Arsenal’s top 25 players of the Premier League era

As they embark on their 25th season in the Premier League, a look back at the 25 best players in an Arsenal shirt in the last quarter century

Arsenal’s top 25 players of the Premier League era
Thierry Henry celebrates in disbelief, scoring minutes into his emotional Arsenal return in 2012 against Leeds United in the FA Cup

Throughout their history Arsenal have had some of English football’s greatest players and as an ever present in the Premier League which celebrates it’s 25th season this campaign, it’s only fitting we look back at some of the best.

For this we are only going to be looking at 1992 onwards and judging it by ability and impact on the Arsenal team as well as remembering some career highlights.

25-20, who just makes the list?

25) Laurent Koscielny

Arsenal Player: 2010-

Arsenal Honours: 2x FA Cup

One of only three current Arsenal players in the list, Koscielny has transformed from a maligned defender to one of Arsenal’s most crucial defenders over his half dozen-year spell.

His pace and strength have made him one of the most underrated central defenders in the Premier League and alongside German World Cup winner Per Mertesacker he formed his most cohesive partnership that aided Wojciech Szczesny win the Golden Gloves award in 2014 alongside future Gunners number one Petr Cech than at Chelsea.

24) Kolo Toure

Arsenal Player: 2002-2009

Arsenal Honours: 1x Premier League, 2x FA Cup & UEFA Champions League Runner-up

Although he struggled to cement a first team position when he first joined Arsenal in 2002, being trialled all over the pitch, you cannot forgot the amazing partnership he forged with Sol Campbell at centre-back during the 2003-04 season.

Alongside double winner Campbell, the powerful pair went 49 games unbeaten as Arsenal secured their second league title in two years, this time becoming the first team since Preston North End in 1889 to complete a league season without losing.

Kolo’s pace and strength made him a nightmare for opposition attackers and he was by far the Gunners most improved player in 2003-04, he would be a mainstay in the Arsenal team until his departure in 2009 to Manchester City and has remained a fan favourite since.

23) Ray Parlour

Arsenal Player: 1992-2004

Arsenal Honours: 3x Premier League, 4x FA Cup, 1x League Cup, 1x UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Cup Runner-up

One of the Gunners most longest serving players, Parlour has been viewed by many who saw him as one of the most underrated English players of a generation.

Career highlights which include an FA Cup final winner, hat-tricks against Newcastle United and Werder Bremen and a captain’s performance in Arsenal’s 5-1 win against Inter Milan at the San Siro, Parlour was unfortunate there were more talented wide midfielders ahead of him that limited his England chances.

His longevity in the Arsenal side when talented foreign players joined however is testament to his character and ability.

22) Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal Payer: 2014-

Arsenal Honours: 1x FA Cup

Arsene Wenger broke the bank again in summer 2014 to sign FC Barcelona and Chile’s superstar Alexis Sanchez ahead of rivals Liverpool who were also seeking his signature and he’s been one of Arsenal’s best player’s ever since.

A stunning return of 42 goals in 93 games in just two seasons and some amazing performances to go alongside it prove what a top signing he’s been and exactly the dynamic wide attacker Arsenal have missed since Robert Pires’ left in 2006.

21) Nwankwo Kanu

Arsenal Player: 1999-2004

Arsenal Honours: 2x Premier League, 2x FA Cup

The Nigerian striker was another cult figure at the club but was part of two league title successes in the early 2000s.

His second season in 2000 was by far his most impactful, scoring 16 goals in all, including a stunning hat trick at Stamford Bridge to overturn a 2-0 deficit late on to give Arsenal a 3-2 win over Chelsea.

Although a bit part player behind other strikers for Arsenal’s more successful years, he was more than a talented deputy with some special moments in an Arsenal shirt.

20) Mesut Özil

Arsenal Player: 2013-

Arsenal Honours: 2x FA Cup

The Gunners most expensive signing was slow to life in England but last season he really proved his worth with 19 assists, just one short of Thierry Henry’s record 20 from 2002-03.

