Arsenal’s Best Signing Ever

Who is the best player ever to have been signed by Arsenal?

Last summer I wrote a post about ‘Arsenal’s Best Transfer News Ever’. The point of that piece was to determine which piece of transfer news was the most exciting when it was announced, regardless of how that player went on to perform for the club.

So, for example, Clive Allen was on that list even though he never played a game in anger for Arsenal and so was Davor Suker, who was never more than a bit part player.

This time I want to know which signing (as opposed to home grown player) has been the best piece of business we have ever done.

You may want to weigh up factors such as what they cost, what their impact was on the team, what legacy, if any, they left behind, their achievements versus the expectations we had when they arrived and so on.

I’m not including anyone who has come through the Arsenal ranks from apprentice up, or has been recruited at too young an age to be considered a mature signing (so there’s no room for Cesc Fabregas).

For starters, here are what I consider to be some of the main contenders:

Cliff Bastin

Cliff was spotted by Herbert Chapman playing for Exeter away at Watford. Chapman had gone along to keep tabs on a promising Watford player but was so impressed by Cliff that he snapped him up at the end of the 1928/29 season. It was an inspired piece of business and was crucial to the Chapman revolution that led Arsenal to dominate English football in the 1930s. Bastin’s scoring record for the Gunners was not outdone until Ian Wright surpassed it in 1997.

Ronnie Rooke

Arsenal’s dominance in the Chapman era was ended not by any other team, but by the Second World War. When football began again afterwards we returned as a severely weakened side and narrowly avoided relegation in 1947. But the following year we bounced back to reclaim our crown – and the vital ingredient was a tough, experienced centre forward called Ronnie Rooke. He was nearly 35 when we signed him from Second Division Fulham and he had never played in the top flight – so he was a real gamble. However, his 21 goals in 1946/47 helped stave off relegation and he followed that with 33 more the next season as we marched to the title.

Frank McClintock

Our Double-winning hard man was brought up in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, which explains a lot. He was signed in 1964 after seven successful years at Leicester. Starting off in midfield before moving to the CB role (and the captaincy) he was a rock throughout the relatively fallow years of the late 1960s and, of course, led Arsenal to the Double in 1971.

Alan Smith

Another Leicester stalwart, signed in 1987. “Smudger” was an awkward-looking, ungainly centre forward, but there was no-one better at holding up the ball and bringing others into play – skills that, along with his eye for a goal, proved to be vital in our title-winning seasons of 1989 and 1991.

David Seaman

After winning the league in ’89 most of us were happy with John Lukic between the sticks, but George Graham decided that he wanted the best and went out and got Safe Hands from QPR in 1990. It’s no exaggeration to say that Seaman was an essential ingredient in every subsequent success achieved by the club during his time with us.

Ian Wright

Although he would not win a champions medal until 1998 and the arrival of Arsene Wenger, Wrighty was a mainstay of the Arsenal team in the later George Graham era, when we stopped winning championships and started winning cups and when our flamboyant attacking midfield was replaced by pragmatic journeymen. Arguably, without Wright’s goals during that period, we might really have struggled.

Dennis Bergkamp

I’ll admit to being biased here. Dennis is my all-time favourite Arsenal player – but what a signing he was in terms of ambition and imagination. Bruce Rioch was the boss when Dennis arrived in 1995 but his signing is widely attributed to David Dein. The English league did not have much in the way of foreign superstars at that time (Eric Cantona apart) and Dennis showed the way forward for many of the great foreign players that followed. His touch, vision, passing and reading of the game was a damning indictment of the type of players being produced by English clubs in the Route One era.

Sol Campbell

Sol’s signing from the N17 knuckle-draggers was the sensation of the close season in 2001. The fabled Adams-Keown-Bould back three was near the end of its days and a significant reinforcement was needed. You don’t get more significant than Big Sol, who went on to become an immense figure in our defence, even if he did go a bit loopy at the end.

