When Wenger arrived at Arsenal an influx of French players soon followed behind him and our once very British team welcomed the new additions with open arms as their talent was clearly exactly what we needed.
Picking a top 5 out of all the French players we have seen in the past was difficult, I tried not to lean heavily towards the Invincibles era but as you can see there is no avoiding it. We have had many an amazing French player but also some really duds, however these are my top 5 choices.
5. Sylvain Wiltord
Wiltord was a fans favourite for sure, he was hugely underrated at the time and it was never understood why as he gave so much to the club. He became our record signing when we paid £13m in the summer of 2000 and he became an integral part of the team especially when paired up with Thierry Henry. Wiltord had a great work ethic, he worked hard in every game and was ever the professional. His ability to observe the every movement of the players around him made him aware of the space he needed to move into to get the ball. He appeared 175 times for the club and scored 49 goals but Wiltord will always be remembered for that goal he scored against United that clinched us the double in May 2002 and for that moment alone he makes it on this list.
4. Emmanuel Petit.
Many times in the last two years I have prayed that Wenger would sign someone just like Petit so that all our defensive midfield worries would vanish. We miss having someone like him in midfield, his no nonsense attitude was the best, just today he spoke about his time at Arsenal and said “At that time, we were tough, we did not play to look good” and that’s exactly why he was one of the best. His partnership with Vieira was our most solid midfield combination under Wenger and they were the best in the league at that time too, they were strong and tough-really tough in tackles, interceptions, in coming up against the opposition. Petit was a runner too, not only would he cover his position but he was part of the team that covered everyone else when they moved. He was just great at what he was there to do, it was such a shame injuries marred the rest of his career.
3. Robert Pires
Pires had a rocky start to his Arsenal career and his first season was really hard for him to get used to, in fact he moaned quite a lot in his first year and it left us all wondering why Wenger had bought someone like him to replace Marc Overmars. However in his second season he started with a bang and we saw exactly why he had been signed as he started creating goals and even scored some himself from then onwards it was a match made in heaven.
Pires was a fabulous winger with a sublime technique and finish, those right footed volleys will always be the highlight of watching him play. He could get the ball anywhere and to anyone and this benefited Henry greatly especially when they had built up a solid on pitch relationship. Pires was a crucial part of the team throughout his career and he will always be remembered for his eternal amount of assists he provided.
2. Patrick Vieira
Of all the players that come and gone throughout the years Vieira is someone who we miss the most. He was everything all wrapped up into one player-captain, midfielder, defender, good in the air and he was even a striker every now and then. Vieira was tactically superb, he had studied his game and perfected his technical abilities and that was ever present during his career at Arsenal, we got the very best of him and that is why he will always be counted as not just one of our best French players but also one of our best ever.
Tenacious, passionate dangerous and tough-all the qualities you want from a defensive midfielder and also a captain. Vieira ruled that midfield and taught his opposition a lesson with every move he made in the game, he linked up the defence with attack and that strengthened Arsenal into one of the best teams we have seen. The thought he put into every match was clear, there were no off days with Vieira. In every game he was there to win and it was as simple as that-losing just didn’t cross his mind and he wanted to win at all costs which sometimes led to trouble especially when he lost his head.
1. Thierry Henry
There couldn’t be anyone else at number one position other than king Henry. He is an Arsenal legend and probably one of the best players to ever wear the Arsenal shirt. When you think of Henry you think of skill and goals, he provided both these attributes in a plentiful way during his career at Arsenal. His development was slow but once he settled he thrived and became an amazing striker. He had everything a centre forward should have stamina, skill, pace, impeccable finish and most of all he had style. He scored some beautiful goals throughout his career but none as classy as the one against United in 2000 when caught a Grimandi pass with his back to the goal and he flicked the ball up and then swivelled round to to put it straight past Barthez.
He joined as an attacking midfielder and left the club with many achievements behind him but the most noticeable was beating Ian Wright’s record to become the top scorer at the club and he still retains this honour now. There will never been another Henry, he is one of a kind and we were lucky to have had him at Arsenal.
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