Arsenal have arguably had fewer ‘weird’ signings than a lot of other clubs, but not for the reasons you might think.
Having the same manager in place for 20 years ought to result in a level of consistency and reliability in new recruits – and for a long time it did, but Arsène Wenger made plenty of his more dubious signings towards the end of his reign.
It’s also worth adding the relative lack of weirdness compared to the likes of West Ham and Tottenham comes from the fact that so many of the Gunners’ questionable recruits were signed before they had actually played professionally.
When that happens, you’ve got plausible deniability. Sure, people will be confused as to why a League 2-level 22-year-old is wandering around like a bemused squirrel, but it makes more sense when you realise they arrived as a 16-year-old with potential.
As always, these players are ranked not by talent but by weirdness, and where possible we’ve stuck to the actual football part of their career.
This means there’s no room for Samir Nasri’s Drip Doctors episode or Kolo Touré’s reinvention as François the car salesman, but there are still plenty of oddities to go round.
Towards the end of Joel Campbell’s Arsenal spell, there was a huge battle of wills between Wenger’s desire to never play the Costa Rican and his desire to keep him at the club, with an apparent refusal to compromise on either.
In seven years for the club, he made a whole 23 appearances. He was under contract for longer than Robert Pirès and William Gallas yet made fewer appearances than Scott Marshall, Rémi Garde and John Hartson.
Wenger developed a reputation at Arsenal for signing young players full of potential and, on occasion, seeing them underwhelm at big clubs.
By 2008, though, the manager had found a shortcut. Why wait 10 years to see if a player will become a spent force by 31 when you can pick up a ready-made model at the low, low price of ‘still probably too much’?
When Lassana Diarra left Arsenal, they were joint top of the Premier League and on course for a sustained title challenge. By the end of the season they were third, but Diarra was celebrating after leading Portsmouth to the FA Cup.
Normally signing someone on deadline day and releasing them in the following window would rank much higher in the weirdness stakes, but Diarra’s entire career is one elongated scratch of the head.
Arsenal have brought back a lot of former players during their time in the Premier League. Some were moderately successful, like Thierry Henry.
Most were like John Lukic, in the sense that you felt they returned so the staff wouldn’t have to learn another new name.
He was already 36 when he signed but somehow stuck around as a backup for long enough to be the oldest ever player in the Champions League and almost certainly the last player to play in that particular competition who also played professionally in the 1970s.
Yes, Wenger’s record with youth has been hit and miss, but there has been an inherent logic to some of the failures. Jérémie Aliadière started out at Clairefontaine. Seb Larsson had great hair. Paulo Nagamura had a cool name.
Miyaichi, though, had none of these things. His hair was okay but nothing special, the Riyodinho nickname was a bit rubbish, and he was signed from an actual high school. This was never going to work, was it?
There must have been something in Tavlaridis’ performances in Greece that convinced Wenger to bring him over, but it temporarily went into hiding for his three years in North London.
Indeed, his biggest contribution to English football came when he was part of the Lille team which finished above Manchester United in their Champions League group despite scoring just once in their six games.
Anyway, it’s good to see Arsenal have learned from their mistakes and stopped signing young, untested Greek centre-ba… oh.
You know when you try to regift an unwanted Christmas present but find out the person on the other end has clearly done the same to you? That’s Arsenal and Real Madrid agreeing a loan swap with Júlio Baptista and José Antonio Reyes.
It was when André Santos arrived that we started to fear Wenger had really lost his magic touch. He wasn’t young, he wasn’t good and he wasn’t even French.
He would go on to play in the Indian Super League, Turkish second tier, Swiss second tier and Brazilian state championships – for anyone else that might seem bizarre, but the combination somehow seems in character for one of Arsenal’s most confusing players.
It takes a lot for someone to not even be the first Google result for the first 14 letters of their 15-letter name, but Christopher Wreh is – and always has been – an enigma.
A few months after the Ali Dia debacle at Southampton, where the striker convinced Graeme Souness he was George Weah’s cousin, Arsenal decided it would make sense to sign Weah’s actual cousin.
If this was purely to make Souness feel better by knowing even the real cousin wasn’t much cop, it worked.
When Arsenal signed Park Chu-Young from Monaco, they probably remembered the success they had after signing Thierry Henry, who’d previously played for Monaco. They probably conveniently forgot Christopher Wreh was signed directly from Monaco.
They may have also neglected to mention that in neither of the previous situations had Monaco been relegated the season prior.
Park ended up being so unfit for purpose that his mere presence forced Robin van Persie to spend an entire season injury free just so he could score enough goals to force a move away.
How many Premier League clubs have signed the grandsons of world leaders and given them a solitary minute of first-team football?
Muntasser, whose grandfather was Libya’s first ever Prime Minister, somehow stayed on the pitch for longer than the other debutant against Birmingham City – Jason Crowe, who came on at the start of extra-time in that game and was sent off just 33 seconds later.
Here is Muntasser’s only, actually quite nice, touch in the game.
For every bargain like £500,000 for Nicolas Anelka, there’s one like this. Arsenal paid £1million for Danilevičius, who proceeded to play three times for the club, all inside the space of a week.
The Lithuanian was subject to Wenger’s own ‘Powell for Mata’ moment, replacing Thierry Henry late on in a home draw with Sunderland. If he’d gone on to score in that game you’d probably know who he was.
Brazilian striker Silva spent six years at Arsenal and played fewer minutes than Jehad Muntasser. As we’ve discussed, Muntasser played one minute for Arsenal.
Now I’m not saying Michal Papadopoulos was the magic bullet for Arsenal, but I’m not not saying that. The Czech striker spent one season on loan at Highbury, during which time the club embarked on its Invincibles season.
