The Top Ten Arsenal signings that proved the doubters wrong

Following on from my Top Ten Arsenal debut seasons now let’s look at our signings that people were not sure of, but who proved those doubters wrong.

This is inspired by Ramsdale who some Gooners questioned why 24 million was being spent on a 23 year old, given his consecutive relegations.

Others felt that other areas of the squad needed improving more, especially when we already have Leno.

Through his saves, fan interaction, interviews, leadership, Ramsdale seems to have won over the majority of our fanbase.

This list can range from the media, pundits, supporters, etc

Who proved doubters wrong?

I’m going off my age, so older Gooners feel free to help.


10- Benayoun

When I question the Kroenke Family’s ambition, I refer to examples like 2011 when it took an 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford to pressurise our board in to spending even a fraction of the money they had just raised from selling both Fabregas and Nasri that summer (we had been promised one might be sold but the not the other).

With no long-term plan, we were left to panic buy on transfer deadline day trying to bring in bodies for value.

Chelsea loaned us Benayoun like they had done to Liverpool the year before.

The Israeli (and Mikel Arteta from Everton) were hardly going to excite Gooners after losing two of our best players, with the majority of those funds kept in the bank.

The irony being that this short-term acquisition was the type of deal we needed to make when Nasri and Fabregas were around.

For years we had a young squad who needed help from senior professionals to help manage the crucial moments in games and seasons.

Then 31, his experience on and off the field helped one of the worst teams Arsene Wenger ever had, to finish third.

Benny never let us down, and the Emirates showed his appreciation in his last few outings.

Wouldn’t have complained if we kept him around for another year.


9 – Sol Campbell – second spell

Not obviously the first time.

The first time we were delighted to get a free agent who was one of the best defenders in the world and who could be an immediate leader in our dressing room.

Plus, it wound up Spurs.

The second time though in 2010 he was without a club after the bizarre Notts County take over proved a scam.

He trained with us from October – January as a favour from Arsenal to help him stay fit.

To give you an idea of how tight money was at this point, Arsene Wenger resigned the then 36-year-old to a short-term contract.

Injuries and suspensions meant the centre back played more than intended, including playing (and scoring) in the Champions League.

While he had lost his pace and needed to lose some muscle, his footballing brain meant he held his own.

Enough to convince Newcastle to play him in the Premier League.


8- Thierry Henry – second spell

In 2011 Arsenal were accused of re-signing Henry as a marketing trick.

The legend was training with us during the MLS preseason which coincides with the January transfer window.

It was agreed that with the striker not needed back in America till February, it would benefit all parties to give him a short-term deal.

New York Red Bulls knew their player would stay fit, Henry had somewhere to train, Mr Wenger needed experience round the place.

The media though saw it as a ploy to sell merchandise, while some Gooners didn’t want to see an icon harm his legacy in any way.

I had tickets for the FA Cup tie with Leeds where the selling point was the potential return of Thierry Henry.

When he came on, I had never heard the Emirates like that.

Moments later he scores with a trademark finish. Grown adults were crying such was the emotion around them.

I get goosebumps writing this.

In that moment, any thoughts, any problems went away. It was our fairy tale and justified the signing.


7- Flamini – second spell

In 2013 we were told Flamini was training with us as a favour to our ex-player, helping him stay fit after being released from Milan.

When we re-signed him, it summed up the level of the Kroenke’s ambition.

Having spent the summer dawdling in negotiations for Higuain and offering 40 million and a pound for Suarez, we were now giving a contract to someone we allowed to leave for free 5 years earlier.

DM had always been a problem position and here we were trusting the same player we wouldn’t trust when he was in his prime.

On his second debut against Spurs, he worked so hard that it left Gooners wondering why we ever let him go.

66 games were more than anyone thought he would be asked to play as he won two FA Cup medals.

Apparently, his leadership was also helpful on the training pitch.


6- Kanu

After the 1996 Olympics Kanu had to have heart surgery which a doctor said would end his career. Hence why Inter Milan were so happy to sell him to us for 4.5 million.

Never a great goalscorer but certainly a scorer of great goals, Kanu proved the medical experts wrong.

Go on YouTube and check out his solo goal in the NLD, his hat trick at the Bridge, his flick at Middlesbrough, etc


5- Lehmann

With Roman Abramovich buying Chelsea and Man United splashing the cash, many Gooners were concerned that Arsenal’s response to David Seaman leaving was Jens Lehmann for 1.5 million.

Many saw it as the Gunners taking a cheap option.

At 33, the German had the experience and the personality to cope with replacing a club legend in goal.

The reason Dortmund had been happy to sell was his erratic behaviour and ill discipline.

He had earnt a reputation in Germany for mistakes and getting a record number of red cards for a keeper.

Considering that it’s incredible the level of consistency he would show in his first season, playing every second of a League campaign where we didn’t lose a game.

The irony being the day his temper cost us points was away at Spurs, but a draw was enough to confirm we were champions.

In hindsight he was the type of character we have lacked in our dressing room for years.


4 – Overmars

In 1997 Arsene was questioned for spending 7 million on Overmars with the perception being that torn ligaments to the left knee had robbed him of the pace that made him the player he was, hence, why Ajax were selling him so cheap.