Özil has been outstanding for Arsenal ever since he joined and one of the few players that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Invincibles team since 2004.

19-11, the middle rankers

19) Lauren

Arsenal Player: 2000-2006

Arsenal Honours: 2x Premier League, 3x FA Cup

Another Invincible member who more than deserves his place on this list, Lauren joined Arsenal as a wide midfielder but with veteran Lee Dixon coming to the end of his career, the Cameroon international moved to full back where he made the position his own.

In six years at Arsenal he made 242 appearances for the club and was an integral part of two title winning teams, especially part of the back four that went the entire league campaign unbeaten.

Lauren’s size and strength complimented his central defensive partners brilliantly, an individual highlight would perhaps be an 86th minute penalty winner against Spurs in 2002 when regular takers Thierry Henry and Robert Pires were unavailable.

18) Emmanuel Petit

Arsenal Player: 1997-2000

Arsenal Honours: 1x Premier League, 1x FA Cup, UEFA Cup runner-up

He may have only stayed a few seasons but Petit formed a brilliant partnership with French compatriot Vieira that was the backbone of the Gunners’ double success in 1998.

Nicknamed ‘the horse’ by his teammates due to his amazing work rate, he’s defensive positioning allowed other centre-backs time and protection, which only made one of England’s best-ever defensive quartets even more formidable.

17) Nicolas Anelka

Arsenal Player: 1997-1999

Arsenal Honours: 1x Premier League, 1x FA Cup

His pace and eye for goal made him the natural predecessor to Thierry Henry at Highbury and at only 17 when he joined Arsene Wenger may have been hoping he got more out of him.

He was part of Arsenal’s 1998 double success, chipping in with nine goals in his first full season before exploding onto the scene in 1998-99 scoring 19 in 46 games as the Gunners went agonisingly close to the title again, his massive money departure to Real Madrid denies him any legend status but did facilitate the purchase of record goal scorer Henry and a new training ground at London Colney.

16) Martin Keown

Arsenal Player: 1984-1986; 1993-2004

Arsenal Honours: 3x Premier League, 3x FA Cup, 1x UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup

Another Arsenal stalwart, Keown played over 300 games in the Premier League for Arsenal and was the only member of the famous back four to be involved in all three of Arsene Wenger’s title winning seasons.

Despite Arsenal having Tony Adams and Steve Bould, Keown was never a lesser option and would have been a fine, reliable choice for any other Premier League defensive line.

15) Jens Lehmann

Arsenal Player: 2003-2008; 2011

Arsenal Honours: 1x Premier League, 1x FA Cup, UEFA Champions League runner-up

It was never going to be easy to replace David Seaman, but the big German Lehmann more than filled that void when he joined from Borussia Dortmund in 2003.

The only player to play 38 league games, Lehmann was a vital part of the Invincibles team and a vital member of the team that went to the 2006 UEFA Champions League final keeping a record 10 clean sheets en route.

Despite a short fuse at times and being prone to some mistakes in his later years, including a costly sending off in the Champions League final, Lehmann was Arsene Wenger’s best goalkeeping signing until Petr Cech in 2015 and a real leader in the dressing room.

14) Ashley Cole

Arsenal Player: 1999-2006

Arsenal Honours: 2x Premier League, 3x FA Cup, UEFA Champions League runner-up

A boyhood Arsenal fan, Ashley Cole was supposed to be the local fan favourite but his 2006 departure left a nasty taste in the mouths of the Gunners faithful when he moved to London rivals Chelsea for more money.

Still, you can’t doubt that he was part of a long list of legendary Arsenal full backs including Kenny Samson and Nigel Winterburn, three times being named in the PFA Team of the Year whilst at Arsenal.

At a young age Cole displaced Silvinho for the starting left back position after the Brazilian was out injured for a spell, Cole would retain his place throughout his time at the Gunners where he was part of the legendary left sided attacking trio with French stars Robert Pires and Thierry Henry that tormented opposing defences.

