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222/22: The Wenger Years – 1998 to 2002

Arsène Wenger at Arsenal 1998 to 2002
The Wenger Years 1998-2002

Part two of a six-part series chronicling the list of 222 players who have played under Arsene Wenger’s 22 years at Arsenal.

The phase between 1998 and 2001 saw the club near the finish line but not get to the top. Three-second place finishes, two cup finals defeats, and one heart-breaking FA semi-final loss.

Fine margins decided the 98/99 season as Arsenal was pipped by Manchester United by a single point. This after the famous FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park where Dennis Bergkamp missed a last-minute penalty and Ryan Giggs scored a solo goal at the other end.

Another second-place finish in the 99/00 season was compounded by a penalty shootout loss in the UEFA Cup finals against Galatasaray.

It was second place again in the 00/01 season followed by a defeat in the FA Cup finals when Micheal Owens scored twice in the last 10 minutes to leave Arsenal trophyless.

The 01/02 season that redeemed Wenger’s pride as his side won the domestic double.

PART TWO: 3 runners up and the 01/02 domestic double.

38. Kaba Diawara
Signed from Bordeaux in the winter transfer of 98/99, the striker was sold after six months to Marseille after he failed to score in 15 appearances.

Diawara went on to play for several clubs in France, Spain, England, Qatar, Turkey, Cyprus, before retiring with Aries-Avignon. He also played at the international level for Guinea national team.

He currently works as a pundit for the French channel Canal.

39. Nelson Vivas
The Argentinian defender was signed from Boca Juniors in 1998 but had to be content with the role of a backup to Lee Dixon. He joined Inter Milan in 2001 but failed to break into the first team.

Vivas returned to Argentina and spent his last playing days at Quilmes before announcing an early retirement in 2005. He kickstarted his managerial career with Quilmes but had to resign when he attacked a fan in the stands.

He worked under Diego Simeone at various clubs before moving to Atletico Madrid in 2018 as an assistant manager. 

40. Freddie Ljungberg
Signed by Wenger in 1998 after watching him on television, Ljungberg was a fan favorite, especially after his form in the 01-02 season which saw him win the Premier League Player of the Season award.

His response after being asked about winning the 2002 FA Cup final, “It’s fuckin excellent” has gone down in Gooner folklore. Of course, he scored this worldie to seal the double.

After mucking about in the MLS, J-League, and Indian Super League (Mumbai City), Ljungberg returned to Arsenal in 2016 as the coach for the U-15. He was elevated to the U23, 1st team coaching squad, then filled in as interim coach following the dismissal of Unai Emery, before retaining his role as an assistant coach under Mikel Arteta.

Let’s not forget that the skilled Swede was seen with his junk on display when he modeled for Calvin Klein underwear.

41. Omer Riza
His best playing days may have been in Turkey but Riza is a London-born Arsenal youth product.

Unable to break into the team, the striker was sold to West Ham in 1999, where he continued to struggle to get a start. In 2003, he moved to the Turkish league which culminated in a 10-year legal battle to clear his name in a legal battle against Trabzonspor owing to the non-payment of his salary.  

Riza is now the U23 coach at Watford.

(L to R) Kaba Diawara, Nelson Vivas, Freddie Ljungberg, Omer Riza, David Grondin, Fabian Caballero, Michael Black, Nwankwo Kanu
(L to R) Kaba Diawara, Nelson Vivas, Freddie Ljungberg, Omer Riza, David Grondin, Fabian Caballero, Michael Black, Nwankwo Kanu

42. David Grondin
A left-back who was bought from Saint Etienne in 1998, only to be loaned back to the club.

With only one appearance to his name, Grondin was sold to Dunfermline Athletic in 2003. His exploits took him back to France and ultimately to Belgium where he played out the rest of his career.

43. Fabian Caballero
Brought on loan from Paraguay’s Cerro Porteno, in 1998, Caballero spent most of his time in the reserves team.

The striker managed only three appearances for the Gunners. He, in all probability, mystified about the eccentricities of English football. Caballero tasted better success at Dundee United before the club was placed under administration.

The rest of his career continued along an unconventional path, bringing spells in Paraguay, South Korea, Cyprus, Chile, Greece, and Guatemala.

After retirement, he turned his attention to politics in Paraguay before working as a player agent and diplomat, advising Hugo Ramirez of the right-wing Colorado party in the Paraguayan presidential election of the same year.

