As manager Arsene Wenger bids farewell to the club that he won three EPL titles and seven FA Cups with, we look at what would have been Le Professeur’s Ultimate Arsenal starting XI.
Step aside the Invincibles of 2003/04, if Wenger had his way, his ultimate team will be made up of the who’s who of football’s current greats.
The 68-year-old French tactician has no doubt proven that he can uncover the best on the cheap with gems like Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and even Nicolas Anelka.
But in an alternate reality where he had all the financial resources he wished for, Wenger would have had these footballing superstars donning the famed Gunners’ jersey…
Wenger’s “I Almost Signed Them” Arsenal First XI
GK: Gianluigi Buffon
Though it is hard to imagine Buffon in anything other than a Juventus shirt, there was a time when the Italian goalkeeper expressed a desire to join the London club.
Sadly though, Juventus chose to hold on to their prized safe hands between the sticks. Though Wenger did have Jens Lehmann.
CD: Gerard Pique
Oh, how things would be different if Wenger managed to lure Barcelona’s rocksteady defender Pique instead of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United…
In the end, the Frenchman did pull off a minor miracle when he persuaded Sol Campbell to join the Gunners from arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
CD: Vincent Kompany
The defensive rock of Manchester City; Vincent Kompany could have been wearing red instead of sky blue if only Wenger ponied up the £5 million demanded by Anderlecht.
Instead, Wenger turned to Kolo Toure who found his place in defence after a stint as an attacking midfielder.
CD: Roberto Carlos
As he neared the end of his contract, Real Madrid left-back Roberto Carlos was angling for a move to the Emirates.
Wenger, however, could only watch as the former Brazilian national team captain slipped through his fingers to Fenerbahce.
To be fair, he did have Ashley Cole who won two league titles and three FA Cups at the central London club.
RW: Cristiano Ronaldo
In the long history of former United manager Ferguson getting one up over Wenger, none would have hurt the Frenchman more than the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo: “My biggest regret, I was so close to signing Cristiano Ronaldo, and not only did I not get him, he signed for Manchester United, so that of course still hurts today.”
Apparently, the Arsenal manager had a £4 million deal with Sporting Lisbon and even gave CR7 his own Arsenal jersey to boot!
Only for Sporting to host United in a pre-season friendly, and the rest people say is history…
CM: Paul Pogba
The Frenchman was poised to capitalise on his arch nemesis Ferguson’s mistake and swoop for Paul Pogba back in 2012.
But you snooze, you lose as Juventus were the fastest club to get the French midfielder to sign on their dotted line.
On the bright side, the long-time Arsenal manager did rope in Santi Cazorla , who is no slouch on the ball himself.
DM: Xabi Alonso
As Xabi Alonso was being ushered out of Liverpool, the Spanish midfield maestro headed to London in hopes of securing a £15 million transfer.
But Wenger opted for Mikel Arteta instead. Alonso went to Real Madrid instead and won the La Liga and Champions League.
CAM: Lionel Messi
If you ask Sky Sports pundit Guillem Balague, the Spanish football expert will tell you that Wenger identified and offered contracts to three 15-year-old players from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy – Pique, Cesc Fabregas and a certain Lionel Messi.
Well looking back, one in three isn’t that bad Wenger: “It was at a period where Fabregas came. We wanted to take Fabregas, Messi and Pique. It worked only for Fabregas.”
LW: Gareth Bale
Having touched base with Southampton over Theo Walcott, Wenger was also tracking another member of their squad – Gareth Bale.
However, with two left-backs on the Arsenal’s books, the Professor thought it was wise to drop his interest in the Welsh full-back/winger: “We didn’t take him as we had Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy and didn’t want another left-back. I must confess it was a huge mistake as he can play in midfield. He struggled at the start at Tottenham, then they moved him to midfield and he has done exceptionally well. The career of a player sometimes depends on playing in the right position.”
FC: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Back when Zlatan was just a boy, or a 19-year-old boy in Malmo, he was probably busy preparing for his £3 million move to Arsenal.
That is until Wenger made the unwise move of asking the LA Galaxy striker to play a trial match. And as we all know, God doesn’t do auditions.
FC: Romelu Lukaku
Long before Romelu Lukaku even knew what Chelsea smelled like, the Belgian was making his footballing bones at Anderlecht in 2011.
But even if the United frontman wasn’t aware of London, the people in the city, namely Wenger did know of him: “Yes, we knew him in Belgium but at the time he opted to go to Chelsea.”
Somehow we imagine that Jose Mourinho might have had a hand in that one.