It was just attacking though, Cole was an excellent defender who put in amazing performances against some of the best wingers in the world that made him a nightmare to play against at both ends of the pitch.

13) Robin Van Persie

Arsenal Player: 2004-2012

Arsenal Honours: 1x FA Cup, Arsenal Captain 2011-12

The Dutchman joined the club at young age and was supposed to be the eventual replacement for legend Dennis Bergkamp with both possessing amazing technical ability however, injuries hampered Van Persie’s Arsenal career throughout until his final few seasons.

His final 18 months at Arsenal were by far his best, winning the golden boot in 2012 as his 30 goals in 38 league games carried Arsenal into an unlikely 3rd place.

He may not have the legendary status of the Dutch #10 before him but Van Persie on his day was one of the most unplayable forwards in the Premier League and it was no shock Manchester United were clamouring for him when his contract reached his final year.

He controversially left Arsenal for the Red Devils in 2012 where he would win his first league championship and another Golden Boot, he scored 132 goals in 277 games for the Gunners a return of almost one goal every two games.

12) Sol Campbell

Arsenal Player: 2001-2006; 2010

Arsenal Honours: 2x Premier League, 3x FA Cup, UEFA Champions League runner-up

The most controversial transfer in North London history, Sol Campbell left boyhood club Tottenham Hotspur for their biggest rivals on a bosman transfer in 2001 and nobody saw it coming.

Campbell’s best years were spent on the red side of North London as he collected two Premier League winners’ medals and was twice named in the PFA Team of the Year in back to back seasons in 2003 and 2004.

His strength and pace made him a star defender for Arsenal and even more beloved because he’d ditched their biggest rivals to come play for them.

11) Cesc Fabregas

Arsenal Player: 2003-2011

Arsenal Honours: 1x FA Cup, UEFA Champions League runner-up, Arsenal captain 2008-2011

Much like how some other beloved Arsenal figures who have left, it’s easy to forget how good Fabregas was whilst in North London.

The young Spaniard moved from FC Barcelona in 2003 and within 12 months was quickly becoming the star midfielder in an Arsenal team packed with talent that had just gone a year unbeaten.

He was regularly the Premier League assist leader in his time at Arsenal and his impact on the team even changed their style of play from a physical counter-attacking side to the more en vogue tiki-taka style played by his native Barcelona.

He was named captain in 2008 after being named PFA Young Player of the Season the previous campaign and in 2009-10 scored a stunning 15 goals in 27 league games from midfield, he would end his campaign by assisting future Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta’s winner in Spain’s maiden FIFA World Cup final win in South Africa.

Counting down the top 10...

10) Marc Overmars

Arsenal Player: 1997-2000

Arsenal Player: 1x Premier League, 1x FA Cup, UEFA Cup runner up

After a cruciate ligament injury in 1995, people believed the pacey Dutch winger may be finished but his move to Arsenal in 1997 slowly re-invented his career as he took the Premier League by storm.

Overmars had his best goal scoring years as the blistering counter-attacker for Arsenal, his goal at Old Trafford set up a thrilling comeback from nine points behind in the league as Arsenal won their first league title in seven years and his winner in the FA Cup final in May helped win Arsenal their first league and FA Cup double since 1971.

Reaching double figures in all three of his seasons at Highbury, Overmars made a huge impact in his three years at the club but left for £32m to FC Barcelona in 2000 alongside Petit in a joint deal.

9) Gilberto Silva

Arsenal Player: 2002-2008

Arsenal Honours: 1x Premier League, 2x FA Cup, UEFA Champions League runner-up

Arguably the most underrated member of the Invincibles team, the water carrier who held it all together.

Despite winning the league and cup double in 2002, Arsenal had been lacking an out and out defensive midfielder since Petit departed in 2000 and Gilberto certainly filled that mould.

