The Premier League trophies dried up for Arsene Wenger more than a decade ago, but it's worth considering how many more titles the Frenchman could have collected.
A growing list of phenomenal footballers is emerging that he, and some of the players concerned, claim were tantalisingly close to joining Arsenal.
Wenger's latest admission that he missed out on a 17 year-old Angel Di Maria because of work permit issues is all too familiar for disheartened Gooners dwelling on what might have been.
Arsenal fans are advised to keep a box of tissues close by as we look at the remarkable list of players Arsene Wenger has almost brought to the club.
Wenger was recently linked with a loan move for Cech when it emerged that Thibaut Courtois would replace him as Chelsea's number one. More than ten years beforehand, the man who would go on to become a Premier League great was heavily scouted by Arsenal before joining Rennes from Sparta Prague. Work permit implications scuppered the possibility of a deal, although Cech claims that Arsenal's chief scout also harboured reservations about his quality at the highest level. The rest, as they say, is history.
Carving out goalscoring opportunities and tucking them away has never proved a problem for Arsenal under Wenger. The recent demotion from title favourites into top four certainties has been attributed largely to the lack of leadership and world class defenders. Last year, Vincent Kompany's agent Jacques Lichtenstein confessed to meeting Wenger before eventually deciding he should leave Anderlecht for Hamburg instead. The promise of regular first team football at the age of 22 was a genuine deal clincher for the Bundesliga side.
Angel Di Maria
Man United supporters would have been chuckling over their cornflakes this morning when news of Wenger's failed attempt to sign Di Maria broke. It was a timely revelation from the Frenchman, who missed out on Di Maria nine years ago because of work permit restrictions. Arsenal are thought to have finalised a fee with Villarreal over the transfer of uncapped Brazilian Gabriel Paulista this month, and Wenger is campaigning for work permit terms to be loosened. Will the promising centre back blossom into another world beater that got away from Arsenal?
Perhaps most agonising of all for Gooners, the reigning Ballon d'Or winner was presented with his very own Arsenal shirt before the influence of then assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Man United, the Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, swayed Ronaldo's decision. The young winger from Madeira bamboozled United's defenders to such an extent during a pre-season friendly against Sporting that Gary Neville and co. badgered Fergie to sign him. "He was very close to coming here," Wenger admitted last year. "He has a number nine shirt with Ronaldo on the back from Arsenal Football Club."
This photo of Zlatan pictured in an Arsenal shirt was taken when the towering striker, then a promising teenager at Malmo, gladly accepted the offer of a tour around the club. It was Wenger's offer of a trial that Zlatan 'politely' declined, as he recalls. "Today, Wenger says it was a misunderstanding. But I didn’t like being asked to prove myself," he told the Guardian. "I know I’m good enough. I don’t need to show it to you. Either you know who I am or you don’t. I remember being in Wenger’s office and you could tell he was the boss. It was Wenger. But I don’t think I was so close [to signing]. I went to Ajax the next day."
Can you imagine a forward three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi? The Argentine superstar turned down an opportunity to join Arsenal from Barcelona's youth academy aged sixteen. In Messi's defence, it worked out pretty well for him in Catalunia. What hasn't the little magician won with the Spanish giants? It doesn't really matter, because he's yet to prove himself on a wet and windy Wednesday night at the Britannia Stadium. "It's true, it's just that he didn't want to move,” Wenger told reporters. “In the end, he was comfortable at Barcelona.”
Unlike Messi and Ronaldo, it seems Wenger simply passed up the chance of buying Drogba at a young age. Missing out on the Ivorian would have been easier if he wasn't reminded about it so often. The powerful forward scored 13 times against Arsenal during his first spell with Chelsea, but it was several years earlier when Le Professor first lay eyes on him. "We were interested in him when he played in the French Second Division with Le Mans, before he went to Guingamp," Wenger conceded. "We went to watch him when he played in Le Mans a couple of times. But it did not happen at the time."
Hazard was already hot property when he helped Lille clinch Ligue 1 in 2010/11, and followed up his success with 22 goals the following season. Wenger invited Hazard's agent into his London pad that summer only for Chelsea – Champions League winners that year – to sabotage the deal by offering more money. "Yes, I wanted to take him," Wenger told BeIN Sports. "I had his agent at my home but again the barrier was financial and Chelsea made an effort that I couldn't make."
With captain Cesc Fabregas pining for Barcelona, the Emirates seemed a sensible fit for compatriot Juan Mata. Valencia were struggling to rub two pennies together, and Arsenal felt comfortable dithering and stalling on their demands for more than £20m, despite recouping around £60m for Fabregas and Samir Nasri, who acrimoniously swapped London for Man City. Wenger remained confident of securing Mata's services in July 2011 before a familiar tale unfolded. Chelsea were willing to offer slightly more money and the Spanish international moved to West London for £23.5m. An increasingly frustrated Wenger refused to explain what happened. "I don't have to give a reason," he responded after being quizzed about it.
Kolo Toure was already on Arsenal's books when his brother featured in a youth game for the Gunners during a trial in 2003. "It's up at the top," Wenger said when asked where missing out on Toure ranked in his list of regrets. "But let's not forget that Yaya Toure had an agreement with us and it's not because we did not want to sign him that he went to Ukraine," he continued. "We had to wait for his passport in Belgium. We have made mistakes, but this was not a mistake. He preferred to go to Metalurh Donetsk because he could go there without a passport."
It was during his Barcelona spell that Samuel Eto'o emerged as one of football's greatest strikers, but things could have turned out differently for the African superstar. He was offered to Arsenal less than 12 months after Yaya Toure slipped through Wenger's fingers only for his reputation to precede him. Eto'o had filled newspaper inches during a record-breaking, goal laden spell at Mallorca after being accused of physically assaulting his own agent. Wenger may have decided he was too much trouble, but the tactic appeared to work well for Eto'o, who went on to win everything with Barcelona and Inter before securing a lucrative contract at Anzhi Makhachkala.