You might pull me up on technicalities and say things like “he didn’t even play in the league” or “why did they bother loaning him in from Banik Ostrava if they weren’t going to play him”, but I’ll respond by pointing to his seven minutes against Wolves ensuring he went back to the Czech Republic an Invincible at club and personal level.
It’s a real skill to look out of your depth in a game in which you score four goals, but Sanogo had that je ne sais quoi. He was also the subject of Wenger’s most despairing quote, ensuring he will forever be known as “Yaya Sanogo, who is still here”.
The Frenchman technically left Arsenal in 2017 but will forever be there in spirit.
Fair play to Wenger for trying to collect one player from every European country (as well as Corsica – thanks Sébastien Squillaci), but Estonian number one Poom could only call himself an Arsenal number one with the sentence “the number of league appearances he made for Arsenal was one”.
Most of Viviano’s weirdness occurred after leaving north London, but the decision to bring him in as competition for Wojciech Szczęsny and Łukasz Fabiański but just not bother playing him remains an odd one.
He moved to Sampdoria at the end of his one Arsenal season, where he took the number two jersey. Yes, he’s a goalkeeper.
Q: What did the Arsenal manager do when his fingers were cold? A: He invested in Hand Warmuz. Geddit, because he was a goalkeeper.
Warmuz made no appearances after being brought in as injury cover for Rami Shaaban, who you’d forgotten existed.
According to Ray Parlour, Stepanovs only signed for Arsenal as the result of a prank gone wrong.
‘A few of us were on the bench watching as he played in this trial game. Stepanovs is out there and every single pass he made, the boys started applauding, just because we knew Martin [Keown] would be getting a bit steamed up by it,’ Parlour wrote in his autobiography.
‘Dennis Bergkamp was sitting behind Arsène and kept doling out these compliments about this defender. “Great header! Unbelievable tackle!”
‘Igors kicked this one ball 20 yards away from where it was meant to go, but it still went to one of our players so we all stood up clapping. Martin’s muttering: “He’s not that good.” He started to point out where he missed a tackle or a header.
‘When we got back to the training ground at London Colney a week later we had a surprise though. Igors was sitting there. I said: “What are you doing here?” “They signed me. Four-year contract.”‘
Stepanovs would go on to play more than 30 times for the club but will be best remembered for his part in a 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford. Perhaps Parlour was just trying to save face.
However, not only did Arsenal bring back the unattached and really-quite-old Lehmann in 2011, they actually gave him game-time in a Premier League win at Blackpool. If re-signing him was only moderately weird, using him as an actual football goalkeeper helps ramp it up.
Signing Sol Campbell on a free from Tottenham was a no-brainer. Signing Sol Campbell on a free from Notts County felt like performance art.
There can’t be too many players who have lost to Morecambe and scored a Champions League goal in the same season, but nor should there be.
When Méndez signed for Arsenal, there was a rumour doing the rounds that, while they thought they’d signed him from 1. FC Nürnberg, he was actually just recruited from a team from the city.
Indeed, after being spotted by Wenger while playing for SC Feucht, the midfielder reportedly asked the manager: “Sorry, but I do not understand this: why do you want me?”
Even by this early stage of his Arsenal tenure, though, Wenger clearly had faith in his ability to identify a diamond in the rough. Too much ability, if anything.
Méndez was unable to step up from German non-league football to become a Premier League regular but did at least score once for the club – in the Muntasser-Crowe game, no less.
By 2008, Wenger’s powers of identification were on the wane. He was beginning to approach Gordon Bombay levels of trying to turn unlikely players into heroes, only without the fallback of being a fictional character.
Wenger admitted signing the midfielder was a gamble after he had spent a long time on the sidelines.
However, this wasn’t “a gamble” like playing blackjack and hitting on 15, but rather “a gamble” like jumping from the window of a three-storey building and hoping something breaks your fall.
Indeed, such was Bischoff’s mystique, one prominent Arsenal podcast suggested the Portugal Under-21 international was just using a Gunners career as cover for his private investigator business, ultimately leading to this.
Incidentally, you can get your Amaury Bischoff PI name by misspelling your favourite former Juventus striker and your favourite biscuits. Mine’s Zalayeto Liebnezz.
Signing a player who’s short on fitness is one thing, but signing a player with a serious back injury on a loan deal which could easily have expired before the injury healed is quite another.
Källström returned to fitness in April, having been signed in January with full knowledge he might be unable to play at all, and would go on to enjoy a moment which stayed with him ever since.
Arsenal could have made the move permanent, but why would they? He’d done his job. It’s not like he needed to play more than four games to crush the dreams of a potential giantkiller.
Källström might have only needed four games to crush dreams, but Caballero needed just three.
You probably don’t remember the Argentine playing for Arsenal unless you’re a Preston fan, but he played a big part in a victory from 2-0 down against the Lilywhites which cemented Arsenal’s reputation as a big club who could get away with all kinds of nonsense.
With the scores at 2-2, the ball broke to Emmanuel Petit in the Preston box and he slotted home. But wait, what’s Preston’s Ryan Kidd doing lying flat on the ground next to him?
Let’s take another look… oh, right, Caballero has just completely wiped him out with an elbow – the perfect crime.
Speaking of crime, Caballero would go on to play more than 100 times for Dundee until he was let go when the club went into administration shortly after the attempted appointment of convicted fraudster and ‘acquaintance of Saddam Hussein’ Giovanni di Stefano as a director. Di Stefano was an investor in the Scottish club.
Caballero, meanwhile, was last seen working as an advisor to a right-wing political candidate in Paraguay.
By Tom Victor