This is part three of a six-part series chronicling the list of 222 players who have played under Arsene Wenger’s 22 years at Arsenal.
“It’s not impossible to go through the season unbeaten and I can’t see why it’s shocking to say that,” said Arsene Wenger about his team’s potential in the 02/03 campaign. A loss to Leeds United brought an end to their title challenge as the team finished second. Consolation came in a 1-0 win as the team retained the FA Cup.
Wenger’s statement proved to be prophetic as The Gunners went unbeaten throughout the 03/04 Premier League season.
W26; D12; L0 – The Invincibles.
The 04/05 campaign saw the unbeaten streak end at 49 games at Old Trafford. Despite a strong season, Mourinho’s Chelsea racked up 95 points to take the title, as Arsenal settled for second. They ended the season with a penalty shootout win over Manchester United in the FA Cup final.
The 05/06 campaign faltered in the domestic front as Arsenal finished fourth in the league, but the Champions League run saw them maintain 10 clean sheets in a row on the way to the finals where they lost to Barcelona.
It was also the end of an era as the club bid goodbye to Highbury after 93 years.
PART THREE: The Invincibles & Goodbye to Highbury
79. Ryan Garry
A youth player who joined the academy in 1999 made his senior team debut against Sunderland in the League Cup in 2002. The defender also made one league start against Southampton in 2003 – the match where Jermaine Pennant scored a hattrick.
Hit by long-term injurñies and Garry spent most of his time in the sidelines. Upon his release, he joined Bournemouth where he played for four seasons before retiring.
He rejoined Arsenal as a coach for the U13 team.
80. Kolo Toure
In 2002, during his trial at the club, Kolo Toure flew in with a two-footed tackle into Arsene Wenger! The tackle worked as Wenger was impressed and signed him for £150k from ASEC Mimosas. After seven years, he was already an Invincible and the club captain.
Toure joined Manchester City in 2009 following a bust-up with his defensive partner William Gallas. With additional spells at Liverpool and Celtic, Toure retired in 2017. He took up a coaching role at Glasgow under Brendan Rogers, before moving to Leicester City.
Since the tackle on Wenger, he has been a subject to memes, viral videos, even a chant/dance. The best Kolo Toure story is perpetuated by Kolo Toure himself – he had an affair with a young model in which he tricked her that he was a used car salesman called Francois.
81. Pascal Cygan
Signed from Lille in 2002, Cygan was mostly a fringe player. Although a central defender, he filled in admirably as the emergency left-back when both Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy were injured.
Nonetheless, he was part of the Invincibles squad and joined Villareal at the end of the 2006 season, alongside Robert Pires. Cygan retired from professional football in 2011.
Cygan surfaced in 2019 when he claimed that Lokomotiv Moscow attempted to honeytrap Arsenal players with a bevy of supermodels before their Champions League match in 2003. Classic Russia.
The player Wenger failed to replace since 2008. The defensive midfielder was signed after his eye-catching performances in the 2002 World Cup. Known as the Invisible Wall, Gilberto spent six years with the Gunners, anchoring the Invincibles midfield alongside Vieira.
After six years in London, he joined Panathinaikos in 2008 and ended his career in Brazil. Gilberto has a podcast titled: Gilberto Silva – The Invisible Wall Show. By the way, the London Zoo has an anteater named after him.
83. Rami Shaaban
Born to an Egyptian father and a Finnish mother, Rami Shaaban was a goalkeeper for Sweden.
Signed from Djurgården in the summer of 2002, Shaaban was the filling in for David Seaman before a leg injury at practice effectively ended his Arsenal career by Christmas. Jens Lehmann took over and established himself as the top choice keeper.
After a move to Brighton & Hove Albion in 2005, Shaaban returned to Sweden and retired with Hammarby IF in 2012.
Shaaban co-founded the investment firm Accum Kapital and has remained friends with fellow Swedish Gunner, Freddie Ljungberg.
