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Arsene Wenger's 10 greatest signings for Arsenal

To mark the anniversary of Arsene Wenger's final game as Arsenal manager, Sports Mole rounds up his greatest ever signings as Gunners boss.

English football may never see another reign like Arsene Wenger's at Arsenal.

Few Premier League fans had heard of the Frenchman when he arrived on these shores from Japan in 1996, with one newspaper infamously greeting his appointment with the headline 'Arsene who?'

Everyone certainly knew his name when he departed 22 years later, and even years of growing tension between himself and the fans could not tarnish his legacy in the red half of North London.

Wenger steered the Gunners to league and FA Cup doubles in 1998 and 2002 before pulling off the crowning achievement of his career in 2003-04 as Arsenal's 'Invincibles' went the entire league season unbeaten.

Arsene Wenger and Emmanuel Petit pictured in May 1998© Reuters

In total 'Le Professor' lifted the FA Cup a record seven times and his influence on ushering English football into a more modern age cannot be overstated.

In addition to diet and training techniques, Wenger also added to the growing influx of foreign players in England with a plethora of signings from abroad, some of whom fared significantly better than others.

With that in mind, and in honour of his 1,235th and final Arsenal game which occurred two years ago today, Sports Mole ranks Wenger's 10 greatest signings during his time at the club.

Note that Patrick Vieira has not been included, having been confirmed as an Arsenal player before Wenger's official appointment as manager, despite the new boss reportedly having a major role in making the deal happen.



10. Aaron Ramsey (£4.8m from Cardiff)

Aaron Ramsey in action for Arsenal on January 1, 2019© Reuters

Narrowly edging Emmanuel Petit out by virtue of his superior longevity, Aaron Ramsey was coveted by a host of clubs when Arsenal snapped him up from Cardiff City at the age of just 17 in 2008.

It took time for the Welsh midfielder to settle, but he went on to spend 11 years at the Emirates Stadium and was a key member in the Arsenal team for most of those.

Ramsey eventually left last summer on a free transfer having played 369 games for the Gunners, scoring 64 goals including the winner in the 2017 FA Cup final.

That was the third time he had lifted that particular trophy during his Arsenal career, although the only other silverware he got his hands on at the Emirates was the Community Shield on a couple of occasions.



9. Gael Clichy (£338k from Cannes)

Gael Clichy pictured for Arsenal in 2010© Reuters

Wenger had an uncanny knack for spotting young, often French, players with a bright future, and Gael Clichy was one of those.

Snapped up for just £338,000 from Cannes in 2003, Clichy was part of the 'Invincibles' in his first season at the club and became the youngest player to ever earn a Premier League winners' medal as a result.

Having spent the first few years of his Arsenal career as understudy to Ashley Cole, Clichy was promoted to regular starter when the Englishman left and went on to make 264 appearances for the club across all competitions.

The left-back's time in North London came just as Arsenal were fading as the dominant force in English football, which means his trophy cabinet was limited to that 2003-04 Premier League title, although on an individual level he was named in the 2007-08 PFA Team of the Year.



8. Nicolas Anelka (£500k from PSG)

Nicolas Anelka pictured for Arsenal in 1999© Reuters

Another who falls firmly into the category of successful youngsters from France, Nicolas Anelka arrived at Arsenal as a 17-year-old in 1997 having struggled for first-team football at Paris Saint-Germain.

There was huge competition for places at Highbury too, yet Anelka soon worked his way into the first team and played a major role in helping them to the league and FA Cup double in his first full season at the club.

The striker, who went on to be nicknamed 'Le Sulk' for his surly demeanour on the pitch, was then Arsenal's leading scorer in 1998-99 and won the PFA Young Player of the Year award, but left that summer citing unhappiness with the British press.

In all, Anelka scored 28 goals in 90 appearances for Arsenal before being sold on for a huge profit, with Real Madrid paying more than £22m for his services - a substantial fee for a 20-year-old at that time.



7. Robin van Persie (£2.75m from Feyenoord)

Robin van Persie celebrates scoring for Arsenal in 2012© Reuters

There was a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Robin van Persie when he arrived at Arsenal, with many expecting him to fill the shoes of retiring compatriot Dennis Bergkamp.

While that would have been a big ask for any player, Van Persie gave it a good go and his 2011-12 campaign was one of the best individual seasons in Premier League history as he scored a club-record 30 goals in 38 games - 37 in 48 across all competitions.

The Dutchman was named PFA Player and FWA Footballer of the Year, but soon turned from hero to villain for Arsenal fans when he joined Manchester United that summer.

Even so, he had already more than repaid the £2.75m Arsenal spent on him eight years earlier, in total scoring 132 goals in 278 games for the club and helping them to FA Cup glory in 2005.



