The Nearly Men XI

It’s sometimes better to not have experienced something, if all you are ever going to get is a tantalising glimpse.

We have had players at Arsenal that have burned brightly, but their light was extinguished all too quickly. It leaves us with that frustrating feeling of ‘what could have been.’

That feeling is bittersweet, as we latch onto those moments where these players showed us that they were capable of lifting entire teams on their shoulders, or being a beacon of excellence in their position. It is juxtaposed with longing, as we wish that the unfortunate circumstances that winked their light out was a little more forgiving.

Now that we have entered a new decade, nostalgia is stronger than ever, as we look back at the events of ten years. But how about we look back on the players that we wish were still in our colours, and had the opportunity to unfurl their potential a little more than their last attempt?

Here is the team of ‘What Could Have Been.’ An entire eleven who we saw soar high, but far too briefly.

 

GK – Wojciech Szczesny

The Pole showed us exactly what he could do in his time here, but ill-discipline cost him the number one jersey for consecutive seasons. He loved the club and his celebrations post NLD victory only served to endear him to us more. So when he was sold to Juventus, and then went on to become number one at the famous Turin club, it only exacerbated those feelings of ‘what could have been.’ He should be putting those performances in for us – but alas.

 

RB – Mathieu Debuchy

The Frenchman arrived from Newcastle after putting in consistently excellent seasons on Tyneside. A French international, he began on the front foot with us and showed us all that the purchase was an astute one, but a shoulder injury in his first season was the start of his downfall, and when he returned from his lengthy layoff, he had Hector Bellerin in his way. When he did find his way back into the team, he exhibited again why he was such a great player, only in a different manner as he filled in at centreback. Injuries would again hamper him though, and Debuchy eventually limped out of the club to join St Etienne. He made only 13 appearances for us in four years.

 

CB – Thomas Vermaelen

The Belgian got off to a wondrous start as an Arsenal man, scoring plenty and leading from the front. He was a cultured defender and could play out from the back, so much so that he was touted by many to be a fine alternative to our defensive midfield problems at the time. Vermaelen was a great example to younger players, but again, injuries bit hard. His performances dropped as he struggled to reach the heights of his first two seasons, and he eventually left for, incredibly, Barca.

 

CB – Chris Whyte

There will be a few unfamiliar with Whyte, but the Arsenal schoolboy had plenty of rave reviews as he broke into the Arsenal first team in 1981. He earned caps at U-21 level for England and under the wing of David O’Leary, he seemed destined to make a big name for himself.

A change in manager and a new signing left Whyte out in the cold though, and Tony Adams emergence only further dropped Whyte down the pecking order.

He left on a free transfer, but with no takers for his services, he left for the USA indoor league. After two years, West Brom offered him a deal and in his first season, he was their Player of the Year. A transfer to Leeds Utd followed, and he was a constant presence for the next three seasons, and a top-flight title winner. If we had kept hold of him, it was evident that Whyte had the talent. Right man, wrong time.

 

LB – Silvinho

The Brazilian joined Arsene Wenger’s revolution in 1999 and spent only two seasons at the club, but the unearthing of Ashley Cole served to put him in the backup role. He didn’t put a foot wrong as a player, and scored a wonderful goal against Chelsea that will live long in the memory. He became a full international with Brazil in his time at our club and was also in the PFA team of the year. He went on to join Celta Vigo and then Barcelona, where he twice won the Champions League.

 

LM – Tomas Rosicky

Little Mozart. Arsene Wenger once said “If you love football, then you love Rosicky.” Everyone who saw him play for us could see what he gave us. Truly blessed with a velvet touch, a howitzer of a shot and an astute footballing brain, injuries curtailed the amount of times he played for us, but in a decade at the club, he gave us memories to cherish. Trouble is, it should have been more. What a special player.

 

CM – Abou Diaby

Diaby1

He could’ve been a world-class box-to-box midfielder, but a dirty tackle by no-mark Dan Smith of Sunderland, crumpled his ankle and he was never the same again. His time on the injury books was ridiculous, but Arsenal were loath to give up on such a special talent. In the end, it was clear he would never come back, and Diaby is perhaps the one player who we missed the most of. He could have been our dynamic force for years.

 

CM – Giovanni Van Bronckhorst

The Dutch man was used as a wing-back and a winger in his short time at Arsenal and did nothing really spectacular in his time with us. He then left and joined Barca, won a Champions League and captained his country to a World Cup Final. We missed a trick here.

RW – Santi Cazorla

The Spanish magician is still revered by those who saw him. Truly two-footed, his talent meant he could have played anywhere on the pitch, but it was his first – and his last season where we saw him shine brightest. In his debut season he was utilised as a number ten and he was our Player of the Season. In his last full season he was paired with Francis Coquelin in the centre and showed tenacity as well as exceptional ball-carrying to give us new life. A horror injury threatened his very career but at the ripe age of 35 he is still doing it at the top level. We never got to say goodbye though.

 

CF – Eduardo

Only 41 appearances, and only 8 goals, but there was a short spell, just before that unforgettably nightmarish injury he suffered, where everything he touched turned to gold. An expert marksmen, he scored goals wherever he went and no one can be in any doubt that if it weren’t for the injury, he would have racked up the goals for many seasons.

 

CF – Nicolas Anelka

If only this young man wasn’t so badly advised, we would have had a goal machine for years. Anelka was the reason why Wrighty left, cutting the icon’s appearances down so that he felt he must leave to get more games. The youngster went on to bang them in with alacrity, being awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year in the process. Real Madrid came calling for big money and we cashed in as Anelka wanted to leave and while he achieved success elsewhere, if he had stayed he could have become a legend. Still, maybe it’s a good thing he left as a certain French compatriot joined soon after to fill the void…

 

Am I missing anyone? Was there a player you think is missing?

 

Give me a shout!

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