Published inThe Sport Review
Arsenal have had Arsene Wenger at the helm for over two decades now, and the Frenchman has revolutionised not only the Gunners, but English football.
From that moment in 1996 when everyone connected with the sport asked the question, ‘Arsene Who?’ – Wenger has set about creating teams that combine swashbuckling play and tactical nous.
It hasn’t been all sunshine and trophies for the Frenchman however, and in recent years he has been under incredible amounts of pressure to deliver from the fans and the media alike. His team in the last few years have flattered to deceive, but whether you are one of the doubters or if you resolutely back him, Wenger remains at the club gamely attempting to craft another squad of contenders.
The Premier League has changed since Arsene took charge of Arsenal, and with Chelsea and Manchester City evolving into football powerhouses, it means the challenge to keep up with the pace at the sharp end of the Premiership is more difficult than ever.
Arsenal have had to adapt a little, and scour the globe for the talent which every top team needs. With an extensive network of scouts, they have tapped into every viable source that they can, all the while they have kept the pursestrings as tight as possible for the majority.
Arsene has a proven track record for finding amazing cut-price players and buffing these rough diamonds up to make them shine, and the Arsenal manager has regularly signed players from Africa to bolster his squad.
From worst to best, here is the definitive list of African players who have played for the Gunners:
15 – Emmanuel Frimpong
6 League Appearances, 0 goals
The Ghanaian midfielder showed so much promise in his escalation through the youth ranks, but Frimpong seemed to care more for establishing his brand rather than his performances on the pitch. He had incredible stamina, but it never showed in Arsenal colours, and has since lost his way in a multitude of moves across the world.
14 – Quincy Owusu-Obeyie
5 League Appearances, 0 goals
The man known simply as Quincy was hewn in the world-famous Ajax youth system, and was snapped up by eagle-eyed Arsenal at a young age. He was rewarded for some excellent performances in the Gunners youth teams by being given a professional contract, but despite some promising League Cup showings, the Ghanaian forward never quite broke through. He left Arsenal in 2006 to further his career, joining Spartak Moscow. He currently plays for NEC Breda in the Netherlands.
13 – Kaba Diawara
12 League Appearances, 0 goals
Diawara lasted just one season at Arsenal. The reason? for a striker, he wasn’t very adept at scoring goals. Plenty of effort was shown by the Guinea international, but on the rare occasions he did play, he never took full advantage. It mattered little though, as a certain Thierry Henry was just starting to find his feet at Highbury…..
12 – Armand Traore
13 League Appearances, 0 goals
It all started so well for Traore. Several eye catching performances started to attract attention and he was soon putting pressure on first choice positional rivals Gael Clichy and Kieran Gibbs. The Senegalese defender then enjoyed fruitful loan moves to Portsmouth and Juventus. A few injuries and some poor form put a halt to Troare’s rise though, and his final act as a Gunner was playing in Arsenal’s horrific 8-2 loss to Manchester United. After being seen smiling and congratulating the United players after the final whistle, the writing was on the wall.
11 – Gervinho
46 League Appearances, 9 goals
Gervinho came with quite the reputation. He and Eden Hazard had formed a deadly attack at Lille, and his Belgian teammate regarded the Ivorian as world class. Arsene had seen enough to splash the cash and beat many teams to his signature, but the striker with the Brazilian name was on the whole, pretty awful in an Arsenal shirt. there were the odd highlights and flashes of what he could do, but his errant finishing and lackadaisical movement meant that Gervinho was lambasted by fans and was sold after two miserable seasons. His miss from two yards in a cup loss to lowly Bradford City still haunts the collective memory of all Gooners.
10- Mohamed Elneny
23 League Appearances and counting, 0 goals
Elneny signed from FC Basel in the 2015/16 season, and his cool head and safe presence on the pitch have helped Arsenal during their predictable injury worries they incur every season. Tasty in the tackle and with an eye for a shot – his goal against Barcelona in the Champions League was quite special – Elneny has impressed in his short time at The Emirates. He has competition for places at the club, but he also looks to have the capacity to win the battle and earn a regular spot in the lineup.
9- Marouane Chamakh
40 League Appearances, 8 goals
Chamakh was prolific at Bordeaux, and his goals in Europe and Ligue Un prompted Wenger to take him to Arsenal. He started well too, but a goal drought saw the Moroccan slump in confidence. He fell down the pecking order at The Emirates, and an inevitable transfer followed. His story tells how important goals are to a striker, as without them, he looked a shadow of the man who scored in six consecutive Champions League matches. Has never recaptured that form since.
