English Premiership

5 of Arsenal's best players under Arsene Wenger

2018-04-20 16:18
Dennis Bergkamp (Getty Images)

Cape Town - Five of the most influential players to have played for Arsenal during Arsene Wenger's reign, which will end next month after 22 seasons:

TONY ADAMS

The bedrock of Arsenal's fabled defense alongside Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon in the 1990s, Adams was known as "Captain Fantastic" and was a brilliant leader.

He captained Arsenal to four league titles, three FA Cups, the European Cup Winners' Cup and a League Cup. To many Arsenal fans, he is the club's best defender of all time. He remains the only player in the history of English soccer to captain his team to a league title in three different decades.

George Graham, the manager of Arsenal from 1986-95, called Adams his "colossus" and Wenger said of the center back in 1997: "When I first came to Arsenal, I realized the back four were all university graduates in the art of defending. As for Tony Adams, I consider him to be a doctor of defense. He is simply outstanding."

Adams spent his entire playing career at the club. He was an uncompromising, tough-tackling central defender who was strong in the air and read the game well and adapted well to Wenger's methods to become a more accomplished player under the Frenchman.

PATRICK VIEIRA

After watching a 17-year-old Vieira play for Cannes against his Monaco side in a friendly match, Wenger said the tall Frenchman would go on to have a "big career."

He wasn't wrong.

Signed from AC Milan ahead of Ajax, Vieira became a giant of Arsenal's midfield and was a natural leader - so much so that Wenger acknowledged he may not have had the success he did had he not bought Vieira to London in 1996.

"My whole history could have changed," Wenger said.

Lean but imposing, Vieira was an outstanding box-to-box player capable of marauding runs and he forged a great partnership with Emmanuel Petit in the center of Arsenal's midfield. He loved the physical side of the English game - never more so than when up against Manchester United's Roy Keane, with whom he enjoyed a compelling rivalry.

Vieira had a poor disciplinary record, especially in the early part of his Arsenal career when his tackling was occasionally reckless, and he was hot-headed. He was sent off eight times in Premier League games.

In his time under Wenger, Vieira lifted the FA Cup four times (1998, 2002, '03 and '05) and won the Premier League title three times (1998, 2002 and '04).

When he eventually moved to Juventus in 2005, Vieira had made 406 appearances and scored 34 goals for Arsenal.

DENNIS BERGKAMP

The Netherlands forward was already at Arsenal when Wenger arrived. After failing to shine at Inter Milan, Bergkamp rejuvenated his career in England and became an iconic figure at the club.

Wenger later recalled that when he first joined Arsenal, having Bergkamp already there was "a blessing and a gift."

He possessed a deftness of touch and scored some spectacular goals. In 2016, Arsenal fans voted his goal against Newcastle in 2002 the club's greatest ever. Instantly flicking a pass from Robert Pires to one side of Nikos Dabizas, Bergkamp spun around the other side of the Greek defender before holding him off, opening his body, and side-footing his finish past goalkeeper Shay Given.

If he hadn't had a fear of flying, which restricted his availability for European games, Bergkamp may have made even more of an impact.

For Wenger, it was Bergkamp's commitment that stood out. "A lot has been said about Dennis over the years; about his class, about his intelligence - his remarkable intelligence - about his vision," Wenger said. "Basically, you can never say enough about the player.

"But the one thing which is a real example for youngsters is that Dennis Bergkamp, and I have worked with him for 10 years, don't forget, until the last minute of his final training session, he did not lose his concentration or dedication for one minute."

The Dutchman now has his own statue outside the Emirates.

THIERRY HENRY

Few could have envisaged that Henry would become Arsenal's record goal scorer when Wenger bought the left winger from Juventus for 11 million pounds in 1999.

Wenger had worked with Henry when he was a teenager at Monaco, giving him his professional debut.

Brought in to replace Nicolas Anelka at Arsenal, Henry flourished to arguably become the finest center forward in Europe.

A player who, by his own admission, "wasn't born with a gift for goals," Henry tore apart Premier League defenses with his pace, touch and clinical finishing. He had a trademark finish, cutting in from the left wing - where he often drifted - and curling a shot into the far corner.

Henry scored 228 goals for Arsenal in 377 appearances, netting more than 30 goals in each of the last five seasons of his first spell with the club from 1999-2007. He returned for a two-month loan stint in 2012 during the offseason of the MLS, where he was playing with New York Red Bulls, and scored in his first and last games.

Wenger said the striker's "huge physical talent" and "special intelligence" made him one of the greatest players he has ever seen play the game.

"Thierry Henry could take ball in the middle of park and score a goal that no one else in the world could score," Wenger said. "It was embarrassing for the defenders. He just scored when he wanted."

SOL CAMPBELL

The defender caused controversy when he joined Arsenal from north London rival Tottenham in 2001 but he quickly settled in and enjoyed five excellent years at the club, making more than 200 appearances.

Campbell won three FA Cups and two Premier League titles and was a cornerstone of the "Invincibles" team that went through the 2003-04 season undefeated in the league.

Signing Campbell on a free transfer in the prime of his career was a coup for Wenger as he sought a natural successor to Tony Adams. A superb athlete with a calm temperament, Campbell established himself as one of the world's leading center backs, helping Arsenal challenge Manchester United's domination of the Premier League.

"It was a move that I needed to make," Campbell said. "Going to Arsenal was a big progression for me. Everything about Arsenal was better than Spurs at the time from the players, management, to the mentality of the club and the facilities."

Former Arsenal teammate Dennis Bergkamp called Campbell "one of the top three players I've ever played against."

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