My Best Arsenal XI that played for France by Dan Smith
To acknowledge France’s achievement in reaching this Sunday’s World Cup final, I thought I write my pick of the best Arsenal XI to have played for Les Bleus. The nation has produced so many players who have made such an impact on our history
Feel free to offer your best XI in the comments, and of course there are no right and wrong answers!
Warmuz – GK
The only position we can’t really debate over as Warmuz is the only Frenchmen we have ever signed for the GK role. He was brought in as a free agent purely for back up purposes. Not that he didn’t have a solid time elsewhere, while most of his success was in France. Ironically he left us to replace a certain Jens Lehmann at Dortmund.
Clichy – LB
Gael left Arsenal in the same summer as Fabregas and Nasri, meaning his departure didn’t get the headlines it should have. He emerged in the ‘Untouchables’ season as back up for Ashley Cole or sometimes playing in front of him. It meant that when Cole controversially went to Chelsea we had a ready-made replacement.
Koscielny – CB
Laurent started his career as someone who always seemed to have a mistake in him, but developed into a true leader who on his day could claim to be one of the best defenders in the League. Achilles injury meant that he could no longer play 3 games a week. His body gave way at the end of the last campaign putting serious doubts over his future playing career.
Gallas – CB
William was part of the controversial deal which saw Ashley Cole go to Chelsea.
Having won the title at Stamford Bridge, Gallas arrived at the Emirates with a winning mentality, but it quickly became apparent he was frustrated with his surroundings. At a time when Arsene Wenger was putting trust in younger players, Gallas wasn’t the captain we needed. While some would argue we needed more characters like him in the dressing room, his leadership qualities were lacking at a time when his team-mates really needed an arm round the shoulder.
Sagna – RB
Despite arranging a deal with Manchester City before the FA Cup Final, it was evident what the win over Hull meant to the Frenchmen. Having been a solid and dependable performer for so long, it would have been unfair if he didn’t have a winner’s medal to show for his time in North London.
Vieira – CM
While Arsene Wenger was crossing the I’s and dotting the T’s on his contract, he advised the club to sign a teenager whose career he had been following since a young boy. While there was still a drinking culture at Highbury, Vieira represented what the new philosophy was going to be. A natural athlete who looked after himself in terms of training and dieting, he benefited from the veterans in the changing room. The likes of Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown, etc, were quick to teach him the values and traditions of the crest. It was rare for foreigners to become so emotionally attached to a club like Vieira did. Essentially it became his responsibility to pass on these standards to his fellow country men who would follow him to North London. At his peak he was constantly involved In transfer sagas but you never feared that he would jump ship to a title rival, not like certain future captains.
Petit – CM
One of many who in his prime perhaps regretted leaving, realising the grass wasn’t greener at Barcelona. In his 3 year tenure with us, his partnership with Vieira was unrivalled, giving a technically fast team a physical prescence. I can’t think of too many names who almost instantly clicked with a colleague to take the country by surprise. Capped off winning the double by scoring in the final of France 98
Pires – LM
Spent his first few games watching from the dugout as doubts persisted if he could handle the physical nature of the English game, but he became a classic example of what can happen when you give a signing from overseas time to adjust, as within 6 months he was flowing, forming an understanding with Cole and Henry which would lead to unprecedented success. In his second season he showed he had the mentality to step out of Henry’s shadow, wanting to be one of the main men. We won the double that year, with Pires picking up individual awards galore. Like Ljunberg on other side, movement off the ball led to him being a 15-20 goal a season midfielder
Wiltord – RM
For the benefit of this XI Wiltord starts on the right, a position he learnt to play at Highbury, another example of a player who learned a whole new role under the guidance of his manager. Not as skilful as an Henry, Bergkamp or Kanu, Wiltord was more of an out and out striker. He made sure he will always be remembered forever by scoring the goal which won the title at Old Trafford.
Anelka – CF
Arsene Wenger’s best piece of business? Nicholas was signed for half a million pounds as a teenager, and just two years later we made a 20 million pound profit on him. It seemed a disaster at the time but the funds were used to build a state of the art training ground and get the services of a certain Thierry Henry. Anelka would listen to his big brothers throughout his career, moving anywhere throughout Europe if they paid the right wages. He earned plenty of money and medals but never became the world class striker we predicted.
Thierry Henry – captain
Has to make this list as for the greatest player (period) to play for Arsenal FC. Many individuals kiss the badge but you do sense the love Henry has for the club is genuine. Perhaps it was his relationship with Arsene Wenger formed back in Monaco, with gooners giving him the patience he didn’t receive from Juventus fans or the fact so many of his international mates were with him daily. It’s unusual for a man not born in the UK to have such an affinity with a British side. Like Viera maybe the old back four stressed the values of the shirt so much that he ended up also preaching it. I certainly miss the days when we had a world class talent who seemed proud to wear the red and white jersey. Transitioned from a winger to a striker, there was a period where we could claim to having the best player in the universe as a gunner. Surely Thierry will be our manager one day.