In the first of a 3-part post, The Beck starts on a whirlwind tour de force of all the club’s Wenger-era signings before, in part three, asking the ultimate question; has Arsene Wenger lost the ability to sign players good enough for Arsenal?
In 1996 the first thing Arsene did as manager was to buy Patrick Vieira. Remi Garde joined on the same day as Vieira and that following winter a young Nicholas Anelka was signed, and later the same year John Lukic followed. Anelka and Vieira both had incredibly successful spells at the club but Lukic didn’t get to play much in his second spell at the club due to Seaman’s outstanding form and Garde was essentially a squad player.
In 1997, Arsene ‘gambled’ with a lot of low-fee signings – Boa Morte, Upson, Petit, Overmars, Grimandi, Manninger, Caballero, Wreh and Mendez. Most ended up being squad players with Overmars and Petit playing the most games out of those signings and, with contributions from Gilles Grimandi, had the greatest influence.
In 1998 it appeared at first that Arsene had ‘gambled’ again with Kanu, Diawara, Luzhny, Obinna and Ljungberg, along with Vivas and David Grondin, a young left back from Saint-Etienne that in the end only made one league appearance for Arsenal. Of those, Kanu turned out to be one of the most technically beautiful players we’ve ever had, another long legged mack daddy. Luzhny had solid seasons at right-back and Vivas spent more of his career at Arsenal coming off the substitute bench than actually starting. Ljungberg was just sensational and as a Norwegian, you don’t find me often very fond of Swedes (I drive a Saab and have Swedish friends and love IKEA and it drives me insane).
In ‘99 Arsene signed Thierry Henry and the 31 year old Davor Suker, who had had a very good record at Real Madrid and an even better one at Sevilla before that. Sylvinho was added and Ashley Cole was upgraded to the first team set up. Stefan Malz, a young left back from TSV 1860 Munchen was also signed. He ended up making 8 appearances and was never again knowingly considered for the first team. Suker only stayed for the season, making 22 league appearances, scoring 8 league goals and ending it on a sour note when he missed the penalty versus Galatasaray in the 2000 UEFA Cup Final.
Ashley Cole went on to become one of the best left-backs we’ve seen (which we should look back on with pride, but …).
Thierry Henry – well the less we say about him the better – I’m not allowed to get turned on whilst writing a blog (first rule of Beck blogging).
In the summer of 2000 Arsene made a mistake in buying Jeffers (hindsight, hindsight – is a real bitch), but at the time he was the next Michael Owen. The £ mis-spent on Jeffers helps one begin to understand why Arsene has subsequently proved so reluctant to spend big on apparent English ‘hype’ over the years.
That same year we also signed three players we will never ever forget: Wiltord, Lauren and Pires.
Along with Stepanovs (who was signed to cover for an injured Tony Adams), we acquired Guy Demel who never really made it at Arsenal but who later carved out a good career at Dortmund, Hamburg and now West Ham.
In 2001, Arsene went transfer mad. For the price of an average Ferrari he bought Kolo Toure. On top of that £162,000, he also purchased Edú, Tavlaradisi, Inamoto, Juan and Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
We also purchased, Sulzeer (Sol) Campbell for free, from the club that claims they’re better than us every year and yet somehow contrive to finish below us.
Juan never really played the left wing back position for us (but had a decent career at Flamengo) because van Bronckhurst was a really good Sylvinho replacement and Cole was just growing into a world class left back. I still don’t know who Tavlaradisi is, even Wikipedia refuses to tell me but we all know Edú, despite not always being in the first XI. He was an incredibly gifted midfielder and helped us win the double that year; who knows what a career he could have had if not for the horrific leg injury.
Inamoto and all the other youths at Arsenal hoping to start that year, such as Sidwell, Bentley, Ricketts, Thomas, Volz, Aliadiere, never quite made it. But it didn’t matter because we won the double. Right?
In 2002, the only purchase I suppose many Arsenal supporters will want to remember well is Gilberto Silva. We signed Cygan from Lille and Warmuz from Lens. Cygan became a decent squad player in the end, despite not being on the level of the other defenders. Our squad was solid and although some might have called for more signings that year after just winning the title, Arsene went for low transfer expenditure that summer.
In 2003 Arsene went after Reyes and the fee at the time could have risen to £17m; at the age of 19 Reyes was a Spanish prodigy and we all expected huge things of him, partly because Arsene had by this stage raised our expectations by seemingly routinely turning players with potential into world class stars. Everyone saw that Reyes was special and he had a great touch and quality on the ball, but perhaps he missed that final hunger that does actually make you world class.
The other big summer signing of 2003 was Jens Lehmann. He came in as an experienced goalkeeper from Dortmund and was an absolutely fantastic replacement for David Seaman.
Arsene signed a lot of youngsters that year – Clichy, Fabregas, Senderos and Karbassiyoon and upgraded a few from the Arsenal academy. Karbassiyoon had injuries and we nowadays see him all the time on Twitter, being the sociable scout he is. Cesc turned into Cesc and although they had personal errors in their games, both Senderos and especially Clichy, turned into quite decent players. The former had all the qualities to become a world class centre back, but was perhaps too smart for his own good and not confident enough on the field, where it matters most.
In 2004 most of us weren’t ready from cleaning ourselves from all the orgasms we had from going unbeaten. This summer was different to other summers under Arsene as we made no high profile signing. (We don’t care right? We were winning, we trust/ed him).
But we HAD lost five big players in Bronckhorst, Kanu, Wiltord, Keown and Ray Parlou. But both Parlour and Keown were ageing, especially Keown at 37. Bronckhorst’s departure to Barcelona (on a free) wasn’t the worst thing in the world because Ashley Cole was fantastic, and Gael Clichy wasn’t a terrible understudy. Kanu and Wiltord were not seeing enough game time as Henry and Bergkamp had created a great partnership that year and decided to move on. With Reyes and a young van Persie, as well as a Bergkamp, it is understandable to see why we did not have any high profile signings at that time.
That season of 2004 we signed Eboue, Almunia, van Persie, and Flamini. Lupoli was added for peanuts and a host of youth players were upgraded including Djourou, Larsson, Owusu-Abeyie, Connoly and Bradley.
Eboue turned out to be a great squad player but he never got rid of the personal errors in his game.
Van Persie turned out to be worthy of the Bergkamp tag at least until the promises of shiny tin cups and cash got to him. Now in the eyes of Arsenal fans he simply doesn’t exist.
(I decided this).
The Beck can be located on Twitter @The_Beck_