Arsenal's 15 best signings of all time

Getty Images
Goal takes a look at the greatest signings Arsenal have made over the years - from the likes of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira to Dennis Bergkamp

Arsenal have signed some world class players over the years, with many of these star names arriving in the past two decades under manager Arsene Wenger.

The Frenchman has brought the likes of Thierry Henry and Alexis Sanchez to the club and continues to use his nous in the transfer market, as shown with the recent signings of Alexandre Lacazette for a club record fee and Sead Kolasinac.

As Wenger looks to strengthen his squad ahead of the upcoming 2017-18 season, Goal takes a look at 15 of the best signings Arsenal have made.

NICOLAS ANELKA | From PSG | £500,000 | 1997

Nicolas Anelka Arsenal Premier League

Anelka broke into the Arsenal first team as a teenager after an injury to Ian Wright and ended up being a key part of the Gunners' double win in 1997-98.

He won the PFA Young Player of the Year Award in his second season as an Arsenal player but the supporters eventually turned on Anelka after his body language became more negative on the pitch amid transfer speculation.

Arsenal pre-season fixtures​

Anelka joined Real Madrid for £22.3 million in the summer of 1999, after making 90 appearances for Arsenal and scoring 28 goals.

Wenger hinted that Anelka’s decision to leave north London for Madrid was predominantly a financial one with this great quote: "No matter how much money you earn, you can only eat three meals a day and sleep in one bed."

DENNIS BERGKAMP | From Internazionale | €7.5m | 1995

Dennis Bergkamp Arsenal

With 120 goals, 423 appearances and 10 trophies, Bergkamp will go down as an Arsenal legend and is considered one of the greatest players of his generation.

Bergkamp was selected by Pelé as one of the best 100 living players of all time, and many of his team-mates - including Thierry Henry - have previously labelled him as a "dream" to play with. Like Henry, Bergkamp has his own statue outside Emirates Stadium

“He was always trying to respect the game when he could do other stuff,” said Henry. 

“I respected him a lot for that but also the way he trained. The way he used to train was just not normal. The guy didn’t want to lose the ball; he would foul you; get in your face; he wanted to finish first in the run.”

SOL CAMPBELL | Free transfer | 2001

Sol Campbell

In one of the most surprising moves English football has ever seen, Sol Campbell’s decision to let his contract at Tottenham expire before joining Arsenal in the summer of 2001 was quite spectacular.

"[Arsenal vice-chairman] David Dein made me feel protected. He was going to help and promised to be there for me. 'Come to us, he said, and you will be part of our family. We will protect you.'"

Campbell wanted to play Champions League football and took the brave decision to join Wenger’s side - one which proved to be the right one. An unbeaten season was the highlight of Campbell’s Arsenal career in 2003-04 but his goal in the 2006 Champions League final won’t be forgotten either.

He even returned to the club for a second stint in 2010 due to injuries to Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas.

CESC FABREGAS | From Barcelona | €1m | 2003

HD Cesc Fabregas Arsenal 2004

Fabregas became Arsenal’s youngest-ever first team player when he made his debut in a League Cup tie at home to Rotherham in October 2003.

The Spaniard went on to become one of the best central midfielders in European football, winning a catalogue of trophies at international level with Spain - including two European Championships and a World Cup.

"Cesc Fabregas typifies what Arsenal is today,” said Wenger. “It's a mixture of boys who grew up here, and boys who join at the age of 16 from abroad and we develop them as players"

He was named as successor to William Gallas as Arsenal captain in the 2008-09 season where he led a team built up of mostly young players - Samir Nasri, Theo Walcott and Alex Song to name a few - but there was always the undercurrent of interest from his former club Barcelona which ended up unsettling him.

After eight years at Arsenal, Fabregas took a salary cut to join his boyhood club Barcelona in 2011 with the transfer fee totalling almost £35m.

THIERRY HENRY | From Juventus | £10.5m | 1999

Thierry Henry Arsenal Manchester United

Arguably the best player to have worn the Arsenal shirt, Thierry Henry’s glut of 228 goals turned him into a legend at the club where his greatest moments are still talked about today.

