On this day in 1997, Arsenal signed Nicolas Anelka for £500,000 from PSG. The Frenchman stayed at the club for two years before moving on to Real Madrid in 1999. He possessed blistering pace and sharp finishing however it was his actions that often caused headlines.
During the transfer process between PSG and Arsenal, the then 17-year-old was in the news due to the shock of the move.
Despite his tender age, he felt he did not get the game time he deserved at PSG and when Arsene Wenger came knocking, his heart was set on a move to north London.
It was clear that he believed in himself and the ability he had, which is important when you enter a changing room with players such as Ian Wright, Ray Parlour, and Tony Adams.
Breaking into the team
It was a tough start for Anelka. The physicality of the league took its effect and it was clear he was not ready. This led to him training with the reserves and waiting for his moment.
Before a game against Derby County, Anelka did not get onto the team coach. When Wenger went to check on him, he saw the striker packing his bags and ready to leave the club. The manager was able to convince him to go to the game and work hard for his spot.
Due to an injury to Paul Merson, Anelka came on as a substitute early in the game. He managed to get two assists and won man of the match too. It all clicked together in that game.
Ian Wright embodied Arsenal Football Club. He was a fan’s favourite, the club’s record goalscorer, and a great personality at the club. Replacing him was bigger than scoring goals on the pitch and was bound to be a difficult job, but Anelka did not disappoint.
He played an influential role in the 1997/98 season as Arsenal won both the Premier League and the FA Cup. He assisted an important Marc Overmars goal against Manchester United, who they beat to the title, and also scored in the cup final against Newcastle.
Although the Gunners failed to win a trophy in the next season, Anelka finished as the club’s top scorer with 17 league goals and was also named PFA Young Player of the Year.
The premature ending
After two-and-a-half seasons at the Arsenal, the club was reluctant to sell the forward. Real Madrid expressed their interest in the striker, a move that Anelka could not say no to.
He put some blame on the English media and some on the fans, who nicknamed him “Le Sulk”. He later did admit that he may have left the club too early and still has a love for it.
His transfer to Real Madrid cost £22.3 million allowing Arsenal to sign two replacements in the attacking department. One was World Cup Golden Boot winner Davor Suker, the other was Anelka’s national teammate and close friend, Thierry Henry.