44. Michael Black
A youth team product, Black made a solitary appearance for the team as a substitute in a Champions League match in 1998. At the end of the season, the midfielder was released by the club. 

He signed with Tranmere Rovers in 1999 but a knee ligament problem saw him drop down to non-League football by 2001.

45. Nwankwo Kanu
The Nigerian had a few memorable performances like the 15-minute hat-trick against Chelsea or leaving the Deportivo keeper on his bottom without touching the ball. Although, Sheffield United fans will remember him for the wrong reasons.

Diagnosed with a serious heart defect, Wenger gambled on the “Super Sub” and signed him from Inter Milan in 1999. 

On the pitch, Kanu is Nigeria’s most decorated footballer and off of it, he is a celebrated philanthropist. The Kanu Heart Foundation helps predominantly young African children who suffer heart defects. 

As for his trophy cabinet, there’s the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League, UEFA Cup and Olympic Gold medal.

46. Oleg Luzhny
Bought from Dynamo Kyiv in 1999, the right-back had limited opportunities when he filled in for Lee Dixon and Lauren.

The Ukrainian did play over a hundred matches for Gunners – the last match being the 2003 FA Cup final against Southampton.

Luzhny joined Wolverhampton in 2003, but limited opportunities meant that he chose to join Latvian club Venta where he was the player-manager.

Post-retirement, he has been the assistant manager for Dynamo Kyiv for the most part.

47. Silvinho
Sylvio Mendes Campos Junior aka Silvinho was the first-ever Brazilian to sign for Arsenal.

Signed from Corinthians in 1999 as a replacement for Nigel Winterburn – Silvinho was sidelined by an emerging Ashley Cole in his second season.

A scorer of bangers, he went on to play for Celta Vigo, Barcelona, and Manchester City.

After retirement, he joined the coaching staff of Cruzeiro, Inter Milan, and the Brazil National team. He also took charge of Olympique Lyonnais in 2019 but was sacked by the end of the year.

48. Thierry Henry
Unless you have been living under a rock: Henry needs no introduction. There is a bronze statue in his image outside the Emirates stadium for breaking goalscoring records at Arsenal. 228 goals to be exact.

Signed from Juventus in 1999, Wenger’s decision to convert Henry from an out-and-out left-winger into a striker sparked the beginning of a beautiful romance experienced in Highbury. 

Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry

After eight years, Henry joined Barcelona and went on to win a historic double in 08/09. He hung up his boots with New York Red Bulls – but he did leave one lasting memory when he made a brief return to Arsenal in 2012. 

He will always remain as the King of Highbury.

49. Davor Suker
Signed from Real Madrid in 1999, the 1998 World Cup Golden Boot winner spent a year with the Gunners and scored 8 goals in 22 league matches for the team.

However, he did miss the first spot-kick in the penalty shootout against Galatasaray in the 2000 UEFA Cup Finals.

After joining West Ham United the following summer, Suker retired with 1860 Munish in 2003.

Post-retirement, Suker had a fair share of controversies of his own like stealing antique coins. He is now the president of the Croatian Football Federation.

50. Stefan Malz
After failing with a £7m bid for Dietmar Hamann, Arsenal signed Stefan Malz from 1860 Munich for £650,000 in 1999.

This was the only time he ventured out of Germany in his career. The step-up was too big for the midfielder and he returned to the Bundesliga in 2001.

Malz was last spotted managing German second division women’s side FFC 08 Niederkirchen.

(L to R) Oleg Luzhny, Silvinho, Davor Suker, Stefan Malz, Tommy Black, Rhys Weston, Jermaine Pennant, Ashley Cole.
(L to R) Oleg Luzhny, Silvinho, Davor Suker, Stefan Malz, Tommy Black, Rhys Weston, Jermaine Pennant, Ashley Cole.

51. Ashley Cole
A youth product who went on to become one of the best left-backs in the Premier League. Cole was part of the 01/02 double and 03/04 Invincibles squad before leaving for Chelsea under acrimonious circumstances. 

Cole had seven FA Cup medals to his name – a record for any player. 

A world-class left-back, Cole went on to play for Roma, LA Galaxy, and Derby County before announcing his retirement in 2019. His off the field antics were regular fodder to the tabloids.

52. Tommy Black
The younger brother of Michael, Tommy Black made two appearances for the Gunners.

The midfielder signed for Crystal Palace in 2000 where he went on to make over a hundred appearances. He dropped won to the lower leagues before dropping down to the lower leagues.

