Jamie Vardy, Wilfried Zaha, David Ginola: Arsenal’s top 50 signings that got away (50-26)
Don't forget to return to the Sky Sports website and app after 8am on Sunday for Part Two as we count down the top 25 players that got away
By Kaveh Solhekol, Dharmesh Sheth, Emma Paton & Matt Ford
Last Updated: 07/06/20 3:09pm
Arsenal have signed some of the best players in the world, and they have missed out on some of the best players in the world. For every Thierry Henry, there’s been a Cristiano Ronaldo. These are the ones that got away...
50. Phil Jones
Phil Jones had a lot of options when he wanted to leave Blackburn Rovers in 2011. He looked like a future England captain. A commanding teenage centre-back who had a big future ahead of him.
Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Everton all wanted him.
He talked to Arsenal and was impressed by what he heard. He had one more person to talk to though and that was Sir Alex Ferguson.
Jones says as soon as he met Ferguson he decided to sign for United in a £16m deal. Two years later, Ferguson predicted that Jones could become United's best-ever player.
49. Dayot Upamecano
Dayot Upamecano is one of the most sought-after centre-backs in the world at the moment. He has been one of the standout performers in the RB Leipzig side who have reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Some of Europe's biggest clubs want to sign him and the 21-year-old is expected to break into the France squad for next summer's European Championships.
Upamecano is valued at £50m and Arsenal looked at him last summer, but they could have bought him for just £1m in 2015.
Upamecano was 16 and coming through the ranks at Valenciennes when Arsenal, Manchester United and Inter Milan all tried to sign him.
Arsene Wenger was convinced Upamecano was good enough to become a future Arsenal star. He joined Red Bull Salzburg instead for £2m.
48. Felipe Melo
Brazil have played a number of friendlies at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. Midfielder Felipe Melo had Arsene Wenger's eyebrows moving in an upward motion in one of those matches in February 2009.
"We watched him in Brazil's international against Italy when he had an outstanding game," said Wenger.
Arsenal's hopes were scuppered by Fiorentina's asking price, and Melo moved to Juventus for £22m that summer instead.
He is now back in Brazil playing for Palmeiras.
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47. Chris Smalling
In the space of 30 months, Chris Smalling went from scoring for Maidstone United against East Thurrock United to playing for Manchester United.
He had moved to Fulham from Maidstone when he caught the eye of both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. Ferguson and United got the deal over the line.
"Manchester United offered more money than us," Wenger said.
Smalling is currently on loan at Roma, with Arsenal said to be interested again. Never say never.
46. Dele Alli
Tottenham's Dele Alli once said he'd rather hang up his boots than play for Arsenal, but rewind five years and it could have been very different.
Arsenal had been watching Alli play for MK Dons in League One, along with Liverpool and Bayern Munich to name a few, but it was Tottenham who signed him for £5m in February 2015.
Fast forward to 2020, and he's won two Premier League Young Player of the Year awards, started a Champions League final, and played a key role in England reaching the World Cup semi-finals in Russia in 2018.
45. Dimitri Payet
The streets won't forget. The drag-backs, the delicate flicks, the subtle body feints, the sublime ability on the ball. The free kick against Crystal Palace. The free kick against Manchester United.
Despite the acrimonious end to his time in English football, which soured the memories for many West Ham fans, it's hard to forget about Dimitri Payet.
The Frenchman returned to Marseille in January 2017 but he'd consistently flirted with Arsenal - alleging in 2016 that Wenger saw him as 'the missing piece' to his side.
A move for the Frenchman would no doubt have appealed to Wenger, who loved to sign technically gifted players.
A trio of Payet, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez would have been some combination.
44. Gary Cahill
Chelsea signed Gary Cahill from Bolton for £7m in January 2012. In seven-and-a-half seasons at Stamford Bridge, he won eight major trophies including the Champions League.
It could all have been very different though. Six months before Cahill moved to Chelsea, Arsenal tried to sign him during the 2011 summer transfer window.
Arsenal had money to spend after selling Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri for £60m. They made a bid but it was described as "derisory" by Bolton. Cahill stayed and was sold in the next window to Chelsea.
Cahill is still going strong, playing regularly in the Premier League for Crystal Palace.
Judging by his form before the season was suspended, he wouldn't have too much trouble getting into the current Arsenal team.
43. Moussa Dembele
Could striker uncertainty see Arsenal revive their interest in long-term target Moussa Dembele?
After all, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has just 12 months remaining on his contract and Alexandre Lacazette is rumoured to be a target for Antonio Conte at Inter Milan.
Lyon forward Dembele is not short of potential admirers this summer with Chelsea and Manchester United interested in signing him.
