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10 big-name players Arsene Wenger 'almost' signed (but obviously didn't)

Eden Hazard, Willian

Oh, no: this time it's a 17-year-old Willian in the crosshairs. Ben Hooke takes a look at some of the other high-profile stars the Gunners boss failed to capture

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In 2006, Brazilian Daniel Musatti was a scout at Arsenal, having been a long-time Corinthians coach who'd followed Willian's development at the club for years. And, as reported by ESPN Brasil, he recommended the now-Chelsea star to Arsene Wenger 12 years ago.

"I did the report of Denilson of Sao Paulo that year, and shortly after he was sold to England,” said Musatti. “The athletes were recommended by Wenger’s chief scout to the scouts of Brazil; they were all pre-determined.

“I made the suggestion that we watch Willian and make a full report of him for the analysis of Arsenal’s chief scout, but at the time I was told there was no interest because they were looking at another player. A year after I suggested Willian to Arsenal, he was sold for a lot of money to Ukraine and developed there, turning into that great player we all see today. He could have gone to Arsenal but they preferred to watch Neto Baiano…”

(Neto Baiano is now 35 years old and playing in Brazil's Serie B after a journeyman's career around the world.)

Paul Pogba

Francis Coquelin, Paul Pogba

Pogba does battle with Francis Coquelin upon his United return

Manchester United's £89m midfielder could have joined Arsenal earlier in his career if Wenger is to be believed.

"Things happened very quickly," the Frenchman revealed in 2014. "We were interested in him. We tried to get him to come here, but he very quickly signed for Juventus."

Still, at least they had Emmanuel Frimpong. 

Yaya Toure

Yaya Toure Beveren 2002

Toure at Beveren in 2002, before his Gunners trial

It's almost 13 years since Patrick Vieira departed, but Arsenal fans are still (still!) crying out for someone to replace him properly. Even more galling for supporters, they could have nabbed Toure had red tape not denied them – he even played for the Gunners in a 2003 pre-season friendly against Barnet. 

"It would be up at the top [of my list of regrets]," Wenger lamented when remembering the passport trouble that prevented Toure from joining the Gunners. "He had an agreement with us – and it's not because we didn't want to sign him that he went to Ukraine."

Luis Suarez

I used to think, 'What if I'd signed Luis Suarez' before?

- Arsene Wenger

Wenger was once asked if he'd ever wondered what might have happened if he'd signed Suarez from Liverpool in the summer 0f 2013. “Not now”, he said. “It happened to me before but not now.”  

The Gunners lodged a bid of £40,000,001 in the belief that his Reds release clause would be triggered as a result. It wasn't – and owner John W. Henry wasn't too impressed.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ajax pounced for Zlatan instead, which turned out just fine for them

The story of Ibrahimovic rejecting a trial at Arsenal because he "doesn't do auditions" isn't entirely true, but the north Londoners certainly did want to land the striker in his younger years (Malmo's director of football Hasse Borg actually advised Ibrahimovic not to attend the trial and told Wenger he either wanted to buy the player or he didn't).

Another one that got away for poor Arsene.

Gianluigi Buffon

Gigi Buffon

Buffon's superb performances for Parma brought about a big-money move in 2001 – but not to Arsenal

Buffon and Wenger enjoyed a meal together while the former was still at Parma, and the Frenchman on the hunt for a long-term David Seaman replacement.

Juventus jumped in ahead of him, though, forking out an eye-watering £32.6m to bring the Italian to Turin in 2001. Seventeen years on, that price – still an all-time record for a goalkeeper in euros – somehow looks like a steal.