The stats relating to Arsenal’s top players of all time are highly impressive, with a significant number of those higher up the popular list making up the ‘Invincibles’ squad of 2003/04. However, what has only become apparent more recently is the knock-on effect that these players have had on the profile of the Premier League itself, along with football culture in general.
By virtue of personal growth beyond off-pitch difficulties, in addition to the desire to prove one’s credentials on the field, Tony Adams fully deserves a place in the top five. Adams had the privilege of wearing the captain’s armband for Arsenal’s first Premier League title ceremony.
The stability brought by Adams to a once-porous defence acted as the bedrock of a telling ten-game win streak in early 1998, which he completed himself by smashing the fourth and final goal past Everton in the Gunners’ decisive final home game of 1997/98.
Adams’ former struggles with alcoholism are well-documented, and aside from the tale of his redemption and rise to the Arsenal captaincy, his story serves as a poignant reminder that footballers are humans like any other. The flaws within some are merely more severe than others, and those like Adams with a story of defeating addiction have contributed to the greater network of support out there for top-level athletes.
The first of three Frenchmen rightly identified as Arsenal legends, Robert Pires was a wizard with an immense range of passing to go with a deadly shot. The term ‘Take a Bow, Son’ was immortalised via his stunning effort against Aston Villa in March 2002, and played its part in ensuring that Arsenal would become the first Premier League team to win the title after scoring in every game.
Years before Pires’ arrival at Highbury, players like Ginola, Giggs and Kanchelskis were exceptional counter-attackers who could boast a fiercely-accurate shot at the end of a mazy run at pace. Yet, many Gunners fans would assert that he was the league’s first true ‘inverted’ winger all the same. As such, he is a pioneer for the improvisation shown by the present-day league’s finest – such as Mo Salah and Raheem Sterling, who are amongst several stars that identify as ‘attacking forwards’.
It could also be argued that Pires has indirectly changed football betting culture too, with the likes of Sterling (thanks much to having the same unique, exquisite skillset) featuring heavily in the player-focused spread betting prices shown here: https://www.sportingindex.com/spread-betting/football.
With Vieira balancing pure ferocity in the tackle alongside composure in the passing department, he was a captain that led by example. His low centre of gravity made him just as effective as any defender when it came to holding off challenges, and unlike many captains of the present day, he was notably unafraid to be vocal and marshal his peers with an iron fist.
Simply put: no Vieira, no ‘invincible’ season.
In terms of how a midfielder should function, Vieira was no revolutionary, with the likes of Billy Bremner and Alan Ball in the prior generation showing similar attributes. That said, The Frenchman’s persona on the field is now often cited as a sorely-missing element in Arsenal’s current setup – especially in the aftermath of Granit Xhaka’s bleakest moment of 2019/20 – and more widely missing in the league itself.
What more can be said about Henry? In terms of pure statistics, he is nothing more or less than the greatest player ever to have graced the famous red and white, and it is difficult to know where to begin. Across 125 Premier League matches, Henry’s win-rate was 79.2% – with over a third (33.5%) of his Premier League goals being decisive match-winners.
Overall, he averaged 1.4 goals per-game and 2.54 points per-game in the Premier League, and once famously outscored the entire Sunderland squad of 2002/03.
While the import of foreign talents was in full swing by the time Henry’s debut (1999/00) season kicked off, there was still a fair degree of scepticism over how well they could blend with British talents. Those in the same, long-since redundant school of thought were all-too-quick to dismiss the relatively multi-national Arsenal squad’s success of 1997/98 as a mere fluke.
Henry proved all the doubters wrong after a difficult start to life in North London, and his contributions to the respective Premier League records established by Arsenal in 2002 and 2004 thrust the importance of foreign cultures in the top flight to new heights.
Bergkamp’s arrival for £7.5m in June 1995 was one of very few positive legacies left by Bruce Rioch, and it was a shock-and-awe move that paid off in full. While the Dutchman was never a 20-goal man, he came close in Arsenal’s title-winning season of 1997/98, notching 16 goals alongside original strike partner Ian Wright.
Impressive though Henry’s stats are, they would provide less impressive reading but for his partnership with Bergkamp. Even close to a quarter of a century after Bergkamp’s arrival in the capital, he remains nothing more or less than the Premier League’s textbook example of what a support striker should be, and how such a player can be deployed effectively.