Patrick Vieira

Signed in 1996 from Milan, Paddy took the EPL by storm and is arguably still the greatest midfielder to have strut his stuff since the Premiership was formed. Arsenal captain, Arsenal legend, fearless, tireless, gifted… what more is there to say?

Thierry Henry

After Arsene Wenger’s first Double in 1998, we were all gutted when young goal machine Nicolas Anelka was persuaded by his greedy agents (his brothers, no less) to walk out on us the following year. But we need not have worried. Arsene went one better, bringing in Thierry Henry fresh from France’s 1990 World Cup triumph. He was a winger with va-va-voom, but Arsene converted him into the deadliest striker the Premier League has ever known.

That’s it.

My choice would be Dennis, because he completely transformed Arsenal and helped transform English football. He also stayed with us until the end of his career and is clearly still a devoted Gooner.

What do you think?



66 Responses to Arsenal’s Best Signing Ever

  1. MickyDidIt89 says:

    Tricky one Rocky.
    Charlie Nicholas created a stir as he was our first “glamour boy” signing. What with the perm and earring.
    Then there was a bloke called Wenger. Now you say “player” and yes he had been a second division Frenchie and retired, but a player nevertheless.

  2. goonermichael says:


  3. goon says:

    Henry… Arsenal through and through, and was the best striker in the world.

  4. Clark says:

    Easiest decision ever. Dennis Bergkamp.
    Without him Arsenal would not be what they are today.

  5. johnQ says:


  6. MickyDidIt89 says:

    Stevie Bould,
    Worked miracles for Gentlemen with Receding Hairlines.

  7. John says:

    DB10 by a country mile

  8. gaz d gooner says:

    tough one maybe ian wright..or henry or bergkamp…but probably john jenson….only joking it has to be bergkamp a truely world class signing

  9. guy says:

    HOW oh HOW is oleg luzhny not on this list. i vote oleg

    followed closely by edu of course

  10. Alun from Twickenham says:

    Sorry Mickydidit but I think you will find that Peter Marinello was the first glamour at the Arsenal n the early 70’s. Not Charlie Nicholas.
    But for me Dennis will always be the MAN

  11. Dennis Menace says:

    Good list, but Pires was immense and should be included too.

  12. sh4rpz says:

    Dennis Bergkamp for me.

  13. TotalArsenal says:

    Hi Rocky, great post – a joy to read.

    For me, Thierry Henry just edges it from DB. Anelka is sold: £22m in the bank –> Henry is bought and £11m remain in bank. Wenger takes a huge risk, but boy did it turn out well for him/us.

    TH plays 254 games for us and scores 174 goals (for every three games he scored two goals on average during his Arsenal career – DB scored about one goal in every 4 games). TH scored against everyone: the lower teams as well as the top teams, and for such a prolific goal scorer, he had an incredible rate of super goals – real beauties (Van Nistelrooy scored on average almost as many goals as TH, but seldom or never were they anywhere near beauties). TH stays for 8 years and gave everything he had to us – a true legend. Just like we cannot imagine the Wenger era without DB, without TH it would also not have happened.

  14. gaz d gooner says:

    how about these ..richard wright…jose reyes…christoper wreh…francis jeffers…igor sepanovs…..wenger as made some proper cock ups in the transfer market but people only seem to remember the good ones

  15. MickyDidIt89 says:

    Good shout. Then there was Alan Hudson.

  16. Rasp says:

    Hi gaz,

    Today’s debate is about the best, but if you’d been reading in the past, you’d know that we have talked about the worst ever players and all those you list were mentioned

  17. evonne says:

    Rasp and Gaz – Reyes seems to appear on both lists – best and worst 🙂

  18. Rasp says:

    Hi Evonne,

    Yes, you’re right. I cant forgive Reyes for being such a woos! Most 19 year olds would give their right arm to be a professional footballer and he whimped out because he was homesick – parthetic…..

  19. goonermichael says:

    He was scared off by Gary Neville Rasp. Should of knocked the little twat out. Is anything happening transfer wise? I’ve pressed the “hide publication” button so much on newsnow there’s nothing left.

