Nine players Arsenal missed out on – and who they signed instead
Arsenal have shown their eye for a bargain on many occasions, but their reluctance to break the bank has sometimes seen them miss out on some top players.
For every cut-price signing who has come good, there are plenty more illustrious names who ended up succeeding elsewhere because Arsenal were not prepared to meet their asking price.
When you throw in those who simply didn’t want to join the club, there’s a laundry list of top talents in the ‘might have signed for Arsenal’ pile.
Unai Emery found himself in the surprising position of securing many of his first-choice targets in his first summer window, but that wasn’t always the case for his predecessor.
We’ve taken one target from each of Arsène Wenger’s last nine years in charge, looking at where they ended up and, where appropriate, who Arsenal signed instead.
2017 – Thomas Lemar
When Arsenal failed to reach the 2017-18 Champions League, the lure lessened for some European players.
Thomas Lemar had been heavily linked with the club while starring in Monaco’s run to a European semi-final but opted to stay in the principality despite interest from the Gunners and Liverpool.
The Frenchman would eventually join Atlético Madrid in 2018, by which point Arsenal had added Henrik Mkhitaryan to their ranks.
At least the Armenian didn’t cost as much.
2016 – Moussa Dembélé
Arsenal’s most notable activity of the summer of 2016 surrounded Leicester City duo Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, but there was another forward who almost ended up at the Emirates.
Fulham’s failure to return to the Premier League at the first or even the second attempt was through no fault of Moussa Dembélé, with the French striker scoring 15 Championship goals before his 20th birthday,
However, despite interest from Arsenal and other Premier League clubs, the youngster joined Celtic, citing the importance of Brendan Rodgers’ vision and saying: “I had a few offers but I didn’t have the same one I had with Celtic in terms of football.”
In the space of 24 hours in August 2018, both Dembélé and the man Arsenal signed in his stead would be on the move again. But while the Bhoys made a huge profit on their man by selling him to Lyon for around £20million, Lucas Pérez would leave north London at a huge loss.
2015 – Sami Khedira
The 2015-16 season marks the closest thing Arsenal have had to a title challenge of late, with the Gunners topping the table around the turn of the year and inflicting two of the three defeats suffered by eventual champions Leicester City.
At times they felt closer than the eventual 10-point deficit would suggest, but could they have been even closer if their pursuit of Sami Khedira had come to fruition?
The German World Cup winner decided to join Juventus on a free transfer from Real Madrid, with Arsenal forced to wait until January to bolster their midfield with the addition of Mohamed Elneny from Basel.
As if to rub salt into the wound, Khedira is set to be joined this summer by Aaron Ramsey, another in a long line of free transfers for the Bianconeri.
2014 – Ángel Di María
After the early success of Mesut Özil in N7, Wenger was reportedly keen to return to Real Madrid for another of their out-of-favour players.
Di María was on the way out in 2014, with Madrid having just broken the bank to sign World Cup star James Rodríguez, but there was a problem: Arsenal didn’t have £75million to spend, but Manchester United did.
On the plus side, Arsenal were able to sign the no-longer-needed Danny Welbeck from United, while Di María only lasted a season in Manchester.
Arsenal’s big signing that summer, Alexis Sánchez, didn’t end up doing too badly.
2013 – Luis Suárez
When people say contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, it’s normally a reference to a new deal providing no obstacle to a big-money move.
In Arsenal’s case though, it would end up allowing Liverpool to ignore a release clause and just carry on as if that £40,000,001 bid had never happened.
This one worked out pretty well for the Merseyside club, with Suárez scoring 31 league goals and earning them £75million after coming close to delivering a league title.
Arsenal’s top scorer that season, Olivier Giroud, barely managed half of Suárez’s total. Oh what could have been.
2012 – Eden Hazard
Arsenal’s late charge towards third place at the end of the 2011-12 season might have been enough to prevent Eden Hazard signing for Tottenham, but it wasn’t enough to tempt him to the Emirates. Whether that counts as a win depends on who you ask.
“Of course. It’s always more fun when [the football is] beautiful,” Hazard is reported to have said a few months before joining Chelsea.
“In addition, at Arsenal, there is a coach and French players. And Thomas Vermaelen.”
Arsenal would end up suffering a double blow that summer, not just missing out on Hazard but also seeing Robin van Persie depart for Manchester United.
They did sign a wide forward that summer, but Lukas Podolski was not Eden Hazard.
2011 – Pablo Sarabia
Not all Arsenal targets have been established players at the time, and indeed the club has a stronger reputation than most for cherry-picking young talent from across Europe.
Sarabia had yet to turn out for Real Madrid in La Liga when Arsenal’s interest was first reported, but the attacking midfielder opted to stay close to home, joining Getafe in the summer of 2011.
He confirmed in 2015 that Arsenal had been interested at the time, but his next move kept him in Spain, joining Sevilla and playing 90 minutes in his new team’s Champions League win at Old Trafford in 2018.
Arsenal signed a different 19-year-old that summer instead, bringing Joel Campbell over from Costa Rica. Perhaps Sarabia would have been loaned out too if he’d arrived when the Gunners were first interested.
2010 – Yaya Touré
Arsenal were linked with Touré not once but twice, coming closest when he turned out for the first team in a friendly in 2003.
That move was scuppered by work permit issues, leaving the younger of the Ivorian brothers to move to Ukraine rather than linking up with Kolo.
He did end up joining Kolo in 2010, though, by which time the centre-back had left Arsenal for Manchester City, and the Arsenal rumours resurfaced shortly before that move was completed.
“We needed to wait for his passport in Belgium,” Arsène Wenger would later say of the initial attempt. “We have made mistakes but he is not a mistake, it’s just the fact that he preferred to go to Metalurh Donetsk. He could go there without any passport.”
Arsenal would end up signing Cesc Fàbregas that summer, though, so it wasn’t all bad.
2009 – Felipe Melo
Another midfielder who might have joined, Brazil international Felipe Melo was targeted by Arsenal during his time with Fiorentina.
“We watched him in Brazil’s international at the Emirates, against Italy [in February 2009], when he had an outstanding game,” Wenger said at the time, and while the Gunners were priced out of a move that summer, they renewed their interest when he struggled early in his Juventus career and the London club needed cover for Aaron Ramsey when the Welshman broke his leg.
Arsenal instead put their faith in youth, bringing through Denilson and Alex Song as they saved their money rather than making panic buys.
As for Felipe Melo himself, he fell out of favour at international level following a costly red card at the 2010 World Cup and would leave Juve for Galatasaray not long after.