga.

5. Richard Wright

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    Richard Wright arrived from Ipswich Town in the summer of 2002, widely considered to be the finest young goalkeeper in England.

    Wright was seen as the natural successor to David Seaman, and the £6 million paid by Wenger was thought to be a bargain for a player who would surely prove himself to be worth every penny.

    Erratic is perhaps the kindest word to describe Wright's form for Arsenal.  He was a 'keeper equally capable of repelling a thunderous shot from a yard out, as he was at letting a tame 25-yard effort slip through his grasp.

    It didn't take long for the warning signs to become apparent.  Arsenal suffered an embarrassing 4-2 defeat at home to Charlton Athletic in November 2001.  Wright was the main culprit, with his mistakes directly contributing to two of Charlton's goals.

    Against Spurs at White Hart Lane, Wright spilled Gus Poyet's long-range effort into his own net, after making a mess of what should have been a simple catch.

    Wright was soon demoted, although he ended the season with a Premier League winner's medal, alongside Seaman and third-stringer Stuart Taylor.

    Each goalkeeper had played in 10 or more league games, during a strange season between the sticks for the Gunners.

    Wright never made it back into the team, though, and was soon dispatched after just one season in North London.

4. Francis Jeffers

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    Youthful Everton poacher Francis Jeffers was the fastest rising English talent in the game, back in the summer of 2002.

    Wenger shelled out around £10 million to land Jeffers and hoped the youngster's sharp finishing would provide Arsenal with an extra dimension.

    Instead, Jeffers was so poor and inconsistent that he made Wenger reticent to spend big on English talent for the next five years.

    Jeffers brought none of the assured and composed finishing he had displayed for Everton, with him to Arsenal.

    He failed to integrate himself into the Gunners' intricate style of play when fit and his attitude and work ethic were always questionable.

    One of the main problems was that Arsenal's tactical structure of the time, didn't really suit or allow for a poacher.

    Signing this kind of player was a mistake Wenger had already made, two summers earlier.

3. Davor Suker

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    It is one of the great tragedies of the Arsene Wenger era that crafty Croatian hitman Davor Suker failed to make an impact for the Gunners.

    Signing a player of the pedigree and class of Suker represented a major transfer coup for Arsenal when the club acquired the ex-Real Madrid man in the summer of 1999.

    Suker had been far and away the best striker at the 1998 World Cup and his precise finishing, polished technique and clever movement seemed certain to make him a major success in North London.

    But Suker failed to live up to his reputation.  Suker joined an Arsenal side that had by now fully transitioned to a more direct style, based on quick counters, pace and strength.

    Suker scored the odd spectacular goal but never reached the heights many fans, this author included, had hoped for.

2. Alex Hleb

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    Alex Hleb has to rank as one of the biggest busts of the Arsene Wenger era.  Hleb arrived from Budesliga outfit Stuttgart in the summer of 2005, for a fee in the region of £6-8 million.

    Hleb had come to Arsenal's attention after having torn Manchester United apart, in a Champions League encounter the previous season.

    Hleb was placed on the right side of Arsenal's formation and began well in some brief cameo appearances.  The fleet-footed attacking midfielder possessed nifty footwork, close control and intricate ball skills.

    But Hleb also had the annoying knack of retaining the ball for far too long and always taking extra touches.  He drove Arsenal fans mad on countless occasions, due to his penchant for continuing to twist and turn, instead of releasing the ball.

    Hleb will also go down as perhaps the most shot-shy player to ever wear an Arsenal shirt.  That's up against some strong competition in the Wenger era.

    Hleb was too often easily brushed off the ball and began to complain that he was played out of position.  The 2007/08 season was his best and he began the campaign brightly.

    But Hleb was wrongly credited with being one of Arsenal's best players that season.  He complained about being moved to the left wing and wanted to operate behind the striker.

    Following Eduardo's horrific injury in February of that season, Hleb was finally moved to what he claimed was his best position.

    When Arsenal really needed him to deliver, Hleb failed to produce the goals or assists his new position demanded.  Arsenal title hopes subsequently evaporated.

    After a very distasteful failed attempt to engineer a move to Milan, Hleb was signed by Barcelona.  He was found wanting amongst top-class performers and has been loaned around ever since.

1. Jose Antonio Reyes

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    Without question, the biggest bust signing of Arsene Wenger's tenure has to be Spanish flop Jose Antonio Reyes.

    The most infuriating aspect of Reyes' failure to realise his tremendous potential at Arsenal, is that he entered a superb team and was given every chance to succeed.

    Arsenal were in the midst of their historic unbeaten league campaign when Wenger paid around £10 million to land Sevilla starlet Reyes in January 2004.

    The precocious youngster began brightly.  His stunning brace against Chelsea in the FA Cup was a magnificent moment in Arsenal's season and made Gunners fans believe they had a real superstar in the making.

    Reyes continued to impress and Wenger even went as far as moving Robert Pires out of the starting 11 way ahead of time, in order to accommodate the dynamic Spaniard.

    Reyes began the 2004/05 season in blistering form.  He was easily Arsenal's best player during the first two months of the campaign.

    But it was the ruthlessly brutal treatment Reyes received at the hands of Manchester United at Old Trafford in October, that marked the beginning of the end of his time at Arsenal.

    Reyes was never the same player after experiencing United's rough and merciless tactics.  He retreated into his shell and it soon became apparent that Reyes did not always have a willingness to  give maximum effort.

    He became increasingly lazy on the pitch, and his nonchalant performances frequently undermined Arsenal.

    By the final months of the following season, Reyes had lost his regular place in the team and had been moved off the wing and pushed up front.

    Wenger moved quickly to loan Reyes back to Spain and eventually sell him.  It was an abrupt and sad end to the Arsenal career of a player who was considered the most exciting prospect in world football, when Wenger signed him.

    Reyes will forever represent Wenger's apparent tendency to often value technique over attitude during his time as Arsenal manager.

    Every manager makes mistakes, and Wenger has certainly got more right than wrong.  Here's hoping that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Per Mertesacker or Andre Santos don't some day find themselves on a similar list.


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