  20. TotalArsenal says:

    Hey Rasp, still have some sympathy with Reyes – he was young and just a mummy’s boy – but what about Hleb? ‘London is too big for me, I feel totally out of place – oh you know what I’ll go and join the cosy small town club of Barcelona instead’: what an absolute idiot he was! 😦

  21. Rasp says:

    Hi TA,

    Yes I agree Hleb was our worst ever turncoat. The Arsenal team set-up at the time made him look a much better player than he actually was – so much so that Barca bought him…. and we know what happened after that. Hleb lacked power and his clever tircks usualyy served to make him look good rather than be that creative for the team, and then he thought he was a world beater – what a twat.

  22. TotalArsenal says:

    Fully agree Rasp, Hleb is perhaps the best example of how Wenger makes players world beaters. There is no other manager who is capable to turn average-to-good players into good-to-great players, like Arsene. Usually, this is rewarded with loyalty, but occasionally a player starts thinking he has become the bees knees, only to to be found out very quickly 😆 – and how he regrets his vain foolishness now!!

  23. gunnerN5 says:

    Great list Rocky but one startling player is missing.

    I never got to see him play but my Dad and both Granddad’s raved about Ted Drake.

    He played for Arsenal from 1934 to 1945, played in 167 games and scored 124 goals that’s an amazing .74 goals per game – even better than Henry’s .69 per game.

    He was an old fashioned smash and grab center forward.
    In the 1934/35 season he scored 42 goals in 41 games, including 3 hat tricks and 4 four goal games. He scored a total of 44 goals in the season – still a club record.

    The next season he scored 7 against Aston Villa – still the league record – and then he scored the only goal in the FA Cup final.

    However there was a blemish on his career – he played for Spurs as a kid – but let’s forgive him for that youthful indiscretion.

    I cannot say he was our best of all time but he should get honourable mention.

  24. TotalArsenal says:

    GN5, with those stats I can only agree.

  25. TotalArsenal says:

    Herb, inadvertently Rocky must have written this post for you. If you are still reading, it would be great to hear your view 🙂

  26. Doc Brody says:

    Dennis Bergkamp

  27. Goonerjim says:

    Some of you little Englanders should actually try living abroad before knocking those who dont like it. How many of you still live 5 miles from your parents house?

  28. MickyDidIt89 says:

    If I had been 18 and offered those wages do something I loved, I would have considered Australia!

  29. MickyDidIt89 says:

    Anyway, Hleb didn’t like it so much he ended up in Birmingham.

  30. Goonerjim says:

    Micky, Ive been there and done that within my own profession, spending 3 years in China and the US. About half of the group of 10 I started with crumbled and came home.

    Its hard work living in a country where you dont speak the language – let alone if you are a dyslexic Hispanic Gypsy with piss poor education who can barely speak proper spanish…

  31. Red Arse says:


    With regard to Reyes I think you have a point, if he suffered dyslexia, a poor education and had not been abroad before.

    I don’t personally profess to know the facts with regard to the motivation of the players, but on the face of it as far as Hleb and so many others the money seems to have been the main driver.

    On the other hand they are professionals and by definition they make themselves available for money rewards, not loyalty.
    That’s just life, that’s the way it is.

  32. goonermichael says:

    Goonerjim. I doubt wether your colleagues in China had the back up and wages that was available to Reyes. As far as I am aware most footballers have personal intepreters and language tuition. I always read that he didn’t like this league after he got constantly kick by those dirty red mancs and no protection from the (bent) ref.

  33. Gooner in Exile says:

    Cracking post Rocky, I’m trying to think of many others, perhaps in terms of reward and bringing us something different.

    Perry Groves…bought for £75k sold for £750k 6 years later, having made that run and pass for Charlie on 87, and achieving cult status for the fans…

    “we all live in a Perry Groves World”

  34. That Man says:

    What about the Flying Swede….Anders Limpar?!

  35. goonermichael says:

    for sheer profit Anelka.