84. David Bentley
Touted to be the next big thing in English football, Bentley joined Arsenal at the age of 13. He played a handful of matches for the senior team before going on loan to Norwich City and Blackburn Rovers.
He signed for Rovers in 2006 and went on to join Tottenham Hotspur in 2008. Having spent most of his time on loan, the Bentley fell out of love with the game and retired at the age of 29. Harsh, but that’s Tottenham for you.
Since retiring, Bentley has bought and run a restaurant in Marbella, Spain, and also owns a number of businesses in the U.K.
85. Justin Hoyte
A fullback who joined Arsenal at the tender age of 9 in 1993. Coming from a sporting family, Hoyte made his senior debut in a League Cup tie against Rotherham in 2003. He went on to make 34 league appearances for the club.
Unable to find a regular place in the team, Hoyte left Arsenal to joined Middlesbrough in 2008. Following spells at Millwall and Dagenham & Redbridge, Hoyte moved to the USA to play for FC Cincinnati.
The former England U21 defender chose to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the senior level. His younger brother Gavin also played for Arsenal.
86. Jens Lehmann
Known as Mad Jens for his eccentric behavior – be it taunting Ruud Van Nistelrooy with aggressive behavior after he missed a spot-kick or throwing the ball at Kevin Phillips after the final whistle, one might forget that Lehmann was also an accomplished goalie.
Signed from Borussia Dortmund in 2003, Lehmann played every match during the Invincibles season. He also holds the record for most consecutive clean sheets (10) in the Champions League. However, the run ended in ignominy when he was sent off in the 2006 Champions League finals.
Lehmann signed for VfB Stuttgart in 2008 after being displaced by Manuel Almunia. He had a brief reunion with Arsenal as a player in the 2010-11 season when he became the oldest player for Arsenal in the Premier League.
After joining as an assistant coach with Arsenal in 2017, Lehmann left the club in typical fashion in the next season when Unai Emery was put in charge.
87. Graham Stack
The Irish keeper joined the youth team in 1998 and made his senior debut in a League Cup against Rotherham in 2003. Stack scored and saved a penalty in a shootout to help Arsenal win9Having spent most of his time on loan, he joined Reading in 2006. His best spell was with Barnet between 2012-16.
Stack also spent one season in India with Kerala Blasters where he had quite a fan following. He returned to England the next year to play for Eastleigh in the National League.
He now coaches at Watford.
In 02/03, Stack knocked out a fan during his loan spell at Beveren. Let’s relive that glorious moment again.
88. John Spicer
The midfielder was part of the senior team since 2001 managed just one appearance for the club – the League Cup match against Rotherham in 2003. Spicer converted his spot-kick in the shoot-out.
He was sent on loan to Bournemouth in late 2004 where he ended up signing a permanent deal. Spicer played in the lower leagues for the rest of his career before retiring with Southend United in 2013.
In 2005, he donned the goalkeeper’s gloves after Burnley’s goalkeeper, Brian Jensen, was sent off in a match at Luton Town. His team won 3-2.
89. Jerome Thomas
A winger who joined the Arsenal youth team from Luton. Making his debut in the League Cup match against Rotherham in 2003, Thomas was part of the senior team but was limited to League Cup appearances.
Having to compete for places with the likes of Marc Overmars and Robert Pires, Thomas decided to join Charlton Athletic in the winter transfer window of 03/04. His career saw him shuffle between the Premier League and the Championship with Portsmouth, Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace, and Rotherham United.
His last appearance as a player was with Port Vale in League One in 2017. Thomas has done his coaching badges and is working with Chelsea FC in recruitment with their Academy.
90. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie
Born in Amsterdam to Ghanaian parents, Owusu-Abeyie had been a member of the youth system at Ajax for nine years before joining Arsenal at age 16 in 2002.
