Over the course of his two decades at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger managed some of the best players that the Premier League has ever seen.
The Frenchman oversaw three league-winning teams, including one that went the entire season unbeaten, in a reign that will see him remembered as the Gunners’ best ever manager in the history books.
To that extent, selecting a best eleven from that reign, when so many top quality players will definitely be left out, is no easy task.
Jens Lehmann (2003-2008, 2011). Erratic, eccentric, and unpredictable, Lehmann nonetheless stands out in a position that Wenger has never really been able to nail down properly. Lehmann’s time at the club coincided with the Invincibles era and Champions League final run in 2006.
Lauren (2000-2006). Replacing the legendary old guard in defence was the biggest challenge facing Wenger in the early 2000s, but he got it spot on with the majority of his choices. Lauren’s task was to replace Lee Dixon, and over the course of his six-year spell at Highbury, he more than achieved that aim.
Sol Campbell (2001-2006,2010). Cambpell made the wildly unpopular decision to switch from Tottenham to fierce rivals Arsenal on a free transfer, but his decision was vindicated with his medal count. One of the best centre-backs in modern English history, Campbell was the model of consistency during his time at the club.
Tony Adams (1996-2002). Adams’ career was on the decline by the time Wenger arrived, but he was still able to captain the Gunners to two league and cup doubles before retiring. The former England man ensured that Wenger could build the attack in his first few years while the defence took care of itself.
Ashley Cole (1999-2006). A product of Arsenal’s youth academy, Cole usurped Sylvinho and made the left-back position his own at a young age. Under Wenger’s management, Cole became one of the best left-backs in Europe, though the circumstances of his departure to Chelsea will still leave a bad taste.
Patrick Vieira (1996-2005). Arsenal’s midfield general, it’s no coincidence that the Gunners’ steel seemed to vanish when Vieira left in 2005. His tussles with Roy Keane were legendary, and his physical and mental toughness were vital in the title races with Manchester United.
Cesc Fabregas (2003-2011). Even as a teenager, Wenger could see that Fabregas was a special talent – so responded by throwing the youngster in at the deep end. Fabregas had clocked up nearly 50 appearances before his 18th birthday, and was one of the most talented young players of his generation.
Freddie Ljungberg (1998-2007). Little was known about Swedish international Ljungberg when Wenger plucked him from Halmstad for £3m in 1998 (indeed, Wenger himself had only seen him play once in a match against England). He was quick, intelligent, creative and made the absolute most of what he had as a footballer. His career petered out towards the end, but when it burned, it burned brightly.
Robert Pires (2000-2006). One of the most skilful footballers in the modern era, Pires was a playmaker, a goalscorer, a tormentor of defences, and a maverick on the pitch. It took him a while to get going in an Arsenal shirt – but when he got up to speed, three consecutive appearances in the PFA Team of the Year tells its own story.
Dennis Bergkamp (1996-2006). One of the first wave of foreign superstars in the Premier League, Bergkamp was at Highbury before Wenger arrived but the Frenchman recognised his true potential. Bergkamp didn’t have the most prolific record by today’s standards, but he was a technical genius on the ball.
Thierry Henry (1999-2007, 2012). One of the best forwards in English football history, Henry was an absolute revelation in England after a disappointing spell at Juventus. The striker scored almost 230 goals in all competitions during his time at Arsenal – a bona fide Gunners legend.