It was Bob Wilson — a man who gave 11 years of his career as a player and a further 28 years as a goalkeeping coach to Arsenal — who once remarked upon watching the Dennis Bergkamp that it was the Dutchman who killed off the ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ tag which hung around the London club in those days.
In a few months from Bergkamp arriving at Highbury, a little-known Frenchman by the name of Arsene Wenger made his way to the London club from Japanese side Nagoya Grampus Eight to ensure that the two words ‘boring’ and ‘Arsenal’ would never be clubbed as part of a sentence again.
Over the next 22 years, scores of footballers have played under Wenger, with varying degrees of success.
As he ends his journey as the manager of the Gunners, here’s a look at our definitive Arsenal XI, composed of only players who played under Monsieur Wenger. As you can presume, the temptation to pick only players from the Invincibles era is high. But for the sake of variety, there are players from other phases of Wenger’s managerial stint as well.
Jens Lehmann (Goalkeeper)
While David Seaman has a strong case to be included, the spot must go to Jens Lehmann, who had spent time at Borussia Dortmund, Schalke and AC Milan before he came to the Gunners. He made 200 appearances for the London club — his 200th appearance coming against Blackpool during his second stint with the club at the age of 41. He endeared himself to fans for his antics, but some may also remember the ill-fated Champions League final of 2006 against Barcelona where he got sent off inside 20 minutes. The Gunners went on to lose the final and Lehmann’s dismissal ruined what had been a great campaign for him personally — with clean sheets against Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal (all twice).
Ashley Cole (Left-back)
Arsenal fans have a love-hate relationship with Ashley Cole after the Englishman left for Chelsea in 2006 in what was one of the most controversial transfers in the Premier League era. However, Cole, who came from the academy of the Gunners, was an integral part of the Invincibles team. As a left-back, he was not only part of a solid backline with Sol Campbell and Tony Adams, he also combined with Robert Pires and Thierry Henry to devastating effect going ahead. His attacking verve despite him being a left-back came from his early days when he was a striker.
Tony Adams (Centre-back)
He was already an Arsenal man before Wenger was appointed as manager. Yet, Wenger has been widely credited with turning around his career — which had started going downhill due to his alcoholism. He spent fourteen years as the club captain — a stint during which he racked up 669 appearances and clinched 10 major trophies, not to mention the nickname Mr Arsenal. He formed part of one of Arsenal’s best defences — consisting of him and Steve Bould at centre-back while Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon played full-backs. Besides his stellar leadership, his reading of the game and his aerial ability made him a formidable defender.
Sol Campbell (Centre-back)
A man who endeared himself to fans before he even kicked a ball, simply because he had come from North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on a free deal. That reputation was enhanced by the fact that in his first season at the club, Arsenal went on to clinch a double — the FA Cup and the Premier League. Some people have called him the last truly world-class defender to have signed for Arsenal under Wenger. Fans may also remember that it was he who gave Arsenal the only glimmer of hope in the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona after heading in their only goal in the 37th minute.
Bacary Sagna (Right-back)
A typical Wenger signing, Sagna was procured from French club Auxerre for a paltry £7 million in July 2007. Sagna went on to become one of the most exciting prospects for the Gunners, with his bombing runs down the flank. His stint with the Gunners lasted seven years during which he made 284 appearances. However, with silverware being rare during his time at the Gunners, he left for Manchester City, following in the footsteps of other Gunners like Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri.
Robert Pires (Left winger)
With Marc Overmars moving on from Arsenal, his boots were filled by the Frenchman Robert Pires. The left winger used his devastating pace on the left flank to exploit defences week after week along with compatriot Thierry Henry. The winger had been part of the France national team, which clinched the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. At the Gunners, he was part of Wenger’s French Revolution along with Henry, and Patrick Vieira. While his fantastic record against Tottenham Hotspur is often cited, Pires was PFA and FWA player of the year in the double-winning season of 2001/02. While he assisted a lot of Henry’s goals, in the 2004/05 season, he scored 14 times to actually finish third in the Premier League goalscoring charts, behind only Henry and Crystal Palace’s Andrew Johnson.
Cesc Fabregas (Central midfielder)
Fabregas was poached from Barcelona by Wenger at the age of 16 and blossomed into the world’s best creative midfielders during his time at London before he eventually went back to his boyhood club in Catalunya. The playmaker’s ability was never in question right from the day he became Arsenal’s youngest ever debutant just a month after being signed. In December the same year, he broke another record, that of being the club’s youngest goalscorer. While he was only a bit-part player during the Invincibles era, he went on to establish himself as one of their best midfielders thanks to his ability to pierce any defence with a pass. The playmaker was duly named captain in 2008.
Patrick Vieira (Central midfielder)
If Henry was the brain and Bergkamp the soul of the Invincibles team, Vieira was the spine. The midfielder enforced his will against teams at the centre of the park, physically dominating midfielders with his 6’4” frame. He could smother rivals’ attacks and start his team’s in the blink of an eye. In his first full season itself, he helped the Gunners to a Double. He was soon handed the captain’s armband in 2002. He was as much about the physical tussles with battle-scarred veterans like Roy Keane as long-range rockets like the ones he scored against Newcastle United and Manchester United.
Freddie Ljungberg (Right winger)
His flamboyant hairstyle may have caught the eye of football fans over the years, but his goal against Manchester United seconds into his Arsenal debut seized the attention of the Gunners faithful. While injuries kept him away from the game a lot of the time, he was mercurial each time he did take the pitch. He was one of the best attacking lines along with Henry and Pires during his time at the Gunners.
Dennis Bergkamp (Striker)
Bergkamp was a man who was blessed with a vision not many could boast in football, not to mention a magical first touch which helped him score 120 goals for the Gunners. He was signed by Bruce Rioch during a 14-month managerial stint. However, it was under Wenger that his genius unfurled. Everything Bergkamp did on the football pitch was as close to perfection as you could hope.
Thierry Henry (Striker)
One of the more recurring images of the Gunners during their Invincibles era pomp was a marauding Henry haring down the pitch with the ball before tucking it into the goal. Henry ran with incredible pace, and finished with clinical accuracy. His goals were really the kind of wizardry that YouTube was invented for. Not surprisingly, he is the all-time top scorer for Arsenal. If his first stint with the club before he left for Barcelona was memorable, his second stint — a two-month loan deal in 2012 — was an emotional ride tinged with nostalgia as he rolled back the clock to score twice, once against Leeds United and then against Sunderland.
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Updated Date: May 06, 2018 23:31:52 IST