As a contrast to my article titled ‘Arsenal’s Worst XI’ of all time I though it only be fitting to produce yet another, but this time focus solely on Arsenal’s best ever foreign acquisitions over the years, and of course put them together to form one unique team. So, after much delegation and thought, here is my all time Arsenal foreign XI
Jens Lehmann (Goalkeeper)
The former German international is arguably the best foreign goalkeeper to guard the goal in Arsenal colours. The 6’ 3 shot-stopper enjoyed 5 years at the North London club having been signed from Bundersliga side Borussia Dortmund in 2003. Jens Lehmann made 199 appearances in all competitions for the club, lifting a Premier League title in the 2003/04 invincible season and an F.A Cup in 2005. Lehmann was the first ever Arsenal goalkeeper to play in a Champions League final (even if it was for only 18-minutes). Despite this, the German was an instrumental figure in Arsenal’s run to the Champions League final in the 2005/06 season. Lehmann broke the record with the most consecutive clean sheets in the competition with 10, which also formed an outstanding 853-minute run without conceding a goal thus breaking Edwin van der Sar’s record. In 2006 Jens Lehman was awarded the UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year and was also inducted into the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team as well. Lehmann did brilliantly in Seaman’s famous role and also had a character which was intriguing to watch…without a doubt a fan favourite, but loathed by others. The German definitely deserves his place ahead of Alex Manninger and current Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia.
Gael Clichy (Left-Back)
It was either between Gael Clichy or Sylvinho, but personally, I think the Frenchman has done more for the club than the Brazilian ever did. Sylvinho was a great full-back for the club, but the current left-back has made more appearances and bagged more honours. Clichy has made 220 appearances for the club since joining in 2003, and fans will be eager for the Frenchman to add to his tally this season. The 25-year-old also managed to bag 8 goals for Arsenal and has helped the club lift two trophies to date, 1 Premier League title and an F.A. Cup triumph in 2005. The 5’11’’ left-back is just one of three surviving players from the invincible 2003/04 squad along with Cesc Fabregas and Sol Campbell. Clichy continues to be a consistent performer for the North London club and is also a favourite amongst the fans.
Kolo Toure (Centre-Back)
Wenger signed the Ivorian international in 2002 after a successful trial with the club for a measly fee of £150,000, who would have thought for so little money that Kolo Toure would have turned into one of Arsenal’s greatest foreign defenders. Toure made a total of 326 appearances for Arsenal in a 7 year spell, the defender also managed to rack up 14 goals and 12 assists. The Ivorian was strong, quick and had great positional sense at Arsenal and also helped the North London club to some silverware which includes 1 Premier League title and 2 F.A. Cups. Toure was a member of the historical invincible squad in 2003 and was a firm fan favourite whilst he donned the red and white of Arsenal. A great servant to the club, who gave his all on the pitch…can’t ask for much more than that.
Thomas Vermaelen (Centre-Back)
Although the Belgian has only been with the club for one year, he is clearly one of the best overseas centre-backs in Arsenal’s history. The 24-year-old centre-back was ever-present for the Gunners last season, managing to make a total of 45 appearances in all competitions and banging 8 goals so far in his Arsenal career. His capture last summer looked a great one for the club, and it seems that the Belgian has already become a firm fan favourite due to his consistency on the field. The powerful centre-back is set to continue in the heart of the back-line this season and the whole of the Arsenal faithful are hoping to see the Belgian international become one of the greats at their club.
Traditionally Lauren was a right sided-midfielder but When Wenger acquired him in the summer of 2000, the Frenchman thought it would be best to convert the former Cameroonian international into a right full-back. Wenger’s decision proved to be a first-rate one as Lauren went onto to become one of the clubs best in the specified position…certainly the best foreign player that’s for sure. The Cameroonian was a consistent performer, who possessed good pace, stamina and agility and proved to be an intricate part of ‘The Invincibles’ in the 2003/04 season. Lauren spent 7 years modelling the Arsenal shirt where he made a total of 238 appearances for the Gunners. The tenacious right-back managed to pick up 5 major trophies (2 Premier League titles and 3 F.A. Cups) and was also a crowd favourite. Without a doubt, his consistency and determination eclipsed the likes of current Arsenal full-backs Emmanuel Eboue and Bacary Sagna. Lauren was the best foreign player ever to play in the Lee Dixon and Pat Rice role.
Robert Pires (Left Midfield)
One of the most technically gifted left wingers in Arsenal’s history; Robert Pires made a huge impact on the Premier League and was arguably one of the best French players Wenger acquired as Arsenal manager. Pires had superb dribbling skills, technique in abundance and was a wonderful player to watch evolve in the red and white of Arsenal. Wenger obtained the Frenchman’s services in 2000 and many fans and pundits alike thought that he would struggle to adapt to the English game…well you guys thought wrong. The former French international had 6 glorious years with the Gunners making a total of 283 appearances in all competitions and netting 84 goals along the way. The left winger was also apart of the invincible season and helped the club to 2 Premier League and 3 F.A. Cup triumphs. Robert ‘Bobby’ Pires was undoubtedly the best foreign winger Arsenal ever attained and proved this with dazzling displays and unthinkable goals…A true legend amongst the fans of the North London club.