53. Rhys Weston
Another Arsenal Academy product, Weston made a handful of appearances for the Gunners.

He went on to become a Welsh international after carving out a decent spell at Cardiff City. The defender would go on to play in Norway, Iceland, and Malaysia before returning home to sign for AFC Wimbledon before retirement.

Weston now works in the commercial department for Brentford FC.

54. Jermaine Pennant
Signed at the age of 15 from Notts County in 1999, Pennant could not get himself on the team sheet and spent more time on loan. A series of disciplinary problems eventually resulted in him being sold to Birmingham City in 2005.

His career saw him play for Liverpool, Stoke City, Real Zaragoza, including spells in the Indian Super League (Pune City) and Singapore. He last took to the field in 2017 with non-League team Billericay Town. 

Off the pitch, Pennant was regularly featured in the tabloids owing to his drink driving cases, including a case where he identified himself as Ashley Cole. Then there was his association with multiple glamour models which gave him enough material to release his autobiography aptly titled:Mental: Bad Behaviour, Ugly Truths and the Beautiful Game. 

55. Graham Barrett
Irish forward signed for Arsenal in 1998 and went on to captain the youth team. Injuries marred his growth but he did make two league appearances before moving to Coventry City in 2003.

He earned six international caps for Ireland and last played for Shamrock Rovers before calling it a day in 2010.

Barnett now works as an agent. 

56. Julian Gray
London-born Julian Gray was associated with the Arsenal Academy since the age of six, but could not make the grade at the senior level. He made one league appearance against Newcastle in 1999 before being sold to Crystal Palace the following season.

The winger’s career saw him play for multiple clubs before retiring with Walsall in the Championship.  Gray currently works as a sports & mentoring coach for kids in the US, UK, and Dubai.  

57. Brian McGovern
The Irish defender joined Arsenal as a trainee in 1997 but could only gain one league appearance for the club – as a substitute against Newcastle in 2000.

Eventually, he headed back to Ireland to play for clubs like Longford Town and Shamrock Rovers before retiring with Bray Wanderers.

58. Lauren
Laureano Bisan Etame-Mayer was signed from Mallorca in the summer of 2000. The right-back replaced Lee Dixon and went on to win the double in 2002 and was an integral part of the Invincibles team.

An excellent penalty taker, the Cameroonian was a mainstay in the team until the 06/07 season which he spent on the sidelines owing to injury.  His two-year stint at Portsmouth saw limited opportunities. He retired with Cordoba in Spain.

Lauren now works as a TV pundit in Spain and frequents the Emirates Stadium. Then there is this story about his watch being returned to him after six years.

(L to R): Graham Barrett, Robert Pires, Julian Gray, Lauren, Lee Canoville, Stuart Taylor, Sylvain Wiltord.
(L to R): Graham Barrett, Julian Gray, Robert Pires, Julian Gray, Lauren, Lee Canoville, Stuart Taylor, Sylvain Wiltord.

59. Robert Pires
Signed in 2000 to replace Marc Overmars, the Frenchman was labeled him a lightweight on his debut season.

The following season was a different story. Dubbed as the “oil in the engine” by the gaffer, Pires emerged as the architect of some of the best football seen by Arsenal. He also scored extraordinary goals. Despite playing two months fewer than most of his fellow nominees, he was awarded the FWA Footballer of the Year award.

A legend in the eyes of Gooners, Pires made a habit of scoring in the North London Derby. However, he did not receive the sendoff he deserved. He was subbed off within 18 minutes in the Champions League finals against Barcelona. 

His a four-year stint at Villareal under Manuel Pelligrini, was followed by a final year in the Premier League with Aston Villa. He hung up his boots after representing FC Goa in the inaugural campaign of the Indian Super League.

He returned to Arsenal as a member of the coaching staff.

60. Sylvain Wiltord
Signed for a club-record fee of £13 million in 2000, Wiltord is best remembered for scoring the only goal against Man United at Old Trafford to seal the 01/02 league title.

The striker was also a part of the Invincibles squad, albeit his appearances were limited in the 03/04 title-winning season.

He joined Lyon at the end of the 2004 season and won three Ligue 1 titles in a row. Wiltord retired with Nantes in 2012.

In 2015, he was part of a Reality TV show called Dropped which featured 8 athletes. The show was canceled when three of the athletes died in a helicopter crash.

61. Lee Canoville
Former Millwall and Arsenal youth player, Canoville made one first-team appearance as he came on for Rhys Weston in a 2-1 defeat by Ipswich in the 2000 League Cup.