He made his debut in the League Cup tie against Rotherham, where he missed his spot-kick in the 9-8 penalty shoot-out. With the arrival of Emmanuel Adebayor in January 2006, Owusu-Abeyie decided to leave Arsenal and joined Spartak Moscow.
Having played for a host of clubs, Owusu-Abeyie last played for Dutch club NEC in 2017. On the international front, he chose to play for Ghana over the Netherlands.
After hanging up his boot, Owusu-Abeyie is pursuing a career in music and goes by the name “Blow”. Check him out.
91. Gael Clichy
Signed from Cannes as a backup to Ashley Cole in 2003, Clichy is yet another debutant in the League Cup tie against Rotherham in 2003.
He was part of the Invincibles squad and cemented his place in the first team after Cole’s transfer to Chelsea in 2006. Clichy went on to make a total of 264 appearances for the club before joining Manchester City in 2011.
Clichy was on the field when Manchester City won the 2011/12 league title in the mad finish to the title race. After six seasons, he joined İstanbul Başakşehir in the Turkish league.
Fun stat: The left-back scored three goals for Manchester City – all with his right foot.
92. Cesc Fabregas
Signed from Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy in 2003. Francesc Fabregas Soler became Arsenal’s youngest first-team player at 16 years, 177 days in the League Cup tie against Rotherham United in 2003. Fabregas also became the youngest goalscorer for the club when he scored against Wolves two months later.
By 04/05, Cesc had become a regular starter. He rose through the ranks with a number of notable displays become taking over the captain’s armband to lead a youthful Arsenal team in the 08/09 season. Wenger built the team around the young Spaniard.
Having been courted by Barcelona for years, he ultimately broke the hearts of the Gunners faithful and joined his hometown club in 2011. After 3 years he returned to England – in Chelsea colors and his relationship with the Arsenal faithful was never the same. Fabregas now plays for Monaco in Ligue 1.
Fabregas said in an interview “I was just a servant and spent eight years there (at Arsenal) when I gave absolutely everything”. A lovely player to watch when he is in his elements, Fabregas reinstated his place as a Gunners legend when he revealed that it was he threw a pizza at Alex Ferguson in the “Battle of the Buffet” in 2004.
93. Ryan Smith
A youth player who made his senior debut against the League Cup match against Rotherham United in 2003 when he was little under 17 years of age. Like others before him, his appearances for his boyhood club were limited to the League Cup.
A gifted left-winger, Smith suffered a cruciate ligament injury in a Reserve’s match in 2004 and it was never the same again. Smith joined Derby County in 2006, but his career slumped over time and he was last seen playing for Greek Club Xanthi in 2013. Here’s Smith talking about his career. Smith now works as a sports consultant in London.
94. Frankie Simek
The American joined the youth set up in 1996 but managed only one appearance in the League Cup in 2003.
The defender was sent on loan to Queens Park Ranger and Bournemouth before joining Sheffield Wednesday in 2005. Five years later, he signed a two year deal in Carlisle United and retired in 2013.
Simek also won five caps for the United States.
95. Olafur-Ingi Skulason
The Icelandic international midfielder was signed from his hometown club of Fylkir in 2001. Like Simek, he made one appearance in the League Cup against Wolves in 2003. He was sent back on loan to Fylkir later that year and signed up for Brentford in 2005.
The midfielder went on to play Sweden, Belgium, and Turkey before returning to his boyhood club, Fylkir, in 2018. He represented Iceland at the national level.
“At every club I have signed for, people have asked me what it was like to play for Arsenal and be at the club during that amazing season,” said Skulason in an interview.
96. Michal Papadopulos
Long before Papastathopoulos, a striker named Papadopulos joined the Gunners on loan from the Czech team, Banik Ostrava, in 2003.
Papadopulos waited 124 days for a seven-minute cameo in the League Cup against Wolves in December 2003. That was the only match Papadopulos played in his Arsenal career before returning back to his parent club in 2004.
