Following the recent articles about Angel Di Maria and Yaya Toure who would have become Arsenal players almost a decade ago if the whole work permit principle hadn’t existed, I tried to construct a team of players that could/should have signed for Arsenal but it wasn’t meant to be.
Before you take a look at my ‘Best XI’, you should remember that I’m (mostly) a level-headed lad who likes to stand with both feet on the ground. Hence the absence of spectacular deals on this list.
EDWIN VAN DER SAR
The legendary Dutch goalkeeper had been in London for four years before he joined Manchester United. His commanding presence and ability to control the box without much fuss made him a key member of two very successful teams over three different decades – Ajax (1990-99) and Manchester United (2005-11) respectively. Between those two excellent spells Van der Sar had a rather disappointing stint at Juventus.
He was blamed for The Old Lady’s defeats in the close races for the Scudetto in 1999-2000 (Lazio) and 2000-01 (Roma) with one of Juventus’ Luciano Moggi saying: “Juventus will never lose a Scudetto due to a goalkeeper again!” after signing Gianluigi Buffon and selling Van der Sar to Fulham. The Dutchman had the last laugh though – Moggi eventually went to prison, Juventus haven’t won the Champions’ League since 1996 and Van der Sar did it with United in 2008.
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Why to feel sorry for this miss? He spent four years keeping the net of a London club which reputation was far below his own before joining United for a bargain fee of £2 million. Years of Manuel Almunia could have been avoided while goalkeepers like Fabianski and Szczesny would have had a real role model to learn from.
Why shouldn’t we regret though? Jens Lehmann. He deserved his spot between the sticks for the fact he was a part of The Invincibles in every league game and for the fact he managed to keep United at bay in the 2004-05 FA Cup Final. He also kept his net during our brilliant run in the 2005-06 Champions’ League campaign making some incredible saves on the route to the Final, including Riquelme’s late penalty against Villarreal.
Now, this one might look like cheating but it’s not. I haven’t got over Bac yet even if Debuchy and Bellerin are both very exciting players. Sagna’s physical presence and ability to keep the flank under his control makes him a solid and irreplaceable defender and that’s why I think we should have made him sign a new contract last summer. He didn’t want to though and left for the well trodden path to Manchester City.
Why to feel sorry for this miss? Well, Sagna is an experienced right full-back who can also play as a central defender. Our defending of set-pieces would have been far better had we managed to retain him for this season.
Why shouldn’t we regret though? As I’ve already mentioned: Mathieu Debuchy and Hector Bellerin. Both of them are very exciting players and Debuchy is even ahead of Sagna in the French national team. Also, Sagna broke his leg twice in 2011-12 and nobody can guarantee that he will stay injury-free. His current status at Manchester City – where he is behind Zabaleta in the pecking order – suggests that it is Sagna who should feel sorry for not committing to Arsenal last summer.
The strong Congolese was once the most wanted central defenders among Gooners world-wide between Sol Campbell’s departure and Per Mertesacker’s adaptation to the Premier League. His aerial prowess left us wanting him in Arsenal colours and his strength in duels made us wondering what would have happened if he was here to mark Drogba.
There are those among Gooners with a dissenting opinion regarding him though – they say that he is “too expensive and too relegated” but it’s not exactly true (at least the second part). Whilst it’s hard to deny his spell with QPR was a mutual failure, he wasn’t relegated with Blackburn. In fact, Rovers were relegated after he had left the club to go on a pointless money-inspired adventure by signing for Russian side Anzhi – he was a key player in the surprising victories over Arsenal (4:3) and Manchester United (3:2) respectively.
Why to feel sorry for this miss? He would have made our defence bullet-proof in 2010-11 when we could have easily won the league had we been better at defending set-pieces, not to mention what kind of attacking asset he would have been with Van Persie, Nasri and Fabregas’ crosses.
Why shouldn’t we regret though? We probably wouldn’t have signed Per Mertesacker, a wonderful player, a true Gooner and a natural leader. Then, it’s always a question whether Samba would have found his feet at a big club considering he has since vanished into thin air.
