The 10 best Arsenal players of the Premier League era
Arsenal’s Premier League life can be broken into three distinct eras: the early-to-mid 1990s, the rise towards Invincible supremacy and the stasis of the past decade.
Any list of great players since 1992 has to account for those differences and reward both a more literal type of value and relevance on the road to success...
10. Paul Merson
In one sense, it's good that Merson has found a second career in the media: his personal difficulties drained his wealth over the years and post-football life was never likely to be easy. His adopted television personality has allowed him to become a figure of fun, however, especially among those who are too young to have seen him play. Rather than his chip at Stamford Bridge or his snaking run-and-finish at Anfield, search engines results for Merson are filled with zany comments and grammatical faux-pas.
But crikey, he could play. And, though subsequent years have eroded that perception, he was an exceptionally smart footballer. His best Arsenal moments probably came before the Premier League began, and certainly before his personal life was griped by vice, but he still flashed with periodic excellence in the early-to-mid '90s and was as synonymous with the Gunners as almost any other player.
Merson was a victim of football's growing popularity and the fame it afforded him. His own weaknesses may have made him more susceptible to those dangers, but that was a time before awareness existed for such threats. Rather than mourning what he might have been, though, perhaps it's better to celebrate what he was still able to be in spite of such difficulties.
9. Ray Parlour
If anyone should have been a victim of Arsene Wenger's arrival at Arsenal, it was Parlour. A charter member of the hard-living culture which existed at the club in the 1990s, he was exactly the sort of English professional that Wenger was destined to purge.
Instead, the player once described by Gilles Grimandi as "the funniest he had ever trained with" - presumably not because of his rigid belief in the merits of conditioning - was reborn. He would win four Premier League titles under Wenger as his Arsenal career continued well into the new century. He was no bit part, either, rather an important part of the attacking structure who also provided a bridge between different eras.
When Wenger reformatted his attack around more modern principles, Parlour responded by tailoring his game and would eventually become the lone original. He evolved into a different type of footballing asset and was arguably the hardest-working member of that generation, while he also provided an important cultural anchor to the club's identity.
His 333 Premier League appearances for the Gunners may never be surpassed.
8. Alexis Sanchez
The road between Highbury and the Emirates was rocky and tough to endure for supporters who had to watch newly-monied rivals grow beyond them. Sanchez eventually represent the reward, though, because he was the type of elite player envisaged throughout that austerity. It was short-term sacrifice for an eventual pay-off: suffer through the Gervinhos and Chamakhs and, one day, it will all be worthwhile.
Before his January 2018 swap with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Sanchez was a rarity; a decadently gifted player with a suitcase full of pyrotechnics, but also one equipped with the kind of blue-collared grind that allows his quality to flourish in an attritional environment.
By the time of his departure he'd scored 80 goals in 166 appearances for the Gunners, and won a pair of FA Cups – where he scored in each semi-final and final – to show for it. Sanchez was never going to drag his team to Premier League greatness on his own, though, and there was a dissatisfying conclusion to his four-year stint in north London. Still: his travails at Old Trafford prove the Gunners probably got rid at the right time.
7. Martin Keown
An absolutely horrible player, albeit in the way he needed to be.
"Martin and I then had a row over football issues. I must have said something he took offence at and he pushed me over, kicked me in the face and split my eye."
That anecdote, from Simon Hart's Here we go: Everton in the 1980s - as told by Pat Nevin - offers a better description of Keown than his encounter with Ruud van Nisteelroy ever will. He was a rugged, uncompromising figure who would eventually become part of the iron first in Arsenal's velvet glove. But he was also smart enough to survive the apocalypse and his professional career spanned over 20 years because, in addition to his more obdurate qualities, he was one of the finest man-markers the British game has ever seen.
His 310 Premier League appearances place him above every other outfield member of that famed defence. He may have looked like an artist's impression of an antiquated centre-half, but his longevity relied on far more than just simple resilience.
NEXT: "An evergreen symbol of brash, 1990s enthusiasm..."