Number 11 on this list of players who have played the most Premier League games under Arsene Wenger is Aaron Ramsey. Bloody Aaron Ramsey….
10) Laurent Koscielny (213 Premier League appearances under Wenger)
Described as “certainly one of the best defenders in the world today” by the Arsenal manager when he signed a new deal in January, Laurent Koscielny was clearly thinking of himself when he said recently that Wenger had “built men” at Arsenal. He arrived as a little-known, 24-year-old uncapped Frenchman not long out of Ligue 2 and is now the Gunners’ defensive leader and a European Championship runner-up with France. That he missed the 3-0 shellacking by Crystal Palace is no coincidence. That he missed the FA Cup final that Arsenal won was far more surprising.
9) Cesc Fabregas (212)
The Spanish midfielder has since won two titles in two countries but won nothing but an FA Cup at Arsenal, having been solely on League Cup duty during the Invincibles season of 2003/04. It must have smarted that teammates Jeremie Aliadiere and Pascal Cygan claimed medals while he was doomed to four fourth-place finishes in seven years before finally leaving for Barcelona.
Fabregas said last year: “He took me when I was only 16 – he made me a better player, a better person. I always considered him like a father figure, like a second father. The way he treated me it’s not normal nowadays in football because everything is so fast, everyone is so impatient – you need results now. And for that Wenger is a special manager and a special person, and without him I wouldn’t be here right now.”
8) Bacary Sagna (213)
Another player who became a man at Arsenal, Sagna had also arrived (in 2007) as a little-known, 24-year-old uncapped Frenchman only to become a mainstay for club and country. In fact, the right-back said as much after he left for Manchester City after seven seasons at the club, describing “a family to me…a club who taught me so much in seven years. A club who changed the kid I was into the man I am today”. He said of Wenger: “He clearly changed my life.”
So he left for Manchester City and the chance to earn more money and win a Premier League title; the latter is yet to materialise.
7) Freddie Ljungberg (216)
The story goes that Arsene Wenger had not even seen Ljungberg play in the flesh before he signed him for just £3m in 1998; he watched him terrorise Glenn Hoddle’s England in a Euro 2000 qualifier on the television and thought he was worth the pretty paltry investment. He never regretted that decision as the Swede played a key role in two title wins, with his 12 Premier League goals in just 25 games in 2001/02 placing him behind only Thierry Henry in a list of Arsenal goalscoring heroes that season. He finally left after nine years with nothing but love from Arsenal fans.
6) Ray Parlour (226)
Three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, one League Cup and a Cup Winners Cup. And yet Ray Parlour is probably the least vaunted of any of Arsenal’s serial winners. History harshly judges him as a good player lucky to find himself playing at Arsenal at the same time as greats like Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Henry, but Gunners fans love their ‘Romford Pele’.
He admits himself that Wenger changed his career, saying recently: “He was brilliant for my career and he was a very honest manager. He used to say to me: ‘If you play well, you will play next week.’ And that is all you want to hear as a player and you knew that if you played well, you would play next week and as a player, that is perfect for you.”
Imagine an English player playing a key part in a double-winning season now and still remaining uncapped? Parlour did not play for his country until almost a year after he was man of the match in the FA Cup final of 1998. We didn’t know how spoiled we were.
5) Kolo Toure (226)
“I was young, I was hungry. I had the chance of a trial at Arsenal and for me training with those top players was not easy. I lost my mind there and tackled the manager.”
Despite taking out Dennis Bergkamp, Henry and Wenger with hefty tackles, the 20-year-old’s enthusiasm clearly impressed Wenger, who signed him for just £150,000 as a utility player who could turn his foot to almost any position on the pitch. Just over two years later, he was a Premier League winner after starting almost every game of the Invincibles season alongside Sol Campbell in defence.
“He made a lot of players into top players. He is a fantastic manager. He did that with me because I started from nowhere. He took me to the next level and I always respect him for that,” said Toure last year, though his undying respect did not prevent him pushing for a transfer to Manchester City after seven years.
4) Thierry Henry (258)
And in those 258 Premier League appearances, there were 175 goals. Which is a f*** of a lot. Nobody would have predicted anything like that kind of impact when he had played eight goalless, forgettable games for Arsenal after his £11m move from Juventus and people were wondering how you said ‘Perry Groves’ in French. At his peak, he was simply wonderful, the finest player in the Premier League by a ludicrous margin.
Henry said in 2014: “Arsene is more than just a great manager to me because he was a father figure and a mentor. I will never forget his advice and guidance over the years and without him I wouldn’t have achieved half the milestones in my career. He deserves all the accolades as he has had a huge impact on Arsenal Football Club and the lives of many players.”
There’s a theme.
3) Theo Walcott (264)
Arsenal’s current longest-serving player and the only man to have played in 11 (which seems ridiculous) Premier League seasons under Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman said earlier this season that he “always felt there was something special in this guy” but there are few other observers who see Walcott as anything more than the living embodiment of Arsenal’s recent history: Sometimes extraordinary, sometimes infuriating, almost always coming up short.
And he was captain against Crystal Palace in a 3-0 defeat; he knew Palace “wanted it more” from the kick-off, apparently. Captain.
2) Patrick Vieira (276)
The finest of all the relatively unknown, uncapped Frenchman who arrived at Arsenal only to become a world-class player under Arsene Wenger, though officially Vieira (who was languishing in Milan’s reserves) was not signed by Wenger and actually played his first three Premier League games under Pat Rice. He said: “I am delighted to be joining Arsenal at the same time as Mr Wenger becomes their coach. Being able to speak French to him will make life a lot easier for me.”
The Times lazily called him “thinking man’s Carlton Palmer” but it soon became apparent that the comparison was ridiculous; Vieira was a phenomenon, a tour de force, a leader, a titan in an Arsenal side that won three titles in seven years. He later admitted he should have left in 2004 when Real Madrid came calling but was “suspicious” about their treatment of Claude Makelele. He left a year later for Juventus after nine glory-laden seasons.
“You can only have lot of respect for what Patrick has achieved. His career is sensational. He was an exceptional player for us,” said Wenger on the retirement of a player Arsenal are yet to truly replace.
1) Dennis Bergkamp (277)
“I was very lucky to find Dennis Bergkamp already in the squad when I arrived at Arsenal. You do not find a player like that everywhere you go, It was a blessing, a gift when I arrived.”
Bergkamp may have been signed by Bruce Rioch but he found a kindred spirit in Wenger, who brought European ideas about training, nutrition and the importance of not getting absolutely wasted every night. Together they won three Premier League titles and three FA Cups in ten seasons together that changed English football.
“If you look at Klinsmann and Gianfranco Zola and me, we actually added something to English football,” said Bergkamp in 2004. Damn right. Read our Profile of an Icon.