Best Arsenal players: the 11 greatest ever
5. Alan Smith
“Smudger” makes the cut ahead of Ian Wright (many fans' favourite ever Gunner and arguably the most natural goalscorer in Arsenal’s history) because he always delivered when it really mattered: Anfield ’89, Copenhagen ’94, a couple of Golden Boot awards thrown in during the title-winning seasons, and regular strikes against Manchester United and Liverpool. He was the complete target man, possessing a deft first touch and the ability to chest the ball down or head it on for teammates to run onto. In the tradition of fellow underrated Gunners forwards Jack Lambert and John Radford, Smith was never one for self-promotion. Yet when Wright arrived at Highbury in 1991, usurping Smith’s role as primary goal-getter, the balance of the team became skewed and, as Smith’s influence waned, Arsenal ceased to become a genuine title threat.
6. Thierry Henry
It was also fitting that during the last ever match at Highbury in 2006, Henry scored a hat-trick and, after netting a penalty, kissed the pitch goodbye
“We’ve got the best player in the world,” chanted Arsenal fans when Henry was on song (which was more often than not). The Gunners’ record goalscorer was, on his day, quite simply unplayable. It took Henry - who started out as a winger - a season to settle into the team, after manager Arsene Wenger informed him that he intended to convert him into a striker. In the 2001/02 campaign, he used his blistering pace to great effect to destroy rival centre-backs, continuing his Va Va Voom displays throughout the Invincibles season of 2003/04. It was also fitting that during the last ever match at Highbury in 2006, Henry scored a hat-trick and, after netting a penalty, kissed the pitch goodbye. It had been the platform for dozens of frankly unbelievable Thierry Henry displays.
7. Dennis Bergkamp
It wasn’t just that the Dutchman’s arrival at Highbury in July 1995 transformed Arsenal from a plodding outfit to something much slicker, but his move from Inter also signalled a shift in the thinking of English football as a whole. A perfectionist in training, Bergkamp’s cerebral and disciplined approach to life off the pitch was at odds with the laddish, alcohol-fuelled lifestyles of many English players of the era. The Gunners reaped the benefits, and throughout a silverware-strewn decade, he proved to be an excellent foil for a raft of strikers including Wright, Henry and Nicolas Aneklka. His litany of superb Arsenal goals reminded Gunners fans that football at its best is a joy to watch.
8. Alex James
Thanks to the superb man-management skills of boss Herbert Chapman, James was soon the vital cog within the legendary WM formation and the key conduit between defence and attack
“Wee Alec” was Arsenal’s first true icon. Initially, he took time to settle at Highbury after arriving in the late 1920s, but thanks to the superb man-management skills of boss Herbert Chapman, James was soon the vital cog within the legendary WM formation and the key conduit between defence and attack. The diminutive Scot, an often contrary talent, scored the opening goal in the 1930 FA Cup Final against Huddersfield as Arsenal won their first piece of silverware, and also pulled the midfield strings as Arsenal won a hat-trick of titles between 1933 and 1935.