8 – Christopher Wreh
28 League Appearances, 3 goals
Wreh came to Arsenal and the news that this striker was related to African legend George Weah meant that the Liberian had to produce. Whilst Wreh was not on the same level as his cousin, his efforts on the pitch during Arsenal’s historic Double win of 1997/98 did not go unnoticed. He scored vital goals against Wimbledon and Wolves and huge credit must go to the striker, for without his three goals, the Double simply would not exist.
7 – Alex Iwobi
34 League Appearances and counting, 5 goals
The rise of Alex Iwobi has been a rapid one. From a few sporadic substitute chances, to starting against Barcelona in the Camp Nou, Iwobi has never let the pressure faze him. The Nigerian is comfortable in any attacking position behind the striker, and his speed of thought and marvelous touch has seen the Number 17 entrench himself upon Wengers plans. He has dipped in form of late, but at such a tender age, Iwobi is all set to do great things for Arsenal.
6 – Alexandre Song
138 League Appearances, 7 goals
Song’s aptitude for defending was the reason why he became a relied member of the Arsenal squad in 2008/09. He was versatile enough to slot into midfield or defence and his incredible stamina levels meant that his hunger for the ball never waned in ninety minutes. He became a valuable part of the Gunners setup. His link-ups with Robin Van Persie started to bear fruit, but it also meant that the Cameroonian lost sight of his team principles and he was often seen leaving his defensive duties. A £15million move to Barcelona’s bench followed, and a promising career as a Gunner came to a hasty end.
5 – Emmanuel Adebayor
104 League Appearances, 46 goals
The Togo striker’s steady stream of goals at Arsenal softened the blow a little after losing Thierry Henry to Barcelona. There was the odd controversy – Adebayor clashing with his own teammate and a couple of sendings off – but as long as he kept scoring goals, it was overlooked by Gooners. He left Arsenal in the lurch just when they needed him most in 2009, to a tempting offer from Manchester City. Fans were not happy and voiced their displeasure when he returned with the Blues to The Emirates, and a goal celebration where he ran the length of the field to gloat in front of the fans who used to adore him was the final straw. Now a mercenary for hire after proving he has no loyalty with a string of transfers in a short space of time. A waste of talent.
4 – Emmanuel Eboue
132 League Appearances, 5 goals
The Ivorian defender adored his time at Arsenal, and it showed. Always smiling and happy to do any ridiculous stunt for the Arsenal press department, he soon struck up a rapport with the Arsenal faithful. The dancing defender may have been naive at times, but his constant runs down the flank and his effort meant he would give everything to the cause. His dips in form saw him drop from the first team – he was even booed as a substitute by his own fans – but since leaving, Eboue’s stock has risen amongst fans. Now seen as something of a cult figure.
3 – Nwankwo Kanu
119 League Appearances, 37 goals
The lanky Nigerian had heart surgery before signing for Arsenal. Fans needn’t have worried about the striker delivering for the Gunners though. What he lacked in speed, Kanu more than made up for in skill and unpredictability. His goals against Tottenham and Middlesbrough earned him immediate fan favourite status, and his treble against Chelsea is part of Arsenal folklore. Despite having an incredible size 14 in boot, Kanu’s touch was as deft as any. An Arsenal great who won much in his five years at Highbury.
2 – Kolo Toure
225 League Appearances, 9 goals
The man plucked from obscurity nearly wrecked his dream move from the start, when during his trial, he apparently clattered through Arsene Wenger himself! It mattered little, as Toure’s passion, defensive awareness and his athleticism was one half of a deadly double act alongside Sol Campbell. They were an integral part of Arsenal’s greatest ever accomplishment – The Invincibles – and Toure showed that he had found his true level. Has since played for Manchester City, Liverpool and Celtic, but his time at Arsenal is what established the Ivorian as a Premier League, African and Arsenal legend.
1 – Lauren
159 League Appearances, 7 goals
Lauren Etame Bisan Mayer – or just Lauren – is at Number One above Kolo Toure because the Cameroonian was not a defender when he joined in 2000 from Mallorca. He had made his name as a tough-tackling central midfielder, but Wenger saw enough in his early displays in an Arsenal shirt, that he could perhaps fill the boots of Arsenal hero Lee Dixon on the right of defence. The new defender took to his task swimmingly, and was an immovable part of The Invincibles, alongside Kolo Toure, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole. A born winner, an iron backbone and a mean penalty taker – he scored the late winner in a 5-4 derby with Tottenham – Lauren overcame all challenges and is now viewed as one of the best Arsene Wenger signings he has made in all his time at the club.