Arsene Wenger takes charge of Arsenal for the 1,000th time this weekend, and to mark this incredible feat everyone has been posting their best Arsenal XIs.
So here is a Wenger nearly XI: the players he was close to signing, or tried to sign on multiple occasions, only for them to never actually pull on an Arsenal shirt.
It might not beat Arsenal’s greatest XI under the Frenchman, but it would probably run it close...
GK: Sebastien Frey
As early as 2004, when he was playing for Parma, Frey claimed, “I’ve already spoken to Arsene Wenger, he’s waiting for me”, but the wait would go on, and on, and on. When Fiorentina put him up for sale in 2011 it was thought the French keeper would finally get his move to North London having been repeatedly linked with Arsenal in the intervening years, and most notably in 2010 when the club wanted to replace Manuel Almunia, but nothing materialised. The great goalkeeper Arsenal never had for the past decade.
RB: Hatem Trabelsi
So convinced were Konami that Arsenal had signed the Tunisian right-back from Ajax in 2004, they released their new edition of Pro Evolution Soccer with Trabelsi listed as an Gunners player. In their defence, as august a publication as the Daily Mail felt confident enough to announce ‘Arsenal sign Trabelsi in £4m move’ – the only problem was that the deal was never actually completed. Two years later Arsenal offered the player a contract again, according to his agent, but Trabelsi actually ended up joining Manchester City.
CB: Emir Spahic
The summer window of 2010 was one of the most turbulent seen in the centre-back department under Wenger. Out went the long-serving Philippe Senderos, busted flushes Mikael Silvestre and Sol Campbell (in his second spell with the club) and William Gallas, arguably Arsenal’s worst modern captain. In came Laurent Koscielny (good) and Sebastien Squillaci (bad) but the club also narrowly missed out on Spahic, a Bosnia international playing for Montpellier. He said of his move to Arsenal: “The most important thing is that so far the negotiations go as planned and that the transfer could be completed soon. Arsenal is a great club. I'm an admirer of Arsene Wenger and I hope that Montpeiller will cooperate.” Oops.
CB: Chris Smalling
Arsenal were outmanoeuvred by Manchester United for the signing of the highly-rated Fulham defender in January 2010, despite having lined up a move for weeks. Sir Alex Ferguson got one over his old rival with a £7m deal being agreed in principle and announced, slightly prematurely, on United’s official website. This prompted a late counter-offer from Wenger but ultimately there was nothing he could do, admitting: “It just looks like Manchester United offered more money than us.” Smalling, who will play for England at the World Cup this summer, later revealed he is an Arsenal fan.
LB: Gareth Bale
Yes, really. Imagine how different football history would have been had Wenger not backed away from the chance to sign Bale at the same time as capturing Theo Walcott from Southampton in 2006. As the Gunners boss later explained to The Sun: “We didn’t take him [Gareth Bale] as we had Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy and didn’t want another left-back. I must confess it was a huge mistake as he can play in midfield. He struggled at the start at Tottenham, then they moved him to midfield and he has done exceptionally well. The career of a player sometimes depends on playing in the right position.”
Having exploited the French market to great effect, winning the double in 1997-98, Wenger began to turn his attention to Brazil with Gilberto Silva and Edu two famous imports, along with Silvinho. However, he could also have had Lyon's Edmilson in the summer of 2001 had work permit issues not posed a big problem. "If I didn't go there it is because the club didn't propose enough money to Sao Paolo and I couldn't get a work permit because I haven't got an European passport," said Edmilson. "Moreover, I wasn't yet a confirmed international. I was tempted by the adventure. With an interpreter, I dined twice with Arsene Wenger in Brazil. We got on straight away. I found him to be someone cultured and sensitive, who knows football very well." This failure came back to bite Arsenal when Edmilson started for Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final in Paris.
CM: Yaya Toure
Toure is arguably the finest midfielder in the Premier League – certainly this season – but instead of driving Manchester City onto a succession of trophies he could, and quite possibly should, have been a firm presence in the Arsenal midfield. By his own admittance, Wenger has “known him since he was 15” and Kolo Toure’s younger brother had a trial with his sibling’s club in 2003 when just 20 years old. However, Wenger said Yaya was “completely average” when playing as a second striker in a pre-season game against Barnet. Arsenal were also unable to secure a work permit for the younger Toure brother and, impatient to leave Beveren, he joined Metalurg Donetsk before spells with Olympiacos and Monaco finally brought him to Barcelona in 2007.
AMR: Cristiano Ronaldo
On August 12, 2011, Gunners fans would have been delighted to open their copy of The Independent to read, 'Arsenal snap up £12m Jadson as 'new Cesc Fabregas"'. According to the paper: "Arsene Wenger is convinced that the £12m purchase of Jadson, a Brazilian midfielder in the Cesc Fabregas mould, will enable Arsenal to build from their summer wreckage." Sadly it was not to be. Just one day later, Wenger revealed in a press conference that the club would not be signing either the Brazil international or a certain Juan Mata, then of Valencia. Instead they signed Park Chu-young.
AML: Salomon Kalou
The rumour that simply refuses to die. Like the undead killer in a zombie thriller, the Kalou to Arsenal link keeps popping up again and again, just when you think it's gone for good. Barely a transfer window has gone by in the past five years without Arsenal being linked to the Ivory Coast international. The rumour mill kicked off all the way back in the summer of 2008 when Wenger attempted to procure a possible replacement for Emmanuel Adebayor, with the Chelsea forward subsequently saying he "dreams of playing" for Wenger. In August 2009, Arsenal were believed to be "in the hunt" for Kalou, in October of 2011 it was said they would "fight it out" with Liverpool to sign him in the approaching winter window, when Kalou was reported to have "jetted back to London to open talks" over a transfer. Things took a turn for the worse in the summer of 2012 when he signed for Lille, but, regular as clockwork, guess who had a bid turned down for Kalou in January 2014?
One of the biggest regrets of Arsene Wenger's 1,000 games in charge of Arsenal must be a failure to secure the most charismatic, and arrogant, player in world football. Though cursed by the disgraceful modern affliction of speaking of himself in the third person, Zlatan (or #DaretoZlatan as he is now known in social media circles) is nevertheless one of football's great talents and he could have been Arsenal's. Let's let the man himself, in his own inimitable style, explain what happened after the then Malmo striker went to North London to discuss a transfer in 2000: "Arsene gave me the famous red and white jersey - the No 9 shirt with Ibrahimovic on it and I was so pleased I even posed for a picture wearing it. It was a fantastic moment for me. Arsenal had a great team then and here was an Arsenal shirt made just for me. So then I waited for him to convince me that I should join Arsenal. But he didn't even try. He never actually made me a serious offer, it was more, 'I want to see how good you are, what kind of player you are. Have a trial'. I couldn't believe it. I was like, 'No way, Zlatan doesn't do auditions'."
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