Gilberto’s build alongside Vieira made them a great partnership and after the Frenchman’s departure in 2005, he continued to be a central figure in Arsenal’s midfield, giving the defence valuable protection.

8) David Seaman

Arsenal Player: 1990-2003

Arsenal Honours: 2x Premier League (1x First Division), 4x FA Cup, 1x League Cup, 1x UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, UEFA Cup runner-up

The legendary goalkeeper’s best season perhaps came in the 1990-91 season when he conceded only 18 goals as Arsenal won the First Division, however, he did play 11 years in the Premier League and was the keeper with the most clean sheets in the first decade with 130.

Seaman’s cat like reflexes and excellent penalty saving record made him one of the top keepers in the country both domestically and on the international stage and he was an integral part of Arsenal’s success under Arsene Wenger.

7) Freddie Ljungberg

Arsenal Player: 1998-2007

Arsenal Honours: 2x Premier League, 3x FA Cup, UEFA Champions League runner-up, UEFA Cup runner-up

The super swede sported a hot streak on the pitch and a red streak in his hair, much like Marc Overmars, Ljungberg’s goals from out wide were instrumental in an Arsenal double victory that cemented him in Arsenal folklore.

He’s 17 goals in 39 appearances in 2001-02, including the winner in the FA Cup final in 2002 capped off his best ever season in an Arsenal shirt, exploiting his greatest asset being in the right place at the right time.

An injury after the 2002 FIFA World Cup halted progress in 2002-03 but he would make double figures in 2004 and 2005 as Arsenal won the league and FA Cup over the two seasons.

Injury problems did hamper his later years at the club but nobody could doubt his commitment to the club and his fan favourite status.

6) Ian Wright

Arsenal Player: 1992-1998

Arsenal Honours: 1x Premier League, 2x FA Cup, 1x League Cup, 1x UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, Arsenal’s 2nd Highest Goal scorer (185)

An archetypal poacher, Ian Wright was almost guaranteed to score every time he entered the pitch and nothing could beat the visible joy on his face every time he did.

Wright was another massive fan favourite during his time at Highbury and backed it up with a great goal scoring record that regularly saw him finish as Arsenal’s top scorer miles ahead of his teammates.

His partnership with Dennis Bergkamp late into his career brought the best out of Wright who was named in the PFA Team of the Year in 1997 for a second time and later in 1997 Wright finally surpassed Cliff Bastin as Arsenal’s then-record goal scorer with 179.

Later that season, he finally got his hands on his one and only league winners medal and finished his Arsenal career with 185 goals.

5) Robert Pires

Arsenal Player: 2000-2006

Arsenal Honours: 2x Premier League, 3x FA Cup, UEFA Champions League runner-up

One of the most elegant players to play for Arsenal, Pires exploded onto the scene in his second season mixing outstanding performances with sensational goals including a stunning lob of legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel at Villa Park that led to applause from live commentator Andy Gray.

His combination with fellow Frenchman Thierry Henry tormented opposing full backs and like Ljungberg, Pires had the knack of being in the right place at the right time.

Named Football Writers’ Player of the Year in 2002 despite a season that ended in an injury that saw him miss France’s disastrous World Cup defence in South Korea/Japan, Pires continued to take fans breath away and was named in the PFA Team of the Year in 2002, 2003 and 2004 and continued to provide the goals regularly finishing only second to Henry but still well into double figures.

4) Dennis Bergkamp

Arsenal Player: 1995-2006

Arsenal Honours: 3x Premier League, 4x FA Cup, UEFA Champions League runner-up, UEFA Cup runner-up

By some fans known as God, there was nothing the Dutch maestro couldn’t do with a ball at his feet and although he was never the most prolific of Arsenal goal scorers, he never did simple tap ins.

Style over substance was Bergkamp’s method and that saw him achieve a unique feat of being voted first, second and third in BBC Match of the Day’s Goal of the Month competition for August 1997, two of them being part of a sensational hat-trick at Filbert Street in a 3-3 draw with Leicester City.