  36. allezkev says:

    Top post;
    I think you have to add Eddie Hapgood and Joe Mercer to that list…

  37. goonermichael says:

    BBC are reporting that we will probably sell Cesc. We need to spend to improve the squad. If we get 50m for Cesc and spend less on the players we are linked with. I think we’ll be going backwards.

  38. kelsey says:

    Hi everyone.

    Having had the Red Arse treatment this past week I am still alive.

    As GM says its a done deal, time to move on.

  39. kelsey says:

    After 5 decades hard to pinpoint one player.forwards usually get all the glory as they invariable win matches but to me DB10 had everything.Steel, grit,vision, a magician on the ball, and will most probably be one of our last longest serving players.

  40. redarse says:

    Hi Kelsey, 🙂

    I’m with you on Dennis, but it is a close call with Thierry who was so often able to produce wonder goals.

    Sadly, I don’t think we are going to ever see their likes again at Arsenal.

    Special players!

  41. Gooner in Exile says:

    Unfortunately you are probably right RA unless of course we can produce them ourselves. Although as Arsene said finding a player that good one hour from your training ground (academy rules) is rare hence why he thinks we are so lucky to have Jack.

    In other news I returned home to find the worse news that indeed our away kit is that diagonal stripe blue and light blue affair….not sure I like that one. Can’t see merchandise sales fly for it either….does any one of us intend or ever bought all blue memorabilia?

  42. Rasp says:

    So that’s it then, Cesc out and Alvarez in????

  43. goonermichael says:

    I hate the mancs with a passion but they always seem to do get thier transfer business out of the way early. Ours seem to drag on forever.

  44. dandan says:

    Gooner Michael no doubt our resident accountants can tell you why, but I expect it has something to do with our financial year and tax, no doubt July first bring some interesting movements and announcements.

  45. chas says:

    I’ll go for Paddy.
    £3.5 million. Came on as sub against Sheff Wed and had the crowd singing his name immediately. Magnificent captain. His disciplinary problems were, perversely part of the success of the Arsenal team. No-one took liberties.

    A little anecdote I found on Arseweb…….

    A great story which sneaked out from within the marble halls….
    Just after joining, David Dein decides to introduce PV to some of the board members. PV is taken to the Directors’ Lounge and introduced to various people. Eventually they come to Daniel Fiszman. Via an interpreter Fiszman asks PV how he is settling in and some other questions. He then asks whether PV plans to learn English and does he speak any, to which PV replies in the only words of English he knows – ‘F*** Tottenham’. David Dein turns several shades of scarlet, Fiszman tries to remain calm and PV looks perplexed, not understanding what he has just said. Once a Gooner….

  46. goonermichael says:

    Thanks dandan. Hopefully we’ll have some news on Friday then.

  47. goonermichael says:

    I don’t like the new away shirt

  48. evonne says:

    GM – we are not going to get £50m for Cesc. The ‘improved’ offer is £31m, still insulting.

    So, realistically – if we don’t sell him now, his wages will be around £5m plus his value at least £5m less next year. His value is not going up anymore, it is going down (age and injuries).

    Arsene has no choice. rock…hard place.

  49. MickyDidIt89 says:

    Just got in and the same away kit booklet is sitting on the kitchen table.
    More interestingly, remember the post I wrote about Aura and that we should Big-Up the Cannons. Well someone said send it in. I did. I am taking full credit for the Cannons and indeed the whole concept. “Explosive Arsenal” and mean cannons everywhere. AA has changed the way the Arsenal publicity machine works, and I am the hero.

  50. Harry says:

    Rocky, I did you a disservice, I raced to the end of your article to check you had the right answer before I read it!!! And yes you did get it right……..Cracking read though……

    There is no competition, yeah Henry is a legend, vieira was awesome, Wright a pure goal scoring machine, as was bastin and drake…..Wee alex james was a wizard, frank was a legend and won the first double, Seaman best keeper ? All of them great players…..and there are others who have helped shape this club……….BUT there is only one………Dennis Bergkamp……..