The defender moved to Torquay United before dropping further down the English football pyramid. He retired with Spalding United F.C. in 2013.

62. Stuart Taylor
The reserve keeper of all reserve keepers. After joining Arsenal in 1997, Taylor spent most of his time on loan but played enough matches to earn a Premier League medal in 01/02 and an FA Cup medal in 02/03.

With little first-team action,  Taylor joined Aston Villa in 2005. However, first-team football eluded him as he made 17 appearances in four years. The numbers were damning: Since 2009 he played only 10 matches in 10 years.  

Taylor is now a free agent. “I will have to work. People assume I have made serious money. I really haven’t,” he said in an interview

63. Moritz Volz
Plucked from the Schalke youth team in 1999, the German midfielder could not find a place in the team of the peak Wenger era. He made a couple of appearances in the League Cup but was ultimately sold to Fulham in 2004.

The Craven Cottage faithful took a liking to “Volzy” and his work rate. He also had a slew of nicknames like 220 Volz and The Hoff. In 2006 he scored the 15,000 Premier League goal and was inevitably nicknamed “15,000 Volz”.

He currently works as a scout.

64. Igors Stepanovs
When the Latvian defender turned up for a trial game at Arsenal in 2000, every move of his was applauded by the players on the bench. He wasn’t actually up to standard and the players were only trying to wind up another defender, Martin Keown. But when Bergkamp got into the act, Wenger took notice and signed Stepanovs for a four-year contract.

Stepanovs won two FA Cups and a league title in his four seasons with Arsenal. His career took him to Switzerland, Denmark, Russia before returning to Latvia where he retired in 2011.

Post-retirement, he coached the U17 Latvia national team before moving on to become the coach for Maldives U19 national team.

65. Tomas Danilevicius
A footballing journeyman of the highest caliber. The Lithuanian striker has played for 16 clubs – including four in one season.

Arsenal was among the four clubs in the 00/01 season where he made three appearances for the Gunners. 

Danilevicius in 2014 after featuring for Slovenian club Gorica. At present, he is the president of the Lithuanian Football Federation.

(L to R): Moritz Volz, Igors Stepanovs, Edu, Tomas Danilevicius, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Francis Jeffers, Junichi Inamoto, Sol Campbell
(L to R): Moritz Volz, Igors Stepanovs, Edu, Tomas Danilevicius, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Francis Jeffers, Junichi Inamoto, Sol Campbell

66. Edu
Eduardo Cesar Daud Gaspar was expected to join from Corinthians in the summer of 2000 but was put on hold after it was realized that he was in possession of a fake Portuguese passport. He finally joined in the winter transfer of 00/01.

Edu’s finest season at Arsenal was with the Invincibles, he also won the FA Cup the following year before joining Valencia and ending his career back at Corinthians.

Following the departure of Arsene Wenger, Edu joined Arsenal as the club’s first-ever technical director in 2019. 

In 2004, Edu considered playing for the English national team i.e. if he could gain a British passport.

67. Sol Campbell
Wenger’s greatest signing – simply for the fact that he was Tottenham’s captain when he decided to join Arsenal in 2001. It was justified when he won two titles, two FA Cups, and scored in the Champions League in 2006.

Big unit and a world-class defender who took a liking to Arsenal so much that he had a second stint in the 09/10 season before trying a hand with politics.

Campbell managed Macclesfield Town in League Two, before moving on to manage Southend United in League One. 

Sol Campbell proved that the fastest way to get to Europe from north London was via the Seven Sisters Road.

68. Giovanni van Bronckhorst
Signed from Rangers in 2001, the Dutch defender spent two seasons at Arsenal. Highly rated at Highbury, he moved to Barcelona in 2003.

Van Bronckhorst was in the Barcelona lineup when they beat Arsenal in the 2006 Champions League finals. After retiring with Feyenoord, he went on to manage his childhood club before moving to China to manage Guangzhou R&F FC.

69. Francis Jeffers
In 2001, talks between Arsenal and a young Swede named Zlatan Ibrahimovic breaks down. The 3M deal did not go through. Wenger and splashed the cash on the ‘fox-in-the-box’ from Everton named Francis Jeffers for three times the price.

The rest, as they say, is history. Wenger didn’t buy another English striker for a long time time. Jeffers played 38 matches and scored eight goals. He was sent back to Everton on loan in 03/04.

His career did not quite take off as he shuffled between the Premier League, SPL, Championship,A-League, Maltese Premier League, and League Two. Jeffers works at Everton as a youth coach, but in 2019 he was fined when he threatening messages to his wife of 10 years.  