He wants to move to the Premier League and Lyon are likely to sell after missing out on the Champions League next season.
Arsenal were interested in Dembele in 2015 when he was at Fulham, and in 2017 when he was playing for Celtic.
42. Marco Reus
If you believe his agent, Arsenal tried - and failed - to sign Marco Reus. Kai Psotta says Arsenal's then-transfer negotiator Dick Law met with him three times to try and tempt Reus away from Borussia Dortmund.
Arsenal are in good company though. Psotta says Barcelona came calling - and were told no. As were AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Manchester City.
Reus is still at Dortmund.
In the summer of 2018 Arsenal fans were watching YouTube clips of some of Malcom's incredible displays for Bordeaux.
The Brazilian winger looked like the real deal and he also looked like he was on his way to the Emirates Stadium.
When it comes to transfers though you can never take anything for granted.
Malcom ended up agreeing a deal with Roma before he signed for Barcelona in a £37m deal.
He failed to impress at the Nou Camp though, and Zenit St Petersburg signed him last summer for £40m.
40. Thomas Lemar
Arsene Wenger's final summer transfer window as Arsenal manager was in 2017. It was the window he was prepared to obliterate the club's transfer record.
Arsenal went all out to sign Thomas Lemar from Monaco, offering £92m. Unlike the song, it appeared to be better than 50/50 for Lemar moving to the Emirates. However, it wasn't to be.
"The player has chosen to stay at Monaco", Wenger said.
Lemar has since moved to Atletico Madrid, but rumours linking him with Arsenal persist.
There remains a chance he could be removed from this list sometime in the future... 50/50? Who knows...
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39. Anthony Martial
Had Arsene Wenger got his way in January 2018, it might have been Anthony Martial and not Henrikh Mkhitaryan arriving from Manchester United in exchange for Alexis Sanchez.
Wenger had known all about Martial when he was starting his career at Lyon and Monaco, but United would not include him as part of a deal for Sanchez.
The swap deal didn't work out for Arsenal or United. Mkhitaryan is on loan at Roma, Sanchez is on loan at Inter Milan. Meanwhile Martial is still at United.
38. Edinson Cavani
Name a top striker in world football and it's highly likely they would have been linked with a move to Arsenal at some point in time.
It's no surprise then that Edinson Cavani has been linked regularly with a move to the Emirates Stadium.
Cavani is available on a free transfer this summer and there was talk of a move to Arsenal last January. Cavani though wants to move to Spain to play for Diego Simeone at Atlectio Madrid.
37. Angel Di Maria
Things didn't work out for Angel Di Maria at Manchester United, but could they have worked out at Arsenal?
Arsene Wenger revealed he wanted to bring Di Maria to the Premier League when he was just a 17-year-old, but he did not qualify for a work permit.
That wasn't the last time Wenger showed an interest. Six years later, Real Madrid wanted to sell Di Maria and replace him with Gareth Bale.
Arsenal were linked again but he ended up staying in the Spanish capital for another season - helping Real Madrid to a 10th Champions League title - before moving to Manchester United for £60m.
36. Gonzalo Higuain
Napoli chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis is not afraid to speak his mind so when he discussed Arsenal's 2016 pursuit of Gonzalo Higuain, he didn't hold back.
"I think we received some requests from Arsenal. Personally, I also received a request from Atletico Madrid," De Laurentiis said.
"But they didn't put enough money on the table. We were not ready to sell him - for me Higuain was not for sale."
Except he was, just not to Arsenal or Atletico. €90m was enough for Napoli to sell to Serie A rivals Juventus in that same window in 2016.
Arsenal had previous with Higuain too. They were also interested in signing him in 2013.
A disgruntled star, a rumoured transfer request and reported interest from Arsenal. Where have we heard that before?
In 2014 it appeared Pedro's time at Barcelona was coming to an end and you'll never guess what? He didn't end up at Arsenal.
Chelsea signed him in the summer of 2015 for £21m and he has won the Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League at Stamford Bridge to add to his other 22 major trophies.
He is out of contract this summer.
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34. David Ginola
David Ginola and his long lustrous locks used to star in a famous shampoo commercial on TV. His catchphrase was "Because I'm worth it".
In 1995 Arsenal thought he was worth it, but so did Barcelona and Newcastle.
Ginola had just won the title with Paris Saint-Germain and was the French Player of the Year. He was available for £2.5m.
Johann Cruyff wanted him at Barcelona but he had to sell Hristo Stoichkov and Gheorghe Hagi first.
Ginola had his heart set on the Nou Camp but when it became apparent that they could not sell Stoichkov and Hagi, Kevin Keegan convinced him to sign for Newcastle.
