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The Dutchman took the club from also-rans to perennial contenders in his 11 years at the club, justifying news that the Gunners will erect a statue of him outside Emirates Stadium

COMMENT
By Julian Bennetts

To understand the impact of Dennis Bergkamp in Arsenal's history, you have to compare the club he joined in 1995 with the one he left in 2006.

In 1995, Arsenal were a club defined by dour, defensive football, laughed at by neutrals for what could best be described as a pragmatic style of play.

The training ground was run-down, while their much-loved stadium was showing signs of wear and tear, and the players' mid-week recovery sessions included lengthy trips to the nearest watering hole.

In 2006, Arsenal had moved in to the Emirates Stadium, were firmly ensconced in their lavish training facility in London Colney and were widely recognised as playing the most attractive football in England, if not Europe.

Of course, there was also the small matter of three Premier League titles and four FA Cups (as well as an unbeaten campaign) for more tangible rewards of an astonishing decade.

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BERGKAMP'S ARSENAL CAREER
GAMES PLAYED
GOALS
ASSISTS
423
120
116
True, Arsene Wenger was the driving force, but Bergkamp was the inspiration, the catalyst for the transformation of the club.

Indeed, it is apt that the statue of the Dutchman that will stand outside the Emirates is of him in mid-air, as Bergkamp lifted Arsenal's horizons from also-rans to perennial contenders.

As Wenger said of his arrival at Arsenal, Bergkamp was 'a gift', a man apart. The famous back five were George Graham's present to the Frenchman, but Bergkamp was Bruce Rioch's legacy, a player out of keeping with the more prosaic attacking talent at the club.

Ian Wright was the master predator and Paul Merson was capable of genius, but Paul Dickov, Chris Kiwomya and John Hartson were the other forwards on Arsenal's books.

Bergkamp was simply desperate to escape from Inter Milan and rejected overtures from Johan Cruyff and Barcelona to head to north London, something which endeared him even more to Arsenal fans.

But after a slow start to life in Highbury - 'Harte-fool' was the headline after he failed to score in a League Cup tie against Hartlepool - Bergkamp adjusted to life in the Premier League.

A superb double against Southampton was just the start, and Bergkamp went on to score a further 118 goals for the club - many of them spectacular.

A Rolls-Royce of a player, Bergkamp was given free reign by Wenger and was a key component of the double-winning sides in 1998 and 2002, as well as the 2004 Invincibles.

With his close friend Patrick Vieira providing the steel behind him - a quality that Bergkamp, and his elbows, could not be accused of lacking - the Dutchman was truly liberated when Thierry Henry arrived at Arsenal.

The duo formed an outstanding partnership that allowed Bergkamp to demonstrate his delight in creating goals, as well as scoring them.

Indeed, if there is one moment that sums up Bergkamp's contribution to Arsenal, they are the 11 touches he took to ward off two Juventus defenders before scooping the perfect pass to Freddie Ljungberg to put their Champions League tie beyond doubt in 2001.

There are other moments that stand out - the wondrous hat-trick against Leicester, the chip against Bayer Leverkusen or the incredible turn and finish against Newcastle in 2002 - but this moment sums up a simple facet of Bergkamp's game that is often overlooked; he improved everyone who played with him.

The perfectly-judged pass invited the right run, as evidenced with that Ljunbgerg goal. Watch it again and you will see Bergkamp is almost demanding the Swede heads into the space between the defenders.

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Simply put, Bergkamp issued wordless instructions to both team-mates and the ball whenever he was in possession.

And although Henry and Vieira were the twin symbols of the Invincibles, Bergkamp's brain was key. His professionalism and dedication were also inspirational to other, less talented players at the club, but his team-mates could not hide their admiration for him.

"I've played with so many players," Thierry Henry once said. "He does not do tricks like Zinedine Zidane but I don't know if any other player can see the game as well and as fast as he does.

"Everyone who has played with Dennis will tell you how great he is."

And as Arsenal fans cried 'one more year' as Bergkamp neared the end of his career, the next generation realised they were in the presence of greatness.

"I looked up to Dennis Bergkamp," said Jack Wilshere upon assuming his No.10 shirt this summer.

And that is why Bergkamp - perhaps more than Thierry Henry - deserves a statue at the Emirates. He changed the mood around Arsenal, he altered perceptions of how others saw the club and how those within the club thought of themselves.

With Bergkamp, anything was possible. The Iceman may have had a fear of flying, but Arsenal flew with him.

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