The Czech went on to play in the Bundesliga, Eredivisie, Russian Premier League, and has been plying his trade in the Ekstraklasa since 2012. The striker also won six caps for the Czech Republic.
97. Jose Antonio Reyes
Wenger signed the Spanish forward from Sevilla for £17 million in 2004 – a record signing for the club at the time. Supremely talented, Reyes scored 23 goals in 110 matches.
Reyes never really settled down in London and Wenger was quoted to have said: “It’s like you wanting to marry Miss World and she doesn’t want you, what can I do about it? I can try to help you, but if she does not want to marry you what can I do?”
The striker was sent on loan to Real Madrid in 2006 before signing a permanent move to Atletico Madrid the following year. Reyes returned to Sevilla in 2011 and won three Europa League titles under future Arsenal manager, Unai Emery.
The latter half of his career saw him at Espanyol, Cordoba CF, Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard F.C., and Extremadura UD. Reyes also appeared once for the Andalusia autonomous team in 2013.
On 1 June 2019, Reyes died at the age of 35 following a car accident. He was 35.
98. Robin van Persie
With a wand for a left foot, the Dutch forward was signed for from Feyenoord in 2004. Constant injuries limited his opportunities early in his Arsenal career. In 2011/12 he was promoted to club captain and was the top scorer in the Premier League with 30 goals.
The following season he joined Manchester United as the “little boy inside of him” made him leave. He won the league title under Alex Ferguson, then came the retirement of the Scotsman to be replaced by David Moyes. Van Persie joined Fenerbache in 2015 and returned to Feyenoord where he retired in 2019.
When fit, he was unplayable and could hit a mean volley on demand. However, some Arsenal fans see him differently these days.
99. Mathieu Flamini
A tough-tackling midfielder who signed for all his clubs as a free agent. Signed from Marseille in 2004, he then signed for AC Milan in 2008, re-signed for Arsenal in 2013 after training with the team, went to Crystal Palace for one season, and now at Getafe.
The Bosman transfer champion is actually an astute businessman, he co-founded GF Biochemicals the first company in the world able to mass-produce levulinic acid and is potentially worth billions.
Flamini also owns Unity, (oneunity.com) a business venture he created with Mesut Ozil.
100. Sebastian Larsson
Signed as a youth player in 2001, Larsson made his first-team debut in a League Cup tie 2004 in the left-back position. A loan move to Birmingham City in 2006 was made permanent the following season.
In 2011, Larsson played an instrumental role in Birmingham City’s League Cup campaign that culminated in a 2-1 win over Arsenal in the final.
Larsson also played for Sunderland and Hull City before moving on to AIK in the Allsvenskan. With 98 caps for Sweden, the midfielder was also a mean set-piece specialist.
101. Danny Karbassiyoon
The American was a youth team prospect who did not make the cut. He made a handful of appearances in the League Cup but problems with his knee limited his playing time.
He retired from professional football with Roanoke Star (later changed to VBR Star) in 2007. Karbassiyoon works as a scout for Arsenal and is credited for scouting Joel Campbell and Gedion Zelalem.
In 2016, he published an e-book titled, The Arsenal Yankee, which detailed his journey from player to scout in 2016.
102. Johan Djourou
The Swiss international who signed as a youth prospect in 2003 spent a decade at the club but was playing second fiddle to senior defenders. Djourou was sent on loan to Hamburger SV in 2013/14 before signing a permanent deal the following season.
Djourou went on to play for Antalyaspor in Turkey, SPAL in Serie A, before moving on to Sion on the Swiss League. He was among the nine players who were sacked for refusing a pay cut during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
He continues to tweet his love for Arsenal.
103. Manuel Almunia
Never quite unconvincing in goal, Manuel Almunia was an enigma in itself. Signed in 2004 as a backup to Jens Lehmann, but was thrust into the limelight in the 2006 Champions League finals when Lehmann was sent off. The feud between him and “Mad” Jens Lehmann escalated in the following seasons before the German departed from the club and Almunia was promoted as the first-choice goalkeeper.