Ginola was about to sign for Newcastle when he got a late-night call from Arsenal. They wanted him at Highbury.
"I had given my word to Newcastle," Ginola said. "I went there."
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33. Thibaut Courtois
Lots of fanfare greeted Arsenal's move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006. Behind the scenes, though, there was an acceptance the club had to be careful with money in the transfer market for many years to come.
Former transfer negotiator Dick Law says they missed out on a number of players during that time.
"I remember sitting in meetings with chief scout Steve Rowley, chief executive Ivan Gazidis and manager Arsene Wenger and gnashing our teeth over Thibaut Courtois," Law said.
"We knew he was good".
Chelsea knew he was good too and they signed him from Genk for £8m in 2011. They sold him to Real Madrid for £31m two years ago.
32. Riyad Mahrez
In 2016, Riyad Mahrez was among the hottest properties in the game after scoring 17 times in Leicester's incredible title-winning season.
Arsenal wanted him and talks were held but Leicester refused to sell. The following summer, Mahrez released a statement saying he wanted a new challenge amid reports that Arsenal were interested again.
"Have we made a bid for him? No. Not yet," Arsene Wenger said.
"Not yet means it could happen, it could not happen."
It didn't happen. Mahrez stayed for another season at Leicester before he was sold to Manchester City for £60m.
Two years ago, Liverpool paid Monaco £40m for Fabinho. Arsenal manager Unai Emery was a big fan of Fabinho and he had tried to sign him when he was in charge of Paris Saint-Germain.
Arsenal made a late bid for the Brazil international but it was too late. He had already agreed to move to Anfield. Fabinho won the Champions League with Liverpool last season and he is about to win the Premier League title.
30. Juan Mata
When Cesc Fabregas left for Barcelona in the summer of 2011, Arsenal needed a replacement - and fast. Valencia's Juan Mata was the target.
There was good news and bad news. Mata was keen to move but could Arsenal afford to buy him?
They decided they could not. The overall deal was too expensive and Chelsea signed him for £23m.
The following summer, Arsenal signed Santi Cazorla from Malaga for £10m.
29. Wilfried Zaha
April 21, 2019. Crystal Palace went to the Emirates Stadium and came away with all three points.
Arsenal manager Unai Emery was understandably disappointed with the result and he couldn't stop thinking about the man who had caused his side so many problems.
That was the day when Emery knew he had to sign Wilfried Zaha. When the window opened, the deal looked on. Arsenal bid £40m. Palace rejected it out of hand.
"I met Zaha and he wanted to come," Emery said.
"The club decided Nicolas Pepe was one for the future. I said: 'Yes, but we need to win now and this lad wins games. He beat us on his own.'"
Eight months after Zaha "beat Arsenal on his own", Emery was out of a job.
28. Sami Khedira
Sami Khedira to Arsenal. It's appeared to be on the cards not once but twice.
Arsene Wenger insists he was never close to signing the German World Cup winner.
However, it does seem there was genuine interest. The first time was in 2014 when Khedira was at Real Madrid. He ended up seeing out his contract and joining Juventus a year later.
His name came up again last summer when he was spotted at a pre-season game at the Emirates Stadium. All Unai Emery would say was "he is a very good player".
Khedira has since signed a contract extending his stay in Turin until 2021.
27. Jamie Vardy
It was the summer of 2016. Leicester were basking in the glory of the most unexpected Premier League title triumph. Their players were hot property - none more so than Jamie Vardy.
From non-League to Premier League - Vardy's is some story, as is the story about a potential move to Arsenal. Just how close it was to happening depends on who you believe.
Vardy says he never spoke to Arsene Wenger after Arsenal had triggered his release clause. Vardy had "unfinished business" at Leicester and it was an "easy decision" to stay.
Arsenal's transfer negotiator at the time - Dick Law - had a different take.
"The deal with Leicester was done, the deal with the player was done," Law said.
"He came down to visit with his wife Rebekah, he sat on the couch in front of Arsene, and then he backed off.
"On his way back to Leicester, I get a call from the player saying he wants to think about it overnight. At that point, you know it's bad news".
Vardy signed a new contract with Leicester soon after.
26. Gerard Pique
When Cesc Fabregas joined from Barcelona as a 16-year-old, Arsenal were also after Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique.
While Messi seemed impossible, Pique might have happened had it not been for sponsorship issues.
"It didn't work out because of the agents," said Wenger.
"I think it was linked with Nike at the time and they wanted Pique to go to Manchester United".
Pique did indeed go to Manchester United, before returning to Barcelona where he was won 17 major trophies and the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship with Spain.