The Frenchman arrived at the club in 1999 as a skinny winger who couldn’t get a shot on target and left as an accomplished striker who scored every type of goal you could imagine.

"Thierry Henry could take the ball in the middle of the park and score a goal that no one else in the world could score,” said Wenger.

Henry’s eight years at Arsenal coincided with the famous unbeaten season and he left for Barcelona in 2007 with three league titles, three FA Cups, four Golden Boots and five Player of the Year awards to his name.

NWANKWO KANU | From Internazionale | £4.5m | 1999

Nwankwo Kanu

Nwankwo Kanu’s relaxed demeanour on the pitch made him an enigma for opposition defenders and at times he was unplayable. He used his gangly frame intelligently and was possessed with the kind of close control which most players dream of.

He'll be best remembered for a 17-minute hat-trick against Chelsea in 2009, helping Arsenal to victory with one of the most acute angle goals you'll ever see in the Premier League.

However, he found his game time limited once Thierry Henry became first choice striker and eventually left on a free transfer in 2004, joining fellow Premier League side West Brom.

He made 198 appearances for Arsenal, scoring 44 goals.

LAURENT KOSCIELNY | From Lorient | £10m | 2010

Laurent Koscielny Arsenal Premier League

There were major doubts over whether Koscielny could handle the step up from French football to the Premier League, but his seven year spell at Arsenal has proved his doubters wrong.

At first, Koscielny’s Arsenal career was littered with the odd defensive mistake and inconsistent performance, culminating in a mix-up with Wojciech Szczesny which saw Obafemi Martins score for Birmingham and win the League Cup in 2011.

Juventus closing on Szczesny

Koscielny's goals in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons helped secure Champions League qualification spots, while at international level he has featured at the last three major tournaments for France.

The 31-year-old has become one of the best centre backs in world football through his expert reading of the game, aerial ability and dominant defensive performances - all for a fee which looks like an absolute bargain now.

FREDDIE LJUNGBERG | From Halmstads BK | £3m | 1998

Freddie Ljungberg Arsenal Manchester United

Scoring seconds into his Arsenal debut against Manchester United made Ljungberg an instant fans' favourite.

The Swede scored in consecutive FA Cup finals and became renowned for his link-up play with Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires.

Ljungberg’s contribution to Arsenal’s double-winning season of 2002 saw him score 17 goals in all competitions, and he won the Premier League Player of the Season award for his rampant displays down the right hand side.

If it wasn’t for injuries Ljungberg would have almost certainly stayed at Arsenal for longer, but in 2007 he joined West Ham.

MARC OVERMARS | From Ajax | £5.5m | 1997

Marc Overmars Arsenal

Pace and skill in abundance, Overmars helped bring the double back to Highbury in Arsene Wenger’s first full season as Arsenal manager in 1997-98.

He scored 41 goals in 142 appearances but injuries affected his final two seasons at the club, before he joined Barcelona in the summer of 2000 along with Emmanuel Petit.

"All Europe thought Overmars was dead because of his damaged knee, but in every important game we have had this season, he has scored. He has got great mental strength. He is a world-class player,” said Wenger after the 1998 FA Cup final.

EMMANUEL PETIT | From Monaco | £2.5m | 1997

Emmanuel Petit Arsenal

Emmanuel Petit's central midfield partnership with Patrick Vieira was one of the greatest combinations in world football at the time. 

Wenger already knew Petit from his days at Monaco and transformed him from a defender into a deep lying playmaker.

Alongside Vieira, he helped guide Arsenal to an impressive league and cup double in 1998 before leaving for Barcelona two years later.

His strength was unrivalled and a World Cup win for France provided a glimpse of his midfield qualities to the rest of the world.

ROBERT PIRES | From Marseille | €6m | 2000

Robert Pires

Despite struggling in his opening few months at the club, Robert Pires went on to become a legend in north London.

