WTTGT Writer: Matt Mace
There is little doubt (despite recent questions being raised) that Arsène Wenger is a genius when it comes to dipping his toes into the transfer market. Whilst rival clubs have spent astronomical fees on world class talents such as Rooney, Aguero and Drogba, Wenger has been able to attract players with a similar calibre to the Gunners for a fraction of the price.
Whilst many Arsenal fans will believe that the £10.5m signing of Thierry Henry from Italian giants Juventus has been the club’s greatest signing under Wenger, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Henry was the best value for money signing that Wenger has brought in.
The reason that the signing of Henry is brought into doubt is due to the transfer fee paid for him. Whilst £10.5m can be viewed as a bargain, any transfer figure above the £10m mark should be viewed as a heavy investment from a usually shrewd transfer policy. And whilst Thierry definitely backed up this transfer fee, there are others who have signed for far less who have contributed just as much as the talismanic Frenchman.
Here are the contenders for Wenger’s greatest ever coup:
After arriving at Highbury on an initial trial period, not many thought that Kolo would fill the void left by then iconic stalwarts of Adams and Keown. Signed from Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas for a mere £150,000, Touré established himself as one of the greatest central defenders in the Premier League. His partnership with Sol Campbell was an influential factor in Arsenal’s unbeaten season and despite leaving for Manchester City in 2009 for £16m, his efforts and contribution will always be fondly remembered by Arsenal fans.
Freddie is a player who captured the hearts of Arsenal fans with his red streaked hair highlighting his devotion to the club. He was a £3m signing from Swedish side Halmstads BK and was in stunning form at the backend of the 2001-02 season, helping the north London club to their second Premier League and the FA Cup double which included that goal in the final against Chelsea. It is left to wonder what sort of stature Freddie would have at the club if his career wasn’t constantly plagued by injuries, but there have been few players that have left a better impression on the club than the Swedish international.
Up until the a few years ago Arsenal fans had been longing for a defensive midfielder to fill the void left by Vieira. Flamini and Gilberto Silva both did stellar jobs but people were still asking for someone else to play the holding role for Arsenal. However, talk of extra bite in midfield stopped once Song emerged into the Arsenal first-team in 2009. Since October of that year Song has put in impressive performances in allowing the more creative midfielders to play without the defensive restraints of the team. And all of this from a player who cost Arsenal a mere £1m to sign from French side Bastia.
Maybe not the Arsenal fans’ favourite player right now, but there is little doubt as to the abilities of the homesick Spaniard. The current skipper signed from Catalan giants Barcelona for a rumoured fee of £2.5m (although payments due over Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit are thought to have lowered the fee), or a swap deal involving Giovanni van Bronkhorst depending on what you have read. Fabregas has identified himself as one of the greatest players in world football, and whilst it is very debatable if Fabregas will still be wearing an Arsenal shirt next season, there is no arguing that Cesc is one of the greatest players that Wenger has brought to the club.
Despite signing before Wenger’s arrival at north London, Vieira signed under instruction from Arsène in 1996 for an estimated fee of £3.5m. After struggling in Milan, Vieira took to the English Premier League like a duck to water, due to his height strength and stamina. Despite his disciplinary problems Vieira soon found himself captain in 2002 due to Tony Adams’ retirement. A player who has won all that there is to win, recently turned down the chance to join Arsenal in a coaching role, but despite this Vieira’s name will always be chanted from the terraces with the fans holding nothing but love and admiration for the Frenchman.
As previously mentioned, Henry was probably the greatest player to wear the red and white of Arsenal. For little over £10m many will see this as Wenger’s shrewdest signing. Fortunately for the Gunners, Wenger had already worked with Henry at Monaco and was sure that he would make it as a striker, opposed to winger. Henry eventually fired 26 goals in his first season for Arsenal. Some 226 goals later and Henry has proved that whether Wenger had shipped out £10m or £50m, he would be worth every single penny, and then some.
Robin van Persie
After signing from Feyenoord for £2.75m, van Persie, much like Henry, was unsure of his preferred position as either a striker or a winger. After waiting patiently for a starting role, van Persie was soon recognised as a star striker after the departure of Henry in which he took over most of the goal scoring responsibilities. His presence has become ever more important in recent years with players such as Eduardo, Bendtner, Chamakh and Vela struggling to impress. There’s no telling how good van Persie could be if he could remain injury free, and that could hamper his position on this list.
Whilst players such as Pires, Petit, Overmars and Sagna were unlucky not to find themselves on my plethora of nominations, I felt that despite being great players at the club, their presence wasn’t as important as others.
In terms of Wenger’s best signing, my preferences tend to lean towards Henry and Alex Song. This piece could easily be twice as long, highlighting the fact that despite unrest amongst the Arsenal fans, and the ever changing economy, Wenger is indeed ‘the professor’ when it comes to the transfer market.