    Bergkamp was and still is on another stratosphere, vision unrivalled by anyone……..true genius……5 steps ahead and able to match that with the technical ability to execute the moves to perfection…..God of football, by the way he is my favourite ever player, in case you didnt guess…..

    Anyway, Cesc is off then, he is not in the away kit brochure!! As I said the other week, we need to keep samir and build the team around him with wilshere and ramsey…….If we lost both cesc and samir, it would be difficult……..

  51. Jamie says:

    I’m with Chas. Vieira for me!

  52. TotalArsenal says:

    Evening all,

    Does anybody know a good website where I can find stats on former Arsenal players, in particular goals and assists?

  53. Gooner in Exile says:

    Someone want to explain why this Cesc story is any more believable than any others in the past?

    “A senior Arsenal official”…..WHO?

    “Offer of £27m”…..we want £40m they offered £30m+ last year, show us the money and we give them the merchandise, why does anyone believe Barca have the money to do this deal?

  54. Gooner in Exile says:

    TA its quite difficult getting stats try the newspapers, Telegraph, Guardian.

    Or pay Opta 😀

  55. TotalArsenal says:

    Cheers GiE and good night 🙂

  56. ernest claridge says:

    McLintock, because he was the catalyst that ended 17 tropyless years!!!

  57. chas says:

    I thought we’d never gone more than 6 years without a trophy! 🙂

  58. MickyDidIt89 says:

    I do wish we could get linked to a source that has heard something from somewhere about a striker and a DM, because if we don’t, my son has just announced that he will be writing to Arsene.

  59. evonne says:

    Micky – that will teach them! Good lad, tell him to start writing now, sooner rather than later

    I wrote many letters to AW (sad, I know) and to injured players

  60. dandan says:

    Window watch FROM TODAY’S TIMES

    Arsenal have opened talks to sign Gary Cahill as they attempt to complete two signings before the start of pre-season next week.

    Arsène Wenger made a formal approach, but no bid, for the Bolton Wanderers centre back at the end of last week, having appeared to be pursuing other players for that position recently. The Arsenal manager appears to have reacted to criticism of his team’s shortcomings last season, when they finished fourth after being in a good position to win the title.

    He wants to sign two centre halves and remains interested in Christopher Samba, of Blackburn Rovers, Scott Dann, of Birmingham City, and Phil Jagielka, valued by Everton at £20 million. Wenger is likely to make a decision on the trio when he returns from France at the end of the week.

    Cahill is thought to have a £17 million release clause in his contract, which has one year left, and wants to join Arsenal above interest from Tottenham Hotspur, who would be willing to offer Robbie Keane as part of the deal.

    Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, is expected to ask for players as part of the deal. He has tried to sign Carlos Vela, the Arsenal forward, on loan in the past.

    Wenger will make way for arrivals by attempting to sell Sébastien Squillaci, the defender who joined from Seville last summer, leaving him with five central defenders, although Thomas Vermaelen and Johan Djourou have both suffered lengthy injuries. Gaël Clichy, the left back, has rejected Arsenal’s suggestion, made last season, to extend his contract beyond next season and wants to move to Liverpool.

    Wenger expects to sign Gervinho for about £10.5 million next week after Lille failed in an attempt to use Paris Saint-Germain’s interest in the forward to increase the asking price.

    Arsenal have ruled out taking players as part of a deal for Cesc Fàbregas, the Spain midfield player, who wants his future resolved before returning to pre-season training next week.

  61. Rasp says:

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  64. Vicky nair says:

    Well van persie has left n he is in killer form for man united. And looking at it wenger wil make weak signing. Coz world class players cost a lot and wengers maximum transfer goes to £16 million. U dont get world class players with that range of money. U need to spend big. I guess wenger will by young players again n develop him but sell him. With wenger in charge arsenal is like a academy full of youth ready to be sold. Arsenal is a selling club selling priced assets with wenger being the broker. Arsenal will never win the EPL and the champions league when wenger is in charge, but there is hope he may win FA CUP or the CAPITAL 1 CUP sometime in 10 years time.

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