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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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?
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.
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?