Arsène’s Greatest XI

by James Howley

Arsene WengerArsène Wenger has changed Arsenal and English football almost beyond recognition since his arrival at Highbury in 1996.

Along the way he has managed some of the finest footballers to ever grace the English game.

To celebrate his upcoming 1,000th game in charge of the Gunners on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, I have chosen an ultimate XI from the legendary Frenchman’s time at the helm.

GK – David Seaman

Upon taking the Arsenal job in October 1996, Wenger will have recognised his good fortune in being bequeathed with a goalkeeper as reliable as ‘Safe Hands’ Seaman. A steely mentality hidden behind a Yorkshire smile and signature moustache, his faultless positioning and calming influence made him Wenger’s undisputed number 1 for seven years, winning five major honours along the way.

RB - Bacary Sagna

A perhaps controversial choice, given the competition from Lee Dixon and Lauren for the right-back berth, but Sagna has been a consistently brilliant performer for Arsenal since his arrival from Auxerre in 2007. Determined, tenacious and a phenomenal athlete, the Frenchman possesses all the attributes required for a modern full-back.

CB – Tony Adams

Plagued by well documented alcohol problems when Wenger arrived at Highbury in 1996, ‘Mr. Arsenal’ enjoyed a sensational renaissance under the Frenchman, winning two doubles before calling time on his career in 2002. Honored with a statue outside Emirates stadium, Adams remains the only Englishman ever to captain his club to league titles in three different decades.

CB – Sol Campbell

Joining the club on a Bosman transfer from arch rivals Tottenham in 2001, Campbell’s arrival at Arsenal coincided with a return to trophy-winning ways. The bedrock of the Invincibles defence, his never-say-die attitude was encapsulated on his final appearance for the club in the 2006 Champions League final. Deceptively quick, strong as an Ox and without an obvious flaw to his game, Campbell is without doubt one of the greatest defenders England has ever produced.

LB -  Ashley Cole

Despite his Arsenal career ending in unrivalled acrimony, Cole is surely the finest left-back ever to pull on the red and white jersey under Wenger’s tutelage. Combining his exceptional pace and footballing intelligence, the academy product matured into a phenomenally rounded full-back, equally adept both going forward and defending, with a penchant for goal line clearances. A boyhood Gunner, his now infamous 2006 transfer to Chelsea will forever hurt the Arsenal fans.

CM – Patrick Vieira

Has there been a more complete midfielder in Premier League history than Patrick Vieira? Signed from AC Milan as a condition of Wenger taking the reigns in 1996, the imposing Frenchman soon became the heart and soul of the Arsenal midfield. Assuming the captaincy following Tony Adams’ retirement in 2002, Vieira’s skill, passion and insatiable will to win meant he was an integral part of every trophy-winning side Wenger has ever produced.

CM – Cesc Fabregas 

If ever a player summed up Wenger’s devotion to youth-elevation, it is surely the case of the sublimely talented Spaniard. Forcing his way into the starting XI during the 2004-05 season, the 17-year-old fitted seamlessly amongst his highly decorated teammates. Possessing jaw-dropping technical ability and an unmatched eye for the killer pass, Fabregas regularly topped the Premier League assist charts before departing for hometown club Barcelona in the summer of 2011.

LM – Robert Pirès 

Bought from Marseille in 2000 to replace the departing Marc Overmars, Pirès endured a difficult start to his Gunners career before his unique wing-play made him one of the first names on the manager’s team sheet. Boasting bewitching skill and an unorthodox running style, the Frenchman was one of the key components of the much-heralded Invincibles team. A highly intelligent player, ‘Bobby’ (as he was affectionately known by Arsenal supporters) built up a sensational rapport with his attacking teammates. Winner of the 2002 PFA Player of the Year award, Pirès’ signing displayed Wenger at his brilliant best in the transfer market.

RM – Marc Overmars

Despite only spending three years in north London, Overmars’ contribution to early stage Wenger-ism cannot be overstated. A crucial cog in the double winning team of 1998, the jet-heeled Dutchman delighted and dazzled the Highbury crowd, scoring vital goals against Manchester United, Everton and Newcastle as Wenger became the first overseas manager to win the double on English soil.

ST – Thierry Henry

What can you say about Thierry Henry? No ultimate Wenger XI would be complete without his greatest success story. Voted by fans as Arsenal’s finest ever player, Henry arrived from Juventus in 1999 as a young winger whose once promising career was threatening to fall into disrepair. Thoroughly rejuvenated and reinvented under Wenger’s stewardship, Henry went on to smash Ian Wright’s goal scoring record, using his skill and grace to become one of the most devastating attacking forces in the history of the British game.

ST – Dennis Bergkamp

Of all the gifts inherited by Wenger upon his arrival to the marble halls of Highbury, none were greater than the sublime Dennis Bergkamp. Renowned for his footballing brain and flawless technique, Bergkamp was capable of moments that simply took the breath away. Described by Thierry Henry as “the greatest player I have ever played with,” the ‘non-flying Dutchman’ did as much as anyone to banish the image of ‘boring boring Arsenal’, with his loyalty and professionalism earning him legend status along the way.

1 Response

  1. Rafa says:

    Never easy to do a best ever eleven and you’ll never get everyone to agree but in my humble opinion Petit should be squeezed in somewhere somehow !! Again in my humble opinion he was the best central midfielder in Europe for 2-3 seasons. I’m a liverpool fan but I have great respect for Wenger, find it hard to believe some arsenal fans call for his head, you must forget where you come from !!!! YNWA

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