He plays for Chelsea and obviously has a licence to kill without getting a red card. But, there was a time when Cahill played for Bolton and we were all over him. As Cahill was approaching the end of his contract with The Wanderers, Arsene Wenger submitted a bid that was considered “insulting” by Owen Coyle (£6 million) but it turned out Coyle was full of crap – he sold Cahill to Chelsea for just £7 million. Cahill has won the Champions League and FA Cup since he joined The Blues but is yet to win the league.
Why to feel sorry for this miss? He would have slipped straight into the lineup without any problems and would have become a valuable member of our British core.
Why shouldn’t we regret though? Laurent Koscielny, of course. Cahill and Kos would have fought for the spot next to Per Mertesacker. Kos is one of the best central defenders in the world and has scored many important goals over the last two years.
One of my favourite players of all times. He was part of the impenetrable French and Bayern defence between the centuries and was heavily overlooked in a lot of “Best XI” choices in favour of Roberto Carlos. If one crazy goal out of a million free-kicks is what you want from your left full-back, than you should go with Roberto Carlos. If you want defensive solidity then you pick someone like Lizarazu. He was a brave player, one that didn’t hesitate to slap Lotthar Matthaeus in training at Bayern. We were known for our French connection during Lizarazu’s prime and I always felt sorry for not having him at Arsenal.
Why to feel sorry for this miss? He was a rock-solid defender who was capable of playing both as a full-back in a 4-5-1 with France and a wing-back in the 3-5-2/5-3-2 with Bayern. We had his compatriots Vieira, Henry, Pires and Wiltord (not to mention Petit, Grimandi and Garde) so he could have been persuaded to leave Bayern for Arsenal.
Why shouldn’t we regret though? Ashley Cole is certainly not our favourite character but maybe Nigel Winterburn’s age and Sylvinho’s lack of top quality helped his break-through to our team and all those great things that followed. Had we had Lizarazu back then, perhaps Cole’s contribution to our league titles in 2001-02 and 2003-04 would have never happened.
Cheating again? No. You see, I’m talking about Patrick Vieira, a 34-year-old midfielder who returned to the Premiership from Italy on a free transfer. Unfortunately he signed for Manchester City and not for Arsenal. Had he returned to help our young and talented midfielders when the things got tough, we may have won at least one trophy in 2010-11 and we would have won the double with Vieira to command the troops against Barcelona, Newcastle and the Spuds.
Why to feel sorry for this miss? He is an Arsenal legend, the captain of The Invincibles, and should have returned. We had seen some Invincibles returning to Arsenal on short-term spells (Campbell, Lehmann, Henry) but it was Vieira that would have transformed our 2010-11 team into winners.
Why shouldn’t we regret though? I still don’t know the answer to this question.
MARK VAN BOMMEL
It’s hard to find a player who is as unlikeable as the Dutch midfielder. If you are not a member of his family, there is a 99 percent chance that you have a strong distaste for the former Bayern captain. He was a real thug, one that does the dirty work for his team. And that’s exactly what we have needed against teams like Ferguson’s United and Mourinho’s Chelsea over the last decade. He was available on a free transfer on more than one occasion but Wenger didn’t want to take the gamble.
Why to feel sorry for this miss? Imagine him giving Joey Barton a lesson? Or, these days, to Diego Costa? Now you know what I’m talking about.
Why shouldn’t we regret though? He was an accident waiting to happen, a walking red card. Plus, his left knee was the reason why he decided to retire.
Very few players get the honour to influence football tactics so much that they even get a position named after them. Andrea Pirlo has been a synonym for the deep-lying playmaker position for years. It took years for someone to recognize his real quality and natural position in the team. I still remember when I watched him for the first time. It was in August 1998 when Inter played a friendly against Liverpool. The whole world was expecting to see Michael Owen but the Englishman offered nothing apart from one terrible free-kick. On the other side, two youngsters showed their talent – Andrea Pirlo and Nicola Ventola.