By his first winter in England, his manager was forced to remind the press this was the winger’s first year in a new League and he needed time to adapt.

His form though would mirror that of the team.

He scored at Old Trafford to throw the title race wide open, got two goals the day we lifted our first Premier League and opened the scoring in the FA Cup Final.


3- Bergkamp

Back when 7.5 million was a lot of money (the most we had spent on anyone) the national press questioned why Arsenal would spend such an amount on a striker with 11 goals in Serie A over two years?

The Dutchman complained of struggling to settle into Italian culture and its style of football not being suited to him.

The Italian media were brutal towards him, even renaming Donkey of the week (given to who they viewed as that week’s worst performer) to Bergkamp of the week.

So, in England arrived a 26-year-old with his confidence fragile.

Massimo Moratti even warned Arsenal that he wouldn’t manage double digits in the Premier League.

Given the context, maybe it was no surprise that it took him 6 fixtures till he finally scored in England, at which point the press and a section of our fanbase labelled him a waste of money, given that he was 5 million more than anyone else we had ever bought.

The forward has admitted that a year later his career was saved by being introduced to Arsene Wenger, a manager who shared his ethos and vision for how the game should be played.

At Highbury from that day forward he was given the licence to express himself.

Him dropping deep and spotting the runs of Anelka, Overmars, Ljungberg, Pires, etc was a crucial part of the most successful period in our club’s history.

Henry describes him as the best player he played with.


2- Thierry Henry

Given what he would go on to achieve its incredible to think how fragile Henry’s confidence was when he arrived in England, describing himself as a ‘nobody’ and not agreeing with Arsene Wenger’s insistence that he could replace Anelka as Arsenal’s main striker.

His self-belief had been shattered due his time at Juventus where he had been criticised from fans, media and directors.

A young Carlo Ancelotti was playing him strictly as a left winger, but with the responsibility of defending that entire side.

Essentially at times he was a wing back in a very defensive set up.

The Italian manager admits his biggest regret is not seeing that the Frenchman could play in the middle.

Mr Wenger on the other hand had worked with the player since he was in Monaco’s academy and had visions that he could be taught a new position.

After 8 Premier League games without a goal, some bad misses and heavy touches, groans from the crowd and the natural comparisons with Anelka, Henry would walk into his boss’s office and insist he play in his previous role, pointing out that he won the World Cup as a winger.

In his greatest tactical decision ever, Mr Wenger taught Henry how to start on the left and time when to cut into the middle.

It changed the perception of what a striker could be as most of them who scored 20 odd goals a season were poachers.

Henry would score 22 goals or more in 7 consecutive campaigns while also setting records for the number of assists.

He became the first player in the English topflight to get both over 20 goals and assists in the same season.

Anelka was sold for 23 million which paid for a state of art training facility and the greatest scorer in our history.

Perhaps the best piece of business we ever did.


1- Arsene Wenger

Okay, it’s kind of cheating but how can I write about unknowns who came to Arsenal and proved the world wrong without mentioning Arsene Wenger?

In 1996 he became our first ever foreign manager thanks to impressing David Dein years earlier during an event.

His announcement as our new boss was met with headlines of ‘Arsene Who’, with some players and fans since admitting they were not familiar with his work in France and Japan.

He immediately changed the culture of the club, introducing training and dietary methods that our famous back 5 have credited for extending their careers.

That and his knowledge of the world’s transfer market made him the envy of the rest of the division.

He became the master of spending little on a talent and turning them into a superstar.

Earnt the trust to have control behind the scenes that only a Sir Alex Ferguson experienced at Old Trafford.

Love for the club was genuine which is perhaps why he turned down Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and PSG to remain in North London, even when forced to lose his best players to pay off debts to build the Emirates.

He could have easily won more medals at those clubs but saw overseeing our move to a new stadium as more of a challenge.

Loyalty some didn’t give back, verbally abusing him for ‘only finishing 4th’ before a 5th and 6th place finish.

Those same fans are now calling being 6th as progress.

Historically the greatest ever manager in our history, gave us players and a style of football we will never see again….


Feel free to add any other name in the comments


Dan Smith

Tags Top Ten Arsenal


  1. Can only think of 7 real value deals during the Kroenke era post 2009.
    Bellerin Metsacker Koscielney Monreal
    Coquelin Cazorla

  2. I didn’t realise Lehmann was 33 when we signed him. Interesting – always rated him very highly
    You could actually put Arteta in there – he was called a panic buy but was actually very good for us and really helped to save our season the first year

  3. Great article Dan.
    Agree with all you say and it’s (the article) so refreshing to read about player’s achievements.
    That Henry moment against Leeds!! We had been outplayed the whole game and on he came and the rest is history.
    Loved the read Dan!!

  4. Yes, top of the list has to be Les Professor Arsene Wegner. I was living in Japan in 96 when he was managing Nagoya Grampus 8 with Pixie Stavojovic as his main play maker and some useful French and Brazilian players to support him. The team had a 73%success rate which was. nothing spectacular so kudos to DD for having the guts and vision to go with Arsene. Obviously Bergkamp, Henry and Jens were also inspired buys but I think Santi, Mertesacker, Monreal, Sanchez and Ozil were also important because they helped save the club post Old Trafford nightmare and gave us three glorious FA Cup triumphs.

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