Following up from The Best & Worst Arsenal Defenders, it is high time we examined some of Arsene Wenger’s midfield buys over his extended managerial presence at Arsenal. Unfortunately, much like his defensive acquisitions, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.[quote_right]“Like any manager, Arsene Wenger’s transfer record is far from perfect…[/quote_right]
For those of you who have forgotten the illustrious successes and hopeless failures via recent Arsenal transfers, a quick glance at Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal Transfer History will highlight all of his transfer master strokes as well as his business blunders.
We are all well aware of Arsene Wenger’s transfer prowess. He has excelled in both buying high quality players at cut prices, and selling poor quality players for ridiculously high fees. Yet, like any manager, Wenger’s transfer record is far from perfect.
Players inherited by Arsene Wenger will be disregarded, as the focus will be on his decisions within the transfer market. So, just who were the very best Arsenal midfielders, and which poor souls made up the very worst?
[title]The Best Arsenal Midfielders Under Wenger[/title]
As mentioned above, in order to preserve justice to Arsene Wenger, I will only be including players who he has signed himself. Inherited players will not be included.
Whenever you consider the best players under Arsene Wenger, it is extremely tempting to simply select the entire Invincibles starting eleven - and for good reason. They were not only tremendous individual players, but they also worked seamlessly as a unit. In light of this, there was only ever going to be a minor change.
After the departure of Marc Overmars, it wasn’t long until 2000 signing Robert Pires stole the hearts of Arsenal fans across the globe. He became an immediate fan favourite after scoring the winner in Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final tie against arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur in his debut season.
By the season 2001/2002, Pires had fully adapted to the Premier League and went on to make his mark as one of England’s finest attacking midfielders. Pires racked up a tally of eighty-four goals in his Arsenal career, and his unique style of play and tremendous ability to keep the ball glued to his feet makes him a midfield legend who is remembered today simply as a player who oozed sheer class and brilliance.
Love him or hate him, it is virtually impossible to dismiss the sheer talent and leadership of Patrick Vieira. His distinctive, physical style of play made him an exceptional midfield battler. Without doubt, Vieira was one of the greatest midfielders in England during his nine years under Arsene Wenger. Naturally, Wenger must be given great credit for the way in which he utilized Vieira’s physical ability to transform his Arsenal side into a strong, imposing outfit – both physically and mentally.
Despite controversy surrounding him on many occasions, Vieira’s tackling, strength and control on the ball was truly a joy to watch. His fierce dominance in midfield is something which - unfortunately, is yet to be emulated by any Arsenal midfielder since the departure of Vieira.
In 2003, Wenger captured a young Cesc Fabregas for free from Barcelona at only sixteen years of age, and transformed him into the midfield maestro who eventually dominated the Premier League, boasting natural talent, class and pure passion for the club from the very start.
His expert vision and his calmness and awareness on the ball enabled him to pick the perfect passes, making him an absolute pleasure to watch. With his exquisite technical power and ability, Fabregas brought a distinct Spanish flare to Arsenal’s midfield and his drive, determination and utter class led to Wenger essentially building the team around a young Cesc Fabregas, who was later to be named the club’s captain.
After arriving in 1998, Ljungberg eventually went on to develop a phenomenally intuitive relationship with Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires - helping to form one of the best attacking line in Premier League history.
Ljungberg was a huge asset to the Invinclibes unit, and cemented himself as a fan favourite throughout years of fantastic service. His much-loved trademark red-streaked hair also played a part.
Total Transfer Fee Paid: £12,500,000
Honourable Mentions: Gilberto Silva, Emmanuel Petit
[title]The Worst Arsenal Midfielders Under Wenger[/title]
Some Arsenal midfielders are painful to remember. Although Arsene Wenger clearly possessed a great eye for midfielders, the very same eye lapsed on numerous, unfortunate occasions.
Reminiscing over the poor quality of the players listed below is important, but to truly grasp the hopelessness of the midfield set up, you have to envision them actually play alongside each other, as some kind of terrible relegation bound outfit. We were indeed very lucky to see Arsenal’s best midfielders under Wenger actually play together. When considering my choices for the worst midfielders, I have tried to visualise the same, ghastly occurrence.
Naturally, due to their poor quality, Inamoto, Bischoff, Mendez and Bentley hardly have an Arsenal career to write about - which is something that we should all be grateful for.[quote_left]“Last and possibly least, we have David Bentley. The cocky Englishman was - in his eyes at least, destined for great things…”[/quote_left]
Inamoto made just four appearances for the club in his first season, making almost no impact at all. He was swiftly sold to Fulham the following year. Alberto Mendez, who was ironically signed in the same transfer window as Patrick Vieira, made just eleven appearances in his first season, before he was loaned out to three different clubs before being moved along to Racing Ferrol.
Amauary Bischoff was a peculiar signing. Plagued with injuries at Werder Bremen, Wenger decided to gamble on his fitness. One year and three substitute appearances later, Bischoff was sold to Academica, and became a symbol of ridicule amongst Arsenal fans, and Football fans alike.
Last and possibly least, we have David Bentley. The cocky Englishman was - in his eyes at least, destined for great things. He rose through the youth ranks of Arsenal, but went on to make just a handful of appearances throughout his four-year senior stay. He was eventually moved on to Blackburn, and then Tottenham. Spurs have loaned David Bentley out four times in the last four seasons.
Total Transfer Fee Paid: £2,250,000 +
Honourable Mentions: Jermaine Pennant, Denilson
[title]You Win Some, You Lose Some[/title]
Getting it right in the transfer market is difficult enough. Getting it right every time, is almost impossible. [quote_right]“Arsene Wenger compiled one of the best midfield units that Arsenal, and the wider Footballing world, has ever seen.”[/quote_right]
Arsenal fans across the globe will all count themselves lucky that players Amauary Bischoff and David Bentley were moved on swiftly and painlessly for the club. Of course, extra comfort can also be taken by Tottenham’s current plight with the aforementioned Englishman.
However, it must be noted that whilst Arsene Wenger was responsible for acquiring Vieira, Pires, Fabregas and Ljungberg, the question remains as to why such masterstrokes have seemingly dried up. Indeed, it has been a number of years since The Gunners last built a team around a number of genius signings. It begs the question which I have asked many times before - has Arsene Wenger lost his knack for great, regular transfers?
It is an interesting question, and one that is not easy to answer due to the many factors involved. One thing is for sure though, Arsene Wenger compiled one of the best midfield units that Arsenal, and the wider Footballing world, has ever seen.
Who were the best Arsenal defenders under Arsene Wenger? Who were the worst? Share your lineups in the comments section below.
Image: Ronnie McDonald