Like him or loathe him, in his relatively short spell at the club, Nicolas Anelka was a great player for Arsenal. After arriving from PSG in February 1997, the then 17 year old went on to score 28 goals from 90 appearances, including our second in the 1998 FA Cup Final.
He undeniably played a huge role in our Double success in his first full season, and finished the 98-99 campaign as our leading scorer with 17 Premier League goals, being named young PFA Young Player of the Year in recognition of his efforts.
Of course, his tender years, a dodgy attitude and reportedly bad advice from his brothers put paid to any chance of a longer career in north London, and in August 1999, Anelka was sold to Real Madrid for a record fee which famously paid for both our new training ground at London Colney, as well as a certain Mr Thierry Henry. To say Anelka worked out well for us, despite rancour over his forced departure, would be a tad of an understatement.
Anyway, Anelka has hinted in the past that he regrets leaving Arsenal, expressed his admiration for Arsene Wenger and generally sounded very complimentary about the Gunners. Now player-manager of Indian Super League side Mumbai City, the nomadic Frenchman has been speaking about compatriot Olivier Giroud and drawing a comparison with his own time with the Gunners. He said:
Arsene did the same with me – when Ian Wright was there, he didn’t buy anyone and I had to do the job up front. He believed in me and in the end I played regularly and played well. He made the same choice with Giroud. Arsene believes in his team, that’s why he hasn’t spent money. He believes in Giroud because he thinks he will score a lot of goals, which he already has done. When you look at the statistics he’s not so bad. Arsenal won something last season, won something the season before, so why not again? But people have to wait and see and then speak at the end of the season. If they don’t win anything, then you can say something. However, people have to trust Arsene. He knows what he is doing.
Anelka also aired his belief that Arsene is largely responsible for making Arsenal a bigger club than when he took over, highlighted the increased competition to win the title compared to when he donned the red and white, and praised the strength of our current squad, suggesting it is far more talented than people often give it credit for:
Before Arsene, Arsenal were good but they became a bigger club with Arsene Wenger. The way they play football is amazing. In the end, we have to trust him. Of course, you can always say when you don’t win that it wasn’t good enough because the fans want to take the title. But it has become much harder now because you have Man City with big money, Chelsea with big money, Man United, Liverpool. When I was there it was maybe only United who were very strong. Now you have five teams who can fight for the title. You can always say they need to buy someone up front, but previously they have bought Mesut Ozil, who’s a good player, Alexis Sanchez is a good player. They can score goals and give good assists. People just want big names in attack, but Giroud is good enough to score goals. And behind him there are big players who can supply him so he can score a lot of goals. Arsenal have a strong squad – people don’t see it, but they do.
Much as I agree with a lot of what Anelka says here, I think most people do accept that this is a very good Arsenal squad right now, but are frustrated at what was a very quiet transfer window compared to other clubs, and perhaps take issue with the club’s line that there were no available players, anywhere in the world, who could have improved our squad.
As far as strikers go, although better finishers than Giroud changed clubs this summer, it’s likely Arsene didn’t feel they were enough of an upgrade on his current lot to be worth pursuing. The counter argument of course, is that even if you only find incremental improvement in the market, you should do it, particularly when you reportedly have the disposable income to take a punt or two.
But there’s not much we can do about it now and as we approach a return to club football, It’s time for Giroud to put his nightmarish international break behind him, show Arsene was right to go with what he has and repay the trust put in him to lead the line this season.
See you Weds.