In the 2010/11 season, an injury saw him slip down in the pecking order behind Lucas Fabiański and Wojciech Szczęsny. After a loan at West Ham, Almunia joined Watford in the Championships in 2012 where he played a pivotal role in the incredible playoff match.
Almunia retired in 2014 on medical advice, after a rare heart condition was picked up during a medical with Serie A side Cagliari. Although a Spaniard, he was speculated to represent England at some point. Almunia is now a coach at UAE’s Al Jazira FC.
104. Arturo Lupoli
A diminutive striker who excelled at the youth level at Parma and was subsequently signed by the Gunners in 2004. His scoring streak at the youth/reserve level was matched only by Nicklas Bendtner.
Lupoli made his senior team debut against Manchester City in the League Cup in 2004. He also started in an FA Cup match against Sheffield United due to the non-availability of all the senior strikers – Henry, Bergkamp, van Persie, and Reyes.
For the senior team, he featured in the League Cup and made one league appearance. After a loan spell at Derby, Lupoli joined Fiorentina in 2007 and has spent the remainder of his career in Italy since then.
105. Philippe Senderos
Signed as an 18-year-old from Swiss club, Servette, in 2003, Senderos never made it as the first choice defender at Arsenal. It did not help when Didier Drogba ran him ragged time and again.
After loan moves to AC Milan and Everton, Senderos signed a permanent deal with Fulham in 2010. He appeared for six different clubs in six years before retiring with FC Chiasso in Switzerland.
The defender has Serbian-Spanish roots and has represented the Swiss national team in three World Cup campaigns. He also speaks six languages, however, the nuances of the English language gets the better of him now and then.
106. Patrick Cregg
The Irish youth team prospect was signed in 2002 but was limited to League Cup appearances for Arsenal.
The midfielder signed up for Falkirk in the Scottish Premier League where he made over 100 appearances. Cregg spent the majority of his career in Scotland with occasional spells in Ireland and League One.
He currently plays for Montrose in the Scottish League One.
107. Emmanuel Eboue
The Ivorian was a cult figure among fans for his quirky personality. Signed from Beveren in 2004, Eboue cemented his place in the 2005/06 season when the first choice right-back Lauren was injured.
He was part of the Champions League which let in only 4 goals in the competition.
Eboue’s low point came in December 2008 against Wigan when a section of the home fans booed his performance. He left Arsenal in 2011 to join Galatasaray before falling out of favor with the club in 2015. He was briefly on the books of Sunderland before being given a one-year ban by FIFA for not paying his agent.
In 2017, Eboue was reported to be homeless due to his divorce and bad investments that were under his former wife’s control.
108. Alexander Hleb
The player who fits right in Arsene’s Wengerball philosophy. Hleb joined Arsenal from Stuttgart in 2005 and was deployed at various parts of the midfield, especially on the wings.
He joined Barcelona at the start of the 2008 season to work under Per Guardiola, where his career began to decline. After one season at the Nou Camp, Hleb was sent on loan to Stuttgart, Birmingham City, Wolfsburg before being sold to Krylia Sovetov Samara in 2012. His playing time has been divided between Belarus, Turkey, and Russia since then.
A sad decline to a player who was voted Belarusian Footballer of the Year on six occasions between 2002 and 2008.
109. Alex Song
A combative midfielder who impressed Wenger as a trialist in 2005. After a loan spell in the 05-06 season, Song signed a permanent deal with the Gunners the following season, by 2010, he was a regular in the team sheet.
The 2011-12 season was his best at Arsenal where he chalked up 12 assists. Then came the move to Barcelona.
Like Hleb, Alex Song could not nail down a place in the Barcelona squad and ended with a loan spell at West Ham United. In 2016, he signed for Rubin Kazan after his contract with Barcelona was terminated. More problems followed when Song was allowed to train at Arsenal in January 2018, despite being contracted to Kazan.