Patrick Vieira (Centre Midfield)
If Patrick Vieira wasn’t featured in this team then what sort of Arsenal fan would I be? The 6’ 3’’ formidable midfielder was arguably one of the best overseas players to feature in the Premier League and an outstanding performer for the Gunners. The Frenchman became one of the greatest players for the club in just 9 years. From 1996 to 2005, Vieira was the main force in Arsenal’s midfield, who managed to pick up 2 domestic doubles in 1998 and 2002, as well as a further 2 F.A. Cups and 1 more Premier League titles (4 of these trophies were attained whilst the midfielder was club captain from 2002 onwards). The French general was dominant, composed, and as well as being superb in his defensive duties, he was also made famous for his driving forward runs. His disciplinary record wasn’t good mind you, but fans loved to see Vieira get stuck in. His determination and desire had no boundaries. Patrick Vieira was truly a unique player for the North London club and is regarded by the Arsenal faithful as a legend.
Cesc Fabregas (Centre Midfield)
It was a tough decision between Cesc Fabregas or former Gunner Emmanuel Petit to line-up in the midfield with Vieira in this team, but after much delegation and thought, I had to go for the Spaniard over the Frenchman. Petit was a great servant to the club but was primarily a defensive midfielder along with Vieira, so to add more attacking drive to this team, who better to put in than Cesc Fabregas. The Spanish international has superb vision, extraordinary passing ability and is an all round performer. The current club captain is only 23 years of age, yet the creative midfielder has already managed to make over 250 appearances, bag 46 goals and assist 81 times for the Gunners since joining the club at the age 16 in 2003. Fabregas’ honour role consists of only 1 F.A Cup, but has had a number of personal accolades over the years, most notably making the PFA Team of the Year in both the 2007/08 and 2009/10 season as well as being apart of the unbeaten Arsenal side in 2003/04. A very loyal and creative player for 7 years (who knows how long for) and definitely one of Wenger’s bargains since being Arsenal manager and one of the clubs best foreign players.
Freddie Ljungberg (Right Midfield)
I was a huge fan of Marc Overmars, but after having only seen the Flying Dutchman for 3 years I can’t install him into this team…Freddie Ljungberg has to take the right winger position. Ljungberg was obtained by Wenger in 1998 which left many fans (including myself) thinking what kind of player has our manager brought into our club. The Swede sported one of the funkiest hairstyles in the Arsenal colours, a short Mohican hairdo which featured a red strip of hair from the front to the back of his head. Many thought he was a joke, but the former Swedish international showed everybody what he was capable of. Ljungberg possessed great pace which he utilized bombing forward, positional sense and a unique attacking prowess. As well as playing on the right side of the midfield, Freddie showed his versatility by also playing on the opposite flank and as an attacking midfielder. Ljungberg and Bergkamp formed a great understanding whilst in the same team, with the Dutchman assisting with many of the Swede’s goals over the years. In his 9 year spell at Arsenal, the attacking winger managed to rack up a total of 328 appearances for the Gunners, as well as bag 72 goals, which no doubt aided the club lift 5 major honours along the way.
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Dennis Bergkamp (Striker)
Dennis Bergkamp was the most technically gifted and visionary footballer ever to grace the Premier League and model the red and white colours of Arsenal in my eyes. The Dutchman exemplified what exactly a second striker was. Bergkamp had astonishing tactical awareness, super ball control and remarkable passing ability, which no doubt made him one of the best players ever to play in the English game and the world. In his 11 year career as an Arsenal player, the creative genius lifted 7 major trophies which included 3 Premier League titles and 4 F.A Cups. Bergkamp won so many individual accolades at both club and country level and was even selected by Pele as one of FIFA’s 125 greatest living players of all time. The playmaker made a total of 391 appearances for Arsenal and bagged 120 goals (all beautiful ones at that). Remarkable he never did win a FIFA World Player of the Year award, but did however manage (in 2007) to be inducted into the English Hall of Fame, making him the first and only Dutch player ever to receive this award. Just to see him play was a real privilege. A true master of the game, and in my opinion, the second best foreign player ever to wear the cannon on his chest.
Thierry Henry (Striker)
In my opinion, this man was the best ever player to grace the North London club and possibly the Premier League. The French international was undoubtedly one of the most feared and lethal strikers in the world whilst at Arsenal. His blistering pace, superb technique and finishing ability in front of goal propelled the Frenchman to one of the worlds finest at the time. He was brought in by Wenger in 1999 and was traditionally a left winger. However, Wenger decided to utilize Henry as a forward and Le Professuer’s decision proved to be an absolutely priceless one. In his 8 year spell at Arsenal, Thierry Henry accomplished so much, both for his club and individually as a footballer. He helped the North London club achieve a domestic double in the 2001/02 season, 2 further F.A. Cup triumphs and another Premier League title in the 2003/04 season in which the side went on an amazing 49 game unbeaten run. On October 17th 2005, Thierry Henry officially became the club’s highest ever goal scorer after scoring two wonderful goals against Sparta Prague in the Champion’s League, thus overtaking Ian Wright and Cliff Bastin records. The speedy French forward made a total of 369 appearances for his beloved Arsenal, bagged a colossal 226 goals and assisted his colleagues 92 times as well…A brilliant all round player. I am not afraid to admit it, but I did actually wipe a tear away from my eye when the great man left for Barcelona in 2007. Henry remains my personal favourite player ever to wear the red and white of Arsenal. The Frenchman was an absolute legend, and to this day is still loved by all of the Arsenal faithful; this is justified by tens of thousands of Arsenal fans voting the striker as the no.1 player in their clubs history on Arsenal.com. Without a doubt, Thierry Henry is the greatest ever Arsenal player of all time, and it will take a lot of work for any future Arsenal player to overshadow the strikers vast accomplishments.