Oh, the good old days. Back when world-class talent wouldn’t bankrupt you, money wasn’t the be-all and end-all and Arsenal were actually good.
Fans of the red half of north London have seen some supreme talent come through the doors in recent years, but equally, they’ve seen some absolute tosh do likewise. That gets everyone harking back to the successful early years of Arsene Wenger’s tenure, but given the legendary figures around the club at the time, it’s also easy to forget there were some, well, less than inspiring additions.
Naturally, when reminiscing about the best periods in a club’s history you’ll brush over the not-so important points. Moments such as Wenger signing someone who would only play 11 times for the club over a five-year period? Yeah, those.
But even just ten signings into his Arsenal reign, the strategies and visions he had for the club were plain to see. One small note, however; Patrick Vieira and Remi Garde joined just before Wenger officially arrived, so the French pair miss out.
Let’s kick on then, as here are the first ten signings of the Wenger era in glorious, ranked form from worst to best.
10. Alberto Méndez
Remember the guy who played only 11 matches for the club over five years? Yeah, that’s Méndez. The midfielder was signed from non-league German club FC Feucht in 1997, and while his Gunners career never kicked on, Wenger’s intentions were clear.
He had an eye on unknown young talents, but although the 23-year-old had promise, he was never able to cement a spot in the first team and he went out on loan three times to gain some much-needed minutes. Very much a forgotten man.
9. Luis Boa Morte
Best known for his time at Fulham (and for showing us all his flash pad on MTV Cribs), Boa Morte’s role at Arsenal rarely stretched beyond squad player. Bought from Sporting Lisbon for £1.75m, he would make 15 Premier League outings in his debut season as part of the double-winning side in 1998.
Pushing on from that proved difficult for the Portuguese, as bit-part showings in the FA Cup as well as in Europe were the most he could manage.
8. Nelson Vivas
Signed from Boca Juniors in 1998, the full-back was only ever brought in as cover for established defensive stalwart Lee Dixon, while there was also scope to fill in on the opposite flank for Nigel Winterburn should he be out of action.
Acting as adequate backup during his time at Highbury, Vivas would make 69 outings before moving to Inter on a free transfer 2001. Earned a Community Shield in his debut season, but that’s about it. Bizarrely wore number seven as well.
7. Matthew Upson
People often forget that Upson first started making a name for himself at Arsenal under Wenger’s guidance, whom he credits much of his later success towards. Like the player before him on this list, however, knocking the existing players in his position off their respective perches proved too difficult for Upson.
Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Martin Keown were the certified starters, but when any of them got injured, Upson filled in admirably – when he wasn’t injured himself, that is. 14 appearances in the top flight during his final season, 2001/02, saw him claim a league title having not featured enough to do so during the 1998 title triumph.
6. Alex Manninger
Another player, another backup. Yet, for Manninger, his rare outings in goal when David Seaman was injured included some crucial performances that have him fondly remembered in north London. Firstly, he kept a clean sheet at Old Trafford in 1998, completing a run of six shutouts consecutively which proved fundamental in Arsenal lifting the league title that season.
He was allowed special dispensation to receive a Premier League winners’ medal that season despite not making the necessary ten outings, as it was deemed his involvement had a significant enough impact on the club’s fortunes.
5. Gilles Grimandi
An underrated and often unfairly forgotten cog in Wenger’s machine was the versatile French midfielder. His debut season was the first double-winning campaign of the new boss’ tenure, where he played at right-back, central defence and in central midfield. That would be the first of two doubles he won a the club, racking up nearly 120 appearances. As reliable as they come.
When he hacked down Edgar Davids during Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial he cemented his cult hero status at the club. Arsenal through and through.
4. Nicolas Anelka
Wenger clearly had an eye for talent when he made his first signing as Arsenal boss, bringing in 17-year-old Anelka for a measly £500k. Despite his age, he still bagged 23 goals in 61 Premier League games over the next two years, before moving on to Real Madrid for £22.3m.
The best part about all of that? The money accrued was to used to fund a new training ground facility and sign a certain Thierry Henry. Yeah, now that’s what I call a bargain.
3. Emmanuel Petit
Arsenal have struggled to forge a midfield partnership quite like the one Petit had with Vieira, back when the Gunners were a ruthless, physically imposing side. The French pair were outstanding together, with Petit being one half of one of the most immensely effective midfield duos in the history of the English top flight.
He transferred his form onto the international stage, playing a key role in France’s 1998 World Cup triumph, and also boasted the best ponytail in the business – which helped him swat away opposition players, obviously.
2. Marc Overmars
A devastatingly pacy winger with bags of technical ability to boot, the Dutchman’s time at Arsenal is one filled with fond memories and important goals. For someone in his position, his scoring rate was impressive, with his 12 goals during his debut campaign one of the deciding factors in Arsenal claiming the double that season.
In terms of two-footed players, there have been precious few to play in the Premier League with quite the same ambidexterity as Overmars, who could play on either wing without a worry in the world.
1. Freddie Ljungberg
Anyone who is only referred to by his nickname, or a shortened version of his real name, must’ve done something good in his life. ‘Freddie’ did plenty. Without any shadow of a doubt the best Swede to grace the English top division, Ljungberg remains firmly in the hearts of Arsenal supporters.
His knack of turning up for the big-games made him a reliable outlet, and his energetic, exciting style of play graced the red half of north London for nine years. During that time, he won two Premier League titles and three FA Cups, scoring some superb and memorable goals along the way.
For more from Ross Kennerley, follow him on Twitter!