As Arsene Wenger prepares for his 1000th game in charge of Arsenal, takefootball selects the best eleven players to have played for him during his time at the club.
When Bruce Rioch was sacked by the Gunners back in August 1996, there was widespread surprise when they turned to a little-known Frenchman as his successor. However, Wenger has firmly established himself as one of the best coaches in the business, winning three Premier League titles and four FA Cups during his time at the club.
Of course, there are other facets to his success in England: he helped design the Emirates Stadium, and has transformed Arsenal into a side now renowned all over the planet for their attractive style of play. They have never finished lower than fourth during his tenure, qualifying for the UEFA Champions League in each of the last 16 seasons.
He has also been able to count upon some of the best players the Premier League has ever seen, including the likes of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. And here, ahead of their trip to Chelsea on Saturday afternoon, takefootball selects the best XI to have ever worn the Arsenal shirt since the introduction of Wenger on 1 October 1996.
Goalkeeper: David Seaman
Although Jens Lehmann was the goalkeeper during their Invincibles season of 2003-04, it is difficult to look beyond David Seaman for the number one jersey. A George Graham signing in 1990, ‘safehands’ was an integral part of the side which won the league and cup double in both 1998 and 2002. The England international, who won 75 caps for his country and played in two World Cup Finals, spent 13 years at the Gunners before leaving in 2003.
Right Back: Lauren Etame Mayer
One of Wenger’s qualities is his ability to transform a player from one position to another, as he did most famously of all when converting Thierry Henry from a winger into a central striker. When he signed Lauren from Mallorca in 2000 for £7.5million, many expected him to continue playing in his usual midfield role. However, he soon succeeded Lee Dixon at right fullback, and went on to make 242 appearances in all competitions for the club.
Centre Back: Tony Adams
It has been said that of all the players Wenger inherited from Bruce Rioch, Tony Adams benefited most from his appointment. Although he turned 30 within days of the Frenchman’s arrival and some felt he was already past his best, the defender would go on to be a member of the first team picture for another six years, and was a rock in the heart of the back four which won the domestic double in 1998 and 2002.
Centre Back: Sol Campbell
It took an enormous amount of courage for Sol Campbell to join Arsenal when his contract at rivals Tottenham Hotspur expired in 2001. However, his desire to win trophies and work with Wenger was enough of a lure for the then 27-year-old, who would no doubt have felt his decision was vindicated when he won the double in his first season at Highbury. He went on to make almost 200 appearances for the club, and became one of just six Englishman to score in the Champions League final when the Gunners lost 2-1 to Barcelona in 2006.
Left Back: Ashley Cole
Having developed through the youth ranks at Arsenal, it appeared certain that Ashley Cole would become a long-term captain of his childhood club. However, after making over 220 appearances for the Gunners, he was controversially lured across the capital by Jose Mourinho who signed him for Chelsea in 2006. Although this has soured his relationship with the supporters of his former club, there can be no doubt that the 33-year-old England international is the best left fullback of Wenger’s reign.
Right Midfield: Freddie Ljungberg
Freddie Ljungberg became the most costly Swedish player in history at the time of his £3million move to Arsenal in 1998, when Wenger famously signed him without actually having seen him play in the flesh. But pound-for-pound, he would go on to become one of the Frenchman’s most shrewd acquisitions. The former Halmstads man, who spent nine years with the Gunners, had a knack of scoring important goals from midfield, particularly in the 2001-02 season when he scored 17 times in all competitions.
Centre Midfield: Patrick Vieira
If Ljungberg was an inspired signing, then that of Patrick Vieira was one of the best since the inception of the Premier League. Having struggled at Milan, Wenger paid £3.5million for his compatriot in the summer of 1996. Hugely influential, the World Cup winner would go on to become of the finest midfield players of his generation, for club and country, and in this XI he would even get the nod ahead of Adams to wear the armband.
Centre Midfield: Cesc Fabregas
Barcelona were furious when Wenger plucked Cesc Fabregas from their youth ranks in 2003, and it didn’t take long for those in England to understand why. The Spaniard showed a staggering sense of maturity from one so young when he broke into the Arsenal side as 16-year-old, and he was a regular from the 2004-05 campaign, taking the captaincy in 2008, before he eventually returned to the Camp Nou for £35million in 2011.
Left Midfield: Robert Pires
A bargain £6million signing from Marseille in 2000, Robert Pires was a joy to watch. The France international was one of the most entertaining players in England during his six-year spell in London, during which time he won two league titles and three FA Cups. He joined Villarreal when his contract expired in 2006 at the age of 33, but is still fondly remembered by Arsenal fans who voted him sixth best player in their history in 2008.
Striker: Dennis Bergkamp
In that same vote, Dennis Bergkamp came in at number two. The Holland international was a Bruce Rioch signing in 1995, following a disappointing two years at Internazionale. During his time at Arsenal he established himself as one of the best players in world football, and although he was a scorer of great goals rather than a great goalscorer (he notched 87 league games in 315 league games), he was the creative force behind much of the glittering football Wenger’s side played between 1998 and 2004.
Striker: Thierry Henry
Returning to that vote by the supporters, and it will surprise nobody that Thierry Henry came out at number one. Signed as a winger after a nightmare spell in Serie A with Juventus, the France international was converted into a striker and would go on to break Ian Wright’s goalscoring record at the club. Not just the best player of Wenger’s reign at Arsenal, but arguably the best to have ever represented the club.