Pirlo’s career at Inter didn’t go well so he was sold to city rivals AC Milan where he became one of the best and most decorated midfielders of all times. Milan didn’t learn a lesson from Inter and they let him go on a free transfer in 2011. He signed for Juventus and has won three titles in a row with The Old Lady. Pirlo’s ability to create a goal out of nothing and to pull a spectacular move with the ball or even without it (like that dummy before Marchisio’s goal against England in the 2014 World Cup) make him an indispensable member of the Juventus starting line-up even at the age of 35. Now, he was available on a free transfer in the summer of 2011 – that was the time when we lost Nasri and Fabregas. Perhaps Pirlo would have joined Arsenal had Wenger offered him a contract and…who knows?
Why to feel sorry for this miss? It’s Andrea bloody Pirlo. The best deep-lying playmaker ever.
Why shouldn’t we regret though? Who knows what would have happened with the likes of Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey. Maybe Pirlo would have struggled to adapt with life outside of Italy or with the physical approach of the opponents’ midfielders.
There were better players than Ronaldinho (very few of them though) but none of them enjoyed football more than the Brazilian. In his prime, he looked like he was on a mission of making every little kid in the world fall in love with football. His goal at Stamford Bridge, the standing ovations at Santiago Bernabeu, brilliant goals from free-kicks… are just part of the Brazilian magician’s story. However, things didn’t go well for neither Barcelona nor Ronaldinho in 2007-08. The Fantastic Four (Messi-Eto’o-Henry-Ronaldinho) didn’t click and Josep Guardiola wanted to make some drastic changes. Apparently, he decided to save Messi from the influence of the Brazilian players so Ronaldinho had to pack his bags or accept the fact he was no longer the No. 1 in Barcelona. He choose the former, rejected a big money from Manchester City and joined AC Milan. Had he joined Arsenal that summer, his career could have been saved by Arsene Wenger. He was 28 at the time, his talent eternal and his arrival would have been a massive lift for the whole team.
Why to feel sorry for this miss? Ronaldinho was the closest thing to Dennis Bergkamp I can think of.
Why shouldn’t we regret though? His injuries. And, the English media would have labelled him as an ex-player and enjoyed his off-pitch exhibitions.
At the age of 36, the highest World Cup goalscorer of all times is still active and scores goals for Lazio. He was heavily connected with a loan move to Arsenal in January 2014 but it seems our loan offer wasn’t good enough. Unlike some of the entries on this list, Klose is renowned for his fair-play and that makes him a perfect match for both Arsenal and Arsene Wenger.
Why to feel sorry for this miss? He is one of the most intelligent strikers out there and would have scored goals to keep us in the title race when Giroud was out of form and players like Walcott and Ramsey were injured.
Why shouldn’t we regret though? His age. And, Olivier Giroud has improved against the big teams this season.
The Cameroonian striker left Everton a few days ago to join Sampdoria. However, at his prime he was one of the best strikers in the world but also one of the most underestimated players ever. Firstly, he was rejected by Real Madrid who decided to sell their part of Eto’o to Barcelona (there was a co-ownership deal between Real Madrid and Mallorca) and the Cameroonian replied with loads of goals for Barcelona while Real struggled to win anything with the stars they had collected.
Despite being on the score-sheet in the 2008-09 Champions League Final against Manchester United, Barcelona decided to send him to Inter as a part of the deal that saw Zlatan Ibrahimović head the other way. Eto’o was an integral part of Jose Mourinho’s Inter that won the treble in 2009-10 knocking out Barcelona on their way to Champions’ League glory. His spells at Anzhi, Chelsea and Everton weren’t successful at all.
Back in time when Barcelona attempted to sign Henry from Arsenal, we should have asked for Eto’o as a part of the deal. Imagine if we had had Eto’o instead of Adebayor in 2007-08…
Why to feel sorry for this miss? Eto’o used to be one of the deadliest strikers on the planet. He had a clutch in big games and unfortunately he proved it against us in the 2005-06 Champions League Final. Had he signed for Arsenal in 2007-08, we would have won the league and Eto’o would have scored at least 50 goals with Fabregas, Hleb and Rosicky creating chances for him.
Why shouldn’t we regret though? Perhaps he would have asked for a wage that we wouldn’t be able to pay. Or, he would have left after a year to Manchester City or Chelsea.