70. Junichi Inamoto
Joined on loan from Gamba Osaka in 2001 but featured in only four matches before being joining Fulham on loan.

The Japanese had stints at clubs across Europe before heading back to Japan where he still plays at the age of 40.

71. Richard Wright
Signed from Ipswich in 2001 as a long-term successor to David Seaman, Wright made regular starts for Arsenal until December, until an injury had him slip down to the third choice behind the eternal third-choice goalie, Stuart Taylor.

Wright moved to Everton the following season and had two additional spells at Ipswich before retiring at Manchester City in 2016.

72. John Halls
A youth player who made his senior team debut in against Manchester United in the 2001 League Cup. Halls came in as a 2nd half substitute and was sent off following two bookings.

He spent most of his time on loan before signing for Stoke City under Tony Pulis before retiring with Wycombe Wanderers in 2012.

Halls set up his own male fashion business and is also a model

73. Carlin Itonga
Born in DR Congo but raised in England, Itonga was part of the youth set up. Like Halls, he made his debut against Manchester United in 2001 League Cup.

He left Arsenal in 2003 to play in the lower leagues before disappearing from the football radar. There is little known about the former youth player, some believe that he has reappeared as a musician who goes by the name JordyInIt.

(L to R): Richard Wright, John Halls, Carlin Itonga, Rohan Ricketts, Stathis Tavlaridis, Jeremie Aliadiere, Sebastian Svard, Juan Maldonado Jaimez Junior
(L to R): Richard Wright, John Halls, Carlin Itonga, Rohan Ricketts, Stathis Tavlaridis, Jeremie Aliadiere, Sebastian Svard, Juan Maldonado Jaimez Junior

74. Rohan Ricketts
Another youth product who made his debut against Manchester United in the 2001 League Cup.

In 2002 he became only the fourth player to sign up for Tottenham from Arsenal, where he had more game time in the 03/04 season. 

After leaving Barnsley in 2008, he became a journeyman as he plied his trade in Canada, Hungary, Moldova, Germany, Ireland, Ecuador, India, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Hong Kong. 

Ricketts’s tenure in the I-League ended when he had an outburst on Twitter against his coach at Dempo.

75. Stathis Tavlaridis
A center back from Greece who was signed from Iraklis in 2001. He made eight appearances for the Gunners before being sent on loan to Lille, he signed a permanent deal with Lille in 2004.

He retired with the Superleague Greece with Aris.

Tavlaridis was one of the players who have who appealed for a delay in payment against his former club Panathinaikos in 2017.

76. Jeremie Aliadiere
Signed as a 16-year-old from Clairefontaine in 1999, Aliadiere spent most of his time on loan. With only 29 league appearances in 6 years, he was sold to Middlesbrough in 2007.

In 2011, Aliadiere was a free agent and Wenger invited the Frenchman to train at the London Colney. Aliadiere retired at Lorient in 2017 and struggled with depression

77. Sebastian Svard
A Danish footballer of Swedish and Ghanaian descent, Svrad was part of the youth set-up from 1999. He made four appearances in various cup competitions before being loaned out multiple clubs.

Svard moved to Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2006. His footballing journey took him to Netherlands, Israel, Thailand, Iceland before retiring in 2016.

He founded his own company and creates products for gamers.

78. Juan Maldonado Jaimez Junior
A diminutive Brazilian left-back who joined from Sao Paulo in 2001. Juan had made two cup appearances when he picked up an injury before a League Cup tie which essentially ended his Arsenal career.

He also had a brief loan spell at Millwall before heading back to Brazil in 2004.  Juan retired with Esporte Clube Vitória in 2017.

READ

Part 3: The Wenger Years 2002-2006

Wenger creates history with the Invincibles while Arsenal say goodbye to Highbury.

Part 4: The Wenger Years 2006-2010

The move from Highbury to the Emirates stadium saw the start of a trophyless drought for Arsenal and Wenger.

Part 5: The Wenger Years 2010-2014

Top four was now a trophy for Wenger. Then Arsenal went on to actually win one in 2014.

Part 6: The Wenger Years 2014-2018

After 22 years, 1235 matches, three league titles, and seven FA Cup trophies, the Arsene Wenger era was over in 2018.

Part 1: The Wenger Years 1996-1998

Newspaper headlines asked “Arsene Who?”, as the Frenchman began his journey to transform Arsenal FC – and English football forever.

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