1997-98 would be his most prolific season as he helped Arsenal secure the double with 22 goals in 40 games; however, it would be his legendary partnership behind Thierry Henry that he would be best remembered with the duo consistently combining for Arsenal goals with an almost telepathic understanding.

Bergkamp would be immortalised outside the Emirates Stadium with a statue in 2014.

3) Tony Adams

Arsenal Player: 1983-2002

Arsenal Honours: 2x Premier League (2x First Division), 3x FA Cup, 2x League Cup, 1x UEFA Cup Winners Cup, 1x UEFA Cup runner-up, Arsenal Captain 1988-2002

‘Mr. Arsenal’ Tony Adams was the embodiment of Arsenal Football Club for nearly 20 years.

A fearless, courageous leader Adams was one of the greatest defenders English football had ever seen, with his organisation on the field as well as his tenacity and will to win.

Even off field issues with alcohol couldn’t damage his image as Adams remained captain and beat his demons in 1996, for spirit and commitment to Arsenal alone there isn’t anybody who could match Adams on the pitch and only David O’Leary can boast playing more for the Gunners than Adams.

The centre back also scored his fair share of key goals for the Gunners, the highlights being a North London derby winner in November 1996 and the fourth goal to seal Arsenal's first Premier League Championship against Everton in 1998.

2) Patrick Vieira

Arsenal Player: 1996-2005

Arsenal Honours: 3x Premier League, 4x FA Cup, UEFA Cup runner-up, Arsenal captain 2002-2005

Arsenal had stagnated in the mid-90s, the creative spark in the central of midfield was missing and they were in danger of being left behind by the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle United completely, one of two Frenchman changed that – the first was manager Arsene Wenger, the second was Patrick Vieira.

From the moment he put on an Arsenal shirt, Vieira took the Gunners to a new level, every attack would run through the French midfielder who demanded the ball from the back four and due to his stature, it was near impossible to knock him off it.

Vieira’s impact on the team and amazing commitment saw him the only natural successor to Tony Adams as Arsenal captain when he retired in 2002 and he made history being captain of the Invincibles team of 2004.

The Frenchman won both the 1998 FIFA World Cup and Euro 2000 whilst an Arsenal player and his last kick in an Arsenal shirt would win the 2005 FA Cup final on penalties against Manchester United in Cardiff.

Only one man can claim the number one spot

1) Thierry Henry

Arsenal Player: 1999-2007; 2012

Arsenal Honours: 2x Premier League, 3x FA Cup, UEFA Champions League runner-up, Arsenal captain 2005-2007, Arsenal’s all-time record goal scorer (226)

The King of Highbury, immortalised in bronze and Arsenal’s all-time record goal scorer, there is no doubt who the best player in the Gunners’ 25 years in the Premier League is – it can only be Thierry Henry.

It’s remarkable to think he came to England not believing he could be a star striker when you consider that he only once failed to score more than 20 goal in a season, his last season which was hampered by injury.

His blistering pace and trickery made him a nightmare for defenders and his composed finishing made him the most lethal striker in the Premier League winning the golden boot in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

He missed out on the Golden Boot in 2003 to Manchester United rival Ruud Van Nistelrooy, however still made history by creating a record 20 assists, finishing the season with 24 goals also.

Henry was honoured with PFA Player of the Year in 2003 and 2004 and FWA Player of the Year in 2003, 2004 and 2006 as well as being named in PFA Team of the Year for six consecutive seasons between 2001 and 2006.

He remains the only player to win the European Golden Boot two seasons in a row and was named Arsenal’s Greatest Ever player in 2008.

He left the club in 2007 joining FC Barcelona before a shock return on loan from the NY Red Bulls in 2012 where he scored minutes into his return against Leeds United in the FA Cup third round in an emotional moment at the Emirates.