He signed with Swiss club Sion in August 2018 and like Johan Djourou, he was sacked by the club for refusing to take a pay cut during the coronavirus pandemic.
Leaving Arsenal was not the worst decision by Song. It was when he actually though Puyol wanted him to lift a trophy, instead of Eric Abidal.
110. Fabrice Muamba
Born in Zaire, Muamba moved to England in 1999, after his father was granted indefinite leave to remain in the country. Muamba joined the Arsenal youth setup in 2002 and signed a professional contract in 2005.
He featured in two League Cup games during his first senior season, while spending the next season at Birmingham City on loan. He went on to sign a permanent deal with the Blues in 2007 and joined Bolton Wanderers the following year.
Muamba’s career was cut short when he suffered a cardiac arrest during an FA Cup match against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in March 2012.
Later that year he announced his retirement from professional football. In 2015, Muamba graduated from Staffordshire University with a Bachelor’s degree in sports journalism.
111. Anthony Stokes
Stokes joined Arsenal’s youth setup as a 15-year-old in 2003, the Irishman went on to make a solitary League Cup appearance for the Gunners in 2005.
The striker joined Sunderland in 2007, but it was only at Celtic where he made his mark. Having spent six years and 135 league matches at Celtic Park, he had three spells at Hibernian before heading east to clubs in Greece, Turkey, and finally in Iran where he played for Persepolis and Tractor SC.
In 2013, Stokes pleaded guilty to assaulting a car park attendant and part-time Elvis Presley impersonator.
112. Nicklas Bendtner
The Danish striker joined Arsenal’s youth setup in 2004 before signing a professional contract the following season.
After a loan spell at Birmingham City, Bendtner returned to Arsenal for the 07/08 season. On December 22, Bendtner scored his first Premier League goal just seconds after being subbed in against Tottenham. The following week he made his first league start against Everton – only to be sent off. He returned to score in the FA Cup tie against Burnley and capped off his adventurous month by getting head-butted by teammate Emmanuel Adebayor in the League Cup semifinal.
Despite his disciplinary problems coupled with his high confidence, Bendtner sought first-team football and was loaned to Sunderland followed by Juventus in 12/13, where he was awarded a Serie A winners medal. Upon his release from Arsenal in 2014, Bendtner was signed by VfL Wolfsburg only to see his contract getting terminated in 2016.
After a spell at Nottingham Forest, Bendtner’s most successful period came with Rosenborg where he won two league titles in a row. His move to FC Copenhagen in September 2019 ended by the end of the year.
Off the pitch, “Lord” Bendtner had a cult following. He dated a Danish baroness and separated when she gave birth to his son. A tabloid bought a square foot of land in Scotland to officially confer the title of Lord, he was elevated to “Emperor” at Rosenburg. His royal highness also found time to run as a candidate for the Prime Minister of Denmark. His “campaign poster” had him holding the Ballon d’Or.
113. Kerrea Gilbert
A youth team product, Gilbert was drafted into the team during an injury crisis in the Arsenal defense in 2005 against Reading in the League Cup. Gilbert went on to feature in the Premier League, Champions League, and FA Cup before an injury against West Ham ended his run with Arsenal for that season.
After loan spells to Cardiff City, Southend United, Leicester City, and Peterborough United. In the 09/10 season, Gilbert made a handful of appearances for the Gunners before signing up for Portland Timbers in the MLS. After issues with a work permit, Gilbert had to be content with trials in the U.K. and signed up for Yeovil Town.
In 2014, Gilbert helped St Albans City earn promotion to Conference South, before leaving the Saints by mutual consent at the end of the season.
Gilbert is the cousin of Stoke City midfielder named… Jordan Cousins.
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.
Part 2: The Wenger Years 1998-2002
Wenger’s team finished in second place for three consecutive seasons before winning his second double in 01/02.