He scored 84 goals in 284 appearances but it is his fleet-footed running style and jaw dropping technique which made him stand out from the rest.

Under the guidance of Arsene Wenger it was Pires who formed a partnership down the left hand side with Ashley Cole and Thierry Henry - with the compatriots scoring 57 goals between them in all competitions in their first campaign..

"I've always thought of him as a second father," said Pires of Wenger.

"When I was at Metz, he was absolutely intent on me coming to Monaco. Then he signed me in 2000 and I worked with him for six years, every morning. I reached great heights alongside him. What I loved about him was that I had certain qualities and he worked on them and perfected them.

"We all have faults, but he couldn't care less about them. He knew what I was capable of and made me work on my strengths."

GILBERTO SILVA | From Atletico Mineiro | £4.5m | 2002

Gilberto Silva

Nicknamed the 'Invisible Wall' by fans and pundits, Gilberto's contribution to Arsenal was greatly undervalued until he left the club for Panathinaikos in 2008.

An intelligent defensive midfielder who rose from childhood in poverty to become a World Cup winner and Invincible, Gilberto's leadership attributes and ability to read the game made him a key cog in the Gunners midfield.

"I believe that what I had to do before football was important for me. It’s easy to get lost when you achieve your goals in football," Gilberto told Goal in an exclusive interview last year.

"I never lost the plot because I understood how the hard the life can be outside of football. For somebody who wants to succeed in football he has to understand that the footballer's life is not so easy if you want to achieve great things. You have to work hard instead of complaining all the time. To work hard, to be responsible and transfer it to football - for me it worked pretty well."

KOLO TOURE | From ASEC Mimosas | £150,000 | 2002

Kolo Toure Arsenal Premier League

Able to play at right back, defensive midfield or centre back, Toure’s versatility made him a favourite of Arsene Wenger’s and he was part of the Invincibles side of 2003-04. Toure's partnership with Sol Campbell saw the duo keep 15 clean sheets that season and he even captained Arsenal towards the end of his time in north London in 2006-07.

“Massive passion for the game, technically much better than everybody thought he was, and a happy boy as well. He brought such enthusiasm to the team," said Wenger.

A disagreement with William Gallas saw Toure's spell at Arsenal come to an end when he left for Manchester City in the summer of 2009.

Toure made history as a ‘double invincible’ last season, becoming the only player to win the English and Scottish titles without losing after Celtic’s historic unbeaten season.

PATRICK VIEIRA | From AC Milan | £3.5m | 1996

Patrick Vieira, Arsenal

Patrick Vieira won three Premier League trophies and four FA Cup titles during his nine-year stay at Arsenal, captaining the club through the 49-game unbeaten season and making over 400 appearances for the Gunners.

He joined for a fee of £3.5m from AC Milan and will be remembered for his domineering display at the heart of Arsenal’s midfield. His rivalry with Manchester United captain Roy Keane was legendary.

Article continues below

"You can only have lots of respect for what Patrick has achieved," Wenger told the club's official website. “His career is sensational. He was an exceptional player for us. We have classy players in midfield now but Patrick was special. He was a tall player with good technique. You do not compare [old players with new players].

“We have exceptional players in midfield with their own character. But at Arsenal we will be forever grateful for Patrick’s contribution."

IAN WRIGHT | From Crystal Palace | £2.5m | 1991

Ian Wright

Wright was a late bloomer by all accounts. He signed his first professional contract just three months before his 22nd birthday but those who questioned his move to Arsenal were made to eat their words as he went on to become Arsenal's greatest goalscorer, a record which was later beaten by Thierry Henry.

”When I signed for Arsenal, the fans and media were like, 'What are they buying him for?,'" said Wright. "I remember watching TV the night I signed, and they were all saying, 'He’s not good enough to play for Arsenal.' And I remember just sitting there – literally sh***ng myself."

The partnership with Dennis Bergkamp helped Wright turn into a king of English football and he finished his Arsenal career with 185 goals in 288 games.