Some great players have pulled on the Arsenal shirt since I first decided to call the club my own, players whose names I had on the back of my shirts, whom I idolised and celebrated, players who, when they took to the field, made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck in anticipation of the magic they were capable of.
Then, there are the players who won’t have statues of them erected outside the Emirates. The players who we don’t long for when we’re in the sh*tter at Valley Parade. Players who gave it a good-old-go, but for whatever reason, it didn’t quite work out. Here’s my top 5.
In 1999 Arsenal’s history changed forever when Thierry Henry held his number 14 shirt aloft and began his journey to being our highest ever goalscorer, hell, perhaps our greatest ever player. However, that summer there was only one striker I was excited about - Davor Suker.
Y’see, the summer before I’d completely fallen in love with the Croatian team who came 3rd in France 98. Robert Prosinecki, Zvonimir Boban, Slaven Bilic, and Davor Suker as the archetypal number 9. They were my team that tournament, along with Nigeria (I also shat my pants when we signed Kanu). However, looking back now Suker must have been on the wane as a player, aged 31 and entering his twilight years. I still remember that goal against Sunderland, but I also remember a fair few missed sitters as well. Another glorious striker to succumb to the supposed curse of Arsenal’s number 9 shirt - Poldi, don’t let us down now.
Hands up who remembers Christopher Wreh? I wouldn’t imagine anyone outside of North London would, but suffice to say, he was bloody great. Potentially touted by the same agent as Ali Dia (though Wreh genuinely was related to George Weah), Wreh was quick, predatory and tenacious. He was our Titi Camara, in that he also turned sh**e the minute another striker came on the block, in this case the aforementioned Suker and Henry. Ah well, apparently he only scored three goals, before popping up in such surprising locations as Al-Hilal, St Mirren and Buckingham Town, where he surely treated the home counties faithful to gems like this.
Now, I was a goalie when I was a kid, so I always took an interested in Arsenal keepers. Alex Manninger was my hero. After Seaman packed up his ponytail there was a strange few years when a few different people lined up between the sticks for us - strange in that it seemed to coincide with a similar crisis up at Old Trafford. Egyptian-Swede Rami Shaaban was by far my favourite, for no other reason than the fact he had a fairly odd name and was pretty big and brutish, liked he could wallop any ball out of the air from any direction, before going over and destroying the striker who had the temerity to even try and beat him. Unfortunately, Rami was made of glass, and injury hampered his career. We ended up getting Jens Lehmann who, though reliable and solid, just seemed like such a bellend, so I never took to him.
This was another small childhood dream come true, in that surely all kids want a Brazillian to come and play for them? I certainly did. When I first started watching football, Brazil seemed like this mythical place where footballers grew out of the sand, footballers who could do things that British footballers couldn’t, who could change a game with one bit of flair or flick of a heel. I’ll be honest, I can’t remember any fireworks when Sylvinho joined the club, but I loved watching him play. Thankfully he managed to give all Arsenal fans one moment of beauty with a famous equaliser against Chelsea, before Ashley Cole took his place and he was shipped off to Celta Vigo.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst
And last but not least, Gio van Bronckhorst. The success of Marc Overmars made me think that Arsene Wenger had some kind of alchemic success when it came to signing Dutchmen, and I was all ready for GVB (nobody called him that as far as I know) to swing that left foot right into Arsenal folklore. Then he did his cruciate, which basically ended his Arsenal career before it had started. By the time he was fit Edu was partnering Vieria, and then Gilberto Silva came along, which paved the way for Gio to head to Barcelona and become a left back. What might have been.