6. Robert Pires (£6m from Marseille)

Robert Pires pictured for Arsenal in 2006© Reuters

Arsenal beat off competition from Real Madrid and Juventus to sign Robert Pires in 2000, and they reaped the rewards for six of the most successful years under Wenger.

The French winger won two Premier League titles and two FA Cups during his time in North London, including the double in 2001-02 and the unbeaten season of 2003-04, being named in the PFA Team of the Year for both campaigns in addition to 2002-03.

Pires also won FWA Footballer of the Year award for 2001-02 having ended the campaign as the Premier League's top assist provider, forging a deadly partnership with Thierry Henry.

In total Pires scored 87 goals and set up 41 more in 287 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions - more than justifying his £6m price tag.



5. Freddie Ljungberg (£3m from Halmstad)

Freddie Ljungberg pictured playing for Arsenal in 2006© Reuters

Freddie Ljungberg did not take long to endear himself to the Arsenal fans, scoring on his debut against their closest competitors Manchester United in 1998, and he would continue to be a favourite until his departure in 2007.

During that time the Swede won two Premier League titles and three FA Cups, being named the Premier League Player of the Season for his contribution to the 2001-02 double-winning campaign.

Ljungberg was also an integral part of the unbeaten 2003-04 campaign, scoring four goals in 30 top-flight appearances that season - including the winner against North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

In total he played 325 times for Arsenal, scoring 72 goals.



4. Kolo Toure (£150k from ASEC Mimosas)

Kolo Toure celebrates for Arsenal in 2008© Reuters

The story of Kolo Toure's first trial at Arsenal has passed into legend; during a routine drill, when defenders were expected to simply keep their position, the youngster launched two-footed tackles from behind on star men Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Not content with that, he then accidentally two-footed Wenger himself to send the manager limping off the training pitch.

Despite that, Wenger saw enough from the untamed Ivory Coast defender to spend £150,000 to bring him in from ASEC Mimosas, and it proved to be one of the shrewdest bargains in Premier League history.

Toure went on to play 326 times for Arsenal, winning the FA Cup in his first season and forging a formidable partnership with Sol Campbell.

The centre-back missed just one game during the unbeaten 2003-04 title-winning campaign and then added another FA Cup the following year, eventually leaving for Manchester City in 2009.



3. Cesc Fabregas (£2.88m from Barcelona)

Cesc Fabregas pictured for Arsenal in 2011© Reuters

Wenger's eye for a youngster was perhaps best demonstrated when he snapped up Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona's famed La Masia academy in 2003.

The 16-year-old was immediately fast-tracked into the Arsenal first team, become the club's youngest-ever player and goalscorer within months of his arrival.

Fabregas did not play a part in the Invincible season of 2003-04, but by the following campaign he was a firm fixture in Wenger's side and at the end of the 2006-07 season, just days after his 20th birthday, he had already made 150 senior appearances for the club.

The midfielder went on to play 303 times for Arsenal in total, scoring 57 times and winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award in 2007-08. However, the only major trophy he managed during that time was the 2004-05 FA Cup.



2. Sol Campbell (free from Tottenham Hotspur)

Sol Campbell pictured for Arsenal in 2006© Reuters

Undoubtedly the Wenger signing which caused the most controversy, but also one of his best and an absolute no-brainer from Arsenal's point of view.

Campbell spent 12 years in the other half of North London before letting his Tottenham contract run down and moving across town to their fiercest rivals, much to the everlasting fury of the Spurs fans.

For Arsenal and Campbell himself, though, it proved to be the right move; he won the league and FA Cup double in his first season, was a key figure in the unbeaten 2003-04 campaign and then won the FA Cup again a year after that.

A brief return to the club in 2010-11, four years after leaving, took him up to 211 games for Arsenal across all competitions, and he has to go down as one of the best free transfers in Premier League history.



1. Thierry Henry (£14.5m from Juventus)

Thierry Henry playing for Arsenal© Reuters

Could it really be anyone else? Yes, Henry cost significantly more than any other player on this list, but he was also worth every single penny and more.

It would be doing the Frenchman a major disservice to suggest that he was a relative unknown when Wenger brought him in from Juventus - he was part of the France squad that won the 1998 World Cup, after all - but he was by no means regarded as the fearsome striker he would become.

Henry scored a club-record 228 goals during two stints at the club and was simply unstoppable on his day, personifying the greatest era under Wenger when the team was full of pace, power and quality.

The striker's ability perhaps warranted more than his Arsenal trophy haul of two Premier League titles and two FA Cups, although that does of course include the unbeaten season of 2003-04.

On an individual level he was a PFA Player of the Year twice, FWA Footballer of the Year three times and won the Premier League Golden Boot four times in the space of five years - the one exception saw him claim the award for most assists instead.

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