Wenger hails Anelka discovery
By Tom Adams
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Arsene Wenger says the signing of Nicolas Anelka has been his 'biggest find' to date.
Arsene Wenger has hailed Bolton new-boy Nicolas Anelka as his 'biggest find' during his ten years in charge of Arsenal.
During a decade in North London the Frenchman has garnered a reputation for having an innate ability to pluck obscure gems from across the globe and turn them into world names.
Players such as Cesc Fabregas and Freddie Ljungberg are currently starring for The Gunners despite being relative unknowns upon their arrival in The Premiership, but Wenger has identified Anelka's arrival as perhaps his biggest coup to date.
Arsenal recruited the raw young French striker from Paris Saint Germain for just £500,000 back in November 1996, and he went on score in the 1998 FA Cup final and be crowned PFA Young Player of the Year for the 1998/1999 season before ensuring a bitter exit by joining Real Madrid.
His departure, which earned The Gunners a £23 million profit, started a transient period in the striker's career as he frequently changed clubs, but he has since alighted at The Reebok Stadium for his latest crack at The Premiership.
Now Wenger says his original purchase of Anelka set a strong benchmark for his future forays into the transfer market, and that former captain Patrick Vieira, who actually joined the club before Wenger's arrival but on his recommendation, was also another astute purchase.
"Maybe my biggest find was Anelka," Wenger said on a webchat on the club's official website.
"When [Thierry] Henry came here he was already in the World Cup squad but Anelka gave me the credibility to do some more, got me the trust from people because he was a big success.
"Vieira as well, he was the first player who nobody knew but he made a huge impact in the club.
"He stayed for nine years and nobody could imagine the club could continue without him. He had a big impact."
Wenger has also admitted that losing both Edu and Vieira 12 months ago was too much for Arsenal to cope with as they struggled in the league last season.
The midfield duo both left Highbury to pursue a career abroad before the start of the 2005/2006 campaign, with French star Vieira moving to Juventus and Edu joining Valencia on a free transfer.
As a result Spanish starlet Fabregas had to shoulder enormous responsibilities alongside Gilberto in the heart of The Gunners midfield as Arsenal limped into fourth position, and Wenger admits the loss of the key duo was a big blow to his side.
"Well, I felt that for us to lose Vieira and Edu in the same year was one player too many. That was not really planned," Wenger added.
"They were two fantastic players and losing them at the same time when Cesc was still very young and I could not give him a breather, maybe that was one too many."
Robert Pires has become another experienced face to depart after joining Villarreal this summer, and Wenger has now revealed his heartache behind the winger's serious knee injury in 2002 that ruled him out of that year's World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Pires damaged knee ligaments in an FA Cup quarter final win over Newcastle over four years ago, and Wenger has explained that he should have rested the French international but failed to do so due to the sensational shape Pires was in at the time as he went on to win the Footballer of the Year award.
"I have made many wrong decisions and I will give you one example.
"When Robert Pires got injured in 2002 on the left flank he was the best player in the world.
"That week I had decided not to play Pires against Newcastle but the closer we got to the game the more I thought I would play him because if we won that game we would nearly be there [in the FA Cup].
"I changed my mind 24 hours before the game and then he got injured. I went home and thought I was stupid because I should have done what I had planned.
"He missed the World Cup and I feel afterwards it was a bad decision.
"Deep down I knew I was right not to play him but I was weak when it came to pushing the decision through."